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The IndependentTraveler.com Blog

Check out the travel stories you may have missed over the past seven days.

allegiant air plane


Breakdown at 30,000 Feet
The Tampa Bay Times has published a thorough — and alarming — investigative report on Allegiant Air, a budget airline whose planes had to make emergency landings 77 times last year due to mechanical failures. The Times notes that Allegiant’s planes are four times as likely to experience in-flight failures as aircraft operated by other U.S. airlines.

The Romantic Myth of ‘Living Like a Local’
The San Francisco Chronicle questions the popular desire to “live like a local” when we travel. “What you want is to live like a rich local,” writes travel editor Spud Hilton. “If you lived like the average local, you’d have to make your bed, have a crappy commute every morning to get to your average- to low-paying job, which you do to pay the bills for your tiny apartment, your meager car and your kids’ school supplies.”

In Buddha’s Footsteps: 15 Evocative Pictures of Faith in Myanmar
We loved this photo essay from Rough Guides, featuring photos of contemplative monks, golden stupas and Buddha statues in Myanmar.

Will Uluru Become Off-Limits to Tourists?
The NZ Herald reports that the indigenous people living near Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, are threatening to close the symbol of the Australian Outback if the government doesn’t act on some of their concerns. The Anangu people argue that their children are living in poverty while the government makes money off their land.

How to Hack Your Hotel’s Finicky Wi-Fi to Stream Shows
Bloomberg offers practical tips for travelers who’ve struggled to use Netflix or other streaming services while staying at hotels.

Eyes Aloft: The Sublime Obsession of Plane Spotting
The Virginia Quarterly Review offers a fascinating longread about plane spotters, also known as “avgeeks,” who document aircraft as they take off and land around the world. Their obsessive documentation has led to news scoops such as the return of basketball star LeBron James to his home town, which was predicted based on the sighting of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ owner’s private plane in Florida.

2016 Presidential Election: What It’s Like Traveling on the Campaign Trail
Those of us who travel a few times a year for vacation can hardly imagine what it’s like to be on the road constantly over the course of a relentless, months-long presidential campaign. Conde Nast Traveler interviews four NBC and MSNBC political reporters about what the experience has been like.

The Strange Story Behind the Boeing 747 Once Parked at Willow Run Airport
Did you know that there’s an airline that was founded in 1989 and is still in business but has not flown a single flight or earned any revenue? Michigan Radio shares the bizarre story of Baltia Airlines, which it calls “the world’s oldest start-up airline.”

This week’s video is a magical little Turkish Airlines safety video starring Zach King, known for short videos on Vine and YouTube that he calls “digital sleight of hand.”


9 Ways to Make Your Hotel Room More Comfortable
Living Like a Local: Interviews with Expats Around the World

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Check out the travel stories you might have missed over the past week.

airplane on tarmac


The Countries with the Best (and Worst) Airfare Deals in the World
Thrillist reports on a new aviation price index that can help you keep perspective on whether it truly is expensive to fly. The U.S. is the third-cheapest country for domestic flights (behind India and Malaysia), but it ranks 54th (out of 75 countries) for international flights. Canada ranks dead last for international flights, while China offers the best value.

Surfing Under the Northern Lights
Even if you’re not particularly interested in surfing, you won’t want to miss this feature from the New York Times, which combines striking imagery with a fascinating story about “hanging 10” in an unexpected part of the world.

A New Perspective of Our Planet
We loved clicking through the incredible satellite photos in this slideshow from CNN. Our favorite shots include Ipanema Beach and tulip fields in the Netherlands.

See the People Who Live in a Legendary Underground Town
National Geographic visits the remote town of Coober Pedy, located in the Australian Outback, where the heat can go as high as 113 degrees in the shade. That’s why most of the locals live in dugout caves.

Why Airline Codesharing Must Die
Ever booked a flight on one airline and then realized at the airport that your flight was actually operated by a different carrier? USA Today explains the dangers of codesharing, including going to the wrong terminal or even missing your flight.

15 Photos That Prove Alberta is Heaven on Earth
Join us in swooning over these photos of Alberta, Canada, from OrdinaryTraveler.com — including turquoise lakes, hidden streams and looming mountains.

Airplane Passengers Fall in Love with Emotional Support Duck Accompanying Owner with PTSD
Need a smile? Check out these ABC News photos of Daniel Turducken Stinkerbutt, an emotional support duck who recently accompanied his owner, Carla Fitzgerald, on a couple of flights. Fitzgerald suffers from PTSD.

This week’s video offers a glimpse into two countries rarely explored by travelers: Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.


10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight
How to Hack Your Way to a Cheaper Airfare

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Check out what you might have missed in the travel world this week.

angry man at airport


Unruly Airline Passengers Up Worldwide, But Down in U.S.
USA Today reports on a rising trend: airline passengers behaving badly. The International Air Transport Association saw nearly 11,000 reports of unruly air travelers in 2015, up from 9,316 incidents the year before. Such incidents involved verbal abuse, aggression against other passengers, failure to follow crew instructions and more; many also involved alcohol.

Craving a Life Reset? Meet the Woman Who Went Down Under to Start Over
This essay from AFAR details the physical and emotional journey of writer Maggie MacKellar, who moved from Sydney to a New South Wales farm and finally to remote Tasmania in the wake of two major losses. Maggie must learn to live in the sometimes harsh, insular world of a Tasmanian sheep farm.

In Pictures: Brushing Shoulders with Bears in Finland’s Newest National Park
We love these Rough Guides snapshots of Hossa, a wilderness area that will become Finland’s 40th national park next year. Bears, reindeer and pristine hiking trails are among the sights visitors will see.

It’s Cheaper to Travel with My Daughter for a Year Than to Live at Home
An Australian mom shares her experience of traveling around Asia with her 6-year-old daughter for 12 months. She tells the Huffington Post that it’s actually less expensive to live on the road than it is to stay home in Sydney, which has a much higher cost of living.

Fly-Along Companions Offer a Way for Older People to Travel
Most of us never want to be too old to travel, and a new trend offers some hope. The New York Times reports that a growing number of agencies are popping up to provide paid companions that can help older travelers navigate airports and manage travel logistics.

The World’s Oldest Library Gets a 21st-Century Facelift
CNN takes us inside the al-Qarawiyyin Library in Fez, Morocco, which opened in the year 859 and is believed to be the oldest library on the planet. In the face of extensive water damage, the library is currently being refurbished and is expected to open to the public next year.

Starwood-Marriott Merger: Your Loyalty Program Questions, Answered
If you belong to a Starwood or Marriott loyalty program and aren’t sure how the merger of the two companies will affect you, don’t miss this Q&A from Conde Nast Traveler.

This week’s video takes a look at the daily life of the Nepalese people a year after an earthquake devastated the area.


— written by Sarah Schlichter

Check out the week’s most interesting stories from around the travel world.

airplane food


“Nightmarish School-Dinner Fare”: Airline Food Taste Test
The Guardian puts airline food to the test with deliciously scathing results. Of one EasyJet sandwich, the author writes, “It is a bready Alcatraz incarcerating one slim slice of cheddar that has briefly been dabbed with ‘seasoned mayo’ (presumably seasoned with air, for all the flavour it adds) and a ‘mixed-leaf salad’ whose sparse scattering of shrivelled leaves looks more like some foliage has blown in through the window during prep than a deliberate garnish.”

Is This the Future of Hands-Free Luggage?
CNN profiles a bizarre new travel accessory: My Hitch, a gadget that allows you to hook your suitcase to your waistband so it will follow you wherever you go. Because every traveler needs a luggage tail!

Travel 3,000 Miles Through China’s Wondrous Wild West
A National Geographic photographer describes the experience of riding a train for 52 hours across China with his family. (Don’t forget to click through the gallery at the top of the story to see his powerful images.)

