Archive for June, 2009

Traveling to Cuba

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Cuba Travel

With many of the world’s best beaches, a capital city (Havana) with an exciting nightlife and beautiful architecture, and a laid back, welcoming culture help make Cuba one of the top tourist destinations for people from all over the world. That’s if you don’t live in the US.  Until Obama legalizes travel for all Americans, it is still illegal to take vacations to Cuba.  Technically, traveling there is not banned, it’s spending money that’s illegal.  But how can you get there if you don’t spend any money?   It is estimated over 100,000 Americans travel to Cuba every year – 80% of them illegally. The following information will provide you with a list of ways American can travel to Cuba, both legally and sub-legally:

Legal Travel
You must obtain a Specific license or write your own General license to legally travel to Cuba.  Before trying to get one of these licenses, make sure you fall into one of the following three categories:
1.  Official government travel by officials of the U.S. Government, foreign governments and international organizations of which the United States is a member.
2.  Journalism by journalists regularly employed in that capacity by a news reporting organization, including supporting broadcast or technical personnel.
3.  Full-time professional research conducted by professionals in their professional areas, or attendance at certain professional meetings or conferences.

The professional research category is the way that provides the most leeway. Look at the website for more detailed information on traveling to Cuba using a General Research license.

Official Treasury Department policies and documents on travel to Cuba can be found here.

For guidelines on General and Specific licenses for legal Cuba travel, look here.

Sub-Legal Travel
1.  Avoid using credit cards to book your trip – You don’t want a paper trail or financial records showing you paid for travel to Cuba. Pay a third party travel agency with a money order or cashier’s check. A few travel agencies to book through include:, Glenny Travel, or Cuba Travel USA (also contains an extensive FAQ on travel to Cuba).

2.  Get a connecting flight from a third country – Cancun, Nassau, Montego Bay, Dominican Republic, and Canada among others are options. Keep in mind that any airlines flying over the continental US are required to share passenger manifests (including your country of residence) with the US government. It is unclear whether or not this data is used to convict those traveling illegally to Cuba. To minimize your risk, get a connecting flight out of Cancun, as Mexico does not share passenger manifests. There are three daily flights from Cancun to Havana. These flights are on Cubana and Mexicana airlines and run about $300/ticket.

3.  No Passport Stamp – Cuban customs has been instructed not to stamp US passports. Instead, customs will issue you a tourist card and stamp that. To play it safe, ask them not to stamp your passport anyways.

4.  Money Exchange – Cuba does not accept US currency and imposes an extra 10% fee on US transactions. The best thing to do is exchange USD for Canadian and then exchange into CUC (the major legal currency for Cuba) in Cuba. The second legal currency in Cuba is the Cuban Peso (CUP) which is rarely used. Be careful to avoid scammers giving you change in CUP instead of CUC. Also, US bank affiliated credit cards will not work for you. Either bring cash or get a front loaded credit card from a bank that does not operate within the US. The following link contains additional details on money exchange in Cuba.

5.  Return to US – US citizens are required to declare all countries they have traveled to while outside of the country. The only way Customs and Imigration would know you were in Cuba is if you tell them. Most people get through without a problem by stating they only went to Cancun or Nassau. Use your own discretion for what you decide to do.

12 Must Have Travel Gadgets

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Travel Gadgets

What gizmos and gadgets do I need to take on my next trip? This question is usually answered while packing an extra bag full of electronics that never get turned on and collect nothing more than scratches from the other devices. Thankfully, the following list has been researched and compiled to help you determine the most useful gadgets to buy and bring with you on your next trip. No ShamWows or Flowbees included:

1. Trackstick II
Trackstick II

Trackstick II is a GPS Receiver the size of a memory stick used for tracking weeks of your every step. Take it on vacation to keep a satellite album of your travels, record your explorations, track where your vehicle has been, or carry it whenever you go out to get a better sense of your everyday life. Traveled locations can be shown via a red line that is traced on satellite photos and 3D terrain using the latest mapping technologies from Google Earth. The Trackstick II continuously records its exact route, stop times, speed, direction, and other valuable information, all of which can be quickly downloaded and viewed on your computer. No monthly fees are required and Trackstick Manager, an advanced tracking and geo-photo tagging piece of software, is provided free to download.

2. Canon PowerShot D10 12.1 MP Waterproof Digital Camera
Canon D10

If you need a durable camera for your adventures and trips, look no further. The PowerShot D10 is waterproof to 33 feet, cold resistant from 14-104 degrees (F), and shockproof up to four feet. Its 12.1-megapixel CCD captures enough detail for photo-quality poster-size prints. Also, Canon’s powerful, state of the art imaging technologies (DIGIC 4 Image Processor; evolved Face Detection Technology plus Face Detection Self-timer) are built-in, making this camera the best choice for capturing memories during your travels.

3. Apple’s iPhone 3G
iPhone 3G
The iPhone 3G is really three devices in one – a revolutionary phone (Quad-band smartphone that will work in almost any country), a widescreen iPod, and an Internet device with email and a desktop-class web browser. With fast 3G wireless technology, GPS mapping, support for enterprise features like Microsoft Exchange, and over 35,000 apps available, the iPhone 3G puts more features at your fingertips than any phone out there. If you need to use Verizon Wireless and can’t handle the touch screen keyboard, check out RIM’s BlackBerry 8830 World Edition.
4. SteriPEN Traveler Handheld Water Purifier

SteriPEN is perfect for people traveling to “at risk” water countries, and for peace of mind in water emergencies anywhere. The purifier employs ultraviolet light (UV) to destroy the DNA of microbe like bacteria, viruses and protozoa (like Giardia and Cryptosporidium), making them unable to reproduce and cause illness. It purifies a 16oz. Glass of water in just 48 seconds and has no aftertaste after being purified. It also has an easy one button operation – no pumping, chemicals, or test strips.

5. ASUS Eee PC 1000HE
Asus Eee PC

The compact form factor and rich feature set make this notebook the number one choice to take with you on trips. The ultra-bright 10″ screen is combined with built-in 802.11n, Bluetooth V2.0, 160GB HD, preloaded XP and an Intel Atom 280 Processor. It allows for a long battery lifespan of up to 9.5 hours and weighs just over 3.2 pounds.

6. Franklin 12-language Speaking Global Translator
Franklin Translator

Translates to and from 12 languages (Chinese, Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Turkish, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish). It’s large screen is ideal for viewing both translations simultaneously and the European phonetic spell correction lets you enter words as they sound. The device allows you to hear over 115000 and 12000 phrases pronounced in recorded human speech, and includes over 450000 words and 12000 phrases in the languages provided.

7. Tripshell International All-in-One Travel Plug Adapter
All-in-One Travel Adapter

This universal travel adapter covers outlets in over 150 countries including US, Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and UK. The built-in surge protection protects your electrical appliances from frequent spikes/surges in foreign electricity supply. It eliminates the need to carry multiple adapters and allows you to charge your laptop, PDA, and cell phone internationally.

8. Denon In-Ear Hybrid Headphone
Denon AH-C452K

These headphones (AH-C452K) are drastically underrated and provide the best quality/price ratio of any set of headphones out there. The clear and crisp mids and highs, coupled with the clean and strong bass produce a better overall sound than the Shure, Bose, and Sennheiser counterparts. Make sure you use them for 24-36 hours to “break them in”.

9. Garmin nüvi 500
Garmin nuvi 500

This GPS (3.5″ display) serves up turn-by-turn navigation in a rugged, waterproof exterior. It fits easily in a purse, backpack, or jacket pocket, making it perfect for travel. It provides driving, walking, bicycling and boating modes, which customize your nüvi specifically for your method of travel. It supports GPX files and comes preloaded with the highly detailed City Navigator North America NT maps for the lower 48 states, with maps for many countries worldwide available for purchase on the Garmin website.

10. Third Generation WiFi Detector
WiFi Detector

Great for quickly finding Wi-Fi without having to boot your laptop. Finds wireless networks up to 200 feet away, and provides specific information about each network when multiple networks are present. The back light LCD screen shows signal strength, network ID (SSID), encryption status, and channel.

11. Power Monkey eXplorer
Power Monkey Solar Charger

Charge this device anywhere there is sunshine. It stores up to 96 hours of reserve power for all of your favorite devices. USB connectors are included for iPods and accessories, MP3players, PDAs, smart mobile phones, digital cameras,games consoles, BlackBerrys, Bluetooth headsets and many more digital devices. If you need extra power to charge something like a laptop, look at the Powergorilla and Solargorilla.

12. Dicapac

Provides cases for the majority of mainstream devices (digital cameras, phones, mp3 players, etc.), which make them 100% waterproof (up to 18m deep), snow-proof, dirt-proof and the perfect investment for year-round protection. The UV, water repellent, and scratch resistant coating allows for quality pictures. A transparent and flexible case design supports easy camera control and zoom functions.

