Federal Shutdown 2019: How Travelers Can Help

By Maya Stanton
January 21, 2019
Capitol building and reflection pool
Brandon Bourdages/Dreamstime
As the government shutdown drags on and some federal employees are forced to work without pay, there are ways you can help ease their increasingly urgent financial troubles.

With the longest government shutdown in America’s history hitting the one-month mark today, many federal employees and contractors are struggling to make ends meet. Some 800,000 government workers have been furloughed or required to work without compensation since the shutdown began in late December, and though the President signed a bill ensuring they’ll receive back pay once Washington reopens for business, they're still contending with immediately pressing concerns like rent, bills, and how to put food on the table. (Contractors have no such safety net, but last week, a handful of Democratic senators introduced legislation that would secure back pay for low-wage contract earners as well). Here's how you can help.

First Things First: What's the Damage?

Transportation Security Administration airport screeners are considered essential and required to work, but the organization has seen a decrease in available personnel as the shutdown drags on, with unscheduled employee absences rising steadily from 6.8 percent on Jan. 14 to 10 percent on Jan. 20. The National Park Service is also feeling the burn: An estimated 16,000 employees—80 percent of its total workforce—is currently furloughed, according to the National Parks Conservation Association, and our protected lands are sustaining heavy damage without the proper oversight in place.

federal-workers-chef-jose-andres.jpg?mtime=20190121113940#asset:104554(Courtesy World Central Kitchen)

How Can Travelers Pitch In?

Contrary to rumors making the social-media rounds, executive-branch employees like TSA workers aren’t allowed to accept cash tips, but there are other ways you can lend a hand. Hunger is a real issue, and federal employees are leaning hard on food banks, as well as churches and other community organizations. Consider giving time, money, and/or supplies to food pantries working directly with these impacted populations, and look into the on-site resources available to TSA, customs, and Federal Aviation Administration employees before you leave for the airport—you may be able to bring groceries and the like to donate. At the Tampa airport, for example, a pop-up food bank is offering provisions to employees working without pay; local groups in Texas are distributing food to workers right at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, and in Seattle, there's a donation area on the airport's mezzanine level where non-perishable food and gift cards are being accepted.

If your airport doesn’t have anything like that in place, you can still make a difference. Give your business to one of the many private companies providing assistance, whether it’s waiving late fees on bill payments or offering discounts on dining and events, or give your dollars to a group that’s doing the work on the ground. Through his humanitarian organization, World Central Kitchen, chef José Andrés set up a kitchen in D.C. to feed federal employees during the crisis, and he’s not the only celebrity helping out. Jon Bon Jovi’s New Jersey restaurant, Soul Kitchen, is a nonprofit that allows any guest—regardless of employment status—to pay a suggested donation or work a shift in return for a meal. (Both organizations accept tax-deductible donations.)

Planning a trip? Look for an Airbnb host participating in the company’s A Night On Us program, which pays executive-branch employees for an extra night, up to $110, for hosting a three-night stay. You can also buy a beer for a federal worker or contractor, or give to one of nearly 2,000 GoFundMe campaigns for people affected by the shutdown.

Plan Your Next Getaway
Keep reading
Travel Tips

Have You Experienced Unusual Airport Delays Lately?

On January 3, an airline passenger passed through security at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the busiest airport in the world, carrying a firearm, and flew to Tokyo with the weapon. Is the Government Shutdown Hindering Airport Security? Travelers are asking themselves whether this breach of security has anything to do with unpaid Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers reportedly not showing up for work. The TSA denies, in a statement, that the breach has anything to do with the government shutdown, and goes so far as to deny that TSA worker attendance is lower than usual, which one could interpret as sort-of good news or really bad news, depending on your point of view. Have Your Travel Plans Been Affected by the Shutdown? Although the firearms incident may very well be an isolated, and certainly not unprecedented, snafu, of perhaps more concern to the average traveler are reports that TSA understaffing is now causing the closure of some airport concourses, leading to delays and confusion for air passengers and airport staff. We want to know: Have you experienced unusual airport delays lately? Post in the comments below, or email us at info@BudgetTravel.com.

Travel Tips

Travel 101: Tips for Traveling Internationally With Electronics

We’ve come to rely on our electronic devices, including smartphones, tablets, digital cameras, and other gadgets, to help ensure a great travel experience. How else would we capture beautiful images and fun videos of our trip, stay in touch with friends and family, and share brag-worthy moments on social media? But as helpful as those devices can be, making sure you can transport and use them when traveling internationally can seem like a challenge. We’re here to take the mystery out of traveling internationally with electronics. From voltage, adapters, cords, packing, security, and more, consider this your ultimate go-to guide. Choose the Right Adapter When you’re planning an international trip, be sure to educate yourself about the power outlets you’ll be using at your destination. And we don’t mean google it the night before you fly. In fact, as soon as your airline tickets and hotel reservations are booked, find out what kind of outlet your destination uses and be sure to travel with a reliable adapter that will allow you to plug in your U.S.-purchased device in a foreign outlet that may be shaped differently and offer a different voltage from the one at home. One of the most versatile options is Ceptics World Travel Adapter Kit, which includes 2 USB ports, 2 U.S. outlets, and 6 adapters. Basically, this kit, available for $22.99 is one-stop shopping for most international destinations, including North America, the U.K., most of Europe, Australia, Japan, some African nations, the Middle East, most of Asia, China, and other countries. The kit comes equipped with a grounded adapter, surge protection, and a “smart voltage” indicator to take the mystery out of the sometimes complex issue of outlet voltage. If you happen to be traveling to one of the few regions in which the World Travel Adapter Kit is not compatible, such as Botswana or South Africa, Ceptics offers nation specific adapters for $14.99 each. For more in-depth information about foreign outlets and adapter options, visit ceptics.com. Pack Electronics for Efficient Travel (Bignai/Dreamstime)Let’s talk about airport security. The words may send a chill up your spine, especially if you’re traveling with an array of devices, cords, and accessories, until you learn the basic packing protocols recommended by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA): Pack valuable items, including laptops and tablets, in your carry-on instead of in checked bags. Label your carry-on bags and laptop case with your name, address, and phone number, and include a tag with the same information inside each carry-on as well. To streamline your trip through airport security, pack clothing at the bottom of your carry-on and place electronics and toiletries on top, with electronic cords stored in ziploc bags. This will make it easier for security agents to assess your bag. If you’re traveling with a laptop, remove it from your carry-on before you get to the X-ray machine. If you have any doubts or concerns about the electronics you’re traveling with, be sure to review the TSA Prohibited Items List or download the MyTSA app. Keep Devices and Data Safe When it comes to traveling internationally with electronic devices, there are two security concerns: Keeping the device itself safe, and protecting your personal data such as passwords and other information that can put you at risk for identity theft. To protect your devices, a TSA-recognized lock is essential, such as Captics TSA-Approved Combination Lock Set, available for $14.99, with a resettable combination lock. A TSA-recognized lock allows TSA officers to open a locked bag when it’s necessary for them to physically inspect a locked piece of baggage using a universal “master” key, so that no damage occurs to the lock or to the bag. To protect your data and passwords: When using public or hotel Wi-Fi, always opt for a “secured” connection, which is encrypted and protects you from hackers. Other ways to protect data include creating a mobile hotspot from your smartphone or buying a secure portable hotspot from your mobile carrier. Always turn off your device’s wireless signal when not in use, and install the latest antivirus software on all electronic devices. Don't Forget These Helpful "Extras" (Olezzo/Dreamstime)While the following suggestions are not as essential as those referenced above, these “extras” can provide additional security and comfort at a reasonable price: A portable charger, ranging from a small device the size of a lipstick to a bag that can hold a laptop or tablet, provides some freedom from electrical outlets. You charge the portable charger before leaving your home or hotel, then use it to charge your device’s battery when you’re, say, hiking in the woods or skiing down a mountain, where electrical outlets are, we hope, the last thing on your mind. Noise-canceling headphones are by no means necessary, but they can improve your enjoyment of streaming music and video on the road, and by blocking out up to 90 percent of ambient noise, they can enhance your ability to catch some sleep on a plane or during a long airport layover. A portable bag scale is small, roughly the size of a luggage tag, but it can save you big money on overweight checked bags. Hook it under your bag’s handle and lift it up, and the scale will tell you exactly how much your bag weighs. Traveling with a power strip can turn one available outlet into several, allowing you to charge multiple devices at the same time and providing surge protection.

Travel Tips

The Budget Travel Guide to Flying

Every day approximately 2,661,000 passengers fly in and out of U.S. airports, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Some people love to fly; others hate it. Case in point: Americans skipped 32 million trips in 2016 because they hate flying, a U.S. Travel Association survey found. But regardless of how you feel about being cruising in the air, there are certain things you should know before planning your next flight. Here, we present the Budget Travel Guide to Flying, a breakdown of how to buy cheap tickets, pack efficiently, speed through security, observe onboard etiquette, retrieve checked luggage efficiently. 1. How to Book a Cheap Flight If you’re watching your bottom line, you might be wondering what the best day is to hit the “buy” button. Unfortunately, there really isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. FareCompare CEO Rick Seaney says the best time book is Tuesday afternoon at 3 p.m., but the 2018 Air Travel Outlook Report from Expedia and the Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC), which examined billions of data points to identify travel patterns, said it’s cheapest to buy economy flights (both international and domestic) on Sunday. Meanwhile, the most recent CheapAir.com Annual Airfare Study looked at 921 million airfares from 2.9 million trips and found negligible cost differentials from day to day, with average lowest fares within $2 of each other—a change of less than 0.6 percent. The good news? Though you might not be able to predict price drops by day of the week, if you pay attention to the calendar, you should be able to find bargains. Look at the research and you’ll see there’s a consensus: travelers typically get the best prices by booking flights at least three weeks in advance. Indeed, CheapAir.com recommends booking within a window of 21 to 105 days ahead, depending on the season, with a domestic-flight sweet spot of 54 days before departure. The Expedia/ARC report also pushes for a long lead time, recommending that bargain-minded economy travelers book 30-plus days in advance for the lowest ATPs, and Skyscanner suggests a 21-day cut-off as well. 2. How to Pack Light U.S.-based airlines collected a record-breaking $4.5 billion in baggage fees in 2017. Of course, one way to avoid getting hit with a baggage fee is to only bring a carry-on bag, since most airlines still let you bring at least one carry-on bag for free. But, if you’re the type of person who tends to over-pack, you’ll need to make some adjustments in order to consolidate all your stuff. We recommend our expert packing tips from Hudson + Bleecker founder Eram Siddiqui. 3. How to Sail Through Security One of the quickest and easiest ways to speed through airport security: get TSA PreCheck (tsa.gov). For $85, a five-year PreCheck status can speed you through airline check-in and security even on peak days at busy airports (there are more than 450 PreCheck lanes at more than 200 U.S. airports). Frequent international air travelers may want to consider getting Global Entry (cbp.gov) instead; for $100, you can skip the line at Customs when returning to the U.S. through automatic kiosks at select airports. Another way to get through security faster? Review the TSA Prohibited Items to avoid getting your bag stopped at the X-ray belt. Pro tip: if you’re concerned about items not listed, simply send a question to AskTSA on Facebook Messenger or Twitter. 4. How to Follow Onboard Etiquette Flying can be stressful, but there are ways to keep calm at 36,000 feet—and ensure that others around you do the same. Here are some basic rules to follow: Don’t recline in economy. Coach is tight enough as-is. The average “seat pitch”—the distance between a point on one seat and the same point on the seat directly in front of it—has decreased from 35 inches in the late 1960s to 31 inches today, and on some airlines has been reduced to 28 inches. The morale: by not reclining, you’re being conscientious of the passenger sitting behind you. The middle seat passenger gets the armrests. The middle seat debate over who is entitled to the center armrests has been waging for decades. However, proper social etiquette says the person in the middle seat is entitled to both armrests. Australia-based airline Jetstar, in fact, recently created a policy that declared both armrests are made for the middle seat passenger. Shoes can come off—socks stay on. In a recent British Airways survey, 59% of flyers said they think it’s OK for passengers to remove their shoes on a plane, but an overwhelming 87% said removing your socks is a no-no.5. How to Retrieve Your Luggage (and Deal With Lost Bags) Want to efficiently pick up your checked bags? Don’t hog the belt in baggage claim. Leave about 3 feet of space between you and the belt so that other passengers can collect their luggage without pushing you aside. Concerned about lost luggage? Don’t worry: statistically, just two or three out of every 1,000 travelers' bags will be lost or damaged, one LuggageHero survey found. But if you’re one of the unlucky few to have your luggage go MIA, file a report with the airline immediately, while you’re still at the airport. Don’t leave the airport until you have a copy for your personal records. You should get your money back for any fees paid to check a bag that goes missing, but you’ll probably have to advocate for a refund, so be prepared to make your case.

Travel Tips

6 Items That Will Help You Meet Your 2019 Goals

New year, new you—if only it were that simple. Resolutions are definitely easier to make than they are to keep, but we’ve found a few items that'll keep you on track, whether you’re packing a lunch to save money for upcoming adventures or trying to stick to a new routine while you’re on the road. 1. Plan Your Year (Courtesy ban.do) If you’re a Budget Travel reader, the odds are good that you’ve got trip-planning on the brain. Get excited for your upcoming travel with this super-cute analog organizer: With sections dedicated to dream destinations (think: cities to see, people to visit, food to try), plus packing lists, postcards, and stickers galore, you can sketch out the next few years with your own personal flair. Paradiso travel planner, $30; bando.com. 2. No More Hangovers (Courtesy Flyby) Did you wake up on New Year’s Day with a pounding head and swear, "Never again?" Next time, be prepared for a big night out: This liver-friendly supplement, rich with vitamin B, milk thistle, ginseng, and more, just might help you recover. Each little packet contains three capsules, so stash a few in your Dopp kit and order another round. Recovery supplements, $20; flyby.co. 3. Drink More Water (Courtesy OtterBox) Proper hydration can be a challenge when you’re on the move, so a serious drinking vessel is a must-have. This hefty 20-ounce tumbler boasts a copper lining that maintains cold temps for hours at a time, and its sweat-resistant design will keep things mess-free. Pair it with the straw lid for an additional $10, and leave it in your car for easy sipping on the road. Elevation 20 Tumbler, $30; otterbox.com. 4. Pack Your Lunch (Courtesy monbento) Packing a midday meal is a tried-and-true way to save a few bucks, but let’s be honest: It’s much less fun than eating out every day. Package it properly, though, and you’ll hardly miss the restaurants. This one is airtight and roomy, with two stackable, BPA-free compartments and an elastic band to keep everything in place. MB Original Porcelaine, $28 (discounted through 2/1/19; regularly $40); monbento.com. 5. Clean Up Your Act (Courtesy GO SMILE) If investing in self-care—and taking better selfies—is on your list, stash a set of these travel-friendly stain erasers in your bag for quick cleanup on the go, especially if you’re not planning on cutting out coffee or red wine anytime soon. (Hey, you can only do so much.) With cleaner teeth and fresher breath, you’ll improve your dental hygiene and cop a brighter smile. So go ahead, flash those pearly whites for the camera.GO SMILE Stain Erasers, from $14 for 14; ulta.com. 6. Focus Your Intentions (Courtesy Penguin Random House) Having goals is all well and good, but implementing them is what really counts. Get your thoughts in order and put your ambitions into practice with The Bullet Journal Method, a system devised by author Ryder Carroll that focuses on living intentionally. With a mission of encouraging readers “become mindful about how we spend our two most valuable resources in life: our time and our energy,” the method aims to help you accomplish more by concentrating on what’s important and paring back on the rest. Map out the next 12 months and learn new techniques for working through your to-do list, and by the time December rolls around, you’ll be sitting pretty.The Bullet Journal Method, $26; amazon.com.