Today is the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, and while many of us dread the season’s chilly days and long nights, here at IndependentTraveler.com we’re looking on the bright side. Pack your snowboots and mittens, and join us for a virtual trip around the world’s winter wonderlands.
Norway is one of several countries where you can see the northern lights color the night sky.
Yaksaam Temple is part of Geumosan Provincial Park in South Korea.
Quebec City celebrates winter with numerous activities, including toboggan rides along Terrasse Dufferin.
Outside of Nagano, Japan, visitors can get up close and personal with snow monkeys keeping warm in the area’s hot springs.
In winter, you can hike through one of the ice caves near Vatnajokull Glacier in Iceland.
Utah’s spectacular Bryce Canyon, a national park, looks even more striking under a dusting of snow.
Moscow‘s famously chilly winters make for picturesque scenes like this one.
Read up on the news and stories you may have missed this week from around the travel world.
The Inventions That Ruined Travel
Have a laugh over this tongue-in-cheek list of travel abominations from the Telegraph, featuring things like Segways, wax museums and “ride-on” suitcases. Our favorite is the section on selfie sticks, or “this narcissistic weapon of Satan.”
Warning: After clicking through this stunning Maptia photo essay about Antarctica, you may find yourself researching trips to the world’s most remote continent.
From Grand Hotel to Microhotel: How Your Stay Has Changed in 200 Years
Conde Nast Traveler surveys two centuries of hotel trends, starting with the grand properties that sprang up in 19th-century Europe and extending through the chain hotels of the early 20th century and the hip boutiques of the 1980s and 1990s. The author even offers a vision of what hotels might look like in the future.
29 Travel Hacks That Even Frequent Fliers Don’t Know
Insider rounds up some clever tips that go beyond the usual travel advice, including grabbing a cab in your airport’s departure zone instead of at arrivals and keeping a small waterproof bag packed at all times with necessary chargers and cables.
Fake Service Animals and Why Airline Passengers Are Upset
South Florida’s Sun Sentinel reports on a growing trend: the rise in service and emotional support animals on planes. Some travelers are abusing the laws requiring airlines to accept service animals by pretending that their pets are traveling with them for emotional support when they’re really just trying to evade the rules and fees for bringing a pet onboard.
12 Poignant Images of Tribal Peoples Around the World
Rough Guides showcases the photos that will appear in the 2017 calendar of Survival International, an advocacy group for the rights of indigenous peoples around the world. These images capture these people’s human dignity and endangered lifestyle.
This week’s video is a mesmerizing peek into the Kyushu region of Japan.
I admit it: I’m mourning the end of summer — those warm days spent basking on the beach, those last rays of sun lingering late into the evening. Fortunately, one of my favorite seasons to travel lies ahead.
I love autumn trips for the cool, comfortable weather, the lack of crowds and — of course — the colors. Check out five photos to get you in the mood to travel this fall.
Go hill walking in the Scottish Highlands and enjoy the dramatic fall colors — without the summer crowds. (Check out our 10 Best Scotland Experiences.)
Japan may be most famous for its spring cherry blossom season, but autumn is a gorgeous time to visit Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, with fall foliage peaking from late October through much of November.
Crisp, cool temperatures and crunchy leaves underfoot make fall our favorite time to wander through Central Park in New York City.
Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta is one of many magnificent Canadian parks where you can go hiking through mountains blanketed in fall colors. (See our list of the 11 Best Canada Experiences.)
Amsterdam’s canals are picturesque any time of year, but there’s nothing like biking alongside the locals under a fiery orange canopy of trees. (Don’t miss our Amsterdam city guide.)
Here’s what you might have missed this week in the world of travel:
Robot Customer Service Will Dominate Travel in the Future
Robots who help you go shopping, hotels constructed on 3D printers and virtual passports are among the technological advances we could see in the world of travel in the not-too-distant future, Vice reports. Many companies in the travel industry, including hotels and airlines, are testing such technologies, and they could be rolled out sooner than you think.