8 Frequent Flier Mile Hacks

by admin

Frequent Flier Hacks

Being a perpetual business traveler used to be the only way to build up a worthwhile amount of frequent flier miles.  This meant traveling on the same airline at least once or twice a year to keep your miles from expiring.  Not only that, you needed 10-25 round trip flights under your belt to build up a rewarding collection of miles.  This would take most travelers (who only have two weeks of vacation and numerous responsibilities) around 10 years to develop a beneficial amount of miles. Today, with the large availability and joining incentives of airline credit cards, hotel programs, and airline third party partners, it is easier than ever to rack up enough miles to get a free award ticket.  The following list of hacks will help you to save up and organize frequent flier miles for free air travel in no time!:

1.  Book FAR in advance or at the LAST minute – Look at both ends of the spectrum.  First, search as far ahead as possible to find a low mileage priced award seat.  You can generally start searching at least six months in advance.  Booking far in advance is usually your best bet if you want to use the least amount of miles for an award seat.  If you can’t come across (or you don’t have the convenience of searching for) a seat far in advance, there is also a possibility of scoring a great deal on a last minute award seat.  This is usually hit or miss and will depend on your flight.

2.  Examine ALL your choices –
Before you decide to cash in your award miles, determine if you can save a greater amount of money by using the miles for a more expensive ticket down the road.  Don’t spend 25,000 of your miles on a $150 round trip flight, unless you’re not planning on traveling again for years to come.  Save them for that last minute flight you would’ve shelled out $600 for instead.  Last year, I was going to use 25,000 miles for a $200 round trip flight to Atlanta.  Instead, I waited a couple of months and used 40,000 miles for a $1300 round trip flight to Rio de Janeiro.  Also, instead of using 25,000 of your miles for a cheap ticket, find out if you can pay with a portion of your miles.  Many award programs (Delta for example) will let you pay for flights with miles.  This usually equates to 5,000 miles for every $50 you want off of the flight, which is normally a better option for lower costing flights.

3.  Track Your Miles –
Use mileage managing software to keep track of the miles on all of your accounts.  This will allow you to get a summary of all your accounts in one place.  The software also lets you determine which airlines you need to focus your efforts on more, and will help keep you from losing miles to expiration.  Here are a couple of options: (free) ($14.95/year)

4.  Keep up with the rule changes –
Frequent Flier program rules are constantly changing.  Keep an eye out for changes, including new offers and expiring miles.  Check out the forums at and for the latest information and buzz on rule changes and deals.

5.  Rack up miles with new credit cards – This is by far the easiest way to earn miles.  You’ll never get anywhere signing up for offers yielding 50 or 100 miles that end up adding you to 17 different mailing lists.  Most miles programs are offering at least 15,000 miles for signing up and using their corresponding card for a few months.  Check out for a comparison of some of the best miles cards available.  Remember that credit card offers only allow you to take advantage of the promotional feature once – this means you can’t sign up, collect the bonus miles, close your account, and open up another one to get the additional miles.  You can get around this a single time with a business tax id.  With a tax id, you can sign up for another card with your business name using the same frequent flier miles account.  I was able to do this with American Airlines and rack up 50,000 miles in less than two months.

6.  Focus on ONE Airline – When it comes to miles programs, diversifying yourself doesn’t always work.  Having some miles in a lot of different programs takes a good amount of time and energy, without yielding great results.  With the ease of getting frequent flier miles increasing, the market is becoming watered down with the amount of miles out there.  The best benefits and bang for your mile come about when you rack up a lot of miles and frequently travel with the same airline.  These programs were designed to keep travelers coming back.  Travelers will book the same airline to get to elite status, which includes free upgrades and preferential treatment. Also, don’t rack up miles in a program that doesn’t have flights to or from your city of residence.  For example, signing up for offers to get 30,000 miles on Alaskan Airlines won’t do you much good when you live in Orlando.

7.  Use Yapta to find award tickets – Plan a trip through Yapta and find the flights you’re interested in taking. From the search results, choose to “track” prices & “include award tickets”.  Yapta will email you when airfare & award seats become available for less.  Here are the five Frequent Flier Programs that are currently supported by Yapta: Alaska, Continental, Delta, U.S. Airways, and United.

8.  Use a Middleman to Transfer Miles – I don’t usually recommend this option, as huge “fees” are tacked on for transferring miles.  For example, with you can transfer miles between various airline miles programs, but it isn’t a 1 to 1 ratio.  You get around 500 miles in the program of your choice for every 1,000 miles you transfer.  This is sometimes a good option when you need a few additional miles in a certain program and you don’t care about losing a lot in another.