Category: Money

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.

The Ridge Wallet Is Slim Titanium RFID Blocking At A Premium Price

A slim wallet can help you avoid the attention of pickpockets but what if the wallet itself is worth stealing? The titanium-encased Ridge Wallet presents this conundrum in a sleek, RFID-blocking package.

You can watch my full review in the video above or read on.

What’s The Ridge Wallet?

The Ridge Wallet is more of a money clip than a wallet, measuring 12.5 x 8.9 x 2.5 centimeters (4.9 x 3.5 x 1 inches) in a slick design of matted black, silver, blue or pink metal. There’s a solid feel in the 141 gram (5 ounce) Ridge Wallet, which blocks RFID – but more on that in a bit.

ridge walletThe Ridge Authentic Minimalist Metal RFID Blocking Wallet

buy from amazon

Although it doesn’t look like it, the Ridge Wallet fits about 12 cards in its main compartment with an additional side clip to hold even more cards or a bit of cash. Personally, I found the clip to be cumbersome, getting caught on my pocket each time I took it in or out, so the optional money strap seems the better purchase choice.

Otherwise the Ridge Wallet is fairly simple in build, though it comes with a small screwdriver you can use to adjust the tightness or change out the side money clip if you want.

Premium Problems

The Ridge Wallet is really good at what it does. Being thin, looking nice, and blocking RFID, which brings me to the central thought I have about the Ridge Wallet: what’s in the price? For most passports around the world, there isn’t a lot of sensitive information on the RFID chip. There are certainly other RFID-enabled cards you may be carrying (e.g. metro card) but probably none with critical data on it.

rideg wallet

RFID scanning has limited range but what’s much more practical and likely, is someone targeting the wallet itself. In other words, someone getting close enough to attempt an RFID scan would be in range to snag the Ridge Wallet. And the Ridge Wallet might be nice enough that you wouldn’t want to take it out in some places.

Bigger Threat

I’ve talked about uglifying your travel gear to deter thieves, something you need to do in some parts of the world. Decoy wallets, carrying only a few cards across pockets are two good strategies to setup your own personal security system. Money clips are often a good tool to implement, the problem being the Ridge Wallet becoming the target. (Not to mention all of the cards attached to it.)

The Ridge Wallet runs around $80 for a premium design with a lifetime warranty. The loss of the wallet itself is going to set you back at a minimum that much. I’m not saying don’t have nice things but in parts of South America for example, valuables stay out of sight or might get stolen… and the Ridge Wallet looks valuable.

In short, if you’re looking for a money clip as an alternative wallet to slim down your pocket profile for pickpocket deterrence, the Ridge Wallet might not be ideal depending on where you’re traveling. But if you’re looking a premium, futuristic, minimalist wallet without those considerations, the titanium Ridge Wallet won’t look bad on anyone.

How To Ensure You’ll Always Find A Parking Spot In America’s Busiest Cities

The only thing worse than bad traffic is having to look for parking in a busy city but some destinations are just close enough that it’s faster to drive than deal with airports or you’ve got an occasion bringing you to downtown. Whatever the reason, searching for parking can be a frustrating, stressful, and time-consuming quest but there is an app that solves all those problems.

One Day Before

The free app SpotHero (available for Android and iOS) let’s you search and reserve a parking space anytime in advance of your arrival, but the earlier, the better. (I would recommend a week if possible.) SpotHero works with thousands of parking garages and lots across the largest cities in the United States letting you reserve a spot with a tap. The search function finds your hotel, venue, etc. then using the map you can scroll around to see prices plus options nearby.

Costs Bundled

All of the additional costs are bundled into SpotHero. Garages and lots pay to be listed in SpotHero to get your business. Certainly there are costs passed on to you but I was able to find parking in Times Square for $30 in a closed garage (not valet) – a bargain for New York City. You also don’t need an account to use SpotHero.

spothero

Once you get to the parking lot or garage, you show the reservation on your phone and that’s it.

Even Better Features

This isn’t a sponsored post and nobody paid me to write about SpotHero; it’s just an app I found very useful with several incredible features for travelers. For instance you can check times, restrictions, user reviews and photos of the parking spaces to see if your car will fit or how well lit a garage is at night.

new york city parking

Perhaps the best feature however is the free cancellation. In most cases you can cancel your reservation up to the last minute if, for example, you happen to find a cheaper or closer spot somewhere else. SpotHero also has options for monthly parking, extending a reservation, and offers $7 off when you refer a friend. (Your friend by the way also gets their first $7 off as well.)

Hopefully SpotHero will add locations outside of the U.S. like Spain to Andorra or even car-friendly Bahrain. Until they do, remember this taxi trick in Serbia and no matter what, keep your feet off the dashboard.

What’s The Best Mavic Drone To Buy Right Now?

A few weeks ago I answered the question on whether the original DJI Mavic Pro drone was still worth buying in 2018. At the time, there was no new Mavic Pro to compare it to and the 2016 original was still the ideal drone for travelers. Earlier this month, DJI announced the Mavic Pro 2 and the Mavic 2 Zoom, making the question is the Mavic 1 still worth buying even more relevant.

For those of you considering a drone to take on your travels, I break down the differences between the Mavics and compare them to the entire DJI lineup in the video above or you can read on below.

New Drones Simplified

The simplest way to break down the new Mavic lineup is to start with the Mavic original and the Mavic Zoom. They’re very similar drones except the Zoom has a 24-48mm lens you can use to get even closer to your subject. The sensor of the camera is the same size as the Mavic original and if you scroll down the spec sheet, there aren’t a lot of major differences. I’m talking at a high-level of course but if you look at the Zoom and Mavic Pro, it’s the zoom feature all the way.

DJI Mavic 2 Zoom Drone Quadcopter with 24-48mm Optical Zoom

buy from amazon

Now the Mavic 2 Pro is something different. Better camera? Yes. And a much bigger, full one inch sensor (vs 1/2.3in) that has a color profile of a billion (vs 16 million)? Yes. In terms of the actual, physical drone, the Mavic 2 Pro is a lot like the original Mavic but the Hasselblad camera and internal hardware makes it clear DJI wanted to focus on a major improvement in video quality.

Physically, all of the Mavics have folding arms although the new Mavics weigh around 900 grams, 200 more than the Mavic 1. The newer Mavics are also quieter thanks to more efficient motors and have a 31 minute flight time whereas the Mavic 1 is only 27 minutes.

drone down

Pricing Points

Both Mavic 2s are improvements to the original Mavic. They’ve got better specs but higher prices as well – DJI didn’t drop the price of the Mavic 1 (still $999) and the Zoom runs $1249, the Mavic 2 Pro $1499. Those are odd decisions in pricing, because generally new tech products tend to maintain price points, especially when you consider both Mavic 2s are refinements, not revolutions in drone technology.

To Mavic Or Not To Mavic

Given the price points, DJI seems like they’re marketing these new Mavics to people who are primarily interested in videography. Obviously all drone owners, to an extent, care about video quality but it looks like they’re drawing a line at the Mavic Air. The Mavic Air and all of the DJI lineup below it are for people who want advanced selfie cameras and to take some fun videos occasionally – beyond the Mavic Air it’s everyone who’s more serious about video. In other words, if you’re planning to use Final Cut Pro to edit all of your drone videos into sleek YouTube videos, you should probably look at the Mavic Pro and beyond.

At $1499, the Mavic 2 Pro is bumping prices with the Phantom series where big drones begin. Unless video quality is your primary concern, you might want to take a look at the Mavic Air. As far as Mavic Pros go, the original is still an excellent 18 month old drone with a very current price.

Road Tested! Is The DJI Mavic Pro Still Worth Buying In 2018?

Since it was introduced in last 2016, the market has shifted DJI’s Mavic Pro from tiny drone to a middle of the pack device. The release of the DJI Spark and more recently Mavic Air are a sign of things to come, yet the Mavic Pro still has superior battery life and video quality. So, is the DJI Mavic Pro still worth buying in 2018?

dji mavic  DJI Mavic Pro Fly More Combo: Foldable Propeller Quadcopter Drone

amazon button

After 18 months, a few crashes, and over a hundred of hours of flight time, I answer that question in the video above.

Kayak Explore Lets You See How Much It Costs To Fly From Home To Anywhere

kayak explore

Most airfare search engines work around the assumption that you know where you want to go and are looking for the best price to fly there. Kayak Explore let’s you do something much more fun: see how much it costs to fly to cities around the world from where you are.

Pick A Destination Based On Price

Several years ago airfare aggregator Kayak quietly rolled out Kayak Explore, one of the best travel search engines that’s useful for travel planning, particularly if you aren’t quite sure where you want your next trip to be. The concept is pretty simple, you enter in a home city and time frame for a trip, then see a world map of prices for airfare to cities worldwide.

Kayak Explore also has several options for refining the airfare shown, like season (e.g. fall 2018) or exact dates, maximum price, as well as duration. You can also specify whether or not you want prices for direct flights only.

Find New Hubs

Zooming in or scrolling around let’s you see airfare to essentially everywhere, giving you an idea of the costs to travel to places you may not have considered. Another big benefit of Kayak Explore – if you’re willing to put in the time – is it reveals new hubs and connecting cities you can use to get cheap multi-city flights.

amman stadium

Say, for example, you want to visit the ancient city of Petra and find a flight from Washington DC to Amman, Jordan for $800. The DC to Amman flight connects through Frankfurt. However, booking a flight to Frankfurt separately, then to Amman (no need to leave the airport) might actually cost less. Alternatively, Kayak Explore could show a $250 flight to Copenhagen from Washington DC. Afterward, you plug in Copenhagen as your home city, then notice a flight to Amman from there is $250. Now you can fly to Jordan for $500, rather than the original $800 price.

The reason the example above works is because airlines often don’t show you all of the connecting city possibilities and use the framing effect to trick you. They tend to offer up efficient, well-flown routes that aren’t necessarily the least expensive. Airlines only cross over with partner airlines as well; booking multi-city flights on your own gets you around such limitations.

What You Might Not Be Looking For

Even if you don’t intend to do any in-depth travel planning, Kayak Explore can give you ideas. Cheap airfare could entice you to take a closer look at a country or city you wouldn’t have considered otherwise. Kayak Explore is a tool I use often, particularly for multi-city trips but one so simple, I nearly neglected to write a dedicated post about it.

It’s one of the best ways to search for cheap flights and get from your desk to all the places you want to travel. Remember though, even if Kayak Explore isn’t helping, you can stop chasing cheap flights to really save money on your next vacation.

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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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