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Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.

patagonia mountains argentina hiker


Population: 43 million

Currency: Argentine peso

Phrase to Know: No entiendo (I don’t understand)

Fun Fact: Buenos Aires is home to one of the world’s widest avenues; 9 de Julio Avenue stretches up to seven lanes in each direction.

We Recommend: Take a cruise at the edge of the world in Ushuaia, one of the planet’s southernmost cities. The nearby Beagle Channel is home to sea lions, albatrosses and other wildlife.

10 Best Argentina Experiences

Have you been to Argentina? What was your favorite spot?

— 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 (and the name of the movies) in the comments below. You have until Monday, May 11, 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 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 Daniel, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Check out the winning entry below.

countries that appear in movie titles


Stay tuned for further chances to win!

— created by Dori Saltzman

daydream of travelUnless your job involves frequent travel, you probably don’t take more than a small handful of trips a year. Those of us blessed (cursed?) with wanderlust all know the inevitable restlessness that sets in when you’ve been in one place for too long — because let’s face it: the afterglow doesn’t last too long post-trip. Depending on the severity, here’s what I do when I get the itch.

1. Reminisce
When it’s rainy outside, I’m feeling sluggish or I’m stuck at my desk for hours and wishing I was somewhere else, I sometimes pore through photos from past trips or drool over online pictures of exotic places, wishing I were there. It’s usually a decent quick fix, but it can also leave me wanting to travel even more. If the latter happens, I …

2. Plan a Trip
Like most travelers, I have a mile-long bucket list of places I’m dying to visit. When photos alone won’t do the trick, I sit down and actually plan out what I’d like to do when I finally make my way to one of my dream destinations. It helps me to be realistic about how much it’ll cost, how many days I’ll need to see and do everything, and when I’ll be able to go.

How to Make Your Dream Trip a Reality

3. Book a Trip
In more extreme cases, the only way to allay my withdrawal is to book a trip so I’ve got something to look forward to. Booking is the biggest hurdle to actually traveling, and once I’ve cleared it, it only gets better from there.

4. Pick Up and Go
This tactic is obviously easier to take if it involves a quick weekend trip to the beach or the mountains, but even a short getaway is a great way to reset my travel timer when I’m hit with a particularly strong bout of wanderlust. It’s also a nice excuse to explore new places close to home.

4 Travel Videos That’ll Make You Want to Get Up and Go

What’s your favorite way to cope between trips?

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

two hands on a brown suitcaseYou thought he was “the one” — you hiked Machu Picchu together, toured South America like two outlaws in love — and now it’s ended in a flurry of badly translated Spanish insults and empty wine bottles. Time to get away, you think — far away. A steal at roughly $83 per night, the Mitsui Garden Yotsuya hotel in Tokyo, Japan, is offering a crying hotel package specifically for female guests. Complete with “luxury tissues” and sappy films encouraging you to use them, the package offers rooms just for single women to bawl their eyes out as well as makeup remover and face masks to make you look like the cryfest never happened. If it couldn’t get any more Japanese, manga comic (aren’t we supposed to be crying here?) books are also included in your hotel room. Perfect way to pore over a break-up in peace.

Back from Tokyo and ready to get back on your feet — literally — a girlfriend’s getaway is the answer to feeling yourself again with some empowerment a la estrogen. The twist? Along with brunch and spa treatments, this girls’ getaway package comes with a geocaching adventure in the Santa Fe mountains. Hunting for charms in the wiles of New Mexico, you’re also hunting for your purpose.

6 Lies Your Hotel Might Tell You

After the inevitable soul searching that comes with being in the desert, you realize your passion in life would be to start a family. You find someone and fall in love (yes, it’s that easy). You could book a strangely elaborate wedding package, but you choose a private ceremony instead. To celebrate your anniversary (and knowing you had to unexpectedly cancel your northern lights honeymoon the year before), you book a stay at the ICEHOTEL in Sweden, which offers a special hotel package that emulates the dreamy atmospheric colors of the northern lights in your hotel room. Snuggling close (it’s pretty chilly in a hotel made of ice) and watching the swirling lights above is pure magic.

Which is why a few months later, you’re planning your babymoon. Yes, these vacations to celebrate the imminent arrival of your much-awaited family are popular enough to warrant their own hotel packages. At the Wauwinet in Nantucket, Massachusetts, expectant mothers and fathers are invited to wind down with a babymoon package, from $635, that includes a two-night stay, spa treatments and even a blue and pink cigar (because cigars and wellness retreats go hand in hand). The stuffed animal for your newborn is a cute gesture, but the White Elephant brand name is a bit unfortunate.

Years have gone by, and the time, money and energy to travel have escaped you for too long. Knowing that your idea of romance these days is take-out and a marathon of AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” the Breaking Bad hotel package at Heritage Hotels & Resorts in Albuquerque, NM, is the perfect chance to affirm your love for television … and each other. Your gift bag will include show-themed swag like stickers and posters; bath salts and seasoning salts; themed drinks; “crystal meth” candy; 15 percent off at local shops, restaurants and galleries; free Wi-Fi and optional tours. Short of “Better Call Saul,” this is as close as you’ll get to the real thing these days. As for love, nearby Santa Fe is where it all began — when you decided you wanted your family while geocaching in the mountains, and when you realized travel is truly transformative (and that there might be more to strange hotel packages at second glance).

More Wacky Hotel Packages

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

havana cuba classic carI returned last week from a trip to Havana, Cuba, where I discovered a country on the verge of potentially drastic changes. Since December, when President Obama announced his intention to begin normalizing U.S. relations with Cuba, it’s become easier for Americans to visit Cuba legally — and interest in travel to the Caribbean’s largest island has skyrocketed.

Fortunately, there are numerous tour operators offering opportunities to American travelers. I was part of a small group on a people-to-people itinerary arranged by New York-based smarTours. A spokesman for the company tells us that “online inquiries and phone calls have more than doubled since the historic announcement in December 2014, and we are almost sold out of spots for Cuba for 2015.”

With further political and economic maneuverings on the way, including the removal of Cuba from the U.S. state terrorism list, it’s clear that the country is on the brink of tremendous change (much of it welcomed by the Cuban people). If you’re one of the thousands of Americans planning a trip in the coming months to see the country as it is today, here are five things you need to know.

Bring plenty of cash.
MasterCard has said it will allow its credit cards to be used in Cuba, but that’s not a reality yet because the banking system simply isn’t in place. This means you can’t withdraw money from ATMs either — so you’ll want to bring more cash than you expect to spend during your trip to allow for emergencies. (As a guideline, Cuba isn’t a bargain for travelers the way Southeast Asia is, but it’s generally more affordable than traveling in the U.S. or Europe.)

If you can get a good exchange rate — or you have some left over from a previous trip — consider bringing euros, Canadian dollars or British pounds instead of U.S. dollars. When changing money from the greenback to the Cuban Convertible Peso (known locally as the CUC, which rhymes with “fluke”), you’ll have to pay an additional 10 percent fee that doesn’t apply to other currencies. The good news is that you don’t have to pay the fee when converting CUCs back to dollars at the end of your trip; if you turn in 40 CUCs, you’ll receive $40 in return.

And speaking of CUCs…

Keep an eye on your change.
The CUC is one of two currencies used in Cuba. The other one, the peso, is worth significantly less than the CUC, and the bills look similar. Someone in our group was given a three-peso note as change instead of a three-CUC note, which meant that she got only about 11 cents back instead of three dollars.

Can Americans Travel to Cuba? Yes — and Here’s How

Prepare to be out of touch.
You won’t be able to call or text from an American phone in Cuba — though you can use Wi-Fi when it’s available. Internet is offered at some hotels, but it tends to be both slow and pricey. (I paid about $7 an hour at my hotel, Havana’s Melia Cohiba.)

Eat at paladares.
Cuba’s privately owned restaurants, known as paladares, tend to offer better food than those run by the government. Expect to see a lot of rice and beans, as well as fish, Caribbean lobster and ropa vieja (shredded flank steak). Vegetables and fruits vary based on what’s in season; due to the U.S. embargo, Cubans have trouble importing certain foods, so the menus won’t be as varied as those you might see back home.

Keep small change on hand.
If you want a photo with one of the colorfully costumed locals brandishing flowers or cigars in the major squares around Old Havana, prepare to hand over a CUC or two for the privilege. More importantly, you’ll also want to have anywhere from 25 cents to a CUC to give to the attendants at many bathrooms around the country. Yes, paying to pee can be annoying — and you won’t be barred from the restroom if you don’t offer a coin or two — but in a country that’s struggling economically, what seems like chump change to us can make a big difference to the locals.

