Home

Explore. Experience. Engage.

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

southwest luv seat duffel bagSouthwest Airlines, long known for its inexpensive fares, unassigned seating, free checked bags and singing flight attendants, is now jumping into the world of fashion. Partnering with an Oregon-based company, the airline has turned scrap leather from its airplane seats into high-end handbags.

According to Forbes, Southwest was left with 43 acres of used leather after replacing seats on some of its aircraft with lighter ones to reduce fuel costs. It took most of the material to Looptworks, a company that uses industrial scraps to create unique pieces that reduce waste and aim to help the environment, where it will be made into vintage-inspired bags. (In another admirable move, Southwest also sent some of the leather abroad to SOS Kenya, which benefits orphaned children, and Massai Treads, which makes shoes for people in need.)

Looptworks is offering three bag designs — backpack, duffel and tote — which can be preordered as part of what has been dubbed “Project LUV Seat.” The company claims that each bag produced saves 4,000 gallons of water and reduces CO2 emissions by 72 percent (when compared with what would be required to use brand-new leather for the same bags).

As if this idea couldn’t get any more awesome, Looptworks employed disabled adults to deconstruct and clean the leather.

Part-Time Voluntourism: How to Give Back During a Trip

The irony, though, is that the bags are retailing for anywhere from $150 to $250 each — more than the cost of some of Southwest’s roundtrip flights.

Would you purchase one of these bags? Leave your comments below.

–written by Ashley Kosciolek

airport happy coupleEvery once in a while, a stellar airfare deal presents itself. Generally, though, the cost of a flight is enough to fund an entire week’s vacation at a place within driving distance, and it makes me sick to have to pay it. What’s a budget-strapped globetrotter to do?

Apparently there’s a little-known loophole in town, and it’s called hidden city ticketing. Say, for example, you want to fly nonstop from Newark to Phoenix, and the cheapest fare you can find is $494. It turns out that the same airline offers a flight from Newark to Los Angeles, by way of a stop in Phoenix, for just $304. All you need to do is book the second flight, take carry-on luggage only and not show up for the second leg of the trip. You’ll get to your destination for almost $200 less.

However, it can be a pain to do the legwork to find such flights; that’s where Skiplagged.com can help. Created by Aktarer Zaman, a 22-year-old techie from Brooklyn, the site is currently rubbing a few airlines the wrong way. According to The Higher Learning, United Airlines and Orbitz are suing Zaman, claiming “unfair competition” and seeking $75,000 in compensation for lost revenue.

Although hidden city ticketing has been around for years, whether it’s actually allowed is questionable. Skiplagged simply allows potential travelers to search for hidden cities more quickly and easily, but many airlines prohibit this type of booking.

Note that it’s not a particularly sound method of finding airfare if you check bags, as they’ll end up at your ticket’s final destination instead of yours. Hidden city tickets also don’t work for roundtrip flights; if you don’t show up for the second leg of your outgoing flight, it’s likely the airline will consider you a no-show and cancel your return ticket altogether.

How to Hack Your Way to a Cheaper Airfare

Have you tried this method of finding less expensive fares? Do you think it’s “unfair competition”? Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments below.

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

trinidad cubaFor more than 50 years, Cuba has been a travel taboo for U.S. residents. Going there wasn’t technically prohibited — particularly if you were able to get special clearances as a journalist or Cuban expat, or if you traveled with an authorized tour operator — but spending money there was. Sure, there were ways around the restrictions, but this week we’ve gotten closer to the day when independent American travelers will no longer have to make sneaky pit stops in Mexico or Canada along the way.

Earlier this week, after Cuba and the U.S. came to an agreement that released prisoners on both ends and returned them to their home countries, the rules about spending money in Cuba were relaxed. Travelers will soon be able to use their credit and debit cards to make purchases on the island, and lovers of Cuban rum and cigars can rest easy knowing that won’t have to smuggle their Caribbean souvenirs back into the U.S. anymore (not that anyone has ever done that, of course).

