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Monthly Archives: July 2016

About Passports

For sprouting voyagers, holding a first travel permit is just about a supernatural thing, offering a feeling of unadulterated probability and fervor. For reasons unknown there are a great deal of other enchanted and also not all that mysterious things to think about travel papers in 2016; here is a rundown of 10 truths you may not think about your visa – some crucial, some fair fun.

1. There will be a rush on U.S. passport applications in the coming year or two.

In 2005 Congress passed the Real ID Act, which set authentication standards for passports, driver’s licenses and other official ID cards. The adoption schedule is a classic bureaucratic tangle involving varied deadlines, extensions and exemptions, but for travelers, the most important piece of information is that you will need Real ID-compliant identification to fly domestically starting January 22, 2018.

If you have a driver’s license, you’d think you would be okay, but the sticking point is that not all states have adopted the new standards yet, and if your driver’s license has been issued by one of those states, you will need some other form of conforming ID. Thus, many U.S. citizens will be forced to get passports if their state does not update its licenses. Here is the current status of compliance and adoption by state.

This is just one reason passport applications will likely go up in the next year or two; another is the upcoming anniversary of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which in 2007 made it mandatory to carry a passport for any air travel between the U.S. and Bermuda, Canada, the Caribbean and Mexico. This resulted in a large number of new and renewed passports being issued in 2006 and 2007 — all of which will be up for renewal this year or next.

The State Department estimates that passport processing times could increase by one-third in 2016 and get even worse after that, so don’t get caught in the rush; check your passport status now and get ahead of it.

2. Your passport is not necessarily valid until the expiration date.

Your passport has a very clear expiration date, but that doesn’t always mean you can travel with it right up to that date. Many countries require that your passport be valid for a specified time after you arrive; this is to ensure that you don’t let your passport expire while in the country, stranding you there.

Some countries require that your passport be valid for 90 days after entry, including most European countries governed by the Schengen Act, but a safer rule of thumb is six months, which is the length of time required by China, Indonesia, Russia, Saudi Arabia and many other countries.

The State Department has a list of passport validity requirements here, but beware, this information may not tell the whole story. For example, to enter Brazil, the site indicates that your passport must be valid on the date of entry — but to get a Brazilian visa, your passport needs to be valid for six months beyond the date of entry.

Learn How to Get or Renew a U.S. Passport

3. Getting a visa may take more time than you think.

Speaking of visas, applying for one can be among the most complicated document transactions you will ever encounter. Many countries have multiple types, including tourist, work, business and student visas, and the application process and turnaround times can vary dramatically for each.

Additionally, some embassies and consulates require appointments to apply for a visa, sometimes with weeks-long wait times, while others may process only visa applications submitted through a third-party agency — and this can vary not only by country, but by the specific consulate office location. You sometimes need to show plane tickets, a letter of invitation and other documentation.

Add to these issues the fact that many consulates are understaffed, and getting a visa needs your attention well ahead of time. To avoid scrambling or paying expedite fees, start the process at least two or three months before your trip. Remember that you’ll have to give up your passport while the visa is being processed, so you’ll want to schedule your application around any other international trips you’re taking.

4. Renewing your U.S. passport overseas is actually pretty easy — but you need a little time.

If you are living or traveling abroad for an extended period of time, you may need to renew your passport while overseas. The process for this isn’t that different from doing so at home, although you will face some of the issues mentioned above, such as the need for an appointment or requirements that applications be mailed and not presented in person. This report from an American living in Paris underscores both the challenges and relative ease of the process.

5. Many passports have cool secret features.

For example, what happens when you put a Canadian passport under a black light beats any “70s Show” nostalgia.

The new Norwegian passport — the design of which was chosen from a public competition — shows the northern lights when you put it under a UV light.

And the U.S. passport has some 30 different security features at work; meanwhile, the current Nicaraguan passport has 89 such features.

6. The history of passports and passport forgery is riveting.

Speaking of technology used to verify passports, the history of passport and passport forgery is surprisingly interesting. For example, back in the 1700s wood block prints with a coat of arms were actually a pretty good anti-forgery tactic, as hiring a woodcarver was not a trivial matter, says Martin Lloyd in Fighting the Forger: The Secrets of Your Passport. He also notes that standardized government forms made forgery easier and that watermarks were used in France as early as 1808.

Meanwhile, reports that most of Europe dispensed with passports altogether when large numbers of citizens began traveling by rail in the 19th century, but they were brought back during WWI to hamper spies. (Incidentally, the British passport around this time included details such as “shape of face” and the size of your nose, according to the Guardian.)

Living Like a Local: Expat Interviews from Around the World

7. Selfies aren’t allowed — for now.

Passport photos have notoriously stringent requirements; in the U.S., the photo must measure two inches by two inches, with your head measuring between 1 and 1.375 inches. That means you can’t just snap a picture at home against the refrigerator and print it out at Target. The State Department also notes that “hand-held self portraits are not acceptable.”

The passport expeditor ItsEasy is trying to help change that, however; its passport application app now includes a mechanism to take a selfie that the company will use on your passport application.

8. “No day-of, no walk-ins” policies are sometimes flexible.

Many passport (and especially visa) counters do not accept walk-in applications without an appointment, and most say that same-day passports are not possible. Anecdotally, however, exceptions happen all the time, as I’ve seen based on comments from friends, colleagues and Internet strangers. You may find pity from a passport agency worker if you show up and really need help. (Just don’t plan around it.)

9. The world’s most powerful passport is…

Probably not your passport, according to analysis done by a travel technology company last year. The most desirable passport, based on a calculation that includes the cost of obtaining it and the extent of visa-free access to other countries, is the Swedish passport — which costs just $43 and gets you into 174 countries without a visa.

10. Not all “vacation” destinations require a passport.

Finally, if your U.S. passport is expired but you really want to travel outside the 50 states, you do have some options; consider visiting a territory of the U.S., where your driver’s license will suffice for now. Many of these are very attractive destinations, including Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands (St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas), American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam.

Know More About Hotel Safety Tips

We know, we know – when you’re in the midst of a furlough, the exact opposite thing you need to stress over is lodging security. Yet, coming back from a day of investigating Mayan destroys or examining French wines to find that your inn room has been scoured is a surefire approach to put a damper on a generally astounding trek.

Break-ins, fires, characteristic debacles and fear monger assaults are only a couple of the potential dangers to explorers’ wellbeing in inn rooms. While we don’t prescribe being excessively suspicious about some of these – all things considered, will probably be struck by lightning than to kick the bucket in a psychological militant assault – it’s in your own best enthusiasm to play it safe to ensure against more regular dangers, for example, robbery or flame. Perused on for our top inn security tips.

Before Your Stay

Long before you actually book your hotel, start by doing your homework. Take a careful look at the security situation in the country and/or city you’ll be visiting. Is terrorism a threat? Are tourists often targeted in local crimes? Are there certain neighborhoods, cities or regions that are more secure than others? The U.S. State Department offers country-specific safety information on its website.

When the time comes to book your hotel, don’t just look at rates and amenities — pay close attention to location as well. Is the hotel in an upscale residential neighborhood, a bustling business district or a seedy commercial area? Is it safe to walk around after dark? Is there a police station nearby? All of these factors could affect the likelihood of a break-in or assault during your stay. You can find neighborhood information online or in a good guidebook.

You’ll also want to find out about the hotel’s own security measures. Call ahead and ask whether the front desk is staffed 24 hours a day, if there are security guards on the premises and if there are surveillance cameras in the public areas. In areas where terrorism is an issue, are vehicles inspected before coming onto the premises? Is access to guestroom floors restricted to guests only? If hotel staff can’t offer any specific examples of what they do to keep guests safe, book somewhere else.

They’re few and far between, but women-only accommodations may be worth looking into for female travelers, particularly those traveling solo and worried about safety.

Make sure you have a cell phone that will work throughout your trip. Program key phone numbers into it ahead of time — like the direct line to your hotel’s front desk, the number of your home country’s nearest embassy and the nationwide emergency number (such as 911 in the U.S. and Canada, or 112 in many parts of Europe).

Make two copies of your passport and credit/ATM cards: one to leave at home with a friend or family member, and the other to bring with you on your trip. (Be sure to keep it in a separate place than the originals in case of theft.) It’s also a good idea to leave a copy of your itinerary with someone at home to make it easier to track you down during a natural disaster or terrorist attack.

For protection during international travel — particularly long-term trips or visits to less stable countries — we recommend registering your presence with your country’s embassy or consulate in the region.

Checking In

Don’t accept a room on the ground floor if you can avoid it. Many safety experts recommend staying somewhere between the third and sixth floors — where rooms are high enough to be difficult to break into, but not so high that they’re out of the reach of most fire engine ladders.

If you’re staying in a motel where doors open directly to the outside (rather than a hallway), see if you can get a room overlooking an interior courtyard instead of a parking lot.

Don’t let the front desk attendant publicize your room number. If he or she announces it out loud when giving you your key, ask for a different room.

While you’re at the front desk, ask which phone number you should dial in case of emergency. Is there a direct line to the hotel’s security team? Should you call the national emergency number?

Upon arriving at your room, immediately identify a fire escape route. Check the location of the nearest stairwell and/or emergency exit (elevators should be avoided during a fire) and figure out a couple of potential plans for escape in case the hallway is blocked in one direction or another.

Check the locks on the windows (and balcony door, if applicable) as soon as you arrive, and notify the front desk if any are not functioning. It’s a good idea to check these locks again each time you return to the room, as housekeeping may open them and forget to close them again. If your room connects to the one next to it, make sure that door is locked as well.

During Your Stay

Keep your door locked at all times whenever you’re in your room — including any deadbolts, security chains or swinging metal security locks. Never prop your door open, no matter how briefly.

At night, leave a pair of shoes next to the bed in case you need to leave in a hurry. Keep your room key, wallet, smartphone and a flashlight close to hand as well.

If someone comes to your door unexpectedly and claims to be hotel staff, call the front desk to make sure the visit was actually authorized. Never open your door to someone until you’re sure of his or her identity; use the peephole instead.

Protect your valuables by using the hotel safe — or, better yet, leaving them at the front desk while you’re out. Get a written receipt for anything you leave with the front desk and find out whether you’re covered in case of loss. (Many hotels do not accept liability for items left in guestroom safes.) If you’re traveling with a laptop, check ahead to be sure the safe in the room is large enough to hold it. Small locks are also available for suitcases.

When you’re out, consider leaving the TV or radio on, or putting your “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door; both of these tricks will give potential thieves the impression that you’re still there. (You can contact the front desk to arrange a housekeeping visit even if the “Do Not Disturb” sign is up.)

The hotel parking lot and hallways should be well lit. Report any outages to the front desk and ask for a security escort if you feel unsafe.

If you do experience a crime during your stay, don’t simply complain to the hotel — file a police report as well. Your homeowners’ insurance policy may cover certain losses during your travels, and the insurance company will need a copy of the police report and any other relevant documentation.

Why Travel using Train?

Taking the train has for some time been mainstream in Europe – it’s practically viewed as a soul changing experience for youthful explorers. Be that as it may, while trains have been overlooked in the U.S., they’re picking up ubiquity here also. Amtrak carried 31.6 million travelers around the nation in its last monetary year, an unequaled record for the railroad. With the economy as yet drooping, train travel is looking progressively alluring to spending plan cognizant voyagers. Furthermore, a picturesque train ride can even be an excursion in itself. Require more motivations to take the train? You’ve gone to the perfect spot.
1. Money Savings

Trains are an increasingly cost-effective alternative to planes, particularly if you’re going a relatively short distance or if you’re traveling in the busy Northeast Corridor, where train service is fast and frequent.

While some rates are quite competitive ($104 on the train vs. $108 by plane between New York andBoston in a recent search), you’ll sometimes see dramatic fare differences. For instance, we found a $134 roundtrip fare on Amtrak between New York and Montreal, as compared to $294 for the cheapest roundtrip airfare. The train ride will be longer than the corresponding flight, but for travelers looking to cut costs, the train often wins out — and you’ll get to see some scenery along the way.

Unlike airlines, Amtrak and other rail operators often give discounts to children, seniors, students, AAA members, military personnel and other key demographics.

2. Stable Fares

Anyone who’s agonized over when to purchase airfare knows how arcane and frustrating the airlines’ pricing structures can be. (We’re still waiting for a logical explanation of why a one-way ticket often costs so much more than a round trip. Anyone? Anyone?) Train fares tend to be the same day after day on any particular route, whether it’s Monday or Saturday, April or August, two months in advance or two days before departure. While some increases may occur (particularly at peak times or over the holidays) and occasional sales may be available, you can usually count on the stability of train fares, even at the last minute.

3. Flexibility

While many long-haul trains require reservations, many short trips don’t, so you can simply show up at the station the day of your trip and grab a ticket for the next train — without paying an exorbitant last-minute fare.

4. More Baggage…

These days, nearly all the major airlines charge travelers a fee to check a bag or two — and a few (Spirit, Alligiant, Frontier) now charge for carry-on bags as well. Compare these stingy policies to Amtrak’s baggage allowance: two carry-on items up to 50 pounds each (as well as personal items such as purses, strollers and diaper bags) and up to four checked bags up to 50 pounds each, the first two of which are free. Third and fourth checked bags cost $20 each.

In short, Amtrak allows you to bring 200 pounds of luggage — plus personal items — for free. Try bringing that on a plane!

5. …Less Hassle

Imagine taking a trip and not having to arrive two hours early, wait in a long security line, take off your shoes for inspection, or ration out your liquids and gels. Welcome to the world of train travel. In most cases you can arrive 30 minutes ahead of time and walk straight to your platform.

6. Door-to-Door Convenience

Unlike airports, most major train stations are located right downtown in the heart of the cities they serve. Instead of taking an expensive airport cab ride from miles outside of town, you can step off your train and be just moments from your hotel.

7. Eco-Friendliness

Trains are more energy-efficient per passenger mile than planes or cars, making them one of the most eco-friendly transportation options around (short of walking or riding your bike!). Carbon emissions from trains are less damaging to the environment than those of airplanes because train emissions are not released directly into the upper atmosphere. As a bonus, the relative energy-efficiency of trains means that the industry is less vulnerable to increases in fuel prices — making train fares more stable in an unstable economy.

8. Old-Fashioned Charm

There’s something refreshingly traditional about taking a train, particularly if you’re traveling over a long, multi-night route. The days of silverware and fine china in coach class may be long gone in the airline industry, but on overnight trains you’ll still find dining cars with full-service meals and uniformed wait staff. During the day, many train travelers choose to read books, play cards or simply enjoy the scenery rushing by.

9. Comfort and Relaxation

Rather than cramming yourself into an ever-shrinking airplane seat or squinting at road signs trying to figure out where to make your next turn, why not relax on a train? It’s one of the least stressful forms of transportation out there: someone else does the driving, you’ll have more legroom than you would on an airplane and you’ll be able to move around at will — not just when the captain turns the seatbelt sign off.

10. Beyond Just Transportation

Unlike airplanes, which whisk you from point A to point B with barely a glimpse of what’s in between, a train ride can be a destination in and of itself. Consider the California Zephyr, a dramatic route that wends its way through the Rocky and Sierra Nevada Mountains from Chicago to San Francisco. A ride on this popular Amtrak service offers spectacular scenery. During fall foliage season, try a ride on the Ethan Allen Express from New York to Vermont and enjoy the autumn colors.