Is Travel Insurance a Waste of Money?

Posted May 29, 2015 by SmarterTravel.com

For some trips, travel insurance is a virtual necessity; for others, it's worthless. The question boils down to a matter of risk. A basic purpose of any insurance is to mitigate financial risk.

So when you have a travel risk, travel insurance can help. Before you buy, assess your risks. Here are some of the most common ones:

Risk 1: Loss of deposits or prepayments. You often have to pay in full or provide a stiff deposit months in advance for a cruise, a tour, or a vacation rental. And if you have to cancel, you may lose a big chunk of those payments in cancellation penalties and nonrefundables. Trip cancellation insurance (TCI) reimburses you for non-recoverable deposits and penalties if you have to cancel before you start.

Risk 2: Extra expenses of returning home before your trip ends. If you have to abort a trip because something happens to you, your traveling companion, or a family member at home, getting home quickly may be expensive. Trip interruption insurance (TII) reimburses the non-recoverable extra costs of returning home early or of continuing as a single traveler if your companion has to return early.

Related: 10 Hotel Booking Mistakes You're Probably Making

Risk 3: Medical expenses. If you get sick or suffer an accident when you're away from home, you may face some stiff immediate medical bills. The main risk occurs when you're outside the U.S. Your own medical plan may cover you anywhere in the world; but some don't. Medicare doesn't cover you outside the U.S., but many Medicare supplements do. In any event, you typically have to shell out big payments on the spot and argue about reimbursement when you return home. Primary travel medical insurance (TMI) pays up front.

Risk 4: Emergency transport home. On your trip, if you're so sick you can't fly home, or if you fall and break your butt in some remote area, getting you to a hospital in a helicopter or back home on a private jet could cost a fortune. Medical evacuation (ME) insurance pays for any such requirement.

What to buy: You can easily determine the risk of lost prepayments or cancellation penalties. Consider TCI any time you have more advance payments at risk—the net of what you can recover in refunds—than you can comfortably absorb if you have to cancel a trip. The corollary is obvious: Don't pay to "insure" recoverable payments. TCI is "named peril" insurance that pays for only the contingencies specified in the policy— typically related to sickness and accident, and excluding work-related reasons. That's why we recommend “cancel for any reason” insurance: It is more expensive but you get to decide whether to cancel, not some insurance company bean counter. TCI policies generally exclude payment for pre-existing medical conditions, but most insurers waive that exclusion if you buy the insurance as soon as you start paying for your trip.

Related: 7 Risky Foods to Avoid While Traveling

TM and ME are available separately by the trip or in six-month or yearly policies for frequent travelers. We recommend primary TM, so you don't have to max out your checking account or credit card on the spot. Prices for bundled policies and separate TM and ME policies depend on destination, duration of trip, and age. They range from 5 percent to 15 percent of your total trip cost—sometimes even more for very senior travelers.

What to avoid: Don't rely on a tour operator's or cruise line's cancellation waiver. It isn't true insurance; instead, the cruise line or operator agrees to waive its own cancellation penalty. Waivers cover fewer risks, and many limit reimbursement to a credit toward a future booking rather than a cash refund. Similarly, don't blindly accept a travel supplier's “opt in” insurance, which may be more expensive than an independent policy or offer insufficient coverage.

How to buy: We recommend buying through one of the several independent online agencies that specialize in travel insurance that provides comprehensive search and comparison systems. Among them:

InsureMyTrip

QuoteWright

SquareMouth

TravelInsurance.com

Trip Insurance Store

You Might Also Like:

Read the original story: Is Travel Insurance a Waste of Money? by Ed Perkins, who is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel.

(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

9 Weird Packing Tips You've Never Thought of

Posted May 29, 2015 by SmarterTravel.com

Weird works—trust us. Some of the most unusual and creative advice is also the best, even when it comes to packing. So with the help of some of our well-traveled readers, as well as our social media friends and followers on Twitter and Facebook, we've compiled a list of nine outlandish packing strategies that are as practical as they are unusual, from sending luggage through the mail to giving up luggage altogether.

Mail Your Stuff There

Pack your bags and ship them off to your hotel a few days before you depart; this technique won't seem so crazy once you weigh the airlines' bag fees against shipping costs. Consider this: It costs $39 to ship a 15-pound package from Boston to Los Angeles if you use an Express Mail Flat Rate Box from U.S.P.S. Comparatively, a third checked bag on a domestic flight can cost as much as $150 (that's how much American charges).

If you're nervous about your airline losing your bag, going the postal route could provide a greater sense of security. And you won't have to drag your things through the airport, either.

Go to Thrift Stores

Give yourself a great excuse to wile away an afternoon in a few thrift stores: Pack only the basics and pick up extra clothes and accessories at thrift stores. Writes Linda M., "If you need extra clothing you can buy some very cheaply in thrift stores. I bought an Armani blouse for $3 at a shop in England." Your new-to-you livery will also function as souvenirs once you're back home.

Dump Your Duds

You know that pile of "to donate" sweaters sitting in your closet? Get a final wear out of the clothes during your next getaway, and then ditch them when you're done. Sally V. left a comment on 10 Things to Pack That Will Save You Money, breaking down how she relieves herself of burdensome baggage while seeing the world. According to Sally, "Items that you just can't bring yourself to throw away at home (T-shirts, socks, underwear, etc.), dispose of them along the way and lighten the load for the trip home. Or better yet, use that space for purchases you've made during your travels."

If you're traveling in the U.S., there's likely a Salvation Army drop-off area near you. Call 800-SATRUCK for more information on drop-off bin locations.

Mail Your Stuff Back Home

Or, more specifically, mail back the part of your luggage that you've already used: your dirty clothes. Madelyn Tyson Cruise Planners explains: "I took a 13-day cruise tour to Alaska … but mailed my dirty laundry home in a $9.95 Priority Mail Medium Flat Rate Box (now $11.35). No checked baggage, no luggage fees, and a few AK souvenirs! Whoo! Hoo!"

Make Your Own Washing Machine

In "Packing Tips from Our Readers" on our sister site IndependentTraveler.com, USRoadTripper offers a creative solution for travelers without access to laundry facilities: "I went to Japan last year, and took one of the extra-huge zip-top bags with me and used it as a washing machine! I was able to get a lot of clothes into it at once. I just put in the clothes, poured in the soap, filled it with water and then agitated it around in the tub until the clothes were all clean. It made the washing and rinsing a breeze, and my clothes got much cleaner than if I was just washing in the sink."

Get Strategic

In response to 10 Things You Should Never Pack in Your Checked Bag, reader Jerry J. serves up a clever idea for flying couples: "If two of you are traveling together, each should pack a two-day supply of clothing in the other's baggage. If one bag is lost, that traveler will still have clean, suitable clothing for at least two days while the bag is located and returned."

Go Disposable

Our Twitter follower thescrvnr suggests, "Pack disposable undies for long trips spanning multiple cities/countries." Magellans sells a few varieties. Granted, no one will mistake you for Miranda Kerr in your pastel-colored disposable cotton briefs. But an overpacked suitcase isn't pretty either.

Take a Snapshot of Your Samsonite

According to Michael P.F., your smartphone is way more than a means for a good game of Angry Birds: It can double as a bag-recovery aid. Says Michael, "I always use my phone to take a picture of my checked bag. It has helped when travelling to countries where I do not speak the local language. If a bag is lost, you have to fill out a form describing the bag. I just show them the picture and they fill in the form appropriately."

Leave It All Behind

When it comes to packing, traveling without luggage is as crazy as it gets. But it's been done. Travel writer Rolf Potts embarked on a 42-day luggage-free trip sponsored by Scottevest Travel Clothing (SeV), makers of multitudinous-pocket travel jackets. Potts crisscrossed the planet carrying only things he could fit inside his jacket pockets, including a small-sized deodorant, a few pairs of clean socks and underwear, along with some T-shirts, a small digital camera, and a toothbrush.

Although many travelers, especially the high-maintenance ones, might be reluctant to go to that extreme, it could be smart to take a page out of Potts' minimalist book. Grab a jacket with plenty of pockets (read our review of the Scottevest Travel Vest) and swap one of your bags for a piece of apparel. Or do your next weeklong trip with just a carry-on—you'll likely feel liberated from those pounds of superfluous stuff.

What's your so-crazy-it-works packing tip? Share it in the comments!

You Might Also Like:

Read the original story: Weird Packing Tips You've Never Thought of by Caroline Costello, who is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel.

(Photo: Juice Images/Getty Images)

Can You Get Your Checked Bags Faster?

Posted May 29, 2015 by SmarterTravel.com

Does checking a bag early mean it will be last off the plane? Does checking a bag at the last minute mean it will be first to the carousel?

I had some time to ponder this recently as I was waiting for a bag while connecting on an international Delta flight through JFK. Anyone who has done this knows that when you're waiting to pick up your suitcase, take it through customs, and then recheck it before racing to catch your connecting flight, every minute feels like an hour. That's a lot of time to think.

As I watched the first 150 bags flop onto the baggage carousel, I wondered if mine would be last out since I had been one of the very first to check my suitcase that morning. At least, I thought as I checked my watch and wondered if I'd make my connecting flight, this could be a teachable moment.

Fast forward a week. Although my luggage eventually came and I made the flight (with a bit of light jogging), I decided to reach out to Delta to see if there was any truth in the commonly held belief that the first checked bags are the last off the plane.

The short answer, I discovered, is no. But the long answer is much more interesting.

According to the Delta rep I spoke with, luggage distribution on wide body planes has everything to do with weight and nearly nothing to do with when a bag is checked. As people check their suitcases, bags are grouped into larger "cans" or big boxes that hold many bags and can be moved as a single unit. At loading time, cans are weighed and arranged in the baggage hold according to weight, which helps balance out the plane's load. In other words, how far back your bag ends up depends on the weight of the can and the needs of the plane, not when you check it.

On international flights, the timeliness with which your bag arrives on the carousel is determined by more than just unloading order. There are also TSA and CBP processes to contend with, so a bag that gets an extra layer of screening would take longer to come out than a suitcase that gets unloaded later but speeds through screening. 

On narrow-body planes, "loose loading"—loading bags individually rather than grouping them into cans—is a common practice. In this case, when you check a bag, it tends to go into a holding area. About 45 minutes before a flight, the bags are sent planeside and then loaded. In this scenario, it all depends on how the luggage is stored while it waits for the plane. If a bag was checked early, it might be at the back of the storage area, which would mean it would be last on the plane, and potentially first off. But ultimately, there's no telling how baggage will be arranged and loaded.

There are, however, still two ways to game the system and get through the airport faster. The first is to fly business or first class, which often get tagged with a priority sticker that moves them to the front of the bag line (though flyers report mixed results on some airlines). But the cheapest—and most surefire—way to get through the airport faster remains to go all carry-on and to altogether avoid the wait at the carousel.

In that spirit, here's some carry-on inspiration:

Read the original story: Can You Get Your Checked Bags Faster? by Christine Sarkis, who is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel.

(Photo: Thinkstock/Digital Vision)

JetBlue, Southwest Top in Customer Satisfaction

Posted May 22, 2015 by SmarterTravel.com

J.D. Power, best known for its annual customer-satisfaction rankings of car owners, this week released its new survey of customer satisfaction with the airlines.

According to the 2015 North America Airline Satisfaction Study, travelers are more satisfied with their overall flight experiences than they were a year ago.  And last year, they were more satisfied than they were the previous year.  In other words, there's a positive trend, with airlines doing a better job of meeting their customers' expectations.

That at least is the view of J.D. Power.  An alternative reading of the results might be that the airlines have simply trained consumers to lower their expectations.

Related: 6 Insanely Cheap Summer Destinations for 2015

The satisfaction grades are based on airlines' performance in seven categories, ranked in order of importance: cost and fees; in-flight services; boarding/deplaning/baggage; flight crew; aircraft; check-in; and reservations.

On a 1,000-point scale, satisfaction with the 11 largest North American carriers averaged 717 points, up from 712 points last year.

The scores and rankings:

  • JetBlue - 801
  • Southwest - 781
  • Alaska - 719
  • WestJet - 715
  • Delta - 709
  • AirTran - 702
  • American - 700
  • Air Canada - 683
  • US Airways - 668
  • United - 665
  • Frontier - 659

You Might Also Like:

Read the original story: JetBlue, Southwest Top in Customer Satisfaction by Tim Winship, who is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel.

America's 10 Best Campgrounds for Families

Posted May 20, 2015 by SmarterTravel.com

What better way to experience some of the country's most iconic destinations and hidden gems than to camp in their midst? At these 10 family-friendly campgrounds, you'll find natural beauty and a bounty of modern amenities to entertain and immerse your entire clan in the splendor of our national treasures.

Assateague Island National Seashore Campground (Berlin, Maryland)

The standout experience at Assateague Island National Seashore Campground is seeing the wild running horses on the beach—and, if you're lucky, playing in the waves. But the fact that you're camping within earshot of those crashing waves isn't a bad thing, either. Pitch your tent right in the sand or park your RV along the seashore. In addition to watching the horses, you can also kayak, go crabbing, bird watch, enjoy a sightseeing cruise, hunt, and bike.

There's a lot of interaction with the horses, so you'll need to mind your food and personal items. Assateague Island National Seashore Campground is also a dry campground, so there are no hookups and only cold showers. There's plenty of room, though, with more than 300 available campsites. Sites closer to the ocean have fewer bugs but less interaction with the horses.

Related: 10 Campgrounds for an Unforgettable Summer Vacation

Big Sur Campground & Cabins (Big Sur, California)

One of the most iconic road trips in the world, the stretch of Highway 1 between San Luis Obispo and Monterey Bay, is a feast for the eyes. Stunning cliff faces drop into a surging sea, and there's something new to take your breath away around every corner. What there isn't is an abundance of accommodations—and that's why camping is among the best ways to experience Big Sur.

There are a number of state parks with campgrounds in the Big Sur area, some of them among the most beautiful in the world. But for families, the Big Sur Campground & Cabins can't be beat. Nestled among the redwoods along a small river, these campsites and cabins offer all of the amenities you need: flush toilets, free showers, tubing on the river (when it's warm), proximity to the coast, and a fabulous playground for the kids.

Boston Harbor Islands (Boston, Massachusetts)

This could be one of Boston's best-kept secrets. Rustic camping is available on four of Boston's Harbor Islands (Peddocks, Bumpkin, Grape, and Lovells), all of which are within sight of downtown Boston. To reach the islands, you must come by private boat or ferry service and bring everything with you.

There are no showers and you're required to have at least one gallon of water per person, per day—a small price to pay considering you will be able to watch the sunrise over Boston Harbor from your campsite. Reservations are required, and public ferry services are available at Long Wharf Boston and Hingham Shipyard in Hingham.

Enota Mountain Retreat (Hiawassee, Georgia)

Enota Mountain Retreat pretty much has it all for those looking for a relaxing getaway with the kids. (Oxymoron? Maybe, but not at Enota.) It has a spa and wellness retreat, cabins, a motel, and an organic farm. For the kids, there's wildlife, an organic garden, trout ponds, swimming, biking, and hiking—that is if you can pry them off the giant trampolines.

Family tent camping is located along the stream, sites featuring fire rings. It's close to the children's playground, the bathrooms, and the outdoor kitchen. There's also an adults-only campground. Enota Mountain Retreat is open year-round, and reservations are recommended.

Related: 10 Great Outdoor Adventures for Families

Eugene T. Mahoney State Park (Ashland, Nebraska)

Sprawled next to the Platte River, Eugene T. Mahoney State Park is a winner for its year-round fun. Visit for the tobogganing in the wintertime and return for some splashy fun in the aquatic park during the summer. Adding to the good times are paddle boats, playgrounds, and a wave pool; not to mention more classic pursuits like fishing, hiking, hunting, and boating.

Eugene T. Mahoney State Park has 149 campsites with hookups, along with cabins and group sites. There are convenient showers and bathrooms as well as coin-operated laundry. Reservations can be made up to a year in advance.

Ingalls Homestead (De Smet, South Dakota)

Ready to live like Laura Ingalls Wilder? The Ingalls Homestead, a large farm in the middle of a prairie, brings the Little House on the Prairie books and television show to life. You can even stay in a covered wagon (which the kids will want to do, so book in advance). It is indeed where Pa Ingalls set claim to his quarter section of land in 1880, and about which Laura Ingalls wrote many of her books. There are ponies and horses, covered wagon rides, pioneering activities, and more.

Tent and RV camping is available in addition to a bunkhouse and the aforementioned covered wagon stays. Large covered wagons offer a double bed, two small single roll-out mats, and an additional roll-out mat. Small wagons have a double bed and one roll-out mat. There are showers, bathrooms, and an underground storm shelter on site.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (Michigan)

For the diversity of scenery alone, camping at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is priceless. Twelvemile Beach Campground is one of the larger campgrounds in the area, offering 36 sites right next to the 15-mile stretch of the Pictured Rocks. It's located on a plateau above the beach with stairs for access to the shoreline.

The two-mile White Birch Interpretive Trail begins and ends at the campground and the North Country Scenic Trail runs through it. Within the park itself, activities include bicycling, boating, hiking, fishing, hunting, swimming, scuba diving, and snorkeling. Visits to Au Sable lighthouse and Miner's Castle, plus taking a sunset boat cruise are a must.

Peak seasons are July and August and campsites are first come, first served, so arrive early in the a.m. to snag a spot.

Related: Unforgettable Places to Sleep in National Parks

Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park at Birchwood Acres (Woodbridge, New York)

Nestled at the base of the Catskill Mountains, Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park at Birchwood Acres offers shaded hookup sites, a variety of cabins, and even RV rentals for those who don't have their own. (The one thing it does lack? A tented camping area.) In addition to a new water zone, Birchwood Acres is home to a playground, a jumping pillow (which has to be seen to be believed), the Yogi Bear Theatre, arts and crafts, dances, bingo, and fishing.

Yosemite National Park, White Wolf Campground (Yosemite, California)

There are a number of options for camping in Yosemite, but White Wolf Campground is a perpetual favorite. The campground is located at an elevation of 8,000 feet and set in a forest near a meadow with trails to Lukens and Harden lakes. It is also close to White Wolf Lodge, good for delicious meals, ice cream for the kiddos, and cold beer for the adults.

There's no backpacking required to reach White Wolf Campground, but it is first come, first serve only, so arrive early. (If you have a choice of site, I recommend the outer ring for the nicest and most private campsites.) There are also tented cabins at White Wolf Lodge for a less rustic experience. As with all of Yosemite, these cabins book far in advance. Campsites are open July to early September.

You Might Also Like:

Read the original story: America's 10 Best Campgrounds for Families by Janeen Christoff, who is a contributor to SmarterTravel.

(Photo: Family Setting up Tent via Shutterstock)

Best Things to Do in Florida with Kids

Posted May 20, 2015 by SmarterTravel.com

When our little California family got invited to a friend's wedding in Key Largo, we hesitated to RSVP. Our daughter was just 15 months old, and though we typically jump at any chance for a vacation, we didn't know whether we could justify cross-country flights with enough things to do that would keep our child—and us—happy to be away from home.

