What to do if your travels are disrupted by wildfires

By Lola Méndez
July 16, 2021
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André Bessa
How to prepare, how to pack, and what to do if you get trapped. Plus, how to help those affected out west.

The Western United States is coping with an ongoing series of wildfires as well as forest fires that started from human interference across California, Oregon, and Washington. According to NASA, the fire season is from late spring until seasonal winter rains or snow arrive. It’s possible to safely enjoy a vacation out west during the fire season. Travelers planning trips to fire-prone areas should prepare for the worst-case scenario and pack a few critical items.

Be Prepared

A smart traveler is always prepared. “Adopt the attitude that ‘it can happen to me.” The best time to plan for a crisis is before the crisis occurs,” says Randy Haight, Senior Director of global risk consultancy FocusPoint International. “Conduct a review of ingress and egress routes into and out of an area before you go.” Have a plan for multiple routes as some roads may be closed or inaccessible during a fire. 

There are a significant number of fires ongoing in California. If you’re headed to The Golden State check out CalFire and the state tourism board’s travel alert for the most up-to-date information and resources. Haight recommends using tools that offer predictive analysis about the wildfire season such as National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook. Also check the Active Fire Mapping Program and air-quality conditions on AirNow.gov. Consult local weather and air-quality forecasts and search for news reports about fire alerts, road closures, and power shutoffs. 

Ask your accommodation about their contingency plan should you need to make an emergency evacuation and follow their instructions closely. Book flexible accommodation with the option to cancel should you need to change your plans due to fire or smoke. If you’re unable to cancel your hotel see if you can offer the room for local evacuees. 

©Poul Riishede/Getty Images

Pack Smart

Should you need to evacuate, do so at your earliest opportunity to avoid taking critical resources away from locals. If you’re relying on public transportation have a backup plan for how you can safely remove yourself from danger. If you’re driving, have a full tank of gas. Bring an emergency kit with a First Aid kit, water, blankets, cell phone charger, spare medication, a wind-up radio capable of receiving emergency weather broadcasts, and N-95 masks which can help filter smoke particles.

 Ensure your loved ones know exactly where you are so they can track you down if there’s an emergency. Ask them to alert you if they learn about fire dangers in the area where you are. If you’re going hiking in a dry area during the fire season, share your geo-coordinates with them. 

While spending time in nature, practice extreme caution during dry conditions. Be sure to read up on local laws regarding open fires before your trip, especially if you’re camping. If you encounter a fire, leave immediately. Don’t try to put out the hot spot. Once you’ve reached safety, contact emergency services to ensure firefighters have dispatched. 

What do I do if I get caught in a wildfire? 

Fires can move at the speed of one football field every second. “If caught in a wildfire, don’t try to outrun it,” Haight says. “Find a body of water and get in it. Or find a clearing or depression and get low to the ground. Try to breathe the air closest to the ground when fire is near.” If you can’t find a body of water wet your towels, blankets, and clothes and use them as protection against the flames.

Support those affected 

To support those affected by the wildfires contribute to reputable NGO organizations supporting aid efforts. Traveler Kay Kingsman was living in an evacuation zone for the Oregon fires and suggests sending donations of water, clothing, and air purifiers if you live near an impacted area. Many winemakers have been damaged from fire and ash—order a crate of wine to support their business. Everest Effect is a mutual aid crisis recovery platform providing immediate help and relief to those affected by the disaster.

 Lola Méndez is a sustainable travel advocate who writes the responsible lifestyle blog Miss Filatelista.

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Getting to Hawaii with United Airlines

