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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: The photo above shows just part of this famous square, one of the world’s largest; it’s home to both a presidential palace and a cathedral.

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, March 14, 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 Kevin, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was the Zocalo (also known as Plaza de la Constitucion) in Mexico City. Kevin 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

Discover the best travel articles you may have missed this week.

phnom penh


Visiting Phnom Penh: How I Finally Relaxed in a City That Scared Me
This compelling essay from Conde Nast Traveler explores a traveler’s experience in Phnom Penh, where she skipped the Killing Fields and instead went searching for Cambodia’s more hopeful present.

How to Get Compensated — Generously — for Delayed Flights and Dirty Hotel Rooms
Travel + Leisure profiles a new app called Service that will advocate on your behalf to get you reimbursed for snafus such as lost luggage, incorrect hotel charges and flight delays. (It’s not limited to travel either, so between trips you can use the app to do battle with your cable provider.)

In Saudi Arabia, a Kingdom to Myself
It’s unlikely that many of us will ever travel to Saudi Arabia, so it’s fascinating to see this in-depth look from the New York Times. The writer visits an island with only one hotel, explores pre-Islamic tombs and attends a local festival.

17 Incredibly Amazing Women Who Will Inspire You to Travel Solo at Least Once
BuzzFeed interviews 17 female travel bloggers about their best advice for traveling alone as a woman. “Waking up each day and thinking ‘I can go anywhere I want’ is one of the most incredible, liberating feelings a person can experience,” writes one blogger. We couldn’t agree more.

These Amazing Photos of Thailand Will Satisfy Your Wanderlust
If all you’re looking for today is to scroll through gorgeous pictures of exotic places, Rough Guides has your back with this photo essay. Dreamy!

Monotony and ‘Moments of Terror’ Mark Search for Flight 370
Nearly two years after the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, both the fate of the plane and its location are still shrouded in mystery. This AP story captures the difficult and often tedious job of searching the ocean floor with sonar for the lost aircraft.

What It’s Like to Live on a Cruise Ship for 8 Years
Forget retiring in Florida — the Washington Post profiles an 87-year-old woman who’s spending her golden years on a cruise ship. Lee Wachtstetter began her life aboard Crystal Serenity a few years after her husband’s death.

New Senate Bill Proposes End to “Ridiculous” Airline Fees
Two Democratic senators have put forward a bill that would allow the Department of Transportation to prevent airlines from raising fees or charging prices that are “unreasonable or disproportional to the costs” of a service. Will the proposal ever make it into law? Here’s hoping.

This week’s stunning travel video will put the Philippines on your bucket list if it’s not already there. Do yourself a favor and view it in full screen.


— written by Sarah Schlichter

This morning, a colleague received an email from the U.S. State Department with a rather alarming subject line: “Message for U.S. Citizens: Worldwide Caution Update.” The email was a transmission of the Worldwide Caution released on the State Department’s website on March 3.

danger ahead sign stormy weather


The message offers nearly 1,800 words of warnings about terrorist threats around the world, particularly in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia/Pacific. “U.S. citizens continue to be at risk of kidnappings and hostage events as ISIL, al-Qa’ida, and their affiliates attempt to finance their operations through kidnapping-for-ransom operations,” the State Department wrote. “U.S. citizens have been kidnapped and murdered by members of terrorist and violent extremist groups.” Threats include suicide bombings and attacks on highly populated places such as trains, shopping malls and restaurants.

“No wonder people are afraid to travel!” my colleague said. “This is a terrifying email.”

If reading the message makes you want to hide under your bed until the world gets less scary, you’re not alone — but there are a few important things to keep in mind before you call off your next trip and retire your passport. First, this Worldwide Caution isn’t new. The State Department updates this overarching security warning at least every six months, according to the Washington Post, in order to provide information on the most current threats. So if you’ve felt comfortable enough to take a vacation in the past couple of years, you were already traveling under a worldwide warning.

Secondly, the chances of being affected by a terrorist attack are still extraordinarily low. Wendy Perrin, Travel Advocate for IndependentTraveler.com’s parent company, TripAdvisor, notes that the largest cause of death for Americans traveling abroad is actually motor vehicle accidents, and that in recent years more Americans have been killed in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil than in attacks overseas. (See 7 Keys to Traveling Without Fear Despite Terrorist Attacks to learn more.)

Conde Nast Traveler editor-in-chief Pilar Guzman makes another important point when she tells the Wall Street Journal that by avoiding certain countries that rely on tourism — such as Egypt — we might be helping to destabilize those countries and make them more susceptible to radicalization. You can check out the full video below:


Government warnings have an important place in helping travelers decide which countries are and aren’t safe to visit; each of us has a different tolerance for risk, and the more information we have, the better able we are to make the decisions that are right for us. (See Travel Warnings and Advisories for tips on how to use and evaluate government advisories.) But the danger of a Worldwide Caution is that worried travelers will decide not to go anywhere at all — leading to a more insular worldview that is driven by fear, not empathy and understanding.

Does the threat of terrorism make you more afraid to travel?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc.

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, March 7, 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 Nancy James, who correctly guessed that this week’s flag was from Namibia. Nancy has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Check out this week’s essential travel reads.

room service at hotel


Things You Should Never Order from Room Service
Do you know why you should order a room service steak a little rarer than you normally would, or why you should probably just pass on a shrimp cocktail? Conde Nast Traveler offers some fun facts about how room service works and which menu items aren’t a good bet.

Airlines to Introduce an ‘Economy Minus’ Class
Flying coach is already bad enough — but Fortune reports that a new, even worse class of service is trending across the airline industry. “Basic economy” (also known by some as “economy minus”) will cut even more amenities in order to offer bare-bones low fares. Book one of these tickets, and you can say goodbye to a free carry-on bag and advance seat assignments, among other things.

Hilarious Photos Show the Difference Between Travel Expectations and Travel Reality
This fun interactive piece from Matador Network pairs glossy, idealized pictures of travel attractions such as the Eiffel Tower and the Great Wall of China with more realistic shots — think beaches covered in trash or monuments surrounded with thousands of tourists. Click on each photo to see its counterpart.

The Challenge of Taming Air Turbulence
The New York Times explores how airlines try to prepare for unexpected bumps in the air, and even questions whether warmer weather due to El Nino could cause turbulence to become more common. (The answer: no one quite knows.)

Man Who Has Visited More Than 300 McDonald’s Around the World Shares His Favorite Menu Items
The Independent profiles a Canadian traveler who has sampled fast food all over the planet. His favorite McDonald’s menu items include a dried fish sandwich in Sri Lanka, seaweed-seasoned fries in Japan and a bubble gum-flavored “McFizz” beverage in Singapore. (We’re not sure we’d try that last one.)

The Political Push to Destroy Hidden Hotel Fees Has Begun
We all hate showing up to a hotel and having unexpected costs such as resort fees and other surcharges tacked onto our bill. (See Hidden Hotel Fees for some examples.) Skift reports that U.S. Senator Claire McCaskell has introduced a bill that would require hotels and travel sites to reveal such fees at the time of booking. Sounds reasonable to us — we’ll see if Congress agrees.

Why You Can’t Trust GPS in China
Travel + Leisure takes a fascinating look at how digital maps — such as those on your smartphone or GPS device — are slightly inaccurate in China due to the country’s security regulations. For example, a building in Beijing that you’re standing right next to could appear to be a few hundred yards away on your phone.

This week’s featured video features timelapse footage of Vienna, whooshing the viewer from theaters and monuments to parks and quiet streets.


6 Lies Your Hotel Might Tell You
33 Ways to Sleep Better at a Hotel

— written by Sarah Schlichter

If you’re looking for a vacation that goes beyond lying on a beach or seeing an area’s most famous sights, a trip with a new cruise line dedicated to voluntourism might be right for you.

Fathom, owned by Carnival Corporation, is dedicated to “impact travel” — with activities designed to connect travelers with local communities where they can make a difference. For example, you might spend a day teaching English, crafting clay water filters or working in a women’s chocolate cooperative. The Fathom team works with established local NGOs to identify areas of need and figure out how travelers can contribute in a way that will build projects that eventually are self-sustaining.

rolling paper at repapel dominican republic


I recently had the chance to try out some of these activities on a trip to the Dominican Republic hosted by Fathom. My first stop was RePapel, where about a dozen women work together to produce recycled paper that they then turn into business cards, postcards and other sellable products. Recycling is not yet common in the Dominican Republic, so in addition to providing stable jobs for local women, RePapel is part of a broader initiative to raise awareness of environmental issues. Fathom volunteers help in several stages of the recycling process, including tearing the source paper into strips (white paper must be separated from paper with any type of ink on it), mixing the pulp with water and rolling new sheets flat.

Another day I helped distribute clay water filters to families in a rural village that does not currently have reliable and safe drinking water. My last activity of the trip was teaching basic English phrases (“Hello. How are you? I’m good!”) to adults. Each excursion gave us a chance to interact with the local people, though those of us who spoke at least conversational Spanish had more meaningful exchanges. (Interpreters are always available, but they can’t attend to the entire group at all times.)

I discovered that it’s essential to be realistic about your motives for taking a voluntourism trip and the individual impact you are likely to have. No single traveler will be able to swoop in and make a massive difference in a local community in just a few days, and you might feel that no sooner have you learned a new skill than it’s time to leave. Also, not every moment of each Fathom activity is dedicated to direct impact; parts of the excursions are designed for learning and cultural exchange rather than strict volunteer work.

clay filters dominican republic fathom


My limited individual impact felt disappointing at times, but it’s useful to think of your personal experience as a small part of a bigger picture. Sure, maybe I only helped produce a few dozen sheets of paper during my time at RePapel, but Fathom’s initial investment in the project (and ongoing labor support in the form of travelers like me) allowed the workshop to get off the ground in the first place — and will hopefully enable it to develop to a point where it won’t need Fathom at all anymore.

Fathom’s ship, Adonia, carries 704 passengers and will debut April 10 with three weeklong sailings from Miami to the Dominican Republic, followed by a cruise from Miami to Cuba on May 1. The ship will then alternate between the two countries from week to week.

In the Dominican Republic, you can do as much or as little volunteer work as you want — so you could combine a morning harvesting coffee beans with an afternoon relaxing on the ship or going ziplining.

Because of the governmental restrictions on what Americans can do when they visit Cuba, Fathom’s itinerary there will be more regimented and have a greater focus on learning and cultural exchange than on volunteering.

Fathom cruises to the Dominican Republic start at $974 per person, while Cuba itineraries start at $1,800.

Would you consider a Fathom cruise?

20 Ways to Blend In with the Locals
9 Things to Do When No One Speaks English
Can Americans Travel to Cuba? Yes — and Here’s How

— 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.

NAUVCEVRO, DNCAAA

UNGAMAA, UGACANRIA

TNAURKFRF, YMRAEGN

IANGHHSA, HNCAI


Enter your list of unscrambled cities in the comments below. You have until Monday, February 29, 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 Rachel Penners, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Check out the puzzle answers below.

VANCOUVER, CANADA

MANAGUA, NICARAGUA

FRANKFURT, GERMANY

SHANGHAI, CHINA


— created by Sarah Schlichter

traveler in wheelchair waiting for a trainCatch up on what’s new and nifty with our weekly travel roundup.

Accomable: Could This Airbnb-Style Service Revolutionize Disability Travel?
CNN reports on a new website called Accomable, which helps disabled travelers find accessible lodging in destinations around the world. It was launched by two passionate travelers with disabilities, who wanted to make exploring the world easier for others with similar challenges.

Airline Complaints Spike Even as Service Improves
By many measures, the airlines are actually getting better these days (hard as it may be to believe). USA Today reports that more flights are arriving on time, with fewer lost bags and fewer passengers being bumped from full flights. Despite these improvements, however, passenger grievances are on the rise, particularly complaints from people with disabilities.

In Pictures: An Introduction to Guinea Bissau
The West African nation of Guinea Bissau isn’t on many travelers’ radar — but this photo essay from Rough Guides just might intrigue you enough to start planning a visit.

JetBlue Asks Flyers to ‘Reach Across the Aisle’ in Election-Year Stunt
As the 2016 U.S. presidential election gets increasingly contentious, JetBlue is attempting to bring us all together in the spirit of travel. Adweek highlights a recent publicity stunt, er, video, in which the airline gives away free tickets to an entire plane full of people, as long as they can make a unanimous choice about where to go. (Their eventual pick? Costa Rica.)

Comparing Airbnb and Hotel Rates Around the Globe
In case you’ve ever wondered whether booking a vacation rental would save you money over a hotel, the answer is yes — at least in some of the cities where Busbud compared rates. The site found that Airbnb could save you the most in London, where the average rental is more than $108 cheaper than the average hotel. At the other end of the spectrum is Barcelona, where hotels cost $139 less on average.

Why United Airlines Is Retraining All of Its Pilots
Travel + Leisure reports that all 12,000 United pilots will go through a retraining program in which the most senior pilots will serve as mentors for less experienced members of the team.

This week’s featured video captures the frozen wonderland that is Finland in winter, including snow-laden tree branches, bounding sled dogs, and even Santa Claus and a reindeer.


— 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!

hot water beach poolIn this month’s winning review, a traveler discovers New Zealand’s Coromandel Peninsula during the winter off season. “Hot Water Beach is famous for its underground hot springs that can filter up through the sand at low tide,” writes Lauren Meeks. “Visitors from all over the world bring shovels and try to time their digging so that they’ve built up their little pool right around the time that low tide is reached, so that they can sit and enjoy their very own homemade sauna. The pictures in the tourist brochure definitely promise big things … the reality for us was a bit different.”

Read the rest of Lauren’s review here: Exploring the Coromandel Peninsula. This reader has won an IndependentTraveler.com duffel bag!

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

— 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: One of this city’s landmarks is a monument featuring a dying lion.

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, February 22, 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 Sharon Stover, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was Lucerne, Switzerland. Sharon 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