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USELFUL LINKS:
State Department Travel Information
FlightAware Flight Tracking
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Important news before you travel:

If you are in the United States you should be aware of certain Travel Advisories which are given to citizens who choose to travel abroad. These advisories can affect you and may even change your travel plans. So before you go to the airport you should always check to see if your destination country is on the List of the United States Government Travel Advisories.

For more information: Check out the link below which will send you to the US Governments official website.


https://travel.state.gov
TIPS ON MAKING HOTEL RESERVATIONS:


When traveling for business or fun, there’s nothing worse than thinking you have a reservation and learning your hotel reservations been lost, your room has one bed and not two bedrooms, or you thought your check-in time was noon, only to find out it is really 3:00pm. To help avoid these things from happening, there are a few helpful hotel reservation tips seasoned travelers recommend:

Always use a credit card when making a hotel reservation. A credit cards offers the guest some level of protection should the hotel stay go awry. Any disputes a guest may have with the hotel, or with the billing can more easily be rectified through the credit card company. The card company will act as a mediator once their client can show effort to resolve the dispute. Additionally, if a dispute cannot be resolved, the credit card company has the authority to remove the charge from a client’s bill. If cash were paid, a hotel guest would have no recourse. Note: If you don’t use your own credit card to secure a reservation, be aware that the person whose name is on the card will be responsible for showing the card and signing at check in. If the card does not belong to the person staying at the hotel, notify the desk before leaving home (prior to arrival) and ask what their identification procedure is. They may accept a letter from the credit card holder authorizing use, and a copy of both the front and back of the card.

Ask for deals/discounts at each hotel. Many hotels offer corporate, AAA, senior, or even mid-week/off-season discounts. If one is not offered - ask about them. Many hotels now offer ‘rewards’ programs and some hotels reduce rates by $50 or more, for simply signing up for their program. If making reservations online, look for internet-only rates and shop various websites to find the best deals. Travel agents can often secure unadvertised specials or late check-in opportunities which can translate into huge savings.

When making reservations speak clearly and repeat spelling of all names. There have been many reservations lost because of inaccurate spelling and guests have been told they did not have rooms when a hotel or an entire city was booked to capacity. If any special requests are made, verify them and if possible get them in writing. Also make sure to get the name of the employee. Verify everything spell names and verify information/requests etc. Double check reservations prior to leaving for hotel and make sure names of all hotel employees you’ve spoken to are taken.

When reservations are made, changed and cancelled-confirmation numbers are given. Make sure all numbers are kept in a safe place until credit cards are billed and all charges are verified. Cancellation and confirmation numbers are often the difference between being charged for a hotel reservation that was cancelled, the possibility of a free upgrade when the hotel overbooks and you can prove when your reservation was made, and being stranded away from home without a room for the night.
Discuss hotel policies prior to making reservations, and verify them at check-in. Some hotels require credit cards at check in for any hotel charges, such as telephone usage, room service, meals in the hotel, or even take -out arranged through the hotel with area restaurants, etc. If a credit card is not available, a cash/check deposit maybe required for any services/fees that may accrue during the hotel stay. Determine when check-in/check-out times are, when cancellation policies go into affect and verify occupancy limits if staying in a room with multiple occupants.

Remember these hotel reservation tips when scheduling your travel plans. Whether by internet, through a travel agent, or by telephone, it pays to research the hotel and be meticulous when making arrangements. A little pre-planning when making reservations can save major headaches when traveling away from home.
AIRPORT TIPS YOU CAN USE

To make your way to a flight on time and to get throught security as quickly as possible you can try the following tips:

1) Sign up. The TSA's PreCheck, a trusted traveler program, has spread to more cities across the U.S. and is now available at some 40 airports. Members of the program are pre-screened and can then whiz through security, sometimes without having to take off their shoes or remove laptops from cases. The U.S. Customs Department's Global Entry program is another shortcut for frequent international travelers, especially as the federal government contracts and customs lines potentially get longer.

Critical Security Checkpoints:
To make clearing security as easy as possible...
-Review the guidelines for liquids and gels on your Flight carriers Carry-On Baggage page before your flight.
-Have your government-issued photo identification and boarding pass ready for inspection.
-Wear shoes that are easy to slip on and off, since all footwear must be x-rayed.
-Remember to place all coats and jackets in a bin for x-ray screening.
-Make your laptop easily accessible for inspection.
-Avoid wearing anything metal or place these items in your carry-on baggage for screening

2) Check flight status. Although this is obvious, many people often fail to do this one simple but critical thing.

I recommend doing the same before abandoning your ride or your car just before you head to the terminal; flight status updates change by the minute, so a last-second check is always a good idea.

Most airlines will text you flight status updates if you sign up on their Web sites, and sites like Flightaware.com do the same by text, on the Web and through smartphone apps.

