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

cinque terre italy


Population: 62 million

Currency: Euro

Phrase to Know: A presto (see you soon)

Fun Fact: What do thermometers, espresso machines and dentures have in common? They’re all believed to have been invented in Italy. One thing probably not invented in Italy: pizza — though the Italians have certainly perfected it. (Flatbread dishes have long been popular in Greece and parts of the Middle East.)

We Recommend: Why take the same old Venetian gondola ride every other tourist takes when you could learn to pole a gondola instead? Row Venice will teach you this traditional skill on your next visit to La Serenissima.

11 Best Italy Experiences

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

– written by Sarah Schlichter

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

blyde river canyon


Population: 48 million

Currency: Rand

Phrase to Know: Lekker (good/nice/pleasant)

Fun Fact: South Africa is one of the few countries on earth to have more than one capital city. In fact, it has three: Cape Town for legislative functions, Pretoria for executive responsibilities and Bloemfontein for the judiciary arm of the government.

We Recommend: If you love local crafts, you won’t want to miss the Midlands Meander, a 50-mile route through KwaZulu-Natal. Along the way you’ll meet artists who create everything from stained glass to windchimes.

10 Best South Africa Experiences

Have you been to South Africa? What was your favorite spot?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

tokyo skyline nightThe world’s largest city is also the world’s safest, according to a new report. Tokyo has been declared the winner in the 2015 edition of the Economist’s Safe Cities Index.

Right behind Japan’s capital were two other Asian cities, Singapore and Osaka, with European favorites Stockholm and Amsterdam rounding out the top five. The highest ranked U.S. city was New York at number 10. At the bottom of the barrel was Jakarta, Indonesia, coming in at number 50. Its overall safety score was just 53.71 out of 100 (as compared to Tokyo, which scored 85.63).

On hearing the word “safest,” you might picture a place where you’re unlikely to get pickpocketed or mugged, but this type of personal safety is only one of four broad categories measured in the study. The Economist is also looking out for your digital security — how common are cybercrime and identity theft? — as well as health safety (pollution, quality of hospitals) and infrastructure safety (roads, rails, pedestrian deaths).

11 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft While Traveling

A few interesting tidbits from the report:

Barcelona, long infamous for pickpockets, has taken steps to get safer; crime has dropped by 32 percent over the past three years.

– In a comparison of perception vs. reality, the study found that Americans tend to feel less safe than they really are (based on their cities’ rankings in the list), while locals in Middle Eastern cities such as Riyadh and Abu Dhabi are not actually as secure as they feel.

– Safety is only one factor in determining the world’s best cities. After combining various indexes — including not just Safe Cities but also Liveability Rankings, Cost of Living and more — the Economist came up with a different winner: Toronto was voted the overall best place to live.

Essential Hotel Safety Tips

Which cities would you consider the most safe?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

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

beach st john usvi


Population: 104,000

Currency: U.S. dollar

Phrase to Know: Callaloo (also spelled kallaloo), a dish made with leafy greens that you’ll see on menus throughout the Caribbean

Fun Fact: Unlike the rest of the United States, Virgin Islanders drive on the left side of the road.

We Recommend: Head to Water Island (a short ferry ride from St. Thomas) and watch a movie on the beach at Heidi’s Honeymoon Grill.

10 Best U.S. Virgin Island Experiences

Have you been to the U.S.V.I.? 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, February 2, 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 Liz Stier, who correctly guessed that this week’s flag was from Ethiopia. Liz has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Fliers on a US Airways plane found their mechanical delay unexpectedly brightened by an impromptu serenade a few weeks ago. According to the San Francisco Globe, a barbershop quartet called Port City Sound was onboard the flight from Indianapolis to New Orleans, and their flight attendant, Kari Mann, encouraged them to sing a song for their fellow passengers.

Fortunately for all of us, she taped the performance. Check it out below:


In her video post on YouTube, the flight attendant said the song put everyone in better spirits: “It was such a great moment… The mood changed and our passengers were awesome for the whole 5 hours they were on the plane!”

If only every flight delay came with a little free musical entertainment.

Patrick Stewart Hilariously Acts Out 5 Most Annoying Fliers

– 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!

cairo saladin citadelIn this month’s featured review, reader Dr. Alex Cullison dispels a few misconceptions about traveling to Egypt. “The press has been unfair to Egypt — capitalizing and dramatizing protests into something more than what they are,” writes Alex. “The Egyptians are passionate about their country and they take their politics very seriously. Like us. They will publicly demonstrate, like us, when they feel they need to capture the attention of a greater audience for mutual support. We walked all over Cairo and felt perfectly safe.”

Read the rest of Alex’s review here: Rethink Egypt. Alex has won an IndependentTraveler.com duffel bag!

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

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

peruvian woman


Population: 30.1 million

Currency: Peruvian nuevo sol

Phrase to Know: Buenos dias (good day or good morning)

Fun Fact: Peru has a unique New Year’s Eve tradition: everyone wears brand-new yellow underwear! It’s considered good luck for the coming year.

We Recommend: Learn to prepare ceviche, Peru’s national dish, during a cooking class in the capital city of Lima. Naturally, the best part of the class is tasting your creation at the end.

10 Best Peru Experiences

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

– written by Sarah Schlichter

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

church milos greece


Population: 10.7 million

Currency: Euro

Phrase to Know: Efharisto (thank you)

Fun Fact: Greece’s national anthem, “Hymn to Liberty,” has the longest text of any national anthem — a poem of 158 verses. Fortunately, only the first two stanzas are typically performed.

We Recommend: Stay in a villa or guesthouse and take part in the autumn olive harvest. In between picking sessions, you can take a cooking class or wander through local wildflower fields.

10 Best Greece Experiences

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

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Sometimes the only way to get through an unpleasant travel experience is to laugh about it — and that’s why we love Sir Patrick Stewart’s recent appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” The legendary actor brings to life five of the most annoying types of airplane passengers (as voted on in an Expedia poll).

Our favorite? The Seat Climber, which had our entire office laughing out loud. Take a look:


We only wish Stewart had gotten a chance to do his screaming baby impression.

Check out the following links for more in-flight hilarity:

JetBlue Introduces Funny Flight Etiquette Videos
Betty White Stars in Latest Air New Zealand Safety Video

– written by Sarah Schlichter