Published January 7, 2007

Passport countdown

Beginning Jan. 23, all air travelers from the United States, Mexico, Canada and other Western Hemisphere countries must have valid passports to enter the United States - a departure from the long-standing rule that allowed drivers' licenses or birth certificates as valid forms of identification.

The Travel Industry Association of America has launched a Web site (getapassportnow.com) to explain the passport application process.

Last year, the deadline for cruise and land travel was extended from January to 2009. But officials said recently that the rule likely will be enacted sometime next year.

In the United States, just 27 percent of the population is estimated to have valid passports. In Canada, the figure is higher, at 40 percent.

Protection of spoonbills

Everglades National Park will close Carl Ross Key and Frank Key Channel to the public for nearly three months during the nesting season of roseate spoonbills.

The area will be closed until March 15.

Park rangers say spoonbill nesting in Florida Bay is threatened by residual damage from Hurricane Wilma, human activity and predators. Hurricane Wilma damaged Carl Ross Key and pruned the protective tree cover on nearby Sandy and Frank keys, home to two major spoonbill nesting colonies.

The park also will close the channel running along Frank Key. Park patrols will increase during that time.

Tips for eating abroad

Joan Peterson has written eight Eat Smart guides, with books on Brazil, Turkey, Indonesia, Mexico, Poland, Morocco, India and Peru ($13-$14, Ginkgo Press). The books are designed to help travelers decipher menus, navigate food markets and enjoy international culinary adventures without getting sick.

A few of her suggestions:

- Avoid tap water. In addition to drinking only bottled water and keeping ice cubes out of your drinks, you should brush your teeth with bottled water and avoid salad or any other food in which raw fruits or vegetables might have been rinsed, even if you're dining in a well-appointed place.

- Be wary of street food. If you notice a food stand with a line of customers, "you can make the assumption that the food is good because people are eating there in droves." On the other hand, just because the locals can tolerate something doesn't necessarily mean you can.

Travel to study

Elderhostel is shaking off its serious image with the Road Scholar travel-study program.

It's open to anyone 21 and older, and offers a wide range of classes, plus smaller group sizes (up to 24 participants instead of about 40 in many Elderhostel programs), more free time, and more behind-the-scenes access.

Topics include the Austin music scene, Southwestern cuisine in Santa Fe, N.M., and restaurants in Las Vegas. International programs are offered, too. For more information, go to www.roadscholar.org.

 Battle of the lift ticket prices

The contest between Vail and Aspen ski areas over which is the highest has nothing to do with elevation. It's all about the price of a lift ticket.

The Aspen Skiing Co. hiked its single-day lift ticket price to $82 last month, making it - for a while - the highest priced ticket among United State's ski resorts. Vail countered, jumping its price from $77 a day to $85, according to the Aspen Daily Times.

Until recently, it's been the other way around. Aspen was tops in ticket prices. But this year, Aspen officials say they're done, they have no more price increases planned. And Vail's reservation center says the top-tier holiday ticket price won't go above the $85 dollar mark.

Compiled by Janet K. Keeler from Associated Press, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services and Dallas Morning News reports.