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Posts Tagged ‘U.S. Department of State’

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This Saturday is Passport Day in the USA: Apply for a US passport, it’s never been easier

The U.S. Department of State’s Passport Day in the USA is this Saturday, April 9. This is the one day of the year that regional passport agencies and acceptance facilities across the country are open for extended Saturday hours, and no appointment is necessary to apply for a U.S. passport.

If you don’t have a passport, this Saturday is the perfect day to get one. Even if you don’t plan to leave the country, having a passport is an excellent form of identification. In fact, you never know when it will come in handy. You can look up the nearest location to apply for a passport on the State Department’s website. But before you head there, you do need to be prepared with some documentation.

Swing over to our passport tab to find out how and what you need to apply for a passport. Or you can watch the video the State Department put together about Passport Day in the USA. And if you have any questions, leave them in a comment on this post and I’d be happy to answer them!

Good news on Egypt travel: U.S. Department of State downgrades travel warning

Last week the U.S. Department of State downgraded its travel warning for Egypt. Instead of telling travelers to avoid all travel to the country, it now recommends travelers “consider the risks.”

You can go to the State Department’s website to read the full travel update. But I’ll save you the trouble of reading the entire document.

What this means is that the State Department is confident enough about the political situation that U.S. citizens should feel comfortable again visiting Egypt. In fact, most employees have returned to the U.S Embassy in Cairo to resume normal operations.

While the situation regarding Egypt’s new government is far from clear, what is apparent is that the country is now peaceful and the process put in place via the “revolution of the youth” is working. There is a new sense of hope that Egypt will become a more democratic and open society, which we all, of course, welcome.

Friendly Planet Travel suspended all tours to Egypt when the protests erupted, but we will be evaluating the situation this week and will decide when we plan to resume tours to Egypt. It could be as early as August or September.

There is no question that we are ready resume our program. I traveled to Israel last week, which is a neighbor to Egypt, and I learned that the entire region has suffered from a downturn in tourism. We’ll be thrilled to do our part to turn that situation around. Watch this spot to find out when we plan to resume tours to Egypt and the extraordinary deals we’ll be offering.

What to do if you or a loved one are still in Egypt

This post has been updated here.

Today, protesters in Egypt are trying to rally a million supporters in Tahrir Square to demand that President Hosni Mubarak step down. Friendly Planet travelers are safe at the Fairmont Towers, Heliopolis near the airport awaiting evacuation on either U.S.-organized evacuation flights or via EgyptAir.

If you’re one of the thousands of travelers in Egypt trying to get out, here are a few things you and your loved ones back home can do to make sure you get out as quickly as possible.

Internet traffic has been disrupted and is practically unavailable within Egypt. So, you’ll have to rely on telephone access. Cell phones are working sporadically, so even though the cost to use your U.S.-based cell phone might be astronomical, go for it anyway. It’s worth the money.

If you don’t have access to a cell phone or yours won’t work, find a land line. You can most likely charge your calls to your major credit card. If you’re calling from a hotel, the hotel will add the cost of the call to your bill. Again, it’ll be very expensive, but worth it.

If a travel agent or tour company booked this trip for you and you have not yet been contacted by them, make sure that you contact them without delay and ask for urgent assistance. They should be working around the clock to get you on a plane out of Egypt.

And if you booked this trip yourself, go to the Cairo airport or get to one of the major tourist hotels in Cairo. The U.S. Department of State will be gathering people from both spots for evacuation flights out of the country.

If you can’t get to the airport or a major tourist hotel, stay put and watch the media on TV or listen to the radio. Definitely don’t wander around outside on your own. The U.S. Department of State will be broadcasting instructions on the evacuation processes through the media in Egypt, including the English-speaking media.

Try your best to contact the U.S. Embassy in Cairo by phone at 1-202-501-4444. If you can’t get through, make an international call to the U.S. Department of State at 1-888-407-4747.

