Home

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

airplane tabletThe days of having to stow your Kindle, cell phone or iPod at the very beginning and end of a flight will soon be coming to an end. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced today that “airlines can safely expand passenger use of Portable Electronic Devices (PEDs) during all phases of flight.”

The decision comes after the FAA consulted with a panel of pilots, aviation manufacturers, airline representatives and other experts, who determined that devices being used in airplane mode should not interfere with the safe operation of most commercial aircraft.

This doesn’t mean you can whip out your laptop during takeoff on a flight this weekend. The new policy will be implemented on an airline-by-airline basis, with each carrier having to assess its own fleet and present evidence to the FAA that its planes won’t be affected by radio interference from PEDs. The FAA expects that many airlines will be approved for PED use by the end of the year.

Taking Photos on Planes: On the No-Fly List?

A few things to note:

- You still won’t be able to use your cell phone for voice calls, and other devices must be kept in airplane mode.

- You may only use Wi-Fi on your device if the plane has installed a Wi-Fi system and the airline allows it to be used.

- Heavier devices should still be stowed during takeoff and landing.

- Finally, says the FAA, “In some instances of low visibility — about one percent of flights — some landing systems may not be proved PED tolerant, so you may be asked to turn off your device.”

How to Fix the TSA

Personally, we think it’s about time — what’s your take?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

space balloon capsuleTwo things have been holding me back from signing up for a trip to space: a susceptibility to motion sickness and a decided lack of millions of dollars. Now a new company has emerged with a possible solution to both of my issues.

World View Enterprises recently revealed plans to use a helium balloon to lift eight customers in a pressurized capsule to the brink of space, nearly 100,000 feet (just under 19 miles) above the earth. According to the Washington Post, the trip would last about four hours, with a 1.5-hour ascent and two hours spent hovering at the edge of outer space. From that height, participants would be surrounded by the intense darkness of the sky and able to see Earth curving beneath them.

The company hopes to launch its first customer outing by 2016.

Seven Strange Foods from Around the World

Because the capsule, which would protect occupants from the harsh dangers of the upper atmosphere, would never actually get into space, require G-force speeds or reach zero gravity, the risk of motion sickness would be minimal as compared to other space travel options.

The price tag is also significantly reduced from other forms of space travel … but in the way that a Vera Wang dress on sale at 50 percent off still costs a mint. Half off sounds great, but 50 percent of $50,000 is still a whopping $25,000.

In this case, the difference in price between Virgin Galactic’s $250,000 proposed space jaunt and World View’s edge-of-space offering is a massive 70 percent. And compared to the $50 million price tag for Space Adventures’ trip to the International Space Station — the only currently available option for space tourists — the World View offering is an absolute steal.

But it’s still $75,000 for a four-hour trip, which puts it solidly outside of my travel budget.

Are you tempted by the new company’s offering? Is $75,000 closer to what you’d pay to get near to space, or would you rather use the same amount of money to explore more of the planet you’re already on?

9 Places to See Before the World Ends

– written by Dori Saltzman

nickel and dimingIf price is no longer the differentiator between legacy airlines like Delta, United and American Airlines and so-called discount carriers like JetBlue and Southwest, what is?

I say it’s the way they treat their customers.

The legacy carriers, who used to be all about providing the best customer experience, now seem to look at their passengers simply as cash cows. On the other hand, the “discount” lines, excepting small carriers like Spirit and Allegiant, are dedicated to the idea that a good customer experience with amenities included in the airfare is the path to success.

Case in point: a recent Forbes article argues that overhead bin space will be the next formerly-included amenity to be unbundled from the airfare.

Already the most deeply discounted carriers, Spirit and Allegiant, have gone that route charging for carry-on bags.

16 Ways to Get Through the Airport Faster

And while it seems inconceivable that the major carriers would follow suit, some experts argue overhead been space has already being monetized via the sale of priority boarding passes, which passengers on legacy airlines buy almost exclusively in order to gain access to overhead bins first.

A New York Times article, cited by Forbes, quotes Jay Sorenson, president of airline consulting firm IdeaWorksCompany, who said revenue for early boarding is increasing; he predicts airlines will implement more such fees.

On the other end of the spectrum, JetBlue is making flying easier — and possibly less expensive — for its customers with a new frequent flier program called Family Pooling.

The program enables families of up to two adults and five children to combine their TrueBlue frequent flier points together to make it easier to earn enough points for a free flight. Even better, the two adults don’t actually need to be related; two friends can pool their miles, then split the cost of a second ticket. And the airline is doing this without having to charge extra for bags, either checked (first checked only) or carry-on!

How ironic that the airlines that used to have to separate themselves from the pack through low fares now only have to go back to the good old days of treating passengers like valued customers rather than piggy banks on two feet.

Seven Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees

– written by Dori Saltzman

cell phoneNo, that isn’t a pig flying past your head, but it is an equally uncommon sight: a company that’s actually reducing fees for travelers.

That company is T-Mobile, and those fees are roaming charges for travelers using their cell phones abroad. The New York Times reports that T-Mobile will eliminate the exorbitant rates for texts, data and phone calls that send many travelers home with hundreds of dollars in unexpected fees on their cell phone bills after an international vacation.

According to T-Mobile’s website, travelers will be entitled to unlimited free data and texts in more than 100 countries, starting on October 20 for new customers and October 31 for existing customers. Calls will cost 20 cents a minute. To take advantage, you must be part of the company’s Simple Choice Plan and have a phone capable of connecting outside the U.S.

Keep in mind that while many popular countries are covered (such as France, Italy, Australia and Japan), there are a few places where traditional — read: expensive — international rates will still apply. These include Morocco, Laos and Botswana, to name a few.

16 Offbeat Travel Apps Worth a Download

As the New York Times notes, this offers potentially huge savings over plans from competing cell phone carriers. AT&T, for example, charges $60 for 300 megabytes of data outside the U.S., 10 – 20 cents per text message and $1 (or more) per minute for phone calls.

Here’s hoping T-Mobile’s new policy succeeds in drawing globetrotting cell phone users away from other carriers; we always like to see companies that put customers first getting rewarded.

Now, airlines — about those baggage fees…

11 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft While Traveling

– written by Sarah Schlichter

shenandoah national park virginia autumn fallAs we enter day two of the limited U.S. government shutdown, so far travelers are mostly unaffected by the congressional deadlock. It’s business as usual at airports and border crossings, and passport applications are still being processed. However, travelers hoping to go leaf-peeping in a national park or visit the Smithsonian museums are out of luck.

All national parks, monuments, historic sites and other properties run by the National Park Service are closed (and you can’t even access their websites) during the shutdown. And this doesn’t just affect sites in the U.S. — the Normandy American Cemetery in France will also be closed for the duration of the shutdown, along with other overseas properties run by the American Battle Monuments Commission.

State parks are a good alternative to consider for those seeking hiking trails, outdoor recreation and scenic landscapes while the national parks are closed. Thrillist has put together a list of state parks near popular national properties such as Yellowstone, Zion and Acadia.

If the shutdown continues, travelers may start to see a slowdown at airports and ports as more employees may be furloughed or those who are covering for furloughed employees begin to burn out. Already, one third of the Federal Aviation Administration’s workforce has been furloughed, the (Newark) Star-Ledger reports. FAA officials said the furloughs have so far not affected daily flight operations or safety.

A spokesperson for the Transportation Security Administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, told the Star-Ledger that staffing at airport security checkpoints will not be reduced. At cruise ports and border patrol checkpoints, U.S. Customs and Border Control will most likely be unaffected, as “they have been deemed law enforcement necessary or necessary for the safety of life and protection of property,” the CPB states on its website.

For travelers in the process of getting a passport, the longer the shutdown continues the greater the chance the passport won’t come. At the moment, passport services are functioning as normal with a processing time of up to four weeks for routine applications and two weeks for expedited service. For some people, though, actually picking up their passport could already be a problem as any passport agency located in a government building affected by the shutdown “may become unsupported,” the Department of State wrote on its website.

10 Things Not to Wear When Traveling Abroad

The Department of State will continue to provide emergency services as necessary to U.S. citizens overseas.

Has your trip been affected by the shutdown?

