Tips and Tricks

Passports are the new status symbol

person putting a passport on bag
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Six years ago I obtained my first adult passport, however it wasn’t my first passport. I got my first passport when I was a child. Tomorrow I will finally use my passport to travel out of the country. Everywhere you look on social media it seems as if friends are flashing their passports. The US passport gives you access to so many different countries, so Americans often consider their passport a status symbol of softs.

In 2012 I stumbled upon the Passport Party Project, a grassroots effort led by fellow California native Tracey Friley. Tracey put out a call for bloggers to attend the annual Passport Day in New York. At the time I was publishing a blog called Uptownflavor and I thought that it would be for my readers to learn how to go about obtaining a passport. I attended the tour on March 10 and applied for my passport on the same day. I had my passport in my hand within a week. It was processed in 3 days! One of my recommendations is to get your passport during what is considered the slow season. If you wait until right before summer break or the holidays when most people travel you are setting yourself up for frustration. I wrote about my experience touring the passport facility and getting my passport on Black Atlas and Examiner.com (both now defunct online publications).

By participating in the Passport Party Project and Passport Day, I learned that the number of Americans traveling internationally was significantly lower than citizens of other countries like the UK and Canada. Over the past six years the number of Americans holding a valid passport has increased and the numbers continue to steadily climb each year. However, the number of African Americans with a passport is still low.

You’re probably wondering now how you can you get your first passport. Well, you can attend one of the many acceptance events in your area. Find one near you by clicking on the link below.

https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/News/passports/special-passport-acceptance-fairs.html

Be sure to bring:

  • A completed DS-11, Application for a U.S. Passport form, which can be found at the   Department of State website at https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/passports.htmlDo not sign the form.
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship.
  • Proof of identity (valid driver’s license, government employee ID, military ID).
  • Photocopies of U.S. citizenship and identification documents (these will be sent with the application, but bring originals for proof documentation).
  • Appropriate payment. Acceptable forms of payment can be found on the Department of State website. (Please note that neither debit nor credit cards are acceptable forms of payment by the Department of State).
  • Appropriate passport photo, if passport photo services are not available at the selected Post Office location.

Passport applications for children under 16 have special requirements. Visit travel.state.gov for more information.

When and how did you get your first passport?  Share your passport story in the comments section. Remember to like, share, and subscribe for more travel related content. 

#powerofthepassport

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Tips and Tricks

Four last minute Father’s Day gifts

Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links. If you decide to purchase something from one of the links clicked on I will receive a small percentage which will then be used to support this site. 

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OK, let’s admit it, being a dad can be a thankless job. As a result fathers often get the short end of the stick when it comes to holidays. Every Father’s Day dads around the country lament that they get the same ole’  tired gifts…shirts, ties, or tools.  I’m sure dear old dad will appreciate having something different this year, and if you happen to be dear old dad then you can take advantage of some of the special Father’s Day discounts below to enjoy all year round.

Take your dad to Ripley’s and receive 25% off all locations (excludes Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada and Ripley’s Red and Ghost Trains in St. Augustine). Use promo code: DAD from 6/12-6/17

Get him a gift as special as him! Save 25% on all Ripley’s locations with code DAD. Offer is valid 6/12-6/17.

Kit box

Is your dad an avid coffee drinker? This Father’s Day, Driftaway Coffee is offering a limited-time promotion on all coffee gift subscriptions.  Customers can save 10% by using the coupon code DAD10 during checkout. 

Father’s Day – 10% Off Coffee Gift Subscription
Coupon Code: DAD10 Coupon expires June 19, 2018.

Shop Access Denied Today!

Is your dad’s wallet falling apart at the seams?  Get him an attractive new leather wallet with RFID blocking from Access Denied.

Shop Passport Holders and wallets at Access Denied.

Static-Box

The gift that keeps on giving is access to thousands of airport lounges around the world. Get your dad Priority Pass so he can relax between flights when traveling for business or pleasure. Take advantage of the Father’s Day special below.

