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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.

Photos: 11 Best Canada Experiences
Vancouver City Guide

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

It’s the height of summer here in the Northern Hemisphere, and that means every time we look out the window we’re daydreaming about sun-splashed sands, turquoise waters, the sound of crashing waves, and the smell of salt air and sunscreen. If you don’t have your own beach vacation coming up, let the following photos take you on a mental escape to a few of the globe’s most beautiful stretches of sand.

beach boats koh lipe thailand


Koh Lipe, Thailand



coco beach guanacaste costa rica sunset


Coco Beach, Guanacaste, Costa Rica



kauai beach chairs waves hawaii


Kauai, Hawaii, U.S.A.



beach innes national park australia


Innes National Park, Australia



beach brela croatia


Brela, Dalmatian Coast, Croatia



Which beach are you dying to be on right now?

How to Pack for a Beach Vacation
6 National Parks We Want to Visit Around the World

— written by Sarah Schlichter

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!

monterey kayak


In this month’s winning review, a traveler lives out an animal lover’s dream: “On my bucket list: [kayaking] in Monterey Bay to observe wild sea otters up close,” writes Jill Weinlein. “This desire started last year after a trip to the Monterey Aquarium. The sea otter exhibit melted my heart. These playful furry mammals have a brown, thick coat that is the densest in the animal kingdom. They are most comfortable living in the ocean attached to kelp.”

Read the rest of Jill’s review here: Kayaking with Sea Otters in Monterey. Jill has won an IndependentTraveler.com sweatshirt.

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Catch up on the travel stories you may have missed.

woman sleeping at airport


Why Your Eastward Jet Lag Is Worse, According to Math
CNN reports on a new math model that explains why many travelers have more trouble with jet lag when traveling east than they do going west.

Your Awkward Family Travel Photos
Have a laugh over this slideshow from the New York Times featuring bad ’80s hair, goofy poses and kids having temper tantrums — all the stuff great family trips are made of.

How a Hidden Noodle Shop Tour Helps Street Youth in Vietnam
National Geographic reports on a street food tour with a heart. The Oodles of Noodles tour in Hoi An, Vietnam, is led by local street kids being trained to work in the hospitality industry.

Why I Love Being a Pilot
A pilot tells the Guardian about his experience of “place lag,” which he describes as the feeling of being immersed in one destination and then, after a few hours on a plane, having to suddenly adapt to a new place and culture.

The Ultimate Berlin Street Food
BBC Travel investigates the history and cultural significance of currywurst, which is said to have been invented in 1949 by a bored snack bar owner in West Berlin.

5 Changes That Have Made Flying Safer
Conde Nast Traveler highlights just how safe it is to fly these days — there were only 136 fatalities last year out of 3.5 billion fliers — and explains the policies and technology that have led us to this point.

Google’s Mobile Service Gets International Upgrade
Travelers who rely on their phones abroad should check out this article from Travel + Leisure, which describes improvements to Google’s Project Fi mobile service — including high data speeds in more than 100 countries. (One important caveat: So far the service is only available for Google’s Nexus phones.)

CT Scanners Could End the Liquid Ban, and They’re Coming to Phoenix This Year
Airline blogger Cranky Flier reports that American Airlines will be testing out CT scanners at Phoenix Sky Harbor International this year. Such technology is currently in use for checked bags, but if it comes to the airport security checkpoint it could conceivably speed up the line and possibly even keep us from having to pull out our bags of liquids and gels. Here’s hoping…

This week’s video is a twofer from Visit Norway, which has introduced a new campaign called Sheep with a View. First up is the video introducing the project, while the second one is a behind-the-scenes look that’s even cuter.



10 Best Norway Experiences
How to Fight Jet Lag

— written by Sarah Schlichter

In December we introduced you to a couple who quit their jobs, loaded their possessions into an Airstream travel trailer and set off to visit every national park in the United States. Stefanie Payne and Jonathan Irish are now halfway through their all-American adventure, capturing it in real time on their Facebook page and sharing more in-depth stories and photography on their website, The Greatest American Road Trip.

Their current location: Zion National Park. We checked in with them to see how the trip is going.

grand canyon national park hiker


Independent Traveler: Six months on the road, and you both still sound so upbeat and enthusiastic! How are you faring?
Jonathan Irish:
Personally, I feel as though we are living an exclamation point. Everything seems to be punctuated with the extreme. We are so tired from the constant moving, so energized by the beauty of the parks, so grateful for the opportunity to see these beautiful places, so humbled that we are touching so many people with memories from their own park experiences as well as inspiration to get out and keep exploring. It’s everything all at once. It is definitely the best year of our lives.

Stefanie Payne: It seems like an obvious answer, but we are having the best year. We’re enjoying every minute … even when it’s tiring. To be truthful, this is a really hard project in a lot of ways. Keeping up with producing and editing content is literally a round-the-clock job. And some days you just don’t want to hike eight miles up a mountain! But the desire to make the most of this opportunity and create meaningful content that people (and we) enjoy fuels us in a way that makes fatigue fall away.

IT: Tell us about some of your favorite moments so far.
SP:
Some of the highlights for me have been the big hikes — the Subway at Zion, Grand Canyon Rim to Rim, a hike to the ancient Bristlecone Pines in Great Basin, Nevada.

JI: I love the early morning photo explorations, when the rest of the world is sleeping and the world is just coming to life. During these outings, I always find myself in beautiful locations, walking in the woods or in the mountains, the sun just starting to rise.

I also love the big hikes we’ve been doing, where we’ve challenged ourselves. The Subway hike in Zion, the Rim to Rim in Grand Canyon, the Panorama Trail in Yosemite. These are great memories for me.

big bend national park jonathan irish


IT: What has been the hardest part of this trip — something you didn’t expect to be challenging?
SP:
Just keeping up with editing. That is the monster on this project. We put out a thorough snapshot from each park, I feel, but there is so much we’re creating that we simply don’t have time to work through. For every photo, memory, idea, there seem to be 100 more unshared and unsaid.

JI: I second Stef’s answer. It’s one thing to travel to the parks, but another to put out great content that people will want to come back to. It takes a lot of creative energy, which is very hard to keep at a high level all the time. Luckily, the nature in the parks renews us every time we feel drained.

IT: And what was easier than expected?
SP:
The task of finding and making a great experience in every park. Somehow, we always seem to manage to capture a park in a way we’re satisfied with.

IT: We saw you on “Good Morning America” recently and caught a glimpse of the inside of the Airstream trailer. Is it hard living in such a small space?
SP:
We’ve been living in a small space together for many years so we didn’t expect it to be difficult. But it is helping us to improve how we communicate. Any bickering has to be pushed through pretty quickly. There just isn’t time to not get along. And we’re both pretty happy.

JI: Being a full-time RVer has been easier than I expected. We love our Airstream and have gotten very used to living in it. In many ways, it is bigger than a lot of NYC apartments! And we love the fact that we are mobile. I could get used to this RVing life!


IT: What have you learned about yourself from embarking on this road trip?
JI:
This kind of trip tests one’s resolve and energy. We’ve found that we always have more of both than we thought, which has been really satisfying.

SP: We have more energy in ourselves than we might think. The trick is to apply it to something you love doing, surrounded by those whom you love doing it with.

National Park Vacations: Top Tips
6 National Parks We Want to Visit Around the World

— interview conducted by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

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!

classic cars havana cuba


In this month’s winning review, an American traveler explores her Cuban heritage: “Growing up, I was curious about my grandfather’s birthplace, an island that we could not visit,” writes Elisa Evans. “He didn’t talk about his childhood in Cuba so I knew very little, but this trip with my mom would give me the opportunity to see, taste, hear and feel what my grandfather experienced growing up, and help me understand the spirit of the Cuban people.”

Read the rest of Elisa’s review here: Cuba Trip with My Mom. Elisa has won an IndependentTraveler.com sweatshirt.

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

Can Americans Travel to Cuba? Yes — and Here’s How

— written by Sarah Schlichter

When I told people I was taking a vacation to Slovenia, the most common response I got was, “…Where?” The second most common response: “Why?”

To answer the questions in order: Slovenia is a small central European country bordered by Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia. And I went there because I was inspired by photos like these:

lake bohinj slovenia


Bohinij, the country’s largest lake, is part of Triglav National Park.

ljubljana slovenia


The capital city, Ljubljana, is home to a picturesque and colorful Old Town overlooking the Ljubjanica River.

predjama castle slovenia


The spectacularly situated Predjama Castle is built into the side of a cliff and connects to a network of caves.

vintgar gorge slovenia


Visitors can hike a boardwalk path alongside an emerald river at the bottom of Vintgar Gorge.

piran slovenia


When you walk through Piran, you feel as though you’ve stepped into Italy; this seaside town was ruled by Venice for centuries.

gibanica cake slovenia


Gibanica, a traditional Slovenian dessert, is made with apples, poppy seeds, wanuts and cheese.

Slovenia Trip Reviews by Real Travelers
Planning a Trip to Europe: Your 10-Step Guide

Are you interested in visiting Slovenia?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Last month, we gave our readers a chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card by submitting a review of a recent trip. We loved reading their submissions, which inspired us with tales of volunteering with elephants in Sri Lanka, cruising around the Mediterranean and tasting wine in South Africa.

hallgrimskirkja blue lagoon reykjavik iceland


Deciding on the winner was hard, but in the end we chose Iceland: A Magical Mystery Tour by Sarah Eaton. Here’s an excerpt from her winning review:

“As we arrived at the secluded farm and looked up into the clear sky, glimmering with thousand of stars, the performance above us was extraordinary. Green lights seem to sway above us in a movement I can only compare to the inside of a lava lamp, slowly wavering across the night sky.” Read the rest!

While we only had one prize to give away, we also wanted to recognize a few runners-up whose reviews are also well worth a read:

Anything for the Elephants! by TS Buchanan: ” Let me introduce Ranmenika. She’s a 40-year-old beauty (elephants can live as long as 80 years) who fell into a well when she was just six. … Ranmenika is currently one of seven elephants under the care of MEF.”

A Third Roman Christmas by Host Ciao: “I walked to visit the Pantheon and then on to Piazza Navona where I planned to wander the huge Christmas fair held there. What a sad sight I found! Instead of booths offering all kinds of food, Christmas decorations, Nativity set pieces, and games, I found exactly six booths of games and a merry-go-round. No one was trying to win a huge stuffed animal at the games or enjoying the ride. A few people were wandering around the famous fountain and only a few were at the restaurants that border much of the square.”

How to Spend Three Perfect Days in Cape Town by Rachael Taft: “Excuse me while I gush, but South African wine is to die for! I wish America would figure this out and stock more of it in regular stores! If you’re looking for a classic South African wine to try, the Pinotage (a red) is a great place to start.”

Two Weeks on the Mediterranean: The Vision of the Seas by Justin Boot: “Montenegro took me by surprise in the best way. The Bay of Kotor is one of the most naturally beautiful and serene places I’ve ever seen. Coming from someone that lives in California and has been to Hawaii multiple times, that’s really saying something. The cruise ship had to navigate a narrow inlet for over an hour, passing by numerous small villages and hills that gracefully sloped up into mountain ranges. The water was clean, calm, and looked almost like a perfect mirror. It’s as if we’d somehow traveled back in time, to a medieval European era.”

Feeling inspired? Write a review of your latest trip!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

With the U.S. National Park Service celebrating its centennial this year, national parks are in the spotlight — not just here in the States but around the world. We love national parks because they protect a country’s natural scenery and unique wildlife for all of us to enjoy, whether you’re driving through in a car, hiking a trail or camping in the backcountry. Check out these six national parks we want to visit around the world.

grand teton national park


Grand Teton National Park, U.S.A., offers magnificent mountain vistas.

elephants in etosha national park


On safari in Namibia’s Etosha National Park, you’ll spy lions, elephants, zebras and much more.

waterfall lamington national park


Located in Queensland, Australia, Lamington National Park encompasses miles of lush rain forest.

horses torres del paine


Torres del Paine National Park protects some of Patagonian Chile’s most stunning landscapes.

komodo dragon


Komodo National Park in Indonesia is home to the endangered Komodo dragon, along with a variety of marine wildlife.

northeast greenland national park



Northeast Greenland National Park is the world’s biggest national park, but it’s so difficult to reach that very few people actually visit it.

Planning an African Safari
National Park Vacations

Which national park tops your must-visit list?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

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!

world destination


Hint: This mosque is currently the site of the world’s tallest minaret.

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, May 16, 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 Wendell Prins, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, Morocco. Wendell has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.

See All “Where in the World?” Challenges

— written by Sarah Schlichter