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Just when you might be tempted to start tuning out those boring in-flight safety videos, Air New Zealand has come out with what it’s calling “The Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made” — and it’s hard to argue with the title. The new video was shot to celebrate the final movie in the “Hobbit” trilogy, filmed in New Zealand and slated to debut in theaters on December 17.

The video features elves, dwarves, wizards, orcs and even Elijah Wood, who played the most famous hobbit of all in the blockbuster “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. But the true star of the show may just be New Zealand’s sweeping landscapes, which leave no doubt as to why the country was chosen to play Middle-earth.

Check out the video below:



Not ready to leave Middle-earth? Check out Air New Zealand’s previous Tolkien-themed safety video.

More fun in-flight videos:
Betty White Stars in Latest Air New Zealand Safety Video
Bear “Man vs. Wild” Grylls Takes On In-Flight Safety
Richard Simmons Sweats to a New Flight Safety Video

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Today’s post is part of a weekly series called “Travel Toss-Up,” in which we ask you to take your pick between two amazing travel experiences.

This week’s toss-up offers a choice of two tourist sites associated with classic novels.

Would you rather…

… tour the Hobbiton village in New Zealand (based on Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” series), or …

hobbiton matamata new zealand lord of the rings



… visit Green Gables, the Prince Edward Island farm that inspired the “Anne of Green Gables” books?

green gables prince edward island


Hobbiton is located near Matamata on the North Island of New Zealand. The village, used as a set for Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” movie trilogies, is now open for tours. “Anne of Green Gables” fans will recognize the Green Gables home in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island. L.M. Montgomery, the author of the famous book series, visited the farm often when she was growing up (it belonged to her grandfather’s cousins), and used it as inspiration for the home of her lovable red-headed orphan.

9 Great Authors and the Places That Shaped Them

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Today’s post is part of a weekly series called “Travel Toss-Up,” in which we ask you to take your pick between two amazing travel experiences.

This week’s toss-up offers a choice of two stunning lakes.

Would you rather…

… visit Lake Bled, a glacier lake in Slovenia, or …

lake bled slovenia



… check out Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, fringed with volcanoes?

lake atitlan guatemala


Slovenia’s Lake Bled is located in the Julian Alps. Aside from its natural beauty, the lake’s biggest draw is medieval Bled Castle, which dates back to the 11th century. Lake Atitlan is said to be the deepest in Central America and is surrounded by volcanoes and Mayan villages.

Photos: The World’s Coolest Lakes

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

This week’s travel puzzle is part of our ongoing Flag Friday series of challenges. Can you identify which nation the following flag belongs to?


Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, October 13, 2014, 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 Judy Jones, who correctly guessed that this week’s flag was from Kazakhstan. Judy has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

That’s right — it’s time for another round-up of silly travel signs! (Check out our first two installments here and here.) Got a picture of your own to share? Feel free to submit it on our Facebook page, in the comments below or by email at feedback@independenttraveler.com.

do not start the engine until the boat is in the water

Reader Allison Duke Newham send this one to us from Nice, France. There goes our plan to launch our boat right from the beach. …


parking sign stuttgart

Of this photo, reader Jo Cool La writes, “I always got a kick out of this sign in Stuttgart, Germany, near our apartment.” We have no idea who this couple is supposed to represent, but we love their style!


bitte danke toilet sign

Jo Cool La provides another German gem, this time from her hotel room in Garmisch-Partenkirkchen. Guess this property has had enough of cleaning up after people with, er, poor aim.


funny tissue box

This last one from Jo Cool La isn’t exactly a sign, but we’re including it because it made us smile. Maybe these tissues are for those times that you laugh until you cry.

Have you spotted any wonky signs on your journeys? If so, send them our way: feedback@independenttraveler.com.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Today’s post is part of a weekly series called “Travel Toss-Up,” in which we ask you to take your pick between two amazing travel experiences.

This week’s toss-up offers a choice of two potential travel upgrades.

Would you rather…

… upgrade your hotel room to one with an ocean view, or …

ocean view hotel



… trade in your economy rental car for a convertible?

convertible


Some travelers would rather wake up to a sweet view, while others would rather feel the wind in their hair as they explore the local sights. Which one describes you?

5 Affordable Ways to Upgrade Your Vacation

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

airplane seatsOn a recent flight to Iceland, something happened to me that I’d never experienced before: I had an entire row to myself on a plane.

Sure, I’ve occasionally had a middle seat open when I was on the aisle, good for some much-appreciated extra elbow room. But for the most part, I’m used to flying on completely full planes and worrying less about whether I’ll have an open seat next to me than about whether there will be an open spot in the overhead bin for my carry-on. (Anyone else been forced to gate-check a rollaboard at least half a dozen times?)

Of course, full planes are ideal for the airlines — more passengers equal more profit. And these days the airlines are doing a good job of selling out their flights more often than not. According to a press release from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the number of passengers who flew on all U.S. airlines between January and June 2014 was the highest it’s been since 2008 (before the economic crash).

Surviving the Middle Seat

So that’s why my empty row — on a red-eye flight, no less! — felt like such a miracle. Our plane was delayed briefly on the tarmac by a lighting issue, and as the technicians worked on it I watched the open door with an eagle eye, certain that the missing couple would show up, breathless after a sprint through the airport and ready to claim their seats. But then we were pushing back from the gate and the space was mine, all mine.

Alas, there was one minor snafu: the armrests wouldn’t go up, which did rather defeat the purpose of having a whole row to myself. Still, I was able to lean back against the window with my knees bent, and toward the end of the flight I figured out that I could even lie down in the fetal position with my hips angled out around the armrest. It’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to heaven in economy class.

9 Must-Dos Before a Long-Haul Flight

What’s the best surprise you’ve ever encountered while flying?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Today’s post is part of a weekly series called “Travel Toss-Up,” in which we ask you to take your pick between two amazing travel experiences.

This week’s toss-up offers a choice of two destinations offering delicious fried dishes.

Would you rather…

… eat fresh-caught fish on a beach in Trinidad, or …

fried fish maracas beach trinidad



… nosh on falafel on the streets of Cairo, Egypt?

falafel egypt


As in much of the Caribbean, fried fish is a popular dish on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago. In fact, there’s even an annual Trinidad Fish Festival featuring live music, an artisan street fair and, of course, plenty of fresh-caught fish. Falafel, a ball of deep-fried chickpeas or fava beans, is a common street food across the Middle East; it’s thought to have originated in Egypt, where you can still grab one of these tasty snacks wrapped in pita bread and garnished with tahini sauce.

Food and Travel: The Ultimate Guide

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Each month, we’ll highlight one new trip review submitted by an IndependentTraveler.com reader. If your review is featured, you’ll win an IndependentTraveler.com logo item!

pasta sicily italyIn this month’s featured review, reader Carolyn Boyle gives an independent traveler’s perspective on a group tour of Sicily: “The welcome dinner was held not far from the hotel at Trattoria del Buongustaio,” writes Carolyn. “Our group was seated at small tables and shared traditional Sicilian appetizers: bruschetta, arancini (fried rice balls), crocche (fried mashed potato balls), fried cheese. We had a pasta course, a meat course of veal with artichokes, dessert and plenty of wine. The food was pretty good but it is always hard to accommodate a large group in a small restaurant.”

Read the rest of Carolyn’s review here: Sicily/Tuscany Part 1: “Crossroads of Sicily” Package Tour. Carolyn has won an IndependentTraveler.com duffel bag!

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Today’s post is part of a weekly series called “Travel Toss-Up,” in which we ask you to take your pick between two amazing travel experiences.

This week’s toss-up offers a choice of two destinations with an orange theme.

Would you rather…

… celebrate the Festival of Lights in Chiang Mai, Thailand, or …

festival of lights chiang mai thailand



… explore Arizona’s Antelope Canyon?

antelope slot canyon arizona


Loi Krathong (also spelled Loy Krathong) is a festival of lights celebrated in Thailand and parts of Myanmar (Burma) and Laos, usually in November. The festival features lanterns like those shown above, as well as krathongs, or floating candles that are released into a river as offerings to the spirits. Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon near Page, Arizona, famous for its curving, colorful rock formations.

9 Places You Haven’t Visited — But Should

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter