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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!

shanghai china This month’s winning review involves a trip to China: “Walking along the streets of Shanghai is an entertaining journey with exotic sights, alluring smells and the constant sound of beeping bicycles, scooters, cars and vans,” writes Jill Weinlein. “The purpose of my family’s trip was to visit our daughter studying in Donghua University in the center of the city. For five months, my daughter practiced speaking Mandarin and learned about Chinese economics. While in China, she teased me with her postings of photos on her Tumblr – Adventure Thyme blog and WeChat. After class and during weekends and holidays, Elizabeth roamed the streets looking for the best soup dumplings, exotic street food, prettiest parks and historical sights.”

Read the rest of Jill’s review here: Sensory Delights in Shanghai. This reader has won an IndependentTraveler.com duffel bag!

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Yesterday was International Kissing Day, which got us thinking about some of the world’s most romantic and pucker-producing places. Check out the list of our top picks below — and let us know your additions in the comments!

couple eiffel tower paris romantic


Paris, France: This one’s a given. Whether you’re strolling hand-in-hand down the Champs Elysees, cuddling up at night to watch the Eiffel Tower’s twinkling lights or staring into each other’s eyes over lunch and macarons at a hole-in-the-wall cafe, Paris practically screams smoochworthiness.

Samana, Dominican Republic: An off-season trip to a resort in this cheerful town in the DR can be a great experience, particularly because the crowds are thinner (or, in some places, virtually nonexistent). That means you’ll be able to snag more alone time with the one who matters most. Sleep in, find a secluded beach or watch whales breach from your private balcony — which, by the way, is a great place to pucker up.

Living Like a Local in Samana, Dominican Republic

New York, New York: Ironically, there’s nothing quite like the hustle and bustle of the city that never sleeps to make you and your significant other feel like you’re the only two people in the universe. Jog through Manhattan’s Central Park, experience the craft beer scene in Brooklyn or meander down lesser-known side streets to find a divey pizza joint you can call your own.

bora bora tahiti french polynesia couple romantic


Bora Bora, French Polynesia: Imagine waking up next to your sweetie in your very own hut in the middle of crystal-clear turquoise waters. Even if thatched roofs, colorful fish and open-air sleeping arrangements aren’t your thing, we’re sure the relative seclusion won’t hurt your chances of snagging a peck … or 50.

10 Best French Polynesia Experiences

Venice, Italy: How can you resist a kiss in a city full of historical palaces, playful Carnevale masks and romantic gondola rides along peaceful, winding canals? Have dinner canal-side, and just try to stave off the feeling of la dolce vita that’s sure to follow.

Savannah, Georgia: As if unique shops, restaurants full of atmosphere and stunning architecture aren’t enough, Savannah has a colorful history that includes plenty of rumored ghosts and spirits. Sign up for a nighttime ghost walk, which will force you to keep your loved one close. Then prepare to plant one on him (or her) — or have one planted on you.

cologne love lock bridge


Cologne, Germany: We dare you to find a holiday (Valentine’s Day excluded) that sparks more warm, fuzzy feelings than Christmas. The perfect way to spend some holiday time with your snookums is at one of Germany’s many Christmas markets — and Cologne’s is one of the biggest and best. When you’re done snogging between sips of gluhwein and bites of gingerbread, you can venture to the city’s well-known love lock bridge to further profess your feelings.

Datong, China: Supported by stilts on the side of a mountain, the Hengshan Hanging Temple appears to be “hanging” — hence its name. Explore the roughly 40 rooms that make up this impressive monastery, which dates back more than 1,400 years. The remarkable warren of passageways is great to experience with your partner, especially so you have someone’s hand to hold if you’re afraid of heights! (Note: Out of respect you may want to hold off on locking lips until you’ve left the monastery.)

12 Spots to Fall in Love with Travel

Which destination is your favorite for puckering up?

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

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

beach boat thailand


Population: 67.7 million

Currency: Thai baht

Phrase to Know: Sawatdee (hello)

Fun Fact: Cover up! It’s illegal to drive without a shirt in Thailand.

