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As cities like Boston continue to be slammed with record snowfall and freezing temperatures, we here at IndependentTraveler.com are daydreaming of warm-weather spring vacations to quench our thirst for sunnier, more exotic days ahead.

From last minute steals in Australia to safari splurges in Southern Africa, book these vacation deals soon to assuage the gloom of mid-winter and instead, look forward to a killer upcoming trip.

victoria fallsLuxury South Africa Safari
Why Go: Splurge on a safari in style with reduced pricing for late spring departures (May through June) and included internal flights when you book by May 31. This vacation is for lovers of animals and luxury alike. Victoria Falls is one of the world’s most remarkable natural attractions.

Learn More: Click here


waterfront view from Croatia's Dalmatian CoastWalking Tour of the Dalmatian Coast
Why Go: Soaking in the scenic Mediterranean coast is easily accomplished on a walking tour that offers local experiences such as lunch in a family-run tavern set in an olive grove. A mid-May departure offers enough time to plan, without too much time to wait.

Learn More: Click here


bagan at sunrise in MyanmarNine Nights in Myanmar
Why Go: At a great price for a 10-day vacation ($1,995 per person), this adventure through the country of Myanmar is during a hot season, but tours are timed during cooler mornings and evenings. A combination of cultural sightseeing and free time allow for full immersion.

Learn More: Click here


Sutton pass vancouver island canadaVancouver’s Remote Island Region
Why Go: Get to know one of Canada’s hidden wonders with a trip to Pacific Rim National Park along Vancouver Island’s west coast. Save 20 percent when you book by March for a trip this April or May. Explore rain forests, beaches and wildlife.

Learn More: Click here


yarra river melbourneHighlights of Southern Australia and Tasmania
Why Go: Australia can be pricey due to its distance from most of us, but these get-em-while-you-can deals blend culture, history, wildlife and even cuisine into intriguing vacation packages to lesser-traveled parts of Australia and Tasmania. Highlighted departures with low pricing range from May 1 through June 21.


Learn More: Click here

11 Best Australia Experiences
Planning an African Safari
Best Things to Do in Canada

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

This is the first post in our new Living Like a Local series, in which we interview expats about their experiences living abroad in destinations around the world.

ben lyonsBen Lyons is a licensed Captain who has served throughout the world on the bridge of cruise ships and expedition vessels. He is currently CEO of EYOS Expeditions, which arranges luxury expeditions to remote and wild regions on superyachts. He is living in Istanbul for 18 months while his wife fulfills an overseas rotation for her job.

Q: What’s one thing most tourists don’t know about where you live?
A: How diverse Turkey can be. It is a mix of cultures, ethnicities and religions. There are deeply conservative and religious neighborhoods, and yet only a few miles away you’ll encounter a scene as Western as any street in New York. Yet despite their varying backgrounds, they are all fiercely proud to be Turkish.

To read the rest of this interview, click here.

Learn More About Turkey:
Photos: 10 Best Turkey Experiences
Istanbul City Guide
Getting Around Turkey
Turkey Accommodations: Cave Hotels, Gulets and More

– interview conducted by Sarah Schlichter

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

cinque terre italy


Population: 62 million

Currency: Euro

Phrase to Know: A presto (see you soon)

Fun Fact: What do thermometers, espresso machines and dentures have in common? They’re all believed to have been invented in Italy. One thing probably not invented in Italy: pizza — though the Italians have certainly perfected it. (Flatbread dishes have long been popular in Greece and parts of the Middle East.)

We Recommend: Why take the same old Venetian gondola ride every other tourist takes when you could learn to pole a gondola instead? Row Venice will teach you this traditional skill on your next visit to La Serenissima.

11 Best Italy Experiences

Have you been to Italy? 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, February 16, 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 Bonnie, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Check out the winning entry below.

countries that no longer exist


Stay tuned for further chances to win!

– created by Dori Saltzman

high speedIf you could travel between New York and Philly in 10 minutes, would you? What about going from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 20? It sounds crazy, but it’s not so far-fetched, according to Forbes.

In 2013, Elon Musk, CEO and CTO of SpaceX and CEO of Tesla Motors, unveiled his idea for the hyperloop — a form of transportation that would move passengers from city to city at roughly the speed of sound via a network of vacuum tubes.

Two years later, three companies, all headed by teams of people close to Musk, are pushing to make the technology come to life. However, even with millions of dollars in funding at the ready, there’s still a long way to go. Safety issues need to be addressed. The logistics of actually constructing the transportation network still need to be hammered out. And what effects, exactly, would moving at such high speeds have on the human body?

Space: Ballooning’s Final Frontier?

Forbes’ report says that, at least initially, the project would focus on moving cargo from one place to another (possibly even through underwater tubes), so perhaps that human body bit wouldn’t come into play right away. But the rush to get the project moving is well under way, given that it would beat the pants off of air travel time and cost less than taking a train. Plus, since no carbon dioxide would be emitted by the capsules, it seems like it would be far more environmentally friendly than any currently existing form of getting around. (Note: The system would still be responsible for some carbon emissions, according to one expert, who believes the solar panels in Musk’s original plan would need to be supplemented with coal power.)

Musk has also said he’ll likely be funding a prototype track in Texas.