– written by Dori Saltzman and Sarah Schlichter

greenwich village apartment buildingsAirbnb, the social website that connects travelers with locals who are willing to rent out living spaces on a short-term basis, scored a big victory in New York last week. The back story: Nigel Warren, a New York-based Airbnb host who had rented out his bedroom while he himself was traveling, was fined $2,400 for violating local laws that make it illegal to rent out a home for less than 30 days.

This matter potentially had massive ramifications, not just for Airbnb but also for travelers, who have flocked to the site to find value-priced lodgings with a local feel and ambience, rather than high-priced hotels. Airbnb hosts rent out apartments, houses and spare rooms.

In support for Warren and other hosts in New York, Airbnb worked with Warren to appeal the fine. A clarification by the New York City Environmental Control Board was handed down last week. The ruling articulated that hosts can rent out rooms as long as a permanent occupant of the home is in residence (in Warren’s case, his roommate, who was also on the lease, was present).

“In the appeal, we and Nigel argued — and the appeal board now agrees — that under New York law as long as a permanent occupant is present during a stay, the stay does not violate New York’s short term rental laws,” wrote David Hantman, Airbnb’s Head of Global Public Policy, on the company’s blog.

Airbnb and Beyond: Tips for Safe, Legal Vacation Rentals

The bottom line for New Yorkers: It’s still okay to rent out a spare room if you’re present at the time, and it’s still illegal to rent out an apartment that you don’t live in. But the news is that as long as some permanent occupant is there, even if you as the host are not, your rental is legal.

The battle’s not fully over yet in New York, as this new development does not protect those who rent out empty apartments. (There are currently more than 1,000 such listings on Airbnb.com.) Still, it’s a start — and Warren gets his fine refunded.

All eyes now turn to a similar battle now playing out in the Los Angeles community of Silver Lake. Stay tuned.

– written by Carolyn Spencer Brown

airplane seatsFor every long-legged traveler who’s sick of being pretzeled into increasingly small airplane seats, a new study offers insight into how to land yourself a few precious extra inches of legroom.

Routehappy.com surveyed U.S. airlines in search of “Roomier” seats — those with at least 32 inches of seat pitch — that travelers could find in regular economy class without having to pay extra. The carrier on which you’re most likely to find these is Southwest Airlines, which offers nearly 1,000 domestic flights a day with Roomier seats (this reflects 31 percent of all Southwest flights). Alaska Airlines came in second with 752 flights, or 96 percent of its daily offerings.

While those airlines win out due to the sheer number of flights they offer, it’s worth noting that a couple of smaller airlines, JetBlue and Virgin America, offer at least 32 inches of seat pitch on 100 percent of their planes. JetBlue’s A320 planes have a generous 34 inches of seat pitch, and they’re wider than average to boot. Virgin America’s seats are also wider than most, offer 32 inches of seat pitch, and have both Wi-Fi and power outlets — a combination that you won’t find fleetwide on any other airline, according to Routehappy.

In all, you can find more spacious seats for free on 13 percent of domestic flights.

Secrets of the World’s Best Airlines

If you’re willing to pay extra for more space, you have plenty of options. Routehappy reports that of the 22,000 domestic flights that take off each day in the U.S., 9,000 of them have more spacious economy-class seats available for purchase. (Delta and United have the most, followed by American and JetBlue.) On international flights, 47 percent of the 1,800 daily departures have Extra Legroom Economy or Premium Economy options.

You can download the full report at Routehappy.com. The site also offers fare searches with results ranked by “happiness score,” which takes seat size, airplane amenities, length of trip and flier ratings into account.

Check out our tips for How to Get the Best Airplane Seat.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

afraidBill Bryson may have been going for a tongue-in-cheek approach when he wrote about the various ways one might die in Australia (“In a Sunburned Country”) and along the Appalachian Trail (“A Walk in the Woods”), but he was more than just a little serious too.

If you’re going to visit Australia, the truth is you’d better watch out for saltwater crocodiles, sharks, stinging jellyfish and redback spiders. And bears in North America are nothing to laugh at (except when Bryson writes about them, that is).

But wildlife predators are not the only thing tourists need to be wary of when traveling if they want to get home in one piece. I’ve read too many tragic tales of travelers killed in helicopter tours (in Hawaii and in New York City, to name a few) to ever climb aboard one.

