Home

Explore. Experience. Engage.

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

There’s a marine biologist in Sicily named Emilio who is as fond of studying sea creatures as he is of cooking them. His house is in a seaside village called Torretta Granitola, and when he’s not crunching numbers in the lab, he’s in the kitchen, whipping up dishes with the fish he catches and with ingredients from local farms.

pasta italy


Wild asparagus omelets. Fava beans and artichokes cooked in a clay pot. Fresh sheep cheese and croutons made of locally made rye bread.

Dinner at Emilio’s sounds like a dream.

Now, thanks to a new website called My Italian Friends, you can pull up a chair at Emilio’s patio dining table and spend three hours savoring one of his home-cooked meals. Or you can book a spot in a home restaurant in a different Italian city — Rome, Milan and Perugia among them.

My Italian Friends is the perfect solution for travelers who get weary of dining in restaurants for every meal. The website allows you to reserve a meal in a local Italian home, viewing the menu, location and background of the home cook before you book. The website also lists cooking classes, if you prefer to learn to hand-roll your own pasta rather than have it served to you, and foodie tours, such as an escorted visit to Florence’s main market.

Photos: 11 Best Italy Experiences

The site only recently launched, yet already has dozen of listings. They are widely distributed throughout Italy, and the hosts seem welcoming and intent on providing good food and good conversation. They list sample menus, but you can make requests (and note allergies or dietary restrictions) when you book.
Some hosts provide additional services, such as rides to and from public transport and walking tours of the area.

The website offers a range of experiences and range of prices. We spotted a pasta dinner in Rome for 18 euros (about $20.50 USD), and a truffle-hunting expedition in the medieval town of Gubbio with an expert guide named Danilo and his trusty dog for 172 euros ($196 — includes lunch and a guided tour). The four-course meal at Emilio’s house, including wine, is 29 euros per person ($33). Some home cooks provide discounts on select dates.

To learn about other websites offering meals in local homes, see Beyond Restaurants: Eight Ways to Savor a Local Food Scene.

Like This Story? Get More Travel Tips in Our Newsletter!

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

This week’s puzzle is part of our Friday Word Scramble series. 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.

NDBLIU, DAIRNLE

AMBUIM, ANIDI

LNNWLIOGET, NLNZDWAAEE

LLOHNOUU, NSDAETSITETU


Enter your list of unscrambled cities in the comments below. You have until Monday, April 11, 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 Teresa Craft, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Check out the puzzle answers below.

DUBLIN, IRELAND

MUMBAI, INDIA

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND

HONOLULU, UNITED STATES


— created by Sarah Schlichter

Catch up on the travel news, photos and videos you might have missed this week.

arctic ice mountains


14-Year-Old Girl to Be Youngest Person Taking on Massive Polar Expedition
We’ve got a new travel hero. Mashable profiles 14-year-old Jade Hameister, an Australian teenager who is hoping to complete a “Polar Hat Trick” involving expeditions to the North Pole, Greenland and the South Pole over the next couple of years. She’ll be accompanied by a master polar guide and by her father, who has climbed Mt. Everest. Check out Jade’s Instagram to keep tabs on her progress.

What Will Replace the Hated Hotel ‘Resort’ Fee? Maybe This
Consumer rights advocate Christopher Elliott has unearthed an obnoxious new fee to watch out for at hotels: a “hospitality surcharge.” A traveler who found this fee on his bill at a Hilton Garden Inn in New Mexico asked what it was, and got the following ridiculous answer: “The manager said it is for the TV monitor in the lobby displaying flight departure data and the lights in the hotel.” Seriously? What’s next, a charge for the front desk or the bathroom in your room?

This Is What Air Travel Will Actually Look Like in 100 Years
Travel + Leisure sat down with two Senior Technical Fellows at Boeing to find out what’s in store over the next several decades in the air travel industry. Their predictions blew our mind — including see-through planes, airport hotels in space and the ability to book flights via a chip implanted in your brain. Here’s hoping we live long enough to see some of these.

23 Incredible Pictures of Kenya
Rough Guides shows us the many sides of Kenya, from the cosmopolitan center of Nairobi to a camel derby in the hillside down of Maralal. Particularly striking are portraits of members of the Turkana, Samburu and Pokot tribes.

Why Are Americans So Afraid of Vacation?
The Boston Globe investigates a disturbing trend among Americans: not using all our vacation days. A couple of studies reveal that on average we give up four to five days a year. Even when we do take a trip, 61 percent of us still work at least a little bit during our vacation. But here’s why we shouldn’t: “Skipping vacation stifles creativity, creates health problems [and] leads to stress, depression, and less-than-ideal home lives,” says the Globe.

Airbnb to Purge Illegal Hotels from San Francisco Listings
For years Airbnb has faced legal challenges from cities concerned that the site’s hosts were violating their local short-term housing laws. Now the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the site is taking action against hosts who manage multiple listings in the City by the Bay. (San Francisco only allows residents to rent out space in their own home.)

Hamlet’s Kronborg Castle in Denmark Is on Airbnb for One Night Only to Mark Shakespeare Anniversary
Speaking of Airbnb, here’s a cool (and legal) listing: Hamlet’s castle. Lonely Planet reports that Kronborg Castle in Denmark will be open to two guests only on the night of April 23, the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Interested travelers must hit “contact host” on the Airbnb listing by April 13 and explain why they want to sleep in the castle. Included in your stay: a special banquet and breakfast in bed served by Hamlet’s friend Horatio.

Don’t miss this jaw-dropping timelapse video of the northern lights in Norway.


Beware These Hidden Hotel Fees
Airbnb and Beyond: Tips for Safe, Legal Vacation Rentals

— written by Sarah Schlichter

If you love to travel, choosing a credit card that offers airline miles, hotel points or other such rewards is a natural fit. But a new study from personal finance site NerdWallet reveals that 83 percent of us apply for cards at the wrong time — and miss out on an average of nearly $200 in rewards.

credit cards and hundred dollar bills


According to the study, most credit card issuers offer sign-up bonuses once or twice a year, and these feature anywhere from 5,000 to 50,000 more points than you’d normally get as a new cardholder. If you miss the promotional bonuses, you’re sacrificing an average of 15,338 points, according to the study. At $1.16 per point or mile, on average, this is $177 in cash that you’re missing out on.

So when should you apply? NerdWallet found that most airline and general travel cards put out promotional offers in November, while hotel card offers peak in August. If you’re loyal to a particular issuer, keep an eye out for Chase promotions in August and November, Citi promotions in October and November and American Express promotions in August and September.

Given the data, it seems logical to wait to apply for a travel card until late summer or fall, when you can maximize the benefits, but NerdWallet offers one caveat. If you don’t already have a travel credit card, waiting for months to apply for one can cost you even in missed rewards, depending on your average monthly spending — so do the math before you decide.

NerdWallet recommends that you apply for a rewards card at least five months before your next trip. It typically takes a couple of weeks to receive the card and three months to earn the sign-up bonus, and then you’ll want to book your trip at least six weeks in advance for the best possible prices. (We’d recommend booking earlier than that for international trips. See Want the Lowest Fare? Here’s When to Book.)

Do you currently use a travel rewards card?

10 Travel Money Mistakes to Avoid
Travel Budget Calculator: What Will Your Next Trip Cost?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

A young British gal caused quite a stir in the mid-1800s when she finally admitted that she, a mere female, was the author of the popular book “Jane Eyre,” not the man whose pen name she had assumed. The book then landed on everyone’s must-read list, and novelist and poet Charlotte Bronte became a massive success.

bronte parsonage museum haworth england


In just a couple of weeks, England — and all of the literary world — will mark the 200th birthday of Charlotte Bronte. Here are a few spots that were important in her life, many of which will be commemorating the anniversary on April 21:

Thornton, England: Most of the Bronte children, including Charlotte, were born in the village of Thornton in West Yorkshire, England, at 74 Market Street. Visitors can see remains of the chapel where Charlotte’s father preached just opposite the village’s current church on Thornton Road.

Haworth, England: When the Bronte sisters grew up in Haworth, a village in Northern England, it was a congested industrial town where most residents barely survived into their mid-20s. Today Haworth is a charming mountain village that celebrates the lives of its most famous family. The surrounding region is now nicknamed Bronte Country, and their home is now the Bronte Parsonage Museum, run by the Bronte Society, one of the oldest literary societies in the world. A special exhibit commemorating the anniversary opened in February.

New York, United States: If you don’t have the opportunity to see the special Bronte exhibit at the Bronte Parsonage Museum, you can learn about her life and work at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York, which will host “Charlotte Bronte: An Independent Will” from September 9, 2016 through January 2, 2017.

