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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!

senior center in cuba


In this month’s winning review, a traveler joins 19 other volunteers to make a difference in Cuba: “Every afternoon we had a few hours of free time before working with students practicing English for about two hours,” Lynn writes. “Later we all met for dinner with our excellent team leader, Stephanie, at various locations. The trip was a combination of helping our host community and a wonderful cultural learning experience for a group of Americans, most of whom had never been to Cuba.”

Read the rest of Lynn’s review here: My Visit to Cuba as a Volunteer. This reader has won an IndependentTraveler.com sweatshirt.

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Check out what’s worth reading in the travel world from the past week.

woman with phone on plane


The U.S. Government May Allow In-Flight Phone Calls, and People Are Freaking Out
Business Insider reports on a recent proposal from the U.S. Department of Transportation that would require airlines and booking agents to state in advance whether passengers are allowed to make voice calls on flights. Passengers are currently not allowed to make voice calls via their cell phones on certain radio frequencies, but there are no rules against chatting via Wi-Fi using services such as Skype.

50 Reasons to #LovetheWorld
Clicking through this gallery from BBC will spark your wanderlust all over again. The site has reached out to dozens of contributers and travelers for anecdotes from incredible journeys around the world.

Conquering Choquequirao: The Long Walk to Peru’s Lesser-Known ‘Lost City’
Lonely Planet takes us on a hike to the long-hidden Incan citadel of Choquequirao, which currently only gets about a dozen visitors a day but may become more accessible in the near future.

Next Year Is Shaping Up to Be Another Good One for Airlines — and Travelers
How about some good news for your holiday season via NBC News? Among the findings in this report: Fares are falling, traveler satisfaction with airlines in North America has reached a 10-year high and a couple of airlines have brought back free in-flight snacks.

Cuba’s Young Artists Embrace a New World
This National Geographic feature offers fascinating photos and stories from the young people of Cuba, where “individualism is creeping out into the open” after the recent death of Fidel Castro.

‘Basic Economy’ Fares Make Sense: Opposing View
When United recently announced that its new Basic Economy fares would not include overhead bin access, many travelers and news outlets responded with outrage. But this piece on USA Today makes the case for these bargain-basement fares, arguing that while they won’t suit everyone, they fill a niche for price-sensitive travelers who don’t need many amenities.

Rome’s Sad Christmas Tree Gets a Makeover After Residents Complain
When in Rome … you’d better not have a skimpy Christmas tree. Conde Nast Traveler reports on a recent controversy over the tree in the Italian capital, which was dubbed the “Austerity Tree” by disgruntled locals. Its decorations have since been, er, spruced up.

This week’s video offers an intimate look at everyday life in Bali.


How to Get the Best Airplane Seat
11 Things Not to Do on a Plane

— written by Sarah Schlichter

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

airplane passenger


British Airways Has Patented a ‘Digital Pill’ to Make Flying Easier — But Is It Really Necessary?
The Independent reports on a bizarre new patent filed by British Airways, involving passengers swallowing a small digital chip that will transmit information such as their body temperature and stomach acidity level in order to help the cabin crew better tend to their physical needs. Useful … or creepy?

The 10 Most Beautiful Places in Italy — as Voted by You
Rough Guides is here with your weekly dose of travel porn: droolworthy photos from around the Boot, from Florence to Cinque Terre. Swoon!

Meet Bette Nash: She Might Just Be the World’s Oldest Serving Flight Attendant
We enjoyed this fun profile from CNN of an 80-year-old flight attendant who’s been serving in the skies for nearly 60 years.

Chongqing’s Number One Noodle Obsessive
Caution: You may get hungry reading this essay from Roads & Kingdoms about “Brother Lamp,” a noodle expert in Chongqing, China. The author of the story joins Brother Lamp to try dozens of bowls of xiaomian, breakfast noodles made with various vegetables and meats.

Learn How This Couple Is Traveling the World on $24 a Day
Need a little travel inspiration? Check out this story from the Washington Post about a couple who have trimmed their travel budget down to a mere $12.20 per person, per day, thanks to tactics such as traveling by bus and searching for local guesthouses that don’t advertise online.

