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If you are renewing your passport, make sure to ask for one with the max number of pages (I think it's 48, but they may have up'ed it to 52). It's free at renewal time, but costs money to add them latter (and you're without a passport for a period of time). While I picked up the renewal forms at the Post Office, I didn't bother paying them extra for their "expediting" (I think they provided no particular benefit) and just sent the stuff in by certified mail.

If you travel a lot, you might want to consider a US Custom's Global Entry card. It's hundred bucks (or free if you have an Amex Platinum card - well, not free, but credited to your account). On domestic flights you go to the front of the line and on international you identify at a kiosk and then walk out of the airport without the Immigration and Custom's lines. The $100 pays for a background check, a face-to-face interview with customs, fingerprinting, photographs, etc., but you end up with a pretty cool looking "national ID card".

The card comes in a metallic lined sleeve to protect its embedded microchip from being read remotely. After seeing that, I lined the inside of the binder that we carry our passports and credit cards in with aluminum foil for the same reason. (Yes, I am aware that you can buy commercial holders that provide radio shielding, but I like this particular case and as long as its esthetically hidden for cosmetic purposes, aluminum foil is just as effective as any of the commercial products).

The only flight on this trip is the return which I ended up splurging on and we're sitting near the cockpit. One of the tricks I've used when sitting in the back of the bus is to buy one of those inflatable donuts used by people with hemorrhoids, half inflate it and slip it into a "mini" pillowcase. This idea was an outgrowth of traveling a lot with a handicapped child and placing his gel filled wheelchair seat on top of the airline seat during flights - then wondering why he should be the only one with a comfortable seat in coach.

My current challenge is the same I face at wedding buffets. We have no weight limit on what we cart aboard the ship in Brooklyn and our return flight allows three 75 pound suitcases and two 30 pound carry-ons each for a total of 570 pounds of luggage :-). The pragmatic limitation is what will fit into a taxi (it would be nuts to have to hire a second cab to carry our baggage train) and the social aspect is that I wouldn't know what to do with all those clothes. I find myself taking rare luxuries, like taking an extra pair of sandals and both a black and a brown pair of shoes. I think we will end up with three suitcases and two carry-ons (one filled with 14 bottles of wine - which will return filled with air).

Two of our large luggage pieces are a couple of decade old Samsonite/American Tourister hardsided pieces. These bags are bulletproof, but with the new weight limits on most airlines going from 75 pounds to 50 pounds, they just weigh too much. Also the four wheel "spinners" are far easier to handle that these bags which have wheels on the long side (though I am concerned that the spinners may be prone to damage by carriers). That said, I insist on hardsides and I don't like zippers as they are prone to trouble. Last summer I bought a Samsonite hardsided spinner in France with lockable clamps to close it (on summer sale at Prentemp, plus additional discount because it had a small scratch - collected a lot more since) that weighs about 6 pounds less than our current luggage. Doing a bit of research on the web brings me to the conclusion that these bags sell cheapest in Italy compared to any of the other countries we are visiting (using www.samsonite.XX, where XX is the country I'm checking), so I may swap our pieces there.

We've packed everything except the electronics (still using some of them) just to take the pressure off of that step.

While cruises do not allow you to see a country in depth and are no substitute for spending a month or two roaming around, they do cover a lot of distance and can be surprisingly economical compared to traveling and staying in hotels of an equivalent number of "stars". They can also be cost effective and far more comfortable (as well as more interesting) when traveling between continents.

I look forward to your posts from Australia.

Jeff
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