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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: With marble from Italy, granite from Shanghai, crystal chandeliers from England, and carpets from Saudi Arabia, this multinational mosque is actually located in a tiny nation with one of the highest standards of living in the world. Can you guess where this photo was taken?

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, July 27, 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 Pamela, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque in Brunei. Pamela has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.

See All “Where in the World?” Challenges

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

Vancouver, a diverse seaport and the largest city in British Columbia, is a perfect place to explore on your own. Solo travelers can sample their way through the sensory-exploding market of Granville Island or avoid the rain under the enchanting overhang of a traditional Chinese garden. If you are independently exploring Vancouver, make sure not to miss the five best things to do around the city for solo travelers.

vancouver seawall

Walk (or Bike) the Seawall
The Seaside Greenway, a 17.4-mile pedestrian and bike path encircling scenic parts of Vancouver, is the world’s longest uninterrupted waterfront pathway. The Seawall is a stunning portion of this pathway, surrounding the city’s massive Stanley Park and extending past charming English Bay beaches. With restrictions that dictate direction, pedestrian-only lanes and walk-your-bike areas (at times the path becomes extremely narrow), this picturesque path is best enjoyed solo as you take in the sights. A 5.6-mile stretch, the Seawall takes an estimated two to three hours to walk and one hour to cycle.

Acme Cafe in Gastown Vancouver

Savor a Meal
While dining out in any new city can be a great way to experience the local culture as well its unique food scene, eating alone in Vancouver proved to be satisfying in a different way. Whereas “table for one?” might be uttered with a tinge of dismay in certain swanky metropolitan eateries, I always felt welcomed — even special, and in a strange way, brave –for dining solo in Vancouver. Servers happily chatted about the menu and weren’t hesitant to spend time at my table. Grabbing a paper or people-watching during my meals, I made an effort to not even pick up my phone (hence no foodie photos!). In the trendy Gastown district (where I stayed) try Acme Cafe for comfort food (51 W. Hastings St.); Nuba for delightful Lebanese (various locations — I visited 207 W. Hastings St.); and Bao Bei, a Chinese brasserie (163 Keefer St.).

dr. sun yat-sen classical chinese garden chinatown vancouver

Visit an Authentic Chinese Garden
The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, located within Vancouver’s Chinatown, is an authentic representation of a Ming Dynasty-era scholar’s garden — the first of its kind outside of China. Calming water features and traditional architecture (complete with the smell of teak wood) contrast peacefully with the city skyline in the background. This is a great place for solo travelers to escape with their thoughts and reflect — and because of the roof design, it’s even better in the rain.

science world telus world of science vancouver

Explore Science World
While I experienced unparalleled sunny weather in Vancouver during my visit in late June, the region is known for rain. If you’re looking for a way to spend a gray day that won’t require being cooped up or stuck shopping, take a visit to Science World. A sparkling geodesic dome, towering metal dinosaur and Mondrian-like exterior invite you into a museum with intricate exhibits that will keep you occupied for hours. Can’t bear the thought of wading through crowds of kids? Science World hosts occasional After Dark adult evenings featuring special guests such as the animators from “Jurassic World” — check ScienceWorld.ca for details.

granville island public market vancouver

Spend a Day at Granville Island
You could throw a stone to Granville Island; it’s that close to downtown Vancouver. Short of swimming there, you can take a ferry across False Creek (or have a taxi or tour bus drop you off — buses aren’t allowed past a certain point). Alone with nothing but your five senses, Granville Island offers a feast for all of them. There’s plenty to keep you occupied here, from beer tasting at Granville Brewing Company to seasonal live music to endless artsy shops (including fun independent toy stores). But our favorite stop is the public market, featuring a smorgasbord of fresh food and gourmet delights. If you’re missing human interaction, consider taking a tour with Vancouver Foodie Tours, which allows you to sample the market’s many goodies while meeting other travelers along the way.

Single Travel: Tips for Going Solo

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.

canoe amazon ecuador

Population: 15.6 million

Currency: U.S. dollar

Phrase to Know: Lo siento (I’m sorry)

Fun Fact: Ecuador began using the U.S. dollar in the year 2000, after a banking crisis devalued its former currency (the sucre). But it’s not all familiar greenbacks: The country mints its own coins for amounts under $1.

We Recommend: Visit an indigenous community to learn ceremonial dances, ride in dugout canoes or just get to know the people.

11 Best Ecuador Experiences

Have you been to Ecuador? What was your favorite spot?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.

cotswolds cottage england

Population: 53 million

Currency: Pound sterling

Phrase to Know: Knackered (tired)

Fun Fact: London is the only city in the world to have hosted three Olympic Games (1908, 1948 and 2012).

We Recommend: Take a painting class in the Lake District, a beautiful region from which British masters such as Turner and Constable once drew inspiration.

13 Best England Experiences

Have you been to England? What was your favorite spot?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

With the Greek economy in flux, travelers with upcoming trips to Greece have been wondering: How should we prepare for travel to Athens and the islands during the Greek financial crisis?

greek flag euros

I’m going ahead with my own planned cruise on Azamara Journey later this month that centers on Turkey and Greece, including port stops in Volos, Hydra, Skiathos, Mykonos, Santorini and Athens. Unless we hear otherwise from Azamara, my travel partner and I will hedge our bets against the currency upheaval by adhering to the following tips — which can also help travelers planning a land-based journey.

