Mike's Trip Reports Travel Tips
Here are some of the things I've learned through the years:
- Get a passport and don't let it expire: You never know when an opportunity to travel abroad will present itself. Save yourself the stress of rushing to get a passport at the last minute.
- Start foreign travel preparations as early as possible: Depending on which country you plan to visit, you might need to acquire more than just a passport. Some countries we visited require a visa. Some require proof of immunizations. There was even one that required us to pay a reciprocity fee which could only be paid online. Check the embassy web site of the country you plan to visit. Obtaining a visa might require you to mail your passport to the embassy or to use a carrier service if you cannot visit the embassy in person. Even if you visit the embassy in person, you might be required to leave your passport and return at a later date to retrieve it. Give yourself a few months to meet all the entry requirements for a country if you can.
- Get vaccinated: Vaccinations are recommended or required for travel to some countries. Check the CDC (Center for Disease Control) web site. My doctor referred me to a travel clinic for to get shots. These can be expensive; however, I found out that the infirmary at my job offers some vaccinations for free for employees. Find out if your company offers a similar perk.
- Check for travel advisories and warnings: It is a good idea to check the U.S. Department of State web site for travel advisories before planning foreign travel. Consider registering your trip with their STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program). Doing so, will help the nearest US embassy contact you in case an emergency (civil unrest, disaster, etc.) arises during your stay in the country.
- Sign up for loyalty programs: Whether it's an airline, hotel, or cruise line, sign up for their loyalty program if they have one. You never know when you will end up using them. Over the years, Traci and I have accumulated enough points to take advantage of the perks that are offered - free hotel stays, free internet on a cruise ship (Huge!), upgrades on flights, etc...
- Use AAA/CAA Tour Books for travel in North America: If you are a AAA/CAA member, be sure to order their Tour Book. It's free for members. I have found the books to be the most concise when in describing attractions in North America.
- Check your credit card terms before purchasing trip insurance: Your credit card might already offer trip insurance. For example, one of my credit cards will cover you for up to $1500 per family member as long as you use the card to book the trip.
- Shop around for trip insurance: Do a Google search for "trip insurance" or "travel insurance" to compare the offerings.
- Confirm your reservations via email or a phone call: Don't rely solely on a web site to confirm your sightseeing attractions, dinner reservations, etc... Web sites are not always kept up to date. There have been times when we booked a sightseeing attraction online but arrived to find out the attraction had gone out of business.
- Inform your credit card company of your foreign travel plans: Otherwise, your transaction might get rejected as suspicious activity.
- Send travel itinerary/contact information to family member(s) or close friend: Make sure someone knows how to contact you in case of an emergency. I normally send an email to my family containing information such as flight information, hotel phone numbers, cruise ship information, and travel organization phone number.
- Put a hold on your mail: contact the post office to hold your mail until you return from your trip. This can be done online.
- Ask a trustworthy neighbor to collect your packages and newspapers until you return: If you allow packages, newspapers, and other items to accumulate in front of your residence in your absence, your home might invite burglars. Ask a trustworthy neighbor to hold any items delivered to your home until you return.
- Bring a Luggage Scale: With airlines charging for overweight luggage these days, using your own luggage scale will give you the opportunity to re-pack, if necessary, before arriving at the airport and getting hit with a baggage fee.
- Bring hand sanitizer or wipes: I like to have a way to clean my hands when I am touring. I've come across situations in which there was no soap in public restrooms.
- Pack a Multi-Receptacle Extension Cord: comes in handy for charging multiple devices simultaneously. Do not leave it unattended while in use - especially in a country in which it is necessary to use an adapter. It could be a fire hazard or the electricity difference could damage your devices.
- Pack a Small Flashlight: We've experienced power outages during vacation - especially in some of the more remote places we've visited. It was so dark once that I could not even find my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Make sure you have a flashlight, headlamp, phone light, or some other battery-powered light source when you travel.
- Pack a shopping bag for groceries: we have often had to pay a fee for paper or plastic bags overseas. Bring your own shopping bag to avoid the fee.
- Pack an empty duffle bag: We seem to always come home with more that we brought with us. The duffle bag can be used to pack extra stuff.
- Pack duct tape: It is useful for repairing so many things. We used it to patch up our luggage that got ripped by Ethiopian Airlines flights to and from Tanzania.
- Pack medicine and a change of clothes in your carry-on baggage for flights: This is a precaution in case your luggage gets lost.
- Bring printed directions and maps for road trips: This can be a reliable backup plan in case GPS technology fails you. On a road trip through middle-of-nowhere New Mexico and Colorado, my GPS unit died, there was no cell phone signal, and it was getting dark. Fortunately, I had printed directions to our destination and a map. It was a nerve-racking drive through hours of desolate land but we made it to our destination safely.
- Bring some small denomination notes (e.g., $1, $5): This is helpful for exchanging petty cash and paying gratuities (if your currency is accepted) in cases where you can't use a credit card and your ATM card does not work.
- ATM for local currency: Although I normally use my credit card when traveling abroad, it is good to have some of the local currency available for situations in which credit cards are not accepted. I've found that my ATM card works in most countries thus allowing me to withdraw the local currency. I normally have to pay a fee just as I would if withdrew money from an ATM not owed by my bank at home. If your transaction fails, check to see if maybe you requested an amount that is above the maximum withdrawal amount for that machine.
- Agree on a price before getting into a taxi: Some taxi drivers will try to overcharge tourists. During our Brazil trip, a taxi driver charged us 5 reals to get to the main square; however, a different driver tried to charge us 17 reals for the return trip to our hotel! Agreeing on a price before we got in the taxi would have avoided the argument that followed.
- Explore your destination online before you go: I like to use the Google Maps Street View feature to "walk" the streets near an attraction or our hotel before I go. Doing so is helpful for getting oriented when I finally arrive in person.
- Keep a journal: Regardless of whether or not you plan to write a trip report, consider keeping notes of your trip. This does not need to be lengthy. It is fun to look back on your notes years later and reminisce about a trip. I normally jot down a few bullets each night of a trip before going to bed. My notes along with the picture Traci takes help me remember enough to write a trip report when I get home.
- Book direct flights if possible: We prefer to book direct flights to save time and reduce the risk of lost luggage. Often a direct flight might cost more than an itinerary with connections. If the price difference is not too large, we will pay for the convenience.
- Allow a flight connection time of at least an hour and a half: Often an airline representative will tell you that 45 minutes is a "valid connection time". From my experience, a connection time that short is risky. Your original flight might push back from the gate on-time but when you find yourself number 18 in the line of planes waiting on the tarmac to take off, the stress level of catching the connecting flight tends to go up. Do yourself a favor and book flights that have longer connection times. Give yourself at least two and a half hours if your itinerary includes international flights. The security process can be lengthy - especially when returning to the U.S..
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- If you are prone to seasickness...: These days we barely notice ship movement due to the stabilizers on large cruise ships. However, if you are concerned about getting seasick, try to book a mid-ship cabin on a lower deck. You will feel less ship movement. If you do start to feel queasy, over-the-counter medicine such as Bonine and Dramamine might help you feel better but realize they might make you drowsy. Take a small dose. There are other precautions you can take such as an ear patch (scopolamine) or a motion sickness wristband but you might need a referral from your doctor for these. I no longer use the ear patch because of the side effects - blurred vision and dry mouth. The worse part was when I removed the patch after a few days. My body seemed to reverse itself. I ended up feeling motion sickness even though I was no longer on the ship.
- Unless you love alcohol or soda, you don't need a drink package on a cruise: We've never purchased a drink package on a cruise. There are normally fountain fruit drinks and water available around the clock for free on cruise ships. Even when dining in the dining room, you can ask your waiter to bring you a fountain drink.
- Plan to arrive a day before your cruise embarkation: Unless you are driving to the cruise port, plan to arrive in the embarkation city a day before the embarkation. This will reduce the stress of delayed or counseled flights on the day of your cruise.
- You are allowed to carry your own luggage onto the cruise ship: Traci and I normally like to carry our own luggage onto a cruise ship so that we don't have to wait for it to be delivered later in the evening. The porters at the pier sometimes warn us not to carry our own luggage because they say it won't fit through the security scanners; however, this has never been the case for us.
- Consider doing a theme cruise: Traci and I are music lovers. Therefore, music theme cruises are perfect for us because some of our favorite Grammy-winning and/or legendary artists are booked to perform on the ship. In fact, theme cruises are the only way Traci and I will cruise the Caribbean these days. There are all types of theme cruises from which to choose - everything from running cruises to sci-fi cruises. Do a Google search for "theme cruises".