Home

Home Travel Tips Travel Deals Destinations Trip Reviews Forums Blog
The IndependentTraveler.com Blog

heathrow airportSome of us love crowds. We can be found catching beads at Mardi Gras, hurling tomatoes at Tomatina and, at the London Games, ogling the athletes at the Horse Guards Parade — the venue for beach volleyball.

Not me. Ever since I spent a horrific New Year’s Eve in Times Square, I’ve been a bit crowd-phobic. The cheer isn’t enough to override the crowds and the commotion at the London Games. For the executive editor of our sister site, Cruise Critic, it’s the increased security at Heathrow that keeps her from London, even as a layover to Europe.

“The increased security is sure to add even more chaos to an already chaotic airport — and I still won’t feel completely safe,” Carolyn Spencer Brown told us.

Are You a Travel Olympian?

She’d like to avoid Heathrow this summer, but some airfare deals are making that difficult. “British Airways is offering cheap fares to Europe this summer,” Brown said. “I wonder if people are avoiding Heathrow.”

If they are shunning Heathrow and London, it’s a typical tendency to avoid visiting cities that host the Olympic Games. The Telegraph recently reported that Terry Williamson, chief operating officer of JacTravel, said “normal tourism” in past Olympic host cities post-Games dropped significantly during the events and “took some time to recover.”

Will the traffic, the crowds, the amped-up security, the missiles on rooftops keep you away from London this summer — even as a layover? Or will you be there — in the midst of it all? Vote in our poll below.

– written by Jodi Thompson

pickpocket-proof pantsThe pants worked. I wasn’t pickpocketed on a recent Eastern Mediterranean trip.

Whether it was the P^Cubed “Pick-Pocket Proof Pants,” a test sample of which was recently sent to our sister site Cruise Critic to review, is hard to say. Wandering the narrow, cobbled streets and open squares of one Mediterranean city, I noticed a man who could have been a thief — the greedy looking type with a gold tooth and moist eyes. I think he ogled the pants, with their button-secured flaps hiding deep zipper pockets, and secret zipper pockets within zipper pockets, and thought better. You can’t burgle a walking money belt.

Paranoid hallucinations aside, the odds that you will be pickpocketed on the road depend on many factors — most of which the savvy traveler will be able to mitigate, whether he’s wearing pants or not. (Many savvy travelers do don trousers of some sort.)

Money Safety Tips for Travelers

Still, confidence is a valuable asset when visiting a strange, new destination — as those who’ve suffered the sickening violation of being robbed abroad so suddenly learn. PPP Designer Adam Rapp said a near-miss with a team of cut purses at Xian, China’s notoriously congested Bell Tower were the inspiration behind the product.

I haven’t had the pleasure of finding a stranger’s hand in my pocket, so it helps, too, that the PPP’s are about more than just their marketing angle and the system of zipper-, button- and secret-pocket-based deterrents. The front pockets are big — small guidebook-size big — and the light, dense material is stain, water and wrinkle resistant. The “Business Traveler” model (there’s also a cargo-style version, the “Adventurer”) is stylish enough to wear to a restaurant. Add a black blazer and some dress shoes, and you won’t be seated next to the kitchen.

The stain, water and wrinkle claims basically held up — the pants resist all three. If you end up crumpled in a fetal position after a rainy Tomatina, expect the worst. But if you’re just a run-of-the-pants everyday slob, you’re in luck. Hot sauce intended for my mouth streamed off a slice of pizza and onto my lap, where the Teflon-coated fabric rendered the liquid into tiny orange beads. Some sauce sank in, but later, water, mild hand soap and a slightly abrasive towel took care of the remaining splotches.

For me, the one downside was printed on the price tag. If you’ve got a pants ceiling of $30, spending $100, the cost of the Business Traveler, might not be in the cards. But Adam makes the case for flashing your wallet. It comes down to the materials — special zippers, rugged thread that you can’t break “without hurting your hand” (I tried), the highest-grade Teflon and the overall utility of the pant. It also takes 120 minutes of labor to produce one pair, compared to the 20 minutes an average pantsmaker spends on a pair of chinos, said Adam. Am I convinced? Not exactly, but that may speak to why I’ve never been a target for pickpocketing in the first place.

