Home

Explore. Experience. Engage.

Home Travel Tips Travel Deals Destinations Trip Reviews Blog
The IndependentTraveler.com Blog

It’s the height of summer here in the Northern Hemisphere, and that means every time we look out the window we’re daydreaming about sun-splashed sands, turquoise waters, the sound of crashing waves, and the smell of salt air and sunscreen. If you don’t have your own beach vacation coming up, let the following photos take you on a mental escape to a few of the globe’s most beautiful stretches of sand.

beach boats koh lipe thailand


Koh Lipe, Thailand



coco beach guanacaste costa rica sunset


Coco Beach, Guanacaste, Costa Rica



kauai beach chairs waves hawaii


Kauai, Hawaii, U.S.A.



beach innes national park australia


Innes National Park, Australia



beach brela croatia


Brela, Dalmatian Coast, Croatia



Which beach are you dying to be on right now?

How to Pack for a Beach Vacation
6 National Parks We Want to Visit Around the World

— written by Sarah Schlichter

It’s summer. The majority of European workers are likely on vacation while American workers are toiling away at the office, warehouse or other workplace. This isn’t necessarily because Europeans get more time off on average than their American counterparts (although they do). Poll after poll shows that around half of all Americans don’t use all of their allotted vacation time.

kanisa baker


Kanisa Baker has had enough. Americans must take vacation time, she says, for their sanity, for their health and for a fulfilling life. The 40-year-old from Maryland started Travel More Work Less, a website and online community that encourages people to use their vacation time. She knows firsthand how hard this is — but also why it’s so important.

IndependentTraveler.com: Why did you decide to make this your mission?
Kanisa Baker:
I used to be self-employed and could take off as much time as I wanted. But when I took a job with another company, I found that I was barely using my vacation time to take any significant trips. After talking to friends and coworkers and doing research on American workers, I saw how many of us are not taking much-needed and deserved time off.

Some studies show that we are more likely to suffer from heart disease [if we don’t take] vacation — women especially. I started Travel More Work Less so that together we could identify real strategies to break from the routine and stresses of life and put more vacation days on the calendar.

IT: Why do you think Americans don’t use all of their vacation time?
KB:
Because of a lack of planning. Many of us have an “autopilot” lifestyle, and planning a vacation can be a lot of work. You have to identify the location and the best time to go, search for the best price, figure out which activities are available, determine the best place to stay, etc. So many times we throw up our hands and either stick with our regular daily routine or just have a “staycation.”

There is choice and intention behind taking a vacation. If you don’t plan for a “real” vacation, you end up using your days off to stay home or visit family. Those options can be even more stressful than a day at work.

IT: Some people don’t use vacation time because they can’t afford to go away. What would you advise them to do?
KB:
This is one of the top reasons holding people, myself included, back. The costs associated with life, work and stress get in the way. Travel then gets pushed to the bottom of the priority list. One useful piece of advice is to focus on small, daily and intentional [money-saving] habits like eating out less, letting go of the unused gym membership, or selling stuff that you don’t need, all to increase travel funds. Save that money instead in a vacation fund.

9 Creative Ways to Save for a Vacation

IT: What advice do you have for people who are worried about work piling up if they took time off?
KB:
I wrote a guide about this exact topic, and one of the strategies I discuss is implementing a cross-training program within your company/organization. This could reduce the amount of work to come back to after a vacation.

IT: Is it okay for people to check email or do work while they’re away?
KB:
Well, checking email on the beach is certainly better than checking it in the office. But being on vacation means it’s important to be in the present moment with your loved ones. Perhaps it’s best to vacation is spots where Wi-Fi is very limited!

IT: Do you think people would take more time off if employers gave their employees more vacation time?
KB:
That’s a tough one. It really comes down to the person. Either you are someone that values and sees the importance of vacation time or you aren’t.

IT: Where do you like to travel on vacation?
KB:
As I’ve gotten older, I found I get really antsy on long plane rides. So I’ve enjoyed exploring vacation spots closer to home like Canada, Central America and the Caribbean. My last vacation was to the Florida Keys and Mexico.