We Recommend: Visit Elephant Nature Park, an animal sanctuary where you can learn about elephants and even give them a bath.

11 Best Thailand Experiences

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

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Every so often I wander over to Vimeo, a video-sharing site that’s one of my favorite sources for travel inspiration. I know that every time I visit I’ll find myself drooling over films from exotic locations around the world.

One of my latest discoveries is this poignant look at Myanmar (Burma), which captures fishermen rowing their boats, children at play and other scenes of everyday life:



Next we head to Istanbul, where this filmmaker lovingly zooms in on the city’s mosques, mosaics and minarets:



Ever wondered what it might be like to swim with jellyfish? You can try it at Palau’s Jellyfish Lake, where the creatures do sting, but not powerfully enough to harm humans. The resulting footage is mesmerizing:



Finally, here’s an intriguing look at Egypt from a filmmaker who wanted to counter some of the negative media coverage the Middle East’s gotten over the past few years:



Okay, I’m ready to plan my next trip. How about you?

4 Travel Videos That’ll Make You Want to Get Up and Go

— written by Sarah Schlichter

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

tulum ruins mexico


Population: 30 million

Currency: Malaysian ringgit

Phrase to Know: Nama saya… (My name is…)

Fun Fact: Home to thousands of different plant and animal species, Malaysia is one of 17 nations on the planet designated as “megadiverse” by Conservation International. (The U.S., Australia and Brazil are among the others.)

We Recommend: Sample the incredible street food in George Town, Penang. One of our favorite options is char koay teow, rice noodles stir-fried with prawns, cockles, bean sprouts and an optional egg.

11 Best Malaysia Experiences

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

— written by Sarah Schlichter

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

cormorant fisherman yangshuo china


Population: 1.4 billion

Currency: Yuan renminbi

Phrase to Know: Xie xie (thank you — pronounced “shi-eh shi-eh”)

Fun Fact: The fortune cookie was not actually invented in China; it’s believed to have been created in the early 20th century in California. In fact, Wonton Food attempted to establish a fortune cookie factory in China in the 1990s, but had to close it because the cookies were considered too American.

We Recommend: Cuddle a panda at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. There’s an extra fee and you’ll have to make reservations in advance, but the experience is one-of-a-kind.

12 Best China Experiences

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

— written by Sarah Schlichter

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

temple tamil nadu india


Population: 1.2 billion

Currency: Indian rupee

Phrase to Know: Aap kaise hain? (How are you?)

Fun Fact: It’s technically illegal for non-Indians to take rupees out of the country upon departure; if you don’t change it back into another currency, it may be confiscated.

We Recommend: Visit a tea estate in Darjeeling. You can pick your own leaves, learn about the production process and taste multiple varieties of the region’s famous tea.

10 Best India Experiences

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

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Sitting at my desk in New Jersey with the temperature hovering just below the freezing point, it’s hard to believe that spring has arrived. But spring it is, and people around the world will soon be celebrating the season of renewal.

Spring is a perfect time to travel in many destinations. Not only will you find smaller crowds and possibly even pay less (since high tourist season in many places doesn’t start until summer), but you may also stumble upon unique cultural celebrations such as the ones below.

Here are a few spring festivals from around the world to watch out for if you’re ever in the neighborhood around the time of the spring equinox.

las fallas festival


Las Fallas Festival: Valencia, Spain
A spring festival celebrating St. Joseph’s Day (March 19), the origins of Las Fallas go back in time to the days when wooden lamps, called parots, were needed to light carpenters’ workshops during the winter. As spring — and St. Joseph’s Day (the patron saint of carpenters) — neared, workers ceremoniously burned the parots, which were no longer needed for light. Over the centuries, the ceremony evolved into a five-day celebration involving the creation and eventual burning of ninots: huge, colorful cardboard, wood, papier-mache and plaster statues. The ninots remain on display for five days until March 19, when at midnight they are all set aflame, except for one chosen by popular vote and then exhibited at a local museum with others from years past.

