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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 countries in the comments below. You have until Monday, June 1, 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 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 Diana Avery, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Check out the winning entry below.

countries with two colors in their flag


Stay tuned for further chances to win!

— created by Dori Saltzman

amsterdam canal housesWe recently challenged our readers to write a trip review about their travels for a chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card. We received a number of excellent submissions, detailing everything from excursions in Barbados to a whirlwind weekend in Bucharest.

Choosing the best review was a true challenge, but in the end we went with Christian Dew’s dispatch from the Netherlands, Going Dutch. Here’s an excerpt:

“I am a frequent visitor of the Netherlands and I love all things Dutch. Born and raised in America, a southern girl with a wanderlust mind, the Netherlands has a special place in my heart. Have you ever wanted to see the North Sea? Take a train through the Dutch countryside? Visit an old windmill? Go to a concert to see one of your favorite artists? Then I invite you to come and join me on this reading adventure of Going Dutch.” Read the rest!

While we only had one prize to give, we want to highlight a few runners-up that we also loved reading:

A Trip Underground, Running from Killer Coconuts and Tripped by a Turtle by Andrea MacEachern: “The others in my group went in one direction and I walked in another, solo through the maze of paths, [enjoying] the serene sounds of leaves blowing softly in the wind and birds chirping until suddenly, that peacefulness was shattered by a loud, crashing thud followed by shouting. I thought I was alone in that area but on the other side of the trees to the right of me, a couple from my tour was enjoying a leisurely stroll, just like I was, when a coconut came crashing to the ground about a foot away from the man’s head.”

Fall family trip to Italy, France and Spain via cruise ship by Nancy Lorentson: “Day three was the Vatican. We had gotten self-guided tour tickets online … 20-something dollars each, which is well worth it as the lines are long. You go in the back door museum entrance and we saw the entire museum. Try to get there at opening when it is less crowded.”

Iceland During the Winter by Rae Ann Wright: “Here we enjoyed the first half of a full ‘Culinary Coastal and Countryside’ tour. We were able to focus on the seaside and materials from the sea as well as the first microbrewery in Iceland. All the producers we visited were small family firms, and for some the knowledge had traveled from generation to generation. They offered us to taste fresh fish, local microbrewery beer and salted cod.”

Feeling inspired? Share advice from your latest trip!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

intel science fair raymond wang winnerWhat would you give to feel less stuffy after your next flight? You may start to feel the difference soon, thanks to a 17-year-old high school junior from Canada. Raymond Wang recently won the top prize at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair for his innovative solution to reduce the spread of pathogens on airplanes, while promoting fresh air to passengers.

According to a story in the Washington Post, Wang began to think about disease transmission on airplanes after the ebola outbreak last year. Although ebola isn’t transmitted through the air, many other contagious diseases are, and this spurred his research into cabin airflow.

Current airflow is spread down and across the rows by “two, large turbulent swirls,” according to Wang in the Post article. With the addition of fin-shaped devices into a plane’s air inlets, airflow is redirected more efficiently to each passenger in what Wang calls a “personalized ventilation zone.” Check out a video simulation of the difference:


The cost-benefit ratio of Wang’s new airflow system is a no-brainer. Installing the fins would cost approximately $1,000 per plane with overnight installation, and is estimated to increase fresh air to the cabin by 190 percent — reducing the concentration of airborne germs and pathogens 55 times over.

For his idea, Wang took home a $75,000 cash prize and has filed for a patent. Let’s hope it’s put to good use.

Avoiding the Airplane Cold
18 Surefire Ways to Get Sick While Traveling

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.

tulum ruins mexico


Population: 120.3 million

Currency: Mexican peso

Phrase to Know: Donde esta el baño? (Where is the bathroom?)

Fun Fact: Back in 1913 Mexico’s 34th president, Pedro Lascurain, served the world’s presidential shortest term — less than an hour.

We Recommend: Swim with whale sharks in Cancun. These massive but gentle creatures can weigh up to 20 tons.

12 Best Mexico Experiences

Have you been to Mexico? What was your favorite spot?

— 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: This city is home to thousands of farms and gardens, as well as one of the world’s tallest free-standing totem poles.

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, May 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 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 Elizabeth Rose, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was Victoria, British Columbia. Elizabeth has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.

See All “Where in the World?” Challenges

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

close up detail of rome's trevi fountain sculpturesYou’re in Rome for the first time. You’ve got your euro penny in hand to throw into Trevi Fountain. You’ve been thinking about what wish you’re going to make since you first stepped off the plane at Leonardo da Vinci International Airport. But when you get there the fountain is dry, enclosed in scaffolding with only a small metal bridge for limited access. Signs in several languages warn against throwing coins. Your wish dies on the tip of your tongue. You’ve come all the way to Rome, and one of the main sites you wanted to see is closed.

Many travelers have faced a similar situation on their journeys. (Trevi Fountain will remain closed to the public through fall 2015, for example.) Logically we understand it. Buildings, attractions and works of art that have been around for hundreds of years or more must be maintained so they’re around for hundreds more. There are no promises they’ll be open or on display for you on the day you visit.

11 Best Italy Experiences

But when it’s something you had your heart set on seeing, logic goes out the window. Disappointment and anger mingle, and your satisfaction with your vacation dims just a bit — or a lot, depending on just how important seeing that attraction was to you.

The best way to avoid this situation is to research your trip ahead of time and temper your expectations. It’s not just renovations that can upend your plans; traveling during a national holiday you didn’t know about could leave you standing outside the locked doors of that museum you were hoping to visit.

If you have always wanted to see the Mona Lisa and are thinking about a trip to Paris, check to make sure that the Louvre will be open at the time you’re planning on visiting. The Louvre is closed on Tuesdays, as well as annually on May 1, July 14 and December 25. When preplanning your visit, make sure to slot in the Louvre on any day but one of these.

