Welcome to the May 2009 issue of "Smart Traveler". The newsletter with tips and information to help make your traveling smoother.


10 Smart Travel Tips for Families

A very busy summer air travel season is forecast, as rising gas prices send many families to their destinations by plane this year. Full flights are anticipated, making planning ahead essential. 


1. Make plane reservations as soon as possible to lock in current inexpensive fares. As fuel prices increase, airfares will also.

2. Select seats when you make the reservation - this is the only way to ensure that you will be seated together. Waiting until you arrive at the airport will scatter each of your family members throughout the plane, or will require asking other passengers to accommodate you by moving seats when they are trying to get settled themselves.

3. Print boarding passes before leaving for the airport. If you have booked online, this option is generally available 24 hours in advance of the flight and will save standing in a check-in line at the airport.

4. Pack light. Many airlines are charging $25 each way for a second checked bag (most still allow one checked bag at no additional charge). Plus they also charge big fees that vary between airlines for checked bags weighing 50 pounds or more. Weigh each bag at home on a bathroom scale before leaving for the airport so you can lighten the load. Also measure each bag before packing as no bag may be over 62” based on linear measurement of length + width + depth. Larger bags may incur a large fee.

5. Take less. Organize what each family member wants to pack far in advance to allow time to wash favorite things and to encourage participation by each person. This minimizes complaints upon arrival, as each was part of the packing decisions. Plan to find a coin-operated laundry half way through the trip so you can pack half as much clothing. Tucking in a self-sealing plastic bag of laundry detergent saves money and hassles.

6. Self-sealing bags of several sizes are the travelers' best friend! Organize clothing by grouping adult’s items: socks in one container, underwear in another. Children’s clothing is easily organized by folding or rolling an entire days outfit together — pants, tee-shirt, underwear and socks — and tucking into a bag. Pop the dirty items back into the bag at the end of the day to isolate soiled clothing from clean.

7. Pack into as few suitcases as possible - the more bags the greater the chance that one will be misplaced or forgotten. Plus, a hefty fee may be charged for additional checked bags. Some airlines now allow only one checked bag plus one carry-on per ticketed passenger (young children who ride on a parent’s lap are NOT considered “ticketed”). Many families pack into community bags of one adult with one child per bag, for a family of four this means two checked bags plus carry-on.

8. Travel with your child’s safety seats and strollers whenever possible. Each airline has a slightly different ruling on traveling with this gear, so call or visit your airline website to check in advance so you won’t have any surprises at the airport.

9. Pack a backpack for each person. Parents can manage children better if they are hands-free, so purses and in-flight necessities are best carried in an adult backpack. Kids fly quieter when entertained, so allow them to choose their toys and to carry them. Smaller children manage better passing through airports, airport security, and aircraft aisles with small backpacks; bigger children can manage small rolling bags that will fit under the seat.

10. Savvy frequent flyer parents advise bringing on the following in your child’s carry-on:
• Gameboys, games and extra batteries and travel-sized games • Books (thin paperbacks are best!) and/or coloring/activity books and crayons • Portable DVD player (however battery length is usually only about 3 hours) • Pajamas and slippers for a long flight (if comfortable, children are more likely to sleep) • Hard candies to suck on, water or juice to combat pressure changes during take off and landing • Anything your child must have such as a favorite blanket or bunny.

Packing light will spare your back and your budget and minimize baggage hassles. Plan ahead, take less, and have a great vacation!

        
Mexico, Canada to U.S. Passport Now Required

Stricter Passport Rules Go Into Effect at Border Crossings for Travel by Land June 1. If you're planning to travel to Mexico or Canada next week, be prepared to show the proper identification.

Starting Monday, the last implementation stage of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative will go into effect,requiring travelers to present a passport or other valid travel document when entering the U.S. by land or sea.

The requirements were put into place in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. While parallel provisions for air travel went into effect in January 2007, this stage of implementation for land and sea travel was delayed because the government feared Americans were not adequately prepared.

Previously, Americans returning from Canada by land had to present a driver's license and birth certificate to prove identification and citizenship. But as of June 1, Americans will need to present a valid travel document to enter the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean islands and Bermuda.

What's a valid travel document? A regular passport, a new passport card, a "trusted traveler" card or an "enhanced driver's license," which states the person's nationality. Children under the age of 16 will not be required to have the travel documentation.

Currently, only a handful of states -- Vermont, New York, Washington and Michigan -- offer the new enhanced documentation.
Enhanced driver's licenses are wallet-size and are less expensive than the average $100 fee for a standard passport.

Officials hope the provisions, which invalidate birth certificates and drivers' licenses as forms of identification, will help set a more uniform standard for border travel, creating a safer and more efficient travel experience.

With summer ahead, the new regulations have potential to thwart many travel plans.

   
How to Safeguard Your Data as You Travel

With Wi-Fi access at airports, hotels, and aboard airplanes, business travelers don't have to look very hard for a wireless Internet connection.

But with these public wireless hotspots becoming more prevalent, in addition to more travelers using smart phones for Web access, are business travelers putting themselves at a security risk?

The short answer, some technology security experts say, is yes. But they add that the use of Wi-Fi at these spots is no riskier than at a coffee shop.

"It's a shared medium, and if you can connect to it, someone else can connect to it and monitor your traffic," said Marty Linder, a senior member of the technical staff at the Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute CERT/Coordination Center. "That has nothing to do with the security of the network. It's just the nature of the beast."

The combination of replacement cost, detection, forensics, data breach, lost intellectual property costs, lost productivity, and legal, consulting and regulatory expenses sets a company back an average of $49,246 per lost laptop, according to a study released in April by the Ponemon Institute and sponsored by the Intel Corporation.

However, lost laptops with encryption saved companies nearly $20,000, compared with those that did not have encryption, according to the Ponemon study. Encrypted disks safeguard data by scrambling information on them. They unlock that information only when the user enters the proper passcode.

"I don't know how many times we've heard about laptops being stolen and they have no encryption on them. And it pretty much means that the bad guys can get to your data. Immediately. They don't have to know your password or anything, they can just get to it," said Patrik Runald, chief security adviser for F-Secure, an Internet security company.

And many businesses do not yet require their employees to use passwords on their smart phones, leaving lost devices "woefully unprotected," said Pat Clawson, CEO and chairman of Lumension Security.

Tips for staying secure

Despite the potential for security breaches, there are simple steps you can take to keep yourself armed as you connect wirelessly on your travels:

• Use an encrypted disk to safeguard the information on your laptop or smart phone, Linder said, and make sure you log off of your computer when you're not using it.

In most cases, when you hibernate your computer, its memory is recorded unencrypted. "You cannot for convenience close your lid, let your computer go to sleep and believe that if someone steals your computer, your data is protected, because it's not," Linder said.

Runald recommended free software called TrueCrypt (truecrypt.org) that you can use to encrypt the content on your local drive and on USB flash drives.

• Turn off your wireless and Bluetooth connections if you're not using them, said Clawson. "Those are electronic doorways into your devices. On my BlackBerry, I can sit there and scan for open Wi-Fi peer-to-peer connections. I [can] then gain access to what's in your files you may have stored in there, your contacts."

• Use an anti-glare shield on your computer to prevent others from spying, Linder suggested. With such shields, you must be face-to-face with the screen to be able to read it.

• Regularly back up the data on your laptop or smart phone, Runald said. Several companies offer backup services, but you can also save information on other computers and disks.

Even if your data is encrypted -- eliminating your fear of sensitive information getting stolen -- backing up the data will make it easy to transfer to a new phone or laptop, Runald said.

• If you lose your smart phone and don't want others to access your information, call your provider and request that the device be wiped of information, Runald said. He also suggested considering software that allows you to send a text message to your phone that will remotely wipe it and block others from accessing its content.

• To ensure that you're visiting an authentic Web site and not getting duped by a phishing scheme, some experts suggest logging onto those sites through your company's VPN connection.

