Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Beat Bed Bugs

Friday, October 30th, 2009
Don't bee caught unprepared

Don't bee caught unprepared

This is in response to a post by Meg Pickard and will make more sense if you read her article first.

I actually had a similar experience a few years back when I was staying in downtown Chicago at a cheap ($100 per night) hotel. The place was not shiny new, but it also was not a dirty old dump. It just looked like an older place that had been kept up well.

I foolishly went to bed wearing only my boxer shorts and a t-shirt. I awoke to find a bite in a place you don’t want to be bitten. My first instinct was that it was a spider or mosquito, but there was a lingering thought that maybe it was something else. When I returned to my hotel room later in the day, I discovered the red brown bug on the edge of my bed.

Based on where I had been bitten, I jumped to the conclusion that it was crabs – not knowing that crabs were way way smaller. I actually looked up crabs on the internet and they look just like the bug that was on my bed. Now I know that they could not have been crabs for many obvious reasons. And I think Meg finally solved my pickle as to what it was. Luckily, I don’t think I brought any of the bugs back home with me.

I want to recommend a tool for traveling. My hostel jumping friend told me about it.

Fold a bed sheet in half the long way. Stitch the long end and one short end closed. Now you have a lightweight protective sleeping bag. For extra credit you can get a longer bedsheet and add a place to put your pillow, so that you don’t need to carry a pillow case with you when you travel.

Thanks to Meg Pickard for reminding me about this. I hope our experiences can be a lesson to you other travelers out there.

The Brazilian Visa and the US Passport

Sunday, March 9th, 2008

The next step after buying tickets is getting a tourist Visa. Brazil requires all US citizens to have a tourist visa.
Simply put a tourist visa is a stamp in your passport allowing you to frolic freely (within limitations) throughout a country. In other words, you need a passport before you can get a visa.

To get a Brazilian visa, you must have at least 6 months left on your passport starting from the date you arrive in Brazil. This is the same day that your visa becomes activated. The Brazilian tourist visa lasts for 5 years, so its really ideal if you have 5 years left on your passport in case you decide to visit again.
Of course, I went through the whole process of filling out the Brazilian tourist visa form, only to discover that I barely had 6 months left on my passport and it was still 2 months till I was leaving for Brazil.

Now, the process of getting my passport renewed began. Its actually pretty simple if you just follow the instructions. The main thing you need to know is that it takes 4-6 weeks to apply for a passport renewal for $75, but you must add $60 if you wish to expedite the process to 2-3 weeks.

I actually received my passport in about a week and a half for $135 dollars.

You can get more information about renewing your passport at your local post office and by visiting the US Department of State website.

Once I had the passport in hand, I was finally able to visit the Brazilian consulate. There are a few of them throughout the country. I went to the one in NYC. The instructions on the website are very exact and if you follow them you should have no problems.

A few tips:
1) The hours are very specific for when you can drop off your application. Make sure to get there at the beginning of the time period as its first come first serve each day. They are pretty efficient, but apparently, Americans love visiting Brazil. I got there about 10 minutes into the time and I waited 45 minutes in the waiting area. As I was walking out there was an incredibly long line to get into the waiting area, which had not been there when I entered.

2) Keep a folder with a checklist while you are preparing the application. This will make it easy to just hand them all the parts. They will be grateful and you will be stress-free.

3) Don’t lose the receipt. When you give them the application, they will hand you a receipt which you need to bring back the next day to pick up the visa. I have no idea what they would do if you did lose it, but its probably better to not find out.
4) They will keep your passport for the day, so as a precaution, you may want to make a photocopy of it in case anything goes wrong.

5) They only accept Money Orders, which are quite easy to purchase at your local US post office. There is currently a charge of $130 for the standard US citizen adult tourist visa. The money order costs something like a couple of dollars.
You can find all of the information regarding the Brazilian tourist visa for US citizens at the Brazilian Consulate website.

You can find more information about traveling to Brazil with an American passport by visiting the US Department of State country specific page for Brazil. That page also has information about health and safety when traveling in Brazil.

Next time, I will write about planning the trip itinerary.

To Brazil and Costa Rica – Purchasing the Tickets

Monday, January 21st, 2008

Step 1 is accomplished. The tickets are purchased. I’m flying from NYC to Rio, Salvador, Panama City, and Costa Rica. Luckily I was purchasing the tickets far enough in advance that there were plenty of seats available. Still, everything seemed to be more complicated than it should have been due to financial limitations, flight restrictions, and various website glitches on the sites I attempted to purchase from.

Here are the sites I ended up using:

1) www.abstravel.com

This is actually a pretty simple site to use. Everything is straightforward and clear. The prices were especially good on trips to Brazil – under $700 to fly NYC->Rio->Salvador->NYC. Adding on Costa Rica and Panama City made the flight exorbitantly expensive and it didn’t really allow me to choose times. Unfortunately, I discovered in my searches that transportation from Brazil to Costa Rica is pretty limited and hence quite expensive.

I ended up purchasing the first two legs of my trip on this site for under $450(plus booking fee). NYC->Rio->Salvador.

Warnings on abstravel.com:
- They have a $100 booking fee (after taxes, etc), which is not made clear at any point in the searching process.
- They do not answer their phone (even if you can manage to find their number on the site).
- They do not respond to emails.
- They do not respond to voice messages.
- The site breaks down when you try to search for too many legs.

So if you can’t find what you are looking for on abstravel.com on your first couple tries, just push them out of your mind and move on.

2) www.cheapoair.com

Even though this site has a pretty sketchy name, it does actually have some pretty good prices. I purchased the last 3 legs of my trip with a bunch of personal travel restrictions for $950(plus booking fees). Salvador->Panama City->San Jose, Costa Rica->NYC

One really nice thing about cheapoair.com is that it gives a ton of options based on your itinerary. Took me a long time to search through all the options, but I ended up finding exactly what I wanted. Other sites, tend to show you what they think are the best options for you, or they just limit the options because they don’t want to give you what you want for too cheap.

Warnings about cheapoair.com:
- They have a booking fee, which isn’t clearly explained how its calculated.
- I had trouble entering my credit card information for a valid card that I use on a daily basis. They didn’t recognize it as valid for some reason.
- After I had completed what seemed like the final step, the site gave me a new notice saying that they need to charge me an additional charge of $12. Even though I had chosen all e-tickets, they claim that some of these smaller airlines do not offer e-tickets and they need to ship the tickets to me. And $12 was the cheapest price they could offer me for a Fedex delivery – no USPS even though there is two months till the flights. I guess this guarantees that I receive the tickets – wouldn’t want them getting “lost in the mail”.

3) travel.yahoo.com

I tried this. They claim to search many travel sites. The prices didn’t seem to be anything special, but I think its definitely worth a look due to the ease of use.

A quick note of advice on searching these travel sites…

Always try searching for your itinerary with “anytime” for every flight time. It may give you what you want and the prices are usually less expensive the less specific your requests are. If that doesn’t work, you can always try it with more specific times, but the price will probably go up significantly due to the pricing algorithms, etc.

Going to the Amazon

Thursday, January 10th, 2008

Planning a trip to rio and the amazon at the end of march. Looking for advice on planning the trip. Can anyone out there recommend a good guide for the amazon? I mean a human guide. The kind that knows stuff and has fun showing off nature.