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Everything Travelers Need to Know About the REAL ID Act

Everything Travelers Need to Know About the REAL ID Act

Are your days of flying domestically using only your driver’s license numbered? They could be, if you don’t have a new type of license. As the deadline for the REAL ID Act looms, it’s vital for you to know if your current driver’s licenses doesn’t meet the new criteria.

If you’ve been procrastinating getting a REAL ID, there’s some good news—the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) just announced that the REAL ID Act will not be enforced until May 7, 2025, postponing the deadline from May 2023.

Here’s a quick and easy primer with everything you need to know about the REAL ID Act, about when to use a REAL ID vs. a passport, and about the Department of Homeland Security’s hard deadline on the changes.

What Is the REAL ID Act?

The REAL ID Act “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses,” says the DHS. This Act applies to state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards, and prohibits certain federal agencies from accepting IDs that do not meet the new standards.

This means that when the REAL ID ACT is in place, only driver’s licenses issued under REAL ID standards will be accepted at airports.

REAL ID Changes Timeline: When to Worry About Invalid IDs for Flying

In 2005, the REAL ID Act established nationwide requirements for state IDs as a post-9/11 security measure. States had well over a decade to make the changes, but the deadline to complete the transition has been extended multiple times. Some states struggled to make the switch to issuing the new, compliant licenses; having trouble finding the budget for the new licenses, or lacking other logistical means to enact the changes.

May 7, 2025: According to the DHS website, by this date “every air traveler will need a REAL ID-compliant license, or another acceptable form of identification, for domestic air travel” as well as to enter federal government buildings. If by this date your state license is not a REAL ID compatible one, you will need to bring another form of ID to the airport, like a passport.

How Do I Get a REAL ID?

The process for getting your REAL ID is a little more difficult than the last time you renewed your license: You’ll probably have to visit a DMV and provide paperwork, like proof of residency and proof of lawful presence in the United States. You can, however, submit this paperwork (which you’ll still need to bring with you) online ahead of time for approval: Check your state’s DMV requirements online for more information.

If you’re a non-citizen or you think getting your ID might be more complicated for any other reason, check the Department of Homeland Security’s DHS REAL ID FAQ page for more information on your particular case.

REAL ID vs. Passports

If you’re unable to obtain a REAL ID by May 7, 2025, you’ll need to bring a passport or another TSA-acceptable document with you to the airport in order to pass through security. The DHS reminded travelers often of the looming deadline, in part because if everyone rushes to get a REAL ID at once, there could be long wait times in many states.

Does a REAL ID Replace a Passport?

The short answer: no. You’ll need a REAL ID at minimum for domestic travel come May 2025, and your passport can work in place of a REAL ID for domestic travel—but a valid passport will still be required for international travel. So whether you have a REAL ID or not, a passport will always get you through airport security. And whether you have a REAL ID or not, a passport will always be required for international travel.

 

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This Airline Just Permanently Disconnected Its Customer Service Phone Number

This Airline Just Permanently Disconnected Its Customer Service Phone Number

Need to speak to someone at Frontier Airlines? Don’t bother trying to call the airline, as they have recently gotten rid of their customer service phone number.

If you need to get in touch with a real person at Frontier you’ll have to use other methods to contact the airline. On the airline’s customer service page, there are three contact options listed: an online chat, an email address, and a complaint form.

The online chat starts with an automated chatbot option, but you can ask to speak with a live agent. However, when we tried to speak to a real person via chat while writing this story, we received the message: “As we’re experiencing longer than normal wait times, our responses may be delayed. Thanks for your patience, an agent will assist as soon as possible.”

If you call Frontier’s customer service phone number now, a prerecorded message directs you to the airline’s website or app to contact the airline.

The airline does still seem to be monitoring and responding to messages on its social media channels, which could be a faster way to reach Frontier if chat hold times continue to be lengthy.

 

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What Happens If You Don’t Switch Your Phone to Airplane Mode When You Fly?

What Happens If You Don’t Switch Your Phone to Airplane Mode When You Fly?

It’s a familiar routine: You board the plane, settle into your seat, and then text frantically, trying to eke out just one last message before you hear the flight attendant’s announcement to switch your portable electronic devices to airplane mode.

For now, switching to airplane mode is a federal requirement on U.S. domestic flights. You must disable wireless transmission functions such as cellular voice and data.

But why?

Here’s the answer: Cell phones are designed to send out signals strong enough to reach great distances. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which originally put the ban in place back in the early 1990s, the radio frequency emitted by these and other electronic devices could interfere with cell tower networks on the ground.

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What Happens If You Forget to Turn On Airplane Mode?

What Happens If You Don’t Switch Your Phone to Airplane Mode When You Fly?

If you don’t switch into airplane mode then your cell phone or cellular-enabled tablet will keep attempting to make connections with every cell tower on the ground that the airplane passes.

Not only will the signals cause interference with airplane navigation, but the effort it takes your cell phone to keep scanning and tower hopping at fly-by speeds will also drain your battery and still not maintain a constant signal.

“Cellular does not function as well with the speed and altitude of the plane and so needs an alternate off-aircraft connectivity solution to make it work,” says John Wade, EVP and Chief Operating Officer at Gogo, a technology company that provides in-flight connectivity and wireless entertainment services for Delta, United, and others.

“Wi-Fi usage takes advantage of the aircraft’s off-aircraft connectivity, enabling a better connection and functionality.”

Accessing In-Flight Wi-Fi

Almost all airlines nowadays offer in-flight Wi-Fi, which is made possible because it’s satellite-based and not dependent on cellular tower connections. Almost every domestic airline offers in-flight Wi-Fi but there is only one airline that offers it for free, and that is customer-favorite, JetBlue.

Through this network, you can surf online, read emails, check social media, or chat using Internet-based messaging apps like iMessage, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp. Although you can’t now text with SMS over cellular, you can use Wi-Fi.

And although you can’t now make in-flight voice calls over cellular, you could use Wi-Fi. But U.S. airlines won’t allow it. All domestic carriers prohibit VoIP calls even though many international carriers do not. And what happens to that plane when it enters U.S. airspace? The technology that allows in-flight calling is turned off.

Today, there is more extensive bandwidth and upgraded satellite technology on most airlines around the world, with Qantas and JetBlue among the first to adopt.

In February 2017, Qantas introduced its new in-flight Wi-Fi network using the upgraded technology. Connection speeds are up to 10 times faster than conventional in-flight Wi-Fi, allowing passengers to stream Netflix, Spotify, and other online content to their personal devices. In following years, more airlines have come out with gate-to-gate connectivity like Southwest, Norwegian, and JetBlue (which also supports streaming services).

And if airlines offer in-flight Wi-Fi, they most likely also allow you to stream video and other media in-flight, but it’ll cost you. Similar to the tiered Wi-Fi plans that you’ll find at hotels, you now see passengers having the option to select a certain speed of Wi-Fi for their inflight plans. The only exception to this is when the airline offers in-flight entertainment on your own device via its app, which is free to stream.

Stay Entertained with Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Whether your flight is one hour or ten, the best way to make the time soar by is by watching pre-downloaded movies, audiobooks, or music with noise-canceling headphones.

The Future of In-Flight Cellular

What Happens If You Don’t Switch Your Phone to Airplane Mode When You Fly?

Over a decade ago the European Commission began allowing in-flight cellular service throughout the EU. Several airlines offer onboard voice calling, data, and texting, while others allow only data and texting.

Technically speaking, the service requires that each plane be fitted with its own mobile base station, a network control unit that prevents onboard phone signals from reaching land-based networks and a satellite link to terrestrial phone networks.

