Home

Explore. Experience. Engage.

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

Check out the stories you may have missed from around the travel-verse this week.

happy traveler in the mountains


This Travel Hacker Paid $400 for a $52,000 Round-the-World Trip — Here’s How He Did It
Business Insider profiles an ultra-creative traveler who stockpiled a million frequent flier miles via various travel credit cards and then used them to fund an extensive around-the-world vacation.

Why I Think Travel Is So Important Now
Wendy Perrin offers a moving essay on the importance of travel after the recent U.S. election, which has started a national discussion about which of us live in our own little “bubbles.” Perrin argues that all of us live in such bubbles, and that travel is a good way to break out of them and experience other perspectives.

Lessons from the Road: What It Was Like to Write the First Ever Rough Guide to India
Ever wondered what it’s like to write one of those authoritative guidebooks that help you get around a new place? Rough Guides interviews one of the authors of its first India guidebook in the early 1990s; he reveals the most memorable, strangest and scariest moments of his six months researching the book.

United Airlines Launches Basic Economy, Also Known as ‘Misery Class’
If you’re looking to save on a flight next year, you could consider United’s new Basic Economy class — but it comes with a price, reports the Independent. You won’t be able to choose your seat or bring any carry-on bags beyond a single small personal item.

Family Travel in a Time of Fear
This New York Times essay describes a family trip to France in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris last year. Traveling helps us confront fear, the writer says, but it can’t protect us from the knowledge that there’s danger at home too.

The Persian Art of Etiquette
BBC investigates the Iranian notion of taarof, a complex system of etiquette that involves politeness and indirect communiation.

Most Millennials Put Travel Above Buying a Home or Paying Off Debt
Travel + Leisure reports on a new study by Airbnb and Gfk that found millennials (aged 18 – 35) would rather spend money on travel than they would on buying a home. In the U.S., only savings and investment funds ranked higher than travel among millennial priorities.

We love this colorful video from central Mexico, including footage from Guadalajara, Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende.


12 Best Mexico Experiences
10 Tips for Finding Cheap Airfare

— written by Sarah Schlichter

In the market for a new toiletry bag? ToiletTree Products, a company that sells bathroom and travel accessories, offers a couple of options worth considering.

toilettree bag with tsa bottles


The Toiletry Bag with 3 TSA Bottles weighs less than half a pound and has a hook you can use to hang it from your hotel or cruise ship’s bathroom door. The main compartment is separated into two parts by a mesh divider; here you’ll find three TSA-approved refillable bottles, with caps labeled as “conditioner,” “shampoo” and “body wash.” (Note that if you’re bringing these bottles in your carry-on on a flight, you’ll need to take them out of the toiletry bag and put them into a clear, quart-size, zip-top plastic bag with your other liquids and gels.)

There’s enough room in the main compartment for other items as well, such as makeup, toothpaste and a toothbrush. The bag also has two flat mesh pockets with zippers where you could slip things such as cotton swabs, feminine products, bandages, razor cartridges and the like. Once you’ve zipped the whole bag, there’s a handle at the top for easy carrying.

This bag sells for $18.95 at ToiletTree.com or at Amazon.com. It currently only comes in one color, navy blue.

toilettree bag


If you’re looking for a heavier-duty option, the Toiletry Bag with Sonic Travel Toothbrush is larger and sturdier, made of synthetic leather instead of polyester. Weighing in at 1.2 pounds, this bag has a main compartment large enough to store full-size toiletry bottles (shaving cream, sunblock, etc.) as well as a hairbrush, comb, large tube of toothpaste, etc.

On the bottom of the bag is a flatter compartment with elastic bands that hold three refillable TSA-size bottles — again marked for shampoo, conditioner and body wash — as well as a slot for the included travel-size sonic toothbrush. (Note that you’ll need to add your own AAA battery.) In this compartment is one wide, flat mesh pocket with a zipper.

This bag isn’t really designed to be used while hanging, so there’s no hook — but there is a handle at one end to carry it. It sells for $29.95 at ToiletTree.com or at Amazon.com. It’s currently only available in black.

