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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!

houses, ice




Hint: It may not look it, but it’s springtime in this colorful country. Can you guess which?

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, June 9, 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 travel mug. 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 Jennifer Parry, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was Greenland. Jennifer has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

woman solo airportA few years ago I came across a really great travel deal to Ireland. It included flights, accommodations, a car rental and even a castle stay, all within my budget. I had recently moved home from college and was working at the time, but many of my friends didn’t have the finances for travel that I had saved. Apart from not knowing how to drive a manual (I still give my parents grief for not teaching me how), there was something holding me back that wasn’t price, availability or my desire to go — I just didn’t feel completely safe traveling alone.

My hesitation to pack my bags didn’t come from inexperience — I have traveled my whole life and spent four months overseas when I was 20 years old, in countries such as Brazil, South Africa, China and India (albeit while I was studying abroad, and always with a group).

Recent crimes against women in the news worldwide, coupled with an unsettling piece in the New York Times last week about violence against women traveling abroad, had me reflecting on my own position.

While Europe is considered a relative safe zone by many travelers, I still couldn’t picture tasting my first authentic Guinness, alone in an Irish bar, away from anyone I knew. It wasn’t the fear of loneliness — the beer would be just as delicious with or without a companion — it was purely concern of the unknown. This is because the question many women travelers have been asking for so long should be less a question about being abroad, and more about women’s safety on a global scale.

15 Mistakes to Avoid When Traveling Solo

I think it’s so difficult for aspiring travelers (of any gender) to wander the world carefree, because the open-mindedness and welcoming attitude that serves as the cornerstone of independent travel, is in direct conflict with the disheartening reality of violent crime. In particular, women are not only targets for violence, but also sexual violence, which makes the decision to travel solo more poignant and more of a risk. This isn’t the reality in some distant, lawless land; this is the reality everywhere in the world — both at home and on foreign soil.

It then might not make sense for me to justify so much time spent wandering the streets of New York City alone, at all hours of the day or night, but context is a factor in my personal decision of whether I feel safe in a location. I am familiar with New York — I speak the language, I know the laws, I know how to get around, and in a pinch, I have familiar faces I can phone that are nearby. That’s not to say statistically, New York is any safer than Istanbul or any other city, but my comfort level and my instincts feel more refined there. I could just as easily become a victim of a hapless crime one block from where I live as I could halfway across the world, so in my eyes, it’s a matter of taking chances.

Sarai Sierra was one woman among many who travel solo. Unfortunately, Sierra did not return home from her trip to Turkey last year, when unlike many solo travelers, she was murdered after her assailant made unwanted advances towards her. Media attention steeped in fear may be to blame for putting many societal issues in a negative light — the one- in-a-hundred chance — but the fact is things can and do happen while traveling abroad (being alone and a woman doesn’t help your case) and for a time they can outshine the many fulfilling experiences people do have. (Jodi Ettenberg wrote a very balanced blog on the subject for Legal Nomads in February 2013 – – the same month Sierra was found dead.)

So are women safe abroad? I would say just about as safe as they are anywhere. Travel is a risk, and one everyone should take, but the circumstances regarding solo travel are especially personal (and as a woman, more vulnerable). I am sad to say that while the prospect of traveling alone isn’t an impossible feat, as a woman, I must admit it makes me nervous. As with anything in life, stepping outside your door is a daily gamble — it’s up to you if the benefit of having meaningful travel experiences outweighs the potential challenges.

I had the chance to travel solo to Ireland, and in the end I was too unsure about it. With everything going on in the world, my fears weren’t exactly unfounded. However, the point is women are at risk anywhere, and a lot of women travelers understand that and go anyway. If I can roam the streets of the City that Never Sleeps, then maybe one day I can pick up and do the same independently in the Emerald Isle.

