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infographic Orbitz holiday stressThe holidays are finally over, and as the long, celebrationless weeks of winter stretch out across our immediate futures, we can reflect upon how stressful — or not — the holidays actually were. Orbitz makes this reflection easy with an eye-catching infographic based upon its 2013 holiday travel trends survey, dubbed a “best-practice guide to holiday travel stressors.” Orbitz found, among other things, that 71 percent of its readers actually found their trips not to be stressful at all.

In the planning stages of holiday travel, 29 percent of respondents said they were more stressed about planning a trip during the winter holiday season (Thanksgiving to New Year’s) than any other time of the year. But a majority — 58 percent — responded that the planning aspect did not stress them at all. (Sounds suspicious to me.) Women were 23 percent more likely to be stressed than men, and travelers aged 18 to 34 were, in general, more stressed than the over-35 crowd (I guess that’s why I’m the stressed one). Unsurprisingly, those with children at home were 19 percent more likely to be stressed than those without kids.

Based on survey responses from travelers who kept their cool, Orbitz suggests developing a trip schedule, booking things in advance and reading customer reviews to ease the planning process.

During travel, suggestions to reduce vacation stress include staying in a hotel for at least part of your trip (rather than with family) and penciling in some personal or down time, while others schedule endless activities to distract them during their time away.

8 Holiday Travel Myths: Debunked!

Despite women experiencing more stress during the planning process, men were more likely to be stressed after a trip than women. Full-time employees were a whopping 82 percent more likely to worry about transitioning back to everyday life than those who are self-employed. Again, those with children seemed to be on edge at every part of a trip — they were 56 percent more likely to be stressed post-vacation than those without kids.

Transitioning “back to reality,” 37 percent of travelers responded that they were stressed and four percent felt “extremely stressed” regarding the transition. The good news? Nearly a third of travelers used the word “enjoyable” to describe their holiday trips.

So what are the keys to handling post-trip anxiety and post-travel blues? More than half keep up with home life while they’re away, 45 percent rarely (if at all) tell their office how to contact them while away and 44 percent never or rarely keep up to date with work while away.

How would you rate your travel stress this past holiday season? I solved it by not going anywhere!

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

2015 resolutionsDitch the diet and make a plan to broaden your horizons by way of travel — near or far — in 2015 (it’s way more fun than eating your veggies). This is what some of the staff at The Independent Traveler, Inc. resolve to do in the new year:

“I would like to finally win a free vacation this year, all expenses paid!” – Blake Bullis, Web Application Manager

“No more long lines — I’m finally going to apply for the Global Entry and TSA PreCheck programs! If the fee saves me a single wait in the hideous JFK immigration line, it’ll be worth it.” – Sarah Schlichter, Senior Editor

“I plan to travel to Ukraine to visit family and take a weeklong vacation in Greece with my husband and friends.” – Masha Uretsky, Social Media Specialist

“My New Year’s resolution is not to travel more, but to travel better — more immersive experiences, more thoughtful planning, a better focus on quality and value. I want to eliminate the insanity of way too many last-minute decisions — whether in booking trips or being on them — that cost of peace of mind and cold hard cash.” – Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor-in-Chief

“I’m not a ‘resolutions’ guy, but I’m focusing my 2015 travel efforts on appreciating my own state (California) more: mountains, deserts and beaches. This also supports my objective of spending less time getting there and more time being there.” – Michael Maher, Digital Media Sales Manager (Western Region)

“World Cup or bust! I’ve wanted to attend a soccer World Cup for many years, and with the next men’s World Cups being held in Russia and Qatar, the chances of getting to one within the next eight years are slim to none. BUT the women’s World Cup for 2015 is being held in Canada! As soon as I realized that, I took the first steps toward achieving my dream, reserving my hotel room and buying my stadium pass to the Women’s World Cup games being held this June throughout Canada. It will likely be the only time I get to see a World Cup in person, plus I’ll be seeing Canada play, so I’m looking forward to the home crowd atmosphere.” – Dori Saltzman, Editor at Large

“I told myself I’m required to go two new places every year — they don’t have to be abroad. So for next year, I already have Nashville booked!” – Stephanie Moccio, Senior SEO Specialist

“My 2015 travel resolution is to do more weekend getaways! After an 11-day vacation this fall, we decided that we prefer only being gone for four to five days at a time. More weekend getaway means we can explore new places, as well as revisit favorites.” – Kimberly Coyne, Director of Sales

“My 2015 travel resolution is to do two things: get certified to scuba dive, so that I can eventually go with my aunt who is now an expert, and also to make a solidified list of places I want to visit during my lifetime. Of course, this list will be added to in future years, but a list that I can begin to tackle in 2015 sounds like a good plan to get me started!” – Hilarey Wojtowicz, Editorial Assistant, Family Vacation Critic

“If I could see at least one new place — whether it be domestic or international, city or small town — that’s always a goal on my list for the upcoming year.” – Brittany Chrusciel, Editorial Assistant

“Gone are the days of planning a week to a new country. This year, my resolution is to survive a short trip to Disney World with my toddler … that’s as adventurous as it’s getting!” – Amanda Hoy, Brand Marketing Manager

“In 2015, we resolve to do a family trip that’s not a cruise. We need to see what other travel options are out there. Maybe there are other family trips we’ll enjoy just as much as cruising?” – Cecilia Freeman, Assistant Community Manager

“My New Year’s travel resolution is to get on a river cruise. I’ve spent an awful lot of time on ocean ships — which I love — but all I hear about at the moment is river, river, river! So here’s hoping I can take a slow boat down the Danube in 2015.” – Adam Coulter, Senior Editor, Cruise Critic U.K.

“My travel resolution is to go on fewer cruises and take more land-based trips. My hope is that I’ll be able to strengthen our destinations coverage by immersing myself in the ports and their surrounding areas; it’s tough to do that if you’re only there for a few hours when a ship calls.” – Ashley Kosciolek, Copy Editor

“I haven’t decided what my resolution is yet — it might involve Europe, but I most definitely want to explore more local attractions. Too often, we overlook the amazing places in our own backyards.” – Amanda Geronikos, Associate Editor, Family Vacation Critic

16 Signs You’re Addicted to Travel

What’s your resolution for the coming year? Post it in the comments below!

– written by Amanda Geronikos

sandals beach vacationThis is part one of a two-part series about my experience with a “free vacation” offer. In this segment, I’ll outline how my friend and I “won” and what we had to endure to claim our “gift.” Check back for part two in 2015, when I’ll discuss if we were actually able to book a trip and, if so, how it went, if it’s worth the time and whether it’s really free.

We’ve all been there. You’re at a sporting event or a fair, and someone approaches you to “register for a chance to win a free vacation.” In my case, it was at a concert at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, and my friend, who’s had a bit of a rough year, was excited by the prospect.

As she filled in her name and contact information, I snatched one of the entry forms and read the fine print on the back. It was standard legal jargon, stating that Sundance Vacations, the company sponsoring the contest, would have the right to get in touch with entrants using any means provided. I figured it was just a ploy to generate email addresses and phone numbers, so I declined.

Fast forward two months. My friend received a phone call from someone at Sundance, telling her they had “good news” and asking her to call for more information. First she dialed me: “Are you sitting down?” she asked. “I never win ANYTHING, but we’re going on vacation!”

A phone call to the company confirmed that we would, in fact, have to sit through a presentation as a condition of acceptance. We assumed a sales pitch would follow, but we were told the whole process would have us in and out within an hour.

Slightly different from companies that offer timeshares, Sundance sells “wholesale vacations,” which it touts as discounted or overstock trips that are less expensive because 1) the company purchases vacations in bulk, and 2) it owns the properties that are available for booking. (I won’t even try to figure out why Sundance needs to “purchase” said vacations if it owns the properties, lest my head explode.)

How to Avoid Travel Scams

During the initial presentation, an attractive and sharply dressed woman attempted to keep the attention of a dozen attendees through witty banter (“I’ll keep this short. I just ran a marathon yesterday, and my legs are killing me”), condescending comments (to a young and slightly disheveled couple with two children: “Surely you’ve never been to Disney World”) and the promise of a “suitcase” of affordable vacations from which we’d be able to draw over a period of several years after signing up and shelling out a modest monthly fee. She went on to explain a bit of math as she clicked through some PowerPoint slides.

polaroids sundance vacationsI had just checked Facebook for the 17th time and was nearly dozing off in my chair when a team of sales representatives came bursting through the back door of the presentation room like an army of Stormtroopers. Each group of visitors was led through a hallway and into a giant room with tables, chairs and, oddly, beach balls — where thousands (literally, we saw the Polaroids everywhere) of customers before us were convinced to purchase vacation packages.

The woman in charge of giving us our first hard sell was actually nice and didn’t pressure us as much as we expected she might. Then her boss came over, asked if we were treated well and turned up the heat by offering us an even sweeter deal. He backed down after we gave him a firm “no” and told him that we had read nothing but negative reviews about the company online. He gave us a couple of weak excuses but eventually realized we weren’t going to budge.

Ninety minutes after our initial arrival, we were taken to meet with our final obstacle, a friendly older gentleman who further lowered the prices and even tossed in meal vouchers. Ultimately, we said no, and he grudgingly gave us the paperwork we needed to claim our four-day, three-night trip to our choice of Cancun, Montego Bay or San Juan.

Apparently we have 60 days to call a phone number (not toll-free), ask questions, gather information (we’d love to see photos of the resort options, as none were provided) and “register” to receive our “reservation deposit invoice.” After receiving it, we have 30 days to send it back with a deposit of $100 each, which is then applied to the imposed taxes and fees of anywhere from about $100 – $185. (Technically the trip is a gift, not a prize, so Sundance isn’t required to cover taxes and fees.) We’re told the deposit is refundable until actual reservations have been made. Stay tuned for part two, coming sometime in 2015, when I’ll tell you whether the trip actually happens.

11 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft While Traveling

In the meantime, tell us if you’ve ever been a part of a “free vacation” offer. How did it work out?

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

The Coliseum in Rome with purple flowers in the foregroundI’ve never quite gotten the whole Seven Wonders of the World thing. Isn’t wonder-ful subjective? What others find awe inspiring, I sometimes find shrugworthy. The Christ the Redeemer statue, for instance, which in 2007 was named one of the Seven Wonders of the New World, stirs absolutely nothing in me. Conversely, places that have amazed me (Australia’s Uluru being one) others have found mildly interesting at best.

11 Best Italy Experiences

And how do we even define a “wonder”? Is it a great work of humanity? Is it a stunning natural landscape or phenomenon? Is it something that represents a monumental moment in time?

We, all of us, answer this question differently, which raises the question what are the “wonders” we have encountered on our travels?

11 Best Australia Experiences

IndependentTraveler.com reached out to some of our contributing editors, as well as our readers on Twitter and Facebook for their lists of the wonders they’ve encountered on their travels.

Without further ado, here are our many Wonders of the World. Please share your list in the comments below.

Tree growing in the ruins of the Ta Prohm TempleBrittany Chrusciel, Contributing Editor
Ta Prohm Temple at Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Mangal Mahadev (108-foot-tall Shiva statue), Ganga Talao, Mauritius

Jenny Szymanski Jones (via Facebook)
Victoria Falls, Zambia
Gulfoss Waterfall, Iceland
Grand Canyon, Arizona, U.S.A.

Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief
Petra, Jordan
Big Sur, California, U.S.A.
Fjords, Norway

A photograph of the Lotus Temple in New Delhi IndiaKingshuk Mazumder (@KingShuk03 via Twitter)
Lotus Temple, New Delhi, India

Erica Silverstein, Contributing Editor
Great Wall of China
Yosemite National Park, California, U.S.A.
Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

@jayme_p via Twitter
Magens Bay, St. Thomas, U.S. V.I.
Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada

Jessica McMillan (@jedijesser via Twitter)
The Ink Pots, Banff, Alberta, Canada

Ruins at Masada IsraelChris Gray Faust, Contributing Editor
Pantheon, Rome, Italy
Masada, Israel

Ashley Kosciolek, Contributing Editor
Colosseum and Vatican City, Italy
Anne Frank House, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Wawel Castle, Krakow, Poland

–written by Dori Saltzman

bedroomI’m by no means a hotel snob. Give me a fair rate, a clean room and a comfortable bed, and I’m happy; throw in free breakfast (no matter how basic) and free Wi-Fi, and I’m over the moon. Alternative lodging tends to be more my thing — hostels when I was a carefree backpacker, tents for outdoorsy adventures and vacation rentals for family gatherings.

It’s no surprise then that I loved my first Airbnb stay. The concept is simple: Book space in someone’s home (a room, a bed, a guesthouse) for — hopefully — less than the cost of a standard hotel. We tried it out on a recent trip to see family in Los Angeles, and it was a much better choice than the hotel we were considering. Based on that experience, here are five reasons why Airbnb might be better than a hotel.

Location: We wanted to be close to my brother’s home, but the nearest hotels were a few miles away and quite pricey. When we turned to Airbnb, we found a rental located just three blocks — walking distance! — from his house in the same residential neighborhood. Because Airbnb properties can be anywhere, you’re not limited to business districts and busy boulevards — great if you want something off the beaten path or closer to atypical attractions (like family).

Space: For $200+ a night, my family of four could have shared one room in a hotel, forcing the adults to sit in the dark after 8:30 p.m. bedtimes, and relegating early riser babies (and their grudging grownup companions) to play in the bathroom with the door closed at 6:45 a.m. For a much lower rate, we instead booked a 1,000-square-foot, two-floor guesthouse. After putting the children to sleep upstairs, my husband and I hung out in the downstairs living space, kicking back on the L-shaped couch or snacking at the kitchen table, lights ablaze.

Amenities: So we didn’t get free breakfast with Airbnb. We did get free Wi-Fi, cookies, fruit and bottled water. We also were invited to use our hosts’ patio, pool and hot tub, and the art supplies in the crafts area of their guesthouse. My son and nephew had a rousing dance party listening to our hosts’ CDs on the upstairs stereo. My guess is you won’t get the same niceties renting out a bed in someone’s apartment, but you do benefit from being a guest in someone’s home, rather than a customer in someone’s corporate brand.

Ditch the Hotel: 10 Cheaper Ways to Stay

Flexibility: Instead of worrying about strict check-in and check-out times that might interfere with naptime or force us out of our digs too early, we had the pleasure of working out arrangements that suited both our hosts and us. They had an outing planned the day we arrived, so they left a key for us to come at our leisure; when asked about check-out, their response was essentially “whenever.” Our last day was street cleaning day with a two-hour parking window on the other side; our host not only made sure we knew the rules, but let us park in his driveway so we wouldn’t have to keep moving our car.

Human Contact: I don’t often strike up conversations with the hotel check-in staff (other than to complain about my key card not working or the lack of a porta-crib), but we ran into our hosts twice and chatted pleasantly with them. Certainly, your experience will be much more social if you’re actually staying in your host’s home with them, rather than in a detached guesthouse, but either way it’s a fun way to meet people and learn about local culture.

That isn’t to say Airbnb doesn’t have its drawbacks. While our stay was wonderful, there’s a lot more room for properties to be less ideal than advertised, for hosts to cancel your reservation due to their personal needs, and for personality conflicts to detract from a stay with heavy interaction between you and your hosts (or additional guests). My colleague had an awkward first Airbnb stay, and my in-laws were a bit disappointed to learn they weren’t allowed to have a glass of wine on the verandah at their host’s place, due to a “no alcohol” policy not clearly delineated in the Airbnb listing. Not to mention that certain cities are questioning the legality of Airbnb stays in the first place.

But if you’re looking for accommodations that don’t fit the typical hotel bill, give it a try. At best, you’ll find just what you need at the right price; at worst, it’ll be a funny story a few years down the road (and you can soothe your soul by writing a biting review).

–written by Erica Silverstein

two hands holding a paper that says thank youThanksgiving season is a time to take stock of life and focus on all the positives, a time for gratitude and appreciation. With so much of my life centered on travel, I thought I’d take some time this season to reflect on all the people I’ve met on the road — even if just for a moment — for whom I am eternally grateful.

There have been many: men and women, mostly nameless, who have offered a helping hand when I needed one or opened their homes to me when I was far from my own home.

Like the unseen man at the Miami airport who paid for my dinner and gave a $20 bill to my waiter to give to me when all the credit card machines and ATMs in the airport stopped working and I had no cash to pay for food after not eating all day. I never saw his face, only his back as he walked out of the restaurant into the terminal and disappeared in the crowd.

Or the elderly Irish lady in Killarney who ushered me and a friend into her cozy, warm living room when she saw us waiting in the pouring rain under one umbrella on a chilly summer day. She poured us tea, showed us photographs of her children and gave us hug when our bus showed up a half hour later.

12 Best Ireland Experiences

Then there was the kind clerk at a random hotel in Wellington, New Zealand, that I had walked into when I couldn’t bear to stay at a hostel one more night and needed just one night alone. He had no room, but sensing how upset I was, he made some calls for me and then drove me to another hotel on the other side of the city.

13 Best New Zealand Experiences

And I will never forget Blanche and Alex, a 20-something couple whom my sister and I met in the Glasgow train station. We had noticed them because we thought they looked cool and had stopped to ask them where the interesting places to hang out were. Instead of giving us directions, Blanche took us on a tour of the city, invited us back to their apartment and threw a party so we could meet a bunch of people.

10 Best Scotland Experiences

Others who showed me kindness where none was due include the man who picked me and my sister (scraggly-looking backpackers at the time) up on the side of the road in Northern Ireland (with his two small kids in the car) and drove us to the ferry terminal; the ferry employee who stalled the boat’s departure to get us on even though we were late; and the faceless woman on the New Zealand Interislander ferry who pushed a cup of water underneath the bathroom door when she heard me throwing up from motion sickness.

To these people — and the ones I’ve probably forgotten — I say: Thank you. I am grateful for the kindness you showed me.

Express your gratitude to the strangers who have helped you in your travels below.

– written by Dori Saltzman

passengers at airport baggage counterTraveling (and packing) for the holidays this year? We can’t tell you what to expect from the person sitting next to you on your flight — if they are sick, like to snore or have a crying baby sitting on their lap — but we can tell you which baggage fees to expect from your air carrier and how to beat them.

First, make sure your carry-on is complimentary. If not, bring only the most essential items on your person or in a small bag that could be considered your personal effect, and then check the rest. If you are checking a bag, make sure to determine whether prepayment is available online prior to arrival at the airport. Many airlines allow you to pay for checked baggage on their site or app, and sometimes it’s at a reduced price.

The next thing to consider is how much you’re bringing. Always weigh your bags before you arrive at the check-in counter. Guessing a number may be fun on “The Price is Right,” but not so when that number might result in extra fees. If you must pack everything you own, take advantage of all the space you have; that means packing your carry-on and, if you can manage them, two checked bags. We noticed that many of the fees for overweight bags exceed how much it would be to bring two checked bags, so divide your belongings into two suitcases, pay less and potentially have room to pack anything you purchase while you are away.

Our award for the best airline to fly with excess baggage this season goes to Southwest: zero baggage fees unless you fill over capacity, and even then, the overweight fee is less than most. As an added bonus, Southwest also doesn’t charge for things like making changes to a nonrefundable flight. Our vote for the most nickel and diming goes to Spirit. Notorious for added fees, Spirit not only charges more per bag, but might be Scrooge of the airlines with their $2 holiday surcharge. Bah humbug!

Fees for international flights may vary by region, so double-check your carrier’s website to be sure. Also, discounted fees are available for members of most airline loyalty programs.

Happy flying!

Alaska Airlines

Fees: Carry-on is free; first checked bag $25 and second $25. Overweight bags are $75.

American Airlines

Fees: Carry-on is free; first checked bag $25 and second $35. Overweight bags are $100 to $200.

Delta Airlines

Fees: Carry-on is free; first checked bag $25 and second $35. Overweight bags are $100 to $200.

Frontier Airlines

Fees: Carry-on is $25 to $50; first bag is $25 and second $30. Overweight bags are $75.

JetBlue Airways

Fees: None for carry-on or first bag. Second checked bag is $50. Overweight bags are $100.
(Note: Starting in 2015, JetBlue will offer a new fare that doesn’t include a free checked bag.)

Southwest Airlines

Fees: None for carry-on, first or second checked bag. Overweight bags are $75.

Spirit Airlines

Fees: Carry-on is $35 to $100; first bag is $30 to $100 and second bag is $40 to $100. Overweight bags are $25 to $100. A $2 surcharge will be tacked on to existing baggage fees from December 18 through January 5.

United Airlines

Fees: Carry-on is free; first checked bag $25 and second is $35. Overweight bags are $100 to $200.

US Airways

Fees: Carry-on is free; first checked bag $25 and second is $35. Overweight bags are $100 to $200.

Virgin America

Fees: Carry-on is free; first checked bag is $25 and second bag is $25. Overweight bags are $50 to $100.

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

selfieMaybe you’ve landed on a glacier in Alaska, ridden a donkey in Greece or hiked to a mountaintop monastery in Tibet. Whatever the experience, it’s likely you’ve got photos to share or, at the very least, stories to tell. The question is: Should you?

With selfie rates at an all-time high and social media apps like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter just a tap away, it’s tough to exercise restraint when you’re excited about your once-in-a-lifetime trip. According to a recent New York Times article, though, your friends might not be quite as excited about your exploits as you are; if you’re not careful, your posts could be considered bragging.

For me, Facebook mainly functions as a storage facility for my photos. From there, they’re easy to find and reference, should I need to pull one of them for a story. I try my best not to caption them with anything other than facts, and you’ll rarely — if ever — see me posting photos of myself individually. Has anyone ever asked me to stop posting travel albums? No. Do people secretly want me to? Possibly.

If you’re one of those people, there are some quick and easy solutions: 1) Hide my content. I’ll never know. 2) Unfriend me. If my (infrequent) posts are that bothersome to you, we probably shouldn’t be friends anyway.

16 Signs You’re Addicted to Travel

To those who actually do brag about their travel adventures, please stop ruining it for the rest of us. You’re as bad as people who take photos of every single piece of food they eat, let the world know that they’re at the gym by posting endless workout selfies or update their statuses whenever their children get sick … or say a new word … or use the bathroom. #obnoxious #reallyobnoxious #almostasobnoxiousaspeoplewhohashtageverythingfornoreason

When it comes to sharing about your travels on social media, what’s your take? Do you post, or do you keep your experiences to yourself? Be sure to leave your comments below.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

a woman on a train looking out the windowI fall for it every time: the idea that train travel is grand and romantic, much the same way I always expect New Year’s Eve to be exciting and momentous. With both, I usually end up disappointed and ready for it to be over.

I was recently reminded of this on a three-hour train ride from Newark, NJ, to Washington D.C. on Amtrak. Though it’s more of a commuter train experience than a travel one, I nevertheless initially visualized sitting in the dining car with a book and something pleasant to eat, relaxing all the way to D.C. The reality of the ride was somewhat different: the dining car was full and I had to walk through two train cars before I found an open seat – and the woman sitting in the adjoining seat was none too thrilled when I asked her to remove her two bags and discarded newspaper so that I could sit. Three hours turned into four when a “police action” in Philadelphia stopped our train cold. By the time I got to Washington D.C. I was hungry and irritated.

Looking back on it, I have no idea why I thought it would be different. I’ve trained it around Europe before and never walked away relaxed or feeling like I’d just had a grand adventure.