After ‘Brexit’ Vote, a Burst of Interest in Travel to Britain
Sales of airline tickets to the U.K. from the United States have jumped noticeably in the two months since Britain voted to leave the European Union, says The New York Times. British Airways, Expedia.com, Airbnb and others are all reporting an uptick in bookings.
Read This Before You Buy Travel Insurance
Can trip insurance holders receive refunds if they cancel a trip because of fears of the Zika virus? Money magazine says probably not, because most standard policies do not cover disease outbreak. This article provides good travel insurance reminders, including a rundown of policies that let you cancel for any reason.
Mindfulness Is Everyone’s New Favorite Travel Trend
Detaching from the rest of the world and destressing with a dose of mindfulness is the latest trend to hit hotels, Uproxx reports. Beyond yoga and meditation classes, a number of hotels are now handing out coloring books for adults, among other offerings.
The Most Photographed Spot in the U.S.?
Grand Teton National Park is one of the world’s most perfect places to take pictures, a “Disneyland for photographers,” says a longtime guide in this BBC feature on the famed Wyoming park.
Had enough of the heat and humidity of this summer? This stunning new aerial video of Iceland will cool you off.
15 Phone Hacks Every Traveler Needs to Know
BuzzFeed offers useful tips for anyone who wants to use their phone in a foreign country, including how to protect yourself if you lose it and which apps offer messaging through Wi-Fi (so you can stay in touch without burning through data).
The Nation That Hates to Be Late
BBC investigates Switzerland’s reputation for efficiency and punctuality, values that for the Swiss represent “a source of deep contentment” but can sometimes be irritating to less organized visitors.
For Want of a Coffeepot, Your Flight Is Delayed
The New York Times examines a surprising source of flight delays: a non-functional coffee maker. It’s not all the potentially angry caffeine addicts that could keep your plane on the tarmac, but rather that a malfunction in the coffee maker could be a symptom of a larger problem such as an electrical issue.
The Secrets of the World’s Best Travel Photographer
The Telegraph interviews Marsel van Oosten, a Dutchman who just won the Travel Photographer of the Year competition. He lists Namibia as one of his favorite places to take photos and stresses the importance of finding unique places and perspectives to shoot.
Fair Warning: Don’t Visit This Country This Summer
A writer for the Business Journals examines how other countries’ governments warn their citizens against traveling to the U.S., citing America’s “racial tensions,” high medical costs and mass shootings.
Will [Your] Next Hotel Room Be Delivered by Drone?
CNN reports on an intriguing new concept: a self-sustaining hotel room that can be dropped off by a drone anywhere in the world. The idea, known as Driftscape, is one of the finalists for the 2016 Radical Innovation Award.
We always love Air New Zealand’s in-flight safety videos (don’t miss its “Men in Black” spoof from last year), and the latest one is no exception. Watch Anna Faris and Rhys Darby in a madcap romp through various Hollywood movie tropes.
Catch up on the week’s best reads from around the web.
Japanese “Naked Restaurant” to Ban Overweight Diners
A new nude restaurant will open in Tokyo next month, but overweight diners need not apply, reports Yahoo! The restaurant won’t let in anyone who’s more than 15 kilograms (33 pounds) over the average weight for their height. Also on the no-go list: anyone under 18 or over 60 years old.
Monique, the Hen Who Is Sailing Around the World
This BBC News story will brighten your day. It features a 24-year-old French sailor who’s traveling around the world with a chicken named Monique, who has learned to paddleboard and windsurf during their globetrotting adventures.
The Joy of Instagram
The Atlantic reports on a new study that suggests taking photos of our experiences actually helps us enjoy them more. “It’s not the act of photo-taking itself … that leads to that enjoyment,” says the article. “It’s the kind of mental curation that is required when you’re thinking about what is worth documenting in the first place.”
Airlines Race to Cuba, Overcoming Major Hurdles
With U.S. airlines recently being approved to run commercial flights to Cuba, the Associated Press takes a fascinating look at the work that goes into making those flights happen. The airlines are tackling challenges such as collecting baggage fees in a country where U.S. credit cards don’t work and moving people efficiently through a check-in process at airports without self-service kiosks.
FAA Rules Out Requiring Psychological Testing for Airline Pilots
After a mentally disturbed Germanwings pilot deliberately crashed a plane full of passengers last year, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has decided not to require psychological testing for airline pilots, reports CBS News. Instead, the agency advocates a number of other measures to help pilots with mental health.
Zika Fears and Political Chaos Keeping Rio Olympics Affordable
If you’re still considering a trip to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, it could be cheaper than you think, reports the New York Times. Thanks to political upheaval in the Brazilian government and the prevalence of the Zika virus, many people aren’t so sure they want to go to the Games — which means decent prices for those who do.
The maker of this week’s video describes his trip to Vietnam as “2 weeks, 5 friends, 1500 kilometers, 5 diarrheas, dozen cups of Vietnamese coffee, 1 mud bath, 2 overturned kayaks, 2 pairs of custom made shoes, 1 pair of custom made trousers.”
Catch up on the travel stories you may have missed over the past week.
The TSA Is a Waste of Money That Doesn’t Save Lives and Might Actually Cost Them
Vox makes a provocative case against the beleaguered TSA, which has been under fire in recent weeks for extra-long lines. Not only does the TSA not ensure our safety, the author argues, but it actually causes more deaths (because travelers elect to drive instead of fly to avoid the hassle of security, leading to more road accidents).
The World’s Most Polite Country?
BBC Travel investigates the Japanese concept of omotenashi, a combination of “exquisite politeness” and “a desire to maintain harmony and avoid conflict.” From toilet seats that spring up when you enter a bathroom to people wearing masks to protect others from catching their colds, politeness is a Japanese way of life.
EasyJet Develops a Vibrating Smart Shoe to Help You Navigate a New City
This European discount airline won’t just fly you from one city to another, reports Travel + Leisure — it’s also trying to get you from one neighborhood to another using vibrating sneakers that tell you when to turn. The shoes, called “Sneakairs,” sync up to your smartphone to help direct you with GPS.
Malaria Vaccine Protects Half Who Try It
NBC News reports that an experimental new malaria vaccine protected 55 percent of the volunteers who tested it — which beats out the performance of the current vaccine on the market, which protects just 30 percent. This could benefit future travelers to malaria-stricken regions, but the new vaccine is still years away.
Life on the Other End of an Airline Reservations Line
An AFAR writer got a chance to work as a customer service agent for Delta Air Lines, and discovered the most efficient way to raise a complaint, what the agent can see about you when your call pops up on his or her screen, and how much power a phone agent actually has.
This Is 2016. Why Can’t We Still Book Specific Rooms in a Hotel?
Skift raises a good question: We can book a certain seat on a plane, so why can’t we choose our own hotel room? The answer is that we can … sometimes … and that there are a couple of sites out there that are working to make this capability more widely available.
How Travel Insurance Saved My Life
If you skip buying travel insurance on some trips, you may change your mind after reading this piece from Conde Nast Traveler. After coming down with dengue fever on a trip to Vietnam, the author didn’t get adequate medical treatment until her travel insurance company stepped in to advocate on her behalf.
In the face of government warnings against travel to Iran, these travelers show another side of the country in this thought-provoking video.
You thought he was “the one” — you hiked Machu Picchu together, toured South America like two outlaws in love — and now it’s ended in a flurry of badly translated Spanish insults and empty wine bottles. Time to get away, you think — far away. A steal at roughly $83 per night, the Mitsui Garden Yotsuya hotel in Tokyo, Japan, is offering a crying hotel package specifically for female guests. Complete with “luxury tissues” and sappy films encouraging you to use them, the package offers rooms just for single women to bawl their eyes out as well as makeup remover and face masks to make you look like the cryfest never happened. If it couldn’t get any more Japanese, manga comic (aren’t we supposed to be crying here?) books are also included in your hotel room. Perfect way to pore over a break-up in peace.
