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October 2013

The Lincoln Memorial is one of many buildings that could be closed in the event of a government shutdown. How do you plan on staying flexible in the event that the government closes and affects your travel plans?Dare I say it? We are now hours away from another major event that could affect travelers. As if the Sequester this summer wasn't bad enough, travelers face more potential trouble when taking to the skies - or even trying to get in and out of the country. 

As the New York Times is reporting, the U.S. Government is on the verge of a potential shutdown due to a blockade surrounding a spending plan for the coming fiscal year. The reasons why and how are irrelevant for this blog - a quick Google search will give you analysis as to why and how all of this is happening. But what it relevant to this blog is how a potential shutdown would affect travelers around the world.

At the stroke of Midnight on Tuesday, October 1, we'll know where we stand, if the potential shutdown happens. In the event of a federal government shutdown, these are just some of the issues travelers could have to prepare for: 

  • Travel security will remain in place - without pay
    In the result of a government shutdown, government employees will be sorted into two categories: "essential" and "non-essential" personnel. Eli Epstein for MSN News defines essential personnel as: "...the approximate one-third of the federal work force who 'provide for the national security' or for the 'safety of life and property.'" Among these groups are uniformed military, Customs and Border Protection officers, Transportation Security Administration agents, and air traffic controllers. TSA Press Secretary Ross Feinstein confirmed that TSA officers would remain on duty in a tweet on Sunday. While these jobs will not be compromised, they will be working without pay until the shutdown is resolved.
  • Passport and Visa processing will come to a halt
    While operations will continue at all of the United States' border crossings by land, air, or sea, the federal employees in charge of processing U.S. Passports and Visas are considered "non-essential personnel." Because these employees are considered "non-essential," they will be indefinitely furloughed until the government shutdown comes to an end. NPR reports that during the last government shutdown (November 14 through November 19, 1995 and from December 16, 1995 to January 6, 1996), 200,000 pending passport applications were not processed, and 30,000 applications for Visas to enter the United States would not be processsed every day of a shutdown. For visitors to the United States who are seeking to enter, or student travelers who need to renew their Visas to continue their studies in the United States, a government shutdown could mean major troubles. 

    Update - 5:07 PM, 9/30/2013: CNN now reports that consular operations will remain open at the Department of State: "...people would be able to get visas and passports. However, there is an exception is for passport offices that are located in buildings that are otherwise shutdown, so some people may see delays in their applications." If you have a Visa application, check with your consulate office to make sure that it will be open in the event of a government shutdown. If you are applying for a passport, be prepared for delays if your office is potentially closed as a result of a shutdown.
  • Tourism destinations may not be available during a shutdown
    Also considered under "non-essential personnel" are those who keep some of the biggest tourism attractions alive in the United States. Institutions like National Monuments, Federal Parks, and the Smithsonian would all go dark as a result of the federal government shutdown. In total, CNN reports 368 National Parks sites could close during a government shutdown - turning away millions of visitors per day. The Capitol building, however would remain open in the event that the government were forced to close for a period of time. Keeping some of America's grandest attractions dark (like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite) could inevitably ruin vacation plans for many travelers in the United States and around the world.

    Update - 5:14 PM, 9/30/2013: has published a list of federal resources that would be affected by a shutdown. The Smithsonian, the National Zoo, American Battle Monuments, and the National Art Gallery would all close in the event of a shutdown. The Kennedy Center, however, would remain open. As published by CNN: "In the event of a shutdown, the Kennedy Center will continue its nonappropriated functions and honor all nonappropriated fund contracts, including planned performances [and] educational activities..."  If you plan on visiting a federal monument, check to make sure they will be open before you go. 

So once again, travelers are subjected to the risk of trip delay and trip cancellation. But unlike the Sequester earlier this year, travelers are also subject to a new risk: not being able to have their Visa processed as a result of government closings. This isn't to mention those applying for Trusted Traveler programs across the borders (such as Global Entry, NEXUS, or Sentri) will inevitably be delayed as a result of this situation.

Only time will tell if these delays will come to pass. But by Tuesday night at Midnight, if the government shutdown happens, a lot of people will have to start consdiering alternate plans. Are you concerned about how a shutdown would affect your plans? Leave me a comment below on how you plan on staying flexible through these changes!

I wasn't sure which image to use here, really. I figure this one would be as good as any when talking about managing credit and budgeting. I could have used a stock chart, but that would have implied something different.One of the curses of having chronic wanderlust (I promise it’s a real condition) is planning around and between trips. My mind is always wandering about when and where my next adventure is going to take place. At least once a day, I’m looking to Google Flights for cheap flights to and from Columbus that I can turn in a weekend. And if I’m not reading websites for ideas about places to go, I’m going over the brochures of my favorite places to see what I’ve missed along the way. What can I say? I was born with a suitcase in my hands.

The subsequent problen is finding the time to balance my responsibilities at home and abroad. How can one continue to adventure if they don’t have the means to do so? Furthermore, how can one make plans to stay in perpetual motion, if it comes at the cost of bugetary hyperextention, or neglect of other long-term plans wherever you call home?

I’m not just talking about working and balancing paid time off. I’m talking about balancing the budgets, keeping an eye on credit, and protecting the things that I care about when both home and away. Keeping my stuff safe from baggage theft and baggage loss while traveling is one thing. Keeping my eye on the bigger picture is something completely different, but equally important while on the road.

