I’ll put the disclaimer up front – this is a rant. I’ve had lots of glorious travel days, full of soft-focus sunsets and sweeping orchestral music. Every once in a while, though, the odds are not ever in your favor and you end up with a bad travel day. This was mine.
I suppose I was asking for this, since my last post talked about the illusion of control. That illusion was shattered last week when I tried to get home from a business trip.
Meetings ended a day early, so I switched my flights to come home a day early. So far, so good. I arrived at the airport at 8 am for a 42 minute flight to Newark. As we taxied to the runway, I smiled at the pink flamingos that someone had put in the grass at the far end of the runway. Cute, I thought. Then the captain announced that due to a mechanical issue, we were returning to the gate. Still not a bad travel day, just a temporary delay. We de-planed and waited for an update.
The updates trickled in throughout what became an eight hour delay. I could have driven to Newark twice in the time that it took to not fly there. To make things worse, this was not a large airport. Roughly the size of my high school. Entertainment and food options were limited. To say that I’d missed my connection to Hong Kong was something of an understatement. We finally arrived long after dinner time.
The airline put me up in a hotel near Newark. Thanks to the efficiencies of the New Jersey highway system, we passed the hotel twice in the shuttle bus before finally turning into the driveway. After a fitful night’s sleep, I schlepped my stuff back to the airport to try again.
I will hand it to the airline staff though. They were patient, courteous, and helpful. I appreciated that and I tried to show that appreciation by being courteous in return. Even on a bad travel day, keep in mind that the staff are not to blame.
Our four-wheeler slipped and slid on the monsoon-soaked dirt road. I laughed nervously and gripped the door with white knuckles. As we came around the corner, we saw burning tires blocking the narrow road. That’s when I wondered if maybe I shouldn’t have brought my kids on this trip after all. Is it ever acceptable to expose kids to dangerous travel?
How do you quantify danger? What risks are acceptable? Do you take more risks traveling solo than you do with your kids?
I thought a lot about these questions this summer when I took my kids to Nepal. It was the height of the rainy season, which made the steep mountain roads seem especially treacherous. Almost every day I would read about a vehicle that slid off the road and fell hundreds of feet somewhere in the country. The incident with the burning tires was resolved peacefully, but not before we sat for a few hours on the road waiting.
As I reflected on these worries, I realized that what I was missing was not safety, but the illusion of control. Going about my daily life back home, I delude myself into thinking that I can control the threats that my kids face more easily than I could on this trip. In reality, motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for children in America. There’s no guarantee that we would have been any safer on a road back home.
This is not to say that you should needlessly expose your family to foolish risks. Often though, we exaggerate risk when we are outside our comfort zones and minimize it when we are in our comfort zones. Do your research, take precautions, but don’t let fear paralyze you into not traveling.
Weighing the risks against the benefits of the trip, I’m still glad we went. We’re going back to Nepal in a few weeks – not during the rainy season.
Anxiety about traveling internationally with infants is fairly common. Traveling with babies can be a challenge, but it’s not impossible. Here are some common questions and answers about how to fly with infants.
These days there are a lot of code-shares where you book a ticket with one airline but the flight is operated by a different airline. When you fly with infants, pay attention to the rules of the airline that is operating the flight. Those are the rules that will apply.
Fly with infants – How young is too young?
Babies should not fly until they are one week old. Some doctors discourage long flights with children younger than three months old. That’s partly because the recycled air in the cabin is dry, making it difficult to keep young infants hydrated. The recycled air can also be a problem because young infants have low immunity.
In general, babies and infants will be fine on the flight as long as you keep them hydrated. The change in air pressure during take off and landing can be painful for them. Fluids during that time can help because the swallowing action will help to equalize their ears.
The Transportation Security Administration specifically allows formula, breast milk, and juice for infants or toddlers. There may be additional screening measures to clear you through security, but these items are allowed. You can check the full TSA policy on this here.
How far you’re willing to fly with an infant depends on you. Extremely long flights can be difficult because of changing diapers in cramped airplane bathrooms or the need for a lot of supplies.
Pay for a seat?
Check the airline’s policy on this. Within the United States, infants under the age of two traveling without their own seat within the United States do not require a ticket. Bear in mind that a child without a seat typically does not have a baggage allowance (or carry-on).
All infants traveling internationally must have a ticket, even if no seat is purchased and they are traveling as a lap child. Some airlines require you to pay a fee for a lap child on international flights. On American Airlines, for example, this is 10% of the adult fare, plus taxes and fees.
You may use a child safety seat (car seat) if you have purchased a seat for your child. There are restrictions on which seats can have a car seat. Car seats cannot be used in exit rows or the rows adjacent to exit rows.
Most airlines now have bassinets that can be attached to the bulkhead on international flights. They may not be used during taxi, takeoff or landing, or when the seatbelt sign is illuminated. Request a bassinet by contacting the airline directly.
The number of bassinets per plane is limited and they are on a first come, first served basis, so don’t make this the centerpiece of your plan.
On American Airlines, small collapsible strollers up to 20 lbs may be stored in the overhead compartment. United Airlines and Delta require strollers to be checked at the gate. Strollers are not counted against your baggage allowance and airlines do not typically charge to check them.
Heading south is your quickest escape from Houston, although it means you won’t gain any time zone advantages (you won’t lose time either). Because of that, I’ve shortened the travel time. Here are a few easy weekend getaways from Houston that are all less than a four hour flight away.
Managua is just over three hours from Houston. There is much to see in this diverse country. One suggestion is Mombacho Volcano reserve, an hour south of Managua. The hiking trails on the volcano bring you to a cloud forest and a dwarf forest. Stay in Granada, half an hour from the volcano (book a hotel through Agoda). Quite a change from your average weekend in Houston, I’ll wager.
Fly into Liberia and head to the beach. Playa Flamingo and Playa Conchal are only an hour from the airport. Or travel a little farther south to Tamarindo. Check into a resort and dip your toes into the the warm waters of the Pacific.
Get a taste of history and visit the Panama Canal. Fly into Panama City, founded over 500 years ago. Explore the locks and then head into the tropical rainforests that surround the canal.
Ok, this one might require you to take a vacation day. There’s only one direct flight on Fridays to Montego Bay and it leaves at 10:30 in the morning. Still, you’re less than four hours from the sandy beaches. Leave the kids at home and stay at an all-inclusive resort like Sandals.
Banner Image courtesy of Sunny Studio via Adobe Stock.
Losing your passport while traveling will definitely impact your plans. Here’s how to safeguard travel documents to ensure that any disruption is minimized.
Make copies (paper and electronic)
Start to safeguard travel documents before you leave on your trip. Make at least two paper copies of your passport. You should copy the information page and, if applicable, the visa page for the country that you’re visiting. Leave one copy with someone back home.
Keep another copy on you but separate from the passport. Consider exchanging a third copy with a travel companion. Finally, scan a copy as a JPG or PDF file and email it to yourself. If you use a cloud-based email service (Gmail, Yahoo, etc.), you’ll be able to retrieve it from any computer.
This goes for any other documents you need while traveling, such as birth certificate, marriage certificate, or prescriptions for medication.
Safeguard Travel Documents from damage
Loss or theft is a top concern. We often don’t think about documents getting wet, dirty, or torn. Slip your passport into a small, re-sealable plastic bag to keep it safe.
Keep Your Passport On You
When traveling, keep your passport on you at all times. Be vigilant in crowded spaces. Carry it in a front pocket or travel wallet. If you’re leaving your hotel room but not the hotel (like going to the pool, for example), lock it in the room safe.
Report Lost or Stolen Documents Immediately
If your passport is lost or stolen, report it to the local police as soon as possible. Make sure you get a copy of the police report. Ask for a letter from the police confirming that you’ve reported the loss. Take these documents and your photocopy of your passport to the nearest embassy or consulate from your home country.
Your lost passport is an emergency to you. It is likely not an emergency to the embassy.
The consular services at an embassy operate normal business hours. Don’t expect them to crank up the wheels of government on a weekend or holiday. You may have to call or make an appointment. Embassies can issue replacement passports, but the process may take a few days (or weeks), depending on where you’re from and where you are.
The history of civilization in Muscat stretches back into antiquity, with settlements dating back over 7,000 years. In the 18th century, Muscat was a major regional power whose influence reached as far as Tanzania. Today it serves as the fascinating capital of Oman. Here are a few things to do in this beautiful city.
