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 pair of travelers celebrate their anniversary with a trip to Peru: “Once inside [Machu Picchu] you ‘hike’ a rather steep path of cobblestone steps until you get to the overview (with our guide who was pretty proactive, it took us about 20 minutes),” writes cruisinbob. “Once at the vantage point, the view is simply awesome, much like the pictures you see.”
Read the rest of cruisinbob’s review here: Peru and Machu Picchu. This reader has won an IndependentTraveler.com sweatshirt.
Let’s say you’ve always dreamed of ringing in the New Year in Times Square, and you’ve always wanted to stay at the New York Marriott Marquis, with its revolving restaurant and stone’s throw location to the famous midnight ball drop. You go online to make a booking, only to find that all 1,900+ rooms are sold out. A dozen booking websites return the same frustrating result.
If you’re truly determined to get a room in that hotel, you can spend hour after obsessive hour scouring the Internet trying to nab a cancellation. Or you could let a new website do the work for you.
Type in your desired hotel and travel dates, and Open Hotel Alert will send you a simple email or text message as soon as a room opens up. You then click on a provided link to reserve the room on Booking.com, the site’s affiliate partner.
There are a number of scenarios where this service could prove useful:
– If you’ve saved up all your loyalty points to use on your honeymoon at a specific beach resort, but the property is sold out.
– You’re going to a popular conference in a large city, but all of the hotels near the convention center are booked. Set up alerts for all of the hotels in the vicinity of the conference, and you’ll receive a notice if one of them opens up.
– You’re planning on having client meetings at your hotel and really wanted a suite, but only standard rooms are available. The notification you receive from Open Hotel Alert will tell you which room types have opened up.
Open Hotel Alert has more than one million properties programmed into its site, according to its founder, Mark Downs. And as with similar sites like Hotel Room Alerts, there’s no additional fee to use Open Hotel Alert.
This Friday’s challenge is a photo of an unidentified place somewhere in the world. Can you tell us where the photo was taken? Leave your guess in the comments below — and check back on Tuesday to see if you were right!
Hint: You can kayak, take a boat ride or even spend the night on this famous bay.
Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, August 29, 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 prize. 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 Dave, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was Halong Bay in Vietnam. Dave has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.
This Woman’s Insane Etch A Sketches Will Blow Your Freaking Mind
I can barely draw a stick figure on an Etch A Sketch, which is why I’m so amazed by complex and beautiful images drawn by a traveler named Jane Labowitch during a recent trip to India. BuzzFeed has collected her pictures of the Red Fort, the Taj Mahal and more.
Want Your Children to Grow into More Empathetic Adults? Travel with Them
Quartz examines how travel early in life can serve to encourage empathy, compassion and cognitive flexibility in children. One psychologist notes that just taking a trip isn’t enough; parents should have discussions with their children to help them process the differences they see between the local way of life and their own.
Turning Instagram Into a Radically Unfiltered Travel Guide
A writer for the New York Times explains how she uses Instagram’s location-based searches to get a glimpse at new places before she visits — not to see beautiful photos but for more practical purposes such as figuring out what to wear during a visit to a Muslim country during Ramadan or finding a Puerto Rican beach where the locals hang out.
Bangkok’s Disappearing Street Food
BBC reports on a troubling story to those of us who love eating our way through a new destination. In an effort to clean up the streets, the Bangkok government has evicted thousands of street food vendors from public areas around the city. This includes areas popular with tourists and locals such as Soi 38 and the On Nut Night Market.
In this week’s mesmerizing video, actress Rachel Grant shows us how to pack more than 100 items into a single carry-on.
Baggage fees are the airline surcharge that most fliers love to hate, but a new study shows that they have an unexpected silver lining: They’ve made it more likely for your flight to leave on time.
The study comes from the University of Kansas, where researchers discovered that the implementation of baggage fees encouraged fliers to check fewer bags, allowing baggage handlers to load planes more efficiently. Of course, it now seems to take longer for passengers to board, given that we’re all trying to find overhead bin space for our massive carry-ons, but this is apparently outweighed by the time saved on checked baggage. Says a University of Kansas researcher, “The below-the-cabin effect dominates the above-the-cabin effect.”