Back from Tokyo and ready to get back on your feet — literally — a girlfriend’s getaway is the answer to feeling yourself again with some empowerment a la estrogen. The twist? Along with brunch and spa treatments, this girls’ getaway package comes with a geocaching adventure in the Santa Fe mountains. Hunting for charms in the wiles of New Mexico, you’re also hunting for your purpose.
After the inevitable soul searching that comes with being in the desert, you realize your passion in life would be to start a family. You find someone and fall in love (yes, it’s that easy). You could book a strangely elaborate wedding package, but you choose a private ceremony instead. To celebrate your anniversary (and knowing you had to unexpectedly cancel your northern lights honeymoon the year before), you book a stay at the ICEHOTEL in Sweden, which offers a special hotel package that emulates the dreamy atmospheric colors of the northern lights in your hotel room. Snuggling close (it’s pretty chilly in a hotel made of ice) and watching the swirling lights above is pure magic.
Which is why a few months later, you’re planning your babymoon. Yes, these vacations to celebrate the imminent arrival of your much-awaited family are popular enough to warrant their own hotel packages. At the Wauwinet in Nantucket, Massachusetts, expectant mothers and fathers are invited to wind down with a babymoon package, from $635, that includes a two-night stay, spa treatments and even a blue and pink cigar (because cigars and wellness retreats go hand in hand). The stuffed animal for your newborn is a cute gesture, but the White Elephant brand name is a bit unfortunate.
Years have gone by, and the time, money and energy to travel have escaped you for too long. Knowing that your idea of romance these days is take-out and a marathon of AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” the Breaking Bad hotel package at Heritage Hotels & Resorts in Albuquerque, NM, is the perfect chance to affirm your love for television … and each other. Your gift bag will include show-themed swag like stickers and posters; bath salts and seasoning salts; themed drinks; “crystal meth” candy; 15 percent off at local shops, restaurants and galleries; free Wi-Fi and optional tours. Short of “Better Call Saul,” this is as close as you’ll get to the real thing these days. As for love, nearby Santa Fe is where it all began — when you decided you wanted your family while geocaching in the mountains, and when you realized travel is truly transformative (and that there might be more to strange hotel packages at second glance).
The world’s largest city is also the world’s safest, according to a new report. Tokyo has been declared the winner in the 2015 edition of the Economist’s Safe Cities Index.
Right behind Japan’s capital were two other Asian cities, Singapore and Osaka, with European favorites Stockholm and Amsterdam rounding out the top five. The highest ranked U.S. city was New York at number 10. At the bottom of the barrel was Jakarta, Indonesia, coming in at number 50. Its overall safety score was just 53.71 out of 100 (as compared to Tokyo, which scored 85.63).
On hearing the word “safest,” you might picture a place where you’re unlikely to get pickpocketed or mugged, but this type of personal safety is only one of four broad categories measured in the study. The Economist is also looking out for your digital security — how common are cybercrime and identity theft? — as well as health safety (pollution, quality of hospitals) and infrastructure safety (roads, rails, pedestrian deaths).
– Barcelona, long infamous for pickpockets, has taken steps to get safer; crime has dropped by 32 percent over the past three years.
– In a comparison of perception vs. reality, the study found that Americans tend to feel less safe than they really are (based on their cities’ rankings in the list), while locals in Middle Eastern cities such as Riyadh and Abu Dhabi are not actually as secure as they feel.
– Safety is only one factor in determining the world’s best cities. After combining various indexes — including not just Safe Cities but also Liveability Rankings, Cost of Living and more — the Economist came up with a different winner: Toronto was voted the overall best place to live.
Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.
Population: 127 million
Currency: Japanese yen
Phrase to Know: Arigato (thank you)
Fun Fact: Japan was the first country to develop cube-shaped watermelons, which farmers mold into their distinctive shape by putting transparent boxes around the fruit as they’re growing. Square watermelons are easier to ship and fit better into Japanese refrigerators, which are often small.
We Recommend: Spend the night in a Buddhist temple on Mount Koya. By night you’ll enjoy vegetarian meals with the monks and sleep in simple tatami rooms; during the day you can explore an ancient cemetery and visit a rock garden.