Explore. Experience. Engage.

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

Want dinner delivered in a box on a weekly or monthly basis? There’s a subscription for that. Ditto for beauty products, socks, diapers, loose tea, outfits, even goodies for pregnant women tailored by due date.

Monthly subscription boxes have never been more popular. Travel buffs can get in on the mailbox fun too, with travel subscription boxes geared just for them. Here are seven we love.

kitchen table passport france box

Note: Most of these companies ship all over the world, though shipping fees vary.

Try the World: Each month you’ll receive a themed collection of foodstuffs from a single country, curated by a local expert. For instance, Brazilian cookbook author and teacher Leticia Schwartz selected the items in the Brazil box, focusing on foods for a quintessential Brazilian barbecue. Refreshing caipirinha, anyone?

Kitchen Table Passport: Like other kits, this one profiles a different country each month and focuses on cooking. But the kits are more than just recipes and ingredients — they invoke all of your senses. You’ll smell and taste the meal you’re preparing, but you’ll also listen to music from the destination, hold locally sourced souvenirs and see photos.

GlobeIn: In addition to receiving four or five handpicked artisan crafts from around the world — kitchen items, home decor and recycled tote bags among them — you also get to learn the back stories of the people who created the crafts. The company is committed to making a social impact by supporting the artists, crafter and creators of the products.

Little Passports: Introduce children to travel through the adventures of cartoon globetrotters and the gifts they dispatch to their young subscribers. Three kits are available: one for early explorers aged 3 to 5 years, a world edition for ages 6 to 10 and a U.S. edition for 7- to 12-year-olds. Each monthly gift contains maps, stickers, play passports, toys, activity guides and other offerings. An Egypt-themed gift box, for example, includes suitcase stickers depicting the pyramids and pretend archeological dig kit tools. Subscriptions also include access to online games.

Bocandy: If you have an adventurous sweet tooth, this is a great subscription box. You get to sample candy and other treats from Bulgaria, Japan, Germany, Mexico and other countries. There are several boxes to choose from, including one focused on Asian treats.

Eat Feed Love: This foodie website offers a “Taste Club” that delivers boxes of sample or full-sized artisanal foods and snacks from around the world. Coffee, tea, syrups, spices, oils, condiments and chocolate are all in the mix, and items are sourced from markets, family farms and small shops.

Birchbox: Birchbox was one of the pioneers of the subscription box industry, providing sample-size beauty products for women. Though not geared toward travelers per se, the five items provided in their monthly kits are often travel-sized. Items are personalized too, based on your responses to a short questionnaire.

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

There’s a marine biologist in Sicily named Emilio who is as fond of studying sea creatures as he is of cooking them. His house is in a seaside village called Torretta Granitola, and when he’s not crunching numbers in the lab, he’s in the kitchen, whipping up dishes with the fish he catches and with ingredients from local farms.

pasta italy

Wild asparagus omelets. Fava beans and artichokes cooked in a clay pot. Fresh sheep cheese and croutons made of locally made rye bread.

Dinner at Emilio’s sounds like a dream.

Now, thanks to a new website called My Italian Friends, you can pull up a chair at Emilio’s patio dining table and spend three hours savoring one of his home-cooked meals. Or you can book a spot in a home restaurant in a different Italian city — Rome, Milan and Perugia among them.

My Italian Friends is the perfect solution for travelers who get weary of dining in restaurants for every meal. The website allows you to reserve a meal in a local Italian home, viewing the menu, location and background of the home cook before you book. The website also lists cooking classes, if you prefer to learn to hand-roll your own pasta rather than have it served to you, and foodie tours, such as an escorted visit to Florence’s main market.

Photos: 11 Best Italy Experiences

The site only recently launched, yet already has dozen of listings. They are widely distributed throughout Italy, and the hosts seem welcoming and intent on providing good food and good conversation. They list sample menus, but you can make requests (and note allergies or dietary restrictions) when you book.
Some hosts provide additional services, such as rides to and from public transport and walking tours of the area.

The website offers a range of experiences and range of prices. We spotted a pasta dinner in Rome for 18 euros (about $20.50 USD), and a truffle-hunting expedition in the medieval town of Gubbio with an expert guide named Danilo and his trusty dog for 172 euros ($196 — includes lunch and a guided tour). The four-course meal at Emilio’s house, including wine, is 29 euros per person ($33). Some home cooks provide discounts on select dates.

