Duty free rules, know before you go

duty free rulesDuty Free. It sounds like such a good idea. Duty Free shops and zones in airports and other places common to travelers beckon us to save money . Quick and convenient, we find savings of up to 50 percent just after passing through security on the way to our plane, train or ship. But buyer beware, you may not make it to your final destination with that great deal.

Duty free shop personnel often lack import knowledge for destinations other than their own. They can get you going from where you are, but often laws of other lands will prevent bringing your duty-free items in.

Australian Customs, for example, has a section on duty-free in its ”Know Before You Go” guide for travelers that states: ”If you are aged 18 years or over, you can bring 2.25 litres of alcohol duty-free into Australia with you” – without mentioning that it is subject to regulations about liquids and must be purchased or carried according to strict rules reports the Sydney Morning Herald.

Travelers commonly find out the hard way that security rules concerning liquids vary from country to country. Some require bottles to be in tamper-proof packaging, others don’t. If where you buy and your final destination include a stop in a third country, even a short layover, your duty free purchase could be confiscated.

It’s a good idea to know before you go and online source dutyfree.com tells us “Duty-free rules vary by country, with policies ranging from simple and flexible to complex and rigid. To learn about a country’s duty-free laws, try contacting its customs or border patrol agency. Or, call a travel agency, duty-free shop or airline located in that country.”

Catalyst Creative: Duty Free Stores from Catalyst Creative on Vimeo.

Going to Yosemite? Don’t take the minivan!

One of the great draws of visiting a National Park like Yosemite in California is that you can get very close to nature and see animals in their own habitat. But there is a limit to just how close you want to get to certain animals, especially black bears, which can be dangerous to both humans and cars as they look for food.

There are several ways to reduce your risk of having an unpleasant encounter with a black bear, and as it turns out, not driving a mini van may be one of them.

A study done by the Journal Mammology over a 7 year period in Yosemite has shown that black bears in the region seem to prefer minivans as their vehicle of choice when looking for a snack. But, the study reveals, it’s not actually the car style and size the bears are attracted to (and no, they don’t care about the car’s crash safety ratings either), it’s more about fuel efficiency. And by “fuel efficiency”, they mean which cars provide the most food for the bears.

It seems that minivan drivers are more likely to be traveling with a family and toting around small children – children who inevitably leave open snack containers in the car or who leave a trail of chips and cookies behind them.

The researchers also hypothesized that minivans that often carry small children may have stronger food odors even when there is no food inside, because kids are likely to spill, and that minivans may be more likely to contain a cooler of food, because they are larger and can accommodate one more easily. The researchers also wondered if minivans were just easier for the bears to break into.

Out of 908 cars broken into in the 7 year period, 22% were minivans, 22.5% were SUVs, 17% were small cars and 13.7% were sedans.

How Enterprise goes green – in a big way

Green is finally “in” – you no longer have to grow a beard and wear socks made from recycled cardboard boxes and corn husks to do your part in helping the environment.

Even when you are on the road, it is quite easy to help out. Some car rental companies jumped on board the green train ages ago by offering renters the option of a hybrid vehicle.

Enterprise, (the parent company of Alamo, Enterprise and National rent-a-car) took being green one step further, and introduced the largest fleet of hybrid vehicles in the country.

In total, 5000 gas/electric hybrids are available from Enterprise branches, and 80 locations were designated “hybrid branches” where a high concentration of hybrid vehicles are available.

In addition to this, the company also offers a whopping 73,000 vehicles that are capable of running on the E85 ethanol blend.

Green renters can take things one step further by adding a $1.25 carbon offset option to rental agreements. This has been so successful that it was recently named the most popular consumer opt-in offset program in the industry.

Instead of relying on others to develop new technologies, Enterprise is also investing $25 Million in renewable fuels research and helping educate drivers on some basic tips on how to drive “green”.

Top 10 national parks, thanks to TripAdvisor

More than 3,000 TripAdvisor readers in the United States have selected the top 10 national parks. Big shock: nine out of 10 are out west. Only Maine made it onto the list. But, let’s face it – if you want big, impressive national parks, you have leave the East Coast.

These readers are definitely interested in the national park scene. More than 70 percent plan to visit one this year, up from 62 percent in 2008. And, searches on TripAdvisor for “national park” and “national parks” are up 21 percent for the first five months of 2009 (relative to the same period last year).

So, what are the top spots?

  1. Zion National Park, Utah
  2. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
  3. White Sands National Monument, New Mexico
  4. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
  5. Redwood National and State Parks, California
  6. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nevada
  7. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
  8. Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
  9. Yosemite National Park, California
  10. Acadia National Park, Maine

“As Americans look for inexpensive travel ideas this summer, many are seeking out the amazing natural beauty that lies in our country’s own back yard,” said Michele Perry, vice president of global communications for TripAdvisor. “National Parks can offer travelers an active, affordable and often awe-inspiring escape outdoors.”

What to do when you realize your airport shuttle driver is crazy

When your airport shuttle driver does any of the following, you know he’s a little off: flip-flops on prices, each of the three times that you ask him for a quote. Plugs your address into his GPS navigation system, then asks you how to get to your place. Gets well onto the freeway, only to turn around to pick someone else up from the airport.

The driver I had the other night did all three. With a distinct glaze of ‘couldn’t care less’ in his eye.

What’s a traveler to do? Anarchy.

The two other passengers and I jumped ship. It being 12:30 a.m. and all, our options were few and far between: the local commuter train had already stopped running 30 minutes prior, and wouldn’t start up again for another four hours. A taxi for three people and three stops would be pricey and complicated. Other shuttles either wouldn’t go in our direction, had stopped running, or demanded the private shuttle fare of $80.

Our last resort: rent a car. To go 23 miles. (Yes, it occurred to me too that we might be the crazy ones.)

It’s just as tedious to think about waiting in car rental lines as it was actually waiting in line. So I’ll bypass that. But suffice it to say that after a lot of time and several quotes in the $120-180 range (before taxes), we jumped on the price we got for $78 after taxes (thank you National!). At $26 per person, it was cheaper than the highest price quoted by the shuttle driver: $49. So, we were soon on the road again, and with people that we actually had faith in.

To their credit, the shuttle dispatch called around that time to ask whether I had been picked up. I could’ve–nay, should’ve–chewed the driver out. But here’s the thing: I didn’t know the driver’s name, didn’t want to be charged for missing the shuttle after making the reservation, and plain couldn’t be bothered. So I told them what any crazy person would: “yes, thank you!” I did have a ride, truthfully.

Time lost in the process: 2 hours, 20 minutes. Distance from airport to home: 23 miles. Price per person: $26. Getting home safely before daybreak? Yep, you got it: priceless.