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Catch up on the travel stories you may have missed over the past week.

airport security bin


The TSA Is a Waste of Money That Doesn’t Save Lives and Might Actually Cost Them
Vox makes a provocative case against the beleaguered TSA, which has been under fire in recent weeks for extra-long lines. Not only does the TSA not ensure our safety, the author argues, but it actually causes more deaths (because travelers elect to drive instead of fly to avoid the hassle of security, leading to more road accidents).

The World’s Most Polite Country?
BBC Travel investigates the Japanese concept of omotenashi, a combination of “exquisite politeness” and “a desire to maintain harmony and avoid conflict.” From toilet seats that spring up when you enter a bathroom to people wearing masks to protect others from catching their colds, politeness is a Japanese way of life.

EasyJet Develops a Vibrating Smart Shoe to Help You Navigate a New City
This European discount airline won’t just fly you from one city to another, reports Travel + Leisure — it’s also trying to get you from one neighborhood to another using vibrating sneakers that tell you when to turn. The shoes, called “Sneakairs,” sync up to your smartphone to help direct you with GPS.

Malaria Vaccine Protects Half Who Try It
NBC News reports that an experimental new malaria vaccine protected 55 percent of the volunteers who tested it — which beats out the performance of the current vaccine on the market, which protects just 30 percent. This could benefit future travelers to malaria-stricken regions, but the new vaccine is still years away.

Life on the Other End of an Airline Reservations Line
An AFAR writer got a chance to work as a customer service agent for Delta Air Lines, and discovered the most efficient way to raise a complaint, what the agent can see about you when your call pops up on his or her screen, and how much power a phone agent actually has.

This Is 2016. Why Can’t We Still Book Specific Rooms in a Hotel?
Skift raises a good question: We can book a certain seat on a plane, so why can’t we choose our own hotel room? The answer is that we can … sometimes … and that there are a couple of sites out there that are working to make this capability more widely available.

How Travel Insurance Saved My Life
If you skip buying travel insurance on some trips, you may change your mind after reading this piece from Conde Nast Traveler. After coming down with dengue fever on a trip to Vietnam, the author didn’t get adequate medical treatment until her travel insurance company stepped in to advocate on her behalf.

In the face of government warnings against travel to Iran, these travelers show another side of the country in this thought-provoking video.


10 Things Not to Do at Airport Security
16 Ways to Get Through the Airport Faster

— written by Sarah Schlichter

With the U.S. National Park Service celebrating its centennial this year, national parks are in the spotlight — not just here in the States but around the world. We love national parks because they protect a country’s natural scenery and unique wildlife for all of us to enjoy, whether you’re driving through in a car, hiking a trail or camping in the backcountry. Check out these six national parks we want to visit around the world.

grand teton national park


Grand Teton National Park, U.S.A., offers magnificent mountain vistas.

elephants in etosha national park


On safari in Namibia’s Etosha National Park, you’ll spy lions, elephants, zebras and much more.

waterfall lamington national park


Located in Queensland, Australia, Lamington National Park encompasses miles of lush rain forest.

horses torres del paine


Torres del Paine National Park protects some of Patagonian Chile’s most stunning landscapes.

komodo dragon


Komodo National Park in Indonesia is home to the endangered Komodo dragon, along with a variety of marine wildlife.

northeast greenland national park



Northeast Greenland National Park is the world’s biggest national park, but it’s so difficult to reach that very few people actually visit it.

Planning an African Safari
National Park Vacations

Which national park tops your must-visit list?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Passports are technically property of the government, but rarely are expired ones kept by any government official. So what should you do with an expired passport?

We’ve come up with five reasons why you should stash them, and three reasons to trash them.

passport stamps


First, the reasons to keep your expired passport in a safe place:

The passport may be expired, but some of the visas aren’t. Some countries issue single-entry visas that expire as soon as you depart. Others offer multiple-entry visas that could be valid for several years, well beyond when your passport expires. So if you travel to that country, you’ll need to bring your expired passport with your valid one.

You may need a record of your travels for a visa application. When applying for visas, some applications require you to detail all of the countries you’ve visited over the past five to 10 years. Larry Irving of Washington D.C., who travels frequently on business, encountered that recently on a visa application for Russia. “I can’t remember always, but the passport stamps help,” said Irving, who has visited more than 50 countries. He stores expired passports in a safe place in his office because having a record of his travels helps him complete the applications more efficiently.

How to Get a Visa

They make memories. Television news producer Yvette Michael has spent her career on the road. She’s attempted multiple times to write a travel journal to document her adventures. “But it really became too much work,” said Michael, who lives in New York, “so the passports double up as diaries!”

They inspire children. Lisa Bolton of Frederick, Maryland, gave her old passports to her son to play with. “It gave me an opportunity to talk to my kid about the wonders of traveling and experiencing cool stuff,” she said.

The expired passport still proves your citizenship. The U.S. State Department recommends on its website that you keep your passport because “it is considered proof of your U.S. citizenship.” As this USA Today article points out, there are many scenarios in which an expired passport cannot be used as a valid ID. But if you need proof of citizenship — such as to get a replacement if you lose your current passport — even an expired passport will suffice.

And now the reasons to trash your passport — or, more specifically, to shred it or turn it into something else:

An expired passport could lead to identity theft. Expired U.S. passports are punched with holes; other countries’ government officials alter them as well to void them. However, there are some clever thieves out there, and in the wrong hands, even an expired passport could be doctored into a fake ID for someone else.

They make cool art. With all the colors and stamp shapes, passport pages can make interesting art be used in craft projects. Pinterest user Becky Kemps deconstructed her passport and framed the pages. Artist Leonard Combier uses old passport pages as the medium for his art. Etsy seller The Nic of Time turns them into coasters. You could even put your passport on your Christmas tree.

They just add to clutter. Are you someone who keeps all your old tax returns dating back decades? If you have no good reason to keep old documents, then you should get rid of them. Not that keeping your passport makes you a hoarder, but if you’re not nostalgic about the passport, why bother keeping it?

10 Things You Don’t Know About Passports

— 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 mosque is currently the site of the world’s tallest minaret.

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, May 16, 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 Wendell Prins, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, Morocco. Wendell 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 travel news and features you may have missed this week.

flight attendant plane


Attention Passengers … Can You Hear Me?
Think things are bad in the sky for passengers? Flight attendant and author Heather Poole offers her own perspective from the other side of the drink cart — and we fliers don’t exactly come out smelling like roses. “Twenty years ago, when I first started flying, almost every passenger said hello during boarding. Oh, how times have changed,” she writes.

Canadian Teen Locates Lost Mayan City Using Satellite Images and Ancient Astronomy
We’re always looking for attractions that are off the beaten path — but a 15-year-old boy in Quebec has one-upped us by discovering a previously unknown Mayan city in Mexico, reports the International Business Times. He theorized that the Mayans, who worshipped the stars, based the locations of their cities on constellations; this analysis led him to find the lost city on Google Earth. Editor’s Note: It turns out that the discovery wasn’t actually a lost city after all, reports Wired.

Signature Scents at Hotels: Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em?
USA Today reports on the surge of customized fragrances being pumped into hotel lobbies. While they’re designed to create a delicious-smelling first impression, guests with allergies and asthma aren’t so jazzed about the trend.

Revealed: The Secret Lives of Your Fellow Plane Passengers
We love this story from CNN about a traveler who decided to pass a notebook around a flight to learn the stories behind each passenger’s trip. She discovered multiple honeymooners, a woman visiting her elderly parents and a man traveling to San Francisco to propose to his girlfriend.

Does Travel Actually Make You Well Traveled?
This essay from Headspace investigates the transformative benefits of travel, from reducing the risk of heart disease to stimulating creativity. Of course, there are a few drawbacks too — can we say “jet lag”?

The Stories Behind Some of Last Year’s Most Iconic Travel Photos
Travel + Leisure investigates the process that went into three striking photos from the recent Photography Show in New York City. One shot of the Grand Canyon is actually an incredible amalgamation of 50 different photos taken at different times throughout the day.

VisitScotland recently put out a call for canine applicants to be Scotland’s official “Ambassadog.” The winner, announced this week, is a golden retriever from Glasgow; you can watch his adorable application video below.


16 Signs You’re Addicted to Travel
12 Travel Photography Mistakes to Avoid

— written by Sarah Schlichter

What do you typically ask for when staying at a hotel — a few extra pillows? A toothbrush or phone charger if you left yours at home?

