As someone who loves to travel at every opportune moment, there have been multiple times when I’ve planned the perfect trip, gotten all excited, arrived at the airport and then found out some bit of information that I should have known before. Based on these instances, I can tell you that not knowing a few of the travel basics can make your trip way more stressful than it needs to be and can seriously threaten even the most flawlessly laid out plans.
Here is some advice so that you can learn from my travel woes:
1. Always get to the airport three hours before your international flight
I know, I know. Sometimes this is tough to do and may seem unnecessary, especially if you have an early morning flight. But you literally never know what emergency situation you might find yourself in and may need the time to sort things out. In my experience, the extra time comes in clutch when there are airline mix-ups and you find yourself at the wrong airport, or you need a document that you do not have but can get with a little time. This leads me to my second point:
2. Use every resource at your disposal to find out what official documents and/or vaccinations you need to enter your destination
Trust me when I say that you do not want to end up speeding to the nearest 24-hour clinic at 3am on Carnival Sunday to pay for an expensive vaccine that you already have because your airline won’t let you board the plane without proof of immunization. Yes, this actually happened to me. Don’t count on your airline to notify you beforehand about what is required for your trip. It’s your responsibility to call them or your destination country’s embassy to get the information and to make sure that you are adequately prepared. If you booked your trip through a travel agency, they should also be able to let you know what you need. If all else fails, use Google to access travel advisories.
3. Know how many months of validity before your passport’s date of expiration are required to enter your destination country
When I was in college, I planned an amazing getaway to St. Lucia that was supposed to take place right after my final exams. Dreaming of the golden sand and the warm Caribbean Sea was the only thing that got me through the countless cold and dreary all-nighters. I got to the airport exhausted and ready to jump on the flight to paradise. It was at that point that the personnel at the check-in desk notified me that I couldn’t board the flight because I had less than six months of validity on my passport.
Due to the disappointment and the fatigue, I ended up having a full breakdown in the airport, but no amount of tears convinced the attendant to let me on the flight. Eventually they put me on a plane home where I was able to quickly renew my passport and get another flight to St. Lucia. Moral of the story? Don’t be like me. Pay attention to your passport’s expiry date and do your homework to know how much buffer time before the date of expiry is required by your destination country.
4. Make sure that you keep your travel documents in tip top shape
After an incredible few days of exploring Costa Rica, my favorite travel buddy and I headed to the airport to return home. When we arrived there, she was informed that she wouldn’t be allowed to board her flight to the U.S. because of some water stains on her passport. Pleading with and complaining to the airline officials got us nowhere and they continued to insist that she go to her country’s embassy in Costa Rica’s capital to get a new passport. Knowing that wasn’t a real option, we were beyond stressed. My advice? Save yourself the headache and make sure that your documents are in good condition to ensure that you have a smooth transition from the airport to your destination.
5. Have an easily accessible emergency fund at least the value of your return flight home
Our near Costa Rican catastrophe ended with my friend asking another airline’s check-in personnel if they would allow her to fly to the U.S. with her passport as it was. When they agreed, she had to buy a new return ticket for a flight that was scheduled to leave in under two hours. If she didn’t have the money for a new flight, she would have been in an even more difficult situation than the one she was already in. Sometimes even I am tempted to spend all of my emergency money on more craft souvenirs or on additional excursions that I didn’t really budget for. However, on a trip abroad anything can happen and you should be financially prepared for any hiccup that the universe may decide to throw your way.
Nitya Gittens is a Freelance Graphic Designer and Illustrator based in Trinidad and Tobago. She considers herself a true culture vulture and spends an irrationally large amount of her free time planning vacation trips and befriending other people’s dogs.
She also enjoys sharing her experiences as an adventurer and a traveller through her articles written for Road Trip TT.