So how does one make it all work when trying to see the world at the same time? Here are some of the tools that I use to balance everything together:

1) Credit Monitoring
When traveling domestic or foreign, I’m always using credit cards for the security features they provide me (not to mention some of the awesome rewards). But I also want to make sure that I’m using it responsibly, and that nobody else is using it but me. I like the tools Credit Karma and Credit Sesame to get an overall view of my credit, how many credit pulls I have, and where all of my balances lie. Add in alerts to my smart phone when there's a drastic change in my account (such as a higher balance change, or credit report pull), and I'm prepared no matter where I go. 

2) Budget Planning
This is one of the key pieces of my travel strategy – as having a strong budget allows me to travel anytime I see a good deal.
Aside from the tools that my bank offers to keep track of my accounts, Mint is a good tool as well – as it allows me to plug in my projected expenses for the month, and can help me start saving for my next big adventure.

3) Rewards Tracking
I’ve talked about rewards tracking in the past, but I wanted to mention it again as it can be a critical part of your travel planning. Who doesn’t love to get a free ticket, hotel room, or perks at the hotel? And if you don’t use the points, you’re giving free money back to the companies. For reward tracking, I like Award Wallet, as it keeps my major accounts in one place. The only downfall is that Award Wallet isn’t supported by all travel providers, but it still gives me a good idea of my status and balances across the table – so I can plan for that reward trip that much sooner.

Keeping everything balanced is a key to flexibility. And the better I can balance now, the more fun I can have on the road. How do you keep things moving at home while you’re away? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

(Ed. Note: No incentive was given to mention any product or service in this blog. Travel Insurance Services and its affiliated companies do not endorse nor guarantee any product or service mentioned in this or any blog. However, we sure would love to hear about your experiences with them!)

I found it! After some exploration, I actually found a picture of the place I was at in Germany - the beautiful city of Grafenau, near the Bayerwald, in the heart of Bavaria. This brings back a lot of memories for me! You may now be asking, why didn't I use a photo from my student travel adventures? The answer is simple: those photos are locked away securely in a valut in California - exactly where they should be.
Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

It's been quite a while since we've visited in this space, hasn't it? August has been a busy travel month for me - flying back and forth all over the northeast last month, and only earning a handful of miles for my efforts. While it's been a great month in the air, it's been at the sacrifice of being able to do what I truly love about this job: write about what I've learned in my travel experiences.

While this has been a season of learning for me, being all over the place has made it very difficult to focus on something to write about in this space. So like many blog writers do, I took to Twitter for inspiration - surely, someone was in the same situation I was in, right? After some conversation, one of my friends challenged me to a very poignant blog topic: how did I discover my love of travel?

While I've often alluded to what inspired my initial love for travel, I don't believe that I've written an outright blog about the things that make me enjoy travel so much. So after some thought on the prompt given to me, I would like to share the story of what inspired my love for travel: being a student traveler to Germany at age 17.

In High School, I studied German - in fact, of everthing I studied, it was the most fascinating topic for me. I loved the idea of studying other cultures, and seeing just how interconnected the world truly was. While I had a pen-pal in Germany, to whom I would hand write letters to (well before the advent of e-mail), it wasn't the same as exploring the culture for myself. As a student, I often dreamed about escaping to another culture to expand my horizons for a spell - but scale of economy was the primary obstacle in going around the world to learn more about a culture.

In my junior year of high school, I was presented with an opportunity: my German instructor was made aware of a sanctioned exchange trip to Germany with a very well known organization. While I was afraid that money would be an obstacle in going, my family was very supportive in finding a way to help me explore this dream. So between some help from the entire family, a little savings on my part, and a barbecue to send me off, I was off for my first adventure as a student traveler.

From the minute I boarded that plane in San Francisco, the travel bug had bit. Sure, it was a long 11-hour flight from San Francisco direct to Munich, but every moment on the plane was absolutely worth it. If I remember correctly, I couldn't hardly sleep on the plane - mostly due to the excitement I had of taking my first trip as a student traveler. That first day, I easily was up for well over 20 hours, running on pure excitement and adrenaline.

Once I was there, the travel bug absolutely bit me - and made me spend my time investigating every aspect of my temporary surroundings. During my month in Germany at 17, I spent my time investigating the city, exploring the surroundings, and making friends from all over the world (even a group of Australians that were on exchange at the same school I was at). My tour group visited some of the monuments and castles built by the last monarchs of Bavaria. We saw Salzburg, and the birth home of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. And everywhere I went, I seemed to pick up something to compliment my adventures. I believe I still have my wandering cane, with all of the medallions of my destinations, somewhere at home.

One month in Germany was certainly not enough. I didn't know how I was going to get back - but after the kindness and generousity of the people of Grafenau and my host family there, I knew that I needed to return someday. That trip also made it clear to me that this wouldn't be my first destination. This student trip opened up my eyes that there's so much more to this world than I could see from my native California. And it made me want to jump on more airplanes than I could remember.

That one trip, that my family had to sacrifice a lot for, inspired my love of travel - and has empowered me to live all across the United States, and see the world. Since that trip, I've made a home in Ohio, been to Canada far more times than I can count, and have been able to make friends all around the United States and the world! That one, seemingly simple act of student travel inspired a passion that I still have to this day. Funny how one life-changing event can cascade into something far bigger over time.

My thanks to my friends on Twitter, for drawing that story out of my past. How did you learn to love travel? What made traveling more than just a passive activity for you? Did your student travels play into your affection for adventure as well? Let me know in the comments below!