Warning: You'll Never Get These 10 Items Through Customs!
We love souvenirs as much as you do, and we'd never suggest that you skimp on keepsakes that you'll always treasure (though we'll try to find you bargains whenever we can!). But there are a few no-no's that U.S. customs will confiscate if you try to get them past the border—some for health reasons, others for complex economic and cultural reasons. In the interest of saving you time, money—and embarrassment!—here are 10 you should be wary of.
Try as you might, seeing the green fairy probably isn't going to happen these days: Modern absinthe is different from the low-quality, toxic sort made with poisonous metal salts associated with hallucinogenic properties back in Vincent van Gogh's day; however, it's still illegal to bring certain kinds of absinthe in from other countries due to lack of regulation. In particular, bottles that claim to contain 10 parts per million or more of the chemical thujone are Food & Drug Administration no-nos. (Trivia: If a bottle says it has a lot of thujone, it probably doesn't—absinthe makers who emphasize the alcohol's supposed "mind-altering" properties have their eye on taking tourists' money.)
Travel Tip: If you're thirsty for your very own bottle regardless, in addition to double-checking that the booze is "thujone-free," ensure that the stand-alone word "absinthe" or any "psychotropic" image isn't on the bottle. (Rule of thumb: If the label looks like it could double as a Grateful Dead album cover, don't try to bring it on the plane.) To ensure you're getting a quality brand, and not just green food coloring, visit wormwoodsociety.org.
Certain plants (and crafts made from plants)
Gardening enthusiasts, prepare to present any plant item that you want to bring into the States—even crafts made with straw—to a customs officer for inspection. You'll need a permit even for innocuous-sounding items like cut flowers with berries attached, nursery stock, and seeds. Other fauna, like "noxious weeds," aren't allowed, period. (Even if some do sound quite pleasant, like apricot cape tulip.)
Travel Tip: To be safe rather than kiss your prized plant goodbye at check-in, apply for a USDA Plant Protection and Quarantine permit online (aphis.usda.gov) to bring acceptable plants into the states—or check if they're prohibited. Permits take 30 days or more to process and are good for up to three years.
Ivory (including jewelry made from ivory)
It's safe to assume that you'll need a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (fws.gov/permits) to bring any ivory into the country, due to the Endangered Species Act. (Unless the item in question is from a warthog, but, really, who wants that?) You can import an antique ivory item if you have special documentation showing it's more than 100 years old, but thanks to rampant poaching, any object that's younger is generally not allowed.
Travel Tip: If you want to make a jewelry or a trinket haul, but the stuff you want appears to be made from tortoiseshell, ivory, whalebone, or skins, give the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service a buzz at 800/358-2104 to be sure they're okay to purchase and bring home.
So many items have been stolen from museums and churches that any ancient artifact (like pre-Columbian objects, Native American artifacts, Byzantine items, culturally significant Iraqi property, etc.) requires an export permit—and a real one at that: There are many fake certificates floating around. The U.S. National Stolen Property Act prevents individuals from legally owning a swiped item, regardless of how many people have since possessed it.
Travel Tip: If you want to bring back a ruin or antique to keep—not to, for example, exhibit in a museum—you'll need an export permit from the country you're taking it out of. And even then, you could face U.S. import restrictions, depending on the item and the country. (Your historical find might be considered a "pillage.") Peruse the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs's website for information on what's not allowed (exchanges.state.gov/heritage/culprop.html).
Meat-based products (even soup mix)
Bush meat made from African wildlife and anything imbued with meat products—like bouillon, soup mixes, etc.—from most countries could introduce serious pathogens into the U.S. and spread unpleasant conditions like foot-and-mouth disease, African swine fever, mad cow disease, and the avian flu. That goes for canned and dried meats too.
Travel Tip: There are a few countries deemed acceptable to export certain meats from—scan the USDA's website to make sure: aphis.usda.gov.
Big souvenirs from Cuba, Iran, or much of Sudan
Economic sanctions prevent visitors from bringing items back from these countries (Cuban cigars, for example). You can apply for a license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control if you wish to import something, but it's rare that you'll actually get one.
Travel Tip: A few exceptions to this rule exist: Books, magazines, films, photographs, posters, art, and music are okay, as are small gifts worth less than $100.
Most fruits and vegetables
One teensy piece of fruit carried onto an airplane caused the great California Mediterranean fruit fly outbreak of the early 1980s. The pestilence threatened the state's agriculture—and set the federal government back $100 million to eliminate. (Think about how bad that person must have felt.) If you're determined to bring fruit back, the USDA has a long list of what's permissible (aphis.usda.gov/favir)—nearly every fruit and veggie (possibly with the exception of an apple you bought in an airport, for example) requires a permit.
Travel Tip: Be aware that you'll have to show your fruit to a customs officer for inspection, especially if it's something exotic, like pomegranate. Fail to report your produce, and you could be hit with a $300 fine.
Designer knockoffs and cartoon-character paraphernalia
Tempting as it might be to stock up on faux labels when you're out of the country, goods like fake Chanel bags and nearly real Mickey Mouse knickknacks are subject to U.S. copyright and trademark protections. The government is so serious about enforcing this that your haul of "confusingly similar" trademarked merchandise could be seized.
Travel Tip: If you just want one fake bag to use for yourself (and not sell on Canal Street), that's okay: You can be granted an exemption by the government. But know that you can only bring one item of its kind into the country—so a pair of sunglasses, a purse, and a pair of jeans are okay, but three purses are not, regardless of whether they have three different labels. Another note: You can only get this exemption once every 30 days.
More than $10,000 cash
To make it rain on the plane, you'll have to report the cash first. Smuggling "bulk currency" (an offense under the Bank Secrecy Act) is the kind of thing drug traffickers are known to do, therefore U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement doesn't take kindly to it. Money orders, travelers' checks, and foreign coins—not just paper bills—count too.
Travel Tip: To bring your money in legally, obtain the exhaustively named "Report of International Transportation of Currency of Monetary Instruments" from a customs officer. If you don't, you could face up to five years in jail.
Some Haitian Goat Hide Drums
Hauling an animal-skin drum through an airport seems ripe for a comedy of misunderstanding anyway (the ceremonial snake bowl that Renée Zellweger brought back from Thailand in the second Bridget Jones movie didn't do her any favors), but some goat-skin drums aren't treated properly, and have been tied to a cutaneous anthrax case, putting them on the Centers for Disease Control's restricted list. Same goes for some African drums.
Travel Tip: If getting your mitts on your own personal drum is in your plans, ensure it's been tanned, as that means it's non-infectious.
Thinking About a European Vacation Next Year? Book Now.
The currently weak Euro is a boon to travelers—and tour operators. That's because many companies buy local currency to pay hotels, transportation companies, etc. when the exchange rate is solidly in their favor (i.e. now). And they are discounting 2013 tour prices to reflect their savings. How novel. According to an article in Travel Weekly, companies are cutting prices as much as 18% over 2012 prices. Trafalgar's trips to Europe are being cut an average of around 8% and as high as 13%. Some of Insight Vacations trip are 18% less for 2013, with most around 8% less. Trips with Globus are down about 5% (and the company has added 11 new Europe tours for next year). If those discounts aren't enough, many companies also offer an early-booking bonus for trips booked far in advance. Trafalgar currently discounts some 2013 trips by 10% if you pay in full by December 28, 2012. Tours with Globus don't typically include airfare, but if you book air with them for some 2013 Europe trips (and travel between January 1 and October 31, 2013) by October 30, 2012 you'll get a $300 credit towards the airfare per person. Looking for more deals on vacation packages to Europe? Check out our Real Deals section!
Confessions—and Travel Tips—from a Psychic
Whether you believe in psychic readings, tarot cards, and astrological signs or not, you won't want to miss what Lisa Barretta has to say about what the future holds...and about the people who want to know what's in the cards. Even if you don't believe yourself, her travel advice will shed insight into why those around you are nervous—or strangely calm—during emergencies. Plus she lets us know why she thinks you should blame the alignment of the planets or the phase of the moon instead of the airline next time your luggage is lost or your flight is cancelled. A READING IS ONLY AS GOOD AS THE PEOPLE INVOLVED Sometimes you get people who are quasi-believers. They're not too sure, and they'll sit there and say, okay, tell me about my day. That's not what this is about. When someone comes to me, I actually am going into their energy field picking up irregularities. Like something seems a little amiss here, something emotional here. I feel dips in their energy, and I go in and start to get my information that way. So when somebody starts playing games like "guess my middle name," that's frustrating because it makes us look like nothing more than a human 8-ball. I've personally been doing this for a long time and I take it seriously. If you're not serious with your client and you don't have the right approach, you can do somebody as much harm as a doctor who is prescribing the wrong medicine. You're filling them with a lot of false information or false hope. THE SUBJECT THAT 90 PERCENT OF PEOPLE ASK ABOUT Ninety percent of the questions have to do with relationships, and they already kind of have a sense of what's going to happen. I find a lot of people often are looking for some type of confirmation of yes, you're on the right track. I like to read their energy first, and then I fill in a lot of the blanks with the tarot cards and astrology. I can pull three cards and get all the information I need. I tell them all after the reading, ultimately whatever decision you make is up to you. You always have your free will. I've been telling you what's best for you in your charts and in your cards, how to get from here to there with the least amount of aggravation. EVERYBODY'S CURIOUS ABOUT SOMETHING People love this stuff. I'm not kidding you. Chapter three of my book, The Streetsmart Psychic's Guide to Getting a Good Reading, talks about the type of clients that psychics encounter. The delusional damsel, that's a big one, where they're going to ask the same question until they get the answer that they want. You always get the person who I call the psychic reading virgin: it's their first time and they just keep saying "you're not going to tell me about death or an accident, right?" And God forbid you should ever pull the death card. That freaks them out and you have to spend 20 minutes explaining that card just means change. Transformation. I have done politicians and celebrities, and you know what I've found? They have the same problems as the regular people. I've had everything, I've read everything, I've heard of everything. Nothing shocks me anymore. THE BIGGEST QUESTION... WHEN? One of the biggest questions I get when I'm doing a reading is when? You tell somebody they're going to meet somebody—and they want to know what day, what hour? They want to know when because they're so stuck on time, and time does not exist in the fourth dimension. But when I have the astrological chart, I can more or less pinpoint a better time frame for them because I've looked at the transits of the planets and what's going on in their personal charts. I see a shift or change for relationships somewhere and give them a better range of timing. Because we're all impatient, myself included. ALWAYS BE PREPARED FOR THE UNEXPECTED I've had quite a few strange things happen to me, things that are extremely paranormal that there would not be any scientific explanation for. I recall one time I was giving a woman a reading and all of a sudden I'm getting this urge to tell her that the woman with the sewing machine and all the material on the floor wants her to know that everything's going to be okay. And I'm thinking, that seems like such a strange thing to tell someone. I told her, I am compelled to tell you this, and I don't know where I'm getting it from. It's not in your chart, it's not in the cards, I just have this urge to get it out. And she just started to cry and said, "My grandmother was a seamstress and she died a long time ago. I know exactly what that means." AVOID MAKING TRAVEL PLANS WHILE MERCURY IS IN RETROGRADE Three times a year, the planet Mercury, which rules travel, goes retrograde and there are all types of snafus. I read people who work for the airlines and travel for business, and they all want to know, when's the next Mercury retrograde? Rule of thumb, if you make any plans that are during the Mercury retrograde, chances are something's going to come along and change them. You want to make sure your luggage is well tagged and confirm your tickets before you go. There will be more delays with trains, planes, and weather then. You have to make sure you book the right dates, and always give yourself enough time during the retrograde. AND AVOID TRAVEL AROUND A FULL OR VOID MOON I have a lot of people who don't like to fly right before or during a full moon, because they just feel that more things could possibly go wrong then. Not that there's going to be an accident, but there's a good possibility you'll be seated next to somebody who's just really unnerving. People are stranger at that time, and usually when you're traveling, you're put into groups that you have no control over. I always tell people to make sure the moon is not void when they make their travel plans. A void moon means the moon is not in any one sign. The moon changes signs every 2.5 days but in between changing signs, the moon is considered void, and that means nothing will ever come of this matter. If you book a trip on a void moon, chances are you will have to rebook it, or something will make you change the dates. BUT FEEL FREE TO FLY ON FRIDAY THE 13TH I haven't personally run across anybody who wouldn't stay on the 13th floor or travel on Friday the 13th. I think that's probably more of a superstition than anything. WOULD YOU TELL IF YOU THOUGHT THE PLANE WAS GOING TO CRASH? I guess because I'm so energy sensitive, if I walk into a place, I can just feel the energy of it. I won't go up to anyone and say, hey, I think you need a reading. You never want to infringe upon anyone's privacy. If I was sitting next to someone and I was strongly picking up on something that I felt was information they really needed, I would find a way to kind of work it into a conversation. Say, if I'm picking up something like, watch your handbag as you walk through the airport because somebody's going to snatch it, I might put it such a way like, "You have to be careful, I know somebody who had their handbag snatched, so I always make sure I tuck it under my arm." Kind of hint around to them to take extra caution, but I wouldn't just come out and frighten anyone. If I thought that there was going to be a mechanical problem with the plane, or something, I wouldn't scare everybody else. There's always that chance that you're not exactly picking up 100 percent of what's right. So rather than have everybody abort the plane ride and get off, maybe I would just say, hey, I'm not getting on. I'm very aware, and I think the more you live in awareness, the more you develop your sixth sense. That's what my second book, The Book of Transformation, is about. The first book is how to get a good reading, and then the second one is basically how we're all really psychic. SOMETIMES IT'S BETTER TO BE OBLIVIOUS Years ago my kids were really into Anime and Japan, and asked if they'd ever get a chance to go to Japan. I looked at their charts; I was just curious. I wasn't going to tell them this, but from something I noticed in their charts I could see there could possibly be some kind of accident or catastrophe if they ever were in Japan at the same time. I put that out of my head for years. In March 2011, my youngest son was studying in Japan for his last year of college. My daughter decided to visit him, so of course that thought shot right through my head. I kept saying, be careful over there, don't do anything crazy. Don't rent mopeds or do anything nuts. Just stick to the normal touristy types of things, and she's like, we know, we know. So about two days before the big earthquake, I tell them, be careful, they have earthquakes, and they're like, "Mom, you've got to stop! They have earthquakes here all the time." The very next day, they called me at three o'clock in the morning, and said, "Mom, we just want to let you know we're all right; there really was a little earthquake here a little while ago, and you might see it on TV because they're making a big deal out of it." I'm like, hold on. I reached over and got the remote and I see these big black waves coming at me. Luckily, they had decided to go south and look at temples, so they were really far from where the real devastation was. WHEN IN DOUBT, LOOK TO YOUR PALMS One time I was on a plane coming back from Puerto Rico, and it had mechanical difficulties and we went back to the airport a few times. Finally they said it was safe and everything had been fixed. We were up there maybe about 15 minutes and suddenly the engine is on fire! People were freaking out. But ever since I was a little girl, any palm reader I went to said "You're going to live a long life. You're going to live to be 84, 85." So I looked at my palm and I figured, you know what, this plane is going to make it back. I'm going to live to be 84 or 85, so I think we're going to be okay. I was the only one on the plane that was calm. THE ENERGY OF A PLACE MATTERS With Halloween coming up, people look for little trips to Salem and Lillydale in New York, which is a big psychic center. In Philadelphia people go for a ghost walk at the Eastern State Penitentiary—I was told people actually come from as far away as Sweden to go there around Halloween. And for December 21st, 2012, so many people have told me they're going to go to Sedona, they want to go to Peru, they want to go someplace where they consider where the energy will be really strong for the opening of the galactic center, the end date of the Mayan calendar. Personally, I really love the energy of the Caribbean, especially St. Thomas and Puerto Rico. I must have had a past life down in Atlantis.
Book Thanksgiving Air Travel Now
First the good news—official government data has shown in the past that Thanksgiving is NOT the busiest travel day of the year (that day is in July). Now the bad news, even though Thanksgiving doesn't take the gold medal for busiest travel day, it's still pretty darn busy, and this year it's going to be more expensive too. According to a study by Priceline, the average national airfare for Thanksgiving is up 3% over last year. Travelers are facing a triple threat this year: airlines have cut capacity since the recession, airline mergers have reduced the number of flights available, and air travel is on the rise. Priceline's Brian Ek says that based on the data "travelers who already know their holiday plans would be smart to book well before Halloween to get the most choice in flights and seats." Three more tips for folks who haven't yet booked their Thanksgiving flights: Certain days are more affordable than others. The most affordable days fly over the Thanksgiving holiday, according to Priceline data, are November 19, 22, 27, 28, 29 and 30. Other moderately priced days to consider are November 18 and 23. Time of day matters. According to Priceline, holiday travelers will find the most affordable seats departing before 7am in the morning or after 8pm at night. That tends to be true the rest of the year as well. Consider alternative airports. It always pays to compare the cost of flying into nearby airports as opposed to a city's main hub, for example, if you're flying to D.C. consider booking a ticket into Baltimore as opposed to Dulles or National. If you're flying to L.A. consider Burbank or Long Beach instead. Not only will there be fewer crowds, but, according to Cheapflights.com, smaller airports often have lower fees, which translates to savings for consumers.
Why You Should Expect More Delays On American Airlines
It seems like every day there's another negative airline story. The latest: American Airlines employees and the corporate office are at odds over how to handle the company's bankruptcy problems—and passengers are seeing the fallout. The airline's plan is to cut spending, but that involves job layoffs and reducing benefits for employees. The Huffington Post reported that more ground workers are accepting severance packages, while thousands more were sent layoff notices last week. An alarming number of pilots have been calling in sick for work lately, while others have sent in more maintenance complaints about aircraft, leading to more strife between the Allied Pilots Association that represents the pilots and American Airlines higher–ups—they've even threatened to take the union to court over it. This comes on the heels of American Airlines being granted permission by the federal bankruptcy court to toss out original contracts and issue new rules to pilots regarding benefits, salary, and work rules starting this month. What does that mean for you? More delays at the airport and less flight options. According to FlightStats.com, a flight tracking website, the airline has already cancelled 436 flights and experienced delays with 5,788 others since last week. American Airlines also plans to reduce flights by one to two percent, claiming it has more to do with the number of people expected to fly during September and October, rather than issues with employees. While customers will be allowed to fly standby for earlier flights at no additional charge, I can imagine what kind of scenes will play out at the airport as more and more flights are cancelled each day. Add this one to your constantly growing list of air travel pet peeves. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Planning a Quick Getaway? Don't Make These Common Mistakes Do Airline Travelers Need More Consumer Protection? Holiday Travel: To Go Home Or Go Away