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living roomGrowing up outside of New York City, I’ve spent countless days wandering its buzzing streets and getting lost within what I view as the ultimate metropolitan epicenter. It wasn’t until my college years, though, that I learned about Starbucks’ bathrooms.

The thing about New York is there’s nowhere to stop. In accordance with its fast-paced reputation, unless you’re headed somewhere, there’s rarely a place you can find to slow down. Depending on the part of town, it can even be a challenge to find a proper bench to park yourself long enough to eat a bite.

Something as simple as finding a bathroom became an epic quest before I learned of Starbucks’ open-door policy regarding use of its bathrooms. In my lifetime of exploring The City That Never Sleeps, it’s the only place I can think of that offers this amenity to the public. How tourists survive long days of city sightseeing has always been a mystery to me; if I never figured out New York’s rest stop secrets, how could they have enough stamina to go nonstop without a public toilet or seat in sight?

What Not to Do in a New City

This question is finally being addressed with two startups looking to offer a modicum of privacy and personal resources in an unforgiving urban landscape.

The first goes by the name Breather, and offers just that — a clean, comfortable and private place to breathe where you can make a phone call, eat a snack, hold a meeting or even take a nap — all while Manhattan carries on around you.

The spaces are reserved using a mobile app (or the Web) and can be used for 30 minutes or the entire day. Modestly furnished but modern, the spaces offer natural light and are cleaned after each reservation. Supplies such as pencils, notepads and Wi-Fi are available for use. If you’re thinking of “other things” the rooms can be used for, well, the site covers that in its terms and conditions. Breather spaces are currently available around New York City and Montreal, and they’re headed to San Francisco. Prices vary by location, ranging from $15 to $25 per hour.

Answering nature’s call in a similar fashion, POSH Stow and Go (as seen in The Verge) has plans to become a members-only storage and bathroom facility that offers private access to lockers and personal bathrooms. Set to launch the summer of 2014, POSH offers luggage-laden visitors or weary New Yorkers the chance to use their private facilities for an annual $15 membership fee, in addition to daily pricing that ranges by package — $24 for three days, $42 for six days or $60 for 10 days.

Set to become available in the precious little space of NYC, POSH stresses that its membership offerings are limited and first-come, first-served. If the ultimate in washroom seclusion appeals to you and you find that you’re sick of seeing the inside of every Starbucks, treat yourself to some rare alone time in The Big Apple.

Would you take advantage of a members-only bathroom or reserve a quiet space when visiting a new city? Let us know in the comments below.

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

Snow may be lingering in the forecast, but spring is fighting its way into the air. Soon there will be something to show for it, when plants begin to bloom from every nook in the seasonally halcyon days of histamine.

Among the fragrant indicators of warmer weather, none is as iconic as the cherry blossom tree. A Japanese tradition, cherry blossom or sakura festivals take place each spring when the trees reach peak bloom (typically in early April). This became a U.S. tradition over a century ago, when Japan gifted us with more than 2,000 trees as a symbol of friendship and good will in 1912, and 3,800 more in 1965. Since then, cherry blossom tourists have primarily flocked to our nation’s capital, where these trees flaunt their annual pinks and whites.

While Washington D.C.‘s National Cherry Blossom Festival is a gorgeous spring display and celebration of international relations, it’s not the only festival of its kind. In fact, it’s not even the largest in the country. Check out these four alternative cherry blossom festivals living in its shadow; you may be surprised by their locations.

branch brook newark new jersey cherry blossom essex county


Branch Brook Park: Newark, NJ
With more than 4,300 trees to its name, Branch Brook Park — in the unlikely city of Newark, New Jersey — is home to the nation’s largest collection of cherry blossoms. It’s the Garden State, after all! Each April, more than 10,000 people gather in the Essex County park for its spring festival of events including a 10K run, a bike race and Bloomfest, which hosts Japanese cultural demonstrations, food, music, a crafter’s marketplace and plenty of children’s activities. The grounds are sprawling, so it’s the perfect setting for a picnic — or hanami — under the pink awning of the trees. This year’s events kick off on April 5 and culminate with Bloomfest on April 13.

Macon Georgia cherry blossom festival carriage children


International Cherry Blossom Festival: Macon, GA
The self-proclaimed cherry blossom capital of the world, Macon, Georgia, is host to a number of year-round events celebrating the cherry blossom, in addition to its annual international festival and parade. With a whopping 300,000 – 350,000 Yoshino cherry trees around Macon, it’s no wonder the town revels in all things cherry tree — they can’t escape them! Riding tours like the Cherry Blossom Express offer relaxing tree-peeping trips as you visit the most unique places around Macon. For a bit more excitement, check out the Tunes & Balloons Fireworks Finale, which caps off the festival’s celebrations. There are a number of events scheduled this year, but the parade takes place on March 23 and the season concludes with the fireworks finale on April 5.

