INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL TIPS – Part 1
Question: What are the passport requirements?
Answer: All U.S. citizens need a U.S. passport for air travel to Canada, Mexico and all other international destinations. You do not need a passport for travel to U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and American Samoa. Passport requirements are subject to change, so always check the requirements before making travel plans.
Passport application processing times have increased due to the high volume of new requests. Expedited service takes 3-4 weeks and Routine service takes 10 weeks for new passports from the date of application.
Question: I’m going to Europe for the first time, do you have any tips?
Answer: See European Destinations in our International Guides.
If you want to travel with a group of African Americans, consider taking a Black Cruise in Europe. The cruises usually depart from Barcelona or Venice and visit 4-5 European cruise port cities. Since meals, accommodations, transportation and entertainment are included in the cruise fee, it’s a “No stress” way to sample Europe.
If you are looking for budget accommodations, check out the Hello Europe Series from book author Margo Classe, a sister who visits Europe regularly. Other nations use Metro Rail, Light Rail and Commuter Rail far more than Americans. So review the Transportation Pages of our travel guides to be more informed about mobility in major cities abroad. If the city is new to you, consider taking a curated bus tour for an overview of each European city. Pick places you would like to spend more time at on the following days.
Question: What are 3 things to know when traveling in a foreign country?
Answer from Margo Classe, Hello Guide Series author:
First, learn some of the basic words in the foreign language like “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 U.S. everything is open 24/7. In Europe, lunch and dinner are served at certain times, otherwise the restaurant is closed.
Third, adjust your attitude to the size of the room. Many European hotels are rather small, quaint, charming places.
Question: What is a Travel Advisory or Travel Warning?
Answer: Travel Adviseries are issued when the State Department decides, based on all relevant information, to recommend that Americans avoid travel to a certain country. A warning could be issued because of civil unrest, violence by terrorists, bomb threats to airlines or other reasons. Often, the actions taken by individuals in these situations have been targeted against American travelers, therefore it is advisable to avoid these areas until the warnings have been lifted.
Question: I’m going to Paris and I want to know where we can find some good nightclubs?
Answer: There are numerous clubs, particularly jazz clubs, scattered around town. There are also a number of African nightclubs where you can “shake it till you break it,” most of which don’t kick until midnight. Try Keur Samba Alize, What’s Up Bar or Le Malibu. But like any American city, clubs come and go. So its always good to ask the hotel concierge.
Question: I am getting ready for my first international trip and am really concerned about keeping my money and passport in a safe place. What do you suggest?
Answer: Keeping your money and person safe is important no matter where you are, however 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 info), as well as the issuer (American Express, etc.) in two different places (i.e. in your locked suitcase and back home) just in case they are lost or stolen and you need to replace them. Buy a travel pouch, sold at any travel store, for your passport and cash, which goes around your neck/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, purses, etc. 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 as well. 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 bathroom stall to remove it. Be careful and use common sense. Enjoy your trip!
Question: What vaccinations do I need for my dream trip to Africa?
Answer: Vaccinations for travel to foreign countries (excluding Western Europe, Mexico, Canada, Caribbean Islands) are very common. They are required for travel to countries where the sanitation do not approach the levels we are accustomed to in the USA. Besides asking questions of your physician, the Center For Disease Control is an excellent resource for detailed information about any country you may be visiting. In fact, they have a Traveler’s Health section where you input where you will be traveling and they do the rest.
Question: When is hurricane season and how can it affect a trip?
Answer: Hurricane seasons are different for different parts of the world. On the Atlantic Coast and Gulf Coast, it typically runs from June to November, with the most active part of the season being August through October. The Northeast Pacific basin (includes Japan) has a hurricane season from late May to early November with a peak in storminess in August-September. There are other hurricane seasons for the North Indian basin, Southwest Indian and Australian/Southeast Indian basins. 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. See the Q&A for travel insurance, below.
Question: What is the difference between a Passport, a VISA, Green Card, Work Permit, and Certified Birth Certificate in regards to travel?
Answer: A Passport is a document that a country issues to its citizens for the purpose of facilitating international travel. For adults from the U.S. it is valid for ten years, for children under the age of 16, it is five years.
A Visa is a stamp or certificate issued by one country that indicates that a person has been examined by diplomatic officials of that country and has been granted permission to enter the country subject to approval by officials at the border. A visa is not a guarantee that any visitor will be admitted to a country, as immigration officials at the border or airport always have the final authority. A “Business Visa” is a special type of visa that is issued to travelers who intend to visit a country for the purpose of commercial meetings, discussions, negotiations, and similar activities for a limited period of time. Business visas are usually insufficient for travelers who will undertake work or temporary work assignments in a country. A Residence Visa is a special type of visa that allows a person to reside in a country for a limited period of time but not to work. Residence visas are typically issued to the spouse and children of someone who receives a work visa. A “Work Visa” or “Work Permit” is a special type of visa that allows a person to undertake paid employment at a specific job in the country for a limited period of time.
An Alien Registration Card or “Green Card” is an identification issued by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service to non-US citizens who have been granted the right to live and work in the US permanently. Green cards are so-named because they were originally green in color.
A Certified Birth Certificate is an official copy of a birth certificate issued by a U.S. state or local government recording a birth within America. A certified birth certificate usually carries a raised state or local government seal or is printed on formal color paper. Some places, such as the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and others will accept this instead of a passport from an adult U.S. citizen, and usually for minor children traveling here and to some other countries. For more information, a good reference website is www.cibt.com, where you can take a look at their on-line Travel Documents Manual.
Question: What are youth hostels?
Answer: Hostels are friendly, inexpensive lodgings for travelers, and they provide dormitory-style accommodations with separate quarters for males and females. Many hostels have private or 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.
Major cities such as Rome, Munich, Paris, Sydney are less than $40 per night. 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 best known is Hostelling International.
Question: Is it a good idea to purchase travel insurance for international travel?
Answer: There are many different kinds of travel insurance. If you are traveling, let’s say, to the islands during hurricane season, you might want it to cover cancellations by the airlines, hotel, cruise ship lines, etc. If you have medical issues, you might want it in case you have to cancel due to illness. If you have children, you have a greater chance of an unexpected illness or injury. Also, it could protect you if the company with which you booked goes out of business. Some people want it just to put their mind at rest.
You really need to shop around because sometimes these items are covered by your credit card company (if you used it to book your trip), health, life, or homeowner’s insurance policies. And, each company has their own set of rules and definitions. Costs are typically $50 to $80 per $1,000 coverage. Check the internet. Here are 3 companies: Travelex Insurance Services and Travel Guard International.
Question: While on vacation many years ago, 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, pills, etc. be sure to 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.