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top gear carsTrekking through the Amazon, embarking from Canada as the first to drive to the magnetic North Pole, road tripping through Botswana and even riding through Chernobyl; it may sound like the best travel show you’ve never heard of, and that’s because it’s not a travel show at all — it’s Top Gear, a British program about cars.

The hosts — Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond — are car MacGyvers and automobile enthusiasts who drive and review virtually anything with wheels, along with the show’s anonymous racecar driver known only as the Stig. Airing in its current format for more than 10 years, the BBC show primarily features cars you could never dream of owning placed along the winding roads of drool-worthy backdrops such as the Amalfi Coast or the dunes of Abu Dhabi.

Clarkson could be considered the Anthony Bourdain of car shows (with May and Hammond just as cheeky) for those unfamiliar with the Top Gear concept. Their clever devil-may-care personalities, impressive knowledge and adventurous spirit lend themselves well to British banter and thrilling test drives, but even better to their globe-trotting (er, driving) episodes.

Though there may be other challenges peppered throughout, most seasons culminate with a special that inevitably flings the trio across the globe on a daunting journey in seemingly preposterous conditions. They make eating bugs or snakes with some remote tribe look like a cake walk. Typically armed with a tight budget and a ridiculous set of conditions, they forge ahead to find the source of the Nile or retrace the pilgrimage of the three wise men. In Bolivia, the motoring threesome bought second-hand off-road vehicles and navigated them to their mechanical limits across jungles and hair-raising hairpin turns on what’s known affectionately as Death Road. They then attempted a risky ascent into Chile across Guallatiri, an active volcano. This was thwarted by altitude sickness, but the footage they took was spectacular.

Slideshow: The Eight Best U.S. Road Trips

This season’s two-part finale (which has just aired) takes place in Myanmar (Burma), and the Top Gear camera crew was granted access to remote areas of the country — a first for any television crew. The challenge: to build a bridge over the River Kwai in Thailand and then drive across it. Along the way they gave viewers a first-time glimpse into the world of the Shan — an area of Myanmar larger than England and Wales combined with just one road built 150 years ago, no electricity, no hospitals and no planes overhead. Still in the midst of a 60-year-long civil war (the longest-running in the world), the Shan is unveiled as a lush, untouched stretch of otherworldly earth, with a reclusivity that gives it a mystique rarely found in today’s hyper-connected universe. Here’s a preview:



I was initially worried about making it through an hour-long British TV show about cars, but I’ve walked away each time laughing and actually learning something — not just about the coupes, convertibles and caravans, but about the countries the hosts drive them through. I’ve discovered that you don’t have to tune in to the Travel Channel to find travel; you can find it in the most unexpected places. For me, that sweet spot is Top Gear. Think of it as armchair travel with an engine.

– 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 holidays being celebrated today, March 17.

Would you rather…

… join the St. Patrick’s Day revelry in Ireland, or …

st patrick's day parade cork ireland



… throw brightly colored powder to celebrate Holi in India?

holi festival india


St. Patrick’s Day, which honors the patron saint of Ireland, is celebrated with parades, green clothing and the odd drink or two by the Irish diaspora around the world. Holi is a Hindu festival that honors the coming of spring with frolicking and the flinging of colorful powder; it’s observed primarily in India and other South Asian nations.

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– 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 streets for strolling.

Would you rather…

… wander down this quiet cobblestone street in the Tuscan village of Sorano, Italy, or …

sorano italy tuscany flowers lane



… explore the vibrant city streets of Osaka, Japan?

osaka japan night street


Are you energized by bustling cities, or would you rather lose yourself in a quiet village? Sorano is one of Italy’s many medieval hill towns, home to several picturesque churches as well as a castle, Fortezza Orsini. Meanwhile, Osaka is Japan’s third largest city, boasting endless shops, major museums (including the National Museum of Art) and the country’s oldest Buddhist temple, Shitennoji.

11 Best Italy Experiences
12 Best Japan Experiences

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– 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 spectacular religious landmarks.

Would you rather…

… tour the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, or …

hagia sophia istanbul



… wander the ancient temples of Angkor, Cambodia?

ta prohm angkor cambodia


No matter your own spiritual leanings, religious buildings such as cathedrals, temples and mosques are some of the world’s most spectacular buildings. As we write in our Istanbul travel guide, the Hagia Sophia was “once a church, then a mosque, [and] was made into a museum in 1935 after the secular Turkish Republic was founded.” Angkor, Cambodia, is home to a number of Hindu and Buddhist Temples dating back to the Khmer Empire (9th – 15th centuries).

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– 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 scrumptious sweets.

Would you rather…

… try baklava in Turkey, or …

baklava turkey



… enjoy a mooncake in China?

mooncake china tea


Baklava is a popular dessert in Turkey, Greece, and other countries in the Mediterranean and Middle East. Phyllo dough is stuffed with chopped nuts and drizzled with honey. Mooncakes are traditionally eaten during China’s Mid-Autumn Festival, accompanied by a cup of tea. They’re made of lotus seed or sweet bean paste, along with lard and egg yolk — a delicious but calorie-rich treat.

Tell us your preference in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Suffering from the Monday doldrums? For everyone out there facing the beginning of another work week, here’s a little jolt of wanderlust to brighten up your morning. Each Monday, we offer a photo of a spectacular place to spark ideas for your future travels.

This week’s shot captures fishermen at sunset on Inle Lake, Myanmar.

inle lake myanmar burma fishermen sunset


Post Your Questions About Myanmar

Send us your best travel shot! E-mail your most beautiful or captivating travel photo to feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put Monday Inspiration in the subject line.)

12 Delicious Destinations for Foodies

– written by Sarah Schlichter

stuffed animal suitcase travelToy travel — paying to send a stuffed animal or doll on a trip in lieu of going on one yourself — isn’t new. In fact, we’ve written about it before. We’ve never been fond of the idea of putting our hard-earned cash toward a trip for an inanimate object rather than ourselves. But then we stumbled across a company doing it for more heart-warming reasons than simply making (or wasting) money.

According to ABC News, Unagi Travel, a Japanese travel agency specializing in tours for stuffed toys, sends fake furry friends to places their owners can’t go due to illness or disability. After paying a fee and mailing their toys to Tokyo, where Unagi is based, clients can track their toys’ travels via the company’s Facebook page. At the conclusion of the trip, the animals are mailed back to their owners at no additional charge, along with souvenir photos. According to Unagi’s website, the entire process takes two to three weeks, depending on the adventure chosen.

Our Favorite Tokyo Hotels

Despite its admirable purpose, Unagi’s services are still a bit quirky, not to mention limited. There are currently four tours available to Kyoto, Tokyo, a traditional onsen (hot spring) and a “mystery” location. Rates range from $35 to $95, not including each stuffed animal’s outbound travel, which could be pricey for clients not living in Japan.

Some might still consider it a waste of money, but for those who can’t get out to explore new places, we wager it’s money well spent. In some of the more fortunate cases, owners of the plush participants have been able to retrace their stuffed animals’ steps when their health improved.

What do you think? Do you have a favorite stuffed animal? Would you send it on a trip without you if you were unable to go? Leave your comments below.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

time fliesThis post is part of our Time Flies series, highlighting unique ways to spend your down time at airports around the world.

Are you tired of the stale airport air? Does the wafting smell of Dunkin’ Donuts (or Tim Horton’s, for the northern crowd) eventually just wear you down?

If so, then Singapore‘s Changi Airport will be, quite literally, a breath of fresh air.

If you’re lucky enough to be flying from Terminal 1, check out the open-air Cactus Garden. With more than 40 different types of cacti and succulents, it sure beats an hour of trying to avoid eye contact with that fellow in pajamas directly across from you at the gate.

Should you be flying out of Terminal 2, have no fear. You could always wander over to explore the cacti, time permitting. Should time not permit, however, you’ve got a natural bevy of options at your disposal. In Terminal 2 you’ll first find what’s known as the “Enchanted Garden.”

I generally fly from Philadelphia, so anything pairing “airports” with “enchanting” — without the inclusion of soft pretzels — piques my interest.

This area in Changi’s Terminal 2 features blooming flowers coupled with LED lighting and sound effects. Should you find that dizzying, the undulating path is sure to help.

For those who aren’t aware, there is a natural rivalry between terminals (or if there’s not, there should be). Terminal 2 wasn’t about to let the cacti of Terminal 1 go mano a mano with just the aforementioned Enchanted Garden. Oh, no. Fliers deserve better.

Enter the Orchid Garden, Koi Pond and Sunflower Garden — all located in Terminal 2.

butterfly garden singapore changi airport 7 Picture-Perfect Airport Gardens

If those four areas of unique airport interest aren’t enough (or conveniently located to your gate), Terminal 3 can do you one better. It’s got a Butterfly Garden.

With over a thousand colorful creatures, this garden provides a unique opportunity to get up close and personal — and even watch a new butterfly coming out of its chrysalis in the Emergence Enclosure.

Have you been to Changi? Do you know of any other airports with unique ways to pass the time? Tell us about it in the comments below.

2 Airports Techies Will Want to Visit

– written by Matt Leonard

Suffering from the Monday doldrums? For everyone out there facing the beginning of another work week, here’s a little jolt of wanderlust to brighten up your morning. Each Monday, we offer a photo of a spectacular place to spark ideas for your future travels.

This week’s shot was taken at twilight on Phewa Lake in Pokhara, Nepal.

phewa lake pokhara nepal boats


Photos: 9 Places You Haven’t Been — But Should

Send us your best travel shot! E-mail your most beautiful or captivating travel photo to feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put Monday Inspiration in the subject line.)

Been to Nepal? Tell Us About It!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

temple bell jeju island koreaEach 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!

In this month’s featured review, reader Margot MacPherson Brewer explores a country few Westerners visit: Korea. “Jeju Island is a tropical paradise that is under the radar and hosts mainly an ongoing influx of tourists from the Chinese mainland,” wrote Margot. “Jeju’s location in relation to South Korea combined with North Korea’s nuclear sabre-rattling this spring had clearly discouraged many Western visitors and we encountered less than a half dozen in our travels on Jeju.”

Read the rest of Margot’s review here: Korean Adventure. This reader has won an IndependentTraveler.com duffel bag!

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

– written by Sarah Schlichter