Banagher, Ireland: Charlotte and her husband, Arthur Bell Nicholls, didn’t venture too far for their honeymoon. They spent it among the bogs and castles of Banagher, in County Offaly in the Irish midlands.

Brussels, Belgium: Charlotte lived in Brussels twice, both times working as a schoolteacher. She resided at an ordinary pension on the Rue d’Isabelle. Nothing remains of the original structure, but an arts center called the Palais des Beaux Arts commemorates the site with a plaque. And nearby are remnants of cobblestone streets that Charlotte and her sister Emily once walked.

London, England: The Brontes had one brother, Branwell, and he fancied himself an artist. He created a portrait of Charlotte with sisters Emily and Anne — a piece that was folded and hidden in a wardrobe. The National Portrait Gallery obtained the piece and is displaying it, along with other works of art, in the exhibit “Celebrating Charlotte Bronte.”

9 Great Authors and the Places That Shaped Them
Photos: 13 Best England Experiences

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

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: This sculpture of a disembodied hand has been reaching out of one of the world’s largest deserts since 1992.

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, April 4, 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 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 Pooja Pasawala, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was the Atacama Desert in Chile. Pooja has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.

See All “Where in the World?” Challenges

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Catch up on the most interesting travel pieces you may have missed this week.

street in trinidad cuba


Please Stop Saying You Want to Go to Cuba Before It’s Ruined
In this incisive op-ed for Flood Magazine, a Cuban writer challenges the widespread view of Cuba as a romanticized, “stuck in time” destination that’s going to be ruined by a wave of mass tourism from the U.S. “What exactly do you think will ruin Cuba?” Natalie Morales writes. “Running water? Available food? … Access to proper healthcare?” It’s a must-read for anyone interested in visiting Cuba and seeing what it’s truly like to live there. (Warning: There’s some colorful language.)

Meet a Traveler: Michael Palin, National Treasure on Loan to the World
Lonely Planet interviews comedy legend and frequent traveler Michael Palin, who sounds off on his favorite places around the world, the best souvenir he ever brought home and his most challenging travel experience (which involved tainted camel liver).

Inside the Radical Airline Cabins of the Future
Vogue offers an intriguing look at how airplanes might be designed in the future. Windowless cabins? Stackable sleeping pods? A small viewing bubble on top of the plane? Welcome to a brave new world.

In Praise of Small-Town Travel
National Geographic celebrates the pleasures of visiting towns and villages rather than just big cities, including the slower rhythms of life and the chance to connect with local people. The writer also recommends her favorite small towns on each continent.

Doctors Share What Really Happens When There’s an Emergency Mid-Flight
Conde Nast Traveler interviewed several medical professionals to gather these stories of in-flight emergencies. One doctor delivered a baby; another couldn’t save a patient but used the tragedy to petition the U.S. government for a requirement that all planes have defibrillators and expanded medical kits. (Fortunately for all of us, he was successful.)

Shhh! Take a Peek at 15 of the World’s Most Exquisite Libraries
Book lovers will swoon over this CNN slideshow featuring photos of incredible libraries around the world, from Spain to South Korea.

The Abandoned Mansions of Billionaires
BBC Travel takes us into the fascinating Shekhawati region of Rajasthan, India, where a collection of opulent havelis (mansions) are falling into decay. Covered with magnificent frescoes, these buildings are only just starting to be preserved as museums or heritage hotels.

The Travel Industry Now Supports Nearly 10 Percent of World’s Jobs
Those of us who love to travel are in good company. Skift reports that more than a billion people traveled internationally last year, contributing to a tourism industry that provided jobs for one out of every 11 people worldwide.

Have a laugh over this week’s video from Jurys Inn, an Irish hotel chain, which has invented the “suvet” — a suit made of a hotel duvet. Looks pretty comfy!


— 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!

iceland ice cave


In this month’s winning review, a traveler explores Iceland’s natural beauty during a wintry off-season trip. “Inside the Ice Cave was AMAZING,” writes John Connaughton. “Beautiful blue ice, as well as some clear and some coated in white from the snow. We crawled further in to a second chamber where you could again stand up. We took a lot of pictures in the Ice Cave and this was the highlight of our trip.”

Read the rest of John’s review here: Our Iceland Trip in Detail. This reader has won an IndependentTraveler.com duffel bag!

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Tourism doesn’t simply have to benefit the person soaking in the sun; it can also do good for the people and places you visit. Malia Everette has spent her career blending the two together, designing pleasurable, socially responsible travel experiences to Cuba, Nicaragua, Myanmar and other destinations. She founded the San Francisco-based organization Altruvistas, which, in additional to providing tours, also works to educate others in the travel industry about the benefits of socially responsible travel, funds fellowships, and provides grants and loans to communities looking to improve lives through tourism.

malia everette with tour group in cuba


IndependentTraveler.com: What made you choose this career?
Malia Everette:
In the late 1980s, I had two journeys that changed my life’s path. The first was to Guatemala and Belize during times of civil war and human rights atrocities in indigenous communities. The second was to North Africa, Egypt, Israel and Palestine. The experiences altered my understanding of the world.

IT: Why should travelers pay attention to being socially responsible?
ME:
Frankly, if one cares about people and the planet, purchasing a tourism product based on values is absolutely an ethical mandate. Sustainable tourism helps sustain livelihoods, support local communities, and conserve the world’s natural and cultural heritage. I know that responsible tourism is a powerful tool in poverty reduction.

IT: What are some of the key attributes that a traveler should look for in a destination?
ME:
Regardless of the what and where and how, you can finesse your impact by being engaged and informed as a consumer. Call a hotel, a tour operator, a transport company, and ask questions. Ask who owns the hotel. Is it locally owned? If so, more of your tourism dollars can benefit the local economy. If it’s, say, a foreign-owned ecolodge, ask about stewardship practices. Do they give back or profit share to the local community? Do they employ the locals?

When you eat out, choose a locally owned place, not an international chain. If you want to buy gifts to bring home, consider visiting local cooperatives, artist studios and fair trade organizations. This way your gift buying is also supporting the local economy.

IT: You encourage people to choose socially responsible travel instead of “sun and fun” vacations. If someone does take a more typical vacation, are there things can they do to be socially responsible during that trip?
ME:
I think all of us need holidays, and having some “fun in the sun” is a good thing. We can be travelers and also tourists. Even going to a place with tons of coastal and resort tourism, one can again try to find a locally owned beach property. Don’t be afraid to go into town and find out where the locals eat and shop. Little acts go a long way.

IT: Which global destinations strike the best balance between contributing to the betterment of the community and being desirable to a traveler?
ME:
I am constantly pleased to see new community-based tourism initiatives in Cambodia, Vietnam, India and Peru. I see all the amazing restoration happening in Havana every month when I visit and know that tourism receipts are doing good. Many visitors don’t know where the tourism dollars go, yet large amounts are reinvested back into restoration and local social services. I was also impressed by Rwanda’s management of mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park.

malia everette


IT: You’ve traveled extensively with your two sons. Where did you first introduce them to the idea of responsible tourism?
ME:
My sons are now 15 and 16. I started traveling with them when they were babies and as a single mom. I think my sons “got it” when they were about 8 and 9, when we were visiting a fair trade coffee cooperative in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. They played with the local kids and stayed at the farms. The contrast of life, the joy of community and the contrast of material wealth they got.

IT: Was it hard to travel as a single mom?
ME:
I have found that traveling as a mother has been incredible. People in the service sectors are so accommodating and generous, though it might have been strange to see me with a backpack with one baby in front and one toddler on the back!

IT: What are some of your favorite travel destinations?
ME:
I love so many places, but I find myself in three places frequently. First, I am in Cuba about nine or 10 times a year. I love it, the cultural resilience and the vitality of the people are ever compelling and connective. Second, I relish my annual visits back home to Hawaii, to be in nature, on the beach, eating poi, and just being home. I also feel called to the Amazon every few years. I usually go to the Sarayaku nation in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The community and the jungle are inspiring, connective and restorative. Plus, I so respect their struggle to maintain their land and way of life [in the face of] petroleum exploitation.

IT: Where haven’t you been that you’d really like to visit?
ME:
I hope I have the longevity and health to enjoy many more adventures. On my short list: Bhutan, Borneo, Dominica and Papua New Guinea.

Can Americans Travel to Cuba? Yes — and Here’s How
20 Ways to Blend In with the Locals

— interview conducted by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

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, March 28, 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 Kerry, who correctly guessed that this week’s flag was from Kiribati. Kerry has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations!

— written by Sarah Schlichter