We needn't have worried. Say what you will about Florida, but it can be heaven for little ones. We checked our car seat with our luggage, rented a safe sedan, and set off on a road trip that started in Key Largo and meandered thereafter to all of the state's attractions and towns that we thought would capture our toddler's heart.

If you're thinking of taking your young child to Florida, feel free to copy our itinerary, which, I can assure you, will create sheer joy for your child, memories that'll last your family a lifetime, and even a little parental pampering.

Key Largo

Head straight to Key Largo after you break free from the airport. Its easy pace, aquamarine views, and Caribbean breezes will relax all of you. Those factors, plus a pretty-near-perfect climate, also soothe any jitters you might have about having flown your little one so far from home.

We stayed at the Hilton Key Largo Resort, which has its own tropical beach. Our daughter had fun feeling the sand under her feet and taking her first steps in the Atlantic. As for our king-bed guestroom, it was spacious enough that, even with our daughter's stuff strewn everywhere (plus the crib the staff sent up), it didn't feel cramped.

The Hilton is a full-fledged resort with three good spots to eat—including one out on the beach—so there's no need to pack into the car to go get food. But if you do feel like venturing out for a casual breakfast, stop in at Mrs. Mac's Kitchen, a local favorite known for hearty breakfasts, kitschy decor, and friendly service.

Related: Best Beach Destinations in the Florida Keys

Key West

Sure, Key West is a bit of a rum-soaked party town, but it's also packed with activities to delight a little one. Ours appreciated everything we tried, from the Conch Tour Train that choo-choos around Key West's colorful center to the Key West Aquarium, where she befriended a wise old turtle.

The sheer volume of old-time tchotchkes kept her eyes and mind busy at the Shipwreck Treasure Museum. She also loved being on the water—we took one of Fury Water Adventures' glass-bottom boats in the morning and one of Schooner Appledore's sunset cruises in the evening; both were unforgettable moments for our family.

The Lighthouse Court Hotel, walking distance from everything we wanted to explore, was also just the right pace for us. Breakfast is included, and there's a swimming pool, friendly staffers, and attractive decor. Another plus: It's across from the Ernest Hemingway Home, which was fascinating to me for the literary history and just as fascinating to my daughter for the herd of roaming six-toed cats.

Our favorite meals were at Rum Barrel, where we had a casual lunch; and at Blue Heaven, which is a touch upscale but also a touch quirky and outdoorsy, making it a good option for getting a nice dinner with your child along.

Related: 10 Best Beach Towns in Florida

Overseas Highway

Once you've lounged on the beach enough to have sufficiently unwound, explore the treasures along the spectacular Overseas Highway, a 128-mile stretch of bridges and islands that'll eventually land you in Key West.
This drive is on many a bucket list, and though your car-seat-bound passenger obviously won't see the panoramic views, you can make stops that amp up his or her excitement level. At Robbie's in Islamorada, for example, park your little one in a high chair with a full view of the ocean, swarming pelicans, and massive tarpons being fed by children. There's a decent kids' menu, so order off that, eat, and then stroll the craft booths and walk the docks to see the animals closer up.

Other stops on your way down the highway might include Marathon's new Aquarium Encounters where touch tanks, shark feedings, and 200,000 gallons filled with tropical species will captivate your child; or the Turtle Hospital, also in Marathon, where you'll meet loggerhead, hawksbill, and highly endangered Kemp's ridley turtles.

The Everglades

The Everglades is a vastly underrated national park. We were amazed by how many animals we saw—at least as many as if we'd gone to the zoo for the day—and by the flat, all-the-way-to-the-horizon vistas that rival what you'd see in an African safari.

While we walked the Anhinga Trail, which seems built for strollers, a passionate ranger told us about all the wildlife we were seeing—from the hordes of alligators (most stay below the paved trail but you'll still want to watch your child closely) to the sunning turtles and egrets, herons, and anhingas. He also taught us that Everglades National Park isn't exactly a stretch of land—it's more a very wide, slow-moving river making its way to the Atlantic Ocean—and that its wetlands are in dire need of more protection.

The Gumbo Limbo Trail is also extremely stroller-friendly, though more forested and less teeming with life. (But we did spot an owl calling out to its mate in broad daylight.)

There's really no better place in Florida than the Everglades to take a child if you'd like to nurture a budding love for nature.

Related: Kayaking the Everglades, Florida's Subtropical Wilderness

Disney World

No trip to Florida with anyone under the age of 13 is complete without at least one day at Disney World. (We focused on Magic Kingdom, but Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and any of Orlando's other theme parks are also worth your time.)

Having never taken our 15-month-old to anything like Disney before, we wondered whether a theme park would overwhelm her, and whether there'd be enough attractions suited to a wee one's sensibilities. Boy, were there ever. We went on as many of the kiddie rides as we could, plus the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean. But the biggest hits were It's a Small World, the Enchanted Tiki Room, the Carousel of Progress, and the incomparable Electrical Parade. Our fearless one also loved the fireworks and the costumed characters, though I've heard that those can be scary for some.

If you're wondering whether a theme park visit is right for your child, keep in mind that at Disney World, admission is free for ages 2 and younger, so even if you have to leave early, it's worth a try. I saw hundreds of babies there, older and younger than my daughter, and the vast majority of them looked like they were having the time of their life. Just rent one of the park's strollers ($15, or bring your own), use FastPass wisely, and know that there's a Baby Care Center right off Main Street, and you'll be set up for an experience to remember.

We stayed outside the park, but in retrospect it may have been more convenient to have stayed in one of the Disney hotels—both the Grand Floridian and the Swan and Dolphin get rave reviews.

Related: How Much Do You Know About Disney World? (Quiz)

Orlando Beyond the Theme Parks

Contrary to popular belief, Orlando isn't all theme parks. It's also a city like any other (and also a bit unlike any other). "As our theme parks continue to expand at record pace," says Mark Jaronski, a spokesperson for the city, "so do the number of retail, dining, and nighttime entertainment offerings."

One of those evening offerings is a whimsical show called La Nouba, perhaps Cirque du Soleil's most child-friendly production anywhere (its circus tent is within the Disney World Resort). Admission is free for young children, so we braved the 90-minute performance and were glad we did. There were a couple of loud moments when I had to cover her ears, but otherwise the experience was fabulous: She was completely transfixed by the wild costumes, Olympic-caliber acrobats, classically trained clowns, powerful singers, and live orchestra.

Another Orlando show ideal for an audience of tots happens at WonderWorks, a great attraction whose facade is built to look like a fancy mansion plopped upside down. The Outta Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show spotlights an energetic entertainer who cracks up kids and adults. Admission includes all-you-can-eat pizza—and all-you-can-drink beer and wine.

