PDX airport layover planning|Portland Oregan

Portland Oregon (PDX) airport is a great stop over point for travelers enroute to Alaska or points west.  The airport itself is clean and friendly, with several restaurants and shops to pass the time.  One store is selling PDX gear, attesting to the following the airport has; the most bizarre, but also most tempting is the option to choose from shirts, socks and other items that say PDX and display the design of the airport carpet.

Just outside the airport are a number of reasonably priced hotels with free breakfast buffets and shuttle service.  This is not a bad option to break up long flights for families or other tourists who could enjoy a quick jaunt into the city to enjoy a nice dinner, a show or museums.

The metro stop is conveniently located right at the airport with inexpensive fares into the city center or other destinations.  We opted to take a quick 5 minute ride, getting off at Cascades, the second stop, for some shopping and lunch to pass a few hours.  The shopping area has about fifty stores including Best Buy, Verizon, Ross, Carhartt, Marshalls, Bath and Body Works, Staples, Sports Authority and more.

Dining options at Cascades include Buffalo Wild Wings, Starbucks, Jamba Juice, IHOP and Red Robin and a smattering of fast food and Asian choices.  A two hour metro pass can easily accommodate a quick excursion for just a few dollars.

Portland Airport has several daily non stop flights including Alaska, Hawaii, Seattle Boston, New York, DC, Tokyo and Amsterdam.  It might be just the stop to help east coast residents break up their far east travel.

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TSA Precheck How To Save Time at Airport Security

TSA precheck identifier on ticket
TSA precheck identifier on ticket

TSA precheck is a great new program designed to expedite passage through the security lines at several airports throughout the USA.  This is how to same time and aggravation when you travel.  Not only does it save time for participants in the program, it saves time for everyone stuck in the long lines waiting to go through security by getting others out of their queue.

Right now, the airlines are allowed to choose some passengers who are frequent travelers and others in special categories to participate for their particular flight .   Participants in the Global Entry program are automatically enrolled. To determine if you are already on the TSA precheck list, take a look at your boarding pass.  At the very top, in small letters you will see TSA Precheck typed in  I can tell you first hand that once you move to this privileged line, you will never want to go back to waiting with the crowds.To apply for the program, you will need to pay $85 USD processing fee  for a 5 year membership.  You will apply online then appear in person at a processing center for an interview and finger printing.  A background check will also be completed prior to approval.

Applications can be completed online prior to the interview.  Interview sites are located in most states and an appointment can be made at www.tsa.gov.

The first two on airport applications sites have opened with more scheduled for 2014.  Currently, the interview and finger printing can be completed at the Indianapolis Airport and the International Airport at Dulles (IAD) in Washington DC.  New York City and Los Angeles have planned openings for later this year.

As of January 2014, there are ten airlines participating in the program (listed below) at about 100 airports throughout the USA.  I’m sure this list will expand quickly throughout the year.

Alaska Airlines

American Airlines

Delta Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines









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How to renew a child passport in the USA

Form DS11 Passport Application
Form DS11 Passport Application

To renew a passport that was originally issued to a child, there are special steps that need to be taken:

Renewing passport if the applicant is now over age 16:

This is how to renew a child’s passport.   The applicant will need to appear at the post office in person.  Many post offices now require an applicant to have an appointment in advance, so call ahead.  It’s a great idea to always have a valid passport so opportunities aren’t missed.

Print and fill out your two page form DS-11 but do not sign it until you are in the interview.

Bring a 2 inch by 2 inch picture for the passport.  These can be purchased at most corner pharmacies for under $10.

Bring the original passport and a paper copy of the page with your picture and passport number on it.  If your current passport is unavailable, bring a raised seal birth certificate.

Bring your driver’s license or other government issued ID and a paper copy of the front and back.

Bring a check to pay your fee.  Fees are currently $110 plus $25 processing fee for regular submissions.

Consider paying ad additional $12.75 for overnight return delivery for security purposes.

Before turning your original over to the interviewer for submission, take a picture of it on your phone.  If it gets lost or there is a processing problem, it will really help out to have all of that information handy.

Allow up to 6 weeks for processing and delivery.

How to renew child passport if the applicant is under age 16:

In addition to the items above, the following is needed.

The total cost will now be $105 which includes a $25 processing fee.

Present parental consent unless the parents names are on the original birth certificate.

Both parents will need to appear in person at the interview of provide a notorized form DS-3053.


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Street vendors selling food in Bangkok Thailand

Street vendor selling rice in bamboo stick
Street vendor selling rice in bamboo stick

We arrived in Bangkok after midnight on Friday night, but it might just as well have been 5 PM on a work day for the number of people in and outside of the airport.  All of the restaurants were open, the “night market” where people go to stroll and buy souvenirs from the street vendors selling food and goods  was open until 3 AM.  We went to our hotel and slept, looking forward to experience the city refreshed.

The next morning we went to the “weekend market” and enjoyed the bargains almost as much as the people watching.  The smells were just over whelming, with food stalls mixed in with spice shops, clothing stalls, music, you name it.  There are over 5,000 stalls selling absolutely everything here.  The bargains were just incredible; we saw tourists who were buying US name brand socks and underwear because of the deals.  We stuck to tourist T shirts, genie pants and other items we couldn’t get at home.  We also stopped at several food stands and ate.

About the street food: before we arrived, I had decided not to eat on the street because I have a weak stomach.  I threw that thought right out the window.  This food is fresher than anything I’ve ever eaten at home.  The chicken was clucking this morning, the fruits and veggies, still in the fields.  Since the country has little or no refrigeration, the meat is cooked as soon as it is available.  The residents of the city generally don’t have kitchens, they take their meals from the street vendors.

Street vendors Bangkok Thailand
Street vendors Bangkok Thailand

The first morning we left the hotel at about 10 am to take a walk.  Right outside, we saw a street vender with about two hundred small roasted chickens in his cooking stand.  We laughed saying they would be sitting all day in the hot sun.  We walked back an hour later and the whole batch had been sold and was gone.  The man was cooking more that would sell just as quickly.

My favorite stop each day became a stand that sold pineapple in a bag.  He had bins full of fresh pineapple stacked, when I indicated I wanted some, the vendor took the fruit and within 90 seconds he had cored and cut.  Continue to next blog.

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Save money on vacation|six things travel agents wish you knew

snake juice in Cambodia
Snake juice-know what you are getting

There are six things travel agents wish you knew about prior to booking.

1.  Travel agents can take care of all the logistics around travel.  Say you book your own air, what next?  A travel agent will be sure that all of the little things are taken care of, the transfers, hotels, tours and excursions, etc.

2.  When things go wrong, it’s great to have a person with a phone number to reach out to.  For instance, you loose your passport, weather prevents you from taking one of your excursions and you’d like to reschedule or refund, your flight is cancelled and you need a hotel, you need to cancel your trip and need help with the insurance company.  The list goes on forever, a travel agent can help.

3.  Some on line feedback is not done by real guests. How do you wade through the hundreds of hotels at a new location and guess which ones are in the area you want.  It could take hours for an individual to do all that research.

4.  Nearly everyone travelling outside of the USA should have travel insurance and it is very reasonably priced.  The reasons to have insurance far outweigh the risk of not having it.  It’s almost always a better value to purchase from an agent than from a resort, airline or tour operator.

5.  Travel agents often have incentives and other offering that will bring more value to a vacation package.  They can take care of upgrades and changes through their networks.

6. Travel agents are familiar with many destinations, and are able to make suggestions that meet your families needs exactly.  It’s this personalized service that can turn a vacation into a lifetime memory.


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Fly into Iquitos Peru to take an Amazon River Cruise

In emergency cut here. Air Peru aircraft safety feature.
In emergency cut here. Air Peru aircraft safety feature.

To get to the Amazon River cruise departure point, we had to fly from Lima to Iquitos, with one stop.  These flights took a total of about two hours to accomplish, once we were underway.

The Peruvians know their weather changes rapidly and they all just took it in stride when, after finally finally finally boarding the aircraft and getting settled in, we were asked to deplane because of weather en route.  We just went back inside and waited.

There really aren’t a lot of options when traveling to Iquitos, an isolated land locked city in the northeast of Peru at the entrance to the Amazon River.  You can arrive there by plane or by boat.  There are no roads linking this area to the rest of the country.  In many ways, that’s what makes it special.

When we were finally ready to depart for the second time, I boarded and noticed this sign.  I just prayed that my seat wasn’t on the other side of that window.  It says “Cut here in case of emergency”.  It even gave the emergency crew guidelines of where to place their machete.

Our flight was actually very comfortable.  One word to the wise: don’t book your return flight to the states expecting to actually arrive back in Lima on schedule.  We allowed an extra 3 hours, we were still 2 hours later than that.  In this case, those midnight flights departing for the USA were actually a godsend.

This map of Peru shows just how remote Iquitos in, located in the northeastern part of the country.
This map of Peru shows just how remote Iquitos in, located in the northeastern part of the country.
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Education and knowledge vs. travel experiences for teenage learning

Wendy and Jared, enroute to Tokyo. March 10 2011
Wendy and Jared, enroute to Tokyo. March 10 2011

The only thing better than travelling is reliving the travel through the stories and new friends that follow.  The memories I’ve built through travelling with friends, family and new travel partners will stay with me forever.

My all time favorite travel partner is my son Jared; through travel we have found many commonalities and have become closer than most teen boys could be with their moms.  That’s because we have so many memories that belong only to us.

When Jared started middle school, his breaks weren’t in sync with his sisters schools.  Presented as a problem, it soon became an opportunity for him to get some one-on-one time after years of being dragged to dance, theatre, gymnastics and music for the older girls.

I’ve travelled extensively with the whole family, with my husband etc. but having one on one with a teen-there’s just nothing like it.   We started off small, with a few weeks in South Dakota, Washington DC, Boca Raton, Las Vegas and California.  By high school, we were off to Europe, then before we knew it, our circle expanded and the world got smaller.

Pictured above was our first major trip, this is where our story begins, on March 10, 2011.  We planned for months to visit Japan.  A little scary to think that we would be so far from home with no knowledge of the language, but we were ready  to step out of our comfort zone.  Who could have ever known that we’d have the adventure of our lives.  We departed the USA on the evening of March 10, 2011 for Tokyo. We were two of the few Americans on board.  Sometime late in the night when announcements in hurried Japanese woke us, we knew there was trouble.  We just didn’t really understand what, since the hum of the plane seemed fine but the people around us were very upset. We were in for a long day.

Enjoy our stories, and the tales of travel with my other travel partners also.  Ask questions, comment and let me help you find your special places.   Travel memories will last a lifetime.

Wendy@SoloToGroupTravel.com   603-434-8100

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Vacation packing checklist for foreign travel


Below is a packing checklist, it can be used for all types of travel in and out of your home country.  Some to-do items are no brainers (pack a bathing suit) and others require significant forethought (checking passport expiration date). Next week’s adventure will require more than the usual planning, since they probably don’t have a Walmart of Gap along the Amazon River. Even if they do, I’m not sure the local Shaman will want to take me there in his canoe. So, planning is key.

Help me out and leave additional items in the comment box for other readers.

Paperwork Checklist

Passport and Visa if needed.

Yellow card that proves I’ve had the required shots for the country. I bring it even if they don’t required proof, that way I know what I’ve had in case of illness.

Travel itinerary, proof of travel insurance, and the 24 hour contact info for your travel agent.

Electronics Checklist

Camera, extra battery and memory cards, charger.

Cell phone and Kindle with chargers.

Fitbit. The new pedometer battery and memory last a week. I keep it in my pocket, not only to see how much walking I’ve done in a day, but as a guilt remover so I can eat all I want on vacation. After all, I’m not sitting at a desk all day, so my steps and calories burned is always way up. An unintended benefit is the clock that’s built in; even on the plane, I can see the time.

Computer, mini or ipad. Use to download and share pictures daily, this is a really fun way to relive the day with new friends too.

Universal power converter.

Toiletries and Medical Supplies

Daily use personal items, always in 3 ounce or smaller containers. Even if I check my luggage I like to keep those things on my person to use on the flight.

Bug spray and sun block.

Neosporin and band aids. Any open wound, no matter how small, should be treated like I germ magnet when in foreign lands.

Prescription medicines should stay in your carry on. Also carry: Imodium, Aleve, Tylenol, and Pepto Bismal. I never use any of them, but it’s the peace of mind that comes with having them.

Dramamine. For me, my ticket to travel. If I’m on a moving vehicle, like an Amazon Rive Cruiser, I take a half tablet each morning for the first few days to get used to the motion. This keeps my mind and body ahead of any upsets.

Water bottle. Hydration is proven to help with motion sickness, wrinkles, joint pain, hang overs and to most importantly, to quench thirst.

Clothing checklist

A light jacket that can serve as raingear, sun protection, bug protection and for warmth. I like to have zipper pockets, to keep my phone and passport dry if needed too.

Two pair of shoes, one will be on my feet when I board the plane and the other might be hiking sandals that can get wet.

One dress, made of a synthetic fabric, that can be used for a dress dinner, or can be a backup for a hot day.

The usual shorts, pants, tops under things and swim suit, also one white long sleeved tshirt.

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