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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 appealing holiday travel options.

Would you rather …

… stroll through a snowy Christmas market in Europe

stockholm christmas market snowy holiday sweden



… build “snowmen” on the beach in the Caribbean?

beach snowmen sand caribbean


Europe is home to numerous traditional Christmas markets that run throughout the festive season. (Don’t miss this video of Berlin’s market.) But while these markets have charm to spare, they also typically feature gray skies and wintry weather — which means you might be happier having your holidays on the beach instead.

Which Caribbean Island Is Right for You?

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

trinidad cubaFor more than 50 years, Cuba has been a travel taboo for U.S. residents. Going there wasn’t technically prohibited — particularly if you were able to get special clearances as a journalist or Cuban expat, or if you traveled with an authorized tour operator — but spending money there was. Sure, there were ways around the restrictions, but this week we’ve gotten closer to the day when independent American travelers will no longer have to make sneaky pit stops in Mexico or Canada along the way.

Earlier this week, after Cuba and the U.S. came to an agreement that released prisoners on both ends and returned them to their home countries, the rules about spending money in Cuba were relaxed. Travelers will soon be able to use their credit and debit cards to make purchases on the island, and lovers of Cuban rum and cigars can rest easy knowing that won’t have to smuggle their Caribbean souvenirs back into the U.S. anymore (not that anyone has ever done that, of course).

Congress will discuss lifting further economic sanctions next year.

Cuba: Two Weeks to Remember

What does this mean for Cuba travel right now? Is it likely that you’ll be able to just pack your bags and book a trip on a whim without a U.S.-sanctioned reason? Not just yet. But anyone wishing to explore the country might find it easier to fit into one of the allowable categories (which include family visits, humanitarian projects, educational activities and “support for the Cuban people,” among others).

Are you interested in Cuba travel? Why or why not? Tell us in the comments below.

First Impressions of a Cuba Cruise

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

With many publications releasing their top destinations for 2015, we couldn’t help but take some time to muse on where the New Year would take us. Watching an inspirational video from travel company Adventure.com helped get us in the spirit of wanderlust with some spectacular imagery from around the world (check it out below!). From family reunions in Ireland to polar bear-spotting above the Arctic Circle, our staff named some destinations they’ve already booked for 2015, and some they’re only dreaming of. I’m personally looking forward to a potential trip to Alaska. Where will 2015 take you?


Who? Kim Coyne, Director of Sales
Where? Ireland, Iceland, river cruise from Amsterdam
Booked or Bucket List? They’re all slated for 2015. When I married my husband, I made him sign a “prenup” (scribbled on a bar napkin) that stated we would always have a next trip planned so that we always have a new or favorite destination to explore.

Who? Masha Uretsky, Social Media Specialist
Where? Greek Islands
Booked or Bucket List? Neither. I’ve been twice (Rhodes, Kos and Peloponnese), but I’m hoping to see more.

Who? Dori Saltzman, Editor at Large
Where? Montreal, Canada
Booked or Bucket List? Booked. Attending the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup to achieve my dream of attending a World Cup soccer game in person.

Who? Jodi O’ Prandy, Senior Search Engine Marketing Specialist
Where? Croatia and Slovenia
Booked or Bucket List? Booked!

How to Tone Your Travel Muscles

Who? Sarah Schlichter, Senior Editor
Where? Svalbard, Norway
Booked or Bucket List? Not sure it’ll happen in 2015, but at some point I’m dying to get up to Svalbard in search of polar bears!

Who? Morgan Agesen, Production Assistant, FamilyVacationCritic.com
Where? Barcelona
Booked or Bucket List? Heading out in April, and going to Copenhagen and Amsterdam as well.

Who? Ashley Kosciolek, Contributing Editor
Where? Tibet
Booked or Bucket List? I’d LOVE to go to Tibet — to one of those mountaintop monasteries — but there’s no way it’s happening in 2015. So bucket list for now.

Who? Jamey Bergman, Production Editor, Cruise Critic U.K.
Where? San Francisco/Tahoe, California
Booked or Bucket List? Never been, but I’ll be staying over Christmas into the New Year. It’s not very exotic, but I’m pretty excited. (Jamey is from the U.S. but is currently living in London.)

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

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 breathtaking bays.

Would you rather …

… sail through the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro, or …

kotor bay montenegro



… relax at Bacuit Bay in El Nido, on Palawan Island in the Philippines?

bacuit bay el nido palawan island philippines


Montenegro’s Bay of Kotor is particularly beautiful when approached by boat; you can also drive along it on a day trip from Dubrovnik, Croatia. Take time to explore the charming medieval town of Kotor. Bacuit Bay is speckled with limestone islands where travelers can hike or snorkel. You can also take a scenic boat ride out into the bay.

10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

burano italyWe recently challenged our readers to write a trip review about their travels for a chance to win a $200 eBags gift card. We loved reading the submissions, which spanned the globe from Bora Bora to Buenos Aires.

Choosing the best review was a true challenge, but in the end we went with Wendy VanHatten’s dispatch from Italy, Burano …. The Cheeriest Little Island. Here’s an excerpt:

“The pace is slow here; slower than Venice. Flower boxes, overflowing with flowers, offer sweet scents; laundry, hanging from second story windows, is just as common as open shutters; bikes, sitting by doorways, wait for their owners; cats, posing for their close-up photos, lazily groom their faces. This is a real island with real Venetians living their lives. You just happen to be their visitor for the day.” Read the rest!

While we only had one prize to give, we want to highlight a few runners-up that we also loved reading:

The Smiles of Papua New Guinea by Ann Swinford: “The highlight of the trip was the Tumbuna Singsing with dances [by] about a dozen tribes. Their preparations, carefully donning makeup and costumes, [were] part of the excitement.”

5 Days in an Overwater Bungalow on Bora Bora by Jill Weinlein: “Everyone loved Janko, including the slippery smooth stingrays. They would swim up his body and kiss him on his face as he fed them raw fish. He made us an authentic Polynesian lunch with grilled marlin, raw fish marinated in coconut and spices, baked taro and tapioca, a delicious coconut cake, fresh papaya and pineapple.”

Canoeing with hippos and crocs on the Zambezi by Miriam Mircutt: “At dusk each night, we headed for one of the islands in the river and camped on their beaches. We washed behind trees from buckets of water which one of the guides delivered to us straight from the river. We slept under skies spattered with stars and were woken often by the sounds of grumping hippos and screaming hyenas.”

How I Spent My Summer Vacation 2014 by vagabondginger: “My best advice for Yellowstone (and elsewhere) is to not just view it through a camera lens. It’s better to put down the camera and pick up the binoculars and just watch the wildlife in its natural environment.”

Feeling inspired? Share advice from your latest trip!

– 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 mouth-watering seasonal beverages.

Would you rather …

… guzzle gluhwein at a Christmas market in Germany, or …

gluhwein mulled wine christmas



… sip warm salep in Turkey?

salep sahlep sahlab turkey


Gluhwein, that delicious mulled wine popular at Christmas markets in German-speaking countries, is spiced with cinnamon, cloves and citrus fruit. Salep (also spelled “sahlep” or “sahlab,” depending on where you’re drinking it) is a popular drink served during the colder months in Turkey, Egypt, Greece and other parts of the former Ottoman Empire. In Turkey the drink is thickened with flour made from the tubers of wild orchids and mixed with warm milk, cinnamon, ginger and/or nutmeg.

12 International Foods to Try Before You Die

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– 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: Originally settled by Baltic tribes then Slavic tribes, this city hosts an annual Marc Chagall Festival.

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, December 8, 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 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 Linda McKeekan, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was Vitebsk, Belarus. Linda has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.

See All “Where in the World?” Challenges

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

The Coliseum in Rome with purple flowers in the foregroundI’ve never quite gotten the whole Seven Wonders of the World thing. Isn’t wonder-ful subjective? What others find awe inspiring, I sometimes find shrugworthy. The Christ the Redeemer statue, for instance, which in 2007 was named one of the Seven Wonders of the New World, stirs absolutely nothing in me. Conversely, places that have amazed me (Australia’s Uluru being one) others have found mildly interesting at best.

11 Best Italy Experiences

And how do we even define a “wonder”? Is it a great work of humanity? Is it a stunning natural landscape or phenomenon? Is it something that represents a monumental moment in time?

We, all of us, answer this question differently, which raises the question what are the “wonders” we have encountered on our travels?

11 Best Australia Experiences

IndependentTraveler.com reached out to some of our contributing editors, as well as our readers on Twitter and Facebook for their lists of the wonders they’ve encountered on their travels.

Without further ado, here are our many Wonders of the World. Please share your list in the comments below.

Tree growing in the ruins of the Ta Prohm TempleBrittany Chrusciel, Contributing Editor
Ta Prohm Temple at Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Mangal Mahadev (108-foot-tall Shiva statue), Ganga Talao, Mauritius

Jenny Szymanski Jones (via Facebook)
Victoria Falls, Zambia
Gulfoss Waterfall, Iceland
Grand Canyon, Arizona, U.S.A.

Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief
Petra, Jordan
Big Sur, California, U.S.A.
Fjords, Norway

A photograph of the Lotus Temple in New Delhi IndiaKingshuk Mazumder (@KingShuk03 via Twitter)
Lotus Temple, New Delhi, India

Erica Silverstein, Contributing Editor
Great Wall of China
Yosemite National Park, California, U.S.A.
Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

@jayme_p via Twitter
Magens Bay, St. Thomas, U.S. V.I.
Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada

Jessica McMillan (@jedijesser via Twitter)
The Ink Pots, Banff, Alberta, Canada

Ruins at Masada IsraelChris Gray Faust, Contributing Editor
Pantheon, Rome, Italy
Masada, Israel

Ashley Kosciolek, Contributing Editor
Colosseum and Vatican City, Italy
Anne Frank House, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Wawel Castle, Krakow, Poland

–written by Dori Saltzman

passengers at airport baggage counterI remember the days when free wireless Internet in a hotel lobby, let alone your own room, was a luxury. Now, the lack of available Wi-Fi in any corner of a country is a deterrent to visitors who are used to the privilege.

In Germany, for instance, the lack of free and available Wi-Fi to tourists is such a problem it has reached the priority list of Chancellor Angela Merkel, Skift reports. According to the story, “Europe’s largest economy offers just 1.9 wireless hotspots per 10,000 inhabitants, compared with 4.8 in the U.S., 29 in the U.K. and 37 in South Korea, according to a study by Eco, a German association representing 800 Internet companies.” These restrictions are due to laws that hold public Internet providers responsible for the illegal activities of customers using their connection. By loosening these restrictions, Germany hopes to not only improve user accessibility, but the economy, through digital initiatives aimed at helping German technology companies compete with the likes of Facebook and Google, according to the story. So do your part by purchasing a stein of beer and Bavarian pretzel; Instagram said beer and pretzel and voila! Instant added marketing.

Nearby, Italy has the same idea, according to Engadget, but its plan is not just to improve Wi-Fi, but to make it free to the public. A recent proposal from lawmakers intends to create thousands of new hotspots over a three-year period, costing $6.3 million. Not only would it improve connection speeds for residents, but the popular tourist destination is hoping that visitors may be more encouraged to connect and share their trip during their time in Italy. See designer merchandise; tweet about your shopping spree — you get the idea.

Travel Tech: 7 Simple Hacks to Make Your Trip Better

Many countries already offer readily available Internet in tourist hot zones such as airports, cafes, museums, you name it. France, recently named the most visited country in the world in 2013 according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, offers more than 260 hotspots in Paris alone. Hong Kong is another top destination with its own free, public Wi-Fi service. Last year, CNN reported on Taiwan when it became one of the first countries to not only offer free Wi-Fi on a mass scale to citizens, but also to visitors. The government-backed iTaiwan is now accessible with just a passport as ID at any tourism counter. The same is true in Japan, according to Mashable. Armed with just a passport, travelers can register for free Wi-Fi cards at the airport, for use at roughly 45,000 hotspots in Eastern Japan.

It’s hard to say whether the lack of Wi-Fi would affect my decision to go somewhere — I think I’d go anyway (heck, I just spent a full week in Grenada without any reception at all, so I guess there’s your answer). But looking back at how lost I was merely crossing the border into Canada without cell reception and with no immediate access to Google Maps, TripAdvisor or Yelp to guide my way around Montreal, a little free Wi-Fi certainly goes a long way.

In an era when many are torn between traveling to “get away from it all” and documenting their travels live, or using Internet research to get around, where do you stand? Has Wi-Fi become a necessity, or is it still a luxury?


– written by Brittany Chrusciel

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 destinations at the extreme ends of the earth.

Would you rather …

… visit Longyearbyen, Norway, in the remote Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, or …

longyearbyen svalbard norway



… travel to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in Argentina?

ushuaia argentina


Longyearbyen, with a population of just 2,000, is located on the island of Spitsbergen, the largest island in the Svalbard chain. This part of the Arctic region is most popular with travelers looking to view polar bears in their natural habitat. At the other extreme is Ushuaia, near the very southern tip of South America — a common jumping-off point for cruises to Antarctica.

Photos: 9 Best Destinations to See from the Water

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter