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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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Trip to Tibet – Our Six Day Itinerary

Posted on 10 July 2012 by David

We took a trip to Tibet late last year.

Tibet Travel - Tibetan Dog and Tibetan Man - Trip to Tibet

Our Trip to Tibet

Tibet is stunningly beautiful with natural mountains and lakes that you can not find elsewhere.  However, it is not an easy place to get into and you must be flexible with your plans and willing to absorb the risk that you may not be let in at the last minute.  However, when you make it there you will surely have an eye-opening experience.

To help you plan, today we’ll share our itinerary for Tibet.   In the upcoming posts on the remaining Mondays in July, we’ll give you some tips on how to get into Tibet, and provide highlights of our trip so keep watch for that if you’re interested in Tibet at all!

Trip to Tibet Travel - Nechung Monastary

Six Days in Lhasa

We spent six days in Tibet last year and we spent all of it in Lhasa for several reasons.  There is so much to see in and around Lhasa that you need a full six days in Lhasa to see it all.  Furthermore, unless you’re going on a trek to climb Mount Everest, everything you would want to experience about Tibet, you can find in Lhasa.  And lastly, there may be different permit requirements if you wish to travel far outside of Lhasa.  So make sure you coordinate with your travel agency in advance.

If you would like a more authentic tour experience, consider requesting the service of a tour guide who is a Tibetan.  This way, your tour money contribute to the well-being of the Tibetans directly.

Our trip to Tibet consisted of visiting the major monasteries that taught us a great deal about Buddhism and the Tibetan culture. We walked around town to get a sense of modern Lhasa and we traveled just outside of town to view the natural beauty of Yamdrok lake.

Detailed Tibetan Itinerary

Before Arrival in Lhasa:

Get a prescription for Diamox before leaving your home country and start your treatment two days before arrival in Lhasa. It worked for us as we had no problem acclimatizing to the altitude. Diamox does make your finger and toes tingle though!

Day 1: Fly into Lhasa and Acclimatize!

Fly into Lhasa airport (LXA) and take it easy today. Lhasa is at a high elevation of 11,450 ft., so you will need at least a day to get used to the thin air. Do not plan any strenuous walking or physical activity even if you’re feeling well.

Get to Potala Palace by 5pm and register for your admission ticket for use on the following day. Present your passport and make sure to get a receipt. Tickets are limited, this is why you must get your tickets the day before.

Trip to Tibet - Potala Palace

Walk around town, be polite, stay low key, and observe life. Take pictures of the exterior of the Potala Palace.

For dinner, catch an authentic Tibetian dinner in the Barkhor Circuit. Try some momos and yak butter tea if you are adventurous!

Trip to Tibet - Momos - Tibetan Food

Day 2 Potala Palace, Drepung Monastery, Nechung Monastery

Get to Potala Palace (布達拉宮) by 9am.  Potala Palace was the chief residence of Dalai Lama until the 14th Dalai Lama fled to Dharamsala, India in 1959.  The most stunning chapels of the Red Palace house the jewel-bedecked chorten tombs of previous Dalai Lamas. The quarters of the 13th and 14th Dalai Lamas in the White Palace offer a more personal insight into life in palace.  Leave at ~12pm.

Next take minibus 301 or 302 to Drepung Monastery (哲蚌寺). This is the largest monastery in the world, with more than 7,000 monks living there. Leave by 3pm.

Take a 10min walk downhill to Nechung Monastery (乃穹寺). The Monastery closes at 4pm so hurry. You might have the chance see the monks debating in Tibetan! If not you may be able to see a debate at Sera Monastery the following day.

Trip to Tibet - Nechung Monastery

To return to Lhasa, take bus no. 302 from Nechung Monastery, or bus no. 301 from the bottom of the hill. Arrive back to Lhasa by 5pm.

In the evening, try shopping for souvenirs & have dinner at Barkhor (八廓) – a Kora pilgrim circuit that proceeds clockwise around the periphery of the Jokhang Temple.  The Barkhor is one of the best places to pick up Tibetan souvenirs such as knives, prayer wheels, Buddhist statues, jade jewelry and the latest music from India.

Trip to Tibet - Jokhang Monastary

Day 3: Ganden Monastery and walk the High Kora; Monk Debate at Sera Monestary

Be transported to Ganden Monastery via 4×4 SUV. Arrive at Ganden ~9am. Tour for ~2hrs. Ganden is a photography heaven – lots of colors, lines, textures and all in service for the monks in their red robes.

The three main sights of Ganden Monastery are:

  • The Serdung, which contains the golden tomb of Tsongkhapa
  • The Tsokchen Assembly Hall
  • The Ngam Cho Khang Chapel where Tsongkhapa traditionally taught his students. You must walk the High Kora (~1hr). The path is signposted by a rich array of colorful prayer flags fluttering in the breeze.  Ask your tour guide to teach you about sky burials.
Trip to Tibet - Ganden Monastery Landscape


Take SUV back to Lhasa, arrive ~2pm. Be dropped off at Sera Monestary to see the monks debating.

* Note: Be prepared to visit Sera Monestary again just in case the monks are not debating. On our first day there, a wealthy Tibetan had made a significant donation to the Monastery in order for the monks to read and pray for the donor at the donor’s request!  Although watching a full courtyard of monks reading and reciting scripture was interesting, it is not nearly as exciting as a debate. =)

Free time in the afternoon/evening. You may want to drop by Spinn Cafe to have a delicious hot lemonade, get some free wi-fi, and socialize with other visitors!

Day 4: Jokhang Temple and Monk Debate at Sera Monestary (take two!)

Walk to Jokhang Temple (大昭寺) in the morning. Arrive by 7:30am for 8am entry. See the pilgrims prostrate on the ground outside the temple (best in morning).

One of the main attractions is the main cloister with a ring of large prayer wheels, kept spinning throughout the day by pilgrims.  However the cloister that leads to the central hall, contains Jokhang Temple’s star attraction, the Jowo Rinpoche (or Jowo Shakyamuni). This life-sized (5 foot/1.5m) statue of the Buddha at age 12 is the holiest object in Tibet. Probably originating in India, it was brought to Lhasa as part of the Chinese Princess Wencheng’s dowry in 641.

Go up to the roof for a fantastic view of Lhasa and the snow capped mountains.

Leave by 10am. Take a cab ride to Norbulingka, former sumer residence of Dalai Lama. The highlight here is the New Summer Palace (Takten Migyu Potrang) within. Stay till 1pm (when it closes).  Plan for a quick lunch.

Then take a 15 min taxi ride to Sera Monastery (色拉寺).  Arrive by 1:45pm. Your objective is to see the monks debate in Tibetan, usually in a garden next to the assembly hall in the center of the monastery.  The debate usually takes place between 3:30-5pm (or 2-4pm) daily except Sunday.

Take a bus or taxi back to Lhasa.

trip to tibet travel - Sera Monastery - Monk Debate

Day 5: Venture out of Lhasa to Nam-Tso or Yamdrok Lake

Hotel pick up at 8am. Drive 4 hrs via Land Cruiser to Nam-Tso (纳木错) Lake. Arrive by 12noon. Leave at 2pm.  Then head to Yangpachen Hotspring.  Back to Lhasa by 6pm or stay at Nam-Tso Lake overnight.

If Nam-Tso Lake is closed due to bad weather, arrange a day trip to Yamdrok Lake instead.

Both lakes are considered sacred in Tibet, and the water there is so pure and blue that we dare not to touch them.  We don’t want to pollute such a sacred and beautiful lake just by touching it with our bare hands.

Trip to Tibet Travel - Yamdrok Lake

Day 6: Day of departure.  Early morning flight out of LXA.

Wear a coat and keep some gloves with you. The airport doesn’t always turn on the heat!


Now that you know our itinerary, next week we will share with you a few things that surprise us about Tibet.

Interested in Tibet?  Then check out our other stories:

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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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Comparison of Smart Chip Credit Cards in U.S. – Chip & Pin

Posted on 26 June 2012 by David

Smart Chip Credit Card - Blue

Today is a quick one. There are only TWO chip-and-pin smart chip credit cards available in the USA.

If you are interested in the chip-and-signature smart cards, we have a detailed comparison table created to help you decide.

For a comprehensive list of all the smart chip credit cards available in the U.S., you should refer to the post here.

Not sure if you even need a smart card?  Then you must read this post.

Chip-and-pin Cards Compared

Below are all the chip-and-pin cards at a glance.

Card Name Issuing Bank Annual Fee Foreign Exchange Fees Rewards Sign Up Promotion
GlobeTrek Visa® Rewards Card Andrews Federal Credit Union None! 1% Visa Platinum Rewards

  • 1 point per $1 everywhere else
5,000 points after first purchase
The Elite Credit Card UNFCU $50 None Rewards

  • 2 points per $1 at supermarkets and dining
  • 1 point per $1 everywhere else
LOUNGE CLUB™ cards allow access to over 350 VIP lounges worldwide

** Please refer to comments box below on how to apply for the GlobeTrek VISA Rewards Card.  We will write a post shortly with detailed instructions.  In the meantime, if you have questions or run into any issues, feel free to drop us a note!

Smart Chip Credit Cards from trips around the world - using credit cards


How to Decide Which Chip-and-Pin Card to Apply


The best smart chip credit card for you depends on your lifestyle and spending habit.


This is because everyone places a different value on the various benefits offered by a credit card.

For us, first and foremost, saving money is key.  So, anytime we can save cash or get more rewards to subsidize our travel, we like that smart chip credit card a little bit more.

Let’s look at the easy stuff first.

On Sign Up Promotion, the GlobeTrek Visa Card wins because we will get 5000 points after 1st purchase.  Staying in lounges at the airport is a luxury that we will trade 5000 points for.

On Rewards, we think the Elite Credit Card wins, although not by much.  This is because while the rewards program of the Elite Credit Card is slightly richer, we have another card we use for grocery and dining spend, so we will not likely take advantage of the 2 points per $1 at supermarket offer.  It will be a nice backup card though in case we forget the other card.

Now, the tricky part is how to evaluate annual fee and foreign exchange fee.  It depends on how much you plan to spend overseas.

Essentially, you are trying to compare $50 vs. 1% of foreign spend.

If you think you will put more than $5000 on your new credit card from overseas, then apply for the Elite Credit Card because you will spend more on the foreign exchange fee with the GlobeTrek Card than the annual fee on the Elite Credit Card.

On the other hand, if you think you will spend less than $5000 overseas, then by all means, apply for the GlobeTrek Visa Card because the 1% you spend on foreign exchange fees on that card will be less than the annual fee on the Elite Credit Card.

**Caveat Emptor? We noticed one inconvenience on the Elite Credit Card in that it will automatically enroll you in a 60-day complimentary term life insurance product and the cost of this product will be automatically billed to your Elite Credit Card starting on the 61st day.  If you don’t need term life insurance you can opt-out before the 61st day, but you must call a designated number on the fine print of the application to cancel.  We think this is a very questionable practice to automatically opt-in everyone to this (eventually) paid product.  So all else being equal, we will sign up for the GlobeTrek Visa Card instead.

Everyone has different spending habits, so think about how you spend, then decide on the card you want to apply.


Which smart chip credit card are you planning to apply for?  Any questions, drop us a comment below!


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photo by: 4nitsirk

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Comparison of Smart Chip Credit Cards in U.S. – Chip & Signature

Posted on 24 June 2012 by David

Smart Chip Credit Card - Gold

Smart chip credit cards are becoming more important to carry on your trip abroad, as more merchants overseas discontinue their support for the magnetic strip credit cards predominately available in the U.S.

We have researched the list of smart chip credit cards you can apply for in the U.S. previously.  Today, we would like to provide a quick comparison of chip and signature smart cards available in the country.  Tomorrow I’ll compare the available chip and pin cards.

Key Considerations in Deciding the Right Card for You

The table below shows all the chip and signature cards available in the U.S. today.

None of the cards carry any foreign exchange fees (which is great news!) and all cards offer a rewards program.  All cards, with the exception of the J.P. Morgan Select Visa Signature Card, give you a sign-on bonus as well.

If you just want to get a smart chip credit card for travel (or bragging right for being ahead of the curve), get a card with no annual fee.  At this time, only the FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa and J.P. Morgan Select Visa Signature offer no fee for the first year.  All cards have an annual fee after the first year.

However, after the first year, you can always cancel the card (just make sure you use up any rewards points in your account before you cancel), or call the bank and see if it will extend the no-fee promotion for you for another year (many banks will do that especially if you have been a good customer to them).

Which Chip and Signature Card We Would Pick and Why

Looking at the some of the benefits and features of each card, it appears that US Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa may be a decent card.  It has the lowest annual fee of all the cards, and no fee for the 1st year. That’s something to keep in mind especially if you plan to keep the card longer than a year.  As far as rewards are concerned, this card is currently offering bonus points.  The points will get you $50 for every 5,000 points which is equal to 1% cash back.  it also has a sign up promotion.

If it were up to us, our first choice would be the  US Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa by US Bank and our second choice would be the JP Morgan Select Visa Signature.  Both have no fees for the first year.  But by all means, take a look at the table below and pick the one that fits your spending style the most!

Chip-and-signature smart cards

Below are all the chip-and-signature cards compared side by side.

Card Name Issuing Bank Annual Fee Foreign Exchange Fees Rewards Sign Up Promotion
FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa USBank $0 first year, $49 thereafter None FlexPerks rewards

  • 2 points per $1 spent on gas, grocery or airline purchases, whichever you spend most on each monthly billing cycle, and on most cell phone expenses
  • 1 point per $1 everywhere else
15,000 bonus FlexPoints after the first $500 in net purchases in the first 90 days.
J.P. Morgan Select Visa Signature Chase $0 first year, $95 thereafter None Chase Ultimate Rewards

  • 2 points per $1 on air, hotel, and auto rentals
  • 1 point per $1 everywhere else
J.P. Morgan Palladium Chase $595
(this is not a typo)
None Chase Ultimate Rewards

  • 2 points for every $1 spent on travel
  • 1 point per $1 everywhere else
35k points for spending $100,000 a year
British Airways Visa Signature® Card Chase $95 None British Airways Avios points

  • 2.5 Avios per $1 on British Airways
  • 1.25 Avios per $1 everywhere else
50,000 Avios Bonus after first use
The Hyatt Credit Card Chase $75 None Hyatt Gold Passport

  • 3 points per $1 at Hyatt
  • 1 point per $1 everywhere else
2 free nights at any Hyatt, worldwide, the first time you use the card.


Which smart chip credit card did you apply for?  Any questions, drop us a comment below!


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