Hawaii maintains its mandatory 10-day quarantine to travel the islands. Still, partnerships like one with United Airlines allow travelers to bypass the procedure by receiving a negative COVID test within 72 hours of travel. United Airlines became a Trusted Travel and Testing Partner by the state in October of 2020 after announcing plans to offer COVID-19 testing options earlier. United Airline's widespread approach offers many opportunities to save time, skip quarantine and travel safer. United Airlines introduced their touchless solution called “The Travel-Ready Center,” where flyers can review COVID-19 entry requirements, find local testing options and upload any required testing and vaccination records for travel, all in one place. United has long partnered with the state and committed to safely returning travel to the islands. Please note that some Hawaiian islands have additional requirements that may be subject to change. For updated information, be sure to read up on policies here. Since their first flight service between the mainland and Kona in 1983, United Airlines remains a pioneer to the Hawaiian Islands nearly 70 years later. Despite the shutdowns and halt on travel, United Airlines used the time to prepare for a Hawaiian travel surge when restrictions lift. This summer, they plan to launch their first-ever routes servicing Chicago to Kona and New York/Newark to Maui, totaling 21 routes to the islands. “We know customers are dreaming of summer getaways, and we want United to be their top choice for travel to Hawaii,” said Patrick Quayle, United’s vice president of International Network and Alliances. “Our new Hawaii routes from Chicago, Newark, and Orange County, in addition to the dozens of flights United already operates from the mainland to Hawaii, offer travelers even more options, greater convenience, and shorter travel times to the fantastic outdoor offerings Hawaii has to offer.” As the needs of Hawaii’s tourism sector change, United hopes to continue its support. The recently announced Movers and Shakas program, an initiative in Hawaii to recruit talent to live and work remotely on the islands, give insight into such travel trends. As a platinum partner in the program, United will provide flights. The program hopes to introduce a new income stream for the islands that allow for a unique travel experience. If you are planning or dreaming of a trip to Hawaii, stay tuned for more content to come. For more information on United Airlines’ procedures and services to the islands, go to their website.

Travel Tips

This interactive map shows where you can (or can’t) travel in the US

In an effort to make traveling easier, United Airlines has developed an interactive map tool, powered by Smartvel, that allows customers to filter and view destinations' COVID-19-related travel restrictions in the US. The Destination Travel Guide provides a color-coded map to highlight if a destination is closed, partially open or fully open for travel, and notes if tests or self-quarantining are required for travel. The guide currently highlights travel restrictions and leisure offerings in the US by state, and will expand to include all international destinations the airline serves in the coming weeks. Users can click on each state to view local regulations and travel guidances, and there is also the option to filter the map by state to view specific information on each destination. This information includes the medical certificate needed, such as a negative COVID-19 test, physical distancing measures and whether wearing a mask in public is required. It also outlines the visitor accommodation, restaurants, bars and cafés, museum and heritage sites and non-essential shops that are open. The interactive map tool that allows customers to filter and view destinations © United Airlines "We know it's a challenge to keep up with the ever-changing list of travel restrictions, policies and regulations so we are offering a simple, easy tool that helps customers decide where to travel next," said Linda Jojo, executive vice president for technology and chief digital officer. "By providing the most up-to-date information on the destinations we serve, customers can compare and shop for travel with greater confidence and help them find the destinations that best fit their preferences. Check out the new interactive map tool on United.com here or on the United mobile app. Lockdowns are easing globally as the planet adjusts to a new normal. Find out how COVID-19 is changing travel.

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So, you’re thinking of living the RV life. Here’s what you need to know

