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The IndependentTraveler.com Blog

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!

portugalIn this month’s featured review, reader Maria Marrocchino writes about a biking adventure in Portugal. On her third day, her journey took her to the Conquest of Valongo Castle: “When we finally arrive at the castle, we park our bikes and walk up. The 11th-century surreal castle is built in the middle of nowhere which of course makes it all the more majestic. We sit and eat our lunch over the spectacular view of the countryside.”

Read the rest of Maria’s review here: Biking in Portugal – Evora. Maria 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 sweet spots to visit during summer in the Southern Hemisphere.

Would you rather …

… hit one of the world’s most famous beaches in Rio de Janeiro, or …

ipanema beach rio de janeiro brazil



… take a scenic coastal drive to see the 12 Apostles in Australia?

12 apostles australia


Famous beaches Ipanema (pictured above) and Copacabana have put Rio on the map, but the city is home to numerous sunny stretches of sand. Looking to visit? Consider family-friendly Praia de Leblon and beautiful Praia Vermelha. For a different kind of coastal view, drive the Great Ocean Road, which runs along Australia’s southern coast and is one of the world’s most spectacular drives.

Escape the Cold: 8 Warm Weather Winter Vacations

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: Due to its atolls, this nation is one of the most geographically dispersed countries in the world. Some say the aerial view of this island in the Indian Ocean looks like a flower.

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, December 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 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 J. Kofsky, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was the Maldives. This reader 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

vintage suitcase filled with santa hat and striped socks‘Twas the night before travel, when all through the house
Not a single thing was packed, not even a blouse.
The passports were placed on the table with care,
In hopes that by morning they still would be there.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of security lines danced in my head.
With mom out in Yonkers and a 4 a.m. flight,
I had just prepared my brain for a long sleepless night,
When on The Weather Channel there arose such a clatter,
I turned up the volume to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,
My heart did seize up and my teeth they did gnash.
For on the lawn was a fresh layer of snow
That looked like it had inches and inches to go,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
A winter storm advisory, to close out the year.
With a little old sigh, and a cigarette lit,
I took a deep breath, resisting a fit.
More rapid than eagles the phone alerts came,
And I cringed and I shouted and I called them all names.
Delays Newark! Delays Houston! Delays JFK and San Fran!
Delays, Atlanta! Delays Dulles! Delays LAX and Logan!

My blood pressure was up, I was climbing the walls;
I could hear stand-by now, through muffled airport calls.
Planes were all grounded, like before wild hurricanes,
Met with an obstacle, I sat down and ate candy canes.
Fed up with holiday travel, my nerves were askew,
We had gifts for Aunt Kathy (and her new beau, too).
And then, in a moment of panic I remembered:
Do we fly out next year or was it this December?
As I cradled my head, I saw a light and spun ’round,
Headlights in the driveway — our in-laws in town?

Dressed in faux fur, from head down to feet,
My fashion sense flinched, but my heart skipped a beat;
For a bundle of toys were flung on their back,
But more than just that — we didn’t have to pack!
My eyes how they watered! My spirits were merry!
(Mental note to fire my assistant, Jerry.)
His droll little mannerisms bothered me, oh!
But his scheduling skills were lacking more so.
The stump of a pen he held in his teeth
And the smoke on his clothes sometimes made me seethe;
But he has a good heart and he’s not all that smelly,
He does make me laugh and he stocks Jelly Belly.

With a crash came tumbling our Elf on the Shelf
And I snapped back to reality, in spite of myself;
An apologetic tail wag from the family dog Zed,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
I turned off all my email, even my work,
And hugged my in-laws (so I wasn’t a jerk).
I set a reminder to book flights for next year,
And still couldn’t believe we’re hosting it here.
So I sprang into action, part relief and part Xanax,
And away my cares flew, along with my panics,
But I heard the weatherman exclaim before he was snowed out of sight,
‘Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night.’

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

Eight Holiday Travel Myths Debunked

Tips for Being a Good Holiday Houseguest

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 appealing holiday travel options.

Would you rather …

… stroll through a snowy Christmas market in Europe

stockholm christmas market snowy holiday sweden



… build “snowmen” on the beach in the Caribbean?

beach snowmen sand caribbean


Europe is home to numerous traditional Christmas markets that run throughout the festive season. (Don’t miss this video of Berlin’s market.) But while these markets have charm to spare, they also typically feature gray skies and wintry weather — which means you might be happier having your holidays on the beach instead.

Which Caribbean Island Is Right for You?

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, December 22, 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 Kelly M., who correctly guessed that this week’s flag was from Belize. Kelly has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

trinidad cubaFor more than 50 years, Cuba has been a travel taboo for U.S. residents. Going there wasn’t technically prohibited — particularly if you were able to get special clearances as a journalist or Cuban expat, or if you traveled with an authorized tour operator — but spending money there was. Sure, there were ways around the restrictions, but this week we’ve gotten closer to the day when independent American travelers will no longer have to make sneaky pit stops in Mexico or Canada along the way.

Earlier this week, after Cuba and the U.S. came to an agreement that released prisoners on both ends and returned them to their home countries, the rules about spending money in Cuba were relaxed. Travelers will soon be able to use their credit and debit cards to make purchases on the island, and lovers of Cuban rum and cigars can rest easy knowing that won’t have to smuggle their Caribbean souvenirs back into the U.S. anymore (not that anyone has ever done that, of course).

