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Tips

Inspiration

What Irks Me About Traveling

May 2, 2012 • By

travelingToday, I realized that I am somewhat of a strange bird. I love to travel, but there are limits to that infatuation that I’d not considered. I love all the things that make traveling special. I love knowing that when I finally reach my destination, there will be merriment and joviality not far behind. However, I detest the act of traveling….not necessarily, the packing, research or any of the precursors of getting to your destination. It is the act of fighting through local traffic in a desperate attempt to put as many miles between you and your home base as possible. Or standing in long lines during check in as punishment for being unable to have reached some fancy tier on an airline’s FF program.

I hate going through TSA checkpoints and dealing with the various attitudes and platitudes being served up at nearly every airport that you must pass through. I hate having to answer questions that will put the questioner’s mind to rest that I don’t plan to commandeer the airplane as soon as it takes off. I hate having to deal with rude passengers and increasingly ruder airline personnel before, during and sometimes after the flight. It’s all a hassle…..but as soon as I have made my way to ground transportation after waiting what seems like an eternity for my battle-scarred luggage to make its way to me on the carousel, I feel renewed.READ MORE


Newbie How-to's, Travel Advice

The Newbie’s Guide to Safeguarding Your Home While You’re On Vacation

March 7, 2011 • By

safeguarding

Congrats!  After making the decision to take your dream vacation, you’ve scrimped and saved and put off short term gratification in order to make that dream come true.  But before you step outside that door, have you thought about safe proofing your home while you’re gone?

There are certain steps you should take to make sure that your home is safe and sound when you return home.  In no particular order:

  • Be sure that you lock all doors and windows.  Yes, it seems obvious, but many people fail to do just that.  Before you leave, go around the house and make sure that all doors are locked; that means any entry way that can give someone a way to enter your home.  You should actually turn the knob to confirm that it’s locked.  Lock all of the windows too, including the ones on upper floors.  You will be surprised at how thieves have been able to enter homes through windows on the upper level.  How?  Oftentimes, people leave their ladders outside their home and the criminals will use it while thanking you for making their job easier.  So, be sure to take your ladders or anything else the crook can get his/her hands on to gain entry to your home.
  • Do make sure that someone retrieves your mail while you are gone.  If you recruit a trusted neighbor or trusted family member to gather your parcels and mail while you’re on vacation, ask them to do it under cover of night.  While they are at it, have them remove anything that may have been delivered to your front porch as well as newspapers.  If possible have the newspaper service interrupted until you get back.   If someone is watching your home, it won’t be difficult to surmise that you’re not there when someone walks up to your mailbox, removes the mail and drives off.  Personally, I go online and arrange for my local post office to stop delivery the day that I leave and to restart delivery the day I return: https://holdmail.usps.com/holdmail/landingView.do
safeguarding

Photo Credit: news.cnet.com

  • Buy a programmable light timer which will switch your overhead lights and lamps off and on periodically throughout the day.  They are pretty easy to use and can be timed to correspond with your usual schedule.  There is a version that you can use with appliances like televisions that will fool the budding criminal into thinking you are sitting right in front of your set.
  • If you are pretty diligent about lawncare, be sure to hire someone to cut your grass, etc.  Neglect screams that no one is home, so be sure to keep everything maintained as if you were at home.  I like to garden, so I make sure that I water all of my plants (indoor ones too) before I leave.  There’s nothing sadder than coming home to a yard full of dead flowers.

Photo Credit: alohapropertyservices.com

  • One thing that baffles me is when people announce on their answering machine that they are on vacation or their email response announces that they are away on vacation.  You may as well wear a sign that says ROB ME!  There is no good reason to inform anyone regarding your plans unless it’s your security company (assuming that you have a monitoring service).   With few exceptions, keep that information under wraps and give only to those on a need to know basis.
  • As a precaution, pull out that video camera that you have packed in your luggage and walk through every room indicating any valuable items and be sure to get a great close up of said items.  Take your SD card or tape and store it in a safe place like a metal fireproof box where you keep your important papers.

Photo Credit: geoffreylsmith.com

  • Reduce your electric bill by unplugging items that will not be in use while you are gone.  Of course, keep those lamps/lights and your tv and radio on standby for the timer, but unplug that computer or anything else that’s unnecessary.  For anything that does make the cut, be sure to protect them by plugging them into surge protectors in the event a nasty thunderstorm tries to claim them.
  • This has less to do with security than just peace of mind.  I try to clean the house thoroughly before I leave.  Why?  Because after a long trip away, I hate coming back to a filthy house.  It’s a psychological thing.

Photo Credit: cleaningservicesorlando.biz

  • Be sure to make sure that your pets are taken care of.  Arrange for boarding or you can kill two birds with one stone (in a manner of speaking) by having someone to housesit and take care of your pets.  This addresses the security issue and pet care.  A definite win-win providing that you really trust this person.  Otherwise, it could be your worse nightmare if you come home to a wrecked semblance of your former home and all of your neighbors now hate you.
  • Stop buying groceries up to a week before you leave, especially perishables.  It would be a shame to come back to a fridge full of spoiled food.  Remember to take any leftover trash outside at the very least so that your nose won’t be greeted by decayed food remnants when you get home.

Photo Credit: savingcheap.com

  • Reduce your heating bill by adjusting your thermostat to lower temps or conversely, your cooling bill by raising the thermostat depending on what time of the year it is when you take your trip.
  • I like to pack the car with our luggage the night before when it’s nice and dark.  When we get in the car to leave the next day, no one is the wiser about what our plans are.

Photo Credit: vidhinidhi.wordpress.com

  • Invest in motion controlled outdoor lighting.  It’s been my experience that thieves scatter like roaches when the spotlight is on them.  Make it difficult for them to violate your property by installing motion detectors.  It will be a sure tip-off for any trusted neighbor who is aware of your absence.
  • If you are inclined to keep a spare set of keys hidden on your property, try to find the most inconspicuous place to do so.  It’s surprising how many people still put them underneath a welcome mat or some out of place rock close by the steps.  At least make the thief break a sweat before the cops come to take them away.

What things do you typically do before setting sail on your vacation?

Renee King is an Atlanta, GA based administrative assistant by day who spends most of her waking hours plotting the next excursion to anyplace outside of her zip code.  She wants to teach those who think that traveling is some unobtainable dalliance for the rich and famous or the well connected, that it is not true.

If you have never traveled before or want to learn tips on how to see the world for as little as possible, subscribe to her RSS Feed for inspiration, reviews and trip reports that will help you to sample the world by traveling at a fraction of the price!

 

 


Inspiration

Never Put Off Tomorrow What You Can Do Today – Traveling On Your Own Terms

February 20, 2011 • By

Recently, I was asked to write a guest post at Baby Boomers Traveling by another travel friend, Doris Gallan.   I soon realized that it was actually a continuation of a post that I wrote last month, “How to get out of your own way and live the life you want“.  With Doris’ permission, I am posting it here.  I hope that it inspires someone to reach out and grab life with gusto:

I was raised in a household of ten kids with two parents and as you can imagine, freedom of movement was a scarce commodity. I think that is where my first yearning for wide open spaces came from. It’s difficult to live life feeling confined, so I suppose that gave rise to my desire to be unencumbered; unrestricted. I had always been interested in geography because I learned so much about places so far removed from the reality of my life. It was like a pleasant dream to politely acknowledge, but I never believed that it would or could possibly come true.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to visit Paris – the venerable city of lights. Like so many would-be nomads, I allowed the dream to sit unfettered in the deep recesses of my mind. I never allowed myself to believe that it could become a reality for me. It was safer to let the years drift by; to craft excuse after excuse as to why it was OK to not do a single thing that would get me closer to that elusive goal. Until one day, I had a ridiculously simple epiphany: “Just Do It”. Nothing was going to happen until I made it so. No travel agent was going to come knocking to see what my plans were. I believe so many of us are sitting, waiting for supernatural signs to tap us on our collective shoulders. It will not happen that way. As with anything worth having, you have to work for it, to plan for it….that is truly the only way it will come to pass. It’s about taking a leap of faith, of believing that you have as much right as anyone else to live dreams previously unfulfilled.

Traveling

That is my main purpose in starting my travel blog, A View To A Thrill. It is a call to action to anyone who has the desire, but perhaps, not the knowledge to explore this vast world that we live in. It is an appeal to believe in the possibilities; to believe in your own ability to navigate through this life on your own terms. Rest assured, there will always be naysayers; those that can think of every reason on earth as to why you’ve left your senses. You will be surprised to see that their protests are usually deeply rooted in their own self-doubts. And yes, there are those who will think that you see yourself as high and mighty simply because you want to expose yourself to different cultures, different experiences, different….anything. It goes against their predictable and limited expectations and some would even ask what are you running from?

When I travel, I never put restrictions on myself. If there is something that I want to do, I do it anyway…even if some folks thinks it’s for other people. If I want to go to a country music concert, I’ll go. You’d be surprised how many people (black and white) would find it odd that I enjoy country music. Never let others define you and tell you what you should be doing, do what pleases you. I think older people are probably most guilty about towing the party-line. Sometimes, you have to risk being judged or even mocked. If you have unconventional tastes, own it! You only go around once, live it to the fullest! I’ve always said, unless you pay my mortgage, utilities and buy my groceries, you don’t get a say in how I live my life. Conformity takes the color out of rainbows, harmony out of a song and the joy out of living.

Traveling

My goal is to reach out to those who want to travel on a budget without sacrificing comfort and also to provide guidance to those who want to travel, but never have. To that end, my blog focuses on the reality that most people are living paycheck to paycheck. In these economic times, it is even more important to share ways of traveling on a budget. It’s about making adjustments, even sacrifices to your current lifestyle. There are lots of tricks to save money without even trying to or learning how to deny yourself when you see that pair of jeans that cost more than a fancy winter coat. It’s not going to be a piece of cake, but the reward will be worth it. Just as important, is the person who wants to travel, but has no idea of how to get started. My desire is to share some of the things that I wish others had told me about when I was just starting out.


Reviews, Travel Advice

In Search Of The Perfect Massage

January 1, 2011 • By

This is the third in a series of infrequent articles that feature spa deals for the budget traveler.

I consider myself to be a fairly practical person.  I’m not (usually) wasteful and I pride myself on making cogent financial decisions.  So, I was a little bit surprised when I found myself clicking the buy button on one of my favorite discount sites, Living Social.  There was a great deal for a ninety minute massage at a local spa with three additional services to choose from for a grand total of $49.00!  In my neck of the woods, this price was crazy since one hour massages usually are priced in the $100.00+ range and the three add-on services could easily quadruple that price.  Obviously, offering such a fantastic discount was their way of introducing people to the spa.  I wasn’t familiar with them, but I figured with such a small investment , it would be worth investigating.

wellspa

WellSpa Suites (Office: (770) 948-8000 351 Thornton Road, Suite 106 Lithia Springs, GA 30122) is located in a quiet, unassuming office park adjacent to I-20 and located west of Atlanta.  I will admit to some reticence as I drove up.  Luckily those feelings begin to wane as soon as I stepped inside.  I was warmly greeted and was escorted into ‘the quiet room’ since I was a little early for my appointment.  Along the way, there were individual suites on either side that were workstations where one could get a massage, mani-pedi, colonic and reflexology sessions.

Massage

The quiet room was serene with very soft sepia colored lighting. You could hear the gentle flow of the water fountain in the corner of the room. A small self-service bar with hot tea and condiments was in the adjoining room.

READ MORE


Budget Tips, Reviews, Travel Advice

The Best Search Engine For Finding Lower Fares, Hotel and Car Rentals?

November 24, 2010 • By

Search Engine

While attending the Travel Bloggers’ Exchange convention in New York this past June, I was invited to a presentation for a revolutionary, but relatively new flight search aggregator called Momondo.  I was vaguely familiar with the company because innovations in the travel world are usually spread like wildfire through the social media realm.  We (my daughter and I) were running a little late because we were caught in the moment while viewing the phenomenal skyline from the top of 30 Rockefeller Center.

Luckily, we weren’t very far from our destination at 1290 Avenue of the Americas.  The company hosting the event, Kintetsu International (the Japan specialist travel agency), was kind enough to provide saki libations and crudites, fresh fruit slices, sushi and sushimi for all of the invited travel industry professionals to snack on.  It was interesting to find out that the particular brand of saki that we were served was available in 50%, 60% and 70% proof.  Knowing my low tolerance for alcohol, I decided to sample the 50%, god help me if I had tried the 70.

Search Engines

Sherry Ott from Ottsworld.com and Stephanie Butler from Fodor’s share ideas with their colleagues.

Not long after, we were called into the conference room where we were introduced to one of the partners of Momondo, Martin Lumbye, who explained the company’s mission was and still is to create the most trustworthy price comparison search engine in the world.

Martin Lumbye discusses what his vision is for his company.

Momondo, which means “My World” in old Spanish, began in 2006 as a small flight aggregator in Copenhagen, Denmark.  Their interface allows them to compare prices from more than 800 suppliers because they do not limit their searches to major carriers, they include discounters too.    Aggregators like Kayak, only have 300-400 suppliers because they have narrowed their focus to the major airlines.  Kayak steers away from discounters like Airtran, RyanAir or Priceline, so their searches are limited to major carriers.

Momondo wanted to create a search engine that could be easily used by any customer.

According to Mr. Lumbye, “Momondo’s promise to customers is powerfully simple: to provide them with the fastest and most comprehensive plane ticket search available on the Internet.  Momondo makes this possible through leveraging its comprehensive network of travel industry relationships and the most cutting-edge search technologies available.  As a result, Momondo combines searches across hundreds of websites with hundreds of different interfaces to return relevant flight options to the consumer or business traveler whether they use low-cost airlines, the well-known national airlines, online travel agencies or ticket databases.”  This means that Momondo’s searches include data from the airlines’ own websites and online travel companies, as well.

Plug in your cities of departure and arrival and your preferred travel dates.

To that end, I was sold on the product; from a budget traveler’s perspective, it is never a good idea to cherry pick options for travelers.  We need to know and have access to all booking venues, not a select (and usually more expensive) few that the aggregator limits us to.    Conversely, I would think that little known concerns would benefit as well by participating on a more level playing field.

Once your search is completed, your pricing options are displayed in ascending order.

Momondo does not buy data from the airlines.  Instead, they employ web crawlers to search the internet for the best prices.  While they do have suppliers that pay them, they decided long ago to operate from a value-added perspective instead of a revenue generating standpoint.  They reasoned that if they only focused on revenue then they would have to use larger airlines in order to realize higher revenue streams and the everyday traveler would never have access to said discounters.  They realized that they must look at the big picture and provide the traveler with as many options as possible that would give them the best price in one place.  They couldn’t do that by limiting the number of carriers.

Once your selection is made, you can specify the number of tickets needed and you will notice that the supplier’s ratings are located on the left.  Here you can gauge other customer’s perceptions before pulling the trigger.

Should you decide to continue, you will be taken directly to the vendor’s website to purchase your tickets.

To bring this concept to even greater heights, Momondo launched a fully integrated train and flight comparison component to their website.  This move comes in a time with growing awareness of the environment-friendly high-speed trains that race between many of Europe’s big cities.“By displaying trains and flights together, we provide the consumers with even greater transparency, sending a green signal at a time where climate is of highest priority”, explained Mr. Lumbye.

I don’t need to tell you how frustrating it is to find a good deal on a rail ticket.  It’s nice to know that Momondo is realizing how important the rail system has become and will continue to be to the casual and frequent traveler and is providing a unique service as a result.  Additionally, the site has a hotel and car rental search feature  which intuitively uses the parameters that were set for the flight search and applies them to their hotel and car rental search engine component.  It simplifies what can sometimes be a daunting task.

After the supplier’s website is launched in a new window, you will notice that the Momondo site will display a short survey to record your experience.  You will be allowed to rate the supplier and give honest feedback.  This is particularly helpful for buyers who may not be as familiar with some boutique suppliers because they are small and relatively unknown.  This will give them some yardstick as to what they can expect from that particular vendor.  I’m most excited about this aspect of the site because it gives the traveler a way to instantly record his/her experiences.

At this point, I believe that Momondo has a leg up on the competition.  However, it won’t be difficult for competitors to adopt the same philosophy at some point.  Therefore, it’s essential for companies like this to continue to keep the customer at the forefront of their decisions if they want to grow their business.  All, in all…..I like the fact that Momondo believes in spreading the wealth and allowing the little guy the opportunity to compete with the big boys.  I can only hope that the competition will follow their lead because that will create a win-win situation for everyone.

Here’s Momondo and welcome to it!

Please note that this review was and is uncompensated and is a report of the presentation that occurred in the offices of Kintetsu International and any conclusions drawn from it are solely mine.


Budget Tips, Travel Advice

When Your Luggage Looks As Tired As You, It’s Time For A Change!

October 26, 2010 • By

This is the first in a series of infrequent articles about Travel Gear for budget travelers

Quick….name the one thing that every serious traveler must own? If you said some form of luggage, backpack, duffel bag…you win! Unless you plan to buy everything you need at your destination, you will need some way to carry your possessions in an orderly fashion. While I am usually the first to extol the virtues of spending as little as possible when it comes to travel, I have to make an exception for luggage.

I’ve gone the discount route when it comes to luggage. There’s always some deal for a 4-5 piece set for 80 bucks or less at the local department store. If you happen to come across such a deal, walk away. OK, let me rephrase that. If you are simply taking a road trip and there will be very few people handling your bags, get the cheaper ones. But if you will need to check your luggage or if anyone will be responsible for hauling your luggage from the plane to the baggage return, invest in the sturdier pieces. I learned the hard way during my trip to Myrtle Beach. I had forgotten to prepay for my carry-on bag on Spirit airlines. As it turned out, it was actually cheaper to check my bag (25.00 vs. 30.00) so I did. Little did I know that my poor bag would be spat out of the baggage return like a kid hacking up ipecac syrup!

My formerly pristine, but cheap, Pierre Cardin carry-on looked like it had been run through a paper shredder! I was so ticked off, but what can you do? It would be my word against theirs….I just thanked my lucky stars that everything was still intact and none of our souvenirs were broken. This was my wake up call. I asked myself why I didn’t think it was important enough to invest in something that (if I took my traveling seriously) I would need to see me through seven continents? I had to make a resolution that I needed to reserve the Pierre Cardin for road-trips and INVEST in a decent set of luggage.

There! The resolution was made….now…where to start? I decided to surf the internet to determine what luggage brands rated higher than others. It was common knowledge that you couldn’t go wrong with Samsonite, but higher end product usually came with higher end prices. I decided to limit my search to the better discount stores like Marshall’s, TJ Maxx and just to make it interesting, Ross Dress for Less, which was my first stop. Surprisingly, they had a half wall of luggage in all different sizes, colors, brands, hard-side, softside….I was amazed. I was drawn to a blue soft-sided beauty that would make a perfect carry-on….as I got closer, I noticed the label: Samsonite! I was beyond stoked when I saw $39.99 on the tag. Could that be right? Yep…it was. I grabbed it, certain there was a mistake and quickly headed to the checkout counter in case it wasn’t.

Once I had safely made it out, I realized that I should still check around to see if maybe I could get a great deal on a set. Remember, I was looking to make a solid investment, so if I plan to travel a lot, I would need more than this lonely carry-on. Luckily there are three Ross stores within a seven mile radius of my house. I proceeded to check out each one, but no luck. So, my next move would be to visit my local Marshall’s. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they had a nice representation of high end luggage like Samsonite, Liz Claiborne, Travel Concepts, Victorinox, Kenneth Cole, Atlantic and American Flyer among others.

I stopped dead in my tracks when I spied candy cotton pink luggage with spinners. I looked closer and it was a Travel Concepts 29″ hard-sider. The price? $69.99! There were two smaller matching pieces that obviously added up to a three piece set. I decided that two pieces would be sufficient. I didn’t want to overdo, but I wasn’t going to deny myself the largest piece. Yes, I have extolled the virtues of traveling light, but since it’s apparent that I will be probably start checking luggage in more often…..why not?

Luggage

Made with ABS, the shell on the Salisbury has a scratch resistant diamond finish, making it both durable and flexible so that when under stress, it flexes to absorb the impact and then returns back to its original shape

Luggage

Front view of my 29″ suitcase

An online search found the cheapest price for the three piece set to be $202.50 and the most expensive price was $300.00 even.  Had I bought the third piece, my total would have been $180.00.   It pays to shop around!

Luggage

Top side of 29″ luggage with a most excellent price point

I like the fact that the zippered pocket is plastic. Comes in handy when and if those 3 ounces decide to go all liquid on you and make a mess.

aviewtoathrill.net

Each piece has a fully lined interior with multi-use organizational pockets that works as a zippered divider; tie-down straps provide additional support for your clothing during travel

If you are tired of being ‘led’ by your wheeled luggage, four directional spinners are the answers to your prayers.

4 wheel spinner system provides the smoothest and most effortless movement for your life on the go

I opted to go with the 21″ carry-on as my second piece, it will come in handy when I have shorter treks and won’t need to carry as much.  I left the 25″ that sold for 60.00 behind as I didn’t think I would need a third one.

Top side of the 21″ carry-on with sturdy luggage tag

Ok, even I will have to admit that if I need to start expanding this piece, I may need to stay home.  lol

Each piece is expandable for up to 25% additional packing capacity

Don’t worry guys, not only can you find this luggage set in various colors such as my dusty pink, but also in blue, black and silver.

Plus an additional 3-digit combination lock

Each piece comes with its own TSA-friendly 3-digit combination lock

Has a modern aluminum telescopic handle system, with push-down locking for easy, single-hand use, and cushioned TPR grip for comfort

After my last experience, I decided to buy the hard-side luggage because it is more durable and would protect my clothing in the event someone else’s collection of toner cartridges flooded the cargo hole. Hey, don’t say no one’s ever thought of it! Go for luggage that has several compartments and is deep enough to accommodate footwear in addition to your clothes. Be sure to invest in only the pieces you truly need if you want to stay under any semblance of a budget.

So, the moral of the story is that you get what you pay for. Even the budget conscious traveler must realize when it’s time to back off on the choke-hold and let old George Washington breathe. You can’t skimp on quality and if you think about it….you’ll save money in the long run because you won’t have to keep replacing junk!


Newbie How-to's, Travel Advice

The Newbie’s Guide To Applying For A U.S. Passport

August 27, 2010 • By
U.S. Passport

Photo credit: jamesheywood.com

Now that you’ve decided to take the plunge to do a little traveling across the border, you should know that there have been several changes regarding the issuance of U.S. Passports in recent months which will affect your travel plans.

All U.S. citizens are now required to have a Passport card in order to cross the borders to Canada or Mexico. To travel anywhere else outside the U.S., you will need a standard Passport.

When should I apply for a Passport?

My advice is to go ahead and apply for your passport if you have a reasonably good idea that you will be traveling internationally in the coming months.  You can never predict a delay of some sort happening, so don’t chance missing your flight by putting this off.

How long will it take to receive my Passport?

The standard processing time is between 4-6 weeks. If you will need your passport in less than two weeks, you will need to schedule an appointment with your local passport acceptance facility.   If you plan during peak travel seasons like the summer, be sure to apply within ten weeks of travel. Please note that in the rush to beat the July 13, 2010 price increase, that there has been a large number of renewals that has extended the processing time to a solid six weeks.  It will probably take that long for the foreseeable future, so plan accordingly.

What if I need my Passport sooner than that?

There is an additional $60.00 fee plus overnight delivery costs per application for expedited applications.  If you choose to mail in your request be sure to clearly mark the overnight package “Expedite” and be sure to enclose the aforementioned proof of citizenship documents in the package; they will be returned to you.

Where can I get a passport and how much does it cost?

U.S. Passport

Photo credit: The New York Times

All first time applicants (and all minors, no exceptions) must apply in person at a Passport Agency, Acceptance Facility, U.S. Embassy or Consulate to fill out Form DS-11: Application For A U.S. Passport. The U. S. Department of State has made it easier to apply for a Passport online by using this wizard that will help you to determine the correct form that you will need to fill out, how much you will have to pay and will allow you to complete and print out the completed application to take with you to the aforementioned agencies.  Be sure to leave the signature portion blank and do not sign the document until you are instructed by an agent to do so.

As a general rule, passport fees (which take into account price increases beginning July 13, 2010) are as follows:

• New Passport (first time applicants)
$110.00 plus $25.00 administrative fee
• New Passports for children under age 16 (yes, even newborns must have one!)
$80.00 plus $25.00 administrative fee
• Passport renewal
$110.00 (it’s not necessary to visit Acceptance facility; you can renew via mail)
• New Passport cards (first time applicants)
$55.00
• Passport cards renewal
$30.00
• New Passport cards for children under age 16
$40.00
• Passport cards for children under age 16 (renewals)
$15.00
• Extra passport pages
$82.00 (previously, they were free)

What items will I need to bring with me when I apply for my Passport?

In order to apply for a passport, you will need to submit one of the following items to prove U.S. citizenship:

  • Previously issued, undamaged U.S. Passport
  • Certified birth certificate (with registrar’s raised, embossed seal) issued by the city, county or state.
  • Consular Report of Birth Abroad or Certification of Birth
  • Naturalized Certificate
  • Certificate of Citizenship
  • Additionally, you will need two 2” x 2” color photos (that you can buy from Walgreen’s for 8.00) where one will be affixed to your passport and the other will be kept on file at the agency.

What is an e-Passport?

 

U.S. Passport

According to the State Department, the U.S. Electronic Passport (e-passport) is the same as a regular passport with the addition of a small contact-less integrated circuit (computer chip) embedded in the back cover. The chip securely stores the same data visually displayed on the photo page of the passport, and additionally includes a digital photograph.

The inclusion of the digital photograph enables biometric comparison, through the use of facial recognition technology, at international borders. The U.S. e-passport also has a new look, incorporating additional anti-fraud and security features.

Since August 2007, the U.S. has been issuing only e-passports.  Passports without chips will still be valid for the full extent of their validity period.

When do Passports expire?

The Passport for children under the age of 16 years old expires after 5 years. The passport for adults expires after 10 years.  Please note that many countries require that you have at least six months to go on your passport before you can enter their country.  In fact, some tour companies won’t even book you nor will some airlines allow you to board if you have less than six months left on your Passport.  It’s advisable that you renew your Passport when there is about nine months left on it to avoid any six month deadline conflicts.

How will I know if a visa will be required where I’m going?

 

U.S. Passport

While U.S. citizens do not need a U.S. visa to travel, you may need a visa to travel to the country that you plan to visit.  The Department of State has a list of every country that requires a visa.  Use this searchable database to determine whether or not your destination will require one.  You will also be able to find out any travel advisories, crime stats/penalties, traffic info, medical facilities, etc. relating to that country by visiting that website.  Additionally, visas will not be issued if there is less than six months left on your Passport.

Remember when you are traveling that your Passport is your proof of U.S. citizenship, so take care not to lose it.  Your friendly TSA agent and most assuredly, Immigration, will want to review it as you enter their country.  Most travelers tend to store their Passports in their hotel safe and carry photocopies of the Passport on their person.  Or you may want to scan it and email it to yourself.  Happy Travels!

 


Newbie How-to's, Travel Advice

The Newbie’s No-Fuss Guide to Maneuvering Your Way Through The Airport

July 4, 2010 • By
Airport

Photo credit: www.visitingdc.com

Since the tragedy of 9/11, there have been numerous safeguards put into place by the US government.  Some would argue, many of them are unnecessary and only serve to create longer lines than greater security.  Whatever your position on the matter, suffice it to say that these rules are here to stay and will only become more intrusive as time goes on.  So, how do you as a new traveler deal with so many unknown variables?  First, I would recommend that you do not panic.  My advice would be to travel smart.  If you plan to do any consistent traveling, you should get into the habit of packing light.  Only bring what you know you are going to absolutely need which will bring you untold freedom as you begin to understand how heavy luggage becomes an albatross all too quickly.

Once you arrive at the terminal (You will see the signs as you are transported there) where your airline is located, you may see a counter outside of the airport terminal.  This is where you can check in your bags (if you have any) and where they will weigh them to make sure that you are not over the standard 50 pound limit.  Any overages will result in additional fees beyond their standard checked bag charges.  Be sure to use TSA approved locks on checked bags, if you use the lock and key or combination locks, be aware that they will saw them off in order to inspect them.  All inspected bags will have a TSA sticker on it indicating that they were randomly chosen for that honor.  One caveat about checked luggage.  Do not put anything that is of particular value to you in a checked bag! I can’t stress that enough.  Do not check your ipod, camera, laptop, expensive jewelry (which should be left at home anyway) or the like.  There is a very good chance that you will never see them again.

If you do not see an outside counter, you will need to go inside the terminal to check in (if you have not already done so on the airline’s website).  Most airlines make it easier to check in and print out your boarding passes if you do not have checked luggage.  Just walk over to your airline’s nearest free standing kiosk and input your info.  Your boarding passes will print out on the spot.  If you do have checked bags, you will need to stand in line and the counter agent will take your checked bags and print out a boarding pass for you.  Remember from that point on to have a piece of ID and your boarding pass in hand until you reach the gate where your flight leaves from.   The TSA (Transportation Security Administration) agents will need to review, scan and/or mark it as you go through the next step for you which is security.

Airport

Photo credit: www.silentgardens.com

Make sure that everything that you are carrying through the security checkpoint that is run by TSA is legal.  At this point, you should be prepared to remove your shoes as soon as you get to the point where you can get one of the bins that you place on the conveyor belt that leads to the x-ray machine.  Place your shoes, jewelry, gloves, handbags, coats, belts, coins, hats, sunglasses and backpack in the gray bins.  Do not overcrowd the bins; use as many as you need.  If you are carrying a laptop, place that in a separate bin.  Ditto for any medical aids like a C-pap machine, which you should take all of its components apart and place in a single bin.  Once you have placed your items on the belt and they are going through x-ray, you will have to walk through their metal detector when prompted.  Be sure to keep that boarding pass and ID in hand!

Photo credit: www.practicalhacks.com

Once you are cleared, proceed to the area where your bins have now exited.   Do not be alarmed if security pulls you or your bin(s) aside and do another thorough check.  If a beep goes off as you walk through the x-ray, you may have forgotten a coin or something else in your pocket.  The agent will use a wand detector to figure out where the beep emanated from and once it is found you simply walk though again.   It is standard procedure and happens to almost everyone at some point, so don’t get flustered and always be polite.

Photo courtesy: www. slipperybrick.com

Do not bring any weapons (sounds obvious, huh?) because you will be surprised at how many people have done just that.  Do not bring any liquids (here are exceptions) that are over 3.4 ounces in volume which must be placed in a zip lock bag and placed in a separate bin from your carry-on.   This includes your faithful water bottle.  This will be confiscated.

Photo credit: www.sciencedaily.com

Once you have made it past security, you will need to locate your gate area.  This info should be located on your boarding pass right next to your seat number.  The airport signage will guide you were to go to get to your gate.  Sometimes, the terminal that you need is in an entirely different building (concourse) so an airport will provide several means of getting there.  They may have people movers that resemble escalators that move forward, not up or down.  They may have air-trains to get you from point a to b.  They may have subway type trains (or automated people movers) to get you from one concourse to the next.  The one at Hartsfield Jackson is one of the best, in my opinion.

Photo credit: www.bombadier.com

Once you have reached your designated concourse, you will need to review the overhead signs to locate which direction your gate will be.  Be sure to allow yourself some time to get there and get settled because the seats fill quickly especially if the flight is full.  If you are there early enough, look around, there are plenty of places to eat, get a beverage or take a bathroom break.  Remember to always keep your eyes on your carry-on.  You will hear plenty of warnings about keeping your luggage with you at all times over the intercom system. You will find the boarding times on your boarding pass.  Unless the plane is late showing up at the gate, the airlines attempt to hold to that schedule.  Take note of which zone you have been assigned.  Typically, the airlines will allow passengers with children under the age of two, infirmed passengers or first class passengers to board first.  Next, the people in zone 1, etc. will be called to board.

Photo credit: www.nikibrown.com

As you go through the gate to board, have your boarding pass (not ID) ready to hand to the attendant.  Once you have given them the pass and they give you your receipt proceed to the airplane.  If your luggage is deemed to be too large to fit in the overhead bins, they may ask you to leave it at the doorway and an attendant will make sure that it is placed with the rest of the checked luggage.  Usually, they will not charge you for this service.  However, given their propensity to charge for fees at will (See Spirit Airlines new fee for CARRY-ON luggage) don’t be surprised if that changes.

Once you have located your assigned seat, place your carry-on in the bin overhead or wherever there is a space for it.  Just remember where you put it.  If you have a handbag, you may place that under the seat ahead of you.  Please be aware that if you order refreshments after the plane takes off, you will have to pay for it.  Free food is practically non-existent these days unless you count pretzels as food.  Be sure to visit one of the airport restaurants before hand  or eat before you leave home.  Now that you have taken your seat and listened to the flight attendants’ emergency instructions, sit back and enjoy the ride to your destination.  Your flight attendant will instruct you where to pick up any checked luggage once you arrive there.  Happy Travels!

Photo credit: www.kayak.com


Budget Tips, Travel Advice

The Spendthrifts Guide to Traveling on the Cheap – Tip # 2

November 12, 2009 • By

The Spendthrifts Guide Tip Two |

The Spendthrifts Guide to Traveling on the Cheap

Start Saving Money Whenever and However You Can!

It is never too early to start saving for your trip. As soon as you think that there may be a possibility of your leaving town, you need to set the wheels into motion that will assure that you will have enough discretionary income squirreled away to ensure that you will have a fabulous time.

Re-evaluate How You View Money in General.

Are you fast and loose with a dollar or are you in the habit of questioning the necessity of a purchase BEFORE you buy it?  I think developing a frugal nature in your everyday life helps to pave the way for more traveling in general.   That is where it all begins, if you learn how to value every dollar that you’ve earned, you will see your savings account grow exponentially.  Give up that daily visit to Starbucks, start making your lunch and take it to work or learn to start shopping in discount stores instead of the high priced ones.   These are good habits to develop in general, not just if you are trying to learn how to save for a vacation.READ MORE


Budget Tips, Travel Advice

The Spendthrift’s Guide to Traveling on the Cheap – Tip #1

November 1, 2009 • By

The Spendthrifts Guide Tip One

This economy has forced most of us to step back and re-evaluate our finances, particularly when it comes to discretionary spending. Most of us have been forced to tighten our belts and carefully consider every dollar that leaves our bank accounts.   However, there is still a way to be fiscally responsible and satisfy your wanderlust.

In the coming weeks, I will be sharing tried and true tips that will help you to get the biggest bang for your traveling buck. Feel free to add your own suggestions as well.

Plan ahead!

The sooner that you decide where you want to go, the more likely you are to realize your best deals. Visit travel oriented websites like Frommers, Fodors, Priceline, Virtual Tourist, Igougo and Rick Steves among others to get solid ideas of where you want to travel. Once that has been established, start looking for airfare and hotel deals to the destination.

The further out you plan your itinerary, the more lead-time you will have to locate deals, especially during that destination’s off-season. While there are last minute deals to be had via sites like Last Minute or Last Minute Travel, it’s prudent to take a proactive approach and plan early.

Once, I missed out on a great deal to Paris because I hadn’t decided if I really wanted to go there until much later, which meant that I had missed an opportunity to save a lot of money because I was not decisive. If you take nothing else from this tip, just remember that you must be ready to pull the trigger once a cheap fare or cheap hotel rates comes along, because you will never know when a great deal will come your way.

Stay tuned for more Spendthrifts Guide Tips that can help you travel without having to drain you bank account!