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standing on the beaches of Southern IndiaIt’s hard to admit you might never be back — standing on the shore of southern India at sunrise, staring down into the faces of the Terra Cotta Warriors, even sitting in the lobby of a local beach club. Whether it’s due to distance, financial/unforeseen circumstances, health or simply a lack of time, there’s no telling when we go someplace new whether we’ll ever make it back. That’s why traveling in the moment (much like living in the moment) is so important — especially with screens and lenses constantly competing for our attention.

From a family’s trip to the World Trade Center weeks before the 9/11 attacks to the beaches of my very own New Jersey, standing with a wedding party days before Hurricane Sandy destroyed the venue, sightseeing and celebrating would mean so much less if I didn’t take the time to appreciate my surroundings. These are both extreme cases where the destination will never be the same whether I am there or not, but for many places we visit in a lifetime, who can promise we’ll get to experience them all over again? Do you want to collect memories or likes on your Facebook account?

Single Travel: Tips for Going Solo

Traveling through Vancouver on my first real solo trip this past July, it could have been devastatingly easy to tap my smartphone mindlessly over a meal or while sitting alone in a park, but I didn’t. Call it a test, call it a conscious effort, but from the first breakfast at the cafe counter downstairs from where I was staying, I tucked my phone away and did anything else — read a paper, looked around, focused on how my food tasted — without taking a photo and posting it to Instagram. This might sound ridiculous to those who haven’t been initiated into the demanding universe of social media, but to me it was a whole new world. Having a picturesque cocktail and multicourse feast in an underground Lebanese joint reminiscent of Casablanca — and not posting a thing about it — was like sharing a delicious secret with myself.

I constantly struggle with a strong yearning to document my travels, but capturing the moment to look at it later isn’t always the best option. There’s so many times I look back and wish I had simply been present in that instant without any other distraction — a community center performance in South Africa, any cathedral in Europe. Pictures and videos can be a poignant way to share an experience, capture a memory to look back on, create something artistic, but there’s a time to put the camera down. In an oversaturated, media-sharing-obsessed society, that time is increasingly difficult to gauge, but the instinct should continue to live in the guts of travelers who do so for the pure reason of savoring the experience; listen to that instinct.

Which place do you wish you could go back to and be more “present”?

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

I’ve taken many a trip, been on many a flight, and maybe because I’ve been (knock, knock) lucky about not having my luggage lost, I’ve never contemplated what happens to my suitcase after I drop it at the luggage counter. Without much imagination, I always assumed baggage handlers industriously gathered the checked luggage onto carts and wheeled them out to some kind of freight elevator where they journeyed to the tarmac below and were then loaded by another industrious group of baggage handlers onto the plane.

What Do I Do if My Luggage is Lost?

Little did I know, while I’m thumbing through magazines and finding the nearest Jamba Juice before settling in to await the boarding process, my luggage is having the ride of its life — at least it would in Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, where a first-person (bag) video has recently been released, chronicling a checked bag’s journey through an intricate series of conveyor belts and robotic platforms. Seriously, if this thing were designed for humans, it would be the hottest new theme park attraction.


We found the video on Time.com, but if you browse the airport’s website, you can find a version that allows you to scroll for 360-degree views.

What other inside view of travel would you like to see a video of? Share with us in the comments.

Four High-Tech Luggage Tags and Apps That Will Save Your Trip

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

This Friday’s challenge is a photo of an unidentified place somewhere in the world. Can you tell us where the photo was taken? Leave your guess in the comments below — and check back on Tuesday to see if you were right!

world destination


Hint: One of the region’s holiest places and a pilgrimage site for Christians, this landmark city is famous for its monolithic rock-cut churches.

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, August 17, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday morning we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com prize. Note: Although all are welcome to play, we can only ship prizes to the Continental U.S.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Elizabeth A, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was Lalibela, Ethiopia. Elizabeth has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.

See All “Where in the World?” Challenges

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

baggage claim airportAirlines often have us jumping through hoops — okay, metal detectors — before boarding their planes. You’ve seen fellow fliers looking panicked (read: me) as they hastily unpack luggage contents into other bags to redistribute weight, or shove carry-on bags into the rigid metal sizers and pray the wheels and handle jutting out won’t raise any eyebrows. However, a few air carriers seem to have another stipulation in mind before letting you on their next flight: stepping on the scale yourself.

An article in USA Today reports that Uzbekistan Airways has unfolded a plan to weigh passengers along with their bags as a safety measure. While the airline promises this information will not be made public, it has not specified whether this individual weight designation will determine whether you get on the plane or not. In 2012 Samoa Air, another small airline, took the precaution one step further and began charging passengers by weight. Surprisingly, the regulation has held up three years later with the airline’s site even boasting the slogan, “A kilo is a kilo is a kilo!”

Could such a policy be enacted here in the U.S.? Doubtful, according to a New York Times article from 2013: “While no major airline would consider the folly of actually weighing passengers, passenger weight is factored into overall calculations for any flight on any airplane, partly based in the United States on Federal Aviation Administration average weight estimates that have been revised upward in recent years as waistlines have grown.”

Do You Know Your Passenger Rights?

While it’s true that planes adhere to strict weight regulations, the majority of major carriers seem to get around this issue without getting personal (well, any more personal than a body scan, a possible pat-down and a look at all of your identification). On Southwest, passengers who cannot fit comfortably into one seat (and by comfortably, the airline means travelers who don’t fit at all) must purchase a second seat. The same holds true for American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and United.

If there was a promise that your trip would not be changed regardless of the outcome, would you feel comfortable stepping on a scale before your next flight? Where do you draw the line for safety in the sky?

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

calendar, notepad, model airplane, camera, hand writing, various travel planning paraphernaliaThere’s good news and bad news when it comes to buying airfare. The good news: It is possible to time your flight for the lowest possible price. The bad news: That time will almost never be summer. According to a recent analysis of airfare data by Hopper, a flight search app, seasonal travel price drops can be predicted and taken advantage of — just start planning trips for fall, winter and spring.

Using the drop-down of the 15 most popular U.S. origin airports on Quartz, the cheapest time to fly to major worldwide destinations can be determined by seasonality, but also based on your domestic airport. We all know Europe is generally cheapest to travel to during winter, but for Dallas, a flight to London is actually cheaper in the fall.

Top Tips for Finding Cheap Airfare

Don’t believe prices can fluctuate that much outside of holidays and peak times? If you’re looking to head to Istanbul, you might want to reconsider that notion. Of all the major flight paths analyzed, three of the five with the largest seasonal price difference are en route to Istanbul — starting at a 50 percent price difference originating in Washington D.C. and totaling as much as 57 percent more on flights from Chicago in the summer. Flights from Los Angeles to Barcelona and London are 52 and 53 percent more, respectively, in the summer season.

If you’re set on one of the elusive flight paths that are actually cheaper in summer, Dallas is your best bet followed by the capital of Taiwan: Boston to Dallas, Houston (Bush) to Dallas (and reverse), Houston to Taipei, New York (La Guardia) to Taipei and D.C. (Reagan) to Toronto all run low in the summertime. (Think of the heat.)

Maybe this is a concept we always knew about air travel, but finding my familiar home airport, and watching the lists of destinations appear in conjunction with the cheapest season, is reassuring. With everyone already bemoaning “the end of the summer season,” it gives me three more seasons (and potential trips) to look forward to.

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

This Friday’s challenge is a photo of an unidentified place somewhere in the world. Can you tell us where the photo was taken? Leave your guess in the comments below — and check back on Tuesday to see if you were right!

world destination


Hint: With marble from Italy, granite from Shanghai, crystal chandeliers from England, and carpets from Saudi Arabia, this multinational mosque is actually located in a tiny nation with one of the highest standards of living in the world. Can you guess where this photo was taken?

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, July 27, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday morning we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com prize. Note: Although all are welcome to play, we can only ship prizes to the Continental U.S.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Pamela, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque in Brunei. Pamela has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.

See All “Where in the World?” Challenges

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

Vancouver, a diverse seaport and the largest city in British Columbia, is a perfect place to explore on your own. Solo travelers can sample their way through the sensory-exploding market of Granville Island or avoid the rain under the enchanting overhang of a traditional Chinese garden. If you are independently exploring Vancouver, make sure not to miss the five best things to do around the city for solo travelers.

vancouver seawall


Walk (or Bike) the Seawall
The Seaside Greenway, a 17.4-mile pedestrian and bike path encircling scenic parts of Vancouver, is the world’s longest uninterrupted waterfront pathway. The Seawall is a stunning portion of this pathway, surrounding the city’s massive Stanley Park and extending past charming English Bay beaches. With restrictions that dictate direction, pedestrian-only lanes and walk-your-bike areas (at times the path becomes extremely narrow), this picturesque path is best enjoyed solo as you take in the sights. A 5.6-mile stretch, the Seawall takes an estimated two to three hours to walk and one hour to cycle.

