Posts filed under ‘Travel Tips’

The U.S. Passport Card!


Now that you are required to have a passport  to go to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean; the U.S. State Department has introduced a simpler style passport card which serves the same purpose as the original passport book–only it fits in your wallet like a driver’s license!  This card cannot be used for overseas travel, but for people who go to either Canada or Mexico on a regular basis–it makes life much easier.

Swift Passport Services is offering both the passport card and book expedited for quick travel:

  • Adult passport book $135
  • Adult passport book and card $155
  • Child passport book $120
  • Child passport book and card $$140

March 30, 2009 at 3:46 am Leave a comment

Japanese Etiquette



Photo Credit:  Oyvid Solstad

American travelers are sometimes at a loss when they visit other cultures.  Our informal society means that it is not easy to offend people you don’t know; but in other parts of the world, there is protocol for almost every activity.  Failure to comport yourself in the right manner can show disrespect–something you want to avoid regardless of whether you are traveling for business or pleasure.

If you’re planning a trip to Japan,  there are many customs you  will want to observe in order to show appreciation and respect for Japanese hospitality:

1.  Great attention is paid to shoes and keeping floors clean.  When entering a Japanese house, your shoes are removed outside and a pair of indoor slippers are used.  Once inside the house, if you are going to step on a Tatami mat, you must also remove the slippers.  Also, if you use the restroom, there are another pair of slippers you must change into before you enter.  You should never step on both the bathroom floor and the rest of the house with the same slippers.

2.  When eating a meal, it is customary to say “itadakimasu” at the beginning, and “gochisosama” when the meal is completed.

3.  If eating a meal with shared dishes, use the opposite end of your chopsticks than the ones you feed yourself with to scoop a small amount of the food onto your own plate.  Hold your rice bowl with one hand and use the chopsticks to move rice in to your mouth.  Eat every bit of food you have taken, down to the last grain of rice.  

4.  Belching, toilet humor, blowing your nose, or talking obnoxiously loud during a meal is absolutely unacceptable.

5.  Whether at a meal or a business meeting, seating is arranged in a strict heirarchal manner.  Do not pick your own seat, but wait until the host has showed you where you should be seated.

6.  Gifts are highly appreciated in Japanese culture.  Any small token given to a business partner or host shows a great deal of thoughtfulness.

7.  The Japanese are superstitious about the number “four” since it is pronounced the same way as the word “death” in that language.  Avoid the number four whenever possible, including giving gifts that come in four pieces.

These are just a few of the things your want to consider when visiting this amazing country.  For more information on Japanese cultural etiquette, visit:

Customs and Etiquette of Japan – Wikipedia

New to Japan – Japan Zone

Japan Reference – JREF

Japanese Etiquette – Asia Rooms

February 25, 2009 at 4:56 pm 2 comments

The Essential Travel First Aid Kit


Whether you are going on a jungle expedition or to a highly populated city in a foreign country, there may be problems getting medicines or first aid items that you need immediately in case of an emergency. Even if you do have access to a pharmacy, language differences and different international brands can make it hard to figure out exactly what you need.   It is a good idea to pack a kit of products that you are familiar with and tuck it away in your suitcase.  As my dad always said, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

The essential “Must Haves” in your first aid kit should include:

  • All your personal prescription medication in their original containers, as well as photocopies of your handwritten prescriptions from your doctor’s office.  Make sure to ask you doctor if you should take other applicable prescription medications or vaccinations to your specific destination, including an anti-malarial medicine.
  • Anti-diarrheal medicine
  • Antihistamine and Decongestant
  • Anti-motion sickness medicine
  • Antacid
  • Laxative
  • Cough drops
  • Antibacterial ointment
  • Hydrocortisone cream
  • Pain medication of choice (aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen)
  • Insect repellent
  • Sunscreen and Aloe gel for sunburns
  • Digital thermometer
  • Rehydration solution
  • Bandaids, gauze, or other bandaging material
  • Antibacterial hand cleaner
  • Eye drops
  • Water purification tablets
  • Latex condoms

You should also make sure that you keep a written list of local doctors, hospitals and pharmacies handy, and locate them within a day or two of your arrival just in case you need to get there quickly.

Most of the health problems that occur when traveling are small, treatable issues; but if they are not taken care of properly, they can develop into serious conditions.  When you’re in a foreign environment, make sure you take care of yourself by eating, sleeping, and drinking regularly and sufficiently.

January 25, 2009 at 4:24 pm Leave a comment

Travel Predictions for 2009


Last week I wrote about the price of airfare falling, but airlines are not the only ones who will be making major changes to their pricing and terms of service when it comes to the travel industry.  Obviously, the poor economy coupled with falling fuel prices is making ticket sales lower; but both domestic and international airlines are going to be pulling back and canceling new flights and routes.  Instead, they’ll be focusing on running leaner and meaner with fewer flights to Europe, China, and South America.

