Home

Explore. Experience. Engage.

Home Travel Tips Travel Deals Destinations Trip Reviews Blog
The IndependentTraveler.com Blog

From backpackers to retirees, more than 300,000 people a year travel through Europe by train, and it’s now possible to visit 28 different countries by train on a Eurail Global Pass. A lover of the rails herself, Silvia Fischer serves as sales and marketing manager for Eurail Group G.I.E. Fischer chatted with us about what’s new in Europe train travel and where she dreams of going.

silvia fischer eurail group


IndependentTraveler.com: If a traveler hasn’t been on a European train in a few years, what will they find that’s new?
Silvia Fischer:
One of the key differences is the quality and breadth of services, including high-speed train lines. In first class, seating is now more spacious, and many seats recline. Food is often served right to your seat, and in several countries you can charge your devices and connect to Wi-Fi straight from your seat.

With the Eurail Pass there have been plenty of improvements too, including the Children Travel for Free program that allows two children between 4 and 11 years old to travel for free with an adult Eurail Pass holder. This covers grandchildren as well.

Some other changes also include the addition of four new countries for Eurail — Poland, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro — and new passes like the Scandinavia Pass and the Greek Islands Pass.

IT: Eurail’s research shows that Central Europe is the most popular destination for travelers 50 years old and up. Why is that part of Europe trending?
SF:
Countries like Germany and Switzerland will always be popular rail destinations due to the extensiveness of their networks. However, when people are coming back to Europe for a second, third or even fourth time, they are often looking for new experiences away from well-known hot spots. They are keen to explore areas that didn’t used to be as accessible, such as Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic and Croatia. It also helps that long-haul flights from the States are opening up to these countries too.

IT: You were recently in the U.S. What do you like about rail travel in the States, and what do you think could be improved?
SF:
Similar to Europe, the U.S. offers some grand scenic journeys that can only be witnessed by rail — there’s nowhere else in the world where you can see the likes of the Grand Canyon from the comfort of your seat! On the flip side, passenger or commuter rail within the U.S. can be quite limited, and in many cases stations are only located within city limits of major hub cities. Coming from Europe, where there’s more than 10,000 stations accessible by passenger trains, I find the difference quite striking.

IT: What tips can you share to save money on rail travel in Europe?
SF:
One of my top tips would be to book in advance before landing in Europe. One bonus of the booking period is that travelers can take advantage of promotional offers throughout the year and then travel up to 11 months later.

If you’re looking for a vacation that’s easier on the wallet, consider traveling within Eastern and Central Europe, or in the quieter months outside of the busy summer season.

bernina express switzerland


IT: Which European routes are absolutely essential to reserve in advance?
SF:
Due to popular demand, some high-speed, international and overnight trains in Europe require a reservation. That said, high-speed and international routes for countries popular with U.S. travelers like Germany and Austria don’t require a reservation. And in many cases there are alternative regional trains that passengers can opt for instead. The journey might be longer, but you skip having to make a reservation.

IT: What are your favorite tips for train travel?
SF:
My number one piece of advice is to download the Rail Planner App. It’s a great tool that provides train timetables and tells you where connecting routes or reservations are necessary. The app is free and works offline.

If you’re in search of some quiet time, it’s quite common in Western Europe to find trains with “silent” carriages or cabins — no chitchat allowed! This is ideal for catching up on a book or sleep. And don’t forget to admire the views from the window!

IT: What are your personal favorite rail routes in Europe?
SF:
That’s a tough choice! For the idyllic views in wine country, I’d say the Rhine Valley Line between Koblenz and Mainz in Germany. … For historic significance, it would have to be the Bernina Express between Chur in Switzerland and Tirano in Italy. This route follows two UNESCO World Heritage-listed lines, the Albula and the Bernina.

And for the uniqueness I would have to say the route between Hamburg in Germany and Copenhagen in Denmark. The train literally rolls onto a ferry to cross the sea.

IT: What train trip — anywhere in the world — is on your travel bucket list?
SF:
Outside of Europe, the Seven Stars line on the island of Kyushu, Japan, is on my wish list. A relative newcomer — it only opened in 2013 — it’s a luxury sleeper train that travels around Japan’s southernmost main island with views of lush green landscapes and even volcanoes!

Within Europe it’s tricky to choose, but if time allows, my ultimate dream would be undertaking a single trip that encompassed all the 28 countries covered by the Eurail Pass. Now that would be an incredible European experience!

Check out more travel interviews!

Top 10 Reasons to Travel by Train
Planning a Trip to Europe: Your 10-Step Guide

— interview conducted by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

Catch up with the stories you may have missed over the past seven days.

dubai at night


Top 20 Post-Election Travel Destinations
USA Today reports that TripAdvisor experienced a surge of booking activity from midnight on Election Day to 1 p.m. the day after. The site released the 10 most-booked countries and 10 most-booked cities during that time period. You might find some of them surprising. (The most-booked city? Dubai.)

The Roof of America
Your travel eye candy for the week is this photo essay from Maptia, offering stunning shots of trekking in the mountains of Peru.

Italy’s New ‘Scattered Hotel’ Trend May Save Its Historic Towns
Conde Nast Traveler reports on a fascinating trend in Italy called the albergo diffuso, or “scattered hotel.” This involves turning abandoned historic villages into a resort of sorts, with guestrooms and apartments surrounding a central lobby.

Kris Tompkins: ‘Fighter by Trade,’ Wild at Heart
CNN profiles a woman who has spent more than two decades preserving the Patagonian wilderness in Chile and Argentina by purchasing land and turning it into national parks.

Europe’s Mosquito-Free Island Paradise: Iceland
There are few places on Earth where you won’t be bitten by mosquitoes, but Iceland is one of them, reports the New York Times. This may be thanks to its climate, but global warming could change that in the future.

The Modern Rebirth of the ‘Golden Rule’
BBC explores the state of Penang, Malaysia, where the locals are coping with their multicultural identity with an emphasis on mutual tolerance of different religions and cultures.

Antitrust Suit Against Airlines Can Move Ahead, Judge Says
A lawsuit accusing major U.S. airlines of colluding to set high airfares has been given the go-ahead by a federal judge, who rejected a motion to dismiss it, reports the Los Angeles Times.

This week’s video features a sweet in-flight proposal aboard a Qantas flight from Sydney, Australia to Santiago, Chile.


The 9 Best Places to Travel Alone
10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc.

Last month, we gave our readers a chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card by submitting a review of a recent trip. We loved reading their submissions, which inspired us with tales of hiking the Inca Trail in Peru and flying a historic plane in Santa Fe.

running of the bulls pamplona


Deciding on the winner was hard, but in the end we chose The Running of the Bulls by vagabondginger. Here’s an excerpt from her winning review:

“The best bulls from various ranches throughout Spain are brought to Pamplona to make for an exciting event. Certain ranches breed bulls with characteristics to make them brave and aggressive,” writes vagabondginger. “These Spanish Fighting Bulls get to a weight of at least 1,300 pounds and have longer horns than other breeds. Bullfights have a lot of pomp and pageantry, but also passion and drama with protesters. We do not condone or condemn but feel much like Hemingway did in his book ‘Death in the Afternoon’ that it’s part of Spain’s tradition. Someday it may be outlawed.” Read the rest!

While we only had one prize to give away, we also wanted to recognize a few runners-up whose reviews are also well worth a read:

On the Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu by Carolyn Boyle: ” All the iconic photographs of Machu Picchu in the travel brochures are taken from the perspective of the Terrace of the Ceremonial Rock, with Una Picchu and Huayna Picchu in the background. Near the Guardhouse is a large carved stone, the Ceremonial Rock; some human burials were found near here. This area was about an hour from the Gate of the Sun. At this point we had trekked almost exactly 7 miles, including short detours for ruins and waterfalls. We were fortunate to see Machu Picchu in glorious sunlight at the end of our day.”

MiG 15 Pilot by Stephen Goch: “Larry started the engine, and we taxied out for takeoff. We had to stay below 200 knots (230 mph) until we reached 10,000 feet. Our rate of climb was absolutely amazing! The light aircraft I fly has a rate of climb of between 500 and 700 feet per minute. The jet was climbing at 4,000 feet per minute! It was a fantastic experience.”

Costa Rican Trip by Danielle Toland: “The Costa Rican saying is ‘Pura Vida’ which means pure life. They embody this motto by being happy with their lives, being gracious for what they have, and living slowly and relaxed. I learned to be a little more gracious from them.”

Three Days of Outdoor Activity in San Francisco’s Microclimate by Jen Lucas: “The following day was one that I’ll remember for this lifetime. Everyone recognizes the Golden Gate Bridge as the major landmark of the city which I’ve seen previously but when my friend mentioned us riding bikes across, I visualized myself with a huge Sharpie checking off a large box on my bucket list.”

Feeling inspired? Write a review of your latest trip!

— 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 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 the most newsworthy stories from the travel world this week.

perito moreno glacier argentina


Why the United Kingdom Is the Best Vacation Deal Right Now — and Brazil Is the Worst
Vox has crunched exchange rate and inflation numbers to come up with a list of where you should travel to get the best bang for your buck. Unsurprisingly, in the wake of Brexit the U.K. is the best deal for Americans; it’s followed by Argentina and Mexico. Not such a great deal? Brazil, Japan and Iceland.

This Is Why Long-Haul Coach Class Has Hardly Changed in Five Decades
While airlines seem to be introducing constant improvements to first and business class, Skift looks into the reasons why those of us in the back of the plane haven’t seen any substantive changes in years.

The Moroccan Town Drenched in Blue
BBC offers a gorgeous photo essay on the town of Chefchaouen, Morocco, which is painted almost entirely in shades of blue.

Welcome to Purridise: Taiwan’s Houtong Cat Village
Calling all animal lovers! Lonely Planet spotlights a small Taiwanese village populated by hundreds of stray cats.

How Travel Nerds Book Airfare
Houstonia offers an in-depth look at how one traveler got creative to find an affordable airfare to Europe — including trying different cities, checking trains and rental cars, and piecing together itineraries with discount airlines.

Icelandair’s Celebration Stopover Buddy Service Will Help Plan the Perfect Layover
Icelandair has recently made some improvements to its longstanding stopover program, which allows travelers to add some extra time in Reykjavik to any Europe flight for free. Now Conde Nast Traveler reports that the airline is offering a “celebration stopover buddy” who will help you make your Iceland travel fantasy happen.

16 Evocative Pictures of Sri Lanka
Get inspired by these photos from Rough Guides from a recent trip to Sri Lanka. Be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom — we promise the last one will make you smile.

This week’s video is a short feature film from Holland.com. Yes, it’s basically a 17-minute destination commercial, but the sweet storyline and the dreamy footage of Amsterdam make it an entertaining watch.


9 Best Netherlands Experiences
10 Tips for Finding Cheap 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

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!

ushguli village shkhara peak georgia


In this month’s winning review, a traveler experiences remarkable hospitality on a trekking journey to the country of Georgia: “On my first full day in Tbilisi, I was lucky to be invited to the hostel’s birthday celebration for one of its owner’s friends,” writes Marinel de Jesus. “I was offered a taste of the local cuisine and experienced a wonderful merging of cultures when a fellow hostel resident played a traditional musical instrument from Iran as a way to celebrate the occasion. In Georgia, there is not much of a line between a stranger and a friend/family.”

Read the rest of Marinel’s review here: The Republic of Georgia Brings You Mountains & Unparalled Hospitality. This reader has won an IndependentTraveler.com sweatshirt.

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

The last minutes of summer are ticking away, with just two days left until the official start of autumn. So while the final countdown is on, I count down for you a batch of intriguing things in the world of travel that will help you decide where to go this fall (and winter), and how to get there in the smartest possible way.

autumn road


10 Transport Apps to Help You Get Around
A technology reporter for the Guardian reveals his picks for the best 10 apps to help you navigate various transportation options. While the article is U.K.-centric, most of the apps are applicable to other cities around the world.

9 New Hotels Worthy of Your Instagram Account
Vogue magazine runs down nine new properties around the world that are chic enough to appear as a square image in your social media feed, including an artistic enclave on the beach in Nicaragua. Perhaps one will be on your travel list for this fall?

8 Adventurous Ski Holidays for 2016-17
Are you a skier? These are the hottest (coldest?) ski experiences in the world this coming season, according to the Guardian. Heliskiing in British Columbia late this fall, anyone?

7 Ways to Stay Safe When You’re Traveling Alone
Everyone travels alone at some point. Blending in, booking hotels strategically and trusting your gut are among the tips that a batch of frequent solo travelers offer in this Mental Floss article. (For more info, see 15 Mistakes to Avoid When Traveling Solo.)

6 Ways to Stay Healthy When You Travel
If anyone knows what to do to stay healthy on the road, it’s someone who hasn’t been home in nine months. In this Medium article John Fawkes intermittently fasts, takes probiotics and melatonin, and incorporates other habits into his day to stay healthy. (Check out 9 Products to Help You Stay Healthy While Traveling.)

5 Underrated European Destinations
Romania and Montenegro are among a handful of spots in Europe that more travelers should make a priority to see, says a woman who quit her New York City job to travel the world. This autumn’s shoulder season could be the ideal time to check some out.

4 Affordable Ways to Travel Long Term
Huffington Post travel blogger Shannon Ullman suggests that volunteering abroad not only is personally rewarding, but also allows you to stay in a place for a longer period of time without spending a lot of money. She offers three other ways you can afford to travel longer.

3 Off-Season Luxe Destinations for Less
Two spots in the Caribbean and one landlocked U.S. destination made the TODAY Show’s list of three well-discounted destinations for this fall.

2 People Traveling for a Year on $20,000
Writer Chris Guillebeau profiles an Arizona couple who ditched their stay-in-one-place lifestyle and hit the road, allowing housesitting opportunities to determine their destinations. Hard to believe they financed nearly the whole year merely by selling their car!

dog bark park inn cottonwood idaho


1 B&B Shaped Like a Beagle
Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you suddenly discover a bed and breakfast built in the shape of a floppy-eared dog. The blog My Modern Met features the Dog Bark Park Inn in Cottonwood, Idaho, a two-bedroom cottage shaped like a beagle. Go fetch?

Where are you headed this fall?

5 Photos to Inspire an Autumn Trip
12 Places That Shine in Shoulder Season

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma