Monthly Archives: January 2016

ROBOCOPP Sound Grenade Giveaway


I’m happy to announce my first prize giveaway: the ROBOCOPP Sound Grenade! The ROBOCOPP Sound Grenade is a personal wearable siren from ROBOCOPP that is designed to give off an effective alarm when activated. The siren is said to be 120 db (as loud as an ambulance’s) that can startle an assailant or an animal. To turn on the alarm, simply pull out the pin found on the top of the device. And to turn it off, just place the top firmly back on.

The ROBOCOPP Sound Grenade’s small size (less than one ounce) makes it incredibly portable. I’ve been told by a ROBOCOPP rep that the ROBOCOPP Sound Grenade is TSA friendly, so you can bring it on board with you. Plus I applaud the design team for including a lanyard so you can slip the ROBOCOPP Sound Grenade through and attach it to perhaps a key chain or belt buckle. Even more ingenious, the lanyard is what seals up the packaging. Just remove it and you’re all set – no hunting for scissors required!

I did a test on this alarm so you can see it, and hear it, in action. Take a look (and please excuse my shabby appearance).



Enter by clicking on, and following the requirements for entering a Rafflecopter giveaway.

Participants must fully complete entries to be qualified. The contest begins Saturday, January 30, at 12 a.m. and ends Monday, February 15 at 12 a.m. Sorry but only U.S. residents can enter. Good luck.

 Disclosure: I was invited by ROBOCOPP to review and hold a giveaway for the ROBOCOPP Sound Grenade. My description and accompanying video demo of this product is based entirely on my opinion.  

Signing up for TSA PreCheck and Global Entry



Photo credit: danjo paluska via Flickr

Recently, I got approved for enrollment in both TSA PreCheck and Global Entry. If you’re not sure what these programs are, they relate to airport security. Frequent fliers often register for them so if you fall into this category, consider getting which one applies to you. Or both.

Mainly, they are expedited security screening programs for traveling within or out of the U.S. I’m sure you’re familiar with waiting your turn to go through the security detectors, taking off your shoes, belt, and coat, pulling out your laptop and your clear bag of 3-1-1 compliant toiletries, and putting them all through the scanner. TSA PreCheck and Global Entry changes this scenario. If you’re considered to be a low risk flier – i.e., no questionable background or history – and fit with certain citizenship requirements, being a member in these programs eliminates these necessities. And, in most cases, you avoid a lengthy wait. You still have to go through security, but usually in a different line, and you don’t need to do all the required clothing/luggage removals.

Here’s what each program is about:

TSA PreCheck
TSA PreCheck is for fliers that meet certain citizenship requirements and departing from the U.S. and is valid for five years. To apply for the program, you can either do so on online or through scheduling an in-person appointment. There’s also a third option of going straight to an application center, but your chances of that happening depend on how busy the day is. I lucked out at JFK with a walk-in appointment, but that’s probably because the TSA security checkpoint was surprisingly quiet. Plus I tend to go to the airport early. Screening appointments can run behind, so you want to make sure you allow enough time to avoid stressing out about making your flight. Mine lasted maybe 30 minutes or so. Also, at your appointment, you need to have certain paperwork on you like your driver’s license or passport and other requirements. There is an $85 non-refundable processing fee as well.

Upon approval, you’re assigned what’s called a Known Traveler Number (KTN) that you give when buying a plane ticket. (Currently, most major carriers and airports participate in TSA PreCheck. Check online for confirmation). Your KTN will appear on your boarding pass. Although you can save your KTN to your frequent flier account, it’s best to type it in every time to be certain it’s correctly placed in the system. Plus, be sure your name is exactly listed on your ticket as it is for your TSAPrecheck (for example if you go by your full name, it has to match), as a slight difference can cause a slight problem.

Global Entry
Global Entry involves admittance into the U.S. and extends to other different citizenship requirements. When coming back in and going through customs, you often would head to what’s called a Global Entry kiosk, to process your passport and have your fingerprints scanned for identification. Plus, at the kiosk, you fill out a customs declaration.

Applying is done online only. You have to create an account through what’s called the Global Online Enrollment System or GOES. Through your account, your application will require certain personal information, so be thorough when filling out the requirements. You also pay a $100 non-returnable application fee.

Once officials approve your application, you’ll get an email about scheduling an interview. To set one up, you have to go back into your GOES account and select a date, time, and location (there is a list of processing centers, depending on the state you live in, to click on and choose from). On your interview day, bring certain documents like your passport or resident card, a second form of ID and a print out of an email saying that you’ve been approved. And don’t be late! You’ll have an interview with a DHS official, who will ask you certain background questions. Your photo and fingerprints will be also taken. With your approval, a Global Entry card will be sent to you in the mail. (I also got a paper copy with my number on it before leaving.)

Another Global Entry member bonus is that you will be eligible for getting TSA PreCheck. (Editor’s note: I didn’t know this information beforehand. If I did, I would have applied for Global Entry first. Oh well). Like its counterpart, Global Entry approval lasts five years.


Either way, having membership in both programs helps if you’re a serious traveler. But the choice is up to you. Learn more about them plus other options here.

Learning about Nara, Japan


Photo credit: Visit Japan

Before 2015 ended, Visit Japan tourism board invited me to an informative session about Nara, Japan. Have you heard of Nara? It’s often known for spotted deer that live in Nara Park and don’t seem shy around people. Others see Nara as an ideal day trip, from 40 minutes from Osaka or Kyoto or an hour from Tokyo. This session also showed there was more to this city than a short visit.

I was told by representatives from Nara’s tourism board that Nara was actually Japan’s first capital. These officials told me that Nara considered to be the birthplace of Japan’s culture and civilization, and was the last stop of the famous Silk Road. Here are some other neat tidbits that I learned about Nara.

Temples and Shrines
As with throughout Japan, there are buddhist temples and shinto shrines to definitely visit in Nara. Kasugataisha Shrine is a main complex comprised of four different shrines that visitors can approach along a route graced with many moss-covered stone lanterns. The shrine has additional 1,000 lanterns inside it. During a festival known as the Mantoro Festival, the inside lanterns are lit. Another place to visit is the Mt. Shigisan Chogosonshiji Temple, especially during spring. This temple is said to be a good spot for viewing the cherry blossoms and has a festival that celebrates their bloom. Plus, it’s known for the tiger figures that are on temple grounds. And Kofukuji Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a five-story wooden pagoda.

Nara has interesting culinary offerings, with ones that fuse in Western influences. According to the representatives from Nara, the city has Michelin Guide restaurants and sake breweries where visitors can go for tastings. As for native dishes, one local specialty is kakinoha-zushi – sushi wrapped in a persimmon leaf. It’s made of rice seasoned with vinegar and topped with a slice of salted mackerel or salmon. It’s also then pressed into a rectangle and wrapped in the leaf.

To further push aside the notion of Nara as a day visit, travelers can stay in accommodations. Along with modern boutique hotels and refurbished townhouses, one unique option is a ryokan. Ryokans are traditional Japanese inns that can consist of communal baths and public areas. One place to look at might be the Nara Hotel. Set near Nara Park, this hotel dates back to 1909, when it was constructed to serve as a guest house for visiting dignitaries. 


My Travel Plans (So Far) for 2016

New PhotWe are now five days into 2016, and already I have some travel plans and goals for this year. Of course, I’m hoping to visit new destinations, but there are other areas that I want to head into. Here is what I’m hoping to accomplish this year.

My first solo work trip.
Last year, my travel writing got a big boost. I landed five freelance assignments that brought me to Wyoming, Michigan, and California, had me revisiting New Haven, Connecticut, and fulfilling a wish to visit Costa Rica. Though the locations differed, one thing they had in common was that I was in a group of other travel writers and bloggers. But I have some news to share: this month, I’m working on plans to go to Texas on my own for a piece for a new outlet I hope to do more writing with. I have ties to the Lone Star State and haven’t been there for 30 years, so I’m looking forward to going back.

Expanding search options.
My method of picking flights centers on mainly route, schedule, and cost. Unfortunately I’m still new to figuring out airline mileage programs, and, because of my budget and other reasons, I only belong to two of them: Southwest and JetBlue. I have a lot to learn but recently I’ve been checking out more of another source for savings: third-party search engines. In choosing a soon to use flight, I gave Kayak a try and found a direct, neither too early or late morning flight for at least $100 less than going through the airline’s website! So I booked. For comparison, I now do an initial search through Google Flights, another search engine.

Making time for family travel.
Although my interest in solo travel perked up a lot last year, it’s still nice to have someone come along. My younger sister and my cousin are my main plus ones, and they’re joining me on some excursions this year. I’m heading back to Jamaica with my sis this month, specifically to Montego Bay, where we hope to get in some bonding over swimming and bike riding. (Her flight in is way earlier that mine, so might give her some distance for recovery). I’m also excited about returning to Europe this summer. Part of my family is based there, and for years, I’ve been exploring parts of the continent with my European cousin. For 2016, we’re going to see Scandinavia – specifically Denmark, Norway, and Sweden! And within the U.S., I’ll be joining the younger set of my family for an April trip to Walt Disney World (which I haven’t been to since I was a teenager).
What do you have planned for 2016? Let me know.