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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Travel Well, Travel Smart in 2015

With the new year upon us, it is a great time to do a quick check of our personal travel preparedness. With whatever travel we intend to be a part of in 2015, whether domestic or international, there are ways to avoid last-minute stressors to ensure that we can focus on the positives and enjoy our trip from departure to arrival and back.

This includes checking or obtaining proper identification documents, keeping up to date with medical records and equipment, and taking time to learn about what’s happening in your destination.

Many people think that if they don’t travel regularly, or don’t have set plans to travel abroad, then there is no reason to obtain a US Passport. This isn’t true! In the New Year, you might start a job that requires international travel. You might get an invitation to vacation abroad with your friends. Or, perhaps you have a family member living abroad that you may consider visiting. Unplanned travel comes up when we are least prepared for it. A US Passport is valid for ten years, so if you think that in this time you even might need one, take the necessary steps to apply for one now.

Let’s say you are a frequent traveler. How many times have you been standing in the que to obtain your boarding pass, and there is a person at the front of the line fighting and pleading with the airline representative about letting him board his flight, even though his passport just expired. In these situations, there is nothing you can do- it’s too late. They miss their flight,  meeting, or vacation.

"...Routine passport processing
takes as long as five weeks,
so plan ahead!"
Many countries require that your passport be valid for at least six more months prior to granting a visa. If your passport is expiring in 2015, renew it now and avoid the stress of waiting until the last minute. In doing so, you will also save money, as you don’t need to pay extra for expedited services. Routine processing takes as long as five weeks, so plan ahead!
In addition to issues with expiration dates, many countries will attempt to deny visitors entry if their passport is tattered or in damaged condition. If your passport has been compromised because of water, wear and tear or looks soiled, again, save the stress and apply for a replacement. It is much easier to deal with this potential hold-up here in the United States than once you are at the point of entry at your destination.

Another issue to consider is how many pages you have remaining in your passport book. Some countries have certain restrictions on the number of available pages in your passport, and can deny you access should you not meet these restrictions. If you know that you will be traveling a lot within the ten years that your passport is valid, you can specify in your application that you would prefer a larger book (it will have 43 pages for visas, as opposed to the standard 17). If your passport is still valid, but you need to add more pages now, you can apply for an additional 24 pages for $82. The processing time is the same- up to five weeks. The appropriate forms to apply for this addition are available through the Department of State.

Getting a passport card isn’t a bad idea, either. When traveling, this serves as an additional form of photo identification, and is a part of the PASS System, or People Access Security System. It is a good idea to carry this when you feel insecure about carrying your passport book (for fear of theft or damage, especially). This card can be used to enter the United States via land border crossings. It cannot be used for international travel by air. Like the passport book, it is valid for ten years. It costs $55 for first time applicants, or $30 when renewing your documents. When you apply for a passport and passport card together it costs $165, saving you a little money. The standard turn-around time for obtaining this card is the same as a passport book- about 4-5 weeks.

Leaving copies of your passport (the information and photo page) with a family member is a great idea. Should you lose your book while traveling, someone will be able to provide you with your passport number and other important information that can expedite the process of getting you a replacement.
If you plan to rent a car and drive while abroad, you may need to apply for an International Driving Permit. Many countries won’t recognize a US license as valid, so it is important to take care of this prior to arriving at the rental center abroad. This can be obtained at local AAA’s or through the National Auto Club.

The new year is a great time to think about creating or updating a Living Will and Last Will and Testament. Once completed or updated, have a conversation with your loved ones about them. Talking about these documents will ensure that your wishes are carried out, should you perish and/or become incapacitated while traveling. A grave thought, but if no one knows about them, your biddings will not be satisfied. If you haven’t worked with such documents before, you can contact an attorney, research options online, or reach out to a travel assistance provider for referrals.
Global health is a growing concern. Many countries require foreign visitors to carry an International Certificate of Vaccination as proof of immunization against specific fevers or diseases. Like identification documents, these vaccines have expiration dates. Country-specific requirements are available through the Center for Disease Control, and many local clinics offer the necessary vaccines. Some immunizations have to be obtained a certain number of days prior to travel, so make your appointments and plan ahead!

"...Many countries require foreign visitors to carry an
International Certificate of Vaccination. Country-specific
requirements are available through the CDC."
While thinking of medically-related issues, it is also a good time to plan for obtaining prescriptions for the medications you need while away. It is advised to always pack enough for your trip, plus extra, should you be unexpectedly delayed. Check the dates on your inhalers and other prescriptions. Don’t assume that finding a refill will be an option in your destination, as it might not be. While traveling, be sure to carry your medications in their original labeled containers. If you are taking a medication that could be classified as contraband in another country, you can ask for a letter from your prescribing physician which should describe in detail the purpose of the drug.

In addition to practicing safe travel by providing your loved ones with copies of your itinerary and passport, Americans can take advantage of a cutting-edge program- STEP, the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. It is a free service provided by the Department of State that allows US citizens and nationals traveling abroad to document their trip with the nearest US Embassy or Consulate. By taking part in this program, travelers receive information from the Embassy about safety issues and travel concerns in their destination. By providing the Embassy accurate contact information, they will notify you should there be a natural disaster or civil unrest in your destination. 
Comprehensive assistance services can be delivered to a traveler through a travel assistance provider. Vetted International is a world renowned provider and uses a proprietary Travel Assistance Portal.  It is a members-only filing system that can be updated with each trip. Your documents, itinerary, and other important files can be stored in one place- securely and confidentially. Documents may be retrieved using a smart phone, portable device, or online. Additional resources are also available in the member’s portal. 
Being educated on your destination is the best way to cut down on potential problems. Make 2015 a year of great travel by planning ahead, traveling smart and playing it safe.

We wish you a new year filled with exploration, adventure and many new sights!


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