INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL TIPS – Part 2
Question: What is adventure travel?
Answer: Adventure travel is reportedly 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 books, publications, and websites which can 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 absolutely love 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. For Florence, click on the upcoming Archives section from the Home page of 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, I would suggest getting a copy of Margo Classe’s book on Italian Hotels, “$40 to $80/night for Two.” She wrote of series of lodging books (also France and Spain). She can be reached at www.helloeurope.com.
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: I booked a package with Apple Vacations. I was pretty happy with it. It was an all-inclusive (plane, hotel, food and drink) deal at about $1,000 for two. I went with my best friend from Chicago. We stayed at the Crown Paradise Club. It’s a family hotel, but on this trip there weren’t a lot of kids (lucky us). All the rooms have ocean views and great balconies. The bedding seemed pretty old, however. But it was clean and bright. There are three pools, one of which is adults only. And the beach is heavenly. It’s a public beach so you share it with tourist from other hotels. 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 friendly, inexpensive lodgings for travelers, and 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, Florida. 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 excellent 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 http://www.biminiundersea.com.
Question: Do you have any information on traveling to Russia?Answer from a Soul Of America visitor: I finally made the long awaited first visit to Russia, and spent four days working and touring in Moscow. It was very interesting to finally visit Red Square, and tour this country which is so much a part of American History over the past 50 years. While, this is not a place I would recommend for an exciting adventure, or week getaway, it does offer a first hand perspective on a place that has shaped our lives in many ways.
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: When is Hurricane Season and how can it affect a trip?
Answer: First, a hurricane is basically a heat engine which gets its heat input from the warm, humid air over the tropical ocean. Hurricane seasons are different for different parts of the world. On the Atlantic coast, it typically runs from June to November with the most active part of the season being August through October (this would typically effect the Caribbean as well); the Northeast Pacific basin has a broader peak with activity beginning in late May or early June and going until late October or early November with a peak in storminess in late August/early September; and there are other seasons for the North Indian basin, Southwest Indian and Australian/Southeast Indian basins, and others. However, reportedly globally, September is the most active month and May is the least active month. 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.
Argentina, Peru, Chile and even 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, 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, as well as the issuer (American Express, etc.) 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, sold at any travel store, 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, 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: Name three international places with lots of black history that most people don’t know about.
Answer from Nanette Dillard, Publisher of Travel Beyond Borders, The International Travel Guide for International African Americans: I would say Vienna, Austria; Venice, Italy; and Berlin, Germany. These are places that we do not think of as contributing to our overall history, but they do. In fact, the first known sculpted figure of a human being was found near Vienna, the famous Venus of Willendorf, and is clearly a figure with Black features. African peoples have always been very mobile and these are just three of the places effected by that mobility.
Question: What vaccinations do I need for my dream trip to West Africa?
Answer: Vaccinations for travel to foreign countries (although not usually for Western Europe, Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean Islands, etc.) are very common, especially countries where the sanitation and health standards/care may not be the same as those we are accustomed to in the states. 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.
For West Africa — Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde islands, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Sao Tome & Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo — they say that food and waterborne diseases are the number one cause of illness in travelers, such as Travelers’ diarrhea (caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites), Malaria (carried by mosquitoes), Yellow Fever (which occurs in certain jungle locations where the virus is maintained in a cycle among forests, mosquitoes, and monkeys, Schistosomiasis (a parasitic infection found in fresh water; they recommend not swimming in fresh water except well-chlorinated pools), and other diseases. The website also lists recommended vaccinations as well as detailed explanations of each.
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. The 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: Is it a good idea to purchase travel insurance for international travel?
Answer: It really depends, and 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 are an older traveler and/or have medical issues, you might want it in case you have to cancel due to illness. Along the same lines, 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. The costs are usually nominal, typically 50 to $80 per $1,000 coverage. Ask your travel agent who they recommend, or check your local phone book or the net. You might try: Travelex Insurance Services (www.travelex-insurance.com), Access America (www.accessamerica.com), or Travel Guard International (www.travel-guard.com).
Question: I am traveling to Germany on business next month but have been told that my cell phone won’t work in Europe (it’s a different configuration or something like that?) What are my options?
Answer: There are a few companies here that rent cell phones which work abroad. Try www.rentaphone.com(800) Rent Phone; www.globalphone.net, or www.smartcoms.com.
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 some of the finer restaurants). Any doubt, skip it! The same goes for ice cream. Secondly, wash your hands frequently to avoid passing germs and keep your hands out of your mouth. Another tip is to 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, 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.
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 75-90 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, stressed, nervous, or hung over before your flight. Even too much excitement can cause a little Jet Lag. Airplane cabin pressure combined with the dry air can make you a little dehydrated, so it’s a good idea to drink plenty of water. In fact, many flyers always carry a bottle. Although you may want to unwind with a drink or glass of wine, like you would at home, it can add to your Jet Lag. The impact of alcohol on the body is reportedly 2-3 times more potent when flying, so you might want to skip it until you land. Exercise is another great way to stave off the effects of Jet Lag prior to, during, and after your flight. While on the plane, rotate your ankles, stretch your legs in front of you (if at all possible), walk up and down the aisle and/or do stretching and bending exercises. This keeps 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 Bellman/Concierge are usually $1-2 per bag, up to about $5. If you are a generous tipper, the latter will remember it, and you’ll probably receive special treatment if you need it for the remainder of your stay! Room Service is the same as restaurant food servers (15-20%), and for Housekeeping, $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 $8 fare for a Taxi or Limousine Driver would be about $1 or so. Over $8? Two dollars or more. Both can be increased if they help you with your bags. Valet Parking attendants usually earn $1, $2 if the service is quick.
If you attend a show where seating is not pre-assigned, like Las Vegas, 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: Being stuck in the airport is definitely one of life’s less desirable events. But there are ways to alleviate your boredom. 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! If your layover will be long, find the closest coin lockers, secure your things and take a power walk! This is a great way to increase your circulation, and get a little change of scenery (albeit limited). If the weather is favorable, take it outside as well. It might not seem like fun, but it’s better than sitting and staring at the couple 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/just finished. They might want to share it with their classroom back home, 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: I have heard horror stories about crib accidents when traveling and staying at hotels. Are there any guidelines that I can reference?
Answer: Many traveling families use cribs and play yards provided by the approximately 65,000 motels and hotels in the U.S., and estimates show that children under age 2 spend more than 7 million nights per year in hotels, motels and resorts. Sadly about 40 babies suffocate or strangle in their cribs each year. Crib safety and recall information is available at the CPSC website. They can also inform you about a recent report of spot checks conducted in 90 hotels and motels in 27 states and the District of Columbia by Safe Kids.
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 for a simple sweatshirt in an airport shop!). For those traveling with infants or children, we always pack extra clothes, etc. 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 due to hotels taking 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. We have a newborn baby boy, and fortunately for us thus far when we have traveled there has been an empty seat almost everytime where we strapped him in his car seat. Other times, he can be strapped to our chest in his baby carrier, and we, in turn, are strapped in the seat. BTW, the infant car seat will fit in the overhead bin upside down if you are unable to use it.
Here are two websites for air safety and other tips traveling with kids: