QUESTION: We are planning our first trip to China later this year. Are there any entry requirements that we should know about?
ANSWER: Tomorrow is the beginning of Chinese New Year's for 2013, known as the Year of the Snake.
It's a great time to experience a little of this Chinese tradition right here in Winnipeg as many restaurants celebrate with special meals for the occasion. This Year of the Snake represents a history that goes back 4,710 years in notating the beginning of a new cycle.
China is a fascinating country to explore but there are requirements you do need to be aware of before departing.
In 2012, China's tourism revenues were more than $410 billion, up almost $205 billion from the year before. You are in good company with your decision to visit and the world has really started to hone in on this country after all the publicity generated by the recent Olympics.
You do need to apply for a visa in advance, working with a tour operator who will 'invite' you to visit China.
You will have to submit your original passport, which must be valid for at least six months after your return. It must also have two or more blank pages in it.
This is a requirement not exclusive to China and travellers need to know a full passport with no empty pages could result in their being barred entry from a number of countries.
You will need to present an invitation letter from a tourist group or other duly authorized tourism unit.
This all sounds more preventative than welcoming, but your efforts will be completely rewarded with the journey you are about to embark on.
While a recitation of the main sites is easy, it is the sense of being in a country going through a major evolution that will stay with you as well. From an agrarian society in parts of the nation to a skyscraping giant in another, you will often wonder if you have changed countries in your travels.
QUESTION: Someone told me Las Vegas is not the gambling and convention capital of the world. I didn't believe him. What are the facts?
ANSWER: Your friend is more or less accurate. He is completely accurate that Las Vegas is not the gambling capital, having been overtaken by Macau a few years back.
Macau is the former Portuguese colony that was turned back to the Chinese some time ago. The Chinese government may have made gambling illegal on the mainland but they have not been able to prevent the population from going there to try and beat the odds.
Like Hong Kong, Macau operates as a special administrative region under China with different rules than the mainland.
In fact, Macau turns over almost $38 billion in gambling annually, at least four times more than that of Las Vegas. And properties like the Venetian and Wynn clearly indicate the major casino brands have found financial favour in the marketplace.
To add insult to injury for Las Vegas, Singapore is in the process of becoming the second largest gambling mecca in a country where investors feel confident in gaining a substantial return, with greater sense of security governments won't swoop in to steal their investments.
Notwithstanding its recent unprecedented growth, 2012 has not been a good year for Macau in particular. With the economic pressures that have hit the region, even the big players have had to become more moderate in their gambling habits.
Las Vegas is still the world's largest convention city and delegates to conferences and conventions are known to drop more dollars per person on food, beverage and entertainment than the casual visitor.
QUESTION: I have not travelled much in the past but with retirement have started to do so more frequently. My question is about packing. Are there ways to pack suitcases that will keep clothes from wrinkling during the air flights?
ANSWER: There are a number of things you can do.
While the heavier items are best placed at the bottom of the case, one method that works well to prevent wrinkles goes as follows. Place trousers and skirts at the bottom with the legs or bottom of the skirts hanging over the edges of the suitcase in an alternating pattern utilizing all four sides.
Similarly, suit jackets and dresses should be laid out in that manner.
Roll casual items like socks, underwear and T-shirts tightly as they often do not need to be kept so neatly pressed. Place these and shoes packed in bags on top of them and then fold all the outside edges over the sides of the case back into the centre.
This will still leave room for lotions and smaller bags to be stuffed alongside the garments.
For real packing success, look at the range of packing cubes available on the market. Once people start using them for the different kinds of items they are designed for, it usually becomes the only way they will travel.
Many of these come colour-co-ordinated so clothing categories can be quickly identified.
At your destination, these cubes can be easily transferred to hotel or resort drawers, leaving the suitcase for dirty garments.
Forward your travel questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found at www.journeystravelgear.com or read Ron's travel blog at www.thattravelguy.ca.