Which one should you buy? For travelers looking to pack light and travel only with a carry-on, the smaller bag is a better bet. The larger bag is more suited to road trips or longer vacations where suitcase space and weight aren’t as much of a concern.

The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time
11 Versatile Travel Essentials That Do Double-Duty on the Road

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Editorial Disclosure: Some products are sent to us free of charge to be considered for review. We choose products to review based on their relevance and usefulness to our readers. We offer our unbiased opinions and do not promise any editorial coverage, particularly positive reviews.

From backpackers to retirees, more than 300,000 people a year travel through Europe by train, and it’s now possible to visit 28 different countries by train on a Eurail Global Pass. A lover of the rails herself, Silvia Fischer serves as sales and marketing manager for Eurail Group G.I.E. Fischer chatted with us about what’s new in Europe train travel and where she dreams of going.

silvia fischer eurail group


IndependentTraveler.com: If a traveler hasn’t been on a European train in a few years, what will they find that’s new?
Silvia Fischer:
One of the key differences is the quality and breadth of services, including high-speed train lines. In first class, seating is now more spacious, and many seats recline. Food is often served right to your seat, and in several countries you can charge your devices and connect to Wi-Fi straight from your seat.

With the Eurail Pass there have been plenty of improvements too, including the Children Travel for Free program that allows two children between 4 and 11 years old to travel for free with an adult Eurail Pass holder. This covers grandchildren as well.

Some other changes also include the addition of four new countries for Eurail — Poland, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro — and new passes like the Scandinavia Pass and the Greek Islands Pass.

IT: Eurail’s research shows that Central Europe is the most popular destination for travelers 50 years old and up. Why is that part of Europe trending?
SF:
Countries like Germany and Switzerland will always be popular rail destinations due to the extensiveness of their networks. However, when people are coming back to Europe for a second, third or even fourth time, they are often looking for new experiences away from well-known hot spots. They are keen to explore areas that didn’t used to be as accessible, such as Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic and Croatia. It also helps that long-haul flights from the States are opening up to these countries too.

IT: You were recently in the U.S. What do you like about rail travel in the States, and what do you think could be improved?
SF:
Similar to Europe, the U.S. offers some grand scenic journeys that can only be witnessed by rail — there’s nowhere else in the world where you can see the likes of the Grand Canyon from the comfort of your seat! On the flip side, passenger or commuter rail within the U.S. can be quite limited, and in many cases stations are only located within city limits of major hub cities. Coming from Europe, where there’s more than 10,000 stations accessible by passenger trains, I find the difference quite striking.

IT: What tips can you share to save money on rail travel in Europe?
SF:
One of my top tips would be to book in advance before landing in Europe. One bonus of the booking period is that travelers can take advantage of promotional offers throughout the year and then travel up to 11 months later.

If you’re looking for a vacation that’s easier on the wallet, consider traveling within Eastern and Central Europe, or in the quieter months outside of the busy summer season.

bernina express switzerland


IT: Which European routes are absolutely essential to reserve in advance?
SF:
Due to popular demand, some high-speed, international and overnight trains in Europe require a reservation. That said, high-speed and international routes for countries popular with U.S. travelers like Germany and Austria don’t require a reservation. And in many cases there are alternative regional trains that passengers can opt for instead. The journey might be longer, but you skip having to make a reservation.

IT: What are your favorite tips for train travel?
SF:
My number one piece of advice is to download the Rail Planner App. It’s a great tool that provides train timetables and tells you where connecting routes or reservations are necessary. The app is free and works offline.

If you’re in search of some quiet time, it’s quite common in Western Europe to find trains with “silent” carriages or cabins — no chitchat allowed! This is ideal for catching up on a book or sleep. And don’t forget to admire the views from the window!

IT: What are your personal favorite rail routes in Europe?
SF:
That’s a tough choice! For the idyllic views in wine country, I’d say the Rhine Valley Line between Koblenz and Mainz in Germany. … For historic significance, it would have to be the Bernina Express between Chur in Switzerland and Tirano in Italy. This route follows two UNESCO World Heritage-listed lines, the Albula and the Bernina.

And for the uniqueness I would have to say the route between Hamburg in Germany and Copenhagen in Denmark. The train literally rolls onto a ferry to cross the sea.

IT: What train trip — anywhere in the world — is on your travel bucket list?
SF:
Outside of Europe, the Seven Stars line on the island of Kyushu, Japan, is on my wish list. A relative newcomer — it only opened in 2013 — it’s a luxury sleeper train that travels around Japan’s southernmost main island with views of lush green landscapes and even volcanoes!

Within Europe it’s tricky to choose, but if time allows, my ultimate dream would be undertaking a single trip that encompassed all the 28 countries covered by the Eurail Pass. Now that would be an incredible European experience!

Check out more travel interviews!

Top 10 Reasons to Travel by Train
Planning a Trip to Europe: Your 10-Step Guide

— interview conducted by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

This week’s puzzle is a country shapes quiz! Take a look at the silhouette and below and tell us which country you think it is.

mystery country


Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, November 14, 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 Douglas Haddow, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery country was Norway. Douglas has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Catch up with the stories you may have missed over the past seven days.

dubai at night


Top 20 Post-Election Travel Destinations
USA Today reports that TripAdvisor experienced a surge of booking activity from midnight on Election Day to 1 p.m. the day after. The site released the 10 most-booked countries and 10 most-booked cities during that time period. You might find some of them surprising. (The most-booked city? Dubai.)

The Roof of America
Your travel eye candy for the week is this photo essay from Maptia, offering stunning shots of trekking in the mountains of Peru.

Italy’s New ‘Scattered Hotel’ Trend May Save Its Historic Towns
Conde Nast Traveler reports on a fascinating trend in Italy called the albergo diffuso, or “scattered hotel.” This involves turning abandoned historic villages into a resort of sorts, with guestrooms and apartments surrounding a central lobby.

Kris Tompkins: ‘Fighter by Trade,’ Wild at Heart
CNN profiles a woman who has spent more than two decades preserving the Patagonian wilderness in Chile and Argentina by purchasing land and turning it into national parks.

Europe’s Mosquito-Free Island Paradise: Iceland
There are few places on Earth where you won’t be bitten by mosquitoes, but Iceland is one of them, reports the New York Times. This may be thanks to its climate, but global warming could change that in the future.

The Modern Rebirth of the ‘Golden Rule’
BBC explores the state of Penang, Malaysia, where the locals are coping with their multicultural identity with an emphasis on mutual tolerance of different religions and cultures.

Antitrust Suit Against Airlines Can Move Ahead, Judge Says
A lawsuit accusing major U.S. airlines of colluding to set high airfares has been given the go-ahead by a federal judge, who rejected a motion to dismiss it, reports the Los Angeles Times.

This week’s video features a sweet in-flight proposal aboard a Qantas flight from Sydney, Australia to Santiago, Chile.


The 9 Best Places to Travel Alone
10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

— written by Sarah Schlichter

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

Last month, we gave our readers a chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card by submitting a review of a recent trip. We loved reading their submissions, which inspired us with tales of hiking the Inca Trail in Peru and flying a historic plane in Santa Fe.

running of the bulls pamplona


Deciding on the winner was hard, but in the end we chose The Running of the Bulls by vagabondginger. Here’s an excerpt from her winning review:

“The best bulls from various ranches throughout Spain are brought to Pamplona to make for an exciting event. Certain ranches breed bulls with characteristics to make them brave and aggressive,” writes vagabondginger. “These Spanish Fighting Bulls get to a weight of at least 1,300 pounds and have longer horns than other breeds. Bullfights have a lot of pomp and pageantry, but also passion and drama with protesters. We do not condone or condemn but feel much like Hemingway did in his book ‘Death in the Afternoon’ that it’s part of Spain’s tradition. Someday it may be outlawed.” Read the rest!

While we only had one prize to give away, we also wanted to recognize a few runners-up whose reviews are also well worth a read:

On the Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu by Carolyn Boyle: ” All the iconic photographs of Machu Picchu in the travel brochures are taken from the perspective of the Terrace of the Ceremonial Rock, with Una Picchu and Huayna Picchu in the background. Near the Guardhouse is a large carved stone, the Ceremonial Rock; some human burials were found near here. This area was about an hour from the Gate of the Sun. At this point we had trekked almost exactly 7 miles, including short detours for ruins and waterfalls. We were fortunate to see Machu Picchu in glorious sunlight at the end of our day.”

MiG 15 Pilot by Stephen Goch: “Larry started the engine, and we taxied out for takeoff. We had to stay below 200 knots (230 mph) until we reached 10,000 feet. Our rate of climb was absolutely amazing! The light aircraft I fly has a rate of climb of between 500 and 700 feet per minute. The jet was climbing at 4,000 feet per minute! It was a fantastic experience.”

Costa Rican Trip by Danielle Toland: “The Costa Rican saying is ‘Pura Vida’ which means pure life. They embody this motto by being happy with their lives, being gracious for what they have, and living slowly and relaxed. I learned to be a little more gracious from them.”

Three Days of Outdoor Activity in San Francisco’s Microclimate by Jen Lucas: “The following day was one that I’ll remember for this lifetime. Everyone recognizes the Golden Gate Bridge as the major landmark of the city which I’ve seen previously but when my friend mentioned us riding bikes across, I visualized myself with a huge Sharpie checking off a large box on my bucket list.”

Feeling inspired? Write a review of your latest trip!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

The delightful cottage I rented through Airbnb last month seemed to have all right elements to provide a restful long weekend — a pretty location, plenty of space to spread out, a well-appointed kitchen. But my two-night stay ended up being less than restful because I barely slept. The bed was so squeaky that every time I rolled over, the metallic oinks and squeals would wake me up.

bedroom


I love that Airbnb, Home Away, VRBO and other vacation rental property websites exist, providing alternatives to hotels. But one of the downsides is the lack of consistent standards.

A new travel site called Sonder aims to correct that.

Like the other vacation rental sites, Sonder allows you to book individually owned private properties by the night. But Sonder requires that the owners meet a checklist of standards before they can be members and offer their “hometels” for rent. In fact, there are 237 items on Sonder’s checklist.

Vacation Rentals: A Traveler’s Guide

Owners must agree to have homes professionally cleaned after each stay. All properties provide consistent amenities, including speedy Wi-Fi, hotel-like bath products and kitchen essentials, including coffee and tea. And bookings are confirmed instantly; no need to wait around for the homeowner to respond, keeping your vacation plans in limbo until he or she decides whether to accept your booking. Units must be accessible via lockbox and key code; no need to coordinate with the owner to hand off a key.

The springy bed I slept on would never pass Sonder’s test — the company states that all beds are comfortable and decked out with luxury hotel-style linens.

The founders of Sonder said they came up with the idea after they arrived at a rental apartment in San Francisco. After waiting endlessly for the owner to call them back to let them know where to find the house key, they went into the apartment, only to find dog hair all over the furniture and half-eaten food in the fridge.

Right now, Sonder is only available in eight cities in the United States and Canada — Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, San Diego, Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal — and others will be added soon. Even though the West Virginia cottage I rented was lacking in comfort, such a rural destination isn’t even available through Sonder. So there are tradeoffs.

For city properties, rates tend to be comparable to Airbnb, but you’ll have fewer options. For example, I searched for a $200-or-less private home in Boston for a mid-December stay. Airbnb turned up 279 properties and Sonder just 11.

If you’re seeking a private space in a city, Sonder is a great alternative to other rental sites and hotels. But for now, you’ll need to stick with the other websites if you’re seeking non-urban rentals.

15 Things You Don’t Know About Vacation Rentals
7 Airbnb Problems and How to Solve Them

— 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.” Multi-word cities or countries are scrambled into one word, so “San Juan” might appear as SJAANUN. (Hint: This week there is one multi-word country and one multi-word city.) Identify all four mystery cities to win.

PNNCOEGAEH, DMEANKR

ANDAKLUC, EDAWZNALNE

CASRAAC, UVNZAELEE

HMONEHPNP, OMACDIBA


Enter your list of unscrambled cities in the comments below. You have until Monday, November 7, 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 Barbara Sampson, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Check out the puzzle answers below.

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND

CARACAS, VENEZUELA

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA


— created by Sarah Schlichter

Check out the travel stories you may have missed over the past seven days.

allegiant air plane


Breakdown at 30,000 Feet
The Tampa Bay Times has published a thorough — and alarming — investigative report on Allegiant Air, a budget airline whose planes had to make emergency landings 77 times last year due to mechanical failures. The Times notes that Allegiant’s planes are four times as likely to experience in-flight failures as aircraft operated by other U.S. airlines.

The Romantic Myth of ‘Living Like a Local’
The San Francisco Chronicle questions the popular desire to “live like a local” when we travel. “What you want is to live like a rich local,” writes travel editor Spud Hilton. “If you lived like the average local, you’d have to make your bed, have a crappy commute every morning to get to your average- to low-paying job, which you do to pay the bills for your tiny apartment, your meager car and your kids’ school supplies.”

In Buddha’s Footsteps: 15 Evocative Pictures of Faith in Myanmar
We loved this photo essay from Rough Guides, featuring photos of contemplative monks, golden stupas and Buddha statues in Myanmar.

Will Uluru Become Off-Limits to Tourists?
The NZ Herald reports that the indigenous people living near Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, are threatening to close the symbol of the Australian Outback if the government doesn’t act on some of their concerns. The Anangu people argue that their children are living in poverty while the government makes money off their land.

How to Hack Your Hotel’s Finicky Wi-Fi to Stream Shows
Bloomberg offers practical tips for travelers who’ve struggled to use Netflix or other streaming services while staying at hotels.

Eyes Aloft: The Sublime Obsession of Plane Spotting
The Virginia Quarterly Review offers a fascinating longread about plane spotters, also known as “avgeeks,” who document aircraft as they take off and land around the world. Their obsessive documentation has led to news scoops such as the return of basketball star LeBron James to his home town, which was predicted based on the sighting of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ owner’s private plane in Florida.

2016 Presidential Election: What It’s Like Traveling on the Campaign Trail
Those of us who travel a few times a year for vacation can hardly imagine what it’s like to be on the road constantly over the course of a relentless, months-long presidential campaign. Conde Nast Traveler interviews four NBC and MSNBC political reporters about what the experience has been like.

The Strange Story Behind the Boeing 747 Once Parked at Willow Run Airport
Did you know that there’s an airline that was founded in 1989 and is still in business but has not flown a single flight or earned any revenue? Michigan Radio shares the bizarre story of Baltia Airlines, which it calls “the world’s oldest start-up airline.”

This week’s video is a magical little Turkish Airlines safety video starring Zach King, known for short videos on Vine and YouTube that he calls “digital sleight of hand.”


9 Ways to Make Your Hotel Room More Comfortable
Living Like a Local: Interviews with Expats Around the World

— written by Sarah Schlichter

This weekend Americans and Canadians will “fall back,” turning their clocks back an hour to end Daylight Saving Time for another year. The U.S. and Canada are two countries out of dozens around the world that switch their clocks back and forth during the year to save energy and maximize sunlight. But which places don’t observe this practice? Below are a few you might want to visit.

st basils cathedral moscow


President Vladimir Putin moved Russia from year-round “summer time” to year-round “winter time” in 2014.

wailua falls kauai hawaii


Hawaii is one of two U.S. states that do not observe Daylight Saving Time. The other is Arizona (with the exception of the Navajo Nation).

baobab trees madagascar


Like most African nations, Madagascar does not observe Daylight Saving Time.

yaksaam temple south korea


South Korea hasn’t observed Daylight Saving Time since the 1980s, according to historical info at TimeandDate.com.

new delhi india


Most of the world’s major industrialized nations observe Daylight Saving Time, but India is a prominent exception.

tourist and llama at machu picchu


Peru hasn’t observed Daylight Saving Time since a couple of separate years in the 1990s, according to TimeandDate.com.

bottom bay barbados


Since 1980, Barbados has fallen in line with most other Caribbean islands, which stay in the same time zone all year round.

The World’s Most Beautiful Waterfalls
The 9 Best Places to Travel Alone

— written by Sarah Schlichter