What do you think? Would you try this type of travel? Leave your comments below.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

Glastonbury TorWe caught wind of Sacred Introvert when a travel deal came through our inbox describing a tour experience that was specifically designed for the introverted traveler. Led by a self-proclaimed introvert, founder Lisa Avebury, the vacation experience is described as “no rushing … no tour guide barking over your thoughts.” Because introverts are often preoccupied with their own thoughts and feelings, sightseeing with Sacred Introvert is designed so there is both group interaction and plenty of downtime for these personality types to recharge and restore.

An article on CNET about Avebury and her travel venture explains that she found the motivation to start her own tour company after viewing a TED talk by Susan Cain on introversion. “It was like my whole world changed in a matter of a few days. I no longer felt like I had a social dysfunction,” Avebury said.

Tips for Introverted Travelers

The retreat, which kicks off with its first departure March 16, is a bit pricey at $3,795 per person (not including airfare). However, it includes 10 days of specially curated sightseeing in England’s Kingdom of Wessex region, with some tours during the more quiet after-hours at some locations. Also, each traveler gets his or her own room without paying a single supplement fee, and accommodations for the tour are held at Glastonbury Abbey, a former monastery. Currently, this is the only itinerary listed — one that is near and dear to Avebury’s heart for its “mystical significance” and place in legend and lore.

“I think it’s a misconception that introverts don’t want to meet new people (or new introverts rather!),” Avebury told CNET. “We just want to be understood and accepted for who we are.”

Would you be interested in taking a vacation designed for introverts?

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

woman on airplane listening to headphonesThe next time you’re hitting 35,000 feet in altitude aboard a JetBlue or Virgin America airplane, you might want to pull out a spiral notebook and start taking notes. That’s because in addition to the usual assortment of also-on-DVD Hollywood blockbusters, these airlines are serving up some educational entertainment options to fliers who crave a little mental stimulation with their bag of pretzels.

JetBlue started the trend in December when it began offering 10 recorded college lectures to passengers. Using their own mobile devices, fliers can audit an introductory marketing class from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School or learn about the dynamics of infectious diseases from Penn State University. Music lovers can sit in on an introduction to guitar class from the Berklee School of Music, while astronomy nerds can geek out on the science and technology behind astronomical discoveries from the University of Edinburgh.

10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

The airline also is providing access to a few practical, how-to courses as well, with video classes on how to cook vegetables, brine meats and read nutrition labels.

This month, Virgin America followed JetBlue’s lead when it began offering “Great Courses” audio and video. The selection of recorded lectures from well-known professors include excerpts from “The Inexplicable Universe: Unsolved Mysteries,” “The Secret Life of Words: English Words and Their Origins,” “The Skeptic’s Guide to American History,” “Being Human: Life Lessons from the Frontiers of Science” and many others.

Volunteer Vacations

Both airlines will rotate new lectures in every few months.

What types of lectures would you be interested in — or would you rather just watch a movie?

– written by Dori Saltzman

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

blyde river canyon


Population: 48 million

Currency: Rand

Phrase to Know: Lekker (good/nice/pleasant)

Fun Fact: South Africa is one of the few countries on earth to have more than one capital city. In fact, it has three: Cape Town for legislative functions, Pretoria for executive responsibilities and Bloemfontein for the judiciary arm of the government.

We Recommend: If you love local crafts, you won’t want to miss the Midlands Meander, a 50-mile route through KwaZulu-Natal. Along the way you’ll meet artists who create everything from stained glass to windchimes.

10 Best South Africa Experiences

Have you been to South Africa? 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: This Tibetan Buddhist monastery is a very old training center for Lamas, settled almost two and a half miles high in a Himalayan valley.

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, February 9, 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 Dick Blackburn, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was Ki Gompa (also known as Key, Kee or Kye Monastery) in India‘s Spiti Valley. Dick 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

tokyo skyline nightThe world’s largest city is also the world’s safest, according to a new report. Tokyo has been declared the winner in the 2015 edition of the Economist’s Safe Cities Index.

Right behind Japan’s capital were two other Asian cities, Singapore and Osaka, with European favorites Stockholm and Amsterdam rounding out the top five. The highest ranked U.S. city was New York at number 10. At the bottom of the barrel was Jakarta, Indonesia, coming in at number 50. Its overall safety score was just 53.71 out of 100 (as compared to Tokyo, which scored 85.63).

On hearing the word “safest,” you might picture a place where you’re unlikely to get pickpocketed or mugged, but this type of personal safety is only one of four broad categories measured in the study. The Economist is also looking out for your digital security — how common are cybercrime and identity theft? — as well as health safety (pollution, quality of hospitals) and infrastructure safety (roads, rails, pedestrian deaths).

11 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft While Traveling

A few interesting tidbits from the report:

Barcelona, long infamous for pickpockets, has taken steps to get safer; crime has dropped by 32 percent over the past three years.

– In a comparison of perception vs. reality, the study found that Americans tend to feel less safe than they really are (based on their cities’ rankings in the list), while locals in Middle Eastern cities such as Riyadh and Abu Dhabi are not actually as secure as they feel.

– Safety is only one factor in determining the world’s best cities. After combining various indexes — including not just Safe Cities but also Liveability Rankings, Cost of Living and more — the Economist came up with a different winner: Toronto was voted the overall best place to live.

Essential Hotel Safety Tips

Which cities would you consider the most safe?

– written by Sarah Schlichter