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

See the world through the eyes of a suitcase. The “eyes,” in this instance, are six cameras that Delta Airlines attached to a piece of checked luggage. Delta recorded the bag’s journey from check-in counter to baggage claim area and posted the footage on YouTube. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll sway to a spacey New Age soundtrack as you watch the bag hitch a ride on a flight from Atlanta to New York. (I predict a big-budget Hollywood remake to follow.)

Note the teaser at the end: “Now you can track your bag’s journey.” Passengers aren’t permitted to attach spy cams onto their own Samsonites — at least not yet. But Delta’s making it easier to keep tabs on luggage with another kind of gadget. The airline has created a new app that allows travelers to follow the whereabouts of their checked bags on their smartphones. (Be sure that you don’t try tracking your bag during take-off or landing, lest you end up like Alec Baldwin.)

The app follows checked bags much the way postal services track packages, by providing a tracking code along with periodic status updates. In addition, fliers can use the app to get flight alerts, check in, make seat changes, rebook flights and more. Delta’s app is free, and it’s available for iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone. Download it here.

– written by Caroline Costello

Would rainbow lights, disco dancing and short shorts get you to pay attention to a pre-flight safety demonstration?

Air New Zealand hopes so. Yesterday, the airline rolled out a new safety video called “Fit to Fly with Richard Simmons,” featuring the famed fitness guru as well as a handful of local Kiwi celebs. Backed by dancers in sweatbands and wearing his signature itty-bitty shorts, Simmons is in full “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” form as he exhorts fliers to lose their baggage, buckle their seatbelts and follow crew instructions at all times. “FANTASTIC!”

You can check out the video below. (“Amazing Race” fans, keep your eye out for host and New Zealand native Phil Keoghan, who demonstrates the brace position in his seat — and even has a brief dance solo.)

Air New Zealand isn’t the only airline to get creative in an attempt to make jaded fliers pay attention to a safety demonstration; see our recent post about the dancing flight attendants on the Philippines’ Cebu Pacific airline.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

The next time you step up to the sink at an airport bathroom, your own face may not be all you see in the mirror. Two companies, Clear Channel Airports and Mirrus, have teamed up to design digital ads that are now being displayed on bathroom mirrors at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

The high-definition ads look like large posters until you step up to the mirror, at which point they shrink into one corner — allowing you to see both the ad and your own reflection while you wash your hands, adjust your combover or touch up your lip gloss. You can see how the ads work in the following video from Mirrus:

Relentless advertising is nothing new to air travelers, of course. In recent years, several airlines have experimented with putting ads on airplane tray tables, and the TSA has put them in some of its bins at security checkpoints. At least they’re not appearing inside the bathroom stalls — yet.

What do you think of the new ads?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

On Friday, passengers waiting for a delayed flight in Buenos Aires’ Jorge Newbery Airport were treated to a surprise song by none other than ’80’s pop icon Cyndi Lauper. The songstress belted out “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” on an airport terminal public address system, soothing waiting travelers with her melodic voice. A passenger captured the moment on camera, and the video’s been sweeping the Internet:

This reminds me of the time a group of stranded travelers joined together in a Beatles sing-along with a guitar-strummin’ fellow passenger at Newark International Airport. (Check out the video below.) This also reminds me to keep my flip video camera close at hand when killing time in the terminal. Who will be the next talented hero to entertain bored fliers? Justin Bieber? Celine Dion? Busta Rhymes? Share your thoughts!

– written by Caroline Costello

great migration serengeti tanzania africa safari wildlife wildebeestEvery year, nearly two million wildebeest, zebras and other mammals migrate across the Serengeti plains in Tanzania, drawing thousands of visitors to watch one of the world’s most unique and impressive wildlife displays. But next year, construction is set to begin on a road that will cut through the park — and could irrevocably disrupt the famous Great Migration.

The Tanzanian government is seeking to build the road for economic reasons, NBC’s “Today Show” reports (see below to watch the full video). The proposed 33-mile gravel road would grant easier access to the Lake Victoria region, which is a key source of high-demand earth metals used to make cell phones and hybrid car batteries.

But environmentalists warn that the effects on the park’s wildlife could be disastrous. An increased volume of trucks driving through the park could make poaching easier, cause a spike in animal collisions and introduce invasive substances, such as seeds, that would disturb the existing ecosystem. In addition to ecological concerns, the disruption of the Great Migration could affect tourism — not only in Tanzania but also in neighboring Kenya (the animals migrate to the edge of that country’s Masai Mara reserve).

Opponents have proposed a longer alternate route for the road that would run south of the Serengeti.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Want to speak out against the road? There’s a Facebook page and a petition. And don’t miss our tips for planning an African safari.

–written by Sarah Schlichter

spa roomVisit Lake Atitlan in Guatemala (and you should, come to think of it), and you may find yourself in the tiny village of San Marcos. With only a few hundred residents, cheap food and labyrinthine pathways contoured by stone walls, fences and trees, it’s one of the more unexpected New Age communities you’re likely to encounter — and with an international population at that.

It’s here I realized a few years ago that one of the best ways to get the rub on a place is to, well, get a rubdown in the place. You can choose from any number of massage therapists, but I picked one on the outskirts, where the heavily traveled path wasn’t so well worn. I wrote my name next to a time on a piece of paper tacked to a post, then showed up at my self-determined appointment, wondering what I’d gotten myself into. Not to worry: With thunder rumbling in the distance, the masseuse showed up precisely on time at the front door, led me to a lovely little room overlooking a garden and chatted about life in Guatemala in broken English as she provided the best $20 massage money can buy.

I’d go back in a heartbeat, if I could find the place again.

Since then, I’ve eagerly jumped at any chance to spa out, though nothing has topped my Atitlan experience. There’ve been massages at Utah’s Sundance resort, as well as in Vegas, London and North Carolina’s Outer Banks. I had a claustrophobic aromatherapy session in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia (think fragrant steam pumped into a phonebooth). I took the waters on a soaking tour of Saratoga Springs’ mineral baths in Upstate New York.

And now, a pedicure — in the middle of the ocean. During a recent spin on Royal Caribbean’s new Allure of the Seas, a loquacious charmer named Kim gave my weary toes some much-needed attention while she shared stories about her family back in Jamaica and recounted tales of working on a cruise ship. Bottom line: She misses her homeland, loves her floating workplace. While my toenails are still shiny from Kim’s efforts, the effects of the hot-rock leg massage and the cooling gels that followed it have, sadly, long disappeared.

(In case you’re wondering — and you are — I am not the only man to ever receive a pedicure at sea. Kim told me that about 20 percent of her clients are men. And when I asked her what sorts of pedial horrors she sees on a typical day, she just sort of shuddered and said, “I don’t want to think about it.”)

What’s next on my spa bucket list? I don’t know. I do know that you live and learn when you sit and soak, so I’m up for anything. Well, except for this:

To be honest, I’d rather talk to a human and learn something than have doctor fish nibbling dead skin off my big toe. But if you want to know more about this treatment, check out Seven Extreme Spa Treatments from Around the World.

– written by John Deiner

tel aviv ben gurion international airport terminalIn all the hoopla that’s been raised in the past few weeks about airport security, amidst the calls to opt out and “don’t touch my junk,” one question has persistently emerged: Isn’t there a better way?

Many experts — not to mention a few of our own readers — think there is. Rafi Ron, a former director of security at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, tells Newsweek that Israel’s security procedures are more effective than those in the U.S. because they focus more on people than on technology. Rather than relying so heavily on screening every single passenger with machines such as the new full body scanners, Ron recommends that airport security officers look for human behaviors that raise red flags — such as paying cash for a ticket, only flying one way or otherwise acting suspiciously.

Several readers who responded to our recent airport security poll agreed that the U.S. should look to Israel for an example of effective screening procedures. Writes member LSKahn, “[Israeli security officers] interview everyone standing in line for check-in and select [some] for further interviews. That works. When is the last time there was a problem on an Israeli plane?”

But critics have raised objections to the idea, citing the high cost of deploying such labor-intensive procedures at hundreds of airports across the United States and questioning whether this type of screening would lead to racial and religious profiling — and potential civil rights violations. Check out the video below from “The Joy Behar Show,” which features a debate about profiling at U.S. airports:

What do you think — would Israeli airport security strategies work in the U.S.?

–written by Sarah Schlichter

A few weeks after ExpressJet pilot Michael Roberts made waves at the airport security checkpoint by refusing both a full body scan and an enhanced pat-down, the TSA once again finds itself embroiled in controversy.

This time it was a California man, John Tyner, who came up against the TSA’s new security procedures. Tyner was selected to go through a full body scan at the San Diego airport; because he refused, he was taken aside for a pat-down. When the screener described the pat-down procedure, which was to include a manual exploration of Tyner’s hips, thighs and groin, Tyner responded, “If you touch my junk, I’ll have you arrested” — prompting the screening officer to call for a supervisor. In the end, Tyner was not permitted to fly, and he could face a fine and/or a civil lawsuit from the TSA for failing to complete the full security check before leaving the screening area.

Here’s a report (with video from Tyner’s cell phone) from CNN:

To read Tyner’s account and watch the unedited video of the incident, check out his blog.

Meanwhile, another pilot has joined Michael Roberts in standing up against the new security procedures. Continental pilot Ann Poe, who has an artificial hip that has necessitated additional screening in the past, declined to go through the full body scanner on November 4 due to concerns about radiation and the violation of medical privacy laws. She also objected to the enhanced pat-down, which she describes as “being sexually molested.” She was detained for two hours and prevented from flying her scheduled route.

Poe and Roberts aren’t alone; several pilot unions have also spoken out against the full body scanners and enhanced pat-down procedures.

If you face a choice between a full body scan and a pat-down on your next flight, what will you choose? Do you think the new screening procedures are fair?

–written by Sarah Schlichter

And you thought your last airport delay was bad.

Check out this footage from Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi, where Air India passengers were apparently stranded for up to 15 hours earlier this week without any information about why their flights were delayed:

Gotta love the blank looks on the faces of the Air India employees as frustrated passengers repeatedly press them for information. “What — you think we know what’s going on?”

Over the past few days, Air India has faced some upheaval (including baggage disruptions and flight delays) in the process of moving its domestic flight operations at India Gandhi International from Terminal 1 to a new Terminal 3, reports New Delhi Television, an Indian news network. It’s not clear whether the preparations for the move may have contributed to the incident in the video above.

Air India is apparently untroubled by the reports; on its Web site is a press release celebrating its “smooth transition” to the new terminal.

You May Also Like: Airport Delays: Six Ways to Cope

–written by Sarah Schlichter

scottevest delta ad Delta Air Lines evidently doesn’t want you to know about a certain travel jacket that transforms passengers into walking carry-on bags. The airline refused to print an ad featuring the 24-pocket fleece jacket by SCOTTEVEST/SeV Travel Clothing, which had been submitted for Delta’s in-flight magazine, Sky.

The ad, pictured here, shows an X-ray view of a travel jacket that has various items — passport, iPad, iPod, pen — stuffed into a multitude of pockets. Note the headline: “The Most Stylish Way to Beat the System, SCOTTEVEST Travel Clothing Has Specialized Pockets to Help You Stay Organized & Avoid Extra Baggage Fees.”

According to SCOTTEVEST C.E.O. and founder Scott Jordan, who’s been posting video commentary on this issue on his YouTube channel, Delta claims to have rejected the ad for two reasons. First, the “How to Beat the System” headline coupled with the image of an X-ray jacket implies that the “system” travelers are beating is the airport security system. Second, Jordan says the airline deemed the ad misleading because the jacket doesn’t actually help anyone save money on baggage fees, as each Delta passenger is entitled to one free carry-on bag.

Scott Jordan begs to differ. He argues that passengers can pack in their travel jackets what they would have otherwise stowed in checked bags, consequently saving them an extra piece of luggage in some cases. And, of course, this jacket is not designed to thwart airport security, says Jordan. Check out his response:

According to Tnooz, a Delta spokesperson released this statement: “Our discrepancy with this particular vendor was strictly based on creative standards. Delta and MSP Communications, publishers of SKY magazine, reserve the right to decline advertisements which do not appropriately represent Delta Air Lines or the travel industry.”

Whether or not Delta truly rejected the ad because of “creative standards,” the airline has gotten caught up in a blaze of bad publicity, fueled — in part — by Jordan’s clever promotional tactics. (SCOTTEVEST is the same company that paid for travel writer Rolf Potts to trek around the world with no bags and just an 18-pocket jacket, as we previously reported in our blog).

Ultimately, Scott Jordan — just like Delta — is making money from this modern epidemic of airline baggage fees. If we didn’t have to pay 50 bucks to check a bag, we probably wouldn’t need a 24-pocket travel jacket that sells for $140. Is Scott Jordan looking out for the little guy, or is he simply a shrewd C.E.O. taking advantage of public opinion to sell his product?

–written by Caroline Costello