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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.





Enter your list of unscrambled cities in the comments below. You have until Monday, September 5, 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 Kathleen Copeland, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Check out the puzzle answers below.





— created by Sarah Schlichter

Check out our favorite travel reads of the week.

couple on vacation

Every Month, This Company Chooses a Random Employee to Send on a Two-Week Vacation
Okay, how do we land a job at this company? Travel + Leisure reports that The Motley Fool, a financial services firm, chooses one employee each month to take a spontaneous two-week vacation — complete with $1,500 of spending money.

Your Underwhelming International Holiday Photos
We love galleries of glossy destination photos as much as the next travel addict, but there’s something both funny and delightful about this roundup of lousy vacation pictures from the Guardian — complete with dismal gray skies, charmless parking lots and even an unwelcome eight-legged hotel guest. (Shudder.)

How Andy Steves Is Redefining His Dad’s Travel Guides for a New Generation
Fans of Rick Steves’ comprehensive Europe guidebooks will be glad to find out that his son Andy is carrying on the family business. Conde Nast Traveler checks in with the junior Steves to find out what’s on his bucket list, why print guidebooks are still relevant and what advice he’d give travelers before their first trip abroad.

Life With the Irish Travellers Reveals a Bygone World
A National Geographic photographer delves into the isolated culture of the Irish Travellers, an ethnic minority with an unwritten language, a nomadic way of life and a set of rigid gender roles. Her photographs offer a look into this rarely glimpsed world.

There Are Still Tons of Cheap Flights to Cuba You Can Book Right Now
On August 31, JetBlue became the first airline in more than 50 years to fly a regularly scheduled commercial flight between the U.S. and Cuba. If you’re looking to hop on one of these flights yourself, Time reports that there are numerous affordable alternatives on flights this fall, including October offerings from $205 roundtrip with taxes.

Returning to Everest: Trekking to Base Camp after the 2015 earthquake
A Lonely Planet writer checks out the scene in Nepal following the tragic earthquake of last year. She discovers that while some damage remains en route to the Everest Base Camp, the villagers along the way are eager to welcome back tourists.

Hong Kong’s Secret Night Meal
Foodies, take note — in Hong Kong it’s customary to eat not three meals a day, but four, reports BBC. Siu yeh is a nighttime snack served between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.

This week’s video is part of a new ad campaign celebrating the “world’s greatest fliers,” who supposedly fly American Airlines. Those of you who’ve flown American — do you agree that your fellow passengers meet these lofty standards?

11 Things Not to Do on a Plane
12 Delicious Destinations for Foodies

— written by Sarah Schlichter

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!

machu picchu traveler taking a picture

In this month’s winning review, a pair of travelers celebrate their anniversary with a trip to Peru: “Once inside [Machu Picchu] you ‘hike’ a rather steep path of cobblestone steps until you get to the overview (with our guide who was pretty proactive, it took us about 20 minutes),” writes cruisinbob. “Once at the vantage point, the view is simply awesome, much like the pictures you see.”

Read the rest of cruisinbob’s review here: Peru and Machu Picchu. This reader has won an IndependentTraveler.com sweatshirt.

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Let’s say you’ve always dreamed of ringing in the New Year in Times Square, and you’ve always wanted to stay at the New York Marriott Marquis, with its revolving restaurant and stone’s throw location to the famous midnight ball drop. You go online to make a booking, only to find that all 1,900+ rooms are sold out. A dozen booking websites return the same frustrating result.

If you’re truly determined to get a room in that hotel, you can spend hour after obsessive hour scouring the Internet trying to nab a cancellation. Or you could let a new website do the work for you.

hotel room view

Type in your desired hotel and travel dates, and Open Hotel Alert will send you a simple email or text message as soon as a room opens up. You then click on a provided link to reserve the room on Booking.com, the site’s affiliate partner.

There are a number of scenarios where this service could prove useful:

– If you’ve saved up all your loyalty points to use on your honeymoon at a specific beach resort, but the property is sold out.

– You’re going to a popular conference in a large city, but all of the hotels near the convention center are booked. Set up alerts for all of the hotels in the vicinity of the conference, and you’ll receive a notice if one of them opens up.

– You’re planning on having client meetings at your hotel and really wanted a suite, but only standard rooms are available. The notification you receive from Open Hotel Alert will tell you which room types have opened up.

Open Hotel Alert has more than one million properties programmed into its site, according to its founder, Mark Downs. And as with similar sites like Hotel Room Alerts, there’s no additional fee to use Open Hotel Alert.

11 Things Not to Do When Booking a Hotel
6 Lies Your Hotel Might Not Tell You

— 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: You can kayak, take a boat ride or even spend the night on this famous bay.

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, August 29, 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 Dave, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was Halong Bay in Vietnam. Dave 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 stories you may have missed from around the travelsphere.

leftover spaghetti on plate

In Germany, You May Be Fined if You Don’t Finish Your Meal
Conde Nast Traveler reports on a new trend hitting the dining scene in Germany: all-you-can-eat restaurants charging diners for food left on their plates. It’s part of an effort to reduce waste.

North Korea: How Can I Visit the Secret State, and Is It Morally Right to Go?
The Independent takes a look at the ethical issues associated with travel to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, where visitors must follow rigid group itineraries that don’t necessarily provide a holistic look at the local culture.

This Woman’s Insane Etch A Sketches Will Blow Your Freaking Mind
I can barely draw a stick figure on an Etch A Sketch, which is why I’m so amazed by complex and beautiful images drawn by a traveler named Jane Labowitch during a recent trip to India. BuzzFeed has collected her pictures of the Red Fort, the Taj Mahal and more.

Want Your Children to Grow into More Empathetic Adults? Travel with Them
Quartz examines how travel early in life can serve to encourage empathy, compassion and cognitive flexibility in children. One psychologist notes that just taking a trip isn’t enough; parents should have discussions with their children to help them process the differences they see between the local way of life and their own.

Turning Instagram Into a Radically Unfiltered Travel Guide
A writer for the New York Times explains how she uses Instagram’s location-based searches to get a glimpse at new places before she visits — not to see beautiful photos but for more practical purposes such as figuring out what to wear during a visit to a Muslim country during Ramadan or finding a Puerto Rican beach where the locals hang out.

Bangkok’s Disappearing Street Food
BBC reports on a troubling story to those of us who love eating our way through a new destination. In an effort to clean up the streets, the Bangkok government has evicted thousands of street food vendors from public areas around the city. This includes areas popular with tourists and locals such as Soi 38 and the On Nut Night Market.

In this week’s mesmerizing video, actress Rachel Grant shows us how to pack more than 100 items into a single carry-on.

The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time
7 Things Not to Do When Packing a Carry-On Bag

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Baggage fees are the airline surcharge that most fliers love to hate, but a new study shows that they have an unexpected silver lining: They’ve made it more likely for your flight to leave on time.

luggage cart suitcases airport

The study comes from the University of Kansas, where researchers discovered that the implementation of baggage fees encouraged fliers to check fewer bags, allowing baggage handlers to load planes more efficiently. Of course, it now seems to take longer for passengers to board, given that we’re all trying to find overhead bin space for our massive carry-ons, but this is apparently outweighed by the time saved on checked baggage. Says a University of Kansas researcher, “The below-the-cabin effect dominates the above-the-cabin effect.”

The time savings weren’t huge — the median departure time improved anywhere from 3.3 to 4.2 minutes, and delays went down 1.3 to 2 minutes — but they benefited all major airlines, including Southwest (which doesn’t charge for checked bags). The researchers note that some baggage handling responsibilities such as security checks are shared among all airlines, so the reduction in total checked luggage improved performance for everyone.

The biggest improvements in on-time performance came at large hub airports where layovers are common; fewer bags going through such massive handling systems led to fewer delays.

In other positive news, luggage-related complaints per 1,000 passengers have fallen since baggage fees were first implemented.

Do these findings make you feel any more kindly toward checked baggage fees?

11 Things Not to Do on a Plane
7 Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees

— written by Sarah Schlichter

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