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Here’s something fun to kick off your weekend. It’s a travel-themed picture puzzle. You just have to tie the photos together to make words. For example, a photo of an eye, combined with a photo of a full glass of water would be eye + full = Eiffel. Get it? (For another example, check out last week’s puzzle.)

This week’s puzzle is two words and represents a vast natural attraction in North America.

Once you think you know the answer, post it below. You have until Monday, March 10, 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 Ronda Bergman, who correctly guessed that the pictogram spelled “Yellowstone Caldera.” Ronda has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Stay tuned for further opportunities to win.


– written and created by Dori Saltzman

hotel front deskA San Francisco-based frequent flier is fed up with reclining passengers and, quite frankly, so am I. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been unable to use my laptop or read a book without having to hold it up to my face because the person in front of me had pushed his or her seat back as far as it would go.

But although an October 2013 poll by flight search website Skyscanner found that just under 50 percent of fliers would like reclining seats to be removed from all airlines, IndependentTraveler.com readers are not so inclined.

The Etiquette of Seat Backs and Elbow Room

In fact, when we recently asked our Facebook followers their thoughts on the subject, the majority of respondents reported that they always recline their seats, though most said they do so as politely as they can.

Wynne Gavin wrote, “I have a bad back and need to be slightly reclined. Since I am cognizant of the person behind me, I do so very slowly, carefully and just enough to be comfortable. I’ve never had it fully reclined.”

Ron Buckles and Trisha Hynes agreed. Recline slowly and just enough to be comfortable.

Clyde Roberts said he always reclines on long flights “for a while,” but never during refreshment service — and he eyes the person behind him first. “I check to see if the traveler behind me has reclined and if so I think he/she must be ok with me doing the same.”

And Randi Weiner said that although she understands there are issues with reclining seats “in this day and age when airlines are building planes with more and more seats jammed together,” she believes that if she paid for the seat and it has the ability to recline, then she will do so.

But even reclining passengers have had issues with other recliners.

“On a flight to JFK from Europe, the girl in [front] of me did a fast, full recline and I screamed, ‘Ouch!!’ when the [seat] hit my body,” Wynne Gavin wrote. “I simply pushed the seat forward a bit so I had some more room. She said, ‘I want to be comfortable.’ I said, ‘So do I.’ She had no choice but to compromise, as each time she reclined fully, I simply pushed it back up.”

10 Annoying Habits of Our Fellow Travelers

But Gavin added she does not think banning reclined seats is the answer. “Airlines removing a few rows and creating more space is.”

Since that won’t be happening any time soon, I’d like the airlines to take a look at Sue Armstrong’s response.

“How about a reclining section on the plane — spaced to accommodate it and part of seat selection and priced accordingly.”

What’s your preference — to recline or not to recline?

– written by Dori Saltzman

hotel front deskI usually love planning trips — second only to taking them! — but a few years ago, as I tried to hammer out a driving itinerary around the South Island of New Zealand, I found myself feeling unexpectedly stressed out. The problem: figuring out how long to spend in each place.

Would one night in Queenstown be enough, or should I tack on another? After driving three or four hours between stops, should we linger a little longer in each place before tackling the next chunk of our itinerary? Would we have enough time to detour through the Catlins in the far south?

Photos: 13 Best New Zealand Experiences

Around in circles I went, even though a few friends who’d been to New Zealand advised me not to worry about nailing down an itinerary. “You don’t need to book hotels in advance,” one said. “There are plenty of motels. Just do what you want during the day and find a place to stay wherever you happen to be.”

Her advice made perfect sense — but I didn’t take it. Here are three reasons why:

1. I’m a hopeless planner. While the idea of landing in a new place with no itinerary or bookings sounds like heaven to some travelers, it’s terrifying to me. I don’t have to plan out my day hour by hour, but the basics — activities I’m interested in, where I’ll lay my head — are a must.

2. Booking early gives me time to compare prices and read reviews. I’ve been burned in the past by last-second hotel choices that cost more than I wanted to pay or didn’t live up to my normal standards of service and cleanliness.

3. When I arrive in a new place, I want to spend my time exploring and doing things — not driving around searching for hotels that don’t look too sketchy.

33 Ways to Sleep Better at a Hotel

In the end, I compromised. I booked all my hotels before my trip, but made sure I would be able to cancel them without penalty if our itinerary changed. Fortunately, all my exhaustive research paid off. I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

How do you feel about booking hotels in advance? Vote in our poll or leave a comment below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

airport plane woman gate suitcase United Airlines generated a collective groan from travelers over the weekend by saying it will be strictly enforcing its carry-on baggage requirements, which limit each passenger to one personal item (like a purse, laptop or briefcase) and one carry-on bag with a maximum size of 9 x 14 x 22 inches.

The issue, however, isn’t with the size of the carry-on luggage allowed; other major carriers, including Delta and American Airlines/US Airways, have the same dimension restrictions. Instead, what’s upsetting is that United will now be charging checked-bag fees for any carry-ons that must be gate-checked due to noncompliance — even if passengers have used their carry-ons for years with no trouble fitting them in the overhead bins.

Of course it’s annoying when you see fellow flyers waddling onboard under the weight of a purse, a backpack, a computer bag and a carry-on that you can just tell exceeds regulation. But instead of making the boarding more efficient, charging for gate-checked bags is certain to slow down the process.

The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time

United also charges for the first checked bag for each passenger, so it’s understandable that many would attempt to bring slightly larger carry-ons to avoid baggage fees. (Meanwhile, two popular U.S.-based airlines — JetBlue and Southwest Airlines — allow each passenger to check at least one checked bag at no charge. To boot, the carry-on dimensions for both lines exceed those of United and the other major carriers at 10 x 16 x 24 inches.)

Ultimately, United’s decision to charge for the gate-checking of carry-ons reminds us quite a bit of the policy of ultra-discounter Spirit Airlines: one personal item can be brought for free, but passengers are charged as much as $100 per bag — each way! — for the privilege of boarding with a carry-on that won’t fit under the seat in front of them.

At this point, it wouldn’t surprise us one bit if United eventually starts charging for things like bathroom privileges (don’t laugh — this was proposed a few years ago by European discounter Ryanair) and oxygen.

4 Signs You Have a Packing Problem

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

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 streets for strolling.

Would you rather…

… wander down this quiet cobblestone street in the Tuscan village of Sorano, Italy, or …

sorano italy tuscany flowers lane



… explore the vibrant city streets of Osaka, Japan?

osaka japan night street


Are you energized by bustling cities, or would you rather lose yourself in a quiet village? Sorano is one of Italy’s many medieval hill towns, home to several picturesque churches as well as a castle, Fortezza Orsini. Meanwhile, Osaka is Japan’s third largest city, boasting endless shops, major museums (including the National Museum of Art) and the country’s oldest Buddhist temple, Shitennoji.

11 Best Italy Experiences
12 Best Japan Experiences

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Here’s something fun to kick off your weekend. It’s a travel-themed picture puzzle. You just have to tie the photos together to make words. For example, a photo of an eye, combined with a photo of a full glass of water would be eye + full = Eiffel. Get it? (For another example, check out last week’s puzzle.)

This week’s puzzle is two words and represents a important natural attraction in Europe.

Once you think you know the answer, post it below. You have until Monday, March 3, 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 Caprice Kutz, who correctly guessed that the pictogram spelled “Danube Delta.” Caprice has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Stay tuned for further opportunities to win.


– written and created by Dori Saltzman

new york times travel showLooking for inspiration for your next trip (or simply an escape from all this winter cold)? If you’re in the New York metro area, don’t miss the New York Times Travel Show this weekend. Held at the Jacob K. Javits Center on Saturday and Sunday, March 1 and 2, the show features exhibition booths, giveaways, book signings and a full line-up of travel seminars.

Besides walking the exhibition floor, you can see IndependentTraveler.com contributor Chris Gray Faust give a talk on Sunday at 3 p.m. on how to “Chronicle Your Adventures Like the Professionals Do: Impress Your Friends and Family.”

If you’re interested in cruising, don’t miss Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor-in-Chief of Cruise Critic (our sister site), at the Ask the Expert Q and A, scheduled for 3 p.m. on Saturday. Carolyn is also speaking Sunday at 2 p.m. on “The Best Cruise at the Best Price: Everything You Need to Know.”

Other speakers include travel experts Arthur and Pauline Frommer, “10,000 Places to See Before You Die” author Patricia Schultz, CBS News Travel Editor Peter Greenberg and Conde Nast Traveler columnist Wendy Perrin.

9 Tips to Get the Most Out of a Travel Show

The show is open to the public Saturday, March 1, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, March 2, from 11 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets cost $17 for adults, with children 18 and under admitted free. More information is at NYTTravelShow.com.

*Not in the New York area? See our list of 2014 travel shows around the U.S. and Canada.

– written by Chris Gray Faust

classroom polish studentsThroughout my travels, I’ve learned that the best way for globetrotters to immerse themselves in a destination and its culture is to stay for as long as possible and mingle with locals daily. That can be difficult for average folks like me who hold jobs and can’t exactly afford to scamper off for weeks at a time. But there are ways to do it inexpensively — like teaching, for example.

