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good night sleep maskIn the eternal quest for better sleep on planes, here’s a unique product to try: the Good Night Sleep Mask from Magellan’s. Unlike most eye masks, this one is specially molded so that it doesn’t press right against your eyelids, allowing for rapid eye movement (REM) and therefore more refreshing sleep, according to Magellan’s.

I was eager to give the Good Night Sleep Mask a try; I use eye masks often, not only on planes but also on weekends at home when I want to block the morning sun out and sleep in for a few extra hours. Unfortunately, I didn’t find it particularly comfy to wear, especially at first. The nose piece felt too tight and hampered my breathing a bit, so I had to wear the mask slightly higher than it seemed to be designed for. That left the bottom edges of the mask digging uncomfortably into the sensitive skin under my eyes.

I persevered, though, and found the mask less bothersome the second and third times I tried it. As for the sleep itself, the mask was dark enough to block out the light and allow me to doze off, and I woke up feeling rested. It’s hard to say whether I felt any more refreshed than I had wearing other eye masks, but I’m going to keep this one around just in case.

How to Sleep Better on Planes

The mask sells for $14.50 plus shipping on Magellans.com, and is available in four colors: black, cocoa, pewter and ocean blue.

Want to try it yourself? We’re giving away an ocean blue Good Night Sleep Mask to one lucky winner. To enter, leave a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on March 27, 2014. We’ll pick one winner at random. 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.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

top gear carsTrekking through the Amazon, embarking from Canada as the first to drive to the magnetic North Pole, road tripping through Botswana and even riding through Chernobyl; it may sound like the best travel show you’ve never heard of, and that’s because it’s not a travel show at all — it’s Top Gear, a British program about cars.

The hosts — Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond — are car MacGyvers and automobile enthusiasts who drive and review virtually anything with wheels, along with the show’s anonymous racecar driver known only as the Stig. Airing in its current format for more than 10 years, the BBC show primarily features cars you could never dream of owning placed along the winding roads of drool-worthy backdrops such as the Amalfi Coast or the dunes of Abu Dhabi.

Clarkson could be considered the Anthony Bourdain of car shows (with May and Hammond just as cheeky) for those unfamiliar with the Top Gear concept. Their clever devil-may-care personalities, impressive knowledge and adventurous spirit lend themselves well to British banter and thrilling test drives, but even better to their globe-trotting (er, driving) episodes.

Though there may be other challenges peppered throughout, most seasons culminate with a special that inevitably flings the trio across the globe on a daunting journey in seemingly preposterous conditions. They make eating bugs or snakes with some remote tribe look like a cake walk. Typically armed with a tight budget and a ridiculous set of conditions, they forge ahead to find the source of the Nile or retrace the pilgrimage of the three wise men. In Bolivia, the motoring threesome bought second-hand off-road vehicles and navigated them to their mechanical limits across jungles and hair-raising hairpin turns on what’s known affectionately as Death Road. They then attempted a risky ascent into Chile across Guallatiri, an active volcano. This was thwarted by altitude sickness, but the footage they took was spectacular.

Slideshow: The Eight Best U.S. Road Trips

This season’s two-part finale (which has just aired) takes place in Myanmar (Burma), and the Top Gear camera crew was granted access to remote areas of the country — a first for any television crew. The challenge: to build a bridge over the River Kwai in Thailand and then drive across it. Along the way they gave viewers a first-time glimpse into the world of the Shan — an area of Myanmar larger than England and Wales combined with just one road built 150 years ago, no electricity, no hospitals and no planes overhead. Still in the midst of a 60-year-long civil war (the longest-running in the world), the Shan is unveiled as a lush, untouched stretch of otherworldly earth, with a reclusivity that gives it a mystique rarely found in today’s hyper-connected universe. Here’s a preview:



I was initially worried about making it through an hour-long British TV show about cars, but I’ve walked away each time laughing and actually learning something — not just about the coupes, convertibles and caravans, but about the countries the hosts drive them through. I’ve discovered that you don’t have to tune in to the Travel Channel to find travel; you can find it in the most unexpected places. For me, that sweet spot is Top Gear. Think of it as armchair travel with an engine.

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

airport baggage claimYou’re a lucky traveler if you’ve never experienced an air travel glitch. Whether you’ve been bumped from an overbooked flight, had a bag lost or experienced a delay, airline hiccups are a fact of life. A lesser-known fact, however, is that the law might entitle you to compensation if your flight doesn’t go as planned — and we don’t mean just in the form of a better seat or a credit for a future booking. But the airlines’ convoluted policies make it intimidating for most travelers to pursue claims.

Cue AirHelp. Popular in Europe, the company officially brought its services to the U.S. market earlier this month, helping displaced air travelers to seek retribution. As we note in our story on bumping and overbooking, you could be eligible for a refund of up to $1,300 if you’re bumped from an overbooked flight. But who has time to research, file and follow up on claims?

AirHelp does. While we haven’t gone through the entire claim reporting process, it seems easy enough. The initial five-step system asks you to 1) choose whether you were delayed, canceled or bumped; 2) list your departure and arrival cities; 3) tell AirHelp whether your flight was direct or had connections; 4) enter the flight number and the date of the flight; and 5) provide information like your name, email address, reservation number, total time of delay and reason given by the airline.

Airport Delays: 6 Ways to Cope

After you submit your claim, AirHelp will determine whether you’re entitled to some sort of refund and, if so, follow up with the airline on your behalf (for which you give your permission by signing a power of attorney document).

The upside? If you’re not paid, you owe nothing for AirHelp’s services. If they score you some cash, they keep 25 percent. It seems like a lot at first, but without AirHelp’s assistance, it’s unlikely you’d be seeing anything at all.

The downside? If the service catches on, there’s no telling whether already struggling airlines might reflect their losses in the form of higher ticket prices. (AirHelp claims that 98 percent of eligible passengers don’t currently apply for compensation.)

What are your thoughts? Would you try AirHelp?

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

magellan's card size led travel lightThere’s not much that can take the place of a good book when I’m trying to kill time on a long-haul flight, but airplane reading lamps never quite give me enough light. Enter Magellan’s Card Size LED Travel Light. It claims to charge itself in one hour via a USB cable and provide up to two hours of light.

So, did it work? The short answer is yes, but there are caveats. Read on for the pros and cons.

What We Didn’t Like
Although this little baby only takes one hour to charge, it’s done by USB cable, which means it’s not super-convenient if you’re traveling without a laptop or an adapter for a regular wall outlet. We also found that, once charged, the light started to die out after only 90 minutes — 30 minutes shy of the two-hour usage time the packaging promises.

What We Liked
The travel light charges rapidly (assuming you have a proper place to charge it), and it’s definitely compact — the width and height of a standard credit card, to be exact. It’s a space-saving plus for someone like me who opposes e-readers on principle and travels with at least two bulky novels at all times. It easily turns on and off with the push of a button, and it’s got three different light strengths, so you can conserve battery power if you find that the highest settings are too bright. The USB cord also wraps right around the base for easy storage, and the bendable stem allows you to position the light wherever you need it.

Expert Packing Tips for 4 Common Trips

All things considered, this product is a win, especially at the affordable price of $20. Want one of your very own? Leave a comment below for a chance to win the travel light. Enter by 11:59 p.m. ET on February 17, 2014. We’ll pick one winner at random. 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.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Diane Lieberman. Congratulations! Please check back in the future for other chances to win great travel products.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

interview

The next time you reach out to your travel advisor for help with planning your next trip, you may want to rein in any diva behavior, lest a caricature of you appear in an Off-Broadway play.

Though the 30 travelers depicted in the new two-person play “Craving for Travel” are fictional, many of their requests — at turns unreasonable, sweet and shortsighted — are based on the real-life customers of travel agent Jim Strong of Strong Travel Services in Dallas.

“The play is a comedy that finds its roots in the extremes of truth,” co-playwright Andy Sandberg explained to IndependentTraveler.com.

The Etiquette of Seat Backs and Elbow Room

So what kind of crazy antics can a bunch of travel agent customers get up to?

Well, there’s the American senator booted out of his hotel in Sydney after making some offensive comments about an Australian icon. And then there’s the man who tried to plan his trip sans help but found himself badly in need of a bail-out. Another unique request the two travel agents in the play try to accommodate comes from an elderly couple hoping to relive their first meeting.

“Craving for Travel” is open for a four-week run at the Peter J. Sharp Theater on 42nd Street in New York City. I’m hoping to get tickets to see the show, so in preparation I’ve decided to let my imagination run wild and concoct my own ridiculously impossible travel request.

Why You Still Need a Travel Agent

I want to plan a one-week England trip. During that time I’d like to visit Stonehenge, but not with any other tourists. Instead I want a private tour of the site at dusk, accompanied by a practicing druid. Also, I want to play billiards with Prince Harry, sup with Elton John and pet the Queen’s corgis.

What impossible-to-provide travel experience(s) would you ask for?

– written by Dori Saltzman

time fliesThis post is part of our Time Flies series, highlighting unique ways to spend your down time at airports around the world.

With the holidays upon us and busy travelers scurrying about to reach their final destinations, I was hoping some airport, anywhere, would be able to bring the holiday spirit forth. Lo and behold, the Munich International Airport delivered in grand style.

For those unfamiliar, this year marks the 14th year that the Munich International Airport has brought the Bavarian spirit front and center with its seasonal winter market. What better way to start your holiday than by visiting a traditional German Christmas market before your holiday trip even begins?

Within the market, travelers will find 50 authentic stands filled with everything from schnitzel and mulled wine to cuckoo clocks and ornaments. To make things even more seasonal — keeping in mind that all this is at an airport — there is the smell of fresh ice emanating from the oversized skating rink combined with some 300 Christmas trees, the highlight of which stands nearly 50 feet tall.

munich airport winter market


While the seasonal market is sure to delight, the Munich International Airport is not without its year-round staples to enhance your layover a bit more. Along with the usual airport staples, it happens to be the proud owner of the largest roofed-in beer garden in all of Germany.

Yes, that’s right — an airport with an actual beer garden. With space for more than 600 thirsty travelers, it’ll make you feel like you’ve stepped from Christmastime into the middle of Oktoberfest. Order an Airbrau, a highly rated, relatively inexpensive beer brewed on site. As you suck down that cold (lukewarm) one, you’ll take in the chestnut trees, a real maypole and jaw-dropping (by airport standards) views of the architecture. If you didn’t fill up on German fare at the Christmas market, this is your second chance to grab that schnitzel (apologies for the writer’s personal bias, as plenty of other options exist).

Photos: 12 Unforgettable Germany Experiences
Best Airports for Layovers

So if you’re planning a jaunt through Germany this time of year, and airport options abound, consider Munich International Airport as a place that a layover just might not be so bad. Do you know of any other airports getting into the holiday spirit? If so, please share them in the comments below.

– written by Matt Leonard

Welcome to IndependentTraveler.com’s 12 Days of Travel Giveaways! Every day between December 2 and December 13, we’ll feature a different travel product for our readers to win. You may enter to win as many items as you wish (but only once per item).

lipault foldable carry-onOur final giveaway is a Lipault 22-Inch Two-Wheeled Foldable Carry-On, a lightweight bag that can be compressed into a four-inch-wide plastic case for easy storage.

Here’s what we had to say about the bag in The Quest for the Perfect Carry-On: “I expected a thinner, floppier material (a la LeSportsac bags or ultra-light camping equipment), but it’s actually pretty sturdy. I carried it onboard one way, and could easily lift and carry the bag, while simultaneously pushing a stroller and carrying a backpack. I checked it on the way back, and it came back to me with no scuffs or tears. And it truly does squeeze down into a compact storage case that would fit easily under a bed, in a closet or in the corner of a cruise ship cabin.”

The carry-on retails for $189 at the Lipault website.

Want to win this gently used purple carry-on? Leave a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on December 15, 2013. We’ll pick one person at random to win the bag. 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.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Isabel Menendez. Congratulations!

Did you miss any of our previous giveaways? Catch up here: 12 Days of Travel Giveaways: Full List

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Welcome to IndependentTraveler.com’s 12 Days of Travel Giveaways! Every day between December 2 and December 13, we’ll feature a different travel product for our readers to win. You may enter to win as many items as you wish (but only once per item).

j-pillowToday’s giveaway is a J-Pillow, which was designed to reduce neck strain and provide head support for travelers or others who are forced to sleep sitting up. The pillow is unique in that it has a pillow for the side of the head as well as a “trunk” that slips under the chin to prevent the head from falling forward.

While the concept is solid, the execution is a bit shaky. The covering fabric, which feels like a combination of fleece and velvet, was a bit too slick, which means it’s difficult to keep the pillow in place. If you’ve got a window seat or an understanding travel buddy, prop the pillow against a window or shoulder, and it will stay put. We did like the nifty clip, which can be used to hook the pillow onto carry-on items.

It’s a nice idea, and while it didn’t work exactly as expected for us, it might work perfectly for you. The J-Pillow can be purchased for $34.95 at JPillow.com.

Want to win this prize? Leave a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on December 15, 2013. We’ll pick one person at random to win the pillow. 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.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Michele Loper. Congratulations!

Stay tuned tomorrow for our final giveaway!

12 Days of Travel Giveaways: Full List

– written by Colleen McDaniel

Welcome to IndependentTraveler.com’s 12 Days of Travel Giveaways! Every day between December 2 and December 13, we’ll feature a different travel product for our readers to win. You may enter to win as many items as you wish (but only once per item).

surfeasyToday’s giveaway is a SurfEasy Private Browser, which plugs into your computer’s USB port to give you online privacy while you browse on the road. We recommend SurfEasy in 10 Unexpected Holiday Travel Gifts:

“SurfEasy plugs easily into PC’s and Macs, and enables you to browse the Internet through an encrypted channel so you don’t have to worry about the security of your data in public Wi-Fi hotspots. SurfEasy also shields your IP address from the Web sites you visit to make it harder for them to track you online.” (Learn more about how to protect yourself from identity theft while traveling.)

The SurfEasy Private Browser can be purchased for $69.99 at SurfEasy.com.

Want to win this prize? Leave a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on December 15, 2013. We’ll pick one person at random to win the prize. 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.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Richard Pepin. Congratulations!

Stay tuned tomorrow for another giveaway!

12 Days of Travel Giveaways: Full List

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Welcome to IndependentTraveler.com’s 12 Days of Travel Giveaways! Every day between December 2 and December 13, we’ll feature a different travel product for our readers to win. You may enter to win as many items as you wish (but only once per item).

bag of travel itemsToday’s giveaway is a cosmetics bag stuffed with miscellaneous travel goodies.

Zip open the slate gray cosmetics bag and you’ll find a travel-sized toothbrush with mini-toothpaste, a sleep mask, camera or glasses lens polishing cloth, large plastic luggage tag and Zylast antimicrobial antiseptic solution, which claims to kills 99.99 percent of germs. Even if you don’t use the items inside, the bag itself is perfectly sized for carrying your makeup, a travel medicine kit, or contact lens cases and solution.

Want to win this bag of goodies? Leave a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on December 15, 2013. We’ll pick one person at random to win the package. 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.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Sue Madrid. Congratulations!

Stay tuned tomorrow for another giveaway!

12 Days of Travel Giveaways: Full List

– written by Dori Saltzman