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This week’s brainteaser is a Friday Word Puzzle. We’ll give you a category and the first letters of five countries that fall into that category, and you fill in the rest. Keep in mind that there may be more than one possible response for each letter. For examples, check out this blog post.

Ready to give it a try? Here’s this week’s challenge:

index card puzzle


Enter your list of countries in the comments below. You have until Monday, June 22, 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 logo item. 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 Barbara Clark, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Check out the winning entry below.

countries whose athletes have won more than 100 gold medals


Stay tuned for further chances to win!

— created by Dori Saltzman

stamp that says visa“Um. Do Romanians need a visa to go to Canada?” I asked my husband on a Friday afternoon, a sudden pit forming in my stomach. We were scheduled to go to Montreal for the Women’s World Cup the following Thursday, and somehow I’d forgotten to check on what paperwork might be required.

I immediately turned to my phone to Google the answer. Uh-oh. Yes, Romanians (like my husband) do need a visa to enter or even pass through Canada. We had less than a week! Could we get one in time? I clicked on the visa application button and quickly scrolled through to see how hard it would be. And then I spotted an almost-side note at the very bottom of the page: Permanent residents of the United States of America with green cards do not need a visa to visit Canada. Relief washed over me.

The crazy thing was, this wasn’t the first time I’d forgotten about such a small, insignificant little detail like without a visa they won’t let you in!

On our two-week British Isles and Norwegian fjords honeymoon cruise (!) I’d forgotten to check to see if my husband would need a visa to get off in ports along the way. At the time, I’d also been blissfully ignorant of the very existence of transit visas.

In a Rush? This Passport Mistake Could Cost You

Luckily, the immigration officer at London’s Heathrow Airport didn’t give it a second thought, simply stamped in a 24-hour visa for my husband to get from the airport to the cruise ship.

It wasn’t until we were on our ship that we discovered the consequences of not having a tourist visa for Ireland and the United Kingdom. For the Irish ports of Dublin and Cork, my husband was prohibited from leaving the ship.

That was a disappointment, but even worse was the U.K., which threatened to repatriate my husband off the ship before it even left the dock in Southampton. They continued to threaten repatriation through the first few ports (non-U.K. ports, I might add.) By the time we got to Belfast, they had changed tacks, threatening a hefty fine and forcing him off at the last non-U.K. port of the cruise. In the end their threats were empty; they let us stay on the ship through the end and gave him 24 hours to get back to Heathrow. But the stress lasted for most of the cruise.

I swore I’d never make the same mistake again. Ha! Nine years later only a short blurb at the end of the Canadian visa application saved me.

So, travelers, let my story be a lesson. Always, always, always check what kind of paperwork is needed at the same time you check on flight and hotel prices. That way you’re in the know and have plenty of time to get started on whatever you may need.

Five Ways to Beat Pre-Trip Panic

— written by Dori Saltzman

This week’s brainteaser is a Friday Word Puzzle. We’ll give you a category and the first letters of five countries that fall into that category, and you fill in the rest. Keep in mind that there may be more than one possible response for each letter. For examples, check out this blog post.

Ready to give it a try? Here’s this week’s challenge:

index card puzzle


Enter your list of countries in the comments below. You have until Monday, June 1, 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 logo item. 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 Diana Avery, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Check out the winning entry below.

countries with two colors in their flag


Stay tuned for further chances to win!

— created by Dori Saltzman

close up detail of rome's trevi fountain sculpturesYou’re in Rome for the first time. You’ve got your euro penny in hand to throw into Trevi Fountain. You’ve been thinking about what wish you’re going to make since you first stepped off the plane at Leonardo da Vinci International Airport. But when you get there the fountain is dry, enclosed in scaffolding with only a small metal bridge for limited access. Signs in several languages warn against throwing coins. Your wish dies on the tip of your tongue. You’ve come all the way to Rome, and one of the main sites you wanted to see is closed.

Many travelers have faced a similar situation on their journeys. (Trevi Fountain will remain closed to the public through fall 2015, for example.) Logically we understand it. Buildings, attractions and works of art that have been around for hundreds of years or more must be maintained so they’re around for hundreds more. There are no promises they’ll be open or on display for you on the day you visit.

11 Best Italy Experiences

But when it’s something you had your heart set on seeing, logic goes out the window. Disappointment and anger mingle, and your satisfaction with your vacation dims just a bit — or a lot, depending on just how important seeing that attraction was to you.

The best way to avoid this situation is to research your trip ahead of time and temper your expectations. It’s not just renovations that can upend your plans; traveling during a national holiday you didn’t know about could leave you standing outside the locked doors of that museum you were hoping to visit.

If you have always wanted to see the Mona Lisa and are thinking about a trip to Paris, check to make sure that the Louvre will be open at the time you’re planning on visiting. The Louvre is closed on Tuesdays, as well as annually on May 1, July 14 and December 25. When preplanning your visit, make sure to slot in the Louvre on any day but one of these.

12 Best France Experiences

Attraction hours are easy to find, but how do you find out about other events that might prevent you from seeing the attractions you want? Your best bet is to contact the tourist board of the destination you’re visiting. Country tourist boards are okay, but if there’s one for the city you’ll be in that’s better. Give someone at the tourist board a call. Ask if there are any renovations going on at the attractions you want to visit. Ask if they are aware of any protests planned. (In April 2015 the Eiffel Tower was closed down for part of day during massive anti-government protests.)

There is no way to guarantee you’ll never be on the outside looking in at an attraction you wanted to visit. If you can (and we recognize it’s really difficult), try not to get your heart set on anything. Every destination has multiple attractions, and missing out on one does not have to ruin your trip.

Have you ever visited a city with your heart set on seeing something specific only to find it closed when you got there?

— written by Dori Saltzman

This week’s brainteaser is a Friday Word Puzzle. We’ll give you a category and the first letters of five countries that fall into that category, and you fill in the rest. Keep in mind that there may be more than one possible response for each letter. For examples, check out this blog post.

Ready to give it a try? Here’s this week’s challenge:

index card puzzle


Enter your list of countries (and the name of the movies) in the comments below. You have until Monday, May 11, 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 logo item. 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 Daniel, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Check out the winning entry below.

countries that appear in movie titles


Stay tuned for further chances to win!

— created by Dori Saltzman

person's hand holding several passportsCan you guess which country’s passport is the most powerful?

We bet you can’t!

GoEuro, a travel technology company, analyzed the passports of 50 countries and ranked them by a combination of visa-free access to other countries, length of validity and the cost of obtaining one — both in terms of price and how many hours at minimum wage a person must work to obtain the passport — to determine which passports are the best to have.

If you thought the United Kingdom or the United States topped the list, you’d be wrong. Sweden comes out on top when you factor in all the pieces.

Sweden, along with the U.K. and the United States, will get you into 174 countries without a visa, but it’ll only cost you $43 versus $110 in the U.K. and $135 in the U.S. In terms of minimum hours worked, that translates into 1 hour for a Swedish citizen, 11 hours for a Brit and 19 hours for someone in the U.S.

13 Best England Experiences

If you’re curious, a U.K. passport is the fourth most powerful passport in the world, while a U.S. passport is fifth.

Rounding out the top five passports are Finland at number two and Germany at number three. Both will get their citizens into 174 countries without a visa. Finland’s passport costs $56 and would require a minimum-wage worker to work five hours. German’s passport costs $69, which translates to seven minimum-wage hours worked.

12 Best Germany Experiences

On the other end of the spectrum, Afghani, Iraqi, Liberian, Indian and Chinese passports are some of most powerless passports out there. All get their citizens into less than 55 countries, with Afghanistan only getting citizens into 28 countries without a visa and costing $104, which requires an astonishing 183 hours of minimum-wage work to pay for it. Iraq’s passport only gets its citizens into 31 countries visa-free but is the most affordable, costing just $20 and requiring only three hours of minimum-wage work to pay for one.

Other passports popular among those asked which nationality they’d like to have (in addition to their own) were Canada, which ranked number seven on the list, and Australia, which ranked number 22. Canada’s passport gets Canadians into 173 countries and costs $133, which would require a minimum-wage worker to labor for 15 hours. Australia’s passport gets Aussies into 168 countries and costs $206, which also translates to 15 hours of minimum-wage work.

11 Best Australia Experiences

Which passport would you like to hold in addition to your own?

–By Dori Saltzman

woman taking selfie in front of volcanoWe’re a little old-fashioned here at IndependentTraveler.com, but even we acknowledge that the selfie phenomenon isn’t going anywhere. We’ve even indulged once or twice while on our travels. But sometimes we’re struck dumb by the sheer audacity and, yes, stupidity of people who stop to take a selfie in the most downright rude, inconvenient and dangerous places.

Here are just a few places and situations we really don’t think mix well with selfies.

In (or even near!) an erupting volcano: Canadian adventurer George Kourounis was well equipped for the surrounding environment when he stopped to take a selfie as he descended into a boiling lava lake on Vanuatu. Dressed in an extreme heat-resistant hazmat suit, Kourounis survived his exploit, but that doesn’t mean others should follow suit.

On the edge of a cliff: Not all who take such selfie risks survive them. An Italian teenager died after falling while trying to take a selfie on a cliff high above jagged rocks in the seaside town of Taranto, Italy in June 2014. And in August 2014, a Polish couple visiting Portugal in August 2014 fell to their deaths when they ventured too near the edge of a beachside cliff.

With wild animals: Unless you’re a professional animal trainer working with a critter you’ve raised from infancy, we highly recommend skipping the selfie if you’re anywhere near a wild animal. Not only do you risk your life — as these two boys did when they decided to take selfies with a wild elephant, only to be trampled to death — but even if you survive, you may pay a high price for the stunt. A British man who snapped selfies of himself running away from bulls in Pamplona, Spain was fined $4,100 for his stupidity.

Near an object moving at high-speed: Yes, in the right light and with the right shutter speed a moving vehicle can make for a beautiful photograph, but that doesn’t mean you need to be in the pic. Getting too close to a moving train or car is never a good idea. Take this man from Oregon who was killed by an Amtrak train when he walked onto the tracks to pose for a selfie with the train in the background.

Stepping Past the Rope: Stepping over the rope inside a museum to get closer to a piece of art for a selfie isn’t going to kill you, but it certainly could get you into trouble. And it’s definitely going to anger other tourists for whom you’re ruining their view. Some museums, like Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, are putting the kibosh on selfies so that visitors can view art in peace. Most museums continue to allow visitors to snap selfies but have banned the selfie stick, saying it poses a threat to others and the art.

What do you think of the selfie phenomenon, and have you ever seen anyone taking a stupid or dangerous selfie?

–By Dori Saltzman

road sign that says rewards aheadSwapping unused airline miles for magazine subscriptions is so passe. Forget Rolling Stone magazine — use those miles to go backstage at a rock concert or snag tickets to the 2015 Billboard Music Awards. Music doesn’t interest you? How about an authentic replica of Gandalf’s “Magical Silver Scarf” from the Lord of the Rings movies? Made of 100 percent New Zealand wool, it’s woven by the same weavers who made some of the costumes for the movies.

These are just two of the many unusual rewards frequent fliers can turn their award miles in for nowadays.

Research company IdeaWorks, in partnership with Switchfly, recently reviewed the frequent flier programs of 160 airlines, highlighting 25 of the most unusual and innovative reward options in the report, “Airlines Woo Members with Wild, Weird and Wonderful Rewards.”

Offerings range from unique products to one-of-a-kind travel experiences, and everything in between. Some can be “bought” straight up with miles, while others have to be bid on in auctions or won in raffles.

Here is just a taste of some of the most unique rewards on offer:

* ANA All Nippon Airways: For 15,000 miles you’ll get a four-course meal for two — with Champagne — at the Lexus experience store in Tokyo.

* EVA Air: For 100,000 miles you’ll get access to a flight simulator and trainer for a 90-minute session.

* El Al: For 120 points (plus $60) you can propose to your partner with the line’s Inflight Marriage Proposal Kit, which includes a bottle of wine and two elegant glasses delivered by the flight attendant after she has said yes, plus premium chocolates.

* Cathay Pacific: 15,000 miles gets you a very unique eight-hour Hong Kong handicraft tour that includes visits to a tailor, shoemaker and wood engraver.

* Avianca: A few slices of New York City’s famed pizza can be had for 5,803 miles. It’s part of a walking tour that stops at three pizzerias in several Manhattan neighborhoods.

* Qantas: For a whopping 536,500 points you can take part in Earthwatch’s Conserving Koala Country program in Australia. You’ll spend 10 days in Great Otway National Park in Victoria conducting measurements, collecting samples and tracking koalas by radio. Room and board are included.

* Air Canada: For 128,000 miles parents can purchase a $1,000 (CAD) gift certificate to a Me to We Adventure and Volunteer trip for their child. Participants may lay bricks for a new school, dig for a water project or teach English in a school in destinations like Kenya, Tanzania, India, Ecuador, Ghana and the Amazon.

* Emirates: It only takes 12,000 miles to get a first-level ticket to a Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) football/soccer match with access to the Emirates Club at the stadium.

* Auction and raffle rewards included TAP Portugal’s auction of a four-night cruise; Etihad Airways’ raffle of an Abu Dhabi Grand Prix package for two with four-night hotel stay, VIP race seating and air tickets; and American Airlines’ auction of a Justin Timberlake Live in New York package for two, which included flights, hotel accommodations, transfers, meals and a $600 prepaid credit card.

If you had unlimited air miles, which experience would you select? Or if you could make one up, what would it be?

— written by Dori Saltzman

This week’s brainteaser is a Friday Word Puzzle. We’ll give you a category and the first letters of five cities that fall into that category, and you fill in the rest. Keep in mind that there may be more than one possible response for each letter. For examples, check out this blog post.

Ready to give it a try? Here’s this week’s challenge:

index card puzzle


Enter your list of cities in the comments below. You have until Monday, April 20, 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 logo item. 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 Laura M., who has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Check out the winning entry below.

european capitals


Stay tuned for further chances to win!

— created by Dori Saltzman

This week’s brainteaser is a Friday Word Puzzle. We’ll give you a category and the first letters of five countries that fall into that category, and you fill in the rest. Keep in mind that there may be more than one possible response for each letter. For examples, check out this blog post.

Ready to give it a try? Here’s this week’s challenge:

index card puzzle


Enter your list of countries in the comments below. You have until Monday, March 30, 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 logo item. 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 Ginger, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Check out the winning entry below.

countries with flag carrying airlines


Stay tuned for further chances to win!

— created by Dori Saltzman