This content is sponsored by In the last few years, RV sales have skyrocketed as more and more Americans decide to live nomadically while traveling the country. We decided to dig into the lifestyle by interviewing six individuals or couples experiencing it themselves. Here’s what you need to know. Why do people typically choose an RV over other methods of long-term travel? There are many ways to experience long-term travel in the US. People have lived in their cars, gotten into #vanlife, or have even survived by moving from vacation rental to vacation rental. Why did those we interview decide to go with RV life? In a nutshell, the answer was space. Partners need room to do their own things: Whether it’s space to work creatively or to have simultaneous work meetings, having just one room doesn’t work for many couples. Friends and family can visit: Many RVers went into the lifestyle thinking they wanted family and friends to be able to visit and travel with them. Having a bigger space like an RV meant they could convince more to do so. Keep all your traditional conveniences: Those we interviewed wanted to travel more but didn’t want to give up the convenience of spaces such as a kitchen, living room, and bathroom. For some, switching to something smaller than an RV, like a van, would have been too much of a leap. For the amount of time they anticipated traveling, it made sense to get a bigger space they would be comfortable in. A place to call home (that actually feels like a home): One of the biggest reasons for RV life is for something to come back to at the end of the day that felt like a home, rather than just a suitcase or a small vehicle. The @wherewildonesroam family bought their first RV in 2017 and started off as part-time RVers who traveled on weekends. They moved into their rig full-time in 2018 and never looked back. They have no plans to stop the nomadic lifestyle any time soon. Photo courtesy of @wherewildonesroam, via Instagram Where do you sleep? There are quite a few places you can park your RV at night. These are the most common. Campgrounds: Using campgrounds that provide hookups is the classic RV parking method. Boondocking: Boondocking refers to finding a piece of land to camp on where you’re not hooked up to anything. It’s much more affordable than staying at a campground but does require some investment up front. Being self-sufficient in an RV is often synonymous with things like solar panels, extra batteries, extra water tanks, and extra fuel tanks. Boondocking is infinitely easier to do out West. Moochdocking: Moochdocking is where you set up camp on a friend or family member’s driveway. What type of RV should you get? While selecting your RV is a very personal choice, there are a few things everyone should consider. Power to get over mountain passes: One of the couples we interviewed used to have a class-C RV that had trouble with this task. They began to feel limited on where they could travel – the exact opposite of their intention in buying an RV. Personal safety considerations: One RVer who used to travel solo said she loved having a drivable RV for the safety aspect. When she parked somewhere for the night, she had the ability to simply move into the back to go to sleep. She didn’t need to walk around outside in order to access her bedroom. Ease of use while driving: Fifth wheels are going to be easier to tow than travel trailers as they are less tricky to back up and generally shift less in the wind. Keep in mind length corresponds with difficulty of driving. Age of the RV: A newer vehicle will likely need less renovations within. However, older RV electronics can be easier to maintain for those without a lot of RV knowledge. Newer rigs are generally more complicated, often requiring you to go to the dealership when something breaks. How do you finance your RV? For the most part, there are two options for buying your rig: Purchase it outright Finance It’s very similar to a car purchase, and financing makes breaking into the lifestyle a realistic achievement for those without too much in savings. Jim and Jessy are two musicians who live full time in their fifth wheel. They are self-proclaimed newbies who moved into their RV towards the end of 2020. You can follow their travels at @makingmcfarlin. Photo courtesy of @makingmcfarlin, via Instagram How much does RV life cost? The cost of RV life will depend heavily on how, where, and when you prefer to travel. Daily cost: Daily cost of living for items like food, campsites, and gas will vary wildly depending on the area you’re in. If you’re seeking out big destination areas (as many travelers like to do), you’ll be spending more money than elsewhere. Speed of travel: No matter where you park your rig, slowing down can help you save money. Oftentimes, campgrounds will give discounts for weekly or monthly stays, compared to nightly rates. You’ll also spend less on gas by traveling more slowly. RV life can work for every budget: In general, however, you can spend as much or as little as you want. Some get into RV life to save money. Others find themselves breaking even when compared to their previous life. Others find themselves spending more. You can make RV life work for whatever kind of budget you’re comfortable with. What do RVers do for income? The answer is a wide variety of things. Some have their own businesses that allow them to set their own hours. Some make money from YouTube, Instagram, and their blog. Many work regular full-time corporate jobs that are remote. Some work just part time to cover daily expenses. Some work seasonal jobs and travel the rest of the year. Others live off savings for a while. People make their transition all different ways. You have to figure out for yourself what will give you the independence to live in your RV while still making enough money to meet your financial goals. What safety essentials should you consider? Everyone has different levels at which they feel comfortable, so not all of these items will seem essential to every reader. But these are all safety measures taken by at least one of our RVers. Take a look and see what speaks to you. Wasp spray: Wasp spray can be used as a personal defense item. With a similar use case as pepper spray, this type of spray doesn’t dissipate into the air as easily. Firearm: A few of the RVers we spoke with are registered firearm carriers. Depending on the type of RV and the state you’re in, your home may be considered a domicile rather than a vehicle. This makes it simple to travel with a weapon of this sort across many state lines (but not all). First aid kit: Do your best to be prepared for small medical emergencies by purchasing the classic safety essential, a first aid kit. Home security camera: See who (or what) is outside your RV without needing to open the door. You can also use a security