Since there's no way any parent could do all of the above without having a serious hankering for a massage or at least a manicure, my husband and I found a small place in town simply called The Spa and took turns hanging out with our daughter (Princeton Park is a half-mile away) while the other got a rejuvenating rubdown courtesy of some capable hands.

If you can, stay at the Villas of Grand Cypress, ranked as the # 1 hotel in Orlando by TripAdvisor. The service is exceptional but low-key, the lodgings are like having your own private house—it's nice not to share walls when there's the distinct possibility of a wailing baby on either side—and there's wildlife all around. When your little one stares out the window, lots of birds will stare right back.

Orlando is also home to the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens and the brand-new Crayola Experience. And it's near Dinosaur World and the Kennedy Space Center, among many other kid-friendly attractions.

Miami

We didn't stay long in Miami, mainly using it as a jumping-off point for the Everglades and Orlando. We did, however, spend two nights at Angler's in South Beach, a stylish boutique hotel that's set back from the party scene and has a swimming pool perfect for a dip with your little one. It's a Kimpton property, so the staffers are experts at tending to their youngest guests. Our daughter got a free backpack filled with age-appropriate toys and treats as a welcome gift, and we could have gotten a "pet" goldfish in our room if we'd asked for one, though we didn't.

There are indeed fabulous things to do with a young child in Miami—the beaches, of course; the zoo; the Children's Museum; Jungle Island; and dinner at Monty's in Coconut Grove, where kids dance to live music.

Related: Florida's Best Hidden Beaches

Tips for Bringing a Young Child to Florida

The tips for bringing a young child to Florida don't differ much from tips for bringing a young child to any warm-weather destination with lots to do, but they bear repeating.

Apparel: Aside from what you'd normally pack for your child for any trip, throw in sunhats, sunglasses, and bathing suits or swim diapers. When you head out for the day, pack layers for your little one and yourself—Florida is often toasty, but our Disney World day actually ended up in the low 50s. I'd brought bundle-up clothes for our daughter, but my husband and I, both wearing shorts, shivered as we awaited the shuttle back to our hotel.

Food and drink: Always have lots for your child to drink, whether water or milk, and plenty of bottles or sippy cups. Pack more snacks than you think you'll need—those squeezy food pouches from brands like Plum and Sprout were our saving grace. As for restaurants, look for ones where kids eat free, or request an extra plate and share whatever you order with your high-chair-contained companion. If you're a breastfeeding mama who prefers a cover (my favorite for traveling was from Bebe Au Lait), pack it in your daypack and pull it out whenever needed—no one ever gave me a second glance.

Equipment and gear: Bring or rent a car seat, of course, but don't forget sunscreen, a small umbrella stroller, and lots of distractions—favorite books and toys, a sticker book, crayons—for the plane ride. And get yourself a decent backpack that can carry everything you'll need for a full day out with your little one.

Whatever happens, just go with the flow. Schedules have a way of getting mucked up on trips like this, especially if you're hopping time zones, and that's okay. If your child falls asleep on Key West's Conch Train, as ours did, just go with it. A nap is a nap. You can reestablish things when you get home. In the meantime, these memory-making moments are all worth it.

You Might Also Like:

Read the original story: Best Things to Do in Florida with Young Children by Avital Andrews, who is a contributor to SmarterTravel.

(Photo: Baby on Beach via Shutterstock)

7 Budget Coastal Cities to Book for Summer

Posted May 15, 2015 by SmarterTravel.com

People-FamilyAtBeach-DD

With Memorial Day just a week away, it’s officially beach season.  Search out the sand, sun, and savings—if you know where to look that is!

And to help you get inspired, check out each destination's live camera feed.

Myrtle Beach

As one of the top vacation destinations in the country, Myrtle Beach truly knows how to offer, families in particular, a good time—and with deep discounts.

The Myrtle Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau hosts a useful site filled with options galore. Find accommodations, dining, and activities listings; including its handy Top 10 roundups. Of particular interest are helicopter rides for $20, wine tastings at a dollar a glass, national park admissions rates of $5.

Peruse the site's Myrtle Beach coupons page for savings on various activities, including golfing, fishing, dinner shows, and amusement parks.

Check out the Myrtle Beach scene through a live feed of the hot destination's EarthCam.

Search for low prices on Myrtle Beach packages here!

Atlantic City

Can’t make it out to Las Vegas, no problem. Sin City’s counterpart is just a two-hour drive from New York City, three-and-a-half hours from D.C., and just over an hour from Philly.

Fly Spirit Airlines for the most-economical fares (but watch out for the various ancillary fees, including $26-$100 for carry-ons and $21-$100 for checked bags)

Check out the waves with the Atlantic City Beach Cam.

Search for low prices on Atlantic City packages here!

San Diego

Setting your sights on San Diego this summer? Get an edge over other travelers who are also thinking of hitting the sunny Southern California beach city by being in the know.

Helpful info on what to, where to stay, and how to do it on the cheap is available the San Diego Tourism Authority site, and whether searching savings for Segway tours, surfing lessons, or zoo admission the Offers and Coupons page has you covered. Attractions? Check. Shopping? Yup. Even savings on accommodations options are listed.

For an "awww" moment with Gao Gao, Bai Yun, and Xiao Liwu, check out the San Diego Zoo Panda Cam.

Search for low prices on San Diego packages here!

San Francisco

No trip to San Francisco is complete without a ride on a cable car, but what’s even more fun than a ride is two, three, and even more rides on these characteristically San Franciscan trolleys. At 5 bucks a pop, all those fares can get expensive quite quick, so save by buying a one-, three-, or seven-day pass, which are also good for buses.

Let the City by the Bay inspire with the San Francisco EarthCam, which offers peeks of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island.

Search for low prices on San Francisco packages here!

Boston

Boston's a must for history buffs out there, but for those who like to keep their bank accounts in the black, not so much.

Hit the historic city’s sights more economically by perusing an attractions-discount booklet like City Pass. The Boston pass includes admission to five attractions at a cost of $49 for adults and $36 for kids ages three to 11. According to City Pass, that’s a savings of 47 percent if booking those same attractions separately.

With the Boston EarthCam, get a bird’s-eye view of the Charles River; Longfellow Bridge; the city skyline, including the John Hancock Building (the city’s tallest skyscraper); and the Back Bay neighborhood.

Search for low prices on Boston packages here!

Seattle

In case the EarthCam views from atop the Space Needle aren’t inspiring enough, get tips and ideas on what to do and where to invest your travel time and money at the beautifully curated Visit Seattle website, one cleverly titled 2DaysInSeattle.com.

