How to Prepare for a National Park Visit

By Betsy O’Rourke of Xanterra Travel Collection

Known as “the best idea we ever had,” America’s national parks are glorious icons of the country’s natural beauty.  And, with proper preparation, the parks — from California’s Death Valley to Wyoming’s Yellowstone — can offer some of the most spectacular and unforgettable experiences. Follow these 10 savvy tips to prepare for a visit as epic as the scenery.

Glacier NP Red Bus 5

1. Choose the right park.

 

First, choose the right park. While the famous parks are the undisputed show stealers, don’t discount the under-the-radar ones for worthwhile experiences, too.

 

The National Park Service offers useful tools to help you find the right park, plan your activities, get the right permits, check the rules, and find local tours that help you get the most out of your trip. The Find A Park site is searchable by park, state, activity, and topic. Recreation.gov is its self-service trip-planning site. FindYourPark.com, a collaboration between the NPS and the National Park Foundation, has a park finder filtered by activity, state, zip code, and park name. Xanterra Travel Collection operates the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Glacier, Zion, Death Valley, Mt. Rushmore and Rocky Mountain national parks.  Go to www.xanterra.com for lodging, dining and activity inspiration.

 

2. Know when to go.

 

While spring break and summer are by far the most popular times to visit a national park, if you have more freedom in your calendar, choose the shoulder season and avoid the crowds.  Parks such as Death Valley are actually best in winter when temperatures are in the 70’s and 80’s with little to no rainfall. Enjoy the spring fed pools with 86-degree water, the lowest elevation golf course in the world, and completely refurbished rooms and restaurants at the Oasis at Death Valley as well as the majestic views, amazing hikes and brilliant night skies the park offers. Other parks like Zion and the Grand Canyon are magical in winter, and at Yellowstone, the winter snow makes animals easier to spot.

 

3. Plan your activities.

 

To the extent possible, develop a plan for your visit. Pick the right activities and determine the skill level needed to safely enjoy them. Rather than racing around trying to see everything, prioritize a few key things.  Start with the park website or if you’re already onsite, go to the park visitor center. Many offer free Ranger-guided and Junior Ranger programs. There are also many tours available, like the famous Red Bus Tours at Glacier operated by Xanterra or many yellow bus tours at Yellowstone, including the family favorite old-fashioned covered wagon BBQ.

YNPL Old Faithful Geyser and Inn from Ground - Andy Austin

4. Check park regulations.

 

Learn the rules for permits, wildlife encounters, camping, trash disposal, and safety. Parks usually require permits to stay at campsites, for some activities (e.g., fishing), and even to access certain hiking trails. Bring paper versions since cellphone service can be unreliable in remote areas.

 

5. Learn about park conditions.

 

Prepare for your park’s natural environment, weather, and any risks or hazards involved in your activities. Study the trails and stay current on the latest weather and road closures via your park’s website and social media channels.  Understand the level of difficulty and technical skills required of certain hikes, i.e. Subway or Angels Landing at Zion.

 

6. Research how to get around.

 

You can drive through some parks easily; others require guests to park outside and shuttle in. Some parks are sprawling and isolated with few roadside facilities, so carry water, and even gas. If you plan to drive off road, make sure your vehicle is equipped for rugged terrain. And always bring maps; don’t count on GPS.

Pool at twilight - The Oasis at the Death Valley

7. Bring proper gear.

 

Pack strategically to guarantee your safety and comfort based on the park, the weather, and your activities. Most important is comfortable footwear — that is broken in. If you plan to hike, bring essentials such as a daypack, hat, water bottles, snacks, sunscreen, flashlight, map, and first aid kit. If you plan to camp out, test your equipment in advance.

 

8. Stay at a national park lodge.

 

If you want to stay inside the park, don’t pass up a national park lodge. Many, like the lodges in Yellowstone and Grand Canyon, are beautiful, historic lodges, and most do not have in-room televisions.  Star-lit skies, fire pits and smores and family games offer a non-digital alternative. Staying in the park is the best way to experience it. Once the day-trippers leave, you can enjoy sunsets, starry nights and sunrise with fewer people around.

 

9. Reserve early.

 

Book your park lodge (or campsite) early; many fill up quickly with some as far as 13 months in advance. This is especially true of peak summer season and holidays. If a lodge is full, check back regularly for cancellations as you may get lucky.

 

Advance reservations are also essential for popular activities with limited capacity, such as the mule rides at the Grand Canyon and the Red Bus tours at Glacier.

 

10. Consider a tour group.

 

Planning a national park trip can be very time-consuming. One way to ensure you’re seeing the best offerings is to opt for a guided tour. Depending on your ideal trip length and level of activity you seek, consider a bike tour with VBT, or a walking/hiking tour with Country Walkers, or a more traditional sight-seeing tour with Holiday Vacations. Packaged tours can save you time and money and they all offer the accommodations, meals, and activities for you with local guides and can arrange air and transfers as well.

