“Do you know where you’re going to?
Do you like the things that life is showing you?
Where are you going to, do you know?”
These are the opening lyrics to the “Theme from Mahogany”, as sung by Diana Ross in 1975. Even though the song is 40 years old, the message is still relevant – especially when it comes to travel. There is no substitute for preparation before taking a trip. Whether you’re going around the corner or around the world, you should be prepared. If you are traveling locally you may only need to know about weather or traffic. But if you’re going farther, you’ll need to know much more.
Here are some things to consider before taking your next trip:
Climate/Weather-In order to pack appropriately it is good to know what the average temperature will be. If you’re traveling to a different hemisphere, you may even encounter a different season. So your summer wardrobe may not be sufficient if you’re going to South Africa or Australia in June. Even San Francisco, although it is in sunny California, can get quite chilly in the evening when the fog rolls in. As the famous quote says, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”
Travel Documents -Will you need a passport? Some countries require travelers to have passport that will be valid at least 6 months after entry. Will you need a Visa? Some countries will allow you to apply for a Visa upon arrival at their airport; others require you to apply for it before you leave home. Be sure to allow enough time to get the necessary documents. There are agencies that can get rush documents for you, but they can be costly. We learned the hard way when we neglected to examine our son’s passport before a trip to Europe. We didn’t realize that it had expired until ~6 days before we were scheduled to leave. By the time we’d paid the rush fees and overnight shipping fees, we were out of several hundred dollars.
If you take a cruise that begins and ends at a U.S. port, passports are not required – but are highly recommended. If something unforeseen happens and you miss the ship or are detained in port for any reason, you’ll need proof of your U.S. citizenship.
Currency – If you’re planning to spend cash, you’ll need to have local currency. We prefer to get foreign currency from our bank since they do not charge fees. You can change money at the airport, since there are currency exchange kiosks in international terminals, but you will pay a fee. We have also exchanged money in other cities, but again there was a fee involved. Most major credit cards are widely accepted, but your credit card company may charge a foreign transaction fee. Be sure to notify your credit company of your travel dates so that they don’t block any transactions. If you live in New Jersey, and they see a charge to you card in Sri Lanka, they may block it because they suspect that it could be fraudulent.
Cuisine – Experiencing the local cuisine is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in another culture. But if your have dietary preferences or restrictions you’ll want to know what to expect. For example, the Serrano ham in Spain is some of the best ham in the world. But if you’re not a pork eater, you won’t have much to choose from at the tapas bars.
Cruising is a good option because it offers a wide variety of food choices – and they are all included in the cruise fare. Even the pickiest eaters can find something to please their palates.
Electricity– Voltage can vary depending on the country that you’re in. Many travelers to Europe have had difficulties with their electronics, because European and American power systems are run differently. Most of the world, including Europe, uses a 220 volt/50 hertz system. A handful of other countries, including the United States, have 110 volt/60 hertz electricity, which is believed to be safer. As a result, appliances in these nations are designed to connect to a specific type of power source, and using American devices in European outlets and vice versa can result in havoc.
Many nations also use different plugs, and a number of plug adapter kits are available for connecting to foreign plugs. However, use of these plugs without a transformer or voltage converter can result in fireworks. The voltage in Europe is twice that of the voltage in the United States, and while many electronics are designed to adapt to voltage changes, it is crucial to check. If the device is not capable of handling 220 volts of electricity, it will fail. In addition, some electrical devices cannot handle the lower 50 hertz cycle found in much of the world, and may experience difficulties.
Style of Dress– It is good to be familiar with local style of dress. Although western clothing style is widely acceptable, there can be certain restrictions. For example women may need to cover their heads in certain churches, temples or mosques. We’ve seen young ladies turned away in Vatican City when they tried to enter St. Peter’s Basilica while showing too much skin. I always carry a light pashmina that I can tuck in my bag, wear as a scarf or use to cover my head and shoulders. During a recent trip to Abu Dhabi I dressed modestly on the day that we planned to go to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque….but apparently it wasn’t modest enough and I was asked to wear an abiya into the mosque. Actually it made the experience even more meaningful. But I’ll admit, it’s not easy to survive that 100-degree desert heat while wearing a long black frock.
Men were required to wear long pants and sleeves, and were not allowed to show tattoos.
Travel Protection Insurance is always optional, but I recommend it highly. Many travelers refuse to purchase it, thinking that it’s just an upsell. But as the travel industry becomes more unstable and unpredictable, having insurance is a wise choice. In the case of lost luggage or a missed connection, it is the only chance to recoup lost money. Policies vary, so it is important to buy the one that fits your needs. A good travel agent can help you make the right choice. You may need “a cancel for any reason” policy. Or you may need medical coverage while in another country. This is especially true for adventure travelers. If you break a leg while skiing in the Alps and have to be lifted out by helicopter, you’re looking at thousands of dollars in medical bills. Even if you have insurance, you’ll have to pay at the time of treatment, then file a claim after your trip.
Travel can be one of life’s most rewarding (or frustrating) experiences. It all depends on being prepared. It is important to KNOW BEFORE YOU GO.