10 Things to Do in the First 24 Hours of Your Trip

– written by Dan Askin

active beach vacationThere seem to be two types of vacations — the busy and the beach. As wonderful as the busy vacation is — exploring cities and towns, experiencing new dishes and new views — it is the beach vacation that is, ultimately, considered the more relaxing, the more rejuvenating. Now there’s research to back that up.

A two-year study by the European Centre for Environment and Human Health examined the engagement of 2,750 Brits aged 8 to 80 with the natural environment. The research by Katherine Ashbullby and Dr. Mathew White found that all outdoor locations make us feel calm and refreshed. But it was the coast that was most psychologically beneficial, followed by the countryside. Urban parks were found least restorative.

Even after taking into account age, distance traveled, presence of others and the activity undertaken, participants still experienced the most positive feelings seaside. The researchers are unsure whether we enjoy the beach because we’re hard-wired that way or simply because we think we should.

The World’s Best Beaches

Surely, the sunshine at the shore is a factor. We need a bit of sun exposure each day to stay healthy. Our bodies produce vitamin D from the sun’s rays. The super nutrient not only protects us from heart disease, osteoporosis, and breast, prostate and colon cancers (according to the Archives of Internal Medicine), but it also helps guard against depression and insomnia.

Another recent study from the European Centre for Environment found that lower levels of sunlight are linked to allergies and eczema. So sunlight is good. But take care: Too much can cause severe burns, dehydration and skin cancer. It can even land you in trouble with the law, as it did recently for a New Jersey mother/tanning fan who is accused of taking her young daughter in a tanning booth with her.mom tanning booth

16 Ways You Know You’re Addicted to Travel

Perhaps the most salient point we should take from the British study about the benefits of the natural environment is that exercise in the open air is what provides emotional benefits, connecting with nature. Not sitting on our duffs in the sun.

Sounds like a really good reason to make your next R&R a busy beach vacation.

– written by Jodi Thompson

royce leather RFID passport walletAs if travelers didn’t have enough to worry about. In addition to money belts to help us hide passports and credit cards under our clothes, there’s now a whole new line of travel gear to protect the electronic data stored on those documents.

Take the Royce RFID-Blocking Passport Wallet. This attractive leather case, which retails for $34, is designed to protect travelers against identity theft.

Since 2007, all U.S. passports have been issued with a small electronic chip embedded in the back cover. The chip uses radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to store information, including all of the identifying data printed on the front page of your passport, as well as a biometric identifier — a digital image of the passport photograph that can be used for facial recognition technology when you cross international borders. The information in the chip is transmitted via radio waves when the passport is scanned by an RFID reader.

The Best Way to Carry Money Overseas

Your passport may not be the only document you carry that has an RFID chip; many newer credit cards have them as well. (If you’re not sure, look for the term “PayPass” printed on your MasterCard, “expresspay” on your AmEx or “payWave” on your Visa — or call your credit card company.)

The rise in RFID technology has raised concerns about just how securely these chips store our information. Anyone with an RFID reader who gets close enough to the chip would in theory be able to read the embedded data — including card numbers and expiration dates — even through clothing or a purse.

royce leather RFID passport walletDoes this mean you should race out and purchase an RFID-blocking wallet? Not necessarily. The U.S. State Department offers a detailed description of the security features of its electronic passports here, which explains that the passports themselves have RFID-blocking metal built into the cover — so the chip can’t be read unless the passport is opened.

I think a protective wallet would be more useful for credit cards, which seem to be at greater risk for data skimming. The cheapskates among us can also block RFID readers by wrapping their cards in aluminum foil — if you’re willing to lose a few style points.

Four Common Travel Disasters and How to Prevent Them

– written by Sarah Schlichter

full body scanner tsa airport securityEvery Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog or signing up for our newsletter.

Just how safe are those full body scanners that are becoming a familiar fixture in airports around the U.S.? Not safe enough, says the European Union, which banned backscatter X-ray machines in airports across Europe last month, citing traveler health concerns.

Because the machines emit ionizing radiation, some scientists suggest that passengers who pass through the scanners could be at increased risk of cancer. One researcher interviewed by PBS/ProPublica predicts that the machines could potentially “give 100 travelers cancer every year.” (See the video below for the full report.)

The TSA staunchly maintains that the machines are safe. A spokesperson told us last year that “each full body scan with backscatter produces less than 10 microREM of emission, the equivalent to the exposure each person receives in about two minutes of airplane flight at altitude.” To read the entire statement we received from the TSA, see From Pat-Downs to Full Body Scanners: The TSA Firestorm.

The backscatter machines are one of two types of full body scanners used at U.S. airports. Millimeter wave machines (which are still legal in Europe) are generally considered the safer option because they use lower-frequency electromagnetic waves instead of radiation.

If you’re concerned about the backscatter machines, you have a few options. Before you step through the security checkpoint, ask the TSA agent which type of machine is in use. If your lane has a backscatter scanner instead of a millimeter wave machine, you may want to skip the scan entirely and choose a pat-down by a same-gender TSA agent instead. Also, keep an eye out for the old-fashioned metal detectors, which are still in use in many security lanes across the U.S.



Are you concerned about the safety of the backscatter machines?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Barcelona“What did you think of Barcelona? Did you get pickpocketed?”

It’s been barely a week since I returned from Catalonia, and already I have lost count of the number of times I’ve had to field this kind of question. No one asked, “How was the hotel?” (Haunted, in fact.) Or “What were the football fans like?” (Amiable, surprisingly enough.) Or even “Did you see any of Gaudi’s architecture?” (Yes, though paying to get into the Casa Batllo was probably as close to being pickpocketed as we actually came.) For a lot of people, there seems to be an enduring association between Barcelona and theft.

This is, as far as we could tell, completely unfounded. Before my girlfriend and I left, we were given warnings by my parents, her parents, her grandparents, colleagues, the man behind the counter in the bookshop where we bought our travel guide, the hairdresser and the barista at our favourite coffee shop about the constant threat of robbery on Barcelona’s streets. (The butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker kept noticeably quiet on the issue.)

Everybody knew someone who knew someone who had seen a guy getting pickpocketed in Barcelona and thought we should know. When I asked my mom to elaborate, she told me about the time when she had been on the Metro with a friend who had found herself wedged into a doorway by two seemingly polite men, while a group of small children rifled through her handbag, taking her passport, mobile phone and purse. Pressed further about this story, my mom admitted that it had actually taken place in Rome — but, she said, these things could happen anywhere.

7 Ways to Keep Your Stuff Safe When You Fly

Forewarned is forearmed, and, after hearing countless warnings against leaving valuables in the zippy pockets on the back of our rucksacks, we arrived in Barcelona a little bit tired and very hungry. Our hotel was opposite a Metro station, so we decided to brave the trains in order to get there and drop off our things as quickly as we could. We descended to the turnstiles only to find that the tickets we had just bought were no good. We fought through the crowds to get back to the machines in the corridor, which did not offer English instructions.

We jabbed away at the touch screen for a while as the crowd thickened and swirled around us, trying not to admit to each other that we had no idea what we were doing. More and more people bumped into us. My girlfriend moved her rucksack so that it was on her front. It looked like one of those pregnancy simulating vests. We’d just arrived in the middle of a busy city, we only had the most tenuous grasp of the local language, we were hungry and our feet hurt.

And then a little man appeared and, after finding out through a burst of quick-fire Spanish that we didn’t understand quick-fire Spanish, asked us if we spoke English. We were that obvious. He had very greasy hair and had a short, blonde beard. His jacket was brown and frayed and, in his hand, he had an empty coffee cup with change in it. Uh oh.

The man smiled and pointed out an option on the screen that would take us back to the language page; this would make it easier for us to buy our tickets, he said without a hint of condescension. Then, he said, instead of buying day tickets or singles, we should buy a special ticket that he pointed out. We could use it in any zone in the city, it would be good for the three days that we were there, it was cheaper than a single-day ticket and it would get us to the airport without any trouble on our departure day. We could even get away with only buying one of them if we were sly enough about passing the ticket back over the turnstile to each other when we went through.

We bought the tickets (yes, two of them) and thanked the man for his help. He smiled and shuffled off into the crowd. As soon as he’d gone we both quickly patted down our pockets. Of course, everything was still there. The man was just being helpful and was not, as we had thought, trying to rob us. We felt dreadful because we’d wrongly made up our minds about someone who was only being kind, even though he could have quite easily ignored us.

I wanted to catch up to the man and say something nice, but there was no sign of him. He had gone. We snapped this photo of the stranger before he disappeared:

Barcelona



– written by Josh Thomas

sick woman thermometerI’ll admit this up front: Traveling sick is ill-advised.

But when does sick become too sick to travel? I imagine that most of us have been confronted by this question at one point or another, and if you’re like me, you’ve made the wrong decision: Get on the flight, hop on the train, jump on the ship.

Last week, I ended a four-night cruise awash in worries. Kyle, my teenage nephew, had battled an ugly stomach virus a few days earlier and was back on his feet — and eating like a pig again. But 12 hours before we were slated to get off the ship, I came down with the Plague. My throat became so sore I could barely breathe, my ears were clogged and I was coughing up stuff that appeared to have flaked off the Blob. Fearful that my nephew’s stomach flu was about to rear its ugly head and unable to sleep because of the congestion, I sat up in my bed worrying that there’d be no escape from Port Canaveral, Florida, after daybreak.

Day broke, and I was still feeling lousy. But there was a cause for celebration: It appeared I’d dodged the stomach virus and all its attendant horrors. The two of us finished packing our bags (in silence because I’d lost my voice, though Kyle didn’t seem to mind), then lumbered off the ship and into the central Florida sunshine. I felt woozy as the shuttle bus departed the port, then fell asleep for the 40-minute drive to Orlando’s airport.

Exhausted, lightheaded and achy, I checked in for my flight and soon found another reason to celebrate: I could get on an earlier flight to Philly instead of waiting around the airport for five hours. By this time, Kyle was pretending he didn’t know me; I think he would have FedEx’d me home if he could have. The two of us bumped elbows in farewell (he didn’t want to catch my germs), and he headed toward his flight to Boston.

Traveling While Contagious

Filled with guilt and anxiety over whether I’d make it home in one piece, I entered the aircraft and took my seat. Was it really fair to share my cold (or whatever it was) with everyone else on the plane? How would I feel if someone coughing up God-knows-what sat next to me? Shouldn’t I be lying in bed somewhere with a priest by my side?

Then the cacophony started. Behind me, next to me, even up in business class, passengers were coughing and nose-blowing, almost in harmony. A woman rushed to the bathroom seconds after the pilot told us it was safe to get up and didn’t return for a long, long time.

I slept a bit, but the nonstop hacking was hard to ignore. I got off the plane two hours later feeling sicker than when I got on, and I wondered: Did anyone feel the least remorse about sharing their illness with me?



– written by John Deiner

airport parking garageEvery Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog or signing up for our newsletter.

When you head to the airport for your next flight, don’t just settle for any old spot in the airport parking lot. Where you leave your car can actually help determine how safe it is while you’re out of town.

As Ed Hewitt writes in Nine Ways to Keep Your Car Safe on the Road, “In airport lots, I recommend parking in view of the exit toll booths or parking office if possible, or just as well within view of a shuttle pickup location or kiosk. The increased foot traffic and eyeball count will discourage potential thieves. Well-lit areas are next best; most airport lots have surveillance cameras in place, so making it easier for an attendant to see your car on a grainy camera will help.”

Hewitt goes on to suggest parking with your trunk out, particularly if you’re storing anything in it while you’re gone. Backing into a space may make for a more convenient departure at the end of your trip, but parking nose-first makes your vehicle’s trunk more visible to passersby — and therefore tougher to break into.

Of course, you can make your car an even less appealing target by removing anything that looks remotely valuable, such as E-ZPass transponders, GPS units or iPods. Hide your goodies away in the glove compartment or take them out of the car altogether. And don’t bother trying to artfully arrange jackets or blankets over valuables left on the seat. Thieves are wise to this tactic — it just makes it look like you have something to hide.

See eight more ways to keep your car safe while traveling.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

computer criminalThink twice about revealing travel plans to your Facebook friends; some might be more interested in your vacant home than your vacation photos.

A New Jersey man reportedly used information posted on the Internet to carry out a home burglary against one of his Facebook friends. According to the Express-Times in Lehigh Valley, PA, 36-year-old Steven Pieczynski is accused of breaking into a Newtown, Pennsylvania home on September 27 while the homeowners were traveling. He was arrested yesterday at his place of employment.

Pieczynski, who is Facebook friends with the victims, learned of their upcoming vacation plans over the social networking site. When he found out that his home-owning Internet chums were going out of town, he took the opportunity to strike.

As the break-in was taking place, watchful neighbors noticed a suspicious-looking vehicle parked near the victims’ home. Neighbors recorded the license plate number of the strange car and gave the information to police after learning about the burglary; this led to Pieczynski’s arrest, ultimately proving that a few good neighbors trump several hundred online acquaintances any day of the week.

In a press release issued by the Office of the Hunterdon County Prosecutor, the New Jersey prosecutor handling the case, Anthony P. Kearns, warns travelers to refrain from advertising their vacation plans on Facebook. Says Kearns, “I commend the neighbors who were vigilant and recorded the vehicle information leading to the arrest of the defendant. At the same time, I want to take this opportunity to remind people to never post their vacation plans on any Internet Web site.”

We second that. In Keep Your Home Safe on Vacation, we impart the following tip: “Think twice about posting your detailed vacation plans on Twitter or Facebook — especially if that information is visible to Internet users other than your friends and family (and it probably is). Be careful what you say on your answering machine or voice mail too. Callers don’t need to know that you’re not home — they just need to know that you can’t come to the phone right now.”

If you must share your travel plans on Facebook, put the site’s privacy controls to good use. Manage who views your posts by sorting your Facebook friends into customized groups. For example, you can create a “Family” group of relatives and close buddies in the Privacy Settings section of your Facebook account. Then, when posting a status update on your wall, use the audience-selector dropdown menu to choose the Family group. Only those whom you’ve pegged as family will be able to see what you’ve posted.

– written by Caroline Costello

world map travel travelerWhile I’m not sure I’d call myself a “lazy traveler,” I do like to keep things as simple as possible. After countless road trips and plane rides, I’ve developed a few tips and strategies that will make your next trip more comfortable. These tips work for short or long trips and do not require a degree in rocket science in order to apply them to your travel style.

1. Wear slip-on shoes. Whether you are working your way through airport security or headed out on a long road trip, slip-on shoes make life much more relaxing. At the airport you don’t have to be “that guy” blocking up the security line because he’s untying his shoes. Just make sure you have clean, hole-free socks — and ladies, if it’s summertime, we recommend a fresh pedicure.

Airport Security: Your Questions Answered

2. Books and e-readers are nice, but audio books are better. Carrying an iPod or mp3 player is much easier than lugging around a book or Kindle. On our last flight, my husband and I actually shared headphones, each using one earbud, in order to finish up a book we’d both been listening to in the car via my mp3 player. It was a riveting storyline and our two-hour flight was over in no time.

10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

3. Always pack a hat. Having a hat is essential to comfortable travel. It not only warms your head, but if necessary it can also be used to cool the neck by tucking hair up into it. Hats shield the eyes from outdoor glare, and can block the light if you’re trying to catch a few Z’s at an airport or on a bus. And if you haven’t washed your hair in a few days? A hat hides a multitude of sins.

Another Reason You Should Always Pack a Hat

4. Bring bills. This one may seem irrelevant in the age of ATM’s and credit cards, but I find it’s always nice to have a little traveling cash on hand in order to tip the cab driver or buy a sweet treat from a street vendor. You might even discover a cool little cash-only restaurant — yes, these establishments still exist, and the smaller the town, the more likely that you’ll stumble across one. Believe me, you don’t want to miss out on the world’s best eggs Benedict just because you didn’t have a little cash in your pocket.

The Best Way to Carry Money Overseas

5. Keep headache medicine and antacids readily available. No matter how laid-back you are about traveling, there’s bound to be something that causes a little headache or upset stomach along the way. Travel usually comes with a change in diet, which can be tough on the digestive system, and lack of sleep or dehydration can result in a headache. It’s better to be prepared than to have to track down a $10 aspirin in the airport or at a tourist trap.

Avoiding the Airplane Cold

– written by Heidi Kerr-Schlaefer, a journalist and freelance writer from Northern Colorado. She is also the Mayor of HeidiTown.com, a blog about Colorado events and festivals.