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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: This large volcanic caldera is home to a wealth of wildlife, earning it recognition as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa.

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, January 19, 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 Ruth M, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was Ngorongoro Crater. This reader 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

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

torii gate japan


Population: 127 million

Currency: Japanese yen

Phrase to Know: Arigato (thank you)

Fun Fact: Japan was the first country to develop cube-shaped watermelons, which farmers mold into their distinctive shape by putting transparent boxes around the fruit as they’re growing. Square watermelons are easier to ship and fit better into Japanese refrigerators, which are often small.

We Recommend: Spend the night in a Buddhist temple on Mount Koya. By night you’ll enjoy vegetarian meals with the monks and sleep in simple tatami rooms; during the day you can explore an ancient cemetery and visit a rock garden.

12 Best Japan Experiences

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

– written by Sarah Schlichter

a satellite image of europe at nightAs if we ever really need a reason to travel to Europe, the year 2015 nevertheless gives us several good excuses to shell out the money for a plane ticket across the pond.

The most important one is the dramatically improving exchange rate. The euro recently hit a 12-year low against the U.S. dollar, and could soon be worth less than the greenback. In addition, England, Lithuania, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany are among the countries that offer particular justifications for a European sojourn, from celebrating important moments in history to commemorating a significant contributor to modern culture.

Here’s why you should consider visiting Europe this year.

England Celebrates the Creation of the Magna Carta
The document known as the Magna Carta, first written in 1215, was one of the first attempts to limit the power of a ruling entity and provide some level of freedom to “the people.” Over the years, the Magna Carta has inspired subsequent efforts, including the Constitution of the United States.

Six two- to four-day tourist itineraries have been created as part of the 800th anniversary celebration. Each “trail” covers a different aspect of the history of the Magna Carta and takes visitors to cities including London, Salisbury, Kent and others. Additionally, London’s Temple Church will be offering free London walking tours from June 1 to September 20. And for those who want to see copies of the original Magna Carta, there are four which will be displayed in various exhibits throughout the year.

13 Best England Experiences

200 Years Ago at Waterloo Napoleon Did Surrender
History and war buffs take note, one of the world’s largest battle reenactments will take place over two days this June in commemoration of the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo. The battle saw the end of Napoleon’s reign and brought peace, at least for a little while, to much of Europe. More than 5,000 people, 300 horses and 100 cannons will be used in the reenactment, and all are welcome to come participate or simply watch. Can’t make it to the battlefield on the exact days? Onsite guides offer a several tours (including those designed for slow walkers) of the battlefield seven days a week. Several museums are also available including the visitor center on the battlefield site, the Wellington Museum in Waterloo and Napoleon’s headquarters on the main road nearby.

In Memoriam, 125 Years: Vincent Van Gogh
July 29, 2015, will mark 125 years since Vincent Van Gogh died. Exhibits celebrating his life and body of work will be offered to the public in cultural institutions and art museums all over the world. Some of the most impressive exhibits will be in the Netherlands, Van Gogh’s birthplace. At the Kroller-Muller Museum, located in the Hoge Veluwe National Park, you’ll find the Van Gogh & Co exhibit between April 25 and September 27. The exhibit will concentrate on art styles popular at the end of the 19th century — still lifes, vistas, cityscapes and portraits — and will include more than 50 works by Van Gogh, as well as several pieces from his contemporaries. From September 25 to the middle of January 2016, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam will feature Munch: Van Gogh, which compares and contrasts the works of Van Gogh and Edvard Munch through the use of their paintings and drawings. One beautiful attraction to check out will be the Keukenhof Gardens, which in 2015 will have a theme of “Van Gogh, 125 Years of Inspiration.”

9 Best Netherland Experiences

Germany Celebrates 25 Years of Unity
Last year Germany threw a party to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. This year, the country honors the 25th anniversary of the legal reunification of the country. The largest celebrations will take place on the Day of German Unity (October 3), but you can be sure the country will be raising a beer stein throughout the year.

Lithuania Makes History, Joins the Eurozone
Lithuania will become slightly less off-the-beaten-track in 2015 when the country becomes the 19th nation to join the Eurozone and adopt the euro as its national currency. The country’s entry into the Eurozone means that exchanging money will become simpler and credit card use will become more widespread, both of which make visiting the country easier.

12 Best Germany Experiences

– written by Dori Saltzman

Welcome to our new “Spotlight on …” feature! Every week we’ll highlight a different country around the world.

piha beach new zealand


Population: 4.4 million

Currency: New Zealand dollar

Phrase to Know: Kia ora (a Maori greeting that means hello)

Fun Fact: Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu, the Maori name for a hill in Hawke’s Bay, is believed to be the longest place name in an English-speaking country.

We Recommend: An art adventure in Queenstown. While this popular South Island city is known for high-octane activities like bungee jumping and mountain biking, you can also meet local artists and even take a painting or sketching lesson with the company Art Adventures.

13 Best New Zealand Experiences

Have you been to New Zealand? What was your favorite spot?

– 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!

portugalIn this month’s featured review, reader Maria Marrocchino writes about a biking adventure in Portugal. On her third day, her journey took her to the Conquest of Valongo Castle: “When we finally arrive at the castle, we park our bikes and walk up. The 11th-century surreal castle is built in the middle of nowhere which of course makes it all the more majestic. We sit and eat our lunch over the spectacular view of the countryside.”

Read the rest of Maria’s review here: Biking in Portugal – Evora. Maria has won an IndependentTraveler.com duffel bag!

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

– 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 sweet spots to visit during summer in the Southern Hemisphere.

Would you rather …

… hit one of the world’s most famous beaches in Rio de Janeiro, or …

ipanema beach rio de janeiro brazil



… take a scenic coastal drive to see the 12 Apostles in Australia?

12 apostles australia


Famous beaches Ipanema (pictured above) and Copacabana have put Rio on the map, but the city is home to numerous sunny stretches of sand. Looking to visit? Consider family-friendly Praia de Leblon and beautiful Praia Vermelha. For a different kind of coastal view, drive the Great Ocean Road, which runs along Australia’s southern coast and is one of the world’s most spectacular drives.

Escape the Cold: 8 Warm Weather Winter Vacations

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: Due to its atolls, this nation is one of the most geographically dispersed countries in the world. Some say the aerial view of this island in the Indian Ocean looks like a flower.

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, December 29, 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 J. Kofsky, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was the Maldives. This reader 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

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