camera inside to keep an eye on your belongings or pets while you’re away. Motion sensing security lights: Just like many homes have, motion-sensing lights can be placed on the outside of your rig. Alarm system: You can have the same alarm systems installed for your RV as you would your stationary house. Get alerts to your phone if there’s suspicious activity. Built-in GPS for the internet: Having GPS connected to your internet allows you to see where your rig is as well as how fast it’s moving. This can be useful when you take it in for service. By utilizing this tool, some RVers have discovered that their mechanics have not treated their RVs properly. Bike lock: If you have a bike, be sure to get a good lock. Bike theft is one of the most frequent criminal acts RVers encounter. Fire extinguishers: Yes, fire extinguishers plural. Keep one in all areas in which your path to the exit could be blocked. Don’t forget to learn how to use one before you need it. Automatic fire suppression systems: There are now fire suppression systems that will automatically deploy. These can be installed in places such as your refrigerator or battery compartment. Kingpin: A kingpin is a locking mechanism that stops someone from simply coming over and taking your towable RV. Rachael from @rvadventuregal is a solo female RVer who began living in her fifth wheel about eight months ago. She’s passionate about showing other solo women that they have the ability to live this lifestyle if it’s something they want. Photo courtesy of @rvadventuregal, via Instagram What are automotive essentials associated with RV life? Many who enter RV life don’t know anything about RV or vehicle maintenance, and that’s ok. It’s important to know the basics, however, and have a general awareness of what’s going on. The most essential thing you can do is monitor your RV (and truck if you’re towing) so you can address a problem right away. One RVer equated RV maintenance to house maintenance. Just like you’re always fixing something for your stationary home, so too will you always be fixing something on your rig. Engage in preventative maintenance as much as is reasonable, have tools on hand in case of a tire emergency, and know you will likely end up becoming a little bit more handy once you’ve been in your RV for a while. What to monitor: Be sure to regularly monitor tire pressure, check fluids, inspect the seals on your windows, check your brake and turn signal lights, and keep an eye out for leaks or cracks that are forming. Stay proactive: Staying proactive on things like oil changes, power steering, and tire rotations will help you avoid problems in the future. Tools to keep on hand: You may want to consider keeping the following tools with you: a general tool kit, tire pressure gauge (perhaps even a remote tire pressure monitor), air compressor, and all tools necessary to change a tire. What are helpful resources for those either thinking about RV life or those in it already? YouTube: The number one answer: YouTube. With everything from maintenance how-tos to people speaking about their RV life experience, YouTube has got answers to practically all of your questions. Instagram: Instagram was used by those we interviewed for a wide variety of RV-related tasks, including finding a rig to buy. It can also be used for research. Learn tips and tricks by following accounts of those who live the lifestyle. People are happy to help you with questions if you message them! You can also reach out to fellow RVers on Instagram who are in your area in order to make friends in person. One of the individuals we interviewed has met over 100 people this way. Facebook: Facebook Marketplace is a useful tool for selling items before you move (or while on the road if you realize you brought way too much stuff). You can also find RVs for sale there. Facebook groups such as those surrounding RV life or working remotely can also be helpful! Craigslist: Craigslist is a great tool in finding RVs for sale. Campendium: Campendium is an app that helps travelers find places to camp in the US, Canada, and Mexico. It features user-generated reviews and cell service reports. We spoke with Cait from the dynamic duo of @rvwithrandc. When an opportunity for them to move abroad in 2018 fell through, they decided to explore some more of their own country. They now have a fifth wheel they live in full time as well as a truck camper Photo courtesy of @rvwithrandc, via Instagram What are the best parts of RV life? Seeing friends and family: Living in an RV makes it much easier to see friends and family. As one couple put it, they’re now able to visit with family they would normally only see at weddings and funerals. Spending more time in dream destinations: When you work a traditional 9-5 with limited PTO, your travels are also limited. Over the course of a year, you may go to a couple destinations for a week at a time. Because it’s a lifestyle rather than a vacation, living in an RV allows you to stay in these places for longer stretches. It also allows you to see so many more places than you can with just a few weeks off a year. What are some challenging aspects to living on the road? The first few months of transition during which you’re learning the basics can be difficult. Here are a few areas in which those we interviewed struggled. Small living area: There are many things you don’t think about when you imagine taking off in your rig down the road towards some of America’s most beautiful public lands. One of those things may be the fact that you’re going to be crammed into often less than 300 square feet. RVs are usually much larger than vans, but they’re still tiny in comparison to the stationary homes people leave behind. It takes some getting used to. Personal space and communication: Managing personal space can be a significant challenge. When you’re upset with someone, you can’t necessarily go to a separate room like you can in a regular house. Learning to honor and respect each other’s space is crucial. If you’re traveling with others, communication becomes essential. It’s easy to see this lifestyle leading to strained relationships if you don’t learn to be patient and communicate properly during frustrating situations – and you’ll have them, trust us. Weather and seasonal differences: Living on the road, you're at the mercy of the weather. Your life becomes much more connected to the elements. Becoming weather-aware is critical, especially because you likely won’t be used to a lot of the weather you encounter. Not every season of living in an RV is equal. Winter can be a difficult time to live in a small space. The days are shorter and the temperatures are colder, forcing you inside more frequently. Planning exhaustion: When you’re constantly traveling, that also means you’re constantly planning everything from where you’re