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
Sultan Qaboos rose to power in 1970 and has ruled as Sultan of Oman ever since. The mosque that he commissioned can hold 20,000 worshippers. In additional to the sprawling grounds and impressive architecture, the mosque has two unique features. The first is a massive chandelier, the largest Swarovski crystal chandelier in the world. The second is the carpet that covers the floor of the main hall. It’s the second largest carpet in the world, weighing 21 tons. The carpet took 600 weavers four years to complete.
Sultan’s Armed Forces Museum
This museum houses a collection of military vehicles, weapons, and uniforms that trace Oman’s military history. It is also notable because of the location. The museum is housed in the Al Falaj Fort, a 150-year old fortress.
Stretching along the harbor, The Corniche in Muttrah borders Old Muscat. The souq, or market, here has been open for business for 200 years. Shops and stalls disappear into the darkness as alleyways meander away from The Corniche. The smell of frankincense and spices fill the air and silversmiths, tailors, and hawkers sell their wares. Muttrah Fort, built by the Portuguese in the 16th century, sits west of the souq and watches over the harbor.
Desert safari – Beyond Muscat
Escape the city and explore Oman’s vast deserts for a day trip or an overnight camping expedition. Areas like Bawshar and A’Sharqiyah are easy to reach with a 4×4. Enjoy the solitude of the desert or the excitement of dune racing.
Budget airlines offer significant savings for travelers, but at what cost? Several high-profile aviation accidents in the last few years may have you wondering if budget airlines are as safe as the major carriers.
Budget airlines are cheaper because they offer reduced services, amenities, and service. You may have to pay additional fees to check luggage, get a meal, or pick your seat. Major carriers include these features automatically but pass on the costs to you in the price of the ticket. Budget carriers give you a choice about whether to have those amenities. They don’t cut corners on safety.
According to the annual safety index of the world’s 60 largest carriers produced by the Jet Airliner Crash Data Evaluation Centre in Germany, several low-cost carriers (AirAsia, JetStar, and EasyJet) were rated safer than 2 of the major U.S. carriers.
So the short answer is – Yes, budget carriers are just as safe as major carriers. Airlines realize that accidents are going to have a significant impact on business. They may cut corners on meal service, but not on safety.
If you’re still worried, there are a few ways to research the airline in question. You could consult the EU Banned List to see which airlines are not allowed to operate in the EU. The FAA’s International Aviation Safety Assessment doesn’t apply to specific airlines, but instead deals with the Civil Aviation Authority in the countries that they are based in.
If you’re still nervous, maybe you should book your travel with a major carrier. Just realize that you’re going to pay more, and it’s not because they’re safer.
I love to travel overseas, but I don’t want to neglect the treasures that America has to explore right here at home. Today marks the 37 years since Biscayne National Park was created, so let’s take a look at what it has to offer visitors.
Biscayne National Park – History
Originally considered as part of the Everglades, Biscayne was designated a separate national monument in 1968 and re-designated a national park on June 28, 1980. Evidence of human civilization within the park borders goes back 10,000 years. Biscayne Bay has been home to Native Americans, pirates, and millionaires. Presidents have vacationed here and outdoor enthusiasts have long enjoyed its waters.
Biscayne covers over 172,000 acres, stretching from Key Biscayne to Key Largo. Biscayne encompasses four distinct ecosystems; an offshore reef, coral limestone keys, Biscayne Bay, and the mangrove swamps along the shoreline. Biscayne National Park is home to several endangered species, such as manatees, hawksbill sea turtles, and American crocodiles. The park also protects hundreds of species of fish, crustaceans, and birds within its boundaries.
Biscayne National Park is 95% water, so most of the activities require access by boat. There are campgrounds on Elliott Key and Boca Chita Key which are only accessible by boat. Canoeing and kayaking are popular, as are diving, snorkeling and fishing. Biscayne is home to the Maritime Heritage Trail, the only underwater archaeological trail in the National Park Service. This trail includes 5 shipwrecks that date back to the 1870s which divers can explore.
Most visits to Biscayne should begin at Dante Fascell Visitor Center, 9 miles east of Homestead, Florida. For more information about the park, check out the National Park Service website.
It usually starts with one parent or the other. Or two of the kids really hit it off. Before you know it, the discussion turns to going on a vacation together. We can all hang out, it will be great – that’s the general idea. Before you click the reserve button, here are a few ideas to make sure your multi family vacation is a success.
Talk about money
Settle on a budget beforehand that everyone is comfortable with. This may be awkward, but it avoids the even more awkward situation of hashing out the bill at the end of the trip.
There should be clear expectations about which expenses are going to be split between the families and which ones are born by each family separately. If you’re renting a large house together, for example, decide who gets the master bedroom, who’s buying the groceries, etc.
Put someone in charge of logistics
Someone is booking the lodging. Someone is buying the plane tickets. Someone is in charge of getting tickets to attractions. It doesn’t have to be the same someone, but everyone needs to know who that person is. That way you don’t end up double-booking or failing to book, neither of which is an optimal arrangement.
Agree on activities – and alone time – and family time
Chances are, there are some of you that are closer than others. Maybe the moms are best friends and the dads barely know each other. Maybe the kids are the same age and get along great. Or maybe they don’t.
Prevent hurt feelings by discussing which activities you’re all going to do together, which ones are going to be done as a family. It’s okay to plan in time for people to go off on their own too.
Discuss boundaries with kids – and with regard to kids
Different families have different ideas about screen time, discipline, and behavior expectations. You don’t have to agree, but you do have to respect each others ideas. Otherwise this can quickly become a source of friction. This comes up most often because the kids will notice different standards and comment on it. They are obsessed with “fairness.” You have to decide how much you’re willing to change your parenting style to match your friends, and whether that’s a temporary (on vacation) or a permanent change.
Don’t force it
Remember, this is a vacation. It’s supposed to be fun. Don’t try to forcibly create a magic memory. Just relax and you’ll find that it happens naturally. You may find yourself doing a multi family vacation every year. Or you may find that it was a one time thing. Either way is okay.
Determining whether you need travel insurance means first determining what that phrase means to you. Travel insurance is a confusing term because it can mean a variety of things. Broadly speaking, you might seek insurance to cover any or all of these areas:
Medical Service (Routine or Emergency)
Rental Car and Liability
In this post, I’ll go over each of them to help you decide if you need travel insurance.
Trip cancellation insurance covers the costs associated with canceling or cutting your trip short. This is typically due to either issues with your health or that of an immediate family member. Payments can cover costs from a pre-paid package trip, airline tickets to get home, and cancellation fees for activities or lodging. As with all insurance policies, read the “fine print” to see what constitutes a health issue and who counts as a family member.
This type of insurance makes more sense when you purchase it well in advance of the trip. Booking plane tickets for a trip nine months from now, for example, you may want to consider getting cancellation insurance. Airlines frequently offer cancellation insurance as an add-on fee. But read the fine print and crunch the numbers. Only purchase the insurance if the fees are less than the change fees on the tickets or trip package.
Getting sick sucks. Getting sick or injured while on vacation is worse. Take a look at your existing health care insurance plan. Make sure it provides coverage while you are traveling overseas. Make sure it doesn’t exempt the kinds of activities that you plan to do while traveling (African safari, scuba diving, trekking).
If you’re covered, great. Write down any international contact numbers that you’ll need to reach your insurance company and move on. Otherwise, you might want to consider getting additional coverage, either through your existing company or a travel medical insurance specialty company.
There’s medical care and then there’s medical evacuation. If you have to be airlifted by helicopter from a remote location to a city with decent medical care, that procedure can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Is that covered under your existing policy? Is it a likely occurrence?
All insurance is a way to manage risk. If you’re traveling to a major metropolitan area, like Sydney or Barcelona, you probably don’t need this. If you’re going to an extremely remote location and/or doing highly dangerous activities, you may decide it’s worth the expense.
Your airline carriage contract provides coverage in cases of lost luggage but it is likely limited to a maximum of $200-300 per bag. If you determine that this will not cover replacing all of your belongings, you may want to consider a lost baggage rider. Similarly, you should look at your existing homeowner’s policy to see if it covers replacing high-value items like cameras, phones, and computers while traveling.
Rental car and liability
Do you plan to rent a car while on vacation? Insurance fees can quickly add up and even double the cost of the rental. Before you sign the rental car agreement, check with your existing car insurance provider and your credit card company. You may already have full or partial liability coverage through them. Make sure you know what is required to maintain that coverage – for example, do you need to have an international driver’s license? Is the policy voided when you drive off-road?
Travel Insurance Providers
Below are links to several providers that specialize in travel insurance. I’m not endorsing any of them, just providing information. You should definitely do your own research and determine whether you need travel insurance.