As I travel relatively often one of the best things that I did was enroll for Global Entry. Prior to enrolling for the program I would have to wait in the long customs and immigration line and when it was finally my turn to see an agent I was always asked 101 questions regarding the nature of my travels etc. One guy actually said to me "you sure travel a lot" and my response was something like "yep" but I really wanted to say something along the lines of "well that's why I have a passport" but thought wiser of it. When I learned about Global Entry I signed up immediately and I haven't looked back. Luckily at the time I had a credit card that reimbursed me for the $100 application fee.
What is Global Entry?
Global Entry is a program that offers expedited pre-clearance for approved travelers entering the US. Global Entry is currently available to US citizens and permanent residents and has been expanded to include citizens of the following countries:
To apply one creates an account on the Global Online Enrollment System (GOES) fills and then fill out an online application and pay the $100 fee. You will receive an email if the application is approved and then you will be invited to schedule an appointment at one of the Global Entry Enrollment Centers. My interview was relatively quick and painless and if you schedule it on the same day that you leave for an international trip, you can use the Global Entry Kiosks when you return. The membership lasts for five years and if your passport expires within that time frame you can update your passport information via GOES. Another benefit to Global Entry membership is that it automatically enrolls you in TSA PreCheck.
What is TSA PreCheck?
TSA PreCheck allows you to breeze through airport security without having to remove your shoes, laptops, liquids, belts and light jacket. Like Global Entry it is valid for 5 years and it only costs $85. I would caution that TSA PreCheck is not available with all airlines and all airports. So if most of your trips are international in nature you may not be able to benefit as much from TSA PreCheck so be sure to check the list of Airports & Airlines before signing up.
In 2013 I flew to Thailand to meet up with a friend from Dubai. I planned to have about 20 hours solo in Bangkok to recover from jet lag before heading to Koh Samui and Koh Phagnan. This was my first solo international trip where I didn't know another soul in the country.
After landing at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport I hopped in a taxi and asked the driver to take me to my hotel. Unfortunately, I didn't print out directions to my hotel or have a hard copy of the address (rookie mistake #1). Thankfully, I had the address stored in my Tripit app and was able to pull it up for the driver. After a short ride I arrived at the Hotel Muse Bangkok without incident and had a friendly welcome and was offered a complimentary cocktail. Since I had such a long flight from NYC I decided to grab a bite to eat and a drink at the rooftop bar and call it an evening since I had a full day of exploring to do the following day.
The next morning before heading out to explore the city I walked to the Starbucks that I noticed during my taxi ride the day before. Almost immediately upon exiting the hotel I encountered a line of taxi drivers that were asking if I needed a ride and offered me unsolicited tours of the city. I politely declined their offers and one driver proceeded to ask me the whereabouts of my husband. Being quick on my feet I muttered something about my "husband" resting at the hotel which they seemed to believe. As I walked away I over-confidently thought to myself "I got this", which was a big mistake.
After my coffee I asked the concierge to write down the address of my intended destination and got into the first taxi in the lineup. I remembered to ask him to turn on the meter, which took a bit of convincing, but he eventually did. However, it took even more convincing on my part to get the driver to understand that I had no interest in going to his uncle's shop or visiting the floating market and by this point my confidence was waning that I'd ever see the Reclining Buddha at the Wat Po Temple.
I eventually made it to the temple and my confidence had inched back a bit so with a little pep in my step I headed off on foot to my next destination. People on the street seemed very friendly and nice and curious about where I was from. However, it didn't take long to realize that most of them had different motivations. After engaging an older gentleman I was misinformed that the temple I was planning to visit was closed and he insisted that I take a guided tour via tuktuk instead. I managed to finagle my way out of the city tour only to encounter a "friendly" history teacher who was trying to hook me with a similar spiel. No thank you!
The low point of my trip came as I was walking down the street and I noticed a bunch of pigeons flying around. The woman feeding them apologized and insisted that I too should feed them for "good luck". I declined her offered but she was insistent and since I didn't want to offend anyone in a foreign country I took the bag of bird feed and proceeded to feed the pigeons with reckless abandon. I started to walk away with the bounty of "luck" I had just accrued but was stopped in my tracks by the woman demanding payment!! Oh *ish I thought I've just been scammed. I initially refused to pay but her accomplice, a larger intimidating man walked up and had something to say about it. I managed to negotiate a lower ransom insisting it was all I had and they accepted and let me go. I then went to the mall where I proceeded to leave my debit card in the ATM.
I pride myself on being a street smart New Yorker but this trip definitely taught me that anyone could be taken for a ride if not at the top of their game while traveling. And be careful about that jet lag as it can really affect your judgment.
Looking back on the experience I can laugh about it now and it's made me a much smarter traveler. I'm tempted to test my hypothesis with a return trip to Thailand in the not too distant future.