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Getting through airport security with CLEAR – My experience

Posted on 11 December 2012 by David

Airport security with CLEAR, what is it?

I received an email the other day that had a headline “CLEAR is now at Westchester airport!”. Having seen a CLEAR entry point at security while flying out of SFO (San Francisco) earlier this year, the email peaked my interest as I was going be flying out of HPN very frequently in the near future.

If you’ve never heard of CLEAR before, the idea is simple.  It is a commercial endeavor aimed at allowing you to bypass the long ID and boarding pass lines at the security checkpoints in airport terminals.   They give you the means to shoot past the long lines and go straight into the screening area.

Great in theory but good in practice?

CLEAR doesn’t operate at a lot of airports so the benefit is, I think, better for business travelers who fly out of the same airport frequently. Since I happen to be flying out of HPN (Westchester airport) often, I decided to give them a try.

Note that there is a process you have to go through before you can use CLEAR at the airport.  You need to physically go to one of their offices and have your documentation verified and you need to have your fingerprints and retinas scanned. It doesn’t take long to do and you’re in and out of the office in less than 15 minutes. Once that’s done, you get your CLEAR smart card in the mail within a week or two.

On my first day using CLEAR at HPN I happened to get there super early (5:30am in fact!).  HPN is a small airport so there’s not that many people there at that time.  There was no line at the TSA ID check so I could have just sped right through that without using CLEAR but since I was eager to try out my CLEAR pass, I went to the CLEAR area instead.

At HPN there are two large kiosks and two friendly CLEAR agents  there who help you get through.  I handed over my CLEAR photo ID smart badge over to one of the agents.  She inserted it into the kiosk and I did a fingerprint scan. It instantly recognized me and the agent signaled the ok to her partner to unlock a special shortcut door into the screening area.

All in all it took about 30 seconds to get through.  It was a breeze.

OK, but did it save time?

Honestly speaking, since there was no line that morning at the TSA ID check, I would have been in the screening area a few moments before I would have walked through the CLEAR shortcut so no real-time savings for me that morning.  However, I’ve been at HPN when the ID badge check wraps around itself a few times so I can see it saving a good 10-15 minutes of waiting when the line is long.

How much is it?

It’s $179 a year for an individual and less for family and corporate accounts.  At that price you need to consider whether it’s something you’ll use frequently.

How does this compare to TSA Pre Check?

I don’t have any experience with TSA Pre Check but from what I have read, the premise is similar.   TSA Pre Check aims at saving you time in the screening area.   One nice thing about TSA Pre Check is that if you already have Global Entry, you can participate in TSA pre-check right off the bat.  You can find more info on TSA pre-check at TSA’s pre-check website.

Where can you use CLEAR?

Unfortunately not at that many places.  Here’s the list as of December 2012.  The latest list can be found on the CLEAR website.

  • Orlando International Airport (MCO)
  • Denver International Airport (DEN)
  • San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
  • Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
  • Westchester NY Airport (HPN)

Is CLEAR worth having?

For me, it’s too early to say.  $179 is a sizable investment.  It’s along the same lines as asking if paying $400 a year for  lounge access is worth it. If you fly out once a week out of any of the airports with CLEAR and you are constantly short on time, you probably should consider it.

I’ve seen CLEAR at SFO (San Francisco airport) as well and I recall there being a zero line at CLEAR.  At the time I had no clue what it was about, I thought it was for airport personnel.  Now I know better and it would have saved me the 15 minutes it took to get through the TSA ID check line if I had a CLEAR membership then!

Now that I have it, I have to try it out a few more times to find out if it’s worth it for me.  I tend to fly really early in the morning when the lines are short so it may not benefit me as much but like I said, lines do get long at HPN later in the day so if I were to fly more often in the later morning or afternoons, then it might be worth it to save the annoyance of waiting in line.

So it depends on your situation.  If you tend to fly often when the airport is busy it might be worth it.

Discounts on CLEAR

These are the ones I’m aware of.  I’ll update the list occasionally as I find them.

  • SAVE $25 with promo code CMNAF1X at Checkout.
  • Get referred and get one month free!  Perfect if you want to try before you buy. Request it in the comments below and I’ll send you a referral link! (Available until I run out of referrals!)

Have you tried out CLEAR?  Is it the best thing since sliced bread for you?  I’m curious to see what you think.

 

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My First Day of Scuba Diving Course at Hanauma Bay Hawaii

Posted on 25 November 2012 by onthegroundtravel

 

Diving in Hanauma Bay Hawaii

This is a guest post from Vic Dinovici who writes about his first experience scuba diving in Hanauma Bay Hawaii (on the island of Oahu).  He liked it so much he’s now a scuba instructor for HopTours.com.   Enjoy!

About Vic:

Vic is all about snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, scuba diving and all outdoor activities especially if is about water. In the hot sunny days you will find him going deep into the Pacific Ocean waters, taking pictures with the reef marine life and enjoying a good time with friends on Hawaii beaches.

His Story:

So, scuba diving is kind of a new-found passion of mine. I tried it on the last day of a vacation a few years ago and got completely hooked—unfortunately, I didn’t have much time to explore and dive since we were heading back home the next day. That’s why I recently decided that I was going to take a good portion of my upcoming vacation and spend it all scuba diving and exploring.

When I was figuring out where I wanted to go, I knew that I was going to need a place that was good for beginners (since I had only been once before), but that was also going to be worth all the time and money I was going to spend. That’s why I decided on Hanauma Bay—everyone told me just how gorgeous it was, and it was also perfect for beginners because of it’s shape and calm waters. It’s this protected little piece of paradise that doesn’t have any turbulent water or crashing waves like the open ocean, and it’s also home to this incredible coral reef that has so many different types of fish that you’ll lose count. I decided that I was going to go for my scuba diving certification, and registered with a group that offered a three-day diving course with certification at the end of it.

The first day of my diving course Hanauma Bay, I made sure to arrive at the park bright and early because once the parking lot is full, they don’t allow anyone else in (it’s to cut down on too many visitors causing damage to the reef). After I paid my admission fee, I had to hike a ways down to the beach—although it wasn’t too long, I was so anxious to get into the water that it felt like eternity! Finally I saw the bay, and I was so glad that I had chosen to come diving here: the water was crystal clear, the beach was beautiful with palm trees swaying in the breeze—it was everything I could have wanted. I found my instructor, who had me watch a video that talked about how to take care of the reef and wildlife, as well as gave the basics of scuba diving. Once that was finished, I got to sit in the shade of the coconut trees while my instructor went over the basics of everything—after that it was time to get suited up and into the water! Everything was so beautiful, and I felt so confident in that little area knowing that I was safe from any danger the open water held.

The next two days were pretty similar, except that I spent time learning how to map out my own dives, staying safe while scuba diving, and other necessary skills for my certification. Finally, I passed my test on the last day and was officially certified to go diving in the open water on my own! I spent the rest of my vacation diving in and around Hanauma Bay—exploring the few shipwrecks that were in the area and just generally enjoying my time in the water. It was such an amazing vacation, and I can’t wait to go back!

Are you interested in sharing a travel experience with the world? Email us to discuss your topic and we might select you!

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Guest Post: Travel the world, just don’t get scammed in Havana!

Posted on 28 June 2012 by Danica

travel the world - havana scam - street band

In this week’s “Travel the World, Just Don’t Get Scammed” series, we are very excited to have Tammy Lowe to share her experience in Havana with us.  It is a story of cigars, a muscle man with lots of bling, a few mojitos and a diamond ring.  Intrigued?  Read on…

That’s Where I am From Too!

“Where are you from?” we were asked by a friendly young Cuban during a stroll through Havana.  “We are from England”, we replied and he got very excited and told us that his friend lived in a town called Bedford.  “No way! What a coincidence, we are from Bedford”, we said.  We chatted for a while and found out that he was an English student.  He asked us what we were planning to see that day and we mentioned a few famous sights.  He asked if he can join us and be our tour guide, free of charge of course, so he can practice his English.  We agreed and had a really nice time with him.  At one stage he asked us if we wanted to go to a local market and if we like cigars?  Not one to miss out on a shopping opportunity at local markets we agreed.

travel the world - havana scam - me with cigar

The Man Nobody Wants to Mess With

So off we went to the outskirts of Havana in what looked like a much poorer district, where he led us into a flat.  That doesn’t look like a market I thought to myself, but then I thought maybe some people just run illegal markets in communist Cuba to make a bit more money.  Inside was a young woman with hardly any clothes on who puffed up the cushions on a mattress on the floor, which was turned into a sofa.  We sat down and all of the sudden this big guy (and I mean really big!) with gold chains and muscles that would make Arnold Schwarzenegger look tiny, entered the room, shouted at the woman to leave, and sat down opposite us.  At that stage we started to feel a bit uncomfortable.  Where are all these colourful, charming handicraft sellers we were used to seeing on the streets?  He asked us if we wanted to buy some cigars, but we weren’t really interested.  He looked a bit puzzled and shouted at our ‘tour guide’ who in a panic said to us that he thought we wanted to buy cigars.  We explained that we were more looking for souvenirs like handicrafts, but inquired the price for the cigars as we felt this situation could soon turn ugly.  The big man said $50 for a big box.  We said that we only have $20 on us, which was true and asked him what we can get for that?  He pointed to a mini packet with five cigars that usually comes as a free gift if you buy a big box.  He looked a bit angry and at this point we started to feel a bit nervous, locked in his house as we were.  Chris was holding on to our backpack very tightly and we looked at each other and said that we will take the small cigars as we only had $20 on us.  He sulked a bit, but led us out of his flat after we paid him.  Our tour guide didn’t follow us.  As soon as we were outside we quickly made our way through the back streets towards the more civilized and touristy part of town.

How I Really Knew You

After that shock we went to the nearest bar, ordered some food and a few mojitos to celebrate our escape.  We reflected on the day and couldn’t quite work out how we fell for the scam.  We kept thinking what a huge coincidence it was that this guy knew somebody in Bedford and was able to describe the sights and how beautiful the river was.  I mean Bedford is not exactly a well-known town in England.  And then it struck us that a few days before we had been asked by some other locals where we were from.  When we told them they just smiled and told us to enjoy Cuba, so we didn’t really think much off it and just thought the locals here are very friendly and curious.  But now we know that they must have all worked together and told each other the intel they received about us.  So when the guy asked us where we were from and we said England he knew full well that we lived in Bedford and had had a few days to research the town online.  So to gain our trust he made up the story about his friend studying in Bedford.

Then Comes the Surprise!

It was our first holiday together, so we put it down as one of those experiences you have as a traveler and decided to enjoy the rest of the night.  We sipped some mojitos and listened to a Cuban band when all of the sudden Chris started to look very serious.  He told me that he was glad our backpack hadn’t’ been stolen by the guy as there was something special in there.  I had no idea what he was talking about and thought maybe he couldn’t handle the strong mojitos very well, but then he took out a small box containing a ring and he popped the question.  Of course I said yes.  If we survived being locked in a gangster’s menacing flat, we can survive anything…

travel the world - havana scam - engaged

About Tammy Lowe:  Tammy is one half of Tammy & Chris on the move.  She hails from Germany, and is therefore both mighty and efficient.  Chris is the other half, hailing from the UK which means he likes to talk about the weather, be polite, or sometimes even both at the same time.  They both have civil service backgrounds, but have left their bowler-hats back in London to go and work on justice and human right issues in Cambodia, and, whenever they get some time off, travel around the world.

Thank you Tammy for sharing your story.  Congratulations, and what an adventure you two survived together!

Like this story?  Check out our other story in the “Travel the world, just don’t get scammed” series.

If you want to share your short story about a time you have been scammed, leave us a comment below.  We’d love to hear from you!

 

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Guest Post: Travel the world, just don’t get scammed in Havana!

Posted on 21 June 2012 by Danica

Cuba - Around the World Travel

This week, in our second installment of the “Travel the World, Just Dont’ Get Scammed” series, we feature Kellie Parry, a seasoned traveler and writer in her own right.  This is a cautionary tale about trusting others too quickly in a new place.  Often times, when we travel, we must juggle the balance between being polite to the locals and being cautious of the new surrounding.  This is a story you can not miss.  Read on…

A few years back I worked for a cruise line company in the States. I spent my days sailing down the coast of Mexico and through the Caribbean taking in all the sights. The Caribbean was always my favourite. Such lush tropical settings surrounded by a crystal clear ocean. No wonder everyone who lived there seemed so laid back and unaffected by the stresses of daily life. I made a promise to myself that I would go back one day. Years later that opportunity arrived. I was doing a round the world trip and Cuba was on my itinerary. I was excited to experience the casualness of the Caribbean again.

I arrived in Havana and was dropped by the taxi a fair way from my hotel which was not the drivers fault really. The road was missing. As I struggled with my suitcase past the huge abyss in the road, several people approached me for a chat. Most of them wanted to know if I wanted to stay in their house. Er…no thanks. Others wanted to know if I needed a tour guide while I was here. No thanks again. Fighting off all the overly enthusiastic unofficial Cuban ambassadors nearly sent me and my suitcase hurtling into the gaping hole in the ground.

scam-hotel-valencia-havana-cuba-trips-around-the-world

Eventually I made it to my hotel. Hotel Valencia was beautiful and I was most glad to be staying there rather than in some strangers living room. Once I had settled in I decided to go for a walk and get my bearings. I had not been walking long when I was approached by a tall Caribbean man. He was perfectly polite and introduced himself. He didn’t harass me about being a tour guide or me staying at his house. I kept walking and he kept up with me chatting away. He wanted to know where I was from, if it was my first time in Cuba and all the other standard travel questions. He told me that he was a chef and he worked at Hotel Valencia. He saw me check in and then after he had finished work, he saw me in the street and decided to come and say hi. In hindsight this should have been my first warning. It’s a bit much of a coincidence that not only does he happen to work where Im staying but then he also happens to see me in the street.

Havana Cuba Street - Round the World Trips - Scam

He then asked me if I wanted to see the bar where Ernest Hemingway used to frequent. Apparently it wasn’t far from where we were so I agreed to go. I figured once I had seen this then I could go on my way. We walked along, through narrow alley ways, around corners and past side streets. He continued to talk to me the whole time and after a few minutes I realized that I was hopelessly lost. I had no idea where my hotel was from here but didn’t panic yet. I could always get a taxi.

We finally arrived at the bar and he ordered a drink for the both of us. Since it was my first time in Cuba he declared that I MUST try a Havana Club rum. This should have been my second warning. After all my years doing bar work I knew that you should never accept a drink from a stranger. But I did and after I finished it I already felt tipsy. Usually it takes more than one drink to get me drunk. He got us another round and I swore to myself that I would leave after this one.

Cuba Havana Club - Around the World Travel

But I guess he had other plans. He then somehow convinced me to go to a salsa bar. “It’s on the way back to the hotel” he promised after hearing my protests. We arrived at the bar and I must admit it was fabulous with its live band and salsa dancers. I bought us another drink as my way of saying thank you for spending the afternoon showing me around and all that. By now I was drunk which was probably his plan all along. We continued on going from bar to bar and then on to a restaurant for something to eat. In my foggy drunken brain I realized that I had paid for everything. I made him buy the next round and he did with some reluctance. But then it soon returned to me paying for everything.

Montecristo Cuban Cigar - Havana Cuba Round the World Trips - Scam

His next plan was to get me some Cuban cigars. Now I don’t smoke and neither does anyone I know but how can one leave Cuba with no cigars? And I had promised my Dad that I would bring some home anyway. He assured me that he had a friend that could sell them to me much cheaper than I would get them in the shops. We headed into the seedy side of old Havana. As we walked through the dodgy streets people stood back and stared at me. After all I was the only white female tourist in sight. Once again my drunken brain tried to set off a warning but it got lost in the Havana Club that my head was swimming in. Next thing Im standing in someones living room while he did some sort of deal. The woman disappeared out the back and came back with two boxes of cigars. I was told that she worked at the factory and had in fact stolen the cigars and she would do me a deal for both boxes. I didn’t want two boxes but I wanted to get out of this strangers house and get back to the familiar tourist area. I gave her the money and we left. Finally after a few more drinks he lead me back to Hotel Valencia.

Once we got there he told me that he had no where to go and could he please stay with me. Was he kidding? But by now I was so drunk and all I wanted to do was pass out. I threw a pillow on the floor for him and told him if he moved or touched me I would kill him and I slipped into a drunken coma. I woke with a start a couple of hours later. For some reason he was in bed beside me. He was on top of the blankets and still had all his clothes on (including his shoes) so I guess he just wanted somewhere more comfortable to sleep. All the events of the night before came crashing down on me. All of a sudden I felt sick. I woke him up and told him to get the hell out. Once he was gone I sat on the bed and tried to remember everything that had happened. With a sinking feeling I grabbed my purse to see how much money I had left. Nothing. I had spent it all. Luckily in my drunken state I had locked my purse in the safe but he didn’t need to steal from my purse. He had already taken US$500 off me. All the drinks, dinner and then of course the cigars which Im sure he got a cut from. I locked myself in the room for the day nursing a hangover and kicking myself. How could I be so stupid?

Cuba Apartment - Havana Round the World Trips - Scam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day, I ventured out to try and get more cash which in Cuba is not easy. ATM’s were a rarity. I finally found an money exchange where I could get a cash advance on my credit card. Once again I kicked myself for being so stupid. On my way back to the hotel I passed a cigar shop. Out of curiosity I went in to see how much cigars actually were. Once again I felt sick. A box of Monte Cristo’s like the ones I had bought was $50. I had paid $300 for two boxes so I had literally paid triple what they were worth.

Apart from this incident, the rest of my time in Cuba was amazing. It’s a beautiful place and it’s definitely worth seeing. I still to this day cringe at the thought of what could have happened to me that night. When I think of all the seedy places we went to and the fact that I let him crash out in my room, Im glad that all I lost was $500….

 

About Kellie Parry: Kellie is a travel writer who is currently based in Darwin, Australia. She spent 18 months working as an Assistant Bar Manager for Carnival Cruise Lines. During this time she had the fortune of working on 5 different ships within the company, with each ship taking her to a new exotic location. It was here that she found her passion for travel and has spent the last 6 years criss-crossing the globe on her own.  Kellie documents her travel adventures at www.meandmypassport.com and facebook.com/TravellingKellie.  She can also be reached at kellie@meandmypassport.com.

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Thank you Kellie for sharing!   We have learned a great deal from your experience as well.

Like this story?  Check out our other story in the “Travel the world, just don’t get scammed” series.

If you want to share your short story about a time you have been scammed, leave us a comment below.  We’d love to hear from you!

 

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Hawaiian Volcanoes – Feeling the Breath of the Earth

Posted on 18 September 2011 by onthegroundtravel

Hawaii is known for its volcanoes.  One of the most mesmerizing moments on my recent trip there was to feel the heat generated by the lava from deep within the crust of the earth through a tiny vent hole on the ground.

The place was the Kilauea Ike Trail in the Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island. It was a 3 hour hike through lush green forest and a barren frozen lava field. As we walked across the lava field (which took an hour to walk across), we imagined the hot explosive lava that was once beneath our feet. Today, the only evidence of volcanic activity there is the steam vents that litter across the field. The steam is only visible on a wet rainy day. I think seeing and experiencing the steam was our blessing for having braved through rain and mud to finish this trail that day.

We were forewarned by a park ranger that one could get burned by the steam. As such, we tested the soil around the vent hole first to make sure it was not too hot, and then slowly moved our hands over the hole. We immediately felt the undeniable heat that bubbled through the hole, straight from the lava still active down below! The experience was both humbling and invigorating at the same time. I had my proof that Mother Earth is still alive and breathing that day!  If you are planning a visit to Hawaii, you can not miss the Volcanoes National Park.

Hawaiian Airlines is running a pre-black Friday sale!  Expires 11/26/2012

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