Cuba Trip Reviews by Real Travelers

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.

cormorant fisherman yangshuo china


Population: 1.4 billion

Currency: Yuan renminbi

Phrase to Know: Xie xie (thank you — pronounced “shi-eh shi-eh”)

Fun Fact: The fortune cookie was not actually invented in China; it’s believed to have been created in the early 20th century in California. In fact, Wonton Food attempted to establish a fortune cookie factory in China in the 1990s, but had to close it because the cookies were considered too American.

We Recommend: Cuddle a panda at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. There’s an extra fee and you’ll have to make reservations in advance, but the experience is one-of-a-kind.

12 Best China Experiences

Have you been to China? What was your favorite spot?

— 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!

world destination


Hint: Where in the world is this fort that was erected in 1891 to defend the city and protect its palm groves, and now hosts a permanent exhibition with works by a British adventurer?

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, May 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 prize. 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 Janice, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was Al Jahili Fort in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Janice has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.

See All “Where in the World?” Challenges

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

person's hand holding several passportsCan you guess which country’s passport is the most powerful?

We bet you can’t!

GoEuro, a travel technology company, analyzed the passports of 50 countries and ranked them by a combination of visa-free access to other countries, length of validity and the cost of obtaining one — both in terms of price and how many hours at minimum wage a person must work to obtain the passport — to determine which passports are the best to have.

If you thought the United Kingdom or the United States topped the list, you’d be wrong. Sweden comes out on top when you factor in all the pieces.

Sweden, along with the U.K. and the United States, will get you into 174 countries without a visa, but it’ll only cost you $43 versus $110 in the U.K. and $135 in the U.S. In terms of minimum hours worked, that translates into 1 hour for a Swedish citizen, 11 hours for a Brit and 19 hours for someone in the U.S.

13 Best England Experiences

If you’re curious, a U.K. passport is the fourth most powerful passport in the world, while a U.S. passport is fifth.

Rounding out the top five passports are Finland at number two and Germany at number three. Both will get their citizens into 174 countries without a visa. Finland’s passport costs $56 and would require a minimum-wage worker to work five hours. German’s passport costs $69, which translates to seven minimum-wage hours worked.

12 Best Germany Experiences

On the other end of the spectrum, Afghani, Iraqi, Liberian, Indian and Chinese passports are some of most powerless passports out there. All get their citizens into less than 55 countries, with Afghanistan only getting citizens into 28 countries without a visa and costing $104, which requires an astonishing 183 hours of minimum-wage work to pay for it. Iraq’s passport only gets its citizens into 31 countries visa-free but is the most affordable, costing just $20 and requiring only three hours of minimum-wage work to pay for one.

Other passports popular among those asked which nationality they’d like to have (in addition to their own) were Canada, which ranked number seven on the list, and Australia, which ranked number 22. Canada’s passport gets Canadians into 173 countries and costs $133, which would require a minimum-wage worker to labor for 15 hours. Australia’s passport gets Aussies into 168 countries and costs $206, which also translates to 15 hours of minimum-wage work.

11 Best Australia Experiences

Which passport would you like to hold in addition to your own?

–By Dori Saltzman

rendering of a new kind of airplane seatFrom infants to overweight adults, there are plenty of people who don’t fit in the stereotypical airplane seat mold. That’s why we’re tipping our proverbial hat to the SII Group of Germany, which has developed adjustable plane seats.

Known as the SANTO (Special Accommodation Needs for Toddlers and Overweight Passengers) Seat, the concept involves extra-wide seats, which can be used for larger passengers or divided into an adult/child combo for parents traveling with babies or small children.

The invention makes use of space at the back of the plane, where cabins are generally narrower.

Complete with proper arm rests and seatbelts, which can be easily installed and adjusted by cabin crew, the idea earned SII a recent award in the “Passenger Comfort Hardware” category at the Crystal Cabin Awards.

Get the Best Airplane Seat

The seats haven’t been installed on any planes yet, but we’re waiting to see which airlines will be the first to bite.

What are your thoughts on this idea? Share your comments below.

–By Ashley Kosciolek

Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.

trolle ljungby castle in sweden


Population: 9.7 million

Currency: Swedish krona

Phrase to Know: Pratar du engelska? (Do you speak English?)

Fun Fact: According to the country’s official website, Sweden.se, Stockholm collects more than two million pounds of food waste per month and turns it into fuel for the city’s buses and taxis.

We Recommend: Spend in a night in one of Sweden’s most unusual hotels, from modernist treehouses to an airplane-turned-hotel.

Photos: 11 Best Sweden Experiences

Have you been to Sweden? What was your favorite spot?

— written by Sarah Schlichter