 

A nationally known executive and thought leader in travel and tourism, Betsy O’Rourke is Chief Marketing Officer at Xanterra Travel Collection, part of the Anschutz Corporation.

 

Known for its “Legendary Hospitality with a Softer Footprint,” Xanterra Travel Collection manages lodges, restaurants, tours, and activities in the national parks including Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Zion, Glacier, and Rocky Mountain National Parks, and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. It also owns and operates the Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel in Williams, Ariz., The Grand Hotel in Tusayan, Ariz., The Oasis at Death Valley in Death Valley, Calif., Windstar Cruises, Holiday Vacations, VBT Bicycling Vacations, and Country Walkers. Xanterra is also affiliated with two Forbes Five-Star resorts, The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Sea Island on the coast of Georgia.

 

 


Heritage Travel in the UK and Ireland

By Europe Express 

Photo by Ingo Doerrie

Photo by Ingo Doerrie

The United States is home to a spectacular diversity of cultures—cultures that connect us to histories and communities and people across the globe. Every American has a heritage story that takes us beyond our country’s borders and into the wider world.

Fueled by television shows like “Who Do You Think You Are?” (wherein celebrities trace their ancestry overseas), our interest in our own genealogy has skyrocketed. We’re learning that our identities are strongly rooted in the identities of those who came before us, and that it’s important to know where we come from in order to know where we’re going.

 

What is Heritage Travel?

Heritage travel is a way for people to connect to their roots in their ancestors’ home country. Depending on how much you’d like to learn about your history, this type of travel can encompass a range of activities. Some people may choose to explore the archives of ancestry agencies, while others prefer to simply taste the foods their ancestors ate or walk the streets where their ancestors lived.

 

Heritage Travel Destinations

As part of the English, Irish, Scottish, or Welsh diasporas, many Americans can trace their genealogies to ancestors across the UK and Ireland. If you’re planning a heritage trip to one of these destinations, here are some ideas for your travels:

 

Ireland

Photo by Christian Bowen

Photo by Christian Bowen

Considering that one in every nine Americans can trace their ancestry back to Ireland, the Emerald Isle is among the most popular destinations for a heritage trip. You can access Catholic parish registries in towns like Adare and Shannon, comb through records at the National Archives, or consult with a professional genealogist at the Irish Family History Centre in Dublin. Another great resource is the Glasnevin Cemetery Museum, which employs a resident genealogist to help you access over 1.5 million burial records dating back to 1828.

 

England

Photo by Lea Fabienne

Photo by Lea Fabienne

In 1538, King Henry VIII’s chief advisor, Thomas Cromwell, decreed that every church in England maintain records of all baptisms, marriages, and burials. Today, these parish archives provide information about ancestors who lived as far back as the mid-1500s. The Society of Genealogists in London houses an extensive collection of published family histories, as well as census records for the whole of the UK. In Kew, the National Archives are an excellent resource for military and court records.

 

Scotland

Photo by Mitchell Luo

Photo by Mitchell Luo

Nearly 50 million people around the world claim Scottish ancestry. If you head to Scotland on a heritage trip, you can visit the seat of your ancestor’s clan, get a taste of long-held cultural traditions at the Highland Games, or learn about your ancestor’s trade at museums dedicated to everything from fishing and farming to textiles and war. If you’re in Edinburgh, the ScotlandsPeople Centre at the National Records of Scotland houses a comprehensive collection of census records, marriage and death certificates, parish registries, coats of arms, wills, and more. At the National Library of Scotland, you can look through emigration lists and ship manifests, browse newspaper articles, or locate the graveyards where your ancestors are buried.

 

Wales

Photo by Benjamin Ranger

Photo by Benjamin Ranger

Whether you’re interested in a one-on-one session with a genealogist in Swansea or you’d like to search centuries’ worth of parish records at the Glamorgan Archives in Cardiff, Wales is home to a wealth of family research resources. In addition to its census records, civil registrations, and newspapers, the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth houses an impressive collection of tithe maps, which show the names of landowners and occupants in parishes across the country. If you don’t find what you’re looking for at the National Library, you may have better luck at a Record Office in the county where your ancestors lived. These can often provide you with photographs, sound recordings, or videos that help connect you to your roots.

 

Managing Expectations

It’s important to keep in mind that while it can be easy to get your hopes up about finding information that connects you to those who came before, you might not always find what you’re looking for. Remember that at its core, heritage travel is about making connections to your roots, whether that means hearing the languages, tasting the food, walking the streets, or learning the history of the places your ancestors called home.

 

 

Established in 1990, Europe Express provides high-quality custom travel to Europe, working exclusively with travel advisors to create unique vacations that fit the needs, interests, and budgets of each individual client. The company serves both group and FIT leisure markets and books everything from air and rail to hotels and sightseeing tours. With a well-traveled reservations team and buying offices in Europe, Europe Express provides seamless service before, during, and after each trip.

 


9 ways to preserve the polar regions for future generations

Aspiring polar explorers learn about sustainability and conservation on polar voyages with Quark Expeditions

By Doug O’Neill, Quark Expeditions 

 

It was one of those travel moments that was both Instagram-perfect—yet simultaneously soul-stirring. I stood on the deck of Ocean Adventurer as it sailed into Krossfjord, a 30-km long fjord on the west coast of Spitsbergen in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago. Most of my fellow passengers were at breakfast so I had the deck to myself, with my camera at the ready, my eyes peeled on the horizon for my first glimpse of Lilliehöök Glacier, and my ears alert for the signature thunder of glacier calving.

 

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In the midst of all that anticipation of nature’s drama unfolding before me, I was suddenly overcome with a sense of quiet, a stillness that brought with it a razor-sharp clarity of my surroundings.  My mind began to run through an inventory of every stunning image I had experienced in the days leading up to this moment: the sculpted icebergs, the expansive glaciers, the snow-capped mountains, the long-abandoned historic sites, the polar bears prowling along the ice edge, the reindeers that cantered past me when I was on a shore landing, the walruses that gazed at me as I kayaked 30 metres away, of the whales spotted from the ship, and of cliff-tops covered in thousands of nesting Brunnich’s guillemots.

 

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And in my private polar epiphany, I was overcome not only with an intense appreciation for this pristine polar wilderness before me but also with a desire to protect it for every future visitor who came after me.

 

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This realization was by no means unique to me—it’s a moment shared by many who visit the Arctic or Antarctic. And this raised a fairly basic question: what can guests do to help preserve the pristine polar regions?

 

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For this answer, I turned to my colleague, Lyndsey Lewis, Operations + Sustainability Manager at Quark Expeditions, a long-time sustainability advocate and one of the forces behind Polar Promise, Quark Expeditions’ holistic sustainability framework for protecting the polar regions.

 

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9 ways to be kind to the planet on your next polar voyage 

By Lyndsey Lewis, Operations + Sustainability Manager 

 

  1. Pack and use only reusable bottles (the only option when on a voyage with Quark Expeditions), coffee cups and reusable bags that you can take home with you.
  2. Choose refillable toiletry containers or non-plastic packaging that are free of microbeads. Your Quark Expeditions cabin is equipped with refillable dispensers of body wash and shampoo.
  3. Don’t introduce non-native species. Pack clean gear, including clothing, footwear, and bags. Decontaminate boots before leaving and upon returning to the ship by using the provided Virkon disinfectant bath.
  4. Bring a reusable waterproof bag to protect your camera and/or phone from the elements. (Avoid single-use plastics at all times.)
  5. Don’t dispose of waste during shore landings. Where waste is unavoidable, bring along a reusable bag and carry the waste back onto the ship to be disposed of properly.
  6. Support local communities in the Arctic: Purchase goods from local artisans during community visits in the Arctic, but don’t purchase important goods like groceries and supplies as stock is limited and deliveries are rare.
  7. Follow the environmental and conservation guidelines established by the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) and the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO), who outline strategies, policies and behaviors to protect the polar regions.
  8. Place a bid during our onboard auctions: proceeds from our onboard auctions support polar research and conservation groups.
  9. Become a Polar Ambassador. Talk to one of our Expeditions Team about becoming a Polar Ambassador.  This program teaches you how to make changes to reduce your carbon footprint every day. It’s also your way of educating your respective communities on the importance of protecting the majestic polar regions.

 

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Quark Expeditions is the leader in polar travels. Quark Expeditions has been taking global travelers on immersive journeys to the Arctic and Antarctica for almost three decades.


5 Easy Ways To Be A More Responsible Traveler 

By Intrepid Travel

Do Your Pre-trip Research

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One of the first steps to traveling more responsibly is to conduct pre-trip research. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the country – including its religion, the local rules and values, and the cultural and social norms – to learn what is appropriate behavior while you’re visiting.

During your research, you should consider tour operators and travel companies that support the local economy by using local guides and supporting local businesses, hotels, restaurants and other services. Book with companies that have strict sustainability and animal welfare guidelines and who also give back to local communities, to ensure you are traveling in the most responsible manner and also using your holiday as a force for good.

 

Offset Your Trip

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While tourism is responsible for about eight percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, it is also responsible for a lot of good in the world. Travel allows us to learn about other cultures and their everyday lives and challenges, brings income to communities that rely on tourists and makes us all more open-minded.

