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Delta Pays for Automated Passport Machines at JFK

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Delta Air Lines, fed up with long lines its passengers face when arriving at Customs in New York City's JFK airport, is footing the bill to install automated passport machines.

Lines at the airport are the worst in the country, averaging over 90 minutes during peak hours, and nearing five hours on some occasions. Automated machines can shed 40 percent off of waiting times to clear customs, and at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport—the only U.S. airport to already have such machines—interview times with Customs officers have been halved to 30 seconds.

Delta views the new automated machines as a step in the right direction, says spokesperson Leslie Scott. She hopes the airline's contribution—whose price is undisclosed—will spur increased staffing, especially at peak times for international arrivals.

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Department of Silver Linings: U.S. Passport Offices Remain Open Despite Government Shutdown

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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.

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 credit: Blue Jean Images / Alamy

Souvenir Blacklist—What Not to Bring Back

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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.

Cultural Artifacts

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.

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5 International Homestays

Homestays

If you’re looking to immerse yourself in a new culture, homestays are a great option; a well-connected outfitter can help you find the right fit. Here, five ideas to get you started.

The Andes, Peru: Aracari Travel Consulting

The Details: In the rural Andean community of Luquina Chico, on Lake Titicaca, Aracari coordinates with 13 local families to provide lodgings in private houses. Guest rooms are basic but have an authentic, Andean feel, as well as lake views.

Don’t Miss: Dining with your hosts on regional dishes such as trout or quinoa soup, observing farmers planting a potato crop, or learning to catch carachi, a small fish native to Lake Titicaca. Three days from $567 per person, all-inclusive.

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The Suitest's Hotel Room Price Predictor

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Considering a visit to New York but turned off by the sky-high hotel prices? Try browsing The Suitest, a suite-focused hotel search engine whose new Price Predictor advises on the probable fluctuation of room rates in any major destination. Much like Bing’s airfare search, the tool also provides insight as to whether rates are likely to climb, decline, or sell out entirely in the next week. It’s all calculated with an algorithm that riffs off Wall Street hedge funds, which use the similar models to analyze mortgage-backed securities (topics not nearly as exciting as planning your vacation). Ignore the “Deal Grades,” or snapshots of a quote’s relative value—they seem largely arbitrary—and focus instead on our two favorite features: “fair value assessments” that compare your quote to the hotel's “usual price” and a six-month calendar showing the average rate each night in the city of your choosing.

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo courtesy of TheSuitest.com

Two New Ways to Speed Through the Airport

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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.

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Leaving Suitcases with the Bellman

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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.

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 Bernd Vogel / Corbis

Tech Thursday: Foursquare’s New Menu Search

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In an ever-increased push to highlight the app’s exploration features, Foursquare has rolled out a new “menu search” feature that lets users find the best local spot for whatever it is they’re craving. Whereas users could previously search for general categories—Southern food; French restaurants—it’s now possible to hone in on more specific requests, like fried pickles or gluten-free dishes. For road warriors with picky palates or dietary restrictions, it’s a real game-changer, and one we hope will help broaden Foursquare’s reach to a wider demographic of travelers.

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo courtesy of Foursquare

Tips for Using Cell Phones Overseas

Cell Phones Overseas

Our tech expert’s latest tips help you stay connected while you’re abroad—without the excessive fees.

Get a Data Plan: All the major U.S. cellular carriers are offering a better value when it comes to roaming—great news for travelers. AT&T and Verizon Wireless currently offer the best deals, starting at $25 a month for 100MB. Spending only two weeks away? The plans can be prorated, letting you activate the service for as long as you need to (yielding a fraction of both the bill and the data allotment). Be sure to stay within your limit: overage fees remain costly, but free app My Data Manager (Android, iOS) can help monitor your usage in real time. As for text and voice plans, they’re still separate, and less cost-effective.

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The Doctor Recommends: Must-Reads for the Week Ending August 30, 2013

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A boat neck tunic about 1,500-years-old was found along the Norwegian Lendbreen glacier at 6,560 feet—talk about quality. [Discovery News] (Maria Pedone)

ABC News found that 61% of Americans plan to work this Labor Day Weekend—just be sure to pack that waterproof iPad case in your beach bag. (M.P.)

While Zimbabwe has no national currency, the country does plan on spending $300 million to open a Disneyland near Victoria Falls. [Travel Weekly] (M.P.)

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