Some practical advice on how to prevent unnecessary vacation-planning stress:
SEPTEMBER 2020 UPDATE for COVID-19: Please check the Center for Disease Control and the Department of State websites to find the most up to date information on travel policies for both your country of origin and your destination. Policies are changing on a daily basis and all COVID-19 testing, entry documentation, and travel insurance requirements must be followed in order to gain entry to specific countries. Passport offices are also working with longer turnaround times — make sure to allow ample time for your passport renewal.
Inspect your Passport:
As soon as you even consider leaving the country, check your passport’s expiration date. You can be blocked from boarding the plane if the date is inadequate. Some countries require three months prior to expiration, some have a more stringent six month policy, so as a rule of thumb I recommend to clients that they stick to the six month rule. (Example: if you are flying on June 5, the expiration must be after December 5).
Copy your Docs:
Carry photocopies of your travel documents and passport in a separate place from the original documents. Even better, leave a version at home, or text or email pictures of the documents to a responsible friend or family member.
Stay on Top of Shots:
Many countries have very specific immunization requirements and proof of these may be required for entry. Other vaccinations just make good health sense and can eliminate potential illnesses during your travels. I often refer clients to a Travel Doctor who specializes in the prevention and management of health issues related to international travel. Another great source of info is the Center for Disease Control, which outlines each country’s specifications. Flying to South Africa? If you visited Brazil recently and your passport was stamped upon arrival, you will need proof that you were immunized against Yellow Fever to gain entry to South Africa.
Register as a Smart Traveler:
Check out the U.S. Department of State Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), a free service for U.S. citizens that connects you with the local embassy and consulate while abroad. By enrolling, you receive important information about safety conditions that can assist you in making informed decisions about your travel plans; it will help the embassy contact you in case of natural or other disasters; and can help family and friends get in touch with you in an emergency.
Become a Trusted Traveler:
U.S Customs & Border Protection Trusted Traveler programs provide expedited travel for pre-approved, low risk travelers through dedicated airport lanes and kiosks. The most popular is Global Entry which has been rolling out to U.S. airports. Travelers must undergo a background check and in-person interview in order to secure a Global Entry Card. Upon landing in the U.S., members skip the customs line, proceed to Global Entry kiosks, present their machine-readable passport, place their fingerprints on the scanner for verification, and complete an on-screen customs declaration. The kiosk issues a transaction receipt and the traveler hands it to the designated customs official.
Global Entry comes with the added benefit of TSA PreCheck, which is the Transportation Security Administration’s program that allows eligible, low-risk travelers to enjoy a dedicated security line and expedited security screening. TSA PreCheck means you can ease through security without removing your shoes, light jackets, liquids, or laptops from your bags, therefore less time on line. If purchased alone (without Global Entry), TSA PreCheck requires an in-person interview, background check, and fingerprinting. (Note: American Express offers many of its cardholders reimbursement for Global Entry and TSA PreCheck fees).
Upgrade to REAL ID:
Is your driver’s license expiring soon? Consider upgrading to a REAL ID. This is part of the U.S. Federal Government 2005 Act which established minimum security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards. Eventually, to fly domestically in the U.S., your state license or ID must meet these federal standards of identification, or you might have to bring your passport to comply with the upgraded security requirements.
Get the Facts on Visas:
Most countries have very specific visitor requirements and that includes visas, a conditional authorization granted by a country to a foreigner allowing them to enter. Some visas must be secured in advance through a local embassy and affixed to your passport; some can be purchased at the airport upon arrival. It’s important to know ALL the visa and passport rules prior to your flight or you may be prohibited from boarding the plane. Flying with your children to South Africa? Those under 18 must possess a birth certificate with a raised seal to enter, along with a passport. Check out travel.state.gov for more info arranged by destination.
Download Credit Card Apps:
Even if you prefer not to make credit card payments online, create an online account to keep track of purchases you make while away, and make sure to subscribe to email or text alerts to be notified of potential fraud or credit card theft.
Purchase Travel Insurance:
As they say, “hope for the best, plan for the worst.” Hands down, travel insurance is the best investment you can make. In the event of illness, death, terrorism, or severe weather, travel insurance helps you recoup your nonrefundable expenditures. To avoid exclusions for pre-existing medical conditions, make sure to purchase the policy within two weeks of the first deposit made on your trip, and check policy details before you file a claim to ensure that your cancellation reason is on the covered list.
Now, in the age of COVID-19, travel insurance has become even MORE integral. A recent article in Money magazine on the Best Travel Insurance of 2020, highlights the importance of reading and understanding the fine print to ensure you are well-aware of what the policy does or does not cover. Understanding hotel, resort or cruise line cancellations policies will help determine the amount of insurance required. (But, even though a property has a 24-hour cancellation policy, there may be a penalty if you decide to leave in the middle of your trip for some unforeseen reason.) And, many destinations now require guests to submit proof of a specific level of travel insurance that includes medical coverage in case travelers are in need of hospitalization or medical evacuation due to COVID-19.
It’s not always 911:
Know how to call for an emergency in the country you are visiting. In the U.S. it’s 911, but that does not apply all around the globe. In Europe, the number to know is 112. Check travel.state.gov for all the details.
Not everyone can travel with just a carryon, so if you are planning on checking luggage, make sure to read up on airline requirements. More obscure destinations in Asia, Africa, or South America often have smaller airports that are served by smaller aircraft.
Prep the Kids:
Discuss the itinerary in advance of the trip; download an illustrated city guide; watch a travel video on YouTube – kids will feel more invested in the adventure, and more likely to “go with the flow” if any delays or glitches pop up. Upon arrival, I always made sure my boys knew the name of our hotel in case we were separated while traveling off property. Give everyone a map (yup, those free, folded paper things that the concierge hands out). Real map reading skills are an art form that should not be forgotten, and kids often have a better sense of direction than adults. Plus, they will enjoy being part of the solution rather than the problem of being lost, especially if you are in an area with no Wi-Fi or cell service…and no Google Maps!
Have a bucket list trip like African Safari, Australian Outback, or Alaska Cruise? Plan early (one year out!) to get a leg up on the itinerary, excursion, cruise, or lodge of your dreams.
Use a Travel Agent:
(Yes, that’s me!) For access to upgrades, special offers, extra amenities, and VIP treatment, help with multi destination or multigenerational travel, honeymoon or babymoon, nothing beats a professional. A travel agent takes the stress out of vacation planning and that makes you a Smart Traveler!
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