Smart Bags – Not Welcomed Everywhere

What You Should Know About Your Smart Bag

Smart bags may seem like the best invention for someone who travels. They have all sorts of built-in bells and whistles: devices that weigh the bag for you, track the bag’s location, charge your smartphone or even remotely lock the bag if it gets lost. Sounds amazing, right? Well, maybe not.

Many major airlines stated that starting on January 15, 2018, they won’t accept smart bags in checked luggage if the lithium-ion batteries cannot be removed. There’s a growing concern among airlines that lithium batteries can potentially overheat and ignite a fire in the cargo area. If the battery can be removed, passengers can carry them onto the plane with them. So who’s making this move and restricting smart bags with lithium-ion batteries?

If you have any doubt as to the policy is for the airline your clients are flying, be sure to check their website before your clients travel. You’d hate for them to have to ditch their luggage or buy a super expensive suitcase at the airport before their trip.

 

Originally published as Travel insights from VAX VacationAccess "What You Should Know About Your Smart Bag"

Clearing Up 5 TSA Carry-on Rules

Clearing Up 5 TSA Carry-on Rules

The Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) carry-on rules can be confusing and do sometimes change. And sometimes it seems weird that you can bring things in your carry-on baggage right on to the plane (like dry ice – you can bring that in your carry-on!). Get your answers here to five TSA carry-on rules that could potentially confuse your clients.

  1. You can bring booze in your carry-on.The TSA allows passengers to bring as many 3.4-ounce bottles of liquid that can fit in one quart-sized clear plastic zip-top bag. Mini bottles of liquor are generally 1.7 ounces, so if you’ve picked up a few mini souvenir bottles on your last FAM trip, don’t worry about fitting them in your checked bag – you can carry them on. You can also carry on any alcohol you’ve purchased after the security checkpoint. Just remember that you can’t actually drink it on the plane. You can only drink alcohol that’s been served to you by the airline.
  2. You can also put deodorant in your carry-on!Stick deodorants of any size are allowed. If you have spray, gel, liquid, cream, pastes or roll-on deodorants, they have to follow the 3.4 ounce rule (so they have to be 3.4 ounces or smaller) and travel in a clear quart-sized bag. That’s probably for the best anyway – you wouldn’t want a squished gel deodorant to ruin your clothes.
  3. Electric and disposable razors, yes. Straight and safety razors, no. You would think it’s obvious that straight and safety razors aren’t allowed in carry-on baggage, but it never hurts to remind your clients, especially since straight and safety razors are becoming more popular. The blade must be packed into checked luggage, but the handle part can be in your carry-on. Disposable razors and their replacement cartridges can be in a carry-on, as well as electric razors.
  4. Carry-on e-cigarettes – don’t pack them in checked luggage.That’s if the e-cig has a lithium battery, which most do. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) doesn’t allow lithium batteries in the cargo area of planes because of their potential to overheat and start a fire. And, it may be obvious, but e-cigs cannot be smoked on the plane.
  5. There are kind of a lot of rules about batteries. Basically, dry cell alkaline and rechargeable batteries along with lithium batteries should be packed in your carry-on and not in your checked baggage. TSA recommends packing all types of batteries in carry-on luggage whenever possible. And there are some types of batteries that are prohibited unless they’re being used to power a scooter or wheelchair. So if you or your clients have any doubts on what batteries are ok, check out TSA’s battery tips.

Originally published as Travel insights from VAX VacationAccess "Clearing Up 5 TSA Carry-on Rules"

Tipping Tips for Travelers

While there are dozens of items on the average traveler’s packing checklist, one item commonly omitted is tip money. I find that some of my clients often are confused about the rules and customs for tipping. A recent article written for Travel Market Report by Rich Thomaselli helped demystify the topic, and I wanted to share some of his advice with you.

The Ultimate Guide to Tipping While Traveling

It’s always one of the more interesting conundrums of traveling, either domestically or abroad — whom do you tip, when, and how much? Here are some guidelines that you can pass along to your clients.

