Tidewater Traveler - July 2010


Getting Ready
George W. Sellers


The departure date for your big trip is fast approaching. You are getting excited! And you are a little nervous, wondering of you have remembered, or will remember, everything you need to do before you leave home and make your trip worry free. Consider making a list! Everyone’s list will be different, but here are a few things to consider.
Where to begin!?! If you can afford the space, choose an out-of-the-way location at home where you can begin to assemble everything you think you will need on your trip. A spare bed is a good choice. Later in this narrative I will encourage you NOT to take all the stuff that you collect on the bed.
Locate your passport. This should be done very early in the trip planning process in case a renewal is needed. Do not just assume that you know where it is. Put your hands on it! When you locate it, open to the picture page and confirm the expiration date. Many countries require that the expiration date be at least six months beyond the date of your proposed travel. Make sure you have signed your passport in ink.
On an interior page there is a place for you to record the name and phone number of a family member or friend who can be contacted on your behalf in case there is a problem. Record that contact information in pencil. A passport is typically valid for ten years, and in a decade this information can change.
While you have the passport in hand, make several copies of the picture page. If you do not have a copier handy, take a close-up picture of it with your digital camera or phone. At least one copy should be left with a family member or friend; one copy should be placed in a safe location at home; and one copy should be placed in the bottom of each piece of luggage.
Before you go to the copier with your passport, empty your wallet – not the money – you’ve already done that when you paid for the big trip! Remove all the credit cards and membership cards that you will not need while you are away. No need to take your Lowe’s credit card to China; forget about your Boscov’s or Kohl’s card while you are in Europe; even in Alaska or Hawaii you will probably not need your Sam’s Club card.
Decide which credit cards you will take with you. Visa and MasterCard are more widely accepted around the world. Debit cards may not be as convenient to use when you are abroad because of daily caps.
Place the chosen cards side-by-side on the copier, along with your driver’s license, medical insurance card and other cards that will need to be replaced if lost or stolen during your trip. Make a copy of the fronts of the cards and then the backs. Store a copy of your wallet contents in a safe place at home, and hide a copy of the cards in your travel materials – preferably in a location different from the plastic cards, but not in your luggage that will be checked in.
An alternative to this method is to record all the information about each card in your PDA or phone instead of having paper copies. Just consider which method will work best for you if you have to contact the credit card companies and other agencies regarding lost cards or documents.
Traveler’s checks? Don’t bother. There is hardly a corner on the face of the earth that doesn’t accept credit cards. Purchasing merchandise in foreign countries is best done with a credit card because most credit cards give you some recourse if you have a problem with the purchase, and because the exchange rate is likely to be preferable since it is calculated automatically by the credit card company instead of the local merchant.
Call your credit card company for two reasons. First, notify them of the dates and destinations of your travel. What a mess it could be if the credit card company shuts down your charging privileges because their computer detects out-of-country charges that are not part of your normal charging pattern. Second, find out if your credit card company has any surcharges for foreign currency exchange when you make purchases abroad.
Of course you will want some cash, but the need for cash is usually limited to tipping. This means you should have an ample supply of small bills easy to access without displaying a roll of cash openly.
Foreign currency? Maybe. Depending on your destination, you may want to get some local currency, but the U.S. dollar is still very widely accepted for gratuities around the world. If you use U.S. dollars, ask your bank for clean bills. Banks in some countries will not accept torn, stained or written-on bills, so if you use such bills as tips, the recipients may not be able to present them to their local banks and therefore may not want to accept them from you.
If you decide to get some foreign currency, there are several sources to consider. Keep in mind that there is a floating rate of exchange, and most places will charge a fee to convert your money. The larger the amount exchanged, the more reasonable the fee. If you are traveling with a group, you might consider pooling your money with other travelers to get a lower cost for the exchange.
Getting more money exchanged than you need will end up costing you twice. You will pay an exchange fee to get the foreign currency, and if you have a lot left over at the end of your trip you will pay more fees to convert back to U.S. dollars. Though the exchange fee may be a little higher than using your home bank, you can probably wait until you are at the foreign airport, hotel or cruise ship to get local currency.
Consider using your credit card to get foreign cash from an ATM. ATMs are available around the world, and many people use them as their source for foreign cash. If you plan to do this, call your credit card company in advance to learn what fees and other issues to expect. Also, if you choose to do it this way, remember your PIN!
How will you communicate with the folks back home? Many cell phones are global compatible, and you simply need to call your wireless carrier to inquire about an international calling plan. Another popular alternative is to rent a phone before leaving home – a phone that is set up for use at your destination(s). Most travel agents can suggest a source to rent a foreign phone.
Think about registering your travel plans with the U.S. Department of State. This is not required, but may be helpful in case of a travel emergency or destination incident such as disruptive weather or a civil event. You can register at www.travelregistration.state.gov.
The bed!?! Oh, no! I have run out of time and space. Just leave all the stuff on the bed for now. In a future article I will try to convince you that you do not need all that stuff, and I will suggest some unusual methods and items for packing. If you have suggestions for unusual items to pack for a trip, post them for others to see at the Facebook page for George@SellersTravel.com.
May all your travels be happy and safe!

George Sellers is a Certified Travel Counselor and Accredited Cruise Counselor who operates the popular travel website and travel planning service www.SellersTravel.com.