Other differences you may encounter when traveling in 2009 include car rentals and hotel reservations.  Car rental companies will be less likely to replace their old cars which means you may find yourself in a less-than-perfect rental car with higher mileage than you’re used to seeing.  Advantage Rental Cars has already filed for bankruptcy, and Dollar seems to be close behind according to business news reports.  You’ll find that there will be fewer on-hand employees to help you when you go to rent a car, too.  These companies are cutting back on everything.  

The hotel industry is suffering after several years of rapid, unchecked over-development.  There are simply not enough people to fill the rooms and some real estate experts claim that many hotels are feeling the mortgage crisis worse than residential home owners.  All this means that some hotels will be closing down, and the survivors will be cutting back on staff, services, and perks.  That being said, customers will see the benefit of this downturn with highly competitive rates.

If you’re planning to travel in 2009, try to make your reservations and buy your tickets in advance.  Don’t be shy about comparing rates, and asking for discounts, vouchers, and other value-added perks that can get you a better deal on your trip.  Just be aware that there are going to be some attempts to sneak extra fees by you, so be sure to ask for full disclosure when you’re speaking to an agent, read the fine print, and double check your bills.

January 18, 2009 at 3:35 pm 2 comments

The Silver Lining…


We’re in a recession and no one is immune to the economic troubles, BUT the good news for consumers is that they can take advantage of some amazing discounts that large companies–including travel agencies, airlines, and hotels–are now offering to help boost their sales.  Combined with the weak economy, fuel prices have drastically become lowered, which means that airlines can cut fares even more.  According to this AP news article:

It’s not unusual for airlines to announce fare sales in January — there were 17 or 18 announced in January 2008 — but what’s different for several carriers this year is that the discounts are for travel extending as late as April, May or June, Seaney said. The sales last January were typically for travel through March…

Obviously, airlines and other travel-related companies can’t afford to give tickets away, but it would be well worth your while to start comparing fares now and buy tickets for later on in the year if you are planning to travel overseas or domestically.  Before you buy your tickets, compare prices with at least two other airlines, and ask them all if they match prices with other carriers.  Also, be sure you ask the agent to disclose all fees and additional costs associated with booking your flight.  These small expenses can add up and make the difference whether a ticket ends up being a good deal or not.

January 11, 2009 at 3:26 pm Leave a comment

Travel Advisory and Visa Changes in Thailand


If you’re planning a trip to southeast asia–particularly Thailand–you may want to know about a recent change to the Thai visa regulations.

Basically, anyone who is crossing the Thailand border on LAND (not air travel) is only allowed a 15 day stay in the country.  This is a change from the 30 day allowance that was previously in place.

If you’re planning an extended stay for backpacking or simply hanging out on the beach, you want to get a tourist visa which will allow you between 30-90 days, depending on your country of origin.  Also, if you plan to enter the country multiple times, you should ask for a multiple entry visa which costs slightly more but will be worth it in the end by saving you time and money.

Thailand is a popular tourist destination because of its rich culture and beautiful landscapes.  However there have been recent protests that have caused the airports in the capitol city of Bangkok to close down.  There has been incidents of civil unrest throughout the past few years, so before making your way there, please check with the state department for any current travel advisories.

December 11, 2008 at 5:06 pm Leave a comment

Watch Planet in Peril


After the wildly successful special presentation “Planet In Peril”, CNN’s team has produced another can’t miss program called “Planet in Peril:  Battle Lines“, focusing on the conflict that occurs between the human population and the wildlife/ecology in key points around the world.

For those of you who travel frequently and have formed a real affinity for various global destinations, some of the stories may hit close to the heart.  But for people who rarely get away from home, it is even more important to watch this series.

Many of our habits as travelers, consumers, and citizens of the planet may directly or indirectly contribute to destruction of species and the environment.  For example, buying ivory jewelry or ornaments from a high end boutique in the U.S. or Europe is actually helping to fund wars in Africa which are financed by slaughtering endagered elephants for their tusks.  Both human and animal lives are lost simply because people don’t want to change their habits.

We can no longer afford not to be global citizens, concerning ourselves with the impact we make with our lifestyles.  We are lucky to live in a country with many luxuries and privleges…but along with that comes a greater responsibility.

Watch “Planet in Peril: Battle Lines” in HDTV on Thursday, December 11, at 9 p.m. ET on CNN, hosted by Anderson Cooper, chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta and “The Oprah Winfrey Show” correspondent and National Geographic host Lisa Ling. CNN’s award-winning series examines the environmental conflicts between growing populations and natural resources.

December 10, 2008 at 5:54 pm Leave a comment

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