To learn about other websites offering meals in local homes, see Beyond Restaurants: Eight Ways to Savor a Local Food Scene.

Like This Story? Get More Travel Tips in Our Newsletter!

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

Check out this week’s essential travel reads.

room service at hotel

Things You Should Never Order from Room Service
Do you know why you should order a room service steak a little rarer than you normally would, or why you should probably just pass on a shrimp cocktail? Conde Nast Traveler offers some fun facts about how room service works and which menu items aren’t a good bet.

Airlines to Introduce an ‘Economy Minus’ Class
Flying coach is already bad enough — but Fortune reports that a new, even worse class of service is trending across the airline industry. “Basic economy” (also known by some as “economy minus”) will cut even more amenities in order to offer bare-bones low fares. Book one of these tickets, and you can say goodbye to a free carry-on bag and advance seat assignments, among other things.

Hilarious Photos Show the Difference Between Travel Expectations and Travel Reality
This fun interactive piece from Matador Network pairs glossy, idealized pictures of travel attractions such as the Eiffel Tower and the Great Wall of China with more realistic shots — think beaches covered in trash or monuments surrounded with thousands of tourists. Click on each photo to see its counterpart.

The Challenge of Taming Air Turbulence
The New York Times explores how airlines try to prepare for unexpected bumps in the air, and even questions whether warmer weather due to El Nino could cause turbulence to become more common. (The answer: no one quite knows.)

Man Who Has Visited More Than 300 McDonald’s Around the World Shares His Favorite Menu Items
The Independent profiles a Canadian traveler who has sampled fast food all over the planet. His favorite McDonald’s menu items include a dried fish sandwich in Sri Lanka, seaweed-seasoned fries in Japan and a bubble gum-flavored “McFizz” beverage in Singapore. (We’re not sure we’d try that last one.)

The Political Push to Destroy Hidden Hotel Fees Has Begun
We all hate showing up to a hotel and having unexpected costs such as resort fees and other surcharges tacked onto our bill. (See Hidden Hotel Fees for some examples.) Skift reports that U.S. Senator Claire McCaskell has introduced a bill that would require hotels and travel sites to reveal such fees at the time of booking. Sounds reasonable to us — we’ll see if Congress agrees.

Why You Can’t Trust GPS in China
Travel + Leisure takes a fascinating look at how digital maps — such as those on your smartphone or GPS device — are slightly inaccurate in China due to the country’s security regulations. For example, a building in Beijing that you’re standing right next to could appear to be a few hundred yards away on your phone.

This week’s featured video features timelapse footage of Vienna, whooshing the viewer from theaters and monuments to parks and quiet streets.

6 Lies Your Hotel Might Tell You
33 Ways to Sleep Better at a Hotel

— written by Sarah Schlichter

As a couple of street cats look on, we ascend a narrow staircase until we reach a ledge overlooking the whole of Istanbul’s Golden Horn. There, at the somewhat precarious top, our guide has placed pillows for our small group to sit; we’ll be picnicking in the open air, with the spectacular Yeni Cami (New Mosque) behind us and the rooftops of the Grand Bazaar in front.

“Welcome to the best view in Istanbul,” said Benoit Hanquet, his longish gray hair blowing in the breeze. Our group of eight murmured appreciatively as Hanquet passed around slices of pide, a pizza-like flatbread created right before us a few minutes earlier.

istanbul view

If you’re tired of tours that bring you to the same old places, it’s time you gave culinary tourism a try. Food tours are about more than stuffing your face with local specialties. Rather, the good ones give you an insight into a city’s culture, allowing you to see how local people eat, drink and spend their free time.

Food tours have taught me more than a typical city stroll. For example, on a walking tour with Frying Pan Adventures in Dubai, I learned how diverse the emirate really is by eating Palestinian falafel, Egyptian pastries and Syrian ice cream as we walked through the Deira district. Many of these foods are cherished by foreign workers, who aren’t allowed citizenship, we were told — which made what we were eating seem far more compelling.