Instead of choosing to not travel, consider reducing your footprint and offsetting the impact of your travels. Some airlines offer you the opportunity to offset your flights, and you can also choose to travel with carbon neutral companies who will offset your trip on your behalf.

For instance, for less than the cost of a Netflix subscription, you can commit to a subscription service that helps the planet, through the company Offset Earth. Starting at $6.50 per month, you can part of the climate crisis solution. Offset Earth partners with climate projects all over the world to offset carbon emissions on behalf of subscribers and, as a bonus, plants trees. By committing to a subscription plan via the Offset Earth x Intrepid page, Intrepid Travel will match subscribers’ tree for tree, meaning for every tree planted through Offset Earth, Intrepid will plant one too, effectively doubling your offset contribution.

 

Behave Like a Traveler, Not a Tourist

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While it might be okay for you to act or wear what you please at home, in many countries it is disrespectful to show too much skin or do certain things in public. Using a tour operator that employs local guides to assist you along the way is a great way to learn more, but it’s good to follow a few basic rules too. As a rule of thumb, travelers should abide by the following:

  • Be prepared to cover shoulders and knees and remove hats when in traditional areas and places of worship.
  • Always ask permission before taking photos of local people.
  • Don’t participate in direct interaction with a wild animal, such as riding elephants, or support any attractions in which animals are used for performances.

 

Support Local Businesses

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By choosing to invest your money in local services you are putting money directly into the local economy and supporting local families. Eat local food, use public transport, hire a bike or walk where convenient – you’ll meet local people and get to know the place. Shop from traditional artisans and for locally made products, helping keep traditional crafts alive and favor local products over imported items. By default, you’re also lowering your carbon footprint since the businesses are likely to source their supplies locally. Not only is this style of travel responsible, it will also make your travel experience that much more authentic.

 

Leave Nothing Behind

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Minimizing your waste and impact is one of the easiest ways to be a responsible traveler. Travel with some basics: a reusable cup, a water bottle, a metal or bamboo straw, reusable cutlery, and a fabric shopping bag. You can even buy water purifiers that filter out harmful bacteria, making bottled water less necessary. Plastics and other products aren’t biodegradable, so it’s important to be mindful of how much waste you’re producing and ensuring it’s being disposed of properly. Take care of the environment as you would your own home.

 

 

Intrepid Travel is the worlds largest B Corp certified adventure travel company. The company offers more than 1000+ trips in more than 120 countries and on every continent. A world leader is sustainable small group adventures, all of Intrepid’s trips are carbon-offset and designed to truly experience local culture – to meet local people, try local food, take local transport and stay in local accommodation. For more information: www.intrepidtravel.com


How to Get More Out of Seeing the Cliffs of Moher

By Roman Godzich, Director of Content at Sceptre Vacations

The spectacular Cliffs of Moher are one of the most popular bucket list destinations.  To make your visit the absolute best it can be, check out these tips before you hit the cliffs.

 

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Time your visit

Keep in mind that the Cliffs are most crowded between 11 am and 4 pm. Because this is right after all the tourists wake up, eat their Irish breakfasts, and venture off for the day. It’s also the time when many bus tours show up and when you’ll most likely be surrounded by large groups.  Take the time to explore beyond the visitor’s center, you’ll find room to breathe and roam around. There is so much beauty to see, why stay in one spot?

 

Check the weather

The weather in Ireland is often unpredictable. But there’s a huge difference between a forecast that claims all sun, and one that claims all rain. If possible, choose a sunny day to visit the Cliffs of Moher. It can be still spectacular in stormy weather, but fog may impede the brightest photos.

 

Pack warm clothing and a rain jacket

Be prepared for a variety of weather experiences. One minute might be rainy, and the next one might be sunny. Even if you check the forecast for a general idea of the day, the weather around the Cliffs may be different. The best thing you can do is be prepared. Pack a scarf, a rain jacket, and waterproof shoes. We hope it stays sunny for you, but if it doesn’t, you don’t want your feet to be cold and soggy as you explore.

 

Find the parking lot

Although it’s pointed out by signs, many people miss the parking lot. That might be because it’s across the road from the Cliffs entrance. Every day, tons of tourists turn into the main entrance, only to turn around and go back to the parking lot. Be smarter by turning into the lot ahead of the entrance.

 

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Climb O’Brien’s Tower

Sitting at the highest point of the Cliffs of Moher, O’Brien’s Tower is an outstanding historical landmark. Offering incredible architecture and breathtaking views, the structure dates back 2,000 years. The spiral staircase is a narrow and daunting climb, but the view is worth it.

 

The visitor’s center is hidden

Upon arrival, you might think, “Visitor center? Where?” Many people ask the same question until they look a little bit more carefully. The eco-friendly visitor center is actually nestled into the hillside. It is built that way to minimize visual impact on such a scenic location. This fabulous center boasts a gift shop, exhibition, and café.

 

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Afternoon is best for photos

The Cliffs of Moher face west.  This means that your best bet at postcard-worthy pictures is in the later afternoon. We recommend arriving towards the end of the afternoon for some great shots. Another idea? Visit the Cliffs in the morning, then come back just before dusk for a breathtaking sunset! If you’re there in the summer months, you’re in luck. The sun sets much later in June and July, offering more afternoon to work with.

 

Watch the wind

It doesn’t just get windy, it gets windy. Like, really windy. Be prepared! The cliffs are jaw-droppingly high and set against the ocean, which creates quite a strong gale force. Keep your belongings secure, and don’t walk too close to the edge!

 

Yes, there’s WiFi.

Free customer WiFi is provided throughout the visitor center and some outdoor areas such as O’Brien’s Tower. Feel free to post photos, use your map app, or even Facetime a friend who couldn’t come along on your trip. But please don’t be one of those people who stare at their phones the whole time. You’re at one of the most beautiful, sought-after sites in Europe.

 

 

Roman is an internet industry veteran. He began designing ecommerce solutions on the French Minitel system. He has designed search engines, booking processes, affiliate programs and ad networks. Through his career, he has been responsible for over $1billion in online sales. Currently, his responsibilities at DH include content creation, management and optimization. In his spare time he writes fiction and catches fish. He is a 5 time Nanowrimo winner and author of the novel “No Higher Ground”.

Sceptre Vacations has been empowering travel agent success since 1981, specializes in FIT and group bookings to Europe, but also sells 500+ prebuilt packages to over 70 countries worldwide.

With prebuilt packages, sharable content and an industry-leading dynamic packaging engine (PerfectFIT), Sceptre provides travel advisors with custom online articles and digital brochures that can be branded for each agency.

Visit http://www.sceptrevacations.com and see why we say that “Sceptre is the Perfect fit for the smarter agent.”


Updated on March 27, 2020: The new deadline for REAL ID enforcement is October 1, 2021.

Updated on March 24, 2020: Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the October 1, 2020, deadline has been extended. No new implementation date has been set. USTOA will provide updates as soon as they are announced.

Updated on February 20, 2020: The Department of Homeland Security has made the decision to allow electronic submissions of the documents that are required to obtain a REAL ID, a positive step ahead of the deadline.

In order to board a commercially regulated aircraft on October 1, 2020, travelers must possess a REAL ID compliant travel document. In order to obtain a compliant REAL ID or to ensure that your current travel documentation is REAL ID compliant, please visit your local Department of Motor Vehicles or utilize your state’s or territory’s online resources before the October 1, 2020 deadline.

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Airline travel can be stressful for new and experienced travelers alike. Perhaps the most important part of any trip is ensuring that appropriate documentation and identification is in hand. For domestic travel, this generally means a valid U.S. driver’s license, or state identification card, while passports are required for international travel.

Recently, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), an agency housed within the Department of Homeland Security, has been speaking to an issue relating to “REAL ID”. REAL ID represents the federal government’s attempt to create uniform minimum security standards for all U.S. driver’s licenses and identification cards in order to access Federal facilities, enter nuclear power plants, and board federally regulated commercial aircraft.

Creating these uniform standards is laudable and will ultimately make travelling throughout the U.S. safer. However, it is important that Americans are aware that their current form of identification, whether it is a driver’s license or state identification card, may not suffice to move through airport or other security settings, particularly with regard to traveling within the U.S. or elsewhere. The traveling public needs to be aware that updating travel documentation in the coming year will be necessary for those who are not already compliant. Otherwise, it is possible that come October 1, 2020 travelers could risk being turned away at the airport. To reaffirm, every American is currently required to possess a REAL ID compliant license or identification card by October 1, 2020 in order to, among other things, board a commercially regulated aircraft. Travelers without compliant identification could be turned away at the airport.

In the past, deadlines have been set on REAL ID compliance, and those deadlines have been kicked down the line. For the current deadline, recent reports indicate that this deadline of October 1, 2020 may hold. It is recommended that American travelers proactively check to see whether their identification is compliant to eliminate the possibility of added travel-related stress.

The good news is that anyone who holds a valid U.S. passport already has a REAL ID compliant form of identification. As of September 2019, 47 states, the District of Columbia, and three United States territories are compliant. Oregon, Oklahoma, and the Northern Mariana Islands are currently under an extension to update their licenses while New Jersey and American Samoa are under review. All states and territories are on track to be compliant before the October 1, 2020 deadline.

The bad news is that many of the states have only just begun issuing compliant licenses and state identification cards, meaning that many travelers may still hold a non-REAL ID compliant license. Therefore, it is imperative that all travelers visit their local Department of Motor Vehicles or utilize their state’s or territory’s online resources before the October 1, 2020 deadline to ensure that their travel driver’s license or identification card is compliant for domestic travel. Again, it is important to note that a valid passport is REAL ID compliant.

Unfortunately, not every state and territory have the same requirements for a REAL ID, meaning that the licenses or state identification cards will still not look completely uniform and the documents necessary to attain a REAL ID compliant license or identification card may vary. As mentioned previously, each traveler should visit their state’s or territory’s driver’s licensing agency website to find out exactly what documentation is required to obtain a REAL ID. At a minimum, travelers must provide documentation showing:

1)     Full Legal Name;

2)     Date of Birth;

3)     Social Security Number;

4)     Two Proofs of Address of Principal Residence; and

5)     Lawful Status.

REAL ID compliant licenses and identification cards are identified by the presence of a star in the top right-hand corner of the card similar to the below:

USTOA urges individuals across America to ensure their identification is compliant and to take the appropriate steps to achieve compliance, if necessary. We strongly caution against reliance on the possibility of an extended deadline.

More general information on REAL ID can be found here.

More information on each state can be found here.


10 Passport and Visa Tips For Hassle-Free International Travel  

By Fatemeh LeTellier, Chief Marketing Officer of Travel Document Systems and co-founder of Pinnacle Travel Documents

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  1. Make sure you have at least six months validity on your US passport!  Most countries require six months validity because they don’t want any traveler to get stranded in their country and be burdened with their expenses.  Further, most airlines require the six-month passport validity.
  2. If you travel a great deal, consider obtaining a second US passport valid for four years.  This will allow you to obtain visas on one passport while you travel on another. A second passport gives provides flexibility for the frequent traveler.
  3. Make sure you understand which countries require a visa for US citizens to enter. This way you are not barred from boarding your flight and missing your vacation or business trip.
  4. Make sure your name on your passport matches your name on your airline ticket/itinerary.  With heightened security measures at US airports and abroad you could be denied boarding.  If the name on your passport must be corrected, then you must renew your US passport as the US passport agency no longer amends names on US passports because of the new electronic chip passports.
  5. There seems to be confusion regarding the Passport Card.  The Passport Card can only be used at border crossings when driving between the US to/from Mexico and Canada.  You cannot use the passport card for flying! The Passport Card can be issued when the Passport is renewed for an additional government fee of $50.00. It is best to do both at the same time needed to save money and time.
  6. Many countries have gone to electronic visas which means the visas are e-mailed to the traveler. These visas are different than the traditional visas that are stamped in the actual passports.  E-visas can have a shorter validity and at times only valid for tourist travel and not for business travel. It is imperative that the traveler check to see that they apply for the correct type of visa based on their trip.  What we do at Pinnacle is assist the traveler in selecting the correct visa type for their specific travel needs. Some countries that issue electronic visas are India, Tanzania, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka and Oman.
  7. Children under 16 years of age are issued passports that are only valid for five years. The reason being that children’s features change so the picture needs to be changed every five years. Once they become 16 the passport is issued for 10 years. Both parents must be present to get the child’s documents sealed and if one parent is not available then the absentee parent must provide the accompanying parent with a notarized consent letter to apply for their child’s passport. The Passport Agency is very strict because of child abductions cases so they want to make sure both parents have given permission for a child to be issued a passport.
  8.  It is imperative that the signature on passport and visa applications match the exact signature on the US passport!  If the signature doesn’t match the application could be rejected which could delay the issuance of the US Passport or visa for international travel.
  9. The Passport Office and countries that issue visas require the photographs submitted for processing to follow specific guidelines.  The Chinese do not want the applicant to wear any glasses, jewelry or smile in the photo.  The US passport office doesn’t want glasses or smiling in photos. Further, The Indians don’t want any glasses on the photo. There are specific photo requirements that must be fold for smooth passport and Visa processing!
  10. Make sure you don’t apply too early for a Visa!  If you apply too early, then your Visa will not be valid for entry which could cause you to be denied entry to that country. For example, The Kenya E-visa is valid for 90 days from date of issue. The Visa for Laos is valid 60 days from date of issue and the visa for Rwanda is valid 30 days from date of issue.  We advise all our clients about visa validity requirements for business and tourist travel.

 

Pinnacle Travel Document Systems, one of the largest passport and visa service companies in the world, prides itself on providing exceptional customer service by taking the guess work out of travel documentation. Their experienced staff will streamline and simplify the process for any travel document, passport and Visas. Services include speedy, even 24 hour, passport renewal and second passport issuance, applications for minors, and passport cards, as well as precise visa application assistance to ensure the correct documentation is delivered accurately and in a timely fashion.


15 must-have food experiences in 15 countries

By Bex Shapiro of Intrepid Travel

Do you love food so much that you would literally travel… for food?

You’re not alone.

There’s nothing more exciting (and tasty!) than eating your way through a destination. And there’s no easier way to do it than on a food tour that uncovers a world of authentic culinary experiences – complete with local guide, bucket-list sites and small group of like-minded adventurers.

In honour of the above – Intrepid Travel’s range of Real Food Adventure trips – we’ve collated a definitive list of must-have foodie experiences all around the world. They’re a little different, they’re culturally immersive, oh, and they’re delicious. Obviously.

So, what are you waiting for? Get drooling… and get browsing the delectable food trips.

 

15. Tour Phnom Penh’s markets with a local chef

 

St Petersburg family

 

14. Sit down to a home-cooked meal (with vodka!) with a family in St Petersburg

 

13. Try the real KFC (Korean Fried Chicken) paired with maekju (Korean beer)

 

12. Learn all things coffee on a local Peruvian farmstay

 

11. Visit a tahini factory and learn how to make knafeh (a traditional Arab dessert)

 

Iranian cooking

 

10. Enjoy Iranian cooking at a local family’s home

 

9. Enjoy Vietnamese home-cooking with a local family in the Mekong Delta

 

8. Make pasta from scratch like a local in Italy

 

Rajasthan farms

 

7. Explore the local farms and cooking of Rajasthan

 

6. Learn the art of khachapuri, Georgia’s irresistible cheese bread

 

5. Harvest your own spring onions to make Taiwan’s iconic scallion pancake

 

Sample port

 

4. Sample port in… you guessed it… Porto

 

3. Browse a Sri Lankan fish market for the freshest seafood around

 

2. Dive into spicy Szechuan hotpot like a local

 

1. Take a taco (and tequila!) crawl in Mexico City

 

Born in London and based in Toronto, Bex is happiest anywhere she can connect with interesting people over good food. She’s passionate about sustainable travel and powerful storytelling, and her favourite cities are New York and Shanghai. Follow her adventures on Instagram @BexShapiro.

Intrepid Travel gets you off the tourist track and onto the road less traveled. With average group sizes of 10 people and itineraries in over 120 countries, their local-led trips are all about experiencing the world with sustainability and authenticity front of mind. Follow Intrepid Travel on Instagram @IntrepidTravel.

 

 


Warm Up to a World of Winter Travel

 By Tauck 

If thoughts of winter leave you cold, traveling might be something you’ll warm up to. Sun-kissed islands from Cuba to Hawaii are the draw for snowbirds longing to migrate to a culturally rich tropical paradise during the winter months. Sailors will enjoy charting a course for Latin America’s waterways and the Caribbean and Mediterranean Seas, always in season for seaworthy adventures. And travelers with a taste for someplace exotic may want to head to faraway shores where upside down climates invite outdoor enjoyment year round.

Of course, the definition of ideal weather is purely subjective and ultimately personal. A beach bum’s disdain of snow-covered surfaces is nirvana to winter sports enthusiasts. Rain dampens hikers’ spirits but lush landscapes like the soggy Pacific Northwest are a naturalist’s dream. Some like it hot. Some like it cold.

But no matter your preference or destination, wintertime travel promises red-hot advantages that summer trips don’t have.

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Fewer crowds. When cooler temperatures prevail and the kids are back at school, iconic sites in destinations around the world are enjoying their annual vacation from summer’s crowds. Consider visiting Rome, Florence and Venice, among the most visited cities in Europe, taking in landmark sights, without being rushed or wasting time on long lines. Check out the Colosseum, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and Trevi Fountain, spontaneously stopping in a local trattoria in charming Trastevere, less busy in fall and winter. Admire Michelangelo’s David at the Galleria dell’Accademia, take in the views of Florence and its river from the Ponte Vecchio and climb to the top of the Duomo, lingering longer as you wish. And in Venice, stroll easily in St. Mark’s Square, savor the mosaics of St. Mark’s Basilica and stop for a prized photograph at the Bridge of Sighs without groups of photo-bombing tourists.

VW: Near Old Faithful Winter Lodge

A new perspective. Wintertime enables you to rediscover places you’ve already been in a completely different way. If the national parks are a favorite summer vacation destination, consider seeing them in a new light. Take Yellowstone National Park for example, a geothermal wonderland with 10,000 hot springs, thundering waterfalls, two thirds of all the geysers in the world and evergreen trees by the thousands. Winter turns it otherworldly, transforming the wilderness into an ethereal playground sculpted by ice, steam clouds and snow and blanketing it in sounds of serenity and silence you have to see to believe. Those who have braved the weather can’t say enough about the experience or the cozy lodges that remain open for the privileged few. Highlights range from sharing stories and camaraderie in front of the fire; hearty home-cooked fare, served family style, that nurtures body and soul; and outdoor adventures on snowshoes, sleds and snowmobiles that warm hearts with sightings of elk, bison, bighorn sheep and the occasional wolf, seen more clearly and abundantly in a barren landscape.