Acme Cafe in Gastown Vancouver


Savor a Meal
While dining out in any new city can be a great way to experience the local culture as well its unique food scene, eating alone in Vancouver proved to be satisfying in a different way. Whereas “table for one?” might be uttered with a tinge of dismay in certain swanky metropolitan eateries, I always felt welcomed — even special, and in a strange way, brave –for dining solo in Vancouver. Servers happily chatted about the menu and weren’t hesitant to spend time at my table. Grabbing a paper or people-watching during my meals, I made an effort to not even pick up my phone (hence no foodie photos!). In the trendy Gastown district (where I stayed) try Acme Cafe for comfort food (51 W. Hastings St.); Nuba for delightful Lebanese (various locations — I visited 207 W. Hastings St.); and Bao Bei, a Chinese brasserie (163 Keefer St.).

dr. sun yat-sen classical chinese garden chinatown vancouver


Visit an Authentic Chinese Garden
The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, located within Vancouver’s Chinatown, is an authentic representation of a Ming Dynasty-era scholar’s garden — the first of its kind outside of China. Calming water features and traditional architecture (complete with the smell of teak wood) contrast peacefully with the city skyline in the background. This is a great place for solo travelers to escape with their thoughts and reflect — and because of the roof design, it’s even better in the rain.

science world telus world of science vancouver


Explore Science World
While I experienced unparalleled sunny weather in Vancouver during my visit in late June, the region is known for rain. If you’re looking for a way to spend a gray day that won’t require being cooped up or stuck shopping, take a visit to Science World. A sparkling geodesic dome, towering metal dinosaur and Mondrian-like exterior invite you into a museum with intricate exhibits that will keep you occupied for hours. Can’t bear the thought of wading through crowds of kids? Science World hosts occasional After Dark adult evenings featuring special guests such as the animators from “Jurassic World” — check ScienceWorld.ca for details.

granville island public market vancouver


Spend a Day at Granville Island
You could throw a stone to Granville Island; it’s that close to downtown Vancouver. Short of swimming there, you can take a ferry across False Creek (or have a taxi or tour bus drop you off — buses aren’t allowed past a certain point). Alone with nothing but your five senses, Granville Island offers a feast for all of them. There’s plenty to keep you occupied here, from beer tasting at Granville Brewing Company to seasonal live music to endless artsy shops (including fun independent toy stores). But our favorite stop is the public market, featuring a smorgasbord of fresh food and gourmet delights. If you’re missing human interaction, consider taking a tour with Vancouver Foodie Tours, which allows you to sample the market’s many goodies while meeting other travelers along the way.

Single Travel: Tips for Going Solo

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

DeSa familyForget the weeklong family vacation; it seems parents and their children are hitting the road for months at a time, across borders and thousands of miles, in a new wave of family travel that seeks to educate through global experiences.

This morning I came across a story on Yahoo Travel about a 10-year-old girl who blogs about her worldly experiences, having visited more than 30 countries in her first decade on this planet. Tatum Oxenreider and her two brothers live a migratory life with their parents, who work remotely (you can say that again) for a nonprofit organization while chronicling their journeys on their website, “The Art of Simple Travel.” Tsh, Tatum’s mother and an author of books on travel and simplicity, believes that the world is the best teacher possible.

Thinking about the Oxenreiders reminded me of another family: the Kirkbys. Stars of “Big Crazy Family Adventure” on the Travel Channel, this family of four — with two young sons, ages 7 and 4 — documented their travels across 13,000 miles from British Columbia to the Himalayas without taking a single airplane. While there’s an expected amount of groaning from the kids, who tire of some more tedious parts of travel — such as hikes intended to acclimate them to an increase in altitude — for the most part, the family remains upbeat and embraces every chance they can to introduce their young ones to a new cultural experience (including the crunchy scorpions both boys ate with gusto in China).

Out of curiosity I searched online for families traveling the world — and there are plenty. Meet the Nomadic Family, a clan of five from Israel who offer insight and tips from their journeys wandering the world for three years, as well as the decision they made to stop traveling and how that transition back to home life has been. Other families are doing it without tracking the trek via a blog or website. Last year the New York Times’ Frugal Traveler wrote an editorial piece on the Maurers, a family of four (children, ages 15 and 12) traveling from Southeast Asia to Nepal to Europe on $150 a day. Over 10 months, some of the challenges and lessons they faced were strange and difficult. For example, the father and daughter — adopted from Korea — could not walk alone together in Thailand, as they would be often misconstrued as a couple. The parents also faced harsh criticism from home for having their children out of school for a year, despite unconventional home schooling along the way.

And then there’s our own story of a couple who hit the open road (and skies and rivers…) with their three young sons to explore South and Central America. In the interview, the DeSas discuss challenges like traveling through airports while keeping hands free to hold on to the kids, or not being able to find foods they crave in a new place on a tight budget. However, the lack of chocolate chip cookies is more than made up for with experiences like making their own chocolate from scratch in Ecuador.

I don’t yet have a family of my own, so I can’t speak to whether I would bring children on such a long trip, but I know I certainly would’ve enjoyed it as a child myself. Would you embark on a trip around the world with your family? Tell us in the comments.

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

young woman with app on her smartphoneIt’s not Airbnb: Money does not change hands. It’s not Couchsurfing: Accommodations are more formal and include an actual bed. But it’s also not HomeExchange: You can simultaneously trade places with another traveler, but you don’t have to. Enter Nightswapping (formerly known as Cosmopolit Home), the latest in “living like a local” — and, if you don’t care to pay, hosting like a local too.

The new company, based in France, aims to foster a sense of community and kinship while conveniently avoiding the legal issues Airbnb has faced from local authorities and housing regulations. The idea is this: When you host travelers from around the world — either in an extra room while you’re there or in a space they have to themselves — you’ll earn credits known as travel capital. In turn, you can use those credits as free nights at other host locations around the world (the website says there are more than 10,000 in more than 160 countries). According to the site’s terms and conditions, a member (someone agreeing to host as well as travel) will receive a credit of seven nights at registration, so he or she can start traveling right away. This gesture is not considered a gift but an advance — the member is still expected to host in return.

Although the site claims to be free, guests must pay a $9.90 “connection fee” to confirm a nightswap. This fee goes to the company, not the host.

Don’t feel comfortable sharing your space? Nightswapping offers an equivalent nightly rate for each location you may be interested in, ranging from 7 to 49 euros. How does the site bypass the “room for sale” legal gray area? Hosts never actually receive money, even if the room is paid for — just travel capital, or nights. Nightswapping absorbs the payment (for your convenience, of course). Locations vary, but are generally broken down into Europe and “exotic destinations” (which include North America); it seems there are far more hosts in Europe than anywhere else.

Ditch the Hotel: 10 Cheaper Ways to Stay

The best hosts in each region are highlighted, and ratings are shown at the top of the lister’s profile. We like the thorough profiles, which offer size and dimensions; comfort, condition and a description of the interior design; a carousel of photos; a map detailing relative location; a photo of your host with some basic information including age and languages spoken; and the last time someone stayed at the property.

According to the site, “Nights have a different value depending on the standard of the accommodation you wish to stay at.” Rated 1 through 7, your home’s value is calculated based on an algorithm taking size, comfort level, location and other factors into account. Once rated, you can see what your hosted nights will translate into during your own stay abroad. Seven nights in an accommodation rated “Standard 3” equals four nights in a “Standard 5” accommodation, or 10 nights in a “Standard 2” accommodation.

In theory, the idea of fostering continent-crossing friendships with little to no monetary burden seems very Kumbaya. But while Nightswapping bypasses some of the legal issues faced by other similar services, the question of personal safety remains, especially for solo travelers or hosts. Nightswapping uses a similar social media vetting system for its hosts as Airbnb and suggests checking your personal home insurance and liability policies before hosting a guest. It also gives hosts the option to deny guest requests. Nightswapping recently announced that each stay will be covered by insurance worth up to 450,000 euros (approximately $488,663 USD), while Airbnb offers a million dollar host guarantee for every booking (with some limitations). It all comes down to your personal comfort level.

Would you consider a stay with Nightswapping?

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

This Friday’s challenge is a photo of an unidentified place somewhere in the world. Can you tell us where the photo was taken? Leave your guess in the comments below — and check back on Tuesday to see if you were right!

world destination


Hint: Operating in the Tasman Sea in the early 20th century and used as a hospital ship during WWI, this vessel is now wrecked on which island off the eastern Queensland coast?

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, July 6, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday morning we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com prize. Note: Although all are welcome to play, we can only ship prizes to the Continental U.S.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Bea Dahlen, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was Fraser Island, Australia. Bea has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.

See All “Where in the World?” Challenges

— written by Brittany Chrusciel