The State Department's new passport cards, which are wallet-sized identification cards designed to speed border crossings by U.S. citizens to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean, are proving popular already.
More than 350,000 Americans have pre-ordered the passport cards, according to the State Department.
The card is not valid for any type of air travel. It can only be used for land and sea crossings between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda or the Caribbean.
Beginning in June 2009, travelers will be required to present documents proving both citizenship and identity when entering the U.S. through a land or sea border. For Americans who drive to Canada or Mexico or cruise regularly to the Caribbean, but who do not expect to fly abroad, the passport card is a cheaper, smaller, more portable alternative to a conventional passport book.
It is the size of a credit card or driver's license, and has a photo and identification information printed on it, like a driver's license. It also contains a chip with a random number that allows border officials to instantly retrieve your data.
"When you come to the border, hold your card up to your window and, on the border patrol screen, up will pop your name, your picture, the fact that you are a U.S. citizen and the number of your card. They'll peek in to see if you're the same person, and speed you on your way," said Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Passport Services Brenda Sprague in a phone interview with The Associated Press.
"If you live in a border community and you regularly go back and forth across the border, whether it's many times a week or many times a month or several times a year, the passport card makes sense," she added.
Passport cards are good for 10 years and cost $45 ($35 for children under 16). Applications can be made at any passport-processing site. If you already have a passport but want the card anyway because of the convenient size or quick scanning, it's only $20 and can be ordered by mail.
For details on how and where to get a passport card, visit travel.state.gov. More than 7,600 cards have already been mailed out to customers who pre-ordered the cards. All existing orders are expected to be filled by Sept. 30. New applications will take about four weeks to process.
Top 10 'ethical destinations'
In an effort to get travelers off the beaten path and support destinations in developing countries, a group called Ethical Traveler has published a list of the "10 best ethical destinations."
The organization said in a statement that many countries "are making noble attempts to preserve their natural assets, create a user-friendly infrastructure, and build an economy where their citizens share the benefits of tourist revenue. By bringing our commerce to such places we encourage their efforts, and inspire neighboring countries to support these values as well."
To create the list, Ethical Traveler looked at environmental protection, social welfare and human rights in the world's developing nations. The honorees on the Ethical Traveler's list, in alphabetical order, are Argentina, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Estonia, Namibia, Nicaragua and South Africa.
The organization used various resources to make the determinations, including data collected by the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy and Columbia University's Center for International Earth Science Information Network; progress made by countries in reducing infant mortality rates as measured by UNICEF; and reports on civil liberties and human rights from sources like Amnesty International and Freedom House.
For more details, visit ethicaltraveler.org.
For kids at airports
Stuck in an airport with kids? Your wait time might not be as dreadful as you fear.
Cheapflights.com has compiled the Kids' Airport Diversion Guide, listing play areas and onsite aviation museums to keep your children occupied until boarding time. To find the complete list, go to Cheapflights.com and scroll down the right-hand side to the section titled 2008 Kids' Airport Diversion Guide, then click on the link. Here are some highlights:
At Baltimore/Washington International, the main terminal has a children's play area in the Observation Gallery. Cheapflights calls it a ``one-of-a-kind place'' with ``an array of airplane parts: a wing, tail, wheels, even part of a fuselage'' and other play equipment.
Boston Logan International has a Kidport in Terminal C, the departure level of the main terminal, with ``hands-on interactive exhibits'' including an airplane-climbing sculpture and a baggage-claim slide.
Chicago O'Hare International has a ``Kids on the Fly'' exhibit organized by the Chicago Children's Museum, in Terminal 2, with an air traffic control tower, a fantasy helicopter and luggage station.
At Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International, you'll find a Kidsport at the top of the escalator in Concourse A, with miniature buildings to explore.
Added to World Heritage List
Baha'i holy places in Israel, the Monarch butterfly biosphere reserve of Mexico, and the historic center of Camaguey, a Spanish colonial town in Cuba first settled in 1528, are among the new sites added to the UNESCO World Heritage list.
The UNESCO World Heritage Committee met in July in Quebec City to add the 19 cultural sites and eight natural sites to the list, which now numbers 878 sites in 145 countries. Detailed information about each site is available at whc.unesco.org/en/news/453.
In Mexico, in addition to the butterfly reserve, the fortified town of San Miguel and the Sanctuary of Jesus Nazareno de Atotonilco, cited for their architecture, were added to the list. In Europe, new UNESCO World Heritage sites are the ancient stone walls, shelters and landscape of Stari Grad on the Adriatic island of Hvar in Croatia; 17th century fortifications along the borders of France; innovatively designed Modernist housing in Berlin, dating from 1910-1933; the Italian towns of Mantua and Sabbioneta, cited for architecture and their role in Renaissance culture; eight wooden churches dating to the 16th through 18th centuries in Slovakia; the Rhaetian Railway, which includes two historic railway lines in Italy and Switzerland that cross the Alps; and Mount Titano and the historic center of San Marino, which dates to the 13th century.
Homage to Chanel
A spaceshiplike pavilion crammed with original artwork will land in New York's Central Park this fall. It's the latest stop in a worldwide advertising blitz by Chanel to pay homage to its iconic quilted handbag.
Renowned London architect Zaha Hadid was commissioned to create the 7,500-square-foot structure made of lightweight panels and fitted like a jigsaw puzzle.
Organizers say the pavilion is like a handbag, "a completely portable and functional container."
It will house works by 15 contemporary artists who were asked to use the classic handbag -- first designed in 1955 -- as a "jumping off point" for their self-expression.
The exhibition, entitled "Mobile Art," was conceived by fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld. It will run from Oct. 20 to Nov. 9.
Details at chanel-mobileart.com.
Rare fisher kits
Three rare fisher kits born at the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley, about 20 miles south of Minneapolis, are now on display.
The animals, which resemble weasels, were nearly extinct because of trapping and logging practices but are now doing well in mixed wooded and heavily forested areas.
The kits, two males and one female, were born March 23. Fishers are known for tree climbing, hunting and agility.
The Minnesota Zoo is one of just four nationally accredited zoos to exhibit fishers and the only one where offspring have been produced in the past three years.
Top pet hotels
TripAdvisor.com has come up with a list of the top 10 pet-friendly hotels, based on reviews by readers and editors of the Web site.
Topping the list was the Gazebo Inn Ogunquit, in Ogunquit, Maine (average nightly rate, $164). Next was the TierraLinda Bed and Breakfast, Galena, Ill. (average nightly rate, $135), followed by the Sleepy Dog Guest House, Bisbee, Ariz. (average nightly rate, $95).
Next were the Spruce Moose Lodge and Cottages, North Conway, N.H. (average nightly rate, $124), and the Brittania and W.E. Mauger Estate Bed and Breakfast, Albuquerque, N.M. ($127).
The Best Western Cavalier Oceanfront Resort, San Simeon, Calif. ($210) followed, with La Quinta Inn and Suites Madison American Center, Madison, Wis. ($124) next in line.
Rounding off the top 10 were the Hotel Marlowe, Cambridge, Mass. ($316), Hotel Monaco, Denver ($289) and the Paw House Inn, West Rutland, Vt. ($225).