Congress will discuss lifting further economic sanctions next year.

Cuba: Two Weeks to Remember

What does this mean for Cuba travel right now? Is it likely that you’ll be able to just pack your bags and book a trip on a whim without a U.S.-sanctioned reason? Not just yet. But anyone wishing to explore the country might find it easier to fit into one of the allowable categories (which include family visits, humanitarian projects, educational activities and “support for the Cuban people,” among others).

Are you interested in Cuba travel? Why or why not? Tell us in the comments below.

First Impressions of a Cuba Cruise

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

With many publications releasing their top destinations for 2015, we couldn’t help but take some time to muse on where the New Year would take us. Watching an inspirational video from travel company Adventure.com helped get us in the spirit of wanderlust with some spectacular imagery from around the world (check it out below!). From family reunions in Ireland to polar bear-spotting above the Arctic Circle, our staff named some destinations they’ve already booked for 2015, and some they’re only dreaming of. I’m personally looking forward to a potential trip to Alaska. Where will 2015 take you?


Who? Kim Coyne, Director of Sales
Where? Ireland, Iceland, river cruise from Amsterdam
Booked or Bucket List? They’re all slated for 2015. When I married my husband, I made him sign a “prenup” (scribbled on a bar napkin) that stated we would always have a next trip planned so that we always have a new or favorite destination to explore.

Who? Masha Uretsky, Social Media Specialist
Where? Greek Islands
Booked or Bucket List? Neither. I’ve been twice (Rhodes, Kos and Peloponnese), but I’m hoping to see more.

Who? Dori Saltzman, Editor at Large
Where? Montreal, Canada
Booked or Bucket List? Booked. Attending the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup to achieve my dream of attending a World Cup soccer game in person.

Who? Jodi O’ Prandy, Senior Search Engine Marketing Specialist
Where? Croatia and Slovenia
Booked or Bucket List? Booked!

How to Tone Your Travel Muscles

Who? Sarah Schlichter, Senior Editor
Where? Svalbard, Norway
Booked or Bucket List? Not sure it’ll happen in 2015, but at some point I’m dying to get up to Svalbard in search of polar bears!

Who? Morgan Agesen, Production Assistant, FamilyVacationCritic.com
Where? Barcelona
Booked or Bucket List? Heading out in April, and going to Copenhagen and Amsterdam as well.

Who? Ashley Kosciolek, Contributing Editor
Where? Tibet
Booked or Bucket List? I’d LOVE to go to Tibet — to one of those mountaintop monasteries — but there’s no way it’s happening in 2015. So bucket list for now.

Who? Jamey Bergman, Production Editor, Cruise Critic U.K.
Where? San Francisco/Tahoe, California
Booked or Bucket List? Never been, but I’ll be staying over Christmas into the New Year. It’s not very exotic, but I’m pretty excited. (Jamey is from the U.S. but is currently living in London.)

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

klm amenity kit delft house I’m the worst kind of luxury traveler: I crave the perks of first class, but balk at paying unreasonably high prices, particularly for flights. So unless I get an upgrade, more often than not you’ll find me in premium economy, glaring enviously at the curtain ahead of me.

My luck changed recently on a trip to Athens, where I had the good fortune to try KLM’s World Business Class cabin on a flight between JFK and Amsterdam. The carrier has installed lie-flat seats on all of its 747s, and I knew as soon as I was ushered to my cocoon that I would actually be able to sleep.

While the seat’s features — roomy storage space, a shelf for shoes, a USB and electrical outlet, and noise-canceling headphones — were certainly thoughtful, I was more impressed by the amenity kits handed out by the flight attendants.

The small pouch, created by the Dutch design team Viktor & Rolf, was adorable, with a cute leather bow (the kits are distributed by gender; the male version is dark and has no bow). Contents included lip balm, a small toothbrush and toothpaste, footie socks, ear plugs and eye mask. The kit came with a strap so it could be used as a wristlet.

First Class for Free: How to Get an Airline Upgrade

I thought that was the end of the swag. But then, as we approached our destination, attendants came around with a basket full of small ceramic Delft houses, based on real properties in Amsterdam. These figures, which are filled with the Dutch liquor jenever, are apparently highly collectible and are often auctioned off on eBay (KLM has its entire collection on view in its Crown Lounge at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport).

Intrigued by KLM’s approach to courting luxury travelers, I took to Instagram to see if other airlines have stepped up their amenity game. Sure enough, there’s a hashtag called #businessclassswag, where high fliers post photos of their comfy corner in the sky. Expect to see pictures of hot fudge sundaes, gourmet meals, complimentary Champagne and tricked-out entertainment systems, uploaded by grinning frequent fliers swaddled in duvets (#businessclass is also popular).

Now it will be even harder to go back to the back of the plane.

5 Things You Shouldn’t Wear on a Plane

– written by Chris Gray Faust

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 breathtaking bays.

Would you rather …

… sail through the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro, or …

kotor bay montenegro



… relax at Bacuit Bay in El Nido, on Palawan Island in the Philippines?

bacuit bay el nido palawan island philippines


Montenegro’s Bay of Kotor is particularly beautiful when approached by boat; you can also drive along it on a day trip from Dubrovnik, Croatia. Take time to explore the charming medieval town of Kotor. Bacuit Bay is speckled with limestone islands where travelers can hike or snorkel. You can also take a scenic boat ride out into the bay.

10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter