Home

Home Travel Tips Travel Deals Destinations Trip Reviews Forums Blog
The IndependentTraveler.com Blog

This week’s brainteaser is a Friday Word Puzzle. We’ll give you a category and the first letters of five words 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:

deserts-of-the-world


Enter your list of deserts in the comments below. You have until Monday, May 26, 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 Sandy DeSiervo, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Check out the winning entry below.

deserts of the world


Stay tuned for further chances to win!

– created by Dori Saltzman

nile river egyptThe last time I was in Egypt, the most popular tourist stretch of the Nile between Luxor and the Aswan High Dam was a nonstop bustling waterway populated by small sailboats, working barges and river cruise vessels.

The scene from my vantage point on the sun deck of MS Grand Rose tells a very different story. There are more than 250 passenger ships licensed to sail on the Nile, but at present only about 30 are in operation. The majority lie idle, moored up to five abreast with their doors locked or inhabited by solitary watchmen.

Tourism used to account for 11 percent of the Egyptian economy, but Arab Spring took a heavy toll. River cruising in particular was hit hard. Between 2010 and 2012, the total number of U.K. passengers cruising the Nile fell by more than half, from 58,000 to 28,000 (and there are far fewer Americans).

In 2013, the number of U.K. passengers dropped to a mere 12,200, which was due to tourists being advised against all but essential travel to most parts of Egypt during the peak summer holiday season. This has since been lifted.

The U.S. State Department has a travel alert in place, and warns travelers that political unrest is likely to continue in the future. In particular, the government advocates avoiding travel to the Sinai Peninsula, where a bomb was detonated on a tourist bus, killing four people in Taba (which is near the Israeli border, far from the Nile Valley).

The State Department also urges visitors to avoid any demonstrations, “as even peaceful ones can turn violent.” The U.S. Embassy in Cairo is within a few blocks of Tahir Square, and occasionally has to close when protests occur.

In short, Egypt is unpredictable.

Visitors are coming back to Egypt, though it’s more of a trickle than a flood on the Nile at the moment — and involves few Americans.

9 Best Destinations to See from the Water

Grand Rose, the ship I am on, is an all-inclusive ship that will be exclusively sold to the British market when tourism picks up. My fellow passengers — mostly Brits and Germans — on the seven-night Luxor roundtrip cruise have no qualms about returning or visiting for the first time, particularly with the added benefit of tempting fares. On our excursions, we meet Europeans and a smattering of Chinese and other visitors from further afield.

The welcome we receive is as warm as the sunshine, with low-paid locals desperate to see the tourists come back. I speak to carriage drivers waiting patiently outside the ship who tell me their livelihoods virtually dried up overnight.

While the hassle from hawkers, the ensuing obligatory haggling and demands for tips for everything from taking a photo to handing out sheets of toilet paper is light-hearted, it is also tiring. There are some things in Egypt that never change, and the relentless pestering was just as I remembered it last time around. I felt sorry for some of the vendors, but if they just left tourists alone — particularly the Brits who love to browse — they would sell far more.

The next day, we drive past lush fields and sugarcane plantations irrigated by the Nile to reach the Valley of the Kings, dug deep into the desert mountains and dating back to the 11th century B.C. It contains the tombs of the pharaohs, most famously Tutankhamun, whose burial chamber was unearthed by British archaeologist Howard Carter in 1922. A few years ago this would have been full — today there are only a handful of other tour groups are visiting the sun-baked valley.

Next stop is the newly opened replica of Tutankhamun’s tomb on the grounds of Howard Carter’s former home. Originally I wondered why people would want to see a facsimile when they can see the real thing. Then I was told that the boy king’s burial chamber is being damaged by humidity and the thousands of tourists who have filed through over the years, so much so that many experts have called for it to be closed. The re-creation is a meticulous copy and, having seen both, I feel as if I am in the real thing. It’s also much more accessible for anyone with mobility issues and can be combined with a visit to the house, left just as it was in Carter’s time.

We sail out of Luxor past the imperious facade of the 19th-century Winter Palace, once a retreat for the Egyptian royal family and now a “grande dame” hotel. It was here that Agatha Christie wrote her 1937 novel “Death on the Nile.”

Read Egypt Trip Reviews by Real Travelers

As Egypt turns the page onto the next chapter of its long history, I am glad to be back. As long as you’re an adventurous traveler comfortable with a changeable and potentially volatile political landscape, now is a great time to go. You get to explore ancient sites and walk past towering statues with hardly anyone else around.

In spite of its recent difficulties and an uncertain political future, Egypt has withstood the test of time. Its history brings in the tourists, and it’s not going anywhere soon.

Would you travel to Egypt right now?

– written by Jeannine Williamson

bellhopEver had a bellhop sweep in to grab your bags even though you’d hoped to carry them yourself (and not have to pay a tip)? You’re not alone. In a recent survey of 2,719 Americans, Travel Leaders Group asked travelers how they cope with this and other common travel dilemmas. Turns out many of us are actually passive in uncomfortable travel situations, and the majority of us tip — even in cases where we’re not quite sure if we’re supposed to.

When it comes to an unoccupied but reserved beach chair, the majority — about 30 percent — would wait more than four hours before claiming it as their own; another 29 percent gave it an hour before calling dibs.

Almost half — 49 percent of respondents — would tip a bellhop if he or she assisted with luggage, even if they didn’t ask for help. Another 32 percent said they would tip, but less than if they had made the request, and 19 percent would not tip.

I was surprised to read that while 35 percent of respondents tip their maid service every day regardless of length of stay, 26 percent never tip.

Tips for Tipping Abroad

When asked what they would do if someone else brought kids to an adults-only pool, 28 percent would alert hotel staff only if the children were being disruptive, and 27 percent would alert hotel staff either way. Only 16 percent would say something directly to the parents. The remaining 29 percent would say nothing.

Disruptive noises while staying at a hotel or resort should be dealt with directly by hotel staff, according to 88 percent of respondents. Nine percent would do nothing, while the remaining three percent would do anything from banging on the wall and calling the room directly to being loud themselves to send the message.

When flying, you may notice the trend is to load your luggage overhead as soon as you board the aircraft so that you can leave quickly and grab your luggage on the way out. However, only 4 percent of survey respondents admitted to doing this. Three quarters of respondents said they try to get as close to their row as possible before stowing their bags overhead. The remaining 21 percent walk to their row and then ask a flight attendant for assistance.

Does Your Flight Attendant Hate You?

Some of these situations I grapple with all the time — how much to tip and when, should I speak up when others are stowing bags at the front of the plane and they’re sitting in the back — but some I’ve honestly never even thought of. I was surprised there were no questions about cutting in line — something I’ve encountered at almost every airport or attraction line I’ve stepped foot in.

What are your travel pet peeves? How have you or would you react in these situations? Share your comments below.

– 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 unique, almost otherworldly landscapes.

Would you rather…

… see the one-of-a-kind baobab trees in Madagascar, or …

baobab trees madagascar



… hike to the Emerald Lakes in Tongariro National Park, New Zealand?

emerland lake tongariro national park new zealand


Madagascar is home to several endemic species of baobab trees, which can live up to 800 years. The best place to see them is the Avenue of the Baobabs in Toliara Province, where a cluster of trees makes for striking photos (especially at sunset). A show-stopping view of the Emerald Lakes is the reward for completing the daylong Tongariro Crossing, one of New Zealand’s most popular hikes. The trip takes seven to nine hours on average.

13 Best New Zealand Experiences

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!

underwater, sculpture


Hint: This sculpture garden is renowned for its scenic diving and unique underwater inhabitants.

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, May 19, 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 Margot Wilson, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was the Grenada Underwater Sculpture Park. Margot has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

living roomIt’s easy to see a broken bone, but it’s harder to prove you’re feeling too distraught to travel. So if you or a loved one has ever struggled with mental illness, don’t count on travel insurance being there to reimburse you if your condition adversely affects your trip.

Two recent articles by NPR and Consumerist offer a cautionary tale about a couple who was refused coverage for a canceled trip due to their son’s mental health emergency (after a medication change, his doctor suggested that he not be left alone). Despite a letter of support from the psychiatrist, the couple was denied their $1,800 claim.

Travel Insurance: What You Need to Know

Travel insurance is not included under the Mental Health Parity Act and Affordable Care Act, which now mandates that health plans must cover preventive services like depression screening for adults and behavioral assessments for children at no cost, and that most plans won’t be able to deny coverage or charge more due to pre-existing health conditions, including mental illnesses. In fact, on the CDC’s website it says to be aware of “exclusions regarding psychiatric emergencies or injuries related to terrorist attacks or acts of war” when purchasing travel insurance. That means that unless your ailment is physical in nature, don’t expect anything in return for your turmoil from travel insurance.

According to NPR, the National Alliance on Mental Illness has received about 10 complaints about travel insurance discrimination over the past year. Travel insurance is state-regulated, so policies, fine print and subtleties will vary across the U.S. Some states flat-out do not offer mental health coverage or consider it a pre-existing condition. Options at this time seem limited for anyone who struggles with bouts of anxiety, depression or even loved ones who may require additional care.

To me, the stigma attached to mental illness reflects an outdated taboo about real disorders and serious conditions that affect one in four adults in the U.S., according to the National Institute of Mental Health. In my opinion it is discrimination, and coverage should extend to families who cope with mental health issues as much as it extends to physical ailments. Everyone deserves to travel and not worry about the consequences if they can’t.

Safety and Health Tips for Travelers

What are your thoughts about travel insurance coverage for mental illness? Have you experienced a similar issue with coverage?

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

As a traveler, is there any better feeling than finally crossing a trip off your bucket list? I did it myself last week with an expedition cruise to the Galapagos Islands aboard the 32-passenger Evolution; the trip was run by International Expeditions, which offers nature-based trips around the globe.

After so many years of building up expectations in my head about this trip, I can confirm a few things: the wildlife was just as exotic and unafraid of humans as I’d been told (swimming with sea lions is a memory I’ll never forget), and all those light-colored, quick-drying clothes I was advised to pack were definitely useful under the harsh equatorial sun. But as with any trip, there were a few lessons I could only learn through experience.

galapagos tortoise


1. Bring an umbrella (and not just for rain).
Are you sensitive to the sun? Bring your own beach umbrella! I’d initially packed an umbrella in case of rain in Guayaquil (where I spent a few nights before and after the cruise), but I ended up using it to provide shade during a few ultra-sunny beach days. It can also be useful for hikes, as trees can be scarce on the more arid islands.

2. Always keep your camera with you, even at meal times.
You never know when a pod of dolphins or a magnificent frigate bird will cruise by the bow of the ship, and you might miss a sweet photo op if you have to run back to your cabin to grab your camera.

3. Arrive at least a day early.
This advice applies to anyone boarding a cruise ship or joining an organized tour, but it’s particularly important in the Galapagos, where flights are limited and not all islands have airports. One family on our sailing arrived a couple of hours too late to catch our flight from Guayaquil to the islands, and ended up missing two full days of our weeklong itinerary.

How to Pack for a Galapagos Cruise

4. Pack properly for snorkeling.
While your ship may provide wetsuits for snorkeling, consider packing a dive skin to wear under it both for warmth (especially between June and November when the water is colder) and for sun protection. Also, don’t forget your head! One fellow passenger, whose hair was thinning a bit, said that he wished he’d brought a swim cap to protect his scalp from the sun. Finally, consider bringing some alcohol-based drops to help dry your ears after snorkeling; this can help prevent swimmer’s ear and other infections.

galapagos sea turtle


5. Consider altitude sickness when planning your route.
The two gateway cities for flights to the Galapagos are Quito and Guayaquil, and they each have their pros and cons. While many travelers consider Quito to be the more interesting city, keep in mind that it’s located at an altitude of more than 9,000 feet, while Guayaquil is at sea level. Not everyone suffers from altitude sickness, but it can be debilitating — something to consider if you’re only going to be in town for a day or two.

6. Put the camera away.
When you’re standing incredibly close to an animal, it’s tempting to keep click-click-clicking away with your camera. But at one point, when I found myself watching a pair of albatrosses courting each other through the lens instead of with my own two eyes, I decided it was time to drop the camera and simply drink in the experience for a few moments — because who knows when I’d ever have this chance again?

In Your Face: 9 Up-Close Animal Encounters

– written by Sarah Schlichter

inkwell and penDid you know that Monday was Limerick Day? According to DaysoftheYear.com, it’s held each year on May 12 to honor the birthday of Edward Lear, who popularized the short poems and named them after the Irish city of Limerick.

To celebrate the day, you’ll find some creations of our very own below — travel-themed, of course.

Today we’re writing a blog
About Shanghai and Tokyo and Prague.
How ’bout Barcelona?
You want to go, don’t ya,
To London, all shrouded in fog?

Australia‘s a fun place to play,
But the trip takes almost all day.
So start in the morning,
But here’s a fair warning:
Your connecting flight’s on delay.

Why not head to the equator,
Where you’ll lie on the beach till much later?
Be sure to use sunscreen.
The heat can be quite mean,
So ask for a drink from the waiter.

Bucket list places abound,
But they’re not that easily found.
Antarctica’s pricey,
And Egypt is dicey.
Maybe save them for next time around.

Now it’s time to start packing.
Make sure that nothing is lacking.
Camera and clothes
And a suitcase that rolls:
Check out our list, and get cracking.

We’d love to hear your travel limericks! Write your own, and post it in the comments below.

– 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 colorful shopping experiences.

Would you rather…

… wander through the chaotic souks of Old City Jerusalem, or …

jerusalem market old city



… browse the offerings at the Jean-Talon Italian market in Montreal?

jean talon market montreal


Jerusalem’s Old City is home to sprawling Arab souks selling everything from exotic spices and brightly colored pottery to traditional headdresses and ultra-modern T-shirts. In the heart of Montreal’s Little Italy neighborhood, Jean-Talon Market offers a mouth-watering selection of fruit, vegetables, bread, chocolate, maple syrup and other locally sourced foodstuffs.

Photos: 12 Delicious Destinations for Foodies

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

This week’s travel puzzle is a “guess the flag” challenge. Can you identify which nation the following flag belongs to?


Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, May 12, 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 Arnie Valeriano, who correctly guessed that this week’s flag was from Kenya. Arnie has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations!

– written by Sarah Schlichter