Congress will discuss lifting further economic sanctions next year.

Cuba: Two Weeks to Remember

What does this mean for Cuba travel right now? Is it likely that you’ll be able to just pack your bags and book a trip on a whim without a U.S.-sanctioned reason? Not just yet. But anyone wishing to explore the country might find it easier to fit into one of the allowable categories (which include family visits, humanitarian projects, educational activities and “support for the Cuban people,” among others).

Are you interested in Cuba travel? Why or why not? Tell us in the comments below.

First Impressions of a Cuba Cruise

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

sandals beach vacationThis is part one of a two-part series about my experience with a “free vacation” offer. In this segment, I’ll outline how my friend and I “won” and what we had to endure to claim our “gift.” Check back for part two in 2015, when I’ll discuss if we were actually able to book a trip and, if so, how it went, if it’s worth the time and whether it’s really free.

We’ve all been there. You’re at a sporting event or a fair, and someone approaches you to “register for a chance to win a free vacation.” In my case, it was at a concert at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, and my friend, who’s had a bit of a rough year, was excited by the prospect.

As she filled in her name and contact information, I snatched one of the entry forms and read the fine print on the back. It was standard legal jargon, stating that Sundance Vacations, the company sponsoring the contest, would have the right to get in touch with entrants using any means provided. I figured it was just a ploy to generate email addresses and phone numbers, so I declined.

Fast forward two months. My friend received a phone call from someone at Sundance, telling her they had “good news” and asking her to call for more information. First she dialed me: “Are you sitting down?” she asked. “I never win ANYTHING, but we’re going on vacation!”

A phone call to the company confirmed that we would, in fact, have to sit through a presentation as a condition of acceptance. We assumed a sales pitch would follow, but we were told the whole process would have us in and out within an hour.

Slightly different from companies that offer timeshares, Sundance sells “wholesale vacations,” which it touts as discounted or overstock trips that are less expensive because 1) the company purchases vacations in bulk, and 2) it owns the properties that are available for booking. (I won’t even try to figure out why Sundance needs to “purchase” said vacations if it owns the properties, lest my head explode.)

How to Avoid Travel Scams

During the initial presentation, an attractive and sharply dressed woman attempted to keep the attention of a dozen attendees through witty banter (“I’ll keep this short. I just ran a marathon yesterday, and my legs are killing me”), condescending comments (to a young and slightly disheveled couple with two children: “Surely you’ve never been to Disney World”) and the promise of a “suitcase” of affordable vacations from which we’d be able to draw over a period of several years after signing up and shelling out a modest monthly fee. She went on to explain a bit of math as she clicked through some PowerPoint slides.

polaroids sundance vacationsI had just checked Facebook for the 17th time and was nearly dozing off in my chair when a team of sales representatives came bursting through the back door of the presentation room like an army of Stormtroopers. Each group of visitors was led through a hallway and into a giant room with tables, chairs and, oddly, beach balls — where thousands (literally, we saw the Polaroids everywhere) of customers before us were convinced to purchase vacation packages.

The woman in charge of giving us our first hard sell was actually nice and didn’t pressure us as much as we expected she might. Then her boss came over, asked if we were treated well and turned up the heat by offering us an even sweeter deal. He backed down after we gave him a firm “no” and told him that we had read nothing but negative reviews about the company online. He gave us a couple of weak excuses but eventually realized we weren’t going to budge.

Ninety minutes after our initial arrival, we were taken to meet with our final obstacle, a friendly older gentleman who further lowered the prices and even tossed in meal vouchers. Ultimately, we said no, and he grudgingly gave us the paperwork we needed to claim our four-day, three-night trip to our choice of Cancun, Montego Bay or San Juan.

Apparently we have 60 days to call a phone number (not toll-free), ask questions, gather information (we’d love to see photos of the resort options, as none were provided) and “register” to receive our “reservation deposit invoice.” After receiving it, we have 30 days to send it back with a deposit of $100 each, which is then applied to the imposed taxes and fees of anywhere from about $100 – $185. (Technically the trip is a gift, not a prize, so Sundance isn’t required to cover taxes and fees.) We’re told the deposit is refundable until actual reservations have been made. Stay tuned for part two, coming sometime in 2015, when I’ll tell you whether the trip actually happens.

11 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft While Traveling

In the meantime, tell us if you’ve ever been a part of a “free vacation” offer. How did it work out?

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

selfieMaybe you’ve landed on a glacier in Alaska, ridden a donkey in Greece or hiked to a mountaintop monastery in Tibet. Whatever the experience, it’s likely you’ve got photos to share or, at the very least, stories to tell. The question is: Should you?

With selfie rates at an all-time high and social media apps like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter just a tap away, it’s tough to exercise restraint when you’re excited about your once-in-a-lifetime trip. According to a recent New York Times article, though, your friends might not be quite as excited about your exploits as you are; if you’re not careful, your posts could be considered bragging.

For me, Facebook mainly functions as a storage facility for my photos. From there, they’re easy to find and reference, should I need to pull one of them for a story. I try my best not to caption them with anything other than facts, and you’ll rarely — if ever — see me posting photos of myself individually. Has anyone ever asked me to stop posting travel albums? No. Do people secretly want me to? Possibly.

If you’re one of those people, there are some quick and easy solutions: 1) Hide my content. I’ll never know. 2) Unfriend me. If my (infrequent) posts are that bothersome to you, we probably shouldn’t be friends anyway.

16 Signs You’re Addicted to Travel

To those who actually do brag about their travel adventures, please stop ruining it for the rest of us. You’re as bad as people who take photos of every single piece of food they eat, let the world know that they’re at the gym by posting endless workout selfies or update their statuses whenever their children get sick … or say a new word … or use the bathroom. #obnoxious #reallyobnoxious #almostasobnoxiousaspeoplewhohashtageverythingfornoreason

When it comes to sharing about your travels on social media, what’s your take? Do you post, or do you keep your experiences to yourself? Be sure to leave your comments below.

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

What’s your sign? Ours is funny. Whether it’s amusing verbiage from a place in the U.S. or a hilarious pictograph from a far-flung destination where there’s a language barrier, signs are everywhere. Have a peek at our latest collection, and feel free to share your own with us at feedback@independenttraveler.com.)

please do not feed feral cats or chickens

Kauai, Hawaii: Watch out for those feral chickens. We hear they’re vicious. (Photo by Peter Hamling)


no stops

Seattle, Washington: … or for anyone! (Photo by Cecilia Freeman)


humped zebra crossing

England: “It was just a basic crosswalk, but they call it a ‘humped zebra crossing.'” (Photo by Jessy Parkes)


prohibited sign

Honolulu, Hawaii: Imagine this: You’re arrested. Your friends ask you why, and you sheepishly admit you were caught — gasp! — playing horse shoes in the park. (Photo by Peter Hamling)


prohibited sign

Vancouver, Canada: Please don’t iron the … day bed? We have the Pan Pacific Hotel to thank for that helpful tidbit of advice. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek)


motorcycles prohibited sign

Bergen, Norway: Apparently Evel Knievel isn’t allowed in Bergen. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek)


cliff sign

Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania: Please refrain from hurling yourself off a cliff. (Photo by Ashley Kosciolek)

Can’t get enough funny signs? Check out our first three installments of this series!

Silly Travel Signage
More Silly Travel Signs
Silly Travel Signs: Part Three!

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

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
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.

Mexico
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

China
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.

France
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

When I started my travel writing career, I assumed one of the perks would be staring at gorgeous photos of exotic destinations all day — and for the most part I was right. But every once in a while, the stock photo website I use to source images for my stories gives me results that are real doozies. With every seemingly normal search term comes a pile of not-so-normal stock photos that range from hilarious to disturbing. Need a laugh? Check out this small list of a few I recently stumbled upon.

What We Searched: beach holidays

What We Got:

tourist looking at skull
Clearly he’s Mr. December.


What We Searched: smartphone traveler

What We Got:

tourist looking at skull
#skullfie


What We Searched: fancy traveler

What We Got:

dog on beach chair
I guess he’s fancy … for a dog.


What We Searched: woman on plane

What We Got:

woman on plane
Doesn’t everyone fly in bikinis and heels?


What We Searched: angry traveler

What We Got:

angry flight attendant with knife
Don’t even think about asking for another bag of peanuts.


16 Signs You’re Addicted to Travel

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

Next Tuesday marks the first official day of fall. As we mentally prepare for the autumnal equinox and the many glorious accouterments that come along with it — pumpkin spice everything — we’re bringing you our suggestions for some of the best places to enjoy the brilliant colors abroad. Read on for our picks.

Tuscany, Italy: Tuscany is romantic enough on its own, but when you throw in jaw-dropping colors (mid-September and October) and the crisp chill of fall, it’s a great place for anyone hoping to relax — particularly with a nice glass of wine.

a wine glass and grapes on a stone wall set against fall colors



11 Best Italy Experiences

Honshu, Japan: During November and December, this island bursts with fall colors, particularly in Kyoto, where fiery leaf hues surround local temples and koyo celebrations abound.

Buddhist Temple near Kyoto with fall colors all around



12 Best Japan Experiences

Nova Scotia, Canada: September and October are key months for this leaf-peeping destination. Set against picturesque lakes, the leaves there offer a worthwhile experience for travelers seeking an autumn respite closer to home.

fall colors



11 Best Canada Experiences

Bavaria, Germany: Couple bright, leafy landscapes with grand castles and mountain backdrops, and you’ve got a recipe for stunning autumn views. The best time to catch them is in October.

Bavarian castle with field and forest



12 Best Germany Experiences

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

borgund stave church norwayOn a recent trip to Norway, a member of the country’s tourism bureau told me that the number of U.S. visitors to Norway increased by about 40 percent in 2014 due to “Frozen.” That’s right — an animated Disney blockbuster for children boosted the number of travelers to the region by nearly half. That got us thinking about other movies that have spurred visits from loyal fans and, in some cases, even tours that feature the places where the actual filming took place. Read on for a list of some of the most notable ones.

“Frozen” (Norway)
Set in the Norwegian fjords, this story takes Anna, a princess, on a journey to find her sister with the help of a snowman. It sounds quirky, but Disney is now offering official “Adventures by Disney” tours of the region, which include stops in Bergen (on which Arendelle, the movie’s fictional setting, is based), as well as activities like rafting, hiking, fishing, dancing and fjord exploration.

“The Lord of the Rings” (New Zealand)
This famous fantasy series, shot entirely in New Zealand, had many filming locations within the country, including Wellington, Nelson, Canterbury and Fiordland, among others. Several companies like Lord of the Rings Tours offer guided excursions to various places seen in the movies, but you can also easily organize your own tour with the help of New Zealand Tourism’s resources.

I’ll Take a Large Popcorn and a Ticket to Paris

“Anne of Green Gables” (Canada)
The classic novels and their made-for-TV counterparts still draw lots of visitors each year to Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island, Canada. While there, you can get a feel for the place Anne called home and even tour Green Gables, the house that was used in the TV/film series; it has been decorated to look just like what you’ve imagined from the books.

“Memoirs of a Geisha” (Japan)
Set in Kyoto, Japan, a “Memoirs of a Geisha” tour — like this one offered by Japan for You — will take you to several of the movie’s shooting locations and expose you to Japanese food and culture through performances and trips to shrines, restaurants and tearooms. You’ll also have some free time to explore on your own.

The Top 5 Airlines for In-Flight Entertainment

— written by Ashley Kosciolek