4) Check in online. Especially if you are not checking bags, this can save you a heap of time. I have found that when checking bags, having the pre-printed boarding pass in your hand doesn't help all that much, and check-in agents often reissue another boarding pass when you check in your bags -- but it sure doesn't hurt.

5) Before you leave for the airport, put your ID, credit card and boarding pass (if applicable) in an easily accessible part of your wallet or bag. There are two reasons for this: one, by going through this exercise, you make sure that you don't leave home without these crucial items. Two, you don't waste your (and other people's) time fumbling around for them at the moment you need them.

Check the airport parking situation online. Knowing ahead of time where to park, which lots are open and how far they are from the terminal can save you a lot of anxiety on your drive in, as well as keep you safer as you navigate tortuous and almost always poorly marked airport ring roads. Additionally, during peak travel periods, lots fill up quickly, so you will want an alternate parking plan.

When you are ready to board always take inventory of what you will need to do when you get to the front of the security line. Do a quick mental review of everything you are wearing that you will need to remove (such as shoes, jewelry, watch, jacket), and what you have inside your carry-on bag that might need to be taken out (liquids, electronics). When you get to the front of the line, blast through your mental inventory and make it happen. Done well, you can go from fully clad for winter weather, with laptops and iPads in your bag, to a T-shirt, pants and socks, and all your sensitive electronics in their own bins, in seconds.

Using these tips will get you through the airport, on your flight and towards your destination as quickly as possible.

more traveler informaiton tips available at the TSA website:
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SYDNEY AUSTRALIA - A PLACE DOWN UNDER 

With the summer in full swing at much of Australia many people are going to Sydney for their winter retreat or just a simple vacation. Getting away from the cold winter of New York City or any other place with current sub zero temperatures is a must for many. It helps manage the winter and makes it more bearable.

There is so much to do in Sydney, Australia. You can go to The Circular Quay which  is the infamous landing site for the convict-laden vessels from Britain, which founded the penal colony in 1788. From the busy terminal, ferries come and go under the Sydney Harbour Bridge or around the Sydney Opera House. Grand plans to revamp the venerable Opera House are in the works, but new dining venues, such as the outdoor Opera Bar, are already breathing new life into the precinct.

On the other side of Circular Quay, the Museum of Contemporary Art reopened in March after adding a new wing. The resulting streamlined spaces flanked by harbor-view windows host exhibitions by Australian notables (sculptor Stephen Birch, neon artist Peter Kennedy) as well as global art stars (Annie Leibovitz, Anish Kapoor).

Behind the museum lies the Rocks, early Sydney’s center. “It was Sydney’s most cosmopolitan place in the 19th century, a working district which welcomed, and also at times abused, the ships and sailors of the world,” says Murray. Press gangs would kidnap hapless sailors along the Rocks’ cobbled alleys, where visitors on weekends now shop for boomerangs and other Australian-made products at the Rocks Markets and spice blends and hand-pressed olive oils at the new Fridays-only Foodies Market. So-called bond stores once stocked with brandy, tobacco, tea, and flour currently house art galleries, boutiques, restaurants, and watering holes such as the Argyle, the epicenter of nightlife in the Rocks, with its multiple bars and live music.

Bordering the Rocks to the north, the old commerce-focused wharves of Walsh Bay have become the city’s arts hub. At Wharf 4/5, the Sydney Theatre Company produces new Australian plays and classic works under the artistic guidance of Cate Blanchett, while the contemporary Sydney Dance Company runs drop-in ballet, jazz, and hip-hop classes.

The waterfront rejuvenation began at Darling Harbour, where a host of attractions include an 1874 tall ship, one of only four of its kind in the world and on permanent display as part of the Maritime Museum. Go for a last ride on the iconic monorail that loops from Darling Harbour to the city center, destined to be torn down in the next year or two and turned into scrap metal-a government decision that shocked the city.

But taking to the water remains the best way to appreciate the harbor. Catch a ferry from Circular Quay to Cockatoo Island, Sydney’s new favorite harbor island since the former prison and dockyards opened to the public. Tour the heritage buildings, attend a concert or art exhibition, or join the sunset hubbub at the Island Bar, which is constructed from recycled shipping containers.

Alternatively, the classic ferry ride to the famous surf beach at Manly cruises the length of Sydney Harbour before docking at Manly Wharf. Swim, sign up for a surfing lesson, or leave the crowds and rent a kayak next to the wharf. Paddle around Manly Cove’s forested headlands to the secluded inlets and sheltered beaches of Sydney Harbour National Park. Landlubbers can hike the Manly Scenic Walkway. The national park also contains the historic buildings of Q Station, an old quarantine outpost that once cloistered passengers from contagion-hit ships, now a boutique hotel and a popular venue for weddings and conferences.

Where to shop For indie shopping, wander the Victorian streetscapes of inner suburbs Paddington, Woollahra, Newtown, and Surry Hills. Saturday’s Paddington Markets has been in operation for the past 37 years. Vendors hawk everything from watercolor paintings and antique silverware to little girl dresses in eucalyptus print fabric. Many of the designers graduate to the boutiques spread out along Paddington’s Oxford Street, such as Dinosaur Designs, makers of hand-sculpted jewelry. Local fashion labels like Neil Grigg Millinery and Jiva reside on adjoining William Street.

In Surry Hills, Grandma Takes a Trip stocks vintage dresses, coats, and accessories from the 1950s to the ’70s.

Though a long way from the outback, Sydney has plenty of Aboriginal art galleries selling classical dot paintings and contemporary works. The Artery in Darlinghurst specializes in art from such remote Aboriginal communities as Utopia, Mount Leibig, and Pupunya in the Northern Territory, and Kate Owen Gallery in Rozelle features emerging and established artists, including Clifford Possum, whose larger dot canvases set auction records at Sotheby’s.

Where to eat The food truck scene has finally hit Sydney as the city recently approved ten new mobile vendors. Find organic spelt pizzas, gourmet fish tacos, hot chocolate cakes, and more rolling out to fill late-night dining voids in locations like Circular Quay and Pitt Street Mall. The Eat Art Truck serves kingfish seviche and doubles as a street art canvas. The granddaddy of Sydney food trucks, Harry’s Cafe de Wheels has sold meat pies smothered in peas and gravy, a unique local offering, since 1945. It sits incongruously adjacent to Woolloomooloo Finger Wharf, now one of the city’s most exclusive residential and dining complexes.

The Opera Kitchen at the Opera House has hit on a winning formula: Combine outlets from some of Sydney’s best known gastronomic brands to form the fanciest food court in town. The wagyu burgers may be a tad expensive, but the harbor views are priceless. Highlights include the sushi bar at Kenji, the plank-roasted king salmon at Cloudy Bay Fish Company, and tiger prawn and green mango rice paper rolls at Misschu.

Gastro Park in Kings Cross has set local foodies abuzz since opening last year. The dining room’s clean lines frame the innovative, intricately styled food, which is anything but casual. Grant King, former executive chef at the seafood-inspired Pier restaurant, produces such playful and adventurous dishes as snapper fillet topped with crunchy fried fish scales.

Sydney has no shortage of waterfront dining, but it’s worth the trip to Bondi for Italian-inspired dishes at Icebergs Dining Room and Bar, on the top floor of the famed swimming club at the end of the beach. A favorite: Berkshire pork cutlet with grilled radicchio.

AUSTRALIA TRAVEL FACTS:
Entry Requirements: U.S. citizens need a valid passport and visa.

Security: By world standards, Sydney is a safe city, but it’s still prudent to keep your eye on your bags and your wallet in a secure pocket. Don’t leave valuables on display in your car. Areas to avoid at night include the back streets of Woolloomooloo, Kings Cross, and Glebe.

Time: Sydney is 14 hours ahead of U.S. eastern standard time.

Money: Sydney’s currency is the Australian dollar. For conversion rates visit www.oanda.com/convert/classic.

Phone Calls: Sydney’s area code is 02. For calls to Sydney from within Australia, dial 02 before the eight-digit phone number. From outside Australia, dial your country’s international access code followed by 61, 2, and the eight-digit number. Within Sydney, drop prefixes and use the eight-digit number. Local pay phone calls cost 50 cents.

When to Go: Sydney’s weather is reliably good, with summer maximums around 77°F (25°C); 63°F (17°C) in winter. Rainfall peaks through late summer and autumn; winter and spring are drier. January is peak local holiday season.

Getting There: Sydney Airport (SYD; www.sydneyairport.com.au) is five miles (eight kilometers) south of downtown. Public transportation (bus and train) services the airport.

Getting Around: It’s easy to get lost in Sydney and parking is expensive, but public transport (bus, train, and ferry) is excellent. Taxis are prevalent downtown; your hotel or restaurant can call one for you.

Tips: “March and April or September and October are the best times to visit, as the crowds have thinned and the weather is warm and sunny.”-Anne Matthews, author, Fodor’s Sydney’s 25 Best guidebook. “Always bring layers in case of a sea breeze or sudden downpour.”-Meg Worby, editor, Lonely Planet’s Sydney Encounter and Sydney & New South Wales guidebooks

Passport/Visa: Australia has rigorous border controls. All visitors require a passport, valid for six months from entry. Proof of funds and an ongoing ticket may be requested. Visas are required for nationals of all countries except New Zealand. See www.immi.gov.au and www.eta.immi.gov.au for more information.

Sunscreen: Mandatory for any Sydney trip, even if you’re not a beachgoer. Apply sunscreen to exposed skin at the start of each day, reapplying regularly.

Insect Repellent: Sydney summers can be hot and humid-ideal conditions for bugs and critters. The only ones to worry about, however, are mosquitoes (“mozzies” in local parlance). Apply insect repellent if you’re sitting outside in the evening.

Hat: Australia has an alarmingly high incidence of skin cancer: Wear a broad-rimmed hat in summer.


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