Home

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

eyjafjallajokull volcano icelandIn less than two weeks, I’m leaving for a trip to Iceland. Yes, Iceland, where a volcano is currently erupting.

Any mention of “Iceland” and “volcano” conjures up visions of the massive ash cloud produced by the famously unpronounceable Eyjafjallajokull volcano in 2010, grounding thousands of flights across Europe. Fortunately, this time the Bardarbunga volcano has been spewing out lava and smoke, not ash — at least so far.

I was already a little bit stressed out over this trip because of some ongoing health issues within my family, so hearing that I could potentially be stranded five time zones away from home if an ash cloud materializes was not exactly reassuring news.

As a travel writer, I typically advise people with concerns about a trip to purchase travel insurance, which will usually protect you if weather, illness or other calamities threaten your vacation. But because the volcano has been simmering for a few weeks now, most travel insurers are excluding any volcano-related losses from coverage (unless you purchased your policy well in advance).

Alas, I did not buy insurance when I first booked the trip, so there’s little I can do beyond ensuring that any last-minute reservations I’m making are fully refundable — and crossing my fingers that the volcano and health gods will be kind.

Reykjavik Travel Guide

This reminds me that every trip I take has some element of uncertainty, even if it’s usually not as dramatic as a lava-belching volcano. After all, you never know when a flight delay will strike, a family member will fall ill or a much-anticipated attraction will be closed. While insurance and advance planning can help cushion the blow, there are no guarantees that a trip will go smoothly — and in many ways, the risk of the unknown is part of travel’s essential appeal.

In that spirit, I’m embracing this trip to Iceland, worries and all. And next time, well … I just might purchase that travel insurance.

5 Ways to Beat Pre-Trip Panic

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Would you watch a show featuring four senior men backpacking across Europe? Well, many in South Korea already have, and according to an Entertainment Weekly article, the show is so popular it’s coming to America.

“Grandpas Over Flowers” is a travel and reality show that features four South Korean men over 70 years old, on a backpacking adventure with the help of a porter who helps to cook and drive.

The concept — set to debut on NBC under the name “Better Late Than Never” — will feature four older, as-yet-unnamed actors backpacking across Asia with a younger porter.

Details on the stateside version are forthcoming, but it’s bound to exclude the animated flower petals and speech bubbles that pepper the original. Then again, I’d kind of love to see someone like Michael Douglas with cartoonish graphics highlighting his trek. To check out a clip of the current Korean travel show, see below.



– written by Brittany Chrusciel

Today’s post is part of a weekly series called “Travel Toss-Up,” in which we ask you to take your pick between two amazing travel experiences.

This week’s toss-up offers a choice of two sweet spots for a stroll.

Would you rather…

… walk along a pristine beach in the Seychelles, or …

couple on seychelles beach



… hike through a lush rain forest in Daintree National Park, Australia?

daintree national park rain forest


The dreamy Seychelles Islands, located in the Indian Ocean, are a popular destination for honeymooners, divers, sailors and beach bums. Start with the main island of Mahe, where there are more than 60 beaches to choose from. Australia’s Daintree Rainforest offers multiple ways to explore, including walks and zip-lines through the canopy.

11 Best Australia Experiences
Madagascar/Mauritius/Seychelles Travel Forum

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– 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, September 1, 2014, 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 travel mug. 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 Sharon Bailey, who correctly guessed that this week’s flag was from Venezuela. (As some commenters correctly remarked, the flag shown is the civilian version.) Sharon has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

airplane seatsTwo United Airlines passengers got one heck of a time-out on Sunday when an argument over a few inches of space escalated, leading to the rerouting of their plane.

According to the Associated Press, the fight began when an unnamed male passenger attached a Knee Defender — an apparatus that clips onto your tray table to prevent the person in front of you from reclining — to his seat so he could use his laptop uninterrupted. Although United Airlines has banned the gadget on its flights, the passenger refused to put it away when asked by members of the cabin crew, prompting the unnamed woman in front of him to throw a cup of water in his direction.

At that point, the Denver-bound flight, which departed from Newark earlier that day, was only halfway to its destination when the pilot made an unscheduled landing at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport to have both passengers removed.

Although police met the plane when it landed and questioned both passengers, it was deemed to be a customer service issue, and no arrests were made.

The kicker here, though, is that both passengers were sitting in the plane’s Economy Plus section, which already offers more legroom than standard economy seats to begin with.

The Etiquette of Seat Backs and Elbow Room

So what do our readers think about space and whether fliers are entitled to it?

