It’s the little things that make a difference. Travel expert Catherine Addé unpacks the details that can make or break a trip.
By Catherine Addé
There’s what I need to know before a trip: What’s the weather going to be like? What should I pack? Can I even take (fill in the blank) on the plane? Ship? Train? Or, how much do I tip? Where’s the best deal for foreign currency exchange? And most important: Is WiFi available? If so, is it complimentary?
I’ve learned over the years that the answers to questions like these changes often and it’s a good idea to keep up to date with the latest travel essentials. Some information on the web is accurate, but not always. For your convenience, I’ve put together some helpful hints and links to sites that you may find useful prior to your next adventure.
The Tourist Board
First, before I plan my own or anyone else’s travel, I always consult a resource that I feel is underutilized: the tourism board’s web site (or even a brick and mortar office) of the country I’m about to visit. Our states have their own tourism web sites too. Check out visitcalifornia.com for example; there’s a plethora of information out there—they want you to visit their country or state and have the best up to the minute information, plus it’s free. Once I went downtown LA to visit the South Africa tourist board in person. A nice lady at the counter was opening up every drawer, handing me maps, festival guides, hotel and safari brochures. It was wonderful; I felt welcomed to their country and I hadn’t even left home yet!
Gadgets and Wifi
For the best advice ever, Pasadena’s own Angel Castellanos (“The Travel Ambassador”) gives informative presentations at various travel shows throughout the country. He has a wonderful website called: Angel’s Travel Lounge (angelstravellounge. com). I consult this handy site for up to the minute advice on electronics and all things digital. He’s got some great packing advice too. After all, he and his bride honeymooned in Eastern Europe for many weeks, with just one carry on piece of luggage each!
Being able to stay connected while traveling is essential to many and while some hotels and transport vehicles provide WiFi connectivity for travelers, being able to connect on a fast, reliable and secure WiFi connection is crucial to the business traveler. There is a product called TEP Wireless, which is a useful travel companion.
Speaking of being connected while abroad, how about having all of your flights, hotels, restaurants, and guide books in the palm of your hand? There are free apps available, including one called “Pocket Travel Consultant,” for Apple and Android devices to help you plan your trips and provide 24/7 access while you travel internationally. It even includes information on history, entertainment, fun facts and maps for over 350 cities. Your itineraries can be printed and accessed so that you can also share your travel plans online, from a mobile device or in your personal calendar.
Packing, Luggage and the TSA
I try to pack light, really, with ‘one outfit on, one in the wash, and one ready to wear out of the suitcase” (see “Packing Mis Adventures” Pasadena Magazine April 2017 issue) But for those of us who over pack, there are online outfitters so you can order efficient packing cubes, latest in lightweight luggage and wrinkle free clothing. There is Magellan’s (magellans.com), TravelSmith (travelsmith.com) and items can also be found locally at Pasadena’s Distant Lands Outfitters on Raymond. One handy item I never travel without is a compass (in case your device runs out of juice and you have no map!) and an electrical converter for that country’s voltage. I also am a firm believer that when on safari or whale watching my binoculars are more important than my camera.
You can also ship your luggage ahead to any destination worldwide, giving you the ability to avoid the inconvenience of carrying, checking and claiming luggage—even going through customs. Door-to-door service includes protective packaging, time specific pickups, tracking and included insurance (luggagefree.com).
As far as what to pack, the sites of Eagle Creek and other luggage companies have good packing lists plus your trusty travel professional should enclose one for you with your trip documents.
Last but never least, for the very latest from our government on what you may bring on the plane, go to the TSA site (tsa.gov).
When traveling outside of the United States, US citizens must be in possession of a passport valid for at least six months beyond their return to the US. Passports issued for adults are valid for ten years (five years for children). For more information, visit travel.state.gov or call the National Passport Center toll free at 888.874.7793.
For Visas: There are some countries that require US citizens to obtain a visa. Check out cibt.com for Visa information. You will find up-to-date information and assistance with processing visa applications and passports. Find all the information you need, apply on line, or use the concierge service that will expedite the process.
Health and Safety
Staying healthy is a top priority for enjoying your international travels. This means ensuring you have up-to date vaccinations and know-how to remain healthy while seeing the world. The Center for Disease Control is your go-to source for travel health (cdc.gov). In Pasadena we have a clinic called Healthy Traveler, located on Green Street, where one can obtain the necessary inoculations and medications you may need prior to travel (healthytraveler.com).
As far as travel warnings and advisories, the State Department issues these warnings recommending Americans avoid, or consider the risk of, travel to a country when conditions make it dangerous or unstable, or when the U.S. Government’s ability to assist American citizens is constrained.
For your medication regulations, (if you require traveling with prescription medications), please note that some drugs may be outlawed by certain countries. Travelers can check the International Narcotics Control Board’s website (incb.org) regarding country regulations governing various drugs. Not all countries have made this information available. If the country you are visiting isn’t indicated, then I recommend checking the embassy or consulate to inquire if they have that information.
For currency exchange, my best advice is to take a debit card, a credit card, and some currency from the country you are visiting. It’s just handy to have some local currency on hand when you arrive. Visit azforex.com for information on exchange rates and acquiring foreign currency in advance of your departure. While you’re abroad, never change your money at the hotel, it’s the highest exchange rate always use the local bank or currency exchange.
And on the subject of money—what about tipping? On cruise ships, there are guidelines given and some lines are including them in your fare. Gratuities are a personal thing, though, and I think it’s ok to adjust the amount up if the service is outstanding onboard ship, or down if it’s not up to par. For land-based vacations, some countries do not have tipping in their culture and in many cases, tips are lower in amount than they are here for good service.
Protecting your travel investment is a wise move too, and it’s a safety net while you’re abroad. I highly recommend travel insurance, I do not leave home without it—ever. Having it helped when my clients needed to get home after a tsunami closed the airport in Japan as much as when another broke her foot in Bangkok. Weather has caused some trips to be delayed or cancelled and insurance in some cases can help defray unexpected costs. This leads me to…
How about that weather? I’ve often told my clients I don’t “do” weather. But I do check weather sites for them and wouldn’t plan a honeymoon in the Caribbean during hurricane season. Shoulder seasons and off -peak times are the least crowded and also have the lowest rates on air, cruises and hotels. The reason for this is that a) kids are back in school, and b) usually the weather is less likely to cooperate with you and your plans. Be prepared, check the weather sites and pack appropriately. While you’re on your trip of a lifetime during off season and a volcano erupts or a storm blows, well, dear traveler, chalk it up to adding to your dramatic stories when returning home from your adventure!
Catherine Addé is a native of Pasadena, and a Certified Travel Counselor affiliated with TravelStore and Signature Travel Network. Her Master’s Degree is in Tourism Management. She’s held executive positions with Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Windstar and Cunard Line Ltd