The technology has been deployed successfully in Europe and around the world without incident, according to the FCC. It’s available in the United States, too. Some of Gogo’s business aviation customers are already using it, but none of the technology company’s 16 commercial airline customers have requested it.

Over the past several years the FCC collected consumer and technical input as it considered new proposed rules that would give airlines the freedom to allow cellular service if the aircraft is outfitted with the proper onboard equipment. However, it ultimately decided against the proposal in 2020 after strong opposition from flight crew, passengers, and members of Congress.

Do Americans Even Want Voice Calling?

A 2016 Gogo Global Traveler study evaluated passengers’ interest in using and willingness to pay for voice calls in the air. It found wide variations by region, with the greatest interest among Asian and Latin American markets. Forty-two percent of global passengers were interested in using voice services, compared to only 23 percent in the United States. A 2018 study commissioned by Turkish Airlines showed little to no change in opinion, with 89% of U.S. respondents against in-flight voice calls.

 

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The 6 Best Places to Visit in December

The 6 Best Places to Visit in December

With the Delta variant finally waning, travel may be on your mind again. December is the perfect time to travel, and whether you are looking for a Christmas wonderland or for some warmer weather to start off winter with, there are plenty of amazing places to visit. Here is our list of the best places to travel in December.

New York City 

New York City 

New York is one of the top destinations to visit in the USA in December, especially between Christmas and the New Year. Head to Rockefeller Center to see the Christmas Tree and enjoy some ice skating at one of the most famous ice rinks in the world. You won’t want to miss the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park, where there is more ice skating plus pick up some unique gifts at the open air holiday market. Don’t forget to check out the window displays of the department stores like Bloomingdales, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bergdorf Goodman. Take in the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular to make it a truly New York experience.

London

London

There is something quaint about visiting London during the holiday season that really gets you into the holiday spirit. Big cities are filled with holiday fun, with Christmas markets and mulled wine abound, London is no different. Ice skate at Somerset House, shop at Harrods, or Fortnum and Mason, and be amazed by the decorations at the Burlington Arcade. You’ll have loads of fun at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, which is back after a hiatus in 2020 thanks to COVID-19. While in London, you must go to the theatre, where there are plenty of Christmas shows and non-Christmas shows to choose from.

Virgin Islands

Virgin Islands

December marks the beginning of the Virgin Islands dry season, so it is the perfect time to visit—before tourism peaks in the spring months. Whether you visit St. Thomas, St. Croix or St. John, you are in for the perfect tropical vacation, and a great way to start off your winter. Stay at an all-inclusive resort for the ultimate relaxation vacation. Explore the Virgin Islands National Park, Buck Island Reef National Monument, or relax in Cruz Bay.

Maldives

Maldives

While you might take a chance visiting the Maldive Islands earlier in December due to the end of the rainy season, you’ll likely get a hotel deal, so it is worth the risk. Explore Banana Reef, learn some history at Mulee’aage Palace and the National Museum, or relax on Fulhadhoo Beach.

Riviera Maya, Mexico

Riviera Maya, Mexico

December is the perfect time to head to Mexico for some warmer weather and r&r. The Riviera Maya has beaches to relax on, and plenty of all-inclusive resorts for a worry-free vacation. Explore caves like the Rio Secreto, feel the stress leaving your body at the Water Journey at Grand Velas Spa, or check out ancient ruins like the Chichen Itza.

Bahamas

Bahamas

Whether you do a yoga retreat or simply relax on the beach, the Bahamas are the perfect place to start off your winter. From seeing the wonder of the Marine Habitat at Atlantis, taking in nature at the Garden of the Groves, to hiking up to the Hermitage, you will forget all about the craziness of the holiday season going on at home.

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The One Thing Solo Travelers Should Always Pack

The One Thing Solo Travelers Should Always Pack

Solo travelers have to be extra vigilant about safety on the road, and there’s one tiny tool you should add to your personal protection arsenal for your next trip—a doorstop.

