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tokyo skyline nightThe world’s largest city is also the world’s safest, according to a new report. Tokyo has been declared the winner in the 2015 edition of the Economist’s Safe Cities Index.

Right behind Japan’s capital were two other Asian cities, Singapore and Osaka, with European favorites Stockholm and Amsterdam rounding out the top five. The highest ranked U.S. city was New York at number 10. At the bottom of the barrel was Jakarta, Indonesia, coming in at number 50. Its overall safety score was just 53.71 out of 100 (as compared to Tokyo, which scored 85.63).

On hearing the word “safest,” you might picture a place where you’re unlikely to get pickpocketed or mugged, but this type of personal safety is only one of four broad categories measured in the study. The Economist is also looking out for your digital security — how common are cybercrime and identity theft? — as well as health safety (pollution, quality of hospitals) and infrastructure safety (roads, rails, pedestrian deaths).

11 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft While Traveling

A few interesting tidbits from the report:

Barcelona, long infamous for pickpockets, has taken steps to get safer; crime has dropped by 32 percent over the past three years.

– In a comparison of perception vs. reality, the study found that Americans tend to feel less safe than they really are (based on their cities’ rankings in the list), while locals in Middle Eastern cities such as Riyadh and Abu Dhabi are not actually as secure as they feel.

– Safety is only one factor in determining the world’s best cities. After combining various indexes — including not just Safe Cities but also Liveability Rankings, Cost of Living and more — the Economist came up with a different winner: Toronto was voted the overall best place to live.

Essential Hotel Safety Tips

Which cities would you consider the most safe?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

people traveling in car togetherFar from the romanticized travels of Kerouac in 1960s beatnik America, hitchhiking is not the most viable option for travelers looking to rideshare in 2015. But with the millennial generation so concerned about aiding the environment (decreasing gas emissions) and keeping costs down, the idea of a rideshare is the perfect way to split fuel costs and keep an additional car (or two or three) off the road. The problem was until now, combing boards and listings looking for a reasonably trustworthy person going in the same direction was a tad haphazard.

A new ridesharing community called Tripda plans to take the idea of hitching (or offering up) a ride in to modern times. Available via a website and an app, Tripda connects travelers seeking transportation with those looking for extra passengers to split costs. Think of it like a long-distance Uber with a social aspect (the drivers are people like you already headed in your direction). The company promises security with verification on the identity of drivers, and even a Ladies Only option for women more comfortable traveling with other women. By using Facebook for its login system, Tripda claims that it is easier to connect with your fellow riders, get to know them before you set off into the sunset, and potentially connect with mutual friends or affiliations so there are talking points before you even hit the road.

Top 20 Safe Driving Tips

As a driver, you only accept the passengers you want to accompany you, and as a passenger, you pick travel companions based upon how much you’re looking to contribute, whether you prefer silence to music or conversation, and even whether you mind sharing the backseat with a furry, four-footed traveler. The whole process is intended to eliminate waste, but also to enhance an otherwise lonely or lackluster journey.

Founded just last year, Tripda is intended to be a global platform for transportation and is currently coordinating rides in 13 countries in North America, Latin America and Asia. However, because the site is so new, it can be tricky to find a ride that will suit you. It seems like the “recent rides” are concentrated in California and New York so far.

Tell us: Would you use Tripda on your next road trip?

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

woman facing empty picture frames alone in museumPicture Will Smith driving around an abandoned Times Square in the post-apocalyptic movie “I Am Legend.” Now picture yourself on a commercial airplane about to take off with only you and the crew aboard. Maybe not as dramatic as driving a sports car through Manhattan at the end of the world, but for one Brooklyn native, this travel dream became a near-reality on his Delta flight Monday. According to ABC News, Chris O’Leary boarded his delayed flight to New York to find that the rest of the passengers had been rebooked. He documented his experience on social media with updates like, “I just got a personal safety briefing from my two flight attendants.”

Alas, just before take-off another passenger boarded, and “the thrill” had passed for what might have been O’Leary’s only shot at a private plane. Still, we imagine they each had plenty of space to recline and enjoy the peace.

15 Mistakes to Avoid When Traveling Solo

This freak flight occurrence had us thinking: What other travel experiences would you enjoy more if you had them completely and totally to yourself? Would you take a cruise as the only passenger? A train ride as the only occupant? How about having the Pyramids of Giza to yourself? Would having the time and space to wander around major landmarks utterly on your own be more fulfilling, or would it feel strange and deserted without a bit of a crowd?

I would love to have the Louvre, or another cavernous museum, to myself for a day. To me, art is very subjective, and I would prefer to have my own experience interpreting the pieces without anyone else pausing in front to ponder.

Tell us: What travel experiences could you get used to solo?

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

airport happy coupleEvery once in a while, a stellar airfare deal presents itself. Generally, though, the cost of a flight is enough to fund an entire week’s vacation at a place within driving distance, and it makes me sick to have to pay it. What’s a budget-strapped globetrotter to do?

Apparently there’s a little-known loophole in town, and it’s called hidden city ticketing. Say, for example, you want to fly nonstop from Newark to Phoenix, and the cheapest fare you can find is $494. It turns out that the same airline offers a flight from Newark to Los Angeles, by way of a stop in Phoenix, for just $304. All you need to do is book the second flight, take carry-on luggage only and not show up for the second leg of the trip. You’ll get to your destination for almost $200 less.

However, it can be a pain to do the legwork to find such flights; that’s where Skiplagged.com can help. Created by Aktarer Zaman, a 22-year-old techie from Brooklyn, the site is currently rubbing a few airlines the wrong way. According to The Higher Learning, United Airlines and Orbitz are suing Zaman, claiming “unfair competition” and seeking $75,000 in compensation for lost revenue.

Although hidden city ticketing has been around for years, whether it’s actually allowed is questionable. Skiplagged simply allows potential travelers to search for hidden cities more quickly and easily, but many airlines prohibit this type of booking.

Note that it’s not a particularly sound method of finding airfare if you check bags, as they’ll end up at your ticket’s final destination instead of yours. Hidden city tickets also don’t work for roundtrip flights; if you don’t show up for the second leg of your outgoing flight, it’s likely the airline will consider you a no-show and cancel your return ticket altogether.

How to Hack Your Way to a Cheaper Airfare

Have you tried this method of finding less expensive fares? Do you think it’s “unfair competition”? Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments below.

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

trinidad cubaFor more than 50 years, Cuba has been a travel taboo for U.S. residents. Going there wasn’t technically prohibited — particularly if you were able to get special clearances as a journalist or Cuban expat, or if you traveled with an authorized tour operator — but spending money there was. Sure, there were ways around the restrictions, but this week we’ve gotten closer to the day when independent American travelers will no longer have to make sneaky pit stops in Mexico or Canada along the way.

Earlier this week, after Cuba and the U.S. came to an agreement that released prisoners on both ends and returned them to their home countries, the rules about spending money in Cuba were relaxed. Travelers will soon be able to use their credit and debit cards to make purchases on the island, and lovers of Cuban rum and cigars can rest easy knowing that won’t have to smuggle their Caribbean souvenirs back into the U.S. anymore (not that anyone has ever done that, of course).

Congress will discuss lifting further economic sanctions next year.

Cuba: Two Weeks to Remember

What does this mean for Cuba travel right now? Is it likely that you’ll be able to just pack your bags and book a trip on a whim without a U.S.-sanctioned reason? Not just yet. But anyone wishing to explore the country might find it easier to fit into one of the allowable categories (which include family visits, humanitarian projects, educational activities and “support for the Cuban people,” among others).

Are you interested in Cuba travel? Why or why not? Tell us in the comments below.

First Impressions of a Cuba Cruise

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

passengers at airport baggage counterI remember the days when free wireless Internet in a hotel lobby, let alone your own room, was a luxury. Now, the lack of available Wi-Fi in any corner of a country is a deterrent to visitors who are used to the privilege.

In Germany, for instance, the lack of free and available Wi-Fi to tourists is such a problem it has reached the priority list of Chancellor Angela Merkel, Skift reports. According to the story, “Europe’s largest economy offers just 1.9 wireless hotspots per 10,000 inhabitants, compared with 4.8 in the U.S., 29 in the U.K. and 37 in South Korea, according to a study by Eco, a German association representing 800 Internet companies.” These restrictions are due to laws that hold public Internet providers responsible for the illegal activities of customers using their connection. By loosening these restrictions, Germany hopes to not only improve user accessibility, but the economy, through digital initiatives aimed at helping German technology companies compete with the likes of Facebook and Google, according to the story. So do your part by purchasing a stein of beer and Bavarian pretzel; Instagram said beer and pretzel and voila! Instant added marketing.

Nearby, Italy has the same idea, according to Engadget, but its plan is not just to improve Wi-Fi, but to make it free to the public. A recent proposal from lawmakers intends to create thousands of new hotspots over a three-year period, costing $6.3 million. Not only would it improve connection speeds for residents, but the popular tourist destination is hoping that visitors may be more encouraged to connect and share their trip during their time in Italy. See designer merchandise; tweet about your shopping spree — you get the idea.

Travel Tech: 7 Simple Hacks to Make Your Trip Better

Many countries already offer readily available Internet in tourist hot zones such as airports, cafes, museums, you name it. France, recently named the most visited country in the world in 2013 according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, offers more than 260 hotspots in Paris alone. Hong Kong is another top destination with its own free, public Wi-Fi service. Last year, CNN reported on Taiwan when it became one of the first countries to not only offer free Wi-Fi on a mass scale to citizens, but also to visitors. The government-backed iTaiwan is now accessible with just a passport as ID at any tourism counter. The same is true in Japan, according to Mashable. Armed with just a passport, travelers can register for free Wi-Fi cards at the airport, for use at roughly 45,000 hotspots in Eastern Japan.

It’s hard to say whether the lack of Wi-Fi would affect my decision to go somewhere — I think I’d go anyway (heck, I just spent a full week in Grenada without any reception at all, so I guess there’s your answer). But looking back at how lost I was merely crossing the border into Canada without cell reception and with no immediate access to Google Maps, TripAdvisor or Yelp to guide my way around Montreal, a little free Wi-Fi certainly goes a long way.

In an era when many are torn between traveling to “get away from it all” and documenting their travels live, or using Internet research to get around, where do you stand? Has Wi-Fi become a necessity, or is it still a luxury?

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

red wire cut from computerToo many users sharing the network, thick walls, incorrect settings — these may all be reasons you’ve concocted to explain your horrible Internet signal or poor cell phone reception during your latest hotel stay. But did the thought ever cross your mind that it was sabotage?

According to an article from CNN, the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, a Marriott property in Nashville, intentionally blocked guests from accessing their own personal Wi-Fi networks, forcing them to spend hundreds in order to use the hotel’s wireless Internet. Luckily the FCC got the signal loud and clear — and fined Marriott $600,000. The company will also have to file compliance plans with the commission every three months for the next three years. Federal law prohibits interference with cellular, GPS or wireless networks; according to the FCC, this is the first time a hotel property has been investigated for blocking guests’ Wi-Fi, but begs the question of whether other hotels aren’t guilty of the same practice.

In this case, Marriott employees used the hotel’s Wi-Fi system to block personal hot spots. The hotel chain maintains it did no wrong, stating, “We believe that the Opryland’s actions were lawful. We will continue to encourage the FCC to pursue a rulemaking in order to eliminate the ongoing confusion resulting from today’s action and to assess the merits of its underlying policy.”

Hidden Hotel Fees

Marriott claims that it was in fact protecting guests from “insidious” hot spots and potentially unsafe connections by blocking their ability to connect to them.

FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc stands by the ruling. “It is unacceptable for any hotel to intentionally disable personal hot spots while also charging consumers and small businesses high fees to use the hotel’s own Wi-Fi network,” he told CNN. “This practice puts consumers in the untenable position of either paying twice for the same service or forgoing Internet access altogether.”

With so many hotels (especially convention centers) touting free Wi-Fi these days, I would probably not think anything of a poor connection, but would be suspicious of paying the equivalent of airfare just to log on.

Pay Less to Use Your Smartphone Overseas

Do you think hotels should have the right to control Internet connectivity on their premises, or is it just another way to make a buck? If you have a shady hotel Wi-Fi story, share in the comments.

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

cell phone airportThere are countless things I now rely on my phone for — directions, restaurant reviews, streaming music, a wake-up call — but booking a vacation is not one.

According to an episode of “The Street” found on USA Today, travel bookings on mobile devices are actually overtaking those made on desktop computers. Mollie Spilman, chief revenue officer for Criteo, an ad agency, spoke about statistics that show mobile bookings are up 20 percent in the first half of 2014 with no signs of slowing down.

In addition to the frequency of travel bookings made on mobile, the value per booking as well as the click-through rates are also higher on mobile devices than on desktop computers.

“It’s a smaller screen but the ads are more personalized,” Spilman said.

Avoid Smartphone Sticker Shock: How to Pay Less Overseas

The search history on your mobile device is more customized to your preferences because typically it is basing ads off of a single user rather than a desktop that may have multiple users, according to Spilman.

Over the weekend desktop activity drops even further, with tablets and smartphones taking its place. This is chalked up to desktop use being primarily used in the workplace, with mobile used more for browsing and recreation.

The segment stressed that mobile is changing consumer behavior and is expected to outgrow desktop in almost all markets, not just travel.

I’m not sure what it is — maybe the gravity of such a large spend, maybe the process of browsing multiple travel sites and booking engines — but despite being an avid mobile user, I still default to a desktop or laptop computer for booking flights, hotels, trips, you name it. Call me old-fashioned, but I just like the appeal of a large screen, a mouse and a chunky keyboard to hit “submit” on those momentous vacation plans to Timbuktu.

Tell us: Have you ever booked travel on a mobile device?

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

airplane seatsTwo United Airlines passengers got one heck of a time-out on Sunday when an argument over a few inches of space escalated, leading to the rerouting of their plane.

According to the Associated Press, the fight began when an unnamed male passenger attached a Knee Defender — an apparatus that clips onto your tray table to prevent the person in front of you from reclining — to his seat so he could use his laptop uninterrupted. Although United Airlines has banned the gadget on its flights, the passenger refused to put it away when asked by members of the cabin crew, prompting the unnamed woman in front of him to throw a cup of water in his direction.

At that point, the Denver-bound flight, which departed from Newark earlier that day, was only halfway to its destination when the pilot made an unscheduled landing at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport to have both passengers removed.

Although police met the plane when it landed and questioned both passengers, it was deemed to be a customer service issue, and no arrests were made.

The kicker here, though, is that both passengers were sitting in the plane’s Economy Plus section, which already offers more legroom than standard economy seats to begin with.

The Etiquette of Seat Backs and Elbow Room

So what do our readers think about space and whether fliers are entitled to it?

“As tight as seats are getting, they should not recline,” says Julie Reiss Justice on Facebook. “I have had my iPad smashed from a seat reclining quickly … I personally will not recline.”

Tom Vertrees agrees that space is limited, but comes to the opposite conclusion: “Airlines shouldn’t squeeze seats so close together in the first place. If the seat reclines then it should be allowed.”

And Joshua Senzer wonders why the situation escalated so far in the first place: “The device is banned by United, the carrier in question. The fact that the individual failed to comply with [flight attendant] requests to remove it is telling in regards to those who would rather use something like this than simply attempt communication with another human … just my .02.”

10 Annoying Habits of Our Fellow Travelers

What do you think? Is it rude for passengers to recline their seats? Should the use of devices like Knee Defender be allowed? Leave your comments below.

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

man working by a poolTime is down and work is up. Despite having relatively little paid vacation time, 77 percent of Americans have admitted to working while on vacation in the past year, according to a new TripAdvisor survey.

Out of the 10 countries — Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Spain, U.K. and U.S. — and 16,100 people polled, Americans receive an estimated 18 days of allotted vacation time, compared with an average of 24 days in other nations. The French top the list of allotted time with 31 vacation days per year — c’est la vie!

U.S. respondents — 76 percent of them — don’t feel that the amount of vacation time allotted is fair in comparison to what the rest of the world receives. Despite that majority, 91 percent of U.S. respondents have admitted to checking email while on vacation (and 37 percent don’t even consider it work, just routine); 85 percent respond to those emails; 45 percent check voice mail, and so on. This is because 65 percent of those respondents feel like there may be urgent work-related situations that will require their attention. Americans are also the most likely (18 percent) to feel guilty if they don’t work on vacation.

Travel Makes Us Happier

An average of just 40 percent of respondents from the other countries polled cite working while on vacation, despite receiving more vacation time.

Close to a third of respondents say a rise in Internet connectivity makes them feel the need to check in with work more; 39 percent say this connectedness has led to a greater expectation from employers to check in with the office.

So would more vacation time actually equal more relaxation? Currently, 66 percent of U.S. respondents say their vacations leave them feeling recharged, and 39 percent say they are better able to handle work stresses after taking a vacation. For those seeking more vacation time, they’re willing to sacrifice up to $350 per additional vacation day; 21 percent responded they would take this pay reduction in return for more time off.

5 Simple Ways to Make the Most of Your Vacation

Maybe the key to getting the most out of a vacation is to actually devote your full attention to being off, away and uninvolved with work (if you have the ability, which everyone should).

Have you ever worked during your “time off”? Why or why not?

written by Brittany Chrusciel

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc.