Home

Explore. Experience. Engage.

Home Travel Tips Travel Deals Destinations Trip Reviews Blog
The IndependentTraveler.com Blog

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 28, 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 Kerry, who correctly guessed that this week’s flag was from Kiribati. Kerry has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Check out the best travel content you might have missed this week.

tour guide and group


How to Be the Kind of Tourist Tour Guides Love
This Washington Post story by a tour guide in Paris offers practical advice every traveler should know before joining a group tour. (Example: “Don’t distract your guide when she is doing something tricky, like negotiating a busy traffic intersection on a bicycle tour, or setting up safety lines during a rappelling excursion. Your safety may depend on her concentration.”)

Planning the Spontaneous
In an essay for Travel Weekly, legendary travel writer Paul Theroux reveals how he prepares for his trips, including how he chooses destinations, what he reads before he goes and how he answers the “occupation” question on visa applications. (Also worth a read: Theroux’s interview with Travel Weekly about his recent trip to the Deep South.)

Why Your Next Hotel Will Be Staffed by Robots
CNN reports on the growing trend of automation in the travel industry, from robots checking people into hotels to automated bartenders on Royal Caribbean cruise ships. The story explores how far the technology might go; could tour guides be replaced by machines? While we’re all for efficiency, we hope travel never loses its personal touch.

Why Is Traveling Alone Still Considered a Risky, Frivolous Pursuit for Women?
This provocative essay in the Guardian was sparked by the deaths of two young Argentinian women who were murdered during a backpacking trip in Ecuador. The writer questions why many people’s response to the tragedy was to ask why the women were traveling “alone” and examines the double standards that women travelers face.

This New Blended Cabin Could Introduce the World’s First Lay-Flat Premium Economy Seat
For those of us who can’t afford to fly in first or business class, this creative premium economy cabin design could put lay-flat seats within reach on long flights. Skift examines the proposal from a company called Formation Design, which would blend business-class private suites with premium economy lay-flat seats in the same cabin.

After Brussels, Why Travel Is More Important Than Ever
The Editor-in-Chief of Travel + Leisure offers a compelling argument for why we should continue to travel in the face of ongoing terrorist attacks: “Travel fosters human understanding, and empathy for people whose lives are unlike your own. … Travelers are, ultimately, the enemies of terrorists, and what they believe works against terrorists’ aims, person by person and little by little.”

Starwood Signs First U.S.-Cuba Hotel Deal Since 1959 Revolution
The Cuba news keeps on coming. Reuters reports that Starwood is the first U.S. hotel chain to sign a deal with Cuba since the 1959 revolution; the chain will manage two Havana hotels, with a third likely on the way.

Warning: This week’s video might make you cry. It’s from Expedia, which is using virtual reality technology to bring the world to kids at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital who are too sick to travel.


Single Travel: Tips for Going Solo
When Do You Need a Tour Guide?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

We’re celebrating the start of spring by daydreaming about … what else? … travel. Feast your eyes along with us on these incredible spots to see spring flowers around the world.

netherlands tulips windmill


Tulip fields bloom each spring across the Netherlands.


flowering trees nami island south korea


Flowering trees line a path on Nami Island, South Korea.


poppies california coast


Poppies add a dash of color to the California coast.


lupines lake tekapo new zealand


Lupines create a vibrant carpet beside Lake Tekapo, New Zealand.


tuscany italy spring flowers


Tuscany’s rolling hills are blanketed with spring flowers.


jefferson memorial cherry blossoms washington dc


Cherry blossoms wreath the Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.C.


Where should you travel this spring? Take our new quiz!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

I’m always on the prowl for the best items to pack in the carry-on bag that stays under the seat in front of me during a long-haul flight. The coziest socks, the perfect snacks, the best neck pillow, the yoga pants with the most comfortable waistband, the best-tasting toothpaste in the smallest tube. It’s a bit of an obsession of mine — and one day in the hopefully-not-too-distant future, I will master my quest.

packing carry-on bag


If you too are always seeking out new ideas of what to pack in your carry-on for a lengthy flight, these recent articles may also provide you with inspiration:

The Complete Guide to Faking Your Own Business-Class Upgrade: Just because you’re flying economy, it doesn’t mean you can’t have a first-class experience, writes Dan Frommer at Quartz. One of his genius tips: Bring a Thermos with you to the airport. Once you’ve cleared security, go to McDonald’s or another restaurant, and have an ice cream sundae made in the container. It’ll stay cold enough for you to enjoy after your in-flight dinner. He also packs hot sauce and noise-canceling headphones, and prepays for in-flight Internet access through Gogo to save money.

A Must-Have Travel Kit for Your Coziest Flight Ever: Why have I never thought to bring my own teabags on a flight? Zoe Eisenberg of Care2 recognizes that in-flight tea options are “bleak.” She also suggests bringing a scarf; according to Ayurvedic medicine, wearing a scarf can bolster your immune system by offering extra warmth around the neck — vital when you’re surrounded by sneezy travelers. (See also our tips for Avoiding the Airplane Cold.)