going to sleep at night to what hikes you’ll doing that week. At the beginning, always thinking about logistics can be taxing. As you practice and figure out what tools you like, planning will become easier. Campground scarcity: Because the lifestyle has become so popular recently, some things have become more difficult. It can take time to get repairs and parts. Additionally, campsites are filled far ahead of time in some areas of the country. One couple we spoke with said they have sites booked out six months in advance because of how saturated the campgrounds on the East Coast are. Slight changes in daily chores: There are also much smaller daily challenges. One of these is laundry. It can be a hassle to spend a whole day washing your clothes at a laundromat when, before, you simply threw them in the machine at home. You also have to tweak your mindset when it comes to groceries. For many RVers, a full-size fridge is a luxury they don’t have. Additionally, while many grocery stores have similarities, there are also differences in layouts and brands across the country that can have you shopping for far longer than you intended to. Caroline and Aiden from @outrightravel are an RV life couple who travel in a drivable RV. Tethered by limited vacation time, they decided to create their own consulting businesses and move into their rig last year. By the time they finish the journey they Photo courtesy of @outrightravel, via Instagram What should you do before hitting the road? Financial planning: Make sure you’re entering this lifestyle responsibly. Ideally, you should begin with as little debt as possible. When you’re traveling the country, you don’t want to be stressing about credit card payments. It’ll only detract from the experience. Decide what to do with your home: If you own a home, decide whether you’re going to keep it or sell it. Many sell theirs, but it’s also possible to keep it and rent it out while you’re away Determine your residency: Many keep their current residency, some establish residency in a state in which they have close family, and some utilize residency programs for people who work remotely such as the one in South Dakota. Downsize: You will need so much less than you think you will. Downsize, downsize, downsize. It’ll save you weight, you won’t encounter nearly as many headaches when it comes to organization, and you’ll have more space. Anything you don’t bring with you can be easily purchased while on the road. Organize: When you have such a small space to work with, organization is key. If you do it right, you won’t feel like your space is small because you’ll be able to fit so much. Set yourself up for success right at the beginning by investing in storage solutions that not only allow you to fit everything you need, but also make those items easily accessible. Prepare to make mistakes: As with anything you try for the first time, there’s a learning curve during which mistakes will happen. Don’t beat yourself up about them or let the idea of them hold you back. Things will go wrong. Mentally prepare yourself for these and cut yourself some slack when they do inevitably happen. Dive in: The only way to learn everything you need to know about RV life is by jumping in. There’s only so much preparation you can do ahead of time. Do I have to get rid of every material thing I love? The easy answer to this question is no! Absolutely not, in fact. An RV really is like a mini house, so you’ll likely not give up too many items. Those we interviewed brought things like board games, books, blenders, office supplies, diffusers, espresso machines, and framed photographs. For sentimental or irreplaceable items, many RVers use storage, whether it be storage at their family members’ homes or in a storage unit. What should you do if you’re on the fence of joining RV life? Rent a rig: Before you head to a dealership (or Facebook Marketplace) to buy your home on wheels, consider renting an RV. This will give you a taste of the lifestyle before you dive in with a purchase. Live in the driveway: Whether or not you try living in an RV before purchasing one, take some time to test out your rig before you hit the road full time. First, live in your RV while it’s stationary. Get a feel for the space and learn what you do or don’t need in daily life. This step is especially important if you have pets. They need to get accustomed to the new space so they’re as comfortable as possible when it begins to move. Go on a test trip: Once you’ve gotten a little more comfortable, go on a month-long trip far from your home base. This allows you to get out of your comfort zone and get a taste for what full-time RV life is like while still allowing you the opportunity to fine-tune things before you head out permanently. After this point, you can bail if you decide RV life isn’t right for you. Commit to a time frame: If you’re still interested in the lifestyle, set a time frame that you’re going to commit to before you hit the road for real. There’s going to be an adjustment period, so it’s recommended you commit to at least six months. Consider the worst-case scenario: Lastly, ask yourself what the worst-case scenario is. Realistically, it’s that you don’t like living in an RV, you sell it, and you move back into a stationary home. Doesn’t sound like the end of the world, does it? In fact, it sounds exactly like what you were doing before. Cara at @caraostara is a full-time RVer who has experienced the lifestyle both alone and with a partner. After realizing her successful career was no longer making her happy, she took a chance to pursue solo RV life. Now in her third year of living this n Photo courtesy of @caraostara, via Instagram Finally, here are a few parting words of advice from those we interviewed: If this lifestyle was easy, everyone would do it. That means there will be challenges. If you think it’ll make you happy despite those challenges, do it. Fears of the unknown are normal, and you may simply be fearful that it’s unknown. The more you educate yourself, the less scary things will be. RV life isn’t for everyone, but it says a lot about a person if they’re considering this lifestyle. If there’s something inside of you that makes you want to do it, chances are pretty high you’re going to like it. It’s important you remember why you’re getting into this lifestyle. The highs are going to be high, but the lows are going to be low. Remember your why throughout it all. Society doesn't set you up to live in an RV full time, so things will never feel exactly right. Because of this, you’ll never feel perfectly ready. You just have to make the leap. SPONSORED BY Carefully crafted collaboratively between GEICO, Budget Travel and Lonely Planet. Both parties provided research and curated content to produce this story. We disclose when information isn’t ours.

