DC is great for photography

In unrelated news, Washington, D.C. is a phenomenal place for photography. On Tuesday, we had some impactful weather that resulted in a lightning show right out my bedroom window.

_DSC3452

And, after the rains passed, an incredible sunset of a post-apocalyptic type manifested itself.

5 Tricks to Better Travel During The Summer

Traveling by plane is bad enough sometimes – delayed flights, unavoidable mechanical issues, and there’s always those times when you just miss your flight. But as you travel during the summer, it always helps to a few helpful tips to get through your travels relatively unscathed:

Be flexible (obviously)

If you’re flying from one place to another, there’s a good chance you’ll have to connect somewhere. While this can be a pain at times, it gives you options if you know your airline’s network.

For instance, I was stuck in Charlotte a couple weeks back because of weather; the airplane my flight was supposed to be on got stuck in Tampa because of weather (more in a minute) meaning I spent another two hours in lovely North Carolina. That said, I know US Airways (or American, rather) has hubs elsewhere – including Philadelphia and Phoenix – that offer connections to my ultimate destination, San Diego.

Unfortunately, taking an earlier flight through Phoenix and connecting on to San Diego wasn’t an option because I’d literally have just seven minutes to get from plane to plane. Not going to happen – and that was the last flight of the night.

I could’ve ask nicely for them to rebook me through Philadelphia, which has another flight directly to San Diego, or soon through Dallas. Or even Charlotte to LAX to San Diego (but again, I’d miss the last flight by about half an hour – a non-option).

United works similarly – they’ve got hubs in Newark, Houston, Chicago, and San Francisco, with flights between each of the hubs and nearby destinations as well.

My point: if you know where your airline flies and you’re stuck in an airport, it never hurts to ask. Customer service agents don’t always consider putting you on slightly-odd routes (and they may not book you on them even if they’re open), but it never hurts to be a little wiser before you walk up to the counter.

Make backup plans

Mechanical issues happen, as do cancelled flights. If you need to be at a wedding on a certain day, fly the day before, or even the day before that. Things happen from time to time, and as I’m experiencing first-hand, there is sometimes simply nothing that can be done.

BIG ONE: Travel earlier in the day

Two hours delayed and world's my oyster / Dave McCulloch

Two hours delayed and world’s my oyster / Dave McCulloch

When you travel earlier in the day, you simply have more options. There are more flights from A to B to C, or just A to B. But the other part has to do with weather; generally, severe weather happens later in the day than earlier – which can also help reduce turbulence once inside the aircraft if that bothers you. My flight today – and the subsequent delays – are a result of weather, something that would’ve been less of an issue if I traveled earlier in the day. I couldn’t avoid it, and so I paid the price: delays.

Be patient, be kind

As I was meandering around the airport, I passed a gentleman in the terminal who was upset because he had to walk to a different terminal for some reason or another; he was obviously displeased as he said loudly “I’m never flying this f***ing airline again!” as he walked away.

I get it – we all get frustrated. But taking it out on customer service agents and gate agents isn’t going to do you any favors. Rumor has it that being generous to agents (I wouldn’t calling it bribing) with fancy chocolates can sometimes help your situation – and sometimes not, but certainly getting terse with someone who stands between you and your next flight isn’t going to help your situation.

Find a bar – maybe inside an airline club.

An overpriced underhyped margarita at Charlotte-Douglas Airport's Tequileria / Dave McCulloch

An overpriced underhyped margarita at Charlotte-Douglas Airport’s Tequileria / Dave McCulloch

When all else fails, go have a margarita. It’ll probably improve your mood.

If you have access to an airline club, sometimes they offer adult beverages at a very nominal cost – or sometimes not at all (but bring tip money because karma).

Airline clubs generally range from $30/day to $50/day, but I know the American Airlines Admirals Club offers a 30-day pass for $99. Considering an airport margarita’s easily $10 in a bar, it only takes a few flights in 30 days to make up for it.

But in any case, my $10 margarita at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport’s Tequileria was worth it – and certainly helped with my mood.

Do you have favorite travel tips for the summer? Share them below.

17 ways to sound legit when coming to visit DC

So simple, yet so confusing for some.

This is the White House.

It sounds so obvious, but a tourist asked me the other day if the Capitol was the White House. Yes, they are both white. Yes, they are in DC. But that’s about where the similarities end. It was also cold when I took this photo.

Greetings from Antarctica, District of Columbia. #dc #frozen

A photo posted by Dave McCulloch (@dtmcculloch) on

In case you forget which is which, take out a $20 bill and look at the back.

