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Passport Day in the USA: March 9, 2013

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

On Saturday, March 9th from 10am – 3pm, US citizens may apply for or renew their passport book or passport card at any one of 25 passport agencies/centers that are open to the general public. No appointment is necessary on March 9 – normally, U.S. citizens would have to make an appointment at passport agencies.

You may also participate in Passport Day in the USA at participating non-State Department passport application acceptance facilities such as post offices, clerks of court, and libraries. You can find the list of the participating passport acceptance facilities at www.travel.state.gov

Keep in mind that passports for adults for expire every 10 years, for children under the age of 16 every five years.  For a child under the age of 16, both parents and the child need to appear in person or bring a notarized “Minor Consent” form signed by the absent parent.

If you are unable to visit one of the Department of State’s passport agencies or non-Department acceptance facilities on Passport Day, there are still ways to participate and benefit from Passport Day in the USA 2013.

@TravelGov will host a live twitter Q&A on Monday, March 4 at 10:00 a.m. EST. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Passport Services, Brenda S. Sprague will answer questions about passports for one hour. Tweet @TravelGov using #AskState, and we will answer your passport questions. Everyone is invited to join the conversation throughout the week by using the hashtag, #PPTDay. You can also visit Facebook.com/TravelGov beginning March 4 for daily passport tips and referrals to other online resources.

Top 5 Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Vacation

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Here at Amazing Journeys we have been company to truly amazing experiences in all parts of the world.  In 19 years of leading Jewish singles to places on all 7 continents, the thousands of travelers we have hosted will attest to remarkable experiences: from zip lining above the clouds in Costa Rica, to dog sledding on a glacier in Alaska…from witnessing the Sumba Parade in Rio during Carnival, to celebrating New Year’s in Hawaii…from riding an elephant in Thailand to marching with the penguins in Chile.

But imagine for a moment if these wonderful experiences in waiting, never happened because of one simple faux pas…one simple misjudgement, one simple moment of carelessness or one simple moment in time that could have and should been avoided.  

These five simple rules of engagement can help you maintain peace of mind in your preparations for that long awaited/long earned vacation.  Don’t let Murphy’s Law rule.  Live by the Vacationer’s Rule where thou art due leisure time away on vacation; to live carefree, to have fun, to leave your worries behind and to “vacate” your life of responsibility for a life of bliss:

1. Mind Your Passport:  Really…..don’t just assume that its where you “usually” put it, and make sure that its on your person BEFORE checking your luggage onto a cruise ship or under a motor coach (thank goodness the airlines ask for it before you check your luggage).  Case in point:  Barbara (names are being changed to protect the innocent) was sure she had her passport in her pocketbook as she checked in onto a recent cruise with Amazing Journeys. After the porters took her luggage for boarding, she realized she packed in her suitcase.  The luggage was somewhere amongst 3000 other pieces of baggage in process of being delivered to staterooms and she was denied boarding until her luggage appeared again. Lucky for her, it was before the ship set sail.

2. Lighten Up, Francis: For so many reasons, travelers need to lighten their load while traveling.  It can cost you more in checked baggage fees…the more you pack, the more you can lose if your bag gets lost….lighter luggage is greener on the planet as it uses less fuel, less manpower to haul, and less materials to wear & tear, etc.  And, it’s easier on you! Even if you have luggage assistance on your tour, somewhere along your way you will have to handle your own belongings and if its too heavy for even you to move, its too heavyCase in point:  Sharon was on her way to meet her Amazing Journeys group at JFK for a flight overseas and the start of a tour of Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.  While unloading her suitcase from the taxi, she lost her balance and trying to right herself, tweaked her lower back.  She couldn’t right herself and let alone move her luggage into the airport, she couldn’t even stand upright.  She never made it to Ecuador.

3. Make Things Right, At Home:  Have a checklist of things you need to do to get yourself ready for the trip, that not only includes actual trip preparations (buy sunscreen, pack camera, have enough underwear, etc), but preparations for your leaving and returning to home.  Buy an automatic light timer that will randomly turn a lamp on in your home throughout the days and nights, giving the impression that your home is occupied.   This is a deterrent for would-be thiefs.  Clean all your dirty dishes. Imagine the stench or mold left to grow if your kitchen has perishable food hanging around for a week. Make your bed!  Its just nice to come home to an orderly home after a long time away. The last thing you want to do is organize, clean or fix something.  And finally, if your home is going to be empty, make sure your main water supply is turned off. Case in point: Sam left for his 10 night Amazing Journey to the Med.  One of the pipes leading to his washing machine cracked while he was away causing the water to flow onto his basement floor. And flow and flow it did, flooding his basement and beyond. Because the water flowed continuously for days (he really wasn’t sure when it broke) he had so much water damage in his basement that he needed to gut it all out and basically rebuild it. NOT a fun way to come home from vacation.

4. KISS Your Vacation (Keep It Simple, Stupid): You’re on vacation finally. You’re feeling relaxed, carefree, like a kid again. Just what you wanted!  Way to go, dude!  But….you forgot one thing.  You’re not a kid anymore.  The reality check here is make sure that you have your vacation, within your physical and emotional means.  Its ok to have a few more drinks than normal, but don’t pound ‘em down like you’re at a college frat party.  Do you really want to lose a day or more of your precious vacation to a hangover?  Speaking of drinking, be careful where you are drinking the water.  There are places you want to go where you won’t want to drink the water.  Do your research and ask the questions.  Montezuma’s Revenge will hurt more than a hangover and ruin more than a day. Finally, its ok to take on new adventures but do so with care.  Wear a helmet if you go bike riding or wave-running, wear sturdy shoes if you go hiking and don’t go near any of the wildlife.  Also, don’t go where you’re not supposed to. Case in point:  Phil was in Alaska with Amazing Journeys and after a full day of Whale Watching and biking, he had 30 minutes before he needed to board our ship. Not wanting to miss a single minute of seeing something he took off for an unscheduled, unsupervised and rushed hike, just so he could say he did.  He was so careless in his rushed approach to this hike that he found a secluded rock formation to hike…and then slipped, falling 10 feet into a ditch where no one could see or hear him.  His broken rib causing pain and subsequently losing his wind, he had no choice but to muster up strength to get himself out of the ditch and to the ship. All this in 30 minutes!  The end result was two days in the ship’s infirmary and an early disembarkation so he could be hospitalized.

5. Buy Travel Insurance! For all the aformentioned reasons and so many more, you need to protect your vacation investment.  From lost luggage to a delayed flight or an unexpected need to cancel due to injury or illness to you or a family member…insurance can safeguard what is a significant investment of your time and money.  If there is one thing you do to prepare for your trip beyond packing, its this. Buy insurance. Let me say it again; BUY TRAVEL INSURANCE!  Its a nominal but extraordinarily valuable addition to your vacation planning and it gives you peace of mind should anything go wrong: Case in point:  Just last week, Ethan was booked on our Bermuda Cruise out of Bayonne, NJ.  He was scheduled to fly from Columbus to JFK early in the morning on the day of the cruise, but the airports shut down due to Hurricane Irene. He had not purchased travel insurance because he was “sure nothing could wrong..I’m a healthy guy”.  Sadly he didn’t get to go on the trip and he lost all his money.  Another case in point: Sarah’s luggage came off the belt in Sydney during one of our Australia tours, with a huge gash in the side making the piece unuseable.  The airlines shrugged it off as they do, but Sarah had insurance was able to be reimbursed for a new suitcase.

Tour Of A Money Belt – peace of mind when traveling

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

As Amazing Journeys gets set to embark on a journey throughout Europe next week we strike a pose like we always do for our clients to provide some important travel tips.  One in particular pertains to keeping your use of valuables (cash, passports, credit cards, etc) handy…but safe.  Money belts are your key to peace of mind. A money belt is a small, zippered fabric pouch that fastens around the waist under your pants or skirt. You wear it completely hidden from sight, tucked in like a shirttail — over your shirt and under your pants. (If you find it uncomfortable to wear a money belt in front you can slide it around and wear it in the small of your back.)

With a money belt, all your essential documents are on you as securely and thoughtlessly as your underpants. Have you ever thought about that? Every morning you put on your underpants. You don’t even think about them all day long, but every night when you undress, sure enough, there they are, exactly where you put them. 

Packing light applies to your money belt as well as your luggage. Here’s what to pack in your money belt:

  • Passport: Carry with you when necessary, but best to keep in your hotel safe when settled in one locale.
  • Railpass: This is as valuable as cash.
  • Driver’s license: This works just about anywhere in Europe and is necessary if you want to rent a car on the spur of the moment.
  • Credit card: It’s required for car rental and handy to have if your cash runs low.
  • Debit card: A Visa debit card is the most versatile for ATM withdrawals. (Traveler’s checks are no longer useful travel tools.)
  • Cash: Keep a combination of large and small bills in your money belt. You never know when you’ll want a postcard from a street vendor and need just a few pence, shekels or pesos. No need to carry a large amount of cash, especially if you are carrying the aformentioned debit or credit card.
  • Plastic sheath: Money belts easily get sweaty and slimy. Damp plane tickets and railpasses can be disgusting and sometimes worthless. Even a plain old baggie helps keep things dry.
  • Contact list: Print small, and include every phone number or email address of importance in your life.
  • Trip calendar page: Include your hotel list and all necessary details from your itinerary

The Elation of Vacation Preparation

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

It’s a miserable oxymoron, but planning to go on vacation involves a lot of work.  Whether you’re traveling with a companion or part of a group travel experience, it’s true; for that much-needed vacation, one must spend a great deal of time to put their “regular” life on hold and put their “vacation” life in place.  It’s important to properly prepare for your departure, arrival and ultimate return back home so that you can maximize your rest-ability without a total disruption of your home life.  As a dude who  is in the constant motion of traveling—leading our Jewish singles vacations, or sometimes just taking a vacation for myself—I’ve garnered some handy tips on how to lessen the burden of preparation, keep life at home ready for your return, and to have a carefree transition on both ends.

  • Call Your Credit Card Company

Many credit card companies have identity protection plans in place that help protect travelers from theft and fraud. If you’re traveling internationally, it’s a good idea to contact your credit card companies before traveling to ensure the card will work.  Check the back of your credit card for customer service numbers

  • Place a “Hold” on Mail and Deliveries

Your nearest post office branch has a pretty yellow post card that you can fill out in about 30 seconds to request your mail to be held during the dates you are away.  Keep a supply at home with you and mail it, free of charge, about a week before your departure. They will even deliver the whole mishpucha to you on the date you select for your return. (I don’t suggest using the online “hold mail” option as it doesn’t seem to be an effective communication source).  I usually put the start date to be one day before my departure, just to make certain they actually have begun to hold my mail.  Stop on all automatic deliveries like your daily newspaper by simply calling their circulation department and let them know you’ll be placing your delivery on hold.

  • Emergency Phone Numbers

Leave transit details and contact phone numbers with family and friends in case they need to reach you while you’re away. These include phone number of the hotels where you’re staying, flight numbers, contact info of airlines, cruise ship and your tour company…and for those who may be watching your pets or kids, phone numbers for doctors/veterinarians, if necessary

  • Set up Pet Care

If you have a furry family member, you may actually be inclined to provide more setup care for this loved one than you give attention to for yourself.  We love our cats and dogs that much!    If you are planning to leave Fluffy at a kennel (called “Pet Resorts” these days) be sure to make your reservation as far in advance as possible.  Many “resorts” can sell out of their “deluxe accommodations” early, especially around holiday times.  When you do drop off your little ball of love, be sure to leave the staff with your contact information as well as all medications, your vet’s phone numbers and a few familiar toys & treats so that s/he feels as at-home as much as possible.

  • Cash Out

Never leave town without some cash – domestic or foreign currency! If you’re traveling within the country, make sure to hit the bank before you leave so that you don’t end up paying ATM surcharge fees in another destination.  If you’re traveling overseas, it’s a good idea to carry some of the local country’s currency with you. Take enough cash for cab fare or transfer fees so you don’t have to go in search of an exchange booth. Amazing Journeys’ website provides a link to Oanda currency converter (click our Resources button) to determine the best rate of exchange for your money.

  • Check the Weather

Before you zip up the suitcase and head to the airport, do one last check of the local weather in your destination and make any necessary adjustments to clothes and amenities.

  • Pack Your Essentials…properly

Before leaving the house ensure that you have all necessary essentials.  Most importantly, LOOK AT YOUR PASSPORT! Seriously, open it up and look at the photo to make sure you have and the right one.  I’ve seen it happen; you have a roommate, a spouse, a traveling companion…and you inadvertently slip the wrong passport into your pocket.  Major problem if you present someone else’s passport at security!   The following items should be kept on your person, not packed in your suitcase:  Passport/identification…all medications….all your travel documents including airline ticket, cruise ticket, car/hotel reservation….cash/credit cards/travelers cheques….one change of clothes, just in case your luggage doesn’t arrive as planned.

Overpacking is a major issue on many fronts. Its hard on your back, it costs you money at the airports and it wastes time in transition as baggage handlers, motor coach drivers and  hotel personnel have to haul and lug.  Excess weight isn’t green for the environment either as it utilizes more fuel on planes, cars and busses and the aforementioned burden on physical stress.  My simple rule of thumb is to simply pack for less.  It’s actually okay to wear things twice (or thrice), to do some laundry (cheaper to send out a load at the hotel than to pay overweight fees at the airport) and to treat yourself to something new while on vacation.

  • Turn off your water, turn on your timers, and unplug your appliances

If your home will be vacant for a period time, you should absolutely turn off your main water valve and drain all the faucets.  If a pipe were to burst, the water would just flow endlessly until you got home. Even if you live in a cold weather environment, a frozen pipe is better than a busted flowing pipe.  Contrary to popular belief, letting your water drip does not prevent freezing.   When you return home, turn the valve and all faucets on gradually to avoid a massive rush of water.   Also, unplug all unnecessary appliances like the toaster, your hair dryer and even your computer.  With electricity still flowing, you’ll burn unnecessary units and assume wasted costs. Plus, you’ll save the life of these items should there be a power surge in your absence.  Finally, get yourself a timer for a lamp so that it comes on and off at varying intervals.  A light turning on and off is a deterrent for a would-be burglar.