Survey Says: Travel Makes Us Happier
10 Things to Do Before You Travel

— interview conducted by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

Our brand-new puzzle is a country shapes quiz! Take a look at the outline and below and tell us which country you think it is.

mystery country


Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, August 1, 2016, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. 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 Antonia Sullivan, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery country was Spain. Antonia has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Check out the stories you may have missed around the travelverse this week.

vis-a-vis see through luggage


Traveling With a See-Through Suitcase Will Force You to Pack Neatly
Would you pay more than $550 for a suitcase that puts everything inside it on display? The makers of the Vis-a-Vis sure hope so, reports Gizmodo. This hard-shelled suitcase is completely transparent.

Behind the Scenes at a B&B: The Joys — and Challenges — of Being an Innkeeper
Ever dreamed of retiring to run a B&B out in the country? You might change your mind after reading this story, in which a Washington Post reporter shadows an innkeeper at a Pennsylvania B&B. She discovers a life of grocery store runs, room maintenance and endless guest requests — as well as moments when it’s all worth it.

23 Companies That Will Help You Travel the World for Free (and Maybe Even Pay You to Do It)
Forbes uncovers a few creative ways to take a free vacation, from house-sitting to helping foreigners practice their English.

Living Where the Sea Turns to Ice
BBC takes us on a moving journey to northwestern Greenland, where a reporter meets a 5-year-old named Dharma living in an orphanage in the village of Uummannaq. In a land of seemingly endless ice, the child and the reporter find a few brief moments of connection.

The NASA Space Treatment That Will Cure Your Seasickness
A doctor who regularly travels on cruises to the North and South Poles reveals to Conde Nast Traveler her choice for the best seasickness remedy: a prescription medication called promethazine. She also explains why the medicines we usually use for allergies also work for motion sickness.

Rescue Dog Becomes Instagram Sensation in L.A. for His Culinary Adventures
Lonely Planet wins the prize for this week’s most adorable story, about a rescue dog named Popeye the Foodie who’s been eating (or at least posing) his way around Los Angeles.

10 Travel Innovations That Make Globe-Hopping Better Than Ever
As much as we like to complain about the annoying parts of travel, this story from Bloomberg reminds us of the many nifty innovations that can really improve a trip, from smart bag tags that help prevent lost luggage to the rise of premium economy.

Get pumped up for the Olympic Games in Rio with this commercial from United, featuring members of the U.S. Olympic team.


12 Best Gadgets for Any Trip
Photos: 8 Best Greenland Experiences

— written by Sarah Schlichter

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!

monterey kayak


In this month’s winning review, a traveler lives out an animal lover’s dream: “On my bucket list: [kayaking] in Monterey Bay to observe wild sea otters up close,” writes Jill Weinlein. “This desire started last year after a trip to the Monterey Aquarium. The sea otter exhibit melted my heart. These playful furry mammals have a brown, thick coat that is the densest in the animal kingdom. They are most comfortable living in the ocean attached to kelp.”

Read the rest of Jill’s review here: Kayaking with Sea Otters in Monterey. Jill has won an IndependentTraveler.com sweatshirt.

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

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

This week’s puzzle is a word scramble. Below are the jumbled names of four major cities from around the world, followed by the country where they’re located. Your job is to unscramble them. For example, “IALM, EURP” would be “Lima, Peru.” Identify all four mystery cities to win.

BTREPGSUERTS, USIARS

TECPGALGIAU, SODUHNAR

JTAAAKR, IDISENNOA

RICAO, TGEYP


Enter your list of unscrambled cities in the comments below. You have until Monday, July 25, 2016, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. 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 Charlie Portman, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Check out the puzzle answers below.

ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA

TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS

JAKARTA, INDONESIA

CAIRO, EGYPT


— created by Sarah Schlichter

Check out our favorite reads from around the travel world this week.

ani ruins turkey


UNESCO Just Added 9 New World Heritage Sites to Your Travel Bucket List
Mashable reports on the nine sites recently recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including rock art in China, an ancient walled city in Greece and temple ruins in Micronesia.

15 Phone Hacks Every Traveler Needs to Know
BuzzFeed offers useful tips for anyone who wants to use their phone in a foreign country, including how to protect yourself if you lose it and which apps offer messaging through Wi-Fi (so you can stay in touch without burning through data).

The Nation That Hates to Be Late
BBC investigates Switzerland’s reputation for efficiency and punctuality, values that for the Swiss represent “a source of deep contentment” but can sometimes be irritating to less organized visitors.

For Want of a Coffeepot, Your Flight Is Delayed
The New York Times examines a surprising source of flight delays: a non-functional coffee maker. It’s not all the potentially angry caffeine addicts that could keep your plane on the tarmac, but rather that a malfunction in the coffee maker could be a symptom of a larger problem such as an electrical issue.

The Secrets of the World’s Best Travel Photographer
The Telegraph interviews Marsel van Oosten, a Dutchman who just won the Travel Photographer of the Year competition. He lists Namibia as one of his favorite places to take photos and stresses the importance of finding unique places and perspectives to shoot.

Fair Warning: Don’t Visit This Country This Summer
A writer for the Business Journals examines how other countries’ governments warn their citizens against traveling to the U.S., citing America’s “racial tensions,” high medical costs and mass shootings.

Okinawa: Secrets for a Long and Happy Life
Lonely Planet journeys to Okinawa to try to discover why these Japanese islands are home to more centenarians than anywhere else on Earth.

Will [Your] Next Hotel Room Be Delivered by Drone?
CNN reports on an intriguing new concept: a self-sustaining hotel room that can be dropped off by a drone anywhere in the world. The idea, known as Driftscape, is one of the finalists for the 2016 Radical Innovation Award.

We always love Air New Zealand’s in-flight safety videos (don’t miss its “Men in Black” spoof from last year), and the latest one is no exception. Watch Anna Faris and Rhys Darby in a madcap romp through various Hollywood movie tropes.


Quiz: How Well Do You Know Travel Movies?
9 Places You Haven’t Visited — But Should

— written by Sarah Schlichter

A recent bill passed by Congress and signed by President Obama includes several consumer-friendly measures for U.S. air travelers, including refunds for delayed bags and a requirement that children be seated next to an older family member at no extra cost.

baggage carousel at airport


The FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016, which funds the Federal Aviation Administration through September 2017, includes a section that entitles passengers to an automatic refund of their checked bag fee if they don’t receive their suitcase within 12 hours of the arrival of a domestic flight or 15 hours of the arrival of an international flight. This would apply not only to U.S. airlines but to foreign carriers as well. The bill mandates that the Secretary of Transportation issue this regulation within the coming year.

Also on the way in the next 12 months: a policy requiring that any child age 13 or younger be seated adjacent to an accompanying family member over 13. It’s worth noting that the language around this policy in the bill is less definitive: “Not later than [one] year after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Transportation shall review and, if appropriate, establish a policy…” Parents, you may want to keep an eye on this one.

Other tidbits in the bill include expansion of the PreCheck program (which offers expedited passage through airport security), enhanced mental health screening for pilots and various enhancements to airport security, such as law enforcement training for “mass casualty and active shooter incidents.”

7 Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees
18 Clever Airport Hacks

— written by Sarah Schlichter

The European Commission has delayed making a decision about whether to halt the program that allows American and Canadian tourists to go to Europe without visas.

visa schengen


The commission originally said it would decide in mid-July about whether to suspend the Schengen visa waiver program for citizens of the United States, Canada and Brunei. But the commission’s leaders decided last week to delay a decision until the fall because talks with the U.S. and Canada are still in progress.

As we reported in April, the Schengen visa program allows Americans, Canadians and the citizens of more than two dozen European countries to travel to and between countries in Europe without obtaining a visa in advance.

A key principle of the program is visa waiver reciprocity, but the United States, Canada and Brunei were not abiding by that. The U.S. government requires the citizens of five European countries (Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Cyprus and Croatia) to obtain an advance visa, while Canada mandates such visas for Bulgarian and Romanian citizens. Brunei formerly required Croatians to get them.

A recent statement from the European Commission notes that Brunei has lifted the visa requirement for Croatian citizens. However, there’s been no meaningful progress on full reciprocity with Canada or the U.S. Talks with Canada will continue at a summit in late October, while U.S. government officials indicated to the E.U. that there would be “little chance of evolution” on the subject before the presidential and Congressional elections in November.

The E.U. still could decide not to suspend the program at all, according to the Wall Street Journal. If the E.U. decides there would be significant negative impacts on the European countries and its citizens, then it can keep the Schengen program alive without full reciprocity. The European Commission did acknowledge that the number of U.S. and Canadian visitors to Europe would decrease if visas were required, leading to “a considerable economic loss.”

Stay tuned for further updates.

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

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma