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Briefs: U.S. Passport Card for travel to Mexico, Caribbean, Bermuda, Canada

Traveling to Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean or Bermuda by sea or by land? You'll be required to show proof of citizenship and identity, so get yourself the new official U.S. Passport Card, the creation of the State Department and Homeland Security.

The card is not valid for international air travel. Many of its users are expected to be people who live on the border and make frequent crossings.

It is the size of a credit card or driver's license, with a photo and identification information printed on it. It contains a chip with a random number that allows border officials to instantly retrieve your data.

"When you come to the border, hold your card up to your window, and on the border patrol screen, up will pop your name, your picture, the fact that you are a U.S. citizen, and the number of your card. They'll peek in to see if you're the same person, and speed you on your way," passport spokeswoman Brenda Sprague said.

The Passport Card is $45 for first-time adult applicants, $35 for children under 16. Adults with a valid passport can get a passport card by mail for $20. Applications and information: travel.state.gov.

By any name, it's close to home

We're all sick of the word "staycation," which means "We're not going anywhere this year." The Washington Post came up with a variation: You tell people you're leaving town, then hide in your house: a "fakation." Or there's the "oblication" — mandatory trips to see the relatives, also known as "tours of duty" (credit the Orange County Register). Fewer people are planning a trip of more than 75 miles this summer — 57 percent, down from 63 percent in 2007, according to a survey by national leisure marketing firm Y Partnership. Staying in Florida? Call it a "statecation."

Vacation fun in your own yard

Out of ideas to fill up those lonely hours vacationing at home? Take a look at The Complete Idiot's Guide to Backyard Adventures (Alpha/Penguin, $12.95). Author Nancy Worrell promises "close-to-home activities for fun-focused families," from camping out to arts and crafts, from planning an insect safari to learning how to fly a kite.

Shelling out for airlines' extras

Many airlines are now charging for food, beverages and entertainment, even pillows and blankets, so check your carrier's policy before you board. Cash only? Small bills welcome. Some airlines now accept debit and credit cards for in-flight purchases (you're more likely to spend more if you pay with plastic). Some airlines will take no cash at all, among them Alaska, AirTran, Frontier, JetBlue, Midwest, Spirit and Virgin America. Continental is selling coupons by credit card at airport kiosks before you board: $5 for one, $10 for two, $13 for three or $25 for six. Alcoholic beverages cost $5, or one coupon.

Rental cars: When to fill 'er up

The array of refueling options offered by rental car companies can be bewildering. Prepay and return the car empty? Return with half a tank? Fill the tank when you return the car? Tom Parsons of the Dallas Morning News offers this advice: "Your cheapest and best option is to fill the tank yourself right before you return the car. When I pick up a rental, I always note the closest gas station as I leave the premises, and that's where I fill up."

Perfect dining in San Francisco

The San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau has launched a new micro Web site for foodies at onlyinsanfrancisco.com/taste. Visitors can search for restaurants by price, kind of cuisine and neighborhood. Or seek out restaurants that offer al fresco dining (including the Waterfront Restaurant at Pier 7) or inspiring views (such as the Cliff House, 1090 Point Lobos Ave.). The Drink section links to wineries, tasting rooms, brew pubs and tap rooms. The Taste Experiences section highlights a variety of attractions, including Local Tastes of the City Tours at www.sffoodtour.com and Ghirardelli Square, named for the famed chocolatier.

A cleaner shade of hot pink

Key West's signature hot-pink taxis are going green. Five Sixes Taxi has acquired 10 hybrid vehicles as the first step to convert its entire fleet. They'll get 38 miles per gallon, versus other vehicles' performance of 12 to 13 mpg, and reduce emissions by 80 percent.

Compiled from Times staff, wires

Briefs: U.S. Passport Card for travel to Mexico, Caribbean, Bermuda, Canada 08/09/08 [Last modified: Saturday, August 9, 2008 4:30am]
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