Travel tips: My 4 favorite services to save time and eliminate stress
Some of these services are US-centric, while others are appropriate for all earthlings who travel.
I live in the United States and I do a fair amount of domestic and international traveling. In this article, I’ll describe my positive experiences with 4 services that truly eliminate stress and save time. Some of these are US-centric, while others are appropriate for all earthlings who travel. They are: Global Entry with TSA Pre✓, Project Fi and Uber/Lyft. I have been using all of them often, and the last two, daily since their inception. Get my inside information about all of them ahead in this article.
Global Entry with TSA Pre✓
Global Entry (as I’ll describe in detail ahead) is to facilitate your return to the US from other countries, while TSA Pre✓ is to facilitate going through TSA security with much less hassle. Although it is possible to enroll with TSA Pre✓ without enrolling in Global Entry, it makes much more sense to enroll in Global Entry, since it includes TSA Pre✓ in an attractive package price.
The TSA Pre✓ program gets you through TSA security checkpoints faster and easier. Once you become a TSA Pre✓ member, you go through a much shorter, faster security line and you have fewer hassles. For example, you are no longer obliged to remove your laptop. Often, you are not required to remove shoes or belts, although (at publication time of this article) you must still remove metal objects from your pockets.
Global Entry is a US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows faster clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. In my experience, you enter the United States through automatic kiosks at select airports, completely skipping an often huge line. You go directly to Global Entry kiosks, insert your machine-readable passport (or US permanent resident card), place their fingers on the scanner for fingerprint verification and complete a customs declaration onscreen (no more filling them out by hand). The kiosk gives you a receipt and you go to baggage claim and exit. You must be pre-approved for the Global Entry program. All applicants undergo a rigorous background check (you fill out the form on their website) and a short in-person interview, which you schedule with them after approval of the background check. In my case, it was at the Miami International Airport. One process includes both Global Entry and TSA Pre✓. I love it.
Project Fi is a complete mobile telephony and data service from Google that completely replaces your current mobile service, often at a fraction of the cost you currently pay. In addition, as of publication time of this article, data roaming is included in 135+ countries at the same price you pay in the United States. Your first Project Fi phone line costs US$20 plus tax, plus the actual amount of data you consume. With Project Fi, data costs US$10 per GB. In my case, I consume an average of 1/2 GB per month, so my total average bill is US$25 per month plus tax. Initially, you must estimate how much data you will likely consume. The minimum you can estimate is 1GB, so the first month is billed at US$30 plus tax. From there forward, any data not consumed is credited to the following month, in dollars, not in rollover credit. Additional lines for family members cost only US$15 per line, plus consumed data.
Coverage in the US is excellent, since Project Fi automatically combines the use of several networks: T-Mobile, Sprint, US Cellular and whatever WiFi your phone may be connected (as long as the phone determines there is sufficient quality). Your call switches seamlessly from one network to another while you move.
Although officially, Project Fi can only be used with a growing list of Android phones:
- Nexus 6 (the first one I used)
- Nexus 5x (several friends use this model)
- Nexus 6p (several friends use this model)
- Pixel XL (the one I currently use)
- Pixel 2
- Pixel 2 XL
- Moto X4 (two friends use this model)
I have published an article in ProVideo Coalition magazine that describes two different methods to use Project Fi with unofficial phones, including iPhones. I have several friends who have used unofficial phones successfully and happily. Although there are some disadvantages of using an unofficial phone with Project Fi, they are features you wouldn’t have available with most standard service with other US providers anyway.
In addition, Project Fi offers the fairest offering I have ever seen for a tablet you may own with a SIM slot. Google sends you the data-only SIM card free, and charge no monthly fee for the use of it. You only pay for the actual data consumed at the same rate.
I have happily used Project Fi in Guatemala, México, Portugal and Spain. I have friends who have used it successfully in many other countries.
If you aren’t familiar, both Uber and Lyft are wonderful alternatives to taxis. Although in some places, it costs a fraction of what a taxi would cost (i.e South Florida and México City), in Madrid, Spain, Uber costs almost as much as what a taxi costs. However, beyond the money savings, the real advantage is quality of service, security and the lack of having to mess with cash or mentally calculating a foreign currency.
- You’ll know the car model, license plate and driver’s name in advance. You’ll even see its route to you live on your smartphone’s screen.
- Your route is monitored and documented by Uber or Lyft, so it’s impossible for your driver to take you on a longer route without it being obvious. If that ever happened, it would be simple and foolproof to make a claim.
- It’s impossible to make a mistake by overpaying due to unfamiliarity with a foreign currency. You will always be charged the official rate for your trip, depending upon time and distance (or a flat rate for shared rides). For best results, use a credit card which charges no international fee.
- It is much simpler to be reimbursed or deduct the expense of your rides, since you receive your receipt via email, including the exact route, time and date.
By combining all of these services, my travels have become much less stressful, more enjoyable and in the case of Project Fi, Uber and Lyft, have also saved me money.
In the past, I was a Uber brand ambassador and advertised Uber on my radio show CapicúaFM. I currently promote Project Fi on CapicúaFM and in some bulletins.