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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 volunteering with elephants in Sri Lanka, cruising around the Mediterranean and tasting wine in South Africa.

hallgrimskirkja blue lagoon reykjavik iceland


Deciding on the winner was hard, but in the end we chose Iceland: A Magical Mystery Tour by Sarah Eaton. Here’s an excerpt from her winning review:

“As we arrived at the secluded farm and looked up into the clear sky, glimmering with thousand of stars, the performance above us was extraordinary. Green lights seem to sway above us in a movement I can only compare to the inside of a lava lamp, slowly wavering across the night sky.” 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:

Anything for the Elephants! by TS Buchanan: ” Let me introduce Ranmenika. She’s a 40-year-old beauty (elephants can live as long as 80 years) who fell into a well when she was just six. … Ranmenika is currently one of seven elephants under the care of MEF.”

A Third Roman Christmas by Host Ciao: “I walked to visit the Pantheon and then on to Piazza Navona where I planned to wander the huge Christmas fair held there. What a sad sight I found! Instead of booths offering all kinds of food, Christmas decorations, Nativity set pieces, and games, I found exactly six booths of games and a merry-go-round. No one was trying to win a huge stuffed animal at the games or enjoying the ride. A few people were wandering around the famous fountain and only a few were at the restaurants that border much of the square.”

How to Spend Three Perfect Days in Cape Town by Rachael Taft: “Excuse me while I gush, but South African wine is to die for! I wish America would figure this out and stock more of it in regular stores! If you’re looking for a classic South African wine to try, the Pinotage (a red) is a great place to start.”

Two Weeks on the Mediterranean: The Vision of the Seas by Justin Boot: “Montenegro took me by surprise in the best way. The Bay of Kotor is one of the most naturally beautiful and serene places I’ve ever seen. Coming from someone that lives in California and has been to Hawaii multiple times, that’s really saying something. The cruise ship had to navigate a narrow inlet for over an hour, passing by numerous small villages and hills that gracefully sloped up into mountain ranges. The water was clean, calm, and looked almost like a perfect mirror. It’s as if we’d somehow traveled back in time, to a medieval European era.”

Feeling inspired? Write a review of your latest trip!

— 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!

iceland ice cave


In this month’s winning review, a traveler explores Iceland’s natural beauty during a wintry off-season trip. “Inside the Ice Cave was AMAZING,” writes John Connaughton. “Beautiful blue ice, as well as some clear and some coated in white from the snow. We crawled further in to a second chamber where you could again stand up. We took a lot of pictures in the Ice Cave and this was the highlight of our trip.”

Read the rest of John’s review here: Our Iceland Trip in Detail. This reader has won an IndependentTraveler.com duffel bag!

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Every so often, when I’m stuck at home between trips and need a little jolt of wanderlust, I wander over to Vimeo.com and go hunting for travel videos. If I can’t be exploring a new place right now, at least I can spend a few minutes living vicariously through someone else’s footage. And there’s no better inspiration for future trips!

For example, check out this dreamy time-lapse video of the midnight sun in Iceland — I guarantee you’ll want to go.



Also shot in Europe but with an entirely different mood and focus is “Barcelona GO!”, which takes viewers on a frenetic trip around this colorful Spanish city, from narrow medieval lanes to grand cathedrals and concert halls:



This video set in India is so vivid I can practically taste the curry:



I’m ending with my favorite — a gorgeous, contemplative look at Japan in wintertime. Keep an eye out for the Jigokudani snow monkeys.



3 Time-Lapse Videos to Get You in the Mood for Traveling

— written by Sarah Schlichter

eyjafjallajokull volcano icelandIn less than two weeks, I’m leaving for a trip to Iceland. Yes, Iceland, where a volcano is currently erupting.

Any mention of “Iceland” and “volcano” conjures up visions of the massive ash cloud produced by the famously unpronounceable Eyjafjallajokull volcano in 2010, grounding thousands of flights across Europe. Fortunately, this time the Bardarbunga volcano has been spewing out lava and smoke, not ash — at least so far.

I was already a little bit stressed out over this trip because of some ongoing health issues within my family, so hearing that I could potentially be stranded five time zones away from home if an ash cloud materializes was not exactly reassuring news.

As a travel writer, I typically advise people with concerns about a trip to purchase travel insurance, which will usually protect you if weather, illness or other calamities threaten your vacation. But because the volcano has been simmering for a few weeks now, most travel insurers are excluding any volcano-related losses from coverage (unless you purchased your policy well in advance).

Alas, I did not buy insurance when I first booked the trip, so there’s little I can do beyond ensuring that any last-minute reservations I’m making are fully refundable — and crossing my fingers that the volcano and health gods will be kind.

Reykjavik Travel Guide

This reminds me that every trip I take has some element of uncertainty, even if it’s usually not as dramatic as a lava-belching volcano. After all, you never know when a flight delay will strike, a family member will fall ill or a much-anticipated attraction will be closed. While insurance and advance planning can help cushion the blow, there are no guarantees that a trip will go smoothly — and in many ways, the risk of the unknown is part of travel’s essential appeal.

In that spirit, I’m embracing this trip to Iceland, worries and all. And next time, well … I just might purchase that travel insurance.

5 Ways to Beat Pre-Trip Panic

— 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 unique geological formations.

Would you rather…

… visit an ice cave in Vatnajokull, Iceland, or …

ice cave vatnajokull iceland



… swim in a cenote in Mexico?

ik kil cenote chichen itza mexico


Over the winter months, visitors to southern Iceland can get a one-of-a-kind glimpse of Vatnajokull Glacier by taking a tour of its ice caves with a tour company such as Extreme Iceland or LocalGuide.is. Cenotes — sinkholes where groundwater has been exposed — are common in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico; pictured above is one of the most popular, Ik-Kil, located in Chichen Itza.

Photos: 9 Places You Haven’t Been — But Should

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 “true blue” experiences.

Would you rather…

… explore the historic medina of Chefchaouen, Morocco, or …

chefchaouen morocco medina blue



… bathe in the Blue Lagoon in Reykjavik, Iceland?

blue lagoon reykjavik


The mountain village of Chefchaouen, in northeastern Morocco, is famous for its picture-perfect blue architecture. Meanwhile, the Blue Lagoon in Reykjavik, fed with hot mineral water from beneath the earth’s surface, is one of Iceland’s most famous attractions.

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

— 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!

svartifoss waterfall icelandIn this month’s featured review, reader Shannon Colman names five places any visitor to Iceland should check out — as well as one to skip. On her must-see list is a waterfall in Skaftafell National Park: “The most spectacular thing about Svartifoss is the structure of the basalt columns behind the water — their rigidness evokes a sense of formality and order,” wrote Shannon. “I described them as resembling the pipes on an organ at a funeral, sitting in position, ready to release their morbid tones.”

Read the rest of Shannon’s review here: 5 Must-Dos in Iceland. Shannon has won an IndependentTraveler.com duffel bag!

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

— written by Sarah Schlichter