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That’s right — it’s time for another round-up of silly travel signs! (Check out our first two installments here and here.) Got a picture of your own to share? Feel free to submit it on our Facebook page, in the comments below or by email at feedback@independenttraveler.com.

do not start the engine until the boat is in the water

Reader Allison Duke Newham send this one to us from Nice, France. There goes our plan to launch our boat right from the beach. …


parking sign stuttgart

Of this photo, reader Jo Cool La writes, “I always got a kick out of this sign in Stuttgart, Germany, near our apartment.” We have no idea who this couple is supposed to represent, but we love their style!


bitte danke toilet sign

Jo Cool La provides another German gem, this time from her hotel room in Garmisch-Partenkirkchen. Guess this property has had enough of cleaning up after people with, er, poor aim.


funny tissue box

This last one from Jo Cool La isn’t exactly a sign, but we’re including it because it made us smile. Maybe these tissues are for those times that you laugh until you cry.

Have you spotted any wonky signs on your journeys? If so, send them our way: feedback@independenttraveler.com.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

red wire cut from computerToo many users sharing the network, thick walls, incorrect settings — these may all be reasons you’ve concocted to explain your horrible Internet signal or poor cell phone reception during your latest hotel stay. But did the thought ever cross your mind that it was sabotage?

According to an article from CNN, the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, a Marriott property in Nashville, intentionally blocked guests from accessing their own personal Wi-Fi networks, forcing them to spend hundreds in order to use the hotel’s wireless Internet. Luckily the FCC got the signal loud and clear — and fined Marriott $600,000. The company will also have to file compliance plans with the commission every three months for the next three years. Federal law prohibits interference with cellular, GPS or wireless networks; according to the FCC, this is the first time a hotel property has been investigated for blocking guests’ Wi-Fi, but begs the question of whether other hotels aren’t guilty of the same practice.

In this case, Marriott employees used the hotel’s Wi-Fi system to block personal hot spots. The hotel chain maintains it did no wrong, stating, “We believe that the Opryland’s actions were lawful. We will continue to encourage the FCC to pursue a rulemaking in order to eliminate the ongoing confusion resulting from today’s action and to assess the merits of its underlying policy.”

Hidden Hotel Fees

Marriott claims that it was in fact protecting guests from “insidious” hot spots and potentially unsafe connections by blocking their ability to connect to them.

FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief Travis LeBlanc stands by the ruling. “It is unacceptable for any hotel to intentionally disable personal hot spots while also charging consumers and small businesses high fees to use the hotel’s own Wi-Fi network,” he told CNN. “This practice puts consumers in the untenable position of either paying twice for the same service or forgoing Internet access altogether.”

With so many hotels (especially convention centers) touting free Wi-Fi these days, I would probably not think anything of a poor connection, but would be suspicious of paying the equivalent of airfare just to log on.

Pay Less to Use Your Smartphone Overseas

Do you think hotels should have the right to control Internet connectivity on their premises, or is it just another way to make a buck? If you have a shady hotel Wi-Fi story, share in the comments.

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

a woman on a train looking out the windowI fall for it every time: the idea that train travel is grand and romantic, much the same way I always expect New Year’s Eve to be exciting and momentous. With both, I usually end up disappointed and ready for it to be over.

I was recently reminded of this on a three-hour train ride from Newark, NJ, to Washington D.C. on Amtrak. Though it’s more of a commuter train experience than a travel one, I nevertheless initially visualized sitting in the dining car with a book and something pleasant to eat, relaxing all the way to D.C. The reality of the ride was somewhat different: the dining car was full and I had to walk through two train cars before I found an open seat – and the woman sitting in the adjoining seat was none too thrilled when I asked her to remove her two bags and discarded newspaper so that I could sit. Three hours turned into four when a “police action” in Philadelphia stopped our train cold. By the time I got to Washington D.C. I was hungry and irritated.

Looking back on it, I have no idea why I thought it would be different. I’ve trained it around Europe before and never walked away relaxed or feeling like I’d just had a grand adventure.

