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upside down house polandYes, we’re seasoned world travelers, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t occasionally enamored with kitschy roadside attractions. Be they weird landmarks, supernatural places, wonky museums or crazy theme parks, there are lots of curiosities that appeal to our roving sense of wonder.

Take, for instance, this sampling of some of the oddest homes we’ve found, both in the United States and abroad. Perhaps you’ll feel like making a pit stop on your next journey.

Beer Can House: Houston, TX
Former owner John Milkovisch began inlaying rocks, marbles and aluminum on his front and back yards in 1968 after claiming he was tired of taking care of the lawn. Aluminum roofing and siding followed over an 18-year period. The strangest part? The aluminum is all made of beer cans — including the beer-can-lid garland that hangs from the roof. It gets a bit noisy when the wind blows, but the material evidently cuts down on energy costs. After Milkovisch’s death in 1988, the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art took it on as a restoration project, and it’s open to visitors on weekend afternoons.

Nautilus House: Mexico City, Mexico
A couple in Mexico City hired an architect to aid them in building themselves a home — a home that just happens to look like a giant seashell. Complete with a giant stained-glass window and several other porthole-like openings, the home is bit reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland, boasting tiny vegetation-lined paths that wend between rooms, all of which are furnished with cartoonish furniture that’s fit for a hobbit.

12 Great Museums You’ve Never Heard Of

Whimzeyland: Safety Harbor, FL
This home, purchased in 1985 as a plain-looking dwelling by current occupants (and artists) Todd Ramquist and Kiaralinda, is cheerfully decorated with bright colors and knickknacks galore. Among bottle trees and other whimsical found objects are the dozens of bowling balls that can be seen throughout the grounds’ landscaping. Years ago, the pair obtained bowling balls for free at a local flea market and used them to liven up the place, painting more dismally colored ones for an even more happy effect.

Upside-Down House: Szymbark, Poland
At this dizzying property, visitors can walk around inside the structure’s upside-down rooms, which allegedly mess with the equilibria of many. Designed by Daniel Czapiewski to represent the fall of communism, it was reportedly cumbersome for builders to complete, due to the topsy-turvy nature of, well, just about everything. Bonus: If you turn your camera upside down before snapping a selfie, it’ll look like you’re hanging from the ceiling.

Winchester Mystery House: San Jose, CA
Built by Sarah Winchester, the wife of William Wirt Winchester (as in Winchester rifles), the mansion cost $5.5 million to build and contains 160 rooms. Construction went on for years as Sarah claimed she needed to accommodate the spirits of those who died at the hands of the guns her husband helped to produce. It’s now a major tourist attraction that features a museum, a restaurant and expensive tours. Hours vary seasonally.

Photos That’ll Make You Want to Get Up and Go

Which of these crazy houses would you most want to visit? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

globe woman world travelWhat do Cape Town, Christchurch and Calgary have in common … besides all starting with the letter “C”?

They’re all on the New York Times’ annual Places to Go list. This year the much-anticipated list numbers 52 places, up from last year’s 46 recommended destinations. And they’re all pretty phenomenal.

Examples include the Albanian Coast, which the Times says combines the rugged beauty of the Dalmatian Coast with Greece’s ancient ruins and the easygoing nature of rural Italy (No. 4 on the list); Fernando de Noronha, a 21-island archipelago 330 miles off the coast of Recife, Brazil, that boasts 250-foot black cliffs and peach-sand beaches and to which only 246 visitors are allowed per day (No. 14 on the list); and Chennai, one of India’s cultural capitals, home to several dance and music schools that offer regular performances around the city (No. 26 on the list).

13 Best New Zealand Experiences

Several of the places on the list matched up with IndependentTraveler.com’s Top 9 Destinations for 2014, including two exactly: Nepal (No. 45) and Iceland (No. 30). Others fell within broader destinations we picked for 2014. The New York Times, for instance, includes the Arctic Circle (No. 38), while IndependentTraveler.com chose the Far North (defined by us as anywhere you can see the Northern Lights).

The Places to Go list is a great resource for discovering new must-visit destinations — I added five items to my bucket list including the Albanian Coast; Krabi, Thailand (No. 28); the North Coast of California (No. 3); Varazdin, Croatia (No. 48); and Xishuangbanna, China (No. 32) — and reaffirming that several places already on my bucket list really are worth visiting, like Namibia, the Seychelles and the Arctic Circle.

Another thing I love about the Places to Go list is ticking off places I’ve already been. Of the 52 places suggested for 2014, I’ve already visited seven, though I’m dying to go back to Cape Town (No. 1), Perth (No. 9) and Scotland (No. 16).

Cool Tools for Planning Complicated Trips

How many of the 52 places have you been to? How many are already on your bucket list? And how many — and which — new places did you add to your list?

– written by Dori Saltzman

globe woman world travelNow that we’re well into the winter doldrums, it’s time to warm yourself up by planning out all your trips for the year — and a travel trade show can help. These expos are gathering places for destination experts that can give you first-hand advice and recommendations. In some cases, you can even enter to win a free trip! Travel shows also feature cultural performances, talks by travel pros such as Rick Steves and Arthur Frommer, and plenty of fun freebies.

Read on to see our list of upcoming travel trade shows around the U.S. and Canada — and don’t forget to read our 9 Tips to Get the Most from a Travel Show.

Toronto: Travel Expo (January 18)

Los Angeles: Los Angeles Times Travel Show (January 18 – 19)

Calgary: Travel Expo (January 25)

Philadelphia: Philadelphia Inquirer Travel Show (January 25 – 26)

Santa Clara: Bay Area Travel & Adventure Show (January 25 – 26)

Boston: Boston Globe Travel Show (February 7 – 9)

Los Angeles: Travel & Adventure Show (February 8 – 9)

Vancouver: Travel Expo (February 22)

Washington D.C.: Travel & Adventure Show (February 22 – 23)

Denver: Colorado RV, Sports, Boat & Travel Show (February 27 – March 2)

Seattle: Seattle Golf & Travel Show (February 28 – March 2)

New York City: New York Times Travel Show (March 1 – 2)

San Diego: Travel & Adventure Show (March 29 – 30)

Photos: Top Destinations for 2014

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Today’s post is part of a weekly series called “Travel Toss-Up,” in which we ask you to take your pick between two amazing travel experiences.

This week’s toss-up offers a choice of two awesome excursions for wildlife lovers.

Would you rather…

… travel to Antarctica to see penguins, or …

antarctica penguins



… look for polar bears in Arctic Canada?

polar bears arctic canada


Tell us your preference in the comments below!

Photos: 9 Up-Close Animal Encounters

– 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 North American attraction that offers a glimpse into the past.

Once you think you know the answer, post it below. You have until Monday, January 13, 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 Aileen Greenberg-Kriner, who correctly guessed that the pictogram spelled “Mesa Verde.” Aileen has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Stay tuned for further opportunities to win.



– written and created by Dori Saltzman

interview

The next time you reach out to your travel advisor for help with planning your next trip, you may want to rein in any diva behavior, lest a caricature of you appear in an Off-Broadway play.

Though the 30 travelers depicted in the new two-person play “Craving for Travel” are fictional, many of their requests — at turns unreasonable, sweet and shortsighted — are based on the real-life customers of travel agent Jim Strong of Strong Travel Services in Dallas.

“The play is a comedy that finds its roots in the extremes of truth,” co-playwright Andy Sandberg explained to IndependentTraveler.com.

The Etiquette of Seat Backs and Elbow Room

So what kind of crazy antics can a bunch of travel agent customers get up to?

Well, there’s the American senator booted out of his hotel in Sydney after making some offensive comments about an Australian icon. And then there’s the man who tried to plan his trip sans help but found himself badly in need of a bail-out. Another unique request the two travel agents in the play try to accommodate comes from an elderly couple hoping to relive their first meeting.

“Craving for Travel” is open for a four-week run at the Peter J. Sharp Theater on 42nd Street in New York City. I’m hoping to get tickets to see the show, so in preparation I’ve decided to let my imagination run wild and concoct my own ridiculously impossible travel request.

Why You Still Need a Travel Agent

I want to plan a one-week England trip. During that time I’d like to visit Stonehenge, but not with any other tourists. Instead I want a private tour of the site at dusk, accompanied by a practicing druid. Also, I want to play billiards with Prince Harry, sup with Elton John and pet the Queen’s corgis.

What impossible-to-provide travel experience(s) would you ask for?

– written by Dori Saltzman

A few months ago, Virgin America jazzed up its in-flight safety presentation with an up-tempo music video featuring a young, limber cast of flight attendants, businesspeople and even a nun(!) singing and dancing their way around a virtual aircraft cabin. But one Virgin America flight attendant thought that just wasn’t quite entertaining enough — and added a live performance to go along with the video on a recent flight.

Below you can watch the flight attendant strutting down the aisle, lip-synching to the lyrics of the song and generally getting his groove on, much to the amusement of his passengers. Check it out:


Props to this flight attendant for pretty much guaranteeing that his passengers will pay attention to the safety demonstration!

More In-Flight Fun:
Betty White Stars in Latest Air New Zealand Safety Video
FAA: Harlem Shake in the Sky Might Not Fly

– written by Sarah Schlichter

tourist couple travelOnce I became old enough to plan my own independent travel adventures, I fancied that if I were smart enough, I could blend in. In Paris, I emulated Audrey Hepburn’s outfits in “Funny Face” and lingered over coffee and croissants like a pro. In Athens, I ordered train tickets with such gusto that I received an enthusiastic response — and had to smile and nod knowingly, because anything not in my phrasebook was all Greek to me. In Tokyo, I confidently boarded each bullet train like a transplant and did my best not to gawk at the sheer number of people, and lights, and people.

Of course, I was fooling no one but myself, but the attempt to be an American incognito was — and remains — important to me. Why? Tourists are loud. Tourists are paparazzi. Tourists are rude. That’s because, worst of all, tourists are ignorant.

On one level, “tourist” is just a word that could be used to describe anyone, like myself, who travels to places other than their own for enjoyment. As travel writer Rolf Potts once eloquently put it: “It certainly can’t hurt to retain a sense of perspective as we indulge ourselves in haughty little pissing contests over who qualifies as a ‘traveler’ instead of a ‘tourist’.’” After all, he says, “Regardless of one’s budget, itinerary and choice of luggage — the act of travel is still, at its essence, a consumer experience.”

To an extent, I agree. I understand it may seem like a silly case of semantics to say my skin crawls when asked to define myself by the “tourist” moniker. But that’s because to me, the word has come to mean something negative, even amateur. Beyond the cliche fashion faux pas (do a Google image search on the word “tourist” and you’ll see what I mean), tourists are a breed, a sect of travelers, who refuse to buy into the place they’re currently in, and to accept that it is … different.

10 Things You Should Never Wear When Traveling Abroad

In my view, there is a distinct difference between being new to a country or culture, and clinging to “I don’t know any better” as a mentality and as an excuse. I’m neither Cambodian nor Buddhist, but respect and reverence for a monks’ religious ceremony is something I’d assume would go without saying — and I cringe when I realize my instincts aren’t always shared by other “travelers.” (You know them: the ones with the flashing cameras and flapping jaws.)

It’s easy to pick up a camera or phone these days and capture everything secondhand — and I’ve been guilty of this in the past — but you become removed from what’s happening. I’ll never forget a group tour of an impoverished Cape Town township in South Africa. I was glad to be exposed to a local way of life, and many of my companions began to take pictures of the children there. I followed suit until it felt so bizarre that I finally had to stop. They were people, not just points of interest on a sightseeing tour. I could never learn what their life was really like in mere hours, but I didn’t want to waste that time by just photographing them. That’s when many of us decided to hand the cameras over and let the children take their own pictures.

While voyeurism is inherent to leisure travel, I’m also aiming to lose myself (and that includes my one-sided perspective). Despite the vulnerable position of being in a foreign land, I still find faking it (even if you don’t make it) outweighs the doe-eyed sponge you become when you stick to the “I’m just a tourist” routine. You can be more! It doesn’t take any extra time, money or resources. The secret is a little effort: a few words of the language, understanding the currency, adhering to any regional religious restrictions or even stretching your own culinary comforts.

To me, the debate is less about word choice and more a state of mind. Don’t be a patron at the global zoo — join the wild and wonderful things. Don’t be a tourist — be a traveler.

10 Annoying Habits of Our Fellow Travelers

What are your thoughts? Is there a meaningful difference between a tourist and a traveler?

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

Today’s post is part of a new weekly series called “Travel Toss-Up,” in which we ask you to take your pick between two amazing travel experiences.

This week’s toss-up offers a choice of two desert adventures.

Would you rather …

… take a camel ride through the dunes of the Sahara in Morocco, or …

morocco sahara desert camel dune


… explore the ancient city of Petra, Jordan?

petra jordan


Tell us your preference in the comments below!

– 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 one of South America’s most beautiful natural attractions.

Once you think you know the answer, post it below. You have until Monday, January 6, 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 Gwen M, who correctly guessed that the pictogram spelled “Torres del Paine.” Gwen has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Stay tuned for further opportunities to win.


– written and created by Dori Saltzman