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greenwich village apartment buildingsAirbnb, the social website that connects travelers with locals who are willing to rent out living spaces on a short-term basis, scored a big victory in New York last week. The back story: Nigel Warren, a New York-based Airbnb host who had rented out his bedroom while he himself was traveling, was fined $2,400 for violating local laws that make it illegal to rent out a home for less than 30 days.

This matter potentially had massive ramifications, not just for Airbnb but also for travelers, who have flocked to the site to find value-priced lodgings with a local feel and ambience, rather than high-priced hotels. Airbnb hosts rent out apartments, houses and spare rooms.

In support for Warren and other hosts in New York, Airbnb worked with Warren to appeal the fine. A clarification by the New York City Environmental Control Board was handed down last week. The ruling articulated that hosts can rent out rooms as long as a permanent occupant of the home is in residence (in Warren’s case, his roommate, who was also on the lease, was present).

“In the appeal, we and Nigel argued — and the appeal board now agrees — that under New York law as long as a permanent occupant is present during a stay, the stay does not violate New York’s short term rental laws,” wrote David Hantman, Airbnb’s Head of Global Public Policy, on the company’s blog.

Airbnb and Beyond: Tips for Safe, Legal Vacation Rentals

The bottom line for New Yorkers: It’s still okay to rent out a spare room if you’re present at the time, and it’s still illegal to rent out an apartment that you don’t live in. But the news is that as long as some permanent occupant is there, even if you as the host are not, your rental is legal.

The battle’s not fully over yet in New York, as this new development does not protect those who rent out empty apartments. (There are currently more than 1,000 such listings on Airbnb.com.) Still, it’s a start — and Warren gets his fine refunded.

All eyes now turn to a similar battle now playing out in the Los Angeles community of Silver Lake. Stay tuned.

– written by Carolyn Spencer Brown

Suffering from the Monday doldrums? For everyone out there facing the beginning of another work week, here’s a little jolt of wanderlust to brighten up your morning. Each Monday, we offer a photo of a spectacular place to spark ideas for your future travels.

This week’s shot captures evening at the Cloud Gate sculpture in Chicago, Illinois. This Millennium Park institution is affectionately nicknamed “the Bean.”

cloud gate bean millennium park chicago


Our Favorite Windy City Hotels

Send us your best travel shot! E-mail your most beautiful or captivating travel photo to feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put Monday Inspiration in the subject line.)

Photos: The Best 9 Cities to See Cool Public Art

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Here’s something fun to kick off your weekend. It’s a travel-themed picture puzzle. You just have to tie the photos together to make words. For example, a photo of an eye, combined with a photo of a full glass of water would be eye + full = Eiffel. Get it? (For another example, check out last week’s puzzle.)

This week’s puzzle is two words and represents a famous natural attraction.

Once you think you know the answer, post it below. You have until Monday, September 30, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday morning we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Note: Although all are welcome to play, we can only ship prizes to the Continental U.S.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Deborah Sampson, who correctly guessed that the pictogram spelled “Sugarloaf Mountain.” Deborah has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Stay tuned for further opportunities to win.


– written and created by Dori Saltzman and Sarah Schlichter

doorjammerAs a 5-foot-1 woman who travels alone on a semi-regular basis, I’m always on the lookout for ways to feel more secure on the road. That’s why I was intrigued when the DoorJammer crossed my desk.

The sturdy red gadget is a more sophisticated version of those little triangular wedges you can shove under a door to keep it from being forced open. It has an adjustable foot that allows it to be used on a variety of surfaces and even on uneven floors.

I gave it a try here in the IndependentTraveler.com office, once on carpet and once on a wood floor. While I wasn’t immediately sure how to work the DoorJammer just from looking at it, the step-by-step directions in the manual were easy to follow — put the flat part under the door and tighten the bolt until the engagement foot is firmly anchored against the floor. To take it off, unscrew the bolt. (In an emergency such as a fire, you can also simply pull straight up on the DoorJammer, and it will release immediately. I tested both removal strategies with no problems.)

When someone pushed on the door from outside, the DoorJammer held firm; although there was a clear gap between the frame and the upper part of the door (where my potential assailant was exerting force), the door did not open enough to let anyone in.

Hotel Safety Tips

To see how the DoorJammer works, check out this short video:



Do you really need the DoorJammer if you’re staying in a hotel with both a standard lock and a deadbolt? Probably not. But at hostels, older properties or budget hotels with only single locks or flimsy-looking chains, a product like the DoorJammer can offer an extra layer of protection. It won’t take up much space in your suitcase either: it weighs in at 8 ounces, and stands 4.75 inches high and 2.75 inches wide. You can buy it for $29.99 plus shipping and handling on Door-Jammer.com.

33 Ways to Sleep Better at a Hotel

Want to try it out for yourself? We’re giving away our (gently used) DoorJammer! Just leave us a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on October 9, 2013. We’ll pick one person at random to win the DoorJammer. This giveaway is open only to residents of the Lower 48 United States and the District of Columbia. To read the full contest rules, click here.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner of the DoorJammer is Terry Kong. Congratulations!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Each month, we’ll highlight one new trip review submitted by an IndependentTraveler.com reader. If your review is featured, you’ll win an IndependentTraveler.com logo item!

maligne lake spirit island jasper national parkIn this month’s featured review, reader Shannon Colman discovers the scenic panoramas that have made the Canadian Rockies famous. “We stopped at Maligne Canyon to see the gushing falls and deep gorges, then went onto Maligne Lake, where a boat took us out to Spirit Island,” wrote Shannon. “This acts as a base for some of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen — bright blue lakes surrounded by snow-capped mountains. It was like something from a fairy tale. The colour of the water is truly astounding.”

