Try to Make Lodging Reservations in Advance
Many travelers wait until they reach their destination before making hotel reservations. Some train stations and airports have travel desks to assist you in finding lodging. However, when you arrive, you may be tired and unfamiliar with your surroundings, and could have difficulty locating a hotel to suit your needs. Therefore, when possible, reserve your lodging in advance and confirm your reservations along the way. During peak tourist season, it is important to have a hotel reservation for at least the first night that you arrive in a foreign city.
An alternative to hotels and pensions is the youth hostel system, which offers travelers of all ages clean, inexpensive, overnight accommodations in more than 6,000 locations in over 70 countries worldwide. Hostels provide dormitory-style accommodations with separate facilities for males and females. Some hostels have family rooms that can be reserved in advance. Curfews are often imposed and membership is frequently required. For more information, you may contact: American Youth Hostels, P.O. Box 37613, Washington, D.C. 20013-7613; telephone (202) 783-6161.
The majority of private programs for vacation, study, or work abroad are reputable and financially sound. However, some charge exorbitant fees, use deliberately false “educational” claims, and provide working conditions far different from those advertised. Even programs of legitimate organizations can be poorly administered. Be cautious.Before committing yourself or your finances, find out about the organization and what it offers.
Travel Benefits for Students and Teachers
Students and teachers can save money on transportation and accommodations, and obtain other discounts if they have one of the following:
An International Student Identity Card – for students age 12 and older. You must be a junior high school, high school, college, university or vocational school student at least 12 years of age. Also, you must be enrolled in a study program leading to a diploma or degree at an accredited institution.
An International Teacher Identity Card – for full-time teachers and faculty at an accredited institution.
A GO 25 International Youth Travel Card – for youths ages 12 – 25. You must be at least 12 years of age, but not over 25 at the time that you apply.
These cards are available with proof of your status and a small fee from: Council on International Educational Exchange; 205 East 42nd Street; New York, New York10017; telephone 1-888-COUNCIL; Internet http://www.ciee.org/
The international identity cards offer the following benefits:
- Reduced airfares on major international airlines
- Discounts in the United States and abroad, including transportation, accommodations, international phone calls, car rentals and museum admissions
- Toll-free, 24-hour, emergency Help Line
- Basic insurance to cover sickness, accident and emergency evacuation while traveling outside the United States (only for cards purchased in the United States.)
- International student/teacher/youth recognition.
For more details and information about applying for international identity cards, contact the Council on International Educational Exchange as listed above.
Pre-Paid Telephone Card Service
You never know when you may wish or need to telephone home during your trip. For such purposes, you might consider purchasing a pre-paid telephone card. You can check with telephone companies about pre-paid telephone card service. They should be able to provide you with information about prices, sales locations in the United States and ordering the service by telephone. If you decide to purchase a pre-paid telephone card, be sure that the card you choose will work outside the United States.
Charter Flights and Airlines
There have been occasions when airlines or companies that sell charter flights or tour packages have gone out of business with little warning, stranding passengers overseas. If you know from the media or your travel agent that an airline is in financial difficulty, ask your travel agent or the airline what recourse you would have, if the airline ceased to operate. Some airlines may honor the tickets of a defunct airline, but they usually do so with restrictions.
It is a good idea to purchase tours only from operators that guarantee the safety of your money through a consumer protection plan.
Before you purchase a charter flight or tour package, read the contract carefully. Unless it guarantees to deliver services promised or give a full refund, you may consider purchasing travel insurance. If you are unsure of the reputation of a charter company or tour operator, consult your local Better Business Bureau or the American Society of Travel Agents at 1101 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314, Tel. (703) 739-2782. They will help answer your questions and tell you whether or not a company has a complaint record.
Driver’s License/Auto Insurance
If you intend to drive overseas, check with the embassy or consulate of the countries where you will visit to learn about requirements for driver’s license, road permits, and auto insurance. If possible, obtain road maps of the countries that you plan to visit before you go.
Many countries do not recognize a U.S. driver’s license. However, most countries accept an international driver’s permit. Before departure, you can obtain one at a local office of an automobile association. The U.S. Department of State has authorized two organizations to issue international driving permits to those who hold valid U.S. driver’s licenses: AAA and the American Automobile Touring Alliance. To apply for an international driving permit, you must be at least age 18, and you will need to present two passport-size photographs and your valid U.S. license. Certain countries require road permits, instead of tolls, to use on their divided highways, and they will fine those found driving without a permit.
Car rental agencies overseas usually provide auto insurance, but in some countries, the required coverage is minimal. When renting a car overseas, consider purchasing insurance coverage that is at least equivalent to that which you carry at home.
In general, your U.S. auto insurance does not cover you abroad. However, your policy may apply when you drive to countries neighboring the United States. Check with your insurer to see if your policy covers you in Canada, Mexico, or countries south of Mexico. Even if your policy is valid in one of these countries, it may not meet its minimum requirements. For instance, in most of Canada, you must carry at least $200,000 in liability insurance, and Mexico requires that, if vehicles do not carry theft, third party liability,and comprehensive insurance, the owner must post a bond that could be as high as 50% of the value of the vehicle. If you are under-insured for a country, auto insurance can usually be purchased on either side of the border.
U.S. Customs Pre-Registration
It is a good idea to be informed about U.S. Customs regulations. Foreign-made personal articles taken abroad are subject to U.S. Customs duty and tax upon your return, unless you have proof of prior possession such as a receipt, bill of sale, an insurance policy, or a jeweler’s appraisal. If you do not have proof of prior possession, items such as foreign-made watches, cameras, or tape recorders that can be identified by serial number or permanent markings, may be taken to the Customs office nearest you, or to the port of departure for registration, before you depart the United States. The certificate of registration provided can expedite free entry of these items when you return to theUnited States.
Documentation for Medications
If you go abroad with preexisting medical problems, you should carry a letter from you doctor describing your condition, including information on any prescription medicines that you must take. You should also have the generic names of the drugs. Please leave medicines in their original, labeled containers. These precautions make customs processing easier. A doctor’s certificate, however, may not suffice as authorization to transport all prescription drugs to all foreign countries. Travelers have innocently been arrested for drug violations when carrying items not considered to be narcotics in the United States. To ensure that you do not violate the drug laws of the countries that you visit, you may consult the embassy or consulate of those countries for precise information before you leave the United States.
If you have allergies, reactions to certain medicines, or other unique medical problems, you may consider wearing a medical alert bracelet or carrying a similar warning.
Information About Physicians and Hospitals Abroad
Several private organizations provide listings of physicians abroad to international travelers. Membership in these organizations is generally free, although a donation may be requested. Membership entitles you to a number traveler’s medical aids, including a directory of physicians with their overseas locations, telephone numbers and doctors’ fee schedules. The physicians are generally English-speaking and provide medical assistance 24 hours a day. The addresses of these medical organizations are in travel magazines or may be available from your travel agent.
U.S. embassies and consulates abroad usually keep lists of physicians and hospitals in their area. Major credit card companies also can provide the names of local doctors and hospitals abroad.
For detailed information about physicians abroad, the authoritative reference is the Directory of Medical Specialists, published for the American Board of Medical Specialists and its 22 certifying member boards. The publication should be available in your local library.
Places to Receive Mail
If you are traveling for an extended period, you may want to arrange for the delivery of mail or messages to you abroad. Some banks and international credit card companies handle mail for customers at their overseas branches. General Delivery (Poste Restante) services at post offices in most countries will hold mail for you. U.S.embassies/consulates do not handle private mail.
Learn About Dual Nationality
Whether you are a U.S. citizen from birth or were naturalized as a U.S. citizen, a foreign country may claim you as its citizen if:
- You were born in that country.
- Your parent(s) is or was a citizen of that country.
- You are married to a citizen of that country.
- You are a naturalized U.S. citizen, but you are still considered to be a citizen under that country’s laws.
If any of the possibilities for dual nationality applies to you, check on your status (including military obligations) with the embassy or consulate of the country that might claim you as a citizen. In particular, Americans may have problems with dual nationality in certain countries in the Middle East, in South America, and in Africa. Some foreign countries refuse to recognize a dual national’s U.S. citizenship and do not allow U.S. officials access to arrested Americans.
Some Things to Leave Behind
Your Itinerary – Leave a Paper Trail
You should leave a detailed itinerary (with names, addresses, and phone numbers of persons and places to be visited) with relatives or friends in the United States so that you can be reached in an emergency. Also, include a photocopy of your passport information page.
Other Important Numbers
It is a good idea to make a list of all important numbers – your passport information as well as your credit card, traveler’s checks, and airline ticket numbers. Leave a copy of the list at home, and carry a copy with you.
The above information is excerpted from the Consular Affairs Publications.