And make sure to enlist the help of your family and friends. Ask them to urgently call their congressperson’s office. The congressional staff will transmit your location in Egypt to the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, so when they’re organizing evacuations, the embassy will know where to reach you.

Following these few steps will help you get out of Egypt sooner rather than later. I’ll continue to post updates on the evacuation status of our Friendly Planet travelers and the protests in Egypt. Stay tuned to our blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

Egypt protests escalate; Travelers being evacuated

This post has been updated here.

As you know, the political protests in Egypt have not slowed down and the U.S. Department of State has issued a travel alert. All Friendly Planet Travel travelers in Egypt are safe and we have representatives with them at all times. But we are working 24/7 to get them out of Egypt as soon as possible. The demand for flights out of Egypt is high, but the U.S. government is sending planes to Egypt to help get our citizens out of the country more quickly.

In fact, Friendly Planet Travel passengers are all onboard two cruise ships on the Nile River. The ships are not docking at the moment, so travelers are far from any protests. The cruises will dock once we are able to safely get them to the airport and on flights out of the country.

This is a great strategy on the part of our representatives in Egypt, who decided early on to get our travelers to the safety of Luxor and Aswan, where no demonstrations were taking place. Below is a letter I sent to all of our travelers explaining this strategy and what we’re doing to get them home.

Cell phone service has returned to Egypt, although lines are busy. So please be patient if you’re trying to reach family and friends in Egypt. Rest assured, we are working aggressively to make arrangements to get everyone out of Egypt. The safety and security of our travelers is our most important priority, and we will not stop working until each one is home. We expect this to happen in the next day or two.

But again, patience is the goal. We are not the only company with travelers in Egypt who need to get out. Everyone is trying as hard as we are, so please give us the opportunity to work the best way possible.

I will continue to update everyone on the blog, Facebook, and Twitter as we get more information.


Dear Friendly Planet Travelers,

I want to personally let you know that we are doing everything possible to evacuate you from Egypt in the safest and most expedient way possible. We have been working on getting you home from the moment it became clear that it was no longer safe to remain in Egypt. We have been trying to reach you by phone since Friday, but because of the very difficult situation and the lack of cell phone and internet access, the land lines have been choked with traffic. Except for a few lucky instances, we have not been able to speak with you directly. However, please be assured that we’ve been very busy. I would like to update you.

1. You were taken to Luxor anticipating that it would be much safer for you and for no other reason. We wanted to be sure our travelers would be out of harm’s way. Luxor was an extremely good option.

2. We are in contact with your family and friends – these are the emergency contacts you gave us – to keep them updated regarding our efforts, your location and any other details we have managed to obtain. Even if you haven’t spoken to anyone at home during this crisis, we have been in touch. They know you are safe.

3. Please do not assume that since we haven’t spoken by phone, you are being held on the ship because we want you to enjoy a cruise or because you’ve already paid for this portion of your trip. Nothing could be further from the truth. You are on the ship in order to be safe while we make arrangements to fly you home. No other reason.

4. At present, we are trying to arrange for you to fly home on Monday. You were scheduled to fly via EgyptAir, but because of a manpower issue and the huge demand on the available seats, EgyptAir is not able to cope immediately. The US government is planning to begin flights out of Egypt to the USA on Monday, and we are in contact with the Embassy to be sure you are included in these flights. You will depart from Egypt on the first flights that become available to us. If EgyptAir comes through first, you’ll depart via EgyptAir. If the US planes come through first, you’ll fly out that way. The important thing is to be assured that we will get you out.

This message was made possible by sending it to our Egypt reps, Wings Tours & Nile Cruises, by fax. We are hopeful that since there are some land lines available through the various Wings offices, it will be received and then delivered to you directly aboard your Nile cruise ship. We will try to send additional messages if possible. In the meantime, please be sure that we will not stop working for a moment until you are all safely home.

Sincerely,

Peggy

Peggy M. Goldman
President

U.S. Department of State issues travel alert for Egypt; Friendly Planet Travel suspends Egypt tours

This post has been update here.

I just told you in an earlier post that we hoped the protests in Egypt would subside, but they have continued to escalate. Just moments ago, the U.S. Department of State issued travel alert for Egypt, warning U.S. travelers of the ongoing political and social unrest in Egypt.

As a result, Friendly Planet Travel is temporarily suspending our tours to Egypt until the situation is resolved. Travelers who are scheduled for departures before Feb. 28 (when the alert is scheduled to expire) will be notified by Friendly Planet about rescheduling, selecting another destination, or cancelling arrangements altogether. We will work with every traveler to get refunds.

Below is a message we sent to everyone who booked a tour to Egypt with us. Read on to see how we are handling this situation to ensure the safety of every traveler. I’ll continue to update you here on the blog as the situation unfolds. And if you have more questions or concerns write to me or call our offices at 1-800-555-5765.


Dear Friendly Planet Egypt Travelers,

With the recent political protests and public unrest throughout Egypt, we fully understand that you may have concerns regarding your upcoming tour. We are currently evaluating the best possible option to ensure a safe and enjoyable vacation for you, whether that means running the tour with an amended itinerary, providing an alternative tour to a different region during the same date range, or cancelling the tour and working with you to reschedule/possibly refund.

Traveler’s safety is always our primary concern at Friendly Planet and we will never operate a tour that we feel is unsafe. We know that a lot can change within 24 hours and we are watching the unfolding events closely while in regular contact with our trusted Land Suppliers in Egypt and we plan to make a final decision regarding your upcoming trip early next week. Once we have pursued all options and reached a decision, we will follow up with you accordingly .

If you are reading this e-mail and have already decided that you will not be traveling to Egypt regardless, we certainly respect your decision to cancel but we apologize that we cannot guarantee a full refund at this point, however we will work with all parties involved to insure the lowest possible penalties for such cancellation.

We are hopeful that the situation in Egypt resolves itself in the coming days. If so, and if it is possible to travel to Egypt safely and with confidence, you can continue with your travel plans without interruption. If safe travel is not possible, you will have all the options to cancel and you can count on us to do whatever is necessary to recover as much as possible, if not all, of your tour payments. We are your advocates, and we work for you. Please rest assured that we have your well being at heart.

We will be following the new stories all weekend, as we are sure many of you will do, and will have a better overall picture of the implications by Wednesday of next week.

As soon as further information becomes available and a final decision is made, we will e-mail you with the news.

Best Regards,

Peggy M. Goldman
President
pmgoldman@friendlyplanet.com

Ecuador still under a state of emergency, Friendly Planet issues refunds for cancelled departure dates

There is more news coming out of Ecuador today. Overnight the protests in Ecuador subsided, but USA Today is reporting that the political situation still remains unstable and the country will remain under a week long state of emergency.

We cancelled our Thursday, Sept. 30 departure to Ecuador from Miami. The travelers effected will have their payments fully refunded. Of course they were disappointed at this news, but understood we would never send travelers into harm’s way.

As for our nine Friendly Planet travelers were in Guayaquil, Ecuador last night, they were not able to depart for Quito to come back to the United States yesterday. We were in contact with the U.S. Department of State who told us that our travelers should remain at the airport and not go to a hotel.

Friendly Planet’s Galapagos representative was with them at the airport the entire night, and I’m happy to report that the flight finally returned to the U.S. today. Everyone is safe, happy to be home, and glad they had the chance to see the Galapagos before the police strike.

As of this writing, we have reinstated our Oct. 3 departure to the Galapagos, as the situation in Ecuador has returned to its peaceful norm. While a state of emergency officially exists, the situation is calm, and the government is fully in control. The strike is over, and Ecuador is once again open for business as usual.

I will continue to update you with more news on the blog as I receive it. And as always, write to me or call 1-800-555-5765 if you have any other concerns.

Travel to Thailand bouncing back

It warms my heart to hear the news that tourism to Thailand is making a strong rebound from the political protests that disrupted this normally peaceful country from March to June. eTurboNews reported that tourism is up by almost 14 percent and Thailand hopes to reach the 14 million visitors goal it set for 2010.

We followed the unfolding situation in Bangkok from day one to give you the most up-to-date information about what was happening on the ground. And as soon as the U.S. Department of State lifted its travel warning to the country we resumed our tours to Thailand to help the country rebuild the tourism infrastructure that it relies so dearly upon.

The country is also a top tourism destination. Travel and Leisure recently gave Bangkok its Top City award in its August issue. And Friendly Planet Travel loves it for its beauty, spirituality, and fascinating sights and sounds. Most of all, its welcoming, warm people make every visitor feel at home.

So that’s why I’m excited to give travelers more chances to experience the islands, cities, ancient ruins, and exotic architecture that make Thailand one of the best places on the planet to visit at an unbelievable price. Friendly Planet Travel’s nine-day Taste of Thailand tour is now just $999 (which is less than a weekend in Las Vegas when you think about it!).

Not a single corner is cut in the price tag. Included is round-trip airfare from Los Angeles via China Airlines, including fuel surcharges; intra-Thailand transportation; accommodations at first-class hotels; full American buffet breakfast daily and one dinner; sightseeing tours as per itinerary and all transfers; professional, English-speaking tour guides; optional extensions to Angkor Wat and Phuket Island; and more.

The Taste of Thailand tour takes travelers to three of Thailand’s most dynamic and awe-inspiring cities: Bangkok, Ayutthaya, and Kanchanaburi. I’ve told you all about these locations before, so flip back to my previous post on Thailand to read all about them, or visit our website for the full tour itinerary.

I expect this tour to be one of our most popular, so don’t wait an extra second to book the nine-day Taste of Thailand tour for $999 price. If you have questions, visit our website for the full tour itinerary, write to me, or call 1-800-555-5765 and speak to our reservations team.

Passport and visa pages fees to increase: What you should know

The U.S. Department of State is raising passport fees on July 13. Here’s a breakdown of the increases.

  • Adult: $100 to $135
  • Adult renewal: $75 to $110
  • Minor: $85 to $105
  • Additional visa pages: $0 to $82 

We covered how the Department of State was contemplating these increases back in March. The public was given a period of time to submit comments, during which the American Society of Travel Agents and other organizations expressed concerns over the proposed increases.

As you can see above, the biggest jump comes in the additional visa pages category. Visa pages are the pages in your passport that are stamped every time you enter and exit a country.

In some cases, you need to get a visa prior to visiting a country, and this is where it is pasted. Other times, the visa is stamped into your passport upon arrival at your destination. In any case, you need blank visa pages in order to enter another country.

If you don’t travel that often, you’ll probably never have to order more. But if you travel out of the U.S. once a year or more, you might need more blank visa pages before your passport expires.

If you have fewer than four pages left in your passport, make sure you order more before July 13 to avoid having to pay the new fee, otherwise you’ll soon have to pay $82 for the pages that cost nothing today. Until July 13, you’ll only have to pay for shipping, unless you want your visa page additions expedited.

It’s very simple to request extra pages. Just fill out Form DS-4085 and mail your passport along with the form to the address listed on it. When you package your personal documents, use a Tyvek envelope or a plastic bag to make sure they stay dry. You’ll want to use a traceable delivery method such as FedEx. You don’t want to risk losing your passport in the mail!

Once it’s sent, your passport will be returned with more visa pages in four to six weeks. If you don’t have a passport as of yet, flip back to a previous post where I show you how to apply for a U.S. passport. You only have one week left before fees go up, so get moving!

