INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL TIPS – Part 2

Question: What is Adventure travel or Eco-Travel?
Answer: Adventure travel is the fastest growing segment of the leisure travel market. And these travel journeys include anything from backpacking and trekking in Nepal, to mountaineering in Canada, to sea kayaking in South America, to mountain biking in the Rocky Mountains, and more. Because this type of travel has become so popular, there are numerous travel publications to address almost any activity or location, domestic or international, that you would like.

Question: Suggest an exotic location of interest to African Americans.
Answer from a Soul Of America visitor: I just came back from a 10-day trip to Belize — a great destination for people of color. Usually it is a little more during the fall and winter season though. It is English speaking and in Central America. It is a little paradise and even has some great investment opportunities.

Question: I am going to Italy, do you have any tips?
Answer: We highly recommend it. There are so many things I could say about it that there is just not enough room. I can fill you in on Florence and Rome. Start by looking at their travel guides and photos on this website. Three places I highly recommend in Rome are the Vatican and Vatican Museum/Cistine Chapel, Piazza Navona, and the Spanish Steps. For lodging, get a copy of Margo Classe’s book on Italian Hotels, “$40 to $80/night for Two.” Or check out Rick Steves travel books for Europe.

Question: Name 3 things to know when traveling in a foreign country.
Answer from Margo Classe, European Travel Author: First, learn some of the basic words in the foreign language i.e. hello, good morning, goodbye. And be patient when trying to converse with people. Many Americans feel that everyone should speak English but often they don’t. Second, learn when it is time to eat. In the US everything is open 24/7. In Europe, lunch and dinner are served at certain times, otherwise the restaurant is closed. Lastly, adjust your attitude to the size of the room. These are not Holiday Inns, rather small, quaint, charming places, which are generally a lot smaller.

Question: I am going on my first international trip in a few months, and am scared to death about going through customs, particularly because of some of the stories I have heard about how the officials sometimes treat “us.” Any tips?

Answer: Relax. If you have the proper paperwork (passport, birth certificate, major credit card, etc. depending on where you are traveling), then you have nothing to fear. One tip I have is to just answer the questions that they ask and avoid any extra conversation. Also, if you have any attitude, ditch it. Although they do pick us out “at random” sometimes (in happened to my sister once), they have so many people coming through at one time that they rarely do it unless they really suspect that you may be bringing/taking something in/out that is illegal, whether it be drugs, produce, etc.) Of the many times I have gone through customs, I only had to open my bags once, and that was because they were making everybody do it. It was no big deal. Have a great trip!

Question: What can you tell me about Cancun?
Answer from a Soul Of America visitor: Cancun is just a modern city built just for tourists. The sewage system is modern, so you can drink the water if you choose. They warn you of the time-share rip-off people and offer some good tour packages to see ruins, go scuba and snorkeling and see other sites. There is a variety of night life. The hotel held a special show every night (and) the hotel staff was friendly.

Question: Do you have any information on Afro-British culture in London?
Answer from a SOA visitor: I am an American with a British step-son, so I live in London quite a bit, and am always impressed by the vitality of the African and Afro-Caribbean communities. We live in Cricklewood, and Cricklewood Broadway is a multi-ethnic treat. Among the many grocery stores lining the street are Jamaican and Nigerian specialty markets. The Notting Hill Carnival in late August is a celebration of all things Caribbean. I wonder how many African Americans are aware of how connected London is to the world-wide African Diaspora. In fact, the African settlement of London dates back to 1555!

Question: Are youth hostels a great lodging option?
Answer: Hostels are inexpensive lodgings for travelers. They provide dormitory-style accommodations with separate quarters for males and females. Many hostels have private/family rooms which can be reserved in advance. Beds come with blankets and pillow; hostel guests provide (or rent for a modest fee) their own towels and bed linens. Most hostels also have self-service kitchens or cafeterias, dining areas, secure storage and common rooms for relaxing and socializing with other travelers from around the world. Some have laundry facilities, travel libraries, and concierge service. Some even have such unexpected amenities as hot tubs, swimming pools, and barbecues. Most major urban hostels have 24-hour access. Hostels offer unbeatable savings on overnight lodging. Overnight fees average $8 to $17 per person, per night. Major cities such as Rome, Munich, London and Sydney are less than $20. Many hostels, especially in major urban areas, are handicapped accessible. Most hostels welcome groups; some can provide meeting rooms, catered meals, etc. Some hostels are in wonderful historic buildings which have been renovated and readapted for hostel use. Stay in a lighthouse on the California coast, a historic building in New York City, a castle in Germany, a chalet in Switzerland or a former one-room schoolhouse in the Australian bush.

Hostels are open to all ages, except in Bavaria, Germany, where the age limit is 26 unless you are a youth group leader or head of a family. Individual travelers under 18 years of age may be asked to provide written parental permission in order to check in at many hostels. There are many hostel organizations around the world (go to your local library or bookstore, or search the internet under “hostels.”) One of the most well-known is Hostelling International which can be reached at www.hiayh.org.

Question: Does anyone go to the island of Bimini?
Answer from Lysa Allman-Baldwin: Bimini is the western most island in the Bahamas and the closest foreign island to the U.S. mainland, 47 nautical miles due east of Miami. Actually two islands — North and South Bimini — most people when referring to it just say “Bimini” and are talking about the North Island. North Bimini is fairly small, just 7 miles long and only 700 feet wide at its widest point, with a population of 1,400. Bimini has summer like conditions all year long and most people travel there for scuba diving. However, there are a few other activities to enjoy such as wild dolphin excursions, lying on the beach, duty free shopping, sea kayaking, fishing, and biking. For more information take a look at https://biminiundersea.net.

Question: Do you have any information on traveling to Russia?
Answer from a Soul Of America visitor: Due to Russian interference with American elections, we do not recommend listing that country for the foreseeable future.

Question: Where is Fiji?
Answer from Lysa Allman-Baldwin: The Fiji archipelago has over 300 islands scattered across 200,000 square miles of ocean, with a total land area of about 2,800 square miles. Approximately four hours from Australia, two hours from New Zealand, and 10 hours from Los Angeles, this land of islands, lagoons, lush forests and mountains is home to more than 700,000 people. By the way, the official language is English. Fijian and Hindustani are spoken as well.

Question: How can a Hurricane Season affect a trip?
Answer: First, a hurricane is a heat engine which gets its heat input from the warm, humid air over the tropical ocean. Hurricane seasons vary for different parts of the world. Travelers are advised to first check with the hotel or cruise company to find out how they inform their guests when a hurricane is coming, what actions they plan and what refund policies they have, if any. Some experts also say that a direct hit by a major hurricane is an extremely rare event, so the choice of when and where to travel is ultimately up to you.

Question: Aside from Brazil, where is a good place to visit in South America?
Answer from a Soul Of America visitor: Venezuela was probably one of the most interesting trips that I have had in a long time. My friend and I decided to stay in Caracas and then the beach. We flew into Caracas and stayed at Hotel Atlandia. It’s pretty much in a residential neighborhood so we moved to the Hotel Condor for the rest of our stay. Both of the hotels were about $20 per person and had private bathrooms with 2 beds. And the staff was very friendly and hospitable. Our second hotel was in the Chacaito district where the major shopping and restaurants were, as well as the metro station. Venezuelans are very funny people. If they weren’t trying to sell us something and rip us off for as much money as they could possibly get, they were going way out of their way to make sure that we got where we were going or that our question was answered fully. Given changes in the US-Venezuela relations, check with the U.S. State Department before booking travel there.

Argentina, Peru, Chile and Columbia are good destinations to visit.

Question: I am getting ready for my first trip to Europe and am really concerned about keeping my money and passport in a safe place. What do you suggest?
Answer from Lysa Allman-Baldwin: Keeping your money and person safe is important no matter where you are. It is particularly important when traveling abroad where a passport is a crucial document to keep safe. First of all, carry a little of the local currency, but keep the rest in traveler’s checks, cashing only a few at a time. Keep a copy of the check numbers and passport, as well as the issuer (American Express) in two different places. One place is your locked suitcase and the other is back home just in case they are lost or stolen. Buy a travel pouch for your passport and cash, which criss-crosses your shoulder, and under your shirt or blouse. Thieves will rarely attack you to get under your clothing, but are very good at getting into your pockets, backpacks, and pocketbooks. If you will be spending time in the water, there are waterproof bags with velcro that can be attached to your wrist/ankle as well. If you are traveling via train, sleep with it on you. You can also buy a special travel belt, which has a slit inside for folded bills/checks. It will hold all of your “paper” and when you need some, stop into a restroom stall to remove it. Use common sense. Enjoy your trip!

Question: Name three international places with lots of black history that most people don’t know about.
Answer: Vienna, Belize and Berlin. These are places that we do not think of as contributing to our overall history, but they do.

Question: Any suggestions on where to go in Brazil?
Answer from Lula N’zinga Strickland: I have been traveling to Brazil since 1989. My favorite location is in Brazil’s northeast, Salvador da Bahia. Why Salvador? Because it is a hotbed of preserved African culture in the Americas. Black culture there is tremendous in terms of the music (i.e. Ile Aiye and Olodum bands), the food, the religion of Candomble (Yoruba roots) and the beautiful, friendly people who look like just about anyone I’ve known in America. And the beaches, air and mystique are beautiful. I also love the fighting spirit of the people who have always fought for their rights just like African-Americans and others in the Diaspora! (Lula N’zinga Strickland, an independent and published journalist of 15 years, is noted for her extensive portfolio of work on Brazil that includes travel, arts, politics, culture and entertainment; both there and in the U.S. In 1989, she was awarded the coveted “In Celebration of Excellence” Newspaper Award by the New York Association of Black Journalists).

Question: We are planning a trip to Indonesia, but are a little wary about health conditions there. Do you any advice on how to protect ourselves from getting sick?
Answer: We don’t have any information about Indonesia specifically, however there are several things you can do to help avoid getting sick when traveling in third world countries. First, be sure to only drink bottled water. If you are in a restaurant and order a drink that comes with ice, be sure to ask if the ice cubes were made with filtered water (you usually don’t have to ask in finer restaurants). Any doubt, skip it! The same goes for ice cream. Secondly, wash your hands frequently and keep your hands out of your mouth. Avoid eating vegetables or fruit that have not been peeled in your presence, boiled or cleaned, again, with purified water.

Question: While on vacation many years ago in Europe, I had an unexpected asthma attack and had to be rushed to the hospital. Everything turned out fine, but what precautions should I take ahead of time in case I end up in a hospital again?
Answer: An unexpected trip to the hospital can be scary at any time, never mind while on vacation. Whether traveling in the US or in a foreign country, be sure to have a copy of your health insurance card, as well as something attached to it stating any allergies you have or medication you are taking with you, in case you are unable to speak. Stay calm, and if at all possible locate someone in the hospital who is fluent in both English and the foreign tongue. This way, you are sure to understand everything a doctor or nurse tells or asks you prior to any treatment. If you receive any kind of shot or pills, get a written statement of these items as well as the expenses, even if you pay for them at the time of service. This information may be necessary for reimbursement from your insurance carrier once you return home.

If you have a flexible schedule, avoid travel on Fridays, Sundays or Mondays which are the heaviest travel days. For lower airfares, purchase your ticket at least 60 days in advance and travel in the evenings or overnight. For additional legroom, request exit row seats when checking in. Check-in 75 minutes before your domestic flight and 2 hours before your international flight. If traveling with an infant, check-in early and request an extra seat to accommodate the car seat. If the airline has extra seats, they will usually accommodate your request at the gate check-in area.

Question: What exactly is Jet Lag and how can I get rid of it?
Answer: Jet Lag is caused by missed sleep or disrupted sleeping pattern from crossing time zones when flying. Aside from reduced energy, it is accompanied by a lack of concentration from hours to days after arriving at your destination. It can happen anytime you make at least a 3 hour time change.

There are many ways to combat Jet Lag, such as making sure you are not over-tired, over-stressed or hung over before your flight. Airplane cabin pressure combined with the dry air can make you a little dehydrated, so drink plenty of water on long flights. Although you may want to unwind with a mixed drink or glass of wine, too much can add to your Jet Lag. The impact of alcohol on the body is reportedly 2-3 times more potent when flying. Exercise is another great way to stave off the effects of Jet Lag prior to and after your flight. While on the plane, rotate your ankles, stretch your legs in front of you , walk up and down the aisle and/or do stretching exercises to keep your circulation going. There are some “anti-Jet Lag” drugs available on the market, but it is always advisable to consult with your physician prior to using these.

Question: I know that tipping in restaurants should be 15-20%, depending on the level of service. But I’m not sure how much to tip others, such as doormen, bell hops, etc. Are there specific rules?
Answer: A tip is a voluntary reward for good service, and you should not feel obligated to do it. At the airport or hotel, tips for a Skycap or Concierge are usually $1-2 per bag. If you are a generous tipper, they will remember it, and you’ll probably receive special treatment the remainder of your stay! For Housekeeping, tip $1 per day, left in a marked envelope in your room upon departure. Bartenders and cocktail servers usually command $1 per round for parties larger than two, more for larger groups. A tip on an $7 fare for a Taxi or Limousine Driver would be about $1 or so. Otherwise tip $2-10, depending on your fare size.

If you attend a show where seating is not pre-assigned, a $5 to $20 tip will insure desired seating. At other shows, $5 is appropriate. If there is a fee for the Coat Check, a tip is not necessary. If there is no charge, nor extra care taken with your coat or bags, a $1 to $2 tip is acceptable. For Tour Guides or Charter Bus Drivers when a tip is not already included in the price, tip $1 for a half-day tour, $2 for a full-day tour, or $10 for a week-long tour. Private tour guides usually command more. These rules-of-thumb apply throughout the U.S., but you should find out what the customs are for foreign countries prior to your travels.

Question: Sometimes I experience long airport layovers, and reading, eating or sleeping don’t do the trick. I am still bored! Any ideas?
Answer: Since you have been sitting on the plane, are sitting in the airport, and will be sitting on your next flight, get off your duff! Find the closest coin lockers, secure your things and take a power walk to increase your circulation and get a little change of scenery. It might not seem like fun, but it’s better than sitting and staring at people sleeping in front of you. If you’re traveling with children, it’s probably worse because their attention span is a lot shorter than that of adults. This is a good time to encourage them to write an essay about the trip they are about to take or just finished. They might want to share it with their classroom or you can put it in the family scrapbook. What about writing a letter to another family member? This will not only keep them occupied (and possibly give you a little break from “When are we going?”), but engage their writing and composition skills. Why not play the Celebrity Look-Alike Game — “Doesn’t he or she look like…?” Airports are full of good “subjects” for people watching, so use it to your advantage!

Question: I am about 3 months pregnant, and would like to do some more traveling before the baby is born. Do you have any tips?
Answer from Lysa Allman-Baldwin: In my 6th month of pregnancy, I traveled as well. First of all, you need to discuss it with your doctor. He or she is the most qualified person to assess whether you can travel, how far, or for how long (into your pregnancy). The general rule, I believe, for healthy women without problems, is as long as you feel comfortable. But you want to take into consideration the location where you will be traveling. For example, it is not a good idea to go to a third world country or somewhere where the level of health services and sanitation are not as great as those Canada, Europe, Japan or the United States. Also, let’s say you travel out of state within a few weeks or a month of your due date. Would you feel comfortable delivering in a strange hospital, with a doctor who is unfamiliar to you, and possibly without your home support systems? These are all things to consider. Plus, once you start to show, some airlines and cruise lines have specific regulations about pregnant travelers, so you really need to do your homework. Other than that, I would say, get those trips in girl! You may not have time for a few months after your child’s birth.

Question: Many times when I come home from vacation and review my photos and memories, everything starts to run together and it is a real let down. Do you have any ideas how I can keep the memories fresh and remember all that we did?
Answer: The best “keepsake” of your trip will always be in your mind and heart. However, there are several things you can do. I travel with a small travel journal, where I write down my thoughts and impressions each evening. It doesn’t take much time and you can capture your innermost thoughts while they are fresh. I also write down in the journal, especially for long trips, what we did that day, where we went, and where/what we ate. A friend also suggested that in addition to taking photos, that you buy a postcard to keep from each place so that you’re sure to have at least one good photo for your scrapbook.

Question: What should you really have in your carry-on bag, if you also have checked baggage?
Answer: It could depend upon the distance, location, and time of day you will be landing. But generally you want to have some basic toiletries, a change of clothes, and women may want to have a curling iron. If you experience an unusually long delay, you may want to freshen up, and if your bags are lost or misplaced, a change of clothes may be necessary. Especially if there are no stores close by or open when you reach your destination (or if you refuse to pay $25-35 for a simple sweatshirt in an airport shop!). For those traveling with infants or children, we always pack extra clothes in case they spit up or spill on themselves. Don’t forget these events could also happen on you!

Question: Are there special precautions for women traveling alone?
Answer from a business traveler: I was staying at a very well known highly respected hotel in a roof level end room (meaning that the building was 15+ stories, but designed with a connecting lower level roof, for the pool, deck, meeting rooms, etc.) I intuitively KNEW it was a bad idea to take a room on this level, but shrugged it off, mistake #1. I’ve always used the menus you hang outside your doorknob to order breakfast when on business trips. I thought it would be easier because I would have my order delivered during a specific time frame and then I did not have to worry about a room service delay. On this order form, one writes her name, how many will be eating, your room number, time of delivery, and your order. I had given someone all the ammunition that he would need. That someone went to my door-tag, got my name and room number, and then told the front desk that he was my husband and that he needed a new key. The clerk, WITHOUT ASKING FOR ID OR CALLING MY ROOM GAVE HIM MY ROOM KEY! At 2 a.m. I was awakened by my door opening with a man’s hand trying to figure out how to get the bar undone. Luckily I had put the security bar across. I started yelling at him and told him that I was on the phone with the police. Fortunately, these events rarely happen anymore. Hotels now take measures to reduce their liability. Nevertheless, it is always a good idea to use the chain lock and avoid staying on the ground floor.

Question: My daughter is a year and a half, and we would like to take advantage of traveling with her via plane before she turns two and before we have to pay for her. But without a ticket guaranteeing her a seat, she has to sit on our lap. How safe is that?
Answer: You are correct in that children travel free via air until they reach two years of age. Since you are not required to purchase a ticket for them, if there are not empty seats on the flight, they have to sit on your lap. As you know, the airlines advise that whenever you are in your seat, you should have your seat belt fastened. This is for your safety as well as that of other passengers and the crew, as sudden turbulence can easily throw passengers around the aircraft. BTW, the infant car seat will fit in the overhead bin upside down if you are unable to use it. Here is a website with more tips for traveling with kids:

http://airsafe.com/kidsafe.htm

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