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When I told people I was taking a vacation to Slovenia, the most common response I got was, “…Where?” The second most common response: “Why?”

To answer the questions in order: Slovenia is a small central European country bordered by Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia. And I went there because I was inspired by photos like these:

lake bohinj slovenia


Bohinij, the country’s largest lake, is part of Triglav National Park.

ljubljana slovenia


The capital city, Ljubljana, is home to a picturesque and colorful Old Town overlooking the Ljubjanica River.

predjama castle slovenia


The spectacularly situated Predjama Castle is built into the side of a cliff and connects to a network of caves.

vintgar gorge slovenia


Visitors can hike a boardwalk path alongside an emerald river at the bottom of Vintgar Gorge.

piran slovenia


When you walk through Piran, you feel as though you’ve stepped into Italy; this seaside town was ruled by Venice for centuries.

gibanica cake slovenia


Gibanica, a traditional Slovenian dessert, is made with apples, poppy seeds, wanuts and cheese.

Slovenia Trip Reviews by Real Travelers
Planning a Trip to Europe: Your 10-Step Guide

Are you interested in visiting Slovenia?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

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: This castle is located in the same alpine town as a more famous royal residence.

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, June 6, 2016, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday 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 Jeff McDowell, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was Germany’s Hohenschwangau Castle. Jeff has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.

See All “Where in the World?” Challenges

— 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, May 30, 2016, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday 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 Nathan Lorenz, who correctly guessed that this week’s flag was from Barbados. Nathan has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Last month, we gave our readers a chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card by submitting a review of a recent trip. We loved reading their submissions, which inspired us with tales of volunteering with elephants in Sri Lanka, cruising around the Mediterranean and tasting wine in South Africa.

hallgrimskirkja blue lagoon reykjavik iceland


Deciding on the winner was hard, but in the end we chose Iceland: A Magical Mystery Tour by Sarah Eaton. Here’s an excerpt from her winning review:

“As we arrived at the secluded farm and looked up into the clear sky, glimmering with thousand of stars, the performance above us was extraordinary. Green lights seem to sway above us in a movement I can only compare to the inside of a lava lamp, slowly wavering across the night sky.” Read the rest!

While we only had one prize to give away, we also wanted to recognize a few runners-up whose reviews are also well worth a read:

Anything for the Elephants! by TS Buchanan: ” Let me introduce Ranmenika. She’s a 40-year-old beauty (elephants can live as long as 80 years) who fell into a well when she was just six. … Ranmenika is currently one of seven elephants under the care of MEF.”

A Third Roman Christmas by Host Ciao: “I walked to visit the Pantheon and then on to Piazza Navona where I planned to wander the huge Christmas fair held there. What a sad sight I found! Instead of booths offering all kinds of food, Christmas decorations, Nativity set pieces, and games, I found exactly six booths of games and a merry-go-round. No one was trying to win a huge stuffed animal at the games or enjoying the ride. A few people were wandering around the famous fountain and only a few were at the restaurants that border much of the square.”

How to Spend Three Perfect Days in Cape Town by Rachael Taft: “Excuse me while I gush, but South African wine is to die for! I wish America would figure this out and stock more of it in regular stores! If you’re looking for a classic South African wine to try, the Pinotage (a red) is a great place to start.”

Two Weeks on the Mediterranean: The Vision of the Seas by Justin Boot: “Montenegro took me by surprise in the best way. The Bay of Kotor is one of the most naturally beautiful and serene places I’ve ever seen. Coming from someone that lives in California and has been to Hawaii multiple times, that’s really saying something. The cruise ship had to navigate a narrow inlet for over an hour, passing by numerous small villages and hills that gracefully sloped up into mountain ranges. The water was clean, calm, and looked almost like a perfect mirror. It’s as if we’d somehow traveled back in time, to a medieval European era.”

Feeling inspired? Write a review of your latest trip!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

This week’s puzzle is a word scramble. Below are the jumbled names of four major cities from around the world, followed by the country where they’re located. Your job is to unscramble them. For example, “IALM, EURP” would be “Lima, Peru.” Identify all four mystery cities to win.

RIIANBO, YAENK

LEASLRIEM, FCRAEN

TIQOU, OCRDAUE

OKBAKGN, NAAIHDTL


Enter your list of unscrambled cities in the comments below. You have until Monday, May 23, 2016, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday 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 Shoba, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Check out the puzzle answers below.

NAIROBI, KENYA

MARSEILLES, FRANCE

QUITO, ECUADOR

BANGKOK, THAILAND


— created by Sarah Schlichter

Catch up on the travel stories you may have missed over the past week.

airport security bin


The TSA Is a Waste of Money That Doesn’t Save Lives and Might Actually Cost Them
Vox makes a provocative case against the beleaguered TSA, which has been under fire in recent weeks for extra-long lines. Not only does the TSA not ensure our safety, the author argues, but it actually causes more deaths (because travelers elect to drive instead of fly to avoid the hassle of security, leading to more road accidents).

The World’s Most Polite Country?
BBC Travel investigates the Japanese concept of omotenashi, a combination of “exquisite politeness” and “a desire to maintain harmony and avoid conflict.” From toilet seats that spring up when you enter a bathroom to people wearing masks to protect others from catching their colds, politeness is a Japanese way of life.

EasyJet Develops a Vibrating Smart Shoe to Help You Navigate a New City
This European discount airline won’t just fly you from one city to another, reports Travel + Leisure — it’s also trying to get you from one neighborhood to another using vibrating sneakers that tell you when to turn. The shoes, called “Sneakairs,” sync up to your smartphone to help direct you with GPS.

Malaria Vaccine Protects Half Who Try It
NBC News reports that an experimental new malaria vaccine protected 55 percent of the volunteers who tested it — which beats out the performance of the current vaccine on the market, which protects just 30 percent. This could benefit future travelers to malaria-stricken regions, but the new vaccine is still years away.

Life on the Other End of an Airline Reservations Line
An AFAR writer got a chance to work as a customer service agent for Delta Air Lines, and discovered the most efficient way to raise a complaint, what the agent can see about you when your call pops up on his or her screen, and how much power a phone agent actually has.

This Is 2016. Why Can’t We Still Book Specific Rooms in a Hotel?
Skift raises a good question: We can book a certain seat on a plane, so why can’t we choose our own hotel room? The answer is that we can … sometimes … and that there are a couple of sites out there that are working to make this capability more widely available.

How Travel Insurance Saved My Life
If you skip buying travel insurance on some trips, you may change your mind after reading this piece from Conde Nast Traveler. After coming down with dengue fever on a trip to Vietnam, the author didn’t get adequate medical treatment until her travel insurance company stepped in to advocate on her behalf.

In the face of government warnings against travel to Iran, these travelers show another side of the country in this thought-provoking video.


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

— written by Sarah Schlichter

With the U.S. National Park Service celebrating its centennial this year, national parks are in the spotlight — not just here in the States but around the world. We love national parks because they protect a country’s natural scenery and unique wildlife for all of us to enjoy, whether you’re driving through in a car, hiking a trail or camping in the backcountry. Check out these six national parks we want to visit around the world.

grand teton national park


Grand Teton National Park, U.S.A., offers magnificent mountain vistas.

elephants in etosha national park


On safari in Namibia’s Etosha National Park, you’ll spy lions, elephants, zebras and much more.

waterfall lamington national park


Located in Queensland, Australia, Lamington National Park encompasses miles of lush rain forest.

horses torres del paine


Torres del Paine National Park protects some of Patagonian Chile’s most stunning landscapes.

komodo dragon


Komodo National Park in Indonesia is home to the endangered Komodo dragon, along with a variety of marine wildlife.

northeast greenland national park



Northeast Greenland National Park is the world’s biggest national park, but it’s so difficult to reach that very few people actually visit it.

Planning an African Safari
National Park Vacations

Which national park tops your must-visit list?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

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: This mosque is currently the site of the world’s tallest minaret.

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, May 16, 2016, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday 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 Wendell Prins, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, Morocco. Wendell has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.

See All “Where in the World?” Challenges

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Catch up on the travel news and features you may have missed this week.

flight attendant plane


Attention Passengers … Can You Hear Me?
Think things are bad in the sky for passengers? Flight attendant and author Heather Poole offers her own perspective from the other side of the drink cart — and we fliers don’t exactly come out smelling like roses. “Twenty years ago, when I first started flying, almost every passenger said hello during boarding. Oh, how times have changed,” she writes.

Canadian Teen Locates Lost Mayan City Using Satellite Images and Ancient Astronomy
We’re always looking for attractions that are off the beaten path — but a 15-year-old boy in Quebec has one-upped us by discovering a previously unknown Mayan city in Mexico, reports the International Business Times. He theorized that the Mayans, who worshipped the stars, based the locations of their cities on constellations; this analysis led him to find the lost city on Google Earth. Editor’s Note: It turns out that the discovery wasn’t actually a lost city after all, reports Wired.

Signature Scents at Hotels: Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em?
USA Today reports on the surge of customized fragrances being pumped into hotel lobbies. While they’re designed to create a delicious-smelling first impression, guests with allergies and asthma aren’t so jazzed about the trend.

Revealed: The Secret Lives of Your Fellow Plane Passengers
We love this story from CNN about a traveler who decided to pass a notebook around a flight to learn the stories behind each passenger’s trip. She discovered multiple honeymooners, a woman visiting her elderly parents and a man traveling to San Francisco to propose to his girlfriend.

Does Travel Actually Make You Well Traveled?
This essay from Headspace investigates the transformative benefits of travel, from reducing the risk of heart disease to stimulating creativity. Of course, there are a few drawbacks too — can we say “jet lag”?

The Stories Behind Some of Last Year’s Most Iconic Travel Photos
Travel + Leisure investigates the process that went into three striking photos from the recent Photography Show in New York City. One shot of the Grand Canyon is actually an incredible amalgamation of 50 different photos taken at different times throughout the day.

VisitScotland recently put out a call for canine applicants to be Scotland’s official “Ambassadog.” The winner, announced this week, is a golden retriever from Glasgow; you can watch his adorable application video below.


16 Signs You’re Addicted to Travel
12 Travel Photography Mistakes to Avoid

— written by Sarah Schlichter

What do you typically ask for when staying at a hotel — a few extra pillows? A toothbrush or phone charger if you left yours at home?

One traveler goes well beyond such reasonable requests on his business trips, asking for things like “a picture of a dog dressed as a boat captain” or “a fort [built] out of pillows,” reports the Daily Mail. He even asked the hotel staff to draw a picture of what they thought he looked like. The requests were all granted, and a friend of the businessman posted photos of the results in a thread on Imgur.

hotel request


My first reaction was the same as that of several commenters on Imgur: Let’s hope this guy tips well! Because while many people seem to find the businessman’s behavior hilarious, I’m not sure I agree.

Sure, the requests are essentially harmless and might bring a smile to the face of a hotel staffer on a slow or tedious day. But do you feel comfortable imagining an underpaid, overworked housekeeper who only has 15 to 20 minutes to clean each room having to waste time building a pillow fort for a grown man for no reason other than the fact that he’s bored on a business trip? And don’t most concierges have better things to do than troll the Internet for pictures of the grandma from “Family Matters” or a dog in a boating costume?

While it seems to be meant in fun, it feels a little mean-spirited to make more work for other people just because you can.

15 Things Your Hotel Won’t Tell You
“You Want What?” Bizarre Requests from Hotel Guests

What’s your take — are this business traveler’s requests hilarious or a disrespectful use of the hotel staff’s time?

— written by Sarah Schlichter