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This week’s travel puzzle is part of our ongoing Flag Friday series of challenges. Can you identify which nation the following flag belongs to?


Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, April 6, 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 Chris S, who correctly guessed that this week’s flag was from Guayana. Chris has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

shutterfly photo booksAfter my first trip abroad many years ago, I spent hours sorting and crafting my photos into the ultimate scrapbook. I lovingly arranged my best shots into pleasing layouts, complete with captions, museum ticket stubs and the odd postcard or two. It was perfect for sharing with friends and family, and for leafing through whenever I wanted to remember the best moments of my trip.

A few years later I got a digital camera, and my scrapbooking habit went underground for a while — until I discovered Shutterfly. One of several websites that allow you to create photo books out of digital images, Shutterfly is perfect for travelers who’ve missed the experience of putting together a photo album or scrapbook after a trip.

Sharing Your Travel Photos and Experiences

I’ve now used Shutterfly for more than a dozen photo books. The process is almost endlessly customizable — you can browse hundreds of layouts, resize images, add captions, change the background and text color, and choose from a variety of cover types (including linen, leather and crushed silk). I love that I can fiddle with almost every aspect of a page, switching photos in and out and trying to figure out which shade of turquoise will make the best background to my underwater shots — but if you’d rather take a quicker route to the finish line, you can have the site auto-fill your photos in the order they were taken.

Shutterfly offers a “photo story” for iPad too, which allows you to add doodles or audio clips into the presentation.

The site has a number of competitors that produce similar high-quality, customizable photo books, including AdoramaPix, Blurb, Mixbook and Snapfish. It’s worth trying a few to compare not only prices but also book sizes, layout options, ease of use and overall quality of the finished product.

10 Things to Do When You Get Home from a Trip

Do you enjoy making photo books after a trip? Which site do you prefer?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Oftentimes, April Fools’ jokes playfully publicized by travel companies on social media are so obvious that they might warrant an eye roll, but not a warning label. Southwest Airlines adding baggage fees — now that hits home.

The discount airline notorious for its free checked bags, surrendered in jest today, saying, “All the other guys are doing it.” Additional charges apply if your bag is a busy color, if you’re a teenager and if you’re over six feet tall, to name a few. All three? Forget it! Check out the carrier’s YouTube video below and rejoice that at least for now, this airline’s baggage fee announcement is a total joke.


Do you find the fake fees funny? What’s the best April Fools’ prank you came across this year?

Seven Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees
The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

airplane bathroom lavatory signAdmittedly, I’ve never had much of a problem finding a vacant toilet while in the air, and on the rare occasion when I did have to wait, it was never more than a minute or two. But one of our readers recently contacted us to raise a point of concern: Many passengers on long-haul flights use the restrooms for things like changing their clothes or putting on makeup, some of which can easily be done while seated or at the airport when they arrive. So what’s a passenger to do if he or she is unlucky enough to have a long wait for the restroom and a pressing need to go?

“The desperate queuing of the incontinent, or people with holiday ‘trots,’ becomes worse and more dramatic,” laments reader AJ, citing “those hours during turbulence when we are belted up and not permitted to go to the loos, so that when released from seatbelts we are desperate and queues form … especially just prior to landing.”

Why does it seem that there’s always a mad rush to the bathrooms just before a plane touches down? Sometimes it feels like passengers stay wedged in their seats the entire flight, bladders ready to explode, waiting for the captain to tell them the crew is preparing to secure the cabin for the plane’s return to Earth. Then they stampede to the facilities like they’re about to be sealed shut (probably because they are about to be sealed shut).

5 Tips for Bathroom Preparedness

“Couldn’t airlines try to discourage use of toilets for the more frivolous purposes (or designate curtained small places for [them])?” AJ asks. “When impatient queues of people might form, stewardesses could pointedly announce to the passengers about availability of good changing [areas at the airport].”

Does AJ have a valid point? In your opinion, what constitutes a frivolous use of the washrooms? Do you have any onboard lavatory horror stories? Be sure to share in the comments below.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

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

temple tamil nadu india


Population: 1.2 billion

Currency: Indian rupee

Phrase to Know: Aap kaise hain? (How are you?)

Fun Fact: It’s technically illegal for non-Indians to take rupees out of the country upon departure; if you don’t change it back into another currency, it may be confiscated.

We Recommend: Visit a tea estate in Darjeeling. You can pick your own leaves, learn about the production process and taste multiple varieties of the region’s famous tea.

10 Best India Experiences

Have you been to India? 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 in the comments below. You have until Monday, March 30, 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 Ginger, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Check out the winning entry below.

countries with flag carrying airlines


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!

perpignan wineIn this month’s featured review, reader Kirsten Bukager travels to southern France to see what it’s really like to live and work at a winery. “I taste grapes, while [the owner] watches me intently and asks if I can taste the difference. She teaches me how to use my tastebuds, which are clearly untrained compared to hers. I taste and taste until I feel light-headed. It is embarrassing to admit when I can’t taste the differences, but at the same time it is fascinating to hear Lèia talk, and I am pleased to see her passion.”

Read the rest of Kirsten’s review here: Three days internship as winemaker in Perpignan, France. This reader has won an IndependentTraveler.com duffel bag!

