Posts filed under ‘Travel’

Passenger Boarding Passes with SSSS Require Additional Security Screening

By Chad Upton | Editor

For a while, I travelled every single week of the year (except for Christmas). Of all the new airports, airplanes, taxis, rental cars, hotels, motels, customs, passports, visas, bad restaurants and other necessities, airport security was the most stressful.

TSA Lines

I  have nothing to fear. I’m not on any watchlists, I don’t have a redress number, I literally don’t even take the free airline snacks with me (you have to declare them at all of the international border crossings I usually encounter). (more…)

February 17, 2014 at 8:00 am 2 comments

Nigerian Visa Doesn’t List Blonde Hair Color Option

By Chad Upton | Editor

If you have blonde hair and you’re planning a trip to Nigeria, you may want to visit your colorist first. The online visa application doesn’t have “blonde” as an option for hair color.

nigerian_visa_no_blonde

No research turned up any answers, although I have sent an inquiry and will report back with any findings. (more…)

March 12, 2013 at 2:00 am 2 comments

You Can Print Your Own Passport Photo (in the US)

By Chad Upton | Editor

If you’ve ever had a really embarrassing driver’s license photo, you have to live with it. But, Americans have the luxury of shooting and printing their own passport photo.

Drugstores charge about $10 for passport photos while professionals charge as much as $50. There is some skill involved since there are strict rules around the shadows, head size, facial expression, dimensions, etc. But, if you get all that right then you can have a great photo that costs as little as 19 cents to print. (more…)

June 26, 2012 at 2:00 am 5 comments

Do Hotel Key Cards Contain Personal Info?

By Chad Upton | Editor

I’ve been saving hotel key cards for years because I want to see exactly what is on them.

Years ago, somebody told me that hotel room access cards contained personal info and credit card data. The rumor was that this info was necessary for you to charge items to your room during your stay.

I recently got my hands on a magnetic card reader and started swiping all my old cards. The results fit into three categories.

1. 77% of all the cards could not be read at all. This should not be a surprise to anyone who has ever stayed in a hotel with magnetic card keys; some are notoriously poor at holding their magnetic charge. Another reason they may appear blank is that some systems use non-standard data encoding which make it difficult for an ISO card reader to extract information. Whether the charge is weak, distorted or proprietary, specialized card readers may be able to extract data from these cards. Still, that data would likely fall into one of the two following categories. (more…)

February 18, 2012 at 6:00 pm 13 comments

Disney Castle Based on Real Castle in Germany

By Chad Upton | Editor

Often inspired by the Disney fairytales of Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, many young girls dress as princesses for Halloween.

While they are popular fairytales, these theme-park castles are largely based on a real castle in Germany – Neuschwanstein Castle. Look at the resemblance:

Disney has also noted the inspiration from structures in France too: Notre Dame de Paris and Hospices de Beaune.

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Sources: wikipedia (Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, Cinderella CastleNeuschwanstein Castle)

Photos: Katie Rommel-Esham (cc) Jack Versloot (cc)

October 31, 2011 at 4:00 am 7 comments

Niagara Falls Water Volume is Lower at Night

By Chad Upton | Editor

The magnificent waterfalls known as Niagara falls are split on the US/Canada border. People come to see massive amounts of water flowing over the falls and that’s exactly what they get, during the day.

While the falls are a popular tourist attraction, many people don’t know the water is an important source of power. There is one power company on each side of the border that draws water from above the falls to turn their generators.

Unfortunately, drawing water from the river above the falls can impact what the falls look like.

During the tourist season (April to October), the power companies must maintain the water flow over the falls at 100,000 cubic feet per second. That’s not very difficult since the river has a natural flow of about 212,000 cubic feet per second on a typical summer day. That means they normally draw about 100,000 cubic feet per second for power generation and allow that same amount over the falls.

But at night, they can draw even more water and lower the flow at the falls to about 50,000 cubic feet per second. This extra flow allows them to turn their turbines and fill up their reservoirs so they have more water after the tourism flow is restored in the morning. Since the falls erode about two feet per year, drawing extra water at night also slows erosion so the falls will be around for many generations to come.

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Image: Alberto Mari (cc)

Source: NiagaraFrontier.com

August 26, 2011 at 3:00 am 4 comments

Japan: Where the Streets Have No Names

By Chad Upton | Editor

The U2 song, “Where the Streets Have No Name” refers to the city of Belfast, Northern Ireland, where the streets actually do have names. Bono wishes they didn’t have names because they can be used to determine the class and religion of some people.

In Japan; however, a majority of the streets do not have names.

So, how do you find a location? Instead of the streets being named, the blocks between the streets are numbered.

The houses and units inside a block are also numbered. The blocks are inside a named district, the district is within a city or town. So, other than the block numbers and street names, it’s quite similar to the Western address system.

In Japan, directions to a location often include references to visual landmarks or subway stations. The block numbers could also be good for driving directions; if someone told you to turn right at the end of block 4, you’d see block 4 on a utility pole and know that the next turn is yours. In the Western system, you rarely know when your street is next, unless you’re in one of the few cities that are built on a perfect grid and have incrementally named streets.