This small, inexpensive item can help keep you safe in hotel rooms. Simply wedge a doorstop under the door to your hotel room (from the inside) and you’ll be able to prevent intruders from entering.

doorstop

I recently traveled alone and was alarmed to find that at two major hotel chains, my hotel room door didn’t have a security chain—so anyone with a key (hotel staff or not) could easily enter my room. Packing a doorsop gave me peace of mind that no one would be able to enter my room while I was inside. On that same trip, another solo traveler I talked to had a rude awakening when hotel staff entered her room unexpectedly at 6am because she didn’t respond to a wakeup call (that she didn’t actually order). Using a doorstop can prevent unwanted entry and help you sleep better. Even if your hotel room has a security chain, these can be easily broken with enough force, whereas a doorstop makes it nearly impossible to open a door.

If you’re staying in a vacation rental, where multiple people could have keys/the entry code, a doorstop can make sure that no one can’t enter the bedroom you’re sleeping in.

Any standard doorstop will be effective at preventing anyone from forcing open the door. If you want to be alerted that someone is trying to enter your room (and scare them off), pack a doorstop alarm. This doorstep features a built-in, battery-powered alarm that will be triggered if anyone tries to open the door. There are three levels of motion sensitivity, and all will set off an extremely loud 120 decibel alarm.

 

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WDSLSING Bar Rules Pub Plaque

Wooden Pub Plaque

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Product Description

1.10″ x 5″ Wooden Signs Indoor Or Outdoor Use For Friends & Family / Something Special For Your Own Home Gifts
2.Material: Wooden
3.Size:12″ x 6″ (30cmx15cm)
4.Easy to Hang with a Rope Hanger
5.Looks Wonderful Hung From Centre Of Doors, Door & Drawer Handles, Wall Hooks, Flower & Ornamental Displays, Table Centre Pieces & Chairs, etc
6.The Sign You Receive May Vary Slightly in Size, Colour and Level of Distress When Compared To Our Marketing Images.

Wooden Pub Plaque

Product information

Wooden Pub Plaque

About this item

  • Bar Rules If You’re Still Standing You Need Another Drink Alcohol Beer Pub Plaque Funny Man Cave Sign Wall Art Gift
  • Material: wooden sign
  • Size: 12″x6″ (30cmx15cm)
  • Perfect Gift For Friends & Family / Something Special For Your Own Home
  • Looks Wonderful Hung From Centre Of Doors, Door & Drawer Handles, Wall Hooks, Flower & Ornamental Displays, Table Centre Pieces & Chairs, etc

 

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The Gifts for Dad Master of the Grill Bamboo Cutting Board

The Gifts for Dad

Product Description

Cutting boards are a perfect gift for Dad. Unique gifts for Dad are easy with this helpful kitchen gadget. Fathers Day gifts for Dad are a personal way to show Dad he’s special. This bamboo cutting board is pre-oiled for lasting durability. Whether on duty or on display, this beautiful laser engraved cutting board is sure to please. Because every piece of wood is unique, the final engraved product may be slightly lighter or darker than pictured. Bamboo is stronger than hardwood, easier on kitchen knives, and is more sustainably harvested than traditional hardwoods. Cutting boards make a perfect wedding gift, anniversary gift, or birthday gift for a home chef. Cutting boards are perfect for kitchen wall decor.

 

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About this item

  • Cutting boards are a perfect gift for dad. Unique gifts for dad are easy with this helpful kitchen gadget. Fathers Day gifts for dad are a personal way to show dad he’s special.
  • Display the engraved side and cut on your solid side. You get a beautiful piece of home décor and a usable cooking tool all in one.
  • Made from 100% natural bamboo. Because every piece of wood is unique, the final engraved product may be slightly lighter or darker than pictured.
  • Bamboo is stronger, lighter, and more sustainable for the earth than traditional hardwoods.
  • You have chosen a 10.7 inch long by 7.2 inch wide rectangle shaped cutting board. Engraving color may vary slightly, as each piece of wood is unique.

 

The Gifts for Dad

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Is Camping Safe? 10 Essential Camping Safety Tips

10 Essential Camping Safety Tips

Camping is a great way to renew your spirit with some fresh air and outdoor therapy. Before you head out, it is essential you take some safety precautions for the protection of the environment, wildlife, and yourself.  

Make Your Plans Known

Search and rescue teams are kept busy year-round finding lost hikers and campers. While you never plan on getting lost, having an emergency plan could be a literal lifesaver. 

Be sure to leave details about your trip with an emergency contact (like a family member or friend not going with you). The National Park Service recommends you leave details about where you will start, the route you plan to take, what equipment you have, and where you plan to end up. You’ll also want to give your emergency contact the contact details of the people going and the emergency number for the park or campground where you’re heading. 

Many campers also file a camping plan with the local sheriff’s department, which makes it much easier for them to find a lost person.

Prepare for the Environment 

Prepare for the Environment 

Be prepared for the type of environment and weather you’re expected to experience. If you’re camping in the mountains, you’ll want to be prepared for a cooler night or light showers. Camping somewhere warmer means you’ll want to bring a shade and methods for keeping you cool. Your destination should have a guide for what to expect while you’re camping there. 

Bring the Right Equipment 

Having the right equipment not only makes your camping experience more pleasant, but will also help keep you safe. The National Park Service has a comprehensive list of equipment you’ll need to go camping, including: 

  • Water 
  • Shelter and bedding
  • Food
  • Cooking supplies
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Personal hygiene products

Your equipment should also be safe to use. A quick Google search with the name of your camping item paired with “product recall” will let you know if there have been safety issues. You can also search the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission website to find product recalls. 

Maintain Your Fire Safely

Maintain Your Fire Safely

Telling stories around the campfire is fun and can be done safely, but it is critical that your fire is controlled. The National Fire Protection Association recommends the following safety tips for campfires:

  • Before you start your fire, make sure you’re permitted to have it. High camping season is also high fire season and you may not be able to build a campfire due to fire restrictions. Fire restrictions are common in forested areas and notices are clearly posted at the forest or park entrance as well as the campsite.
  • Have a way to extinguish the fire before you start it. It’s handy to have a shovel, pile of dirt, or bucket of water nearby. 
  • Keep the campfire small.
  • Avoid starting a campfire on a windy, dry day. 
  • Keep the campfire 25 feet away from structures or anything that can burn.
  • Clear away dry leaves and sticks as well as overhanging low branches and shrubs.
  • Never use gasoline or other flammable liquids. 
  • Watch children and pets closely around a fire.  
  • Stop, drop, and roll if your clothes catch fire. 

If you do sustain a minor burn, be sure to treat it immediately. Three to five minutes of cold water on the burn will help with pain and blistering. 

Wildlife Safety

Wildlife encounters can be enjoyed safely from a distance. The National Park Service advises campers to respect wildlife in these ways:

  • Don’t ever feed wildlife. Feeding wildlife can make an animal more aggressive in approaching campers. 
  • Avoid contact with wildlife. Many are more dangerous than you realize. 
  • Keep safe viewing distances. Watch for guidance from your park for wildlife common to the area you’re planning to visit. 
  • Avoid attracting wildlife to your campsite. Keep food in airtight containers in your car and keep your campsite clean. 

Consider the Pest Situation

To keep insects and pests at bay, you may want to consider wearing long sleeves and pants; at the very least, be sure to bring pest repellent. Here are a few things you should know about insect repellent:

  • Repellents containing DEET may be used on your skin.
  • Repellents containing permethrin don’t repel so much as kill. These are not safe for your skin and must be allowed to dry on your clothes, tent, sleeping bag and other gear before using.
  • Natural repellents containing citronella or other plant-based chemicals may also be used.
  • Some repellents are contained in area dispersal devices. Candles are meant to be left at a location, such as an eating or sleeping area, to create a no-fly zone for mosquitoes and other pests.
  • Non-chemical options like a sleeping net are also available.

Water Safety and Purification

Water Safety and Purification

While camping, you’re exposed to the elements more than usual. You’ll want to drink more water to stay hydrated, particularly at higher elevations. 

You’ll also want to make sure that water is safe to drink. Many designated camping sites have water on-site, but if you’re looking to venture out into the backcountry, you’ll need a way to purify the water.

The CDC recommends several methods for purifying water, including:

  • Boiling the water
  • A filtering system 
  • Ultraviolet (UV) light
  • Solar Radiation
  • Chemical purification

You can purchase water purification products online or at a camping supply store before you go. Be sure you also have a way to carry a good amount of water with you.  

Sanitation

Proper disposal of waste is one of the key principles of Leave No Trace, which goes far beyond “pack it in, pack it out.” The essentials include:

  • Wash yourself or dishes more than 200 feet from water sources.
  • Use biodegradable soap–and use it sparingly. 
  • Learn how to properly dispose of human waste
  • Carry plastic bags with you to haul out your trash.
  • Bring hand sanitizer. It’s amazing how quickly your hands get grimy. When water isn’t readily available, hand sanitizer can do the trick.

Keep Warm Safely

Keep Warm Safely

Certain heaters placed in a tent or camper are not safe to use. Portable, gas-powered heaters produce dangerous by-products when not vented correctly. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a possibility when campers use portable heaters or lanterns while sleeping in enclosed areas such as tents, campers, and vehicles. 

Instead, REI, the outdoor recreation retailer, has some safe and effective ideas for keeping warm at night, including:

  • Using another layer between you and the ground. One inflatable layer and one foam layer can keep you warmer at night. 
  • Eating food. A candy bar in the middle of the night can get your metabolism going again. 
  • Going to bed with a hot water bottle. Keep it near your core or over your kidneys.
  • Getting an extra warm sleeping bag and outdoor blankets .

Avoid Getting Lost

Avoid getting lost by following the National Park Service’s recommendations to stay on the trail and use the buddy system.

If you do happen to get lost, don’t panic. Know that your cell phone can get texts through better than a call. You may also be able to send a pin drop of your location. Getting to a higher elevation can help increase your cell phone’s signal. 

Carrying personal locator beacons or satellite messengers are other options. 

 

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Does Natural Mosquito Repellent Actually Work?

Does Natural Mosquito Repellent Actually Work?

Warm summer days bring sunshine, vacations, and blissful time spent outdoors. But they also bring swarms of mosquitoes and other insects out to get their fill—which could leave you trying to figure out how to protect yourself and loved ones from painful bites and stings that could trigger allergy or disease.

This is when many people consider trying a natural mosquito repellent, hoping that these products might be better for their health and the environment than standard bug sprays. But do natural mosquito repellents work?

According to University of California, Davis entomologist Walter Leal, who has done pioneering research on insects’ sense of smell, the answer is “Yes and no.”

DEET vs. Natural Mosquito Repellent

According to Leal, the common chemical DEET (N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide), remains the most effective repellent on the market—the gold standard in fending off insects. It works by “blinding” mosquitoes to human presence by preventing them from smelling human sweat and breath.

“I wish I could say that there’s a better natural mosquito repellent,” says Leal, “but that’s not the case. One major problem with some natural products is the so-called complete protection time. They work for a short duration, but they don’t last long enough. Do people want to reapply a product every two to three hours? No. And they would forget to do it.”

Leal says that if people know that they’re going to be outside for only a short period of time, it’s okay to use a citronella-based repellent, or another natural bug spray that has shown short-duration effect, including compounds like eugenol, linalool, citral, and geraniol. But people shouldn’t expect these natural insect repellents to work for longer than about an hour, or for them to be as effective as DEET.

“Because they are volatile,” Leal explains, “natural insect repellents release a large [number] of molecules per time. This makes them work, but not for too long. DEET is a chemical of low volatility, so it releases a lower number of molecules per time and lasts longer.”

Is Natural Bug Spray Safer Than DEET?

What about the perception that DEET is more toxic than natural mosquito repellent, both to human health and to the natural environment?

“I think people sometimes get a little too nervous using so-called ‘synthetic’ products,” says Ari Whiteman, the director of Charlotte, North Carolina’s Urban Mosquito Project and an epidemiology fellow at the Centers for Disease Control. “Yet two large-scale reviews by the EPA have found that DEET ‘does not present a health concern.’ While natural insect repellents have shown inconsistent levels of effectiveness that may vary between species, DEET is widely effective [and] safe, and should not be avoided simply because it is not a compound that naturally exists in nature.”

Leal concurs, pointing out that no chemical is completely safe: “One may die by drinking too much water. It is all about the cost-benefit, and a matter of balancing how much risk is worth taking. I would say that the risks of wearing DEET are very low compared with the benefit of not being infected with mosquito-borne viruses like dengue, Zika, chikungunya, yellow fever, and West Nile. Because DEET has been on the market for such a long time, it carries lots of baggage, but has been scrutinized many, many times. DEET has been evaluated by the FDA often, and they always conclude that it is safe to use. I wear it and recommend it for my family.”

Whiteman adds that it’s important to note that the terms “natural” and “non-toxic” are not interchangeable, since there are plenty of natural compounds that are highly toxic, as well as plenty of artificial compounds that are completely safe. “The majority of studies indicate that DEET is the most effective mosquito repellent for the longest period of time,” he affirms. “In comparative studies, natural insect repellents have turned in mixed results.”

Regarding environmental concerns related to DEET, “there really aren’t any,” Whiteman says. “It’s applied to the skin, so there is minimal risk of it entering waterways or vegetation. Some studies show it being slightly toxic to fish and birds, but the animals’ contact with it is so limited that there isn’t really anything to worry about in terms of environmental ramifications. Basically it breaks down so fast—days to weeks—that it doesn’t have time to have a major impact.”

A Non-Toxic Mosquito Repellent Made of Essential Oils

Still, there are plenty of people who, despite assurances from scientists that DEET is safe, prefer to use natural bug sprays. Abby Phon, a certified holistic health and wellness coach, traveled to South Africa and planned to get pregnant after that trip. “I wasn’t crazy about the anti-malaria meds and wanted to do my best to avoid DEET,” she recalls. “I was doing my best to keep my environment and body as non-toxic as possible, so I used a homemade essential oil blend as a non-toxic bug spray instead. It was a success—I didn’t get any mosquito bites.”

When Phon’s daughter was three months old, she took her family out to the country and used the same oil blend. “It was amazing how after one spray, the bugs that were swarming us at lunch disappeared instantly and never came back,” she remembers. “That was six years ago, and I’ve never used another bug spray since.”

Her recipe for non-toxic mosquito repellent? Mix a tablespoon of witch hazel with the following amounts of pure essential oils from a brand called Young Living: 15 drops of cedarwood, 15 drops of geranium (to repel ticks), 10 drops of citronella, and 10 drops of palo santo, and put the mixture into a two-ounce glass spray bottle. “Not all essential oils are the same,” Phon warns, “and it’s important to know what you are using.”

Anecdotal experiences aside, Whiteman acknowledges that there is some research-based evidence that eucalyptus oil can be as effective as DEET for repelling Aedes aegypti, the mosquito which spreads Zika, dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fever.

“That’s no longer a common species in the U.S., though,” he explains, “and the species that replaced it here, Aedes albopictus, doesn’t seem to be affected by eucalyptus oil at all, so DEET remains the best option to protect against them. Other comparison studies also find that DEET consistently outperforms ‘natural’ mosquito repellents, including citronella.”

How Strong an Insect Repellent Do You Need?

Asked whether Leal would want the public to know anything specific about using insect repellents, he pointed to his team’s research that suggests that people should use a higher percentage of DEET to fend off infected mosquitoes.

“The most dangerous mosquitoes are the old females,” he says, “because there’s more of a chance that they’ve been infected with a virus, and they’ve had enough time to let that virus replicate in their body. Now that old mosquito is dangerous. The problem is that old mosquitoes are less sensitive to DEET.”

If you’re wearing DEET just to rid yourself of nuisance mosquitoes, 6 to 7 percent DEET-based products are fine. When you’re traveling in an endemic area, however, Leal emphasizes that it’s important to wear a higher concentration of DEET—between 25 and 30 percent.

Circling back around to the question of whether natural bug sprays really work, the answer appears to be yes—but with plenty of caveats. If you choose to go with a natural bug spray over DEET, do so with the knowledge that you’re taking more of a chance of getting bitten, and therefore infected, than you would if you went with DEET, which science says is the safest and most trusted bug spray there is, at least for now.

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Camping in Antarctica

Camping in Antarctica

You’ve probably heard about the heroes of Antarctic exploration. Men like Shackleton and Amundsen were some of the first humans to explore Antarctica on foot, camping on the ice and living for years in below freezing temperatures. Today, it’s mostly scientists who go camping in Antarctica, while tourists spend the majority of their time aboard cruise ships. But on some cruise lines, guests have the chance to spend a night camping in Antarctica.

On a Hurtigruten expedition cruise to Antarctica, I had the chance to visit the campsite of travelers about to brave the ice on this overnight excursion. The experience is billed as a 10-hour adventure that costs about $575 USD; availability is subject to the number of the tents, and spots fill up quickly. After a mandatory briefing, thirty passengers left the comforts of their cabins on the M.S. Midnatsol and set out for Danco Island.

Their first order of business was to pitch tents and learn the logistics of the Antarctic-style outhouse (the two buckets the crew brings and takes back to the ship). Paired in groups of two, they were given a two-person tent, two sleeping bags, two air mattresses, and a groundsheet. As the campers set up, hundreds of Gentoo penguins hopped ashore and waddled by the tents.

Once everything was ready, the campers hiked up to a nearby penguin rookery that overlooked the bay and watched the ship sail out of view, leaving them alone in the pristine Antarctic landscape. When I asked if it felt like they had been abandoned, one camper, Natalia Rosa told me:

“I felt that I had to make the most of every second of the opportunity and really feel what it was like being there. Much of the time we spent on landings had been occupied with taking photos because we only had an hour and a half on land to capture the moment. That meant you didn’t really put your camera down and smell, see, hear, touch, etc … Being on land for 10 hours meant we had the luxury to really feel what it was like to be there.”

After spending some time watching the penguins in the rookery, the campers returned to their tents to try to sleep. But as they settled in, they found the cold wasn’t the only thing keeping them awake. All around them, they could hear the sounds of distant avalanches and crashing glaciers. And at 2 a.m., the penguin invasion began.

“I rested my eyes, to be rudely but beautifully awoken by the unmistakable flapping and squawking of the penguins. They surrounded us. There were hundreds of them all bounding past in a thick stream,” said Alexandra Pereira, another camper on the excursion. Throughout the night, the penguins would continue to congregate around the campsite, squawking, fighting, and mating outside the tents.

“We’re talking several hundred, if not a thousand penguins. This happened so many times I eventually let myself breathe (I think I had actually been holding my breath so as not to disturb them from coming right past us) and settled back in for some sleep,” said Rosa.

At 5 a.m., the campers awoke and packed up their tents. The ship cruised back into view and inflatable boats set out to pick up the campers. Back on board, they were welcomed back with mimosas in the warm and inviting dining room, where they shared stories of their restless night on the ice.

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