The Best Passports For Travel Access

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.

United Rolls Out Wi-Fi On Overseas Flights

It used to be that one of the few places you couldn’t get a Wi-Fi signal was at 30,000 feet, but soon there will be no excuse for being out of touch (or not getting work done) as airlines implement a dramatic expansion of onboard Wi-Fi services.

More than half of the planes flown by U.S. carriers currently offer Wi-Fi onboard, but United and other airlines are planning to up the ante by offering satellite-based Internet service en route. This not only means faster speeds, but the ability to get online during overseas flights – something not previously possible using ground-based technology.However, installing the satellite technology onto existing aircraft is no mean feat, with airlines forced to ground a plane for 15 days to get the system up and running. Engineers also have to run a series of tests to make sure passengers can get the signal strength they’re paying for. Since the shape and composition of a plane can cause Wi-Fi signals to bounce all over the place, experts have had their hands full making sure you can get can online no matter where on the plane you’re sitting.

And then there’s the cost. Installing Wi-Fi on a single aircraft sets the airline back more than $200,000 – and that’s not counting the revenue lost from taking the aircraft out of service for so long. Of course, airlines will more than make the money back in the long run thanks to the charges for using the Wi-Fi, which will range from around $4 to $23 depending on the flight.

Twenty of United’s planes are already equipped with the new Wi-Fi technology, with plans to bring that number up to 300 by the end of the year.

Check out the video below to learn more about United’s Wi-Fi expansion plans.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Robert Raines]

Australians can’t wait to leave: outbound travel up 3X over 20 years

It looks like the best place for vacation, if you’re Australian, is anywhere else. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, outbound travel surged from 2.1 million a year to 6.8 million a year over the past 20 years. For the 12 months ending last June, 6.8 million overseas trips originated in Australia. Two decades earlier, it was only 2.1 million. At today’s levels, there are 31 overseas trips made per 100 Australians.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

The ABS says the unprecedented increase is due to a combination of factors including more affordable travel and accommodation, partly due to the strength of the Australian dollar, and increasing competition between airlines.

What’s really interesting is that Australians are leaving the homeland for fun rather than profit: leisure travel was good for 82 percent of overseas trips.

So, if you’re Australian, where do you go? Well, New Zealand. The country’s neighbor attracted 1.1 million Australians.

[photo by Pascal Vuylsteker via Flickr]

Check your insurance – International travel tip

One the most important — and overlooked — things to do before traveling abroad is to check into your medical insurance coverage.

Call your insurance company to see if you and your family are covered overseas. This is especially important for destinations where disease and illness is more common, or for trips where a lot of physical activity occurs. If your medical insurance doesn’t extend internationally, consider purchasing supplemental insurance for the time you’re abroad.

Also, before leaving home, write down all your insurance information and carry it with you at all times. It’s also a good idea to make copies for any family member traveling with you. Finally, consider providing copies for family or friends staying at home … in case of emergency.

Recession impact evident in January, foreign visits to U.S. down

Foreign visits to the United States are down 9 percent year-over-year for January 2009, according to an announcement by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Spending by this group of visitors reached $10.6 billion – down 7 percent from January 2008. So, it looks like the people who spend less aren’t coming, since cash isn’t falling as fast as visitation. Slightly more than 3 million people visited the United States from abroad this year.

This confirms the worldwide effect of what was once called a “subprime mortgage crisis.” The global recession has led to a decline in consume rspending that includes travel.

Half the traffic came from our neighbors. Canada sent 1.1 million visitors to the United States, but this is down more than 12 percent year-over-year. Land arrivals fell 16 percent, with air arrivals dropping by only 8 percent. Mexico had 405,000 visitors to the United States in January. This is a decline of 4 percent. Air arrivals fell 16 percent, with land arrivals actually up 2 percent.

Excluding Canada and Mexico, U.S. arrivals totaled 1.5 million, a fall of 8 percent. Four of the top 20 countries (by number of travelers sent to the United States) showed increases, and two of them had double-digit year-over-year growth.

Brazil: up 5 percent (and showing 32 months of consecutive increases)

China: up 37 percent (and showing 35 months of consecutive increases)

Italy: up 6 percent (showing 25 months of consecutive increases)

Argentina: up 19 percent (and showing 30 months of consecutive increases)

U.S. visitation from the 27 countries in the European Union fell 11 percent overall for January 2009 (relative to January 2008), and travel from Western Europe was down 12 percent. Western Europe accounts for 37 percent of all overseas arrivals to the United States. Travel from Eastern Europe to the United States was up 5 percent. Travel from Asia to the United States, on the other hand, fell 9 percent year-over-year but nonetheless accounted for 31 percent of overseas arrivals to the United States. Travel from Japan fell 13 percent, with South Korea down 17 percent. Visits from India plunged 12 percent year-over-year.