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Travel Tips

How to save money when you're traveling

This content is sponsored by Here's our guide to making your travel money go further, so you have more to spend when you get there. Tip 1: Drive! The easiest way for anyone, especially families, to save money when they travel is to avoid the price of plane tickets and making your travel money go further, so you have more to spend when you get theredrive to your destination instead. Driving allows you to see more of the country, have more bonding time, and prevents you from having to pay for rental cars or rideshare when you get to your destination. Remember to make sure your car is road trip ready before you leave, and make sure your insurance is up to date. Looking to save even more? GEICO could save you 15 percent or more on car insurance. Tip 2: Use Skyscanner Alerts If your destination is too far away for a road trip, we recommend using Skyscanner alerts to make sure you get the best price on airline tickets. Skyscanner lets you enter your departure and arrival destination and will email you alerts when the price drops. It will also let you explore the prices by date and by month so you can make sure you’re going when the flight is the cheapest. Tip 3: Take advantage of “shoulder season” The time between a particular destination’s peak season and off-season is known as “shoulder season.” Shoulder season allows you to experience some of the destination’s best offerings without the crowds, and for cheaper rates. To determine when shoulder season is for the destination you have in mind, Google to find out when the peak season is, then start researching the months that bookend the peak. For prime family destinations, such as DC or Florida beaches, save money by booking during times when schools are typically not on break. Shoulder season is a great time to have a more laid-back travel experience, and to save money. Tip 4: Buy travel insurance The advice to buy travel insurance can sound counterproductive on this list of money saving tips, since insurance will raise the cost of your trip. But consider how much extra expense could be added to your budget if something goes wrong. Even something as simple as locking the keys in your rental car can cost more than $200 to fix. Travel insurance will cover the costs of any unintended emergencies and give you the peace of mind to enjoy your trip without any nagging worries about expenses. Tip 5: Book with points Travel credit cards allow you to earn points for your everyday purchases that you can use toward booking travel. Look for credit cards specific to travel. We really like the Chase Sapphire card and the Southwest Airlines card. You’ll even get extra points if you’re able to recommend them to a friend. Like all credit cards, make sure you have a plan to pay them off at the end of each month. Carefully crafted collaboratively between GEICO, Budget Travel, and Lonely Planet. Both parties provided research and curated content to produce this story. We disclose when information isn’t ours.

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