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The Olympics, Russia's Anti-Gay Law, and Why We Travel: A New Series

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Even as excitement grows for the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, news over the games has been dominated by controversy. Just last week the U.S. State Department issued a travel alert to Russia. Much of the fuss over the past few months—and one of the six “risks” outlined by the travel alert—pertains to Article 6.21, a country-wide anti-gay law in place since June.

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Bangkok Braces for Massive Protests

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Bangkok is bracing for a massive round of protests on Monday, and the government has deployed nearly 15,000 police officers to maintain order.

As we explained last month, anti-government activists have been calling for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's resignation since November, alleging that her brother-in-exile, and ousted former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra is leading the country from afar.

Monday's protesters will target government buildings and several major intersections, complicating local transit and forcing schools to close.

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Rare Viral Disease Outbreak Spreads in the Caribbean

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This week, the Center for Disease Control reissued its Travel Watch to St. Martin, urging US citizens to take precautions against mosquitos in the Caribbean, responding to a viral disease currently spreading in several islands.

As of January 2nd, 122 cases of chikungunya have been confirmed in St. Martin (98 cases), St. Maarten (1), Martinique (13), Guadeloupe (3), and St. Bart's (7). According to the CDC, chikungunya's symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, nausea, and muscle and joint pains. Though rarely fatal, infected individuals can suffer from joint pain for months after the initial sickness.

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Sharks in Australia Are Now Showing Up On Twitter

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Sharks in Western Australia will now be making their way from the sea to your social news feed. Over 300 great whites, whaler sharks, and tiger sharks have been tagged with acoustic transmitters by government researchers, says NPR, which monitor exactly where the animals are swimming.

Once any of the 338 sharks come within a half-mile of the beach, its tag automatically sends out a tweet from the Surf Life Saving Western Australia (@SLSWA) Twitter account. Included in the alert is the shark’s size, breed, and approximate location—really giving away any attack plans for poor Jaws. While this is a truly innovative way to protect the area’s surfers and sunbathers, not every shark out there is tagged. Just because you don’t see it on Twitter, doesn’t mean a great white isn’t lurking close to shore. Our advice? Look both ways (and below) before diving in.

Maria PedoneMaria Pedone is on the digital team at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter at @mariapedestrian.

Photo credit: Macduff Everton/Corbis

Travel Advisory: Warnings vs. Alerts

Travel Advisory

The U.S. Department of State (DOS) issues a Travel Warning when it identifies a chronic and sustained threat to U.S. citizens in a given country. Sometimes it warns against all travel there; sometimes it simply informs people of the risk. Travel Alerts usually address problems of finite duration, such as elections, public demonstrations, or hurricanes. The DOS also issues Security Messages and Emergency Messages, depending on the situation. To get updates for a particular trip, sign up for the DOS’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) at step.state.gov.

Amy FarleyHave a travel dilemma? Need some tips and remedies? Send your questions to news editor Amy Farley at tripdoctor@aexp.com. Follow @tltripdoctor on Twitter.


Photo by istockphoto.com

How to Help Victims of the Philippines' Typhoon Haiyan

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Following the destruction wrought by Super Typhoon Haiyan, which appears to be the Philippine Islands’ worst natural disaster in history, relief efforts are rapidly rising up across the world. Here, while Americans commemorate the courage of their veterans, the State Department is hurrying to organize a team of these hometown heroes to provide aid in the storm-torn Philippines.

The scale of Haiyan’s devastation is overwhelming. More than 10,000 lives are feared to have been lost in Friday’s storm, and at least 600,000 people have been displaced. Police officials report at least 80-percent of the worst hit Leyte province’s infrastructure was leveled by the 200-mph winds and 20-foot waves.

This beloved travel destination, known for its breathtaking white sand beaches and jungle-capped cliffs, is home to four of the World’s Best Hotels, and is now in great need of international support. At TravelandLeisure.com, we extend our deepest sympathies to those affected by Haiyan, and we encourage everyone to do what they can to make a difference for those in need.

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FAA Drops Personal Electronics Restrictions

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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced today that it would drop existing restrictions on the use of personal electronics during takeoff and landing, urging airlines to implement the changes on their own timelines.

This means that flyers will soon be able to use their phones, tablets, e-readers, and other gadgets at all stages of the flight, as long as they are set to Airplane Mode.

Last month, as T+L reported, a committee set up by the FAA urged the administration to reconsider the current restrictions, finding them unnecessary from a safety perspective. Originally set in place to prevent electronic devices from interfering with a plane's equipment, the restrictions have come under scrutiny after experts concluded such fears of interference are groundless.

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Betty White Talks In-Flight Safety in Air New Zealand's Latest Video

Air New Zealand, known for their offbeat in-flight safety videos, has released a new four-minute reel, featuring actress Betty White. The latest video depicts the former star of The Golden Girls at the fictional Second Wind Retirement Resort, where she instructs a lot chess-playing residents to “listen up” as her “cousin’s grandson” (a.k.a. an Air New Zealand flight attendant) reminds seniors of the usual on-board precautions (fastening seatbelts; pulling down oxygen masks).

“We had a lot of fun on set and I think we’ve shown that it doesn’t matter what age you are, it’s important to live life to the full,” says White.

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Crash-Test Dummy Dogs Help Make Pet Travel Safer

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Road trips with your pup just got a little safer, thanks to a new pack of crash-test dummy dogs. Partnering with Subaru, the Center for Pet Safety in Virginia used the dummies—which stimulated dogs from a 25-pound terrier to a 75-pound golden retriever—to test out seven different pet harnesses. Findings released last week “uncovered serious flaws in many of the popular pet restraints…with many resulting in catastrophic failure.”

“Selecting the wrong harness could be just as detrimental as not using one at all,” claims Michael Michale, Director of Communications at Subaru of America. While pet owners may get giddy at Fido hanging his head out of the window, pet advocacy groups insist this is a serious danger to both pet and passengers during a crash.

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Committee Urges the FAA Reconsider Electronic Device Prohibitions

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An advisory committee is recommending that the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) ease its restrictions on electronic devices below 10,000 feet, finding current rules pointlessly prohibitive. The council's 28 members hail from the aviation industry and within the FAA.

Flyers today must shut down their phones, tablets, e-readers, and other gadgets to prevent interference with the plane's equipment during takeoffs and landings. Anyone who refuses to do so may be kicked off the plane, a la Alec Baldwin.

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