In fact, I have almost no memories of any of my long-haul train rides. My first “real” train ride, from London to the Holyhead ferry terminal in North Wales as a 21-year-old backpacker, is a complete blur. I slept through almost the entire thing, exhausted after a flight from New York City to London. I have a few bleary memories of opening my eyes to see what looked like a castle whir by and thinking how beautiful it must be and what a waste it was that I couldn’t keep my eyes open.

European Train Tips

Another overnight train ride, from Bucharest, Romania to Sofia, Bulgaria, is also mostly a blur, though my strongest sense memory is one of fear. Fear of finding out I would have to share my sleeping compartment with a stranger – this worry popped up at every stop we made, all through the night (I never did have to share, though I didn’t sleep very well either). Fear that if I left to go get food from the dining car, someone would break into the cabin and take my stuff (I stayed in my compartment all night, forgoing food for reassurance).

Yet despite my mostly unromantic and humble train travels, one of my most intriguing travel memories actually did take place on an overnight train from Prague to Zurich in the days before the European Union existed.

When we got to the German border, immigration officers got on the train and passed through every car, looking at each passenger’s identification. The German officer who entered our car wore a dour face and demanded our passports in a tone of voice that invited no argument. There were six of us in the car: my sister and me (U.S. citizens) and four Italians traveling together. The officer took the first Italian’s passport, looked at it, looked at her, looked at the passport again and then handed it back. He did the same with me. Then he took a second Italian’s passport. Looked at it, looked at the guy, looked at the passport again, frowned and held on to it. He then proceeded to check my sister’s passport and those of the two remaining Italians before finally turning back to the young man’s passport he still held.

The officer held up the passport and inspected it, then looked at the man for what felt like an eternity. Suddenly, the officer started laughing, handed the passport back and left. We were all stunned. That entire routine had been the officer’s idea of a joke — something to keep himself amused during the monotony of checking passports, I guess.

The World’s Most Spectacular Train Trips

That incident is one of my strongest memories of a six-week backpacking trip in Europe, and it happened on the train. Perhaps that’s why the notion of romantic, exotic, grand and, most importantly, memorable train trips has stuck with me. Train trips may be mostly boring, sleep-inducing experiences, but you never know what might happen.

Have you ever had a memorable experience while traveling on a train? Tell us about it in the comment section below.

– written by Dori Saltzman

hand with fingers close up putting a pin into a mapI came across an article on Huffington Post about three men from Norway who earned a Guinness World Record for passing through 19 countries in a 24-hour period. The headline caught my attention: how did they do that? But a larger question also came to mind. What is the appeal of simply stepping foot in a place? Moreover, how do you personally define having been somewhere?

Admittedly, I take pride in knowing how many places I’ve been, but I’ve experienced a day in just one destination (let alone 19) and haven’t always felt like I really saw it. Cruising, for instance, is a great way to see multiple places in a one-week vacation without ever leaving the ship, but so often time in port is limited to just a few hours. Taking that in to account, yes, I can say I visited a new place but without really knowing much about it.

Tourist No More: Three Secrets for Traveling like a Local

So how do you define where you’ve been?

I heard a story about a couple who are on a race to visit all 50 states and their only requirement for having “been there” is to have eaten a meal there. Others consider physically stepping foot within borders to suffice, while those with stricter travel integrity might have different standards.

Is it worth it to travel by the numbers? I’ve mused on this idea before, calling people who practice obsessive country-counting “not true travelers,” but I admit the thrill of visiting a new place and pinning a map is thoroughly satisfying.

So how to accurately track past places for the history books? The Traveler’s Century Club offers a list of both countries and territories for consideration — if you have been to 100 or more you’re eligible to join the club. Other travelers go strictly by the books: Commonwealths and territories don’t count. And others may even include a few states thrown into the mix. However you divide your scrapbook or photo albums, I think the most important thing to take away is what it was like to be there — really be there. If you can’t recall what it was like to be somewhere you’ve visited, then you’re losing the entire point of travel. If you could experience the culture, history, atmosphere and eccentricities of 19 countries in one day — that would be an accomplishment.

The Lure of Local Travel

– written by Brittany Chrusciel