But technology company CTO Fitzpatrick says he hesitates to use VPN from a public Wi-Fi hotspot: "Even though all the traffic is encrypted," he said, "if your machine got compromised in some way, it is sort of a gateway into your network."

   
Staying in Touch While on the Road

With these handy tools, you can update the folks back home without ever having to slow down.  

Mapness
Although it's ostensibly designed for travel journaling, this clickable atlas can also help with planning by letting you create custom maps of your travels. Adding a waypoint or something of interest—a hotel, a landmark, a train station—is as easy as double clicking. Mapness will automatically plot routes between your various stops, and store your map online so that you can pull it up on the go. Even better, you can share your map with others via an e-mailed link, or export them to Google Earth so that everyone in your party can find their way to the chalet. Finally, once you've arrived, you can also add photos and videos to document your trip for posterity. mapness.net.

 

HazelMail
Everyone loves to get postcards, but actually messing with the mail while on vacation can make you go, well, postal. (And in any case, do you really want a cheesy image from the hotel gift shop to stand as the definitive shot of your journey?) Roll your own postcards instead. At HazelMail, named for its founder's mom, you can upload your photographs and then enter a message and an address. The website takes care of the rest, printing out and mailing a freshly minted postcard (and saving you from having to track down stamps). The flat fee of $1.50 includes postage to anywhere. hazelmail.com.

 

Eye-Fi Explore
Explore There's no reason to wait until you get home to upload your photos from your trip, thanks to this camera memory card that gives your camera Wi-Fi connectivity. When it's paired with a free online account at a photo-sharing service such as Picasa or Flickr, you can set the card to upload on the fly, letting your friends tag along on your journeys with every snap you take. The Eye-Fi works with open wireless networks, and you can set it to automatically join them once you come into range. The purchase of the card also gives you the ability to use any Wayport hotspot for a year (there are more than 10,000 of such spots nationwide). If you're not near a free open source and you're in the U.S., chances are still good that you'll be able to find a Wayport spot to upload your photos. Also fun: The Eye-Fi uses Wi-Fi signals to store location data with every photos that's taken. When you upload shots to geo-enabled photo-sharing services (including Flickr and Picasa), the photos can be automatically added to a map that notes where they were taken—and which also has links to photos that other photographers have taken nearby. eye.fi/cards/explore/.

 

Twitter
Even if you're not using the micro-blogging site Twitter to update the world with your own comings and goings, you can still use it to bring the wisdom of a savvy, global crowd to the palm of your hand. Use your free acount to ask those following you a question ("Where can I find the best grits in Atlanta?") to tap into a trove of native knowledge in real time. For better luck use a "hashtag" (a keyword preceded by the pound symbol, such as #Atlanta) that will help people find your query. Or perhaps your question has already been answered: Try Twitter's dedicated search page. If you have an iPhone, you may also want to give the applications Tweetie and Twinkle a try. These can filter Twitter's tweets by location to help you listen in on locals. twitter.com.

 

TripIt
Have trouble keeping track of your travel plans? Help is here. Once you are registered with TripIt, you can forward to the site all of your confirmation e-mails for flights, hotels, and rental cars. TripIt takes those pesky details and automatically organizes them into a sorted itinerary you can access from any computer. Thanks to its stripped-down website design, you can pull up your confirmation codes at the ticket counter on your phone, rather than printing everything up in advance. Social features help you create a network of friends and share itineraries, and also add badges to your website to show where you are and what you're doing. In addition, you can export your trips to a calendar program such as Google Calendar or iCal. tripit.com.

 

Google Voice
With this phone manager, you can keep the calls coming through while you roam. Open at the moment only to existing users of a Google-owned service called GrandCentral but soon to be available for everyone, Google Voice gives you a phone number which you can set to ring any phone in the United States (Google plans to expand this ability worldwide). Even more usefully, it can be set to let only some numbers through—for instance, maybe you want your friends but not your boss to be able to call you on that beach in Miami. Because you can set it to ring more than one number, Google Voice can direct the same call to your cell phone as well as the line in your vacation home. You can also use it to check your voice mail from any computer. google.com/voice/about.

 

Note: This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.


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