What to do if your US passport is lost or stolen

I love getting packages in the mail. Who doesn’t? And when the only thing separating you from an international voyage is your passport, it’s pretty exciting when that package arrives.

I told you how to apply for a U.S. passport, which is your ticket to travel the world. But there might come a day when that ticket is lost or stolen. Here’s what you should do if you’re ever faced with that unfortunate circumstance.

The first step to recovering a lost or stolen passport should be taken as soon as your passport arrives in the mail. And that is to sign it.

Next make photocopies of the signature and photo pages. File away one copy, and put the other one in your wallet. You’ll also want to do the same for the extra passport photos I suggested purchasing in my previous post.

If your passport is lost or stolen, don’t panic. It’s very easy to replace a passport. And if you make photocopies, you’re already one step ahead.

As soon as you realize it’s gone, you need to report it to the U.S. Department of State. You do this by calling them toll free at 1-877-487-2778. Then you have to fill out Form DS-64, which can be obtained online or from any Acceptance Facility or Passport Agency. This form will be placed in the Consular Lost or Stolen Passport System to prevent the misuse of your missing passport. Once you complete it, mail it to:

U.S. Department of State
Passport Services
Consular Lost/Stolen Passport Section
1111 19th Street, NW, Suite 500
Washington, DC 20036

If you want to replace your U.S. passport right away, you’ll also have to fill out Form DS-11. But you can’t mail it in. You have to go to an Acceptance Facility or Passport Agency and submit both forms in person. From this point on, you follow the same steps as if you were applying for a U.S. passport. If you need to refresh your memory on how to do that, flip back to my previous post.

If you’re outside of the U.S. and your passport disappears, the same steps apply, except you’ll need to contact the U.S. Consulate in that country instead of the U.S. Department of State. They will tell you exactly what to do. Contact information for a U.S. Consulate is widely available and the front desk of your hotel probably has it on hand.

Here’s where it pays to travel with a photocopy of your passport and an extra photo. This information will help any foreign consulate track your records quickly and get you a new passport issued without too much hassle. You could even get a new passport issued the same day. Turn around time is much faster outside the U.S. since, in most cases, the traveler will have to depart the country sooner rather than later.

It’s important to mention that a U.S. citizen can’t possess two valid U.S. passports. So if you recover your passport after you have reported it lost or stolen, it can’t be re-validated. You have to submit it to the address listed above for it to be destroyed. Or if you like to keep your old passports, you can opt for it to be canceled and returned to you.

All of this information is available on the U.S. Department of State’s website. Its FAQs section is very extensive as well, but if you still have questions, don’t hesitate to write to me.

Friendly Planet resumes tours to Thailand

In my last post about Thailand, I told you how I couldn’t make an official announcement about new tours we were planning — but I can now! Today we officially re-launched the Taste of Thailand tour starting at $999. There are only two dates available right now at that price, so book your trip before it sells out.

I’m thrilled about this news! :) We issued a press release that hit today. Read on to get the details on why we decided now was the right time to go back to Thailand and what’s included in the price.


Friendly Planet Travel Resumes Tours to Thailand

With travel warnings lifted for Thailand, Friendly Planet Travel re-launches its nine-day Taste of Thailand Tour for $999

JENKINTOWN, Pa.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Friendly Planet Travel has resumed its tours to Thailand after the U.S. Department of State lifted its travel warning to the country. Friendly Planet is re-launching its nine-day Taste of Thailand tour for $999 with the first departure on Aug. 25, 2010. Two months ago, Friendly Planet cancelled all of its Thailand tours without any penalties to its customers when travel warnings were issued due to political demonstrations. With demonstrations ceased, the U.S. and other countries have lifted their travel warnings and the Thai people are welcoming back travelers to restore its tourism infrastructure.

“The U.S. Department of State has given us the OK to resume travel to Thailand as the political unrest has died down,” says Peggy Goldman, President of Friendly Planet Travel. “We’ve also been working closely with our partners on the ground in Thailand to monitor the situation.

We’ve been in business for 30 years, and over that long span, have experienced many travel warnings for points around the globe. The determining factor behind all of our actions is always safety. We would never send our travelers into harm’s way. So rest assured, anyone traveling to Thailand with Friendly Planet Travel will safely enjoy the country’s intense beauty and rich culture.”

The Taste of Thailand tour takes travelers to three of Thailand’s most dynamic and awe-inspiring cities: Bangkok, Ayutthaya, and Kanchanaburi. Included in the price are: round-trip airfare from Los Angeles via China Airlines, including fuel surcharges; intra-Thailand transportation; accommodations at first class hotels; daily American buffet breakfast; a welcome dinner; sightseeing tours as per itinerary and all transfers; and professional, English-speaking tour guides.

The tour begins in Bangkok, Thailand’s sprawling capital city, also known as “Venice of the East.” Travelers will take a canal boat ride on Bangkok’s waterways for a close up view of traditional Thai life. But to fully understand Thailand, it is essential to experience the fabric that binds together its national identity: its temples. Travelers will visit some of the country’s most important temple sites, including Wat Po, the oldest temple in Bangkok, and Wat Trimitr, where the 5-ton, 700-year-old Golden Buddha resides, the largest in the world.

Then it’s on to Ayutthaya, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s best known for Bang Pa, King Rama IV’s summer palace. It represents an appealing fusion of Thai, Chinese, and European architectural styles. Next up is Kanchanaburi and the River Kwai, where visitors can ride an elephant through the lush jungle and enjoy a bamboo raft ride down the gently flowing river.

Travelers can also choose from two optional extensions. The first is Phuket Island, Thailand’s largest island, also known as “the Pearl of the Andaman Sea.” This stop includes a relaxing stay at Thailand’s famous Novotel Resort with plenty of sun-drenched days on the pristine beaches of Kalim Bay. There’s also an optional tour to the astonishing Angkor Wat in Cambodia for travelers looking to explore one of the most magnificent archaeological sites in the world.

For more information visit Friendly Planet Travel’s website at www.FriendlyPlanet.com, the blog at blog.friendlyplanet.com, or contact Jackie Zima at Gregory FCA at 610-228-2138 (office), 215-534-2973 (mobile), or write to Jackie@GregoryFCA.com.

ABOUT FRIENDLY PLANET TRAVEL

Friendly Planet Travel (http://www.friendlyplanet.com/) makes high-quality exotic travel affordable for everyone. Since 1981, Friendly Planet Travel has been arranging all-inclusive escorted discount vacation packages and cruises to the most exciting destinations in the world at the lowest possible prices.

Each year, Friendly Planet Travel offers more than 30 different group travel packages to Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe and South America — at discounts of hundreds of dollars off similar vacations. With no hidden charges, add-ons or surprises, Friendly Planet Travel vacations include convenient flights and airfare, carefully-selected first-class and superior hotels, knowledgeable English-speaking guides, many meals, and itineraries as well as friendships and memories that last a lifetime.

Friendly Planet Travel offers its extensive, economical travel services to private groups including universities, religious institutions, alumni associations, and families. Groups who wish to travel together can count on Friendly Planet Travel’s three decades of experience to operate their group travel program expertly and always at the very best possible prices. Visit us at www.FriendlyPlanet.com.

Press contact:
Gregory FCA
Jackie Zima
Account Supervisor
610-228-2138
Jackie@GregoryFCA.com

Company Contact:
Friendly Planet Travel
Peggy Goldman
President
215-572-9594
PMGoldman@FriendlyPlanet.com

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About Peggy

Peggy Goldman is a specialty tour operator and travel expert, who owns and operates Friendly Planet Travel, a full-service company that specializes in tour packages to exotic worldwide destinations at affordable prices.   More about Peggy

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