Voyages: Visual Journeys by Six Photographers
Feast your eyes on these photos from the New York Times Magazine, taken in six different countries (Ethiopia, Albania, Australia, Finland, Peru and Spain). There’s a mini-essay from each photographer to provide context for the images.
10 Reasons to See More of Rwanda Than Just the Gorillas
Most tourists think of gorillas when they think of Rwanda (if they think of the country as a travel destination at all). Rough Guides encourages a broader view, touting Rwanda’s other attractions, such as performances of traditional dance, stunning hiking trails, a vibrant capital and the chance to bike with the country’s national team.
Purple Drinks and Chicken Spas: A Spicy Thai Homestay
We loved reading this vivid National Geographic account of a three-night homestay in a small Thai village. The reporter immerses himself in local life by learning to prepare Thai food, enjoying a unique “spa” treatment and watching the Thai version of “The Price Is Right.”
Your Underwhelming International Holiday Photos
We love galleries of glossy destination photos as much as the next travel addict, but there’s something both funny and delightful about this roundup of lousy vacation pictures from the Guardian — complete with dismal gray skies, charmless parking lots and even an unwelcome eight-legged hotel guest. (Shudder.)
How Andy Steves Is Redefining His Dad’s Travel Guides for a New Generation
Fans of Rick Steves’ comprehensive Europe guidebooks will be glad to find out that his son Andy is carrying on the family business. Conde Nast Traveler checks in with the junior Steves to find out what’s on his bucket list, why print guidebooks are still relevant and what advice he’d give travelers before their first trip abroad.
Life With the Irish Travellers Reveals a Bygone World
A National Geographic photographer delves into the isolated culture of the Irish Travellers, an ethnic minority with an unwritten language, a nomadic way of life and a set of rigid gender roles. Her photographs offer a look into this rarely glimpsed world.
There Are Still Tons of Cheap Flights to Cuba You Can Book Right Now
On August 31, JetBlue became the first airline in more than 50 years to fly a regularly scheduled commercial flight between the U.S. and Cuba. If you’re looking to hop on one of these flights yourself, Time reports that there are numerous affordable alternatives on flights this fall, including October offerings from $205 roundtrip with taxes.
Hong Kong’s Secret Night Meal
Foodies, take note — in Hong Kong it’s customary to eat not three meals a day, but four, reports BBC. Siu yeh is a nighttime snack served between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.
This week’s video is part of a new ad campaign celebrating the “world’s greatest fliers,” who supposedly fly American Airlines. Those of you who’ve flown American — do you agree that your fellow passengers meet these lofty standards?
Catch up on what you might have missed in the travel world this week.
Meet the Husbands Who Fly First Class — While Their Wives Travel in Economy
Would you be okay sitting in cattle class while your spouse chills out in first or business? The Telegraph profiles a number of couples that regularly fly separately, with the husband at the front of the plane and the wife in the back. “In my opinion, everyone should travel this way. I think first-class is really rather wonderful — the only way to fly,” says one charming husband, who might feel that everyone should fly in first but won’t pay for his wife to do so.
U.S. Approves 8 Airlines to Fly to Havana Beginning This Fall
USA Today reports that the U.S. Department of Transportation has tentatively approved flights to Havana, Cuba, aboard eight American airlines. If these schedules are given final approval after the upcoming comment period, you’ll soon be able to fly to the Cuban capital from Los Angeles, Miami, Charlotte, Atlanta, New York, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Tampa, Houston and Newark.
A Longtime Concierge on Hotel Tipping, Online Reviews and More
Conde Nast Traveler interviews a head concierge at the Stafford, a five-star hotel in London, and gets his perspective on the importance of responding to online reviews, the difference in tipping between the U.S. and the U.K., and his number one tip for hotel guests.
Shrinking Pool of Future Pilots Keeps Major Airlines on Edge
Bloomberg reports on an alarming problem in the airline industry: not enough people to fly the planes. Within 10 years, U.S. airlines are expected to be understaffed by some 15,000 pilots, thanks to many older captains retiring and not enough people interested in taking up flying as a career.
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!
In this month’s winning review, an American traveler explores her Cuban heritage: “Growing up, I was curious about my grandfather’s birthplace, an island that we could not visit,” writes Elisa Evans. “He didn’t talk about his childhood in Cuba so I knew very little, but this trip with my mom would give me the opportunity to see, taste, hear and feel what my grandfather experienced growing up, and help me understand the spirit of the Cuban people.”
Read the rest of Elisa’s review here: Cuba Trip with My Mom. Elisa has won an IndependentTraveler.com sweatshirt.
Flights to Cuba Are Officially On Sale — for Under $300
Conde Nast Traveler reports that commercial flights are now officially available on the American Airlines website starting at just $262 roundtrip. Havana flights haven’t yet been approved, but you can currently book a trip to cities such as Cienfuegos or Camaguey.
How to Survive Being an Airbnb Host
Being an experienced traveler doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be a good Airbnb host, as this New York Times writer discovers when she’s given a disappointing three-star rating from her first guests.
Can You (Ethically) Go On Safari in 2016?
After spending part of his childhood in Africa, an AFAR writer returns to Kenya on safari, worrying that the experience will feel like a throwback to colonial hunting days.
Hotel Brands No Longer Sell Rooms. They Sell Experiences
CNN reports on the rising interest in “authenticity” and “something new” among travelers, particularly younger ones, and on how this is compelling hotels to change their offerings. Some are offering more communal spaces, while others are designing rooms that feature local artwork and other decor that evokes the destination where the hotel is located.
Why ‘Brexit’ Could Screw Up Your European Travel Plans
Britons vote today over whether to leave the European Union, and the ramifications of the decision could affect travelers, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Among the possible effects: Flying into London could turn into a massive headache, but Europe trips could be cheaper.
This Might Be the Best Thing to Happen to Airplane Seats
Popular Mechanics offers a look at a cool new design for business class, in which all passengers — even those in window seats — have access to the aisle. The seats will be used on United planes. (But can we get a design like this in cattle class?)
This week’s video highlights the best of Ljubljana, Slovenia’s under-the-radar capital city.
Catch up on the week’s best reads from around the web.
Japanese “Naked Restaurant” to Ban Overweight Diners
A new nude restaurant will open in Tokyo next month, but overweight diners need not apply, reports Yahoo! The restaurant won’t let in anyone who’s more than 15 kilograms (33 pounds) over the average weight for their height. Also on the no-go list: anyone under 18 or over 60 years old.
Monique, the Hen Who Is Sailing Around the World
This BBC News story will brighten your day. It features a 24-year-old French sailor who’s traveling around the world with a chicken named Monique, who has learned to paddleboard and windsurf during their globetrotting adventures.
The Joy of Instagram
The Atlantic reports on a new study that suggests taking photos of our experiences actually helps us enjoy them more. “It’s not the act of photo-taking itself … that leads to that enjoyment,” says the article. “It’s the kind of mental curation that is required when you’re thinking about what is worth documenting in the first place.”
Airlines Race to Cuba, Overcoming Major Hurdles
With U.S. airlines recently being approved to run commercial flights to Cuba, the Associated Press takes a fascinating look at the work that goes into making those flights happen. The airlines are tackling challenges such as collecting baggage fees in a country where U.S. credit cards don’t work and moving people efficiently through a check-in process at airports without self-service kiosks.
FAA Rules Out Requiring Psychological Testing for Airline Pilots
After a mentally disturbed Germanwings pilot deliberately crashed a plane full of passengers last year, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has decided not to require psychological testing for airline pilots, reports CBS News. Instead, the agency advocates a number of other measures to help pilots with mental health.
Zika Fears and Political Chaos Keeping Rio Olympics Affordable
If you’re still considering a trip to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, it could be cheaper than you think, reports the New York Times. Thanks to political upheaval in the Brazilian government and the prevalence of the Zika virus, many people aren’t so sure they want to go to the Games — which means decent prices for those who do.
