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Christine Ha’s visit to Ho Chi Minh City was a sensory carnival. Street vendors selling everything from fruit to cell phone cases competed for attention with the buzzing of motorbikes and their ever-tooting horns. The air smelled of cooked crab and ripe jackfruit. Rain fell intermittently, and the maze-like sidewalks were packed with people.

For a trip to an Asian city full of life, Ha’s colorful description is what you might expect. But one thing is missing from her travelogue: what she saw. That’s because the Houston-based cook and New York Times bestselling cookbook author has a condition called neuromyelitis optica, which has led to a nearly complete loss of sight.

ho chi minh city illustration


Ha’s experience has been included in a new online collection of travel stories by visually impaired or blind travelers. The collection includes stories from people of all walks of life and with varying degrees of visual impairment. An Indonesian artist named Alby Letoy was then commissioned to interpret the stories, illustrating them in a dream-like way.

“The end goal is to start a discussion about people who experience travel in a different way to the majority of us and to encourage everyone, both sighted and visually impaired, to go out and enjoy what the world has to offer,” says Olivia Wiltshire, who works for the London-based agency Builtvisible and collaborated with the travel company Travel Supermarket on the project.

ho chi minh city illustration


The collection includes interpretations of a New York City jazz singer’s time in the Adirondacks, the moment a blind hiker summited the highest peak in Colorado and a salesman’s first visit to Tokyo.

“Blind people experience a city a little different than sighted people,” explains George Wurtzel, a woodworker and craftsman, who has been blind since he was a teenager. “It is a whole body experience … [that builds] a mental picture that is very close to what someone would get by looking around.”

Traveleyes: Helping Blind and Sighted Travelers See the World
9 Places You Haven’t Visited — But Should

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

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

mystery country


Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, August 22, 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 Dan, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery country was Brazil. Dan 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 may have missed this week.

airplane on tarmac


This Fee Could Triple the Cost of Your Reward Flight
The Washington Post reports that fuel surcharges could make your reward flight cost much more than you expect. Despite the low cost of oil, some airlines have surprisingly high fuel surcharges, and you have to pay them even if the base fare is covered by miles.

Travel Writer Thomas Swick on the Seven Joys of Travel
Parade Magazine interviews travel writer Thomas Swick, who recently published a book on what he sees as travel’s greatest joys: anticipation, movement, break from routine, novelty, discovery, emotional connection and a heightened appreciation of home. Discover which of these is his favorite and which destinations he visits over and over again.

I Lost My Job and My Husband. Then I Found Newfoundland.
We loved this New York Times essay about a writer’s impromptu trip to Newfoundland following the end of both her marriage and her job as a teacher at a summer camp. It wasn’t the most glamorous of trips, with several nights spent sleeping in a car and locals recommending a “local” brew called Coors Light, but it was full of the thrill of discovery.

Lucky Baby Gets a Lifetime of Free Flights After Being Born on Plane
No mother would ever want to give birth on a plane, but one person benefited when this unfortunate situation cropped up on a recent Cebu Pacific Air flight, reports New York Magazine: the baby, who will now get free flights for life on the airline.

Behind the Curtain of Vietnam’s Oldest Circus
A National Geographic photographer offers fascinating images of performers in a Hanoi circus, drawn from months of living alongside them in an abandoned theater.

Working Amid a Turbulent Few Decades in the Airline Industry
The Atlantic sits down with Paul Mozeak, a crew chief at John F. Kennedy International Airport, to discuss the changes he’s seen in 32 years of working in the airline industry. He explains the evolution of security regulations (especially since 9/11) and how airline mergers affect their employees.

Future in Doubt for World’s Next Largest Hotel in Saudi Arabia
News.com.au reports that the massive new mega-hotel scheduled to open in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, in 2017 — complete with 12 towers, 70 restaurants, 4 helipads and 10,000 guestrooms — might never actually be finished.

Racial Bias by Airbnb’s Hosts Sparks Minority Alternatives
Travel Weekly reports on new peer-to-peer lodging websites designed for African-American travelers, who have reported discrimination on mainstream sites such as Airbnb. Options include Innclusive.com and Noirbnb.com.

This week’s video offers a glimpse at a remote island off the coast of Yemen.


7 Common Airbnb Problems and How to Solve Them
18 Best Airport Hacks

— written by Sarah Schlichter

As I prepared for an early-morning flight from Newark to New Orleans, I was excited to pack the JetComfy pillow, billed as the “world’s best travel pillow.” I hoped it would help me sleep through the entire flight.

jetcomfy pillow airplane sleep


JetComfy is a boxy pillow, built into a frame with an extendable pole so that you can bring the pillow closer to your head rather than the other way around. On the other end of the pole is a strap and clamp that you can use to attach the device to your seat’s arm.

The full pillow is fairly large, about half the size of a shoebox, so it’s not easy to take onto the plane if you’ve got a lot of carry-on luggage. I solved this issue by purchasing a bottle of water in an airport store and then putting the pillow into the plastic bag.

Here’s what I discovered about JetComfy:

It’s soft. I mean really soft. With two inches of memory foam, your face sinks gently into the pillow. The fleece-soft cover is also a pleasure to lay your head on.

It’s got phone chargers. Probably my favorite thing about JetComfy was the two USB chargers. I loved being able to power up my cell phone (even after I’d given up trying to sleep on the pillow). Note, however, that the chargers aren’t available with the standard JetComfy purchase; you’ll need to pony up an additional $29.99 for the Upgrade Kit, which includes two USB charging ports, an extra pillow cover and a stylus/pen/flashlight/pointer combo that fits into a slot in the base of the pillow.

It doesn’t angle well. Because it’s so soft, I couldn’t wait to rest my head on the JetComfy pillow and drift off into sleep. However, I found the ability (or lack thereof) to angle the pillow to be a problem. Though the pillow would start out angled, it would not remain so, and I’d wake up with a major crick in my neck. Because I was sitting in an aisle seat, there was nothing to lean the pillow up against to keep the angle in place. It’s possible a window seat would have solved this problem.

How to Sleep Better on Planes

It’s bulky. Not only is the JetComfy a bit cumbersome to carry around and onto the plane, but it also takes a bite out of the space surrounding your seat. I quickly realized that using the pillow on the aisle-side seat arm wouldn’t work, as I’d just keep getting bumped by anyone passing by. But using it on the other arm wasn’t much better. Thankfully I was sitting next to my spouse, but he complained about the pillow bumping into him. I don’t know how you’d be able to use it next to a stranger. (Again, the window seat probably would be okay.)

jetcomfy travel pillow


My overall impression of the JetComfy pillow was mixed. I did sleep on it, and I loved how soft it was, but the pain in my neck from waking up with my head completely tilted to the side was not something I’d care to experience again.

The JetComfy pillow costs $49.99 and can be purchased at the JetComfy website (use coupon code INDY for a 10 percent discount, good through December 31, 2016) or at Amazon.com.

Want to give it a try? We’re giving away a JetComfy pillow. Leave a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on Wednesday, August 31, 2016. We’ll pick one winner at random to win the JetComfy pillow. 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.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner of the JetComfy pillow is Jessica Chen. Congratulations! Stay tuned for further chances to win.

— written by Dori Saltzman

Volvo USA is currently airing a commercial that has the social media world all atwitter, wondering about the unusual seating arrangements and cryptic facial expressions of a family driving home from a wedding. Why is the forlorn dad in the backseat? Are the two other men brothers or friends or partners? That blonde driver can’t be the dad’s spouse — she’s too young! And why is she smirking?

Personally, though, I’m more curious about the stately, attractive lighthouse in the background of the extended version of the ad (the one where the overly sentimental silver fox is penning the cliched wedding toast for the daughter he’s about to marry off). Check it out:


The lighthouse, it turns out, has made appearances in a number of TV shows, films and commercials, and is a historic landmark. Fisgard Lighthouse, on the rocky southern tip of Vancouver Island, was the first lighthouse built on the west coast of Canada back in 1860.

The lighthouse was included in a 1997 TV series called “Sleepwalkers,” the 2013-14 series “Spooksville” and a Jeep Cherokee commercial. The Volvo ad was filmed at the lighthouse in early May.

If you want to visit the lighthouse, you can do so from Victoria. A causeway connects the island to the Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site. The lighthouse tower is still in operation, so it’s not open to the public. But the former lightkeeper’s home displays contains exhibits about the lighthouse’s history and stashes of games for children to play.

The lighthouse is a magnet for photographers, who are drawn to it during winter storms when the seas kick up and also at sunset, when the lighthouse stands out against a backdrop of the Olympic Mountains in neighboring Washington state. It’s a good spot to picnic and go wildlife watching, with bald eagles, great blue herons, river otters and more residing in the area.

And you can spend the night — not in the lighthouse but in summertime tented cabins that sleep six at neighboring Fort Rodd Hill. Plenty of seaside hotels and B&Bs are nearby too, in case you don’t want to go that rustic.

Yes, the Volvo ad is weird but, like it or hate it, it certainly has done its job of attracting attention for the 2016 Volvo XC90 … and for Victoria’s most famous beacon.

Photos: 11 Best Canada Experiences
Vancouver City Guide

— 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.

RUESBNASEOI, TARAINNEG

RENFCOLE, YAILT

SBBIEANR, LUASARITA

OGOHKGNN, CNHAI


Enter your list of unscrambled cities in the comments below. You have until Monday, August 15, 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 Juan Herrera, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Check out the puzzle answers below.

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA

FLORENCE, ITALY

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA

HONG KONG, CHINA


— created by Sarah Schlichter

Here’s what you might have missed this week in the world of travel:

KLM's Spencer robot helps passengers at Schiphol airport


Robot Customer Service Will Dominate Travel in the Future
Robots who help you go shopping, hotels constructed on 3D printers and virtual passports are among the technological advances we could see in the world of travel in the not-too-distant future, Vice reports. Many companies in the travel industry, including hotels and airlines, are testing such technologies, and they could be rolled out sooner than you think.

After ‘Brexit’ Vote, a Burst of Interest in Travel to Britain
Sales of airline tickets to the U.K. from the United States have jumped noticeably in the two months since Britain voted to leave the European Union, says The New York Times. British Airways, Expedia.com, Airbnb and others are all reporting an uptick in bookings.

Your Luggage Or Your Life? Airline Passengers Increasingly Choosing Their Luggage
All too often, when there’s an airplane emergency, video emerges of passengers slowing down the evacuation process by retrieving luggage from the overhead bins. The trend will lead to a tragedy, aviation expert John Goglia warns on Forbes.com.

Read This Before You Buy Travel Insurance
Can trip insurance holders receive refunds if they cancel a trip because of fears of the Zika virus? Money magazine says probably not, because most standard policies do not cover disease outbreak. This article provides good travel insurance reminders, including a rundown of policies that let you cancel for any reason.

Here’s What It’s Like to Travel 8 Hours Across Japan by Train
The sleekest, most modern trains in the world provide a quiet, plush experience, writes CNET’s Geoffrey Morrison. His fun travelogue details his eight-hour train ride from Nagasaki in southern Japan to Tokyo in the northwest.

Mindfulness Is Everyone’s New Favorite Travel Trend
Detaching from the rest of the world and destressing with a dose of mindfulness is the latest trend to hit hotels, Uproxx reports. Beyond yoga and meditation classes, a number of hotels are now handing out coloring books for adults, among other offerings.

The Most Photographed Spot in the U.S.?
Grand Teton National Park is one of the world’s most perfect places to take pictures, a “Disneyland for photographers,” says a longtime guide in this BBC feature on the famed Wyoming park.

Had enough of the heat and humidity of this summer? This stunning new aerial video of Iceland will cool you off.


— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

Want dinner delivered in a box on a weekly or monthly basis? There’s a subscription for that. Ditto for beauty products, socks, diapers, loose tea, outfits, even goodies for pregnant women tailored by due date.

Monthly subscription boxes have never been more popular. Travel buffs can get in on the mailbox fun too, with travel subscription boxes geared just for them. Here are seven we love.

kitchen table passport france box


Note: Most of these companies ship all over the world, though shipping fees vary.

Try the World: Each month you’ll receive a themed collection of foodstuffs from a single country, curated by a local expert. For instance, Brazilian cookbook author and teacher Leticia Schwartz selected the items in the Brazil box, focusing on foods for a quintessential Brazilian barbecue. Refreshing caipirinha, anyone?

Kitchen Table Passport: Like other kits, this one profiles a different country each month and focuses on cooking. But the kits are more than just recipes and ingredients — they invoke all of your senses. You’ll smell and taste the meal you’re preparing, but you’ll also listen to music from the destination, hold locally sourced souvenirs and see photos.

GlobeIn: In addition to receiving four or five handpicked artisan crafts from around the world — kitchen items, home decor and recycled tote bags among them — you also get to learn the back stories of the people who created the crafts. The company is committed to making a social impact by supporting the artists, crafter and creators of the products.

Little Passports: Introduce children to travel through the adventures of cartoon globetrotters and the gifts they dispatch to their young subscribers. Three kits are available: one for early explorers aged 3 to 5 years, a world edition for ages 6 to 10 and a U.S. edition for 7- to 12-year-olds. Each monthly gift contains maps, stickers, play passports, toys, activity guides and other offerings. An Egypt-themed gift box, for example, includes suitcase stickers depicting the pyramids and pretend archeological dig kit tools. Subscriptions also include access to online games.

Bocandy: If you have an adventurous sweet tooth, this is a great subscription box. You get to sample candy and other treats from Bulgaria, Japan, Germany, Mexico and other countries. There are several boxes to choose from, including one focused on Asian treats.

Eat Feed Love: This foodie website offers a “Taste Club” that delivers boxes of sample or full-sized artisanal foods and snacks from around the world. Coffee, tea, syrups, spices, oils, condiments and chocolate are all in the mix, and items are sourced from markets, family farms and small shops.

Birchbox: Birchbox was one of the pioneers of the subscription box industry, providing sample-size beauty products for women. Though not geared toward travelers per se, the five items provided in their monthly kits are often travel-sized. Items are personalized too, based on your responses to a short questionnaire.

— 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 city’s name comes from an indigenous word meaning “where the river narrows.”

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, August 8, 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 Dorinda, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was Canada’s Quebec City. Dorinda 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 the week’s most interesting stories from around the travel world.

airplane food


“Nightmarish School-Dinner Fare”: Airline Food Taste Test
The Guardian puts airline food to the test with deliciously scathing results. Of one EasyJet sandwich, the author writes, “It is a bready Alcatraz incarcerating one slim slice of cheddar that has briefly been dabbed with ‘seasoned mayo’ (presumably seasoned with air, for all the flavour it adds) and a ‘mixed-leaf salad’ whose sparse scattering of shrivelled leaves looks more like some foliage has blown in through the window during prep than a deliberate garnish.”

Is This the Future of Hands-Free Luggage?
CNN profiles a bizarre new travel accessory: My Hitch, a gadget that allows you to hook your suitcase to your waistband so it will follow you wherever you go. Because every traveler needs a luggage tail!

Travel 3,000 Miles Through China’s Wondrous Wild West
A National Geographic photographer describes the experience of riding a train for 52 hours across China with his family. (Don’t forget to click through the gallery at the top of the story to see his powerful images.)

The Entire Continent of Australia Has Moved Five Feet in 22 Years
Thanks to its position atop an active tectonic plate, Australia has moved about five feet to the north over the last couple of decades. Though that may not sound like much, Conde Nast Traveler notes that such shifts can have a meaningful effect on devices that use GPS technology.

Tourists Blame Google Maps for Sending Them Into Venice in a Car
Speaking of GPS, Travel + Leisure reports on a couple of tourists in a rental car who blundered into a pedestrian-only section of Venice, nearly hitting a bystander along the Grand Canal. Their excuse? They were following Google Maps.

A Cheese Made from … Donkey Milk?
A BBC reporter journeys to Serbia to taste the world’s most expensive cheese, made from the milk of local donkeys. It’s said to slow the aging process and boost immunity and virility.

This week’s video is a tearjerker, featuring an Iowa choir singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” on a plane in honor of a WWII soldier, whose remains were being escorted on the flight from Germany to Atlanta.



Lost in Venice: One Wrong Turn and You May Never Leave
11 Things Not to Do on a Plane

— written by Sarah Schlichter