12 Best France Experiences

Attraction hours are easy to find, but how do you find out about other events that might prevent you from seeing the attractions you want? Your best bet is to contact the tourist board of the destination you’re visiting. Country tourist boards are okay, but if there’s one for the city you’ll be in that’s better. Give someone at the tourist board a call. Ask if there are any renovations going on at the attractions you want to visit. Ask if they are aware of any protests planned. (In April 2015 the Eiffel Tower was closed down for part of day during massive anti-government protests.)

There is no way to guarantee you’ll never be on the outside looking in at an attraction you wanted to visit. If you can (and we recognize it’s really difficult), try not to get your heart set on anything. Every destination has multiple attractions, and missing out on one does not have to ruin your trip.

Have you ever visited a city with your heart set on seeing something specific only to find it closed when you got there?

— written by Dori Saltzman

Unless you’re a first-time flier and everything is shiny and new, it can be awfully hard to pay attention to the safety video onboard your flight; either you’ve heard it all before, you assume it’s common sense or you’re breathing into a bag because you’re already that nervous to fly.

Air New Zealand is among the airlines who’ve made a noticeable effort to infuse some entertainment value into this necessary safety briefing (last year Delta went ’80s and Virgin America flight attendants rocked out). From a Lord of the Rings-style presentation to cameos by Betty White, Richard Simmons and President Obama, Air New Zealand has set the standard for high-budget safety cinema.

In the airline’s latest installment, shot in stunning surf locations such as Malibu, Australia’s Gold Coast and Raglan and Piha, New Zealand, “Air New Zealand’s Safety Safari” showcases world surfing champions Gabriel Medina of Brazil, Australian Mick Fanning and American surfers Laird Hamilton, Alana Blanchard and Anastasia Ashley as they breezily guide you through in-flight safety.



If you’re a fan of beautiful, smiling people running around world-famous beaches and instructing you with charming accents, then you won’t be bored. However, because they are beautiful people running and surfing around (at times shirtless) on world-famous beaches in charming accents, you also might be too distracted to glean the important safety information. Now if only emergency lighting on airplanes were as enchanting as paper lanterns…

In conjunction with the Safety Safari video, Air New Zealand is hosting a contest giving away a Malibu surf lesson for two with legendary surfer Laird Hamilton, roundtrip air to Los Angeles, a five-night stay in Santa Monica and a five-day rental car.

13 Best New Zealand Experiences
11 Best Australia Experiences

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

singers cuba el tanqueRecent changes from President Obama mean that it’s gotten significantly easier for Americans to visit Cuba, but they must still travel under one of 12 categories mandated by the U.S. government. A research trip or a visit to see family? No problem. A beach vacation or simple sightseeing? Those are a no-go. (For the full list of legal categories, see Can Americans Travel to Cuba? Yes — and Here’s How.)

For those of us who aren’t journalists, professors or baseball players starring in an exhibition game, the easiest way to get to Cuba is with a company operating “people-to-people” tours, which fall under the umbrella of Educational Activities as far as the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) is concerned. These trips focus on cultural exchange by putting American visitors directly in contact with the Cubans themselves — often in ways that would be difficult or even impossible to arrange on your own.

I recently traveled on such an itinerary with smarTours, which arranged numerous people-to-people activities during our four days in Havana. One highlight was a visit to El Tanque, where an abandoned water tank that used to service steam trains has been transformed into a bustling community center where neighborhood kids can learn painting, music, ceramics, dancing, theater and filmmaking. Several of the instructors gave us an impromptu musical performance before answering questions about the project, giving us insight into how economically challenged neighborhoods in Havana are supporting themselves from within.

5 Things You Need to Know About Traveling to Cuba Now

cuba photographer artist lorenzo lopez sheningThe interactive experiences continued throughout the trip. We ate lunch one day with a local magazine writer, the next with a retired pitcher who’d played for various Cuban baseball teams. We were treated to a private concert by Ele, a dynamic singing group, as well as a performance by incredibly talented children who were studying acrobatics and other circus skills as part of an after-school program called Angels of the Future. (One child swung from the ceiling; another contorted herself into painful-looking poses; still another stood barefoot on his friend’s head!) On our last day in Cuba, we were welcomed into the home of a local artist/photographer, who generously spent an hour answering our group’s questions about his life, his work and the future of Cuba.

While I loved strolling the streets of Old Havana and watching the Buena Vista Social Club perform at our hotel — activities I could’ve done easily on an independent trip — it was the people-to-people aspects of the itinerary that proved to be the most informative and rewarding. At this pivotal point in Cuban history, it was important to hear the voices of the people themselves, expressing their hopes and fears about what’s ahead. (“After the embargo” was a phrase we heard over and over again.)

Yes, group trips have their drawbacks, especially if you love wandering and prefer your schedule to be your own. And I support the right of all American travelers to visit Cuba independently when it’s legal to do so. But I hope that even after all the restrictions are gone, there will still be companies offering people-to-people itineraries in Cuba — because there are few better ways to understand and appreciate this unique culture.

Read About Other Travelers’ Experiences in Cuba

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.

prague czech republic


Population: 10.6 million

Currency: Czech koruna

Phrase to Know: Dobry den (hello/good day)

Fun Fact: The Czech people consume more beer per capita than anyone else in the world, beating out the Irish in second place.

We Recommend: Join the locals in foraging for wild mushrooms, a popular hobby during the summer and fall in the Czech Republic.

10 Best Czech Republic Experiences

Have you been to the Czech Republic? What was your favorite spot?

— 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, May 18, 2015, 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 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 Nancy James, who correctly guessed that this week’s flag was from Swaziland. Nancy has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations!

— written by Sarah Schlichter