Driving to Mexico Just Got Easier
Good news for those of you who’ve considered driving into Mexico from San Diego but were put off by reports of massive traffic jams and two-hour delays at the border crossing. On November 1, a new $76.4-million upgrade of the highway rerouted tens of thousands of vehicles, reducing wait times and traffic, and allowing for better inspection for cross-border no-no’s such as weapons and illegal drugs.
While a U.S.-funded upgrade has also been planned, which would redirect Mexico-bound drivers on Interstate 5 via a long, soft turn, Congress has not yet funded the project. Consequently, Mexico proceeded with its own plan, which allows Tijuana-bound drivers to make a hard right toward border-inspection booths. With an estimated 35,000 motorists crossing the California-Mexico border at San Ysidro every day, the new route side-steps what some have termed “Carmageddon.”
Drivers from San Diego can visit bustling (well, that’s the polite word) Tijuana or hit Highway 1 and head for Baja destinations farther south, such as the breathtaking beach town of Ensenada, 78 miles south of the border, or, for the hardcore driver, La Paz and the resort towns of Todos Santos and Cabo San Lucas at the bottom of the 1,000-plus-mile-long peninsula.
But if you want to drive in Mexico, the city of San Diego and the U.S. State Department share some important safety tips:
•U.S. citizens require a valid passport to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.
•Purchase Mexican auto insurance, but do it on the U.S. side of the border. (To learn more, visit the Automobile Club of Southern California)
•Pets are allowed to cross into Mexico as long as you have proof of a rabies shot within the past six months.
•Americans in Mexico are subject to Mexican law, and may not have the same rights and privileges they do on U.S. soil. If you need legal help, contact the nearest U.S. consulate (the one in Tijuana can be reached at 01/664-977-2000).
•If you’re expecting a party south of the border, know that drinking in public places is illegal.
•Exercise caution when visiting Baja, especially at night. The U.S. State Department reports that armed drug traffickers can pose a serious threat to visitors. Your best bet for safety is to limit travel to major resort areas, such as Todos Santos and Cabo San Lucas.
Legal Visits to Cuba Back on Track
Ever been to Cuba? When I was a kid, that question would have been just about unthinkable. The only people I knew who'd been there were those who'd fled the Caribbean island in the wake of the communist revolution that put Fidel Castro in power at the height of the Cold War, raising the specter of a Soviet satellite nation just off American shores. But last year, the Obama administration began granting Cuban cultural exchange licenses to travel companies, allowing them to take Americans to Cuba for "people-to-people" activities that provide the opportunity to learn about Cuba's culture, food, and the arts. The thinking was that getting ordinary citizens from both countries together could promote a measure of mutual understanding in spite of the U.S.'s economic embargo against Cuba that dates back 50 years. More than 150 licenses have been issued and thousands of Americans have taken advantage of the tours, spending days packed with cultural and educational activities that immerse them in all things Cuba. However, the granting of licenses to travel companies slowed to a crawl this summer in response to the U.S. government's concern that the trips were essentially just tourism masquerading as cultural exchange. Most notably, Florida Senator Marco Rubio expressed doubts about such activities as salsa dancing and visits to the Cuban Ministry of Culture. As a consequence, travel companies reported delays over the past few months due to new restrictions put in place in May by the treasury department's Office of Foreign Assets Control. But this week at least 20 U.S. tour operators say their licenses have now been granted, and on the whole they've been able to keep their original itineraries intact. (Translation: If you visit Cuba on a cultural exchange program, you've still got a good shot at learning to salsa.) Senator Rubio has said he will continue to monitor the trips. Cuba, with its Spanish colonial history and architecture, vibrant cuisine, intoxicating music, beaches, and mountains, attracts more than 2 million visitors each year, mostly from Canada and Europe. But people-to-people trips offered by U.S. tour companies are increasingly bringing Americans and Cubans together. Budget Travel, for example, recently highlighted a Cuban cultural exchange Travel Deal, with an eight-night excursion to the island from YMT Vacations. So, as I was saying: Ever been to Cuba? We'd love to hear your post- (or pre-!) revolution travel stories about what it's like to set foot on the "forbidden" island!
Another Hotel Chain Adds Trip Advisor Ratings
Everyone has their feelings on Trip Advisor—some take the reviews as bible, others take them with a shaker full of salt. But whatever your feeling, more and more hotel companies are adding links directly to the site whether there are negative reviews or not. Best Western is the latest chain to do so, adding Trip Advisor ratings front–and–center when you search for hotels. Part of an overall site redesign, the new look also includes the five most recent Trip Advisor reviews for the hotel. Back in March, the Wyndham hotel group announced a partnership with Trip Advisor to display ratings in reviews on the site for the Wyndham Rewards loyalty program, with plans to add the content for their more than 7,200 hotels, spread across brands including Wyndham, Ramada, Days Inn, and Travelodge. Are hotels concerned that negative reviews will turn off potential guests? “Most of the reviews we see out there are positive,” Michael Morton, Best Western's vice president of member services, told the Los Angeles Times. “If negative reviews come up, we respond. It’s another way for our hotels to show our priorities.” Of course, not all hotel chains are jumping on the Trip Advisor bandwagon. The Starwood hotel group (which is made up of Le Meridien, Westin, Aloft, and Sheraton hotels, among others) launched a program last October for guests to post reviews after their stay directly on the hotel's site. To cut down on fraudulent reviews, guests have to enter a Starwood Preferred Guest number or confirmation number to even write a review. How important are Trip Advisor reviews to you? Does seeing the rating up front help form your decision, or save you the time it would take to search Trip Advisor directly? MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: 30 Hotel Chains Every Traveler Should Know How to Get a Free Upgrade 6 Simple Questions that Will Save You Money on Vacation
Delta Adds Recharging Stations to More Airports
As more and more carryon space it taken up by tablets, laptops, and smartphones, finding an available outlet at the gate before your flight can be a challenge. After adding extensive power stations at 20 of its busiest hubs in the U.S., Delta is adding now adding new recharging areas in 13 airports. A dozen of the new stations will be in American airports including Austin, Dallas/Ft. Worth, and Houston in Texas plus Denver; Philadelphia; Anchorage; Phoenix; Milwaukee; New Orleans; Syracuse, NY; Kansas City, MO; and Ontario, CA. The 13th will be the first of its kind abroad. Tokyo's Narita International Airport will have stations at four gates, each with six standard U.S. 110 volt outlets. One reason to make sure all your devices are charged: Delta is also adding in-flight WiFi to 150 international aircraft. How important are recharging stations to you? Do you always find yourself scrambling to plug in before flights, or do you always make sure you are at full charge before leaving for the airport? MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: 11 Surprisingly Lovable Airlines 10 Scenic Airport Landings 4 Common Airport Security Questions—Answered!
21 New Airline Routes Launching Soon
Can't decide where to go for your next vacation? With lots of new routes launching, the decision might be easier than you thought. Here is a sampling of what's coming up. Airline: Alaska Airlines Destinations: Washington, D.C, San Antonio, Atlanta, Orlando The airline launched service between Seattle and Washington's Reagan in late August, plus will be adding a Seattle to San Antonio route on September 17—the same day they double the amount of flights between Seattle and Atlanta (from one to two per day). There will also be a new service between San Diego and Orlando starting October 11, with five flights per week. Airline: Allegiant Destination: Hawaii The budget carrier launched flights to Hawaii in June 2012 and are adding five new routes this fall. Starting in November you will be able to fly nonstop to Honolulu from Bellingham, Washington; Eugene, Oregon; Santa Maria, California; and Stockton, California. The airline will also offer a nonstop between Bellingham and Maui starting in November. Airline: Delta Destination: Caribbean December will be a good time to fly to the Caribbean from New York. Starting that month, there will be daily nonstop flights between LaGuardia and Nassau, Bahamas as well as JFK and Aruba and Montego Bay, Jamaica. Daily service will start between JFK and Punta Cana in February 2013, while daily flights between LaGuardia and Bermuda in April 2013. Airline: Frontier Airlines Destination: Orlando Taking the kids to Disney will be a little easier starting in November, when Frontier launches nonstop flights to Orlando from Columbia, Missouri; Greensboro, North Carolina; Trenton, New Jersey; and Shenandoah Valley, Virginia. Airline: JetBlue Destination: Charleston Northeasterns looking for some southern comfort can start flying nonstop on JetBlue starting in February 2013. There will be two daily flights from New York's JFK and one from Boston's Logan Airport. Airline: Spirit Destination: Los Cabos The budget airline will launch a nonstop between San Diego and Los Cabos starting in November (with a connection from Dallas/Fort Worth), four times per week. Airline: United Destinations: Bahamas, Paris United is still figuring out routes post merger with Continental and has been on a spree of launching new routes, from Newark to Istanbul to D.C. and Dublin. Expected in the next few months are a weekly nonstop between Chicago and Nassau, Bahamas starting in February (through July 2013) and a daily nonstop between San Francisco and Paris starting in April 2013. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL 11 Surprisingly Lovable Airlines 10 Scenic Airport Landings 4 Common Airport Security Questions—Answered!