Airports

If a rental car shuttle driver is helping load those heavy suitcases, it’s a good idea to tip him/her at least a dollar or two per bag. Double that for airport skycaps who assist in checking your bags. And depending on the length of the trip from counter to gate, a wheelchair attendant should receive $5 and up.

Hotels

Arriving by taxi or limo? Taxi drivers should receive 15 to 20% for good service. You can adjust upward or downward for a particularly good, or bad, ride. Same thing with limo drivers.

If you drive in with your own car and use the hotel’s valet service, there’s always the question of when to tip. Coming, or going? Answer: Definitely going. Tipping $2 to $5 when the valet retrieves your car when you are leaving the hotel is fairly common.

Bellhops should receive $3 to $5 a bag, obviously on the lower end for a gym bag or shopping bag and on the higher end for carry-ons and larger suitcases.

Tipping the concierge can be tricky, so think of it in terms of hierarchy. A simple dinner reservation is worth a tip of $5 to $10. But if he or she is scoring you tickets to Hamilton or pulling strings to get you front of the line at a trendy club, it clearly demands much, much more — even upward of $50. The concierge doesn’t necessarily expect it, but it is always appreciated.

Your hotel maid deserves a tip, and most experts suggest $2 to $5 a day, a little more for a larger room or a suite. Clearly mark the envelope and place it on the nightstand or another prominent place.

If you are staying at a high-end hotel/resort and have butler service — especially when the butler is unpacking and packing bags, getting your ironing or dry-cleaning done, drawing a bath, providing turn-down service — the general rule of thumb is 5% of the hotel bill.

Just as you would tip your restaurant waiter or bartender while going out at home, certainly tip them at a hotel, and be sure to tip a few dollars to those who deliver your room service order.

It doesn’t hurt to tip service workers who bring you an umbrella or towels at the hotel pool, $1 to $2 per item.

Cruises

Cruising is an interesting case, and some of the homework will fall on you or your travel agent for the research.

You should know the tipping policy of your cruise line before you go. In general, the mainstream cruise lines will charge you about $12 a day per person (or $24 for a two-person cabin) in gratuities. That money is split among the crew members whom you come in contact with most every day, notably your housekeeping staff and your dining staff.

And some cruise lines, such as Seabourn and Regent Seven Seas, have strict no tipping policies because such charges are often built into the cost of the ticket.

Your bar bill will likely already include a 15 percent tip on it, but just like a night out at any establishment a few dollars up front will certainly serve you well with your bartender.

Spa treatments also generally include a 15 to 20 percent tip on the bill.

It is still customary to give a couple of dollars to porters who help with your bags and for a room service order.
Shore excursions are sometimes set up by companies separate from the cruise line, but you should generally tip your guide $2 to $4 for half-a-day, double that for full-day excursions.

Safaris

In general, tip your guide $10 a day and your tracker $5 per day, at the end of the safari.

Adventure guides

Did you raft down the Colorado River and live to tell about it? Think about tipping your guide $25 per day per person in your party.

Tour bus drivers

While not necessarily customary, tipping the driver a couple of dollars when you are returned to the hotel or to the port is a nice gesture. There are times when a tour organizer might ask the bus passengers to drop a dollar or two in a jar for the driver as well.

Traveling abroad

Again, this is an area where you and your travel agent must do some research, because different countries have varying, and sometimes opposite, rules and customs. In some countries, such as Japan and China, tipping, especially at a restaurant, is considered an insult. In countries like the United Arab Emirates, tipping is a government mandate and is often added to a bill.

Excerpts from this week’s Hot Tip Tuesday came from a Travel Market Report article dated January 18, 2018.

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You Need to Try These 8 Foods of the Caribbean

The Caribbean is such a beautiful place that sometimes the local cuisine gets overlooked.

Caribbean food is distinctive, in part because of the abundance of natural resources in the area: fresh fruit, seafood, and spices grow well in the climate and are easy to find. The Caribbean is also home to of many cultures - from Indigenous peoples to people of Spanish, Dutch, English, and African backgrounds. These cultures and the natural riches of the region have combined to make for some amazing food.

Here are the best 8 foods you have to try if you're visiting the Caribbean.

Seafood Dishes

You’re on an island the middle of a sea at an all-inclusive resort. It's time to eat some seafood. Grouper, whitefish, and fresh shellfish are all in abundance in the Caribbean. You should be taking advantage of the local markets as well. Some of the best fish and seafood can be purchased there, often only hours after it was caught.

As a bonus, at local seafood restaurants and markets, you can often meet the fishermen or fishmongers to learn more about their products, making your experience with fresh seafood in the Caribbean even more memorable.

Torta Cubanos, or Cuban Sandwiches

This may be the perfect sandwich.

Soft bread with extra-crisp crust is piled high with roast pork, ham, tangy dill pickles, and good, vinegary mustard, as well as jack or mozzarella cheese. Then you put that sandwich in a hot press and melt the cheese together with everything else, wrap it in parchment paper, and serve.

This is a great walking lunch too if you’re on a sightseeing tour and want some local food - it’s portable, but very filling. Cuban sandwiches are popular throughout the region, as are the ingredients. You’re likely to find roast pork, ham, mustard, and dill pickles in a lot of Caribbean food.

Guyanese Pepperpot

Pepperpot is similar to beef stew, or jambalaya.

This Caribbean food is a very thick stew usually made with beef, okra, squash, potatoes, eggplant, and cornmeal dumplings. Pepperpot can be spicy and filling, but it’s rarely made the same way twice. It's the perfect dish to use up vegetables or anything that’s in season, so every time you eat it you’ll probably get a new experience.

Conch

Conch is sort of like a very large sea snail - you’ve probably seen their beautiful shells before on a beach, but not near an oven.

Conch is cooked in a variety of ways in the Caribbean, from fritters to salads, soups, and stews. Fried conch fritters are a staple in many areas, and are great very fresh, which is hard to replicate outside of the region.

Jerk-Style Cooking

Jerk is a spicy, sweet, and tangy rub - either dry or wet - that is put on grilled meat, commonly as Jamaican-style jerk chicken.

Jerk sauce, with the distinctive flavors of ginger, allspice, Scotch Bonnet peppers, and lime, is also a popular addition to many foods. Jerk huts and jerk sauces are easy to find throughout the region, and everyone makes theirs a little differently, so you can eat jerk often and never get exactly the same experience.

Plantains

Plantains are growing in popularity outside the Caribbean - in particular, plantain chips are quickly becoming a great alternative for those who choose a gluten-free lifestyle.

But in the Caribbean, this food is prepared in innumerable ways. As they’re both sweet and savory, they are sometimes served with chicken and rice, another Caribbean food staple, to balance out the rich flavors. They can also be cooked with rum, sugar, cinnamon, and syrup for a delicious dessert.

Roti

Roti is definitely a dish of many cultures. Roti is similar to naan, but is thinner and chewier, almost similar to a tortilla.

It’s grilled and filled with curry, chicken, lamb, beef, potato, or pretty much anything that can be curried. Like the Cuban sandwich, roti is a great portable food, and is familiar while still conveying the unique flavors of the Caribbean.

Bonus: Roti is easy to recreate at home, so when you get back and can’t stop thinking about it, you can make your own without much trouble.

Rice

No, rice isn’t unique to Caribbean food. But it’s a vessel for all kinds of foods - rice and peas, chicken and rice, a side dish to roti, served under pepperpot. With the rich spices and unique flavors of the Caribbean, it’s never boring.

All those carbs are going to come in handy while you’re traveling around the region as well, as many areas are walkable or perfect for the thrill-seeking outdoor adventurer.

Try These and More

The Caribbean is not one large, indistinct area. Each region has its own unique culture and ever-evolving cuisine. But it is a place marked by an abundance of wonderful food, no matter what part you visit. The rich history of the region has created food that is unique and delicious. Just take your most comfortable shoes, your stretchiest pants, and your appetite with you when you go.

 

Originally published as Travel insights from Sandals Resorts "You Need to Try These 8 Foods of the Caribbean"

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Oh! The Places You’ll Go—When You Plan!

Maybe I’ll go next year.
I should really hold off until I have someone to go with.
Would it be better to consider waiting for a leap year?

Ah, the excuses we make to put off vacation. Americans say time off is important to them—ranking it as a top benefit, second only to health care—but over half of employees still aren’t using all their earned time.

While we continue to make excuses, life is still happening. The weight of those excuses may be dragging us down in ways that are almost unrecognizable.

So, what’s stopping us?

There are several reasons employees report leaving time on the table. But every barrier, even the ever-present workload, can be lessened when we plan.

Work is important. In many ways, it shapes how we feel about ourselves. But it shouldn’t be the whole of our identities. We are consumed (and impressed) by busyness and convinced that our full schedules are netting out to a fulfilling life.

Every year Americans report that their vacation time is important to them (96% said so last year), and every year (at least since 2000) their actions don’t match this sentiment (662 million days went unused last year). It’s not that people are lying to themselves, but they are not prioritizing themselves.

We blindly accept meeting invites and add work requirements to the calendar until we find ourselves being bullied by our own schedules. The only way to take the power back is to be a better planner. Planning is powerful—and making vacation happen can be as a simple as adding it to the calendar. The majority (52%) of those who set aside time to plan out their vacation days take all of their time off and take longer breaks at once. Planning time off is also associated with increased happiness, well-being, performance, and job satisfaction.

Now I would like to pose the same question as above: What is stopping us?

I can’t possibly plan time off that far out…my boss would freak out if I asked off for multiple breaks at once…my company just doesn’t work that way…

The sweet foolishness of thinking we are the exception. I’m so sorry my dear friends, but you are in almost every instance the rule.

Yes, Americans say (somewhat sadly) that the boss is the most powerful influencer over their time, but the majority of business leaders are supportive of employees taking vacation. Ninety-three percent of managers say time off is important for their team. And I think you would be hard-pressed to find a manager who, given the option, would turn down a calendar with their team’s vacation planned out for the year. That lets them better plan company priorities and deliverables (and say yes to your request).

To review: Planning for vacation means taking that dream trip you keep putting off, it is something your boss is supportive of, it will lead to increased happiness, and BONUS: it may actually increase your chances of getting a raise or promotion.

Since I now assume you have your calendar out, here’s three steps you can take to go forth and vacation—you’ll be happier for it.

1. Determine how much time off you earn and have remaining to use by the end of the year.

2. Get to dreaming! Remember, you don’t have to have every day planned out. Give yourself more time to figure out details by blocking your calendar so you don’t lose the opportunity.

3. Put it on the official work calendar. Don’t forget to spread the word to your team and, when the time comes, put up an out of office message (you can even get creative with yours).

by Brittany Kemp

The Secret to Maximizing Your Vacation Time This Year

“So much to do, so little time.” While the phrase may sound like it perfectly describes our lives, research shows there actually is time.

Americans universally say that vacation days are important to them, yet 54 percent of workers aren’t using their hard-earned vacation time. Project: Time Off research found that workers are taking nearly a full week less of vacation than we did in 2000, resulting in a stockpile of 600 million unused vacation days.

The secret to achieving your travel goals this year, while maintaining your excellent employee status, is planning. Planning is the most important step in making vacation possible and, according to Project: Time Off, a majority (52%) of workers who set aside time each year to plan for travel take all their time off, compared to just 40 percent of non-planners. Planners also tend to take longer vacations: While three-in-four (75%) planners take a week or more at a time, non-planners take significantly fewer days—zero to three—than planners at once (42% to 18%).

The benefits of planning extend beyond days spent away from the office for rest and rejuvenation. Planners report greater happiness than non-planners with their relationships, health and well-being, company, and job. Their bosses are probably happier, too, since they’re in the loop on when you’re going to be out and can prepare accordingly.

What are you waiting for? It’s time to take back your calendar and put vacation at the top of your list of priorities. Planning for vacation can be achieved in three simple steps:

  1. Determine how much time off you earn and identify the vacation policies at your workplace.
  2. Get to dreaming! How do you want to spend your time off this year?
  3. Plan out your days with Project: Time Off’s vacation planning tool and share with your manager, your colleagues, spouse—everyone!

This year, don’t let your vacation days be part of a statistic. Put the fear of missing out behind you and turn your bucket list into a to-do list by starting to plan now.

Need some ideas?

Read more about the importance of planning at ProjectTimeOff.com/Plan.

Traveling Abroad -What Information to Leave Behind

“Hope for the best, prepare for the worst” is a mantra to live by when traveling. Natural disasters and civil unrest derail the best of plans, but more often it’s the mundane things that disrupt our travel – a lost wallet, a bottle of prescription medicine left on the bathroom counter, a hotel reservation that can’t be found. Err on the side of caution by leaving vital information with a trustworthy friend, coworker or family member. More than likely you’ll never need it, but if the unexpected should arise, you’ll be thankful you planned ahead.

What information should you leave behind?

  • A copy of your passport and visas: If your passport is lost or stolen, a copy can help the local embassy replace your documents faster, saving you time and money.
  • Credit card information: Having someone at home who knows how to quickly cancel or replace your credit cards can be invaluable if your wallet should go missing.
  • Copies of hotel and car rental reservations, train and plane tickets: Help those who might need to help you, give them the information they need to find you as quickly as possible.
  • Copy of prescriptions and contact information for your doctor: Having a prescription filled abroad is not always easy. Should you need an emergency refill, access to this information can save time and confusion.
  • Consider registering with the U.S. Department of State so they know where you are in case of an emergency. Local embassies can’t help ensure your safety if they don’t know you’re in the country.

TSA Pre Check: You Can Leave Your Shoes On

Want to make travel even easier for yourself? Apply for TSA Pre Check. You’ll be on that charter to Punta Cana in no time, without having to take off their shoes!

TSA Pre Check Basics

TSA Pre Check is a program that gives travelers leaving from the U.S. access to an expedited security screening program at the airport. U.S. citizens and lawful permanent U.S. residents can apply for the program and go through a screening process in order to become a “trusted traveler.”

Perks of TSA Pre Check

Anything to make your airport experience better is worth it, right? And probably one of the least enjoyable parts of air travel is the security process. TSA Pre Check pretty much eliminates that less-than-desirable part by giving trusted travelers these perks:

  1. Expedited security screening - There’s a shorter line for TSA Pre Check members. TSA’s website says that in December 2017, 93% of TSA Pre Check members waited less than 5 minutes – that’s pretty incredible!
  2. Less to do to prep for security - You don’t need to take off your shoes, belts or light jackets, and you can leave your laptop and liquids in your bag.
  3. Share it with the fam - A parent or guardian with TSA Pre Check can bring family members ages 12 and under along with them in the expedited lanes.

The Pre Check Process

It’s really not that bad – just three steps.

  1. Travelers can apply online on TSA’s Universal Enroll Pre Check page. The application has four sections and it’s mostly basic information to help TSA verify your identity and citizenship.
  2. Next is to schedule the in-person appointment for a background check and fingerprinting within 45 days of completing the online application. The appointment can be made online or by walking in to a TSA application center. This TSA web page lets you enter a zip code, city or airport code to help you find the most convenient one for your clients.
  3. And then at the appointment, which TSA says only takes 10 minutes, applicants must bring the required documents and provide their fingerprints. There are some options to determine what type of documents are acceptable, but TSA has a helpful web page to help sort it all out. It can be as simple as just a valid driver’s license and passport if the names on both documents match – that’s it. Then the applicant pays a non-refundable fee of $85 that’s valid for five years. That’s $17 a year – less than a tank of gas nowadays!

After an applicant is approved as a trusted traveler with TSA, they’ll get a Known Traveler Number (KTN) in the mail within two to three weeks. You can enter your client’s KTNs for each traveler when booking their flights on VAX. There’s a field for it in the Traveler Information section of the booking engine – how easy is that?

 

Originally published as Travel insights from VAX VacationAccess "TSA Pre Check: You Can Leave Your Shoes On"

Top 5 Destinations in Mexico for All-Inclusive Vacations

Mexico is one of top destinations in the world for an all-inclusive tropical vacation and receives millions of visitors per year. People are drawn to Mexico for its tropical beaches, near perfect weather, delicious cuisine, ancient Mayan ruins, relative affordability and close proximity to the US. To top it off, Mexico has an impressive selection of picture perfect all-inclusive resorts making this destination ideal for anyone who is searching for an easy tropical getaway.

So where exactly should you go in Mexico to find your dream all-inclusive vacation? In no particular order, here are the top 5 destinations in Mexico for an all-inclusive vacation:

The Riviera Maya is a vast stretch of land that lies just south of Cancun and is widely known for its spectacular white sand beaches, warm turquoise waters, luxurious all-inclusive resorts, the Mayan ruins, and the colorful town of Playa del Carmen. It is located in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo on the eastern side of the Yucatán Peninsula and stretches for about 100 miles along the Caribbean coastline.

Los Cabos is located at the southern tip of Mexico's Baja California Peninsula, in the state of Baja California Sur. This 20 mile coastal area is made up of the mission town of San Jose del Cabo to the north, Cabo San Lucas to the south and the resort area that lies in between the two towns. Los Cabos is currently Mexico’s fastest growing resort destination with more than two million visitors every year and is filled with charming art shops, small restaurants, and nightclubs. This area has a wide variety of all-inclusive resorts as well as some of Latin America’s best golf courses.

Cancun is a vibrant city located on the Caribbean Sea in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. It is situated in southeastern Mexico on the northeast coast of the Yucatán Peninsula and is one of Mexico's easternmost points. Cancun is Mexico’s most popular beach destination, and while many of the 4.8 million people that visit this area yearly are looking for a phenomenal party scene, there is plenty available for those travelers who are looking for peace and relaxation.

The seaside resort town of Puerto Vallarta is located on Mexico’s glamorous Pacific Riviera in the State of Jalisco. This popular vacation destination is situated between the Sierra Madre Mountains and Banderas Bay and is known for its old-world Mexican charm, its beaches, water sports, and nightlife. The popular resort region of Riviera Nayarit lies just to the North of Puerto Vallarta.

Cozumel is a charming island located in the Mexican Caribbean only 12 miles off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. Although it is the largest and most populated island in Mexico, it is relatively small at just 29 miles long and 12 miles wide. Cozumel is best known throughout the world as a premier diving and snorkeling destination. It has the second largest reef in the world and there are at least 100 dives sites within 3 miles of the island.

So now that you have learned about the top 5 destinations in Mexico for an all-inclusive vacation, I’d love to hear from you. What is your favorite all-inclusive vacation destination in Mexico?

P.S. If you would like help planning your trip to Mexico, please contact Violet Clover Travel Group at 877-833-1455 today. We help busy people create unforgettable vacation experiences by taking all of the stress out of your vacation planning.

Tips For Getting Into Airport Lounges

Airports can test the nerves of even the most well-balanced traveler. There are places, however, where calm and tranquility reign – where a comfortable seat is always available, fresh coffee and snacks await, and a glass of prosecco can be had a moments’ notice. We are talking, of course, about airport lounges. Rack up several hundred thousand air miles on the same airline, and you’re sure to get an invitation to join the club. For these rest of us, there are other options, and given the benefits, they’re worth exploring.

1. Join a Lounge Network
Depending on how often and where you fly, joining a lounge network such as Priority Pass might be your best option. Priority Pass offers access to over 1,000 worldwide lounges for an annual fee of $99 with a per visit fee of $27 (alternatively, an annual fee of $399 gets you unlimited access).

2. Buy a Day Pass
Have you ever been stuck at an airport for hours on end? Next time, a day pass to a lounge might be your saving grace. Prices vary considerably between airlines, but for around $50 you can have a day’s worth of food and drink, free Wi-Fi, and a quiet little corner to call your own.

3. Use Your Credit Card
Several credit cards, including the American Express Platinum card and the United MileagePlus Explorer card, offer free or reduced-cost lounge access. The drawback is that these cards often come with higher annual fees, but added benefits such as travel insurance, priority boarding and free checked bags might make the upfront payout worthwhile.

4. Upgrade Your Ticket
Buy an international business or a first-class ticket and more than likely you’ll also receive complimentary lounge access. This can be a particularly nice perk on long haul flights, as most international airport lounges have private shower rooms where you can freshen up after your flight.