12 International Foods to Try Before You Die

In Istanbul, I took on the Grand Bazaar with Culinary Backstreets, a food tour company that has now expanded to 16 cities. Founded in Turkey, the company originated as Istanbul Eats, a food guide that first came out in book form, Benoit told us. The authors received so many requests from tourists to help them find the small mom-and-pop stalls and stands in the book that they decided to start offering tours.

doner kebab istanbul food

In Istanbul alone, Culinary Backstreets runs six tours a day. Topics range from a cooking class held in Kurtulus, a neighborhood well off the beaten path, to an authentic meyhane, or night out on the town, complete with raki (Turkish liquor) and live music. While the company keeps the skeleton of the tours the same, the guides do some of their own improvising; Benoit tells us that our picturesque ledge is one that only he visits.

Taking a food tour can require some fortitude, both on your feet and in your stomach. Both my tours in Dubai and Istanbul stretched out over six hours; in Istanbul, we left Benoit after being together 7.5 hours (the Belgian expat was still going strong; he informed us that our “early” departure would keep us from coffee at a restaurant with another great view). Come hungry and pace yourself!

Food tours are not for the squeamish. Although Benoit told us that customers with food allergies or preferences are given options, many of the world’s cities aren’t well suited to picky eaters, particularly when you’re visiting places that specialize in just one thing. In Istanbul, we were coaxed into having kokoretsi, lamb sweetbreads that have been roasted for hours. Served on a toasted piece of French bread, the pieces of offal were melt-in-your-mouth delicious — and even those people on our tour who questioned the stop ended up liking them.

istanbul breakfast

Culinary tours also tend to be bonding experiences. Our Istanbul tour included three lively Australians, three Americans (my husband and I included) and a couple from Pakistan. We listened, enthralled over our bulgur and lentil soup, as Shireen from Islamabad shared the hardships of being an art critic in Islamabad. I still follow the Frying Pan Instagram feed, posted by Farida, a University of Pennsylvania grad who returned to the U.A.E. to start her business. Turns out breaking bread together is an intimate act around the world.

Learn More About Food and Travel

At the end of our Istanbul tour, we exchanged email addresses with our new friends and headed back to our hotel. We were tired and full, but also upbeat; suddenly the streets seemed friendlier and more familiar, now that we had drunk the same sweet tea as the Turks. At the hotel I called up the website for Culinary Backstreets and immediately booked another food tour for next week, when I’m in Athens. I’ve visited there before, but I know that by exploring the city through its bakeries and markets, I’ll come away satiated.

— written by Chris Gray Faust

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 mouth-watering seasonal beverages.

Would you rather …

… guzzle gluhwein at a Christmas market in Germany, or …

gluhwein mulled wine christmas

… sip warm salep in Turkey?

salep sahlep sahlab turkey

Gluhwein, that delicious mulled wine popular at Christmas markets in German-speaking countries, is spiced with cinnamon, cloves and citrus fruit. Salep (also spelled “sahlep” or “sahlab,” depending on where you’re drinking it) is a popular drink served during the colder months in Turkey, Egypt, Greece and other parts of the former Ottoman Empire. In Turkey the drink is thickened with flour made from the tubers of wild orchids and mixed with warm milk, cinnamon, ginger and/or nutmeg.

12 International Foods to Try Before You Die

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 dining options.

When traveling, would you rather…

… eat at a fine restaurant with a Michelin star, or …

fine dining

… get something fresh and cheap from a local street market?

street food noodles

Most big cities have a range of dining options for every taste and budget. Are you the type to make reservations a month in advance for the fanciest spot in town, or do you prefer to eat your way through the food stalls in the local street market?

Beyond Restaurants: 8 Ways to Savor a Local Food Scene

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

On your next trip, you could go out for a nice, quiet dinner — or you could eat your meal behind bars … or underwater … or in a fancy restroom! At these one-of-a-kind restaurants, it’s not just about the food. In fact, meals take the back burner while ambience and unique entertainment steal the show.

ithaa underwater restaurant maldivesIthaa, Rangali Island, Maldives
Part of Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, this all-glass restaurant is situated underwater, some 16 feet below the surface of the ocean. It features 180-degree views in a small dining room that seats about 12, who are lucky enough to watch sea creatures sailing by as they dine on modern European cuisine.

Food and Travel: The Ultimate Guide

alcatraz er tokyoAlacatraz E.R., Tokyo, Japan
Not that you ever wanted to dine behind bars … but Alcatraz E.R. offers the chance in blood- and body part-splattered jail cells (fake, of course). Guests sip cocktails out of test tubes and mannequin heads, and during meals, you might find the lights going out as “escapees” enter the prison cells.

Photos: 12 Best Japan Experiences

supperclub amsterdamSupperclub, Amsterdam, Netherlands
So maybe you don’t want to dine behind bars, but who doesn’t want to eat in bed? At Supperclub, four-course meals and cocktails are served on mattresses, housed in a dimly lit room. Guests also enjoy live, often interactive entertainment such as burlesque, vaudeville, cabaret and freak shows, along with music and art.

Photos: Best Netherlands Experiences

modern toilet taipeiModern Toilet, Taipei, Taiwan
Normally, you want to avoid a trip to the bathroom following a meal, but at this restaurant, you’ll practically eat in the restroom. Patrons sit on toilets and at tables that resemble bathroom sinks. Meanwhile, more toilets adorn the walls. Drinks are served in glasses that look like urinals, and food is delivered in miniature porcelain thrones (and chocolate ice cream is on the menu).

7 Strange Foods from Around the World

le refuge des fonduesLe Refuge des Fondues, Paris, France
This tourist spot has gained attention for the way it serves wine: in baby bottles. It’s tiny, too — so tiny, in fact, that you might have to jump over a table to access seats along the wall (diners sit together at two long tables). Graffiti is encouraged (the walls are covered with it), and delicious fondue is served.

Photos: 12 Best France Experiences

pink door seattleThe Pink Door, Seattle, U.S.A.
Hidden in an alley at Pike Place Market, the Pink Door isn’t just the name of the restaurant; it’s what you’ll need to search for to find the place (there aren’t any signs). Once inside, you’ll walk down a set of stairs — the restaurant is situated underground — to a small room lit by candles. Delicious Italian fare is served, but the real draw is the entertainment. A trapeze artist twirls and spins overhead on Sundays and Mondays, while Saturdays feature burlesque and cabaret shows.

— written by Amanda Geronikos

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 destinations offering delicious fried dishes.

Would you rather…

… eat fresh-caught fish on a beach in Trinidad, or …

fried fish maracas beach trinidad

… nosh on falafel on the streets of Cairo, Egypt?

falafel egypt

As in much of the Caribbean, fried fish is a popular dish on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago. In fact, there’s even an annual Trinidad Fish Festival featuring live music, an artisan street fair and, of course, plenty of fresh-caught fish. Falafel, a ball of deep-fried chickpeas or fava beans, is a common street food across the Middle East; it’s thought to have originated in Egypt, where you can still grab one of these tasty snacks wrapped in pita bread and garnished with tahini sauce.

Food and Travel: The Ultimate Guide

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Would you pay $1,013 for a salad? How about $2,700 for sushi?

These exorbitant dishes and many others are on a “menu” of the world’s most expensive food, put together by Chris Sibbet of FinancesOnline.com. Sibbet scoured the globe to find lavish offerings like the aforementioned salad, which is made of “beluga caviar, grated truffle, potatoes with gold leaf, Cornish crab and lobster and 30-year-old balsamic vinegar” and can be ordered at the Hempel Hotel in London.

If you’d rather drop a few grand on sushi, head to Angelito Areneta’s Golden Sushi in Manila, where the fish is wrapped in 24-carat gold and crowned with three pearls.

The total cost for all the decadent dishes rounded up by Sibbet (many of which were created as fundraisers for charity) adds up to a whopping $95,065. Bon apetit!

The Most Expensive Dishes In The World: How To Plan The Pricest Meal Ever

Republished from alternatives.financesonline.com — Published by Chris Sibbet — See our Vimeo

International Foods to Try Before You Die
12 Delicious Destinations for Foodies

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Summer heat got you down? We’re cooling off by imagining ourselves sinking our teeth into a few of the world’s sweetest, coolest desserts. Check out our list below and then add your favorites in the comments!

gelato italy ice cream
Gelato, Italy

Italy‘s famously smooth, delicious ice cream tops our list. Our flavor of choice is coconut — what’s yours?

maple taffy
Maple Taffy, Canada

Few desserts are more chill than this dessert, which involves pouring maple syrup on snow; it’s popular in Quebec and other parts of eastern Canada.

mochi ice cream japan
Mochi Ice Cream, Japan

This treat from Japan is like two desserts in one: a sticky-sweet rice cake with ice cream tucked inside.

mango lassi
Mango Lassi, India

This sweet drink made with mango, yogurt and sugar is a favorite on hot days in India.

12 International Foods to Try Before You Die

What’s your favorite cool, refreshing dessert?

— written by Sarah Schlichter