I’ve made plenty of mistakes while traveling. I’ve forgotten everything from a computer charger to a camera, and I’ve scheduled flights so close together that more than once I’ve pulled what I call “the ‘Home Alone’ run,” in which I scurry through the airport like the McCallisters, just barely making it to the gate before it closes.
On a recent trip to Italy, I made one of my biggest mistakes yet — but it led to one of my fondest travel memories to date.
During a trip to Lake Maggiore, a newfound friend and I decided to take a cable car to the top of Mottarone, a mountain that overlooks the lake and the town of Stresa. The experience had been recommended to us by a few locals, though one woman warned us not to miss the last ride down the mountain.
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Once there, we were rewarded with hiking trails and spectacular views (we could see seven different lakes and even a bit of Switzerland in the distance). We enjoyed ourselves so much that time flew quickly, and guess what? We missed the last ride down.
After we got past the initial “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God,” we found our way to the nearest business — actually, the only business; the restaurant was the only sign of civilization nearby. The owner, who barely spoke English, made a quick call, then told us it would be an hour before we could even get a taxi; after that, it would be at least a 45-minute drive and 60 euros back to our hotel. We were supposed to meet a group of friends for our last dinner together in Italy in an hour. We’d never make it.
“Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God.”
My friend ordered a beer and started chatting with the owner. Still in a state of panic, I grabbed a beer too, and, at her order, sat down to “try to relax.”
The owner kindly offered us plates of meat, cheese and bread on the house, and began to tell us about himself. It turned out he was the former mayor of Stresa, and he planned to run for office again. The restaurant he owned dated back several generations, and his mother, who also spoke to us, still cooked up some of the area’s best dishes (“People like the meatballs,” she said). The family also owned a hotel (adjacent to the restaurant) that was popular during ski season.
Caught up in conversation, it was actually disappointing to leave when the taxi driver finally arrived. As he whisked the car down hairpin turns, my friend and I agreed: this unexpected conversation with the locals was travel at its best, and an experience neither of us would forget.
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What’s the best travel mistake you ever made?
– written by Amanda Geronikos
“To the few who have traveled;
To the many who would like to go abroad,
But are restrained by timidity;
To the lacking in funds;
To the sick and convalescent who promise themselves
Sight of the world when health will permit;
More especially, to the multitude of unfortunates, who on account of incurable ailments of
Whatever kind, can never hope to escape the narrow confines in which their lots are cast,
I venture to address this introduction.”
— Lew Wallace
And so begins “Scenes from Every Land: Over Five Hundred Photographic Views. Designed to Take the Place of an Extended Tour of the World” by Thomas Lowell and Ed Knox, published in 1892 with an introduction by General Lew Wallace.
I found it among a dusty pile of long-forgotten titles on the floor of Dooryard Books, a quaint treasure trove of the old and rare, in Rockland, Maine. I had been in search of vintage copies of Jules Verne novels but quickly swapped sea creatures and the center of the earth for a more personal world. The writing was so honest, so selfless and stirring that with the book in my hands I scanned the empty store, wishing to find someone I could share it with.
“Hey, this is the best book dedication ever! This is what it’s all about!”
But there was no one. Just the old man in the front, sitting at his desk and slowly turning the page of the book he was reading. If Maine had tumbleweeds, one would have blown by outside at that very second.
I don’t think I’m alone when I say — my fellow travelers, writers, bloggers and photographers — that unbeknownst to General Lew Wallace in 1892, his dedication was also written for us.
How easy is it to forget the miracle of travel? Of flight or a road trip or a simple walk in the woods? How often do we let incredible scenes of the past cast a shadow over those of the present? How often do we think that if something isn’t perfect, it’s not good? This mentality is so natural and yet so destructive to our happiness on the road. It’s time we listen to Lew.
I promised myself that I would revisit the dedication before my next trip. I would remember it when I found myself complaining about flight delays, lackluster hotels, homesickness, rain or long-awaited destinations that don’t live up to their websites. And suddenly I felt thankful that I was even in Maine in the first place.
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– written by Marc Cappelletti, a freelance writer and the Director of Expedition Development for Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic
Of the five destinations on my ultimate travel bucket list, I have managed to tick off one so far: Australia. And it was everything I could have hoped for — which was fortunate because, as with many bucket list trips, it was expensive and required a serious time commitment.
But was it really fortunate?
No, it wasn’t.
You see, just stepping foot on Australian soil isn’t what made going there such an amazing bucket list trip for me. It was that I did it the “right” way. The right way for me, that is.
Australia is a huge country with lots to offer visitors. There are the vibrant cities in which you’ll find art museums, fine dining and lots of shopping; unrivaled natural attractions from the barren but beautiful Outback to the Great Barrier Reef teeming with life; a colorful criminal past and a rich Aboriginal culture. And then there are the Aussies themselves, laidback folks with a great sense of humor and a love for beer and barbecue.
But which part of this vast Down Under do you take in? Do you try to see it all, spending just a little time in any one place? Do you narrow it down and pick out just a few highlights, ignoring all else? How do you make such a once-in-a-lifetime trip as special as it can be, so that it truly is a bucket list experience?
In order to make any trip all you want it to be, you must first ask yourself, “Why am I going here?”
There is no wrong or right answer, but be honest with yourself, as the answer to this question is the start of planning your perfect trip. Is it simply important to you to tick off a new destination? Or are you intrigued because you’ve read some of the best new chefs are coming out of Melbourne? Or perhaps you’ve always wanted to hold a koala and feed a kangaroo?
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Once you’ve decided why you’re going, you can research the various ways to visit. If what’s important is simply being in the place and seeing its most iconic sites, a guided tour might be your best bet. On the other hand, if you’re most fascinated by a specific aspect of the place — the Aboriginal culture of Australia, let’s say — then finding day tours or attractions that focus on that one interest should be your priority.
In my dreams of Australia, I was always fascinated by the wildlife, the Outback, the Aussies and the Aboriginal culture. So everywhere I went I made sure to seek out these things. In Sydney, I visited a zoo that allowed me to cuddle a koala and feed kangaroos. Near Cairns, I chose to skip the Great Barrier Reef and instead stay on a cattle station for three days to get to know the owner and see what life was like in the Outback. On my visit to Uluru, I only booked Aborigine-led tours so I could experience the country’s interior from their perspective.
All these experiences resonated with me because they were the things I already knew were important to me. I didn’t need to see the Sydney Opera House; I don’t particularly like opera and touring a theater would not be enjoyable for me. I didn’t need to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge; if I were going to exercise my body that way, it would be on a hike in the Blue Mountains. And to this day I don’t really feel I missed out by not snorkeling off the Great Barrier Reef. Instead, I’m glad I skipped the seasickness and panic I always experience when snorkeling from a boat.
But other visitors to Australia might have left unsatisfied without some or all of those experiences.
Bucket list trips are dream trips, literally. We dream about the destinations years before ever visiting. We visualize what it will be like. But it’s only by being aware of those dreams and our expectations and then finding experiences that match them that we can actually make our dream bucket list trips come true.
How to Make Your Dream Trip a Reality
– written by Dori Saltzman
Eleven years ago, a book called “1,000 Places to See Before You Die” became a runaway bestseller, inspiring millions of travelers to create their own must-visit lists. With the 1,200-page tome now in its second edition, we sat down with the author, Patricia Schultz, to talk about the difficulty of narrowing the world down to 1,000 places and to find out what’s still on her own bucket list.
IndependentTraveler.com: Have you visited every place in the book?
Patricia Schultz: No, I haven’t. If I was part of a typical travel guide team — let’s say Lonely Planet or Fodor’s — the answer would likely be different. But these “1,000 Places” books are written in the voice of one traveler … and there are only so many hours in my years!
IT: Were there any destinations or experiences you wanted to include but couldn’t? Why did you leave them out?
PS: With the “1,000 Places” revision (released in late 2011), I attempted to keep all my favorites from the original 2003 book while adding hundreds of new places I had discovered since then. That meant a complete reorganization, merging many places into a single entry at times to accommodate new information and destinations — 28 new countries! All while keeping the count at 1,000. But it’s laughable, really, to think that one could ever sit back and feel that no stone went unturned! That’s what keeps every traveler going. The intoxicating promise of something new and wonderful around the bend.
IT: How long would it realistically take to see everything in the book? (And how much money?)
PS: I’m afraid there is no easy answer for that. The book was not meant to be followed from cover to cover. I hope travelers discerningly pick and choose from this list of my favorites to add to their own wish lists. Does everyone want to see the fjords of Norway? The wine region of Chile? What if it is great art that inspires you — would you spend your time and money on an African safari? Time is short, [and] one needs to follow one’s own interests. What are the things and places that call you? Travel is a very personal thing.
Bucket List Travel Guide
IT: Some travelers may feel intimidated by the size of the book (or the size of the world!). Do you have any advice to help people feel inspired instead of overwhelmed?
PS: Most of us have “short lists.” Was there a film or book that inspired you? Has your family’s ancestry always fascinated you? Is ancient history your thing? Food? It is useless if you choose a destination simply because a friend has talked you into it or because you found a cheap flight. Follow your heart. Me? I wanted to go everywhere! So it was all good.
IT: The book has spawned a genre of sorts in travel — I can’t count how many lists I’ve seen of “places to visit before you’re 30″ or “destinations to take your family before your kids grow up.” Did you have any sense of how influential the book would be when you were writing it?
PS: No! I just kept writing away, trying to make sense of this vast and magnificent world and its wonders large and small. My eye was on the book deadline (I was given one year to write it but in fact it took eight), not future sales. I wanted to do the job as best I could, and hoped that I would sell enough copies to make my publisher happy and to pay off my credit card debt. I fulfilled both those goals! We have over 25 translations around the world, and it spawned a sister title, “1,000 Places to See in the USA & Canada Before You Die.”
IT: What’s still on your own bucket list?
PS: There are many countries I have not yet visited … Fiji, Romania, Uganda, among others. And although I have visited massive countries like China, Russia and India, I don’t pretend to know them well. Then there are those perennial loves I could return to time and again — Paris, Rome, Hong Kong, Rio. I could go on. My bucket list has a bucket list!
How to Make Your Dream Trip a Reality
Want to win your own copy of “1,000 Places to See Before You Die”? Leave a comment below and tell us what’s at the top of your own travel wish list! Leave your comment by 11:59 p.m. ET on July 27, 2014. We’ll pick one winner at random. This giveaway is open only to residents of the Lower 48 United States and the District of Columbia. To read the full contest rules, click here.
Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. Congratulations to Jeanette A., who has won the book! Stay tuned for further opportunities to win.
– written by Sarah Schlichter
Ever arrived early at a new destination in the morning after a long red-eye flight and not had a hotel room where you could crash?
It happened to me on my last trip, when I landed in Reykjavik, Iceland, at 6:30 a.m. on the same day I was scheduled to board a cruise ship bound for Greenland. The ship’s reception staff were willing to hold my suitcases for me, but my cabin wouldn’t be ready to enter until late afternoon. That left me with most of the day to explore the city — if I could stay awake that long.
The morning started well, with a stroll along the waterfront and visits to the city’s most famous church, Hallgrimskirkja, and its avant-garde new concert hall, Harpa. But the combination of jet lag and a long, sleepless flight the night before had me drooping after a few hours.
As long as I was walking outside in the fresh air and sunlight, I could stay relatively alert. Any time I sat down, though — at a restaurant for lunch, on a pew in Hallgrimskirkja to listen to the organist practice, or, worst of all, inside a darkened theater to watch a timelapse photography presentation on the northern lights — my eyelids got heavy and my chin drifted inexorably toward my chest until I jerked myself awake again. As the hours wore on, my pleasurable day of sightseeing turned into a forced march through the city streets until I could board my ship and finally, finally take a nap.
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Even if you have a hotel room booked for the night, it’s not uncommon to arrive before the official check-in time and be told there simply aren’t any rooms available yet. One alternative is to try to find a day room where you can nap and shower. I recently discovered Between9and5.com, a site dedicated to hotels with same-day check-in and check-out. Unfortunately, offerings in some cities can be slim. There’s currently only one option in Reykjavik, and it starts at more than $200 a night — more than I was willing to pay for just a few hours.
Short of sleeping on a park bench, what do you do to stay awake and make the most of your first day when you’re exhausted after a flight?
– written by Sarah Schlichter
Whether it’s courtesy of jet lag’s effect on my body or the sniffling/sneezing/coughing child in the seat behind me, it seems I return home with some sort of cold or sinus issue every time I travel, leaving me feeling like I’ve been hit by a bus.
Enter Sickweather, a website and app that use social media posts to generate alerts that tell you whether illness is running rampant in your area. Simply set alerts for wherever you’re traveling — or for your home town — and be informed when the over-sharers on Facebook start chattering about their (or their children’s) latest maladies. Sickweather CEO Graham Dodge compares the technology used to gather data and tie it to a geographic location to the Doppler radar used to predict weather.
Pros: It’s always nice to know what you’re up against, abroad or in your own backyard. Imagine catching the flu while on vacation because you were unaware it was going around the city you were visiting, or contracting Norovirus during a trip to see Great Aunt Edna at the retirement home because you had no idea there was a local outbreak. It can often be easier to prevent illness than to fight it off after you’ve already gotten sick. The alerts offer solid reminders about hand washing and other precautions. Plus, the service and the app (available for iPhone now and Android later this summer) are both free.
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Cons: Just because an acquaintance of yours tweets that her daughter has strep throat, it doesn’t mean she’s actually had the illness medically diagnosed. But Dodge tells us that with enough people reporting, the occasional misdiagnosis doesn’t matter: “The research of our advisors from Johns Hopkins University has concluded that this anecdotal data has a high correlation to clinical data provided by the CDC.” Right now, the service only gathers social media results that are in English, but Dodge says that the company will branch out as it grows. It’s worth noting that the app’s alerts will be useless if you’re planning to travel abroad with your phone in airplane mode, and although international alerts are available via the app, international maps are still in the works.
Would you try this app? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
– written by Ashley Kosciolek
This post is part of our “Airlines Behaving Badly” series, which chronicles the oft-wicked ways of the air travel industry.
I’m leaving on a trip this Sunday and for the first time in my life I packed early and I packed light. Save the toothbrush, I crossed the toiletry Ts and dotted all the iPad Is into my carry-on suitcase so I could spend the rest of the week anticipating my travels and not dreading packing. But wouldn’t you know it, three major airlines — American, Delta and United — have reduced the size of an acceptable carry-on yet again (it flew under the radar until recently). I am flying one of these lines, and of course when I measured my bag, roughly 24 X 15 X 9, it was too large. The new size regulation — apparently enacted by United in March but effective immediately — is 22 inches long by 14 inches wide and 9 inches high, skimming a collective 5 inches off of what was a perfectly fine carry-on bag just weeks ago, and rendering my treasured, nearly new (expensive) indigo suitcase totally useless against checked-bag fees.
Pinned to a new FAA regulation (according to this article on Airfarewatchdog.com), it’s curious that fellow airlines JetBlue, Southwest, Virgin America and Frontier have maintained their 24 X 16 X 10-inch carry-on allocations.
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Upon further review, George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com, reflects that although the changes are subtle, they are being strictly enforced by the TSA and not as clearly explained by the airlines. The standard of a 45-inch maximum outside linear dimension is made null if the dimensions exceed any of the newly specified maximums. So in other words, 21 X 14 X 10 may meet the 45-inches-total guideline, but not the new 9-inches-high guideline. Therefore, the risk of having to re-pack, being sent to the back of the check-in line and potentially missing your flight is a real one — all traced back to a difference of one inch.
Whether it’s a regulation based in research, a ploy to cash in on more checked bags or simply a way to keep travelers on their toes, it’s exhausting keeping up with all the policy updates. I was finally ahead in the travel race, only to be handed a penalty card.
Have you encountered any trouble at the check-in counter lately? Vent about misguided measurements in the comments below.
– written by Brittany Chrusciel
A lot of people who know what I do for a living assume I’m such an expert at independent travel that I plan everything on my own and eschew any kind of organized tour. After all, who really wants to be herded from place to place with 50 strangers, some of whom are super annoying? And what “true” traveler likes to be rushed between sites with not enough time to linger and take it all in?
But the truth is I like tours, especially in places I’ve never been before, where English is not widely spoken, the culture is very different and I’ve got limited time.
Doing tours in such places is relatively stress-free. On a recent trip to Tokyo with my husband, I wanted to be sure that I’d get to see all the most important tourist sites in as little time as possible (we only had two days), so we’d have time to explore other places on our own. The easiest way to do that was to book an organized tour.
On one half-day tour with tour company Viator, we visited Tokyo’s most popular Shinto shrine and Buddhist temple, and walked around part of the Imperial Gardens. We also passed by Skytree Tower, the Japanese Diet and the Imperial Palace.
I didn’t mind the zipping-past-sites part of the tour; we ended up going to Skytree Tower another day on our own time, and we were both totally uninterested in touring the Diet. The Imperial Palace is off-limits all the time, so we weren’t going to get too much closer anyway.
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I will admit I would have liked more time at the Meiji Shrine. Located in a large park, there are lots of paths to walk, and there was more to see at the shrine itself when our guide started herding us out.
There were plenty of tourists there on their own. But without our guide, how would I have learned how to correctly pray at a Shinto shrine? (Throw a coin in the donation area, bow twice, clap twice, think your prayer, and bow again.) How would I have known that most Japanese people come to Shinto shrines to celebrate good things, like marriages and births, and go to Buddhist temples when someone dies?
Some of what the guide told us I could have read in a guide book, but not all of it. That detailed information that goes beyond guidebook fare is another reason why I like organized tours. A good guide will tell the story of the places you’re visiting, giving you the details and providing the nuances that make each place special. And they’ll answer whatever questions they can.
They also give me an idea of what places I might want to go back to if I’m ever in the area again. With only a day and a half in Kyoto, we chose to spend our entire time on guided tours. I’m glad we did; it was the easiest way to visit all the area’s main attractions. If we ever go back, I know we’ll visit the Golden Pavilion again as there was so much we didn’t get to see. And we’ll be able to explore the rest of Kyoto knowing that we don’t have to run around just to cram in the “most important” sites.
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Do you do enjoy organized tours when you travel or do you prefer to wing it on your own?
– by Dori Saltzman
The perfect time to arrive at the airport, according to one mathematician, may be an unsettling one. Despite most airlines advising you to arrive at least three hours prior to international departure, Jordan Ellenberg, a mathematician and professor at the University of Wisconsin – Madison vies that the best time to arrive for your flight is as late as possible, and considers every hour spent waiting to board a plane as a “negative unit.”
According to the article in Huffington Post, Ellenberg considers optimizing your life by cutting it close to boarding time. “If we routinely arrive at airports three hours ahead of time, we’ll accrue hundreds of those lost hours over the course of our lives, and that’s not an efficient use of our time on earth.”
Ellenberg’s strategy puts forth only a one to two percent chance of missing your flight, but he doesn’t seem too concerned about the prospect, quoted as saying, “If you’ve never missed a flight, you’re not doing it right.”
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Although Ellenberg’s theory seems to be about saving precious time, it gives me an anxiety attack just to imagine running late for a flight. I think the notion of saving time is a noble one, but let’s be honest: there are plenty of times in travel that we spend waiting — security checkpoints, hotel check-ins, you name it — but it’s worth it to ensure we have the best trip possible.
I don’t see how my life would be benefitted if I missed my flight — or needed an inhaler to catch one. Do you subscribe to Ellenberg’s time-saving maneuver? Tell us about your arrival-time preferences in the comments below.
– written by Brittany Chrusciel
Not every destination makes a stellar first impression. Misunderstandings happen, plans fall through, expectations are dashed. And nowhere in recent memory did I find that truer than in Cabo San Lucas.
I had high hopes before I arrived in this happening resort town on the Mexican Riviera. As a celebrity magazine addict, I knew that Cabo was considered the perfect spot for A-listers to blow off steam: Justin Timberlake plays golf there, George Clooney celebrates birthdays, the Kardashians do what Kardashians do. Jennifer Aniston comes so often that she might as well be on the tourist brochure.
But I forgot that they don’t go where I went, which, unfortunately, was straight to Medano Beach. I knew from the moment I arrived at a popular beachfront restaurant there that I had chosen … poorly.
I ordered a margarita, singular. Little did I know this was an impossible request in Cabo. A waiter arrived bearing two aquarium-sized glasses. “No, no, just one,” I told him nicely.
“No, lady. Two is better!” he replied. We went back and forth over my request for a while, until he finally took the unsolicited beverage away. (At that point, I was so irritated by his persistent upselling that I almost needed the second drink.)
That wasn’t the end to the Medano madness. Within a few hours, I was hassled by timeshare salesmen, encouraged to smile by water taxi drivers and offered illegal drugs. I saw more ugly tattoos than on an episode of “Jersey Shore,” and it wasn’t even spring break. The last straw came when I slipped on one of Cabo’s steeper streets, landing firmly on my rear.
“I hate Cabo,” I texted to my husband.
Luckily, I had time for a do-over; subsequent days there exposed me to the city’s first-class adventure opportunities, including kayaking and snorkeling with Baja Outback, parasailing with Cabo Expeditions and a camel safari with Cabo Adventures (yes, camels! It’s become the company’s number one excursion). I even found some great places to go on Medano to escape the nuttiness free-for-all, including Nikki Beach (for those who like Miami style) and Tabasco Beach (for those who like feet-in-the-sand style). I have a list of things to do if and when I come back, including visits to San Jose del Cabo and Todos Santos and a deep-water fishing excursion.
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But the experience made me think about the best ways to handle a new destination if it isn’t exactly what you expected:
Switch gears: The best thing I could have done after the margarita skirmish was hightail it out of Medano on a water taxi to the Marina, a less pushy part of the city. If you’re in a neighborhood that’s rubbing you the wrong way, try another one — stat.
Blow off steam: Zip-lining wasn’t what you expected? Don’t stomp back to the hotel angrily. If time allows, walk around, do some shopping or enjoy a snack at an establishment that looks more your speed. Being able to calm down and look at the situation with some distance will usually turn it into an amusing memory rather than a trip-wrecking horror.
Conduct a post-mortem, part I: That night, make the effort to talk to a few fellow travelers, either at your hotel or a local bar. What have they done that you haven’t? Swapping stories means you can unearth valuable intel that may allow you to make out better the next day.
Conduct a post-mortem, part II: Once you’re home, go online and see if others have had your experience. (Our forums are a great place to chat with other travelers.) Did they have the same issues you did, or did you just happen to catch that attraction or neighborhood on a bad day? Keep in mind that factors like weather, local strikes and staff turnover can vary the experience significantly.
When Destinations Disappoint
Maybe it’s you. We all have bad days. Maybe you’re not feeling well, or maybe your travel companions are working your last nerve. If you set out for the day with a monster chip on your shoulder, don’t be surprised if the slightest thing knocks it off — and really, who’s to blame for that but yourself?
Tell us! How have you salvaged a poor experience in a new destination?
– written by Chris Gray Faust