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As a traveler, is there any better feeling than finally crossing a trip off your bucket list? I did it myself last week with an expedition cruise to the Galapagos Islands aboard the 32-passenger Evolution; the trip was run by International Expeditions, which offers nature-based trips around the globe.

After so many years of building up expectations in my head about this trip, I can confirm a few things: the wildlife was just as exotic and unafraid of humans as I’d been told (swimming with sea lions is a memory I’ll never forget), and all those light-colored, quick-drying clothes I was advised to pack were definitely useful under the harsh equatorial sun. But as with any trip, there were a few lessons I could only learn through experience.

galapagos tortoise


1. Bring an umbrella (and not just for rain).
Are you sensitive to the sun? Bring your own beach umbrella! I’d initially packed an umbrella in case of rain in Guayaquil (where I spent a few nights before and after the cruise), but I ended up using it to provide shade during a few ultra-sunny beach days. It can also be useful for hikes, as trees can be scarce on the more arid islands.

2. Always keep your camera with you, even at meal times.
You never know when a pod of dolphins or a magnificent frigate bird will cruise by the bow of the ship, and you might miss a sweet photo op if you have to run back to your cabin to grab your camera.

3. Arrive at least a day early.
This advice applies to anyone boarding a cruise ship or joining an organized tour, but it’s particularly important in the Galapagos, where flights are limited and not all islands have airports. One family on our sailing arrived a couple of hours too late to catch our flight from Guayaquil to the islands, and ended up missing two full days of our weeklong itinerary.

How to Pack for a Galapagos Cruise

4. Pack properly for snorkeling.
While your ship may provide wetsuits for snorkeling, consider packing a dive skin to wear under it both for warmth (especially between June and November when the water is colder) and for sun protection. Also, don’t forget your head! One fellow passenger, whose hair was thinning a bit, said that he wished he’d brought a swim cap to protect his scalp from the sun. Finally, consider bringing some alcohol-based drops to help dry your ears after snorkeling; this can help prevent swimmer’s ear and other infections.

galapagos sea turtle


5. Consider altitude sickness when planning your route.
The two gateway cities for flights to the Galapagos are Quito and Guayaquil, and they each have their pros and cons. While many travelers consider Quito to be the more interesting city, keep in mind that it’s located at an altitude of more than 9,000 feet, while Guayaquil is at sea level. Not everyone suffers from altitude sickness, but it can be debilitating — something to consider if you’re only going to be in town for a day or two.

6. Put the camera away.
When you’re standing incredibly close to an animal, it’s tempting to keep click-click-clicking away with your camera. But at one point, when I found myself watching a pair of albatrosses courting each other through the lens instead of with my own two eyes, I decided it was time to drop the camera and simply drink in the experience for a few moments — because who knows when I’d ever have this chance again?

In Your Face: 9 Up-Close Animal Encounters

– written by Sarah Schlichter

inkwell and penDid you know that Monday was Limerick Day? According to DaysoftheYear.com, it’s held each year on May 12 to honor the birthday of Edward Lear, who popularized the short poems and named them after the Irish city of Limerick.

To celebrate the day, you’ll find some creations of our very own below — travel-themed, of course.

Today we’re writing a blog
About Shanghai and Tokyo and Prague.
How ’bout Barcelona?
You want to go, don’t ya,
To London, all shrouded in fog?

Australia‘s a fun place to play,
But the trip takes almost all day.
So start in the morning,
But here’s a fair warning:
Your connecting flight’s on delay.

Why not head to the equator,
Where you’ll lie on the beach till much later?
Be sure to use sunscreen.
The heat can be quite mean,
So ask for a drink from the waiter.

Bucket list places abound,
But they’re not that easily found.
Antarctica’s pricey,
And Egypt is dicey.
Maybe save them for next time around.

Now it’s time to start packing.
Make sure that nothing is lacking.
Camera and clothes
And a suitcase that rolls:
Check out our list, and get cracking.

We’d love to hear your travel limericks! Write your own, and post it in the comments below.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

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 colorful shopping experiences.

Would you rather…

… wander through the chaotic souks of Old City Jerusalem, or …

jerusalem market old city



… browse the offerings at the Jean-Talon Italian market in Montreal?

jean talon market montreal


Jerusalem’s Old City is home to sprawling Arab souks selling everything from exotic spices and brightly colored pottery to traditional headdresses and ultra-modern T-shirts. In the heart of Montreal’s Little Italy neighborhood, Jean-Talon Market offers a mouth-watering selection of fruit, vegetables, bread, chocolate, maple syrup and other locally sourced foodstuffs.

Photos: 12 Delicious Destinations for Foodies

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

This week’s travel puzzle is a “guess the flag” challenge. Can you identify which nation the following flag belongs to?


Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, May 12, 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 Arnie Valeriano, who correctly guessed that this week’s flag was from Kenya. Arnie has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

living roomWhenever I’ve got a long-haul flight coming up, I console myself by vowing to sleep for several hours … or at least try to. I don’t know who I’m kidding, though; I have a difficult time sleeping upright while crammed next to complete strangers. What if I snore or drool? What if my head ends up on someone’s shoulder? Or — gasp — what if I miss beverage service?

If you’ve got a long flight and $21,000 extra dollars to spend (each way, according to Mashable), you can test out Etihad Airways’ multi-room suite, dubbed “The Residence.”

Sleeping on Planes

Found only on the upper level of A380 planes, The Residence offers accommodations that include a private living room, bedroom and bathroom. Oh, and did I mention there’s also a butler? To top it off, passengers also have access to more than 750 hours of TV programming (to use with their complimentary noise-canceling headphones) and full mobile and Wi-Fi services while in the air.

A second grade of private cabins on the A380′s upper level is the “First Apartments” class, which features reclining seats, beds and stocked minibars.

Although Etihad isn’t the first airline to offer beds, it’s the first to offer entire private suites.

With all of these uncommon in-flight amenities, you’ll never have to worry about snoring or missing the dinner trolley again.

How Flying Coach Could Save Your Life

If you had an extra $21,000, would you spend it on a one-way flight? Share your thoughts below.

–written by Ashley Kosciolek

living roomGrowing up outside of New York City, I’ve spent countless days wandering its buzzing streets and getting lost within what I view as the ultimate metropolitan epicenter. It wasn’t until my college years, though, that I learned about Starbucks’ bathrooms.

The thing about New York is there’s nowhere to stop. In accordance with its fast-paced reputation, unless you’re headed somewhere, there’s rarely a place you can find to slow down. Depending on the part of town, it can even be a challenge to find a proper bench to park yourself long enough to eat a bite.

Something as simple as finding a bathroom became an epic quest before I learned of Starbucks’ open-door policy regarding use of its bathrooms. In my lifetime of exploring The City That Never Sleeps, it’s the only place I can think of that offers this amenity to the public. How tourists survive long days of city sightseeing has always been a mystery to me; if I never figured out New York’s rest stop secrets, how could they have enough stamina to go nonstop without a public toilet or seat in sight?

What Not to Do in a New City

This question is finally being addressed with two startups looking to offer a modicum of privacy and personal resources in an unforgiving urban landscape.

The first goes by the name Breather, and offers just that — a clean, comfortable and private place to breathe where you can make a phone call, eat a snack, hold a meeting or even take a nap — all while Manhattan carries on around you.

The spaces are reserved using a mobile app (or the Web) and can be used for 30 minutes or the entire day. Modestly furnished but modern, the spaces offer natural light and are cleaned after each reservation. Supplies such as pencils, notepads and Wi-Fi are available for use. If you’re thinking of “other things” the rooms can be used for, well, the site covers that in its terms and conditions. Breather spaces are currently available around New York City and Montreal, and they’re headed to San Francisco. Prices vary by location, ranging from $15 to $25 per hour.

Answering nature’s call in a similar fashion, POSH Stow and Go (as seen in The Verge) has plans to become a members-only storage and bathroom facility that offers private access to lockers and personal bathrooms. Set to launch the summer of 2014, POSH offers luggage-laden visitors or weary New Yorkers the chance to use their private facilities for an annual $15 membership fee, in addition to daily pricing that ranges by package — $24 for three days, $42 for six days or $60 for 10 days.

Set to become available in the precious little space of NYC, POSH stresses that its membership offerings are limited and first-come, first-served. If the ultimate in washroom seclusion appeals to you and you find that you’re sick of seeing the inside of every Starbucks, treat yourself to some rare alone time in The Big Apple.

Would you take advantage of a members-only bathroom or reserve a quiet space when visiting a new city? Let us know in the comments below.

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

Domino SparrowI have a weird sense of humor. I admit it. So I was intrigued to discover that the Museum of Natural History in Rotterdam, Netherlands, is home to an exhibit entitled “Dead Animals with a Story.”

Sure, there are dead animals in natural history museums all the time, but these had stories that involved things like dominos and McFlurry cups. I had to see this exhibit for myself.

So while everyone else from my river cruise went to see yet more Dutch artistry, I found my way to Rotterdam’s Museum of Natural History. It took three sets of directions before I found the small building tucked into the corner of Museum Square. That was just fine with me; all the wandering added to my sense of adventure. I was on a quest to find these storied animals.

For such a small museum, it also took me a while to find the exhibit that had so caught my attention. For starters, neither the map nor the museum’s signage was in English. So I headed up the stairs and into every room I could find. Nothing, just your usual stuffed animals on display.

Could I be mistaken? Had I found my way to the wrong museum? Had they scrapped the exhibit?

The World’s Weirdest Museums

Back down the stairs.

I was exiting yet another exhibit room, disappointed at my failure, when I spied the stuffed remains of a hedgehog with his head inserted into a McFlurry cup in a display case right at the entrance to the museum. I’d passed right by it!

The low, long, narrow display case was placed unobtrusively along the wall immediately inside of the entryway. The stuffed animals in the case were small and easy to miss — a house mouse, a tiny bat, a sparrow, the unfortunate hedgehog, numbered among the maybe 10 animals displayed.

But what made these poor critters different from the hundreds of other animals in the museum?

Well, the house mouse, for instance, wasn’t killed in just any old house. He (or she) was one of several hundred killed in 2012 when the Second Chamber (part of the country’s House of Representatives) experienced a mouse infestation. When the curator at the museum saw the news of the problem, it occurred to him that his collection did not have a house mouse in it. So he sent a request to the government asking if they would send one of their dead mice to him. His request was soundly refused. The government, he was told, does not give away its trash — of any kind. And yet, a few days later, a package in the official envelope of the Second Chamber showed up, no return addressee listed, with a dead mouse still in the trap enclosed.

Then there is the “domino sparrow.” This unfortunate bird had the dubious honor of garnering international attention when he was shot and killed after knocking down some 23,000 dominos (of nearly 4 million!) at the annual Domino Day event in Leeuwarden just four days before the event. The shooting outraged animal rights groups around the country, and they took the shooter and the organizers of Domino Day to court. Prosecutors opened an investigation and issued a 200 euro fine to the man who killed the bird.

In Your Face: 9 Up-Close Animal Encounters

And then there’s the hedgehog. His is a tale of environmental caution for everyone. Once quite large, the Netherlands’ hedgehog population has almost halved in the past 20 years. Though the main cause of death is cars, a significant number die after inserting their heads into ice cream cups (the kind with triangular openings for spoons) and then being unable to get back out because of the structure of their neck and spine. These poor critters either starve to death or run around blindly until they fall into a canal and drown. The specimen in the Rotterdam museum is one such unlucky hedgehog. The good news is that an animal lovers’ group in England lobbied McDonald’s to replace the McFlurry covers with those that have smaller holes, thereby protecting hedgehogs from this sad fate.

One caveat about the museum exhibit: all the signage is in Dutch. I had to turn to a Dutch guide on my river cruise for translations (based on photographs I’d taken of the exhibit). Therefore, most of my enjoyment of the displays came after the fact.

What’s the strangest exhibit you’ve ever come across in your travels?

– written by Dori Saltzman

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 exotic types of lodging.

Would you rather…

… sleep in a traditional yurt in Mongolia …

yurt mongolia



… stay in a jungle lodge in the heart of the Ecuadorian Amazon?

jungle lodge ecuador


A yurt, or ger, is a tent-like structure traditionally used by the nomadic people of Mongolia; it’s constructed of wool felt over a wooden frame, and can easily be erected and collapsed when the group is ready to move on. Yurt stays are available through groups such as Stone Horse Expeditions & Travel and Legend Tour. Ecuador is home to a number of remote lodges that allow guests to get up close and personal with the jungle’s unique wildlife and plants. A few to consider include Sacha Lodge, La Selva Amazon Eco Lodge and Kapawi Ecolodge.

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

This week’s brainteaser is a Friday Word Puzzle. We’ll give you a category and the first letters of five words that fall into that category, and you fill in the rest. Keep in mind that there may be more than one possible response for each letter. For examples, check out this blog post.

Ready to give it a try? Here’s this week’s challenge:

countries in africa


Enter your list of cities in the comments below. You have until Monday, May 5, 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 Katie, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Check out the winning entry below.

countries in africa


Stay tuned for further chances to win!

– created by Dori Saltzman