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The IndependentTraveler.com Blog

Here’s another edition of our weekly travel news round-up, keeping travelers informed, inspired and entertained.

airplane water sunsetHow to Fly Free Forever: Charge $170 Million on Your AmEx Card
A Chinese billionaire recently charged the purchase of a $170 million painting to his American Express card, racking up enough reward points to fly in first class for free for the rest of his life. USA Today estimates that he could fly in a first-class suite with Singapore Airlines some 3,000 times between Europe and the United States. (Wonder if he’d be interested in donating a few of those points to those of us with smaller credit card limits?!)

The First Debit Card for U.S. Travelers to Cuba Is Now Available
Speaking of spending money, it’s just gotten a little bit easier for American travelers headed to Cuba. Skift reports that a Florida bank is offering a debit card for Americans to use for hotel stays, restaurant meals and other purchases in Cuba. The card will not yet work at the island’s ATMs, though this may change next year.

Clever Tricks That Fix Common Packing Problems
This fun slideshow from Frommer’s offers nine ingenious packing hacks — from hiding extra cash in an empty deodorant tube to using straws to keep your necklaces from tangling — complete with GIFs that show you how to execute each one.

7 Keys to Traveling Without Fear Despite Terrorist Attacks
Wendy Perrin offers wise, practical advice to those feeling understandably jittery about traveling in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris and Mali. She explains why terrorism is so frightening but points out just how unlikely each of us is to be caught in this type of scenario as compared to other travel risks (such as car accidents).

Finding VIP Travel Experiences: A Q&A with Wendy Perrin

As a reminder of the world’s beauty, we’ll wrap up this week’s travel round-up with an exquisite travel video from Bhutan, featuring golden Buddhas, fluttering prayer flags and friendly local faces creased with smiles.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

What do you do when wanderlust strikes, but you’re not in a position to indulge it? That’s a dilemma I often face this time of year, when work is busy with end-of-the-year deadlines and most of my budget and vacation time are allotted to family-focused holiday travel. The more restricted I am from traveling somewhere exotic, the more I want to go away.

One way I’ve found to cure an untimely travel itch is to watch TED Talks. TED is a nonprofit that aims to share ideas about all sorts of topics in the form of videos of 18 minutes or less. Topics range from business to science to self-help, and quite a few speakers have presented travel-themed talks too. I turn to them to satisfy my wanderlust.

Below are five of my favorite TED Talks to help you indulge your own escapist travel fantasies.

Photographer Chris Burkard is absolutely crazy — and I love it. He travels to the frigid ends of the Earth to take pictures, surf and, as he describes in this 10-minute video, go on a “personal crusade against the mundane.”

Tony Wheeler is the founder of the travel guidebook series Lonely Planet. His 17-minute presentation focuses on the unusual and seemingly dangerous places he likes to travel.

Kitra Cahana is a modern-day and self-proclaimed vagabond. As a child she traveled the world with her parents. When she became an adult, she found she couldn’t stop. She has spent her days documenting the lives of other nomads in the United States, which she discusses in this five-minute video.

Whenever I feel guilty about the amount of money I spend on travel, I watch videos like this one, in which Turkish presenter Gulhan Sen details how travel changes you for the better. Money well spent!

Modern-day explorer Ben Saunders was the youngest person ever to ski solo to the North Pole when he successfully completed his goal in 2004. He did a talk in 2006 about it, but I like the following talk even better — a general, 10-minute presentation on why we should all spend more time outdoors.

4 Travel Videos That’ll Make You Want to Get Up and Go
4 New Videos to Inspire You to Travel

–written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

Confession: I’m a habitual under-packer. On the surface that seems like a good thing — I never have to worry about lugging a heavy bag or paying checked baggage fees. But this seemingly good habit attracts other problems: I end up cold because I refused to pack a sweater that I declared too bulky, or I run out of hair conditioner midway through a trip and look like a fuzzy-headed mad scientist in half my photos.

Most people aim to pack less. I aim to pack smarter.

Thankfully, I discovered a smart woman who’s helping me: Sonia Gil, an online travel expert with an array of practical packing videos on her YouTube channel. After nearly two decades spent researching travel packing tips, I thought I’d heard it all. But I actually learned some new things from Gil, a spunky 34-year-old from Venezuela.

For instance, she doesn’t merely parrot rules about liquids needing to be in 3.4-ounce bottles — she actually recommends specific bottles, such as ones with wide mouths and made of ultra-squeezeable materials. (One of my biggest travel pet peeves: When half the lotion or shampoo remains lodged in an already-tiny bottle.) Check out her thoughts on “How to Achieve Carry-On Perfection” below:

Other great tips from Gil:

– A hotel hair dryer can do an adequate job of de-wrinkling clothes. No need to whip out the iron and ironing board (if your room even has one).

– If you’re traveling to a cold-weather destination, put a pair of insoles in your shoes. They’ll help keep your feet warmer.

– Use masking tape to seal toiletries so they don’t leak. Seal the opening itself and run a loop of tape around the lid seam. Before learning this tip I had put my toiletries in individual zipper bags, but that often left me with a mass of sticky bags that ended up going to waste.

– Tuck a few Band-Aids in your wallet. I always pack them in my toiletry bag, but how’s that useful when you’re out touring and end up with a cut or a blister miles away from your hotel? A no-brainer.

The Ultimate Guide to Travel Packing

Gil offers other fun and useful videos, including how to sleep on a plane, how to exchange currency and how not to gain weight when traveling.

–written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

I’ve taken many a trip, been on many a flight, and maybe because I’ve been (knock, knock) lucky about not having my luggage lost, I’ve never contemplated what happens to my suitcase after I drop it at the luggage counter. Without much imagination, I always assumed baggage handlers industriously gathered the checked luggage onto carts and wheeled them out to some kind of freight elevator where they journeyed to the tarmac below and were then loaded by another industrious group of baggage handlers onto the plane.

What Do I Do if My Luggage is Lost?

Little did I know, while I’m thumbing through magazines and finding the nearest Jamba Juice before settling in to await the boarding process, my luggage is having the ride of its life — at least it would in Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, where a first-person (bag) video has recently been released, chronicling a checked bag’s journey through an intricate series of conveyor belts and robotic platforms. Seriously, if this thing were designed for humans, it would be the hottest new theme park attraction.

We found the video on Time.com, but if you browse the airport’s website, you can find a version that allows you to scroll for 360-degree views.

What other inside view of travel would you like to see a video of? Share with us in the comments.

Four High-Tech Luggage Tags and Apps That Will Save Your Trip

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

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

Earlier this year, JetBlue introduced a new series of Flight Etiquette videos that gently mock the egregious behavior of some air travelers — like the person who falls asleep and drools on your shoulder. Or the guy who brings a foul-smelling lunch that stinks up the whole cabin. Or the woman who shares her entire life story over the course of a three-hour flight.

The latest installment of the series addresses the people often called “gate lice” — folks who are so desperate to get on the plane that they crowd around the gate well before their own boarding zone is called. The video made me laugh out loud a few times:

While it’s easy to make fun of these overly aggressive travelers, it’s also worth asking whether this is something the airlines have brought upon themselves. Many fliers are eager to board as early as possible because they know there’s not enough overhead bin space for everyone’s carry-ons, especially now that so many of us are trying to avoid paying extra to check a bag. The fact that JetBlue recently added fees for the first checked bag will probably only make the airline’s gate lice problem worse, not better — no matter how many funny videos it puts out.

The Airplane Seat: Narrow, Cramped — and About to Get Worse

You can see all the Flight Etiquette videos on JetBlue’s YouTube channel.

For more airline laughs, check out Patrick Stewart Hilariously Acts Out 5 Most Annoying Fliers.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Every so often I wander over to Vimeo, a video-sharing site that’s one of my favorite sources for travel inspiration. I know that every time I visit I’ll find myself drooling over films from exotic locations around the world.

One of my latest discoveries is this poignant look at Myanmar (Burma), which captures fishermen rowing their boats, children at play and other scenes of everyday life:

Next we head to Istanbul, where this filmmaker lovingly zooms in on the city’s mosques, mosaics and minarets:

Ever wondered what it might be like to swim with jellyfish? You can try it at Palau’s Jellyfish Lake, where the creatures do sting, but not powerfully enough to harm humans. The resulting footage is mesmerizing:

Finally, here’s an intriguing look at Egypt from a filmmaker who wanted to counter some of the negative media coverage the Middle East’s gotten over the past few years:

Okay, I’m ready to plan my next trip. How about you?

4 Travel Videos That’ll Make You Want to Get Up and Go

— written by Sarah Schlichter

expedia intern campaignIt seems that every industry these days, including travel, is scrambling to target Generation Y: the 20- and 30-somethings also referred to as millennials. Travel-booking giant Expedia is taking its own approach by appealing to curious, young would-be bookers with a new series of online-only videos featuring Jay (a nerdy character Elijah Wood might play but with a much more nasal voice who serves as the question moderator) and Stuart (color commentary provided by a Seth Rogen look-alike).

As a real-life millennial, I was forwarded the verge-of-trying-too-hard campaign (found in an article by GeekWire) by a coworker who was pretty sure my delicate millennial sensibilities would be offended by the heavy-handed duo with their own hashtag — #ExpediaInterns. In actuality, I thought it was smart — employ two slightly off-base stereotypes to elicit travel questions and concerns from a target demographic. Things like: “When is the best time to book a flight?” are answered in a live-to-serve way by intern Jay, while Stuart interrupts with nonsensical babble to lighten the matter-of-fact tone.

What my Gen X colleague found condescending, I found convenient — just tweet any queries to #ExpediaInterns and the carefully selected marketing team behind Jay and Stuart promise an answer and maybe even a video highlighting your inquisitive tweet. While she found that the tone suggested our questions weren’t being taken seriously, I felt the shtick was perfectly acceptable as long as the answers were accurate.

Perhaps I have been desensitized to Internet buffoonery through constant exposure day in and day out, but if I had the choice of a tutorial explaining algebra with a voiceover or a tutorial with a cat in a robe explaining algebra — well, you do the math. Regardless of whether your gimmick gets me to click, if you’re delivering quality advice and information, I’m all for the frivolous format.

Jay and Stuart are five videos strong so far, discussing topics like the best time to book, international travel, mixing and matching airlines and choosing a smaller airport (topics are air travel-heavy at the moment). To follow along, use #ExpediaInterns on Twitter or visit their website.

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

Amid all the shamrocks, soda bread and green beer, it takes a lot to cut through the St. Patrick’s Day clutter — but Liam Neeson has done it with a warmhearted video recently released by Tourism Ireland. Combining a beautifully delivered voiceover with footage of rolling green hills, crumbling cathedral ruins and smiling locals, Neeson helps us understand Ireland’s enduring appeal. Check out the video below:

I don’t have a drop of Irish blood in me, but after viewing that video, I’m ready to drop everything and plan a trip. What about you?

Photos: 12 Best Ireland Experiences
Accommodations in Ireland: B&Bs, Caravans and More
Getting Around Ireland

— written by Sarah Schlichter

On a trip to Belize a few years back, one of the best souvenirs I brought home was a CD featuring music from the local Garifuna people. Just as I often try to recreate a few recipes from my travels in my own kitchen between trips, I also enjoy sampling the music of the world as a way to evoke the places I’ve been — or those I hope to visit. Below are a few videos to get you started on a musical journey of your own.

This piece is from the Iranian-American group Niyaz, with lyrics based on the work of the 11th-century Persian poet Baba Taher.

Next up is a performance at Carnegie Hall of perhaps the most famous Cuban song of all, “Chan Chan” by the Buena Vista Social Club.

Marisa Monte is a popular Brazilian singer, born in Rio de Janeiro.

The next artist, Rokia Traore, hails from the West African nation of Mali. The haunting song below, “Melancolie,” is from her latest album, “Musical Africa.”

The group SambaSunda draws on both international influences and the traditional music of their home in West Java, Indonesia.

Photos: 9 Best Destinations for Music Lovers

— written by Sarah Schlichter