We’ve written posts about big trips, weekend trips and day trips. This post discusses how to take a trip for about two hours–all within the convenience of your own home…aka movie travel. I don’t know about you, but certain movies have the ability to suck …
Tag: product review
One of the first things I do after we’ve booked tickets for a trip is make a beeline to the library so I can see what they have for me in the travel guidebook section. I LOVE guidebooks. Nothing gets me more excited about visiting a place than to see all the cool things that are available for me to do. This post will discuss the merits of the humble travel guidebook and recommend some things to look for as you use a guidebook to plan your next trip.
The single most important feature in a good travel guidebook is its publishing date. Think about it–you’ve just read a review of a 5-star restaurant that only cost $2 per plate, but when you get there you realize the place closed in 1965. Not very helpful. When I am contemplating which guidebook to buy for a trip, I will compare the dates of a few books to see which was published or edited most recently.
A lot of guidebooks are written a while ago but are updated with current information. (This would be the best job ever. You wouldn’t even have to do that much–just go to the places that have been previously recommended and make sure they are still good. Sigh…if only.) I try to get guidebooks that have been published in the last few years.
Travel Guidebook Clientele
Most guidebooks can be grouped by the type of travel they are appealing to. Lonely Planet and Rough Guide cater to a traveler with a smaller budget and Fodors and Frommers are written for folks with a few more dollars in their bank accounts. I personally, am probably not going to be buying a Fodors or Frommers book anytime soon. I’m just not that big of a baller.
Travel guidebooks can come in hard copy or electronic format. I prefer a hard copy book, but that’s probably because I like having something tangible in my hands. I like to tag pages that have things I am interested in and I think it is easier to find what I am looking for later. However, e-books don’t take up any space in your bag and are always at your fingertips if you keep them on your phone. I recently found deal on Travelzoo where I was able to buy three Lonely Planet e-books for $25. I will be able to give a more thorough review of that after we visit Australia next year.
Travel Guidebook Parts
Once you have selected a guidebook, you want to make the most of it. Below are the features that I find most useful.
This section is typically at the beginning of the guidebook and most people probably skip right over. This is a big mistake though (and I’m not saying that just because I have a history degree). It is always, repeat, always, a good idea to have a background of the country you are going to. Americans have a bad reputation around the world for being arrogant. Sure, English is the universal language. And sure, U.S. dollars are accepted in a lot of countries. But that doesn’t mean the rest of the world is an extension of America. A little background on a country will help you understand the country’s culture and might prepare you for how it is different than what you are used to.
Top 10, 15, 20, etc. Lists
There is a section in pretty much every travel guidebook that has colorful pictures of the places, things, experiences that the author deems most worthy of your time. These will most likely be the things that the country is most known for, but there are sure to be some gems that you haven’t heard of and might not want to miss. It would be challenging to be able to check off all of this list in your visit, but it is a great place to start to build your itinerary.
Speaking of itineraries, your travel guidebook should have a section that builds an itinerary for you based on a few criteria. Some do this by time (like Rick Steves) and some do it by interests (like Lonely Planet). When we travel, B and I do a little research independently and come back with the things we most want to do. Sometimes these are the same, but more often than not, they are different.
Since it is impossible to fit everything in, we pick our highest priorities and use the itinerary section of a guidebook to help us determine our own itinerary. I haven’t ever taken a trip where I follow an itinerary exactly as it listed in a guidebook. But it can be really useful to help you figure out the length of time you need for certain places, or mapping out how long it will take to get to other locations.
Peppered throughout the main part of the travel guidebooks, authors will insert boxes with interesting tidbits of history, culture, etc. These are fascinating little reads and shouldn’t be skipped. For example, in Rick Steve’s Guide to Portugal, you can learn about a unique style of building that lasted for about a hundred years in the 15th century called Manueline Architecture. Portugal was wealthy at that time and decorated their buildings to the 9s. Go figure.
Several books offer walking tours of towns/museums/etc. These are great (and free!) ways to learn all about whatever you are visiting. There are times when taking an organized tour is a great way to spend some money. Other times, you might not be feeling up to a tour group. A travel guidebook’s self-guided tour will give you all the important information you need to know as you walk along.
Travel guidebooks are an excellent tool to help you prepare and enjoy your trip. If you are heading to Europe, Rick Steves is my go-to with solid information albeit a little kitschy. In other countries, I recommend Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, or Moons. Make sure to get one with the most recent published date. Also, do not forgot that your local library is an excellent resource for finding these and others.
Global Entry and TSA PreCheck have changed the way we travel. As Michael would say, “Do you remember a time”……when you didn’t have to bring a ziplock bag with you to the airport? Or when you didn’t have to unlace your boots to walk through the weird, scanny machine? Well, with TSA PreCheck you can time machine yourself back to pre-2001 airport security. There is also the added bonus of feeling extra cool when you get to walk to the left instead of standing in the long line to the right.
PreCheck is a TSA program that allows certain passengers, previously deemed to be ‘low risk,’ to have an expedited airport experience. This means you do not have to take off your shoes or hoodies. And you do not have to pull out your liquids or laptops. As a result, the line moves much faster and you won’t be frantically grabbing things out of your bag.
Costs of the programs
In exchange for this swiftness, Big Brother gets a little more information about you. To become a member of the PreCheck club, you have to fill out an application that asks basic questions about where you have worked and lived for the past few years. For people like B, this was relatively easy. For people like me, with a bit more transient of a lifestyle, this took some thought and some mapping things out on paper. Once you hit ‘submit’ on the application, you can then set up an appointment to meet with a TSA agent for an interview. At the interview, you will pay the $85 application fee, answer a few questions and become officially prechecked.
B and I made it to the set-up-an-interview point in the process when—hold the phone—we were told about an even more magical program called Global Entry. With Global Entry, you get the TSA PreCheck status but with the added bonus of expedited re-entry into the U.S.A. This means that when you get off that awful, 15-hour flight from Australia and you stumble into the customs room with all of the zig-zag rows of other jet-lagged passengers, you get to bypass the never-ending line and instead go to the cool kiosk machine. There you insert your passport, scan your fingerprints, take a quick picture and you are on your way. It really is that easy.
Getting Global Entry basics
The Global Entry application questions are similar to the TSA PreCheck application questions. You set up an account, fill out an application listing your past work and residential history, pay a $100 application fee, and then wait for an email stating that you’ve been ‘conditionally approved.’ This took no time at all for B. (I’m assuming it was an automated process because she submitted her application and received conditional approval over the weekend.) My approval took longer. This is most likely because I’m self-employed. But received an approval about a week later.
Tip: Find a small airport
Once you receive your conditional approval, you log into the Global Entry website and select a location where you want to get interviewed. Note: some locations can be booked months in advance. Most of the bigger airports all have interview locations and the program seems to be expanding into new locations. Since completing our interview, our hometown airport is now one of the new locations. Out of the way locations are less busy and easier to schedule an interview at. Since we knew we were going on a trip to Hawaii, we went ahead and reserved interview slots at the Honolulu International Airport.
At the interview, have your passport and Global Entry conditional approval letter. I didn’t actually have my letter but was able to take a screenshot of my approval number and show it to the border patrol agent interviewing us. (Oh yes, I say ’us’ because in Honolulu they are very chill and let me crash B’s time slot so we didn’t have to come back later for my time slot. Recommendation: do your interview in Hawaii. As a bonus, you GET TO BE IN HAWAII!)
Before our interview, we hit the interweb to see how the Global Entry interview experience was for others. We also talked to some people who had gone through the process. There were mixed results. Some people had an all-out interview where they were asked about their history. Others had to have proof of residency, like a bill that went to their address. Our interview was simple; we gave the patrol agent our passports and our current addresses and showed him our conditional approval letter. He then took a picture of us and gave us a portable DVD player to watch a quick video about how to go through customs. Then he sent us on our way. They do a background check on you at this point, so if that’s a problem, Global Entry might not be the program for you.
Getting your Approval
A few weeks later we received our Global Entry cards (complete with seriously funny pictures of us on them—they made the DMV look like professional photographers) to take with us when we visit Canada or Mexico. On our last trip to Vancouver, Canada, we pulled out this handy little card and got to bypass the longer Canadian customs line for a much shorter line—much like TSA PreCheck in the U.S. Only select countries allow Global Entry passengers to do this from their airports, so you don’t need to take the card with you everywhere you go.
Along with the card you will receive your official letter with your PASS ID number. This is the same number you received in the conditionally approved letter. From now on, when you are booking or checking into a flight, you will enter your magic number into the ‘Known Traveler Number’ box. Then, when you get your boarding pass, it will have that awesome little TSA PreCheck icon on it. (By the way, it never gets old seeing that thing.) And that’s it! You will then be free to pass through security like it was 1999.
Things to know
- TSA runs TSA PreCheck. You can get more info about it here.
- U.S. Customs and Border Patrol runs Global Entry. You can get more info about it here.
- When you are booking travel, your name must match the name on your passport. This means R has to include her middle name every time. Otherwise, the automated system can’t match the Known Traveler to the booking passenger and the result = no PreCheck for you (insert frowny-face emoji here).
- TSA PreCheck is not guaranteed every time you book travel. However, we and everyone we know has received it every time they’ve used it. Coincidence? Hmm……
- TSA PreCheck and Global Entry are both good for five years.
Cough up the money for Global Entry. It only costs $15 more than the TSA PreCheck program and you get to zip through customs when you return to the U.S. Doing this once might just be worth the extra $15 bones.
We have used Global Entry numerous times and have found it to be well worth the investment. When we returned to the states from a recent trip to the Azores, B opted to try out the Mobile Passport app. I made it through customs much quicker than she did. She concluded it was a better option than nothing, but felt Global Entry was the superior choice.