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  • Everything You Need to Know About Renewing Your Passport During the Pandemic

    4/29/2022 3:57:24 PM Link 0 comments | Add comment

    The number one rule is to plan ahead.

    While international travel might not be in the cards in the near future, you might want to take a look at your passport expiration date anyway, just to ensure you won’t run into any problems when you do eventually book that flight. Remember, many countries require you to have six months left in your passport past the end of your trip — and you don’t want to be turned away at border control for an expiring passport on your first vacation abroad after the pandemic.

    Thanks to COVID-19, processing times are longer than usual, so it pays to plan ahead: If your passport expires within the next 12 months, it’s time to start thinking about renewing. (You can actually renew your passport any time — not just right before it expires.) Here’s everything you need to know about renewing your passport during the coronavirus pandemic, so that you’re ready to travel the world as soon as possible.

    How to Renew Your Passport During the Pandemic

    The standard passport renewal process right now is via mail-in application, if you’re located in the U.S. or Canada. This method is available to U.S. applicants who currently have their passport in possession (it needs to be undamaged), were issued their passport when they were age 16 or older, were issued their passport within the last 15 years, and were issued their passport with their current name. (If you’ve recently changed your name, you can still apply by mail, as long as you can prove the change with legal documentation.)

    If you meet all these criteria, you can proceed with your mail-in application, which must include the following:

    1. A completed DS-82 form. 2. Your most recent U.S. passport. 3. Name change documents (if necessary). 4. A passport photo that meets these requirements. You’ll need to staple the photo to your application, using one vertical staple in each corner. 5. A check or money order for the fee. (See pricing here.)

    Once all your documents are gathered, simply follow the directions for mailing in your application, as outlined by the U.S. Department of State here. You can monitor the status of your application online or by calling a hotline.

    If you don’t meet the aforementioned criteria, you’ll have to apply for a passport in person at an acceptance facility. And if you’re located anywhere in the world outside of the U.S. and Canada, you’ll need to apply for your passport renewal in person at a U.S. consulate or embassy.

    How long does it take to renew a passport during the pandemic?

    If you renew by mail, you can expect to receive your new passport within 10 to 12 weeks during the pandemic, up from the standard four to six weeks during normal times.

    Can you expedite passport renewals during the pandemic?

    Yes, you can expedite your passport renewal for a fee, but only if you have an urgent need. If you have an emergency life-or-death situation, you can renew your passport in person and receive it within three business days. (In the pre-pandemic times, you were able to get a passport the same day if you visited certain passport offices, but that’s no longer possible.)

    If you have urgent international travel plans within four weeks, you can renew your passport in person at an acceptance facility, and you’ll receive it within three business days. If your international trip is within four to 10 weeks, you can either apply in person or expedite your mail-in renewal, so that you’ll receive your passport within four to six weeks, up from two to three weeks during normal times.

    Just remember that you’ll have to pay up for these expedited services. Additionally, not all acceptance facilities are open for walk-in visits: You may need to make an appointment in advance.

  • The Best Time to Book a Flight for Domestic, International, and Summer Travel During the Year of Revenge Travel

    4/19/2022 11:51:39 AM Link 0 comments | Add comment

    Here are our best tips for booking travel in 2022

    Finding the best flight deals is a bit of an art form, but there's also some science — or at least economics — involved. There are only two definitive rules: Flights open for booking about a year in advance, and the airfare will change often between then and takeoff. So, as a general rule of thumb, you'll want to book plane tickets well in advance, as prices spike sharply in the days preceding the flight, taking advantage of any last-minute travelers who have no choice but to pay up.

    But there are many variables that impact the dynamic pricing patterns of plane tickets, including the destination and time of year. In some cases, you can book just a couple of weeks in advance, while in others, you're better off reserving months ahead (such as a trip over a big travel holiday, when demand is high).

    While travel has been upended by the pandemic for the past two years, we're seeing numbers return to normal — in its January 2022 Consumer Airfare Index Report, airfare tracking site Hopper predicts airfare will reach 2019 levels by April 2022. That said, given the general uncertainty regarding potential new variants, travelers are still holding off on booking flights until their travel dates approach, much as they did in 2020 and 2021.

    Nonetheless, good deals are still all about big-picture timing, and while travel logistics are more in flux these days, most airlines now waive change fees, making it easier for travelers to book well in advance and shift plans later, if need be.

    The bottom line is that scoring the best flight deals can be tricky — and the pandemic's impact on travel and the airline industry has added more than a few challenges. But we're here to help you find the best flights for your upcoming travel. Our first tip: Start tracking flight prices as early as possible so you can keep an eye on cost fluctuations. Use Google Flights or Hopper to receive price change notifications about your tracked flights.

    When to Book Flights for Domestic Travel

    According to a 2021 survey by CheapAir.com, on average, the best time to purchase plane tickets for a domestic trip is 64 days before your departure date. Keep in mind that this is an average — it doesn't mean you should log on exactly 64 days before travel, but rather that you should scout flights around the 64-days-out mark. Seasonality also makes a big difference. CheapAir.com revealed that the cheapest flights were found 67 days prior to a summer trip, 94 days prior to a winter trip, 84 days prior to a spring trip, and 89 days prior to a fall trip.

    For domestic trips, pricing is elevated when tickets are first released, about a year before the flight. Per CheapAir.com, those prices will slowly creep downward, all the way to their lowest point sometime between 95 and 21 days (roughly three months to three weeks) before the flight, after which you'll likely see that last-minute spike in cost.

    But because 2022 is all about travel recovery, this trend might not hold true this year. Hopper expects to see a 7% increase in domestic airfare each month through June. (The company hasn't yet made its predictions for the second half of the year.) So, this year, (the year of Revenge Travel) it's really all about monitoring airfare and buying as soon as you see an appealing price.

    When to Book Flights for International Travel

    Overall, you're better off booking earlier rather than later for international travel, but there is some variance depending on your destination. CheapAir.com found the lowest fares to Canada occurred two months before departure, and the same is true for booking flights to Mexico and the Caribbean. The prime booking window for Central America is just over half a month to three months before departure, and for the Middle East, it's between one and a half and five and a half months before your trip. The best time to buy flights to Africa is about three months out, while for Asia and Europe, it's approximately 119 and 120 days, respectively. Just make sure you book before the one-month mark — Expedia data suggests that prices start to rise 28 days before departure.

    But again, as with domestic flight prices, Hopper predicts an increase in international airfare as we move through 2022 (the year of Revenge Travel) — about 5% per month through June. So, keep on tracking those flights and buy as soon as you're happy with a price.

    When to Book Flights for Summer 2022 Travel

    As travel is rebounding, prices are rebounding, too. "We're seeing price hikes heading into the summer travel season, likely due to pent-up demand (the year of Revenge Travel). To that end, book ASAP for summer travel, as prices are likely to rise as time goes on.

    If you're looking for the best deal, consider an international trip instead of a domestic one this summer. "In the last two weeks, domestic flight prices for summer travel are already up 28% compared to 2019, whereas flight prices to Europe are only up 3% right now.

    And, if you can, plan your trip for August — Kayak data, as provided to Travel + Leisure, shows that prices for both domestic and international travel are at their lowest that month (specifically the week of Aug. 22 for domestic and the week of Aug. 15 for international).

    When to Book Flights for Holiday 2022 Travel

    You might think it's a little too soon to be thinking about holiday travel, and typically speaking, you'd be right — the best time to book flights for Thanksgiving and Christmas is usually in September. But given the unpredictability of pandemic-related travel, (the year of Revenge Travel) we suggest booking your flights whenever you see a price you like.

    Now, if you're someone who travels somewhat regularly throughout the year, we have a little hack for you: Consider buying your holiday flights now — or whenever you find a decent deal — but make sure to book a fare that will give you a credit if you cancel (typically speaking, that means don't book basic economy). That way, if prices drop between the time of booking and September, you can cancel your original ticket and use the credit to book the cheaper fare. The only downside is that you'll still have some remaining credit, but you could then use it to treat yourself to a future flight. (Just don't let that credit expire!)

  • Pack Your Bags for Revenge Travel

    4/11/2022 2:31:03 PM Link 0 comments | Add comment

    Ready to travel? So is everyone else. Travel and hospitality experts say this summer will be the “busiest travel season ever” as people hope to catch up on two years’ worth of not traveling or very limited travel. And rising costs driven by inflation and high fuel prices are not stopping hungry travelers. The desire to splurge on extra-expensive accommodations and flights has been dubbed “revenge travel” and is likely to stick around for years to come.

       •   Hotel rates are also rising, reaching $149.38 a night on average in late March.
       •   Popular destinations this summer include New York, Las Vegas, London and Paris.

    With the vaccine rollout picking up pace, Americans are starting to feel more cautiously optimistic about the prospect of traveling again.

    Those in the travel industry are hoping for a surge in bookings in the coming months and years. A sense of wanderlust has been building, after all ? it’s only natural that we’ll want to explore new places after so much time at home. Many are calling this phenomenon “Revenge travel.”

    But what exactly does “revenge travel” mean and how might it manifest?

    What is ‘revenge travel?
    While the term may sound silly, ‘revenge travel’ refers to the idea that there will be a huge increase in travel as it becomes safer and things open back up. Many Americans and those around the world had their vacations altered or outright canceled last year, so they are all looking to satisfy their travel itch at the same time. The term is also retribution against COVID-19 and how it is losing its power to control our lives, including canceling travel plans.

    Experts are expecting a boom.
    The country is trailblazing a sense of urgency, and impatience, to travel once again. There’s already a boom in travel bookings, as people are eager to spend the miles, points and vouchers that have accumulated and gone unused over the past year.

    Since the end of 2020, we were seeing a large increase in family reunion bookings for the 2021–2022 holiday season, with a 17% increase compared to the 2019 holiday season. This shows us that families are really looking forward to reconnecting after so much time spent apart and coming together for the holidays, as so many plans were canceled in 2020.”

    The TSA has been screening over 1 million passengers most days since mid-February, an uptick from the general pandemic lows. Additionally, the TSA is looking to hire over 6,000 screening officers for the anticipated summer rush.

    People will want relaxation and time outdoors.
    The biggest excitement for post-pandemic revenge travel initially to the sun and sand destinations. Everyone has had a hard year, so while they’re craving new cultures and adventures, they want to give themselves a much-needed break first. They want to sit on a beach and give a cold cheer to the people they missed most during the pandemic.”

    Time on the beach is consistent with another travel trend prediction: continued interest in outdoor adventures due to their safety.

    People are most excited to revenge travel to places where they can spend a lot of time outdoors without a mask. This includes beaches, places with a lot of hiking such as national and state parks, and camping destinations. COVID-19 is thought to spread far less outside compared to indoors, so a beach vacation or camping trip still allows for adequate social distancing. While it is thought that the COVID-19 vaccines also prevent infection and spreading to others, some people still like the added security that the outdoors provide.

    They will play it safe with their initial destinations.
    Most of the revenge travel in the next few months will likely take place in the United States. Of the limited number of foreign countries that are permitting United States citizens, many of them have COVID-19 testing requirements that can be quite extensive.

    Many experts believe focus will still be on driving destinations like state and national parks and coastlines. However, the desire to visit friends and relatives will drive traffic to all destinations as families and loved ones reconnect.

    Even those who are interested in going beyond the continental U.S. will probably play it safe.

    For American travelers, the deep desire to get away combined with the looming uncertainty is causing a surge in planning trips to destinations like Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. People want to go as far away as they can get without actually leaving the country.

    People yearning for true international travel will likely turn to Mexico and the Caribbean. It reconciles that sense of wanderlust we’re all feeling without taking too much risk. Flights that aren’t much longer ? or in some cases shorter ? than domestic flights.

    Travelers may feel more inclined to splurge.
    After more than a year of restrictions, many “vengeful” travelers may feel more inclined to splurge and treat themselves when leisure travel becomes an option again.

    With so much pent-up demand around, all indications are that people are prepared to spend more on their travel experiences than would have been the case pre-COVID. Hence, upgrades will be the norm with travelers determined to compensate for ‘lost time’ over the past year,

    As vaccination rates vary across different countries, we believe trips across the U.S. will take precedence over international travel, but that travelers still will opt for premium domestic experiences like longer vacations and with upgraded airfare.

    It has been a really hard year for most Americans, and we know that travelers are keen to treat themselves and their loved ones to special trips once they are able to.

    There’s hope for international travel.
    Travelers treating themselves to upgraded experiences in the U.S. may well evolve into trips abroad if the public health situation improves and vaccination rates rise.

    Although the domestic travel trend should continue well into this year, we are already seeing some far-flung, bucket-list hotspots creep up our top searched destinations. While travel has changed, it is clear that the desire to discover will endure. Time spent under severe travel restrictions appears to have increased the value of travel in people’s minds, with a greater appreciation of the ability to get away.

    It's been noted that popular international destination searches from U.S. travelers on Skyscanner in the last month include Singapore, Tokyo, London and Madrid. The company believes this indicates an eagerness among Americans to plan long-haul travel and a rapid return to pre-COVID international travel rates if the pandemic recovery process allows it.

    Of course, all of this depends on rules and regulations relaxing to allow safe travel. In a recent survey we did of over 1,000 Americans, a third said they would be more confident about travel if their destination required all travelers and or guests to be vaccinated. Where people go will also depend on the destinations and airlines that provide simple information relating to quarantines, vaccine roll-outs, digital health passes and pre-departure testing.

    But there are more immediate priorities.
    While it’s fun to fantasize about traveling the world again or for the first time, it’s important to consider more immediate priorities like health, safety and financial wellbeing as we continue to navigate the pandemic. With so many people still furloughed or unemployed, and with so many experiencing financial challenges at some point throughout the past year, for many ‘revenge travel’ is but a distant dream with job and food security a more real and urgent priority!

    If you do find yourself in a position to take an excursion, travel safely.

  • 5 Great Destinations for Family Travel

    4/5/2022 2:48:29 PM Link 0 comments | Add comment

    Are you looking for the perfect place to plan your next family vacation? Whether you’re on the hunt for adventure or are hoping to unwind somewhere along a white sand beach, these five destinations offer guaranteed fun for travelers of every age.

    Grand Canyon, Arizona

    With bike trails, hiking paths, a Geology Museum, river trips and more, there are plenty of activities at the Grand Canyon for the whole family to enjoy.

    If you’re traveling with kiddos ages four and up don’t miss the Grand Canyon National Park Junior Ranger Program where children can learn about the region’s natural and cultural history from a real-life park ranger. History buffs and locomotive fans will love taking a cruise on Grand Canyon Railway’s restored WWII-era passenger train where riders enjoy unbeatable views as the train twists and turns along tree-covered hills and steep canyon bluffs.

    Of course, no visit to this geological wonder is complete without a hike or two. If you’re looking for a trail that’s suitable for both the younger and older members of your group, be sure to add Shoshone Point to your list. This short trail guides visitors down a one-mile, level dirt road that offers a glimpse of the surrounding ponderosa pine forest before revealing a dramatic overlook of the canyon’s rim.

    Niagara Falls, U.S. and Canada

    Consisting of three falls at the end of the Niagara River—Horseshoe Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and American Falls—Niagara Falls serves as a natural border between the U.S. and Canada. While the falls aren’t the largest, they do have the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world. This powerful flow can be seen in the surrounding landscape as the intense turbulence carves through the rock and a dramatic mist rises from the water below, producing an abundance of rainbows in the process.

    As for things to do, the Maid of the Mist, Old Falls Street USA and Cave of the Winds are all noted as must-see attractions. There’s also no shortage of outdoor activities with hiking, boating, camping, biking, fishing and more. Alternatively, if your family prefers city adventures, explore Art Alley NF in Niagara Falls, New York, or check out live music at the Riviera Theatre & Performing Arts Center.

    For some boozy fun, be sure to visit one of the area’s local wineries where you can indulge in a glass of ice wine, a drink made from cold-weather grapes that are left to freeze on the vine before becoming a scrumptious dessert wine. Riesling, Vidal and Cabernet Franc, there’s an ice wine of each.

    Riviera Maya, Mexico

    There’s nothing quite as relaxing as an all-inclusive getaway in the Riviera Maya. Best of all, all-you-can-eat buffets, bottomless drinks by the pool and on-site entertainment ensure that no one will get bored when you choose to vacation in the Yucatan.

    Of course, the resorts are only part of what makes Mexico a fabulous family getaway. Another thing that makes this destination great is its seemingly endless options for excursions. Whether you’re looking to spend the day at an eco-park, zip line across a canopy of lush vegetation, explore the underground world of caverns and cenotes or marvel at one of the many ancient ruins, you can do it all in Mexico.

    Orlando, Florida

    One of America’s premier destinations for theme park fun, Orlando is a must-visit spot for families. Enjoy marine life shows, thrill rides and animal encounters at SeaWorld Orlando, discover the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Volcano Bay at Universal Orlando Resort or experience the magic of all your favorite characters at Walt Disney World. Aside from the big three, there are several smaller parks that are also worth checking out in the area. Gatorland, for example, gives visitors an up-close-and-personal view of alligators and crocodiles spanning up to 14-feet long. Also notable is Keely Park, a beautiful crystal-clear natural area that’s perfect for hiking, camping and swimming.

    With over 5,000 restaurants, Orlando is also a favorite amongst foodies. Treat your palette to a melody of flavors cooked up by celebrity chefs at places like Wolfgang Puck Cafe, Emeril’s Tchoup Chop, Guy Fieri at Planet Hollywood and more. For something a little lower key, visit Whole Food Trucks, a food truck park dishing up a wide variety of flavors. Mexican, sushi, burgers, Italian, pizza and ice cream, you name it, they’ve got it.

    In a similar vein, Orlando is also enjoying a rise in microbreweries. Wash down a good meal at places like The Bear and Peacock Brewery, Dead Lizard Brewing Company, Half Barrel Beer Project and more.

    London, England

    If you’re looking to take your family abroad, London is an excellent choice. Younger travelers will love the city’s abundance of museums including The Natural History Museum with displays on dinosaurs, human evolution, oceans and space. Another fan favorite is The British Museum which showcases over two million years of human history and culture. Here, travelers can explore Egyptian artifacts, ponder the mysteries of Stonehenge, discover the secrets of ancient mummies, explore art, clothing and canoes from the South Pacific and more.

    In addition to great museums, London is also home to a plethora of unique experiences and tourist attractions. Take a spin on the London Eye, Europe’s tallest Ferris wheel, for unbeatable views of the city, hop aboard a London Duck Tour to explore the streets, embrace the region’s royal culture with a visit to the Royal Mews or catch a glimpse of Big Ben from atop Tower Bridge.

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