The State Department alerts U.S. citizens to possible risks of travel due to increased terrorist threats in a new Worldwide Travel Alert issued November 23, 2015, in effect until February 24, 2016. Don’t dread travel this year; we have pooled travel tips from the US Department of Homeland Security, the TSA, Customs and a lot of experienced travelers to make your next vacation a smooth and safe one.
Despite all the criticism being leveled at US agencies for not working together to make the country more secure, several agencies have actually joined efforts to provide travel tips to travelers. Here are their most useful travel tips, succinctly told. Take heed and we bet you leave home a little more calmly, get through airport security and border crossings just a little bit faster, and enjoy your vacation even more.
Safety at Home Before You Leave for Vacation
Every trip should start out with some precautions, beginning with due diligence about who you’ve booked that wonderful bargain trip with. Make sure you book with a professional, whether online or in person, and ask if they have an emergency contact to call 24/7 should you need assistance rebooking flights or changing hotel or condo units.
Make sure your paperwork is in order and, if you’ve paid a deposit or non-refundable fee, that you understand the terms. Travel insurance is essential in our book; every family should look into purchasing a policy. Safeguarding your home is another essential; several new companies provide security systems that you can monitor with a cellphone, and it doesn’t hurt to ask the neighbors to keep their eyes open in your absence.
The official site, Travel.State.Gov, is a great clearing house for advice on what to do before departure and what resources are available at your new destination. The British agency U.K. Government Travel Abroad Tips is another helpful resource packed with common sense safety tips.
Crossing Land Borders In/Out of USA
U.S. Customs and Border Protection reminds travelers of certain policies.
The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) requires U.S. and Canadian citizens, age 16 and older, to present a valid, acceptable travel document that denotes both identity and citizenship when entering the U.S. by land or sea. U.S. and Canadian citizens under age 16 may present a birth certificate or alternative proof of citizenship when entering by land or sea.
A radio frequency identification (RFID)-enabled travel document such as a U.S. Passport Card, Enhanced Driver’s License/Enhanced Identification Card or Global Entry card expedites entry and makes crossing the border more efficient.
All nationals or citizens of Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries are now required to have an approved Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) — that form that must be filled out online — prior to boarding a carrier to travel by air or sea to the U.S. under the VWP. For more information about these programs, please visit U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Customs Rules & Land Border Crossing Tips
Tip #1 – To avoid fines and penalties associated with importing prohibited items, travelers should familiarize themselves with the “Know Before You Go” section of the CBP website
Tip #2 – Be prepared to declare all items acquired abroad. Travelers should prepare for the inspection process before arriving at the inspection booth and have their approved travel documents available for the inspection.
Tip #3 –Monitor border wait times for various ports of entry, which are much longer due to heightened security screenings. Travelers should consult the CBP website site for hourly updates when planning trips and identifying periods of light use/short waits. During periods of heavy travel, border crossers may wish to consider alternative, less heavily traveled entry routes.
Tip #4 – Build extra time into the trip in the event of crossing during periods of exceptionally heavy traffic, such as holiday weekends or around major sporting events or festivals.
Tip #5 – Know the difference between goods for personal use versus commercial use.
Tip #6 –Do not attempt to bring fruits, meats, dairy/poultry products and firewood into the U.S. from Canada without first checking whether they are permitted. Vendors may tell you that these items are permissible in order to sell them, but they will be confiscated at the border.
Tip # 7 – During the holiday travel season, international border crossers should continue to expect a thorough inspection process when entering the U.S. from Canada. Understand that CBP officers have the authority to conduct enforcement examinations without a warrant, ranging from a single luggage examination up to and possibly including a personal search.
Tip # 8 – Adults traveling with minors under age 18 who are not in their sole legal custody (such as children of divorced parents, grandkids, friends of your kids, sports teams, etc) must have a written, notarized Permission to Travel Letter signed by each minor’s legal guardians to cross borders.
Air Travel In/Out of USA
If you’re traveling during a busy holiday season, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) says to be prepared and plan ahead for security checkpoints at all U.S. airports, whether families are flying domestically or internationally.
Passengers should be prepared to encounter security measures that occur on a random basis at various locations in the airport environment. This could include the use of ETD to screen carry-on items and handbags; don’t be surprised if a child’s toy is sent through another machine and a swab of its surface it studied for trace amounts of potentially explosive chemicals.
You may notice explosives detection canine teams roaming Baggage Claim; an infant’s formula being put through bottled liquid screening technology; uniformed staff who have been trained in behavior detection asking questions about your journey; and new security portals with backscatter X-ray machines that provide a more complete image of passengers than current metal detector models.
Airport Security Rules & Tips to Make it Faster
Additionally, TSA offers the following suggestions to make clearing airport security faster and easier for everyone involved.
Tip # 1– Passengers can help speed up the screening process by packing their carry-ons in an organized manner. This helps officers efficiently see what’s inside to quickly process it through screening.
Tip # 2 – Existing procedures like 3-1-1 (storing liquids and gels in 3 ounce bottles in a zip-loc bag) and removing jackets, shoes and laptops for screening remain in place in most airports, but children under 12 and seniors are now exempt from having to remove their shoes. In our experience, however, the 3-1-1 rule for liquids is being infrequently enforced for domestic travel.
Tip # 3 – TSA has Family Lanes at every security checkpoint which are designed for passengers with young children, those with special needs, or those who may need more time to process through the security checkpoint. Take advantage of them.
Tip # 4 – Have your ID and boarding pass out and ready. Only children over age 18 need to have a government-issued Photo ID, but if your kids are traveling alone as Unaccompanied Minors, make sure they have some ID that matches the name on their boarding pass.
Tip # 5 – Adults traveling with minors under age 18 who are not in their sole legal custody (such as children of divorced parents, grandkids, friends of your kids, etc) must have a written, notarized Permission to Travel Letter signed by each minor’s legal guardians to cross borders.
Safe there, safe home.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.