One traveler goes well beyond such reasonable requests on his business trips, asking for things like “a picture of a dog dressed as a boat captain” or “a fort [built] out of pillows,” reports the Daily Mail. He even asked the hotel staff to draw a picture of what they thought he looked like. The requests were all granted, and a friend of the businessman posted photos of the results in a thread on Imgur.

hotel request


My first reaction was the same as that of several commenters on Imgur: Let’s hope this guy tips well! Because while many people seem to find the businessman’s behavior hilarious, I’m not sure I agree.

Sure, the requests are essentially harmless and might bring a smile to the face of a hotel staffer on a slow or tedious day. But do you feel comfortable imagining an underpaid, overworked housekeeper who only has 15 to 20 minutes to clean each room having to waste time building a pillow fort for a grown man for no reason other than the fact that he’s bored on a business trip? And don’t most concierges have better things to do than troll the Internet for pictures of the grandma from “Family Matters” or a dog in a boating costume?

While it seems to be meant in fun, it feels a little mean-spirited to make more work for other people just because you can.

15 Things Your Hotel Won’t Tell You
“You Want What?” Bizarre Requests from Hotel Guests

What’s your take — are this business traveler’s requests hilarious or a disrespectful use of the hotel staff’s time?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

My friend Diane Quigley spent the past week in Paris. She enjoyed an amazing view of the Eiffel Tower from her mom’s Airbnb rental. On Tuesday she took a chilly boat tour on the Seine. On Wednesday her mom took a tumble and spent the morning in an emergency room. On Thursday Quigley ordered French onion soup for lunch and then visited Montmarte.

eiffel tower view paris


How do I know all this? Quigley posted on Facebook — and she’s not the only one. According to a new study, the majority of travelers share photos and vignettes about their adventures on social media.

Two-thirds of travelers say they post on social media while they’re away, according to a survey by TravelOnline.com, an Australia-based travel agency. (Survey results were sent in an email press release.) And 25 percent post daily.

“Whether it’s to share their special memories with family or to make their friends a little envious, it seems that social media does in fact play a large part in enhancing the holiday experience for most people,” Glenn Checkley, TravelOnline.com’s managing director, said.

Quigley said she enjoys posting during her travels so that she can share the experiences with her friends and family. “My husband’s grandmother, who will not likely make it to Paris given her age, thoroughly enjoyed all the posts, living vicariously through our trip,” she said.

For a variety of reasons, 44 percent of respondents said that how their vacation appears on social media is important to them, and 15 percent admitted that how their destination would appear to their friends and family on social media influenced their decision to go there.

Social media also serves to inspire others when considering where to travel. One-third of people say that the posts they see on social media influence their destination choices. Like her aging relative, I also lived vicariously through my friend’s photos of Paris, and I’m now more interested in visiting France after seeing her posts.

Social Media: The Ultimate Travel Guidebook
Sharing or Showboating? Travel Posts on Social Media

Do you post to social media during your vacations?

— written 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, May 9, 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 Lauren Kahn, who correctly guessed that this week’s flag was from Cyprus. Lauren has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Catch up on our favorite travel articles and videos of the week.

smartphone gps car


How GPS Is Messing with Our Minds
It’s hard to imagine navigating the world without a GPS these days, but this article from Time notes that relying so heavily on such devices harms our ability to make our own “cognitive map” — i.e., to get a clear sense of where we are in the context of our surroundings. This sometimes has tragic results (such as people following their GPS unit’s instructions into dangerous mountain terrain). Is it time for good old-fashioned maps to make a comeback?

Forget Your Passport; You’ll Need a DNA Sample to Enter Kuwait
Well, here’s an alarming idea. The New York Daily News reports that anyone who wants to travel to Kuwait will soon have to provide either “a swab of saliva or a few drops of blood” as a DNA sample. Though the Kuwaiti government promises that the samples won’t be tested for disease or otherwise infringe on property, it’s easy to see how this could go wrong (and make passport control lines even longer…).

Tipping Is Really Out of Control Now
Christopher Elliott of Elliott.org reports that more and more employees are asking for gratuities these days, including people we wouldn’t normally think to tip (such as tow truck drivers, airline ticket agents and even opticians). In a poll at the end of the article, about 70 percent of respondents say they’d like to have tipping restricted or banned by law. Do you agree?

