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Family Travel Health & Wellness Security Senior Travel Solo Travel Student Travel Women's Travel

The One Thing You Need to Add into Your Phone Before Traveling Abroad

Looking up your destination’s emergency phone number isn’t a standard vacation-planning step. But the old adage of “it’s better to be safe than sorry” rings true —no one who finds themselves in an emergency situation abroad expects it to happen to them. We’re all familiar with 911 in the U.S., but what number do you dial when you’re in a foreign country? Emergency numbers around the world aren’t something you want to be trying to figure out in the midst of extreme danger.

It only takes a few minutes to find the number that may save your or someone else’s life, thus making it the one thing you should be adding to your phone before a trip abroad. Consider it part of your itinerary research process.

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Emergency Numbers Around the World

Here are some popular English-speaking destinations’ emergency numbers around the world, and how to find any other ones you need.

  • Australia uses 000, and New Zealand uses 111.
  • Canada and Mexico use the North American standard of 911, as do all American territories (Puerto Rico, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands) and much of the Caribbean including Antigua & Barbuda, Aruba, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Bonaire, Belize, the Cayman Islands, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and Turks and Caicos.
  • The European Union has created a universal number of 112. Several non-E.U. countries in Europe, including Russia and Switzerland, have also adopted the 112 standard. Outside of the E.U., India also uses 112, as well as South Korea. However, in South Korea, use 1339 for medical emergencies; this number is specifically for foreigners in Seoul.
  • Jamaica uses 110 and 119.
  • The Philippines uses 166 and 177.
  • Japan uses two numbers: 119 (ambulance and fire) and 110 (police).
  • South Africa seems to be the only English-speaking country to use more than three digits: 10177 and 10111.
  • The United Kingdom uses both 999 and the 112 E.U. standard.
  • In Hong Kong, the emergency number is 999.
  • Brazil uses 190 for police, 192 for ambulance, and 193 for fire.
  • China uses 110 for police, 120 for ambulance, and 119 for fire.

In non-English-speaking countries, there’s no guarantee the operator will speak English. However, the Department of State provides a list of emergency numbers around the world (organized alphabetically)—and it’s a good idea to have your destination’s number saved regardless.

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Once you have the number for the country you’re visiting, take the time to store it in a place that’s easily accessible (such as your mobile device), but you should also remember it in case your phone isn’t readily available in an emergency. Even if you do have your phone handy, you’ll be able to dial the number faster if you know it by heart rather than fumbling through your contacts and wasting precious time. It only takes a minute, and it really is better to be safe than sorry.

As a back-up to the 911 equivalent, consider saving the nearest U.S. Embassy’s direct and/or emergency line into your contacts. This could be helpful in less urgent emergencies, like a lost passport or an evacuation situation—each of which could require official assistance.

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Editor Shannon McMahon is a former news reporter who writes about all things travel. Follow her on Instagram @shanmcmahon.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2008. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Cities Security

Is El Paso Safe? Warnings and Dangers Travelers Need to Know

El Paso, Texas, is a city worth visiting. Go for the rich culture, the Chihuahuan Desert, the Rio Grande, and, of course, the tasty food—whatever you do, order the sopapillas. But if you’ve been paying attention to the news, you might be forgiven for wondering, “Is El Paso safe?”

Tragically, one of America’s deadliest mass shootings recently played out at a Walmart in eastern El Paso, killing 22. And El Paso is a border town, sharing the line with Juarez, Mexico, home of the notorious Juarez cartel.

Surprisingly, though, El Paso is consistently ranked as one of America’s safest big cities. This is thanks to strong policing, a large military presence, plenty of border security, recent urban and economic development, and engaged citizens and communities. The El Paso crime rate, regardless of whether you’re talking about violent or property crime, is actually dropping.

Beyond violence, travelers also wonder, “Is El Paso dangerous in terms of natural disasters?” In fact, El Paso has a lower risk of severe weather than other Texas cities, though parts of El Paso do flood during heavy rainfall.

Still, whether you’re out exploring Franklin Mountains State Park or El Paso’s historic downtown, it helps to keep in mind some key tips regarding El Paso safety.

Tips for Staying Safe in El Paso

  • One key to staying safe is knowing which are the safest neighborhoods in El Paso, TX. To stay in the El Paso safety zone, hang out in neighborhoods like Album Park, Cielo Vista, Rim Area, and East Side—and steer clear of higher-crime areas like Chihuahuita, Magoffin, and A Presidential Neighborhood.
  • El Paso’s buses stop running after dark, but cabs, Ubers, and Lyfts are readily available. Take the standard precautions like sitting in the back seat and using the app to share your ride progress with a friend or loved one.
  • If you’re considering crossing the border from El Paso to Juarez, Mexico, keep in mind that Juarez suffers high rates of violence and crime. If you go, read up on the U.S. Consulate’s advice for travelers.

Safe Places—and Places to Avoid—in El Paso

The safest neighborhoods in El Paso, TX, include Album Park, where the chance of becoming a crime victim is 95 percent lower than the national average, as well as Cielo Vista, Rim Area, and East Side, where the crime rates are nearly as low.

El Paso’s west side is upscale, safe, and full of attractions, including UTEP (University of Texas at El Paso) as well as worthwhile restaurants and bars, according to Kayak. The city’s east side is less affluent, but you’ll find shopping malls as well as popular places to hike and climb. Note that although the 2019 Walmart shooting occurred near the Cielo Vista Mall on El Paso’s east side, the shooter was from out of town, not a local.

And though El Paso, overall, is quite safe, there are neighborhoods that are best avoided because of higher crime rates, including Chihuahuita, A Presidential Neighborhood (yes, that’s its name), and Magoffin.

A neighborhood called Angel’s Triangle—formerly Devil’s Triangle—in northeast El Paso was notorious for prostitution, drugs, gangs, and poverty up until the 1990s, when a community initiative helped slashed its crime rate significantly. Angel’s Triangle still suffers from poverty, but its specific story of improvement reflects the overall trend toward El Paso safety.

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How to Get Around Safely in El Paso

A few years ago, El Paso adopted a new transit plan to connect the city more efficiently and to encourage ridership in safe, eco-responsible ways. A downtown shuttle, called the Circulator, is now available for free. El Paso’s bus system is run by an agency called Sun Metro, which encourages passengers to be alert for suspicious behavior and packages, to report them to a coach operator or a transit supervisor, and to call 911 in an emergency.

Unfortunately, much of El Paso’s bus system shuts down at night, although taxis and app-based hired cars are readily available. Just remember, whenever you take an Uber or Lyft, take the standard precautions like choosing a busy, well-lit area when waiting for your ride, confirming that the driver’s face and license plate match what comes up on your phone, sitting in the back seat, and staying in touch with a friend about your ride—Uber has added a 911 button and the ability to geo-share your ride’s progress. Also, don’t tell the driver your name when you arrive; ask for the name on the booking instead.

Renting a car to get around El Paso is a sound option as well, especially if you’re planning on traveling to other parts of western Texas or across the border into Juarez, Mexico—though you should always lock your car, hide all valuables, and park in well-lit, non-secluded spots.

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Bordering El Paso: Is Juarez, Mexico, Safe?

It’s tempting, when you’re this close to Mexico, to cross the border to party in legendary nightclubs, shop the mercado for authentic Mexican souvenirs, wander Samalayuca’s otherworldly sand dunes, and visit historic landmarks like the stately Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe Cathedral (also known as the Cathedral of Ciudad Juarez), which was built in 1659.

But while El Paso is a remarkably safe city, it’s a different story in nearby Ciudad Juarez. In the not-so-distant past, Juarez held the tragic title of the world’s murder capital; nearly 11,000 people were killed there between 2007 and 2013. Juarez was a true war zone, plagued with unrestrained bloodshed, kidnappings, and extortion related mostly to narcotics trafficking. The ruthless rivalry between the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels translated into real-life horror scenes left and right. The city has also seen a shocking femicide epidemic, with thousands of women disappearing or being killed since the 1990s.

Since then, the Sinaloa drug cartel, which operates in Mexico with impunity, wrested control of Ciudad Juarez and maintains a mafia-like grip on the city—which has actually generated a recent era of fragile peace and greater calm. Though a notable amount of violence still exists, especially in the form of gang killings, things have gotten markedly better since 2010.

Regardless, traveling to Juarez, Mexico, remains risky, so much so that the U.S. has issued a travel alert about it. If you decide to visit Juarez, consider taking an expert-led tour and heeding the U.S. Embassy’s advice: “Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Monitor local media for updates. Use caution when driving in heavy traffic or at night. Drive with your doors locked and windows up.”

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—original reporting by Avital Andrews

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Health & Wellness Security

How to Survive a Hurricane in a Hotel Room

While waiting on a rental car at the Cabo airport, someone mentioned it might rain. I didn’t think much of it at the time, as it was about then that my wife returned with our rental car and we started our vacation. But it did rain that weekend—Hurricane Odile dumped 15 inches of rain on us.

We were very fortunate that the hotel where we stayed had water, food, and limited generator power. Even so, being trapped in a disaster zone has its challenges. We had to wait four days before we could be evacuated. The days after the storm were not as scary as the storm itself, but were more trying.

Riding out a hurricane in a hotel room—and being stranded for days afterward in a severely damaged tourist destination—gave me a lot of time to consider what I wish I had known in advance, what we did right, and what I’d do differently next time. Here’s what to know if you find yourself vacationing in a hurricane.

Before the Storm: Evacuate Early or Hunker Down

One of the first questions people ask me is if we thought about getting out of town. The answer is no. No one really seemed convinced it would make landfall, so it didn’t really cross our minds. From the stories I heard from other evacuees, going to the airport less than 16 hours before a storm is a bad idea. Most people that went the morning of the storm had to shelter at the Cabo airport. If you are going to try to get out, leave the day before. If you can’t get a flight, the hotel seems like a better place to be. And if you do make a break for the airport, make sure the hotel will let you back in if your flight is canceled.

How to survive a hurricane in hotel.
Hotel damage after Hurricane Odile

During the Storm: Prepare the Room

I foolishly assumed that we could ride out the storm in our room. My wife, Christina, smartly packed all of our stuff in case we needed to move quickly. We also put our shoes by the door. This turned out to be very useful as we did have to be pulled out of our room after the sliding glass doors exploded. Now, before they exploded, we closed the heavy curtains. It was scary not being able to see what was happening outside, but it did keep much of the glass from showering the room. Christina also dragged the easy chair into the bathroom, which gave good cover when the doors blew out.

During the Storm: Expect Physical Sensations

Here are some strange things you might experience as the storm makes landfall. I mention this because knowing about it might help in a stressful moment. The air pressure of Odile was really low for a Category 3 storm. When atmospheric pressure drops, your joints swell. This is why people with arthritis can predict the weather. If you have joint issues, make sure you have some anti-inflammatory pain medication on hand. Breathing is also strange. Because the air pressure is lower, it feels almost too easy to breathe. Your ears will pop a lot, like they do when you’re flying in a plane. Right before the windows blew out, our toilet started making bizarre slurping sounds. I turned the pipe off because I was afraid it was going to flood, but in the end it was just the air pressure.

During the Storm: Get Equipped, Stay Busy

Some people we met after the storm told us that, before Odile hit, they went to a big box store to buy battery-powered lanterns, snacks, and Rummikub. Christina and I always carry a deck of cards, but having something to do during and after the storm is a good way to stay busy. If you buy candles, don’t get scented candles. I learned that the hard way during a power outage last summer. The stench was overpowering.

The Essentials: A First Aid Kit

First Aid Kit from Amazon

After the Storm: Find a Community

After the storm, it is imperative to try and forge some bonds of community with other folks. It is in everyone’s best interest to do this. I know it sounds over-dramatic, but “live together, die alone” was the theme of a show about castaways that was popular a few years back. Christina did most of the heavy lifting there, as I am more wary of strangers, but finding community was essential in the post-hurricane time. You will bond pretty quickly with people you meet in a situation like this; it’s hard not to. If you can find some people to laugh with, the whole thing is easier to deal with. The group we formed traveled to the airport together for the evacuation. It made that experience a lot easier, too. Having a few friends keeps morale high and helps add weight to the decisions you make.

how to survive a hurricane in hotel, line evacuate after storm.
Evacuation line at the airport

After the Storm: Stock Up on Post-Hurricane Supplies

The last thing is the most important: hydration. If you are in a place that gets a heavy-hitting hurricane, you are most likely somewhere warm. There is also a chance you will be in a spot where flooding could compromise the drinking water. If you have time and access, pick up some bottled water. If you can get purification tablets, they can help if you have a water source you don’t trust. Antidiarrheals are also good backup. We waited hours on the Cabo airport tarmac with no bathrooms. That is not a place you want to be caught unprepared.

Dress Prepared for a Hurricane

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Guest blogger Nate McFadden is the cohost of the Alpine Strangers podcast.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2014. It has been updated to reflect the most recent information.

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Booking Strategy Health & Wellness

Hurricanes and Travel: What Your Options Are When One Threatens Your Vacation

Do you know what to do if a hurricane strikes your vacation destination? The course of action for canceling a trip and/or trying to get a refund vary depending on the trip. From buying travel insurance to rescheduling flights, here’s everything you need to know about hurricanes and travel.

Airlines

All airlines follow the same general pattern. If your scheduled flight to/from an airport within a specified impact zone within a stated period is cancelled due to a hurricane at either end of the flight, you have two general options:

  • If you want to get on with your trip, you can rebook an available seat to the same destination in the same cabin with no change fee and at the same fare, within a limited time, usually just a few weeks. If you want to reschedule a flight beyond that date, you face paying at whatever the going fare is at the time—and maybe a change fee. Airline policies generally say you “may” be subject to a change fee rather than you “will” be charged, but that sort of vague proposition doesn’t help with post-hurricane planning. My guess is that most travelers “will” have to pay. In effect, you’re no better off than if you had cancelled the flight, yourself.
  • If you want to abort your trip, you are entitled to a full refund, even on a totally nonrefundable ticket.

Airlines have become quite pro-active in severe weather events, cancelling trips as soon as a threat is recognized rather than waiting until the event actually hits.

Although all airlines follow the same general policy, details differ. The most significant detail is how much time the airline gives you for a replacement flight without triggering a fare difference or change penalty. Even the most generous of these policies is too tight for many trips. If your cancelled trip was to visit friends or relatives, for example, presumably they would need more than a couple of weeks to recover from any substantial damage to their homes or disruptions of their lives. And local hotels and resorts may well take months to recover.

Obviously, if you need to get to your destination ASAP, even up to a week or two late, and if your original ticket is at a good fare, take the airline’s no-fee, short-term rebook option. The downside may be limited availability of replacement seats. But if you don’t have a great fare you want to lock in, by all means, forget about immediate rescheduling and get your refund: You have a lot more flexibility about rescheduling.

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Cruises During Hurricanes

Hurricanes can hit almost any Atlantic, Caribbean, or Gulf coast port. If you’re on a cruise scheduled to leave from an impacted seaport, or scheduled to visit an impacted port, presumably your cruise line will reschedule your cruise for another time, reschedule your itinerary, or offer you a credit toward a future cruise.

Unlike airlines, cruise lines have wide loopholes in their contracts that allow them to change itineraries without your right to a refund. Accordingly, they’re unlikely to offer an actual refund, instead limiting you to a future cruise credit. And that can be sticky: Some cruise credits require that you rebook a substitute sailing within six months, which is not practical for many travelers.

Given how stingy cruise lines are when dealing with irregular operations, consider trip-cancellation insurance (TCI) when you buy a cruise, even if you don’t normally buy it.

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Hotels and Vacation Rentals

No rules or regulations other than general contract law cover your rights with hotel and rental bookings. And big hotel chains and resorts may or may not make proactive cancellations and re-bookings due to severe weather. An inquiry to one giant hotel chain asking specifically about cancellations and refunds returned a bland statement about support for victims and nothing at all about cancellations and refunds. A website statement at HomeAway, the giant vacation rental agency, simply suggests you contact property owners or managers.

Clearly, I found nothing specific or even reassuring from any hotel or vacation rental source. That means, realistically, you’re on your own to negotiate the best deal you can with the property. Although you should get a full refund, the supplier might not offer it, instead offering credit toward a future stay. Fighting in court may or may not be justified by the amounts involved. Instead, buy TCI.

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Travel Insurance and Hurricanes

TCI can minimize financial risks of having a hurricane hit your flight, cruise or vacation destination. Natural disasters such as hurricanes are a “covered reason” for cancellation on almost all policies, and they pay whatever you can’t recover from an airline, cruise line, hotel, or vacation rental. TCI is especially important in the case of a cruise, resort, or vacation rental, where your right to a refund, if any, is limited by a supplier’s typically unilateral and self-serving policies

One problematic area in TCI is common to most policies: Typically, TCI policies limit coverage to circumstances, even covered reasons, that are “unforeseen” at the time you buy the policy. So if you buy TCI when a tropical depression in the Atlantic or Gulf has already headed toward landfall somewhere along the coast, maybe even with a diagram from the National Weather Service, “foreseeable” is problematic. And if you wait to buy it until after a hurricane or major storm has been identified or named, insurance won’t cover you.

For maximum protection and minimum risk, buy TCI as soon as you make a substantial nonrefundable payment, and buy it from a third-party insurance agency, not from the airline, cruise line, or tour operator—the coverage is better. If you really want to minimize risk and be in full control of your options, buy a “cancel for any reason” TCI policy.

What to Pack for Your Next Vacation

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuses every day at SmarterTravel.

This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Health & Wellness Passenger Rights Travel Technology

After Crashes, a Boeing 737 MAX Fix Isn’t Coming Quickly

[st_content_ad]In the three weeks since the FAA grounded Boeing’s 737 MAX aircraft, we’ve learned a lot about the plane and what likely caused the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes. But we’re still waiting to hear when, exactly, Boeing will have a fix for the aircraft to return to the skies.

Boeing is working on a software fix to the 737 MAX’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), but is not ready to deploy it. According to Bloomberg, the software update aims to make the plane’s system “less aggressive in pushing down a plane’s nose, and to add redundancy so that it’s less likely to activate when other systems malfunction.”

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However, that fix is still “weeks” away, and would be subject to review. According to the Seattle Times, “Boeing will submit the software update for FAA review ‘once completed in the coming weeks,’ the company said.” Boeing executives have said the updates will take “about an hour” to install once they are final and approved by the FAA.

Will Travelers Trust the Fix?

The FAA issued a statement Monday acknowledging this extended timeline, saying the software update will receive a “rigorous safety review.” The Seattle Times notes that “foreign regulators in Canada and Europe have indicated that they will do their own reviews of the Boeing fix and won’t simply take the FAA’s word for it.”

Boeing added that it is “working to demonstrate that we have identified and appropriately addressed all certification requirements and will be submitting for FAA review once completed in the coming weeks. Safety is our first priority, and we will take a thorough and methodical approach to the development and testing of the update to ensure we take the time to get it right.”

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What It All Means for Travelers

But as we learn more about the crashes, it’s harder to see this as simply an isolated issue. Each revelation raises serious questions, from the flawed flight control system to the inadequate emergency procedure Boeing recommended to its pilots, not to mention the fact that the FAA may have gone easy on Boeing.

How did Boeing get these important functions wrong? How did the FAA not catch it? Was the FAA too deferential to Boeing in its certification process? And, most troubling, do these questions go deeper into other aspects of the model, or to the broader Boeing fleet?

For travelers, this means there are two storylines to follow. One is the inevitable software fix and approval process for the 737 MAX, which will play out over the upcoming weeks and months. People may question the airworthiness of these planes, and who could blame them? But when the MAX returns to the skies, it’s reasonable to assume the planes will be safe. After all, Boeing aircraft complete hundreds if not thousands of problem-free flights every day, and the amount of scrutiny on this update is intense, to say the least.

Equally essential, however, is the investigation into how this flawed system made it into the 737 MAX in the first place, and what that investigation says about the larger relationship between Boeing and the FAA. A finding of lax oversight could have dramatic implications for the airline industry overall, but for now we’ll have to see where the facts lead.

Readers, will you be confident in the 737 once it’s back in service?

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Beach

Sargassum Seaweed Invades Caribbean, Florida, and Mexico Beaches

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Sargassum

It’s a clear and sunny morning on Miami’s North Beach when I walk out to the balcony of my family’s vacation rental to do my morning scan of the beach below. There are some joggers and a few early-risers lounging in the post-sunrise glow, but all I can focus on is the thick line of brown separating the sand from the waves. The sargassum seaweed invasion that has been affecting North America’s tropical zones, from as far south as Trinidad and Tobago to as far east as Belize, was just as bad in Florida as I had feared it might be.

[st_content_ad]With the advantage of height, I spent my mornings in Miami surveying the beach from the balcony for our spot where the seaweed was not as thick. Once on the beach, I would tip-toe over the squishy and twiggy-feeling seaweed, trying to get to the water as quickly as possible. Occasionally, I’d miscalculate and enter the ocean only to be caught in a tangled mess of the stuff. Eventually, I’d give up, forcing myself to be satisfied with a quick dip and then retiring to my beach towel to close my eyes, listen to the ocean, and pretend the seaweed wasn’t there.

Sargassum seaweed blooms have been a regular occurrence in this part of the world for years, but 2018 has been the worst year yet. Throughout the Caribbean, seaweed is washing up in massive amounts, and while hotels and cities are doing their best to clear it from the beaches, more keeps on coming. This year, Cancun made headlines for its endless deluge of seaweed; in June, the Quintana Roo Secretary of Ecology reported that the region had removed 717 tons of sargassum seaweed so far in 2018. The clean-up in Cancun and other major destinations throughout the Caribbean and along the Gulf Coast is ongoing, but on islands and beaches with fewer resources, the seaweed is piling up faster than anyone can keep up.

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If you’re in the midst of planning a beach vacation in Florida, the Caribbean, or anywhere along the Gulf of Mexico, you’re likely to encounter this invasive vegetation. Here’s everything you need to know about sargassum seaweed, so you can be prepared and plan your beach vacation accordingly.

What’s Causing It?

The sargassum seaweed invading the beaches is a new kind of natural disaster. It was only in 2011 that this region of the world began seeing an influx of seaweed. Not much is known about what caused the seaweed blooms, but scientists agree that this new phenomenon is not entirely natural. In 2016, a team of researchers tracked the blooms to an a tropical region near the northeast of Brazil, where the massive originating bloom has been thriving thanks to a rise in ocean temperatures and nitrogen pollution. Nitrogen pollution is caused by fertilizer and sewage runoff that is known to feed algal blooms. Ocean currents have carried the blooms northward, and because sargassum is a plant that reproduces on the surface of the water (unlike other kinds of seaweed that plant themselves in the sand), the blooms have been able to keep growing as they travel.

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Where Is It?

According to this map created by a professor at the University of Sydney, sargassum has been spotted on the beaches throughout the tropical Gulf and Caribbean, sometimes floating as far north as Cape Cod and Nova Scotia. Over the years, researchers have tracked the movements of the sargassum and discovered that there is somewhat of a consistent pattern. In the spring and early summer, the seaweed flourishes and accumulates in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, before being exported into the Atlantic by way of the Gulf Stream, where it will eventually die off in colder waters.

For a beach vacation in the Caribbean, Florida, or the Gulf of Mexico, you will be hard-pressed to find a beach not enduring the onslaught of seaweed. However, beach destinations like Colombia and Panama that sit on the southwestern edge of the Caribbean Sea have not seen the massive amounts of seaweed endured by their northern neighbors.

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What’s Being Done?

The seaweed in Mexico, Florida, and the Caribbean isn’t just off-putting; it’s also an incredible burden on the environment and economies of many of these destinations. The seaweed mats are harmful to marine life like sea turtles, who struggle to surface underneath their mass.

Many hotels and other hospitality-related businesses are worried the seaweed will discourage tourism. At major resorts and in popular beach towns, workers utilize heavy machinery to gather the seaweed on the beaches, but the task has to be repeated daily as more seaweed washes up. In Florida and Mexico, sargassum removal boats attempt to collect the seaweed before it reaches the shore, though at best, this just reduces the amount of seaweed that makes it to the beach.

Even with the united efforts to clear the seaweed, the question remains—what do you do with it? In many places, such as Belize and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, burying the sargassum is the best solution and can actually help prevent beach erosion. However, in June, Barbados declared the influx of seaweed a national emergency, urging local businesses to find a commercial use for the seaweed, either as fertilizer or as an energy source. If a money-making use is found for the seaweed, that will be plenty of incentive for many to make a business out of cleaning up the beach.

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Making the Best of It

created by dji camera

While it’s unclear if and when the seaweed will clear out, travelers shouldn’t let the presence of the seaweed derail their vacation plans.

If you’re already booked for the Caribbean, Florida, or Mexico and the seaweed is overwhelming, use this opportunity to travel in a new way. Instead of hitting the beach, you can sign up for a boat excursion or city tour. And if you must have your lounge time, you can book a hotel with a seaweed-free pool. If you haven’t booked yet and don’t want to take your chances, consider this your opportunity to finally book that dream trip to Hawaii or to explore the beaches of Europe.

And take heart: It might be ugly and it can sometimes get smelly when it starts to decompose, but this seaweed isn’t toxic. Aside from its off-putting appearance and texture, sargassum is harmless to humans.

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Jamie Ditaranto is writer and photographer always looking for her next adventure. Follow her on Twitter @jamieditaranto.

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Adventure Travel Beach Family Travel Island Luxury Travel Romantic Travel Sustainable Travel

The British Virgin Islands After Hurricane Irma

“Irma was a bad woman.”

I’m in the passenger seat of a cab while visiting the island of Virgin Gorda when my taxi driver utters the name—Irma, the category five hurricane that pummeled the British Virgin Islands in 2017. On a Wednesday last September, Hurricane Irma hit the island chain with winds of up to 185 miles per hour, ripping up roofs, stripping the bark off trees, and destroying everything in its path.

“We’ve had category five storms before, but nothing like her. Never in my life have I seen something like that,” the cab driver says, shaking his head. And the islands’ struggle didn’t end with Irma; there was Hurricane Maria and the massive floods followed. For the first time in the territory’s history, the governor declared a state of emergency.

“She ain’t never allowed back here in the B.V.I.,” my driver went on. “We’re taking her passport away.”

As we rolled through the streets, my eyes lingered on traces of Irma’s destruction—dented boats hoisted onto grassy clearings and telephone poles perpendicular to the ground. It took six months before all of the islands in the B.V.I. had power restored. But by the time I landed in June, everything was back up and running.

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The B.V.I. Are Waiting for You

after hurricane irma
Cooper Island’s beach as seen from above

The B.V.I. are more dependent on tourism than any other island chain in the Caribbean, and about half of the tourism dollars in the British Virgin Islands are earned on the water. When exploring these islands, many people do so by boat, waking up anchored near one island and spending the night anchored off another. More than 2,000 of the beds currently available in the B.V.I. are at sea on boats; after the storm, many charter companies returned and the sailing industry made a quick recovery.

Hotels, however, are recovering more slowly after last year’s hurricane season. At the time of writing, there are 627 hotel beds available on land, compared to 2,700 before the storm. The experience hasn’t been the same on every island. For instance, on Tortola, the most populated island, many hotels are still rebuilding, while on Anegada, many of the hotels and villas reopened as early as February.

On Cooper Island, an islet southeast of Tortola that’s accessible by private or charter boat, rebuilding has been a slow but determined process. At the eco-luxury Cooper Island Beach Club, the resort worked hard to restore everything—including a cafe that rivals any in Brooklyn, a micro-brewery, and a rum bar with the largest selection of rum in the Virgin Islands—in time for its early April reopening.

Restoring paradise is no small task. Irma took out two docks and swept five feet of sand off the beach. “Nearly everything needed to be fixed,” said Patrick Brady, the resort’s Sustainability Engineer. “We have replaced most of the components of the solar and electrical grid due to saltwater intrusion.” That’s key because the resort’s rooftop panels supply 85 percent of the on-site energy. And the damage went way beyond what’s visible to guests. “Water pumps and electrical appliances have also been replaced. We also cleaned and resealed every cistern on the property due to contamination from saltwater and vegetation.”

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Once famous for its shady palm trees and large sea grape plants that lined the sand, the beach looks a little bare to returning guests. But Cooper Island Beach Club—which is a favorite stop among both visitors and locals—is back up and running, and is just as sustainable as it was before the storm. The beach is growing back, too, thanks to the Seeds of Love program that collects and plants donated seedlings from neighboring islands. Cooper Island still has its beautiful sunsets and the largest seagrass field in all of the B.V.I., and the Beach Club’s demand for its microbrews is as high as ever.

