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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

A young British gal caused quite a stir in the mid-1800s when she finally admitted that she, a mere female, was the author of the popular book “Jane Eyre,” not the man whose pen name she had assumed. The book then landed on everyone’s must-read list, and novelist and poet Charlotte Bronte became a massive success.

bronte parsonage museum haworth england

In just a couple of weeks, England — and all of the literary world — will mark the 200th birthday of Charlotte Bronte. Here are a few spots that were important in her life, many of which will be commemorating the anniversary on April 21:

Thornton, England: Most of the Bronte children, including Charlotte, were born in the village of Thornton in West Yorkshire, England, at 74 Market Street. Visitors can see remains of the chapel where Charlotte’s father preached just opposite the village’s current church on Thornton Road.

Haworth, England: When the Bronte sisters grew up in Haworth, a village in Northern England, it was a congested industrial town where most residents barely survived into their mid-20s. Today Haworth is a charming mountain village that celebrates the lives of its most famous family. The surrounding region is now nicknamed Bronte Country, and their home is now the Bronte Parsonage Museum, run by the Bronte Society, one of the oldest literary societies in the world. A special exhibit commemorating the anniversary opened in February.

New York, United States: If you don’t have the opportunity to see the special Bronte exhibit at the Bronte Parsonage Museum, you can learn about her life and work at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York, which will host “Charlotte Bronte: An Independent Will” from September 9, 2016 through January 2, 2017.

Banagher, Ireland: Charlotte and her husband, Arthur Bell Nicholls, didn’t venture too far for their honeymoon. They spent it among the bogs and castles of Banagher, in County Offaly in the Irish midlands.

Brussels, Belgium: Charlotte lived in Brussels twice, both times working as a schoolteacher. She resided at an ordinary pension on the Rue d’Isabelle. Nothing remains of the original structure, but an arts center called the Palais des Beaux Arts commemorates the site with a plaque. And nearby are remnants of cobblestone streets that Charlotte and her sister Emily once walked.

London, England: The Brontes had one brother, Branwell, and he fancied himself an artist. He created a portrait of Charlotte with sisters Emily and Anne — a piece that was folded and hidden in a wardrobe. The National Portrait Gallery obtained the piece and is displaying it, along with other works of art, in the exhibit “Celebrating Charlotte Bronte.”

9 Great Authors and the Places That Shaped Them
Photos: 13 Best England Experiences

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

hong kongRead up on the latest from around the travel world with our weekly roundup.

10 Places It’s Cheaper to Fly to in 2016
If you’re dreaming of a trip to Hong Kong this year, you’re in luck — that city tops Kayak’s list of the top travel destinations for airfare savings in 2016, reports Time. It’s 26 percent cheaper to fly there this year than it was last year. Also on the list: Chicago, Beijing, Bangkok and Athens, among others.

The “Boring” Cities Worth a Second Look
Eric Weiner at BBC Travel argues that the cities we often think of as “boring” — such as Geneva, Switzerland and Cleveland, Ohio — actually have a lot to recommend them. You go in with no expectations, so you’re more likely to be pleasantly surprised. And boring places have their own charm that flashier places don’t: “When you relinquish the spectacular, you are rewarded with the quieter joy of the ordinary,” writes Weiner.

No Vacation Nation: 41% of Americans Didn’t Take a Day off in 2015
Well, this is depressing. Nearly 41 percent of U.S. respondents to a recent poll went all of 2015 without taking a single vacation day, reports Skift, and another 17 percent took fewer than five days off. Clearly, more Americans need to read that survey that says travel makes us happier.

Travel Broadens the Mind, But Can It Alter the Brain?
The Guardian looks at the benefits of studying or living abroad, which include being more creative, open-minded, independent and emotionally stable. The article also notes that coping with the challenges of travel keeps our minds sharp. (We always knew travelers were smarter…)

The Loophole That Could Save You Money on the Cost of a Flight
The U.K.’s Daily Mail has unearthed an interesting tip for saving money on airfare. If you’re planning to take internal flights within a foreign country, you’ll sometimes pay less if you purchase those flights while you’re in that country — or if you pretend to be from that country when you book.

Department of Transportation: Pilots Are Forgetting How to Fly Manually
Nervous fliers should probably give this article a miss. Popular Mechanics reports that the U.S. Department of Transportation is concerned that an over-reliance on automation has made modern-day pilots less proficient in manual flying — and more likely to make errors in situations that demand it.

Lufthansa Will Change How You Check Bags in 2016
For once, some good airline news! Conde Nast Traveler reports that Lufthansa will be introducing digital tags for checked bags this year, which will allow the airline to track the location of your suitcase and keep you notified via an app. In case of delays, you can tell the app where you want your bag delivered once it arrives.

Big Changes Coming for American’s Reward Program
Aaaaannd now we’re back to lousy airline news. The Dallas Morning News alerts AAdvantage members about coming changes to American Airlines’ rewards program, which include more limited dates for booking off-peak tickets, more miles required to book trips in some markets, and a new way of earning miles based on price paid instead of miles traveled.

For your visual eye candy of the week, we travel to Ireland with this dreamy, cinematic video:

Photos: 12 Best Ireland Experiences
10 Things Not to Do When Checking a Bag

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.

kilkenny castle ireland

Population: 4.8 million

Currency: Euro

Phrase to Know: Slainte (cheers — a toast)

Fun Fact: A popular legend about St. Patrick, the country’s patron saint, is that he banished snakes from Ireland back in the fifth century. However, researchers at the National Museum of Ireland have pooh-poohed this legend because there is no fossil evidence that snakes ever lived in Ireland in the first place.

We Recommend: Channel your inner royal by spending the night in a castle.

12 Best Ireland Experiences

Have you been to Ireland? What was your favorite spot?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Amid all the shamrocks, soda bread and green beer, it takes a lot to cut through the St. Patrick’s Day clutter — but Liam Neeson has done it with a warmhearted video recently released by Tourism Ireland. Combining a beautifully delivered voiceover with footage of rolling green hills, crumbling cathedral ruins and smiling locals, Neeson helps us understand Ireland’s enduring appeal. Check out the video below:

I don’t have a drop of Irish blood in me, but after viewing that video, I’m ready to drop everything and plan a trip. What about you?

Photos: 12 Best Ireland Experiences
Accommodations in Ireland: B&Bs, Caravans and More
Getting Around Ireland

— written by Sarah Schlichter

mexico day of the deadIt’s that time of year again: Halloween! If you’re like most people in the U.S., you’ve carved jack-o’-lanterns, hung cornstalks and purchased candy in preparation for the adorable costume-clad beggars who will likely be knocking on your door dressed as witches and skeletons and ghosts. That’s the ideal scenario, but you might instead find yourself dealing with scantily clad teenagers who demand goodies and then egg your home when they’re turned away.

If you’re hoping to get out of Dodge for this potentially horrifying holiday, take a peek at how four other countries handle Halloween.

Ireland is considered the birthplace of Halloween, which is based on Samhain, the annual Celtic festival that acknowledged dead walking among the living and marked the end of harvest season. Although Halloween in Ireland is now celebrated in much the same way as it is in the U.S., activities like bonfires and parties are generally front and center, especially for children, who can win small prizes like candy and coins by playing themed games.

In Mexico, locals celebrate Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) over a two-day period that begins on November 1. Festivals, parties, food and themed activities mark the occasion, which coincides with the Catholic religion’s All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Skeletons have become synonymous with the holiday, which celebrates the lives of the departed rather than mourning their deaths.

Learn More About the Day of the Dead

Teng Chieh, China‘s version of Halloween, finds participants lighting lanterns to help guide the spirits of dead relatives, for whom they also leave refreshments. Some locals also choose to make paper boats, which are then burned to release the souls of those who have died but haven’t received proper burial.

If what you actually want to do is escape Halloween altogether, plan a trip to France. Although it becomes more well known there every year, thanks to North American influences, the holiday is still generally obscure and not widely celebrated.

Trick or Travel: The World’s Most Haunted Destinations

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

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 holidays being celebrated today, March 17.

Would you rather…

… join the St. Patrick’s Day revelry in Ireland, or …

st patrick's day parade cork ireland

… throw brightly colored powder to celebrate Holi in India?

holi festival india

St. Patrick’s Day, which honors the patron saint of Ireland, is celebrated with parades, green clothing and the odd drink or two by the Irish diaspora around the world. Holi is a Hindu festival that honors the coming of spring with frolicking and the flinging of colorful powder; it’s observed primarily in India and other South Asian nations.

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

I’ve always had a long bucket list. At last count it was up to 19 experiences, and already I despaired of ever crossing them all off. Then IndependentTraveler.com launched a new series of destination slideshows featuring 10 to 13 amazing (and often little known) things to do in countries around the world. And bang, my bucket list jumped from 19 to 25 in a matter of minutes. Now I’ve had a sneak peek at two of our upcoming slideshows, covering Turkey and France, and I’m pretty sure that 25 is about to go up to 27.

Because “misery” loves company, I feel compelled to share those experiences that most resonated with me. Lock down your bucket lists before reading on or you may find your list of must-do travel experiences growing too.

matera cave hotelsCaving
Did you know you can spend the night in an ancient cave in Italy? Neither did I until I started researching unusual things to do in the country. But once I read about the Matera cave hotels I was hooked. The idea of staying in a cave some ancient human may have slept in (but also having indoor plumbing!) is amazing to me. And the photos of the hotels with low-hanging stone ceilings, claw-foot bathtubs and candle-lit niches … all I can say is, I’ve definitely got to get there someday.

See More Amazing Italy Experiences

costa rica jungle lodgeCall of the Jungle
I don’t know what it says about me, but I’m way more excited by the thought of staying in a jungle eco-lodge (or the aforementioned caves) than a posh, five-star hotel. And though I always knew Costa Rica was the destination for eco-travelers, I didn’t realize how funky and fun-sounding the lodges there are. Like the Pacuare Jungle Lodge, which you can only get to via a whitewater rafting trip or a gondola ride. Talk about the middle of the jungle!

Check Out Other Exotic Things to Do in Costa Rica

ireland bargingBarging Right In
I readily admit I’m a bit of a Celtophile. Ireland is one of my favorite countries. I’ve been there four times and intend to go back again (and again!). But I thought I was pretty familiar with all the country had to offer until I wrote the 12 Best Ireland Experiences slideshow. I had no idea you could travel the country’s waterways on your own! Imagine steering your own barge peacefully along the river from near Dublin down to the Waterford area. Read a book, wave to the locals walking along the water, stop in a village for a brew at the neighborhood pub. What a lovely way to see Ireland’s picturesque towns and villages!

saxon switzerland national parkForest Imaginings
I don’t know what it is about primeval forests that catch my fancy. There’s just something about the immensity of them — towering trees, lofty stone cliffs, darkness carpeting the forest floor punctured by bolts of sunlight — that makes me catch my breath. So learning about the Saxon Switzerland National Park in East Germany was an eye-opener. With its tall limestone needles, evergreen-carpeted cliff faces, and miles of hikable forests, meadows and fields, this national secret is now firmly planted on my bucket list.

Other Cool Germany Experiences to Check Out

england yurtMongolian England
They had me at yurt. Yes, I said yurt, and I don’t even have to trek all the way to Mongolia. No, I can jet across the pond, make my way to a scenic English forest — the kind Robin Hood could make a home in — spend the day horseback riding and sampling the cider at a local pub called the King’s Arms, and then spend the night in an authentic Mongolian yurt. How cool is that!

Discover 12 More Great England Experiences

Shh, Don’t Tell
We haven’t launched our Turkey and France slideshows yet, but I can tell you I’m very excited to learn more about sea kayaking over the ancient ruins of a Turkish city and exploring the Celtic history of France’s Brittany region. Stay tuned.

— written by Dori Saltzman

Suffering from the Monday doldrums? For everyone out there facing the beginning of another work week, here’s a little jolt of wanderlust to brighten up your morning. Each Monday, we offer a photo of a spectacular place to spark ideas for your future travels.

This week’s shot is from Ireland‘s dramatic Cliffs of Moher.

cliffs of moher ireland

12 Unforgettable Ireland Experiences

Send us your best travel shot! E-mail your most beautiful or captivating travel photo to feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put Monday Inspiration in the subject line.)

How to Plan a Trip to Europe in 10 Steps

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Newfoundland may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think about traveling somewhere for its music. Instead, you might think Ireland for its Celtic sounds or New Orleans for great jazz; Nashville is world-famous for country music, while Salzburg and Vienna resonate with loves of classical.

But for me the city of St. John’s, Newfoundland ranks near the top of my list of for destinations I want to visit for their rich musical heritage. The city and island are steeped in maritime traditions including a love of rollicking sea shanties influenced by the Irish, English and Scottish sailors who alit on its shores centuries ago.

Want a taste of what Newfoundland has been known to serve up, musically speaking? Check out this clip from a Newfoundland & Labrador Folk Festival.

Other places high on my list of must-visit musical destinations include Ireland and Cape Breton.

I have yet to make it to Newfoundland or Cape Breton, but I’ve been to Ireland four times. One of my favorite trips included two nights in the small town of Doolin, where impromptu seisiúns popped up nightly.

Have you ever traveled somewhere just because of its musical traditions or history? Which cities call to you because an artist or music movement was born there?

Turn Your Favorite Hobby into a Trip

— written by Dori Saltzman