Friday, January 29, 2016

Travel Advisory - Zika Virus

Zika Virus

On January 15, 2016 the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) upgraded their Zika virus travel health notice to “Alert Level 2”, (Practice Enhanced Precautions) with specific affected areas of the Caribbean and Central and South America.  As of January 26th, the CDC notice now includes the Dominican Republic and the US Virgin Islands in the affected areas.  For the most up-to-date information on the Zika virus & countries affected, please visit the website:

Zika virus is spread primarily through mosquitoes, which mainly bite during daytime hours. It is not transmitted from person to person. Symptoms of Zika typically develop 3-12 days after being bitten and may include fever, headache, skin rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from 2-7 days and most people who contract Zika experience no symptoms at all. Comprehensive health information can be found at

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised pregnant women to postpone travel to 14 Latin American countries because of the virus. “Until more is known and out of an abundance of caution, pregnant women should consider postponing travel to any area where Zika virus transmission is ongoing,” the CDC said.

The countries named in the CDC travel alert are:

In Latin America:  Bolivia, Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname & Venezuela

In the Caribbean:  Barbados, the Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Martinique, St. Martin, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands.

Cape Verde, off the coast of western Africa

Samoa in the South Pacific

What can I do to protect myself?
The CDC recommends the following steps to avoid mosquito bites:

Cover exposed skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts & long pants, preferably a light color

Use an insect repellent approved by the EPA as directed.  Higher percentages of active ingredients provide longer protection such as DEET, Picaridin, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE), IR3535

If both sunscreen & insect repellent is used, apply the sunscreen first.

Use permethrin-treated clothing & gear, such as boots, pants, socks & tents.  You can buy pre-treated clothing & gear or treat them yourself.

Stay & sleep in screened-in or air-conditioned rooms

Use a bed net if the area where you are sleeping is exposed to the outdoors

There is no vaccine or cure for Zika, which was rarely detected until 2013. Little is known about the virus, which has been linked to the birth defect microcephaly, a medical term that refers to an abnormally small head – a serious condition that can cause lifelong developmental problems. Other neurological issues have also been reported. Symptoms include fever, red and bumpy rashes, joint pain and pinkeye – but some patients have no symptoms at all. Zika virus had previously only been associated with mild health consequences.

The virus has affected thousands across the Americas since last year and is expected to spread further across the region, where the population has not been exposed to the disease and so lacks immunity, according to the World Health Organization.

The CDC advisory recommends that women who are pregnant in any trimester consider postponing travel to areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. If pregnant women do opt to travel to Zika affected areas, the CDC recommends talking to their healthcare provider in advance and strictly follow steps to avoid mosquito bites during their trip. Specific guidance for women who are trying to become pregnant is also included in the CDC advisory. More information can be found here:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Why travel agents are back in vogue

by Richard B. Earls

Here’s a fact seldom discussed when the topic of travel agents arises.

When the airlines began cutting commissions to travel agents in the mid-90′s, the real problem wasn’t commissions. No, the airlines had another reason for wanting travel agents out of the picture. Travel agents told clients how to obtain the lowest fare. Call American Airlines directly and they don’t tell you Continental has a lower fare. But a travel agent would.

Know what? They still do.

Because I’m obsessed with travel research, I believe in the value of a good travel agent. Well- trained travel specialists offer very valuable services and information almost impossible to uncover by yourself regardless of how diligently you search online. A good travel agent will save you time, save you money and provide insights into the logistics of your trip. Good travel agents keep their ear to the ground. They know which tour operators to use and which to avoid. They know the difference between a hotel in city center and a cheaper but far less convenient one on the outskirts of town.

I am an experienced traveler. Yet, I personally always consult a travel agent. Don’t get me wrong, I also like to research on my own. My travel agent welcomes my research and questions. I am always glad I asked for her assistance even if what she is doing is no more than agreeing with my choices. After all, she is researching travel every day. She’s good at what she does and that makes me better at what I want to do.

Let me give you an example of why. Let’s say I want a simple airline ticket and hotel for Bangkok. The published fare for an economy ticket is $1,534. I call my travel agent and tell her what I’ve found in my own research and what I’m trying to accomplish. She says she will call me back. About an hour later, she calls back with my flight and hotel for $1,460. She’s used a tour operator with bulk pricing to purchase the trip. She also points out that one of the days during my stay is a government holiday. I didn’t know that and now that I do, I shift my trip by a couple of days. She makes some suggestions for sightseeing and has scored an upgrade on the room from the concierge.

That’s why I use a travel consultant. They are another research tool. Just like Google, only human and a lot more focused on my needs.

Most people think travel agents sell travel. The fact is, however, a great travel agent doesn’t sell me anything, but instead helps me buy wisely. She researches along with me and we discuss the options. She steers me away from obstacles and looks into nooks and crannies that I might neglect. She helps to insure the quality of my trip. Time and again, my travel agents have saved me money, made good supplier choices on my behalf and helped me purchase wisely.
How valuable is that?

I pay a fee, gladly, for that bit of insight and assurance. I value my time, especially my travel time. I want my travel to be logistically smooth as possible. My agent helps me accomplish all of that and still leaves room for the spontaneous, the pleasantly unexpected and unscheduled.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Hotel Health

It's a dirty little secret. When you travel, everything you touch in your hotel room is a public surface, and many of the surfaces you touch are not cleaned after each guest check-out.

Bed Bugs are Back
Virtually eradicated in the United States in 1950's, bed bugs have made a resounding recovery, and infestations have been found in the finest domestic and international hotels. While they don't typically carry disease, bed bugs cause itchy bites, and may hitch a ride home with you on your clothing or luggage. Once established in your home, they are very difficult to get rid of.

As soon as you arrive at your hotel, look for small rusty or dark brown spots on the bedding, mattress, and in the corners of the room. Bed bugs love the dark, so check the nightstand, behind the headboard, and under or behind any other furniture or fixtures within 15 feet or so of the bed. Use the luggage stand to keep your bags off the floor, bed bug luggage liners to keep your luggage contents free from infestation, and a bed bug laundry bag to seal your soiled clothing away from bed bugs, larvae, mites, and other pests. Check your luggage and clothing carefully before you leave. Should you find evidence of bed bugs on your belongings, treat your luggage and contents immediately.

The bed is typically the largest feature of the room, and as a result the bedspread gets a lot of use - sitting, reading, watching TV, etc. Bedspreads are not washed daily - in fact they may be cleaned just once a month or less. Blankets and pillows are not on the daily laundry list either and in addition to bed bugs, dust mites, dander and other human detritus can be a problem for those with allergies.

As soon as you enter your room, remove the bedspread, fold it up, and stow it in a corner for the duration of your stay. To avoid contact with pillows and blankets, use a sleep sack and pillow protector.

While carpets are vacuumed daily, they are rarely shampooed, and dirt and germs are left behind. Wear shoes or slippers, and never walk barefoot on the carpet.

Drinking Glasses, Ice Buckets and Coffee Makers
Several news reports have captured hotel housekeeping on tape giving glasses a cursory rinse, wiping them "clean" with the same rags that cleaned the bathroom and drying them with used towels in preparation for the next guest (ice buckets and coffee makers often receive the same treatment). Many viruses and bacteria can live for extended periods on these surfaces. Wash glassware, ice buckets and coffeemakers in hot, soapy water before using, or bring your own travel cup for extra peace of mind.

TV Remote, Phone, Alarm Clock, Light Switches and Doorknobs
It is unlikely that any of these often-touched items are cleaned on a regular basis. Clean them with disinfectant spray or wipes, and use hand sanitizer frequently.

Article courtesy of Magellan's Travel Supplies. You can visit their website at

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Driving in a foreign country

While these suggestions pertain to driving in Italy, you can easily apply these to driving in other European countries. Barry Sudbury is a friend of a friend in California, who recently returned from 3 weeks of driving in Italy and Sicily. He was kind enough to allow us to share these tips and pointers.

1)  Make sure you have a GPS and download a map off of Google Maps or other reputable source of each destination. A 3-4 square block view is fine. Very often when you get close to your desired location the GPS doesn't quite lead to the exact address or you might have to park a few blocks away and walk. Also, we used them to ask for directions once we were close because everybody around the world understands a map with an "X" on it. Renting a GPS from the car rental company can be expensive but it's worth it. We ran into people that used their own GPS (probably an older model) and downloaded Italy maps and they had poor results. One friend used an Apple iPhone with GPS and it didn't work in Italy! Because you have limited time you will want to get from place to place efficiently, no hassles or arguments.

2)  Make sure you do a thorough inspection of your car and note every scratch and dent. Inspect the underside, especially under the front bumper. Rent from a reputable dealer, Hertz and Euro Car are good ones. Paying a little extra is no big deal in light of some of the troubles that occur when no cars are available when you go to pick it up or there are hidden fees and you have no leverage to argue. We used Hertz and they were the cheapest by far. Make sure you know where to return the car and the available hours for return. 24 hour service, even at airports is not always available.

3)  Don't rent a really big car. Maneuvering and parking are much easier with a small vehicle.

4)  Have the attendant show you all the controls before taking off. European design is not necessarily intuitive to Americans. We drove for many miles on a sunny day with the rear intermittent windshield wiper going back and forth, and it took about 5 minutes to find out how to open the gas tank door!

5)  Don't rent a car until after you have been in Italy for at least 24hours. The plane trip can be exhausting and you will be in no shape to get behind the wheel in a strange land.

6)  Before you go, learn the European driving signs. You can get this off the internet and get a flyer when you are renting your car.

7)  95% of the rental cars are manual shift. There is a big premium for an automatic (hundreds of $). We got a six-speed on the floor. It was the most fun driving I've had in years!

8)  Rent a car with a trunk, not just a retractable cover. If you are traveling with luggage or other valuables in your trunk, make sure you have all the stuff you need for your outing in the passenger compartment. Thus, you don't have to open your trunk and exposed your cargo when leaving your car.

9)  Rent your car with a credit card which covers theft and damage to the vehicle. This will save you hundreds of dollars. All the car companies will try to sell you extra coverage, above what is required by law in Italy. It is overpriced, very often incomplete, and unnecessary if your credit card company covers it.

10)  AND THE MOST IMPORTANT TIP -- Don't look other drivers in the eye, don't show any signs that you recognize they are there. When they know that you know they are there they will try to cut in front of you.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Disney Trip

I have been meaning to print our vacation pictures and send you a picture of my family with Mickey Mouse – and include a note to tell you how much we appreciated all you have done for us, first in making our trip a great success and second in helping us track down some missing luggage that made an eight year old very sad.

Her suitcase contained some irreplaceable items she has had since she was born and she never leaves home without! So, I will take this opportunity to tell you how appreciative we are for everything you have done and to tell you that when we decide to travel again, we will be calling you!

We will also be recommending your services to anyone who requires about agencies. And yes, as soon as I get my pictures developed, I will be sending you one!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

New Passport Fees - Effective July 13, 2010

Need to renew or apply for a U.S. passport?  Better get your paperwork mailed within the next two weeks!

New passport fees for the U.S. Passport Book, the U.S. Passport Card and other passport services will be in effect on Tuesday, July 13, 2010.  The most significant changes are increases in standard adult passport fees from $75 to $110 and standard minor passport fees from $60 to $80.  Passport cards, which are used mainly by those people who frequently drive across the border, will increase in cost from $20 to $30 ($15 for minors). 

If you renew by mail, there is no other charge.  If you need to submit the application for a new passport, the Acceptance Fee is $25, made payble to the Acceptance Facility you use.

The Department of State expediting fees remain at $60 per application.  However, they will begin charging $82 for adding extra pages to existing passport, plus applicable State Department $60 expediting fees.  In the past, the Department provided extra pages in a customer's passport, at no charge.  The Department found that the cost of the page themselves, having the pages placed in the book in a secure manner by trained personnel, and completing the required security checks results in a cost to the U.S. Government more than $82 per passport book, therefore, the Department will charge the same for previously free service.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

My Last Flight?

Sue Shuman's granddaughter attends McPherson College, so we're naturally interested in happenings in and around her school. Recently Michael Schneider, President of McPherson College, returned from a business trip and wrote about it in his blog. His experience is both poignant and uplifting. I thought you'd enjoy reading about it, too. With his kind permission, his account follows:

I was on a flight from Des Moines to Chicago early last week. I was seated next to a 7 year old girl—this was her first flight. Her name was Erin. She had the middle seat. I was in the aisle. There was a teenager next to her in the window seat. He was asleep. The weather was stormy. Rain pounded the tarmac prior to take-off. She was a little nervous, but excited. The climb to altitude was bumpy, but it didn’t stop me from scratching notes in my moleskin notebook. Then the bad stuff hit. The lightening was so bad it seemed to shake the plane with each flash. The lights in the cabin went off and the pilot came over the intercom to announce that the flight attendants would not be offering beverage service as they “needed to stay strapped in for the duration of the 47 minute flight.” The guy across the aisle and up one row looked green. The bumps got more severe and frequent. Erin told me she didn’t like roller coasters. I told her I didn’t either. I asked her if she was going to throw up. She said no. I was relieved. I tried to keep her mind off the ride by telling her a silly story about my first plane ride. It kind of worked.

The turbulence lasted about 30 minutes into the flight when the bumps stopped and it was smooth. This only lasted a couple minutes before the pilot came over the intercom again. Let me pass along some advice—when your pilot says, “hang on” you should make sure you have your seat belt on. He barely finished his “stay in your seats” speech when the plane dropped and we banked sharply. We were back on the coaster—this time with oxygen masks. Now, I’ve probably been on 300 flights in my life and I thought those things were a myth. You’re probably unconscious if a bunch of yellow masks hanging down from the ceiling of an airplane won’t get you a little excited. But of course there was still some guy wearing half eyes a couple rows up reading his Wall Street Journal and the kid in the window seat next to Erin was still asleep. Anyway, I put my mask on and helped Erin with hers just like they tell you to do. By this time Erin has a pretty firm grasp on my forearm. She is terrified. And the plane dropped again. Then it happened. The lady right in front of me stood up and yelled, “we’re all gonna die.” (I thought I was in a sitcom.) The pilot came over the intercom and said in a cool voice, “Flight attendants please prepare the cabin for landing. We will be on the ground in 5 minutes.” What? I felt pretty “prepared” considering I was lit-up with O2 and my arm was wrapped around the arm rest. You could hear the landing gear coming out and within a couple minutes we were on the ground at O’Hare.

We were safe. Our wheels were on the ground. (Our friend in the isle seat was still asleep.) I helped Erin get her mask off. Then she looked at me and said, “I think I will do something fun today.” Amazing. She got it. We were lucky to be okay. We should do something fun. As I sat in Concourse C waiting on my connection to Wichita, I was struck with the feeling that I had lost some perspective. So, I penned a list of things to do. The list reads something like this:

“Say Yes to becoming a co-advisor for a Freshman Seminar Group at MC.”
“Host a Murder Mystery Party for Kandee’s birthday.”
“Sign up for those surfing lessons.”
“Bring our cat, Snickers, to Hayden’s class for show and tell on Friday.”
“Take a day off.”

Erin, thanks for helping me see things a little more clearly. Life is always interesting.