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I’ve traveled a lot so far this year, and my formerly sturdy toiletry kit looks like it’s gone through a hurricane. The seemingly indestructible little bottles I bought for shampoo and lotion have cracked and exploded. The zipper broke on my toiletry bag. Teeny jars filled with cosmetics all broke or depleted at the same time. Even the cool collapsible travel hangers I bought years ago saw their final days.

eyeglass case asparagus pill organizer duct tape dental floss prescription bottles


Instead of heading to the Container Store to replace all of these items, I did one better: I scrounged around my house and sought out ordinary items that could do double duty in my toiletry kit. And you know what? I like them much better than the items I could buy in a store, because they’re free, environmentally friendly and durable.

Here are six items I’ve upcycled so far this year.

Old prescription bottles: With their transparent tangerine-colored sides and easy-pop-off lids, old prescription bottles are perfect to fill with facial wash, hair gel and lotion. They’re usually spill proof, and they only hold a few ounces (hear that, TSA?). Plus, the bottles are wide enough to scoop product from. (Biggest travel pet peeve: When you use a hotel toiletry and only half the shampoo ever comes out. Grr!) I soak the labels off and affix a masking tape label on the side.

Eyeglass cases: Every time I buy new eyeglasses, I’m given a new case, which ends up collecting dust bunnies in a drawer. Not anymore. Eyeglass cases are now my go-to carrier for phone chargers — they stay beautifully protected and untangled. I also use one for little items that are hard to locate in larger bag: things like nail clippers, nail files, pens and flash drives.

Pill organizers: I hate carting full-size cosmetics on a trip. They take up too much space and weigh down my bag. I found an old pill organizer, washed and sanitized it, and filled the compartments with foundation, concealer, lipstick and blush. My makeup now takes up much less space, and it’s simple to use. Tip: Buy a small lip brush for the lipstick — makes it easier to apply.

Rubber bands: When the last of my travel hangers broke, I realized I really didn’t need to replace them. I loved them because they were covered with non-skid material that kept my shirts from sliding off, the way they do on normal metal or wooden hangers. But now all I do is bring a few large rubber bands (those thick ones that come wrapped around broccoli or asparagus at the grocery store are perfect) and slip them onto both ends of a hotel room hanger. Voila — my clothes don’t slide off the hangers anymore.

Dental floss boxes: When your dental floss runs out, don’t throw away the box. Instead, use it to hide cash when you’re traveling. The box stays in my toiletry kit, and I’m pretty sure a burglar, even if he looked in my toiletry bag, likely wouldn’t open up the floss.

Duct tape: The morning I set out on a hiking trip in West Virginia, the aglet at the end of my hiking shoe’s laces ripped off. Duct tape to the rescue! Duct tape is always the No. 1 item I pack on trips, because it can fix everything — a broken strap on a backpack, a hole in a shoe, a tear in your trousers. It can even serve as a quickie bandage when you get a cut. I either roll a few yards and tuck it into my bag, or I rip off some pieces and affix them to the outside of my luggage, for use later. (Bonus: It helps make your bag easy to identify on the luggage carousel).

Top 10 Travel Essentials You Can Find in the Trash
Pack This: 11 Versatile Travel Essentials You Can’t Do Without

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

Would you welcome a traveler you’ve never met to come sleep on your couch for free? If you would, you’re not alone; CouchSurfing.com, a website devoted to connecting travelers with local hosts, has a network of some 12 million members, including Jamie Matczak.

jamie matczak borgarnes iceland


Matczak lives with her chocolate lab in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and has been a Couchsurfing host for three years. She’s hosted guests from Hawaii, France, Denmark, Germany, Australia, the Netherlands, Belgium, Texas, Wisconsin and South Korea. “I look at it as a fellowship type of exchange,” says Matczak. “I am providing a room in exchange for a new friendship!”

We chatted with Matczak by email about why she’s chosen to host, whether she’s had any safety issues and how welcoming strangers into her home has changed the way she travels.

IndependentTraveler.com: What made you decide to start hosting?
Jamie Matczak:
I had stayed with families on a trip to Australia and New Zealand in 2011 and was looking for a similar experience on a solo trip to Spain in 2012. I discovered the Couchsurfing site and loved the idea of offering travelers (surfers) a couch/room as they are traveling. I signed up, and even though I didn’t use it for my trip to Spain, I began to receive requests as a host. I had previously hosted women from France through a different program and enjoyed the experience.

IT.com: What are the biggest benefits of hosting?
JM:
The biggest benefit is getting to know someone new, possibly someone from another country. As a traveler who has been to more than 30 countries, I enjoy hearing about life and cultures in other places. I want to have conversations and learn, and that occurs with all of my guests. I also like the opportunity to show some highlights of my city, Green Bay. Surfers arrive at my house as strangers but leave as friends.

IT.com: As a woman who lives alone, have you ever had any safety concerns about hosting strangers? How do you protect yourself?
JM:
The site has verification checks, so you know if people are legit. Every profile also has a references area, so I can read what other hosts have said about a potential surfer. I typically don’t accept guests who don’t have any references, or if I feel something seems “off.” I tell friends or family when a surfer is arriving, just as a back-up. So far, I have not had any bad or unsafe experiences. I choose to believe that people on the site are using it for something positive.

IT.com: Why host people for free instead of charging a nightly fee with a service such as Airbnb?
JM:
I have considered using a site such as Airbnb where a fee is charged, but I don’t think that would fit with my busier lifestyle. With Couchsurfing, I don’t feel as bad if I have to decline a request or turn off “hosting” if needed. Also, I think if I charged a fee, I would feel under more pressure for my home to be spotless and perfect. Most Couchsurfers are happy to have a bed and are easygoing if my home doesn’t look perfect. And it’s really not about the money. With Airbnb, I might gain more in my pocketbook, but not necessarily gain a richer experience.

IT.com: Who’s the most memorable guest you’ve ever had?
JM:
EVERY guest has been memorable in their own way. As a few examples, I hosted two friends from Australia who were driving to all 50 states. I met two women from Wisconsin who were in Green Bay to volunteer for the weekend. I hosted a young woman from France who was studying for the semester at our local university, and when she arrived, her campus apartment was not available. In January, a father and son from Germany stayed with me because the father took his son to a Packers game as a high school graduation gift. Most recently, I hosted a young man from Korea who is walking across North America.

IT.com: Are you still in touch with folks you’ve hosted? Have you ever slept on their couches in return?
JM:
Yes! Most of them are on Facebook, so that is a great way to stay in touch. I have not visited any of my guests, but I hope to in the future. I have tentative plans to visit the family of the German father and son, as well as a former surfer who is now in Taiwan.

IT.com: Has hosting people changed the way you travel? If so, how?
JM:
Definitely. I lot of people ask me what I “get” out of hosting. It’s not just a new friendship, but I also feel like, as a solo traveler, I have been really fortunate on my trips. People have loaned me a cell phone to use or offered me rides when I’ve been lost. Of course, you have to be cautious and careful when traveling alone, especially as a female. But hosting people has made me more aware that most people in this world are good and want to do good things. They want to be helpful to other travelers, just as I do.

The 7 Cheapest Ways to Travel
How to Solve Common Airbnb Problems

— interview conducted by Sarah Schlichter

Many travelers are taking unnecessary risks when they use homesharing services like Airbnb or ridesharing services like Uber — in ways that could lead to identity theft — according to a survey by LifeLock.

identity theft data security


The provider of identity theft protection services reports that if you’re considering renting out your home or spare room, you’d better assume your guests are snoops: 41 percent of survey respondents (including 57 percent of millennials) admitted to looking through personal items when visiting someone else’s home. Meanwhile, 49 percent of respondents said they often fail to lock up personal documents in their own homes.

Even if you wouldn’t consider having a stranger stay in your home, the LifeLock survey found that many people make what could be costly mistakes when they’re traveling; 37 percent of respondents do not put their mail on hold during vacations. LifeLock notes that criminals could gain access to personal data by accessing your mail while you’re away. We’d also add that an overflowing mailbox is a signal that you’re out of town, which could entice burglars to target your home. (For more on this, see Keep Your Home Safe on Vacation: 9 Essential Tips.)

Ridesharing services and taxis are another opportunity for your personal data to be compromised. Nearly a quarter of survey respondents (24 percent) admitted that they’d left a valuable personal item such as a wallet or cell phone behind in a taxi, Uber or other ridesharing vehicle. The number was even higher among millennials at 41 percent.

So how can you keep yourself safe? LifeLock recommends password-protecting your devices and enabling the “lost phone” function (so you can track the device or even delete its contents remotely). If you’re hosting guests in your home, make sure any sensitive documents are safely locked away, and offer a different Wi-Fi network for guests than the one you use yourself.

For more ideas on how to protect yourself, see 11 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft While Traveling.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Nadine Sykora is one of the most popular travel video bloggers on YouTube, with more than a quarter-million people subscribing to her channel. Known online as “Hey Nadine,” the spunky and fearless 28-year-old Canadian takes a refreshing approach to her videos, documenting excellent adventures and being upfront for the camera when things don’t go so right. She spends almost half the year on the road.

nadine sykora


IndependentTraveler.com: Are you surprised by your success on YouTube?
Nadine Sykora:
Success is a tricky word. It depends on your definition. I don’t say I’m surprised since I’ve worked years and years to get to where I am. I say I’m proud of what I’ve achieved and happy with where I am.

IT: How did you catch the travel bug?
NS:
I’ve been traveling since 2010 when after I graduated university, before getting a “real job.” I decided to move overseas on a working holiday to New Zealand for one year. During that time, I worked part-time and did short trips around New Zealand, China, Bali, Malaysia and Singapore. Ever since then I was hooked — the excitement of new things, new places. The full-on travel bug!

IT: You’re a lot more honest in your videos and blogs than a lot of travelers. If things don’t go well, you’re perfectly willing to say so, even admitting, as you did in one blog a few years ago, to emotionally breaking down after your equipment was stolen. Why did you decide to take such an honest approach?
NS:
I think it’s important to show all aspects of travel. The good, the bad, the silly and the ugly. Because it’s all those experiences combined that give those fully enriched travel experiences. Scrolling through Instagram, it’s easy to [think] that travel is just beautiful locations and perfect selfie moments, but honestly it’s so much more than that. So I like to show that.

IT: How do you make a living when you’re not traveling?
NS:
I’m actually home a surprising amount, as I’ve started to space out my trips a bit more as I get into my sixth year of travel. I spend the time at home editing content, pitching new ideas and projects, and doing a bunch of odd jobs for work like writing or working on video projects.

IT: What are your most recent favorite destinations? And care to admit the places you probably won’t ever go back to?
NS:
My most recent favorite is definitely Patagonia (see video below). It’s just simply so spectacular there! So many picture-perfect locations. I don’t really have any places I wouldn’t go back to, simply because each time you visit a place, you have new experiences. So to me it’s not just the places I visit, but the experiences I have.


IT: Where are would you like to go where you haven’t been to yet?
NS:
India and Ireland. They are my top places for sure.

IT: And where are you going next?
NS:
No idea! Maybe Mexico, maybe Asia again. The world is my oyster.

The World’s Best Walking Tours
9 Places You Haven’t Visited — But Should

— interview conducted by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

“Backpacking Europe” used to refer solely to travel with an oversized canvas sack strapped across your shoulders, with nights spent in a youth hostel bunk bed. Today, “backpacking” is more of a mindset than an actual act, says James Feess, author of the book “The Savvy Backpacker’s Europe on a Budget.”

Originally from the U.S. Midwest, James and his wife Susan have spent time living in Paris and traveling throughout Europe. Their website The Savvy Backpacker offers advice for independent travelers who literally backpack across Europe and those who apply a backpacker mentality to travel comfortably yet budget-consciously.

james and susan feess paris savvy backpacker


We recently chatted with James and Susan, who are now in New York City.

IndependentTraveler.com: Is there an age limit on backpacking?
James and Susan Feess:
No way! We’ve seen backpackers of all ages. The last time we were staying in a hostel in London we met a 70-something Australian man who was traveling around Europe for multiple months.

IT: Why do you think most people outgrow the backpacker mindset?
JF & SF:
It’s no secret that most backpackers tend to be young and broke, so they do everything as cheaply as possible. It’s natural for people to upgrade their travel styles as they get older, start earning more money and get accustomed to a better standard of living. However, a lot of people maintain the backpacker mindset regardless of income level or age.

Top 25 Ways to Save on Europe Travel

IT: You’re now in your early 30s. How has the mindset changed for you both since you first started backpacking?
JF & SF:
We find now that we focus on value and not cost — and that’s a big difference. For example, you can take a bus across Europe very cheaply. However, it takes much longer than the train. So it really isn’t a great value because it’s costing you time, which is more valuable than money. Now we take the train whenever we travel because the extra cost is a good value. The same principle applies to food, lodging, entertainment, [almost] everything.

IT: What are some of the non-monetary benefits to traveling like a backpacker?
JF & SF:
Traveling on a budget helps get you closer to living like local. Staying in a five-star hotel and eating at high-end restaurants is about as far away from local living as you can get because most locals don’t do that. However, budget travelers have to stay in more modest accommodation and eat where the locals eat because that’s the best value and cheapest option. Personally, we prefer renting a modest apartment. This gives you an instant connection to a neighborhood.

IT: Do you travel like a backpacker 100 percent of the time? Any indulgences you want to confess?
JF & SF:
We try sticking to our backpacker roots but we do “splurge” a bit more these days. Back when we were in our early 20s we would try surviving on as little food as possible, but now we have a nicer meal once or twice. Sometimes we’ll go really crazy and buy the $11 bottle of wine instead of the $6 bottle!

Having a little more money does open new doors to better experience a culture. For example, we’ve taken a few cooking classes in France, and this is a great hands-on way to experience the culture that we couldn’t afford on a backpacker’s budget. Another possibility: specialized walking tours. They can get a little expensive, but they give you so much information that you’d never know otherwise.

IT: Tell us about some of your favorite places you’ve visited over the last year.
JF & SF:
While it isn’t Europe, we actually just got back from traveling to Cape Town, South Africa. It was an amazing trip and we were able to “live it up” since everything is really cheap there. It was probably our most luxurious trip. For example, we got a really nice steak meal for $15 and alcohol was only $3 to $4 in a restaurant. We ended up staying nearly two weeks.

IT: Aside from occasional trips elsewhere, you tend to focus on Europe. Are there any spots in Europe you haven’t visited but want to?
JF & SF:
We still haven’t visited Iceland. It’s at the top of our list. Unfortunately, Iceland isn’t cheap. So we’ll keep saving until we have enough. We want to spend a lot more time in Italy and Spain. And Croatia. And Berlin in the summer.

Quiz: Which European City Are You?
Planning a Trip to Europe: Your 10-Step Guide

— interview conducted by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

Passports are technically property of the government, but rarely are expired ones kept by any government official. So what should you do with an expired passport?

We’ve come up with five reasons why you should stash them, and three reasons to trash them.

passport stamps


First, the reasons to keep your expired passport in a safe place:

The passport may be expired, but some of the visas aren’t. Some countries issue single-entry visas that expire as soon as you depart. Others offer multiple-entry visas that could be valid for several years, well beyond when your passport expires. So if you travel to that country, you’ll need to bring your expired passport with your valid one.

You may need a record of your travels for a visa application. When applying for visas, some applications require you to detail all of the countries you’ve visited over the past five to 10 years. Larry Irving of Washington D.C., who travels frequently on business, encountered that recently on a visa application for Russia. “I can’t remember always, but the passport stamps help,” said Irving, who has visited more than 50 countries. He stores expired passports in a safe place in his office because having a record of his travels helps him complete the applications more efficiently.

How to Get a Visa

They make memories. Television news producer Yvette Michael has spent her career on the road. She’s attempted multiple times to write a travel journal to document her adventures. “But it really became too much work,” said Michael, who lives in New York, “so the passports double up as diaries!”

They inspire children. Lisa Bolton of Frederick, Maryland, gave her old passports to her son to play with. “It gave me an opportunity to talk to my kid about the wonders of traveling and experiencing cool stuff,” she said.

The expired passport still proves your citizenship. The U.S. State Department recommends on its website that you keep your passport because “it is considered proof of your U.S. citizenship.” As this USA Today article points out, there are many scenarios in which an expired passport cannot be used as a valid ID. But if you need proof of citizenship — such as to get a replacement if you lose your current passport — even an expired passport will suffice.

And now the reasons to trash your passport — or, more specifically, to shred it or turn it into something else:

An expired passport could lead to identity theft. Expired U.S. passports are punched with holes; other countries’ government officials alter them as well to void them. However, there are some clever thieves out there, and in the wrong hands, even an expired passport could be doctored into a fake ID for someone else.

They make cool art. With all the colors and stamp shapes, passport pages can make interesting art be used in craft projects. Pinterest user Becky Kemps deconstructed her passport and framed the pages. Artist Leonard Combier uses old passport pages as the medium for his art. Etsy seller The Nic of Time turns them into coasters. You could even put your passport on your Christmas tree.

They just add to clutter. Are you someone who keeps all your old tax returns dating back decades? If you have no good reason to keep old documents, then you should get rid of them. Not that keeping your passport makes you a hoarder, but if you’re not nostalgic about the passport, why bother keeping it?

10 Things You Don’t Know About Passports

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

Our Airbnb hosts in Colorado Springs were health enthusiasts who had run marathons on multiple continents, had a refrigerator bursting with organic fruits and vegetables, woke up at 5:30 a.m. to meditate, and trained by jogging halfway up Pikes Peak every Thursday morning. A conversation with them was enough to motivate anyone to skip dessert and do a few extra push-ups — and yet one of them said they found us inspiring.

“I love that you spend this kind of quality time traveling together,” she told me and my mother. “It makes me want to call my daughter and see if she might want to travel with me.”

mother daughter travel


This year marks the 10th year my mom and I have taken a mother-daughter trip together, dating back to a long weekend in Boston in 2006. Since then we’ve walked on a glacier in Iceland, explored art museums in the Big Apple and gone on an “Anne of Green Gables” pilgrimage on Canada’s Prince Edward Island.

Like any mother and daughter, we don’t always get along perfectly. I love a plan; she wants to be spontaneous. When we’re lost, I check a map while she asks a local for directions. After dinner I’m ready to head back to our room to read and relax; meanwhile, she’s looking for the nearest live music venue. But over the years we’ve learned to deal with our inevitable conflicts by obeying the following tips:

Find what draws you together. Though our personalities may be opposite, we share a common love of art (Mom is the only travel companion I’ve ever had who’s just as happy to spend an entire day in one museum as I am). We also enjoy hiking and browsing indie bookstores. We avoid arguments by centering our trip on activities we’re both passionate about.

Compromise. You learned this one in kindergarten, and it applies to any journey with another person, not just mother-daughter trips. If Mom keeps us out late listening to blues music one night, we’ll make an early evening of it the next day so I can recharge. Letting one person make all the decisions leads only to resentment.

Embrace your relationship as adults. For mothers and daughters who no longer share the same home, it can be challenging — but rewarding — to leave behind the patterns of the daughter’s childhood and form a new relationship as equal adults. For us, this has meant me breaking the sometimes resentful habits of a prickly adolescent and Mom trying to be a little less over-protective.

Acknowledge that some things never change. On our flight home I was in the bathroom when the plane lurched into a sudden patch of turbulence. I stumbled out of the bathroom but couldn’t make it back to my seat because the flight attendants were hustling down the aisle with the drink cart. I ended up joining them in their jumpseats for a few minutes while we waited for the plane to settle; I knew my mom was probably worrying about me from her own seat a few rows up.

I was right. When I returned to my seat, Mom touched my arm with a sense of relief and affection any parent would recognize, no matter the age of their children. “I knew you were safe back there,” she said. “But I feel better having you with me, right here.”

Have you ever traveled with your mother or daughter?

How to Keep the Peace with Your Travel Companion
9 Ways to Make Travel Less Stressful

— written by Sarah Schlichter

I’m sure there are still plenty of people simply staring at their phones the whole time, or curled up on an uncomfortable bench trying to catch a snooze. But there are a lot more interesting things to do at airports these days during a long layover.

woman at airport gate


Learn CPR. Chicago O’Hare International is the latest airport to introduce free kiosks where you can learn CPR. The video arcade game-like tutorial shows you how to do hands-only CPR and practice on a rubber torso attached to the machine. Push hard and fast in the center of the chest to the beat of the Bee Gees song “Stayin’ Alive,” the tutorial advises.

And if you ask one University of Dayton student, the tutorial is time well spent. He learned CPR during a three-hour at Dallas/Fort Worth international. The lesson took 15 minutes, and he ended up saving the life of a fellow student two days later.

Take a free city tour. A number of airports offer free city tours to airline passengers with layovers, writes Jennifer Dombrowski of Luxe Adventure Traveler in 5 Things to Do at an Airport During a Layover. Tokyo Narita, Singapore Changi and even Salt Lake International Airport are among those offering free tours.

Icelandair launched a new program called Stopover Buddies this winter to pair up travelers with airline employees who take you skiing, ice skating, out for a spectacular meal, horseback riding or for a dip in a thermal pool, among other activities. The sky’s the limit, depending on how much time you have. The Stopover Buddies program concludes on April 30, but I hope they continue it again later this year.

Get sporty. As this Lonely Planet article details, you can go to the gym at Changi Airport in Singapore, ice skate at Seoul Incheon International, go surfing — actual surfing, not on the web – at Munich International or do yoga in a studio at Dallas/Fort Worth International.

Hang out in a first-class lounge. You don’t have to be a first-class ticketholder to pass your layover in an airline lounge. According to the website Sleeping in Airports, more than 190 airports around the world have 300 lounges that you can access by prepurchasing a pass. Or check with the airport information desk to ask about lounges that allow you to purchase access. For more information, see 7 Ways to Score Airport Lounge Access.

Be a foodie. So many airports have specialty or themed dining options that you could design your own eating tour. Travel Pulse suggests a Latin food tour at Miami International by sampling Cuban and Venezuelan dishes at various eateries. Likewise, you could go on a wine tasting tour. Two dozen U.S. airports have outposts of the winebar Vino Volo.

Rent a day room. I’ve hit the age now where trying to nap in an airport has zero appeal. So I love the concept behind Hotels by Day, in which hotels offer unsold rooms for day use at lower rates. There are a number of airport hotel options if your layover doesn’t afford enough time to travel into a city but you still want a chance to shower, take a nap or watch television.

9 Ways to Make the Most of Your Layover
Best Airports for Layovers

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

If you love to travel, choosing a credit card that offers airline miles, hotel points or other such rewards is a natural fit. But a new study from personal finance site NerdWallet reveals that 83 percent of us apply for cards at the wrong time — and miss out on an average of nearly $200 in rewards.

credit cards and hundred dollar bills


According to the study, most credit card issuers offer sign-up bonuses once or twice a year, and these feature anywhere from 5,000 to 50,000 more points than you’d normally get as a new cardholder. If you miss the promotional bonuses, you’re sacrificing an average of 15,338 points, according to the study. At $1.16 per point or mile, on average, this is $177 in cash that you’re missing out on.

So when should you apply? NerdWallet found that most airline and general travel cards put out promotional offers in November, while hotel card offers peak in August. If you’re loyal to a particular issuer, keep an eye out for Chase promotions in August and November, Citi promotions in October and November and American Express promotions in August and September.

Given the data, it seems logical to wait to apply for a travel card until late summer or fall, when you can maximize the benefits, but NerdWallet offers one caveat. If you don’t already have a travel credit card, waiting for months to apply for one can cost you even in missed rewards, depending on your average monthly spending — so do the math before you decide.

NerdWallet recommends that you apply for a rewards card at least five months before your next trip. It typically takes a couple of weeks to receive the card and three months to earn the sign-up bonus, and then you’ll want to book your trip at least six weeks in advance for the best possible prices. (We’d recommend booking earlier than that for international trips. See Want the Lowest Fare? Here’s When to Book.)

Do you currently use a travel rewards card?

10 Travel Money Mistakes to Avoid
Travel Budget Calculator: What Will Your Next Trip Cost?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Tourism doesn’t simply have to benefit the person soaking in the sun; it can also do good for the people and places you visit. Malia Everette has spent her career blending the two together, designing pleasurable, socially responsible travel experiences to Cuba, Nicaragua, Myanmar and other destinations. She founded the San Francisco-based organization Altruvistas, which, in additional to providing tours, also works to educate others in the travel industry about the benefits of socially responsible travel, funds fellowships, and provides grants and loans to communities looking to improve lives through tourism.

malia everette with tour group in cuba


IndependentTraveler.com: What made you choose this career?
Malia Everette:
In the late 1980s, I had two journeys that changed my life’s path. The first was to Guatemala and Belize during times of civil war and human rights atrocities in indigenous communities. The second was to North Africa, Egypt, Israel and Palestine. The experiences altered my understanding of the world.

IT: Why should travelers pay attention to being socially responsible?
ME:
Frankly, if one cares about people and the planet, purchasing a tourism product based on values is absolutely an ethical mandate. Sustainable tourism helps sustain livelihoods, support local communities, and conserve the world’s natural and cultural heritage. I know that responsible tourism is a powerful tool in poverty reduction.

IT: What are some of the key attributes that a traveler should look for in a destination?
ME:
Regardless of the what and where and how, you can finesse your impact by being engaged and informed as a consumer. Call a hotel, a tour operator, a transport company, and ask questions. Ask who owns the hotel. Is it locally owned? If so, more of your tourism dollars can benefit the local economy. If it’s, say, a foreign-owned ecolodge, ask about stewardship practices. Do they give back or profit share to the local community? Do they employ the locals?

When you eat out, choose a locally owned place, not an international chain. If you want to buy gifts to bring home, consider visiting local cooperatives, artist studios and fair trade organizations. This way your gift buying is also supporting the local economy.

IT: You encourage people to choose socially responsible travel instead of “sun and fun” vacations. If someone does take a more typical vacation, are there things can they do to be socially responsible during that trip?
ME:
I think all of us need holidays, and having some “fun in the sun” is a good thing. We can be travelers and also tourists. Even going to a place with tons of coastal and resort tourism, one can again try to find a locally owned beach property. Don’t be afraid to go into town and find out where the locals eat and shop. Little acts go a long way.

IT: Which global destinations strike the best balance between contributing to the betterment of the community and being desirable to a traveler?
ME:
I am constantly pleased to see new community-based tourism initiatives in Cambodia, Vietnam, India and Peru. I see all the amazing restoration happening in Havana every month when I visit and know that tourism receipts are doing good. Many visitors don’t know where the tourism dollars go, yet large amounts are reinvested back into restoration and local social services. I was also impressed by Rwanda’s management of mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park.

malia everette


IT: You’ve traveled extensively with your two sons. Where did you first introduce them to the idea of responsible tourism?
ME:
My sons are now 15 and 16. I started traveling with them when they were babies and as a single mom. I think my sons “got it” when they were about 8 and 9, when we were visiting a fair trade coffee cooperative in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. They played with the local kids and stayed at the farms. The contrast of life, the joy of community and the contrast of material wealth they got.

IT: Was it hard to travel as a single mom?
ME:
I have found that traveling as a mother has been incredible. People in the service sectors are so accommodating and generous, though it might have been strange to see me with a backpack with one baby in front and one toddler on the back!

IT: What are some of your favorite travel destinations?
ME:
I love so many places, but I find myself in three places frequently. First, I am in Cuba about nine or 10 times a year. I love it, the cultural resilience and the vitality of the people are ever compelling and connective. Second, I relish my annual visits back home to Hawaii, to be in nature, on the beach, eating poi, and just being home. I also feel called to the Amazon every few years. I usually go to the Sarayaku nation in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The community and the jungle are inspiring, connective and restorative. Plus, I so respect their struggle to maintain their land and way of life [in the face of] petroleum exploitation.

IT: Where haven’t you been that you’d really like to visit?
ME:
I hope I have the longevity and health to enjoy many more adventures. On my short list: Bhutan, Borneo, Dominica and Papua New Guinea.

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— interview conducted by Elissa Leibowitz Poma