Category Archives: Random

Kricket: Refugee Crowdsourcing

kricket-logoI came across Kricket recently, I believe via the Techfugees Facebook group. I spoke with Tom Nassr a couple weeks ago (turns out he’s also a SigEp) to learn more, and he mentioned they were working on a Kickstarter campaign — which is now live.

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How does it work?

Kricket is a map-based network for crowdsourcing information. The goal is to help refugees find safety, resources, and better travel routes. This platform is designed for NGOs, volunteers, refugees, and you, to contribute information to a single map that everyone can see & access, in realtime.

A few more details:

  • Everyone is looking at the same map of the worl

  • Everyone can “tag” their current location with an icon/photo and a comment

  • The tags on the map are “live” for 24 hours, then they are removed from the map

  • Everyone is anonymous

  • An Admin Panel can be accessed by Kricket & verified NGOs

  • Admins have the ability to update/ add / edit tags they create

  • This app is available on iOS, Android, and Web right now

I urge you to head on over and back the campaign.

Drew Meyers

Drew Meyers is the co-founder of Horizon & Oh Hey World. He worked for Zillow from September of 2005 to January of 2010 on the marketing team managing Zillow’s API program and various online partnerships. Founder of Geek Estate Blog, a multi-author blog focused on real estate technology for real estate professionals, and, a blog devoted to exploring the world of microfinance. As passionate as you get about travel.

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Protect Your Data During the Year’s Busiest Travel Weekend

If you ever travel with a smartphone, laptop, or tablet, your data is at risk of being lost or stolen. Whether it’s the result of a bag disappearing, a drink being spilled, or a cybercriminal hacking your online accounts, data loss can have both minor and major consequences, from losing travel photos to outright identity theft. And with the busiest travel weekend of the year right around the corner, it’s important to keep your data as secure as your belongings — even on the way to grandma’s house.

Unless you’re ready to leave the electronics at home and stick to chronicling your journey with pen and paper alone, it’s time to take data protection seriously. Here’s how to maximize the chances that data stays safe wherever you are.

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Before Traveling

  • Back up digital files. Anything that’s already stored on your electronic devices (especially important files and photos) should be backed up to an external hard drive prior to your departure. That way you have everything you need even if the worst happens and the data gets lost while traveling. While you’re at it, take an inventory of your data so you’ll have a sense of whether anything looks off (or is missing) upon returning home.
  • Run updates. Make sure you’re running the latest version of devices’ operating systems and antivirus software. Also run antivirus scans prior to departure.
  • Initiate password protection. Combine this with an inactivity timeout on any electronics that you’ll be bringing along (so people can’t easily log onto your device if they find it unattended). On all devices, be sure to create strong passwords.

While Traveling

  • Only use secure internet connections. Free or public wireless services are all but guaranteed to be insecure; assume data isn’t safe over these connections, and refrain from entering any sensitive data (also remember that paying for Wi-Fi doesn’t guarantee the connection is secure).
    The safest networks are those that are password-protected, and the safest websites are those that start with https://. Using the web browser’s “incognito” or “private browsing” mode can help ensure that personal data doesn’t get saved, but it’s no guarantee of security (likewise for deleting cookies and browsing history after logging off).
    Also be sure to disable Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on all devices whenever they aren’t in use. Want to learn more? Check out the Federal Trade Commission’s guide to Using Public Wi-Fi Networks.
  • Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)Installing a VPN can help protect your data as it’s transferred between different devices. VPNs are especially handy for business travelers who may need to send and receive sensitive documents while on the road.
  • Disable cookies and auto-fill. These are the features that automatically enter login info and passwords on websites. Be sure to disable this function before traveling—it would only make it easier for electronics thieves to access your personal data.
  • Don’t upgrade software on public Wi-Fi. Cybercriminals have started to create fake “update” notices that allows them to install malware on travelers’ devices. If the Wi-Fi network isn’t secure, don’t accept any operating system, app, or software upgrades.
  • Don’t perform online transactions involving money. Whenever possible, avoid accessing online banking, Paypal, or anything that requires you to provide credit card information. And be sure to only use bank ATMs, which are less likely to be hit by identity thieves using card readers.
  • Create a travel-specific email address. Whenever possible, use a dedicated email address just for the trip; this will help you avoid logging into personal or work accounts while traveling. Be sure not to share or store personal information on the new account.
  • Keep your devices on you at all times. And when they’re not in use, turn them off. If you must leave a device in a hotel room or hostel, make sure to lock it up.

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When You Get Back

  • Change passwordsUpdate passwords on all devices as well as frequently visited websites.
  • Take stock. Review bank activity, credit card activity, and health insurance claim activity to confirm that everything looks accurate, and continue keeping tabs on these accounts for at least the next few months.
  • Run security scans. Run antivirus and anti-spyware scans on all devices. If malware is detected, follow the antivirus tool’s direction for addressing the issue.

It doesn’t matter if you’re exploring Santa Fe’s culture, adventuring in Paris, road-tripping around Ireland, or piling in the car for turkey and family reunions — a little prep, a lot of proactivity, and follow-through upon returning home will all help ensure that your data remains your own no matter where in the world you are.


What To Do if Something Gets Stolen from Your Luggage at the Airport

A TSA agent at New York’s JFK International Airport made headlines this week for stealing a $7,000 luxury watch that a passenger accidentally left in security. This isn’t the first time the TSA has been charged with theft. A 2012 ABC News investigation revealed that hundreds of TSA employees have been fired for swiping items from travelers’ bags. And a CNN report found that passengers incurred over $2.5 million in property losses between 2010 and 2014—to the tune of more than 30,000 reported losses.

While these might seem like small sums relative to the number of travelers passing through the world’s airports every day, that’s no comfort to the passengers who have lost precious goods. A good rule of thumb when it comes to luggage theft is to think for the best and prepare for the worst. Here’s how to respond when property goes missing from your luggage in the airport.

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1. If your luggage is gone entirely, report it to your airline.

2. If you’re missing a specific item, start by checking with the airport’s lost and found department.

3. If the item isn’t in lost and found, it’s time to file a claim with the TSA. When filing, include as much information as possible—receipts, appraisals, and the information for your flight will all help your claim to be processed in a timelier manner.

4 .File a claim with the airline. Each airline has its own regulations for processing reports of missing items. Contact the airline’s customer service department to learn about your options.

5. If you think an expensive item (such as electronics or jewelry) was stolen, call the law enforcement office at both your departure and arrival airports and file a report for stolen goods. Be sure to request a copy of the police report; this might come in handy as the TSA processes your claim.

6. If your missing item doesn’t turn up during the TSA’s investigation, check with your insurance company to see if it will cover the loss. Many homeowner’s or renter’s insurance plans will cover theft. Some credit card companies may also provide coverage.

Once you’ve filed a claim, you’ll receive a letter detailing next steps. Note that it can take up to six months for a claim to be investigated, and claims involving law enforcement will typically take longer.

Also be aware that screening at some airports is carried out by private companies instead of the TSA. In those cases, you’ll need to contact the airport directly in order to file a claim.

Still have questions? Contact TSA to learn more.

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Tips for Preventing Theft

It’s great to respond proactively if a theft occurs. And it’s even better to prevent one in the first place. The following tips can help prevent theft and better empower you to process a claim.  

  • Take pictures of everything in your luggage and photocopy receipts for those items when possible. This will prove you were in possession of the item(s) prior to any theft. Make duplicates of the photos, then prepare two envelopes containing the photos and receipts. Give one envelope to a trusted friend who won’t be traveling and keep the other one on hand.
  • Don’t check valuables. Jewelry, electronics, and cash are all easy targets in checked baggage. Keep these items in your carry-on or on your person at all times.
  • Pack light. What’s better than keeping your valuables nearby? Keeping all of your luggage on hand. Learn how to pack light and you just might be able to fit everything you need into a carry-on. This will eliminate any worry about your luggage being in somebody else’s hands.
  • Use distinctive luggage. Thieves will be less willing to abscond with a tie-dye print bag covered in glitter stickers than yet another plain black suitcase.
  • Review the contents of your carry-on post-screening to be sure that you have everything you were carrying prior to moving through security.
  • If you’re traveling with a companion, keep a few people in between you while going through security. That way you can watch out for each other’s belongings while you take turns going through the body scanner.

While you can never be 100 percent prepared against theft, taking a few precautions and understanding the claims process can help you respond quickly and effectively should the worst actually happen.  


How to Get on Your Flight Attendant’s Good Side

Flight attendant Taylor Tippett recently made headlines for making her passengers’ travels a little brighter. Her method of cheering people up? She leaves uplifting notes on airplane windows and in safety cards, and encourages others to do the same. To date, the practice has earned her more than 120,000 followers on Instagram and cheered up countless passengers.

These small acts of kindness are particularly remarkable when you consider everything that flight attendants juggle on a daily basis — from helping people board, to working tough hours, dealing with jet lag, practicing for emergency scenarios, and handling the needs of hundreds of passengers.

So it should come as no surprise that when it comes to ensuring a smoother, kinder flight, one of the best things you can do is get on your flight attendant’s good side. Regardless of whether you have the friendliest flight attendant in the world (or not), here’s how to ensure peaceful coexistence.

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Say hello

How would you like it if you said “hello” to 40 people in a row and not one of them responded back? Simply acknowledging the presence of flight attendants in a friendly and respectful way can help set the tone for a pleasant interaction and maybe even brighten their day.

Be mindful of luggage

If you can’t lift your carry-on bag over your head in order to stow it, then it’s best to check it. Don’t expect a flight attendant to hoist the bag for you, thereby putting their own body at risk of injury. In fact, many airlines train their flight attendants not to lift bags in order to prevent injuries on the job. So either learn how to pack light enough that you can go it alone, or pay the checked baggage fee. And if you do stow luggage in the overhead bin, be sure to pack it wheels-in.

Board prepared

It’s unreasonable to expect a flight attendant to anticipate and accommodate every single one of your individual needs, so come prepared. If you know that you’ll need to take a pill immediately after boarding, for example, then it’s probably a good idea to bring your own bottle of water, since flight attendants are especially busy prior to take-off. If you’ll need a meal that accommodates your fish allergy, be sure to order it ahead of time and notify the flight attendant as you board. And if you know you’ll want your book during the flight, don’t pack it in your main carry-on; instead, keep it on your person so you don’t have to fumble through the overhead luggage bin during the flight.

Listen to announcements

Yes, this even includes the safety demo. If you fly often, it can be especially tempting to tune out. But announcements happen for a reason — they’re designed to keep everyone informed and safe, and telling the whole cabin all at once spares the flight attendant from having to repeat themselves over and over. So even if you think you’ve heard it all before, it’s helpful to sit up and take notice. 

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Make specific requests

When asking for a beverage, clarify your order from the get-go, e.g. “Club soda without ice and with a slice of lime, please.” Being as clear-cut as possible will spare the flight attendant from needing to re-make your order. And for goodness’ sake, take out your headphones while conversing with the attendant.

Don’t expect a babysitter

If you’re traveling with children, it’s critical to come prepared. Don’t expect flight attendants to supply toys, diapers, or changing wipes, and never ask a flight attendant to collect a dirty diaper without bagging it first. You’re just as responsible for your children on the plane as you are off of it.

Sing their praises

If a flight attendant wows you with their service and professionalism, demonstrate appreciation by 
telling their employers what a great job they did. Most airlines have a protocol for acknowledging flight attendants; simply ask the attendant for their employee number and the flight number and call the airline after touching down.

What’s it all boil down to? Simply remember that flight attendants are human, too, and treat them as you’d like to be treated.

Texas Just Declared Its First World Heritage Site

This past weekend, the five historic missions in San Antonio received official designation as a World Heritage Site. Hundreds of people gathered to celebrate the culmination of a nine-year effort to secure the missions with this elite status, reported San Antonio news station KENS5. The missions join an impressive list of other U.S. World Heritage Sites, including Yosemite National Park, Monticello, Independence Hall, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Officials estimate that the new designation will invigorate tourism to the missions—to the tune of a hundred million dollars and tons of new jobs in the local tourism industry. Want to beat the rush? Here’s what you need to know about America’s newest World Heritage Site.  

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The San Antonio Missions

The World Heritage designation recognizes the historical nature of the missions, which were communities developed by the Spanish in the 1700s to defend against French expansion into Texas and convert indigenous people so that they might become Spanish citizens and help maintain control of Texas.

The San Antonio Missions National Historical Park consists of four visitor areas spaced about two miles apart from each other. The whole region is brimming with chances to learn about Spanish and Native American heritage. Each of the four churches (the first four entries in the following list) are also active parishes.

The missions are:

  • Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purisima Concepción de Acuña, or Mission Concepción. Dedicated in 1755, the church is the oldest unrestored stone church in America. Several of the rooms still boast original frescos.
  • Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, or Mission San José. The largest of the missions (its nickname is the “Queen of the Missions”), the building was restored to its original design in the 1930s.
  • Mission San Juan Capistrano, or Mission San Juan. Founded in 1716 in eastern Texas, the mission was transferred to San Antonio in 1731. The stone church, friary, and granary were completed in 1756. A self-sustaining community, residents San Juan produced iron tools, cloth, and prepared hides in addition to growing fruits and vegetables and raising livestock. Surpluses were used to establish a trade network that extended to Louisiana in the east and Mexico in the south.
  • Mission San Francisco de la Espada, or Mission Espada. This was the first mission in Texas and was founded in 1690. Originally founded near present-day Weches, Texas, the mission relocated to San Antonio in the early 1700s and added a friary in 1745. The mission’s residents specialized in blacksmithing, weaving, masonry, and carpentry, trades which influenced San Antonio’s post-colonial transition.
  • Mission San Antonio de Valero, or The Alamo. Founded in 1718, the mission’s era lasted until 1793, when the Spanish converted it into a military barracks and outpost. In the 1800s, the Alamo became a hotly contested military base and served as the site of the battle for which it is still well known today.  

Each of the missions are connected to each other and the San Antonio River by the Mission Hike and Bike Trail, which weaves through old neighborhoods and farmland along eight miles of paved pathways (16 miles out and back). Water is available at each of the missions, but travelers should only expect to find food near Missions Concepción and San José.

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Where to Stay

The city of San Antonio is almost as exciting to visit as the missions themselves. With 20 million visitors arriving each year, the city has developed plenty of exciting places to visit, such as museums, theme parks, nature hikes, and fine dining. Flights into the city are fairly inexpensive, and the city is also home to a wide variety of budget-friendly hotels. The Wyndham San Antonio Riverwalk, Omni La Mansion del Rio, and Hyatt Regency Riverwalk are all great options.

Come for the history; stay for the vibrant contemporary city. The San Antonio Missions have been around for hundreds of years, and with their new designation as a World Heritage Site, it’s clear they’ll continue to make an impact for years to come.

JetBlue Opens a Farm at JFK Terminal 5


An airport tarmac is the last place anyone would think to look for sustainable local produce. But JetBlue is turning that assumption on its head with the unveiling of their new T5 Farm (short for JetBlue’s Terminal 5) at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City. The farm is a partnership with GrowNYC, a nonprofit organization devoted to supporting gardens, farmers markets, and green space in New York City, and may eventually supply in-flight food for the airline.

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JetBlue prioritized creating a healthy and vibrant farm in an unlikely environment. The plants will be secluded from planes and jet fuel, which operate mainly on the other side of the terminal building, and have been specifically chosen so that they won’t attract birds and wildlife to the airport. The 24,000 square foot farm features over 2,000 modular milk crate planters that will be filled with blue potatoes, herbs, leafy greens, carrots, and beets. Farm designer Thomas Kosbau also tried to maximize the amount of visible greenery.

The farm’s main product will be blue potatoes, which have become something of JetBlue emblem. TERRA Blues chips are served for free on every flight, and JetBlue estimates that 5.7 million bags were handed out last year. About 1,000 lbs of blue potatoes will be harvested from the farm each year, and many of them will make their way to the nearby TERRA facility to be processed into chips to develop new flavors. The eventual goal is to serve chips from the farm on JetBlue flights.

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The T5 Farm will be a highly sustainable enterprise. The soil was sourced from McEnroe Organic Farm in the Hudson Valley and will be combined with selected food waste compost from the terminal itself. Much of the produce will be served at restaurants in the terminal or donated to GrowNYC and local food pantries. The farm will also serve an educational purpose: School trips will tour the site and learn about farming practices.

JetBlue’s JFK Terminal 5 is already acclaimed for its design and amenities, and the new farm will accentuate the airline’s innovative spirit. The terminal already offers free WiFi service, excellent food options, and a kid and pet friendly rooftop green space. Passengers are able to purchase GrowNYC food at the terminal Greenmarket, and will soon be able to visit the farm with an advance reservation. Although the T5 Farm isn’t the first airport garden, its high profile may inspire similar ventures by airlines and airports. It may even raise the standards for airplane food, which is something everyone can get behind.

Why Travelers Should Be Nutty for National Nut Day

National Nut Day, which falls on October 22, is the perfect opportunity to celebrate the humble nut. They’re healthy, protein-packed, and portable, making them the perfect snack for traveling. They can also help weight loss, reduce appetite, lower bad cholesterol, and even extend life by lowering the risk of heart disease and stroke. Here are a few more reasons to love nuts and National Nut Day, especially if you’re a traveler.

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Raising Awareness of Fair Trade

National Nut Day is celebrated in both the United States and the United Kingdom, but the origins of the holiday are unclear. In the UK, it is largely championed by Liberation Foods, which uses the opportunity to highlight small-scale nut farmers and fair trade practices. The farmer co-ops that supply Liberation’s nuts are based everywhere from Malawi to Nicaragua, and collectively own 44% of the company. The Fairtrade Certification ensures the farmers get compensated fairly and have good working conditions, and the label is worth seeking out on package labeling.

Boosting American Agriculture

In the United States, nuts are not only popular, but are also an essential agricultural product. In 2010, Americans ate nearly four pounds of nuts per capita, and most of them were home-grown. Almost 90% of all nuts in the United States, and nearly all almonds, come from California. And American almonds are taking over the worldwide market as well. Nearly 75% of the world’s almonds come from the United States, and they are the leading horticultural export commodity by value.

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Nutty Travel Destinations

American nut farms are great side trips to work into travel plans, and make fun and interesting destinations in their own right. On a trip to LA or San Diego, try an excursion to Bates Nut Farm, which has been a family walnut farm since 1921. They’ve expanded their produce to other areas, but they still offer tours that demonstrate the planting, harvesting, and roasting of local nuts. A trip to Hawaii can also offer a closer look at the macadamia nut, a quintessential Hawaiian flavor. Head to the island of Molokai to explore the 5 acre farm of Purdy’s Natural Macadamia Nuts and try some Macadamia Blossom Honey or Nut Oil in addition to the fresh nuts.

Versatile Snacks

The huge versatility of nuts, as well as their health value and portability, makes them the best possible travel snack. They’re filling, high in protein, and can be incorporated into both sweet and savory snacks or meals. Keep in mind that 1-2 ounces is an ideal serving size, and then let imagination take over. Branch out and try a new kind, such as brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, or walnuts. Incorporate nuts into bars or trail mix, or roast them with curry or chipotle for a savory kick. Nut butters also travel well, and can be paired with toast, crackers, or fruit. Use National Nut Day as inspiration to explore new nutty possibilities, and travel in good taste and good conscience.

Watch Out for Malicious Wi-Fi Connections at These Popular Tourist Destinations

Think twice about logging onto Wi-Fi while vacationing in popular locales. A new analysis found that travelers at highly trafficked tourist attractions are increasingly at risk from malicious Wi-Fi networks.

The study, which was conducted by mobile threat defense company Skycure, tracked attacks on mobile devices at popular travel destinations over the course of a year. While there’s always a chance that someone’s mobile device could be hacked (regardless of whether they’re traveling or not), Skycure found that fifteen of the world’s most popular tourist sites posed an especially high risk to mobile users. The most common threats involve the capture of private information such as banking logins and passwords or personal communications.

With over 26 million visitors each year, New York City’s Times Square topped the list of the world’s most vulnerable mobile hotspots. Here’s the list in full:

  1. Times Square, New York City, NY
  2. Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, France
  3. Disneyland Paris, Marne-la-Vallee, France
  4. Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA
  5. Ocean Park, Hong Kong
  6. Las Vegas Strip, Las Vegas, NV
  7. Hollywood Walk of Fame, Hollywood, CA
  8. Union Station, Washington DC
  9. Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Boston, MA
  10. Disneyland Park, Anaheim, CA
  11. Navy Pier, Chicago, IL
  12. St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City
  13. Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand
  14. Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Orlando, FL
  15. Pike Place Market, Seattle, WA

So does this mean we should all flush our smartphones down the toilet and stay at home in the dark? Certainly not. There are too many amazing places to see (say, Kentucky Bourbon Country or historic Edinburgh) and too many lessons to be learned from traveling the world. By taking some precautions prior to departure, you can document your trip on Instagram and keep your data safe, too.

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How to Keep Your Mobile Data Safe

While there’s no such thing as fail-proof mobile security, following these tips will help keep your phone (and other mobile devices) secure anywhere in the world:

  • Avoid connecting to free Wi-Fi networks whenever possible. They’re inherently insecure. If a network doesn’t require a password, then assume your data might not be safe.  
  • Always keep your device updated to the most current operating system. Updates include security protections against any threats that weren’t accounted for in previous versions.
  • Sign out of online accounts as soon as you’re done using them. Staying logged in just makes things easier for cyber criminals.
  • Only download apps from a trusted source. If you don’t understand the permissions an app is seeking, then don’t install it.
  • If your phone starts acting up (for example, if it starts crashing a lot or warning notifications start popping up), then disconnect from the network immediately.
  • Visit the Taj Mahal in India or the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. According to Skycure, these are the safest tourist attractions for mobile users in (respectively) the world and the U.S.
  • Download a mobile security app. While no app can 100 percent guarantee your security, they can certainly help.

Perhaps most importantly? Don’t let this new analysis scare you away from traveling. Exploring the globe has always come with some risks—you might say stealing a tourist’s bank login info is simply the new pick-pocketing—but it has also, always, been worth it.


Where Not to Take a Selfie

Last month, a 66-year-old Japanese tourist was taking a selfie at the Taj Mahal when he tripped down a flight of stairs and died from the resulting injuries. At least 12 people have died so far this year while attempting to take selfies. Of course, it’s not the picture itself that kills, but the dangerous behavior surrounding it. As “extreme selfies” become more popular, too many people are taking unnecessary risks to achieve the perfect picture. The problem has become so acute in Russia that the Interior Ministry has initiated a publicity campaign to educate the public about selfie safety. Here are the situations to avoid, taken from lessons learned the hard way.

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There are two main dangers where trains are concerned: The force of the train itself and the live wires surrounding the track. Three students in Agra, India were attempting to take selfies with an oncoming train in January when they were run over and killed. Several deaths and injuries have also resulted from accidental contact with live wires in pursuit of “ultimate selfies.”

Moving Vehicles

It should seem like common sense, but anything that distracts from operating a moving vehicle should be avoided, selfies included. In April 2014, a woman crashed into a recycling truck and died on Interstate 85 in North Carolina minutes after posting selfies and a status to Facebook. And in May of the same year, a pilot was so distracted by texting and taking selfies that he lost control of the plane and crashed, killing himself and a passenger.

Cliffs and Ledges

It’s better to look down at the ground than at a phone screen when exploring high elevation sites. In August 2014, a Polish couple in Portugal reportedly crossed a safety barrier to take a selfie off the Cabo da Roca cliffs. They fell and tragically died, leaving their two young children behind. And just last week, a teenager died while orchestrating a selfie from the top of a nine-story building. He had already posted many such “extreme” pictures of himself.

Dangerous Animals

The primary danger with wild and potentially dangerous animals is turning our backs to them. This August, a young man died while attempting a selfie during the running of the bulls in Villaseca de la Sagra, Spain. At Yellowstone National Park, a woman thankfully survived being flipped over by a bison with whom she was attempting to take a photo. Waterton Canyon park in Denver had to close down because so many people were taking selfies with wild bears.

Guns and Weapons

A surprising number of people have accidentally shot themselves while posing for selfies with loaded guns pointed at their heads. A teenager in Houston died in September while taking selfies with a gun he had found with his cousin earlier that day. In January, two Russian teenagers pulled the pin from a grenade so that they could take a picture with it. The grenade exploded and the teenagers died. The phone and the selfie itself somehow survived the explosion, however, perhaps as a reminder for the rest of us to exercise our common sense and prioritize safety over social media fame.

How to Buy More than Flights with Your Frequent Flyer Miles

Just like any other type of rewards program, frequent flyer miles are what you make of them. Many people hoard their points in order to purchase flights, and we’re big proponents of that. After all, getting to fly more often means getting to travel more often, and that means opening yourself up to all the unique experiences and lessons that travel affords.

But redeeming miles for flights isn’t the only way to take advantage of frequent flyer rewards programs. Regardless of whether you fly every week or once a year, here are some surprising ways to get the most out of those points beyond the sky.

The Low-Down on Frequent Flyer Miles

Also called airline miles or travel points, frequent flyer miles are earned by participating in loyalty programs offered by airlines or credit card companies (which may or may not limit participants to earning points on a specific airline).

When it comes to airline loyalty programs, miles can be earned by flying or making purchases at certain stores or restaurants specified by the airline. For credit card programs, miles are earned by making purchases with the participating credit card. These miles can then be redeemed toward flights or commercial goods.

Ready to put those miles to good use? Here’s a run-down of the wide array of options available to points holders.

  • Book a hotel or rent a car. This can be a good option for people who have earned a ton of miles and can’t redeem them for the flights they want. While miles might not be worth quite as much as if you redeemed them for a flight, applying them toward hotels or car rentals can be a great way to plan a vacation without letting points go to waste.
  • Join the club. Some airlines allow travelers to apply miles to an annual club membership. Members enjoy access to airport lounges that typically offer complimentary snacks, beverages, and Wi-Fi in a quiet setting away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the airport. While your miles may have more value when applied directly to flights, no one can deny the allure of a comfortable chair and some peace and quiet.
  • Buy a gift voucher or gift card. These can be exchanged for goods or services at a specific store. By purchasing a voucher instead of a commercial product, you’ll be able to wait to buy the item until it goes on sale, thereby saving some extra cash.
  • Buy merchandise. Most points experts advise against applying miles to merchandise, because it’s rarely the best way to squeeze value out of those points. However, anyone looking to offload extra points (or simply feel like you’ve gotten a new iPhone for “free”), can apply miles to any number of items, from sunglasses, to books, juicers, e-readers, smartphones, laptops, espresso machines, exercise systems, watches, and even furniture.
  • Share the love. Tired of traveling solo? Offer to let friends or family redeem your miles for their own flights. Occasionally it might even make sense to transfer your miles into the other person’s account so they can redeem points for flights on their own. However, most often you’re better off simply making the purchase from your own account on their behalf.

When it comes down to it, how you use frequent flyer miles is up to you. While you’re likely to get the most value by booking flights, you earned those points and they’re yours to dispose of—so if an espresso machine is calling, we promise we won’t judge.