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eiffel tower parisWe recently asked our staff and readers which places they believed were only worth seeing once. You can see their answers here: 12 Places You Only Need to See Once — including some eyebrow-raising picks such as Paris and Amsterdam.

Do you agree with their choices? Which places would you add or argue with? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

no smoking hotel roomBaggage fees at the airport. Endless pitches for upgrades and insurance at the car rental counter. Resort fees and minibar charges at the hotel. Extra fees are an irritating but inescapable part of every trip — and now there’s a new one to worry about.

Skift reports that the Bellagio Las Vegas is charging $30 per night to guarantee your choice of a smoking or non-smoking room. (Other options this fee will ensure you: a high or low floor, a room near the elevator or with a pool view, or a room that does or does not connect with the one beside it.)

It’s one thing to charge extra for something like a pool view or a connecting room; these could be considered perks or upgrades. But a non-smoking room? For travelers with asthma, allergies or other breathing issues, this isn’t a preference — it’s a necessity.

This policy doesn’t favor smokers either. Skift points out that if they aren’t willing to shell out extra for a smoking room guarantee but then get caught lighting up in a non-smoking room, they’ll be hit with a $250 penalty. This type of charge is actually pretty common; many hotels want to avoid the inconvenience of deep-cleaning a room to remove the cigarette stench, and the hefty penalty serves as a deterrent. So why would the Bellagio force guests to pay extra to get into the type of room in which they belong?

Here’s hoping this isn’t a trend that catches fire (pun intended!) across the hotel industry.

Hidden Hotel Fees

Would you pay an extra fee to guarantee a smoking or non-smoking room?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.

neuschwanstein castle evening

Population: 81 million

Currency: Euro

Phrase to Know: Ich verstehe nicht (I don’t understand)

Fun Fact: Ever wanted to study abroad? German universities are tuition-free for undergrads, even those from other countries.

We Recommend: Bike along the Berlin Wall — a fun way to get exercise and learn about the city’s history.

12 Best Germany Experiences

Have you been to Germany? What was your favorite spot?

— 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, August 31, 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 Ignacio, who correctly guessed that this week’s flag was from St. Lucia. Ignacio has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations!

— 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!

making spring rolls vietnam In this month’s winning review, a traveler and his wife return to Vietnam three years after their first visit. “There is so much to see in Vietnam we knew that we would be going back to visit places that we just did not have time to see,” writes John Rybczyk. One of the highlights was a hands-on culinary experience: “On our way to Hoi An (with our driver and guide) we stopped and visited Tra Que Herb Village. We had the opportunity to work the farm and learn how to prepare and cook Vietnamese food. So Barb and I and the cook made our lunch; we each had a turn cooking.”

Read the rest of John’s review here: 2nd Time Vietnam – Even Better. This reader has won an IndependentTraveler.com duffel bag!

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Maybe you’re sick of summer’s heat and humidity. Or maybe you’re blissfully reading this from an iPad on the beach. But whether you love it or hate it, summer’s days are numbered — and that means it’s just about time to look ahead to fall.

Where will you travel in the coming months? Here are four fall trips to consider, depending on your interests.

lake district autumn

Looking for leaf-peeping? Consider a jaunt across the pond to England‘s Lake District, whose forested hills come alive with color in the autumn months. There are plenty of places for a stroll in and around Lake District National Park.

lighthouse prince edward island

In need of a little relaxation? Combine lobster, lighthouses and laid-back charm on a road trip around Prince Edward Island, Canada. Famous as the setting for the “Anne of Green Gables” novels and miniseries, the island’s rolling farms and red sandy beaches are the perfect place to unwind and enjoy the simple beauty of the landscape.

grand knip beach curacao

Not ready to let go of summer? Head down to Curacao, known for its pastel-colored capital and peaceful white sand beaches. As one of the ABC islands (along with Aruba and Bonaire), Curacao is far enough south to miss most of the hurricanes that plague other Caribbean islands this time of year.

Which Caribbean Island Is Right for You?

oryx namaqualand south africa

Want to watch wildlife? Journey to South Africa for a taste of spring south of the equator. South Africa made it into our list of 12 Places That Shine in Shoulder Season for several key reasons: Safaris are often a little cheaper this time of year, temperatures are a little more comfortable and wildlife watchers can partake in an annual Whale Festival in Hermanus.

Photos: 10 Best South Africa Experiences

Where are you headed this fall?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.

indonesia volcano

Population: 256 million

Currency: Rupiah

Phrase to Know: Siapa nama anda? (What’s your name?)

Fun Fact: Indonesia’s top Olympic sport is badminton, which accounts for 18 of the country’s 27 medals to date.

We Recommend: Getup at 2 a.m. and hike to the top of Mount Batur, where you can eat breakfast and watch the sun rise — the view makes the early wake-up call worth it.

10 Best Indonesia Experiences

Have you been to Indonesia? What was your favorite spot?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Paris is known for many charms: fresh-baked croissants, sidewalk cafes, winding cobblestone lanes — and an iconic, low-rise skyline punctuated by the Eiffel Tower. This could change soon, however, as the city’s building height restriction was recently abolished, and construction on a new, 590-foot office tower could begin as soon as next year, reports CNN.

The project is known as the Tour Triangle, or Triangle Tower, designed by Herzog & de Meuron (the architecture firm behind the unique Bird’s Nest stadium used in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games). The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, recently tweeted a photo of the proposed building:

According to CNN, supporters of the project argue that the tower will provide much-needed office space and jobs, and raise the city’s profile in the eyes of international investors. But others aren’t convinced. A spokesperson from a local group called the Collective against the Triangle Tower tells CNN, “Tour triangle disrespects the existing place and Paris skyline. We are convinced that contemporary architecture can express itself in harmony with existing place. It is not the case with this isolated skyscraper which is 180 meters high and 150 meters wide.” Beyond aesthetics, the group has spoken out against the tower’s environmental impact as well.

Photos: 12 Best France Experiences

More worrisome to those hoping to preserve the current architectural landscape is the precedent that the new tower could set; CNN reports that a dozen other skyscrapers are in the works in Paris, even though 62 percent of Parisians are opposed to such buildings. The Triangle Tower will likely be challenged in court.

Do you support the building of skyscrapers in Paris?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.

kulusuk greenland

Population: 57,000

Currency: Danish krone

Phrase to Know: Iterluarit (good morning)

Fun Fact: Northeast Greenland National Park is the world’s largest national park, but it’s so remote that only a few hundred people visit each year.

We Recommend: Meet the locals at a kaffemik — an intimate visit to someone’s home for coffee and pastries.

9 Best Greenland Experiences

Have you been to Greenland? What was your favorite spot?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

The airline that brought us in-flight safety videos featuring Betty White, Bear Grylls and Richard Simmons is at it again. Air New Zealand has released yet another fun and elaborate safety video, this time starring the All Blacks rugby team in a spoof of the “Men in Black” movies. (Yes, the famous theme song is prominently featured — we apologize in advance for the earworm.)

Along with current All Blacks players and coaches, actor Rip Torn (from the first two “Men in Black” films) makes an appearance, as does Frank the Pug. You can watch the video below:

Do funny in-flight videos make you more likely to tune in to the safety briefings, or would you rather the airlines just stick to the facts?

More fun in-flight videos:
Safety’s Up: Air New Zealand’s Tubular New In-Flight Video
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