A: The boom in short-term apartment rentals, fueled by companies such as Airbnb, FlipKey, and HomeAway, has made rooms everywhere from Paris to Portland available online. That’s great for travelers looking for affordable hotel alternatives. But the rapid growth of this aspect of the new “sharing economy” has outpaced the law in certain cities—leaving some hosts (if not their guests) in decidedly murky legal terrain.
After watching the federal government grind to an ignominious halt last night over the budget impasse, you could be forgiven for wanting to get out of town—as in, leave the country—for a while.
Fortunately, although national parks and monuments are now closed and thousands of FAA aviation safety inspectors have been furloughed (shudder), U.S. passport offices remain open and processing applications. If you’re traveling within the next two weeks and need to get a rush passport, you can still schedule an appointment at your nearest passport agency. Just call ahead to make sure that office isn’t located in a federal building. If it is, you may be out of luck.
Q: Are there any souvenirs that I can’t bring home with me?—Sarah Neff, Austin, Tex.
A: Everyone loves a good souvenir, but be mindful when shopping overseas—there are certain items that you simply cannot bring back with you because of U.S. import restrictions, or that you should avoid buying due to environmental and safety concerns. Here, a look at the souvenir-shopper’s blacklist.
The United States has import restrictions that protect the cultural property of countries whose art and antiquities have traditionally been vulnerable to theft and illegal trafficking. The Department of State has agreements with 16 nations, including Cambodia (covering Khmer archaeological materials: ceramics, stone, and metal articles) and Peru (restricting certain textiles, sculptures, wood, and metal articles from both the pre-Columbian and colonial periods). The U.S. has similar agreements to prohibit the trade of culturally significant items from China, Greece, Guatemala, Italy, and Mali, among other countries. (See eca.state.gov for more details.) Be aware that countries without U.S. import agreements may have their own export protections in place. Look into local permissions and permits for any relic or antiquity you plan to carry back to the States.
Waiting in line—perhaps the most dreaded aspect—of the air travel experience—is improving by leaps and bounds this year at U.S. airports. For one, the TSA PreCheck expedited screening program, which is now available for international flights, is growing rapidly: the TSA has installed PreCheck lanes in 40 airports, with planned expansions into 60 more domestic airports by the end of 2013. Meanwhile, in-airport PreCheck enrollment centers will also soon start rolling out—opening up the program to all U.S. travelers willing to pay the $85 fee—no passport or frequent-flier membership required. The first will be in Indianapolis and Washington Dulles this fall, followed by some 300 locations across the country.
Some hotels put bags on absolute lockdown, in private rooms equipped with security cameras. (Hats off to Vegas.) Others simply stash luggage behind the bellman’s desk. Before dropping your bags, evaluate the setup and ask how the area is secured. And consider carrying with you anything valuable enough to go in the hotel-room safe.
$1 Million: The rumored value of jewelry stolen from a hotel room during the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.
Q: How can I tell if an international carrier is safe?—Sarah Jones, Charlotte, N.C.
A: Even if we don’t like to admit it, the act of getting on a plane involves a great deal of trust: trust in the pilots and the flight crew, in the aircraft makers, in the airline, and—ultimately—in the authorities who approved the plane to fly. Domestically, this last responsibility lies with the Federal Aviation Administration, which is known for its exacting standards. But given that there’s no single organization with the authority to enforce safety around the world, things are more complicated abroad.
The easiest rule of thumb: book on foreign airlines that operate code-share flights with U.S. partners. (Global alliances—Star Alliance, Oneworld, SkyTeam—usually involve some form of code-sharing.) Before a U.S. airline can place its passengers on a foreign carrier, it must conduct a safety review of its partner and submit the results to the FAA for approval. As an added incentive, the U.S. airline may also be liable should anything happen to its passengers on a code-share flight.
A: Unless you get a very sympathetic agent on the line, you’re not likely to get your money back. But if you booked with a domestic carrier you’ll usually be able to cancel and receive a credit with the airline. Of course, you’ll have to pay a change fee—now a whopping $200 for most U.S. flights—and use the credit to travel by a certain deadline, often a year from the date that your original ticket was issued. Beware: some international carriers are not so generous and offer credit only in emergencies. And if you bought your ticket through a third-party website, such as Priceline or Hotwire, it may be subject to further restrictions. So always read the fine print.
Made with water-resistant canvas and full-grain leather, ONA’s stylish Brixton is designed to hold a camera, several lenses, and various accessories—all under an unassuming cover. When you’re not lugging photo gear, the adjustable foam panels can secure your laptop, while a padded shoulder strap makes it easy to carry heavy loads. $269.