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Suffering from the Monday doldrums? For everyone out there facing the beginning of another work week, here’s a little jolt of wanderlust to brighten up your morning. Each Monday, we offer a photo of a spectacular place to spark ideas for your future travels.

This week’s shot captures a vivid sky over Monument Valley, Utah.

monument valley utah


Photos: 9 Easy Hikes That Will Take Your Breath Away

Send us your best travel shot! E-mail your most beautiful or captivating travel photo to feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put Monday Inspiration in the subject line.)

The Lure of Revisiting a Familiar Place

– 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!

couple freedom square ruse bulgariaIn this month’s featured review, reader Vic Garcia shares the highs and lows of a river cruise along the Danube. “The best experience was a home-hosted meal in Croatia,” wrote Vic. “We have been on 15+ of these experiences and this one may have been the best. The husband and wife were so welcoming — he kissed the hand of each of the five ladies in our group and she hugged us all. They both served us a delicious Croatian meal accompanied with the usual beverages — but these had been locally made — everything was EXCELLENT!”

Read the rest of Vic’s review here: Vantage Travel – Gateway to the Black Sea. Vic has won an IndependentTraveler.com duffel bag!

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Suffering from the Monday doldrums? For everyone out there facing the beginning of another work week, here’s a little jolt of wanderlust to brighten up your morning. Each Monday, we offer a photo of a spectacular place to spark ideas for your future travels.

This week’s shot captures fishermen at sunset on Inle Lake, Myanmar.

inle lake myanmar burma fishermen sunset


Post Your Questions About Myanmar

Send us your best travel shot! E-mail your most beautiful or captivating travel photo to feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put Monday Inspiration in the subject line.)

12 Delicious Destinations for Foodies

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Suffering from the Monday doldrums? For everyone out there facing the beginning of another work week, here’s a little jolt of wanderlust to brighten up your morning. Each Monday, we offer a photo of a spectacular place to spark ideas for your future travels.

This week’s colorful shot was taken near a market in Toliara (formerly Tulear), Madagascar.

toliara madagascar


Post Your Questions About Madagascar

Send us your best travel shot! E-mail your most beautiful or captivating travel photo to feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put Monday Inspiration in the subject line.)

12 Travel Photos That’ll Make You Want to Get Up and Go

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Suffering from the Monday doldrums? For everyone out there facing the beginning of another work week, here’s a little jolt of wanderlust to brighten up your morning. Each Monday, we offer a photo of a spectacular place to spark ideas for your future travels.

This week, a pair of guanacos enjoy a spectacular view in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile.

guanaco torres del paine patagonia chile


Our Favorite Hotels in Santiago, Chile

Send us your best travel shot! E-mail your most beautiful or captivating travel photo to feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put Monday Inspiration in the subject line.)

12 International Foods to Try Before You Die

– 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!

drayton hall charlestonIn this month’s featured review, reader Ben Szweda pursues his quest to visit every U.S. state with a trip to South Carolina and Georgia. “On my third day in Charleston I headed to Drayton Hall (plantation) for a guided tour of the house,” wrote Ben. “This property is just one mile away from Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. I chose however to visit Drayton because after visiting two plantations in Louisiana I had been disappointed that they were so made up. Unlike Magnolia, Drayton Hall advertises to be just the opposite: ‘preserved, not restored.’ There is truth in the advertising slogan and I therefore thoroughly enjoyed my tour.”

Read the rest of Ben’s review here: Exploring the History of the Southeast. Ben has won an IndependentTraveler.com duffel bag!

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Suffering from the Monday doldrums? For everyone out there facing the beginning of another work week, here’s a little jolt of wanderlust to brighten up your morning. Each Monday, we offer a photo of a spectacular place to spark ideas for your future travels.

This week, we offer a shimmering photo of the Northern Lights over snowy Lake Laberge in Canada‘s Yukon Territory.

northern lights laberge yukon


Six Cozy Winter Getaways

Send us your best travel shot! E-mail your most beautiful or captivating travel photo to feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put Monday Inspiration in the subject line.)

How to Pack for a Winter Vacation

– written by Dori Saltzman

merida independence day grito de doloresImagine how many insights travelers to the United States would glean about the American character if they visited during our Independence Day celebrations on July 4.

They’d pick up some of our essential values, such as patriotism (flying of flags), love for family and community (reunions, BBQs, hometown parades), distrust for institutional authority (setting off fireworks, both legal and illegal) and occasional stupidity (ER visits because of the aforementioned fireworks). Not to mention all of those sales (pursuit of happiness?).

Of course, we’re not the only country that celebrates an Independence Day. So when I found out that I’d be traveling in Mexico over its holiday (held on September 16 — not Cinco de Mayo as many people think), I saw it as a chance to dive a bit deeper into our southern neighbor’s national psyche.

My trip to Merida, a colonial city in Yucatan that’s popular with expats, also reminded me that visiting countries during their holidays can require a few schedule (and attitude) adjustments. Here are some tips I picked up.

Read up. Before you go, it helps to learn about the country’s history. A bit of research taught me that Mexico’s struggle for freedom from Spain was just as arduous — if not more so — as our break with Britain. For one thing, the war lasted 11 years, from 1810 to 1821, compared to our eight. And Spain had been in control of the colony since 1521, establishing dominance for nearly 300 years (talk about fighting the power).

The centerpiece of Mexican Independence Day is called the Grito de Dolores, a symbolic re-creation of the beginning of the revolution. It’s broadcast nationwide from Dolores, the small town in central Mexico where it all began. On the night of September 15, crowds gather in city public squares throughout Mexico to ring bells and watch fireworks. Having a little knowledge about the first Grito, issued as a call to arms by a Roman Catholic priest named Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, made the event more special for me.

The Best 9 Cities to See Cool Public Art

Expect crowds — and closures. I arrived in Cancun on September 14, the Saturday before the holiday. The airport was even more packed than usual, with Mexicans arriving from overseas to celebrate the holiday at home or taking advantage of the three-day weekend to go on short trips outside the country.

Once I arrived in Merida, I learned that some attractions I’d planned on visiting, such as the Noche Mexicana, a folk festival usually held on Saturday evenings, would not be taking place. Some roads were also closed to through traffic, which meant taking a cab to the Plaza Grande was out of the question (luckily, it was a short walk from my hotel).

Tip generously. Not everyone has Independence Day off, of course. Because of the increased crowds, the day was business as usual — and then some — for people who work in the hospitality industry. If you know that you are keeping your driver, tour operator or server from being with their families on their national holiday, it’s a nice gesture to make your tip a little more special. After all, wouldn’t you want visitors to the States to do the same?

merida independence dayTake part. After checking with my concierge to make sure it was safe, I headed out to the Independence Day festivities around 10 p.m. Sunday night. The streets were packed with revelers, mostly families, and the restaurants on the Plaza Grande were full. After grabbing a mango sherbet at Sorbeteria Colon, which has been serving sweet treats since 1907, I positioned myself on a bench to people watch (the giggling teenagers with the fake moustaches — a tribute to the bushy revolutionaries — were particularly entertaining).

I didn’t have long to wait. After the Grito at 11 p.m., the crowd erupted into cheers. “Vivan los heroes que nos dieron patria!” the chant started, before naming some of the country’s founding fathers. “Viva nuestra independencia! Viva Mexico! Viva!

At the end of the third “Viva Mexico,” fireworks shot into the sky. The national anthem started to play, and the people around me started singing. I found myself moved by their obvious love for their country, and realized that patriotism — as opposed to its more sinister cousin, nationalism — is a beautiful thing to watch, regardless of your passport.

4 Unique Activities to Do in Riviera Maya, Mexico

– written by Chris Gray Faust

globe woman world travelThe over-the-top Huffington Post headline immediately caught my eye: “30 Epic Places You Absolutely Must Visit Before You’re 30.” As it happens, I just turned 30 earlier this year, so I clicked on the link with interest. I’d consider myself reasonably well traveled — so how many of these amazing, “must-visit” places did I manage to knock off before hitting this milestone age?

Alas, just one: the Plaza Mayor in Madrid, Spain. (And while it was a perfectly pleasant square, I’m not sure I’d call it “epic.”)

To be fair, I’ve also been to Paris and Las Vegas, but not to the specific cafe and nightclub the author recommends. And I’ve walked around the Washington Monument in D.C. — I just haven’t gone up to the observation deck (which has been closed to the public since the city was rocked by an earthquake in 2011). You can read the full list here.

At first, reading through the list and seeing so many places I hadn’t been made me feel like a bit of an underachiever. But frankly, this list is absurd. Few travelers make it to Antarctica in their lifetime, let alone by the time they hit 30. (Dedicated Antarctica cruises typically go for $10,000 or more per person.) Bhutan is also too rich for the blood of many 20-somethings, with its “minimum daily package” requiring that all tourists spend $200 – $250 a night per person. And how many of us are going to make it to tiny, remote Palau, where the airfare alone will set you back $1,800 or more?

The Amazing, Expanding Bucket List

To put this in perspective, IndependentTraveler.com’s staff ranges in age from 23 to 50+, and in our collective decades of travel we’ve still not covered everything on the list. I guess if you’re a 20-something with an open schedule and a bottomless wallet, you just might manage it. As for me — well, at least I’ve got plenty of inspiration for my 30′s and beyond.

10 Things You Shouldn’t Wear When Traveling Abroad

How many of the places on the Huffington Post’s list have you visited? Share your thoughts in the comments below! (Don’t worry. We won’t make you reveal your age.)

– written by Sarah Schlichter

supermarket aislesNext year I’m going to Liverpool, England, for a friend’s wedding. My husband and I plan on staying five or six days with my friend and then venturing out for three to six days. Though I’ve been to London, I’ve never ventured outside the British capital.

Inspiration for trip ideas has been easy to come by. While looking for a few really cool experiences in the Liverpool area, I checked out IndependentTraveler.com’s 13 Best England Experiences and have already added the Magical Mystery Tour to our list of things to do.

But I need more than just ideas for things to do and places to see. I need to figure out how to plan my trip as inexpensively as possible.

So how am I preparing?

I plan to consult a long list of resources, ranging from the official Liverpool and England tourism websites to asking various British friends. And, of course, I’m checking out the advice we’ve compiled here at IndependentTraveler.com. Between the various articles on money, packing, international travel and more, I’ve already started putting together a list of must-dos.

For instance, one of the best ways to save money on a trip to England, where their currency is stronger than ours, is to get the best exchange rate that I can. In Buying Foreign Currency: Get More Bang for Your Buck, Mark Rowlands, sales director at currency provider Covent Garden FX, advises shopping around before leaving home. Additionally, he says to prepare ahead of time by checking the money market. I shouldn’t trust suppliers to tell me what the current rates are; instead, I should pre-check them myself with a website like XE.com.

“You can’t buy from a wholesaler, but knowledge is power. If your supplier is adding 5 percent — which is not unusual — walk away.”

Travel Budget Calculator

Furthermore, once I’m in England and need more currency I know to stick as much as possible with credit cards and ATM withdrawals, thanks to Get the Best Exchange Rate.

Another area we might be able to save money is transportation. Do we rent a car or do we stick to mass transit?

If we rent a car, Traveler’s Ed author Ed Hewitt recommends looking at smaller rental car players, like Europcar, and not just sticking to the big names. In Car Rental Secrets We Bet You Don’t Know, he also advises using an aggregator like Priceline to find the best price:

“As I have written numerous times in different contexts over the past 15 years, the best place to get a great rental car price is Priceline. It posts prices for the majority of rental car companies.”

On the other hand, if we stick with mass transit, we’ll have to hit the rails, at the very least to get from wherever we land (Manchester, hopefully) to Liverpool and back again. According to Getting Around England: Flights, Trains and More, we’ll need to check out Virgin Trains, which offers a range of inter-city routes, like London or Manchester to Liverpool.

Customizable Packing List

If you’ve got any suggestions for me, please stop by my Liverpool and Surrounding Areas thread on the IndependentTraveler.com’s members’ forum.

– written by Dori Saltzman