Sydney_Featherdale_Wildlife_Park

Seasonal switches. If it’s winter here, it’s summer someplace else. Depending on which hemisphere you’re in, summer may be in June or December. Southeast Asia, Africa, Antarctica, Australia and New Zealand in the southern hemisphere turn the calendar upside down, making our wintertime the best time to experience their summer-like climates. Outdoor adventures, from game drives on African safaris, boat, tuk tuk and cyclo rides in Thailand and Vietnam to cruises to the Great Barrier Reef and throughout New Zealand’s fiord-lined waterways and zodiac expeditions to Arctic islands cloaked in ice, await on bucket-list winter escapes.

Holiday fairs. ‘Tis the season to celebrate the holidays around the world. Hop aboard a riverboat in Europe in December when city squares, town centers and bucolic villages are decked out and dressed up with festive decorations that glitter and glow with twinkling lights and timeless traditions. Who can resist the smell of gingerbread warm from the oven, cinnamon spiced ciders and steaming mulled wines, and carolers voicing cheer and goodwill with their spirited songs? The fragrances alone are enough to make river cruisers smile no matter the temperature.

The Russian playwright Anton Chekhov famously said “People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy.”

That’s especially true for travelers, which makes any time the best time to go someplace new.

 

With more than 140 journeys across 7 continents in over 100 destinations and 70+ countries, Tauck offers a choice of wintertime travel options around the world, from exotic journeys and small ship cruises to family vacations and river cruises during the holidays in Europe. Find all the details at tauck.com.

 

Named to Travel + Leisure’s “World’s Best” list for 22 consecutive years, Tauck has been a leader in enriching travel since 1925.

 

 


How Addiopizzo Has Changed Travel in Sicily

By Ashlea Sullivan, Brand Manager for VBT Bicycling Vacations

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When you arrive in Sicily as a traveler, you’re likely to be instantly charmed by welcoming locals, turquoise beaches, tantalizing cuisine, and ancient architectural gems. Sicily is breathtaking, and if it’s not on your bucket list yet it absolutely should be. What you might miss as a casual traveler, however, is a hidden problem that has long plagued the Italian island. Although greatly diminished in recent years, organized crime is still an ever-present threat to business owners throughout Sicily.

At VBT Bicycling Vacations, we believe strongly in traveling as sustainably as possible. We choose to stay in family-run accommodations and support small local restaurants whenever possible on our adventures, because we know that an important part of traveling sustainably is supporting the local economy. Where we spend our money, and consequently who we support, is a crucial part of maintaining a healthy tourism economy in any destination. In Sicily this is especially important—as travelers, it’s surprisingly easy to unwittingly support organized crime while simply enjoying all that Sicily has to offer.

VBT trip leader Edoardo is one of the founding members of Addiopizzo.

VBT trip leader Edoardo is one of the founding members of Addiopizzo.

Thankfully, there is an organization called Addiopizzo that is more than happy to help.  Addiopizzo (which roughly translates to “goodbye bribes”) is a grassroots social movement that began in 2004. In the summer of that year, a group of friends, one of whom is a longtime VBT trip leader named Edoardo, contemplated opening a bar in Palermo. They quickly realized that in addition to budgeting for things like rent and local taxes, they would need to set aside money every month to pay the “pizzo,” for protection. Instead of opening a bar, they ended up starting a movement that encourages businesses to band together and refuse to pay for “protection.”

What started as a small movement in Palermo today encompasses over 800 organizations, from local shops to national chains. Businesses display the Addiopizzo logo in their storefronts to signal to consumers that by shopping there, they’re supporting businesses that refuse to support organized crime.

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What does this mean for you as a traveler? It means you have the opportunity to discover Sicily while supporting these brave business owners who are taking a stand. You’ll find all kinds of businesses, from restaurants to souvenir shops and hotels proudly displaying the Addiopizzo logo. On VBT’s Sicily bike tour, Edoardo and our other trip leaders are more than happy to point you towards businesses that support the movement. Other travelers can use Addiopizzo’s website to find participating businesses.

 

Author/company bio:

For nearly 50 years, Country Walkers and VBT Bicycling Vacations have been providing active, experiential, and stunning travel experiences throughout the world. From their shared location in Williston, VT, the companies’ unique adventures and insider access bring the beating heart of a destination to life with well-crafted itineraries for walking and biking vacations. A range of guided and self-guided options highlight local cuisine, authentic accommodations, and immersive cultural experiences. Country Walkers and VBT are recognized as leading providers of active vacations worldwide. Ashlea Sullivan serves as Brand Manager for VBT and has been with the company for three years.