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

Who knew travel was the key to true love? This past weekend, some very lucky bachelors celebrating in Charleston, South Carolina, welcomed a surprise guest when none other than Bill Murray wandered into their party. Held in a cult-like status for not only his celebrity but also for doing this sort of thing — showing up uninvited to events and then doling out sage advice as only he could — Bill Murray didn’t disappoint with a speech that can be seen below:


We love that Murray suggests taking a trip with a future spouse before actually tying the knot — not just because it promotes travel, but also because we’ve experienced firsthand the way travel can both strengthen and challenge a relationship. From navigating the cold, rainy hills of Montreal without a map, to feeling like the only two people in the world on the charming streets of a medieval Austrian city at night, traveling with my significant other has had literal ups and downs. Check out these anecdotes from our office full of travelers:

“The first trip I took abroad with my ex-husband was to London and it was a miserable trip. During our marriage we traveled to St. Lucia, Jamaica, Mexico and Paris together, and every trip was a wreck. Since our divorce, I’ve returned to those places, including a week solo in Paris, and I found that I love each place I’ve been and that it was just the company I was with that spoiled the trip. I’m still single, so I guess I’m waiting to find the person who loves travel as much as I do and who can enrich the trip. Maybe I’ll follow Murray’s advice and marry that person once I find him.” – Lissa Poirot, Editor, Family Vacation Critic

18 Ways to Keep the Peace with Your Travel Companion

“I’m a firm believer that if you love to travel you should travel with the one you love before marrying him/her. I traveled to various places in Asia with my husband before we got married, and it definitely brought us closer. Traveling can be very stressful and you can see how the other person copes in a difficult situation and if you work well together as a team.” – Kathleen Tucker, President

“When Corbett and I travel we always find out new things about each other. Recently, we were on a Silversea cruse. The DJ in the very small lounge was playing some great old disco. Between the modest crowd and several bottles of wine at dinner, I learned unequivocally that Corbett cannot dance! Just horrible.” – Jim Walsh, Sales Manager

“Back in December, my boyfriend and I went to Boston for a weekend together. It was our first trip together as a couple so it was a great bonding experience and it really brought us closer together — not only because we had to plan our days and figure out how to get to all of the different attractions that we wanted to see, but also because my car ended up getting broken in to and my laptop was stolen. Although it was a terrible situation, my boyfriend really helped me get through that and he supported me and comforted me, which made our relationship stronger.” – Hilarey Wojtowicz, Production Assistant, Family Vacation Critic

“After meeting my future husband on half a dozen occasions, we met up in Hawaii and then he joined me to travel around Australia a few months later. We decided to spend our lives together somewhere along the way. If you can live together in a station wagon for three months, future homes will never feel small!” – Carrie Gonzalez, Senior Marketing Manager

“On one of my first trips with my boyfriend, I learned that my family’s dog had been diagnosed with cancer and would soon need to be put down. Hours from home, my boyfriend became my sole source of comfort, and despite the fact that the rest of the trip was ruined for me, he didn’t once tell me to ‘try to have a good time’ — he understood, and that in itself meant the world to me. We’ve since taken many, much happier vacations together.” – Amanda Geronikos, Associate Editor, Family Vacation Critic

“My boyfriend (now hubby) and I were long distance when we first met (he lived in England and I lived in New Jersey). My first time ever overseas was to visit him, and we took an awesome trip visiting Dublin, London and Venice. Venice was particularly memorable, as we had no idea how to navigate to our hotel once we got there, and a sweet little old Italian man led us there and showed us around. We also were in London briefly the day of the Royal Wedding, which was pure insanity. The trip made us closer than ever and we had an amazing time bonding and having fun visiting all these new places. I’ll never forget it!” – Jessy Parkes, Sales Planner

10 Ways to Be a Less Annoying Travel Companion

“I decided I would marry my husband on our first trip together.

“The long weekend in the island of Dominica was all Don’s idea. At the time, my vision of the Caribbean had been limited to all-inclusive resorts and Jimmy Buffett music, so I was skeptical. He assured me that we would hike, snorkel, and suss out local chicken stands and rum shacks. Sold! During the trip, not all went according to plan. Carnival was in full swing and the already hazardous steep mountain roads were full of partiers, stray dogs and the occasional goat. On one particularly knotty turn, I looked over at Don. He looked calm, cool and collected under his Caribbean hat, a cigar in his teeth and one hand on the steering wheel. Not only was Don able to keep up with me, he was HANDLING IT. I was impressed. We didn’t talk marriage until three months later. But my mind was already made up. Any guy who could deal with the chaos of the Caribbean could take on anything life would throw at us. And he has.” – Chris Gray Faust, Destinations Editor, Cruise Critic

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

bellhopEver had a bellhop sweep in to grab your bags even though you’d hoped to carry them yourself (and not have to pay a tip)? You’re not alone. In a recent survey of 2,719 Americans, Travel Leaders Group asked travelers how they cope with this and other common travel dilemmas. Turns out many of us are actually passive in uncomfortable travel situations, and the majority of us tip — even in cases where we’re not quite sure if we’re supposed to.

When it comes to an unoccupied but reserved beach chair, the majority — about 30 percent — would wait more than four hours before claiming it as their own; another 29 percent gave it an hour before calling dibs.

Almost half — 49 percent of respondents — would tip a bellhop if he or she assisted with luggage, even if they didn’t ask for help. Another 32 percent said they would tip, but less than if they had made the request, and 19 percent would not tip.

I was surprised to read that while 35 percent of respondents tip their maid service every day regardless of length of stay, 26 percent never tip.

Tips for Tipping Abroad

When asked what they would do if someone else brought kids to an adults-only pool, 28 percent would alert hotel staff only if the children were being disruptive, and 27 percent would alert hotel staff either way. Only 16 percent would say something directly to the parents. The remaining 29 percent would say nothing.

Disruptive noises while staying at a hotel or resort should be dealt with directly by hotel staff, according to 88 percent of respondents. Nine percent would do nothing, while the remaining three percent would do anything from banging on the wall and calling the room directly to being loud themselves to send the message.

When flying, you may notice the trend is to load your luggage overhead as soon as you board the aircraft so that you can leave quickly and grab your luggage on the way out. However, only 4 percent of survey respondents admitted to doing this. Three quarters of respondents said they try to get as close to their row as possible before stowing their bags overhead. The remaining 21 percent walk to their row and then ask a flight attendant for assistance.

Does Your Flight Attendant Hate You?

Some of these situations I grapple with all the time — how much to tip and when, should I speak up when others are stowing bags at the front of the plane and they’re sitting in the back — but some I’ve honestly never even thought of. I was surprised there were no questions about cutting in line — something I’ve encountered at almost every airport or attraction line I’ve stepped foot in.

What are your travel pet peeves? How have you or would you react in these situations? Share your comments below.

– 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!

underwater, sculpture


Hint: This sculpture garden is renowned for its scenic diving and unique underwater inhabitants.

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, May 19, 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 travel mug. 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 Margot Wilson, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was the Grenada Underwater Sculpture Park. Margot has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

living roomIt’s easy to see a broken bone, but it’s harder to prove you’re feeling too distraught to travel. So if you or a loved one has ever struggled with mental illness, don’t count on travel insurance being there to reimburse you if your condition adversely affects your trip.

Two recent articles by NPR and Consumerist offer a cautionary tale about a couple who was refused coverage for a canceled trip due to their son’s mental health emergency (after a medication change, his doctor suggested that he not be left alone). Despite a letter of support from the psychiatrist, the couple was denied their $1,800 claim.

Travel Insurance: What You Need to Know

Travel insurance is not included under the Mental Health Parity Act and Affordable Care Act, which now mandates that health plans must cover preventive services like depression screening for adults and behavioral assessments for children at no cost, and that most plans won’t be able to deny coverage or charge more due to pre-existing health conditions, including mental illnesses. In fact, on the CDC’s website it says to be aware of “exclusions regarding psychiatric emergencies or injuries related to terrorist attacks or acts of war” when purchasing travel insurance. That means that unless your ailment is physical in nature, don’t expect anything in return for your turmoil from travel insurance.

According to NPR, the National Alliance on Mental Illness has received about 10 complaints about travel insurance discrimination over the past year. Travel insurance is state-regulated, so policies, fine print and subtleties will vary across the U.S. Some states flat-out do not offer mental health coverage or consider it a pre-existing condition. Options at this time seem limited for anyone who struggles with bouts of anxiety, depression or even loved ones who may require additional care.

To me, the stigma attached to mental illness reflects an outdated taboo about real disorders and serious conditions that affect one in four adults in the U.S., according to the National Institute of Mental Health. In my opinion it is discrimination, and coverage should extend to families who cope with mental health issues as much as it extends to physical ailments. Everyone deserves to travel and not worry about the consequences if they can’t.

Safety and Health Tips for Travelers

What are your thoughts about travel insurance coverage for mental illness? Have you experienced a similar issue with coverage?

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

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

dining soloSolo travel can be reflective, rewarding and exhilarating, but it also presents challenges. For some, eating alone is an experience that takes getting used to. (See Terror at the Table for One.)

Luckily, the times may be changing for solo diners. At Eenmaal, a restaurant in Amsterdam, you can feel secure in asking for a table of one because that’s all that’s available; you and your fellow diners all are eating alone, together.

Hailed as the first one-person restaurant in the world, Eenmaal (which means “one time” as well as “one meal” in Dutch) describes itself as “an attractive place for temporary disconnection.” The solo eatery takes its form as a pop-up restaurant, only open during select times in select locations, and it’s far from depressing — it’s always sold out, according to its website.

Marina van Goor, the social designer and mastermind behind Eenmaal, sought to create the restaurant as a social experiment to confront the concept of loneliness in the Internet Age. The idea has not only gained widespread media attention but has led to a rash of emerging pop-up eateries for one worldwide.

Single Travel: Tips for Going Solo

The idea already exists in Japan, where space is limited but ideas for unique eateries are plenty. Take this restaurant where you can dine (alone?) with stuffed animals, for example.

As for myself, I generally forgo the fluff and face the plate without any companionship — teddy bear included — although I admit the urge to check my phone might reach an uncomfortable level. The one time I decided to go to a local brunch spot by myself, I came equipped with a book, a notebook, a pen and plenty of ways to look busy — and I wasn’t even abroad! However, I ended up enjoying my pot of tea without needing further distraction. In a world filled with constant stimulation, I found that to be an accomplishment.

Take a Bite Out of Solo Dining

Now that solo dining is “in,” we want to know: Is it still awkward? Have you dined independently, or would you try it? Share in the comments below.

– 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!

cemetery, colorful




Hint: This UNESCO site draws crowds each year to its “happy” colorful grave markers.

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, April 28, 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 travel mug. 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 Liz Lyons, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was the Merry Cemetery in Sapanta, Romania. Liz has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

globeHappy Earth Day!

This year’s global theme is Green Cities, part of an initiative to reduce pollution and strain on the environment as a result of a growing urban population.

Despite what you may believe, activities surrounding this holiday of environmental awareness aren’t all educational brochures and planting trees. Events around the U.S. are as varied as biodiesel-powered amusement park rides and healthy food trucks in Ohio to “a parade of human-powered vehicles” that will deliver kegs of beer from local breweries to the Harmon Tap Room in a Washington Earth Day competition.

Earth Day is recognized by more than 190 countries across the world. Here are five examples of how other nations are celebrating April 22 with an earthly appeal.

Albania: This European nation is holding events in two different cities. In Durres, the public is invited to play a rousing game of Eco-Monopoly (based on the Green Cities theme) and join a pot-making workshop to plant flowers in containers made of recycled materials. In Vlore, students, youth and other citizens will gather in the main square to sign a petition to increase green spaces in the town.

Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City Green Talk will host Earth Day activities for representatives from across Vietnam. Students from 50 local schools will take part in a green flash mob to increase awareness for environmental issues and participate in the day’s other events.

Top Five Destinations for Ecotourism

Uganda: Uganda has numerous events planned, including tree planting, town cleaning, and a seed and soil program involving local farmers. An organization called LCD is creating a green map to develop areas of environmental significance in their community (such as planting shade-giving trees in areas like their stadium, where inhabitants suffer from too much sun exposure).

Dominican Republic: Barcelo Bavaro Beach Resorts across the country will turn off their lights to increase awareness of energy use.

Lebanon: In Dekwaneh, Earth Day events will take place in the city square and feature music, dance, art and the announcement of the city’s new green plan. Baldati.org, a Lebanese NGO focusing on social responsibility and sustainability, will host the events, which include a hike that will begin in a green area and end in a heavily built-up urban area to demonstrate the dramatic difference.

Do you have plans for Earth Day? Have you celebrated it in a different country? Let us know in the comments.

– written by Brittany Chrusciel