How the Electronics Ban Will Affect You
Headline news about travel bans is starting to feel like business as usual. You’re not alone if you find yourself thinking: “Pretty much we’ll only be able to bring Saltines and an actual print newspaper and maybe a wallet when we board a plane.”
Fact is, though, there are loads of nuances and contingencies beyond that big bold “travel ban” headline, especially when it comes to the latest electronics ban, which was announced on March 21. The ban, which is applicable to specific airlines leaving specific airports in the Middle East, prohibits travelers from carrying laptops, iPads, and anything larger than a cellphone on flights to specific US airports. The items must be checked. The ban applies to flights from 10 airports in eight countries. Nine airlines are affected - Royal Jordanian, EgyptAir, Turkish Airlines, Saudi Airlines, Kuwait Air, Royal Air Maroc, Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad Airways. When all is said and done, the measure, which will continue indefinitely, affects about 50 flights per day.
Many news reports and commentary note how this will strongly impact business travelers who have company-owned laptops, perhaps containing sensitive information. We, however, would argue that it would be equally exasperating for parents who might depend on laptops to keep young children from throwing temper tantrums at cruising altitude.
The questions that arise are why now and why the specificity? According to a New York Times report, "officials called the directive an attempt to address gaps in foreign airport security, and said it was not based on any specific or credible threat of an imminent attack." But the UK followed suit with a similar ban the following day and, according to anonymous security sources cited in news reports, the government based its decision on specific intelligence reports about the Islamic State developing a bomb that can be concealed in portable electronics.
But according to Jason Clampet, editor-in-chief of Skift, a travel news website, questions have been raised about the intent of the ban, what with its specific targets. Some experts speculate the measure is designed to hurt Gulf carriers because they’ve emerged as rivals in transatlantic flight packages.
This ban is a hassle for more than just the passengers. Airlines have been complaining about the lack of communication with Homeland Security, one of the government agencies that ordered the measure. Clampet explains that it was rolled out without warning, which stands in contrast with the liquid ban instituted in 2006, Clampet noted, which rolled out in a much more systematized fashion that involved training TSA agents before it went into effect.
"The ban came in the middle of the day, there was no way for airlines to communicate about it ahead of time." Clampet explains. "The same thing happened in January with the travel ban. It just happened--no communication. The CEO of American Airlines came out and said government messed up. You never hear airlines talking about the government like that."
All-Inclusive Vacations: The 7 Essential Questions Every Traveler Must Ask
The phrase "all–inclusive" is so enticing. You immediately picture yourself at a cushy resort, lounging by a pool or dreamy beach, frosty cocktail in hand, never once reaching for your wallet. But while that dream scenario is within reach, you've got to take a few steps to make sure it all goes down the way you want it to. Be sure to read the "fine print" before you book, especially when you're considering package deals. All–inclusives can be a bargain and a great stress–reliever (no foreign currency to worry about, no tips to calculate), but before you book make sure you know what you're getting yourself into. In addition to finding out what the rate is for your all-inclusive vacation package, here are the seven essential questions every traveler must ask: 1) How many meals are included? 2) What times are meals served? 3) What are your meal choices? (If there are sit–down restaurants, you might want to ask if reservations are accepted and how far in advance folks need to reserve to ensure a seat.) 4) Are tips included? 5) Is alcohol included? 6) Which activities, if any, are included in the cost? Which activities are available for an additional fee? 7) What kind of entertainment is there in the evening?
Everything You Need to Know About Traveling With Your Pet
Picture your perfect pet-friendly travel scenario: Maybe you're barefoot on the beach, tossing a stick to your canine best friend, who couldn't be happier as she chases it up and down, making paw prints in the gently lapping surf. Sounds pretty idyllic, right? Before you set off on your dream journey, though, the 12 items below are crucial to think about prior to taking a trip with your pet. First things first: Nobody knows her like you do. If you think she'll enjoy the open road or friendly skies, she'll likely be a great travel companion, especially if “you’re an adventure traveler and have a dog who is high energy and loves to run around,” says KC Theisen, director of pet-care issues for the Humane Society of the United States. “But if your dog is getting older or is anxious, he might be happier lounging on the couch at home or taking a weekend at the doggy spa. And it’s unlikely your cat is going to enjoy a vacation.” (Don't worry; we have tips for kitty travel too if your cat is a jet-setter.) While you’re still in the planning stages, call your hotel, airline, rental-car company, and any local establishments that you’re hoping will allow your pooch to join you. “‘Dog friendly’ has so many meanings today, from 'tolerated' to 'welcome with treats or toys or facilities specific to dogs,'” says Melissa Halliburton, founder and CEO of BringFido.com. Personally, we’re hoping for doggy yoga (a.k.a. "doga") at the next hotel we stay at! Yep, it's a thing. 1. Tote along the right supplies. Here’s a basic pet packing list: a leash and harness, bed, crate, shot records, litter box, familiar toys, food and water bowls, bottled water, food, treats, any prescriptions, and poop bags. "Water is something you can’t have too much of,” Theisen says. “Often nervous pets will spill their water or decide not to drink all day, and then they need a gallon when they get to the hotel. Also, write your cellphone number on your pet’s collar in big numbers.” If your pet likes to snuggle with you at night, Halliburton suggests bringing a towel or bedsheet to protect hotel linens. And comfort from home goes a long way. “If they have a sleeping bed or blanket, definitely bring it,” Halliburton says. “Any reminders from home will lower their stress level.” 2. Don’t forget the paperwork. Before you hit the road, make sure all of your pet’s tags, including his identification and rabies, are up to date. Be prepared for emergencies by bringing copies of medical records and vaccinations. Air travel requires a health certificate and possibly other documents depending on the airline and destination; if you’re traveling internationally, check with that country for requirements specific to their region. (That’s critical. None of us wants to face the legal predicament Johnny Depp’s wife Amber Heard is in after she flew her Yorkshire terriers, Pistol and Boo, to Australia without going through customs or heeding the country’s quarantine rules.) It’s also a good idea to have your pet microchipped—and make sure the record is current—in case you get separated. 3. Stock a first aid kit. Whether your and your pet are going hiking or just driving to visit grandma, it’s important to have a first aid kit on hand. “Buy a pre-packaged kit with essentials such as gauze, gloves, medical tape, bandages, cleaning wipes, and disinfectant,” Halliburton says. “I suggest also bringing Benadryl for possible allergic reactions, hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting in the event that your pet has gotten ahold of something he shouldn’t have, and in case your pet has damaged a nail, cornstarch will stop the bleeding.” Download the Pet First Aid app from the Red Cross for tips on how to handle various injuries (free, redcross.org). 4. Print out a picture. Practically every pet owner’s phone is filled with pictures of their furball—and that can come in handy. “But you can’t print that out and give it to someone,” Theisen says. “You can’t make a poster or flier when you’re in a panic and on the road. Carrying a printed photo is an additional level of security.” It’s also helpful when you’re trying to find your pet at the airport at cargo pickup. 5. Book the right hotel. Not only should you make sure that your lodging is pet-friendly, but you should ask a few key questions too. “Check if there is a weight requirement; many pet-friendly hotels have a weight restriction,” advises Eric Halliday, general manager of the Lodge at Tiburon in Tiburon, California (from $179 per night, lodgeattiburon.com). “Communicate with the hotel about when you would like your room cleaned. We advise the guest at check-in that we will only clean the room if the pet is with the guest or in his cage.” Halliday also suggests inquiring about dog-walking areas in advance so that you know what to expect. “Ask about the local community—is it pet friendly? Will you be able to take your dog most places?” And just so you’re not saddled with any surprise charges, inquire if there are additional fees, which are common. For example, the Lodge at Tiburon has a one-time non-refundable pet fee of $75, though that includes a pet package with a special bandanna, dog bowl, treats, and access to the dedicated dog-run area on property. 