The Best Passports For Travel Access

US Passport
Clappstar, Flickr

Applying for visas and dealing with travel-related bureaucracy can be a tedious, irritating process, but the good news is that U.S. passport holders have fairly unrestricted access when it comes to foreign travel.

The Henley & Partners Visa Restriction Index ranked countries around the world based on how freely their citizens could travel with just a passport. The United States came in 2nd place, tying with Denmark, Germany and Luxembourg. American citizens can enter 172 countries without having to worry about red tape, according to the study.So what is the best passport to have? A British, Swedish or Finnish passport is as good as it gets, giving passport holders access to 173 foreign destinations visa-free. In general, being a member of an EU country helps a lot if you want to travel spontaneously, with nine out of 10 of the top countries all part of the European Union.

Some countries however, are not so lucky, with citizens in Lebanon, Nepal and Pakistan finding themselves towards the bottom of the list. Iraqis, unsurprisingly, are expected to jump through a lot of hoops to travel abroad, and have access to just 31 countries visa-free. And the country with the most restrictions? Afghanistan, whose people have passport-only entry to 28 nations around the world.

Belarus internet ban targets foreign websites

internet banA new internet ban in the former Soviet country Belarus will make the usage or browsing of many foreign websites illegal and punishable by a fine of up to $125. The Library of Congress reports that all Belarusian companies and entrepreneurs will be required to use only locally-hosted websites for conducting business, sales, or exchanging emails. Additionally, e-commerce websites without a local presence will be banned from providing goods or services to anyone in Belarus, meaning that websites like Amazon will not be allowed to sell to Belarusians. Internet cafe owners are required to report any illegal browsing to the authorities for prosecution. Additionally, websites deemed “extremist” or “pornographic” will be banned, bringing to mind a scene from the TV series Scrubs when Dr. Cox says “I’m fairly sure if they took porn off the Internet, there’d only be one website left, and it’d be called ‘Bring Back the Porn’.”

What’s unclear about the law is how it would apply to non-commerce sites like blogs or news sites, or any other website without the .by extension. How about travel booking engines or content for citizens to travel abroad? It’s also unclear how it would affect non-Belarusians doing business in the country, such as Gadling’s blogger Alex Robertson Textor, who recently reported from Minsk. Will this very website become illegal to read in Belarus? We hope not, for any Belarusian readers, and for the sake of internet freedom for all.

Photo courtesy Flickr user decafeined from a protest earlier this year in Istanbul against pending internet censorship in Turkey.

39 of America’s best drives

Summer is upon us, and that means it’s time for road trips. Even with gasoline prices nudging the three dollar mark, there’s no better way to spend a summer day or weekend than taking part in the American tradition of a great drive. With that in mind, Gadling has put together 39 great drives across the U.S. you’ll want to check out. So grab your keys and get out on the open road!

Duluth, Minnesota to the Canadian border

Heading northeast out of Duluth you’ll find one of America’s most beautiful waterfront drives. At Two Harbors, four lanes turn to two and the birch forest closes in. The next 130 miles include tunnels, waterfalls, a spectacular lighthouse and numerous other surprises that will make your day. Music: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door – Bob Dylan.

Trail Ridge Road, Colorado
An hour northwest of Denver, Trail Ridge Road is the highest paved through road in the United States, topping out well above timberline at 12,183 feet. The road is safe and easy to drive, but it’s only open during the summer months due to heavy snowfall. Be sure to check with the National Park Service for road conditions before making this trek. Music: Rocky Mountain High, John Denver.

Underground Chicago

Lower Wacker Drive is unlike any other street in the United States. For one thing, it’s underground. For another, it runs north, south, east and west. Immortalized in movies like the Blues Brothers, it allows you to cross under one of America’s busiest cities in a matter of minutes with virtually no traffic. Enter north of the river under Michigan Avenue or south of downtown at Congress Parkway. Music: Sweet Home Chicago, Robert Johnson.Flint Hills, Kansas
The 45 miles from Emporia to Florence along US 50 in the Flint Hills will take you by surprise. This is America’s last remaining tallgrass prairie and looks like much of the heartland used to look. Go in the springtime and you’ll think you’re in Ireland. Return in autumn for a completely different experience. Music: Dust in the Wind, Kansas.

Down on the Bayou, Louisiana
It’s 85 miles from Baton Rouge to New Iberia, Louisiana but a more interesting 85 miles you won’t find anywhere. Head west on Interstate 10 over the Atchafalaya Swamp before descending into Lafayette, the capital of Cajun culture. You’ll want to enjoy a meal here before heading south 20 miles on US 90 to New Iberia. Follow the signs to Avery Island, a unique wildlife refuge and the home of Tabsco-brand Louisiana hot sauce. Music: Zydeco Gris Gris, Beausoleil.

An Island in the Sky, Texas
The Chihuahan desert of west Texas is a stark, unforgiving place but in Big Bend National Park miles of sand and cactus give way to a lush pine forest high in the cool crisp air of the Chisos Mountains. This sky island is as different from the surrounding terrain as an island is from the sea. From Fort Stockton, head south on US 385 to the park entrance at Persimmon Gap. From here it’s still 35 miles to the Chisos Basin. In the summer months, it’s best to make this trip late in the day to avoid the extreme desert heat. Be sure to fill the tank….this is big country. Music: Into the Great Wide Open, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Merrit Parkwa
y, Connecticut
In the far, far suburbs of New York City you’ll find one of America’s most beautiful highways. The Merrit Parkway runs from the New York – Connecticut state line approximately 37 miles to Milford. It is one of just a handful of American highways to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places due to it’s natural beauty and many stone arch bridges. Music: I Can’t Drive 55, Sammy Hagar.

Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
Head north from Portland on Interstate 205 and pick up Washington state highway 14 before heading east to Beacon Rock State Park. Stop and climb the easy trail to the top for great views of the Gorge. Continue on to White Salmon and cross the bridge to Hood River, Oregon. From here it’s a straight shot back to Portland on Interstate 84. Stops at Multnomah Falls and Bonneville Dam are pleasant diversions. Music: Given to Fly, Pearl Jam

Pasadena Freeway, California

Also known as California 110, this is the state’s oldest freeway. It has twists and turns, bridges and tunnels, mountains and canyons and more excitement than its better known brethren in southern California. From downtown Los Angeles, follow the signs to Pasadena. When you reach the City of Roses, turn around and do it again. Make sure the top is down. Music: I Love LA, Randy Newman.

The Bridges of Parke County, Indiana
Parke County, Indiana has more covered bridges (31) than any other area of the United States. Most are accessible to passenger cars. If that’s not enough to entice you, rumor has it that there’s no better place to sneak a kiss than on a covered bridge. Head west 67 miles from Indianapolis on US 36 to Rockville. From here, take any of the five covered bridge routes on a journey back to a time when life was simpler and the pace was slower. Music: Small Town, John Mellencamp.

— The above was written by Baja Publishing, Seed contributor.



North Shore National Scenic Byway, Minnesota
The North Shore National Scenic Byway, along Minnesota’s coast of Lake Superior, thrills drivers with 154 miles of towering cliffs, tucked-away cobblestone coves, roaring rivers and waterfalls, a 100-year-old lighthouse, and killer views of the world’s largest freshwater lake.

Thermopolis to Buffalo, Wyoming

Road-tripping from Thermopolis to Buffalo, WYspools past the rich reds of badlands and grassland greens before climbing into the deep browns of the dramatically rugged, beautiful Big Horn Mountains.

Road to Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii
It can feel like tumbleweed Texas, lush Ireland or thick forests of the Pacific Northwest as each elevation–and biome–changes the scenery on Maui’s road to Haleakala National Park. Highway 378 climbs 10,000 feet above sea level with exhilarating zig-zags, stellar scenery and sudden fog.

Highway One, California

Get a sampling of the stunning (and less crowded) California central coast with a trek along Highway 1 from Cambria and the Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery up to spectacular hiking at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. You’ll find a hidden waterfall, redwoods and may even spot a migrating whale while hugging the coast.

Highway 22 and 31, Michigan
Michigan’s Highway 22 and 31 wind through forest, dunes, orchards, wineries, harbors, and the quaint lakeside communities nestled along Grand Traverse Bay and the Lake Michigan shore: Glen Haven, Suttons Bay, Traverse City and Petoskey. Chicago’s turn-of-the-century elite families left a legacy pastel-colored Victorian mansions overlooking the gorgeous blue-green bays.

Mount Evans Scenic Byway, Colorado
You don’t need a trip through Rocky Mountain National Park to enjoy stellar alpine views. The Mount Evans Scenic Byway, just outside Denver, Colo., claims to be the highest paved road in the country at more than 14,000 feet. The road to get there spins through valleys and climbs through the Arapaho forest, framing up perfect views of snowy peaks.

Highway 135, Indiana

An easy drive from Indianapolis, Indiana’s Highway 135 loops and roller-coasters through covered bridges, state parks, Brown County’s art colony and the dense hardwood hills of Hoosier National Forest between Nashville and Houston. You’ll be craving bluegrass music, guaranteed.

Great River Road, Minnesota

Cruise below sandstone bluffs that border the Great River Road as it follows the Mississippi River south of the Twin Cities and through historic small towns on its way to Red Wing, Wabasha (remember “Grumpy Old Men”?) and Winona, Minnesota. Best bet: Go in March for world-class bald-eagle watching or in the fall for prime apple picking and antiquing.

Needles Highway, South Dakota

One of the nation’s most skillfully engineered scenic byways perfectly frames up views of Mount Rushmore like a postage stamp. South Dakota’s Needles Highway also spirals down pig-tail bridges, nudges past granite needles and purposely slows down drivers so they don’t miss the Black Hills scenery–or the mountain goats.

— The above was written by Lisa Meyers McClintick, Seed contributor.



Lake Superior Circle Route, Wisconsin/Minnesota/Michigan
This gorgeous stretch of road circles through Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan. This scenic tour takes you through picturesque villages, over crystal clear rivers, by spectacular waterfalls, over the highest mountains in the midwest, along panoramic beaches, and through towering forests. In addition, enjoy some great cafes, bakeries, and quilting shops.

Carson Pass Scenic Byway: Jackson to Woodfords
The Carson Pass Scenic Byway travels along through alpine forests and meadows and over the towering Caron Pass in the central Sierra Nevada region. Spectacular views of rocky peaks and lakes, coupled with volcanic landscapes, deep canyons and dense forests make this seventy-five mile long scenic drive as varied as it is beautiful.

Manitowoc Scenic Drive, Wisconsin

This drive tours the Lake Michigan shore from Sheboygan to Algoma, passing sand dunes, high bluffs, lighthouses, farms, and museums. The area’s flavor and history are closely tied to the lake through fishing, sailing, and ship building. Stop at one of the many specialty shops along the way to get a souvenir.

Door Country, Wisconsin

A drive through Door County, Wisconsin will provide you with views of over 250 lighthouses. In addition, 130 miles of the rustic Lake Michigan shoreline, limestone bluffs, and rocky shores will keep you awestruck for hours. If you need to stretch your legs, consider taking a tour of one of the many cherry or apple orchards who call Door County their home. Finally, wrap up your trip with a visit to Peninsula State Park, one of the largest state parks in Wisconsin.

Glacier National Park, Montana

Glacier National Park, located in northwest Montana, boasts some of the finest mountain scenery in the country. A drive through this mountainous terrain will provide you with views of more than 50 major glaciers and over 200 lakes. Top that off with a tremendous variety of trees and all colors of wildflowers in summer, and you have a natural setting of excellence.

Kettle-Moraine Scenic Drive, Wisconsin

This 115-mile drive follows the Kettle Moraine, a long ridge of forested hills that mark where two great arms of the last glacier butted up against each other. The route follows the Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive developed and maintained by the Kettle Moraine State Forest staff. Along the way you’re likely to learn more about glacial geology than you ever thought you’d know.

Amish Country: St. Charles-Harmony-La Crescent-Spring Grove, Minnesota

A stretch of road provides a 77-mile ramble through the wooded hills and intimate hollows of southeast Minnesota’s “bluff country.” Crossing the great rift valley of the Root River at Lanesboro, the drive passes through Amish farm country near Harmony and loops north and east through small towns and secluded valleys to the Mississippi River.

Sonoma-Napa Valleys Scenic Drive: Santa Rosa to Hopland, California
A scenic drive and wine tasting extravaganza! This 132 mile scenic drive loops through the wine country of Sonoma and Napa and follows three California highways. Winding through rolling mountains and dense forests, the scenic drive also passes through Clear Lake, the largest natural lake entirely within the state. Along with wine tastings, there are numbers state parks and sites including Old Faithful Geyser in Calistoga.

Sonoma-Mendocino Coast Scenic Drive: Marin City to US 101, California
This California scenic drive starts on the Marin Peninsula just north of the Golden Gate Bridge and follows Highway 1 up the beautiful Pacific coast. The highway passes through historic sites, redwood forests, wave carved coves, quiet sandy beaches and much more. From Muir Woods to Point Reyes National Seashore there are tons of state parks and beaches to visit and be awed by.

Monterey, California to Morro Bay, California
Traveling through California from Monterey to Morro Bay is a scenic drive that tops them as the best of the west. Beginning south of Monterey, the highway takes you along the Big Sur where the Santa Lucia Range meets the Pacific Ocean. This scenic drives offers an abundance of marine life, sandy beaches and breathtaking views.

— The above was written by Kathryn Gierok, Seed contributor.



Ocean Parkway, Long Island, New York
Starting at Jones Beach in the west, you can cruise East along the Atlantic Coast dune line of Long Island. Multiple beach stops along the way include Tobay, Gilgo and Oak Beach. It’s straight, desolate, with magical salty ocean breezes.

Pacific Coast Highway, Big Sur, Northern California
There’s only one road that takes you through the sparse and exclusive community. Breathtaking views of the Pacific bluffs on one side and the Santa Lucia Mountains on the other. Multiple state parks for camping, hiking and sightseeing all along Highway 1.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota. Miles and miles of (super) natural rock sculpture. Endless arrays of wildlife, especially endangered and protected herds of buffalo. If you’re lucky enough to ride West towards Sturges during bike week, you’ll have an escort of 150,000 bad-ass bikers.

Independence Pass, Aspen, Colorado
One of the highest paved roads in the country, with an altitude of over 12,000 feet. Hairpin turns in bad weather combined with unforgettable views of the Rockies give you Ansel Adams beauty and pure adrenaline in the same ride.

Ecola State Park, Oregon Coast
Also an extension of the Pacific Coast Highway (named Route 101 in Orgeon). Breathtaking views of the Northwest Pacific Coast. March starts the spring run of brilliant whale watching.

2nd Avenue, New York City
After 10:00 PM, take the RFK Bridge (formerly the Triboro) into Manhattan with the stunning New York City skyline on your left. Take the FDR drive South, get off at 116th street. Make a left onto Second Avenue. Roll down the windows, crank up the tunes, drive all the way downtown and feel the city rhythm under your wheels.

Florida Keys, Route A1A, South Florida
A one lane road into and out of paradise. Traffic and roadwork can get ugly, but what’s the rush? Warm breezes, lazy palms and the bluest of blue water as far as the eye can see in every direction. Spring breakers on the move add a party flavor.

Interstate 15 from Los Angeles to Las Vegas
Classic road trip stuff. Grab your friends, pack all the necessary accoutrements, rent an old convertible and be the American Dream. Start in the afternoon, get that magic Sierra sunset and hit the Strip by nightfall.

I-87 North, Upstate New York
In September/October, the entire Adirondack region is afire with Autumn color. Beautiful side exits take you to Saratoga, Woodstock or Fort Ticonderoga. Stop for an hour to go apple picking – it’s a must.

The Road to Hana, Maui, Hawaii
This might be the most incredible drive in the United States. The first half is all flora, fauna and waterfalls. The ride back through volcano country is psychedelic, martian-like and wrought with peril if not taken seriously. The remote rainforest village of Nahiku is heaven on Earth.

— The above was written by Drew Moss, Seed contributor.

[Image credits: Nicholas T, Wolfgang Staudt, Mi Pah, puroticorico, thomaspix and [le]doo ]

Seven travel-related things to be thankful for

While travel as the act of discovering a new place can be exhilarating and exciting, travel as the act of being in transit can be annoying and exhausting. Long lines, delays, rude people and all the frustrations that go along with moving large amounts of people from A to B can make the physical movement involved with travel something to really complain about. But this Thanksgiving, I wanted to take a step back and think about all the travel-related things that we do have to be thankful for.

I’m thankful for the airlines.
I know, I know, we spend a lot of time griping about all the things the airlines are doing wrong. They run late, they lose our luggage and they charge us extra for everything, but without them, traveling would be a completely different experience. Thanks to the airlines, we can leave home and arrive on the other side of the world within a day – a single day. That kind of immediate access to a far off country was unfathomable just a few decades ago. Back then undertaking a long-distance journey meant days, if not weeks spent on a train or a trans-Oceanic boat ride. And for all but the rich, that kind of travel was cramped, uncomfortable, dirty, and often dangerous. So I’m thankful for the airlines, for making long-distance travel quick, affordable and safe, and for allowing us to travel the world with relative ease.
I’m thankful for hardworking airline and airport staff.
I’m very grateful to airline staff, especially to the good pilots (you know, the ones who aren’t too drunk, crazy or horny to do their jobs) who do everything in their power to get us all to our destinations safely. I’m thankful for mechanics, baggage handlers and ground crew who work hard and are rarely recognized for it (Seriously, just think about the massive coordination it must require to sort, load and unload all that luggage and you’ll be surprised more isn’t lost). And I am very, very thankful for the cheerful flight attendants who probably put up with far too much crap from stressed and cranky fliers, yet still manage to serve my vodka and cranberry drinks promptly and with a smile.
I’m thankful that booze is still served on flights.
Chris Elliot may think it’s time to get rid of the booze on flights, but as a nervous flier, this girl needs a cocktail or two to help stay calm during rough flights. I’m even more thankful for the handful of carriers that still offer free drinks on international flights. You guys get my business over an airline that charges for drinks, every time.
I’m thankful for a job that allows me to travel
It’s easy to lament the high cost of traveling or that fact that we never seem to have enough vacation time to fulfill all our travel dreams. But the truth is, for most middle-class workers, travel is very attainable. With a little bit of penny pinching and some attention to the budget, most people can scrape together enough money for at least one vacation per year.
But for the thousands of Americans who are supporting a family on an income that is at or below the poverty line, no amount of “cutting back” will allow them to afford a week in Spain, let alone a weekend in Florida. So I am thankful that my husband and I are able to earn an income that allows us to explore the world.
I’m thankful for the internet.
Before the internet, booking a trip was a difficult process, one best left to the professionals. But the invention of the internet and its easy access to nearly unlimited information has changed the way we plan trips. Now anyone can go online, search for the best flight fares, book tickets, search for a hotel, check the reviews, and make reservations all with a few clicks.
And even though we complain when wi-fi isn’t free at hotels and airports, I’m still just grateful that it exists at all. With wireless internet, I can stay connected and get important work done while I am waiting in the airport terminal, at my hotel, and even while I am 35,000 feet in the air! The idea of being “location independent”, of working from anywhere remotely, was unheard of 10-15 years ago. Now thousands of people are able to explore the world and stay connected to their careers.


I’m thankful for my American passport.
As an American, I am free to go almost anywhere in the world knowing that in most cases (with the exceptions of North Korea, Cuba….and maybe Paris), I’ll be welcomed with open arms. People in many other countries aren’t so lucky. For people of many other countries the Visa process is a long, complicated and expensive one, one that usually ends in rejection. Would-be visitors are turned away from our (and other) borders every day. Because we fear they may be terrorists or because we wonder if they might not plan on ever leaving, we refuse to let them in. But it’s very rare that we ever hear of an American tourist being denied entry to another country. It’s one thing I take for granted, but I’m very thankful that I have the freedom to travel the world as I please.

I’m thankful for my husband and my home.
I enjoy traveling by myself and with friends, but I love traveling with my husband the most. So I am thankful that I not only have a person in my life who loves me and supports my travel habit, but who also loves to travel as a couple with me. And I am thankful that after I venture out into the world, I have a loving home to return to.

So today, and everyday, let’s remember all the little things we have to be thankful for!

Sign the petition to open travel to Cuba


Americans today have the right to travel to any country in the world except Cuba. Recently, the OpenCuba.org campaign, which gives people a way to petition U.S. leaders to end the 50-year Cuba travel ban and give all Americans the freedom to travel to Cuba, has been creating some buzz on the web because of the positive developments happening on Capitol Hill regarding lifting travel restrictions to Cuba.

159 Congressmen and 29 Senators recently sponsored the bipartisan Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, which seeks to open up travel to Cuba for all U.S. citizens. The opportunity to end the 50-year ban hangs in the balance. Each of us can take part in the movement to give Americans the right to travel wherever they choose by signing the petition.
The momentum behind this issue is growing. A recent poll shows that 67% of Americans favor allowing all Americans to travel to Cuba. Cuban American groups such as the Cuban American Alliance and the Cuban American Commission for Family Rights have also endorsed the initiatives sparked by OpenCuba.org. Over 50,000 people have already visited OpenCuba.org to make their opinion heard.

To seize the moment and join the growing number of OpenCuba.org supporters in urging U.S. leaders to give all Americans the freedom to travel to Cuba, visit http://www.OpenCuba.org, and encourage others to do so as well.

Americans have long had the freedom to travel almost anywhere in the world, and should continue to exercise this freedom wherever possible. This ability to travel and the resulting exchange of ideas between people from different countries can be a powerful force for positive change.

For information on my own travels to Cuba earlier this year, check out my Cuba Libre series HERE.