English teachers are in high demand in countries like Chile, China, Thailand, Spain, Poland, Italy and France, and programs exist to send willing native speakers abroad for free (or at least to cover their costs while they’re in town) in an effort to bolster student learning.

Take, for example, the Teaching English in Poland program, run by the Kosciuszko Foundation. I applied and spent one month of my first post-college summer at an English immersion camp, instructing teens in the tiny town of Limanowa. The program paid for everything but my flights: housing, food, and trips to places like Krakow, Warsaw and Zakopane on weekends. It even provided a small stipend, which was a welcome surprise at the end of my time there.

Living Abroad: 4 Ways to Make It Happen

I made tons of amazing friends with my fellow American teachers, as well as the Polish staff. I’m still in touch with several of them and with many of the students I taught. I quickly adapted to a life with no air-conditioning, no baseball (although we did try to teach the students how to play), crosses on the walls of every classroom, and surpluses of churches and vodka. I took a semester of Polish in college before embarking on the adventure, but my ability to actually speak it improved markedly with each day.

Other “programs” aren’t really programs at all, however. In fact, English-speaking travelers are often approached to teach while they’re already abroad — no experience needed. In China, for instance, teachers providing private English lessons aren’t required to have an education background or even a work visa.

If diving into a new place and imparting knowledge while doing it sound appealing, be sure you’re signing up for something reputable. Sites such as InterExchange.org, TransitionsAbroad.com and TeachAway.com are good places to start your research. If you’re being compensated for your time (or if the program is paying for your expenses), keep in mind that your goal should be to serve as an educator first and a tourist second. Even if you never venture beyond the town in which you’re staying, you’ll be surprised by how much you gain just from spending time with your students; you’ll learn as much from them as they will from you.

Living Abroad: 12 Tips from Travelers Who’ve Been There

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

businessman dreaming of vacationPeople who don’t use their vacation time are starving the economy.

Okay, maybe that’s a little bit of an oversimplification, but a new study by Oxford Economics conducted on behalf of the U.S. Travel Association found that Americans who chose not to use all of their paid time off deprive the economy of $160 billion in total business sales and $21 billion in tax revenues.

And while not all of that money would be derived from folks traveling — after all, not everyone will be able to splurge on a getaway and will instead opt for a staycation — a lot of it would be.

For instance, the report states that if all unused personal time were successfully converted to travel, leisure travel spending would be $99 billion dollars greater. Of course, that’s not going to happen, but the report estimates an additional $67 billion could realistically be converted into travel spending.

The reason the dollar amounts are so high is that a staggering 42 percent of Americans ended 2013 with unused vacation days. Of that 42 percent, the average amount of unused vacation time was 8.1 days — enough time for a road trip through California’s national parks, a relaxing cruise or two to three extended weekend getaways!

And the sad part of the whole thing is that while not everyone has money in their budget for a vacation, most people choose not to use their vacation time because they think they’re being responsible.

“My company needs me.”
“There’s too much work to be done for me to take off.”
“Leaving now would affect my overall performance.”

But these beliefs are often simply not true.

Survey Says: Travel Makes Us Happier

Research continues to show that employees who take time off to recharge are significantly more productive upon their return to work, a fact most managers recognize. According to the report, most managers believe that taking vacation time improves their employees’ mental health (76 percent of respondents) and physical health (67 percent). Similar numbers of managers believe that time off enhances their employees’ personal and social lives. The bottom line: Healthy, happy people are healthy, happy workers, and managers know it.

Those who use all their vacation time are also being more responsible to their country (cue patriotic music). If each employee who currently leaves paid time off on the table were to take just one additional day of earned leave each year, the economy would benefit by $73 billion dollars.

So the next time someone you know says they don’t plan on using up all their vacation time, feel free to give them a lecture on why taking vacations, even one as short as a weekend getaway, is so important to their employers, themselves and their country.

Ditch the Hotel: 10 Cheaper Ways to Stay

And if they still insist their workplace can’t survive without them? Well, tell them to send me their days off. I know I can find a use for them.

– written by Dori Saltzman

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 spectacular religious landmarks.

Would you rather…

… tour the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, or …

hagia sophia istanbul



… wander the ancient temples of Angkor, Cambodia?

ta prohm angkor cambodia


No matter your own spiritual leanings, religious buildings such as cathedrals, temples and mosques are some of the world’s most spectacular buildings. As we write in our Istanbul travel guide, the Hagia Sophia was “once a church, then a mosque, [and] was made into a museum in 1935 after the secular Turkish Republic was founded.” Angkor, Cambodia, is home to a number of Hindu and Buddhist Temples dating back to the Khmer Empire (9th – 15th centuries).

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter