International Travelers Like Global Entry VIP Speed Lane

International travelers arriving in the United States this summer are often faced with a waiting time of three hours or longer to clear U.S. Customs. If their first stop in the U.S. is not their final destination, that wait can easily add up to missed connections too. In March, with several international flights on my upcoming travel schedule, I took a look at what could be done to speed things up.

“It’s a major problem,” said Sharon Pinkerton, senior vice president at Airlines for America in a Wall Street Journal report. “People get very, very frustrated when they spend seven or nine or even as long as 17 hours on a flight and then wait another two to three hours in line. People get really unhappy.”

I saw that unhappiness first hand at Orlando International Airport (MCO), my hometown airport and one that sees a bunch of families as the gateway to a number of central Florida theme parks and attractions. It has always been good to be an American at Orlando customs where the line for U.S. citizens is a fraction of what those from other countries face. Still, with recent government cutbacks, lines and waiting time for all had increased.Looking into the Trusted Traveler program, I liked the idea of speeding through the process of entering the United States. I rarely have anything to declare and travel enough internationally to make the $100 fee, good for five years, worth it. After completing an online application, U.S. Customs and Border Protection performed a background check, conditionally approved the application and then allowed scheduling of a one-on-one interview with a customs agent at a choice of local locations. That interview took no more than five minutes and off I went with my Global Entry ID card, something I would never need again.

Arriving in the United States, program members go directly to Global Entry kiosks, present their machine-readable passport, scan fingertips for verification then make a customs declaration. The kiosk issues a transaction receipt, which is very much like a second fast pass, used to access a second fast line after baggage has been claimed and others are being checked again.

Entering the U.S. in Atlanta (ATL) on a flight from London, the process could not have been smoother. I walked from the plane to my connection with just a brief stop at the Global Entry kiosk, the luggage claim area and on through customs.

A bonus to Global Entry is that it also admits participants to the TSA Pre✓™ program, normally reserved for frequent fliers of certain airlines. In the dedicated TSA Pre✓™ lanes at participating airports screening might not require removing shoes, 3-1-1 liquids, laptops, belts or taking off a jacket.

The down side? If traveling with others who are not part of the Global Entry or TSA Pre✓™ program, I still have to wait for them but can do so at a comfortable airport lounge.

12 Tips For Saving Money On Food While Traveling

When traveling, one of the biggest strains on your wallet is the cost of food. The problem isn’t that there aren’t affordable food options, but more that many people are unsure of how to navigate the dining scene in foreign locations. Instead of asking your hotel for recommendations or going to restaurants that “look nice,” use this guide to find budget-friendly meal options when traveling.

Stop Thinking “Everything Is So Cheap”

This is a dilemma many travelers face when in low-cost countries, or simply when they find a snack they enjoy that is less than $3. Instead of thinking you don’t have to worry about purchasing something because “it’s only $1,” think about how all those “it’s only $1” times add up. Moreover, if you’re the type of person who needs to eat something in between lunch and dinner, opt for a big lunch on a set menu. In most countries, you can find filling and cheap lunch specials and combos during this time, which can also help you eat a smaller dinner.Picnic

Not only does picnicking save you money, it’s also fun to put together. Instead of having one big meal, you’ll be able to taste a lot of different foods. For me, a good picnic includes bread, cheese, fruit, cold meat, dip and a dried vegetable. Along with saving money, having a picnic is also a great way to meet other travelers. You can either ask someone from your accommodation to go in on the food with you, or offer someone something where you’re eating. For example, when picnicking in the parks of Europe I would often offer someone some of my fruit in exchange for some bread, and I’d end up with a lunch partner.

Dine Locally

Eating at local restaurants can save you an exorbitant amount of money. Not only that, but the food is usually better. Don’t go to places with an English menu, and peek in to see if there are mostly locals inside. When traveling through Peru, a girl I met – who had eaten at the touristy restaurant the hostel had recommended – was ecstatic at how cheap food in the country was. “I paid $8 for a big antipasto plate,” she gushed. As I’d been eating at local restaurants and paying less than $2 for a huge soup, entree, desert and juice, I found this pretty expensive.

Don’t Eat At The First Place You See

When traveling, many people will see a place that looks good, or just go to the place recommended by their hotel. By doing this, you may be missing out on a great deal. When in Banos, Ecuador, with a friend, we decided we were getting a little tired of local food and wanted Mexican. We saw a place that looked good near our guesthouse, but decided to walk down the street a little bit more. About three blocks farther, we found a place that allowed us to have wine, beer, two appetizers and a huge entree for what one appetizer and one small entree would have cost at the first restaurant.

Eat Street Food

Street food is my favorite thing in the world. I’m always amazed at the unique entrees, and how inexpensive they are. While many people associate street food with Asia, there are many countries around the world with delicious offerings. I love chocla con queso in Peru, plantains with cheese and mayonnaise in Ecuador, choripan in Argentina, fried chicken and yams in Ghana and a giant salted pretzel in New York.

Buy Large Waters

If you’re in a city where the tap water is undrinkable, purchase a gallon bottle of water and use it to refill your smaller one. While it may not sound like much, a huge water is usually less than a dollar more than a small one, and lasts for days. And of course, if the tap water is drinkable, drink it.

Book Accommodations That Serve Breakfast

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and one you shouldn’t skip to save money. Before booking your accommodation, make sure they include breakfast in the rate. That way, you can fill up on free food and eat lighter later in the day.

Do Some Research

While you could spend hours scouring the streets for a good place to eat, doing a simple Google search could save you a lot of time. I like to skip the tourism board and business sites and check travel forums and blogs to see what other people found on their travels.

Skip The Cocktails

While it can be nice to have a cocktail with dinner, it will usually tack on quite a bit of money. Think about it. Say you have one $5 drink with dinner each night. At the time, this will seem like no big deal. However, after a week you’ll have spent $35 extra dollars, and after a month $150 or more. Along with saying no to alcohol with dinner, I also bring my own water bottle so I won’t have to buy a beverage at all.

Check For Extra Fees

Certain things that may be free in your home country when eating out may not be complimentary in the place you’re visiting. For example, in certain countries it’s common to charge for condiments and the use of the table. Likewise, the breads and small appetizers the server automatically brings over may have a charge associated with them. Make sure to ask and, if they’re not free and you don’t want them, have the server take them back, as you’ll get charged for having them on the table.

Stay At Accommodations With Kitchens

Grocery shopping and cooking your own meals is not only healthy, but also budget-friendly. It’s also fun to discover new grocery items you don’t have in your home country. In Argentina, I traveled with a girl who dined out for every meal while I cooked for myself. After doing the math, I realized she spent in two meals what I paid for four entire days of food. Even if you don’t want to cook every meal, incorporating it into your eating itinerary will save you a lot of money.

Pack Your Own Lunch For The Airport And Excursions

It’s nice when tours include a lunch in the price, but if they don’t it’s best to pack your own. Tourist sites and airports usually charge a crazy amount of money, and usually don’t have the best food, anyway.

Is Traveling Without A Passport Really Traveling?

This is a debate I encounter all the time, whether on the road or at home talking to friends. Technically, if you drive to the store to buy milk or go for a jog around the block you’re “traveling,” but what about the perception most people have of what travel really is?

After asking many people about this topic, it seems as though the answer often depends on what kind of travel experience the person has. It’s almost as if international travel makes people a bit jaded. For example, I recently went hiking with a guy from France who hadn’t really done much travel around Europe. However, he had been all over the United States, Canada, South America and Asia.

“Why don’t you go to Germany or Switzerland for a few days?” I asked, amazed that he’d never seen these countries that were so close to France. “Train travel in Europe is so convenient.”

“That’s not really traveling,” he responded. “I don’t even need a passport for those.”

While it may sound odd, this way of thinking is pretty common. When I spent six months studying abroad in Sydney, Australia, I spent every weekend and break frantically flying around the country, trying to “travel” as much as I possibly could in the time I had. Meanwhile, my roommate, a native Aussie, had never even been to Melbourne or Cairns.

“I can go there anytime,” she responded. “If I’m going to really travel, I’m going to go to Europe or South America.”While it always surprises me to hear people act so nonchalant about their home countries – places that I’ve traveled to and think are amazing – I have to admit I often fall into the same category. When people ask me when I started traveling, I usually respond, “When I was 20 and went to Australia.” My parents, who planned vacations and road trips every summer across the U.S. and Canada when I was growing up, probably wouldn’t like this answer. I’m not sure why, but flying to Maine to eat lobster and ride the Banana Boat or driving up the east coast to visit various theme parks just doesn’t feel like “real” traveling to me.

Not everyone feels this way. I have many friends who get excited about going to the Jersey Shore or to Washington, D.C. They request a week off work and spend hundreds of dollars shopping for new clothes, the perfect camera and colorful luggage. Additionally, I know people who tell me about how their jobs allow them to travel to places like Chicago and Boston. It isn’t that these places aren’t exciting, it’s more that they don’t provide the necessary amount of culture shock I need to really feel like I’m away from home.

Moreover, when posing the question on Twitter, most people said they believed traveling without a passport to be real traveling. However, many also agreed there was a distinct difference between domestic and international travel, probably due to contrasts in language and culture.

Ironically, if you asked me if traveling without a passport was still traveling, my gut reaction would be to respond, “yes, of course.” However, I can’t deny that when friends tell me they are visiting family in Denver or spending the weekend in Atlantic City, I don’t think of this as “really” traveling, but simply “going away for a few days.”

I think for many people, traveling to a truly foreign place allows for the feeling that they’ve really left home. There are new foods to try, a new language to learn, a different way of dress, customs and ideas we find odd but want to learn more about, and unfamiliar landscapes to explore. To many, it’s a richer experience. However, you have to wonder if this is only because, when abroad, travelers tend to be more active in their pursuit to learn. When out of the country, most people will pepper taxi drivers and hotel owners with questions about food, dress, history and norms, while in their home country they’d probably just ask for some restaurant recommendations.

The truth is, even when traveling to a different city in your home country you’ll be experiencing a different culture. For instance, I have a friend who lives 20 minutes from me, and half the time I can’t understand what she’s saying, as her town seems to have developed their own language. If I drive an hour further, I’ll see girls who dress completely different than me, and have a completely different attitude in general. If you open yourself up to unique encounters, ask questions and try to discover something new about a place, even your own backyard can offer a worthwhile travel experience.

Do you think traveling without a passport is still travel?

US Airports Spend Billions On International Expansion

The American airports of tomorrow are being built today as ongoing projects take shape to handle an increasing number of fliers. Around the country, projects are being considered, underway or nearing completion as travelers from around the world make their way to the United States.

As reported by Aviation Pros, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s nearly $350 million comprehensive modernization project at Newark Liberty International Airport Terminal B is nearing completion with the final phase slated to start in May.

“When people from across the globe arrive at Newark, they should find an airport welcome second to none,” says Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni. “The Port Authority is fulfilling our commitment to making Newark Liberty Airport one of the world’s best.”

Improvements to the international arrivals area include consolidating lost baggage offices, relocating the ground transportation desk to a more convenient location and improving travelers’ aid and concession spaces. Additionally, there will be upgrades to the public address, signage, escalator, alarm and fire protection as well as the heating and air-conditioning systems.

Work is also underway on a $1.2 billion enhancement and expansion of Delta’s facilities at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport reports Travel Daily news. That expansion brings a new Delta Sky Club in Terminal C, due to open this summer, and the Delta Sky Club in Terminal D will undergo an expansion.Delta will also increase service at LaGuardia by 60 percent, adding 4 million seats into New York, with 100 new flights and 26 more new destinations coming on line by summer 2012. As reported by Forbes, when its full schedule is implemented by this summer, Delta will run more than 260 daily flights to over 60 cities, more than any other carrier.

“All together, with our expansion projects at JFK and LaGuardia, Delta is investing nearly $1.4 billion in our New York airport facilities,” said Delta Chief Executive Officer Richard Anderson. “No other airline is approaching that level of commitment to New York in the next 12 months.”

It’s big money and not just on the East Coast. Los Angeles International Airport marked a milestone in its modernization program late last month, dedicating the renovation of Terminal 6, a new home for Alaska Airlines. The $238-million project includes a variety of improvements to bag checking, ticketing, security screening, waiting areas at gates and more.

These new facilities might not be waiting for long to handle increased traffic and pay back those investments.

In Texas, two studies were done to evaluate the economic impact on the city from Southwest’s international flights. They found the potential for an additional 1.5 million passengers to, from and through Houston per year. The increase would create more than 10,000 jobs and an annual economic impact of more than $1.6 billion.

Think US airports have high ambitions? Dubai International is already the world’s fourth busiest airport in terms of passenger traffic, but wants more too.

[Flickr photo via mastermaq]

Photo of the Day: Duty free Flamenco

After many years of international travel, I’ve learned that duty free isn’t necessarily a deal. Unless you’re a smoker or live in a country where alcohol is heavily taxed (like Turkey), you won’t find much value among the jumbo-sized Toblerone bars or rows of designer perfumes. But I still enjoy the ritual of browsing through the shop, trying some free samples, and maybe taking home a tasty piece of whatever country I’ve just visited. Some airports really step up their sales technique, like a flash mob in Beirut, or this pair of Flamenco dancers in Madrid, Spain spotted by Flickr user TaylorMcConnell. Not sure what they are selling, but I hope it’s a good bottle of Rioja.

See anything fun at an airport? Add your pix to the Gadling Flickr pool for a future Photo of the Day.