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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, March 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 David Portyrata, who correctly guessed that this week’s flag was from Macedonia. David has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

hiking in patagonia, wanderlustSome people consider their desire to travel as an undeniable need. Despite the fanciful title of “wanderlust” that most people give it, this passion for constantly exploring new places could be deeper than a preference; it could be in your blood.

According to an article in Elite Daily, researchers believe they have isolated a gene in human DNA that predisposes some to that get-up-and-go urge. Called DRD4-7R (7r denotes the mutated form of the gene), the “wanderlust gene” is relatively rare — found in only 20 percent of the population — but explains increased levels of curiosity and restlessness, according to one study.

Another study by David Dobbs of National Geographic explored this research further, concluding that the 7r mutation of DRD4 results in people who are “more likely to take risks; explore new places, ideas, foods, relationships, drugs, or sexual opportunities,” and “generally embrace movement, change, and adventure.” These traits are linked to human migration patterns. Dobb found that when compared with populations who have mostly stayed in the same region, those with a history of relocation are more likely to carry the 7r gene.

16 Signs You’re Addicted to Travel

Other scientists doubt that something as complex as human travel can be whittled down to a single gene mutation, but — for better or worse — a number of “exploratory character traits” have been found in association with 7r.

If you occasionally like to see a new place, take a yearly vacation and have a general interest in travel, you’re probably a completely normal person. But if you have an unquenchable, insatiable necessity for traveling, and often do so without a set plan, then you might just be the product of millions of years of human development. Are you a 7r carrier?

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

On a trip to Belize a few years back, one of the best souvenirs I brought home was a CD featuring music from the local Garifuna people. Just as I often try to recreate a few recipes from my travels in my own kitchen between trips, I also enjoy sampling the music of the world as a way to evoke the places I’ve been — or those I hope to visit. Below are a few videos to get you started on a musical journey of your own.

This piece is from the Iranian-American group Niyaz, with lyrics based on the work of the 11th-century Persian poet Baba Taher.



Next up is a performance at Carnegie Hall of perhaps the most famous Cuban song of all, “Chan Chan” by the Buena Vista Social Club.



Marisa Monte is a popular Brazilian singer, born in Rio de Janeiro.



The next artist, Rokia Traore, hails from the West African nation of Mali. The haunting song below, “Melancolie,” is from her latest album, “Musical Africa.”



The group SambaSunda draws on both international influences and the traditional music of their home in West Java, Indonesia.



Photos: 9 Best Destinations for Music Lovers

– written by Sarah Schlichter

apple watchWhen the much-anticipated Apple Watch debuts next month, the accompanying Apple Watch store will introduce numerous nifty features for travelers as well. Skift lists six different travel apps you’ll want to watch out for (no pun intended).

We think the coolest one is the SPG app, which will allow travelers to use their watches to open their Starwood hotel room door — without having to fiddle with a room key. You can also use this app to check in or get directions to the hotel.

American Airlines’ app will send you notifications of gate changes and baggage claim information, while Expedia will give you details on hotel check-in/check-out times, flight seat assignments and more. Other travel apps that will be available on the new watch include OpenTable (restaurant reservations), TripAdvisor (hotel/restaurant/attraction reviews) and Citymapper (public transit information). Numerous others are sure to follow.

The Best New Travel Apps

The Apple Watch debuts on April 24, with prices ranging from $349 (for the most basic sports model) up to $10,000 for a luxury version. Note that the watch does not work as a standalone product; according to Apple’s website, it requires an iPhone 5 or later.

Will you buy an Apple Watch?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

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.

bern switzerland


Population: 8 million

Currency: Swiss franc

Phrase to Know: Was kostet das? (What does this cost?)

Fun Fact: The average Swiss citizen eats nearly 20 pounds of chocolate a year — more than any other country. They have plenty to choose from; Switzerland is home to such famous brands as Nestle, Cailler, Lindt, Toblerone and more.

We Recommend: Head deep into the Alps for the chance to walk a St. Bernard. This locally bred dog is famous for helping travelers stranded in the snowy mountains.

10 Best Switzerland Experiences

Have you been to Switzerland? 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


Note: Countries that have a few very small outlying cays besides the one main island are fine, but archipelagos don’t count.

Enter your list of countries in the comments below. You have until Monday, March 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 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 Karla Fuentes, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Check out the winning entry below.

countries composed of one island


Stay tuned for further chances to win!

– created by Dori Saltzman

skymall logoLast month we mourned and gnashed our teeth when SkyMall, that lovable in-flight catalog of incredibly useless items, declared bankruptcy and stopped its print publication. But take heart: Turns out you may still be able to purchase a six-foot Statue of Liberty replica or a Tyrannosaurus rex trophy head to hang on your wall.