Photo used and shared under the following license: GNU Free Documentation License. Original photo copyright Wikimedia Commons user Macondude.

shinto shrine pond brooklyn botanical cherry blossom


Sakura Park/Brooklyn Botanical Gardens: New York City, NY
Many people recognize Washington D.C. as the home to Japan’s generous gift of cherry blossom trees, but not as recognized are the 2,000 trees from the same gift living in a small park in Manhattan. Sakura Park isn’t host to any huge parades or festivals, but blooms quietly each spring along the northern tip of Morningside Heights. Close to Grant’s Tomb, it’s in a peaceful and historic section of the city, making it the perfect escape for urbanites on a springtime afternoon.

Nearby, a tree grows in Brooklyn — well, make that multiple trees. The cherry blossom display at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden includes a Shinto shrine and pond. Sakura Matsuri is the BBG’s annual cherry blossom festival that offers more than 60 events and performances celebrating both traditional and contemporary Japanese culture. The festival is typically in late spring, as it marks the end of the cherry blossom season. This year’s events take place April 26 and 27.

geese schuylkill river cherry blossom philadelphia


Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival of Greater Philadelphia: Philadelphia, PA
Encouraging you to “visit Japan without leaving Philly,” the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia is host to the area’s Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival, a collection of Japanese music, art, food and culture, right in the City of Brotherly Love. Events and demonstrations span martial arts, flower arranging and even a sushi competition. With cherry blossoms as the backdrop, immerse yourself in Japanese culture with a Dine Out Japan restaurant week and taiko drum performances. All the festivities lead up to Sakura Sunday, held at the Horticulture Center in Fairmount Park. This year’s events begin on April 2 and conclude on April 13.

For more ideas, see our Top 10 Stunning Spring Destinations.

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

interview

The next time you reach out to your travel advisor for help with planning your next trip, you may want to rein in any diva behavior, lest a caricature of you appear in an Off-Broadway play.

Though the 30 travelers depicted in the new two-person play “Craving for Travel” are fictional, many of their requests — at turns unreasonable, sweet and shortsighted — are based on the real-life customers of travel agent Jim Strong of Strong Travel Services in Dallas.

“The play is a comedy that finds its roots in the extremes of truth,” co-playwright Andy Sandberg explained to IndependentTraveler.com.

The Etiquette of Seat Backs and Elbow Room

So what kind of crazy antics can a bunch of travel agent customers get up to?

Well, there’s the American senator booted out of his hotel in Sydney after making some offensive comments about an Australian icon. And then there’s the man who tried to plan his trip sans help but found himself badly in need of a bail-out. Another unique request the two travel agents in the play try to accommodate comes from an elderly couple hoping to relive their first meeting.

“Craving for Travel” is open for a four-week run at the Peter J. Sharp Theater on 42nd Street in New York City. I’m hoping to get tickets to see the show, so in preparation I’ve decided to let my imagination run wild and concoct my own ridiculously impossible travel request.

Why You Still Need a Travel Agent

I want to plan a one-week England trip. During that time I’d like to visit Stonehenge, but not with any other tourists. Instead I want a private tour of the site at dusk, accompanied by a practicing druid. Also, I want to play billiards with Prince Harry, sup with Elton John and pet the Queen’s corgis.

What impossible-to-provide travel experience(s) would you ask for?

– written by Dori Saltzman

greenwich village apartment buildingsAirbnb, the social website that connects travelers with locals who are willing to rent out living spaces on a short-term basis, scored a big victory in New York last week. The back story: Nigel Warren, a New York-based Airbnb host who had rented out his bedroom while he himself was traveling, was fined $2,400 for violating local laws that make it illegal to rent out a home for less than 30 days.

This matter potentially had massive ramifications, not just for Airbnb but also for travelers, who have flocked to the site to find value-priced lodgings with a local feel and ambience, rather than high-priced hotels. Airbnb hosts rent out apartments, houses and spare rooms.

In support for Warren and other hosts in New York, Airbnb worked with Warren to appeal the fine. A clarification by the New York City Environmental Control Board was handed down last week. The ruling articulated that hosts can rent out rooms as long as a permanent occupant of the home is in residence (in Warren’s case, his roommate, who was also on the lease, was present).

“In the appeal, we and Nigel argued — and the appeal board now agrees — that under New York law as long as a permanent occupant is present during a stay, the stay does not violate New York’s short term rental laws,” wrote David Hantman, Airbnb’s Head of Global Public Policy, on the company’s blog.

Airbnb and Beyond: Tips for Safe, Legal Vacation Rentals

The bottom line for New Yorkers: It’s still okay to rent out a spare room if you’re present at the time, and it’s still illegal to rent out an apartment that you don’t live in. But the news is that as long as some permanent occupant is there, even if you as the host are not, your rental is legal.

The battle’s not fully over yet in New York, as this new development does not protect those who rent out empty apartments. (There are currently more than 1,000 such listings on Airbnb.com.) Still, it’s a start — and Warren gets his fine refunded.

All eyes now turn to a similar battle now playing out in the Los Angeles community of Silver Lake. Stay tuned.

– written by Carolyn Spencer Brown

hudson valley autumn leaves windowIn 5 Signs You’re Not a True Traveler, I declared that you should travel to experience new things, and that you shouldn’t always take the same vacations again and again. While I stand behind the notion that resort vacations alone aren’t traveling in the truest sense of the word, everyone should have one of those special places that take us away but make us feel at home, all at once.

Call it a weekend getaway, or call it the Griswold Family Summer Vacation — a good ol’ stand-by vacation spot, by any other name, is just as sweet.

When I was a child, my parents would wake me up in the pitch-darkness before dawn to jump into the car (in full pajama regalia, clutching stuffed compatriots) and head to Montauk, Long Island. We did this every summer, which was a tradition that I later found out my father had started in his mid-20′s. With a sense of legacy, and miles of beaches, village shopping centers, farmer’s markets, winding roads and harborside restaurants, there wasn’t any element that “got old.”

Photos: The 8 Best U.S. Road Trips

In college I moved to Poughkeepsie, New York, and within a short time I was initiated into the cult of leaf-praising, harvest-loving, pumpkin latte-drinking and apple-picking worshippers of fall. The Hudson Valley came alive during the autumn months, and I was intoxicated by the bucolic rolling hills, small-town festivals and flavors that marked the season.

It’s because of four years spent roaming the grounds of the Vanderbilt Mansion and strolling the streets of Rhinebeck that I became a fan of New York’s Hudson Valley for life. In that time I learned important distinctions of the area — most notably, do not confuse Dutchess County for “upstate” … it’s not the same thing!

Vote: Do You Enjoy Revisiting Familiar Places?

Every October, like clockwork, some inner leaves rustle and I’m drawn back to the familiar world of my old stomping grounds. What some people remember most about their time away at college is the parties or the sorority pals. But for me, that period of my life offered a lifelong gift: the opportunity to know a place and to revisit it with new eyes every time the autumn wind blows and the Valley comes calling.

Where’s your home-away hideaway? Is there a place that you visit continually and couldn’t imagine never seeing again? Post yours in the comments.

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

airport sign Are you flying somewhere fun in the near future? Exotic? Far away? I’m half jealous and half not. While I’d love to be getting away, I don’t envy anyone having to deal with flying right now. In the past two days, the flying experience has gone from not so fun to downright unpleasant.

According to a Washington Post article, flights have fallen behind schedule for the second straight day at two of New York’s three major airports, a direct result of air traffic controller furloughs. By 8:45 a.m. today, delays of 30 to 45 minutes or more were already being reported in New York.

With no end to the furlough in sight (an average of about 10 percent of controllers will be furloughed on any given day), these delays are probably not going to get any better any time soon. Congress has so far made no moves to end the sequester.

And New York isn’t the only metropolitan area to be hit by delays. Yesterday, airports across the country were backed up several hours. Chicago-based United told a reporter for Bloomberg that it saw “alarming” delays in Los Angeles as well. Flights into the city were delayed an average of three hours.

Delta told Bloomberg it also expects to see air delays in Chicago and in San Francisco.

Airport Delays: Six Ways to Cope

The consequences of these delays aren’t just grumpy passengers and getting somewhere late. It also means fliers need to allow more time for their transit. If before you needed an hour to an hour and a half to catch a connecting flight, now you’d better make it three to four hours. If you have to be in your destination by noon, you might want to consider flying in the day before.

The federal government is so aware of the delays that the U.S. Transportation Department is considering suspending enforcement of a regulation that prevents lengthy tarmac delays, the Bloomberg article reports. The rule requires that airlines give passengers a chance to leave a plane if it has been sitting on the tarmac for more than three hours. Airlines can also be fined for the delays. Since 2009, when the tarmac delay regulation was passed, airlines have been canceling flights whenever it looks like a three-hour delay is imminent. With sequester cuts in place and delays of three hours or more entirely possible, that could mean a lot of canceled flights if enforcement of the law isn’t waived.

But it’s not all bad news for fliers. A controversial rule that would have allowed passengers to begin carrying small knives on planes again has been put on hold while the TSA considers additional input. Public opinion has been widely opposed to the measure, as have flight attendants and airlines.

Have you flown in the past two days? Are you flying soon? What are you dreading most? Weigh in below.

What Not to Do at the Airport

– written by Dori Saltzman

Did you know that the first Wednesday in April has been declared National Walking Day by the American Heart Association? Well, now you do.

While the AHA aims to encourage more physical activity among those of us who spend hours upon hours sitting at a desk, we couldn’t resist putting a travel spin on the day — because let’s face it, most of us walk much more when we’re off exploring a new place than we do when we’re at home.

We recently asked our followers on Facebook to name their favorite city or neighborhood for strolling — and the list of places we got in response would inspire just about anyone to hit the pavement. Following are a few of our favorites:

“Assisi, Italy … peaceful, quaint & beautiful!” — Tracey Pino

assisi italy church



New York City — especially Broadway from Columbus Circle to the 80′s” — Beth Glass

central park new york city dog walking



“Old City in Jerusalem” — Rose Kemps

old city jerusalem souq souk market



“Definitely Sydney — from the Rocks all the way around to the Botanical Gardens” — Gill Harvey

botanical gardens sydney



What Not to Do in a New City

Which city tops your list of favorite places to walk?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

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.

Today’s shot is of ice skaters in Central Park, New York City — one of our favorite places to be during the holidays.

ice skating new york city central park winter skyline



Photos: Away from Home for the Holidays

Send us your best travel shot! E-mail your most beautiful or captivating travel photo to feedback@independenttraveler.com, and we might feature it on our blog. (Please put Monday Inspiration in the subject line.)

Six Super Spots to Stay in the Big Apple

– written by Sarah Schlichter

new york city taxiI doubt there’s anyone who’d disagree that travel would be more enjoyable if it were cheaper. Regardless of how large your budget may be, it’s never fun to incur all the tiny expenses that come with jaunting to and fro.

Since Thanksgiving is the busiest travel period, we’re excited about this: A new taxi-sharing service called Shairporter has rolled out in New York City, allowing travelers to coordinate rides to and from local airports with others who are going to the same places. (The site plans to expand to other cities in the future.)

Users can either search for rides that match their needs or post rides — complete with start and stop destinations and approximate cab fares — to get matched with others who are going the same way. Then, they meet up and share expenses. Not only is it more environmentally friendly to share a cab than to take one alone, but it’s also more economical. Membership is free.

16 Ways to Get Through the Airport Faster

Sound sketchy? Users sign up through Facebook in order to help keep the community safe while maintaining privacy, and they can go back to review fellow travelers after sharing rides so others will know about their experiences.

If you’re interested, now’s the time to try it out. All cab rides on Wednesday, November 21, will be paid for by Shairporter for anyone who signs up on the site in advance.

Would you share a ride? Leave your comments below.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

singapore changi airport movie theaterWhen vetting flights and possible layovers, I take my options for connecting airports very seriously. What’s the distance between connecting gates? How speedy is immigration? Can I find something halfway decent to eat and a quiet, clean spot to sit and wait?

The availability of ultra-hip technology never entered the picture for me, until I recently discovered two airports where it’s actually fun to have a layover.

LaGuardia International Airport, New York City
Mention LaGuardia, and you can pretty much be guaranteed a grimace, wince or groan. But perhaps no longer. LaGuardia has Botoxed its image with the installation of 2,500 iPads throughout Terminals C and D. Tall tables with stools (like those you’d find in a bar) are anchored with iPads that are free for anyone to use.

The Best Airports for Layovers

Scroll the Internet, post on Facebook, play games, monitor your flight — even order a fancy cured beef panini and a beer and have them delivered directly to your table from a nearby eatery. The iPads are a great way to kill time.

(Good news for Minneapolis and Toronto: They’re both scheduled to see similar iPad installations in the coming months.)

Changi Airport, Singapore
Changi is a techie’s dream. The airport won the 2012 World Airport Award for best leisure amenities from Skytrax, a British airline data compiler that runs an annual airport passenger satisfaction survey in 160 countries. The Wi-Fi is free and signals are Speedy Gonzales fast. More than 500 free Internet stations are sprinkled throughout the concourses and gates.

But what’s happening in Terminal 2 is the main attraction. The terminal houses an entertainment center where you can distract yourself with Xbox 360′s, Playstation 3′s and other gaming stations. There are also free, 24-hour movie theaters (in Terminal 2 and also in Terminal 3).

9 Ways to Make the Most of Your Layover

And if all of that isn’t cool enough, the airport has 3D and 4D motion simulators that show eight movies with “visual, sound, motion and environmental effects.”

A long layover has never been more fun.

– written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma