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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

people traveling in car togetherFar from the romanticized travels of Kerouac in 1960s beatnik America, hitchhiking is not the most viable option for travelers looking to rideshare in 2015. But with the millennial generation so concerned about aiding the environment (decreasing gas emissions) and keeping costs down, the idea of a rideshare is the perfect way to split fuel costs and keep an additional car (or two or three) off the road. The problem was until now, combing boards and listings looking for a reasonably trustworthy person going in the same direction was a tad haphazard.

A new ridesharing community called Tripda plans to take the idea of hitching (or offering up) a ride in to modern times. Available via a website and an app, Tripda connects travelers seeking transportation with those looking for extra passengers to split costs. Think of it like a long-distance Uber with a social aspect (the drivers are people like you already headed in your direction). The company promises security with verification on the identity of drivers, and even a Ladies Only option for women more comfortable traveling with other women. By using Facebook for its login system, Tripda claims that it is easier to connect with your fellow riders, get to know them before you set off into the sunset, and potentially connect with mutual friends or affiliations so there are talking points before you even hit the road.

Top 20 Safe Driving Tips

As a driver, you only accept the passengers you want to accompany you, and as a passenger, you pick travel companions based upon how much you’re looking to contribute, whether you prefer silence to music or conversation, and even whether you mind sharing the backseat with a furry, four-footed traveler. The whole process is intended to eliminate waste, but also to enhance an otherwise lonely or lackluster journey.

Founded just last year, Tripda is intended to be a global platform for transportation and is currently coordinating rides in 13 countries in North America, Latin America and Asia. However, because the site is so new, it can be tricky to find a ride that will suit you. It seems like the “recent rides” are concentrated in California and New York so far.

Tell us: Would you use Tripda on your next road trip?

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

bigfoot garden yeti statue skymallSkyMall — the catalog of quirky, useless and overpriced items for purchase at 35,000 feet — declared bankruptcy and halted its print publication on January 16. Below, I pay tribute to my favorite source of entertainment in the air.

Our hearts are heavy today as we mourn the loss of an old friend. A stalwart travel companion on many a flight, SkyMall kept us sane when screaming babies and snoring rowmates were just too much to bear. When our hard-earned paychecks were burning holes in our pockets. When the lack of cabin pressure convinced us we absolutely needed a life-size Sasquatch garden statue. (Seriously, if nobody’s ever gotten a good look at Sasquatch, how do they know what size to make the statue, anyway?)

Born to proud parent Robert Worsley (founder and current Arizona state senator) in 1990, SkyMall loved long flights, traveling the world and the feeling of recycled cabin air rustling through its glossy pages — pages offering senseless tchotchkes and gadgets that beckoned to us, begging us to embrace our impulses. Marshmallow shooters. Space helmets that regrow hair. Pajama pants that look like jeans. The options were seemingly endless, blatantly ridiculous and, frankly, downright awesome.

One of my favorite SkyMall memories takes me back to a time when I flew home from Chicago in major turbulence. It wasn’t long before a few strong bumps caused my travel companion to spill a full cup of water all over my tray table and everything on it. Even though I hadn’t paid it much attention on that particular flight, SkyMall was there to help me sop up the mess in all my napkinless glory.

We may have come to terms with the grim reality of SkyMall’s death, but the pain still haunts us. Never again will we feel the magazine’s slender figure, admire its red block logo or accidentally stab ourselves in the thumb with one of its quality staples. For the first time in history, we’ll look at the “Free copy — Take it. We’ll replace it!” line on the front of the few remaining copies so tenderly clutched to our chests and hold back tears as we realize: No, SkyMall. No, you will not replace it. The demise of this novelty reminds us that life is short. Taken from us too soon at the tender age of 25, by the dastardly likes of Candy Crush Saga and in-flight Wi-Fi, the catalog and its marked absence will forever leave a hole in our souls and a void in our seatback pockets.

But just when we thought that void might be filled by fatter wallets and a decline in junky knickknacks, we learned that SkyMall’s website is still alive and kicking. Apparently it listened when we pleaded for it to stay away from the light.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a pizza-scented T-shirt calling my name.

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 Ashley Kosciolek

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

beach st john usvi


Population: 104,000

Currency: U.S. dollar

Phrase to Know: Callaloo (also spelled kallaloo), a dish made with leafy greens that you’ll see on menus throughout the Caribbean

Fun Fact: Unlike the rest of the United States, Virgin Islanders drive on the left side of the road.

We Recommend: Head to Water Island (a short ferry ride from St. Thomas) and watch a movie on the beach at Heidi’s Honeymoon Grill.

10 Best U.S. Virgin Island Experiences

Have you been to the U.S.V.I.? What was your favorite spot?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

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, February 2, 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 Liz Stier, who correctly guessed that this week’s flag was from Ethiopia. Liz has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations!

– written by Sarah Schlichter