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The IndependentTraveler.com Blog

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

In light of all the precipitation flurrying around in our forecasts and our backyards, we figured why sully winter’s reputation with complaints about shoveling and commuting? Winter can be a downright beautiful season, and it’s so much prettier when you can look and don’t have to touch. We bring you five frozen snowscapes from across the globe to remind you that winter’s wrath can be worth a serious marvel (right after you’re done digging yourself out of it).

Vogel, Triglav natural park, Julian Alps, Slovenia
Triglav National Park in the Julian Alps of Slovenia

The only national park in scenic Slovenia, Triglav gains its name from the country’s highest mountain. Its first recorded ascent was in 1778.

jade dragon snow mountain yunnan china
Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, Yunnan Province, in Southwestern China

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain is a mountain massif, or small mountain range in southwest China. Its highest peak, Shanzidou, has only been climbed once — by an American expedition team in 1987.

How to Pack for a Winter Vacation

siberian winter in tobolsk
The Old Siberian Capital of Tobolsk

Once a capital of Siberia, the town of Tobolsk is located at the confluence of the Tobol and Irtysh rivers. Once a strong center of Russian colonization, the region declined when it was bypassed by the Trans-Siberian Railroad. It is now one of Russia’s largest petrochemical complexes.

patagonia ice glaciers
A Vast Glacier in Patagonia

Shared by Argentina and Chile, Patagonia is a dense region of natural wonders, including this stretch of glacier that goes for miles. The Perito Moreno glacier is one of the region’s top tourist attractions.

winter greenland tasiilaq
The Town of Tasiilq in East Greenland

With about 2,000 inhabitants, Tasiilaq is the most populous community on the remote eastern coast of Greenland. This tundra region occasionally experiences piteraqs, or cold and damaging winds. Piteraq means “that which attacks you” in the local language.

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

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

torii gate japan


Population: 127 million

Currency: Japanese yen

Phrase to Know: Arigato (thank you)

Fun Fact: Japan was the first country to develop cube-shaped watermelons, which farmers mold into their distinctive shape by putting transparent boxes around the fruit as they’re growing. Square watermelons are easier to ship and fit better into Japanese refrigerators, which are often small.

We Recommend: Spend the night in a Buddhist temple on Mount Koya. By night you’ll enjoy vegetarian meals with the monks and sleep in simple tatami rooms; during the day you can explore an ancient cemetery and visit a rock garden.

12 Best Japan Experiences

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

— written by Sarah Schlichter