The time savings weren’t huge — the median departure time improved anywhere from 3.3 to 4.2 minutes, and delays went down 1.3 to 2 minutes — but they benefited all major airlines, including Southwest (which doesn’t charge for checked bags). The researchers note that some baggage handling responsibilities such as security checks are shared among all airlines, so the reduction in total checked luggage improved performance for everyone.
The biggest improvements in on-time performance came at large hub airports where layovers are common; fewer bags going through such massive handling systems led to fewer delays.
In other positive news, luggage-related complaints per 1,000 passengers have fallen since baggage fees were first implemented.
Do these findings make you feel any more kindly toward checked baggage fees?
Christine Ha’s visit to Ho Chi Minh City was a sensory carnival. Street vendors selling everything from fruit to cell phone cases competed for attention with the buzzing of motorbikes and their ever-tooting horns. The air smelled of cooked crab and ripe jackfruit. Rain fell intermittently, and the maze-like sidewalks were packed with people.
For a trip to an Asian city full of life, Ha’s colorful description is what you might expect. But one thing is missing from her travelogue: what she saw. That’s because the Houston-based cook and New York Times bestselling cookbook author has a condition called neuromyelitis optica, which has led to a nearly complete loss of sight.
Ha’s experience has been included in a new online collection of travel stories by visually impaired or blind travelers. The collection includes stories from people of all walks of life and with varying degrees of visual impairment. An Indonesian artist named Alby Letoy was then commissioned to interpret the stories, illustrating them in a dream-like way.
“The end goal is to start a discussion about people who experience travel in a different way to the majority of us and to encourage everyone, both sighted and visually impaired, to go out and enjoy what the world has to offer,” says Olivia Wiltshire, who works for the London-based agency Builtvisible and collaborated with the travel company Travel Supermarket on the project.
The collection includes interpretations of a New York City jazz singer’s time in the Adirondacks, the moment a blind hiker summited the highest peak in Colorado and a salesman’s first visit to Tokyo.
“Blind people experience a city a little different than sighted people,” explains George Wurtzel, a woodworker and craftsman, who has been blind since he was a teenager. “It is a whole body experience … [that builds] a mental picture that is very close to what someone would get by looking around.”
This week’s puzzle is a country shapes quiz! Take a look at the outline and below and tell us which country you think it is.
Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, August 22, 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 Dan, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery country was Brazil. Dan has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.
Check out the travel stories you may have missed this week.
This Fee Could Triple the Cost of Your Reward Flight
The Washington Post reports that fuel surcharges could make your reward flight cost much more than you expect. Despite the low cost of oil, some airlines have surprisingly high fuel surcharges, and you have to pay them even if the base fare is covered by miles.
Travel Writer Thomas Swick on the Seven Joys of Travel
Parade Magazine interviews travel writer Thomas Swick, who recently published a book on what he sees as travel’s greatest joys: anticipation, movement, break from routine, novelty, discovery, emotional connection and a heightened appreciation of home. Discover which of these is his favorite and which destinations he visits over and over again.
I Lost My Job and My Husband. Then I Found Newfoundland.
We loved this New York Times essay about a writer’s impromptu trip to Newfoundland following the end of both her marriage and her job as a teacher at a summer camp. It wasn’t the most glamorous of trips, with several nights spent sleeping in a car and locals recommending a “local” brew called Coors Light, but it was full of the thrill of discovery.
Working Amid a Turbulent Few Decades in the Airline Industry
The Atlantic sits down with Paul Mozeak, a crew chief at John F. Kennedy International Airport, to discuss the changes he’s seen in 32 years of working in the airline industry. He explains the evolution of security regulations (especially since 9/11) and how airline mergers affect their employees.
As I prepared for an early-morning flight from Newark to New Orleans, I was excited to pack the JetComfy pillow, billed as the “world’s best travel pillow.” I hoped it would help me sleep through the entire flight.
JetComfy is a boxy pillow, built into a frame with an extendable pole so that you can bring the pillow closer to your head rather than the other way around. On the other end of the pole is a strap and clamp that you can use to attach the device to your seat’s arm.
The full pillow is fairly large, about half the size of a shoebox, so it’s not easy to take onto the plane if you’ve got a lot of carry-on luggage. I solved this issue by purchasing a bottle of water in an airport store and then putting the pillow into the plastic bag.
Here’s what I discovered about JetComfy:
It’s soft. I mean really soft. With two inches of memory foam, your face sinks gently into the pillow. The fleece-soft cover is also a pleasure to lay your head on.
It’s got phone chargers. Probably my favorite thing about JetComfy was the two USB chargers. I loved being able to power up my cell phone (even after I’d given up trying to sleep on the pillow). Note, however, that the chargers aren’t available with the standard JetComfy purchase; you’ll need to pony up an additional $29.99 for the Upgrade Kit, which includes two USB charging ports, an extra pillow cover and a stylus/pen/flashlight/pointer combo that fits into a slot in the base of the pillow.
It doesn’t angle well. Because it’s so soft, I couldn’t wait to rest my head on the JetComfy pillow and drift off into sleep. However, I found the ability (or lack thereof) to angle the pillow to be a problem. Though the pillow would start out angled, it would not remain so, and I’d wake up with a major crick in my neck. Because I was sitting in an aisle seat, there was nothing to lean the pillow up against to keep the angle in place. It’s possible a window seat would have solved this problem.
It’s bulky. Not only is the JetComfy a bit cumbersome to carry around and onto the plane, but it also takes a bite out of the space surrounding your seat. I quickly realized that using the pillow on the aisle-side seat arm wouldn’t work, as I’d just keep getting bumped by anyone passing by. But using it on the other arm wasn’t much better. Thankfully I was sitting next to my spouse, but he complained about the pillow bumping into him. I don’t know how you’d be able to use it next to a stranger. (Again, the window seat probably would be okay.)
My overall impression of the JetComfy pillow was mixed. I did sleep on it, and I loved how soft it was, but the pain in my neck from waking up with my head completely tilted to the side was not something I’d care to experience again.
The JetComfy pillow costs $49.99 and can be purchased at the JetComfy website (use coupon code INDY for a 10 percent discount, good through December 31, 2016) or at Amazon.com.
Want to give it a try? We’re giving away a JetComfy pillow. Leave a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on Wednesday, August 31, 2016. We’ll pick one winner at random to win the JetComfy pillow. 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 JetComfy pillow is Jessica Chen. Congratulations! Stay tuned for further chances to win.
Volvo USA is currently airing a commercial that has the social media world all atwitter, wondering about the unusual seating arrangements and cryptic facial expressions of a family driving home from a wedding. Why is the forlorn dad in the backseat? Are the two other men brothers or friends or partners? That blonde driver can’t be the dad’s spouse — she’s too young! And why is she smirking?
Personally, though, I’m more curious about the stately, attractive lighthouse in the background of the extended version of the ad (the one where the overly sentimental silver fox is penning the cliched wedding toast for the daughter he’s about to marry off). Check it out:
The lighthouse, it turns out, has made appearances in a number of TV shows, films and commercials, and is a historic landmark. Fisgard Lighthouse, on the rocky southern tip of Vancouver Island, was the first lighthouse built on the west coast of Canada back in 1860.
The lighthouse was included in a 1997 TV series called “Sleepwalkers,” the 2013-14 series “Spooksville” and a Jeep Cherokee commercial. The Volvo ad was filmed at the lighthouse in early May.
If you want to visit the lighthouse, you can do so from Victoria. A causeway connects the island to the Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site. The lighthouse tower is still in operation, so it’s not open to the public. But the former lightkeeper’s home displays contains exhibits about the lighthouse’s history and stashes of games for children to play.
The lighthouse is a magnet for photographers, who are drawn to it during winter storms when the seas kick up and also at sunset, when the lighthouse stands out against a backdrop of the Olympic Mountains in neighboring Washington state. It’s a good spot to picnic and go wildlife watching, with bald eagles, great blue herons, river otters and more residing in the area.
And you can spend the night — not in the lighthouse but in summertime tented cabins that sleep six at neighboring Fort Rodd Hill. Plenty of seaside hotels and B&Bs are nearby too, in case you don’t want to go that rustic.
Yes, the Volvo ad is weird but, like it or hate it, it certainly has done its job of attracting attention for the 2016 Volvo XC90 … and for Victoria’s most famous beacon.