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Gripe Much? New Website Reveals Just How Much People Hate U.S. Customs

You know you have a broken entry process when there’s an entire website devoted to complaining about the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) system—and that’s exactly what the U.S. Travel Association launched this month in an effort to voice the concerns of our unhappy visitors.

Included on the travelersvoice.org are spotlights from dozens of travelers—foreign and domestic—whose concerns range from long lines to missed connections. The most common gripes? Customs queues are understaffed, with too many checkout lanes closed during peak periods, and with no automated technology to ease the process, our methods appear utterly outdated.

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Tech Thursday: The Future of Hotel Check-In

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How many people does it take to run a hotel’s front desk? Soon enough, the answer will be zero. Just last month, Marriott Hotels debuted a new app that lets guests check in from their smart phone starting at 4PM the day before their arrival. As it stands, these guests still need the help of a front desk clerk—if only to pick up their room key.

But Marriott isn’t alone. InterContinental Hotels Group (which owns the flagship InterContinental brand as well as Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn) has recently debuted a similar technology, letting guests at select properties check in via a mobile app. With theirs, a machine in the lobby can dispense your room key upon arrival, so long as you can supply some basic identifying information. (Can you hear the collective weeping of receptionists around the globe?) We’re also hearing rumblings that some clever hoteliers are attempting to take mobile check-in to a whole new level—perhaps even eliminating the need for a room key overall.

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What the Global Travel Alert Means for You

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The global travel alert that the U.S. Department of State issued at the end of last week has been met with a fair amount of criticism and head scratching. It’s vague. It’s frightening. And it’s not very clear what a traveler should do with this information.

The alert, which is valid through August 31, warns U.S. citizens about “the continued potential for terrorism attacks, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa.” It was prompted, according to news reports, by intercepted communications between al Qaeda operatives—chatter that Senator Saxby Chambliss, ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee characterized on NBC’s “Meet the Press” as “very reminiscent of what we saw pre-9/11.” Though Yemen is obviously a major area of concern right now (the U.S. has not only evacuated the embassy there, but urged all Americans to leave the country), the State Department’s alert is not restricted to any particular region. It even goes so far as to remind travelers of the possibility of attacks on “public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure,” including subway, rail, and aviation services. (A threat that is underscored by a recent ABC News story about terrorists working to develop an as-yet-undetectable explosive liquid.)

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Do Lonely Planet Layoffs Signal the Death of Guidebooks?

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Maybe Jeff Bezos wants to buy Lonely Planet, too? This spring, BCC Worldwide sold the Melbourne-based guidebook company to a Tennessee media company for a reported loss of $130 million. Now comes news that Lonely Planet is planning to lay off some 70 to 80 employees at its Australian headquarters, a development that has sparked eulogies across the digital sphere (perhaps ironic, given the Internet’s role in guidebooks’ demise). The publisher has had to deny rumors that its printed guides are on their way out.

This is only the latest twist in what has been a decidedly rollercoaster couple of years for guidebooks. After Google bought, for $23 million, the stalwart Frommer’s brand of travel guides and then bled the books for content (see the new and improved Google Maps), it sold the brand back to Arthur Frommer himself in April. The 83-year-old recently announced that he would begin publishing guides again in October, introducing a short EasyGuides series aimed at attention-deprived audiences. As reported in the New York Times, he hopes to have roughly 80 titles published by the end of 2014. To call this plan ambitious is an understatement.

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Trip Doctor: 3 Simple Steps for Packing Shoes

There is a definite method to packing shoes for a trip. Here are 3. 

1. If you are not using a shoe bag then keep the soles towards heaven or facing away from your clothes, for obvious reasons; soles are dirty!

2. Shoes are one of the heavier items you will have in your bag so give lots of thought to taking too many. Chose a pair that can be worn in a variety of situations. Along with the one you are wearing, you’ll have enough.

3. Use the edges and corners of your suitcase to ensure every crack and crevice are used.

Mimi LombardoMimi Lombardo is Travel + Leisure’s style director. Packing is rarely easy—we’re here to help. Send your question to tripdoctor@aexp.com.

The Doctor Recommends: Must-Reads for the Week Ending August 2, 2013

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According to Yahoo!, Borders bookstores, which went bankrupt in the U.S. in 2011, are now re-opening in Singapore. [Maria Pedone]

Two world records were broken at the annual Lorraine Mondial Air Balloons festival in eastern France, with over 400 balloons hitting the skies, via AP. [M.P.]

No knock-knock jokes for this Nantucket bar: a five-foot long shark was found in front of the door at Sea Dog Brew Pub, via Huffington Post. [M.P.]

In an attempt to contain rowdy foreigners, the Greek island of Crete is considering setting up designated tourist zones to keep its citizens safe, according to CNN. [Jennifer Flowers]

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Trip Doctor: Norovirus on a Plane—What You Need to Know

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This morning’s news of a possible norovirus outbreak on a Qantas flight from Santiago, Chile to Sydney, Australia, has us all on edge. Known for wreaking havoc on cruise ships, the norovirus is not a typical worry for fliers. Should it be?

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Trip Doctor: TSA’s Not-So-Great Report Card

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Here’s some news that will make you squirm in your airplane seat: complaints filed against airport security workers have increased by 26 percent over the last three years, according to a new study the Transportation Security Agency released yesterday by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

About half the cases—9,622 in all since 2010—had to do with attendance and leave (32 percent) and screening and security (20 percent). Shockingly, those screening and security offenses included allowing travelers or baggage to bypass screening, sleeping on the job, drug and alcohol use while on duty, mishandling of classified information, and inappropriate or sexual misconduct. The report also cited a case in 2011 where a transportation security officer at Orlando International Airport pled guilty of embezzlement and theft charges for stealing more than $80,000 worth of laptops and other electronics.

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Tech Thursday: Hipmunk Gets a Last-Minute Upgrade

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We’ve long loved Hipmunk for its brilliant intelligent search capabilities, which help you find the least agonizing flights or the hotels that are best suited to your individual needs. Today, the app launches an update that once again changes the game: this time, it takes on the last-minute hotel booking sphere that has become quite the competitive space as of late.

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Pet Travel Wednesdays: Road Trips

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Look over on the highway to find a dog with his tongue hanging out of the window, ears flopping through the wind, and it’s hard to fight a smile. There’s something classic about a pup braving the open road.

But of course, safety comes first, and all those “Buckle Up” signs apply to Fido as well. For this week’s pet travel tip, we reached out to our Instagram follower Tiffany Tosh (@tiffxtosh). Sure enough, she confirmed that her Chihuahua, Louie (pictured), “is so happy go-lucky with traveling, but I always keep safety first and keep him buckled up in his car seat!”

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