Category: Advice

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.

Save Money On Utah’s Mountains By Visiting In Summer

alta mountains

Right now it’s a frosty few degrees below freezing, with light snow in Alta, Utah, an idyllic place to ski, but such popularity on this very expensive real estate comes at a price. Starting at over $500 a night during the cold months on average, come summer, hotel prices drop to well under a hundred dollars in what’s some of the best hiking territory in the Rocky Mountains.

Road Trip It

The first time I visited Alta was by happenstance during a road trip I took when Ford gave me a car. Wandering up into the mountains after visiting the “Up” house (long story) before the next day’s drive, I came across Alta Lodge. Inside was mostly empty in the cozy ski lodge posing as a summer hotel. The regular rate for a four-person suite was $99 a night which they gladly reduced even further with a bit of gentle negotiation.

alta lodge utah

The hiking is incredible and these views you’ll have pretty much all to yourself, are genuinely special.

alta utah lodge

Salt Lake From Above

Those of you visiting nearby Salt Lake City on a road trip adventure of your own should considering adding Alta as one of your stops.

alta utah skiing

Off-season prices are less than a quarter of ski season with some of the most accessible hikes of all levels in this part of the United States.

alta utah

Aside from an excuse to post these pictures, I write this because Alta is so simple that without the skiing, it’s not a destination you’ll find much about during the greener months.

best photos alta utah

For many people who love the outdoors though, Alta is a unique spot neglected by large groups of people – much like Iceland in winter.

Keep Your Feet Off The Car Dashboard To Avoid Gruesome Airbag Injuries

dashboard airbag

It’s a fairly common sight, particularly on highways to see someone in the passenger seat of a car have their feet up on the dashboard. Few worry about the consequences of being involved in one of the 3,400 car accidents that happen daily, but it’s actually the device designed to keep you safe that can (literally) destroy your legs.

Here’s why you should never put your feet up on the car’s dashboard, if you’re not entirely convinced already.

Airbags Faster Than You

Car airbags are designed to deploy in accidents as slow as 12kph (8mph) into a solid barrier. The average car airbag inflates completely within 1/20th of a second, about twice the speed of an average eye blink. An airbag needs to get in place (and even begin partially deflating) before your head collides with the windshield or dashboard. Airbags are faster than a human blinks, let alone physical reactions.

So it’s impossible to move your legs out of the way in time during an accident.

romania car drone

Achieving these speeds requires a lot of force (roughly 3.33×104 Newtons) – one good reason you should never put your phone or any other object over the airbag ever. When your airbag deploys it can turn an air freshener or your legs into a powerful projectile.

Knees Coming At You

Overestimating how fast you can react to move your legs out of the way is something many passengers do, as is underestimating what an airbag does to your legs. Numbers and Newtons are hard to grasp but the Mythbusters video below does a good job of showing you how bad things can look.

Part of the issue might be the name “air” bag. We tend to associate air with something soft. Bags are those fluffy things that hold our groceries but Audra Tatum’s story might change your mind on both counts.

Adding Injury To Injury

Make no mistake about it – when an airbag deploys if your legs are in the way they’ll be forcibly displaced. Some people have their faces damaged or eyes lost because your knees come hurdling back under the strong force of the airbag. Others, like Tatum, suffer severe compound leg breaks, as you can read below (or click on the link to see a photo which should be warning enough).

“The airbag went off, throwing my foot up and breaking my nose,” Tatum, who wasn’t wearing a seat belt, told CBS. “I was looking at the bottom of my foot facing up at me.” Besides her nose, Tatum broke her ankle, femur and arm, telling CBS she still walks with a limp and can’t stand more than 4 hours at a time.

Another thing to note is airbags don’t always deploy due to a collision, millions are recalled each year due to malfunctions like activating when they’re not supposed to. I won’t bother telling you stories of people who had their legs out the window before an accident. Needless (I hope) now to say, don’t put your feet up on the car dashboard, they’re hardly as safe as planes, and rather let airbags do what they’re good at. For those of you who travel with pets, don’t let them hang out in the front seat or better yet, make sure they’re secured in a proper car harness in the back.

The Best Things To Do In Las Vegas (That Aren’t Gambling Or Drinking)

Las Vegas has been very successful in marketing itself as the world’s debauchery capital but for people who like being in nature, adventure, and local travel experiences, it’s one of the most interesting cities you can visit. Feel free to add the following to your gambling debt, beer, or sober savings as you wish.

These are the best things to do in Las Vegas, whether you like casinos or not.