Cruising Through the End of the World
Pacific Standard offers a fascinating look at the Northwest Passage, the famed pathway through the Canadian Arctic that intrepid explorers once suffered and died trying to find. These days you can explore it yourself aboard a cruise ship, seeing remote villages and looking out for polar bears.

‘Eat, Pray, Love’ and Travel
The New York Times interviews Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the bestseller “Eat, Pray, Love” — inspiration for a collection of essays called “Eat, Pray, Love Made Me Do It.” Gilbert reveals her favorite moment in the new book, shares her future travel plans and explains why her mother started traveling late in life.

Delta Is First Airline to Use New Baggage Tracking Technology
Could this be the beginning of the end of lost luggage? Conde Nast Traveler reports that Delta will start using radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to track checked bags by the end of this year. Delta claims that this system is 99.9 percent effective, more so than the current system of barcoded tags and scanners. We’re crossing our fingers.

Why I Travel the World Alone
Travel + Leisure features an essay by a hardcore adventure traveler (“During a recent trip to Chad … I spent 19 days sleeping in the great outdoors — and going to the loo there, too — while crossing the Sahara Desert. I showered twice in 21 days”) who finds incredible rewards in the challenges and freedoms of traveling alone. We bet you’ll be inspired by her story too.

This week’s featured video comes from JetBlue, which turned frowns upside down on a recent flight by giving away discounts off a future trip every time a baby cried on the plane. Happy Mother’s Day!


10 Things to Do Before You Travel
What Not to Do When Checking a Bag

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Our Airbnb hosts in Colorado Springs were health enthusiasts who had run marathons on multiple continents, had a refrigerator bursting with organic fruits and vegetables, woke up at 5:30 a.m. to meditate, and trained by jogging halfway up Pikes Peak every Thursday morning. A conversation with them was enough to motivate anyone to skip dessert and do a few extra push-ups — and yet one of them said they found us inspiring.

“I love that you spend this kind of quality time traveling together,” she told me and my mother. “It makes me want to call my daughter and see if she might want to travel with me.”

mother daughter travel


This year marks the 10th year my mom and I have taken a mother-daughter trip together, dating back to a long weekend in Boston in 2006. Since then we’ve walked on a glacier in Iceland, explored art museums in the Big Apple and gone on an “Anne of Green Gables” pilgrimage on Canada’s Prince Edward Island.

Like any mother and daughter, we don’t always get along perfectly. I love a plan; she wants to be spontaneous. When we’re lost, I check a map while she asks a local for directions. After dinner I’m ready to head back to our room to read and relax; meanwhile, she’s looking for the nearest live music venue. But over the years we’ve learned to deal with our inevitable conflicts by obeying the following tips:

Find what draws you together. Though our personalities may be opposite, we share a common love of art (Mom is the only travel companion I’ve ever had who’s just as happy to spend an entire day in one museum as I am). We also enjoy hiking and browsing indie bookstores. We avoid arguments by centering our trip on activities we’re both passionate about.

Compromise. You learned this one in kindergarten, and it applies to any journey with another person, not just mother-daughter trips. If Mom keeps us out late listening to blues music one night, we’ll make an early evening of it the next day so I can recharge. Letting one person make all the decisions leads only to resentment.

Embrace your relationship as adults. For mothers and daughters who no longer share the same home, it can be challenging — but rewarding — to leave behind the patterns of the daughter’s childhood and form a new relationship as equal adults. For us, this has meant me breaking the sometimes resentful habits of a prickly adolescent and Mom trying to be a little less over-protective.

Acknowledge that some things never change. On our flight home I was in the bathroom when the plane lurched into a sudden patch of turbulence. I stumbled out of the bathroom but couldn’t make it back to my seat because the flight attendants were hustling down the aisle with the drink cart. I ended up joining them in their jumpseats for a few minutes while we waited for the plane to settle; I knew my mom was probably worrying about me from her own seat a few rows up.

I was right. When I returned to my seat, Mom touched my arm with a sense of relief and affection any parent would recognize, no matter the age of their children. “I knew you were safe back there,” she said. “But I feel better having you with me, right here.”

Have you ever traveled with your mother or daughter?

How to Keep the Peace with Your Travel Companion
9 Ways to Make Travel Less Stressful

— written by Sarah Schlichter