By Renée S. Gordon
Periodically someone will ask me to make travel arrangements for them and they are always astonished when I tell them that I am not a travel agent and I don’t have the expertise to help them. To soften the blow, I always add that, after they have booked a trip, I can help them travel more efficiently. Based on my years of wandering the globe, I have garnered information that can lower your pre-trip stress level, ease your anxieties and, most importantly, contain a travel crisis at a level that is more easily managed. Problems run the gamut from paperwork to paraphernalia and I have a few tips that, when followed, can make the difference between a memorable vacation and a mess.
The globe is awash in paperwork and the world of travel is no exception. Passports are required for travel outside of the country, you can download forms online or some local post offices are equipped to take your picture, though it is less expensive to take one with you, and complete the paperwork. Once you have received your passport, you should sign it in ink immediately and complete the emergency information in pencil in case it changes during the time it is valid. If your passport becomes full, additional pages may be added for free. Forms are available online. www.travel.state.gov/passport/get/renew/renew_833.
People traveling or residing abroad can register their travel plans with the U.S. State Department and the benefits of this free service are numerous. It will assist your family in reaching you should the need arise and it will facilitate your receiving assistance should problems arise. It should be noted that no information regarding your itinerary would be shared without your permission. www.travelregistration.state.gov
When traveling with children it may be required to furnish documents that prove you have the authority to travel with the child. All child-related forms are available, for a fee, at www.Forms4Travel.com
Always, always, always, leave copies, and carry copies with you, of the identification page of your passport, passport photos, your traveler’s check numbers, credit card information, medical information including doctor’s names, medications, and travel plans with telephone numbers. Lately I have begun to place the information on a flash drive because it is easier to carry on your person. I carry pictures because I was once on a trip where a friend lost her passport. The embassy had no problem replacing the document but we had difficulty replacing the picture.
No matter whether you are going out of the state or the country, check for the limits of your medical coverage. Most policies will reimburse for treatment but they will not pay to evacuate you and the thought of invasive surgery in a third world country strikes terror in my heart. The best service I have found is Air Ambulance. They charge a yearly fee and the number of trips is unlimited. They even have a family rate. www.airambulancecard.com
You should research your destination, quite simply, “know before you go.” There are a number of companies that publish great guides. I like to know what I want to see and do and what I am looking at when I get there. I think the Eyewitness books are the most informative but I know people who like the Lonely Planet series. For domestic destinations the AAA and Mobil books are very useful. Remember that used copies are an option. Try your luck at www.bestbookbuys
Through the years, I have learned to pack less and less, both because of the strictly enforced baggage policies and because of my own one bag rule. I never carry more than one bag and if I am checking my bag I do not have a carry on but I do have a large purse. You should never have more baggage than you can easily handle in case of an emergency.
How is this feat accomplished? I pack clothing in one color scheme that allows me to minimize the number of shoes I take with me. My clothing consists of soft fabrics that fold and don’t wrinkle easily. When I travel to third world countries I take “disposable” clothing and leave it as I go. By disposable I mean clothing that I do not need or purchased for the express purpose of leaving it behind. This allows me to pack things I buy and leave items behind that the people can use.
If you decide to purchase special travel wear, there are two sites that I recommend, Travel Smith and Sierra Trading Post. Travel Smith can be pricey but they often have sales, their clothing will last and it is designed specifically for travelers. www.TravelSmith.com Sierra Trading Post features deeply discounted items for the active traveler. They too have an outlet store and a clearance bin. www.sierratradingpost.com
Noel Coward wrote, “Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun,” and he was so right. Never travel without protection against the sun. Sunburn is actually caused by some of the most harmfull UVB rays. They are also a leading contributor to skin cancer and premature aging. Coppertone has developed six new products that provide the necessary level of protection based on your age, activity and skin type and are lasting, promote skin repair and are packaged so that they are packable and easy to apply. These products are especially beneficial for people with sensitive skin and allergies. Suntan lotion should always be applied prior to going outside because it is most effective when absorbed by the sun and it should have an SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 or higher.
This year, I also discovered hats by Wallaroo, an Australian company. They feature a line of hats that are fashionable and offer UVB protection. Best of all, the hats are made of a special fabric that can be crushed and will retain their shape. www.wallaroohats.com
Now that you have packed all the big items, be certain to include band-aids, safety pins, and a few emergency medications like Imodium, Tylenol or Advil, and Benadryl.
The ease of travel took a 180-degree turn after 911 and airports now have varying levels of enforcement. It is wise to check with your airline carrier to find out their guidelines for carry-on luggage and check-in procedures. The vast majority of airlines now allow you to check-in and print your boarding pass via the internet within 24-hours. This is a good idea because, if you are not checking luggage, you can proceed directly to security.
When checking into your hotel, ask for a map of the area, information on included hotel services and get something with the address on it. You would be surprised how many people get lost and don?t know the address of their accommodations or did not realize that there were several hotels in the area with the same name.
Okay, here is my favorite tip. Once at my destination I unpack the clothes I will wear and hang each outfit, complete with undergarments, in the closet. Once I wear the outfit I repack it and on the final day of the trip I am already packed. The only outfit remaining is what I intend to wear home. NEVER put things in drawers, that is the easiest way I know to leave things behind.
People today are laden down with things that need to be charged and foreign currency can be a problem if you don’t carry a set of adaptors. Some hotels will lend you a currency converter if you ask at the main desk. But recently, I came across a perfect solution, the YoGen charger for life. I love this, not only because it is easy to use, it fits into the palm of your hand and charges multiple devices, but because it is totally green. The pull/release mechanism creates instant, self-generated power and can be used anywhere without benefit of a power source. You can carry it anywhere and never worry again about power loss. www.yogenstore.com
Carry a limited amount of money with you. The vast majority of the world now has ATM machines and you can withdraw money in local currency. Check with your bank about fees before you go. You might also alert your bank and credit card company that you will be using your card in a different location. You can download a currency converter chart prior to leaving home at www.oanda.com
Pay attention to your surroundings and be as careful and alert as you would be at home and refrain from attracting undue attention. If you are going out of the country you can research the local laws and restrictions online. www.travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1765.html
Even with the tips, an emergency can still arise and you may need government assistance. Make a note of the Office of Overseas Citizen Services which can be reached at 1-888-407-4747, in the U.S. or Canada, or 202-501-4444 overseas.
I wish you smooth and hassle-free travels.