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During a flight from Mexico last week, I sat next to a guy I’ll call Lenny Loquacious (not his real name, obviously).

man on phone on airplane


Apparently I’m more concerned about protecting his identity than he is, because for nearly five hours, Mr. Loquacious talked nonstop to the business associate sitting to his left. Non. Stop. For five hours. Loudly.

Lenny was blindly oblivious to the dirty looks that the half-dozen passengers around us kept giving him. Even the flight attendants rolled their eyes at him, and slipped me free bottles of red wine out of pity.

More disturbing than his behavior, however, was how much personal information he revealed during the course of the flight. I knew where he worked and lived. I learned his wife’s and children’s names. I knew where he traveled for work and when he would be away next. I overheard the names of his home town, his university, a few past employers and the chi-chi private club he was a member of.

In addition, he left his iPhone and business card-as-a-bookmark on his seat when he went to use the restroom. I could have pick up his phone and accessed a good deal of information if I’d wanted to; I knew the phone wasn’t passcode protected.

Clearly, the guy had no self-awareness. But even worse, he put himself at risk of a number of different crimes, according to an identity theft expert I contacted the next day.

“This is an individual who gets an F grade in security,” says Robert Siciliano, CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com in Boston. “He’s already given out enough information [to] allow someone to pose as a bank or a credit card company or even his employer and be able to extract even more data from him to commit fraud.”

The lessons here are obvious: Don’t leave items containing valuable personal information unattended. Watch what you say when you’re in a public place like an airplane. And for the love of the passengers around you — not to mention the information about yourself that you should hold near and dear — pipe down.

As Siciliano says, “Nobody except for criminals wants to hear what you have to say.”

11 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft While Traveling
7 Ways to Keep Your Stuff Safe When You Fly

–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: The rainbow-colored hotel above is one of many striking buildings in this city overlooking the Mediterranean.

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, October 10, 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 Nancy James, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was Tel Aviv, Israel. Nancy 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

Check out what you may have missed this week from around the travel world.

brownstones in greenwich village new york


Airbnb Sues Over New Law Regulating New York Rentals
Airbnb continues to face challenges in New York after Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill imposing major fines to hosts who illegally rent out their homes or apartments, reports the New York Times. Proponents of the law are trying to protect affordable housing by preventing people from renting out places to short-term tourists. Airbnb has filed a lawsuit to challenge the new law.

I’ve Been Taking Business Trips for More Than a Decade — Here Are 8 of My Best Travel Tips
A longtime business traveler shares her smartest tips with Business Insider, including using airport restaurants for free Wi-Fi and snagging free bottled water from hotel gyms.

The Secret Behind Italy’s Rarest Pasta
BBC travels to the island of Sardinia to see how su filindeu — the world’s rarest pasta — is made. Only three women on the planet know the time-intensive process.

Poverty as a Tourism Attraction: Can Travel to a Developing Country Really Make a Difference?
Australian travel website Traveller delves into the experience of “poverty tourism,” in which wealthy tourists come to town for a few hours and “want to ‘fix’ disadvantage with a few giveaway pencils and a photo with the kids.” The author is uncomfortable with the concept but finds that this type of tourism isn’t entirely without merit.

Here Comes a Wave of Change for Cuba
A National Geographic writer hops aboard the first U.S. cruise ship to visit Cuba in nearly 40 years and asks the locals how they feel about the incoming wave of American tourists.

Air Horse One: This Airline Is Strictly for the Animals
Every wondered how racehorses travel to the Kentucky Derby and other major events? USA Today takes us inside Air Horse One, a plane designed specifically to carry animals. Fun fact: The plane ascends and descends more gently than regular commercial flights to avoid startling or jostling the horses.

Airbus Offers a Peek at Its Flying Taxi
Anyone who’s ever sat in a traffic jam has wished they could simply fly their car over the mess — and CNN reports that Airbus is working on technology that could someday let us do just that. The “pilotless passenger aircraft” would take off and land vertically, with no need for a runway.

This week’s video offers a look at one of France’s most incredible tourist sites: Mont St-Michel.

A Medieval Abbey Trapped by Tides and Time from Great Big Story on Vimeo.


Voluntourism: Does It Really Help?
Photos: A Walking Tour of Old Havana

— written by Sarah Schlichter

In early October, I embarked on a weeklong family vacation around the southwestern United States. This loaded itinerary promised hiking, rock climbing, swimming and a family reunion spread across five cities, three states and eight days. While I’m generally an efficient packer, I was having difficulty narrowing down my clothing options and keeping myself organized this time around.

ezpacking packing cubes


Normally, I’m skeptical of any packing cubes or aids. I’m a bare-bones traveler who has managed just fine with rolling, folding and cramming in the past. So when I was given the EzPacking Starter Set, a collection of four packing cubes in various sizes, I can’t say I expected much. If anything, I figured they’d complicate the packing process and add unnecessary bulk to my bag.

I was wrong. In fact, these little plastic cubes worked so well for me that I ordered another set shortly after this trip.

I used the large cube (which measures 16″ x 10.3″ x 4″) for casual wear, the medium (12″ x 10.3″ x 4″) for athletic clothes and running gear, the small bag (10.3″ x 6″ x 4″) for my bathing suits and intimates, and the extra-small bag (6″ x 6″ x 2.5″) for toiletries. When detouring to Page, Arizona for two days in the middle of the trip, I took the largest cube as an overnight duffel rather than lugging my full-size suitcase all over the Southwest.

Altogether these bags nestled nicely into my suitcase, maximized space and worked well with our multi-faceted and activity-intensive itinerary.

What We Liked: The EzPacking organizers are like the Mary Poppins bag of travel. These little things don’t look like much on the outside, but they can fit a lot. For instance, one of the larger bags comfortably held nine warm-weather outfits and a light jacket. (Disclaimer: I’m a petite, 5’0″ female.)

Beyond compactness, these bags are also lightweight and sturdy. They added very little extra weight to our luggage (20 ounces), and held their shape no matter how much stuff I crammed in around them. Unlike some other packing cubes, EzPacking organizers are transparent on four out of six sides, so it’s easy to see what you’ve packed where.

What We Didn’t Like: While the cubes are compact and convenient, they will take up the bulk of your bag. Because of this, I had difficulty squeezing in some last-minute souvenirs that were too delicate to fit elsewhere.

Another downside is that these cubes make it dangerously easy to overpack. I had to transfer several items from my suitcase to my carry-on just to keep my bag within the airline’s 50-pound limit.

Bottom Line: While a bit on the pricey side for a set of four (they retail for $48), the EzPacking organizers are a great asset for people with packing OCD, or travelers looking for extra organization.

EzPacking organizers can be ordered individually or purchased online in one of several bundles. They come in different colors and are TSA-approved (in fact, the smallest bag is perfect for TSA’s liquid and gel regulations). You can buy them on the EzPacking website or on Amazon.com.

Want a chance to win our gently used EzPacking Starter Set? We’re giving it away. Leave a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on Wednesday, November 9, 2016. We’ll pick one winner at random to win the Starter Set. This giveaway is open only to residents of the Lower 48 United States and the District of Columbia. To read the full contest rules, click here.

The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time
11 Travel Essentials That Do Double Duty on the Road

— written by Christina Janansky

Two travel startups have come up with distinctive ways for travelers to earn rewards merely by booking trips.

travel money jar


At a time when frequent flier miles and other points-earning opportunities are harder than ever to manage and use, Upside and TRVL are refreshingly innovative options for accruing bonuses for purchasing airfare and hotels.

Upside rewards you with gift cards for being flexible with your travel plans. When you book airfare and hotel rooms, which the company offers as a package, Upside will offer you gift cards to Amazon, eBay, Home Depot, Whole Foods and dozens of other stores. Willing to fly during less desirable hours, or to stay at a hotel a little farther from the city center? You’ll earn even more in gift card rewards.

I priced out a weeklong trip to Madrid, flying from New York and staying at a modest hotel near the Royal Palace. The total came to $1,440, and I would earn $314 in gift cards. If you see the gift cards as a rebate, that’s a 22 percent discount.

Upside, founded by Priceline.com founder Jay Walker, is currently taking bookings for flights from New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles, with 40 international destinations currently available. More will be added in the coming months.

Meanwhile, the premise behind the soon-to-be-operational TRVL is to allow individuals to earn commissions from hotel, air, car and activity bookings that you make for yourself or for others. Those others could include friends or family, or even strangers around the world who read about your areas of expertise and ask you to make their trip arrangements.

How much could you earn? The website provides a few ballpark examples. Planning a three-night jaunt to New York City for two people could earn you $100, whereas a two-week, multi-country European journey could net you $450.

Once it’s up and running — the company is currently collecting email addresses of potential users, to prepare for a beta testing period — the website will allow you to recommend your favorite hotels and activities. You receive ratings based on how much the travelers enjoy their trips, and presumably, the higher the rating, the more booking requests you could receive and the more commissions you could earn. As with Airbnb and Uber, you also get to rate your customers.

Both sites are suitable for use by individuals going on vacation or for companies booking business travel.

Would you try Upside or TRVL?

9 Creative Ways to Save for a Vacation
10 Travel Money Mistakes to Avoid

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

This week’s puzzle is a country shapes quiz! Take a look at the silhouette and below and tell us which country you think it is.

mystery country


Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, October 24, 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 Steven Rock, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery country was New Zealand. Steven has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Check out the travel stories you might have missed over the past week.

airplane on tarmac


The Countries with the Best (and Worst) Airfare Deals in the World
Thrillist reports on a new aviation price index that can help you keep perspective on whether it truly is expensive to fly. The U.S. is the third-cheapest country for domestic flights (behind India and Malaysia), but it ranks 54th (out of 75 countries) for international flights. Canada ranks dead last for international flights, while China offers the best value.

Surfing Under the Northern Lights
Even if you’re not particularly interested in surfing, you won’t want to miss this feature from the New York Times, which combines striking imagery with a fascinating story about “hanging 10” in an unexpected part of the world.

A New Perspective of Our Planet
We loved clicking through the incredible satellite photos in this slideshow from CNN. Our favorite shots include Ipanema Beach and tulip fields in the Netherlands.

See the People Who Live in a Legendary Underground Town
National Geographic visits the remote town of Coober Pedy, located in the Australian Outback, where the heat can go as high as 113 degrees in the shade. That’s why most of the locals live in dugout caves.

Why Airline Codesharing Must Die
Ever booked a flight on one airline and then realized at the airport that your flight was actually operated by a different carrier? USA Today explains the dangers of codesharing, including going to the wrong terminal or even missing your flight.

15 Photos That Prove Alberta is Heaven on Earth
Join us in swooning over these photos of Alberta, Canada, from OrdinaryTraveler.com — including turquoise lakes, hidden streams and looming mountains.

Airplane Passengers Fall in Love with Emotional Support Duck Accompanying Owner with PTSD
Need a smile? Check out these ABC News photos of Daniel Turducken Stinkerbutt, an emotional support duck who recently accompanied his owner, Carla Fitzgerald, on a couple of flights. Fitzgerald suffers from PTSD.

This week’s video offers a glimpse into two countries rarely explored by travelers: Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.


10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight
How to Hack Your Way to a Cheaper Airfare

— written by Sarah Schlichter

One of the pleasures of staying in a hotel is enjoying all the little luxuries that come with your room — slipping into a bathrobe or pair of slippers, trying out a new brand of body lotion. But for many frequent travelers hotel amenities leave a little to be desired, even at expensive properties.

hotel toiletries


Cecilia Freeman, a member of the IndependentTraveler.com community team, recently found herself disappointed by the in-room coffee at a Seattle hotel for which she paid $275 a night. “The coffee was Starbucks, but they stocked these generic fake sugar and creamer packets with a useless napkin and a stirry straw,” she told me. “Every time I travel and stay in any level of hotel, I always get the same lame amenity pack for the coffee. I wondered if Starbucks would be happy its coffee was accompanied by this awful generic stuff.”

It spurred her to look at other common hotel amenities with a more critical eye: “Shower caps? Who uses those? Shoeshine sponges? The list goes on … the whole amenity package for all hotels needs a redo.”

In fairness, I remember one occasion several years back when I did use a hotel shower cap — but that’s one time out of hundreds of hotel stays. Why don’t hotels cut some of these rarely used amenities and offer free Wi-Fi instead? In an informal survey a few years back, we discovered that it was the hotel amenity travelers want most.

I reached out to a couple of other well-traveled colleagues to get their perspective on hotel amenities. Brittany Chrusciel, an associate editor for IndependentTraveler.com’s sister site, Cruise Critic, wants to ban bar soap at the sink. “I don’t mind a bar in the shower, but I’d much rather have liquid soap for hand washing,” she said. “Half the time there’s no soap dish, so the bar slithers all over the sink and makes a mess. Plus, it’s a waste when you only use it for a day or two. A hand soap dispenser is so much neater and more convenient.”

My own biggest pet peeve? Hotels that only offer a single pillow on each side of a bed, with no extras in the closet. Cruise Critic senior editor Chris Gray Faust agreed: “I like having a fortress of pillows.”

There are some hotel amenities we love, including bottled water (preferably free), hypoallergenic pillows, facewash and cotton swabs. Best of all: a little note that says “Forgot something? Call the front desk” with an offer to supply things like toothbrushes, toothpaste or razors.

9 Ways to Make Your Hotel Room More Comfortable
33 Ways to Sleep Better at a Hotel

What are your favorite and least favorite hotel amenities?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

If you wear eyeglasses, you’ll need to take them off before having a photo snapped for your passport.

woman with passport at airport


Starting in two weeks, on November 1, the U.S. State Department is banning glasses from passport photos. Apparently, rogue shadows and glares are skewing our good looks.

Glasses are the most common reason that passport application photos get rejected, according to the State Department. In fact, passport processors had to turn back more than 200,000 passport applications last year because of poor photos. Eliminating eyeglasses will add more consistency to U.S. passports and hopefully prevent a good chunk of application rejections.

Given that the passport division expects to process 20 million U.S. passports next year — a record high — anything it can do to speed up the process is good for all of us.

If you absolutely must wear your glasses to have your photo taken, you may do so, but must include a note from your doctor stating that the glasses are a “medical necessity.” Our advice? If you can do without your eyeglasses for the five seconds that you’re having your pic snapped, forgo them; you can still wear them while traveling.

If you are sporting the four-eyed look in your current passport, don’t fret. Your travel documents are still valid. Just remember to go sans glasses when you get the passport renewed.

And unlike in France, where an administrative appeals court has upheld a ban on smiling for passport photos or identity papers, you are still allowed to look happy in your U.S. passport photo. For now.

10 Things You Don’t Know About Passports
The Passport Center: How to Get or Renew a U.S. Passport

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

This week’s puzzle is a word scramble. 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.” (Note: Multi-word cities or countries are scrambled into one word, so “San Juan” might appear as SJAANUN.) Identify all four mystery cities to win.

WDCHTNGISOAN, SEEIUTDATNTS

ADKAH, HDENSABGAL

KNSEHILI, ADFLINN

EEEPATP, FYANIELPRSHECON


Enter your list of unscrambled cities in the comments below. You have until Monday, October 17, 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 Maria F Del Aguila, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Check out the puzzle answers below.

WASHINGTON D.C., UNITED STATES

DHAKA, BANGLADESH

HELSINKI, FINLAND

PAPEETE, FRENCH POLYNESIA


— created by Sarah Schlichter