Is Europe Safe for Travelers?
In the wake of the July 14 terrorist attack in Nice, France, many are asking themselves: Is Europe safe for travelers?
The answer is yes, with the logical caveat that the better informed you are, the more observant you are, and the more prepared you are, the safer your trip anywhere in the world will be. Am I biased in favor of travel? You bet I am: There’s simply no better way to understand the world, to bridge the differences among cultures, and to embrace our personal stake in this little blue planet of ours.
The State Department reminds travelers to adopt the following practices when visiting Europe:
• Exercise vigilance when in public places or using mass transportation.
• Be aware of immediate surroundings and avoid crowded places.
• Exercise particular caution during religious holidays and at large festivals or events.
• Follow the instructions of local authorities, especially in an emergency.
• Monitor media and local information sources and factor updated information into personal travel plans and activities.
• Be prepared for additional security screening and unexpected disruptions.
• Stay in touch with your family members and ensure they know how to reach you in the event of an emergency.
Top Tips for a Romantic Getaway
We had a blast on our Twitter Chat devoted to romantic travel tips! Thanks to our sponsor, Visit Colorado Springs (@VisitCOS) and an array of participants, we enjoyed a lively exchange and learned a ton. Here, just a taste of the great romantic travel advice dispensed in today’s chat. I answered questions for @BudgetTravel, and BT staffers Jamie Beckman and Rosalie Tinelli chimed in from NYC as well. For a chance to win a trip to Colorado Springs, enter here! Q: What is your favorite romantic travel destination? My wife and I are outdoorsy and cherish our time in the Rockies, especially discovering a lake or waterfall we’ve never seen before. (@BudgetTravel) We can’t help but love Colorado Springs and the view from the top of Pikes Peak Summit! (@VisitCOS) Anywhere outside of the city – preferably when it’s chilly. Like a cabin in the mountains! (@MatadorNetwork) Q: What is your favorite type of romantic getaway (beach, nature, foodie, charming city?) Hard for @BudgetTravel to pick one! A lake house in the mountains is sublime, but so is a foodie/art/theater getaway. (@BudgetTravel) Finding new places to eat with your [heart emoji] is one of the best parts of traveling. (@ContikiUSA) Beach! Relaxing next to each other in the warm sun while reading, dozing & quietly appreciating downtime together is a treat. (@JamieBeckman) Q: Got tips for couples traveling together for the first time? Discuss expectations: Exploring, relaxing, shopping, eating? Sure you like each other, but you won’t agree on everything. (@BudgetTravel) Patience and communication are key. (@ViatorTravel) It’s ok to split off and do other separate activities. (@MatadorNetwork) Prepare to learn a LOT about each other & have a ton of fun. (@ContikiUSA) Compromise. Go with her for a formal tea and she’ll be happy to go to the Tigers game. (@TheOpenSuitcase) Pack your patience and don’t hold grudges. There are bound to be some missteps, so don’t let a silly tiff ruin your vacation. (@JamieBeckman) Q: What is your secret for saving money without skimping on romance? Spend on priorities: If new restaurants are your thing, budget for them and cut back on, say, hotel swank. (@BudgetTravel) Leverage the shoulder seasons for romantic getaways. Don’t get trapped in Valentine’s day, or other holiday prices. (@MatadorNetwork) Try an off-season beach with miles of sand for just the two of you. (@TheOpenSuitcase) Small towns + inexpensive lodging + no tourists = Romance! (@LittleRoadsEuro) I try to travel more off-season and bring things like wine or lunch for the road with us – intimate without spending. (@RosalieTinelli) Q: What is a good outdoor adventure activity for couples to try for the first time? Canoeing! You gotta work together, tell each other what feels good, find the right rhythm and chemistry. (@BudgetTravel) A nice float or battling the rapids – rafting is a thrill on the Arkansas River. (@VisitCOS) I loved surfing lessons with my husband in Tahiti. Neither of us was a natural but it brought joy & laughs watching each other try! (@JamieBeckman) Q: Where is the best spot in the world to kiss? Golden hour in the Rockies, Fiesole overlooking Florence, or sometimes even a busy NYC street – you know when it happens. (@BudgetTravel) The Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, with its "Kissing Camels." (@VisitCOS) Devil’s Falls! (@TheBuriedLife) Mermaid style, under the sea! (@ContikiUSA) Wherever you and your partner happen to be. (@ViatorTravel) How about the cliffs at Loop Head, Ireland? (@LittleRoadsEuro) A glacier in Iceland! Once we figured out how to work around the snowmobile helmets! (@TheOpenSuitcase) Under the Eiffel Tower in Paris. It’s magical. Just hold onto your wallet to avoid pickpockets eyeing distracted lovebirds. ;) (@JamieBeckman)
Why You Should Renew Your Passport STAT
Twenty million, nine hundred thousand. That’s how many passport applications will be received next year, according to Niles Cole, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Consular Affairs. And 17.4 million passport applications are expected this year, which is nothing to sneeze at, especially when compared to the 16.1 million passport applications the State Department received in 2008. Hence, their advice to get started on the renewal process since they will be plenty busy very soon. “We encourage passport applicants to apply for or renew U.S. passports well ahead of planned travel, as we anticipate longer than average wait times for passport processing over the coming months,” Cole says. So what’s driving the uptick? There’s the REAL ID act, which makes it mandatory to use a passport for domestic flights for 25 U.S. states and territories, and also the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), which requires a passport to travel to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. For the latter, many people signed up in 2006 or 2007, so those are about to expire now. “Nearly 10 years after implementation of WHTI and the associated surge of passport applications, the Bureau of Consular Affairs is preparing for an anticipated surge as those applicants renew their passports,” Cole says. March is actually the busiest time of year for passport renewal, when so many are preparing for spring trips, so send yours in STAT. Cole advises, “Generally, we recommend individuals renew in in the winter, when the number of passport applications received is at the lowest.” He said they are currently processing passport applications in 6 weeks. “While that is up from four weeks last year, that is still within our service standards. Applicants should check travel.state.gov for the most up-to-date guidance on processing times.” Though there is an option to expedite the process for an additional fee, Cole believes there shouldn’t be a reason if you plan ahead. He says, “Regardless of when you choose to renew, planning in advance can save time and money.”
Will This Scary New FAA Warning Change the Way You Travel?
The FAA is warning airlines that rechargeable lithium-ion batteries pose a risk of “catastrophic aircraft loss” because the batteries can catch fire and explode, and that current fire-suppressing systems on planes cannot control a lithium-battery fire. The reason this is potentially terrifying to travelers is that rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are found in cell phones and other electronic devices. Take a deep breath. Exhale. You okay? While you're certainly going to see some hysterical headlines about this issue, the good news is that the high risk of fire and explosion the FAA is talking about is associated primarily with cargo containing high-powered batteries or large shipments of batteries. The battery in your phone is not going to set off the kind of apocalyptic pyrotechnics seen in this shocking FAA video. (Say “thank you” next time you have to charge your tiny phone battery: Its relatively short life is what makes it safer than, say, the battery in a hoverboard or larger piece of electronic equipment.) Many passenger airlines are voluntarily agreeing to stop carrying rechargeable lithium-ion batteries as cargo, and the FAA is urging airlines to assess safety risks to better manage the potential dangers posed by lithium batteries. Whether this changes the we travel with personal battery-powered electronic devices like phones and tablets in the future remains to be seen.
How to Fly Your Pet for Free
For many Americans, pets are family members, and they would no more travel without them than they would leave one of their children at home. Unfortunately for Budget Travelers, the airlines seem to know this, and have taken to squeezing as many fees as possible out of passengers who wish to fly with their furry friends. Not only will these fees apply when you fly with a caged animal in the hold, but most airlines will charge you $100 or more just to place a small pet carrier underneath the seat in front of you. But what if there was a way that you could avoid these pet fees altogether and fly Fido for free? It turns out that there are several credit cards that offer hundreds of dollars a year in annual air travel fee credits, which can be applied to these onerous airline pet fees. The American Express Platinum card offers a $200 annual airline fee credit that can be used to pay for pet fees as well as change fees, seat selection fees, and baggage fees. Other benefits include the ability to earn Membership Rewards for spending, which can be redeemed for travel reservations, merchandise or gift cards. In addition, points can be transferred to miles with 16 airline partners. Cardholders also receive access to the Delta SkyClub, Priority Pass Select, and American Express Centurion airport lounges. Note: There is a $450 annual fee for this card. The American Express Premier Rewards Gold card features a similar annual airline fee credit that can be used for pet fees, but it's only $100 per calendar year. Cardholders receive 3X Membership Rewards points for flights booked directly with airlines, 2X points for purchases at U.S. restaurants, gas stations, and supermarkets and 1X points on other purchases. This card has a $195 annual fee that is waived the first year. Another card with an annual airline fee credit is the Citi Prestige. It offers cardholders a $250 annual airline fee credit each calendar year, and pet fees are eligible for reimbursement. Other features include 3x points for air travel and hotel purchases, 2x points for dining and entertainment expenses, and one point per dollar spent elsewhere. Points are earned in the ThankYou Rewards program and can be redeemed for travel reservations or transferred to miles with 12 different airlines or points with Hilton hotels. Cardholders also receive access to the American Airlines and Priority Pass Select airport lounges. There is a $450 annual fee for this card. The Ritz-Carlton Rewards credit card offers a $300 annual airline fee credit each calendar year, which you can use to cover the pet fees for several flights. Other benefits include three upgrades to the Ritz-Carlton club level each year and a $100 hotel credit on paid stays of two nights or longer. It also offers an annual Lounge Club membership, which features access to hundreds of airport lounges around the world. This card has a $395 annual fee. Finally, cards like the Capital One Venture Rewards card allows you to earn miles that can be redeemed as statement credits toward any travel related expense, including pet fees. This card offers double miles on all purchases, and each mile is worth one cent. There's a $0 intro for this card for the first year and $59 after that. This article was written by Jason Steele, Credit Card Expert at CompareCards.com.