“As tight as seats are getting, they should not recline,” says Julie Reiss Justice on Facebook. “I have had my iPad smashed from a seat reclining quickly … I personally will not recline.”

Tom Vertrees agrees that space is limited, but comes to the opposite conclusion: “Airlines shouldn’t squeeze seats so close together in the first place. If the seat reclines then it should be allowed.”

And Joshua Senzer wonders why the situation escalated so far in the first place: “The device is banned by United, the carrier in question. The fact that the individual failed to comply with [flight attendant] requests to remove it is telling in regards to those who would rather use something like this than simply attempt communication with another human … just my .02.”

10 Annoying Habits of Our Fellow Travelers

What do you think? Is it rude for passengers to recline their seats? Should the use of devices like Knee Defender be allowed? Leave your comments below.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

man working by a poolTime is down and work is up. Despite having relatively little paid vacation time, 77 percent of Americans have admitted to working while on vacation in the past year, according to a new TripAdvisor survey.

Out of the 10 countries — Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Spain, U.K. and U.S. — and 16,100 people polled, Americans receive an estimated 18 days of allotted vacation time, compared with an average of 24 days in other nations. The French top the list of allotted time with 31 vacation days per year — c’est la vie!

U.S. respondents — 76 percent of them — don’t feel that the amount of vacation time allotted is fair in comparison to what the rest of the world receives. Despite that majority, 91 percent of U.S. respondents have admitted to checking email while on vacation (and 37 percent don’t even consider it work, just routine); 85 percent respond to those emails; 45 percent check voice mail, and so on. This is because 65 percent of those respondents feel like there may be urgent work-related situations that will require their attention. Americans are also the most likely (18 percent) to feel guilty if they don’t work on vacation.

Travel Makes Us Happier

An average of just 40 percent of respondents from the other countries polled cite working while on vacation, despite receiving more vacation time.

Close to a third of respondents say a rise in Internet connectivity makes them feel the need to check in with work more; 39 percent say this connectedness has led to a greater expectation from employers to check in with the office.

So would more vacation time actually equal more relaxation? Currently, 66 percent of U.S. respondents say their vacations leave them feeling recharged, and 39 percent say they are better able to handle work stresses after taking a vacation. For those seeking more vacation time, they’re willing to sacrifice up to $350 per additional vacation day; 21 percent responded they would take this pay reduction in return for more time off.

5 Simple Ways to Make the Most of Your Vacation

Maybe the key to getting the most out of a vacation is to actually devote your full attention to being off, away and uninvolved with work (if you have the ability, which everyone should).

Have you ever worked during your “time off”? Why or why not?

written by Brittany Chrusciel

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc.

Each month, we’ll highlight one new trip review submitted by an IndependentTraveler.com reader. If your review is featured, you’ll win an IndependentTraveler.com logo item!

london big ben at nightIn this month’s featured review, reader Adrienne L. shares impressions from her first visit to the famous Harrods department store: “To describe it as massive would be an understatement. It boasts floor after floor of wonderful merchandise, from the scandalously expensive to the delightfully kitschy,” writes Adrienne. “The store personnel were quite helpful and gave us much-needed maps of the store. The highlight for us was visiting the Food Halls — several massive rooms chock-full of beautifully displayed food from all over the world. Choices included meat pies, seafood, cheeses, charcuterie, desserts, olives, pate, caviar and much more.”

Read the rest of Adrienne’s review here: A London Love Story. Adrienne has won an IndependentTraveler.com duffel bag!

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Today’s post is part of a weekly series called “Travel Toss-Up,” in which we ask you to take your pick between two amazing travel experiences.

This week’s toss-up offers a choice of two cities with over-the-top architecture.

Would you rather…

… check out Gaudi’s fantastical visions in Barcelona, or …

parc guell gaudi barcelona



… experience the decadence of Dubai?

dubai skyline uae


Visitors to Barcelona can’t miss the influence of architect Antoni Gaudi, whose whimsically designed buildings include the eternally-under-construction Sagrada Familia church, the colorful Casa Batllo and the flowing lines of Parc Guell, pictured above. Dubai is home to Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest skyscraper; Burj Al Arab, the first hotel to proclaim itself a “seven-star” property; and numerous other lavish buildings.

Best Cities for Architecture Buffs
Photos: 10 Best Spain Experiences

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

This week’s brainteaser is a Friday Word Puzzle. We’ll give you a category and the first letters of five countries that fall into that category, and you fill in the rest. Keep in mind that there may be more than one possible response for each letter. For examples, check out this blog post.

