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paris boxAdvertised as “the first gourmet tour around the world delivered to your door,” Try the World provides a gift box containing a quick taste of a different nation’s palate pleasers, every two months.

Founded by a Russian-born New York foodie and a French globetrotter, the company aims to offer not only premium artisanal and international food products, but also a more immersive experience including regional art and music. This is accomplished by a number of postcards included in your box that provide goodies such as poems, music playlists or lists of top local films.

We received a preview of the Paris Box (which will be sent out on November 28), and found postcards tucked inside that explained the origin of our packets of Les Confitures a l’Ancienne powdered dark chocolate (blended with Bourbon vanilla) for hot cocoa, the tiny Alain Milliat jams in Bergeron apricot or wild blueberry with a wildflower honey, and exotic Le Palais des Thes tea bags that meld French tea culture with those of Turkey and Tibet. These three companies alone represent the northwest (Maurencourt), central (Paris) and southeast (Orlienas) regions of France. Additional products you will find in your Paris Box are salted butter caramels by Le Petit Saunier, Chabert & Guillot nougat bars, Sel de Guerande fleur de sel from Brittany and chestnut cream by Clement Faugier.

Along with the international flavors you’ll sample in these high-end (but meagerly portioned) delicacies, you can accompany your cup of tea with the playlist provided (for Paris, it includes the likes of Satie, Gainsbourg and Gall) and read aloud “Exotic Perfume,” a poem by Charles Baudelaire (in English or in French) over chocolate.

12 Delicious Destinations for Foodies

Try the World is a subscription service, which charges $45 per box every two months. It’s a little pricey considering that the items included are close to sample size, but when you look at the variety and quality of the handpicked food items and the well-designed postcards, the box is a neat way to experience that country’s cultural scene from your living room couch. Compared to the price of sending flowers or a fruit basket, I would much rather receive something worldly yet personalized. Subscribing for a full year (six boxes) gives you something to look forward to, but my only complaint would be that the contents of the box don’t seem like they would sustain my global culinary whims over a two-month period.

The Tokyo box ships at the end of January, and the Rio de Janeiro box ships at the end of March. Future box themes have not been announced.

12 International Foods to Try Before You Die

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

stuffed animal suitcase travelToy travel — paying to send a stuffed animal or doll on a trip in lieu of going on one yourself — isn’t new. In fact, we’ve written about it before. We’ve never been fond of the idea of putting our hard-earned cash toward a trip for an inanimate object rather than ourselves. But then we stumbled across a company doing it for more heart-warming reasons than simply making (or wasting) money.

According to ABC News, Unagi Travel, a Japanese travel agency specializing in tours for stuffed toys, sends fake furry friends to places their owners can’t go due to illness or disability. After paying a fee and mailing their toys to Tokyo, where Unagi is based, clients can track their toys’ travels via the company’s Facebook page. At the conclusion of the trip, the animals are mailed back to their owners at no additional charge, along with souvenir photos. According to Unagi’s website, the entire process takes two to three weeks, depending on the adventure chosen.

Our Favorite Tokyo Hotels

Despite its admirable purpose, Unagi’s services are still a bit quirky, not to mention limited. There are currently four tours available to Kyoto, Tokyo, a traditional onsen (hot spring) and a “mystery” location. Rates range from $35 to $95, not including each stuffed animal’s outbound travel, which could be pricey for clients not living in Japan.

Some might still consider it a waste of money, but for those who can’t get out to explore new places, we wager it’s money well spent. In some of the more fortunate cases, owners of the plush participants have been able to retrace their stuffed animals’ steps when their health improved.

What do you think? Do you have a favorite stuffed animal? Would you send it on a trip without you if you were unable to go? Leave your comments below.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

j bullivant solar backpackAlways excited to test out gadgets that might make my travels easier, I set off for Alaska last month with the Solar Backpack from J. Bullivant, a company that specializes in what it calls “Urban Survival Gear.” The pack is equipped with enough pockets and compartments to fit everything but the kitchen sink, as well as built-in solar panels for charging what’s known as a Personal Power Generator (PPG) — a tiny power pack for charging a cell phone or iPad when your devices are dead and there just aren’t enough outlets.

When it comes to the bag’s construction, I have no complaints. It’s comfortable, attractive, lightweight and durable. (Anything that survives my chronic overpacking has to be.) The storage options are plentiful, with spots specifically designed to hold everything from laptops and pens to car keys and spare change. There are even hidden compartments for more important items like passports and wallets.

The Ultimate Guide to Travel Packing

But this backpack’s claim to fame is its ability to charge electronics — and unfortunately, in that regard it was a bit of a bust. After two days of putting the pack in the sun for several hours, I saw no increase in the charge it gave to the PPG. It does work well if you use the included power/car adapter to plug the PPG directly into the wall to charge, but if you’re going to spend time and effort doing that, you might as well just plug in your cell phone or laptop or whatever it is you need the PPG for in the first place.

Of course, the semi-functionality of the product wouldn’t be such a big deal if it were priced in line with other backpacks. But for the most basic model, you can expect to shell out nearly $200. The amount you’ll pay increases from there, depending on what else — pepper spray, hazmat mask, water purification system, ballistic shield — you choose to add to your paranoia pack. (And no, we’re not kidding about anything in that list.)

All things considered, this is a great item to own if you’re active and need to keep your things organized on the go. The PPG is an added bonus if you have access to a car or wall outlet, but don’t get too hung up on the solar panel “cool” factor.

The Suitcase That Beats Bed Bugs

Want to try it for yourself? We’re giving away our (gently used) Solar Backpack. Just leave us a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on October 31, 2013. We’ll pick one person at random to win the backpack. 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. Frannie Heath has won the backpack. Congratulations! Keep an eye on our blog for further chances to win.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

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

Are you tired of the stale airport air? Does the wafting smell of Dunkin’ Donuts (or Tim Horton’s, for the northern crowd) eventually just wear you down?

If so, then Singapore‘s Changi Airport will be, quite literally, a breath of fresh air.

If you’re lucky enough to be flying from Terminal 1, check out the open-air Cactus Garden. With more than 40 different types of cacti and succulents, it sure beats an hour of trying to avoid eye contact with that fellow in pajamas directly across from you at the gate.

Should you be flying out of Terminal 2, have no fear. You could always wander over to explore the cacti, time permitting. Should time not permit, however, you’ve got a natural bevy of options at your disposal. In Terminal 2 you’ll first find what’s known as the “Enchanted Garden.”

I generally fly from Philadelphia, so anything pairing “airports” with “enchanting” — without the inclusion of soft pretzels — piques my interest.

This area in Changi’s Terminal 2 features blooming flowers coupled with LED lighting and sound effects. Should you find that dizzying, the undulating path is sure to help.

For those who aren’t aware, there is a natural rivalry between terminals (or if there’s not, there should be). Terminal 2 wasn’t about to let the cacti of Terminal 1 go mano a mano with just the aforementioned Enchanted Garden. Oh, no. Fliers deserve better.

Enter the Orchid Garden, Koi Pond and Sunflower Garden — all located in Terminal 2.

butterfly garden singapore changi airport 7 Picture-Perfect Airport Gardens

If those four areas of unique airport interest aren’t enough (or conveniently located to your gate), Terminal 3 can do you one better. It’s got a Butterfly Garden.

With over a thousand colorful creatures, this garden provides a unique opportunity to get up close and personal — and even watch a new butterfly coming out of its chrysalis in the Emergence Enclosure.

Have you been to Changi? Do you know of any other airports with unique ways to pass the time? Tell us about it in the comments below.

2 Airports Techies Will Want to Visit

– written by Matt Leonard

doorjammerAs a 5-foot-1 woman who travels alone on a semi-regular basis, I’m always on the lookout for ways to feel more secure on the road. That’s why I was intrigued when the DoorJammer crossed my desk.

The sturdy red gadget is a more sophisticated version of those little triangular wedges you can shove under a door to keep it from being forced open. It has an adjustable foot that allows it to be used on a variety of surfaces and even on uneven floors.

I gave it a try here in the IndependentTraveler.com office, once on carpet and once on a wood floor. While I wasn’t immediately sure how to work the DoorJammer just from looking at it, the step-by-step directions in the manual were easy to follow — put the flat part under the door and tighten the bolt until the engagement foot is firmly anchored against the floor. To take it off, unscrew the bolt. (In an emergency such as a fire, you can also simply pull straight up on the DoorJammer, and it will release immediately. I tested both removal strategies with no problems.)

When someone pushed on the door from outside, the DoorJammer held firm; although there was a clear gap between the frame and the upper part of the door (where my potential assailant was exerting force), the door did not open enough to let anyone in.

Hotel Safety Tips

To see how the DoorJammer works, check out this short video:



Do you really need the DoorJammer if you’re staying in a hotel with both a standard lock and a deadbolt? Probably not. But at hostels, older properties or budget hotels with only single locks or flimsy-looking chains, a product like the DoorJammer can offer an extra layer of protection. It won’t take up much space in your suitcase either: it weighs in at 8 ounces, and stands 4.75 inches high and 2.75 inches wide. You can buy it for $29.99 plus shipping and handling on Door-Jammer.com.

33 Ways to Sleep Better at a Hotel

Want to try it out for yourself? We’re giving away our (gently used) DoorJammer! Just leave us a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on October 9, 2013. We’ll pick one person at random to win the DoorJammer. 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 of the DoorJammer is Terry Kong. Congratulations!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

vibrating travel beltStanding in the middle of a sidewalk with a map spread out in front of your face, trying to determine whether the cathedral is to the right or left, is a sure way to let everyone know you’re a tourist.

And that’s not only embarrassing; it’s dangerous too. You can be sure pickpockets and scammers are noticing you. But even with maps downsized onto our smartphones, how do you avoid looking like a lost tourist while trying to navigate unfamiliar places?

Enter the vibrating travel belt!

Essential Travel Apps

Here’s how it works. First, type your destination into a special GPS app you’ve downloaded onto your phone to get walking directions. Then plug your belt, which looks like a normal brown belt, into the phone via a small cable. The phone will send the directions to your belt and, as you walk, the belt will vibrate in one of four places indicating which way to go.

Directions call for you to go forward? The front of the belt will vibrate. Time to turn right? The right side of the belt will vibrate. And so on.

Sound too futuristic to be real? You’re halfway right. Triposo, best known for Android and iOS travel guides, has created a working prototype of the belt, but isn’t yet in a position to make it available to the general public.

The Art of Travel: How to Get Lost in a High-Tech World

The company is currently raising funds for the belt’s production on Indiegogo.com. If the financial goal is reached, Triposo hopes to make the belt available by February 2014. Would you buy it?

– written by Dori Saltzman

cityzen dressesWhat happens when an architect gets her hands on aerial topography? She turns maps of major cities (New York, Tokyo, Paris, London, Dhaka) into dresses, purses and scarves, of course. Initially we rolled our eyes at the idea, but let’s face it: the results are super fun. The line, called Cityzen by Azin, was created by New York City architect Azin Valy, who got the idea while helping with an exhibition on urban planning for New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

It’s not always apparent that the prints are really maps — which is probably a good thing! — but the apparel still turns heads with bright colors and fun shapes. What we find extra intriguing, though, are the fun recommendations for things to do in each city for which a dress is made. Heading to Bangkok? Try Thai cuisine at Bo.Ian. Visiting Rome? Stroll through Bernini’s colonnades at St. Peter’s Basilica. We love that Valy also recommends a local charity in each city. (Check out more here, on the right.)

One caveat: While we were really excited by the concept, we weren’t so excited about the prices. A scarf will set you back $250, and the least expensive dress is $762 — clearly not ideal for a woman on a budget.

What to Pack for 4 Common Trip Types

Now it’s your turn. If you designed a dress for your favorite city, which city would you choose, and what would the ensemble look like? Leave your comments below.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

the trip tribeEver been stuck on a bus tour with a group of fellow travelers that you have absolutely nothing in common with? (Is that why you usually avoid bus tours in the first place?) A new travel site is hoping to make this dilemma a thing of the past.

TheTripTribe.com offers members-only vacations that let you see the profiles of other travelers who are already booked on each trip, including their age, home town and travel preferences (such as what level of exertion they prefer, ranging from “sleeping on a beach” to “expedition to North Pole”). The site is still growing, but eventually hopes to match members with recommended trips based on their personality and interests.

The site lists both “live trips” (which can be booked) and “crave trips,” which are in the planning stages but won’t actually happen unless enough members show interest.

Most of the live trips cost between $1,000 and $2,000 per person, not including airfare, and emphasize outdoor adventure or fitness. One that caught our eye was the Everyday Paleo Italy Adventure, a six-night trip featuring accommodations in a castle overlooking the Adriatic Sea. Hosting the trip will be Sarah Fragoso, author of “Everyday Paleo” (about the popular diet emphasizing lean meats and vegetables). Activities during your stay include truffle hunting, hiking, yoga on the beach, a tour of the nearby medieval town of Petritoli, wine tasting, workout sessions with Fragoso and more. The trip departs June 1, 2014, and starts at $1,790 per person when you book by August 31. (After that, the price jumps to $1,990.)

11 Best Italy Experiences

Current “crave trips” include a journey to Easter Island, an Antarctica cruise, a trekking safari in Tanzania and a yoga retreat in Bali.

Want to try it out? We’ve got an exclusive bonus for IndependentTraveler.com readers! Join the site via this link and you’ll get a $50 credit to use toward a future trip.

8 Tours for People Who Don’t Like Tours

– written by Sarah Schlichter

rollnbandsThe last time I packed for a long trip, size did matter. I had to stuff as much as I could into one suitcase. Thankfully, it was a big suitcase. But this was a 12-day cruise, and I had to pack for a variety of weather and occasions — including formal night. That meant I needed to have as much room as possible at the top of the suitcase so my dresses wouldn’t crease.

Enter these nifty elastic bands called rollnbands, which you can use to wrap rolled pieces of clothing together to make more room. They were very helpful for compressing my T-shirts, workout clothing and PJ’s into a small space, leaving more room to pile in my folded items. (For those more organized than me, you could also use the bands to roll each day’s outfits together, so that all you have to do is grab a bundle before getting dressed in the morning.)

Fearing wrinkles, I didn’t feel comfortable trying to wrap my “nicer” items with the bands. That didn’t matter though, as the extra space provided by the tightly packed rolled items was more than enough to put my folded pieces on top. The larger bands proved more useful than the small ones, as a large band could wrap three to four items and a small band only wrapped two.

The Ultimate Guide to Travel Packing

I didn’t find rollnbands to be as helpful to me as packing cubes, which are more appropriate for clothing that’s easily wrinkled. But they work great for packing mushable items into a tight space in order to make room for clothing that needs a bit more room.

A pack of rollnbands comes with five small and five large bands and retails for $19.95.

Want to try them for yourself? We’re giving away a few of our gently used rollnbands. To win, just leave a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on August 15, 2013. We’ll pick one winner at random to win the rollnbands. 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. Reader Linda Conner has won the rollnbands. Stay tuned for further giveaways!

– written by Dori Saltzman

airport time fliesThis is the first post in a new series called Time Flies, highlighting unique ways to spend your down time at airports around the world.

Every day that I fly starts the same way. It begins with the inevitable balancing act of figuring out the exact time to leave home, fight traffic, arrive at my local airport, pass security and make it to my gate in a timely fashion. And by “timely fashion,” I don’t mean simply making my flight.

The real goal behind this exercise is to have as little unnecessary airport-sitting time as humanly possible, without missing my flight. It’s my version of risk management. I’m just not a fan of the awkward leatherette rows of chairs rife with computer cords, people in too-comfy-for-public-consumption clothes, rogue bags occupying seats so someone as offensive as me can’t sit nearby, receiving the occasional stray kick from passersby (apology accepted) or just simply staring at the random cast of characters across from me. Who, by the way, I’m certain feel exactly the same about me.

So I want to applaud the airports that recognize this and have kindly displayed a level of ingenuity that makes me want to fly from them, by providing innovative ways for travelers to use their down time. To show my appreciation, these thought leaders will get the showcase they deserve in a monthly blog series called “Time Flies.”

The first airport we’ll feature is Dallas/Fort Worth International, with its new hands-only CPR kiosk.

Who doesn’t want to learn CPR in their downtime? I absolutely do. I can imagine seeing someone running for a plane and not thinking they’ll make it, physically. Using this kiosk at DFW, which the American Heart Association is placing in Terminal C for the next six months, I can learn CPR and know that if that moment comes, I’ll be fully armed with the ability to do what’s needed — without having awkward and potentially germy mouth-to-mouth contact. Brilliant!

Before learning about this kiosk, I had no idea that simply pressing on someone’s chest can be as effective as doing the whole nose-squeeze/pseudo-kiss thing. That, in itself, is a public service. But it gets better.

The short video at the kiosk is set to “Stayin’ Alive,” the classic Bee Gees disco hit, which apparently has the perfect tempo for hands-only CPR. Think of John Travolta hovering over the stricken individual. He unleashes a strong chest thrust at the bottom end of his infamous disco maneuver, rendering the poor soul saved. For that brief moment, any one of us could be John Travolta.

Best Airports for Layovers
Two Airports Techies Will Want to Visit

So I thank you, DFW, for your commitment to being one of the nation’s healthiest airports and your outside-the-box thinking. All kidding aside, this is a valuable service and something worth checking out the next time you’re in Dallas.

Have you seen a zany airport idea or had a great experience while waiting for a flight? Share it with us in the comments!

– written by Matt Leonard