Catch up on our favorite travel articles and videos of the week.
How GPS Is Messing with Our Minds
It’s hard to imagine navigating the world without a GPS these days, but this article from Time notes that relying so heavily on such devices harms our ability to make our own “cognitive map” — i.e., to get a clear sense of where we are in the context of our surroundings. This sometimes has tragic results (such as people following their GPS unit’s instructions into dangerous mountain terrain). Is it time for good old-fashioned maps to make a comeback?
Forget Your Passport; You’ll Need a DNA Sample to Enter Kuwait
Well, here’s an alarming idea. The New York Daily News reports that anyone who wants to travel to Kuwait will soon have to provide either “a swab of saliva or a few drops of blood” as a DNA sample. Though the Kuwaiti government promises that the samples won’t be tested for disease or otherwise infringe on property, it’s easy to see how this could go wrong (and make passport control lines even longer…).
Tipping Is Really Out of Control Now
Christopher Elliott of Elliott.org reports that more and more employees are asking for gratuities these days, including people we wouldn’t normally think to tip (such as tow truck drivers, airline ticket agents and even opticians). In a poll at the end of the article, about 70 percent of respondents say they’d like to have tipping restricted or banned by law. Do you agree?
Cruising Through the End of the World
Pacific Standard offers a fascinating look at the Northwest Passage, the famed pathway through the Canadian Arctic that intrepid explorers once suffered and died trying to find. These days you can explore it yourself aboard a cruise ship, seeing remote villages and looking out for polar bears.
‘Eat, Pray, Love’ and Travel
The New York Times interviews Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the bestseller “Eat, Pray, Love” — inspiration for a collection of essays called “Eat, Pray, Love Made Me Do It.” Gilbert reveals her favorite moment in the new book, shares her future travel plans and explains why her mother started traveling late in life.
Delta Is First Airline to Use New Baggage Tracking Technology
Could this be the beginning of the end of lost luggage? Conde Nast Traveler reports that Delta will start using radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to track checked bags by the end of this year. Delta claims that this system is 99.9 percent effective, more so than the current system of barcoded tags and scanners. We’re crossing our fingers.
Why I Travel the World Alone
Travel + Leisure features an essay by a hardcore adventure traveler (“During a recent trip to Chad … I spent 19 days sleeping in the great outdoors — and going to the loo there, too — while crossing the Sahara Desert. I showered twice in 21 days”) who finds incredible rewards in the challenges and freedoms of traveling alone. We bet you’ll be inspired by her story too.
This week’s featured video comes from JetBlue, which turned frowns upside down on a recent flight by giving away discounts off a future trip every time a baby cried on the plane. Happy Mother’s Day!
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.
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.
Vancouver, a diverse seaport and the largest city in British Columbia, is a perfect place to explore on your own. Solo travelers can sample their way through the sensory-exploding market of Granville Island or avoid the rain under the enchanting overhang of a traditional Chinese garden. If you are independently exploring Vancouver, make sure not to miss the five best things to do around the city for solo travelers.
Walk (or Bike) the Seawall
The Seaside Greenway, a 17.4-mile pedestrian and bike path encircling scenic parts of Vancouver, is the world’s longest uninterrupted waterfront pathway. The Seawall is a stunning portion of this pathway, surrounding the city’s massive Stanley Park and extending past charming English Bay beaches. With restrictions that dictate direction, pedestrian-only lanes and walk-your-bike areas (at times the path becomes extremely narrow), this picturesque path is best enjoyed solo as you take in the sights. A 5.6-mile stretch, the Seawall takes an estimated two to three hours to walk and one hour to cycle.
Savor a Meal
While dining out in any new city can be a great way to experience the local culture as well its unique food scene, eating alone in Vancouver proved to be satisfying in a different way. Whereas “table for one?” might be uttered with a tinge of dismay in certain swanky metropolitan eateries, I always felt welcomed — even special, and in a strange way, brave –for dining solo in Vancouver. Servers happily chatted about the menu and weren’t hesitant to spend time at my table. Grabbing a paper or people-watching during my meals, I made an effort to not even pick up my phone (hence no foodie photos!). In the trendy Gastown district (where I stayed) try Acme Cafe for comfort food (51 W. Hastings St.); Nuba for delightful Lebanese (various locations — I visited 207 W. Hastings St.); and Bao Bei, a Chinese brasserie (163 Keefer St.).
Visit an Authentic Chinese Garden
The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, located within Vancouver’s Chinatown, is an authentic representation of a Ming Dynasty-era scholar’s garden — the first of its kind outside of China. Calming water features and traditional architecture (complete with the smell of teak wood) contrast peacefully with the city skyline in the background. This is a great place for solo travelers to escape with their thoughts and reflect — and because of the roof design, it’s even better in the rain.
Explore Science World
While I experienced unparalleled sunny weather in Vancouver during my visit in late June, the region is known for rain. If you’re looking for a way to spend a gray day that won’t require being cooped up or stuck shopping, take a visit to Science World. A sparkling geodesic dome, towering metal dinosaur and Mondrian-like exterior invite you into a museum with intricate exhibits that will keep you occupied for hours. Can’t bear the thought of wading through crowds of kids? Science World hosts occasional After Dark adult evenings featuring special guests such as the animators from “Jurassic World” — check ScienceWorld.ca for details.
Spend a Day at Granville Island
You could throw a stone to Granville Island; it’s that close to downtown Vancouver. Short of swimming there, you can take a ferry across False Creek (or have a taxi or tour bus drop you off — buses aren’t allowed past a certain point). Alone with nothing but your five senses, Granville Island offers a feast for all of them. There’s plenty to keep you occupied here, from beer tasting at Granville Brewing Company to seasonal live music to endless artsy shops (including fun independent toy stores). But our favorite stop is the public market, featuring a smorgasbord of fresh food and gourmet delights. If you’re missing human interaction, consider taking a tour with Vancouver Foodie Tours, which allows you to sample the market’s many goodies while meeting other travelers along the way.
Picture Will Smith driving around an abandoned Times Square in the post-apocalyptic movie “I Am Legend.” Now picture yourself on a commercial airplane about to take off with only you and the crew aboard. Maybe not as dramatic as driving a sports car through Manhattan at the end of the world, but for one Brooklyn native, this travel dream became a near-reality on his Delta flight Monday. According to ABC News, Chris O’Leary boarded his delayed flight to New York to find that the rest of the passengers had been rebooked. He documented his experience on social media with updates like, “I just got a personal safety briefing from my two flight attendants.”
Alas, just before take-off another passenger boarded, and “the thrill” had passed for what might have been O’Leary’s only shot at a private plane. Still, we imagine they each had plenty of space to recline and enjoy the peace.
This freak flight occurrence had us thinking: What other travel experiences would you enjoy more if you had them completely and totally to yourself? Would you take a cruise as the only passenger? A train ride as the only occupant? How about having the Pyramids of Giza to yourself? Would having the time and space to wander around major landmarks utterly on your own be more fulfilling, or would it feel strange and deserted without a bit of a crowd?
I would love to have the Louvre, or another cavernous museum, to myself for a day. To me, art is very subjective, and I would prefer to have my own experience interpreting the pieces without anyone else pausing in front to ponder.
Tell us: What travel experiences could you get used to solo?
We’ve written often about the joys of traveling alone, including the freedom to decide what you want to do and the greater opportunity to meet new people. But going solo always has an element of risk to it as well, and that’s where a new site called My Important Information can help.
One of the dangers of traveling by yourself is that if you’re in an emergency and unable to communicate with first responders or doctors, there’s no one else to convey your wishes or share pertinent information about your allergies and medical history. My Important Information is a subscription service that allows you to enter this type of personalized data into an online profile featuring as much or as little as you wish to share. Emergency contacts, medications, physician info, medical conditions, allergies and even the location of your living will can all be uploaded to the site.
The $30 annual membership fee includes a wallet-friendly card with a QR code that can be scanned by a smartphone, as well as an emergency code that can be entered into the My Important Information website. Either option allows first responders, hospital staff and the like to access data that could save your life in an emergency.
The service isn’t just useful for travelers; you also get a window sticker and two refrigerator cards for your home, which are especially useful if you live by yourself.
One caveat for international travelers: There’s currently no translation feature on the site, so if the person reading your profile doesn’t speak English, the information may not do him or her any good. A spokesperson for the site tells us that a translator is an enhancement that may be added in the future, with Spanish as the likely first option. In the meantime, because you can change your profile at any time, you may want to tailor it before each trip. If you’re headed to Brazil, for example, you can copy and paste the most important info into a service such as Google Translate and get a rough Portuguese translation to add to your profile.
You can cancel your membership at any time; if you don’t, the service will automatically renew (and charge your credit card) each year.
Want to give it a try? My Important Information is offering a special discount to IndependentTraveler.com readers. Enter the code IT10 when signing up, and you’ll get 10 percent off the $30 annual fee. (Future renewals will maintain the discount.)
A few years ago I came across a really great travel deal to Ireland. It included flights, accommodations, a car rental and even a castle stay, all within my budget. I had recently moved home from college and was working at the time, but many of my friends didn’t have the finances for travel that I had saved. Apart from not knowing how to drive a manual (I still give my parents grief for not teaching me how), there was something holding me back that wasn’t price, availability or my desire to go — I just didn’t feel completely safe traveling alone.
My hesitation to pack my bags didn’t come from inexperience — I have traveled my whole life and spent four months overseas when I was 20 years old, in countries such as Brazil, South Africa, China and India (albeit while I was studying abroad, and always with a group).
Recent crimes against women in the news worldwide, coupled with an unsettling piece in the New York Times last week about violence against women traveling abroad, had me reflecting on my own position.
While Europe is considered a relative safe zone by many travelers, I still couldn’t picture tasting my first authentic Guinness, alone in an Irish bar, away from anyone I knew. It wasn’t the fear of loneliness — the beer would be just as delicious with or without a companion — it was purely concern of the unknown. This is because the question many women travelers have been asking for so long should be less a question about being abroad, and more about women’s safety on a global scale.
I think it’s so difficult for aspiring travelers (of any gender) to wander the world carefree, because the open-mindedness and welcoming attitude that serves as the cornerstone of independent travel, is in direct conflict with the disheartening reality of violent crime. In particular, women are not only targets for violence, but also sexual violence, which makes the decision to travel solo more poignant and more of a risk. This isn’t the reality in some distant, lawless land; this is the reality everywhere in the world — both at home and on foreign soil.
It then might not make sense for me to justify so much time spent wandering the streets of New York City alone, at all hours of the day or night, but context is a factor in my personal decision of whether I feel safe in a location. I am familiar with New York — I speak the language, I know the laws, I know how to get around, and in a pinch, I have familiar faces I can phone that are nearby. That’s not to say statistically, New York is any safer than Istanbul or any other city, but my comfort level and my instincts feel more refined there. I could just as easily become a victim of a hapless crime one block from where I live as I could halfway across the world, so in my eyes, it’s a matter of taking chances.
Sarai Sierra was one woman among many who travel solo. Unfortunately, Sierra did not return home from her trip to Turkey last year, when unlike many solo travelers, she was murdered after her assailant made unwanted advances towards her. Media attention steeped in fear may be to blame for putting many societal issues in a negative light — the one- in-a-hundred chance — but the fact is things can and do happen while traveling abroad (being alone and a woman doesn’t help your case) and for a time they can outshine the many fulfilling experiences people do have. (Jodi Ettenberg wrote a very balanced blog on the subject for Legal Nomads in February 2013 – – the same month Sierra was found dead.)
So are women safe abroad? I would say just about as safe as they are anywhere. Travel is a risk, and one everyone should take, but the circumstances regarding solo travel are especially personal (and as a woman, more vulnerable). I am sad to say that while the prospect of traveling alone isn’t an impossible feat, as a woman, I must admit it makes me nervous. As with anything in life, stepping outside your door is a daily gamble — it’s up to you if the benefit of having meaningful travel experiences outweighs the potential challenges.
I had the chance to travel solo to Ireland, and in the end I was too unsure about it. With everything going on in the world, my fears weren’t exactly unfounded. However, the point is women are at risk anywhere, and a lot of women travelers understand that and go anyway. If I can roam the streets of the City that Never Sleeps, then maybe one day I can pick up and do the same independently in the Emerald Isle.
Solo travel can be reflective, rewarding and exhilarating, but it also presents challenges. For some, eating alone is an experience that takes getting used to. (See Terror at the Table for One.)
Luckily, the times may be changing for solo diners. At Eenmaal, a restaurant in Amsterdam, you can feel secure in asking for a table of one because that’s all that’s available; you and your fellow diners all are eating alone, together.
Hailed as the first one-person restaurant in the world, Eenmaal (which means “one time” as well as “one meal” in Dutch) describes itself as “an attractive place for temporary disconnection.” The solo eatery takes its form as a pop-up restaurant, only open during select times in select locations, and it’s far from depressing — it’s always sold out, according to its website.
Marina van Goor, the social designer and mastermind behind Eenmaal, sought to create the restaurant as a social experiment to confront the concept of loneliness in the Internet Age. The idea has not only gained widespread media attention but has led to a rash of emerging pop-up eateries for one worldwide.
The idea already exists in Japan, where space is limited but ideas for unique eateries are plenty. Take this restaurant where you can dine (alone?) with stuffed animals, for example.
As for myself, I generally forgo the fluff and face the plate without any companionship — teddy bear included — although I admit the urge to check my phone might reach an uncomfortable level. The one time I decided to go to a local brunch spot by myself, I came equipped with a book, a notebook, a pen and plenty of ways to look busy — and I wasn’t even abroad! However, I ended up enjoying my pot of tea without needing further distraction. In a world filled with constant stimulation, I found that to be an accomplishment.
You know you’ve got it bad when all you want to do is run up to the nearest stranger and ask her for a hug. While I never actually did that, back in 2004, after six weeks traveling in New Zealand alone and about to start another five weeks solo in Australia, I was desperate for some human contact.
I’d never given it much thought before, but humans are by nature social creatures. We crave not just human interaction, but physical touch as well. And I’m not talking in-the-bedroom touch; I’m simply referring to the everyday casual brush of the arm, hand touches, half hugs and such, which we typically get from close friends and family. Take this away from us, and we start to feel lonely and cut off.
This leaves solo travelers in a bit of a bind. Try touching a stranger on the shoulder, and I bet you that person startles. Brush past a person and you’re bound to get a dirty look. So how do you get even a tiny bit of much-needed physical contact?
Shake Hands: Handshakes are the easiest way to ensure yourself physical contact because they are socially acceptable in most countries and you can offer your hand to most people you meet. There’s rarely much warmth in a handshake — but if you’ve gone two or three weeks without touching anyone, you’ll be surprised at how good it feels.
Ask Someone to Dance: While this may not be possible everywhere you go, there are certain countries where dancing is an important part of their evenings. In Ireland and Scotland, for example, ceilidhs are a popular forum for Celtic music and dancing, and the locals are always up for dancing with someone new.
The Arm Touch: This one’s probably easier for men, who are generally comfortable clapping another guy on the arm when saying hello, even if it’s just the hotel doorman. My tricky tactic: gently bump someone “by accident” in a store or a line, then place my hand on their arm to steady them, while I apologize. It may sound silly, but it works.
Risk a Hug: Slightly less problematic for women, hugs are the ultimate casual physical touch, but usually require at least a little familiarity with the person you’re hugging. Not so easy when you’re traveling, but it can be done. If you’re staying in a bed and breakfast, give your host a quick hug in the evening to say thank you for all she (or he) has done for you. On a tour or cruise, make friends and offer half-hugs in the evening. If you’re a really comfortable hugger, wear a “Free Hugs” T-shirt out and about. Someone will take you up on the offer!
Have you ever noticed you’re missing physical touch when traveling alone? How have you handled it?
I recently returned from a marvelous trip to Amsterdam, where I toured museums, ogled tulips, sipped jenever, ate pickled herring and explored the city’s canals and historical monuments — by myself.
I was informed early on that I’d be on my own for the trip, which was my first to the Netherlands. To put it mildly, I was terrified. I’d heard horror stories about pickpockets and districts of the red-light variety, and I’ll do just about anything to avoid dining by myself. But, as someone who has an abysmal sense of direction, I was most worried about finding my own way through the city without the help of a travel companion.
Some people cringe at the idea of traveling alone, but overall, I was relieved to discover that in Amsterdam nearly everyone speaks English, maps are plentiful and the train system is easy to use. (I only got lost twice!)
The most important takeaway for me, however, was that I was able to do the trip at my own pace. In addition to spreading myself out in my non-shared hotel room, I went to sleep when I wanted, I woke up when I wanted, I walked everywhere, and I saw/toured/tasted more than 20 of Amsterdam’s most popular landmarks/museums/foods and beverages in just four days. The freedom to go at such a break-neck pace is something I probably wouldn’t have had if I’d brought a friend.
Have you traveled alone? If not, would you consider it? If so, what are some of the fun experiences you’ve had solo? Leave your comments below.
Anyone who’s traveled solo knows that it can be both rewarding and stressful. If you’re like me, you’ve probably discovered that dining sans companions can be one of the most awkward aspects of venturing out alone. (Let’s just say I was pretty discouraged when I ended up eating by myself during the first four nights of a six-night cruise last year.)
In a recent Independent Traveler poll, about 35 percent of voters said they either try not to dine alone or absolutely avoid it at all costs. Females who fall into either of those camps may want to check out Invite for a Bite, a Web site that allows women traveling alone to meet up for meals.
Founder Cressida Howard says on the company’s “about” page that she came up with the idea after listening to a radio broadcast during which several women lamented dining solo. Women who join the site can set up invitations asking for other female dining partners to join them for a bite … or a movie or whatever.
The site includes safety tips (after all, you’ll likely be meeting up with complete strangers), and according to the frequently asked questions section, it’s limited to females for safety reasons — and so as not to be confused with a dating site.
Would having dinner with someone you’ve never met be less uncomfortable than dining alone? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.