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man holding his hand out thumb downAny hotel that tries to stamp out negative reviews using strong-arm tactics is going to find itself more criticized than it ever thought possible. But are such tactics legal?

That’s what we wondered after reading about the Union Street Guest House in Hudson, New York, which only recently rescinded a policy by which it held back $500 of a wedding couple’s deposit for every negative review of the hotel posted by a wedding guest.

Christopher Cole, a partner at Crowell & Moring LLP says forbidding bad reviews can be legal so long as the policy is part of a contract the reviewer has agreed to beforehand

“Anybody can get you in a private contract to agree to keep quiet,” Cole told IndependentTraveler.com. “Somebody who had clear notice of this policy coming in and signed up for the wedding and paid their deposit and agreed to it – that’s the choice they make. I think a lot of people might not choose to do business with somebody like that if they saw the policy up front.”

35 Travel Tips Revealed: Top Secrets of Travel Writers

He compared such a policy to an employment termination agreement, in which an ex-employee is forbidden from saying anything bad about the company for a certain period of time.

Without such a contract, hotels cannot forbid guests from writing negative reviews.

“Opinion is protected by the First Amendment,” Cole said. “There’s a pretty forgiving standard for opinion, particularly for a business, which is typically entitled to a lower level of protection … You have more latitude to speak your mind.”

The difficulty of suing over opinion was made clear after a lawsuit leveled against TripAdvisor by the Grand Resort Hotel and Convention Center in Tennessee was dismissed by a judge. The hotel had sued for defamation after it was given the top spot on TripAdvisor’s 2011 list of America’s dirtiest hotels. For a defamation suit to succeed Cole said, the plaintiff must prove “actual malice,” meaning TripAdvisor had known what they were publishing was false. “That is a very high standard,” Cole said, especially when opinion is at the heart of the matter.

Write a Trip Review

– written by Dori Saltzman

Author’s Disclaimer: IndependentTraveler.com is a subsidiary of TripAdvisor.



“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.

scenes from every land


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

Today’s post is part of a weekly series called “Travel Toss-Up,” in which we ask you to take your pick between two amazing travel experiences.

This week’s toss-up offers a choice of two places that art fans would love to explore.

Would you rather…

… see the sculptures in Vigeland Park, Oslo, or …

vigeland park oslo



… wander the galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City?

metropolitan museum of art new york


The incredible human sculptures in Vigeland Park helped land Oslo on our list of The Best 9 Cities to See Cool Public Art. Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is the largest and most famous art museum in a city that has dozens of them. Allow a day just to get a taste.

10 Best Norway Experiences

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

This week’s brainteaser is a Friday Word Puzzle. We’ll give you a category and the first letters of five countries that fall into that category, and you fill in the rest. Keep in mind that there may be more than one possible response for each letter. For examples, check out this blog post.

Ready to give it a try? Here’s this week’s challenge:

index card puzzle


Enter your list of countries in the comments below. You have until Monday, August 4, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday morning we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Note: Although all are welcome to play, we can only ship prizes to the Continental U.S.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Gwen McGraahan, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Check out the winning entry below.

puzzle asking which countries have stars in their flag


Stay tuned for further chances to win!

– created by Dori Saltzman

Each month, we’ll highlight one new trip review submitted by an IndependentTraveler.com reader. If your review is featured, you’ll win an IndependentTraveler.com logo item!

itusukushima shrineIn this month’s featured review, reader Eric Overn shares advice from a couple of business trips to Japan: “It helps to learn a Japanese character of the city you’ll be staying at or going to, if using the local trains,” writes Eric. “Knowing just one character will help you locate your city on the route map. ‘Yama’ looks like a square ‘W.’ Toku-yama, Yama-guchi.”

Read the rest of Eric’s review here: Japan Trip. Eric has won an IndependentTraveler.com duffel bag!

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

airport baggage claimBy next year, there may only be one airline in the U.S. that lets fliers check a bag for free.

While both JetBlue and Southwest currently allow travelers to bring aboard a complimentary checked bag (Southwest even lets you have two!), Bloomberg reports that JetBlue is looking into overhauling its ticket pricing structure, which will likely lead to a few extra fees for those who pay the cheapest possible fare.

According to Bloomberg, the airline plans to create multiple fare classes, some of which would include a free bag and/or other services. Fliers could pay a higher rate for a more inclusive fare, or pony up for their checked bag if they elect the cheapest available fare. The changes are expected to take effect within the first six months of 2015.

This sort of bundling isn’t new. Frontier Airlines and Air Canada are among the carriers that currently offer multiple fare options when booking. Frontier’s Classic Plus fares are fully refundable and include a free checked bag, extra legroom and a beverage, while its bare-bones Economy fares are cheaper and include none of the above. Air Canada offers Tango, Flex and Latitude fares, each of which comes with different benefits (or lack thereof) such as waived change fees, priority check-in and standby privileges. (Worth noting: In all three of Air Canada’s fare classes you’ll have to pay for checked bags.)

How to Hack Your Way to a Cheaper Airfare

Naturally, JetBlue’s proposed changes are all about money; Bloomberg reports that the airline’s profits trail those of its competitors. I know airlines aren’t charities and they need to make a buck, but it’s still a bummer for those of us who appreciate companies that don’t try to nickel and dime us.

Will you still fly JetBlue if these changes go into effect?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

hotel monaco philadelphiaHotel rewards programs are great if you frequent the same chains on a regular basis, but the offerings and perks are pretty standard, as are the ways of accruing elite status. After a while, free Wi-Fi and extra nights all start to sound the same.

Apparently, that’s what the folks over at Kimpton thought too when they unveiled the chain’s new Kimpton Karma loyalty system. Replacing the brand’s former InTouch program, Kimpton Karma offers four tiers; you’ll be registered for Tier 1 by just signing up. You’ll reach Tier 2 with three stays or 10 nights (whichever comes first), Tier 3 with seven stays or 20 nights, and the Inner Circle with 14 stays or 40 nights.

The perks for everyone — even Tier 1 — include free Wi-Fi and a minibar credit, but the extras for higher tiers are pretty enticing: free nights, priority late check-out, dining offers and even direct access to Kimpton’s CEO when you reach the Inner Circle level.

7 Smart Reasons to Join a Hotel Rewards Program

The best part, however, is that you can get rewards in ways that go beyond just staying another night. In a statement about the new program, Kimpton says guests can get credit for things like mentioning their hotel on social media, booking directly through the chain’s website or even traveling with a pet. Sounds good to us!

What do you think? Do you belong to any hotel rewards programs? What do you like most about them, and what do you think can be done to jazz them up a bit? Leave your comments below.

10 Hidden Ways to Save at Hotels

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

Today’s post is part of a weekly series called “Travel Toss-Up,” in which we ask you to take your pick between two amazing travel experiences.

This week’s toss-up offers a choice of two places with spiritual significance to their respective cultures.

Would you rather…

… trek to Lamayuru, a Buddhist monastery in the mountains of Ladakh, India, or …

lamayuru monastery india



… visit the ruins of Xunantunich in Belize?

xunantunich mayan ruins belize


India’s remote Lamayuru Monastery, once home to as many as 450 Buddhist monks, is best reached by a difficult but spectacular two-week trek through the mountains of Ladakh. (Banjara Camps & Retreats is one company that offers trips.) Easier to reach are the ruins of Xunantunich in Belize, accessible by car and various tours. The site includes the ruins of several temples dedicated to Mayan gods.

India Trip Reviews
Belize Trip Reviews

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

This Friday’s challenge is a photo of an unidentified place somewhere in the world. Can you tell us where the photo was taken? Leave your guess in the comments below — and check back on Tuesday to see if you were right!

harbor city



Hint: This scenic harbor city is home to the most inhabitants in the country ( a country on many travel wish lists). Can you name the city?

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, July 28, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday morning we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Note: Although all are welcome to play, we can only ship prizes to the Continental U.S.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Beth Coleman, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was Auckland, New Zealand. Beth has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

Machu Picchu, PeruWhen you work in travel, everywhere is somewhere you want to go at some point, and for that reason, Peru has been on my own must-visit list for a while. But it wasn’t until the photos, stories and travel plans of various friends began to pour in across social media recently that I realized I hadn’t given this destination its due: Peru is most certainly having a moment.

Machu Picchu was voted the top landmark in the world this year in TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice awards, and Conde Nast Traveler highlighted Peru among up-and-coming foodie hot spots in a round-up of 2014 travel trends. Chef-guided culinary market tours, Pisco distilleries, vineyards and the chocolate museum in Cuzco attract travelers looking to both see and taste the South American nation often called its gastronomic capital.

Slideshow: 10 Best Peru Experiences

Peru was on Jamey Bergman’s bucket list, the U.K. Production and River Section Editor of our sister site, Cruise Critic. He has since checked it off, and shared with us what it was like to experience one of his bucket list destinations:

“I had high expectations for my visit to Machu Picchu, and my experience there was totally unforgettable. We arranged local transport (train to Aguas Calientes from Cuzco and bus to the site), and arrived just before dawn. We had the place to ourselves for a couple of hours before all the tour groups arrived, and it was magical. We hiked up to the Sun Gate for sunrise, and spent the rest of the day exploring the ruins. It’s profound to visit a place that meant so much to an ancient culture that’s completely disappeared. “

Is Peru on your list? Do you have a story of a bucket list destination that you’ve been able to cross off? Share with us in the comments.

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

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