In fact, I have almost no memories of any of my long-haul train rides. My first “real” train ride, from London to the Holyhead ferry terminal in North Wales as a 21-year-old backpacker, is a complete blur. I slept through almost the entire thing, exhausted after a flight from New York City to London. I have a few bleary memories of opening my eyes to see what looked like a castle whir by and thinking how beautiful it must be and what a waste it was that I couldn’t keep my eyes open.

European Train Tips

Another overnight train ride, from Bucharest, Romania to Sofia, Bulgaria, is also mostly a blur, though my strongest sense memory is one of fear. Fear of finding out I would have to share my sleeping compartment with a stranger – this worry popped up at every stop we made, all through the night (I never did have to share, though I didn’t sleep very well either). Fear that if I left to go get food from the dining car, someone would break into the cabin and take my stuff (I stayed in my compartment all night, forgoing food for reassurance).

Yet despite my mostly unromantic and humble train travels, one of my most intriguing travel memories actually did take place on an overnight train from Prague to Zurich in the days before the European Union existed.

When we got to the German border, immigration officers got on the train and passed through every car, looking at each passenger’s identification. The German officer who entered our car wore a dour face and demanded our passports in a tone of voice that invited no argument. There were six of us in the car: my sister and me (U.S. citizens) and four Italians traveling together. The officer took the first Italian’s passport, looked at it, looked at her, looked at the passport again and then handed it back. He did the same with me. Then he took a second Italian’s passport. Looked at it, looked at the guy, looked at the passport again, frowned and held on to it. He then proceeded to check my sister’s passport and those of the two remaining Italians before finally turning back to the young man’s passport he still held.

The officer held up the passport and inspected it, then looked at the man for what felt like an eternity. Suddenly, the officer started laughing, handed the passport back and left. We were all stunned. That entire routine had been the officer’s idea of a joke — something to keep himself amused during the monotony of checking passports, I guess.

The World’s Most Spectacular Train Trips

That incident is one of my strongest memories of a six-week backpacking trip in Europe, and it happened on the train. Perhaps that’s why the notion of romantic, exotic, grand and, most importantly, memorable train trips has stuck with me. Train trips may be mostly boring, sleep-inducing experiences, but you never know what might happen.

Have you ever had a memorable experience while traveling on a train? Tell us about it in the comment section below.

– 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 potential travel upgrades.

Would you rather…

… upgrade your hotel room to one with an ocean view, or …

ocean view hotel



… trade in your economy rental car for a convertible?

convertible


Some travelers would rather wake up to a sweet view, while others would rather feel the wind in their hair as they explore the local sights. Which one describes you?

5 Affordable Ways to Upgrade Your Vacation

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 animals in the comments below. You have until Monday, October 6, 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 Janis, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Check out the winning entry below.

exotic animals


Stay tuned for further chances to win!

– created by Dori Saltzman

When I started my travel writing career, I assumed one of the perks would be staring at gorgeous photos of exotic destinations all day — and for the most part I was right. But every once in a while, the stock photo website I use to source images for my stories gives me results that are real doozies. With every seemingly normal search term comes a pile of not-so-normal stock photos that range from hilarious to disturbing. Need a laugh? Check out this small list of a few I recently stumbled upon.

What We Searched: beach holidays

What We Got:

tourist looking at skull
Clearly he’s Mr. December.


What We Searched: smartphone traveler

What We Got:

tourist looking at skull
#skullfie


What We Searched: fancy traveler

What We Got:

dog on beach chair
I guess he’s fancy … for a dog.


What We Searched: woman on plane

What We Got:

woman on plane
Doesn’t everyone fly in bikinis and heels?


What We Searched: angry traveler

What We Got:

angry flight attendant with knife
Don’t even think about asking for another bag of peanuts.


16 Signs You’re Addicted to Travel

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

airplane seatsOn a recent flight to Iceland, something happened to me that I’d never experienced before: I had an entire row to myself on a plane.

