Home

Explore. Experience. Engage.

Home Travel Tips Travel Deals Destinations Trip Reviews Blog
The IndependentTraveler.com Blog

During his first visit to Rome, Serguei Sofinski and his wife explored the city on foot after conducting extensive guidebook and app research and charting what he thought was the most interesting route. But inevitably, an attractive side street or tucked-away fountain not listed in any guidebook would draw their attention.

strol app


“When you travel, you want to use every moment to absorb and enjoy the destination you are exploring,” Sofinski says. “There were plenty of apps showing directions to major sights or suggesting predefined street tours, but none provided a scenic route that could begin from anywhere.”

So Sofinski, a Harvard Business School grad and San Francisco-based software expert, created one.

His travel app and website, Strol, provides travelers with a scenic walking route in just about any city or town on the planet, even the ones guidebooks gloss over. Punch in your desired destination, and the program gives you a clearly marked and interesting route on a simple-to-read map. Points of interest — including lesser-known monuments, buildings and other sites — are marked with a star; touch or click on it to see photos and basic factual information about the attraction.

You can also chart out a route based on the amount of time you want to walk. Let’s say you’re staying at the Four Seasons in Buenos Aires and you have 30 minutes to kill before meeting a friend for dinner. Type in your location and select a half-hour, and Strol will recommend the most scenic route.

The app uses crowdsourced information, so it’s constantly evolving and adding new attractions, large and small. Routes are also scored, based on what ordinary users (not guidebook writers) find interesting, so you get an idea how engaging the route will be. My sample half-hour stroll through Buenos Aires scored 3.20, whereas an hour-long jaunt starting in Times Square, New York, scored a 6.02, with more than 50 points of interest noted. (According to the Strol website, the most interesting destinations are scored at 7 or higher.)

Though the algorithms behind it are very complicated, Strol is a simple-to-use app that makes wandering more interesting. And it will only get better in the future as more attractions are added and more users score routes.

Would you give Strol a try?

The World’s 9 Best City Walking Tours
What Not to Do in a New City

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

Getting ill or injured abroad is a risk that could strike any traveler. Purchasing travel insurance is one way to protect yourself; another is to carry an emergency medical ID card from a company called Nomad SOS.

nomad sos emergency id card


The photo ID card lists vital information such as your blood type, allergies, medications, health issues and physical impairments — which could save your life if you’re unconscious or otherwise unable to convey this information to a first responder yourself.

Also on the card are other useful facts such as your nationality and the languages you speak, as well as two emergency contacts. Note that there is no translation on the card, so everything will appear only in English unless you submit your information in multiple languages.

Nomad SOS is particularly useful for solo travelers, people with severe allergies or medical conditions, and those who regularly travel with companions who aren’t intimately familiar with their medical history. And it’s not just for travel; you can keep it in your wallet all year round in case you encounter an emergency at home.

The card costs $29.99 for a lifetime membership. It is printed on waterproof polycarbonate and, if lost or stolen, can be replaced within 48 hours for $14.99 (including worldwide shipping).

Nomad SOS is offering an exclusive discount for IndependentTraveler.com readers. Enter coupon code INDIETRAVEL when purchasing the card to get 40 percent off. You can purchase the card at the Nomad SOS website.

18 Surefire Ways to Get Sick While Traveling
How to Find Health Care Abroad

— written by Sarah Schlichter

If you’re looking for an absorbing book with a travel vibe, the following lists provide a whopping 49 selections for your summer reading list. Most of these travel books were released in 2016, but we also included a handful of classics that are ideal for the armchair traveler.

woman on hammock reading a book at the beach


Six of the Best New Travel Books for 2016: The Telegraph has published excerpts from six finalists for the Ondaatje Prize, which selects the top work of fiction, nonfiction or poetry that evokes “the spirit of a place.” Author Peter Pomerantsev won the prize for “Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible,” a book about Russia that is excerpted in the article.

The Best New Books to Inspire Your Wanderlust: Travel + Leisure provides a list of 18 newly released books set in faraway places — India, the Galapagos Islands, Egypt and Haiti among them. The roundup includes fiction, nonfiction, memoirs and essays. All but one of the suggestions are currently available; the final one will be released June 28.

Summer 2016 Reads for Food and Wine Lovers: The five titles on Robin Shreeves’ list are all food- or wine-themed travel memoirs. They focus on the search for dining companions in Paris and London, the perfect pour in Napa and how food brings people together in Provence. This list will stir your wanderlust and your appetite.

The Books That Critics Say You Should Read This Summer: Quartz compared the recommended summer reading lists of six major publications and came up with a list of 15 titles that are recommended by multiple critics. They include Russell Banks’ newly released “Voyager: Travel Writings” — a collection of essays about travels to the Caribbean, Scotland, the Andes and the Himalayas — and Yaa Gyasi’s “Homegoing,” a novel that takes place in Ghana.

6 Books for Armchair Travelers: Though not comprising current releases, this list of classics from the blog Shelf Pleasure will transport you to Istanbul, Kenya, Paris, Russia and the Bronx.

Quiz: Where Should You Travel This Summer?
The Best Travel Book Dedication Ever

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

With germs lurking everywhere from airplane tray tables to ticketing machines at train stations, hand sanitizer is an essential part of any smart traveler’s bag of tricks. After all, you’re on vacation — who’s got time to get sick?

touch sanitizing germblock


I recently tested a new type of hand sanitizer called Touch, and it’s a little different than the usual antibacterial gel most of us pack for a trip. First off, it’s a mist rather than a gel or lotion, so it comes in a little aerosol spray can. Secondly, it doesn’t contain any alcohol, relying instead on a main ingredient called benzalkonium chloride to kill germs, bacteria, fungi and viruses. Finally, it’s formulated to stay on the hands rather than evaporating, protecting against germs for up to six hours.

Here’s what I liked and disliked about the product during our test on a recent trip to Europe.

The Good
We didn’t get sick: My husband and I used the spray at least every other day during our two-week trip, and we came home healthy. I admit that one trip isn’t exactly a scientific study, and it’s impossible to know whether we would’ve gotten sick if we hadn’t used Touch (or if we’d used a different hand sanitizer instead), but it’s still a good sign.

It’s a convenient travel size: Touch comes in a 1-ounce container that is easy to fit into a purse or daypack and will get through a security checkpoint in your quart-size bag of liquids and gels.

The long-lasting protection offers security: I liked that I didn’t need to keep reapplying Touch every hour or two.

The Bad
It’s not very discreet: One nice thing about using hand-sanitizing gel is that you can squeeze a dab of it into your hand without making noise. There’s no avoiding the sound of the aerosol spray when applying Touch — which made us a little a little self-conscious when we were trying to sanitize our hands in public places like a plane or a nice restaurant. (A Touch spokesperson tells us that spraying the product rather than rubbing it on helps ensure quicker and fuller coverage.)

It doesn’t necessarily leave hands feeling soft: Although Touch contains “skin-softening essential oils” (according to a product fact sheet), my husband and I didn’t love the way our hands felt immediately after spraying. It was an odd, almost powdery texture, similar to the way your hands might feel after pulling off a pair of latex gloves. Luckily, it didn’t last long.

It’s not available online: Touch is currently only available at Walgreens pharmacies. (Other sales channels are in the works.) The recommended retail price is $5.99 per 1-ounce container. Touch comes in four scents: ocean mist, tropical breeze, mint green tea aloe and unscented.

Want to give Touch a try? We’re giving away a sample of the mint green tea aloe product. Leave a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on Thursday, June 30. We’ll pick one winner at random to win the can of Touch. This giveaway is open only to residents of the Lower 48 United States and the District of Columbia. To read the full contest rules, click here.

Avoiding the Airplane Cold
18 Surefire Ways to Get Sick While Traveling

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Maps are a classic and captivating gift for avid travelers. Stylized maps as art are popular, as are classic, National Geographic-style maps tacked to an office wall or speckled with pins indicating where you’ve traveled.

older man on bench with map


But if you’re looking for something a little different for your travel-happy dad, here are eight non-traditional maps that would make great gifts for Father’s Day in just a few weeks:

Wall decor: Here’s a gift that provides a surprise twist: Etsy vendor Bombus cuts letters out of solid wood and then lacquers onto them maps of locations of your choosing. Select maps that have personal meaning to your Dad — he probably won’t notice them at first but then will likely be touched by the personalization. Cue the watery eyes.

Smartphone case: This iPhone holder is a beauty — it’s a thin polycarbonate case with a world map cover made of hand-finished, sustainably sourced inlaid wood.

Clock: Art vendor ArtPause puts a modern spin on the world map by rendering it in watercolor and then digitally manipulating the design. The result is a sleek, colorful map that looks vibrant against the white background of this circular clock.

Corkboard: This is a cool gift for an office: A cut-out corkboard in the shape of a map. It stretches more than three feet wide.

Luggage: If Dad’s always grabbing the wrong ubiquitous black bag from the luggage carousel, this three-piece set will make baggage claim a lot easier. The hard-sided cases are adorned in brightly colored, classic maps.

Cufflinks: Sterling silver-plated cufflinks depict a rendition of the historic “New and Accurate Map of the World,” which dates back to 1626 and is thought to be one of the first ones published in English.

Beer stein: Nice to pair with a six pack of brews from different countries, this hefty stein with a green world map and gold trim holds 22 ounces.

Tie: A Father’s Day shopping list wouldn’t be complete without a tie. This one isn’t a cliche, though: It’s a tasteful ivory-colored silk tie painted with a vintage map.

Oregami: A New Suitcase for Organized Travelers
The Ultimate Guide to Travel Packing

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

There’s a marine biologist in Sicily named Emilio who is as fond of studying sea creatures as he is of cooking them. His house is in a seaside village called Torretta Granitola, and when he’s not crunching numbers in the lab, he’s in the kitchen, whipping up dishes with the fish he catches and with ingredients from local farms.

pasta italy


Wild asparagus omelets. Fava beans and artichokes cooked in a clay pot. Fresh sheep cheese and croutons made of locally made rye bread.

Dinner at Emilio’s sounds like a dream.

Now, thanks to a new website called My Italian Friends, you can pull up a chair at Emilio’s patio dining table and spend three hours savoring one of his home-cooked meals. Or you can book a spot in a home restaurant in a different Italian city — Rome, Milan and Perugia among them.

My Italian Friends is the perfect solution for travelers who get weary of dining in restaurants for every meal. The website allows you to reserve a meal in a local Italian home, viewing the menu, location and background of the home cook before you book. The website also lists cooking classes, if you prefer to learn to hand-roll your own pasta rather than have it served to you, and foodie tours, such as an escorted visit to Florence’s main market.

Photos: 11 Best Italy Experiences

The site only recently launched, yet already has dozen of listings. They are widely distributed throughout Italy, and the hosts seem welcoming and intent on providing good food and good conversation. They list sample menus, but you can make requests (and note allergies or dietary restrictions) when you book.
Some hosts provide additional services, such as rides to and from public transport and walking tours of the area.

The website offers a range of experiences and range of prices. We spotted a pasta dinner in Rome for 18 euros (about $20.50 USD), and a truffle-hunting expedition in the medieval town of Gubbio with an expert guide named Danilo and his trusty dog for 172 euros ($196 — includes lunch and a guided tour). The four-course meal at Emilio’s house, including wine, is 29 euros per person ($33). Some home cooks provide discounts on select dates.

To learn about other websites offering meals in local homes, see Beyond Restaurants: Eight Ways to Savor a Local Food Scene.

Like This Story? Get More Travel Tips in Our Newsletter!

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

If you’ve got a fixed vacation budget but no strong feelings about where you want to go, a new booking site could provide the perfect combination of low prices and inspiration. It’s called Wherefor.

wherefor screenshot


You start by entering your hotel and flight budget, the number of travelers, your travel dates and departure city. Then hit “Search Destinations” and see all the places you can afford to go.

I tested it out with a $2,000 budget for two people departing from Philadelphia for a week in May. Even with a relatively modest budget, I ended up with trip possibilities on three continents, including Europe (Moscow) and South America (Quito and Rio de Janeiro), as well as numerous North American options.

Test One: Moscow, Russia
Wherefor presented me with a total price of $1,944.57 for flights and hotel for two people. Most of that budget was for airfare: $1,672.24 for an outgoing flight on Delta and a return on Air France. It’s a decent price for two people — but with a stopover, the trip home would take more than 28 hours. No thanks! Fortunately, you can click on “other flights” to see more options at higher price points, though this might cause you to exceed your initial spending limit.

The site also suggested a budget hotel, the Alekseevsky, at an average price of $46.80 a night. As with flights, you can also browse other, more expensive lodging options. When you’re ready to book, you can buy the flights, the hotel or both. The site currently offers travelers the chance to spread their trip payments over 12 months with 0 percent interest.

Test Two: Quito, Ecuador
In Quito, cheaper airfares (just $769 for two people) allowed enough wiggle room in my budget for a moderately priced hotel, the Mercure Hotel Alameda ($97 a night). Again, the suggested flight wasn’t exactly appealing, with a 21-hour layover on the outgoing leg; nor was there a way to filter the other flight results by number of stopovers or total travel time.

Overall Impressions
If price is more important to you than schedule, Wherefor’s itineraries are very competitive. For the cities I checked, the fares and hotel rates were sometimes (but not always) lower than those on Kayak.com. As with any booking site, you should comparison shop before you pull out your credit card.

One important note: Wherefor’s estimated flight cost includes taxes and fees, but the nightly hotel rate doesn’t. You may find that adding those in on the booking screen actually takes you above your projected budget.

Wherefor has advanced search options that allow you to specify a minimum hotel level (budget, standard or luxury), filter your results to certain regions or tailor your trip by interest (such as beaches, “famous for food” or family-friendly). You can also enter a city or airport if you know where you want to go. A filter I hope they’ll add in the future: trips with nonstop flights.

Overall, Wherefor is an intriguing option for travelers seeking inspiration or trying to figure out how far their budget will take them. Would you give it a try?

How to Hack Your Way to a Cheaper Airfare
The Best and Worst Days to Fly

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Vintage travel posters remind us of a time when travel was glamorous — and they make for some really attractive artwork for your home or office.

Retro posters have made frequent appearances in the marketplace over the past few months, perhaps partly inspired by this year’s 100th anniversary of the U.S. National Park Service.

vintage travel posters paris yosemite


In the 1930s and ’40s, the U.S. Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project commissioned artists to create works of art as a way to put them back to work after the Great Depression. The effort included a series of posters promoting U.S. National Parks that have been so popular over the years that modern artists have created replicas. You can purchase prints on various websites, including Ranger Doug’s Enterprises and AllPosters.com.

Meanwhile, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory teamed up with professional designers to keep people dreaming of visiting far-off planets in the future. They created a series of retro-inspired travel posters to 14 different planets, including Jupiter and the extrasolar planet of Kepler 16b. The posters are available to download and print for free on NASA’s website.

If you’d like to decorate your home with posters of places that only exist in the pages of books or on film, there are a number of new artworks available. Artist Steve Thomas created stylistic posters of destinations that were included in the horror fiction writings of 20th-century author H.P. Lovecraft.

And the Etsy store Magic Mushroom Paper Company sells a trio of Star Wars-inspired travel posters, plus ones from “Doctor Who” and the Harry Potter books, among others.

How to Share Your Travel Photos and Experiences
8 Things Not to Bring Home from a Trip

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

If you’re looking for a vacation that goes beyond lying on a beach or seeing an area’s most famous sights, a trip with a new cruise line dedicated to voluntourism might be right for you.

Fathom, owned by Carnival Corporation, is dedicated to “impact travel” — with activities designed to connect travelers with local communities where they can make a difference. For example, you might spend a day teaching English, crafting clay water filters or working in a women’s chocolate cooperative. The Fathom team works with established local NGOs to identify areas of need and figure out how travelers can contribute in a way that will build projects that eventually are self-sustaining.

rolling paper at repapel dominican republic


I recently had the chance to try out some of these activities on a trip to the Dominican Republic hosted by Fathom. My first stop was RePapel, where about a dozen women work together to produce recycled paper that they then turn into business cards, postcards and other sellable products. Recycling is not yet common in the Dominican Republic, so in addition to providing stable jobs for local women, RePapel is part of a broader initiative to raise awareness of environmental issues. Fathom volunteers help in several stages of the recycling process, including tearing the source paper into strips (white paper must be separated from paper with any type of ink on it), mixing the pulp with water and rolling new sheets flat.

Another day I helped distribute clay water filters to families in a rural village that does not currently have reliable and safe drinking water. My last activity of the trip was teaching basic English phrases (“Hello. How are you? I’m good!”) to adults. Each excursion gave us a chance to interact with the local people, though those of us who spoke at least conversational Spanish had more meaningful exchanges. (Interpreters are always available, but they can’t attend to the entire group at all times.)

I discovered that it’s essential to be realistic about your motives for taking a voluntourism trip and the individual impact you are likely to have. No single traveler will be able to swoop in and make a massive difference in a local community in just a few days, and you might feel that no sooner have you learned a new skill than it’s time to leave. Also, not every moment of each Fathom activity is dedicated to direct impact; parts of the excursions are designed for learning and cultural exchange rather than strict volunteer work.

clay filters dominican republic fathom


My limited individual impact felt disappointing at times, but it’s useful to think of your personal experience as a small part of a bigger picture. Sure, maybe I only helped produce a few dozen sheets of paper during my time at RePapel, but Fathom’s initial investment in the project (and ongoing labor support in the form of travelers like me) allowed the workshop to get off the ground in the first place — and will hopefully enable it to develop to a point where it won’t need Fathom at all anymore.

Fathom’s ship, Adonia, carries 704 passengers and will debut April 10 with three weeklong sailings from Miami to the Dominican Republic, followed by a cruise from Miami to Cuba on May 1. The ship will then alternate between the two countries from week to week.

In the Dominican Republic, you can do as much or as little volunteer work as you want — so you could combine a morning harvesting coffee beans with an afternoon relaxing on the ship or going ziplining.

Because of the governmental restrictions on what Americans can do when they visit Cuba, Fathom’s itinerary there will be more regimented and have a greater focus on learning and cultural exchange than on volunteering.

Fathom cruises to the Dominican Republic start at $974 per person, while Cuba itineraries start at $1,800.

Would you consider a Fathom cruise?

20 Ways to Blend In with the Locals
9 Things to Do When No One Speaks English
Can Americans Travel to Cuba? Yes — and Here’s How

— written by Sarah Schlichter

photographer gardenPhotos are the best souvenir you can bring home from a trip, in my opinion. There are countless resources online to help you take better travel photos, including some excellent articles on our website. (Shameless plug for my favorites: 19 Tips for Better Travel Photos and 12 Things You Don’t Photograph — But Should.)

Here are five new photography resources online:

Beyond the Selfie Stick: A New Angle on Travel Photography: If you’re tired of taking selfies, you can now hire a professional photographer to accompany you on vacation and take magazine-like photos of you. Skift reports on two such companies: Flytographer, which connects travelers with local photographers in 160 cities, and El Camino, a tour company that includes the services of a pro photographer in your vacation package. (Check out our post about Flytographer.)

How to Hashtag Your Photos on Instagram: Want to maximize the number of people who see your travel photography on Instagram? Make sure you’re using the right hashtags, advises Stephanie Rosenbloom of the New York Times. For example, if you photograph a gorgeous tree, don’t just mark your photo #tree; use #treelovers.

Wanderlust Photo of the Year Competition: Looking at professional photographers’ images can be intimidating — but seeing the winning shots from Wanderlust travel magazine’s 2016 amateur photo contest invokes pride. Among the top shooters in the wildlife, landscape, people and icon categories are a police officer, an accountant, a schoolteacher and a minster.

The Natural Photographer: This new site from photographer and nature tour guide Court Whelan of the adventure travel company Natural Habitat Adventures focuses on capturing images of animals and nature. Whelan knows the types of shots travelers like to get — close-ups of cool critters, silhouettes against sunsets, wide-angle landscapes that make your Facebook friends jealous. The site also includes basics on using camera settings, composing shots and choosing equipment.

Getting Started in Travel Photography: The website PetaPixel published this great primer last week by photographer Viktor Elizarov, who gives solid advice on starting out small and growing your skills. You don’t need to book a pricey trip to Southeast Asia to find great subjects for your first foray in travel photography, he advises. You can start in your own neighborhood.

12 Travel Photography Mistakes to Avoid
How to Back Up Photos When You Travel

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma