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The IndependentTraveler.com Blog

Last month, we gave our readers a chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card by submitting a review of a recent trip. We loved reading their submissions, which inspired us with tales of hiking the Inca Trail in Peru and flying a historic plane in Santa Fe.

running of the bulls pamplona


Deciding on the winner was hard, but in the end we chose The Running of the Bulls by vagabondginger. Here’s an excerpt from her winning review:

“The best bulls from various ranches throughout Spain are brought to Pamplona to make for an exciting event. Certain ranches breed bulls with characteristics to make them brave and aggressive,” writes vagabondginger. “These Spanish Fighting Bulls get to a weight of at least 1,300 pounds and have longer horns than other breeds. Bullfights have a lot of pomp and pageantry, but also passion and drama with protesters. We do not condone or condemn but feel much like Hemingway did in his book ‘Death in the Afternoon’ that it’s part of Spain’s tradition. Someday it may be outlawed.” Read the rest!

While we only had one prize to give away, we also wanted to recognize a few runners-up whose reviews are also well worth a read:

On the Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu by Carolyn Boyle: ” All the iconic photographs of Machu Picchu in the travel brochures are taken from the perspective of the Terrace of the Ceremonial Rock, with Una Picchu and Huayna Picchu in the background. Near the Guardhouse is a large carved stone, the Ceremonial Rock; some human burials were found near here. This area was about an hour from the Gate of the Sun. At this point we had trekked almost exactly 7 miles, including short detours for ruins and waterfalls. We were fortunate to see Machu Picchu in glorious sunlight at the end of our day.”

MiG 15 Pilot by Stephen Goch: “Larry started the engine, and we taxied out for takeoff. We had to stay below 200 knots (230 mph) until we reached 10,000 feet. Our rate of climb was absolutely amazing! The light aircraft I fly has a rate of climb of between 500 and 700 feet per minute. The jet was climbing at 4,000 feet per minute! It was a fantastic experience.”

Costa Rican Trip by Danielle Toland: “The Costa Rican saying is ‘Pura Vida’ which means pure life. They embody this motto by being happy with their lives, being gracious for what they have, and living slowly and relaxed. I learned to be a little more gracious from them.”

Three Days of Outdoor Activity in San Francisco’s Microclimate by Jen Lucas: “The following day was one that I’ll remember for this lifetime. Everyone recognizes the Golden Gate Bridge as the major landmark of the city which I’ve seen previously but when my friend mentioned us riding bikes across, I visualized myself with a huge Sharpie checking off a large box on my bucket list.”

Feeling inspired? Write a review of your latest trip!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

This weekend Americans and Canadians will “fall back,” turning their clocks back an hour to end Daylight Saving Time for another year. The U.S. and Canada are two countries out of dozens around the world that switch their clocks back and forth during the year to save energy and maximize sunlight. But which places don’t observe this practice? Below are a few you might want to visit.

st basils cathedral moscow


President Vladimir Putin moved Russia from year-round “summer time” to year-round “winter time” in 2014.

wailua falls kauai hawaii


Hawaii is one of two U.S. states that do not observe Daylight Saving Time. The other is Arizona (with the exception of the Navajo Nation).

baobab trees madagascar


Like most African nations, Madagascar does not observe Daylight Saving Time.

yaksaam temple south korea


South Korea hasn’t observed Daylight Saving Time since the 1980s, according to historical info at TimeandDate.com.

new delhi india


Most of the world’s major industrialized nations observe Daylight Saving Time, but India is a prominent exception.

tourist and llama at machu picchu


Peru hasn’t observed Daylight Saving Time since a couple of separate years in the 1990s, according to TimeandDate.com.

bottom bay barbados


Since 1980, Barbados has fallen in line with most other Caribbean islands, which stay in the same time zone all year round.

The World’s Most Beautiful Waterfalls
The 9 Best Places to Travel Alone

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Check out the best travel stories you might have missed this week.

plane in hudson river sully


What the “Sully” Movie Gets Wrong
If you’re planning to see “Sully” — the new Tom Hanks movie about the emergency airplane landing in the Hudson River back in 2009 — you may want to take it with a grain of salt. Conde Nast Traveler reports that the film had to massage the truth a bit, adding in “villains” in the form of National Transportation Safety Board investigators.

Why “Sully” Made Me Proud to Be a Flight Attendant
While the movie may not have presented the NTSB in the best light, flight attendant Heather Poole found the portrayal of her profession to be both accurate and inspiring: “I can tell [my son] a million times that [my job is] not just about serving drinks and snacks, but until you see something like what happens in the movie ‘Sully,’ it’s kind of hard to grasp. To see his face light up like that made me feel good.”

25 Years After Independence, a Country at a Crossroads
This story offers a window into a rarely seen country: Tajikistan. As with most National Geographic features, the photos — stark mountain landscapes and probing portraits of the local people — are at least as striking as the words.

As More Devices Board Planes, Travelers Are Playing with Fire
As if we needed something else to worry about, the New York Times reports that the lithium-ion batteries found in smartphones, tablets and laptops are a major fire hazard on planes. Battery fires have contributed to three cargo plane crashes within the past decade.

Meet Earl, the Gatekeeper to Paradise
BBC interviews a man named Earl, the sole resident of a place called Paradise, located on a rough dirt road that runs between Montana and Idaho. Earl is the “camp host” for Bitterroot National Forest, welcoming hikers, rafters and other outdoorsy types throughout the summer months.

The Best Wildlife Photos from @USInterior on Instagram
All together now: “Awwww.” We love this slideshow of cuddly critters — starting with a baby bobcat! — sourced by USA Today from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Instagram account.

Airlines Mining Consumer Data to Target Potential Passengers
CNN reports that your airline may know more about you than you think — including your birthday, the places you visit most and what you buy besides airfare. It’s part of an effort to “improve passenger experience” (and/or market to you more effectively).

We cracked up over this week’s video, an “honest airline commercial” that sums up so many frustrating aspects of modern-day flying.


Patrick Stewart Hilariously Acts Out 5 Most Annoying Fliers
New Study Reveals Travelers’ Biggest Pet Peeves

— written by Sarah Schlichter

I admit it: I’m mourning the end of summer — those warm days spent basking on the beach, those last rays of sun lingering late into the evening. Fortunately, one of my favorite seasons to travel lies ahead.

I love autumn trips for the cool, comfortable weather, the lack of crowds and — of course — the colors. Check out five photos to get you in the mood to travel this fall.

scottish highlands autumn


Go hill walking in the Scottish Highlands and enjoy the dramatic fall colors — without the summer crowds. (Check out our 10 Best Scotland Experiences.)

mt fuji autumn


Japan may be most famous for its spring cherry blossom season, but autumn is a gorgeous time to visit Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, with fall foliage peaking from late October through much of November.

central park new york city autumn trees


Crisp, cool temperatures and crunchy leaves underfoot make fall our favorite time to wander through Central Park in New York City.

waterton lakes national park alberta autumn


Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta is one of many magnificent Canadian parks where you can go hiking through mountains blanketed in fall colors. (See our list of the 11 Best Canada Experiences.)

amsterdam canal in autumn


Amsterdam’s canals are picturesque any time of year, but there’s nothing like biking alongside the locals under a fiery orange canopy of trees. (Don’t miss our Amsterdam city guide.)

Where do you want to travel this fall?

The Best Travel Destinations for Every Month
12 Places That Shine in Shoulder Season

— 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!

monterey kayak


In this month’s winning review, a traveler lives out an animal lover’s dream: “On my bucket list: [kayaking] in Monterey Bay to observe wild sea otters up close,” writes Jill Weinlein. “This desire started last year after a trip to the Monterey Aquarium. The sea otter exhibit melted my heart. These playful furry mammals have a brown, thick coat that is the densest in the animal kingdom. They are most comfortable living in the ocean attached to kelp.”

Read the rest of Jill’s review here: Kayaking with Sea Otters in Monterey. Jill has won an IndependentTraveler.com sweatshirt.

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

In December we introduced you to a couple who quit their jobs, loaded their possessions into an Airstream travel trailer and set off to visit every national park in the United States. Stefanie Payne and Jonathan Irish are now halfway through their all-American adventure, capturing it in real time on their Facebook page and sharing more in-depth stories and photography on their website, The Greatest American Road Trip.

Their current location: Zion National Park. We checked in with them to see how the trip is going.

grand canyon national park hiker


Independent Traveler: Six months on the road, and you both still sound so upbeat and enthusiastic! How are you faring?
Jonathan Irish:
Personally, I feel as though we are living an exclamation point. Everything seems to be punctuated with the extreme. We are so tired from the constant moving, so energized by the beauty of the parks, so grateful for the opportunity to see these beautiful places, so humbled that we are touching so many people with memories from their own park experiences as well as inspiration to get out and keep exploring. It’s everything all at once. It is definitely the best year of our lives.

Stefanie Payne: It seems like an obvious answer, but we are having the best year. We’re enjoying every minute … even when it’s tiring. To be truthful, this is a really hard project in a lot of ways. Keeping up with producing and editing content is literally a round-the-clock job. And some days you just don’t want to hike eight miles up a mountain! But the desire to make the most of this opportunity and create meaningful content that people (and we) enjoy fuels us in a way that makes fatigue fall away.

IT: Tell us about some of your favorite moments so far.
SP:
Some of the highlights for me have been the big hikes — the Subway at Zion, Grand Canyon Rim to Rim, a hike to the ancient Bristlecone Pines in Great Basin, Nevada.

JI: I love the early morning photo explorations, when the rest of the world is sleeping and the world is just coming to life. During these outings, I always find myself in beautiful locations, walking in the woods or in the mountains, the sun just starting to rise.

I also love the big hikes we’ve been doing, where we’ve challenged ourselves. The Subway hike in Zion, the Rim to Rim in Grand Canyon, the Panorama Trail in Yosemite. These are great memories for me.

big bend national park jonathan irish


IT: What has been the hardest part of this trip — something you didn’t expect to be challenging?
SP:
Just keeping up with editing. That is the monster on this project. We put out a thorough snapshot from each park, I feel, but there is so much we’re creating that we simply don’t have time to work through. For every photo, memory, idea, there seem to be 100 more unshared and unsaid.

JI: I second Stef’s answer. It’s one thing to travel to the parks, but another to put out great content that people will want to come back to. It takes a lot of creative energy, which is very hard to keep at a high level all the time. Luckily, the nature in the parks renews us every time we feel drained.

IT: And what was easier than expected?
SP:
The task of finding and making a great experience in every park. Somehow, we always seem to manage to capture a park in a way we’re satisfied with.

IT: We saw you on “Good Morning America” recently and caught a glimpse of the inside of the Airstream trailer. Is it hard living in such a small space?
SP:
We’ve been living in a small space together for many years so we didn’t expect it to be difficult. But it is helping us to improve how we communicate. Any bickering has to be pushed through pretty quickly. There just isn’t time to not get along. And we’re both pretty happy.

JI: Being a full-time RVer has been easier than I expected. We love our Airstream and have gotten very used to living in it. In many ways, it is bigger than a lot of NYC apartments! And we love the fact that we are mobile. I could get used to this RVing life!


IT: What have you learned about yourself from embarking on this road trip?
JI:
This kind of trip tests one’s resolve and energy. We’ve found that we always have more of both than we thought, which has been really satisfying.

SP: We have more energy in ourselves than we might think. The trick is to apply it to something you love doing, surrounded by those whom you love doing it with.

Check out more travel interviews!

National Park Vacations: Top Tips
6 National Parks We Want to Visit Around the World

— interview conducted by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

With the U.S. National Park Service celebrating its centennial this year, national parks are in the spotlight — not just here in the States but around the world. We love national parks because they protect a country’s natural scenery and unique wildlife for all of us to enjoy, whether you’re driving through in a car, hiking a trail or camping in the backcountry. Check out these six national parks we want to visit around the world.

grand teton national park


Grand Teton National Park, U.S.A., offers magnificent mountain vistas.

elephants in etosha national park


On safari in Namibia’s Etosha National Park, you’ll spy lions, elephants, zebras and much more.

waterfall lamington national park


Located in Queensland, Australia, Lamington National Park encompasses miles of lush rain forest.

horses torres del paine


Torres del Paine National Park protects some of Patagonian Chile’s most stunning landscapes.

komodo dragon


Komodo National Park in Indonesia is home to the endangered Komodo dragon, along with a variety of marine wildlife.

northeast greenland national park



Northeast Greenland National Park is the world’s biggest national park, but it’s so difficult to reach that very few people actually visit it.

For more trip ideas, see our slideshow of the 12 most beautiful national parks in the world.

Planning an African Safari
National Park Vacations

Which national park tops your must-visit list?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Check out the travel stories you may have missed this week.

canyonlands national park hiker


National Parks: Ken Burns on Why They Were America’s Best Idea
With the 100th birthday of the U.S. National Parks coming up in August, USA Today sits down with filmmaker Ken Burns and his partner Dayton Duncan to discuss the importance of the parks — which Duncan calls “the Declaration of Independence expressed on the landscape.” They also reveal their favorite parks.

Visiting Museums Like the Louvre Is Terrible, and There’s No Fair Solution
A Washington Post columnist bemoans the crowds that mob the world’s great art museums, making it difficult to experience works such as the “Mona Lisa” and Rembrandt’s “Night Watch” without having to see past waving cell phones and cameras. (Our best solution: Travel during the off season and come early or late in the day.)

The Multi-City Flight Trick May Soon Be Ending
Conde Nast Traveler reports that American, Delta and United have closed a fare loophole that once saved crafty fliers some money. Before you could connect multiple nonstop tickets to create your own cheap connecting itinerary, but now you won’t be able to do that unless you purchase each ticket separately.

Update From Ecuador: What Travelers Should Know About Visiting Right Now
Following a strong earthquake in Ecuador last Saturday, Travel + Leisure reached out to the country’s Minister of Tourism to learn how its main tourist areas were faring. The Amazon and the Galapagos Islands were unscathed, while the port city of Guayaquil and other areas along the coast faced varying levels of damage.

10,000 People on the Waiting List to Try London’s New Naked Restaurant
Hmm, how appetizing does this sound? Lonely Planet profiles a London restaurant called Bunyadi, where you can dine naked in a “secret Pangea-like world” while perched on wooden stools. (Gowns are provided to put between your bare skin and any possible splinters. Whew!) The restaurant will only be open for three months this summer.

31 Secrets About Travel Insurance Only Insiders Know
Even we learned a few things from this GOBankingRates.com slideshow on travel insurance — like the fact that many plans come with concierge services, and that they also offer at least 10 days to cancel for free.

Where Marrying a Local Is Forbidden
BBC Travel profiles the remote Palmerston Atoll, a South Pacific island home to just 62 residents (all of whom are related). Foreign visitors are immediately adopted into a local family and can join the island’s daily volleyball game.

Speaking of the South Pacific, this video captures mesmerizing footage from Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, the Cook Islands and more.


12 Great Museums You’ve Never Heard Of
Tips for Finding Cheap Airfare

— written by Sarah Schlichter

A young British gal caused quite a stir in the mid-1800s when she finally admitted that she, a mere female, was the author of the popular book “Jane Eyre,” not the man whose pen name she had assumed. The book then landed on everyone’s must-read list, and novelist and poet Charlotte Bronte became a massive success.

bronte parsonage museum haworth england


In just a couple of weeks, England — and all of the literary world — will mark the 200th birthday of Charlotte Bronte. Here are a few spots that were important in her life, many of which will be commemorating the anniversary on April 21:

Thornton, England: Most of the Bronte children, including Charlotte, were born in the village of Thornton in West Yorkshire, England, at 74 Market Street. Visitors can see remains of the chapel where Charlotte’s father preached just opposite the village’s current church on Thornton Road.

Haworth, England: When the Bronte sisters grew up in Haworth, a village in Northern England, it was a congested industrial town where most residents barely survived into their mid-20s. Today Haworth is a charming mountain village that celebrates the lives of its most famous family. The surrounding region is now nicknamed Bronte Country, and their home is now the Bronte Parsonage Museum, run by the Bronte Society, one of the oldest literary societies in the world. A special exhibit commemorating the anniversary opened in February.

New York, United States: If you don’t have the opportunity to see the special Bronte exhibit at the Bronte Parsonage Museum, you can learn about her life and work at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York, which will host “Charlotte Bronte: An Independent Will” from September 9, 2016 through January 2, 2017.

Banagher, Ireland: Charlotte and her husband, Arthur Bell Nicholls, didn’t venture too far for their honeymoon. They spent it among the bogs and castles of Banagher, in County Offaly in the Irish midlands.

Brussels, Belgium: Charlotte lived in Brussels twice, both times working as a schoolteacher. She resided at an ordinary pension on the Rue d’Isabelle. Nothing remains of the original structure, but an arts center called the Palais des Beaux Arts commemorates the site with a plaque. And nearby are remnants of cobblestone streets that Charlotte and her sister Emily once walked.

London, England: The Brontes had one brother, Branwell, and he fancied himself an artist. He created a portrait of Charlotte with sisters Emily and Anne — a piece that was folded and hidden in a wardrobe. The National Portrait Gallery obtained the piece and is displaying it, along with other works of art, in the exhibit “Celebrating Charlotte Bronte.”

9 Great Authors and the Places That Shaped Them
Photos: 13 Best England Experiences

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

We’re celebrating the start of spring by daydreaming about … what else? … travel. Feast your eyes along with us on these incredible spots to see spring flowers around the world.

netherlands tulips windmill


Tulip fields bloom each spring across the Netherlands.


flowering trees nami island south korea


Flowering trees line a path on Nami Island, South Korea.


poppies california coast


Poppies add a dash of color to the California coast.


lupines lake tekapo new zealand


Lupines create a vibrant carpet beside Lake Tekapo, New Zealand.


tuscany italy spring flowers


Tuscany’s rolling hills are blanketed with spring flowers.


jefferson memorial cherry blossoms washington dc


Cherry blossoms wreath the Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.C.


Where should you travel this spring? Take our new quiz!

— written by Sarah Schlichter