6. Prepare for takeoff. While we get snacks and movies on demand, flying isn’t nearly as fun for animals. In fact, Theisen says that unless airline travel is necessary, you’re better off leaving them at home or finding another mode of transportation. Typically, only dogs and cats under 10 pounds are allowed in the cabin, and larger ones must go in the cargo hold. Be sure to check with the airline before you book, as rules vary widely—as do fees and number of pets allowed. Most airlines don’t allow you to put anything in the transport crate besides food, water, and a blanket due to ingestion risk, but a blanket that smells like home can help relax them. “Figure out which water bowl you’re going to use, freeze treats and kibble in that dish, and then when it’s loaded into the plane, the water doesn’t spill, and it’s encouraging for them to work on the ice block to get to treats and keep them occupied,” suggests Theisen, who says it's her go-to trick. 7. Do a trial trip. To keep your pet calm and comfortable during the big journey, do a few practice runs beforehand. “Start by simply having her get in the carrier and rewarding her,” Halliburton says. “Do this often, and increase the amount of time she is in the carrier each time. Then have her practice being in the carrier while you drive around the block or go to the dog park. It’s important to place toys in the carrier and reward her often for behaving well during this practice. Generally, dogs will come to think of their carrier or crate as a safe place.” If they’re going to be on a plane, you can adjust this technique. “Load your dog in a carrier and put it on a rocking chair, or put it in a car squished up on floorboard,” Theisen says. 8. MacGyver a special seat for the car. It’s adorable when you spot a dog sticking his head out the car window and taking in the breeze—but it’s dangerous too. “Unfortunately, a pet loose in the car at a very minimum is a distraction to driver and may interfere with your ability to drive safely,” Theisen says. “A cat goes right under the gas pedal, while dogs run into your field of vision. Pets are best secured in a carrier or crate. Not only are they prevented from distracting you, but they have a level of protection in case of an accident or crash.” There are plenty of options, from harnesses to booster seats to seat belts for pets. But Theisen cautions that there have been very few studies on the safety of these products. Often, the easiest solution is just stowing them in their carrier and securing it with a regular seat belt. 9. Keep Fluffy entertained. Bringing your pet’s favorite toy along is a given, but a trip is a special occasion, so why not wow him with something new? “An interactive toy will keep him occupied during long trips,” Halliburton says. “The PetSafe Busy Buddy Barnacle [from $4.50, amazon.com] is durable and has multiple holes for dispensing different-sized treats during play. Outward Hound has several great options as well.” To ensure safety, take your pet’s mode of transport into account. If your dog will be unattended, like in a carrier in the backseat of your car alone while you’re behind the wheel, stay away from anything he might choke on, like bones or hooves. 10. Take plenty of breaks on the road. As a rule of thumb, humans usually need a break every two and a half hours on a road trip, and the same applies to your pet. It’s also a good time to make sure he’s still safe and content in his carrier and hasn’t had any accidents. Try to visit a dog park to let Lassie stretch her legs. “You can use the BringFido app (free, itunes.com) to locate dog parks near you when you travel through new cities,” Halliburton says. The app also helps point travelers toward pet-friendly hotels, eateries, and attractions like pets-welcome hiking trails. Many towns hold "yappy hours" at parks or restaurants where dog owners can socialize with each other and their pets. 11. Prevent motion sickness. “If your dog or cat gets motion sickness easily, they might want to stay home,” Theisen says. Avoid feeding your pet within three to four hours of travel, and give her controlled amounts of water. Ask your vet if there are any medications or supplements. “Motion sickness is more common in puppies than older dogs, and most puppies will outgrow it, similarly to human children,” Halliburton says. “Like people, facing forward, lowering the windows a bit, or distracting them with a toy all help to alleviate nausea.” 12. Don’t sedate your pet. It might seem like a good idea to give Max something to make him drowsy, but it can be harmful. “We do not support tranquilizing or sedating your pet, especially for air travel, because cargo holds have different air pressurization and temperature than the cabin,” Theisen says. “Your pet needs all his faculties to handle that stress. When pets are over-sedated, there is no one to see your pet if something goes wrong.” Never give your pet painkillers from his last surgery. Instead, ask your veterinarian for a prescription if your animal is very anxious or has other needs.
Despite rising gas prices, 80 percent of U.S. families are planning a road trip this summer, up 10 percent from last year, a recent AAA survey found. But for many people, taking that dream road trip requires renting a car, which can be a stressful, confusing, and expensive process. The rental car industry is notorious for its array of sometimes confusing options for customers. Last year one in five car renters reported problems with their service, according to J.D. Power’s annual North America Rental Car Satisfaction Study. For consumers, the rental car counter can be treacherous. “Rental car agents are paid on commission, so they’re incentivized to try to upsell you for everything,” says Jonathan Weinberg, creator of AutoSlash.com, a service that tracks rental price changes to help get consumers the best deals. “If you ask whether you need something, they’re going to say yes.” Also, since many rental car companies are good at burying fees and surcharges in long rental agreements—you know, the paperwork you barely glance at before signing—the onus is on you to thoroughly research your options. Indeed, “when renting a car, it’s a ‘buyer beware’ transaction,” says Neil Abrams, president of the Abrams Consulting Group, which tracks the rental car industry. Follow these steps to drive down the costs on your next rental car and enjoy a cheaper, happier road trip. Bring your own transponder Going through a toll can bring unexpected fees when you use the rental car company’s transponder (e.g., E-ZPass, SunPass). “It varies by company, but usually you’re going to get charged a convenience fee of $5 a day starting on the first day that you use it,” says Weinberg. In other words, if you’re traveling for a week and go through a toll on the first day, you’ll get charged a $35 fee for the whole week regardless of whether you go through more tolls. READ: "15 Last Minute Weekend Escapes" Thus, you’ll want to use your own transponder on the trip. If you need to buy one, you can do so online or at some convenience stores like Publix, CVS or Walgreens. Don’t prepay for the car Many rental car companies give you the option to prepay for the rental in exchange for a reduced price, but there are some major caveats. For starters, you’re locking yourself into that price point, but rates often drop as the pickup date approaches—potentially below the prepay rate that you accepted earlier. If that happens and you try to re-book for the lower rate, you’ll get slapped with a cancellation fee of about $50, which could effectively negate the amount of money you’d save by rebooking. The good news is you can still reserve a vehicle without paying for it upfront; then, if the rate drops, you simply cancel and rebook. “Renting a car is not like booking a seat on a flight, where you’re stuck with the reservation,” says Mark Mannell, chief executive of CarRentalSavers.com. “There’s no penalty for cancelling and rebooking.” Don’t prepay for gas When you pick up the car, you’re given the option to pay ahead of time for the car company to refill the gas tank when you return the vehicle. However, you’ll save money by refilling the tank yourself for a couple reasons. First, “anything that’s left in the fuel tank that you bought is non-refundable if you opted to prepay for gas,” says Abrams. Also, when you prepay for gas, the rental company charges you the “local market rate” for the fuel but it’s often more expensive than gas stations that are just a few miles away. “Rental car companies aren’t gas stations,” says Abrams. “They provide fuel as an accommodation, and they charge a premium for it.” READ: "25 Most Beautiful Cities in America" To maximize your savings, use the free GasBuddy app (available on iPhone and Android) to find the cheapest station near the airport. When you return the car, take a photo of the fuel gauge in case the rental car company tries to charge you refueling fee later, advises Abrams. Take photos of pre-existing damage Many companies will provide an inspection report when you pick up the car, but you should still take photos of any pre-existing damage. (Many camera phones also let you time stamp pictures.) If there is pre-existing damage, make sure the rental agent records it in the agreement. Also, don’t forget to take photos when you return the car, says Mannell. Don’t automatically buy rental car insurance Insurance through the rental car company can cost up to $50 a day, depending on the plan you select, but you may already be covered through your existing car insurance, homeowner’s insurance, or credit card. Weinberg says most auto insurance policies include coverage for rental cars. Still, it’s good to check with your insurance company or credit card issuer ahead of time to make sure you’re covered. (NerdWallet.com, a credit card comparison website, has compiled a list of which cards include rental car insurance.) Look into renting from an off-airport location Airports often charge rental car companies airport concession fees, which the rental companies then pass on to customers. As a result, daily rates at off-airport stations can be up to $20 or $30 cheaper per day, so it’s wise to survey your options. Just make sure you factor in the cost of a taxi or Uber ride to the off-site location when comparing prices. After all, “if you’ll wind up paying $50 for a taxi, it may not be worth it,” says Abrams. Compare rates at independent agencies Avis, Hertz, and Enterprise are the three largest rental car companies, but there are a number of smaller agencies that offer competitive rates, such as Fox Rent a Car and Advantage. But you may have to make some concessions if you rent from one of these companies. “You’re not usually going to get newer car models at discount agencies,” says Weinberg. Also, a lot of independent agencies don’t have airport locations. One car rental agency you may want to research carefully is Payless. The Better Business Bureau recently issued a nationwide warning to consumers after having received more than 800 complaints about Payless in the past three years. (The BBB has given the company an F rating.) READ: Read This Before You Book a Vacation Rental Redeem discounts for premium memberships Rental car companies offer discounts to members of frequent flier programs and credit card holders; AAA, Costco, and BJ’s also offer members deals on rental cars. These discounts can often be combined with discount codes from the rental car company. For example, a full-size car rental from Hertz at Ronald Reagan National Airport was $281.85 in a recent search, but plugging in a AAA member discount code and a Hertz discount code dropped the rate to $201.90.
Hotels' Dirtiest Secrets
The data hounds at TravelMath.com have done us all a favor, undertaking a study of how clean (or, make that unclean) a typical hotel room may be. Prepare yourself for a gross-out: After studying the remote controls, bathroom counters, desks, and phones at nine different three-, four-, and five-star hotels, TravelMath reports that the typical hotel room is way dirtier than your house (you read that correctly) and even dirtier than some airplane cabins. "DIRTY" MEANS GERMS Still with us? When we say “dirty,” we don’t mean dust or grime. We’re talking about bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can give you or your kids respiratory infections, skin infections, and even pneumonia. The measure of a hotel room’s “dirtiness” for this study was the number of viable bacteria cells (known as colony-forming units, or CFUs) per square inch. On average, hotel bathroom counters and remote controls top 1 million CFUs per square inch. Ugh. SWANKY HOTELS MAY BE DIRTIER THAN BUDGET LODGING The biggest surprise was that three-star hotels appear to be cleaner, on average, than four- or five-star hotels. These “average” hotels that offer limited amenities appear to do a better job of cleaning surfaces than their tonier competitors. Among three-star hotels tested, bathroom counters were the dirtiest surfaces, but still far cleaner than those in upscale hotels. Bathroom counters at four-star hotels appear to be the germiest of all hotel surfaces, and the remote controls at five-start hotels are pretty gross too. HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM GERMS We don’t enjoy sharing just the bad news, so we’re happy to report that there are a few steps every traveler can take to stay safe when checking into a hotel. * Wash your hands frequently. * Pack a small bottle of antibacterial spray. * Pack a carton of antibacterial wipes. * Disinfect surfaces such as phones, bathroom counters, and desks. * Pack clear plastic bags and wrap one around the remote control so you can still easily operate it without actually making finger-to-bacteria-laden-key contact. (While dousing the remote with disinfectant may seem appealing, it is perhaps not the best idea.)