Yahoo! Travel reports that the CEO of ScotteVest, Scott Jordan, is hoping to bring back the print catalog on planes — but there’s a catch: “We’re going to include items in the magazine that people actually want to buy.”

Well, that’s no fun.

Or is it? According to Yahoo!, the new SkyMall could feature some pretty nifty features. You could, for example, purchase a digital camera in the air and have it delivered to your hotel the day after you arrive. There may also be a page in the new magazine for app reviews, including a special code so you can buy the apps at a discount. Along with plenty of catalog items for sale (including travel gear and even tours and hotel rooms), there will also be articles about topics relevant to travelers, such as how those clever noise-canceling headphones work.

But the best news of all is that some of the wacky products SkyMall is known for will still be in the magazine, only in a small section rather than spread throughout the publication. What a relief!

The new SkyMall could be onboard flights as soon as June if all negotiations go well. In the meantime, if you need a hit of cow-shaped benches and porch potties for your dog, you can still visit SkyMall.com.

The Best of SkyMall:
9 Useless Items You Can Buy at 35,000 Feet
7 More Useless Items You Can Buy at 35,000 Feet

– written by Sarah Schlichter

collage from flytographer.comForget strangers and selfies — hire a flytographer on your next trip and never worry about capturing yourself on location again. What’s a flytographer? More like who. Leading the newest travel trend, Flytographer.com connects you with professional photographers who are available to shoot your vacation as you would a wedding (or even a celebrity sighting). Just when you thought drones were the ultimate travel paparazzo…

Local photographers in more than 130 cities make it easy to connect with someone who is familiar with the best backdrops and locations, turning an average trip into something worth a glamorous (albeit candid) photo shoot. Whether it’s a special event, such as a proposal in Prague, or simply a family vacation in Cancun that you want to be sure to capture, it beats a clunky self-timer, an awkward exchange with a passerby or an uncomfortably tight selfie.

19 Tips for Better Travel Photos

Travel blogger Johnny Jet even tried it out on a recent vacation with his wife in Hawaii.

The idea came from Nicole Smith, a Canadian woman who, after losing hundreds of travel photos due to underexposed old film, realized on a recent girls’ trip that asking a third friend to document the vacation wasn’t only a huge favor, it was a business model. A working mother of two, Smith now runs Flytographer.com full time, tapering off her hours at Microsoft, where she currently still works.

Prices for the experience range from $250, which buys you a 30-minute shoot in one location resulting in 15 photos, to $500 for a 90-minute session in two locations yielding 45 photos. A proposal photo shoot is a flat fee of $450.

What do you think — is a professional vacation photographer worth the splurge? Share in the comments.

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

Every once in a while, it’s nice to be reminded that the airlines aren’t all unfeeling, bean-counting, baggage fee-charging corporations, but that they have a human side as well. This time the reminder comes courtesy of JetBlue, which recently launched a campaign called Flying It Forward, in which the carrier has been giving away free flights to passengers with inspiring stories.

JetBlue’s latest giveaway sent a passenger named Johannes from Medellin, Colombia, where he was working to fight poverty, back home to Washington D.C. to reunite with his wife over Valentine’s Day. (They’ve been living separately for two years.) Before that, a man named Jon flew for free from Portland to Medellin on a mission to spread his love of cycling with kids in the local community. In a nice touch, each flier helps select the next recipient of the free flight.

The following video offers a moving overview of the first four trips in the campaign:


While this is clearly a sophisticated PR and social media campaign, it’s impossible not to feel a little inspired — especially as you look over the photos and videos from each passenger’s journey.

Next up? The ticket is on its way to West Palm Beach and will be departing from there for its next trip. If you want to be considered as a recipient, tweet @JetBlue with your story and the hashtag #FlyingItForward.

JetBlue Introduces Funny Flight Etiquette Videos

– written by Sarah Schlichter

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

french polynesia overwater bungalow sunrise


Population: 280,000

Currency: French Pacific franc

Phrase to Know: Ia orana (hello)

Fun Fact: If you spot a local wearing a tiare flower behind his or her ear, check out which side it’s on; wearing it on the left means you’re taken, while a flower on the right means you’re seeking a mate.

We Recommend: Learn to perform the heiva, a traditional hip-swinging local dance. You can take classes at the Ori Tahiti International School of Tahitian Dance.

10 Best French Polynesia Experiences

Have you been to French Polynesia? What was your favorite spot?

– written by Sarah Schlichter