The maker of this week’s video describes his trip to Vietnam as “2 weeks, 5 friends, 1500 kilometers, 5 diarrheas, dozen cups of Vietnamese coffee, 1 mud bath, 2 overturned kayaks, 2 pairs of custom made shoes, 1 pair of custom made trousers.”
Catch up on the most interesting travel pieces you may have missed this week.
Please Stop Saying You Want to Go to Cuba Before It’s Ruined
In this incisive op-ed for Flood Magazine, a Cuban writer challenges the widespread view of Cuba as a romanticized, “stuck in time” destination that’s going to be ruined by a wave of mass tourism from the U.S. “What exactly do you think will ruin Cuba?” Natalie Morales writes. “Running water? Available food? … Access to proper healthcare?” It’s a must-read for anyone interested in visiting Cuba and seeing what it’s truly like to live there. (Warning: There’s some colorful language.)
Inside the Radical Airline Cabins of the Future
Vogue offers an intriguing look at how airplanes might be designed in the future. Windowless cabins? Stackable sleeping pods? A small viewing bubble on top of the plane? Welcome to a brave new world.
In Praise of Small-Town Travel
National Geographic celebrates the pleasures of visiting towns and villages rather than just big cities, including the slower rhythms of life and the chance to connect with local people. The writer also recommends her favorite small towns on each continent.
Doctors Share What Really Happens When There’s an Emergency Mid-Flight
Conde Nast Traveler interviewed several medical professionals to gather these stories of in-flight emergencies. One doctor delivered a baby; another couldn’t save a patient but used the tragedy to petition the U.S. government for a requirement that all planes have defibrillators and expanded medical kits. (Fortunately for all of us, he was successful.)
The Abandoned Mansions of Billionaires
BBC Travel takes us into the fascinating Shekhawati region of Rajasthan, India, where a collection of opulent havelis (mansions) are falling into decay. Covered with magnificent frescoes, these buildings are only just starting to be preserved as museums or heritage hotels.
Check out the best travel content you might have missed this week.
How to Be the Kind of Tourist Tour Guides Love
This Washington Post story by a tour guide in Paris offers practical advice every traveler should know before joining a group tour. (Example: “Don’t distract your guide when she is doing something tricky, like negotiating a busy traffic intersection on a bicycle tour, or setting up safety lines during a rappelling excursion. Your safety may depend on her concentration.”)
Planning the Spontaneous
In an essay for Travel Weekly, legendary travel writer Paul Theroux reveals how he prepares for his trips, including how he chooses destinations, what he reads before he goes and how he answers the “occupation” question on visa applications. (Also worth a read: Theroux’s interview with Travel Weekly about his recent trip to the Deep South.)
Why Your Next Hotel Will Be Staffed by Robots
CNN reports on the growing trend of automation in the travel industry, from robots checking people into hotels to automated bartenders on Royal Caribbean cruise ships. The story explores how far the technology might go; could tour guides be replaced by machines? While we’re all for efficiency, we hope travel never loses its personal touch.
Why Is Traveling Alone Still Considered a Risky, Frivolous Pursuit for Women?
This provocative essay in the Guardian was sparked by the deaths of two young Argentinian women who were murdered during a backpacking trip in Ecuador. The writer questions why many people’s response to the tragedy was to ask why the women were traveling “alone” and examines the double standards that women travelers face.
After Brussels, Why Travel Is More Important Than Ever
The Editor-in-Chief of Travel + Leisure offers a compelling argument for why we should continue to travel in the face of ongoing terrorist attacks: “Travel fosters human understanding, and empathy for people whose lives are unlike your own. … Travelers are, ultimately, the enemies of terrorists, and what they believe works against terrorists’ aims, person by person and little by little.”
Warning: This week’s video might make you cry. It’s from Expedia, which is using virtual reality technology to bring the world to kids at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital who are too sick to travel.
If you’re looking for a vacation that goes beyond lying on a beach or seeing an area’s most famous sights, a trip with a new cruise line dedicated to voluntourism might be right for you.
Fathom, owned by Carnival Corporation, is dedicated to “impact travel” — with activities designed to connect travelers with local communities where they can make a difference. For example, you might spend a day teaching English, crafting clay water filters or working in a women’s chocolate cooperative. The Fathom team works with established local NGOs to identify areas of need and figure out how travelers can contribute in a way that will build projects that eventually are self-sustaining.
I recently had the chance to try out some of these activities on a trip to the Dominican Republic hosted by Fathom. My first stop was RePapel, where about a dozen women work together to produce recycled paper that they then turn into business cards, postcards and other sellable products. Recycling is not yet common in the Dominican Republic, so in addition to providing stable jobs for local women, RePapel is part of a broader initiative to raise awareness of environmental issues. Fathom volunteers help in several stages of the recycling process, including tearing the source paper into strips (white paper must be separated from paper with any type of ink on it), mixing the pulp with water and rolling new sheets flat.
Another day I helped distribute clay water filters to families in a rural village that does not currently have reliable and safe drinking water. My last activity of the trip was teaching basic English phrases (“Hello. How are you? I’m good!”) to adults. Each excursion gave us a chance to interact with the local people, though those of us who spoke at least conversational Spanish had more meaningful exchanges. (Interpreters are always available, but they can’t attend to the entire group at all times.)
I discovered that it’s essential to be realistic about your motives for taking a voluntourism trip and the individual impact you are likely to have. No single traveler will be able to swoop in and make a massive difference in a local community in just a few days, and you might feel that no sooner have you learned a new skill than it’s time to leave. Also, not every moment of each Fathom activity is dedicated to direct impact; parts of the excursions are designed for learning and cultural exchange rather than strict volunteer work.
My limited individual impact felt disappointing at times, but it’s useful to think of your personal experience as a small part of a bigger picture. Sure, maybe I only helped produce a few dozen sheets of paper during my time at RePapel, but Fathom’s initial investment in the project (and ongoing labor support in the form of travelers like me) allowed the workshop to get off the ground in the first place — and will hopefully enable it to develop to a point where it won’t need Fathom at all anymore.
Fathom’s ship, Adonia, carries 704 passengers and will debut April 10 with three weeklong sailings from Miami to the Dominican Republic, followed by a cruise from Miami to Cuba on May 1. The ship will then alternate between the two countries from week to week.
In the Dominican Republic, you can do as much or as little volunteer work as you want — so you could combine a morning harvesting coffee beans with an afternoon relaxing on the ship or going ziplining.
Because of the governmental restrictions on what Americans can do when they visit Cuba, Fathom’s itinerary there will be more regimented and have a greater focus on learning and cultural exchange than on volunteering.
Fathom cruises to the Dominican Republic start at $974 per person, while Cuba itineraries start at $1,800.
For Americans, taking a trip to Cuba got a little easier on Tuesday, when the U.S. and Cuban governments agreed to reinstate commercial air travel between the two countries for the first time in more than a half-century. Yahoo! News reports that up to 110 daily flights will be permitted between the U.S. and 10 different airports in Cuba, with 20 of those going to Havana. Before this agreement Americans could only fly to Cuba from the U.S. aboard charter flights or by connecting in another country such as Canada or Mexico.
The new flights aren’t available just yet, but odds are that your favorite airline is interested in offering them. According to USA Today, most of the major U.S. airlines have expressed their intent to apply for flights to Cuba, including American, Delta, United, JetBlue and Spirit. Southwest and Alaska are considering putting in bids as well.
Per Yahoo! News, the airlines have about two weeks to submit their applications, and we should find out which flights will be available within about six months.
Americans should keep in mind that visits to Cuba for simple “touristic” purposes are still not permitted — so if you’re dreaming of wandering freely around Havana or lying on a beach in Varadero, tap the brakes. Even after commercial flights are in place, you’ll still need to verify that you are traveling to Cuba for one of the 12 purposes permitted by the U.S. government, including “educational activities” and “support for the Cuban people.” (You can find the full list at Can Americans Travel to Cuba? Yes — and Here’s How.)
For now, the easiest way to visit Cuba is still to travel with a group such as Intrepid Travel, smarTours, Insight Cuba or Cuba Explorer, all of which offer government-compliant itineraries and will arrange charter flights for you.