Read the rest of Shannon’s review here: 3 Days in the Canadian Rockies for the Independent Backpacker. Shannon has won an IndependentTraveler.com duffel bag!

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Suffering from the Monday doldrums? For everyone out there facing the beginning of another work week, here’s a little jolt of wanderlust to brighten up your morning. Each Monday, we offer a photo of a spectacular place to spark ideas for your future travels.

This week’s shot was taken from the lookout point high above Semuc Champey, an out-of-the-way cluster of waterfalls and clear turquoise pools in Guatemala.

semuc champey guatemala


Photos: 9 Easy Hikes That Will Take Your Breath Away

Send us your best travel shot! E-mail your most beautiful or captivating travel photo to feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put Monday Inspiration in the subject line.)

Read Guatemala Trip Reviews

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Here’s something fun to kick off your weekend. It’s a travel-themed picture puzzle. You just have to tie the photos together to make words. For example, a photo of an eye, combined with a photo of a full glass of water would be eye + full = Eiffel. Get it? (For another example, check out last week’s puzzle.)

This week’s puzzle is three words and represents a titillating destination.

Once you think you know the answer, post it below. You have until Monday, September 23, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday morning we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Note: Although all are welcome to play, we can only ship prizes to the Continental U.S.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Michele Loper, who correctly guessed that the pictogram spelled “Red Light District.” Michele has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Stay tuned for further opportunities to win.


– written and created by Dori Saltzman

vibrating travel beltStanding in the middle of a sidewalk with a map spread out in front of your face, trying to determine whether the cathedral is to the right or left, is a sure way to let everyone know you’re a tourist.

And that’s not only embarrassing; it’s dangerous too. You can be sure pickpockets and scammers are noticing you. But even with maps downsized onto our smartphones, how do you avoid looking like a lost tourist while trying to navigate unfamiliar places?

Enter the vibrating travel belt!

Essential Travel Apps

Here’s how it works. First, type your destination into a special GPS app you’ve downloaded onto your phone to get walking directions. Then plug your belt, which looks like a normal brown belt, into the phone via a small cable. The phone will send the directions to your belt and, as you walk, the belt will vibrate in one of four places indicating which way to go.

Directions call for you to go forward? The front of the belt will vibrate. Time to turn right? The right side of the belt will vibrate. And so on.

Sound too futuristic to be real? You’re halfway right. Triposo, best known for Android and iOS travel guides, has created a working prototype of the belt, but isn’t yet in a position to make it available to the general public.

The Art of Travel: How to Get Lost in a High-Tech World

The company is currently raising funds for the belt’s production on Indiegogo.com. If the financial goal is reached, Triposo hopes to make the belt available by February 2014. Would you buy it?

– written by Dori Saltzman

airplane mealOver the years, we’ve catalogued an array of creative ways to remember a trip — like collecting magnets, using old passports as Christmas tree ornaments and recreating foreign cuisine at home. But now comes one we’d never heard of, via Skift.com: one man’s collection of silverware stolen from the airlines.

Traveler Frank Schaal gathered more than 80 spoons and forks from in-flight meals, starting in 1965. As his son Dennis Schaal writes for Skift.com, “My Dad asked a steward whether he could buy one of the spoons brought out for an onboard meal, and the steward said he would look away so my father could take one.

“My father never asked again — and the rest is history.”

What’s cool about this collection is that it would be very difficult to recreate nowadays — when’s the last time you used anything but plastic utensils in economy class? And many of the airlines from which Schaal “borrowed” silverware are now out of business, such as TWA, British Overseas Airways Corp. (BOAC) and Northwest.

Why Airline Food Stinks: A Scientific Explanation

It makes me wonder what an equivalent collection might look like if you started it today. There’s not much left to steal from the airlines these days — the occasional pillow or blanket on an international flight, perhaps? — but you could make a similar collection of hotel items: pens, notepads, soaps, maybe even bathrobes.

What do you collect when you travel?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

cityzen dressesWhat happens when an architect gets her hands on aerial topography? She turns maps of major cities (New York, Tokyo, Paris, London, Dhaka) into dresses, purses and scarves, of course. Initially we rolled our eyes at the idea, but let’s face it: the results are super fun. The line, called Cityzen by Azin, was created by New York City architect Azin Valy, who got the idea while helping with an exhibition on urban planning for New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

It’s not always apparent that the prints are really maps — which is probably a good thing! — but the apparel still turns heads with bright colors and fun shapes. What we find extra intriguing, though, are the fun recommendations for things to do in each city for which a dress is made. Heading to Bangkok? Try Thai cuisine at Bo.Ian. Visiting Rome? Stroll through Bernini’s colonnades at St. Peter’s Basilica. We love that Valy also recommends a local charity in each city. (Check out more here, on the right.)

One caveat: While we were really excited by the concept, we weren’t so excited about the prices. A scarf will set you back $250, and the least expensive dress is $762 — clearly not ideal for a woman on a budget.

What to Pack for 4 Common Trip Types

Now it’s your turn. If you designed a dress for your favorite city, which city would you choose, and what would the ensemble look like? Leave your comments below.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek