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There’s no need to go to a photo shop or your local 24-hour pharmacy to get your passport photos made. You are allowed to take them at home. But don’t take a selfie — or at least don’t make it obviously a selfie — because your U.S. passport application could be denied.

holding a passport and boarding pass


Here are 10 other interesting facts about U.S. passports:

1. U.S. passports are made with a whopping 60 different materials provided by 16 different vendors. The assembly process is considered top secret, according to this fascinating Gizmodo article.

2. Benjamin Franklin whipped up a makeshift passport on his own printing press for a former Continental Congressman to travel freely in Europe in 1780. The document was considered one of the first recorded U.S. passports, according to Smithsonian.com.

3. In 2016 the U.S. Department of State issued 18.7 million passports. That’s more than three times higher than the number issued just two decades earlier.

4. The United States was the first country to issue machine-readable passports, in 1981.

5. U.S. citizens are required to use U.S. passports when entering the country, even if they hold dual citizenship.

6. Last year there were 131.8 million valid passports in circulation, according to the State Department. However, 18 million of them are set to expire this year, which is about 4 million more than last year, according to the Sun Sentinel. That’s because in 2007, the U.S. government made it a requirement to have a passport to fly or drive to any international destination. Previously, you could go to such spots as the Caribbean or Mexico without one.

7. Does the president need to travel with a passport? Yes, according to Slate, but he travels with a black diplomatic passport — one of three types of passports the U.S. government issues (the others are the blue tourist passport and “official” maroon passports, typically used by the military).

8. If you’ve gotten extreme plastic surgery, tattooed your face, or lost or gained a significant amount of weight, you could be required to get a new passport.

9. The U.S. passport is tied for third (along with six European countries) as the most powerful passport in the world, according to PassportIndex.org. It allows access to 156 countries without a visa; Germany leads with 158 countries.

10. Among the things you shouldn’t wear when having your passport photo taken: Eyeglasses, headphones, hats, temporary tattoos and uniforms of any sort. Unacceptable photos are the No. 1 reason passport applications are denied, according to the State Department.

10 Things You Don’t Know About Passports
12 Ways to Cruise Through Customs and Immigration

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

Before you head to the airport for a flight, it’s a wise idea to check how long you should expect to wait at the security checkpoint. Knowing this info ahead of time can help you decide if you should depart earlier than you planned and get you mentally prepared if there’s a long queue.

woman on phone at airport


Unfortunately, it’s hard to know where to find this information. The Transportation Security Administration provides updates on its website, but the data isn’t updated consistently, and it only covers U.S. airports. Major airports with their own apps and Twitter feeds generally don’t provide real-time checkpoint wait times.

A number of travel tech companies are trying to do better, feeding historic data into super-secret algorithms to determine airport security wait times and making that info available in apps. Using Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport as an example, I took a look at a few of these free airport security apps — along with the TSA’s website — to see how they compare.

My TSA: The TSA has a simple-to-use website called “View Security Wait Times.” But the agency relies on fliers to provide updates, and that isn’t happening often enough. On Monday evening, for example, the wait time at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport hadn’t been updated on TSA’s website in six hours. Was there still only a 10-minute wait at the main checkpoint? It’s impossible to know.

flightSpeak: This app provides security wait times plus maps, dining options, Wi-Fi info and direct links to airport Twitter accounts for hundreds of airports around the world. On the main page for Atlanta on flightSpeak, it showed Atlanta’s wait time as 10 to 20 minutes. Yet this was not wholly accurate.

If you happen to click on that timespan on the app — there’s no prompt to click on it; I just happened to touch that feature when exploring the page — it shows a new page explaining that the 10- to 20-minute wait is the aggregate time for the entire airport. It then breaks down wait times according to five checkpoint locations. The main checkpoint, it says, is actually a 30- to 40-minute wait. So the wait could potentially be four times longer than I had been expecting. And I don’t know when the data was last updated, because it doesn’t say.

MiFlight: This savvy app crowdsources wait times at more than 150 airports. When I selected Atlanta’s Concourse F, in the international terminal, MiFlight told me the wait was 30 minutes, with info updated within the past five minutes.

The app is pretty in its design and singular in its purpose, but it took me a few tries to figure out how to navigate.

Fleet: This crowdsourced app provides info on a few dozen major airports. When I entered a late-night flight from Atlanta to Santiago, Chile, the app told me that my particular Delta flight has a history of being on time 93 percent of the time, then revealed that the check-in desk and security lines were “not crowded.” As of when? And how do you define “not crowded”? It was hard to know.

Strangely enough, though, I felt a greater comfort level with the vaguer description than I did with other apps’ specific time frames.

The app goes on to provide additional helpful details about the flight, including flying time, the cost of checked bags, even how much carbon I used for this flight.

Bottom line: None of these sources seems 100 percent trustworthy 100 percent of the time. Use them as a general guideline, but continue to follow best practices for domestic and international departures based on when you’re flying.

16 Ways to Get Through the Airport Faster
10 Things Not to Do at Airport Security

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

Every year, the European Union selects two cities to be designated European Capitals of Culture. Activities all year long show off the cities’ charms. Destinations large and small are selected; some are well known, while others may be new to travelers.

The latter is likely the case with the 2017 selections: Aarhus, Denmark, and Pafos, Cyprus. Here’s a primer on both cities.

aarhus denmark


Aarhus, Denmark
Where: In the geographic center of Denmark, northwest of Copenhagen.

Why It’s Noteworthy: The second largest city in Denmark (after Copenhagen), Aarhus was founded as a fortified Viking settlement. Today it’s best known as music epicenter, especially for jazz and rock aficionados. Cruise ships stop there, and its port is one of the most important in Northern Europe.

Top Sights: Many of the city’s 1.4 million annual visitors tour its art and historical museums, the Old Town Open Air Museum and nearby Botanical Gardens, and the Tivoli Friheden amusement park. Wandering the city, you’ll see architecture representing a number of eras, from Romanesque and Gothic to Nordic classicism and Functionalism.

Don’t Miss: Nibbling on a typical Danish smorrebrod (buttered bread) at one of the city’s oldest taverns, Peter Gift, which dates back to 1906.

Special Events: Festivals, exhibits, author talks, concerts and other activities are planned. The city will be decked out with special garden installations between April and September. The Royal Danish Theatre will perform a Viking saga called “Rode Orm” from May 24 through July 1.

More Info: Aarhus2017.dk

agios georgios pafos cyprus


Pafos, Cyprus
Where: On the southwest coast of the Mediterranean island.

Why It’s Noteworthy: Pafos (also spelled Paphos) is home to Aphrodite’s Rock, a beach outcrop that’s considered to be the birthplace of the Greek goddess of love and beauty.

Top Sights: The whole city is on UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage List, and picturesque scenes are at every turn. The Temple of Aphrodite attracts many pilgrims. Pafos also has a Byzantine castle, catacombs and a museum displaying archaeological artifacts.


Don’t Miss: An afternoon exploring the cliffs and beach near Aphrodite’s Rock. If you take a swim around the rock, it’s said that you will be blessed with eternal beauty.

Special Events: Because Pafos boasts spectacular weather year-round, organizers are planning many activities outdoors. Expect monthly exhibits, walking tours, performances, food events and nature outings.

More Info: Pafos2017.eu

Planning a Trip to Europe: Your 10-Step Guide
Top 25 Ways to Save on Europe Travel

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

It’s hard to believe there are at least 55,000 museums in the world, according to the International Council of Museums, with more than a dozen more opening in 2017. Here are the six we’re most excited about.

louvre abu dhabi


(Note that all scheduled opening dates are subject to change.)

Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, Cape Town, South Africa: Perhaps the most anticipated opening in the world is this first-ever museum in Africa dedicated to contemporary art. It’s being touted as Africa’s most significant museum in more than a century. It opens September 23.

Museum of the Bible, Washington D.C., United States: A space dedicated to the history and narrative of the Bible will open near the National Mall this fall. Noteworthy displays at the museum include one of the world’s largest private collections of rare biblical texts, a walk-through replica of first-century Nazareth and fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Louvre Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates: Ten years ago, officials from France and Abu Dhabi signed an agreement to open an offshoot of the famed Parisian art museum. After many delays, it appears the museum will open this year, though officials aren’t confirming exactly when. In a stunning building by the sea, the museum will feature permanent collections and masterpieces on loan from the Louvre in Paris.

Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara, Jakarta, Indonesia: Another museum first: Indonesia’s first-ever museum of modern art. Opening in November, the private museum known as the MACAN will include 800 pieces from the 19th century through today.

Yves Saint Laurent Museums, Paris, France, and Marrakech, Morocco: Two museums dedicated to the legendary fashion designer will open in two cities of importance to him. Saint Laurent’s Parisian 30-year office and atelier will house one, and the other will be in the designer’s adopted city, not far from where his ashes were scattered after he died. Vogue reports that the museums will open in September.

Museum Barberini, Potsdam, Germany: Europe’s newest museum is a fine collection of Old Masters, Impressionism and modern art housed in a restored palace dating back to 1771. The museum is based around the private collection of businessman Hasso Plattner, its founder and patron. The museum opens January 23.

12 Great Museums You’ve Never Heard Of
The Best 9 Cities to See Cool Public Art

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

Elia Locardi met his wife Naomi when they were teens in the Florida Keys. Today the Locardis have no home. They’re perpetual nomads, traipsing around the globe taking photos and videos, writing about their experiences and leading tours.

This March will mark the fifth consecutive year the 30-something couple has been on the road. They’re the subject of a new travel documentary by SmugMug Films, the video wing of the photo storage and sharing site SmugMug. The videos tell the behind-the-lens stories of some of its most interesting photographer users, and the Locardis certainly fit that bill. Check out the documentary below.


We caught up with the Locardis to learn more about five years with the world as their home.

Independent Traveler.com: Do you have a permanent home at all? An apartment? A mailbox?
Elia Locardi:
The easiest answer is: “It’s complicated.” Selling nearly everything we owned, packing the remaining things into a five-foot-by-five-foot storage unit and leaving our permanent address behind in 2012, we relied on close friends to collect our mail for us and let us use their home address.

Naomi Locardi: To ease the burden on our friends, last year we set up an account with a family-owned shipping store in Central Florida. They now send, receive and hold shipments and mail for us, no matter how many months it takes for us to pick them up.

IT: When did the “travel bug” first hit you?
EL:
We’ve always wanted to travel. It’s just that for most of our young adult lives, we focused so much on our work life and careers. In the process of trying to live the “American Dream,” we always dismissed world travel as something that we’d never be able to afford. My entire outlook on life changed during a trip to Italy in 2009, and we decided to make both photography and travel our highest priority.

NL: That trip to Italy was the first time I ever left the U.S., and when our plane took off for Rome, it was quite emotional for me. My entire life I had dreamed of visiting Italy, and that dream finally becoming a reality moved me to tears. That’s just one of the many reasons Italy means so much to us.

cinque terre at night


IT: How has technology made this choice of lifestyle possible? Do you think you could have done this 20 or 30 years ago, for instance?
EL:
Traveling the world in the past would be much more intimate, and a lot of destinations would still be relatively untouched and pure. That being said, that very same intimacy was largely due to the lack of global communication. Remember, it wasn’t so long ago that we were using payphones and calling cards. Simple things like staying in contact with family was extremely difficult, so along with that intimacy with a place, you would have to also accept more isolation.

NL: These days we really tend to take technology for granted, especially when it comes to personal communication. Now, at any moment and no matter where I happen to be in the world, I can easily send a text or Facebook message to my mom and dad.

IT: What is the hardest thing about living permanently on the road?
NL:
Simple things, like staying connected. Sometimes a reliable internet connection can be very hard to come by. Other than that, you’d be surprised how quickly you can adapt to this lifestyle.

EL: When you boil it down, it’s not home that you miss, it’s the feeling of home. And those feelings can be replicated no matter where you go.

IT: Traveling as a couple can’t be a bed of roses all the time! What advice do you have for other couples or groups to ensure they maintain peace and happiness on the road?
NL:
When you travel full-time, you’re basically always together and most often you’re sharing a small hotel room or apartment. Since we also work together, it can be a challenge to give each other the space we may need. It really takes being able to communicate to each other when those times are and respecting one another’s varying needs.

EL: This type of lifestyle requires a strong relationship and the ability to be very courteous and understanding. If you want to travel perpetually long term, try to find ways you can both spend time together, and have revitalizing activities apart as well.

elia and naomi locardi hot air balloon


IT: Tell us about an interaction you had with a local that made a big impact on you and has stayed with you.
NL:
During our time in Bhutan early last year, our guide helped arrange a photo shoot with a local woman who was a nomadic yak herder. We were photographing her in the morning as she went about gathering milk from the herd. After she finished, she ran along with the herd to guide them out to pasture, and I followed.

As we started back toward the rest of our team, she grabbed my hand and we walked hand in hand all the way back to her shelter. As we approached, they asked why we were holding hands, and I replied, “When a local Bhutanese woman grabs your hand, you don’t ask questions; you simply take her hand back and enjoy the moment.” It was a special moment, and a reminder of the beauty and kindness of the human spirit that unites us all.

IT: And now let’s talk destinations: What were the favorite places you visited in 2016?
EL:
In Bhutan, it’s hard to describe how wonderful it is to be there. It’s unique to the world, and the people there are so genuinely kind that you can’t help but feel welcomed at every turn.

Greece stands out because we spent five weeks working on multiple projects there. We celebrated Naomi’s birthday with a candlelight dinner on the beach in Serifos, a gorgeous little island in the western Cyclades. After that much time living the Mediterranean island lifestyle, it was hard to leave!

NL: This is always one of the most difficult questions to answer! Every place has its wonderful aspects, and I seem to fall in love with just about everywhere we go in some way or another. It always comes back to the people in the end for me, though. Sharing trips to Bhutan, Japan, Italy, Greece and Iceland. We had the incredible pleasure of traveling with some truly wonderful people for several professional projects and also during some photo tours we were leading.

IT: Which destinations are you planning to visit in 2017?
EL:
I’m looking forward to visiting northern India to photograph wild tigers and Patagonia in Chile to photograph the stunning landscapes.

NL: Aside from the ones that Elia mentioned, I’m also hoping to make it to Morocco, Cuba and Norway.

Check out more travel interviews!

9 Best Places to Travel in 2017
18 Ways to Keep the Peace with Your Travel Companion

— interview conducted by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

Tangled charger cables and knotty earbud cords have quickly become one of the most irksome pet peeves of the technology era, especially for travelers. Raise your hand if you’ve ever dug around in your purse or backpack on a plane to retrieve your headphones, only to pull out a jumbled snarl containing a pen, a comb and old gum wrappers.

tangled cord earbuds


Wondering how to keep cords organized and tangle-free while traveling? Try these six items.

1. Binder clips: Binder clips are a great tool for keeping your workspace organized, and they’re helpful when traveling too. On a plane I clip my headphones to my shirt, to ensure I don’t drop them. You can also snap a binder clip onto your seat pocket and hang your headphones or earbuds from them.

2. Old eyeglass case: A great storage solution for a phone charger, an old case for your eyeglasses or sunglasses will keep the cord from tangling and protect it from damage.

3. Twist ties: You could use the ones that come with a box of trash bags, though they often aren’t very sturdy. Or purchase ones specifically designed for cord management. EliteTechGear sells a pack of 16 bendable, reusable silicone-covered wires that keep your cords nice and neat.

4. Cord “tacos”: How cute are these? Little leather or fabric pouches with a snap keep cords looped well. A number of vendors on Etsy, such as Beaudin Designs, sell them for around $5 each. Or you could follow these simple instructions from the blogger Local Adventurer and make your own.

5. Grid-It Organizer: With a number of tight elastic loops of various sizes, the Grid-It Organizer by Cocoon will keep cords and their devices super snug. The loops can be reconfigured into the design that best meets your needs, and it easily slips into a carry-on bag. With some modest sewing skills you could make a similar organizer following these DIY instructions from The Labeled Life.

6. Roll-up or fold-up pouches: If elastic straps aren’t your thing, you can tuck earbuds and chargers into the pockets of roll-up or fold-up pouches, such as this monogrammed leather roll-up from Mark and Graham or a mesh fabric organizer from Patu, and then tie the bundle together.

12 Best Travel Gadgets for Any Trip
How to Pack Efficiently: 8 Products That Can Help

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

A January tradition among travel experts and publications is to present their lists of the best destinations for the new year.

moraine lake canada


We love knowing what’s hot and what’s not, but there’s often no rhyme or reason to the selections in many of these lists. And some are so long that they don’t help you decide where to go. AFAR Magazine, for example, picked an overwhelming 100 places.

To help you decide which lists are the most useful, we read every “best of 2017” travel article we could find and selected the following as the best among them.

Lonely Planet – Best in Travel 2017: Canada tops the travel guide’s Top 10 Countries list, thanks to a favorable exchange rate for Americans and planned celebrations for the nation’s 150th anniversary (including free admission to all national parks). Its “best of” site also includes a list of the best value destinations (Nepal comes out on top) and best U.S. destinations (Asheville, North Carolina).

Forbes – 10 Coolest Places to Go in 2017: Forbes’ offering stands out because it’s different than every other “best of” list out there. Destinations were selected for their coolness quotient and include spots you may never have heard of before. For instance, there’s a spot within the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park in Washington state that’s considered the quietest place in all of North America.

Travel + Leisure – 50 Best Places to Travel in 2017: Fifty places is a lot, but we like the research that went into the list from the monthly travel magazine. Editors spend several months surveying writers and travel specialists around the world. The alphabetical list includes Cape Town, South Africa, which debuts a new museum of contemporary African art this year; Helsinki, Finland, which is celebrating 100 years of independence in December; and Jackson Hole, Wyoming, as the spot to view a total solar eclipse in August.

National Geographic Travel – Best Trips: While it’s not evident why certain spots were selected, we nonetheless like this feature because the page is so beautifully designed and interactive. Places are bundled into categories such as nature, cities and culture.

New York Times – 52 Places to Go in 2017: We always savor this annual list, which is long enough (and includes enough multimedia extras) to linger over throughout the month.

And don’t miss our own 9 Best Places to Travel in 2017, which recommends countries, cities and regions around the globe.

The Best Travel Destinations for Every Month
9 Places You Haven’t Visited — But Should

Where are you planning to travel in 2017?

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

Writer and film producer Patricia Steffy rose early one morning last week in Playa Ocotal, Costa Rica, to walk among the trees and look for monkeys. But instead of searching the trees or watching the sun rise or listening to the surf crash on the beach, she thought about her flight home.

hiker looking at mountain view


What time should she leave for the airport? What would the weather be like in Minneapolis for her connecting flight? Would the customs app on her phone be accurate?

You would have thought her flight was that afternoon. But it was five days away.

Steffy, who writes the blog Traveling Without a Net, has set a New Year’s resolution to live more in the present and stop worrying about tomorrow. “I let what might happen in five days overshadow what is happening right now,” Steffy says. “It’s probably one of my worst travel tendencies, and I’m hoping to banish it — or at least lessen it — in 2017.”

She’s not the only frequent traveler who has made a travel resolution for 2017.

Adam Groffman, the writer of Travels of Adam, just spent six weeks traveling throughout the United States, so we’re not surprised by his response. “My resolution is to travel a little closer to home,” said Groffman, who is based in Berlin. “More staycations, weekend getaways with friends and family visits.”

Ian Cumming, founder of the international community Travel Massive, is feeling the same way. He said he plans to explore cities close to home — which happens to be the fabulous Sydney, Australia — and not feel like he needs to escape to far-flung places. “There’s most likely something just around the corner in your neighborhood that you never knew about,” he says.

Andrea Gerak, a singer and writer from Kazincbarcika, Hungary, has a goal of taking her 75-year-old mother on her first trip outside the country. “Although this has been a dream for her, she could never do it, sacrificing herself for the family and others. And now it’s her time!” Gerak explains. They likely will go to a seaside destination in Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia or Bulgaria, Gerak says.

As a perpetual traveler, Dariece Swift of Goats on the Road is never home. Yet her 2016 schedule wasn’t everything she wanted it to be because she was overbooked with house-sitting gigs and other commitments. She’s now resolved to keep her schedule freer in 2017. “Next year is going to be a year of continent- and country-hopping, with no responsibilities,” she writes via email from Buenos Aires.

James Feess, half of the duo who writes The Savvy Backpacker, is resolved to spend less money during the year so that he can splurge on more experiences while traveling. “For example, a few months ago we took a Vespa day tour through the Tuscan countryside. It was the highlight of our time in Italy,” Feess writes in an email. “Of course, we can’t afford to do something that extravagant every day, but that extra $200 was money well spent.”

Dan Miller, the writer of the blog Points with a Crew, plans to “stop worrying about finding the absolutely, positively best deal and just start booking trips and going places.”

Marek Bron, the blogger behind Indie Traveller, wants to inject his travels with more spontaneity — the way he did when he first started traveling. “Recently I’ve found myself terribly bogged down in trying to decide my next trip, and falling into the old trap of always trying to find the ‘perfect destination’ and the ‘perfect time to go’,” Bron explains. “For 2017, I’m promising myself to be a bit more spontaneous again.”

A nice complement to that is Kristin Addis’ resolution to “introduce more serendipity” into her travels. How so? Starting in February, the Be My Travel Muse writer is planning to explore East Africa for 45 days without a plan. “I’m going to road trip across a few of the neighboring countries without any plans or agendas to see where it takes me,” says the Southern California-based blogger.

Max Hartshorne, editor of GoNOMAD Travel, plans to take fewer but more meaningful trips in 2017. “I have been taking 12 trips a year for the past 15 years, and while I love it, I need to focus on business matters,” he says. “Now watch: I will get a chance to visit somewhere new and bang, out with this resolution!”

Wendy Redal’s resolution that has more to do with what she does once she return from a trip than during it. The Boulder, Colorado, writer and editor is pledging to organize her travel photos within a week of returning from a trip. “Or else they will continue to languish on my hard drive with the other 20,000 trip pictures I’ve taken in the last God-knows-how-many years,” Redal says.

And after visiting 23 countries in 2016, Collette and Scott Stohler plan to spend more time in the United States in 2017. The Southern California-based couple behind the the luxury and adventure travel blog Roamaroo have national parks on their radar.

“Sometimes,” Collette Stohler says, “it’s not until you leave your home that you truly treasure what was there all along.”

The Healing Power of Travel
9 Products to Help You Stay Healthy While Traveling

What is your New Year’s travel resolution? Post it in the comments below!

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

From amateur shoots by first-time travelers to travel company promos and professionally produced films, 2016 has been a stellar year for capturing the world in video. Below are the four best travel videos of the bunch (plus a bonus video that I simply can’t get out of my mind).

The Inspiring Story of Blind Surfer Derek Rabelo
Many travel company videos are straightforward commercials promoting their products. But Turkish Airlines took a different approach this year with a touching film about blind surfer Derek Rabelo. His perspective on the ocean, for example, forces you to reexamine yours. More than 9 million people have viewed the three-minute video, which is in Turkish with English subtitles.



New York City Drone Film Festival Montage
Drone videos are all the rage among amateur and professional videographers alike, and so many are stunning that it’s hard to pick one as the best of the year. The 2016 New York City Drone Film Festival released a 2.5-minute montage of the best scenes from its 2016 submissions. My favorite snippet was the volcano flyby.



China: A Skier’s Journey
Chad Sayers and Forrest Coots contrast two ski cultures in China — the emerging middle class that is starting to embrace skiing as a leisure sport, and peoples who have skied for thousands of years as a means of survival. The staff at Vimeo selected this 16.5-minute film as the top travel pick of 2016.



This Magic World
Mexican student Mariana Osorio won International Student.com’s annual travel video contest this year with a sweet and sad 4.5-minute video that’s part autobiography, part travelogue. Osorio wrote an original song about how her violin skills gave her the ticket out of her small Mexican village — which is plagued by drug cartel activity — and into New York City.



Bonus Video: Autumn Leaves
Here’s the bonus video. Admittedly, it was first shared in late 2015, but I didn’t have the opportunity to see it until 2016. It’s easily one of my favorite videos of all time. A polite Korean tourist visiting Florence surprised some local street musicians by asking if he could join them. He took up a spot next to the contrabass and led a peppy rendition of “Autumn Leaves.” Though the musicians don’t speak the same language, they communicate beautifully through music, and feed off each other’s energy in this impromptu jam session near the Florence Duomo. The video is pure joy, and captures the essence of what travel is all about.



4 Travel Videos That’ll Make You Want to Get Up and Go
5 Recommended TED Talks on Travel

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

For the second year in a row, one hotel chain’s rewards program has been chosen as the provider of the best overall benefits to travelers.

hotel reception


Wyndham Rewards is the top overall hotel rewards program, according to a study by WalletHub, a website that provides credit advice to consumers. Wyndham’s program appeals just as much to those who travel infrequently as it does to those who travel a lot, and it ranked highly for its ease of achieving top membership status, number of hotels where rewards can be used and minimal blackout dates, among other attributes.

WalletHub pitted 12 hotel rewards programs against one other, examining 21 key metrics, including point values, blackout dates, brand exclusions and expiration policies. The top 10 brands, in order:

1. Wyndham Rewards
2. Best Western Rewards
3. Marriott Rewards
4. Club Carlson
5. La Quinta Returns
6. Hyatt Gold Passport
7. Drury Gold Key Club
8. Hilton HHonors
9. Choice Privileges
10. The Ritz-Carlton Rewards

La Quinta Returns was deemed to offer the best rewards value, offering up to $14.17 in rewards value for every $100 the hotel guest spends. Meanwhile, Best Western is the only brand among the 12 whose points do not expire if your account stays inactive for a while. The majority of hotel rewards points expire after 18 to 24 months of inactivity.

The study also found that the majority of the 12 brands have maintained or exceeded their programs’ value this year vs. last year.

“I think the typical consumer generally overvalues the benefits of hotel rewards program membership and underestimates the commitment required to obtain those benefits,” Professor Sung H. Ham of George Washington University wrote as part of the study.

Receiving free nights in a hotel is admittedly attractive, Ham said, but it requires a big commitment from the consumer. “Even if consumers are motivated to achieve the free night, consumers may still overvalue the rewards that can be obtained from being loyal,” Ham said. “Loyal consumers are less likely to engage in price comparisons and may ultimately end up paying more for each stay to earn the free night award.”

That being said, being a part of a hotel loyalty program can often provide non-monetary benefits, such as more personalized service, says Professor Lei Huang of the State University of New York at Fredonia.

Are you a member of a hotel rewards program?

7 Smart Reasons to Join a Hotel Rewards Program
Smart Tactics to Get More from Your Hotel Points
The Trouble with Hotel Reward Programs

–written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma