I guess you want to know who Erica Ho is.

Erica Ho is a former reporter for TIME in Hong Kong and former geek at Gizmodo and Lifehacker. Her work has appeared in CNN, Yahoo!, MSN, Mashable, Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler and Quartz to name a few places.

Erica Ho

The United Kingdom Opens Its Electronic Passport Gates To More Nationalities

  Erica Ho   Less than a minute to read
Updated: May 20 & June 4, 2019Per an official statement, the electronic gates are open to citizens of the seven countries listed starting May 20. On June 4, our editors were able to independently verify that this was in effect at London Gatwick Airport (LGW), where customs officers were actively redirecting qualifying passengers toward the ePassport gates.

One Mile at a Time recently reported this fortuitous change in the UK’s immigration process: Starting June 2019, the automated e-gates at immigration in all UK airports will be available to passport holders from seven new countries, including the U.S.

The countries included on the list are:

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Japan
  • New Zealand
  • Singapore
  • South Korea
  • United States

It is already available to UK, EU, EEA or Swiss passports. It is not known if the new countries will kick in on June 1, or sometime later during the month of June.

Essentially, this means these citizens are now eligible to use the ePassport gates, which use biometric scanning and a camera to get through immigration instead of speaking to a live, customs officer.

Though the UK has a Registered Traveller program through which select passport holders were able to use these (for a cost, like a whopping £70 or $90.10 USD per year), that simply won’t be the case anymore. 

(Portugal already offers this service to electronic passport holders, and I was able to use this recently while exiting the country. Hong Kong also offers this to its residents. I’d love to see more and more countries begin to offer this, instead of jumping in a ginormous, inefficient line.)

Probably a countermeasure against Brexit, or something.

A Quiet Reflection on the Notre Dame Fire

  Erica Ho   2 minute read

It sounds like something out of a science fiction novel: The Notre Dame, a historic landmark that has stood on the edge of a cultural lexicon for 850 years, seemingly immune to catastrophe, has caught on fire.

Over the decade I’ve spent devoted to traveling and seeing the world, I have been to enough places to know if it’s a place I will ever return to partake in again. What I rarely know is when I will be back, and how I, or the place, may change in the meantime.

In some cases, it’s a mere matter of months before I return. Sometimes supposed months turn into years, and in some cases, several lifetimes will have passed before I am able to come back. And in that time, I often find that not only I may have become a different person, but it may also have become a different place.

Time rarely ever stands still despite our plans.

Tragic as it is, the Notre Dame Cathedral, like so many other landmarks that have encountered misfortunes, is a sobering reminder that there is a rarely a moment that is best savored as the present. Everything is so fragile, isn’t it?

No matter how many times that you proclaim “Mongolia will always be there!”

It is moments like these that reminds me of other things that were lost. Two years ago, Malta’s Azure Window, the country’s most celebrated rock arch collapsed, after massive winds eventually rocked and reduced the formation to literally pebbles at the sea floor.

The Azure Window. The rock arch is no longer there as of 2017. (Juan Antonio Segal / Flickr)

In the last five years, almost all of Syria’s UNESCO’s heritage sites, including the ancient city of Palmyra were completely lost. Treasures that withstood multiple millennia, only to be destroyed in the brief, fractional presence of looters and hooligans.

There are things that can not be replaced. Maybe what the Notre Dame’s roof is telling us is to not be careless with our time, and with what we love and value.

I don’t proclaim to to be personally and intimately tied to the Notre Dame Cathedral; I wasn’t into The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Quasimodo seemed creepy to me). I am not Catholic. I am not from Paris, nor am I from France. It plays no part in my identity politics, other than as a tourist.

But I do remember visiting the Notre Dame one quiet afternoon. I remember stepping into the cathedral, and feeling my heart lift ever so softly. It is these fleeting moments, however we find it, whether it’s a place, song or a person, that keep us connected to the world at large.

This Victor Hugo quote will probably be oft repeated in the countless stories that will be written over the next coming days: Love is like a tree: it grows by itself, roots itself deeply in our being and continues to flourish over a heart in ruin.

Love is a strange thing. How simply being there can affect us in strange ways. But like it does for so many other things, it will also quite literally, lift the Notre Dame out of the ashes.

The ancient city of Palmyra in 2007, before it was destroyed five years ago. (brunomalfondet / Flickr)

Tell Us How Much Your Trip Really Cost.

  Erica Ho   1 minute read

No shame here, but we were fully inspired by Refinery29’s money diaries to want to ask you how much you actually spend on a trip.1

Besides, we are secure enough to admit when we don’t have an original idea.

Real talk, how much did you spend on hotels and hostels, the Michelin prixe fix lunch, the booze, and flying over the Nazca lines? How much was incurred in foreign transaction fees? (I mean, if you’re that fastidious about the money tracking, by all means.)

There are a couple of things that we want to do differently, though. We want this to include travelers of all genders and walks of life, so even if there’s a little one in tow, we want to hear about this. Plus, the truth is, that in this day and age, many people are using points to pay for a substantial amount of things.

Travel editors also don’t travel like normal people.2 In our gilded life, tourism representatives wine and dine us, and we stand at the freakin’ center of Mexico, in the crypt that houses all the archbishops (seriously).

So we’re relying on you to tell us! Aside from blogging about our occasional, once-a-year vacation where we’re forced to pay for things. 😅3

Pro Tip Our budgeting spreadsheet is not only helpful for tracking expenses, but also for submitting this diary. 😉