10 Smart Things to Pack in Your Carry-On: Most of the tips in this article from Mental Floss are pretty basic, but a few are items the typical traveler may not consider. One of my favorites: a collapsible water bottle that takes up little room in your bag.

For more on in-flight comfort, check out 9 Must-Dos Before a Long-Haul Flight and 10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight.

What do you always bring on a long flight?

— 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.” Identify all four mystery cities to win.

BRWDNTGIEO, BABASODR

IVLVTEA, RELSIA

NAHETS, EEGCER

ARACC, HAAGN


Enter your list of unscrambled cities in the comments below. You have until Monday, March 21, 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 J Hammons, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Check out the puzzle answers below.

BRIDGETOWN, BARBADOS

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL

ATHENS, GREECE

ACCRA, GHANA


— created by Sarah Schlichter

Check out the best travel content you may have missed this week.

mosque shiraz iran


Iraq? Crimea? Mali? Could These Be Travel Hotspots of the Future?
CNN offers an intriguing look at eight places that are currently troubled (for various reasons) but could turn into popular tourist destinations within a few decades.

Travelers Share Photos of the People They’ve Met Around the World
Mashable rounds up a few of the most incredible portraits submitted for Intrepid Travel’s “faces of the world” photography competition, capturing people in India, Cuba, Jordan, Papua New Guinea and more.

Inside the Very Real World of ‘Slum Tourism’
This thoughtful essay from Conde Nast Traveler explores the ethical ramifications of visiting underprivileged neighborhoods as a tourist. Yes, the tours educate travelers and often provide financial support to the communities affected, but do they exploit the misery of others?

Man with Muscular Dystrophy to Travel Through Europe as ‘Human Backpack’
In the “heartwarming” category comes this story from WNCN, a news station in North Carolina, about a man whose friends have volunteered to help him explore Europe by carrying him on their backs. Kevan Chandler weighs 65 pounds and has muscular dystrophy, which causes progressive muscle weakness. His friends hope to help him see sights that would be inaccessible to him in a wheelchair.

Obama Administration Loosens Cuba Rules in Advance of Historic Visit
It continues to get easier to visit Cuba, reports USA Today; President Obama’s latest changes mean that individual tourists can take educational “people to people” trips without being part of an organized tour.

This Could Be the World’s Largest Passport
The Smithsonian profiles a man who once had a passport with a whopping 331 pages. (His current one has 192.) Eric Oborski racked up some 15 million frequent flier miles and regularly visited embassies in Tokyo and Bangkok to add extra pages to his passport every time he ran out of space for new stamps.

Neighbors Now Have a Way to Complain About Bad Airbnb Hosts
Airbnb isn’t always popular with its hosts’ neighbors, who might not be thrilled by the revolving door of strangers staying next door. But Skift reports that the company is adding a new tool to allow neighbors to comment on guests’ behavior; this feedback will be reviewed by Airbnb’s customer support team.

This week’s video captures the colors, sounds and energy of India.


10 Best India Experiences
Airbnb and Beyond: Tips for Safe, Legal Vacation Rentals

— written by Sarah Schlichter

If you’ve got a fixed vacation budget but no strong feelings about where you want to go, a new booking site could provide the perfect combination of low prices and inspiration. It’s called Wherefor.

wherefor screenshot


You start by entering your hotel and flight budget, the number of travelers, your travel dates and departure city. Then hit “Search Destinations” and see all the places you can afford to go.

I tested it out with a $2,000 budget for two people departing from Philadelphia for a week in May. Even with a relatively modest budget, I ended up with trip possibilities on three continents, including Europe (Moscow) and South America (Quito and Rio de Janeiro), as well as numerous North American options.

Test One: Moscow, Russia
Wherefor presented me with a total price of $1,944.57 for flights and hotel for two people. Most of that budget was for airfare: $1,672.24 for an outgoing flight on Delta and a return on Air France. It’s a decent price for two people — but with a stopover, the trip home would take more than 28 hours. No thanks! Fortunately, you can click on “other flights” to see more options at higher price points, though this might cause you to exceed your initial spending limit.

The site also suggested a budget hotel, the Alekseevsky, at an average price of $46.80 a night. As with flights, you can also browse other, more expensive lodging options. When you’re ready to book, you can buy the flights, the hotel or both. The site currently offers travelers the chance to spread their trip payments over 12 months with 0 percent interest.

Test Two: Quito, Ecuador
In Quito, cheaper airfares (just $769 for two people) allowed enough wiggle room in my budget for a moderately priced hotel, the Mercure Hotel Alameda ($97 a night). Again, the suggested flight wasn’t exactly appealing, with a 21-hour layover on the outgoing leg; nor was there a way to filter the other flight results by number of stopovers or total travel time.

Overall Impressions
If price is more important to you than schedule, Wherefor’s itineraries are very competitive. For the cities I checked, the fares and hotel rates were sometimes (but not always) lower than those on Kayak.com. As with any booking site, you should comparison shop before you pull out your credit card.

One important note: Wherefor’s estimated flight cost includes taxes and fees, but the nightly hotel rate doesn’t. You may find that adding those in on the booking screen actually takes you above your projected budget.

Wherefor has advanced search options that allow you to specify a minimum hotel level (budget, standard or luxury), filter your results to certain regions or tailor your trip by interest (such as beaches, “famous for food” or family-friendly). You can also enter a city or airport if you know where you want to go. A filter I hope they’ll add in the future: trips with nonstop flights.

Overall, Wherefor is an intriguing option for travelers seeking inspiration or trying to figure out how far their budget will take them. Would you give it a try?

How to Hack Your Way to a Cheaper Airfare
The Best and Worst Days to Fly

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Vintage travel posters remind us of a time when travel was glamorous — and they make for some really attractive artwork for your home or office.

Retro posters have made frequent appearances in the marketplace over the past few months, perhaps partly inspired by this year’s 100th anniversary of the U.S. National Park Service.

vintage travel posters paris yosemite


In the 1930s and ’40s, the U.S. Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project commissioned artists to create works of art as a way to put them back to work after the Great Depression. The effort included a series of posters promoting U.S. National Parks that have been so popular over the years that modern artists have created replicas. You can purchase prints on various websites, including Ranger Doug’s Enterprises and AllPosters.com.

Meanwhile, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory teamed up with professional designers to keep people dreaming of visiting far-off planets in the future. They created a series of retro-inspired travel posters to 14 different planets, including Jupiter and the extrasolar planet of Kepler 16b. The posters are available to download and print for free on NASA’s website.

If you’d like to decorate your home with posters of places that only exist in the pages of books or on film, there are a number of new artworks available. Artist Steve Thomas created stylistic posters of destinations that were included in the horror fiction writings of 20th-century author H.P. Lovecraft.

And the Etsy store Magic Mushroom Paper Company sells a trio of Star Wars-inspired travel posters, plus ones from “Doctor Who” and the Harry Potter books, among others.

How to Share Your Travel Photos and Experiences
8 Things Not to Bring Home from a Trip

— 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 photo above shows just part of this famous square, one of the world’s largest; it’s home to both a presidential palace and a cathedral.

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, March 14, 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 Kevin, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was the Zocalo (also known as Plaza de la Constitucion) in Mexico City. Kevin 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

Discover the best travel articles you may have missed this week.

phnom penh


Visiting Phnom Penh: How I Finally Relaxed in a City That Scared Me
This compelling essay from Conde Nast Traveler explores a traveler’s experience in Phnom Penh, where she skipped the Killing Fields and instead went searching for Cambodia’s more hopeful present.

How to Get Compensated — Generously — for Delayed Flights and Dirty Hotel Rooms
Travel + Leisure profiles a new app called Service that will advocate on your behalf to get you reimbursed for snafus such as lost luggage, incorrect hotel charges and flight delays. (It’s not limited to travel either, so between trips you can use the app to do battle with your cable provider.)

In Saudi Arabia, a Kingdom to Myself
It’s unlikely that many of us will ever travel to Saudi Arabia, so it’s fascinating to see this in-depth look from the New York Times. The writer visits an island with only one hotel, explores pre-Islamic tombs and attends a local festival.

17 Incredibly Amazing Women Who Will Inspire You to Travel Solo at Least Once
BuzzFeed interviews 17 female travel bloggers about their best advice for traveling alone as a woman. “Waking up each day and thinking ‘I can go anywhere I want’ is one of the most incredible, liberating feelings a person can experience,” writes one blogger. We couldn’t agree more.

These Amazing Photos of Thailand Will Satisfy Your Wanderlust
If all you’re looking for today is to scroll through gorgeous pictures of exotic places, Rough Guides has your back with this photo essay. Dreamy!

Monotony and ‘Moments of Terror’ Mark Search for Flight 370
Nearly two years after the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, both the fate of the plane and its location are still shrouded in mystery. This AP story captures the difficult and often tedious job of searching the ocean floor with sonar for the lost aircraft.

What It’s Like to Live on a Cruise Ship for 8 Years
Forget retiring in Florida — the Washington Post profiles an 87-year-old woman who’s spending her golden years on a cruise ship. Lee Wachtstetter began her life aboard Crystal Serenity a few years after her husband’s death.

New Senate Bill Proposes End to “Ridiculous” Airline Fees
Two Democratic senators have put forward a bill that would allow the Department of Transportation to prevent airlines from raising fees or charging prices that are “unreasonable or disproportional to the costs” of a service. Will the proposal ever make it into law? Here’s hoping.

This week’s stunning travel video will put the Philippines on your bucket list if it’s not already there. Do yourself a favor and view it in full screen.


— written by Sarah Schlichter