Drinking Water Safety

And, of course, there’s always the cliché that rings a little too true about holding on for dear life when riding taxis in Rome, Paris or New York City.

Now, sadly, I may also have to worry about gondolas and water buses in Venice.

Earlier this month a German tourist was killed when the gondola he was on collided with a water bus in Venice’s Grand Canal. As it turns out, the gondolier tested positive for cocaine, but authorities also believe boat congestion on the Canal may have been a factor.

10 Things You Should Never Wear When Traveling Abroad

Will this incident stop me from taking a gondola ride when I finally get to Venice? Probably not. The truth is I have a better chance of being hit by a car on the way to work than dumped in the Grand Canal during my few days in Venice. So, no, fear is not going to stop me, but I’ll certainly be more vigilant. Just as I checked for spiders in my shoes in Australia, avoided taxis in Paris and eschew helicopters everywhere.

Do any destination’s specific dangers scare you? Do you take any precautions?

– written by Dori Saltzman

child kid airplane planeWhen it comes to kid-free zones on planes, Asian airlines continue to be trailblazers. A year after Malaysia Airlines introduced child-free sections on its A380 planes, Singapore Airlines’ low-cost carrier, Scoot, is following suit. USA Today reports that fliers can pay $15 to sit in the new “ScootinSilence” section in the front of the economy cabin, where seats have extra legroom and kids under age 12 will not be permitted. Another Asian carrier, AirAsia X, also recently added a kid-free “Quiet Zone.”

Although no U.S. airlines have instituted similar measures, kid-free zones seem to be a growing trend that could catch on around the globe if they continue to be popular in Asia. Our own Traveler’s Ed has spoken up in favor — check out 10 Reasons Every Plane Should Have a Family Zone. Meanwhile, contributing editor Erica Silverstein offers a parent’s perspective on how we can all just get along when both adults and children are in the same cabin: An Open Letter to People Who Hate Flying with Kids.

Do you think more airlines should add child-free zones? Speak out in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

yes or no Here at IndependentTraveler.com, we see a lot of news items about things tourists have done when traveling. Most of the time, the stories are inspirational and uplifting. But sometimes, we just have to throw our hands up in the air and ask: What was that person thinking?!

For all those travelers who seem to have left their common sense at home, we’ve put together three important rules you should never break when traveling.

1. Don’t High-Five the Statues: Here’s the headline: “American Tourist Snaps Finger Off 600-Year-Old Statue in Florence Museum.” Now to be fair, the tourist involved here didn’t actually high-five the statue. He put his hand up against the statue’s to compare sizes. But we think the rule still applies. When encountering art that’s 10 times older than you, it’s probably better to stick to a hands-off approach. Incidentally, when IndependentTraveler.com Senior Editor Sarah Schlichter first shared this story with the office, a colleague asked, “Where were the parents?” Seems fair to assume that the tourist involved was a child, right? Nope. He’s 55.

4 Tourists We Don’t Want to Travel With

2. Don’t Make “I’m Going to Destroy” Jokes: By now most of us realize that cracking bomb jokes in public is not a good idea. But apparently not everyone has figured out that what you say in cyberspace is, indeed, public. So when a British tourist on the way to the United States tweeted “Free this week for quick gossip/prep before I go and destroy America?” he apparently thought only his friends were going to see it. He was wrong. He also mistakenly assumed anyone who did see it would know that “destroy” was British slang for party it up. Instead of the fun Hollywood vacation he’d planned, he and a friend were arrested at LAX and jailed for 12 hours before being sent back to England.

3. Don’t Mess With the Animals: Forget about the tourists who think it’s a good idea to jump into a zoo cage or charge an elephant, though we highly advise against those moves as well. No, what we’re talking about are people who think it’s a good idea to walk off with a zoo animal. Like these boneheads who, after drinking way too much, broke into a SeaWorld in Australia and woke up the next morning with one of the park’s penguins in their apartment. They were caught when they tried to release the bird into a local canal. Now that we think about it, there’s probably more than one lesson in this tale … like being careful how much you have to drink in the first place and staying away from closed tourist attractions.

Traveling in a Developing Country: 11 Dos and Don’ts

–written by Dori Saltzman