Check before you go: travel essentials easily forgotten (vaccination, airport tax etc)
Traveling to an exotic destination is always exciting. Fun and adventure are calling. But to make your travels as happy and enjoyable as they can be, don't forget to check the basics - this will minimize the chances of running into unexpected or unfortunate surprises.
- Check to make sure your passport is valid, and not just for the duration of the trip, but preferably for at least 6 months after your scheduled return date. Many countries refuse entry if your passport runs out in less than 6 months after you get home.
Find out and make a note of contact details and address of your country's embassy in the country you intend to visit. You may need this information e.g. if your passport gets stolen, which unfortunately happens far too often.
Scan your passport and other important travel documents and upload them to a secure on-line document storage site. With your password you will be able to access these at anytime from any computer. Also take photocopies of these with you and store them separately from the original documents.
- Check to see whether you may need a visa to enter a particular country. Entry regulations differ for every country, but also depend on you nationality. If you do need a visa in order to travel to a particular country, make sure you obtain it well in advance from the local embassy of that country, before you start your trip. Arriving at a country's border without the appropriate permit may find you returning to your home country before you ever set foot in your destination. Travel insurances do not cover losses thus incurred as the responsibility of applying for a visa in good time rests entirely with you, the traveller.
- Airport tax
- Many countries charge a departure tax when you leave by plane. This can be $30 or over $100. These are never included in your ticket price. Check before you go to avoid unexpected surprises. Try to have the right amount ready when it comes to paying this ransom. Airport tax collectors never seem to have any change.
- Find out about the local currency, whether and where you may be able to use your credit card (not all localities have ATM machines and not all hotels or restaurants accept credit cards due to the high processing charges.). In some countries in Latin America you may be able to use dollar bills, but be aware that a) change is rarely given, so take small nominations and b) very often only the crispest bills are accepted. If you get a fistful of dollar bills from your bank prior to departure, insist on clean, immaculate notes.
Make sure you have adequate funds available to cover your trip, plus access to emergency funds. Travelers checks are not accepted everywhere and can be a pain to exchange, but they are one of the most secure form of money you can take abroad with you, especially if you are vigilant about noting sequence numbers of your checks and which ones you have cashed. Travelers checks are insured by the issuing company which means that they will be replaced in case they are stolen (as long as you have a record).
- It is always a good idea to get travel insurance and trip-cancellation insurance which will cover your losses if you have to cancel your trip for any reason. However, it is not enough to just get cover - make sure you know exactly what is and isn't covered and that the policy fulfils your needs. There is no use in getting an insurance policy that excludes cover for adventurous activities when you are on a trip that includes such activities. Some insurance agencies specialize in these types of travel coverage. Shop around!
- It is easy to get carried away with all the wonderful and varied new impressions and to disregard safety concerns. Do not throw caution to the wind! While one also should not adopt a paranoid attitude, it is always important to stay alert and security conscious.
Leave your jewelry and valuables at home. Lock your money and passport in the safety deposit box of your hotel. Only carry a photocopy of your passport with you, and the minimum amount of cash you need on that day or excursion.
Take taxis after dark, or to remote locations - and ONLY use legitimate, official taxi companies. It is sad but true that taxi drivers are among the most skilful crooks in Latin America when it comes to taking advantage of innocent and unsuspecting tourists.
- Get a health check-up before you go and discuss with your medical advisor any specific precautions you should take. In some countries it is an official requirement to be immunized for certain conditions, most notably, yellow-fever. If this is the case you will be asked to show a valid certificate of immunization upon entering the country. Some times this is only required if you are entering from or have visited another country where yellow fever is present within the past 6 months or so. Find out before you go rather than getting a surprise welcome jab as soon as you enter the country. If you are taking any prescription medications, make sure you have adequate supplies for your trip.
Be aware that water may not always be safe to drink. Check with the locals or hotel staff even before using it to clean your teeth. If in doubt, use bottled water only. Be careful with uncooked or non-peeling vegetables.
- If you are taking any electrical equipment including chargers for your camera, make sure you also have the right adapter.
- It is best to leave mobile phones and laptops at home. If you do carry them, be aware that roaming charges can be horrendous. Many hotels have computers that they will let guests use for free or at a low fee. Don't do your online banking on a public computer, though and make sure you keep all your passwords safe. For phonecalls, services such as net2phone offer good rates for calling cards that you can use to call home from abroad.
- Familiarize yourself with customs regulations. Many countries do not allow certain items, such as fresh foods, live plants or seeds, alcohol or cigarettes above a certain limit etc. Be prepared that these will be taken away from you if you try to import them into a country where this is not allowed.
Likewise, be aware that not everything that you can buy in a country will be legal to export or to import back to your own country. In particular, live animals, or crafts made from some animal parts (e.g. snake skin, feathers, turtle shells etc) or plants are illegal under international regulations. Also, items that may be considered part of the national heritage, such as archaeological bits and pieces, are usually illegal to export. Furthermore, be aware that wherever such items are offered there is a high chance that these are ridiculously overprized fakes. Do not purchase such items as it only encourages illegal and fraudulent trade and poaching of wildlife.
- In most countries the same substances are illegal that are illegal in your home country. Buying or consuming drugs abroad will be considered just as much of a crime there - but may be punished far more harshly than in your home country and offer little access to legal help or advice. Furthermore, you will be much more vulnerable while imbibed and even if you don't get arrested or imprisoned, you may find yourself stranded robbed or hurt or worse.