Bodies of water have always fascinated me… But disappearing seas? It has been difficult for me to follow the changes to this former fourth-largest-lake-in-the-world because it’s rarely in mainstream English-speaking media (Keeping Up with the Kardashians in your weekly TV programming? Nay… Keeping Up with the Kazakhs sounds much more newsworthy). Finally, this Al Jazeera video is an interesting look at the destruction of the sea in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and the effects on land features, public health, and the economy. This is what governments are willing to do for the sake of money. Very bizarre.
Monthly Archives: October 2012
Traveling Tip Tuesday – Tip #3:
There are some household items that always seem to make their way into my checked suitcase when I’m out of town for a week or more. These basics include:
- several plastic grocery bags
- one garbage bag
- plastic zip-lock bags of various sizes (especially quart-size)
- one roll of duct/masking tape
- several scented dryer sheets
- one pair of scissors
- one black marker
- one folder
Grocery bags can be used to organize your souvenirs, pack your alcohol bottles (more on that soon!) and carry wet swimsuits, while garbage bags make great ersatz laundry baskets (so you’re not questioning what is clean and what is dirty…). Shampoo broke open in your carry-on quart-size bag? Rinse off all of the toiletries and replace the oozing bag with the fresh one you packed. It’s oh-so TSA-friendly. Zip-lock sandwich bags also work well for storing smaller souvenirs and for stashing away snacks from the hotel’s breakfast buffet for when you’re later dying of jet-lag hunger. A roll of tape can be a quick fix for a ripped suitcase or broken sandal and a few dryer sheets in your bag can keep your clothes fresh and smelling like home (a remedy for homesickness?). Also, when you need a pair of scissors or a black marker, nothing else will do. Just give in and pack them!
I think one of the most well-used items in my suitcase, however, is the folder. I love keeping restaurant receipts, city maps, and museum tickets as tiny mementos but hate when they get wrinkled or downright destroyed on the journey home! A simple folder (or one with complimentary advertising for Duquesne University) keeps them safe and sound. Folders are also perfect for holding extra copies of flight itineraries, cruise documents, and travel insurance paperwork in addition keeping flat that souvenir photo of you on a camel in Tunisia. Some things need permanently documented.
Squeeze the air out of the grocery bags and put them in one of the quart-sized bags for more space. Store everything in the mesh zip pocket of the suitcase’s lid. Done!
I’d love to hear ideas from you about mandatory supplies you pack in your suitcase! Leave a reply! I need all the help I can get…
Traveling Tip Tuesday – Tip #2:
Some of my most prized possessions from various international destinations are the wine and liquor I manage to drag home. Maybe I enjoyed this particular Kazakh cognac with friends, or that bottle of Saperavi wine was a gift (from the President of Georgia, perhaps?). Alcoholic beverages act in the way a great souvenir should: a very piece of that region brought into your home that’s a fun and usable way to remember your journey (empty bottles and used corks are cute, too!). For this reason, I am very selective and protective of the bottles that are worthy enough to make it into my suitcase (more on packing these items in upcoming Traveling Tip Tuesdays).
The notion of bringing bottles of alcohol into the U.S. seems pretty basic until you remember those fateful little words: U.S. Customs. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is a hu-
ge component of the Department of Homeland Security which functions as the organization for all things “coming in”. Border security, trade facilitation, and traveler screening are all included in this agency, so it seems logical that bringing in bottles of valuable, flammable liquids would be dependent on its regulations.
Many 21-years-or-older travelers feel restricted when it comes to choosing which single bottle of wine to pack in their checked luggage (no carry-ons here! 3.4-ounce-rule still applies!). The truth is, there is no federal limit on the amount of alcohol you may import into the U.S. for personal use (click here for the CBP website). Generally, the amount of untaxed alcohol a traveler can bring in is one liter (approximately 34 fluid ounces). A standard bottle of wine is around 750mL, or 0.75 liters, so this works well.
Large quantities of liquid (say, a few cases of wine) may be a red-flag to border control only for tax purposes. They will not throw you in airport jail! If it seems to the officers that your amount could be used for commercial purposes (i.e., selling it), then it could be subject to duty and federal excise tax (that is to say, a fee for coming into the U.S. and an IRS tax).
Duties and IRS taxes go by the type of beverage, its percentage of alcohol, and its volume (click here for the U.S. International Trade Commission [USITC] PDF file and here for the Tax and Trade Bureau [TTB] website). For example, if the border official insists you pay up, the duty on a bottle of wine with less than 14% alcohol content is around $1.59/liter and the IRS tax is $0.21 – bring that bottle home for well under $2.00!
A few things to note:
- Waters, juices, and non-alcoholic beverages are also subject to taxes.
- The TSA doesn’t allow you bring beverages with 70% alcohol content (140 proof) or higher at all.
- You may take up to five liters of alcohol with alcohol content between 24% and 70% if it’s packaged in a sealable bottle or flask (click here for the TSA website).
- Anything higher than 24% alcohol may be subject to “hazardous materials regulations”.
- Alcoholic beverages purchased in duty-free shops can still be taxed upon U.S. entry. It’s only “duty-free” in the place in which you bought it!
In short, please don’t be afraid to buy and bring home alcohol from your foreign excursions. I have yet to pay a tax on the ridiculous amount of alcohol I always seem to bring in (knock on wood)… But if there is a snag in your border crossing, the tax that may be placed on your purchases is minimal and even this is at the discretion of the border official. Go ahead and indulge!
A great peek at Tbilisi style. Thanks Allison!
Traveling Tip Tuesday – Tip #1:
First thing’s first – sign up for an airline’s frequent-flyer program (FFP) before any traveling. PERIOD. You may be thinking, “I will never use this airline again,” or “I don’t want to waste my time,” but registering for the FFP does have its perks… and I have yet to find a drawback in signing up for one!
Most customer-savvy airlines recognize and reward loyalty and FFP membership shows just that. By having a basic program number, you may log on to the airline’s website and choose your seat preferences (aisle seat, anyone?), review and change your itineraries, and be greeted by name at check-in in addition to accruing miles from your travel. Also, lost luggage tagged in the name of an FFP member may also find its way home faster because the member’s contact info is on file.
Now that you took the two minutes to register for a FFP, you now can start racking up your miles. Even if you have no travel plans on the horizon, you could easily earn enough for an award ticket to a great destination by doing things you would be doing anyways. My favorite way to earn miles (besides the actual “travel” part) is through the shopping websites linked to the airline. Here is a list of the most popular sites:
- Delta Skymiles Program: www.skymilesshopping.com
- American Airlines AAdvantage Program: www.aadvantageeshopping.com
- United MileagePlus Program: www.mileageplusshopping.com
Merchants like The Apple Store, Sephora, and Walmart strike up a deal with the airlines so that when you make purchases through the airline’s special website, the merchant rewards the airline for attracting that customer with real money and then the customer is rewarded with a mileage credit (free for the airlines to dish out). You simply visit the shopping website, log on with your FFP number, click on the merchant you want to use, and then their website opens up in a new window. Make a purchase from that website, and for every dollar you spend (excluding tax, shipping/handling), you get miles!
Each merchant has a different offer, for example: J.Crew offers 2 miles per dollar, whereas Sephora offers 3 miles per dollar. The merchants may offer specials too (“8 miles per dollar for a limited time!”). Shop around for merchants that give you the most bang for your buck.
The crucial part in making this work in your favor: REMEMBER TO GO TO THE AIRLINE’S SHOPPING SITE FIRST. You cannot retroactively earn miles for purchases you did not make originally through the airline’s website. In-store purchases also do not count towards your mileage.
So maybe I am interested in buying the Rosetta Stone software to brush up on my high school Spanish skills. I choose Delta Airlines (a SkyTeam partner) as the airline for which I want the miles to accrue. I go to www.skymilesshopping.com, log on with my FFP number, and click “Rosetta Stone”. A new window opens to the Rosetta Stone website and I make my purchase of $499.00. The deal is 6 miles per dollar, so I will receive 2994 miles credited to my Skymiles account within 45 days. Done!
I just checked the Delta website, and an award ticket from Pittsburgh to Paris for the “Low Price” of the Award Travel Calendar costs 60,000 miles with $91.00 in taxes. You can see how simple purchases for birthdays, anniversaries, and Christmas can turn into VERY CHEAP travel! Happy shopping!