Latte art, craft brews, the Puget Sound, and Chihuly’s Garden and Glass Museum are just a few of the images that’ll have you booking a Seattle trip—STAT!

Search for low prices on Seattle packages here!

Miami Beach

Spot a celebrity (or just very intoxicated patrons spilling out of Wet Willie’s) with the South Beach EarthCam trained on passersby cruising Ocean Drive.

Better yet, stroll along SoBe during Happy Hour and you’ll soon spot the savings. Free appetizers, 2-for-1 specials, and cheap imbibing is not only happy, but several hours long. As of presstime, TripAdvisor readers have reviewed nearly 6,000 Happy Hours throughout Miami Beach.

Search for low prices on Miami Beach packages here!

10 Best Florida Beach Resorts

Posted May 14, 2015 by SmarterTravel.com

Florida may be synonymous with sun and sand, but only a few resorts actually put you right on the beach. From a top-notch spa to a secluded island, here are the very best Florida beach resorts based on beach access, amenities, and TripAdvisor ratings.

Acqualina Resort & Spa on the Beach

Situated on four-and-a-half acres of blissful beachside property in Sunny Isles Beach (between Ft. Lauderdale and Miami), Acqualina Resort & Spa on the Beach gives new meaning to fun in the sun. The 98-room Mediterranean-style villa sits directly overlooking the ocean, without any barriers between guests and its 400-feet of Atlantic shoreline.

A recipient of the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Award and the AAA Five Diamond Award, Acqualina doesn't disappoint when it comes to service and amenities. The resort features three outdoor swimming pools, beachfront yoga, a world-class oceanfront spa, and three on-site restaurants.

Southernmost on the Beach

Key West may not be known for its beaches—Duval Street always steals the spotlight—but there are plenty of places to dig your feet in the sand. Southernmost on the Beach is just such a spot, with its own private beach, oceanfront pool, Shores bar, and a private pier perfect for sunset viewing.

The resort features 124 recently renovated rooms that offer ocean views, each of which come with access to South Beach and use of rental beach chairs and umbrellas. Located a stone's throw from the historic Old Town, Southernmost on the Beach delivers the best of both worlds when it comes to Key West vacations.

Related: 10 Best Places to Go in Florida

Lago Mar Resort and Club

With a 500-foot private beach and a secluded location in Ft. Lauderdale, Lago Mar Resort and Club feels like a true escape from the every day. Cabanas, chaise lounges, steamer chairs, and umbrellas are provided to take lounging to the next level. The Lago Mar Resort and Club also features two swimming pools—one is a 9,000-foot lagoon-inspired area with its very own island—and plenty of on-site activities, such as four tennis courts, a resort shop, and a spa. Six on-site eateries offer a range of cuisines and dining options, including a soda shop (ice cream fanatics rejoice) and a wine cellar lounge.

Pink Shell Beach Resort

Located on the northern tip of Ft. Myers Beach, Pink Shell Beach Resort boasts sweeping beachfront views. Amenities include a wide range of water activities, including sailing lessons, WaveRunner rentals, parasailing, dolphin adventure tours, and free use of kayaks and paddleboards.

Three heated swimming pools also provide plenty of entertainment, and one even comes with a large waterfall. As for the sandier-side of things, the Pink Shell Beach Resort provides yoga on the beach and free use of beach chairs and umbrellas, as well as cabana and fire-pit rentals. There's also a 6,000-square-foot spa, a kids' camp, two on-site eateries, and complimentary nature walks.

Little Palm Island Resort & Spa

With a slew of awards to its credit—Conde Nast "Gold List"; Travel + Leisure Top 500 World's Best Hotels in 2013, 2014, and 2015; and TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence in 2013 and 2014; among others—Little Palm Island Resort & Spa promises a luxurious and splurge-worthy getaway on a remote island off the Florida Keys coastline. A true secluded escape, only accessible by sea plane or boat, Little Palm Island Resort & Spa offers air-conditioned thatch-roofed bungalow suites set among six acres of sandy beaches and palm trees.

Related: 10 Best Beach Towns in Florida

The Breakers

Situated on 140 acres of pristine oceanfront property in the heart of Palm Beach, a stay at The Breakers is a tropical experience unlike any other in Florida. The Italian-Renaissance-style resort provides five acres of oceanfront splendor, which includes a half-mile of private beach, four oceanfront pools, five whirlpool spas, beach bungalows, and a bathhouse. Outdoor enthusiasts can partake in the Breakers' many activities, such as scuba diving, sunset cruises, ocean kayaking, snorkeling, tennis, and golf. There's also a spa and eight on-site restaurants.

Ponte Vedra Inn & Club

Located in northeast Florida, just 20 miles southeast of Jacksonville, the 300-acre Ponte Vedra Inn & Club lures both travelers with amenities such as seaside golf, tennis, sailing, fishing, and cycling. It doesn't end there, however, as the resort also features miles of beaches, four heated swimming pools, a full-service spa, four restaurants, and three lounges. The 250-room resort earned a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence for 2014.

Tranquility Bay Beachfront Hotel & Resort

Overlooking the Gulf of Mexico in the heart of the Florida Keys, Tranquility Bay Beachfront Hotel & Resort is known for its white sandy beaches, tropical swimming pools, and lush gardens. Tranquility Bay Beachfront Hotel & Resort also offers on-site diving, snorkeling, kayaking, paddle boarding, and jet skiing.

The Carillon Hotel & Spa

Formerly Canyon Ranch Miami Beach, The Carillon Hotel & Spa combines a dramatic setting overlooking the water with Southern Florida's largest spa. More than 40 activities are offered each day, including beach boot camp, morning walks, classes in the adults-only heated rooftop pool, indoor rock climbing, and boxers' workout. Four pools and the beach, only steps from the hotel, make it easy to soak up the sun in a stunning setting.

Related: Florida's Best Hidden Beaches

Costa d'Este Beach Resort & Spa

Gloria and Emilio Estefan (yes, that Gloria Estefan) founded Costa d'Este Beach Resort & Spa in Central Florida's Treasure Coast as the ultimate escape from the ordinary. The beachfront haven provides ocean views alongside locally grown and organic dishes served at the Wave Kitchen & Bar or the Beachside Cabana Bar. Guests can take a dip in the infinity pool or enjoy water activities on Vero Beach, such as scuba diving, surfing, boating, and kayaking.

You Might Also Like:

Read the original story: 10 Best Florida Beach Resorts by Kate H. Knapp, who is a contributor to SmarterTravel.