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Sources: songfacts, goabroad.com, Wikipedia (Japanese Address System)

July 16, 2011 at 5:01 pm 5 comments

Why Some Restaurants Provide Wet Towels at Meals

By Chad Upton | Editor

If you’ve ever flown first class or eaten at a first class restaurant, you’ve probably been handed a wet towel. The first time this happens, you’ll probably be confused and look to others for guidance on what to do with it.

Generally, it is used to clean your hands. This tradition comes from Japan, where “oshibori” (wet towels) are handed out before meals, to clean hands. In Japanese restaurants, they may be hot or cold, depending on the season. Some people may also use the towels to clean their face.

This tradition has been expanded outside of Japanese restaurants where the practice varies greatly. In Western restaurants, wet towels may be served beforeand/or after the meal — to clean your fingers and around your mouth. According to Etiquette Scholar, it is not polite to clean beyond these areas, such as your neck or behind your ears, in a restaurant.

Many airlines offer wet towels, particularly in first class. They are sometimes offered immediately after takeoff, which is standard in first class on British Airways, among others. These towels are usually hot, but may be cold if you’ve just boarded from a particularly hot environment or if the cabin air conditioning is out-of-order. At this time, they are useful to clean your hands before eating or to clean the travel sweat off your skin (forehead, back of your neck, etc.). On longer flights, wet towels may also be served after a meal or just prior to landing.

Wet towels are traditionally made from cotton and moistened with water. Lemon juice is sometimes added to the water for its fragrance and degreasing properties. In recent years, pre-moistened disposable towels have gained popularity and are often wrapped in a plastic package. These towels come unscented and in a variety of fragrances. They sometimes contain other cleaning solutions such as alcohol.

The next time you’re given a wet towel, you can tell everyone what it’s for and where this tradition came from.

If you’re interested in a particularly long, fairly humorous and sometimes snobby discussion about wet towels, you’ll love this thread on FlyerTalk.com.

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Photo: Christopher Doyle (cc attribution)

Sources: FlyerTalk.com, PlanetTokyo, Wikipedia, Airline Towels, Etiquette Scholar

April 15, 2011 at 2:00 am 2 comments

Your Passport May Expire Before The Expiry Date

By Kyle Kurpinski

Expiration dates are funny things. For instance, if I take a swig from a jug of milk that expires next week, I expect to get a mouthful of milk, not sour gym socks. Unfortunately, expiration dates are occasionally imperfect, and the gym sock thing tends to happen from time to time. But when it comes to something non-perishable, like a coupon booklet or an driver’s license, these dates should be a little more concrete. Or so you would think, anyway.

My cousin was recently on her way to Malaysia when she encountered a bit of a snafu at the airport. For travel to Malaysia, it’s not enough to simply have a “valid” passport (i.e. one that has not yet expired). Rather, US citizens must have at least six months remaining before the printed expiration date. My cousin only had five. She actually made it all the way through security before the airport authorities realized their mistake and stopped her from boarding. Trouble is, she had already flown from Portland to San Francisco with her sorta-valid passport, and now she had no choice but to turn around and go back. Even if her trip to Malaysia was only going to last one day, travel regulations would still have forbade the journey without the six-month buffer. I’m sure there are plenty of logical reasons for such a requirement (contingency for an unexpectedly prolonged trip, prevention of illegal immigration or fraud, etc. etc.), but my cousin’s experience still seems like the travel equivalent of buying your milk in May only to discover that it already soured last Christmas.

To make things even more complicated, each country has its own unique rules regarding passport validity. Most countries simply abide by the given date, but some – such as Malaysia, Brazil, and India – require a six-month window, while others – such as Switzerland, Greece, and Denmark – require only three months. When exactly does this window start or end? That’s different for every country too. In some cases it’s calculated from the date of entry into the foreign territory, while in others it’s based on the return date. If you’re planning to travel abroad, you can find the specific rules for each country on the State Department’s website.

Keep in mind that passport renewals typically take about six weeks, so it’s always best to plan ahead when making your travel arrangements. If you’re just learning of these rules before an impending trip, you can apply for an expedited renewal, which takes only two weeks, but also costs an additional $60. If you’re already at the airport (like my cousin was) please have a safe trip back to your house.

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Photo: Amy Barker (cc)

Sources: Wikipedia , Joel Widzer, and The U.S. Department of State

February 18, 2011 at 2:00 am 7 comments

The Hidden Lever to Raise Airplane Armrests

By Chad Upton | Editor

Airplanes are cramped places.

The leg room is short, the aisles are thin and the headroom isn’t room at all. The bathrooms provide some private space and a complimentary gymnastics lesson.

If you’re tall, fitting your knees behind the seat in front of you is a painful reality that many of us live with each trip, unless you get an exit row, a courtesy upgrade or a hole in your wallet.

Even if you’re not very tall, when you stand up in your seat, you have to duck to avoid a head-on-collision with the overhead bin, especially in smaller regional jets.

But, a few years ago, I saw a person in the row ahead of me raise the aisle armrest. That was a game changer for me. No more ducking! Simply raise the armrest, then stand up while you slide off your seat into the aisle.

There are a few planes that do not have movable aisle armrests. However, most of them have a small lever or button on the underside of the armrest, near the hinge. Pushing or sliding this lever will release the hinge lock, allowing you to raise the armrest.

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January 17, 2011 at 2:00 am 10 comments

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