The Entire Continent of Australia Has Moved Five Feet in 22 Years
Thanks to its position atop an active tectonic plate, Australia has moved about five feet to the north over the last couple of decades. Though that may not sound like much, Conde Nast Traveler notes that such shifts can have a meaningful effect on devices that use GPS technology.

Tourists Blame Google Maps for Sending Them Into Venice in a Car
Speaking of GPS, Travel + Leisure reports on a couple of tourists in a rental car who blundered into a pedestrian-only section of Venice, nearly hitting a bystander along the Grand Canal. Their excuse? They were following Google Maps.

A Cheese Made from … Donkey Milk?
A BBC reporter journeys to Serbia to taste the world’s most expensive cheese, made from the milk of local donkeys. It’s said to slow the aging process and boost immunity and virility.

This week’s video is a tearjerker, featuring an Iowa choir singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” on a plane in honor of a WWII soldier, whose remains were being escorted on the flight from Germany to Atlanta.



Lost in Venice: One Wrong Turn and You May Never Leave
11 Things Not to Do on a Plane

— written by Sarah Schlichter

With the U.S. National Park Service celebrating its centennial this year, national parks are in the spotlight — not just here in the States but around the world. We love national parks because they protect a country’s natural scenery and unique wildlife for all of us to enjoy, whether you’re driving through in a car, hiking a trail or camping in the backcountry. Check out these six national parks we want to visit around the world.

grand teton national park


Grand Teton National Park, U.S.A., offers magnificent mountain vistas.

elephants in etosha national park


On safari in Namibia’s Etosha National Park, you’ll spy lions, elephants, zebras and much more.

waterfall lamington national park


Located in Queensland, Australia, Lamington National Park encompasses miles of lush rain forest.

horses torres del paine


Torres del Paine National Park protects some of Patagonian Chile’s most stunning landscapes.

komodo dragon


Komodo National Park in Indonesia is home to the endangered Komodo dragon, along with a variety of marine wildlife.

northeast greenland national park



Northeast Greenland National Park is the world’s biggest national park, but it’s so difficult to reach that very few people actually visit it.

For more trip ideas, see our slideshow of the 12 most beautiful national parks in the world.

Planning an African Safari
National Park Vacations

Which national park tops your must-visit list?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Unless you’re a first-time flier and everything is shiny and new, it can be awfully hard to pay attention to the safety video onboard your flight; either you’ve heard it all before, you assume it’s common sense or you’re breathing into a bag because you’re already that nervous to fly.

Air New Zealand is among the airlines who’ve made a noticeable effort to infuse some entertainment value into this necessary safety briefing (last year Delta went ’80s and Virgin America flight attendants rocked out). From a Lord of the Rings-style presentation to cameos by Betty White, Richard Simmons and President Obama, Air New Zealand has set the standard for high-budget safety cinema.

In the airline’s latest installment, shot in stunning surf locations such as Malibu, Australia’s Gold Coast and Raglan and Piha, New Zealand, “Air New Zealand’s Safety Safari” showcases world surfing champions Gabriel Medina of Brazil, Australian Mick Fanning and American surfers Laird Hamilton, Alana Blanchard and Anastasia Ashley as they breezily guide you through in-flight safety.



If you’re a fan of beautiful, smiling people running around world-famous beaches and instructing you with charming accents, then you won’t be bored. However, because they are beautiful people running and surfing around (at times shirtless) on world-famous beaches in charming accents, you also might be too distracted to glean the important safety information. Now if only emergency lighting on airplanes were as enchanting as paper lanterns…

In conjunction with the Safety Safari video, Air New Zealand is hosting a contest giving away a Malibu surf lesson for two with legendary surfer Laird Hamilton, roundtrip air to Los Angeles, a five-night stay in Santa Monica and a five-day rental car.

13 Best New Zealand Experiences
11 Best Australia Experiences

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

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

12 apostles australia


Population: 22.5 million

Currency: Australian dollar

Phrase to Know: Good on ya (well done, good for you)

Fun Fact: Australia is home to the world’s oldest known fossils: cyanobacteria found in the Archaean rocks of Western Australia.

We Recommend: Stay overnight on a remote cattle station in the Outback, where you can participate in a cattle roundup, go for a horseback ride and more.

11 Best Australia Experiences

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

— 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

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 for a stroll.

Would you rather…

… walk along a pristine beach in the Seychelles, or …

couple on seychelles beach



… hike through a lush rain forest in Daintree National Park, Australia?

daintree national park rain forest


The dreamy Seychelles Islands, located in the Indian Ocean, are a popular destination for honeymooners, divers, sailors and beach bums. Start with the main island of Mahe, where there are more than 60 beaches to choose from. Australia’s Daintree Rainforest offers multiple ways to explore, including walks and zip-lines through the canopy.

11 Best Australia Experiences
Madagascar/Mauritius/Seychelles Travel Forum

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

A canyon at Australia's UluruOf the five destinations on my ultimate travel bucket list, I have managed to tick off one so far: Australia. And it was everything I could have hoped for — which was fortunate because, as with many bucket list trips, it was expensive and required a serious time commitment.

But was it really fortunate?

No, it wasn’t.

You see, just stepping foot on Australian soil isn’t what made going there such an amazing bucket list trip for me. It was that I did it the “right” way. The right way for me, that is.

Australia is a huge country with lots to offer visitors. There are the vibrant cities in which you’ll find art museums, fine dining and lots of shopping; unrivaled natural attractions from the barren but beautiful Outback to the Great Barrier Reef teeming with life; a colorful criminal past and a rich Aboriginal culture. And then there are the Aussies themselves, laidback folks with a great sense of humor and a love for beer and barbecue.

But which part of this vast Down Under do you take in? Do you try to see it all, spending just a little time in any one place? Do you narrow it down and pick out just a few highlights, ignoring all else? How do you make such a once-in-a-lifetime trip as special as it can be, so that it truly is a bucket list experience?

Ask
In order to make any trip all you want it to be, you must first ask yourself, “Why am I going here?”

There is no wrong or right answer, but be honest with yourself, as the answer to this question is the start of planning your perfect trip. Is it simply important to you to tick off a new destination? Or are you intrigued because you’ve read some of the best new chefs are coming out of Melbourne? Or perhaps you’ve always wanted to hold a koala and feed a kangaroo?

11 Best Australia Experiences

Research
Once you’ve decided why you’re going, you can research the various ways to visit. If what’s important is simply being in the place and seeing its most iconic sites, a guided tour might be your best bet. On the other hand, if you’re most fascinated by a specific aspect of the place — the Aboriginal culture of Australia, let’s say — then finding day tours or attractions that focus on that one interest should be your priority.

In my dreams of Australia, I was always fascinated by the wildlife, the Outback, the Aussies and the Aboriginal culture. So everywhere I went I made sure to seek out these things. In Sydney, I visited a zoo that allowed me to cuddle a koala and feed kangaroos. Near Cairns, I chose to skip the Great Barrier Reef and instead stay on a cattle station for three days to get to know the owner and see what life was like in the Outback. On my visit to Uluru, I only booked Aborigine-led tours so I could experience the country’s interior from their perspective.

All these experiences resonated with me because they were the things I already knew were important to me. I didn’t need to see the Sydney Opera House; I don’t particularly like opera and touring a theater would not be enjoyable for me. I didn’t need to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge; if I were going to exercise my body that way, it would be on a hike in the Blue Mountains. And to this day I don’t really feel I missed out by not snorkeling off the Great Barrier Reef. Instead, I’m glad I skipped the seasickness and panic I always experience when snorkeling from a boat.

But other visitors to Australia might have left unsatisfied without some or all of those experiences.

Bucket list trips are dream trips, literally. We dream about the destinations years before ever visiting. We visualize what it will be like. But it’s only by being aware of those dreams and our expectations and then finding experiences that match them that we can actually make our dream bucket list trips come true.

How to Make Your Dream Trip a Reality


— written by Dori Saltzman