(Photo: TripAdvisor LLC)

10 Must-See Natural Wonders Near the Grand Canyon

Posted May 14, 2015 by SmarterTravel.com

As a temporary resident of Arizona, I had grand plans for hiking the famed Bright Angel Trail and camping at the bottom of the Grand Canyon this summer. I submitted my request for a backcountry camping permit in February, pleased as punch that I was planning a trip five months in advance. Then came the rejection letter from the National Park Service.

Requests for camping permits, I was told, should be made at the earliest possible date (January 1 for May, February 1 for June, etc.). And reservations for Phantom Ranch and South Rim mule trips open up 13 months prior to your desired arrival date. My hopes were raised again when I read "cancellations plus a small number of Corridor campsites are held in reserve for last-minute walk-in visitors." They were quickly dashed again two sentences later: "In busy months, it often takes two to three days for a walk-in visitor to obtain a one- to two-night trip within the canyon."

I turned my sights to Havasu Falls, a 22-mile round-trip hike, but its lodging and hiking permits were booked until November. The West Rim Skywalk was an option, albeit an expensive one at more than $40 per person—not including the actual Skywalk. Even the Grand Canyon Lodge on the less-visited North Rim fills up early; I watched my room reservation get snagged by someone who could clearly type their credit card number faster than me.

It all got me thinking: Why fight the crowds during peak season at the Grand Canyon when there are a slew of other must-see natural wonders within driving distance of either rim? So here are 10 eye-popping places you can visit instead of (or in addition to) the Grand Canyon.

Antelope Canyon, Arizona

Like the Grand Canyon, a visit to Antelope Canyon takes some prior planning. Unlike the Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon tours don't require a 13-month advance registration. The area, known for its striking slot canyons, is on Navajo land. Guides are required for both the upper and lower Antelope Canyon area. Several vendors offer hour-long tours to stay within the maximum two-hour visit limit enforced by the reservation.

Bonus: Iconic Horseshoe Bend, the aptly named curve in the Colorado River, is a mere 10 miles, or 20-minute drive, west of Antelope Canyon on U.S. Route 89. A 1.5-mile round-trip path leads to the canyon rim overlook.

Distance: 129 miles from North Rim
Approximate drive time: 2 hours, 55 minutes

Related: Grand Canyon: Secrets of the South Rim

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona/Utah

The Wahweap Marina is a solid basecamp for exploring the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and the second-largest manmade lake in the U.S., Lake Powell. With that much space, it's hard to tell that nearly 3 million people stop by the area each year. Fishing, swimming, and kayaking are all favorites of visitors, but any water-based activity is even more exciting from a houseboat. Rent one—or a powerboat, paddleboard, kayak, or jet ski—at the marina.

Boaters can cruise in and out of secluded canyons or head 50 miles across Lake Powell to remote Rainbow Bridge National Monument, one of the world's largest known natural bridges. Considered sacred to the Navajo, Rainbow Bridge is also accessible via full-day tours out of the marina or a two-day hike around Navajo Mountain with a permit.

Distance: 130 miles to Wahweap Marina from North Rim
Approximate drive time: 2 hours, 50 minutes

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Famous for its petrified logs, Petrified Forest is also home to ancient petroglyphs, Pueblo ruins, and the red and orange hues of the Painted Desert. The 28-mile drive through Petrified Forest National Park will take you past a variety of overlooks, but stepping out can bring you up close with the renowned landscape.

The short, one-mile Blue Mesa trail winds through badlands made of bluish bentonite clay, while the Giant Logs trail brings visitors past some of the park's largest fossilized wood. Rangers can also tell you about some off-the-beaten path hikes like Devil's Playground (free permits required) and Jasper Forest.

Often mistaken for a desert, the Petrified Forest is actually grassland. It's also home to the Painted Desert Inn, a National Historic Landmark that was once a rest stop for travelers along Route 66.

Distance: 195 miles from South Rim
Approximate drive time: 2 hours, 50 minutes

Related: 10 National Parks You Never Knew Existed

Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah

The bold striations within the Cedar Breaks amphitheater could easily be confused with Bryce Canyon—they're part of the same geological formation. More than 10,000 feet above sea level, the park has several heart-pumping hiking trails, including walks along the canyon rim and by a spring-fed alpine pond.

Though the road to the Cedar Breaks National Monument visitor's center, Utah Highway 148, is closed due to snow until late May or early June, it remains open for visitors on skis, snowshoes, or snowmobiles. In the summer, the Cedar Breaks National Monument celebrates its variety of vibrant wildflowers and unaltered night skies with star parties hosted by volunteer astronomers.

Distance: 150 miles from North Rim
Approximate drive time: 3 hours

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Nearly 5,000 archeological sites are protected by Mesa Verde National Park, including 600 cliff dwellings. From 600 to 1300 CE, the site was home to Ancestral Pueblo people. Self-guided and ranger-led tours—many involving climbing ladders—are available to various dwellings, depending on season.

Other hikes in the park take visitors by petroglyphs, overlooks of the archeological sites, and offer up sweeping panoramas of the surrounding area. Backcountry hikes, requiring advance tickets, offer visitors a glimpse at less-trodden areas of the park.

Distance: 280 miles from South Rim
Approximate drive time: 4 hours, 30 minutes

Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona

Arizona's Canyon de Chelly National Monument is located entirely on Navajo tribal lands and requires no entrance fee. Beyond exploring two rim drives, 10 overlooks, and the publically accessible White House Ruin Trail, you can hike or horseback-ride along the canyon floor with local tour operators. Hikers opting to use the public trail will descend 600 feet along a switchback trail before retracing their steps back.

For the most part, Canyon de Chelly offers a leisurely respite from the more active requirements of other parks. Many of its distinctive features, like Spider Rock (a tall sandstone spire that rises from the canyon floor), are viewable from the overlooks.

Distance: 220 miles from South Rim
Approximate drive time: 4 hours

Related: Grand Canyon: Hoofing it Down the North Rim

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

The two units that make up Saguaro National Park are divided by the city of Tucson—convenient for a lunch break or overnight stay. The stereotypical symbol of the West, the giant saguaro, is the country's largest cactus—and there are more than 1.5 million of them between the Tucson and Rincon mountain districts of Saguaro National Park.

Both areas of Saguaro National Park have loop drives with several overlooks and trailheads that offer more than 150 miles of hiking, including one trail in the Tucson Mountain District that takes you past well-preserved petroglyphs. And the Sonoran desert doesn't disappoint with its sunsets, so consider sticking around until dusk.

Distance: 337 miles from South Rim
Approximate drive time: 5 hours

El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico

Formed by volcanic activity over the past million years, El Malpais National Monument is full of cones, caves, and other formations that sit in stark contrast to the surrounding landscape. Much of the area is covered in lava flows, leading some to compare it to the moon. The Lava Falls Loop Trail brings you through surreal landscapes. Or you can opt to hike part of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail.

Perhaps the best reason to visit El Malpais National Monument is the caving. Free mandatory cave permits allow you to scramble over boulders and explore lava tube caves, including the Giant Ice Cave, with its season ice columns and perennial ice floor.

Distance: 358 miles from South Rim
Approximate drive time: 5 hours

Timpanogos Cave National Monument, Utah

Generally open mid-May through September, the three caves that make up Timpanogos Cave National Monument require, for the preservation of the cave, a guide. Reserve your tour tickets 30 days in advance to ensure you get the day and time you want. A 1.5-mile trail, gaining around 1,100 feet, leads to the cave entrance, offering up sprawling views of American Fork Canyon and Utah Valley. Time spent in the cave lasts about an hour and takes you through the natural entrance, past underground pools and dramatic draperies.

For those who want to do a bit more bending, crawling, and climbing, the Introduction to Caving Tour is limited to five people and gives you a more in-depth look into caving safety and etiquette away from the developed trails. You'll use some of the same paths the cave's discoverer, Martin Hansen, used when he found it in the late 1800s.

Distance: 367 miles from North Rim
Approximate drive time: 6 hours

Related: 10 Thrilling National Park Trails

Chiricahua National Monument, Arizona

The longest of the drives on this list brings you to fee-free Chiricahua National Monument, and its small crowds and awe-inspiring geological formations don't disappoint. Made of ash from a volcanic eruption millions of years ago and chiseled by ice and water, the rock features that fill Chiricahua National Monument may remind you of the hoodoos found in Bryce Canyon, only with a mossy green tinge instead of a burnt orange.

An eight-mile scenic drive offers trailhead access to 17 miles of day-use hiking, including paths that wind above, among, and around the towering rocks. The Chiricahua Mountains are home to plants and animals from the Rocky Mountains, Mexico's Sierra Madre Mountains, and the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts, making this an interesting area for spotting diverse wildlife.

Distance: 460 miles from South Rim
Approximate drive time: 6 hours, 40 minutes

You Might Also Like:

Read the original story: 10 Must-See Natural Wonders Near the Grand Canyon by Kate Sitarz, who is a contributor to SmarterTravel.

(Photo: Horseshoe Bend via Shutterstock)

9 Surprising Passport Facts You Need to Know

Posted May 12, 2015 by SmarterTravel.com

Did you know the U.S. government recommends you send your passport application in a special envelope? Or that losing a lot of weight may trigger the need for a renewal? Would you be surprised to find out that some people's passports are longer than short novels? Here are nine impressive, surprising, and vital facts about U.S. passports. You never know when one might apply to you.

Impressive: Passports Are on the Rise

In 1996, the U.S. Department of State issued 5.5 million passports. In 2014, that number jumped to 14 million passports. Even when you factor in the population increase, that's a heartening jump in the number of people eager to get out and explore the world.

Surprising: Protect Your Passport With … Tyvek?

Think you can use any old envelope when you're sending in your old passport for renewal? Think again. The Bureau of Consular Affairs strongly recommends you mail your passport application and personal documents using "a secure means of packaging, such as a Tyvek envelope," which will protect against the rough and tumble world of postal transit.

Vital: You May Need To Renew Sooner Than You Think

Don't take your passport's expiration date at face value. Some countries have a six-month or three-month passport validity rule that requires your passport to be valid for a certain amount of time after your date of entry.

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Passports

Impressive: Your Passport Has Identity Theft Deterrents

If your passport was issued after August 2007, you've got an e-passport with a small integrated chip in the back cover that stores your passport information and a biometric identifier based on your photograph. To protect passport holders from unknowingly falling victim to high-tech identity theft, there are metallic elements in the cover of the passport, making it impossible for the passport to be digitally "read" until it's physically open.

Surprising: If You've Gained Or Lost Weight, You May Need A New Passport

If your appearance has changed significantly, you'll need to apply for a new passport. That means if you've lost (or gained) a lot of weight, so much so that you look different than you do in your passport photo, you'll need a new one. The same is true if you've undergone "significant facial surgery or trauma," or if you've added or removed large facial tattoos or piercings.

Vital: You Must Obey Photo Restrictions

You may not realize it, but nowhere are the fashion stakes as high as in your passport photo. That's because the photo may be rejected—thus throwing your application into a delayed spiral—if it doesn't meet certain criteria. The photo must have been taken within six months of your application date, and needs to reflect your current appearance. You must directly face the camera and your expression should be neutral. According to the Bureau of Consular Affairs, "Photos with exaggerated expressions and squinting will not be accepted." And uniforms and "clothing that looks like a uniform" are forbidden as well.

Related: Tips for Taking Better Travel Photos from Photographers We Love

Impressive: A Passport Can Be Novella-Length

A standard-issue passport is 28 pages long, and when you're applying or renewing, you can request a longer, 52-page passport at no additional cost. If you need more pages in your existing passport, you can send it in and have additional blank visa pages added in increments of 24 pages, up to a total of 76 pages. A 76-page passport sounds like a great read to us.

Surprising: Damage Can Render Your Passport Invalid

Normal wear and tear is forgivable, but if your passport has been significantly damaged, it's time for a new one. Water damage, significant tearing (especially on the book cover or the page with your personal data and photo), unofficial marking on the data page (keep kids with crayons well clear), and torn out visa pages are among the types of damage that will likely mean you'll need to apply for a replacement.

Related: Pro Tip: Don't Leave These 11 Things Until the Last Minute

Vital: You May Need More Blank Pages

If you're planning a trip and are running low on blank pages in your passport, it behooves you to take a look at the country information for your destination, since a few countries require you to have up to three blank pages in your passport for visa and immigration stamps. Most countries want you to have at least one blank page for stamps, so if you're traveling to multiple countries on the same trip, make sure you're prepared.

You Might Also Like:

 

Read the original story: 9 Surprising Passport Facts You Need to Know by Christine Sarkis, who is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel.

(Photo: LatitudeStock - Bill Bachmann/Getty Images)


  • From:
  • To:
  • Depart:
  • Return:
  • Travelers:

Hotels, Rental Cars, Cruises, and Vacations

www.bookingbuddy.com