Travel Briefs

Off the coast of New Zealand’s South Island, visitors can paddle up close to fur seals on a “Guided Seal Kayaking Half Day Experience” with Kaikoura Kayaks (19 Killarney St., Kaikoura; phone +64 21 462 889, Kayakers also may see blue penguins, dusky dolphins and, possibly, whales.

The 3- to 3½-hour tour is offered multiple times daily throughout the year. NZD110 (near $71) per adult and NZD70 per child 12 and under. Single and double kayaks...


Visitors can learn the art of making chocolate in numerous workshops (each offered in English) at the headquarters of Swiss chocolatier Cailler (Rue Jules Bellet 7, Broc, Fribourg, Switzerland; phone +41 26 921 59 60).

In the 3-hour “Bean to Bar” workshop (CHF77 [near $80]), participants learn the entire process, from roasting beans to tempering the liquid chocolate, each forming their own bar. A 3-hour “Truffles” class (CHF77) works with dark, milk and white...


The “Jing-Zhang” high-speed rail system, with trains reaching speeds of up to 217 mph, began operation in northeastern China on Dec. 30. Traveling 108 miles between Beijing and Zhang­jiakou (two cities that will be hosting Winter Olympics events in 2022), the train makes 10 stops, with a total travel time of 47 minutes.

The trains traveling on the Jing-Zhang route are the world’s first auto-driving “smart” trains, which navigate via satellite...


With United Airlines’ Gift Card Exchange, you can trade the value of unused gift cards for United MileagePlus miles. Only gift cards from approved retailers, including Target, Walmart and rival airlines American and Southwest, can be exchanged (a complete list is available online).

Each gift card must have a balance of at least $15, and multiple gift cards can be exchanged at one time. To qualify, you must have had a MileagePlus account for at least 90 days with no negative...


The makers of the Mobile Passport app (July ’19, pg. 13) have partnered with RushMyPassport (Sept. ’19 pgs. 2, 44) so that travelers now can use the app to renew their passports in as little as 24 hours.

To rush a renewal using the app, click on “Help & FAQ,” scroll down to “Traveling soon and need a passport?,” click on the “Apply now” button and follow the instructions. Passport-mailing options, via FedEx, cost from $118 for...


American Airlines’ smartphone app now can scan the passports of international travelers when it is used for check-in, meaning travelers no longer have to show their passports to the airline’s customer service agent at the airport. This will be advantageous to those who are not checking any luggage and those who are catching a connecting international flight after a domestic flight.

To utilize this feature, the phone must have a near-field communications (NFC) chip. (Most...


The crown prince of Saudi Arabia announced on Dec. 10 that men and women now can eat together in restaurants. Before the decree, every restaurant, even fast-food restaurants, had different entrances for men and women, and, by law, the two genders were separated by, at the least, a screen. Even married couples with children were forced to eat apart. (According to some reports, many restaurants had been ignoring those restrictions.)

Swiss map publisher swisstopo (phone +45 58 469 01 11, released new, updated hiking maps in August. The printed maps (scaled so that 1cm = 0.5 km), are color-coded corresponding to signage on the trails: red for hiking, yellow for mountain hiking and blue for Alpine hiking. Also indicated are SwitzerlandMobility hiking routes for those with mobility issues.

There are maps for 58 regions. Click here to visit. Each costs CHF22.50 (near $23).