Category: Travel Unravel

How The U.S. Government Shutdown Affects Traveling Americans And Visitors From Abroad

washington dc

The United States Federal Government has been partially closed since December 22nd, indefinitely, until the Congress with the president’s approval can pass a budget to allocate funds for several major agencies. Since government shutdowns like the one in Washington DC are exceedingly rare elsewhere in the developed world, the procedures and cutbacks pertaining to services, travel or otherwise can be unclear.

Many are ad-hoc to an extent; based in part on how long the showshutdown will last. For those of you planning a trip to, from, or within of the United States, here’s what you need to know.

A Brief Breakdown – What Is A Shutdown?

Since 1884 The Antideficiency Act prevents the federal government of the United States from spending money that hasn’t been appropriated by Congress. The current government shutdown is a partial one, affecting roughly a quarter of the U.S. government.

Why The Shutdown Happened –Congress and the president cannot agree over the allocation of funds, in particular, regarding a border wall with Mexico. As The Balance explains,

The Constitution gives Congress the power over the federal budget. Article 1, Section 9, states, “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequences of Appropriations made by Law.”

The president’s role is to submit a budget proposal to Congress. He asks all federal agencies to submit their budget requests to him. The Office of Management and Budget compiles these requests. The president submits this budget to Congress. Congress usually follows this budget as a guideline to create its own budget resolution. That is used to create the appropriations bill. These bills allocate funds for different categories of government agencies. 

Approximately 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed (temporary unpaid leave) until a budget is passed. Only those employees deemed “essential” are still on the job. For example, only 3% of NASA employees are at work right now but not getting paid. The Transportation Security Administration is also affected; meaning although staff are at work, they will not be paid until a federal budget is passed. No money, no funny, no government.

How Long Will The Shutdown Last?

The biggest question at the moment is: when will this shutdown end? President Donald Trump has said it could go on for years but that seems highly unlikely. Already hundreds of TSA employees are calling out sick as there’s no paycheck in sight. Since the federal government shutdown 3 times in 2018, other disruptions likely, so this is what travelers need to keep in mind.

Travel Visas To The U.S. – No Change (Theoretically)

The State Department remains operational, meaning services such as visa applications that are funded through fees should continue to be processed at relatively normal time frames. However, during the one shutdown in 1996, nearly 30,000 applications went unprocessed per day.

new york new york

Travel Visas From The U.S. – No Change

Since visas applications for other countries are handled by the consular services of those governments, your tourist visas won’t be delayed or disrupted due to the U.S. shutdown.

new delhi airport

Passport Services For U.S. Citizens – It Depends

Although the State Department is processing new passports, renewals, and page additions as normal, several of their passport offices are located within government buildings currently closed due to the shutdown. If your passport is in one of them, it won’t be processed until the shutdown ends.

U.S. National Parks – All Closed

Including the Grand Canyon, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Joshua Tree, Yosemite, and Virgin Islands National Park in the Caribbean. Here’s a Wikipedia page with the full list of now-closed national parks.

Smithsonian Museums And National Zoo – Closed

In Washington DC, Smithsonian Museums, plus the National Zoo, are closed during the shutdown as well as the American Indian Museum Heye Center and Cooper Hewitt in New York City. A shame, because both the National Air and Space Museum in the city and right outside, remain some of my favorite in the world.

U.S. National Forests – Partially Closed

It’s not practically possible to close all National Forests, which total 769,000 square kilometers (297,000 square miles) so rather, all campgrounds and offices must remain empty. National park rangers and security will still be working though, these are the services currently running.

dharamsala india forest

Monuments, Capitol, White House Tours – Closed And Canceled Until Further Notice

Most of these US National Monuments are affected but their websites aren’t being updated during the shutdown. Here’s a list of DC monument statuses, the Statue of Liberty is open, but you’ll need to do some Internet searching to get details for most sites. Tours of the US Capitol Building, one of 5 popular tourist destinations that won’t disappoint you, are also on hiatus during the shutdown. State monuments and government buildings like the Texas Capitol Building in Austin are open however.