Give your Dad a Priority Pass membership—the gift of an elevated travel experience.

Happy Father’s Day!

Airports, Tips and Tricks, Washington, DC

How to get to and from Washington, D.C. airports

 

woman sitting holding smartphone between two men and two women
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Washington, D.C. is an international destination year-round. The city is constantly overrun by tourists who attend conventions, political affairs, and vacations. The DMV area is very fortunate to have 3 major airports: DCA/Reagan National, Dulles, and BWI/Baltimore-Washington International. BWI is actually closer to Baltimore which is a 45 minute drive north of D.C. The other two airports are in Virginia. Dulles is the farthest out and is about 45 minutes outside of D.C. to the south. My preferred airport is DCA which is directly accessible by Metro. Below I will give you the pros and cons of each mode of transportation to and from Dulles and National. You can read about my unfortunate travel snafu where I had to change airports on the fly by clicking here.

Uber

While there are several different ride share companies in the market the two most popular ones in DMV area are Uber and Lyft. As a matter of fact, most drivers are signed up to work for both companies in tandem. I happened to sign up for Uber first so that is the company that I use most when I need to use a ride sharing service. I used Uber to go out to Dulles airport when I was traveling to New Mexico last month and was able to secure a SUV using the new express pool for $35.00. The express pool requires you to walk to a nearby location to get picked up. Fortunately my pick up area is right in front of my building so I still got door to door service for a lower price. We also did not need to make additional stops for other passengers. The con is that my driver took all of the back roads as he waited to see if he could pick up more passengers. We could have been to the airport sooner if he had taken the direct route and I probably wouldn’t have missed my flight.

My recommendation: If you take Uber to the airport you should definitely find the option that works best for you.  You can get a free Uber ride and I will automatically get a ride for free! Use my code damaabui.

Supershuttle

Years ago SuperShuttle was the best way to get to the airport, but over the years their rates have increased and their competition has grown. My return flight from New Mexico was going to land after midnight so rather than call an Uber I opted to schedule a SuperShuttle. Like Uber Pool, SuperShuttle is a shared ride service. The pro was that I would be able to secure a confirmed rate which was pretty much the same as what my Uber was getting to the airport. The con was that we had to wait for all of the other passengers to arrive before we leave the airport. And, since it is a pool you have to drop off other passengers before you finally get home. I was fortunate that I was the second passenger dropped off but I still didn’t arrive home until close to 2:00 A.M. on a work day.

My recommendation: Use only if you are not in a hurry to get to your destination. One of the reasons that I prefer to not use ride sharing pools is because I like to go straight from point A to point B. 

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Metro

One of the most cost effective ways to travel to and from the airport is by using Metro. The main reason that DCA is my favorite airport to fly out of is the close proximity to D.C. The Metro literally stops right at the airport. Once you exit the Metro station you are pretty much in the airport.

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However, taking the Metro to Dulles is a bit more complimented. If you are taking the Metro from the airport you will need to purchase a $5.00 ticket for a shuttle bus that will take you to the Reston Metro station. You will then need to walk from the drop off location to the station to catch the Silver line.

My recommendation: Unless you are going to DCA I would skip the Metro option. Taking Metro from D.C. into Dulles requires too much time and energy. 

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Taxi

I intentionally listed taxi’s last. They are probably the worst possible way to travel in D.C. When I first moved to D.C. to attend graduate school they weren’t even metered so the drivers would charge you by the zone. It always felt like we were getting ripped off. Now the cabs are metered and you can use one of the online taxi calculators to estimate your fare at Taxi Wiz or Taxi Calculator.

What are the best ways to get to and from the airport in your city? Share below in the comments section. 

Tips and Tricks

Is travel a form of self-care?

 

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Private pool at Ojo Caliente Resort and Spa in New Mexico

We live in a society that tells us things like ‘go hard or go home’ or ‘you can sleep when you’re dead.’ These beliefs are what create the superwoman complex that keep American women on a hamster wheel of always being busy. It is no wonder that 1 in 4 women in our country suffers from heart disease, and that we are twice as likely as men to suffer from depression and anxiety.

All of it doesn’t really hit home until you find yourself directly impacted by it. This year has been one of the most challenging for me in a long time. The majority is my stress is work related because I bought into the work harder achieve more work ethic. I felt guilty when I needed to take a wellness day and I would grind away until I was completely burned out. My justification was that I could rest on my laurels once I finally reached my end goal. Well, let me tell you that was a big mistake. I was very close to reaching my goal when I had the rug pulled out from under me. I won’t go into details here, but it created a lot of anxiety, anger, and resentment. I slowly began to sink into a depressed state and I felt stuck. I needed a hard reboot if I was going to claw my way out of depression.

I tried to work it away
But that just made me even sadder
I tried to keep myself busy
I ran around circles
Think I made myself dizzy

~Solange Knowles – Cranes in the Sky

For what’s it’s worth, the fact that I am an earth sign means that spending time in nature has a positive impact on my mind, body, and spirit. While I am a city girl by default, nature is always the magic elixir when I need to push my way out of a deep funk. As an educator, I get long summer breaks. However, my mental state was in such a state that I needed to do something sooner rather than later. I was imploding. I felt like Solange Knowles in her song, Cranes in the Sky. Nothing that I was doing was having a long term impact on restoring my sense of joy.

As I mentioned in another post, I had a distorted view of travel. But I had to overcome the travel anxiety. I had to ‘get my mind right’ so I booked a trip to the desert. It was just what the doctor ordered. I came back home with a fresh mindset, renewed and reinvigorated. It was as if someone had flipped a switch in my mind.

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Mud bathing at Ojo Caliente in New Mexico

What really got me thinking about the question of travel as a form of self-care was when I shared my New Mexico experience with a new friend who is also an educator. She responded with, “Wow, you really take care of yourself.” It caught me off guard because I consider myself a caregiver. It all started when my mother was in the end stages of renal cancer and I was her primary caregiver. A few years after she died I started teaching. It is the hardest job I’ve ever had and one that requires the spirit of stewardship. I invested all of my energy into being the best daggone teacher that I could be for the next decade and a half. But somewhere along the way I lost myself.

Time to save the world
Where in the world is all the time
So many things I still don’t know
So many times I’ve changed my mind
Guess I was born to make mistakes
But I ain’t scared to take the weight
So when I stumble off the path
I know my heart will guide me back

~Erykah Badu – Didn’t Cha Know

It also made me think back to a few months prior while sitting in a meeting we were asked what we do for self-care. I stated things like, manicures and pedicures, meditation, and massages while other people listed things like going on vacation. At the time that option seemed so far out of reach to me. I guess the universe has a way of bringing things into alignment at exactly the right time.

Self-care is not selfish

In hindsight, I realize that travel is probably the ultimate self-care. It is an intentional way of saying to yourself and others that you matter enough to take time out of your busy life to stop and smell the roses. It is a recommitment to loving yourself. Some people look at travel as selfish. Some people might even call you brave for leaving your comfort zone. I call it necessary. The change of pace, the change of scenario, and the exposure to new people and energy is powerful. It helped me remember that I matter, and that is the best self-care that anyone can experience.

What do you do for self-care?  How do you make travel a form of self-care in your life? Share in the comment section. 

 

Budget Travel, New Mexico, Tips and Tricks

How I can afford to travel on a tight budget

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I used to believe that I couldn’t afford to travel for pleasure. Not only did I believe that I couldn’t afford to travel for pleasure, but I also believed that I didn’t deserve to travel for pleasure. Why would I think such negative thoughts? Well, I have consumer debt and a large student loan repayment plan. I also live in one of the most expensive cities in the country. Actually, the only cities I have ever lived in were the most expensive cities, so saving money has been a struggle for me.

I finally decided that the negative self-talk was getting me nowhere fast and I needed to make some serious financial changes. I began researching the topic of how to create a budget which lead me to watching YouTube videos that described how to increase my credit score. My credit score had been stagnant for ages and I couldn’t figure out why. I later realized that it was because my utilization was too high, so I made plans to pay off my high interest credit cards and decrease my credit utilization by getting more credit cards to balance the credit used with the additional credit limits. It worked!

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Around this time last year, I was offered a pre-approved American Express card. I had a negative experience with AMEX when I was in college and it left a bad taste in my mouth, but I knew the value of having an AMEX card so I applied for it anyway. It was one of the best decisions that I made in a long time because between the sign-up bonus, the interest-free period, and the other wonderful benefits that I can’t even begin to list here, having an American Express card offered positive value to my financial portfolio and sure enough my credit score grew.

Don’t get me wrong, having better credit wasn’t the only reason that I was able to afford to travel this year. I also took on two extra jobs that generated a bit of extra income. In addition I paid off my highest interest credit cards by using a personal loan that had a lower interest rate, and my tax refund. I began using Dave Ramsey’s EveryDollar budget app to plan my spending each month. As a result of budgeting I was able to cut back on expenses like eating out too often, getting mani-pedis, and other extras that were eating into my savings. I was also able to put my student loans on hold for a while then I negotiated a lower payment plan. Basically, I was strategic about my spending.

As a result of paying off my high interest credit cards, I now have extra money to spend and pay towards my remaining bills. I am also looking into moving into a less expensive apartment (or city) and I plan to use that money to … you guessed it, travel!

So, let me give you a detailed break down of how I was able to take my trip to Ojo Caliente Spa in New Mexico in April. Note: I am paying off debts charged to credit cards immediately or interest free.

Airfare

I had Luv Vouchers from Southwest Airlines from two trips that I canceled last year due to crippling anxiety. Southwest Airlines had one of their amazing sales so I used my expiring vouchers towards the airfare. I also earned points toward future travel by enrolling in the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards program.  You should also consider applying for their branded credit card which is currently offering 40,000 reward points.

Accommodations

My hotel was probably the largest expense on this trip. I stayed in the least expensive option at Ojo Caliente for 2 nights. With extra amenities (including meals) added on my final bill was around $500. I used my American Express card because it provides the the best customer support if there is ever a problem on the trip. For example on my trip to Philadelphia last year I bought the wrong ticket and the bus company wouldn’t give me a refund. I paid for the ticket using my AMEX card and they were able to credit the money back to my account. I highly recommend using American Express for travel insurance as well. My American Express card was still in the interest-free period, however my interest-free period was expiring soon so AMEX sweetened the deal by offering a monthly payment plan called Plan It for large purchases over $100.00. Even though I have already taken my trip to New Mexico, I was still able to break up the payments for that trip into 3 smaller payments with no interest.

My next trip will be to a destination where I am using Airbnb for my accommodations . My housing expenses will be much cheaper as a result.

Car Rental

I rented a car while I was in New Mexico, however when I tried to use my American Express card to check out the car I was charged than I was quoted more for my deposit. Something about having extra fees for companies that were not Visa or Mastercard. Instead I used my Capital One Spark card. While the Spark card is not interest free, it does offer 1% cash back on all purchases and since the bill was $151.00 it wasn’t a large expense to pay off.

So, there you have it. My tried and true tips and tricks for finagling a well deserved jaunt when you just have to get out of town. I am in no way shape or form advocating going into debt for the sake of travel. As I mentioned earlier, I worked two extra jobs and I had extra money that I received from various sources (including a contract negotiation on my job.) The first step to traveling on a tight budget is to budget your income. Once you know what you are truly working with you can go from there. The credit cards were used primarily to maximize benefits – statement credits, interest-free periods, and in the case of the car rental, a smaller rental deposit. Happy jaunting!

Share how you manage your travel expenses in the comment section below. Please click like and subscribe. New content is posted every Monday. 

Apply for your own American Express using this link ! You will get the $200 statement credit that I mentioned above, and I will receive a $75 referral bonus to use towards my next trip!

Earn up to $40 in travel credits by signing up for Airbnb using my code and I will receive $20 off of my next trip.