Photos: 10 Best Spain Experiences

Whuppity Scoorie: Lanark, Scotland
The arrival of spring is celebrating in the small town of Lanark, Scotland, on March 1 with the delightfully named Whuppity Scoorie. During this celebration, local children gather at sunrise and run around the local church three times, making noise and swirling paper balls on strings around their heads. After the third lap, the kids race to gather up coins thrown by local assemblymen. No one is quite sure how the ritual began; the first written descriptions date back to the late 19th century.

junii brasovului


Junii Brasovului: Brasov, Romania
The “Youth of Brasov” festival is held on the Sunday after Eastern Orthodox Easter every year and involves seven groups of young men bedecked in Romanian folk costumes and uniforms riding colorfully decorated horses through the streets of the city. The parade also features traditional Romanian songs and dances, and culminates in each of the men throwing a scepter into the air to see who can hurl it the highest. The parade finally works its way up to a mountain field above the city where a community barbecue is held. The earliest written records of the ritual parade date back to 1728.

12 Places That Shine in Shoulder Season

Nowruz: Iran
Nowruz is celebrated on the first day of spring, which is also considered the beginning of the new year in the Persian calendar. It is a secular holiday of hope and rebirth, though its origins trace back to Zoroastrianism, which was the predominant religion of ancient Persia. It is celebrated in Iran, as well as Azerbaijan and most of the “stans” (Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan). Rituals typically involve building bonfires to jump over them.

holi india


Holi, India
Also known as the festival of colors, Holi is an ancient Hindu festival celebrated annually as the spring equinox approaches. The ceremony represents the arrival of spring, the end of winter and the victory of good over evil. It is a happy occasion marked by singing, dancing and a free-for-all of color, where participants do their best to paint others with dry colored powders and colored water. Holi dates back as far as the fourth century, though it may in fact be older.

What spring celebrations do you know of around the world?

— written by Dori Saltzman

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

cinque terre italy


Population: 93 million

Currency: Dong

Phrase to Know: Ban co noi tieng Anh khong? (Do you speak English?)

Fun Fact: Next time you add a pinch of pepper to a dish, think of Vietnam; it’s the world’s largest exporter of black pepper.

We Recommend: Have a taste of Vietnam’s imperial cuisine in Hue. Here kings in the 19th century commonly ate meals consisting of up to 300 tiny, exquisitely presented dishes. These days you can sample similar fare at restaurants in Hue, such as steamed rice-flour dumplings with dried shrimp and pork.

11 Best Vietnam Experiences

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

— written by Sarah Schlichter

tokyo skyline nightThe world’s largest city is also the world’s safest, according to a new report. Tokyo has been declared the winner in the 2015 edition of the Economist’s Safe Cities Index.

Right behind Japan’s capital were two other Asian cities, Singapore and Osaka, with European favorites Stockholm and Amsterdam rounding out the top five. The highest ranked U.S. city was New York at number 10. At the bottom of the barrel was Jakarta, Indonesia, coming in at number 50. Its overall safety score was just 53.71 out of 100 (as compared to Tokyo, which scored 85.63).

On hearing the word “safest,” you might picture a place where you’re unlikely to get pickpocketed or mugged, but this type of personal safety is only one of four broad categories measured in the study. The Economist is also looking out for your digital security — how common are cybercrime and identity theft? — as well as health safety (pollution, quality of hospitals) and infrastructure safety (roads, rails, pedestrian deaths).

11 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft While Traveling

A few interesting tidbits from the report:

Barcelona, long infamous for pickpockets, has taken steps to get safer; crime has dropped by 32 percent over the past three years.

– In a comparison of perception vs. reality, the study found that Americans tend to feel less safe than they really are (based on their cities’ rankings in the list), while locals in Middle Eastern cities such as Riyadh and Abu Dhabi are not actually as secure as they feel.

– Safety is only one factor in determining the world’s best cities. After combining various indexes — including not just Safe Cities but also Liveability Rankings, Cost of Living and more — the Economist came up with a different winner: Toronto was voted the overall best place to live.

Essential Hotel Safety Tips

Which cities would you consider the most safe?

— written by Sarah Schlichter