1. Hoover Dam

hoover dam

Let’s start small with the massive Hoover Dam, a story and engineering feat not to be missed about 30 minutes away from the Las Vegas Strip. I know, it sounds boring, but I couldn’t wrap my head around how impressive the Hoover Dam is nor can I adequately describe it in words. There are helicopter tours for $75 nearby but the best views from land are a bit down the Colorado River from the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge.

2. Red Rock Canyon

red rock canyon visit

About 30 minutes in the other direction from the Hoover Dam, the Red Rock Canyon Conversation Area is the nicest way to see nature from your own hop-on-hop-off car ride in a location that would otherwise find a way to kill you. Red Rock Canyon though is set up with a ring road around to all of the most beautiful sights, so you can hike (or not) and take careful selfies while staying comfortably close to air-conditioning. Entry is $15 per vehicle.

3. Star Wars Secrets Of The Empire VR

star wars the void vr

The video at the top of this post doesn’t really convey how immersive this virtual reality experience is. Helmet, gloves, and a large physical space to move around in and you’ll see your friends as storm troopers as you work to solve an intergalactic puzzle. I was completely shocked that VR technology had gotten this advanced, a nice glimpse into the future. The Void has a number of VR experiences inside the Venetian Casino (Ghostbusters and Wreck It Ralph) well worth the $30 for 15 minutes – trust me on that one. Remember, you need to buy tickets at least the morning in advance, here’s the link to purchase.

4. Viva Las Arepas

viva las arepas

Local food that’s not really local but that brings a common Venezuelan quick meal to Las Vegas. Viva Las Arepas has two locations serving arepas, a sort of sandwich on cornbread with several fillings. There are two locations in Las Vegas, both off the strip. Good food, atmosphere, and inexpensive too.

Bonus: Much closer to the Las Vegas Strip, Bonito Michoacan is large portions of tasty Mexican food at very reasonable prices.

5. Sky Combat Ace

Here’s my full review of Sky Combat Ace, an experience that basically lets you be a fighter pilot for 20 minutes. Better yet, check out the video here.

6. Hit The Extraterrestrial Highway

extraterrestrial highway

This is the ultimate road trip I’ve written about before, particularly if you like remote locations, aliens, or general quirkiness that gets you as close as possible to Area 51.

Keep Going High And Low

Las Vegas may have been a lucky spot for the mob but it’s also in the middle of several different, rather untouched landscapes. The Grand Canyon is a roughly 3 hour drive, Death Valley National Park and its incredible salt flats about 2 hours away, plus plenty of cosplay right around August.

What’s nice about Las Vegas itself is it’s like one of the hundreds of buffets in the city – you can pick and choose what you want to do to your liking. For some people, the blackjack table is a part of the course, but don’t worry if you like to drink lots of it or just use vodka as a bug repellent – so long as you don’t indulge before visiting Sky Combat Ace.

ps. Apparently more than a few people have flown hungover and if you vomit in the plane, it’s a $250 or more fine – plus the poor pilot has to take apart the plane and pick out chucks of your breakfast before it’s can be flown safely again. Don’t be that person.

Where To Travel When You Don’t Know Where To Go

fethiye pool

I’m often asked: “where’s your favorite place?” It’s hard to pick favorites, I’ve got favorite beaches, cafes, cold places, cities to spend a lot of time in, places that are perfect for 48 hours. The answer changes over time but each time I’m asked, the answer is refined just a bit.

A work in progress subject to change though if cornered into giving a generic list of places to visit, to someone who’s ready to take a trip but not sure where to go, these are some of the places I would recommend. In no particular order, consider it a destination buffet for you to pick and choose from.

1. Edinburgh, Scotland

edinburgh scotland

A small city, whose center looks like it’s straight out of Harry Potter, with a climate of comforting mist that’s turbulent enough not to get boring. The food is hearty but if it’s not to your liking then perhaps the whisky will be. A surprising number of bartenders know a lot about the fermented grain drink which blends food with history and of course, good conversation.

2. Montevideo, Uruguay

montevideo food

There’s something in the air in Uruguay’s capital city, including marijuana smoke since pot is legal, fitting nicely with Montevideo’s artistic leaning. Relatively safe for a South American capital city, Uruguay beyond Montevideo is easily accessible by rental car along well-maintained roads. There’s a booming culinary scene and one of the best bars with live music anywhere.

3. Berlin, Germany

berlin silhouette

Ah Berlin. Have you ever been to a city that made you say its name like it was an idea, every time? Berlin takes all of the organization of Germany, leaves out some of the rough edges, and is as classy (or not) as you want to make it. Of course, momo man is there every Thursday night in Kreuzberg, the center of Berlin’s Turkish community.

4. Tbilisi, Georgia

tbilisi georgia

It’s surprising more people aren’t visiting here but in a way, that makes a trip to Georgia’s capital city feel more like you’ve got the city to yourself. There’s an invisible threshold for every city that turns it from an authentic experience into a version of tourism Disneyland and Tbilisi isn’t close to it…yet.

5. Kyoto, Japan

kyoto golden pavilion temple

Everything in Japan feels different but familiar, leading you to the conclusion that in many ways, reflections of human culture are arbitrary. Taking a train from Tokyo using this purchasing trick, you leave behind a city that looks like Times Square however is clean, relatively quiet, and doesn’t have the ever-present odor of urine. The whole world could look like Kyoto but it doesn’t, one of the reasons traveling is so compelling. Here’s a local’s guide to Kyoto.

6. One Moment Please

airplane wing photo

At this point in the list, I’m realizing there are so many places I could add, like everywhere on this list too. This is the inherent problem with these types of lists I mentioned above, so let’s wrap up with some a la carte options to pick and choose from.

7. Beirut, Lebanon

The name Beirut might immediately cause a good portion of you to back off of the idea but give me a moment. Beirut is truly a special city that might be a reflection of humanity. Practically, Beirut is also where you’ll find arguably the world’s best falafel and views like these. Lebanon’s capital is more accessible and safe than many presume it to be – you don’t have to be an adventurous person to enjoy Beirut.

8. Seattle, USA

very first starbucks

The drive from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport into Seattle is one of the most beautiful introductions you can have to a city. Winding roads around mountains at the feet of large evergreen trees, in the distance Puget Sound, the first Starbucks, Pike Place Fish Market, plus one of the most interesting interactive museums in the world. Also, it rains more per year in New York City, in case you were worried about the weather. (Seattle just spreads the rain out over the year.)

9. Still Searching?

This list gets less useful the longer it goes on, too many ideas makes it more difficult for you to narrow things down. In short, let me mention Iceland in the winter, Mexico here, here, and here, and of course two time Best City to Visit winner Granada, Spain.

granada science park museum

I could go on but I haven’t been everywhere, which is why large parts of Africa are missing and some popular southeast Asian destinations are absent. The list above represents places that are great overall travel destinations, relatively stable, safe, with good food, infrastructure, and plenty to do. In case you’re looking for a larger assortment of cities to choose from, take a look at the most common entries into the annual Best City to Visit Travel Tournament here or the other countries I’ve written about here.

The truth though is every time I’m asked, “where should I go,” it’s often followed by a “I hear this place is interesting,” or “I’ve been thinking about…” Usually, wherever around the world I take someone looking for advice, more often than not, we end up back there. For travel, like life, the best way to go is by following the little voice in your head that somehow already knows where you want to go.

A Map Of All The Places You Can And Can’t Drink The Local Tap Water (Updated In Real-time)

tap water drinkability

This map is now available in app form! FaucetSafe is available on the App Store and Google Play.

wifox ios app store     wifox google play android
Whether or not you can drink the local tap water is a question most travelers will ask themselves at some point but finding reliable online is difficult. Most online resources are either inaccurate or out-of-date and local governments, for political reasons, often claim their tap water is cleaner than it might be. When traveling you don’t want to find out on a toilet the local water is dirty – or on the other hand waste time in stores unnecessarily buying bottled water if the tap H2O is potable.

To solve some of these problems, I’ve spent the better part of a year gathering water potability reports from governments, independent third-parties, non-profits, NGOs, and a variety of other relevant sources to create the map below.

  • Last update: November 16, 2018

What’s resulted is a straightforward map of water potability based multiple information sources, that’s updated in real-time. You can bookmark this page or the map to keep up with any future updates and for offline use, there’s the FaucetSafe app available for iOS and Android you can take everywhere.

Adjusting To The Tap

Remember that even clean tap water in a new city can upset your stomach for a short time. Your immune system might have to adjust to variations in sanitizing methods, and local bacteria. This water potability map is an informational resource only and although I’ve done my best to compile the most accurate data possible, always check with your doctor if you have specific medical concerns or questions.

Chances are the local water in many places around the world you’re visiting is good for drinking but without any reliable, practical, or current information you’ve bought bottled water to play it safe. Reducing use of bottled water not only can save you money but also lessen the amount of plastic we use, 8.6 billion kilograms of (19 billion pounds) of which is already in the oceans. Hopefully this map helps solve the problem of not knowing where the water is drinkable so you can travel smarter.

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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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