Travel Smart: Anticipate Adversity
With people flying, sailing and driving in big numbers again, it’s time for a refresher course in avoiding travel trouble
Many of us stopped traveling when the COVID-19 pandemic erupted. Now many of us are hitting the road again — and realizing that we've forgotten a few things.
Here are a few tips to refresh your memory and avoid travel mishaps that can end up costing time or money or both.
Before you even decide where you're going, check the passport expiration date of everyone traveling with you. Airlines and cruise ships will not let you board if your passport isn't going to be valid for six months after you return. Some require three months, but rules change, so have six months or more to be safe.
EU's New Paperwork
Check which countries require a visa and remember that beginning in 2024 travelers who don't need a visa to enter any of the 27 Schengen Zone countries must have an ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorization System) "travel authorization" document. European officials advise travelers to apply for the document — and pay the fee of €7 (about $7.50) — well before flying.
It is also advisable to photocopy your travel and personal papers — including passports and travel itineraries — and keep a hard copy in your suitcase and an electronic copy in the cloud.
Buy "cancel for any reason" travel insurance. CFAR will cover you (usually reimbursing 75% to 100% of covered costs) even if your pet sitter cancels the day before your trip. Yes, check your credit card and medical insurance so you don't duplicate coverage, but consider how long those companies will take to reimburse you. If you travel frequently, buy an annual policy.
Will Your Medical Insurance Work?
Check your medical insurance. In written tips, eHealth, an independent Medicare insurance advisor, advises, "If you're traveling in the United States, you're likely covered if you're on Original Medicare, Medicare Supplement, or Part D plans. Travelers can go to almost any doctor or hospital that accepts Medicare, whether for a routine checkup or an emergency.
"When traveling out of the U.S., Medicare does not always cover you."
"When traveling out of the U.S., Medicare does not always cover you, unless in U.S. territories. There are exceptions. Some private Medicare Advantage plans cover foreign travel. If you're a military retiree you may have Medicare from Tricare for Life. This insurance typically covers Medicare's deductibles, copayments and coinsurance, and health care outside the United States. If you're on a cruise, Medicare is typically offered within six hours of a U.S. port. eHealth, an Independent Medicare Insurance Advisor, allows users to search Medicare plans and compare side-by-side, so users know if they'll be covered while away."
EHealth allows users to search Medicare plans and compare side-by-side, so users know if they'll be covered while away.
COVID-19 is still with us. Get the latest vaccination and find your N-95 face masks or buy a new supply. Wear them indoors and outdoors even if the disease isn't prevalent where you're going.
Invest in Apple AirTags or similar Android devices. Place one in your luggage and on your keychain. Put one in your carry-on bag, your camera bag, on your pet, raincoat, golf clubs and anything (or anyone) else you do not want to lose, forget, have stolen or go missing. They cost about $29 each or four for $99.
Beware of Special Events
Check the calendar for where you want to visit. Paris in August 2024 will host the Summer Olympics and Paralympic Games, so unless you plan to attend the Games (it's the inaugural year for breakdancing), you might want to go elsewhere or visit some other time.
"Always carry healthy snacks with you. I've been in situations where having a protein bar or nuts made all the difference."
If you're traveling to hurricane country, whether flying or cruising, during hurricane season, don't be surprised if you and a storm are at the same place at the same time and your plans change.
"Stay hydrated and energized," says Bryan Clayton, CEO and co-founder of the online freelancing platform GreenPal and frequent traveler. "Long trips can take a toll on the body."
"On my lengthy flights," he adds, "I make it a point to drink plenty of water. Air travel, in particular, can be dehydrating. It keeps me hydrated and also helps combat jet lag. Always carry healthy snacks with you. I've been in situations where having a protein bar or nuts made all the difference between feeling drained and staying energized."
Double Check Your Dates
Jason Beukema, the owner and founder of Groove Cruise by Whet Travel, has been in the travel industry since 2004. He advises travelers to double-check travel dates, destinations and names before confirming reservations.
Travelers United, a nonprofit organization that advocates for improved travel, has additional cautions. "Pay attention to the day on the reservation, not just the time. This is particularly important on international flights with long connections. Some stopovers can be lengthy, and that '+1 day' (notation) is easy to overlook. As a result, you could be stuck at the airport for more than 24 hours waiting for your connecting flight."
The organization also notes the difference in dating systems. In the U.S., we'd write 9/10 for September 10, but in Europe, it will most likely be 10/9 for the same date. Remember that time zones change. A cruise ship may or may not change time, so be sure you're on the ship's time.
If you want to go to Portland, check if you picked Oregon or Maine. Are you booking a flight to Paris, France, or to one of the 22 U.S. cities named Paris?
Hedge Your Luggage
Packing smart is essential. If you'll be traveling with a companion, split your items between two suitcases, so each is half and half. That way, if one suitcase disappears, each of you still has something to wear, from a hat to shoes.
A vacation, particularly one with a lot of walking, is not the time for new shoes. Rather than packing full-size toiletries and other products, check websites like Minimus for travel-size packages of food, personal care and other products.
Photograph what you pack and your suitcase exterior. Add a colorful tassel and/or decorative duct tape so you can distinguish your black suitcase from everyone else's. As there may not be carts or help to tote luggage, pack as little as possible. No one is going to ask if the clothes you have on today are what you wore yesterday.
Bring Expendable Clothes
If you intend to buy souvenirs, consider packing your tackiest undies and rattiest T-shirts and trash them rather than bring them home with you. Use the space for the souvenirs.
"Have multiple credit and debit cards when traveling in case one is rejected, stolen, lost, damaged or gets fraudulent charges on it."
Notify your credit card or bank that you'll be traveling so they won't think your card has been stolen when you use it abroad. Check for hidden credit card charges for converting currency and other possible fees.
A debate ensues about the next suggestion. Some say to get some of the foreign currency you'll need while you're still home so you'll have money for a small bite to eat while you're waiting for your luggage, cash for taxi trips and tips, or tram rides from the airport. Others say to use your credit or debit card for those expenses and wait until you're there to exchange money at a local bank or ATM.
Tim Leffel, editor and author of several travel advice books at Al Centro Media, recommends having a financial backup plan. "Have multiple credit and debit cards when traveling in case one is rejected, stolen, lost, damaged or gets fraudulent charges on it," he says. "Ideally, the debit card is fee-free or at least doesn't charge on its end, too."
Remember to Relax
Don't overschedule. Whether you like to see attractions thoroughly or breeze through for a sense of place, schedule one activity for the morning and one in the afternoon. If you want to do a more thorough look, you can. If not, you can take a leisurely lunch, nap to catch up with jetlag or explore a place a local has suggested that wasn't in your guidebook.
Leffel says he's surprised that more people do not anticipate potential delays and have a Plan B. "What happens if your flight is delayed, your ferry doesn't leave until the next day or there's a strike?" he says. "I'm amazed how many people cut it close when going on a cruise when they should be arriving two days earlier to be safe."
He adds, "It's the same with organized tours or any other vacation with a hard departure date. Lots of things can go wrong, so anticipating these and having a plan will save a lot of headaches."