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.”
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)
How travelers can complain effectively with social media
When something goes wrong on your vacation, it can be difficult to get anyone accountable to talk to you on the phone. If it's an urgent problem, try contacting the company via a social media tool instead. One savvy message on a company's Facebook page or one clever "tweet" can snowball and draw the attention of a travel company's highest officials. Your problem may be solved much faster. Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, Virgin America, Marriott, Starwood, Travelocity, Expedia, and Hertz are all major companies that have staff members rapidly reacting to social media messages. Delta, for instance, monitors online messages constantly—including in-flight complaints posted by passengers using on-board Wi-Fi. Recently, Noelle Sadler griped on Twitter about Delta not giving her frequent flier miles for a qualifying flight on partner airline Avianca, reports the WSJ. The airline quickly gave her the frequent-flier miles. Happy ending. The following tips may boost your chances of getting your voice heard. Sign up You got to play to win. It's free to join social network Facebook and micro-blogging service Twitter. Facebook is best for travelers who don't use social media much It's quick to use Facebook to voice a complaint. But remember that companies respond online to people who say they're fans of their brand. I know, it sounds confusing, but you'll be more effective by "liking" a company on Facebook before you speak up about something it did wrong. On Facebook, search for the name of the major brand you most often do business with when traveling. Then click "like." Then complain. If you have more than a thousand followers, Twitter will get faster results than Facebook For urgent problems, you may get a faster response by tweeting. Case in point on how to use Twitter in a crisis, courtesy of travel journalist extraordinaire Christopher Elliott: When Jessica Gottlieb learned that her kids were trapped on the tarmac in an endlessly delayed Virgin America plane, she used her Web-enabled cell phone to "tweet" about her troubles: "Dear Virgin Air," she wrote via twitter.com/JessicaGottlieb. "My children have been on the tarmac for one hour with 90 more minutes to wait. I am at JFK gate b25. Pls RT." Reports Elliott: "That last request—please "RT"—is shorthand for Gottlieb's thousands of followers to "retweet" her message, or rebroadcast it to their followers. And retweet they did. Within minutes, Virgin had phoned Gottlieb to reassure her that her kids would be fine. "They contacted the gate agent manager and explained to us the entire weather situation," she says. "Within 20 minutes of that conversation, the plane took off." Stay upbeat Your grandmother was right. You'll attract more bees with honey than with vinegar. Be polite for the best responses. And if an airline, hotel, or other travel company does solve your problem, be sure to broadcast it to the world, too. Do a quick search before you try to contact a company through social media The technology is still new, and some travel companies still aren't listening to conversations on social media. Before you invest time in reaching out to a company online, look at its Facebook or Twitter pages and see if they seem active or like ghost towns. TWITTER TIPS • New to Twitter? Go from zero to hero in no time flat with this Twitter tools for beginners page. • Curious about how to find the Twitter page for a particular travel company? Google the word Twitter followed by the brand's name, such as "twitter delta". MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Flier's revenge: United customer gets even with hit music video San Francisco: Street food made simple with Twitter New travel stress: Facebook oversharing Not so cool tool: TripAdvisor's new "Trip Friends" feature
Controversy: Are you the cause of 'sidewalk rage'?
Cities love tourists for the money they bring to the local economy, and yet the locals often hate how visitors clog the streets and sidewalks. One city wants to do something about it. The city is London, and the specific street in question is popular Oxford Street. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the tactic being suggested is an unofficial line to segregate store browsers and travelers shuffling underneath the burden of heavy backpacks to half of the sidewalk closest to the buildings and shops, and to reserve the sidewalk's outside edge as a fast lane to be utilized by anyone -- locals, most likely -- walking with more of a sense of mission. How would the system be enforced? Actually, it wouldn't, not in any official capacity anyway. There wouldn't be fines or any repercussions for absentmindedly strolling or even for standing still and yakking away on a cell phone on the "fast" side of the sidewalk. But local area maps would advise travelers to stick to the slow side, and a team of neighborhoods hosts in red caps may approach slow walkers and "put visitors in their place, tactfully," as the Journal writes. if (WIDGETBOX) WIDGETBOX.renderWidget('2f2f6e50-f0f3-4363-a6e5-2fcecab4c7a4');Get the Poll Creator Pro widget and many other great free widgets at Widgetbox! Not seeing a widget? (More info)The concept is only in the proposal stages, and it is a tricky business, obviously: Cities such as London, as well as New York, Paris, and others, certainly don't want to make tourists feel even the slightest bit unwelcomed. On the other hand, it'd be nice to be able to walk to work without having to weave and maneuver among a crush of travelers and browsers shuffling, pausing, and otherwise obstructing foot traffic. Staffers at Budget Travel's New York City office, which is near Times Square and where I've heard the phrase "sidewalk rage" used more than once, understand this as well as anyone. But is there a smarter solution than the one being proposed in London? If an invisible line down the sidewalk seems off-putting, what might work instead? Or should the locals simply suck it up, and accept that sidewalk congestion is the tradeoff for being a popular tourist hub?
4 ways to get a free hotel room this fall
Check out these off-season hotel promos to snag a bonus night free. Country Inns & Suites If you stay at a Country Inns & Suites property soon—specifically, Sunday through Thursday by November 21—you can receive an instant bonus of 15,000 points in the GoldPoints Plus loyalty program. That bonus alone is enough to give you a free night's stay at another Country Inns & Suites. Reservations must be made three days in advance. Read more about the bonus offer here. Hyatt Packages that include a bonus night free are available at 21 Hyatt properties around the U.S. for stays now thorough the end of the year. For example, when you stay three nights at the Hyatt Key West Resort & Spa, a fourth night is free. And as a bonus bonus, a free room upgrade and free daily breakfast for two are included in the deal. Browse the package options and particulars here. Westin Pay for two nights at a Westin hotel in the U.S., Canada, or Aruba, and a third night is free. Pay for four nights at some hotels, and two additional nights are free. The offer is valid for guests arriving on a Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, or Saturday through December 31, 2010, and to get the free days bookings must be prepaid—with no changes or cancellations possible. Check out other details and browse participating properties here. Wyndham Now through the end of 2011, when you stay three consecutive nights at many Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, you'll get a fourth night free. Participating resorts include properties all over the U.S., and several in the Caribbean and Mexico. Read more about fourth-night free offers here. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Chain Hotels With Style Resorts Within Reach: Best of the U.S. The Breakdown on 8 Membership Programs