Will The Airlines Refund Me If My Travel Plans Are Ruined?

Having contacted a number of major airlines, most will not provide a refund or voucher even if you can prove your trip to a destination (e.g. National Park) is directly affected by the shutdown. (U.S.-based carriers seemed more sympathetic to such concerns; if you’re a furloughed employee, be sure to mention that as well.) You may though have trip insurance through the credit card you used to purchase airfare; otherwise check with your insurance provider – you may also have opted for trip protection through (e.g. Expedia), be sure to double-check that as well.

This latest government shutdown has been one of the longest in U.S. history. It seems, given the trends from the last year, more shutdowns are probable so it’s best to get travel insurance prior to a trip to or within the United States if you’re planning to see federally-funded sites. Or, if you aren’t feeling particularly impatient, make plans to visit these places with fully functioning governments.

This is an updated version of a post originally written in 2013.

How Much Does The Average Passenger Plane Angle Up During Take Off?

This post is part of Geek Takeover Week 2018.

madrid airport

You might have wondered as the wheels of the jumbo jet you’re in gently leave the ground how high up the nose of your plane is angled up. What feels like a fairly mild angle when you’re inside the plane looks like a mild airshow stunt when you’re watching from the ground, so, how much does a typical passenger plane angle up during take off?

Caveats Away

Let’s start but clarifying the answer is a detailed, “it depends.” Details, by pilot standards, are important, as in i.e. not crashing. For our purposes though, we can generalize. Your plane’s angle going up (called the “angle of attack”) varies by the size of the plane, engine power, wind, and load on the aircraft. Those are some of the physical considerations but then there are also practical ones. Airport traffic is one example; and the reason flights often begin descent 320 kilometers (200 miles) from their destination.

sky combat ace

Angle At A Time

Planes slowly angle up during take off at about 2-3 degrees per second for a Boeing 747. A bit of quick math and using the same Boeing 747 as an example, the average passenger plane has a maximum take off angle of about 10-15 degrees. That’s well within the plane’s tolerances of course. (The Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner can go almost straight up.) Much like the 30 degree turns most jumbo jets max out at though, angles are kept moderate to make you feel most comfortable, save on fuel, and be as safe as possible.

Nothing More Than Feelings

The angle of attack will feel more pronounced depending on where you’re sitting in the plane. Up in business class on a larger airplane gives you the sensation of a steeper angle, closer to the wings and it will feel less pronounced. Though now you’ll know really what that angle is, giving you more time to calculate time dilation from traveling so fast and far from Earth. For (still) nervous flyers, these 7 plane crash facts might make you feel better. Or not.

How Much Does A Plane Turn (On Its Side) When Turning In The Air?

airplane turn

Have you ever wondered when looking out the window as your plane is maneuvering for a landing, how steep those turns actually are? The slight jolt in your stomach combined with the view out the window (what seems like all ground or all sky depending on which side you’re on) gives the impression that your plane is nearly on its side.

The truth is the airlines try not to freak you out and keep things comfortable in the cabin. Jumbo jet turns are impressive but not as drastic as your senses are telling you.

Two Forces At Work

Let’s keep things very simple. Planes in flight need to move forward (speed) to keep a constant flow of air over the wings. This constant flow of air provides lift. As you gain altitude upon takeoff, the wings are angled up. When you reach a cruising altitude, speed is reduced and the wings are angled in a way to provide and equal balance between two forces: lift and gravity.

plane turn

At takeoff in particular, as the plane accelerates, you can feel the gravitational force (g-force) increase. You feel heavier in your seat (the forward momentum is pushing you into the seat). At cruising altitude your plane is no longer accelerating and you feel “normal” i.e. at 1 g.

What Happens When A Plane Turns

There are ailerons on airplane wings what help with direction and lift. (Basically flaps of metal.) Going straight, the aileron are generally straight. To turn an airplane right, the left aileron goes down, the right goes up. This causes the left wing to go up, and the right wing to go down. In this configuration, the plane is now at an angle, with increased overall drag (because the ailerons up or down are less aerodynamic than a straight wing).

Increased drag slows the airplane. Also, in a turn, there’s less area of lift under a wing, causing it to lose altitude. However, to compensate, pilots angle the airplane up as well as increase thrust (speed) to maintain a constant altitude during a turn. You’ll probably feel those changes in your stomach.

Keeping You Comfy

Passenger jets typically don’t bank more than 30 degrees on a turn. They’re capable of more but the steeper the turn, the more thrust needed to keep the plane from losing altitude. Turns at angles more than 30 degrees would cause more g-forces which wouldn’t help airsickness or nervous fliers.

So despite it looking like your plane is about to do a barrel roll on every significant turn, next time you fly, know it’s probably only banked about 20-30 degrees at most. Once you’re on the ground you’ll hear the flight attendants say cross-check, here’s why.

[Second photo by: Nicoguaro]

The Best Place To Travel Right Now: Answering My Inbox Q&Av2

I’m sent a lot of travel and tech questions by email and although I reply to them all, I want to share some of those responses publicly to help more of you travel smarter. In the video above, I answer your questions about the best places to travel right now, good VPN choices, and more.

I’ll have an occasional Q&A video for you on my YouTube channel so feel free to let me know any travel questions you might have in the comments below.

Can My Smartphone Replace A Dedicated Camera When Traveling?

taj mahal smartphone

We’ve all got a smartphone within a meter of us or in hand right now that probably has a camera with a higher resolution on paper than a point and shoot made a few years ago. Smartphone cameras are getting really good and you’ve probably been asking yourself whether or not it’s worth bringing the camera collecting dust in your closet on your next trip.

There are some clear advantages to traveling with only a phone as your camera but a smartphone can’t do everything most dedicated cameras can, which for you, might not matter.

Megapixels Aren’t The Whole Picture

The vast majority of us are happy with the pictures and video our smartphones take, generally until we compare them to photos from a “real” camera. There are differences in how pictures taken from a smartphone look mostly because phones are a lot smaller so the sensors collecting light, plus the lens aperture (opening), have to shrink as well. Let’s breakdown what that means:

  • Sensor – A sensor is basically a light detector behind the lens that takes photons and converts them into electrical signals a computer chip can interpret. Those signals are then processed to create a digital image.

Megapixels are the number of pixels – points that can detect light – on a sensor. Mega means million, so 19 megapixels is a sensor has 19 million little light detectors.

camera candle light

Many point and shoot cameras have the same number of pixels as the newest smartphones – larger DSLR and mirror-less cameras don’t have that many more – but there’s most to a photo than megapixel count. The size of the sensor makes a big difference. With a bigger sensor, every pixel on that sensor can also be larger, therefore capable of capturing more light.

In other words, you’ve got a sensor, cut up into pixels. The bigger the sensor, the larger each pixel can be. An iPhone X has 12 megapixels, like the Panasonic Lumix ZS50 point and shoot camera, but the iPhone’s 12 megapixels, because of the smaller sensor, have to be cut up into smaller pieces.

Sizing Up Limitations

All of this sensor talk is really to explain why you can’t measure potential picture quality by megapixel count alone. Again, phones being small means other very important factors – size of the actual lens opening (i.e. aperture), for example – have to be smaller too. For smartphones, a smaller aperture means less light can get through to a sensor with smaller megapixels. Here’s where the biggest differences will be for your travel photos if you go phone-only and how to compensate for the drawbacks.

  • Low Light – Smaller sensors and apertures aren’t as limiting when you’ve got more light. The majority of newer smartphones will take excellent pictures in daylight or otherwise well-lit situations. For nighttime pictures, some of these apps can help and you can take better sunset photos by using darkness to your advantage.
  • Still Photos – The faster the action, the more light needed to catch the moment; part of the reason for blurry action or sports shots taken with a phone. Frame your photos properly to make the most of any camera.
  • Far Away Stuff – More distance between a camera and what it’s shooting gives light particles more space to scatter. In other words when something is far away, less of the light reflecting from it gets to you. Notice the trend? More light will mean better distance photos but ideally, you’ll want a bigger lens.
  • Video – All of the above, even more light, light, light.

The list could go on but there is one very often neglected disadvantage to going phone-only for travel photography: angles.

Evaluate Your Scope

Zoom is already questionable on phones although for travel pictures wide angles are generally more useful. Often, you can get closer to stuff but if there’s a ledge, crowd, or some other obstacle behind you, the wider the angle, the fewer steps backward you need to take to capture a large building for instance.

edinburgh balmoral hotel

Your smartphone can replace a larger camera completely, depending on what you want to get from your travel photos. Snaps for your friends, family, and future memories are perfect for a smartphone. To cover the gaps though and make sure you don’t miss any shots, a point and shoot like this Lumix is a good in-between a phone and serious camera gear.

Finally, remember than phones are less conspicuous, so carrying a dedicated camera will mean a good daypack like the Pacsafe CS300 (my full review) or the Osprey Daylite (review here) to keep your camera out of sight when you’re not using it.

Why India’s Time Zone Is 30 Minutes Off From (Most Of) The Rest Of The World

two time zone watch

You might be under the impression that time zones are one hour increments around the world, created so clocks can, more or less, represent the same time of day globally. Travelers and ever-worrying mothers with children visiting India soon learn that the time in India is 30 minutes off its greater time zone.

It’s a peculiarity many visitors are curious about, which like time zones in general, aren’t quite a logical but make just enough sense for nobody to get too confused. Here’s why the clocks in India are offset by 30 minutes to most of the other time zones in the world.

Time Zones Are Relatively New

Time zones as we know them today were devised in the late 1800s in the United States. In the 1750s, the chronometer was invented, allowing for relatively accurate time keeping. Most cities in the world then gradually began setting their clocks based on the time of day when the sun was highest in the the sky. Noon was established since it was easy to calculate but that meant most cities had different clocks from on another. Time differences weren’t noticeable though until mechanical transportation was invented. Once the railroad system was established in the United States over much of the country, travel became fast enough over large enough distances when a better method had to be created.

porto train station

The first four time zones were established in America in 1883. One year later, England, Scotland, and Wales established their own time zone. According to Time And Date,

“Various meridians were used for longitudinal references among different countries before the late 1800s, and the Greenwich Meridian was the most popular of these. The Greenwich Observatory’s reputation for the reliability and accuracy in publications of its navigational data was one factor that contributed to the Greenwich Meridian’s popularity. Sir Sandford Fleming was one of the key players in developing a satisfactory worldwide system of keeping time. He advocated the adoption of a standard or mean time and hourly variations from that following established time zones.”

In 1884, International Meridian Conference was held, putting into place the structure of time zones many of us are now familiar with.

Anomalies In Time

When the meridians for the Indian subcontinent were created, New Delhi was in between the two. Naturally, India decided to be 30 minutes between the two time zones, which is why the country is only 30 minutes ahead of nearby Pakistan, for example. Ironically, India is also two and a half hours behind anywhere in China, because the People’s Republic decided they wanted the entire country to be one time zone.

Politics, mixed with a little logic, is why India is only 30 minutes ahead or behind the neighboring time zones. But India isn’t the only country with an unusual time zone setup – some Australian states, Sri Lanka, St John’s in Canada, and Nepal is 45 minutes offset from its adjacent time zones, as just a few examples.

Time zones can still be confusing but desktop or laptop Firefox users can check out FoxClocks for simple time keeping, travelmath is great for calculating time differences, and don’t forget your mobile phone makes for an excellent clock, as well as fitness tracker.

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About Anil Polat

foxnomad aboutI'm the blogger and computer security engineer who writes foXnoMad while on a journey to visit every country in the world. I'll show you the tips, tricks, and tech you can use to travel smarter. Read More


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