This is the Capitol.

It has scaffolding because restorative work is being done on the dome. Yes, it is reminiscent of something else.

This is the Washington Monument.

The Washington Monument / Dave McCulloch

The Washington Monument


The giant obelisk in the middle of the Mall is a monument to George Washington – not a monument to Egyptian architecture. A friend recently told me of a story where a tourist was convinced that was the case, and even argued their point with a native DCer. Considering there are signs at the base of the Monument that pretty clearly say what it is, I can’t even.

The National Mall doesn’t have an Abercrombie. Or a Gap.

Except there’s a gap in the mall (but you can still get a pretzel at a snack stand).

The National Mall (not to be confused with Minneapolis’ Mall of America) is the 2-mile strip of land that runs east-west from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial. It has lots of museums (all free!) that are some of the world’s best. There is no Gap – but for the next year or so, there’s a gap in the middle of it where the Park Service is doing construction.

It’s probably also one of the only malls you’ll find that has horses every day. With police.

You can't go ten feet without seeing a member of law enforcement in DC, especially around the Mall. / Dave McCulloch

You can’t go ten feet without seeing a member of law enforcement in DC, especially around the Mall.

If you want to go to a shopping mall, go to Pentagon City (conveniently on the Metro).

Important: the Smithsonian is an institution, not a museum.

The National Portrait Gallery – one of the Smithsonian's museums / Dave McCulloch

The National Portrait Gallery – one of the Smithsonian’s museums / Dave McCulloch


When people say ‘we went to the Smithsonian!,’ I cringe a little. Only because there are 19 museums (and the zoo) that are Smithsonian museums. Acceptable terms are “we went to the Air and Space Museum!” or “we went to the National Archives and saw the Constitution!” or “we went to the Portrait Gallery!”

Spend the $2 for a Metro card.

Having one of these saves you $1 per ride on the Metro / Dave McCulloch

Having one of these saves you $1 per ride on the Metro / Dave McCulloch


If you ride the Metro twice, it’s worth it: paper tickets cost you an additional $1 per trip (not per card!), and hold up the turnstile lines. Stop at the machine, dip your credit card, and $10 later, you’ve got a $2 card and $8 in fare.

IT’S WORTH IT TRUST ME

Speaking of Metro…

On escalators, stand on the right (when they’re working).

The escalators are dual purpose: those who want to stand do so on the right. If you want to walk, make room for those people walking on the left.
That said, it’s your lucky day if the escalator works.

If it’s on the Red Line, add travel time.

For whatever reason, the Red Line is run by the devil himself – meaning that if you experience delays, you’ll want to add 15 minutes (best case) to 2 days (in the hospital in case it catches fire). Kinda kidding. Kinda.

Not driving isn’t weird. And walking isn’t weird.

I’m from San Diego. We drive everywhere. While some have cars here in DC – make friends! – it’s such a small town that you really don’t need one. If you’re feeling like moving faster, get a bike.

Capital BikeShare is awesome.

If you’re a tourist, get a 3-day pass. First half-hour is free on every ride.
If you live here, $8/mo gets you a BikeShare key. First half-hour is free on every ride.

AMAZING night to be outside, especially after last night's storms. #DC

A photo posted by Dave McCulloch (@dtmcculloch) on

AMAZING night to be outside, especially after last night's storms. #DC

A photo posted by Dave McCulloch (@dtmcculloch) on

Take a bike somewhere to a monument or attraction, dump the bike at a bike stand, and be done with it. Don’t feel like riding back? Don’t worry – just leave it and Uber or Metro home.

All hail Uber.

Cabs are everywhere. So is Uber. Use Uber.

Fly into DCA.

DC is just across the river from where this photo was taken – at the foot of the Reagan National Airport.

DC is just across the river from where this photo was taken – at the foot of the Reagan National Airport.


There are three airports that service the greater DC area – Reagan National, Dulles, and Baltimore.

National is across the river and is very close. Very close. Baltimore is an easy 25-minute, $15-25 train ride or $60 Uber, and Dulles is located somewhere roughly near Rio de Janiero (not to mention $100 roundtrip in an Uber/cab). American Airlines is the predominant airline at DCA; Southwest at BWI.

I saw something on Twitter a few months back that pretty succinctly described your airport options, in order:

Preferred area airports, in this order:

1) National (DCA)
2) Baltimore (BWI) isn’t bad
3)
4) Enlisting in the Air Force and learning to fly Air Force One and/or becoming President and having someone fly Air Force One is next best.
5)
6) Driving from wherever you’re coming from
7)
8)
9)

50) Dulles (IAD)

New York isn’t close, but it’s not that far.

“OMG you’re on the east coast. Can we go to New York for the weekend?”

The answer is yes, if you want to take a $200, four-hour train or a 40-minute flight.
Do I want to go to New York? No.

Go walk around Georgetown.

Yuppies (yuccies?) live in Georgetown. The brick roads are nifty, and the homes are beautiful. And it’s nice to visit – and conveniently located a quick bike ride down the Potomac or Uber away from decent civilization when you’re over it.

Get a cupcake while you’re at it, if you’re into that sort of thing:

You can leave the country without leaving the District.

With so many embassies in DC, there’s always some event going on. During the late spring / early summer, many open their doors on certain weekends and welcome you to try their food, drinks, or even hammocks.

Enjoying a little staycation at #passportdc– hangin out at the Haitian embassy. #DC

A photo posted by Dave McCulloch (@dtmcculloch) on

Not everyone in DC works in politics.

There are a lot of people in the booming DC startup scene — it’s becoming a huge thing — who have (and want) nothing to do with politics. It’s also not House of Cards left and right, but that goes back to the previous sentence.

That said, the White House sometimes has special events that everyday people can go to – like the Garden Tour. If you get a chance, of course you’ll take it!

Good morning from The @WhiteHouse. #DC #whgardentour

A photo posted by Dave McCulloch (@dtmcculloch) on

The best time to come to DC is…

There are four weeks a year that are perfect to come to DC, and they are the two between spring and summer (April-Mayish) and the two weeks between summer and fall (September-Octoberish). Otherwise, it’s hot and gross or cold and rainy/snowy.

But from the very moment I stepped foot into this roughly 8-by-8-mile square it’s-not-state-but-is-a-state land, I knew it was a magical place. Other than southern California, this is the only other place in the country I could imagine living.

The rainbow and the Monument. #DC

A photo posted by Dave McCulloch (@dtmcculloch) on

9 Ways for East Coasters to Sound Legit Talking About California

First, I’m from the west coast. Born and raised. SoCal, even. But now that I live on the east coast, it drives me up the wall to hear everyday people talk about places and things on the west coast that we just don’t do or say.

Let us begin.

It’s not Cali, it’s California.

Callie is a name. California is a place. The two shall not be confused. We don’t call it Cali any more than anyone else calls New York…”New” or Florida “Flor.”

I know we live in an age where everyone wants to either abbreviate everything or make it an acronym, but let’s just go ahead and skip that part.

It’s not Frisco. It’s not San Fran. It’s San Francisco or it’s The City.

SF

I’ve never lived in San Francisco, and don’t plan on it any time soon (NorCal vs. SoCal is actually a thing) – but I’ve spent far too many weeks there for work trips to know what people call it. Just avoid the temptation to call it anything less than its full name.

‘San Fran’ rhymes – and that’s cute – but you’ll instantly be labeled as out of touch or from out of town. You pick which.

Journalists, I’m looking at you:

Also, locals will often call it The City (I know New Yorkers think of NYC as “the city”, but that’s another story).

SoCal in June is not always the paradise you think.

This is often San Diego in June. Not the paradise you were looking for.

This is often San Diego in June. Not the paradise you were looking for. Flickr / susan_w

There, I said it again: SoCal. It’s appropriate.

Southern California during the summer can be awesome, but when you step off the airplane expecting sunny at 75°, you might be surprised to find out it’s overcast and 62° until the late afternoon. LA can sometimes escape this, but the marine layer rules everything from May Gray through June Gloom, and even beyond. If you were to watch the local weather, they could usually record it once in May and hit repeat until June or July:

“Early night and morning low clouds and fog, followed by sunny and 75 along the coast and in the 80s inland. Back to you!” (“early” can mean a lot of different things).

LA is huge. And requires a car.

This is helLA traffic

This is helLA traffic / google

I hear a lot of people ask if you need a car in LA, and if public transportation exists. Well, technically, you can. It’s possible. It’s even better than it used to be, especially with things like Uber which makes getting from those places to other places suck less. But it’s still not ideal, and it’s still full of traffic – making your 10-mile drive last three hours.

You can’t take the train to LAX without a bus and a trip and another cost, and you can’t really effectively take local transit anywhere from the airport. Seriously, you’re better off with a car.

Which brings us to the next point.

San Diego and LA aren’t far away from each other, except they’re worlds apart.

Driving from SD to LA is about an hour and a half minimum – roughly 100 miles – but can also take hours (plural) longer. Even though it’s not really that far away (and you can take the beautiful scenic train from San Diego to LA’s scary-at-night Union Station), the two are completely different worlds. And San Diegans and Los Angelenos don’t always see eye-to-eye about whose city is better.

San Diego and San Francisco aren’t nearby, for that matter either. It’s an 7-hour drive or an hour in the air.

Mexican food is our pizza

Carne Asada burritos are a gift to humankind. Flickr / dongkwan

Carne Asada burritos are a gift to humankind. Flickr / dongkwan

The best Mexican food comes from a hole-in-the-wall at 2:15am, not from an overpriced upscale restaurant at dinner. The best time, of course is right around the same time post-bar that you would be ordering a big slice of pizza.

And as much as pizza is delicious, nothing quite hits the spot like Mexican food.

You say two slices of pepperoni pizza and a coke? I say a carne asada burrito with a large horchata! Or carne asada nachos. Or…or…I’m hungry.

Not everyone surfs. But some of us do.

Surfers in San Diego / Flickr

Surfers in San Diego / Flickr

I took my first surfing lessons when I was a kid. Never really got into it at the time, but I started again a few years back thanks to someone who reminded me how awesome it was. The next year, I tore my shoulder on the first day out, so that put a damper on that summer.

But contrary to what everyone believes, not all us Californians surf. Sure, you’ll see plenty of surfers out on the water when the waves are good, but when the waves are good, it’s not like D.C. over Memorial Day where suddenly the city is empty.

That said, everyone loves the beach.

Just because we say “dude” doesn’t mean we’re surfers, either.

It’s just a word. “Brah” on the other hand…

Most importantly: there is no comparison of California to the east coast.

(In the event you want out of the city for a while, our snowboarding is top-notch) | Mammoth Lakes, CA / Flickr / dualdflipflop

There just isn’t.

Our beaches are pretty awesome, our coastline is way different, we actually have waves, and we can wear shorts and flip-flops in July as much as we sometimes can in December.

Humidity isn’t really a thing, and winter isn’t awful. Come to think about it, neither are the summers.

Our public transportation in southern California is practically nonexistent (but is pretty good in San Francisco), and that’s not weird to us. Not driving for months at a time might seem normal on the east coast, but just plain weird on this coast.

But at the end of the day, SoCal winters and summers (in SoCal) aren’t much different, and it doesn’t snow in San Francisco. And if you want to see some snow, you’re never more than a couple hours away from shredding some awesome pow.

 

$25 credit on Uber – act fast

Update: looks like the deal’s dead. Sorry folks. It lasted a couple hours.

There’s no way of knowing how long this is going to last, but DCTA found an Uber promo code worth $25. Although it says it’s for Rogers (a Canadian mobile phone company), the promo code appears to work regardless, and works on both new accounts and existing accounts.

Just go into the Uber app, hit the menu on the upper-right side, it promotions and type in “roamwithuber” – a screen will them tell you it’s been applied.

Worked for me – did it work for you?

BTW – if you don’t have an Uber account already, also use promo code ubercarpepoints, and you’ll get even more credit on top of that.

H/T DCTA

New US Customs app eliminates a form, speeds up air border entry

us-customs-declarations-form-front

This form can be a thing of the past in a few U.S. airports.

If you’ve ever traveled abroad and had to fill out one of those paper slips with information about your trip just to go through Customs, you know it can be aggravating to find a pen, hold on to another piece of paper, and write legibly – all while juggling landing, luggage, and maybe even children.

A new mobile app for iPhone released does away with the paper slips – and allows you to answer the “are you traveling with $10,000 in cash”-type questions on your phone ahead of time, and presenting it to the officer when you’re going through Customs, potentially reducing the time it takes to get through the process, and just making it easier overall.

Per CBP,

“MPC currently offers U.S. citizens and Canadian visitors a more efficient and secure in-person inspection between the CBP officer and the traveler upon arrival in the United States. Much like Automated Passport Control, the app does not require pre-approval, is free-to-use and does not collect any new information on travelers. As a result, travelers will experience shorter wait times, less congestion and faster processing.”

From the looks of it, the process seems pretty easy – and you even get (have?) to take a selfie in the process. CBP provided some screen shots of the app:

mobilepassport_splash_0

mobilepassport_splash_1

mobilepassport_splash_2

mobilepassport_splash_3

Of course, if you have Global Entry ($100 and totally worth it), none of this is even needed — because Global Entry allows you to zoom through Customs by using a kiosk and answering the questions right then and there. Because you’re already pre-screened and given a background check, there’s a pretty good chance you won’t have to actually talk to a human being — something it looks like you still have to do with Mobile Pass. Don’t forget that Global Entry makes you eligible for TSA PreCheck when flying domestically too.

I didn’t notice the app until recently, and apparently the CBP press release was written about it back in August. Unfortunately, it’s only available in certain airports – Atlanta (ATL), Miami (MIA), Chicago O’Hare (ORD), and Seattle (SEA – SeaTac) – but it sure beats having to fill out that darned paper while landing or waiting in line.

And perhaps if you’re like me and have horrible handwriting, it’s definitely worth its weight in megabytes.

Have you used Customs and Border Protection’s free app yet?

The Westin Restort & Casino, Aruba

New Starwood bonus: 2X + 1000 Starpoints through mid-April

As the hotel company does often, Starwood today announced their Double Play promotion – and although it isn’t going to change your life, it’s certainly more points you didn’t already have if you’re staying at a Starwood property for two or more nights between now and April 15, 2015, and even better if you’re staying for longer.

It’s simple: sign up for the deal, and do what you’d normally do – stay at a Starwood hotel (except these) and rack up extra points.

Stay two or more nights, earn double the Starpoints – and if you stay five nights, you can earn an additional 1,000 points (up to 4,000 points) on top of the double.

For example

It's easy to sign up for Starwood's Double Play bonus

It’s easy to sign up for Starwood’s Double Play bonus

Say you’re staying at the Westin Washington, DC City Center – one of my favorite in the area, primarily because of its location – from Jan 21 through Jan 28. It’s going for $179/night for all those nights.

Normally, you’d earn two points per dollar spent. 8 nights at $179/night normally would score you 2864 points, plus whatever elite status bonus you’d receive.

How it works

Normally, you earn two points per dollar spent.

(7 nights at $179/night) * 2 standard points = 2506

However, this bonus program would earn you double that:

2506 base points plus double bonus = 5012

Then, because you’re staying between 5-9 nights, you’ll earn another 1,000 Starpoints (and, of note, you don’t have to stay consecutive nights to get this bonus).

5012 points plus 5-day stay bonus = 6012 points

You can see how this can add up very fast – and even faster if you have elite status which earns you 3x the base points if you’re SPG Gold or Platinum.

There’s a ton of choices

Remember, Starwood hotels comprise of 1,200+ hotels across the globe, and include Westin, St. Regis, W Hotels, Sheraton, aloft, Element, Four Points, Le Meredien, and The Luxury Collection. Again, just remember not all participate.

But you can still do better

Of course, if you put the hotel charges on the Starwood card from American Express,
you earn an additional 2X the points for every dollar spent on top of the above bonuses.

Although if you signed up for the card with a 25,000 Starpoint bonus, you could have four times the points without the hotel stay after spending $3,000 as you would ordinarily.

Point is: there’s no reason to skip this bonus offer if you’re planning on staying at a Starwood hotel (and paying) between now and April 15, 2015.

Sign up for the bonus

What really happened? The Truth About AirAsia Flight 8501

On December 29, 2014, Indonesia AirAsia flight 8501 disappeared from the skies and is now likely at the bottom of the Java Sea. Bodies are being pulled out from the water, and wreckage is being taken in for investigation. But what caused this tragedy — a tragedy that seems to be occurring on a too-often basis these days?

The simple truth: we just don’t know — at least not yet.

Read More

Looking back at 2014: The White House and more

2014 was a different year compared to the last. Now, while most years are, 2013 was a crazy year – I flew a lot. 82,376 miles a lot. But, alas, this year was much less interesting and less traveled – pretty much all if it was “all work and no play,” meaning there were no wild and crazy trips to Dubai, Hawaii, or anything else like there was the year before.

gcmap-2014

29,678 miles flown this year — much of it on award miles – but a far cry from trips the year before.

Read More

United sues 22-year-old over low fare “hidden city ticketing” secret; secret is exposed

Ever heard of “hidden city” ticketing? Until yesterday, most people hadn’t either – until United Airlines and Orbitz decided to sue the 22-year-old New York City entrepreneur who developed an ingenious site called Skiplagged.com to allow people to easily search for this secret way to save a ton of money on airline tickets.

skiplagged-logo

It appears his site is no longer producing working results, but that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck.

Read More
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