Online Booking Is, Like, So ’90s: The Humble Travel Agent Is Making a Comeback
NBC News reports on the resurgence of travelers using agents to book all or part of their trips. “It’s time versus money. A lot of people just don’t have the time or the expertise to plan a trip and do it well,” says one travel agent quoted in the story.

50 Reasons to Love the World
Get inspired as you click through this gorgeous gallery from BBC, in which various travelers share their photos and travel memories.

This week’s video takes us to Havana and beyond in a voyage around Cuba.


Can Americans Travel to Cuba? Yes — and Here’s How
10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

— written by Sarah Schlichter

This weekend Americans and Canadians will “fall back,” turning their clocks back an hour to end Daylight Saving Time for another year. The U.S. and Canada are two countries out of dozens around the world that switch their clocks back and forth during the year to save energy and maximize sunlight. But which places don’t observe this practice? Below are a few you might want to visit.

st basils cathedral moscow


President Vladimir Putin moved Russia from year-round “summer time” to year-round “winter time” in 2014.

wailua falls kauai hawaii


Hawaii is one of two U.S. states that do not observe Daylight Saving Time. The other is Arizona (with the exception of the Navajo Nation).

baobab trees madagascar


Like most African nations, Madagascar does not observe Daylight Saving Time.

yaksaam temple south korea


South Korea hasn’t observed Daylight Saving Time since the 1980s, according to historical info at TimeandDate.com.

new delhi india


Most of the world’s major industrialized nations observe Daylight Saving Time, but India is a prominent exception.

tourist and llama at machu picchu


Peru hasn’t observed Daylight Saving Time since a couple of separate years in the 1990s, according to TimeandDate.com.

bottom bay barbados


Since 1980, Barbados has fallen in line with most other Caribbean islands, which stay in the same time zone all year round.

The World’s Most Beautiful Waterfalls
The 9 Best Places to Travel Alone

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Check out what you may have missed this week from around the travel world.

brownstones in greenwich village new york


Airbnb Sues Over New Law Regulating New York Rentals
Airbnb continues to face challenges in New York after Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill imposing major fines to hosts who illegally rent out their homes or apartments, reports the New York Times. Proponents of the law are trying to protect affordable housing by preventing people from renting out places to short-term tourists. Airbnb has filed a lawsuit to challenge the new law.

I’ve Been Taking Business Trips for More Than a Decade — Here Are 8 of My Best Travel Tips
A longtime business traveler shares her smartest tips with Business Insider, including using airport restaurants for free Wi-Fi and snagging free bottled water from hotel gyms.

The Secret Behind Italy’s Rarest Pasta
BBC travels to the island of Sardinia to see how su filindeu — the world’s rarest pasta — is made. Only three women on the planet know the time-intensive process.

Poverty as a Tourism Attraction: Can Travel to a Developing Country Really Make a Difference?
Australian travel website Traveller delves into the experience of “poverty tourism,” in which wealthy tourists come to town for a few hours and “want to ‘fix’ disadvantage with a few giveaway pencils and a photo with the kids.” The author is uncomfortable with the concept but finds that this type of tourism isn’t entirely without merit.

Here Comes a Wave of Change for Cuba
A National Geographic writer hops aboard the first U.S. cruise ship to visit Cuba in nearly 40 years and asks the locals how they feel about the incoming wave of American tourists.

Air Horse One: This Airline Is Strictly for the Animals
Every wondered how racehorses travel to the Kentucky Derby and other major events? USA Today takes us inside Air Horse One, a plane designed specifically to carry animals. Fun fact: The plane ascends and descends more gently than regular commercial flights to avoid startling or jostling the horses.

Airbus Offers a Peek at Its Flying Taxi
Anyone who’s ever sat in a traffic jam has wished they could simply fly their car over the mess — and CNN reports that Airbus is working on technology that could someday let us do just that. The “pilotless passenger aircraft” would take off and land vertically, with no need for a runway.

This week’s video offers a look at one of France’s most incredible tourist sites: Mont St-Michel.

A Medieval Abbey Trapped by Tides and Time from Great Big Story on Vimeo.


Voluntourism: Does It Really Help?
Photos: A Walking Tour of Old Havana

— written by Sarah Schlichter

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

airline pilot


17 Questions You’ve Always Wanted To Ask Your Airline Pilot
GQ sits down with British Airways airline pilot Mark Vanhoenacker to chat about how often he uses autopilot, which languages pilots speak with air traffic controllers and where the best place is to watch airplanes land.

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.

Americans Have Now Paid Enough in Checked Bag Fees to Buy Any U.S. Airline
Thrillist ran the numbers and discovered that U.S. carriers have collected more than $26.2 billion in checked bag fees — enough to buy just about any American airline outright.

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.”

On Smithsonian Museum Day, Visit More Than 1,200 Museums for Free
Conde Nast Traveler gives us a timely heads up: This Saturday, more than 1,200 museums across the U.S. will be opening their doors for free as part of a Smithsonian initiative. (The Smithsonian museums in Washington D.C. are, of course, free at all times.)

Reporter Returns to Haiti and Finds Cherished Hotel Shuttered
An NPR correspondent mourns the closing of the Villa Creole near Port-au-Prince in Haiti, where he stayed on multiple occasions (including the 2010 earthquake).

This week’s video had us swooning over Western Canada’s wide-open vistas and lush hiking trails.


11 Best Canada Experiences
A Pilot Speaks Out: What You Don’t Know About Flying

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Check out our favorite travel reads of the week.

couple on vacation


Every Month, This Company Chooses a Random Employee to Send on a Two-Week Vacation
Okay, how do we land a job at this company? Travel + Leisure reports that The Motley Fool, a financial services firm, chooses one employee each month to take a spontaneous two-week vacation — complete with $1,500 of spending money.

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.

Returning to Everest: Trekking to Base Camp after the 2015 earthquake
A Lonely Planet writer checks out the scene in Nepal following the tragic earthquake of last year. She discovers that while some damage remains en route to the Everest Base Camp, the villagers along the way are eager to welcome back tourists.

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?


11 Things Not to Do on a Plane
12 Delicious Destinations for Foodies

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Catch up on what you might have missed in the travel world this week.

men in business class


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.

Travel Photographer of the Year Contest: 2016 Winners
Feast your eyes on these stunning shots submitted to this year’s National Geographic Photographer of the Year Contest, covering destinations from Varanasi, India to Chile’s Atacama Desert.

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.

Cheryl Strayed: A Close Encounter at Badlands
“Wild” author Cheryl Strayed writes vividly in the New York Times about a 1994 encounter with a bison while she was camping at Badlands National Park.

19 Dreamy Pictures of Croatia
Everyone needs a little eye candy. Indulge yourself with this photo essay from Rough Guides featuring swoon-worthy shots of Croatia.

This week’s featured travel video takes the viewer on a journey through the colorful souks and remote deserts of Morocco.


11 Best Morocco Experiences
12 Travel Photography Mistakes to Avoid

— written by Sarah Schlichter

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!

classic cars havana cuba


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.

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

Can Americans Travel to Cuba? Yes — and Here’s How

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Catch up on all the news and views you may have missed in the travel world this week.

hiker taking cell phone photo


10 Ways That the Mobile Phone Has Ruined Travel
In this humorous essay from the Telegraph, the author bemoans the way cell phones have worsened the travel experience. (One example: selfies.)

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.

Cash-Back Credit Cards Better Than Travel Cards for Most Americans, Survey Analysis Finds
In a recent survey, NerdWallet found that not all travelers are well served by travel reward cards. If you primarily travel within the U.S. and spend less than $8,600 a year, a cash-back card could be more lucrative. If you travel overseas at least once a year, though, a travel card could still be worthwhile.

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.


6 Pictures That Will Make You Want to Visit Slovenia
Can Americans Travel to Cuba? Yes — and Here’s How

— written by Sarah Schlichter