Bring euros: Usually we rely on ATMs overseas when we travel, as our bank doesn’t charge us foreign transaction fees. But with news reports noting some ATMs are out of money, we’ll be prudent and come prepared.

Contact bank in advance: Since we’re not stopping in the Eurozone before our flight, this means we’ll have to get some money in advance from our U.S. bank; we might end up taking a bit of a hit on currency conversion fees. That said, the Euro is $1.10 against the dollar right now — almost a record low. In the end, the fees are a small price to pay for peace of mind.

Haggle with cab drivers: Our itinerary has a few Greek islands where we’re fine with last-minute plans. If cash is king and we have enough of it, we suspect that Greek taxi drivers might be willing to drop prices for short day trips.

Slideshow: Greek Isles Revealed

Watch out for pickpockets: It’s a sad fact that crime goes up in times of financial instability. We’ll be doubly sure that our purses and wallets are secure when we’re out and about. We’ll also limit the amount of cash we bring with us on shore and leave important documents back on the ship. (We recommend the same if you’re staying in a hotel.)

meteora greece

Prebook (and prepay) some excursions: Financial instability means that some vendors do one of two things: Jack up their prices to compensate for a low euro or ask for cash payments. For those must-see tours — we’ve got our eye on the gorgeous monasteries of Meteora — we’ll make sure we’re working with a reputable company that takes credit cards and pay in advance. To be really safe, cruisers should book through their ship, in case the line changes port stops.

Keep up with the news: A financial crisis often brings accompanying strikes and demonstrations. We’ve signed up for the State Department’s STEP program, which sends you email alerts when situations change, and we’ll check newspapers daily. This is not the time to unplug.

Wait to book hotels: Many tourists have already canceled their trips to Athens because of the Greek financial crisis, which means the hotels will be hurting for business. We predict that hotel rates will go down significantly in the next few weeks, which means we might be able to snap up a room in a hotel that’s otherwise out of our price range (hello, Parthenon view). We also want to make sure that the area we’ll be staying in is safe and free of demonstrations.

Don’t panic: This is not the first time we’ve been to countries where things were less than stable. From demonstrations in Egypt, Thailand and Easter Island to erupting volcanoes in Iceland, incidents have cropped up frequently on work trips and vacations — and it’s always turned out fine in the end. We predict that the Greeks we meet on this trip will be happy to see tourists and do their best to make sure they have satisfying vacations, despite the Greek financial crisis.

Money Safety Tips for Travelers

— written by Chris Gray Faust

Yesterday was International Kissing Day, which got us thinking about some of the world’s most romantic and pucker-producing places. Check out the list of our top picks below — and let us know your additions in the comments!

couple eiffel tower paris romantic

Paris, France: This one’s a given. Whether you’re strolling hand-in-hand down the Champs Elysees, cuddling up at night to watch the Eiffel Tower’s twinkling lights or staring into each other’s eyes over lunch and macarons at a hole-in-the-wall cafe, Paris practically screams smoochworthiness.

Samana, Dominican Republic: An off-season trip to a resort in this cheerful town in the DR can be a great experience, particularly because the crowds are thinner (or, in some places, virtually nonexistent). That means you’ll be able to snag more alone time with the one who matters most. Sleep in, find a secluded beach or watch whales breach from your private balcony — which, by the way, is a great place to pucker up.

Living Like a Local in Samana, Dominican Republic

New York, New York: Ironically, there’s nothing quite like the hustle and bustle of the city that never sleeps to make you and your significant other feel like you’re the only two people in the universe. Jog through Manhattan’s Central Park, experience the craft beer scene in Brooklyn or meander down lesser-known side streets to find a divey pizza joint you can call your own.

bora bora tahiti french polynesia couple romantic

Bora Bora, French Polynesia: Imagine waking up next to your sweetie in your very own hut in the middle of crystal-clear turquoise waters. Even if thatched roofs, colorful fish and open-air sleeping arrangements aren’t your thing, we’re sure the relative seclusion won’t hurt your chances of snagging a peck … or 50.

10 Best French Polynesia Experiences

Venice, Italy: How can you resist a kiss in a city full of historical palaces, playful Carnevale masks and romantic gondola rides along peaceful, winding canals? Have dinner canal-side, and just try to stave off the feeling of la dolce vita that’s sure to follow.

Savannah, Georgia: As if unique shops, restaurants full of atmosphere and stunning architecture aren’t enough, Savannah has a colorful history that includes plenty of rumored ghosts and spirits. Sign up for a nighttime ghost walk, which will force you to keep your loved one close. Then prepare to plant one on him (or her) — or have one planted on you.

cologne love lock bridge

Cologne, Germany: We dare you to find a holiday (Valentine’s Day excluded) that sparks more warm, fuzzy feelings than Christmas. The perfect way to spend some holiday time with your snookums is at one of Germany’s many Christmas markets — and Cologne’s is one of the biggest and best. When you’re done snogging between sips of gluhwein and bites of gingerbread, you can venture to the city’s well-known love lock bridge to further profess your feelings.

Datong, China: Supported by stilts on the side of a mountain, the Hengshan Hanging Temple appears to be “hanging” — hence its name. Explore the roughly 40 rooms that make up this impressive monastery, which dates back more than 1,400 years. The remarkable warren of passageways is great to experience with your partner, especially so you have someone’s hand to hold if you’re afraid of heights! (Note: Out of respect you may want to hold off on locking lips until you’ve left the monastery.)

12 Spots to Fall in Love with Travel

Which destination is your favorite for puckering up?

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.

beach boat thailand

Population: 67.7 million

Currency: Thai baht

Phrase to Know: Sawatdee (hello)

Fun Fact: Cover up! It’s illegal to drive without a shirt in Thailand.

We Recommend: Visit Elephant Nature Park, an animal sanctuary where you can learn about elephants and even give them a bath.

11 Best Thailand Experiences

Have you been to Thailand? What was your favorite spot?

— 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: Operating in the Tasman Sea in the early 20th century and used as a hospital ship during WWI, this vessel is now wrecked on which island off the eastern Queensland coast?

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, July 6, 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 Bea Dahlen, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was Fraser Island, Australia. Bea has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.

See All “Where in the World?” Challenges

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

kathy mccabe dream of italy pasta pugliaFew travelers are as passionate about Italy as Kathy McCabe, who’s spent more than a decade as the publisher of a newsletter and website called Dream of Italy, dedicated to discovering every corner of the Boot. Starting this year you can also catch her Italian explorations on TV as part of a new series on PBS, also called “Dream of Italy.” You can find the schedule and watch full episodes online at her website.

We reached out to McCabe to find out her favorite immersive experiences in Italy, her advice for first-timers and more info about her new series.

IndependentTraveler.com: Why is Italy so eternally appealing to many travelers?
Kathy McCabe:
Italy has everything — ancient cities, stunning beaches, warm people, the best food in the world, 60 percent of the world’s art. I’m not sure of another country that offers as much as Italy, but maybe I am partial!

IT: What can viewers expect from your new “Dream of Italy” TV series on PBS?
Viewers can expect a different side of Italy from the usual tourist attractions — authentic is a word that seems overused these days, but I think it is one of the best words to describe the people we meet and experiences we have in the show.

We feature real Italians living their passions, from a goat farmer in Italy who makes goat cheese to an artist in Rome who teaches the ancient art of mosaics. One of my favorite segments features the Tuscan cowboys of the Maremma — there are only a few of them left. (Check out this clip in the video below.) I’m proud that not only are we giving viewers great travel ideas, but we are preserving Italian culture for future generations.

IT: Which region of Italy would you say is most overlooked, and why should travelers check it out?
One of my favorite less-visited regions is Puglia — the region of Italy on the heel, facing Greece — though it is really becoming more popular. We even devoted an entire episode of the TV series to Puglia. Puglia has 500 miles of stunning coastline: beautiful empty beaches and fortified harbors. The olive trees in the region are gargantuan and dot the landscape. You will also see trulli, small white stone huts. And the people, like all Italians, are warm and welcoming.

IT: What are your favorite immersive/hands-on experiences in Italy?
I love taking cooking classes in Italy, and these are accessible to every traveler (in the Dream of Italy print newsletter, we devoted two full issues to Italy’s best cooking schools). You can easily fit a half-day cooking class into a trip, and it’s a great way to learn about the culture through food and to interact with locals.

Another great experience is enjoying a dinner in a local home through Home Food. The hosts go through a rigorous selection process and speak English.

IT: What one piece of advice would you give travelers planning their first visit to Italy?
As hard as it is, don’t over-plan or try to do too much. I have been to Italy more than 35 times and I still haven’t seen every region. Pick a few places to focus on, and be sure to leave time for serendipity!

IT: Outside of Italy, what are your other favorite travel destinations?
Most of my travels are to Italy, but when I have the chance to travel somewhere else, I have found it hard to tear myself away from Europe. (I guess I made a good choice in college when I majored in European studies.) France was my first love — one summer in college, I studied in the exquisite towns of Annecy and Talloires in the Alps. Ireland is another favorite European destination. The people are so warm, just like the Italians.

Photos: 11 Best Italy Experiences
Planning a Trip to Europe: Your 10-Step Guide

Check out more Interviews with Travel Experts!

— interview conducted 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!

child pool africaIn this month’s featured review, reader Barbara Helveston discovers that even a 4-year-old can appreciate Africa’s many natural wonders. “After a couple of days, we boarded an eight-hour flight to Johannesburg, a quick overnight and a short flight to Victoria Falls where we promptly fell in love with everything Africa,” she writes. “We stayed at the Zambezi River Lodge … a lodge hotel with all the amenities situated on the Zambezi River, complete with warthogs, meerkats and a local hippo named Sebastian!”

Read the rest of Barbara’s review here: African Adventure Extraordinaire. This reader has won an IndependentTraveler.com duffel bag.

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

— written by Sarah Schlichter