Sure, I’ve occasionally had a middle seat open when I was on the aisle, good for some much-appreciated extra elbow room. But for the most part, I’m used to flying on completely full planes and worrying less about whether I’ll have an open seat next to me than about whether there will be an open spot in the overhead bin for my carry-on. (Anyone else been forced to gate-check a rollaboard at least half a dozen times?)

Of course, full planes are ideal for the airlines — more passengers equal more profit. And these days the airlines are doing a good job of selling out their flights more often than not. According to a press release from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the number of passengers who flew on all U.S. airlines between January and June 2014 was the highest it’s been since 2008 (before the economic crash).

Surviving the Middle Seat

So that’s why my empty row — on a red-eye flight, no less! — felt like such a miracle. Our plane was delayed briefly on the tarmac by a lighting issue, and as the technicians worked on it I watched the open door with an eagle eye, certain that the missing couple would show up, breathless after a sprint through the airport and ready to claim their seats. But then we were pushing back from the gate and the space was mine, all mine.

Alas, there was one minor snafu: the armrests wouldn’t go up, which did rather defeat the purpose of having a whole row to myself. Still, I was able to lean back against the window with my knees bent, and toward the end of the flight I figured out that I could even lie down in the fetal position with my hips angled out around the armrest. It’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to heaven in economy class.

9 Must-Dos Before a Long-Haul Flight

What’s the best surprise you’ve ever encountered while flying?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

cell phone airportThere are countless things I now rely on my phone for — directions, restaurant reviews, streaming music, a wake-up call — but booking a vacation is not one.

According to an episode of “The Street” found on USA Today, travel bookings on mobile devices are actually overtaking those made on desktop computers. Mollie Spilman, chief revenue officer for Criteo, an ad agency, spoke about statistics that show mobile bookings are up 20 percent in the first half of 2014 with no signs of slowing down.

In addition to the frequency of travel bookings made on mobile, the value per booking as well as the click-through rates are also higher on mobile devices than on desktop computers.

“It’s a smaller screen but the ads are more personalized,” Spilman said.

Avoid Smartphone Sticker Shock: How to Pay Less Overseas

The search history on your mobile device is more customized to your preferences because typically it is basing ads off of a single user rather than a desktop that may have multiple users, according to Spilman.

Over the weekend desktop activity drops even further, with tablets and smartphones taking its place. This is chalked up to desktop use being primarily used in the workplace, with mobile used more for browsing and recreation.

The segment stressed that mobile is changing consumer behavior and is expected to outgrow desktop in almost all markets, not just travel.

I’m not sure what it is — maybe the gravity of such a large spend, maybe the process of browsing multiple travel sites and booking engines — but despite being an avid mobile user, I still default to a desktop or laptop computer for booking flights, hotels, trips, you name it. Call me old-fashioned, but I just like the appeal of a large screen, a mouse and a chunky keyboard to hit “submit” on those momentous vacation plans to Timbuktu.

Tell us: Have you ever booked travel on a mobile device?

– 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 destinations offering delicious fried dishes.

Would you rather…

… eat fresh-caught fish on a beach in Trinidad, or …

fried fish maracas beach trinidad



… nosh on falafel on the streets of Cairo, Egypt?

falafel egypt


As in much of the Caribbean, fried fish is a popular dish on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago. In fact, there’s even an annual Trinidad Fish Festival featuring live music, an artisan street fair and, of course, plenty of fresh-caught fish. Falafel, a ball of deep-fried chickpeas or fava beans, is a common street food across the Middle East; it’s thought to have originated in Egypt, where you can still grab one of these tasty snacks wrapped in pita bread and garnished with tahini sauce.

Food and Travel: The Ultimate Guide

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

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: At one time, the remains of Christopher Columbus were kept here.

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, September 29, 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 Froilan Tiglao, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was Havana, Cuba. Froilan has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.

See All “Where in the World?” Challenges

– written by Brittany Chrusciel