Ready to give it a try? Here’s this week’s challenge:

index card puzzle


Enter your list of cities in the comments below. You have until Monday, August 25, 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 travel mug. 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 Jay, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Check out the winning entry below.

puzzle asking for cities in india


Stay tuned for further chances to win!

– created by Dori Saltzman

ebags exo suitcaseOn a recent 10-day trip to Norway, I packed everything but the kitchen sink into one of eBags’ EXO 2.0 24-inch spinner suitcases. If you’ve been considering a new piece of luggage, you’ll want to read on — not just for a rundown of my experience with the bag but also for a chance to win an EXO 2.0 of your very own.

Exterior
Liked: The exterior of the EXO 2.0 is made of polycarbonate, which means it’s insanely durable. The case I tested made it through four flights with only minor scratches, thanks to the crosshatch-type pattern on the shell, which helps to reduce the visibility of such mishaps.

Didn’t Like: Although functional, the crosshatch exterior design doesn’t exactly look nice. I was initially excited when I learned the bag I’d be trying was red, but I quickly discovered red isn’t as uncommon on airport conveyor belts as you might think. I’d recommend trying one of the other available bright colors like purple or yellow. (Standard colors like black and gray are options too.)

Interior
Liked: There’s a ton of space, and I found that the main compartment’s straps helped to keep my abundance of clothing contained. A separate compartment, offset by a full swath of zippable mesh, was great for separating everything from shoes to dirty laundry from the rest of my stuff.

Didn’t Like: There are no additional pockets or compartments, which can make the packing of smaller items a challenge. eBags touts the fact that the EXO 2.0’s main compartment has a removable, adjustable shelf (attached to the interior of the suitcase via Velcro) to keep packed items from shifting or crushing each other. I didn’t find it to be all that useful because I packed enough to ensure no shifting would take place. It might come in handy for separating clean clothes from dirty ones or your clothes from those of a travel companion if you’re sharing luggage.

Wheels
Liked: The wheels are durable with a double-wheel construction, which means that your bag is less likely to tip over if you leave it upright.

Didn’t Like: Because of the dual-wheel configuration, the suitcase has a wider base, making it a little more difficult to maneuver than one with a single-wheel design. But the wider base is also what keeps the bag from toppling over, so it’s a trade-off.

Handles
Liked: All handles (adjustable handle used for dragging and top/side handles used for lifting) are sleek in appearance and are nearly flush with the sides of the case for a streamlined look. Plus, the extendable handle used for pulling the bag adjusts to three different heights.

Didn’t Like: Because the handles are recessed with little clearance, it can be difficult to get your fingers under them to lift luggage in a hurry (for example, grabbing your bag off of the conveyor belt). Combine that with the suitcase’s rough crosshatch exterior, and you’ve got a recipe for skinned knuckles. I also found the extendable handle to be a little on the flimsy side, given the overall size of the luggage.

Lock
ebags exo suitcase zippers lockLiked: As someone who routinely uses removable luggage locks, I love the idea of a suitcase that’s got a lock built in. No more worrying about losing the lock or fumbling to be sure it’s passed through both zippers when you try to re-secure everything. The built-in version is TSA-friendly, and the instructions for using it are a piece of cake.

Didn’t Like: Although setting the lock’s combination was easy, it took me a few minutes to figure out that the zipper pulls actually slide into openings to the right of the lock in order to secure the case. Beyond that, it took me even longer to discover that the only way to keep the zipper from partially gaping when locked (leaving a small opening into the main suitcase compartment) is to crisscross the zippers and then secure them. (The bag’s specs do mention that it has “patent-pending cross-over X zipper pullers,” but I had no idea what that meant.)

Overall
The EXO 2.0 is a durable, lightweight suitcase that offers some innovative features with the crisscross zippers, interior shelf and crosshatch exterior design. It’s currently available on the eBags website for $160, and it comes with a lifetime eBags warranty, exchange or return. In spite of the minor issues I had, it’s a solid choice overall.

If you’d like to enter to win a brand-new EXO 2.0 hardside suitcase, leave us a message in the comments by 11:59 p.m. ET on September 1, 2014. We’ll pick one winner at random. 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.

If you can’t wait until we pick a winner to do some eBags shopping, click here to get 15 percent off your purchase and free shipping on orders of more than $49. This discount is good through September 4, 2014.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Andrew P. Stay tuned for more chances to win!

– written by Ashley Kosciolek