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airplane tabletThe days of having to stow your Kindle, cell phone or iPod at the very beginning and end of a flight will soon be coming to an end. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced today that “airlines can safely expand passenger use of Portable Electronic Devices (PEDs) during all phases of flight.”

The decision comes after the FAA consulted with a panel of pilots, aviation manufacturers, airline representatives and other experts, who determined that devices being used in airplane mode should not interfere with the safe operation of most commercial aircraft.

This doesn’t mean you can whip out your laptop during takeoff on a flight this weekend. The new policy will be implemented on an airline-by-airline basis, with each carrier having to assess its own fleet and present evidence to the FAA that its planes won’t be affected by radio interference from PEDs. The FAA expects that many airlines will be approved for PED use by the end of the year.

Taking Photos on Planes: On the No-Fly List?

A few things to note:

– You still won’t be able to use your cell phone for voice calls, and other devices must be kept in airplane mode.

– You may only use Wi-Fi on your device if the plane has installed a Wi-Fi system and the airline allows it to be used.

– Heavier devices should still be stowed during takeoff and landing.

– Finally, says the FAA, “In some instances of low visibility — about one percent of flights — some landing systems may not be proved PED tolerant, so you may be asked to turn off your device.”

How to Fix the TSA

Personally, we think it’s about time — what’s your take?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

stuffed animal suitcase travelToy travel — paying to send a stuffed animal or doll on a trip in lieu of going on one yourself — isn’t new. In fact, we’ve written about it before. We’ve never been fond of the idea of putting our hard-earned cash toward a trip for an inanimate object rather than ourselves. But then we stumbled across a company doing it for more heart-warming reasons than simply making (or wasting) money.

According to ABC News, Unagi Travel, a Japanese travel agency specializing in tours for stuffed toys, sends fake furry friends to places their owners can’t go due to illness or disability. After paying a fee and mailing their toys to Tokyo, where Unagi is based, clients can track their toys’ travels via the company’s Facebook page. At the conclusion of the trip, the animals are mailed back to their owners at no additional charge, along with souvenir photos. According to Unagi’s website, the entire process takes two to three weeks, depending on the adventure chosen.

Our Favorite Tokyo Hotels

Despite its admirable purpose, Unagi’s services are still a bit quirky, not to mention limited. There are currently four tours available to Kyoto, Tokyo, a traditional onsen (hot spring) and a “mystery” location. Rates range from $35 to $95, not including each stuffed animal’s outbound travel, which could be pricey for clients not living in Japan.

Some might still consider it a waste of money, but for those who can’t get out to explore new places, we wager it’s money well spent. In some of the more fortunate cases, owners of the plush participants have been able to retrace their stuffed animals’ steps when their health improved.

What do you think? Do you have a favorite stuffed animal? Would you send it on a trip without you if you were unable to go? Leave your comments below.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

many handsYou know you’ve got it bad when all you want to do is run up to the nearest stranger and ask her for a hug. While I never actually did that, back in 2004, after six weeks traveling in New Zealand alone and about to start another five weeks solo in Australia, I was desperate for some human contact.

I’d never given it much thought before, but humans are by nature social creatures. We crave not just human interaction, but physical touch as well. And I’m not talking in-the-bedroom touch; I’m simply referring to the everyday casual brush of the arm, hand touches, half hugs and such, which we typically get from close friends and family. Take this away from us, and we start to feel lonely and cut off.

This leaves solo travelers in a bit of a bind. Try touching a stranger on the shoulder, and I bet you that person startles. Brush past a person and you’re bound to get a dirty look. So how do you get even a tiny bit of much-needed physical contact?

Single Travel: Tips for Going Solo

Shake Hands: Handshakes are the easiest way to ensure yourself physical contact because they are socially acceptable in most countries and you can offer your hand to most people you meet. There’s rarely much warmth in a handshake — but if you’ve gone two or three weeks without touching anyone, you’ll be surprised at how good it feels.

Ask Someone to Dance: While this may not be possible everywhere you go, there are certain countries where dancing is an important part of their evenings. In Ireland and Scotland, for example, ceilidhs are a popular forum for Celtic music and dancing, and the locals are always up for dancing with someone new.

The Arm Touch: This one’s probably easier for men, who are generally comfortable clapping another guy on the arm when saying hello, even if it’s just the hotel doorman. My tricky tactic: gently bump someone “by accident” in a store or a line, then place my hand on their arm to steady them, while I apologize. It may sound silly, but it works.

Risk a Hug: Slightly less problematic for women, hugs are the ultimate casual physical touch, but usually require at least a little familiarity with the person you’re hugging. Not so easy when you’re traveling, but it can be done. If you’re staying in a bed and breakfast, give your host a quick hug in the evening to say thank you for all she (or he) has done for you. On a tour or cruise, make friends and offer half-hugs in the evening. If you’re a really comfortable hugger, wear a “Free Hugs” T-shirt out and about. Someone will take you up on the offer!

Have you ever noticed you’re missing physical touch when traveling alone? How have you handled it?

10 Things You Should Never Wear When Traveling Abroad

– written by Dori Saltzman

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, a pair of guanacos enjoy a spectacular view in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile.

guanaco torres del paine patagonia chile


Our Favorite Hotels in Santiago, Chile

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.)

12 International Foods to Try Before You Die

– 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 an annual event many people have on their bucket lists.

Once you think you know the answer, post it below. You have until Monday, October 28, 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 Mary Adkins, who correctly guessed that the pictogram spelled “Serengeti Migration.” Mary has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Stay tuned for further opportunities to win.


– written and created by Dori Saltzman

space balloon capsuleTwo things have been holding me back from signing up for a trip to space: a susceptibility to motion sickness and a decided lack of millions of dollars. Now a new company has emerged with a possible solution to both of my issues.

World View Enterprises recently revealed plans to use a helium balloon to lift eight customers in a pressurized capsule to the brink of space, nearly 100,000 feet (just under 19 miles) above the earth. According to the Washington Post, the trip would last about four hours, with a 1.5-hour ascent and two hours spent hovering at the edge of outer space. From that height, participants would be surrounded by the intense darkness of the sky and able to see Earth curving beneath them.

The company hopes to launch its first customer outing by 2016.

Seven Strange Foods from Around the World

Because the capsule, which would protect occupants from the harsh dangers of the upper atmosphere, would never actually get into space, require G-force speeds or reach zero gravity, the risk of motion sickness would be minimal as compared to other space travel options.

The price tag is also significantly reduced from other forms of space travel … but in the way that a Vera Wang dress on sale at 50 percent off still costs a mint. Half off sounds great, but 50 percent of $50,000 is still a whopping $25,000.

In this case, the difference in price between Virgin Galactic’s $250,000 proposed space jaunt and World View’s edge-of-space offering is a massive 70 percent. And compared to the $50 million price tag for Space Adventures’ trip to the International Space Station — the only currently available option for space tourists — the World View offering is an absolute steal.

But it’s still $75,000 for a four-hour trip, which puts it solidly outside of my travel budget.

Are you tempted by the new company’s offering? Is $75,000 closer to what you’d pay to get near to space, or would you rather use the same amount of money to explore more of the planet you’re already on?

9 Places to See Before the World Ends

– written by Dori Saltzman

j bullivant solar backpackAlways excited to test out gadgets that might make my travels easier, I set off for Alaska last month with the Solar Backpack from J. Bullivant, a company that specializes in what it calls “Urban Survival Gear.” The pack is equipped with enough pockets and compartments to fit everything but the kitchen sink, as well as built-in solar panels for charging what’s known as a Personal Power Generator (PPG) — a tiny power pack for charging a cell phone or iPad when your devices are dead and there just aren’t enough outlets.

When it comes to the bag’s construction, I have no complaints. It’s comfortable, attractive, lightweight and durable. (Anything that survives my chronic overpacking has to be.) The storage options are plentiful, with spots specifically designed to hold everything from laptops and pens to car keys and spare change. There are even hidden compartments for more important items like passports and wallets.

The Ultimate Guide to Travel Packing

But this backpack’s claim to fame is its ability to charge electronics — and unfortunately, in that regard it was a bit of a bust. After two days of putting the pack in the sun for several hours, I saw no increase in the charge it gave to the PPG. It does work well if you use the included power/car adapter to plug the PPG directly into the wall to charge, but if you’re going to spend time and effort doing that, you might as well just plug in your cell phone or laptop or whatever it is you need the PPG for in the first place.

Of course, the semi-functionality of the product wouldn’t be such a big deal if it were priced in line with other backpacks. But for the most basic model, you can expect to shell out nearly $200. The amount you’ll pay increases from there, depending on what else — pepper spray, hazmat mask, water purification system, ballistic shield — you choose to add to your paranoia pack. (And no, we’re not kidding about anything in that list.)

All things considered, this is a great item to own if you’re active and need to keep your things organized on the go. The PPG is an added bonus if you have access to a car or wall outlet, but don’t get too hung up on the solar panel “cool” factor.

The Suitcase That Beats Bed Bugs

Want to try it for yourself? We’re giving away our (gently used) Solar Backpack. Just leave us a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on October 31, 2013. We’ll pick one person at random to win the backpack. 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. Frannie Heath has won the backpack. Congratulations! Keep an eye on our blog for further chances to win.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

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!

drayton hall charlestonIn this month’s featured review, reader Ben Szweda pursues his quest to visit every U.S. state with a trip to South Carolina and Georgia. “On my third day in Charleston I headed to Drayton Hall (plantation) for a guided tour of the house,” wrote Ben. “This property is just one mile away from Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. I chose however to visit Drayton because after visiting two plantations in Louisiana I had been disappointed that they were so made up. Unlike Magnolia, Drayton Hall advertises to be just the opposite: ‘preserved, not restored.’ There is truth in the advertising slogan and I therefore thoroughly enjoyed my tour.”

Read the rest of Ben’s review here: Exploring the History of the Southeast. Ben 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, we offer a shimmering photo of the Northern Lights over snowy Lake Laberge in Canada‘s Yukon Territory.

northern lights laberge yukon


Six Cozy Winter Getaways

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.)

How to Pack for a Winter Vacation

– written by Dori Saltzman

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.

Once you think you know the answer, post it below. You have until Monday, October 21, 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 Kelly Malleck, who correctly guessed that the pictogram spelled “Cape Horn.” Kelly has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Stay tuned for further opportunities to win.


– written and created by Dori Saltzman