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

woman with a mapHistorically, few women fought in wars, owned significant portions of land, made laws or were recognized for their achievements “back in the day” — and none to date has been U.S. president. Traveling through historic sites you might see a sign or plaque that explains the importance of the location, its former occupants or the battle that was fought there. But have you ever come across a roadside attraction or a plaque highlighting the specific accomplishments of a woman? Less likely.

The SPARK (Sexualization Protest: Action, Resistance, Knowledge) Movement feels that this is a glaring omission, and has teamed with Google to create a smartphone app to put “Women on the Map.” In an article in the Huffington Post, SPARK urged the partnership after noticing that Google Doodles skewed heavily male (and white) in their selection of highlighted figures — only 17 percent were women between 2010 and 2013.

The Women on the Map app alerts users to places nearby where women made history, aggregated by teams at Google and SPARK. The app currently highlights 119 women from 28 countries, more than 60 percent of which are women of color.

Travel Tips for Women

“Al-Kahina (or sometimes called Queen Dihya) was an African Jewish soothsayer military warrior who led an army in North Africa in the 7th century. She fought off the Arab Muslim invaders and was considered the most powerful monarch in North Africa as you will see from the glorious statue of her in Algeria where her story is ‘mapped,'” reads an example of a notable woman included on the app from the SPARK website.

If you need an excuse to get out and recognize some female accomplishments, March is Women’s History Month.

To use the app, iPhone users need to download the Field Trip app; you’ll find the Spark: Women on the Map installment in the “Historic Places & Events” tab.

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

days inn dirty hotelAfter a week in Florida for a travel conference, my return flight to the Northeast was pushed back by 24 hours due to a snowstorm. Spending an extra day in the sunny weather certainly wasn’t cause for complaint, so I embraced the delay by visiting family and making my way to Universal Studios. But somewhere in between was the stuff of nightmares.

The logistics of finding a same-day hotel are irritating enough, but trying to do it in a busy resort town like Orlando — during spring break, when everyone else has made arrangements months in advance — is even worse. The result? The top five hotels near Universal were all full when I called. Then I tried the HotelTonight app but was disappointed by what appeared to be unreasonably high prices and limited availability, so I figured I’d try the next town over. Tired, grumpy and hoping to offset the hundreds of dollars I’d spend the following day to drink butterbeer in the presence of other Harry Potter-obsessed Muggles, I Googled “cheap hotels near Altamonte Springs.” Big mistake.

Finding Hotel Rooms: No Vacancy? No Problem

I was surprised to find a line of cars waiting at the front entrance to the Days Inn when I arrived. Confused, I parked and grabbed my suitcase, figuring I’d head to the lobby to check in. What greeted me were two locked doors, a sign that read “Lobby doors locked after 9 p.m. Use intercom” and a line of annoyed people standing in front of what looked like a window from which you’d order ice cream after a round of mini-golf. It took nearly 40 minutes to check in and finally get my key.

Once in the room, my first order of business was to use the facilities. Or at least that was my intention until I turned on the light and sent a couple of roaches frantically scurrying away. I screamed, jumped three feet in the air and then made quick work of them with the sole of my shoe and some tissues. When my pulse returned to normal, I scoured the bathroom for any remaining stragglers and sat down to use the toilet — which I quickly discovered wasn’t attached to the floor. (In all fairness, someone had tried to fix it several times, as was evident from about two inches of caulking surrounding its base.)

The one mercy was that I didn’t spot any bed bugs — but mildew, more roaches, dirty sheets (which were inside-out and adorned with someone else’s hair), a slashed mattress and stained, threadbare towels had me on the phone for an hour, calling nine different area hotels with the hope of getting the heck out of there. No luck. Everything was full, and sweating to death in the car overnight wasn’t an option.

How to Find a Clean Hotel Room

Ultimately, I left every single light on to scare off the roaches and dozed for a few minutes here and there, but it was the single worst night of sleep I’ve had in a long time. Possibly ever. As a frequent traveler, I’ve stayed in many hotels — everything from one-star to five-star — and I’ve never encountered a room so filthy. However, I have nobody to blame but myself … and perhaps the roaches that took up residence in the space I paid for.

At the time, I was proud of scoring a room for $120. Right now, what I’m not so proud of was my failure to consider anything but price. In fact, as someone who’s worked for a TripAdvisor company for quite some time, I’m downright ashamed.

Moral of the story: Always, always, always research. See what others have to say. If the price is abnormally low, there’s probably a reason. If a hotel has availability in a town where accommodations are otherwise booked solid, turn around and sprint in the other direction, no matter how desperate you are. It’s cliche, but you get what you pay for; don’t let an extra hundred dollars make the difference between loving and hating your vacation.

The 10 Worst Hotel Horror Stories

Have you ever found yourself stuck at a nightmare hotel?

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

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

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

yoho national park canoe alberta canada


Population: 34.8 million

Currency: Canadian dollar

Phrase to Know: Double-double (a coffee with two creams and two sugars, a term popularized by the Tim Hortons coffee chain)

Fun Fact: In a roundabout way, Winnie-the-Pooh got his name from the Canadian city of Winnipeg. A.A. Milne, the English author of the famous children’s books, named his character after his son’s toy bear — who was named after Winnie, a black bear the boy had seen at the London Zoo. The bear was brought to England by a soldier who bought her as a cub in Canada and named her after his adopted home town of Winnipeg.

We Recommend: Go dog sledding under the northern lights in Canada’s remote Northwest Territories.

11 Best Canada Experiences

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

– written by Sarah Schlichter