Catch up on the most interesting travel pieces you may have missed this week.
Please Stop Saying You Want to Go to Cuba Before It’s Ruined
In this incisive op-ed for Flood Magazine, a Cuban writer challenges the widespread view of Cuba as a romanticized, “stuck in time” destination that’s going to be ruined by a wave of mass tourism from the U.S. “What exactly do you think will ruin Cuba?” Natalie Morales writes. “Running water? Available food? … Access to proper healthcare?” It’s a must-read for anyone interested in visiting Cuba and seeing what it’s truly like to live there. (Warning: There’s some colorful language.)
Inside the Radical Airline Cabins of the Future
Vogue offers an intriguing look at how airplanes might be designed in the future. Windowless cabins? Stackable sleeping pods? A small viewing bubble on top of the plane? Welcome to a brave new world.
In Praise of Small-Town Travel
National Geographic celebrates the pleasures of visiting towns and villages rather than just big cities, including the slower rhythms of life and the chance to connect with local people. The writer also recommends her favorite small towns on each continent.
Doctors Share What Really Happens When There’s an Emergency Mid-Flight
Conde Nast Traveler interviewed several medical professionals to gather these stories of in-flight emergencies. One doctor delivered a baby; another couldn’t save a patient but used the tragedy to petition the U.S. government for a requirement that all planes have defibrillators and expanded medical kits. (Fortunately for all of us, he was successful.)
The Abandoned Mansions of Billionaires
BBC Travel takes us into the fascinating Shekhawati region of Rajasthan, India, where a collection of opulent havelis (mansions) are falling into decay. Covered with magnificent frescoes, these buildings are only just starting to be preserved as museums or heritage hotels.
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!
In this month’s winning review, a traveler explores Iceland’s natural beauty during a wintry off-season trip. “Inside the Ice Cave was AMAZING,” writes John Connaughton. “Beautiful blue ice, as well as some clear and some coated in white from the snow. We crawled further in to a second chamber where you could again stand up. We took a lot of pictures in the Ice Cave and this was the highlight of our trip.”
Tourism doesn’t simply have to benefit the person soaking in the sun; it can also do good for the people and places you visit. Malia Everette has spent her career blending the two together, designing pleasurable, socially responsible travel experiences to Cuba, Nicaragua, Myanmar and other destinations. She founded the San Francisco-based organization Altruvistas, which, in additional to providing tours, also works to educate others in the travel industry about the benefits of socially responsible travel, funds fellowships, and provides grants and loans to communities looking to improve lives through tourism.
IndependentTraveler.com: What made you choose this career?
Malia Everette: In the late 1980s, I had two journeys that changed my life’s path. The first was to Guatemala and Belize during times of civil war and human rights atrocities in indigenous communities. The second was to North Africa, Egypt, Israel and Palestine. The experiences altered my understanding of the world.
IT: Why should travelers pay attention to being socially responsible?
ME: Frankly, if one cares about people and the planet, purchasing a tourism product based on values is absolutely an ethical mandate. Sustainable tourism helps sustain livelihoods, support local communities, and conserve the world’s natural and cultural heritage. I know that responsible tourism is a powerful tool in poverty reduction.
IT: What are some of the key attributes that a traveler should look for in a destination?
ME: Regardless of the what and where and how, you can finesse your impact by being engaged and informed as a consumer. Call a hotel, a tour operator, a transport company, and ask questions. Ask who owns the hotel. Is it locally owned? If so, more of your tourism dollars can benefit the local economy. If it’s, say, a foreign-owned ecolodge, ask about stewardship practices. Do they give back or profit share to the local community? Do they employ the locals?
When you eat out, choose a locally owned place, not an international chain. If you want to buy gifts to bring home, consider visiting local cooperatives, artist studios and fair trade organizations. This way your gift buying is also supporting the local economy.
IT: You encourage people to choose socially responsible travel instead of “sun and fun” vacations. If someone does take a more typical vacation, are there things can they do to be socially responsible during that trip?
ME: I think all of us need holidays, and having some “fun in the sun” is a good thing. We can be travelers and also tourists. Even going to a place with tons of coastal and resort tourism, one can again try to find a locally owned beach property. Don’t be afraid to go into town and find out where the locals eat and shop. Little acts go a long way.
IT: Which global destinations strike the best balance between contributing to the betterment of the community and being desirable to a traveler?
ME: I am constantly pleased to see new community-based tourism initiatives in Cambodia, Vietnam, India and Peru. I see all the amazing restoration happening in Havana every month when I visit and know that tourism receipts are doing good. Many visitors don’t know where the tourism dollars go, yet large amounts are reinvested back into restoration and local social services. I was also impressed by Rwanda’s management of mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park.
IT: You’ve traveled extensively with your two sons. Where did you first introduce them to the idea of responsible tourism?
ME: My sons are now 15 and 16. I started traveling with them when they were babies and as a single mom. I think my sons “got it” when they were about 8 and 9, when we were visiting a fair trade coffee cooperative in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. They played with the local kids and stayed at the farms. The contrast of life, the joy of community and the contrast of material wealth they got.
IT: Was it hard to travel as a single mom?
ME: I have found that traveling as a mother has been incredible. People in the service sectors are so accommodating and generous, though it might have been strange to see me with a backpack with one baby in front and one toddler on the back!
IT: What are some of your favorite travel destinations?
ME: I love so many places, but I find myself in three places frequently. First, I am in Cuba about nine or 10 times a year. I love it, the cultural resilience and the vitality of the people are ever compelling and connective. Second, I relish my annual visits back home to Hawaii, to be in nature, on the beach, eating poi, and just being home. I also feel called to the Amazon every few years. I usually go to the Sarayaku nation in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The community and the jungle are inspiring, connective and restorative. Plus, I so respect their struggle to maintain their land and way of life [in the face of] petroleum exploitation.
IT: Where haven’t you been that you’d really like to visit?
ME: I hope I have the longevity and health to enjoy many more adventures. On my short list: Bhutan, Borneo, Dominica and Papua New Guinea.
This week’s travel puzzle is part of our ongoing Flag Friday series of challenges. Can you identify which nation the following flag belongs to?
Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, March 28, 2016, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. 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 Kerry, who correctly guessed that this week’s flag was from Kiribati. Kerry has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations!
Check out the best travel content you might have missed this week.
How to Be the Kind of Tourist Tour Guides Love
This Washington Post story by a tour guide in Paris offers practical advice every traveler should know before joining a group tour. (Example: “Don’t distract your guide when she is doing something tricky, like negotiating a busy traffic intersection on a bicycle tour, or setting up safety lines during a rappelling excursion. Your safety may depend on her concentration.”)
Planning the Spontaneous
In an essay for Travel Weekly, legendary travel writer Paul Theroux reveals how he prepares for his trips, including how he chooses destinations, what he reads before he goes and how he answers the “occupation” question on visa applications. (Also worth a read: Theroux’s interview with Travel Weekly about his recent trip to the Deep South.)
Why Your Next Hotel Will Be Staffed by Robots
CNN reports on the growing trend of automation in the travel industry, from robots checking people into hotels to automated bartenders on Royal Caribbean cruise ships. The story explores how far the technology might go; could tour guides be replaced by machines? While we’re all for efficiency, we hope travel never loses its personal touch.
Why Is Traveling Alone Still Considered a Risky, Frivolous Pursuit for Women?
This provocative essay in the Guardian was sparked by the deaths of two young Argentinian women who were murdered during a backpacking trip in Ecuador. The writer questions why many people’s response to the tragedy was to ask why the women were traveling “alone” and examines the double standards that women travelers face.
After Brussels, Why Travel Is More Important Than Ever
The Editor-in-Chief of Travel + Leisure offers a compelling argument for why we should continue to travel in the face of ongoing terrorist attacks: “Travel fosters human understanding, and empathy for people whose lives are unlike your own. … Travelers are, ultimately, the enemies of terrorists, and what they believe works against terrorists’ aims, person by person and little by little.”
Warning: This week’s video might make you cry. It’s from Expedia, which is using virtual reality technology to bring the world to kids at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital who are too sick to travel.
I’m always on the prowl for the best items to pack in the carry-on bag that stays under the seat in front of me during a long-haul flight. The coziest socks, the perfect snacks, the best neck pillow, the yoga pants with the most comfortable waistband, the best-tasting toothpaste in the smallest tube. It’s a bit of an obsession of mine — and one day in the hopefully-not-too-distant future, I will master my quest.
If you too are always seeking out new ideas of what to pack in your carry-on for a lengthy flight, these recent articles may also provide you with inspiration:
The Complete Guide to Faking Your Own Business-Class Upgrade: Just because you’re flying economy, it doesn’t mean you can’t have a first-class experience, writes Dan Frommer at Quartz. One of his genius tips: Bring a Thermos with you to the airport. Once you’ve cleared security, go to McDonald’s or another restaurant, and have an ice cream sundae made in the container. It’ll stay cold enough for you to enjoy after your in-flight dinner. He also packs hot sauce and noise-canceling headphones, and prepays for in-flight Internet access through Gogo to save money.
A Must-Have Travel Kit for Your Coziest Flight Ever: Why have I never thought to bring my own teabags on a flight? Zoe Eisenberg of Care2 recognizes that in-flight tea options are “bleak.” She also suggests bringing a scarf; according to Ayurvedic medicine, wearing a scarf can bolster your immune system by offering extra warmth around the neck — vital when you’re surrounded by sneezy travelers. (See also our tips for Avoiding the Airplane Cold.)
10 Smart Things to Pack in Your Carry-On: Most of the tips in this article from Mental Floss are pretty basic, but a few are items the typical traveler may not consider. One of my favorites: a collapsible water bottle that takes up little room in your bag.
This week’s puzzle is a word scramble. Below are the jumbled names of four major cities from around the world, followed by the country where they’re located. Your job is to unscramble them. For example, “IALM, EURP” would be “Lima, Peru.” Identify all four mystery cities to win.
Enter your list of unscrambled cities in the comments below. You have until Monday, March 21, 2016, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. 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 J Hammons, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Check out the puzzle answers below.
Inside the Very Real World of ‘Slum Tourism’
This thoughtful essay from Conde Nast Traveler explores the ethical ramifications of visiting underprivileged neighborhoods as a tourist. Yes, the tours educate travelers and often provide financial support to the communities affected, but do they exploit the misery of others?
Man with Muscular Dystrophy to Travel Through Europe as ‘Human Backpack’
In the “heartwarming” category comes this story from WNCN, a news station in North Carolina, about a man whose friends have volunteered to help him explore Europe by carrying him on their backs. Kevan Chandler weighs 65 pounds and has muscular dystrophy, which causes progressive muscle weakness. His friends hope to help him see sights that would be inaccessible to him in a wheelchair.
This Could Be the World’s Largest Passport
The Smithsonian profiles a man who once had a passport with a whopping 331 pages. (His current one has 192.) Eric Oborski racked up some 15 million frequent flier miles and regularly visited embassies in Tokyo and Bangkok to add extra pages to his passport every time he ran out of space for new stamps.
Neighbors Now Have a Way to Complain About Bad Airbnb Hosts
Airbnb isn’t always popular with its hosts’ neighbors, who might not be thrilled by the revolving door of strangers staying next door. But Skift reports that the company is adding a new tool to allow neighbors to comment on guests’ behavior; this feedback will be reviewed by Airbnb’s customer support team.
This week’s video captures the colors, sounds and energy of India.
If you’ve got a fixed vacation budget but no strong feelings about where you want to go, a new booking site could provide the perfect combination of low prices and inspiration. It’s called Wherefor.
You start by entering your hotel and flight budget, the number of travelers, your travel dates and departure city. Then hit “Search Destinations” and see all the places you can afford to go.
I tested it out with a $2,000 budget for two people departing from Philadelphia for a week in May. Even with a relatively modest budget, I ended up with trip possibilities on three continents, including Europe (Moscow) and South America (Quito and Rio de Janeiro), as well as numerous North American options.
Test One: Moscow, Russia
Wherefor presented me with a total price of $1,944.57 for flights and hotel for two people. Most of that budget was for airfare: $1,672.24 for an outgoing flight on Delta and a return on Air France. It’s a decent price for two people — but with a stopover, the trip home would take more than 28 hours. No thanks! Fortunately, you can click on “other flights” to see more options at higher price points, though this might cause you to exceed your initial spending limit.
The site also suggested a budget hotel, the Alekseevsky, at an average price of $46.80 a night. As with flights, you can also browse other, more expensive lodging options. When you’re ready to book, you can buy the flights, the hotel or both. The site currently offers travelers the chance to spread their trip payments over 12 months with 0 percent interest.
Test Two: Quito, Ecuador
In Quito, cheaper airfares (just $769 for two people) allowed enough wiggle room in my budget for a moderately priced hotel, the Mercure Hotel Alameda ($97 a night). Again, the suggested flight wasn’t exactly appealing, with a 21-hour layover on the outgoing leg; nor was there a way to filter the other flight results by number of stopovers or total travel time.
If price is more important to you than schedule, Wherefor’s itineraries are very competitive. For the cities I checked, the fares and hotel rates were sometimes (but not always) lower than those on Kayak.com. As with any booking site, you should comparison shop before you pull out your credit card.
One important note: Wherefor’s estimated flight cost includes taxes and fees, but the nightly hotel rate doesn’t. You may find that adding those in on the booking screen actually takes you above your projected budget.
Wherefor has advanced search options that allow you to specify a minimum hotel level (budget, standard or luxury), filter your results to certain regions or tailor your trip by interest (such as beaches, “famous for food” or family-friendly). You can also enter a city or airport if you know where you want to go. A filter I hope they’ll add in the future: trips with nonstop flights.
Overall, Wherefor is an intriguing option for travelers seeking inspiration or trying to figure out how far their budget will take them. Would you give it a try?