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A New Disaster  

after hurricane irma
Sargassum seaweed building up on the island of Anegada

Last year’s hurricanes are not the only sign of the looming menace of global warming. Sargassum seaweed—a brown and squishy sea plant with a faint odor—washing up on the shore is a new natural disaster in the Caribbean. With more of it than ever before, some resorts are clocking in extra morning hours to clear the seaweed, while on remote islands it’s accumulating into piles, some as high as 10 feet, that stretch all the way down the shoreline.

“It’s much worse than last year,” many locals told me, adding onto the list of storm griefs brought about by Irma. But as I’d learn later on my tour with Terrence, the Cooper Island Beach Club’s gardener and botanist, the seaweed is not actually a direct result of the storms.

Deforestation in the Amazon has led to more nutrients than ever before running off into rivers that deposit them into the sea, nourishing the seaweed colonies. Large blooms flourish in the warm water, forming enormous mats that are carried northward by wind and ocean currents—not just throughout the Caribbean, but also as far north as North Carolina.

On beaches throughout these areas, workers are clearing the seaweed not only for the sake of beachgoers who are put off by the smell and appearance, but also because it’s a danger to the marine life that gets tangled in it. On Cooper Island, I watched the team clear the seaweed early in the morning, but by the time I returned to watch the sun set over the peaks of Tortola, more sargassum had found its way back to shore. Each morning, they’ll have to clear it again.

Restoring Paradise

after hurricane irma
The sun setting over Tortola, as seen from Cooper Island

During my walk through the gardens at Cooper Island, I noticed an air succulent tied to a tree. Terrence pointed to the ground just three feet from the tree and said, “After the storm, I found it right there.” In the ferocious winds of Irma and Maria, this plant without roots held its ground. When he discovered it after the storms had passed, Terrence picked up the tenacious succulent and tied it back to its tree.

Rebuilding is a slow effort made of many small efforts, but in the B.V.I., people are putting the pieces back together—sometimes one plant at a time—with a deep commitment to keeping these islands beautiful and welcoming, hopefully for the generations to come.

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Jamie Ditaranto visited the British Virgin Islands as a guest of the BVI Tourist Board. Follow her on Twitter @jamieditaranto.

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Adventure Travel Booking Strategy Health & Wellness Island Outdoors

During the Volcano Eruption, Is Hawaii Safe?

I recently spent a week in Hawaii, splitting my time between Honolulu’s bustling Waikiki area and the lush shores of Kauai. My trip was completely unaffected by the Hawaii volcano eruption that’s been going on since early May, despite the scary pictures I’d seen of spewing ash and fiery lava. My flights were on time, the air was fresh and clean, and I was able to enjoy the pristine landscapes and local hospitality for which Hawaii is famous.

That said, my visit did not include the Big Island, where the ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea volcano have damaged hundreds of local homes and caused closures in one of the island’s most popular tourist attractions, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. If you’re planning your own trip to the islands, read on to learn whether the Hawaii volcano eruption will affect you.

What’s the Latest on the Hawaii Volcano Eruption?

[st_content_ad]One of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kilauea has been erupting continuously since 1983. But on May 3, 2018, the volcano experienced a more explosive eruption following a magnitude 5.0 earthquake. Since then the site has seen increased seismic activity (including frequent tremors and quakes) and a series of eruptions through various fissures, which are spreading ash and lava into the surrounding area.

According to CNN, lava has covered a 12.5-square-mile portion of the island. To put that into perspective, the Big Island is a total of 4,028 square miles—meaning that the eruption is affecting less than 1 percent of the island’s area.

On Monday, July 16, a “lava bomb” fell on a tour boat in the area, injuring 23 passengers. The vessel, operated by Lava Ocean Tours, was reportedly within about 200 yards of the lava’s entry point into the ocean—a distance permitted by U.S. Coast Guard regulations at the time. The Coast Guard has since increased the size of its safety zone around the lava entry point.

At this point both of the island’s main airports are operating normally, as are the vast majority of the island’s hotels and attractions.

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hawaii volcano steam

How’s the Air Quality?

While the area directly affected by lava and ash is small, wind can spread ash, sulfur dioxide, and “vog,” or volcanic smog, to locations elsewhere on the Big Island or even onto neighboring islands. You can check out maps of Hawaii’s Air Quality Index on this page from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Click on the “AQI Loop” tab to see changes over the past few hours.

In most cases the air quality is rated “good” or “moderate” in locations around the Big Island. (For perspective, Los Angeles and New York City often have moderate AQI ratings.) However, you might occasionally see the rating rise into the “USG” range, which stands for “unhealthy for sensitive groups.” This means travelers with lung or heart disease, older adults, and children could experience some ill effects.

Although the vog conditions depend on the wind direction on any given day, trade winds often push it toward the southwest and then up toward Kona. Your best chance of avoiding vog is to stay in the northern part of the island.

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Can I Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park?

Most of the national park is closed indefinitely. Aside from ongoing eruptions and earthquakes, the park has suffered significant infrastructure damage. Travelers can still visit the Kahuku unit of the park, located an hour south of the main entrance; it’s open Wednesdays through Sundays. For more information on the closure, see the park’s FAQ.

kona sunset

The Bottom Line: Is Hawaii Safe?

If you’re headed to any Hawaiian island but the Big Island, you can plan your trip without worry. The vast majority of the Big Island is unaffected as well—but if you have lung or heart disease or are otherwise sensitive to air quality, or if Volcanoes National Park is your main reason for visiting, you might wish to reconsider your trip to the Big Island at this time.

For maps and the latest updates on the volcano, see this page from the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

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Sarah Schlichter traveled to Hawaii as a guest of Hawaiian Airlines and Barclays. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

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Experiential Travel Health & Wellness Student Travel Sustainable Travel

One Thing You Need to Know If You Get Injured in New Zealand

From the steaming thermal fields and snow-covered craters of the North Island to the massive fjords and crystal-clear lakes of the South Island, New Zealand is a trip of a lifetime for nature lovers. But while New Zealand’s landscape is one of the most beautiful in the world, it’s also one of the most dangerous. The terrain can be unpredictable, and because New Zealand’s human population is outnumbered four to one by its sheep, help can be hard to find should you find yourself severely injured in the wilderness.

While you should always be confident in your wilderness skills before undertaking a expedition on your own or with a guide, travelers can take comfort in knowing that if an accident strikes, they won’t have to pay a penny for medical help—as long as they get it in New Zealand.

The Accident Compensation Act

[st_content_ad]The first time I heard of the Accident Compensation Act was during a hiking trip in New Zealand’s Tararua Mountains. During the four-hour trek to our hut for the night, one of the hikers in my group twisted her ankle and was unable to make the return trip the next day. The park rangers were notified and she was flown out by helicopter. Because of the Accident Compensation Act, her evacuation and treatment were completely covered, even though she was an American who did not permanently reside in New Zealand.

Especially as an American discovering health coverage on this level, that’s even extended to non-residents, This revelation blew my mind.

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How It Works

The ACA is basically an accident insurance fund for the whole country, designed to cover residents and non-residents who are injured in New Zealand. It covers all injuries without taking fault into account. Whether you hurt yourself on a bad stumble after too much wine tasting, got into a car accident of any size, or were injured participating in an extreme activity like paragliding, you won’t have to worry about the medical bill. The ACC covers physical injuries resulting from an accident, such as sprains, wounds, burns, fractures, and even injuries caused by medical treatment.

To learn more about the Accident Compensation Act, click here.

You Still Need Insurance

While it’s a great deal for tourists, especially Americans who face high health costs back at home, travelers should take note that the ACA is not a replacement for travel insurance. It does not cover illness, disrupted travel plans, or any injuries you sustain on your way to or from New Zealand. It strictly covers accidents. So just in case you do get sick, you should still make sure you are traveling with both health and travel insurance.

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Why It’s Good to Know About It

You might think you don’t really need to know about the ACA until you need it, but in 2011 one tourist’s misunderstanding cost her a fortune in medical bills. When a Polish woman broke her leg paragliding, she needed to have expensive surgery and opted to return to Poland, where the operation was not covered by her health insurance. If she had stayed in New Zealand for the surgery, it would have been fully covered.

If you are involved in an accident in New Zealand, make sure you understand what is covered before opting to return home for further treatment. Depending on your health insurance, it could be a much better value to stay in New Zealand for surgery or other medical care.

Additionally, uninformed tourists, particularly budget travelers and backpackers, might choose not to seek medical attention for their injuries for fear of high hospital bills, which is why it is important that everyone visiting New Zealand knows that the ACC is not just universal health care for Kiwis. In a country like New Zealand, where adventure and danger are around every beautiful corner, programs like the Accident Compensation Act can be a lifesaver—both literally and financially.

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Jamie Ditaranto is a writer and photographer who is always looking for her next adventure. Follow her on Twitter @jamieditaranto.

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Booking Strategy Health & Wellness Passenger Rights

8 Ways to Salvage a Vacation Gone Wrong

My cruise ship had barely left New York Harbor when an ominous message came over the PA system: “We’re expecting rough seas from now through tomorrow morning, with three- to four-meter swells. If you’re prone to seasickness, take your medicine now.” I gulped and reached for the Dramamine, feeling apprehensive but not yet realizing that this would be just the first chapter in a vacation gone wrong.

A sleepless, seasick night of rocking and rolling was followed by a missed call at Newport, Rhode Island, due to the storm, and then by a mechanical issue that left our cruise ship stuck in Boston for another two days. Nearly a week into the trip, we’d seen just two of our five scheduled ports: New York City and Boston. It wasn’t exactly the tour of picturesque New England towns that I’d envisioned.

How to Salvage a Vacation Gone Wrong

[st_content_ad]Most frequent travelers have encountered vacation problems of some kind or another—like missed flights, rental car breakdowns, lost passports, endless rain, or the all-too-common traveler’s diarrhea. But what do you do when a minor inconvenience turns into a full-scale vacation gone wrong?

Purchase Travel Insurance

Travel insurance can’t protect you against every vacation gone wrong, but it does offer peace of mind in the face of common snafus such as delayed baggage, health issues, or changes of plan due to natural disasters. Be sure to shop around and compare policies and read the coverage types carefully before buying.

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Know Your Risks

Are you traveling at a time of year (hurricane season in the Caribbean or early spring in New England) when unpredictable weather could have an impact on your trip? Did you book a brand-new hotel or recently listed Airbnb that hasn’t yet been vetted and reviewed by other travelers? If you’re taking a cruise, are you aware that port calls can be changed or eliminated at any time?

Going into a trip with an awareness of what might go wrong can help you manage expectations and prepare a plan B, such as indoor activity ideas for bad-weather days or an alternative hotel in case your first lodging option doesn’t work out.

Speak Up

If something goes wrong that’s within someone else’s power to fix, don’t suffer in silence. For example, let the front desk know right away if you aren’t happy with your hotel room, so the staff has a chance to make repairs or move you to another room. The same goes for suitcases damaged in flight (file a claim with your airline immediately) or restaurant meals that are cold or undercooked (don’t be afraid to send the dish back).

When making your complaint, clearly state the resolution you’re looking for, whether that’s a refund or a new cruise cabin.

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Stay Calm

Yes, this is easier said than done in the midst of a vacation disaster, but few problems are solved with rage or panic—especially if you’re trying to convince a customer service agent to give you what you want. If you can’t be kind and respectful to someone trying to help you, wait until you’ve cooled down. Taking a walk, reading a good book, or even just taking a few deep, slow breaths can help you get your emotions under control.

Keep a Paper Trail

For complaints that can’t be resolved right away, keep track of conversations you’ve had or emails you’ve sent during your attempt to get compensation. You’ll also want to provide any photographic evidence that supports your claim (such as pictures of bedbug bites during a hotel stay or a suitcase damaged in flight).

Focus on the Positive

Your vacation may have gone off the rails, but chances are there are still a few things about it you can appreciate. For example, it was frustrating to be stuck on a cruise ship in Boston, but I was well fed, there were plenty of fun things to do nearby, and hey—at least I wasn’t seasick anymore.

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Maintain Your Sense of Humor

This may not apply to true crises such as natural disasters or medical emergencies, but for run-of-the-mill vacation fiascos, there comes a point when things go so wrong that all you can do is throw your hands up and laugh. As our mechanical problem—and our Boston stay—dragged on, my fellow passengers and I came up with a new motto for the trip: “Boston forever.” The running joke turned our frustrations into a source of hilarity—even after we finally set sail up the coast.

Make It Into a Story

Maybe you couldn’t salvage that vacation gone wrong; maybe it was a debacle from beginning to end. But these are often the trips that make the best stories later. Ask me to tell you the one about the Caribbean vacation that involved a burglary, a rental car breakdown, and a head cold that wouldn’t quit. It was miserable to live through, but 11 years later it makes one hell of a yarn.

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Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

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Passenger Rights

In Another United Fiasco, Family’s Dog Dies During Flight

UPDATE: As if United weren’t already getting enough bad press from the dead-dog-in-the-overhead incident, just days later the airline mis-shipped two dogs to two different destinations. A Kansas City-bound German shepherd was flown to Japan, while the Japan-bound Great Dane landed in Kansas City. Once again, United issued an apology, and “is looking into the matter.”

In another viral offense in a series of high-profile service blunders for the airline, a United flight attendant ordered a passenger to place her dog in a carrier in the overhead bin for the duration of a flight earlier this week, and by the time the plane landed, the dog was dead.

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According to the Associated Press, the incident took place on United flight #1284 from Houston to La Guardia. United has taken full responsibility for the dog’s death, and has refunded the owner’s tickets as well as the $200 fee to bring the dog onboard. Part of United’s statement:

This was a tragic accident that should never have occurred, as pets should never be placed in the overhead bin. We assume full responsibility for this tragedy and express our deepest condolences to the family and are committed to supporting them. We are thoroughly investigating what occurred to prevent this from ever happening again.

United has been a particularly hazardous airline for animals. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, United transported 138,178 animals in 2017; of those, 18 died and 13 were injured. By contrast, all other U.S. carriers combined transported 368,816 animals in 2017, of whom only six died and two were injured. (Figures include both animals riding in the cabin and in the cargo hold.)

For pet owners flying their precious cargo with them in the cabin, the take away is: Pets do not belong in the overheard bins. No matter what the flight attendant says.

Reader Reality Check

Could this have been your dog?

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Experiential Travel Oddities Security Travel Etiquette

10 Travel Safety Tips You Can Learn from the CIA

Mathew Bradley spent more than 14 years in the Central Intelligence Agency, and now this former CIA agent is the Regional Security Director, Americas, for International SOS (a medical and travel security assistance company). I spoke to him via email to ask his top travel safety tips, both at home and abroad.

Travel Safety Tips from CIA Experts

Here are Mr. Bradley’s top travel safety tips based on his training and experience as a CIA agent.

What travel safety tips does the CIA give to its employees?

  1. Maintain a low profile. CIA employees don’t want to draw attention to themselves.
  2. Research your destination before you go. Part of keeping a low profile is knowing the local customs and blending in. Act like you have been there before.
  3. Plan your ground transportation and hotel arrangements in advance.  We never leave home without contact details for every stage of our itinerary.
  4. Stay aware of your surroundings. [Do] the research to know what fits in the location where you are.

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What should tourists do in case of an emergency while traveling?

  1. Have a plan before you go out. Know where you will meet if separated from your group following a terrorist attack, violent protest, or other incident.
  2. Make sure someone knows where you’re going and when you should be back. They should know who to call if you don’t check in.
  3. For natural disasters, plan ahead to avoid hurricanes and wildfires. If in an earthquake zone, have a plan for what to do in case of an earthquake.
  4. The CIA has a heavy influence on planning because in a crisis situation, you don’t have time to plan. You can execute what you have planned, but if you don’t plan ahead, you won’t know what to do.

[st_related]10 Safety Tips Every Traveler Should Know[/st_related]

What does a CIA agent always pack for a trip?

A doorstop. When you lock yourself into your hotel room at night, slip the doorstop under the door to keep intruders from being able to force the door open.  The doorstop is effective even when the chain or other external locks give way.

[st_related]Hotel Safety Tips[/st_related]

What is your number one travel safety tip?

Plan ahead! Travel is more enjoyable when it goes smoothly, and it goes smoother when you have a plan. Also, don’t take your passport out of your hotel. The number one way to ruin your trip is to lose your passport. You don’t need it on the street, and no one will steal it from your hotel safe. Plan for safety and security like you plan for fun and entertainment, and you, too, can travel like a CIA operative.

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Follow Caroline Morse Teel on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for wanderlust inspiration and more travel safety tips. 

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Booking Strategy Budget Travel Travel Trends

That NRA Travel Discount? Check, It Might Be Gone

If you’re a member of the National Rifle Association, you may have gotten accustomed to enjoying member discounts from a number of prominent travel suppliers. If you check today, you’ll find that most of those NRA partner companies are no longer listed on the NRA website.

The change closely follows February 14, the day a teenage gunman killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle that was purchased legally.

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That horrific event triggered an outpouring of anti-NRA sentiment, which has led to widespread cancellations of corporate marketing relationships with the NRA.

Delta and United are among the highest-profile travel suppliers cutting ties with the NRA. They tweeted over the weekend as follows:

@Delta Delta is reaching out to the NRA to let them know we will be ending their contract for discounted rates through our group travel program. We will be requesting that the NRA remove our information from their website.

@united United is notifying the NRA that we will no longer offer a discounted rate to their annual meeting and we are asking that the NRA remove our information from their website.

Delta, for its part, later issued a news release fully elaborating on its actions:

Delta’s decision reflects the airline’s neutral status in the current national debate over gun control amid recent school shootings. Out of respect for our customers and employees on both sides, Delta has taken this action to refrain from entering this debate and focus on its business. Delta continues to support the 2nd Amendment.

Other travel suppliers that have severed their ties with the NRA in the past few days include Hertz, Avis, Budget, Enterprise, National, Alamo, Wyndham, and Best Western.

Ever the combative organization, the NRA pushed back against the departing corporations, accusing them of a “shameful display of political and civic cowardice.”

Let it be absolutely clear. The loss of a discount will neither scare nor distract one single NRA member from our mission to stand and defend the individual freedoms that have always made America the greatest nation in the world.

For all the finger-pointing and flag-waving, as things stand today, the only thing that’s changed is the loss of a handful of travel discounts.

Reader Reality Check

Tempest in a teacup, or something bigger?

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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Adventure Travel Beach Cities Health & Wellness Island Sustainable Travel Travel Trends

Caribbean Update: Where to Go (and Not Go Yet) in 2018

If last year’s hurricanes are making you rethink tropical travel this year, it’s time for a Caribbean update. Although several countries suffered serious damage, a whopping 70 percent of the region—more than a million square miles and 30 countries—remains untouched. And of the hurricane-affected Caribbean islands, many have already rebounded enough to resume receiving visitors.

“We will recover,” says Hugh Riley, secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism Organization. “Guests planning their trips to those [affected] islands this year and beyond should expect to see a product that is rebuilt stronger, better and even more attractive than before.”

Caribbean Update: 2018 Islands Report

[st_content_ad]Don’t put off Caribbean travel. As Riley says, “The best way to help the Caribbean recover is to visit the Caribbean.” Read on for Caribbean updates on affected islands, plus reasons to visit six of the Caribbean’s most popular destinations untouched by the storms.

How You Can Help: The best way to help the Caribbean is to visit, of course. But if a trip isn’t in the cards, you can still donate to the official regional relief funds set up by the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association and the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

Caribbean Update: Unaffected Islands with New Reasons to Visit

Aruba

Best known for its beaches, casinos, and its multicultural population (90 nationalities and counting), the “Happy Island” lies beyond the Caribbean islands’ hurricane belt, so it’s a great bet year-round. But Aruba’s Soul Beach Music Festival on Memorial Day weekend (past headliners have included Mary J. Blige and Alicia Keys) just might encourage you to book that getaway right now.

Book it: Get prices for Aruba hotels

Barbados

A second Sandals resort (complete with a rooftop infinity pool and a bowling alley) and a brand-new outpost of the scenester staple Nikki Beach are just two reasons to visit Barbados, the birthplace of rum, right now. But whenever you go, don’t miss Harrison’s Cave, a mile-long network of limestone caverns you can explore via electric tram.

Book it: Get prices for Barbados hotels

Grand Cayman

The newest arrival on Grand Cayman’s Seven Mile Beach is Margaritaville Beach Resort, an oasis that debuted last year that’s inspired by the laidback lifestyle and lyrics of singer Jimmy Buffett. But beyond Seven Mile’s sands are classic attractions (think Stingray City and more than 300 dive sites) that are also worth your time.

Book it: Get prices for Grand Cayman hotels

Grenada

Later this spring, the new luxury resort Silversands will be the first in 25 years to open on Grenada’s Grand Anse, the most famous beach on this island-on-the-rise. Further proof of the Spice Island’s upward trajectory: Kimpton Kawana Bay follows next year. My advice: Go now.

Book it: Get prices for Grenada hotels

Jamaica

The perennially popular Caribbean island is known for rum, reggae, and all-inclusive resorts (Excellence Oyster Bay and Spanish Court Montego Bay debut this summer). But Jamaica’s ruggedly beautiful landscape also attract runners to the Kingston City Run in March, and December’s Reggae Marathon, which ends on the sands of Negril’s seven-mile beach.

Book it: Get prices for Jamaica hotels

St. Kitts

With its first luxury resort—the Park Hyatt St. Kitts, now open on the island’s Southeast Peninsula—and increased nonstop flights from Charlotte, New York, Newark, Atlanta, and Miami, St. Kitts is clearly having a moment. When you’re not basking on the beach, consider a hike 3,000 feet up to the top of the island’s dormant volcano, Mount Liamuiga.

Book it: Get prices for St. Kitts hotels

Caribbean Update: Recovering Islands

Anguilla

Despite the pounding delivered by hurricane Irma, the 35-square-mile island of Anguilla has recovered remarkably well. Power has been restored; restaurants have been rebuilt; more than 600 rooms are available in small hotels and villas; and its six major resorts (including Malliouhana, Four Seasons Anguilla and CuisinArt Resort & Spa) will reopen between mid-February and the end of this year. Even better news: the beaches—all 33 of them—are as pristine and uncrowded as ever.

Book it: Get prices for Anguilla hotels

St. Barts

All utilities have been restored on the posh French Caribbean island, but most of St. Barts’ 16 hotels (including the first, Eden Rock) won’t reopen until summer or fall. The good news: Villa management company WIMCO reports that 182 of its 360 rental homes (545 rooms in total) are already available. The airport and Gustavia’s cruise port are both open, with ferry service from St. Martin now resumed. And several restaurants, most shops, and all the collectivity’s beaches are back in biz.

Book it: Get prices for Grenada hotels

St. Croix

With its airport open and power and water restored, the largest of the United States Virgin Islands is also bouncing back the fastest of the three. St. Croix resorts (including two of its best known, The Buccaneer and Hotel Caravelle), restaurants, and shops are back in business. Cruise ships resumed calls at Frederiksted in November, and The Fred, the island’s first new hotel in more than 30 years, had a soft opening in February and should be complete by April.

Book it: Get prices for St. Croix hotels

St. Maarten

Fair warning: You’ll arrive and depart St. Maarten from tents adjacent to the terminal building at Princess Juliana International Airport, whose waterlogged structure won’t reopen before the end of 2018. And some of the biggest resorts here—including all three Sonestas and the Westin Dawn Beach Resort & Spa—are closed until further notice. But 1,200 rooms in small hotels and guest houses on the Dutch side of this twin-nation island are available; all 37 beaches and most of the shops on Front Street are open; and restaurants and nightlife at Simpson Bay are up and running. Rockland Estate, a new zipline attraction, opened in November, and the cruise port at Philipsburg welcomed its first ships in December.

Book it: Get prices for St. Maarten hotels

Puerto Rico

All our airports are operational and more than 200,000 passengers have cruised to and from San Juan over the last three months,” says Puerto Rico Tourism Company’s acting executive director, Carla Campos. Although approximately 20 percent of the island is still without power and 20 percent without water, Campos notes that “there are currently more than 100 hotels, 4,000 restaurants and 107 major tourism attractions open. San Juan has been receiving leisure travelers since November 30, and other areas, such as Culebra, Ponce, La Parguera, Mayaguez, Cabo Rojo, Rincón, and Vieques, are also back in business.”

Book it: Get prices for Puerto Rico hotels

Caribbean Update: Severely Affected Islands

Dominica

Despite feeling the category five force of Hurricane Maria in September, more than 20 small hotels have reopened on the nature island. Amenities on Dominica, however, are limited and utilities still intermittent. Consider visiting on a cruise (ships returned in January), as natural attractions popular with passengers, such as Trafalgar Falls and Emerald Pool, have reopened and are as beautiful as ever.

St. John

Caribbean update

The smallest U.S. Virgin Island took a big hit, losing 70 percent of its hotel rooms to the storm, including those at marquee resorts Caneel Bay and the Westin St. John Resort & Villas, which will remain closed for the rest of the year. But most of St. John is back on the grid, and several small hotels, including Gallows Point Resort and Estate Lindholm, are welcoming guests. Most restaurants and shops in Cruz Bay are open, as are all the Caribbean island’s beaches, including Trunk Bay and Cinnamon Bay. Consider a day trip from Red Hook in St. Thomas, via the hourly ferry service.

St. Thomas

Although St. Thomas’ airport is open, several large resorts—including the Ritz-Carlton St. Thomas and Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort—are closed through the rest of the year. Cruise passengers will find many shops and restaurants in Charlotte Amalie open; attractions such as the Paradise Point Skyride are operating; and the island’s most famous beach, Magens Bay, is restored.

St. Martin

The French side of the twin-nation island is in rebuilding mode, so for now, facilities for visitors on St. Martin are limited. However, officials say that there are about 400 rooms available in villas and small hotels; all the beaches are groomed; and attractions including Loterie Farm have reopened.

British Virgin Islands

These 30-something islands famously comprise one of the Caribbean’s sailing capitals. And post-hurricanes, with major resorts such as Peter Island, Bitter End Yacht Club, and Rosewood Little Dix Bay closed for most or all of 2018, sailing remains one of the best ways to explore the archipelago—in fact, there are more than 100 vessels available for charter from yacht companies The Moorings and Sunsail. Conditions vary by island in the British Virgin Islands, but Tortola’s airport, cruise pier, and about 50 restaurants and bars are open; and interisland ferries are operating.

Caribbean Update: Off the Table (For Now) Islands

Barbuda

Only 2,000 people lived on this 62-square-mile island, and after evacuating to sister island Antigua, very few have returned. Water and electricity on Barbuda is limited and there’s no lodging available for visitors. But actor Robert De Niro is still forging ahead with his ambitious Paradise Found resort project, scheduled to break ground later this year, so keep your eyes peeled.

For the latest Caribbean updates, go to CaribbeanTravelUpdate.

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Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon is a Caribbean travel expert, award-winning travel journalist, and self-described “Carivangelist,” who goes to the beach and beyond to share the world’s favorite warm-weather destination with brands including Travel + Leisure and The Telegraph. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook and on JetSetSarah.com.

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Health & Wellness In-Flight Experience Travel Trends

2017 Was the Safest-Ever Year to Fly

It’s the rare year during which no one dies in a commercial jet airline crash. For whatever reasons, 2017 was such a year.

That made 2017 the safest year ever for commercial aviation, both in terms of accidents and fatalities.

There were aviation-related fatalities during the year, however, when incidents involving cargo and propeller-driven aircraft are considered.

According to the Aviation Safety Network, there were 10 fatal airliner accidents during 2017, resulting in 44 pilot and passenger deaths. Five of the accidents involved cargo planes, five were small passenger planes.

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There was a notable pattern to the accidents: four of the 10 crashes, accounting for 25 of the 44 fatalities, involved some variant of the Cessna 208 single-engine turboprop planes; and two of the 10 downed planes, accounting for eight deaths, were Let L-410UVP-E20s, the twin-engine turboprop produced by Czech company LET Kunovice.

The worst of the year’s accidents was the NatureAir crash on Punta Islita, Costa Rica, resulting in 12 fatalities. That, ironically, was on December 31, New Year’s eve.

Reader Reality Check

How concerned are you about air safety when you fly?

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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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