Practical Travel Tips
So you have your trip planned, tickets bought, booster shots and a whole bunch of questions about what to take and how you will get it all there. I hope my tips will help you sort out some details. Even though my tips are from the mission trip perspective, I believe they will also help the vacation traveler especially those who have a foreign destination.
Traveling anywhere outside the United States requires a passport. You can apply for a passport at any courthouse in the probate judge’s office and at some of the larger post offices (check before you go). The cost of an adult passport is $110 plus execution free of $25 ($135 total) and a minor’s passport (under 16 years of age) is $80 plus $25 execution fee (total $105). An adult’s passport expires in ten years and a minor’s passport expires in five years. It takes about six weeks to obtain a passport. NOTE: There is a passport card and a passport book available; YOU WILL NEED A PASSPORT BOOK for all countries except Canada and Mexico.
Most smart phones are compatible in foreign countries now but you need to contact your service provider to see if you have the international plan. You can contact your service provider and get international calling before you go and possibly cancel it when you return. Even if you have the international plan, calls and texting will cost extra and calls are very expensive. Data usage, for internet apps such as emails and Facebook, are extremely expensive so it is important to turn off “Cellular Data” even if you intend to send and receive text and calls. If you only intend to use your phone as a camera or other offline usages then it is wise to put it on “Airplane Mode”.
A great app to have on your smart phone in a foreign country is “Google Translate”. Once you install the app, go to settings and install the “Offline Translation” for the specific language(s) you need; this will allow you to translate even when you are on “Airplane Mode” or have the “Cellular Data” turned off.
All electrical systems are not the same. In the United States we have 120 volt system. Many foreign countries have a 240 volt system and the plug configuration very different from ours. Fortunately, most of our electronic devices such a smart phones, iPads, cameras, and laptops are manufactured with an input capacity range of 100 to 240 volts, meaning they will work on the U. S. power grid and also in a country that has 240 volts without needing to use a voltage converter. However, you will need a plug adapter.
Steps to Determine Your Need: 1) You need to check your charging plug or appliance for the input capacity. It is usually written in very small print and reads something like: “Input (100-240V)”. All appliances and devices have the input written on it. If it says Input (100-240V), then it will work practically anywhere. Your hair-dryer’s input is probably “Input 120V”, so if you carry it to another country on a 240V system, you will fry it! CHECK YOUR INPUT CAPACITY!!
2) Determine your destination country’s plug configuration by internet searching “plug adapter for _________”, you can then order one or two on Amason.com as they are relatively inexpensive. You will see some that are a big hunk with multiple adapters on one device; they will work but I prefer the simple adapter for the specific country. I would consider getting two plug adapters.
Note: The USB ports on charger plugs or any device will have a consistent output of about 5V regardless of the voltage input. You should not be overly concerned about the amperage; the device will generally pull what it needs.
Most people take too much stuff. I have been on a quest, whether it is a vacation or on a mission trip, to travel lighter. I have had some success with this but I still want to throw one more thing in the bag.
We should be able to go anywhere up to a month with one medium size piece of luggage (luggage that meets the airlines carry-on criteria) and a small personal item size bag. These two bags should carry everything we need for our personal needs; all of our clothes, camera, toiletries, etc. Some host groups or certain tour groups actually limit you to the one carry-on and a personal bag (purse/brief case size). If you pack all of your personal gear in these two bags then there is no worry about lost luggage. However, I still carry one checked bag.
I usually travel with one carry-on piece of luggage with rollers (W+H+L=45 inches) and a small shoulder bag no larger than (W+H+L=30 inches). On most mission trips to foreign countries, I usually carry one larger checked bag for supplies and for needed items not allowable in the carry-on bags such as insect spray, some food items, and a pocket knife.
One of the problems we have as travelers especially to third world countries, we try to pack for every possible situation. In reality, we can adapt or use what we have if we get a little creative. You can usually purchase items that you may need or borrow from a traveling buddy.
One of the big questions about packing is what kind of clothes and how much do I need to pack? Let’s be honest, whether a vacation or a mission trip, how many times have you packed too many clothes versus not enough clothes? The most likely answer is, “I usually pack too many.”
There a few basic questions you need to ask that will determine the clothes you carry. What type of climate? What are the local customs? What type of activities will you be participating?
Most mission trips seem to be in hot and humid climates. Light cool clothing is recommenced. Comfortable walking shoes are a must and sandals are appropriate in some situations. Flip-flops or slides are great when you get back to your room, for bath time, and that midnight trip to the toilet.
I usually recommend long pants for men because in most locations the culture dictates the standard. Shorts are more acceptable now than in years past. Women should check before they go if slacks and shorts are acceptable. Do not just assume everyone dresses like you; the acceptable standard is usually more modest in foreign countries. Check with your hosts or trip coordinator on acceptable attire. Even in very modest countries, shorts can be worn at your base or in your room so I always carry at least one pair.
In hot climates, short sleeve shirts and t-shirts are fine. Tank tops and sleeveless shirts are not recommended. At least one outfit for church service is recommended; khakis, shirt and tie is a good combination for guys. Women should plan on a modest dress for church attire.
If you will be doing manual labor such a construction then you need to dress for the job. Again, check with your coordinator about acceptable attire.
A cap or hat is a recommended item in hot sunny climates. They are great in hiding a ‘bad hair day’ too.
Since, you will be bunking with others, you need to be considerate and take appropriate sleep wear.
One important packing tip for clothes, I pack all my clothes that match each other. I can wear any shirt with any pant; that makes all the combinations work.
Back to the packing light topic, how comfortable are you with wearing clothes multiple times? Our automatic washing machines and dryers in the United States have spoiled us. In my opinion, we wash our clothes too much. The number of times you may be willing to wear your clothes depends on how much of a ‘clean freak’ you may be. It also depends on the type of trip, the climate, and the type of activities. Without getting too personal (second thought maybe I am), I am not going to wear underwear and socks more than a day if at all possible. I am willing to put a few days of sweat and dirt on pants and shirts. If they smell okay then they are good to go. One quick hint, on mission trips, I take a pair of short pants that I wear around where I am staying. As soon as I come in for the day, I change and let my day clothes ‘air-out’.
Another way to limit the number of clothes you pack is to wash (hand wash if necessary). Wal-Mart sells travel packets of detergent just for travel in their travel bin section usually located in the pharmacy area.
What clothes do I usually pack? Besides what I wear, I usually pack three pants, three button shirts, three t-shirts, five pair of underwear, five pairs of socks, one pair of short pants, sleep shorts, flip-flops, cap, and one tie. I should be able to go most places and stay from a week to one month with this amount of clothes.
Flying attire is important so wear comfortable clothes and shoes for the flight. In the airport you almost always see women in high heels—really, what are they thinking? Unless you have TSA Precheck, you will have to remove your shoes and belt with metal buckle for security at the airport. I purchased a belt with a hard plastic buckle—it sure makes it a little easier going through security when you don’t need to take off a belt. I ordered mine from www.bisondesigns.com but you may find one at an outfitter type store.
I like to wear a shirt that has at least one pocket so I can stash my passport and boarding pass. Even more secure is a shirt with a button/Velcro flap or one of the travel shirts with a side zippered pocket. It is a secure way to keep your passport handy during the trip.
If you are traveling from the United States in the winter to a warmer climate, try to avoid carrying a bulky winter coat with you. I like to wear a small pullover fleece and once inside the airport pack it away in an outside pocket of my carry-on bag. I leave my bulky winter coat in my vehicle for the land trip home and use the small fleece to get me comfortably from the airport to my vehicle.
Water for the journey is another consideration. Water can be obtained without paying $4 for a bottle of water. TSA will not allow you to bring bottled water through security. Once through security you can take bottled water on the plane if you purchased it beyond the security check point. I recommend bringing an empty water bottle and filling it after passing through security. In most airports you can purchase bottled water on the gate side of security but not always. Take a least one empty bottle with you in your carry-on and fill it before leaving the American airport. On most mission trips, you may have a long hot ride from your destination airport before you get to good water. I also recommend packing at least one extra empty water bottles for in country use.
TSA Precheck Program is a program that makes life a little easier going through TSA Security. You usually are put in an expedited line and you do not have to take laptops, toiletries out of your bag at the checkpoint. You also get to keep your shoes and belt on. To qualify, you have to apply, go through a fairly easy process of background checks, and finger printing. It costs $85 for five years. You can begin the application process at: https://universalenroll.dhs.gov/programs/precheck. When you are approved, you will be given a “Known Traveler Number”; this number can be entered when you get your flight reservation and your boarding passes will have “TSA PreCheck” printed on them. One little special bonus, those traveling with me usually get this designation on their boarding passes also.
SAFETY AND SECURITY
Guidelines at the airport are some things that needs to be clear. Stay together and minors need to stay with an adult! Do not leave bags unattended ever!
When you are going through immigration and customs, be courteous and serious. You need to take your ear phones out and not be using your smart phone for anything while communicating with the agents. It is also illegal to take pictures and videos in any of these areas.
In a group, it is wise to put matching bright colored flagging tape or distinctive ribbon on every bag (even the carry-on bags) so that all the bags in the group are easily recognizable. When collecting your bags at the baggage claim carrousel, have a couple of individuals pull the bags off the carrousel and a couple other individuals guard the collected bags.
Passport, money, and credit cards need to be carried and stored securely. One of the most important things you need is a security pouch that you wear under your clothing and around your waist. You can purchase these from Wal-Mart in the luggage area. You can carry your reserve cash, credit card, and passport in this pouch. Before leaving your room at the beginning of every day, take from the security pouch only the things you will need. For instance, when flying you need to place your passport in your pocket or shoulder bag for easy access because you will need to show it many times. While in country, keep your reserve cash, credit card, and passport in the security pouch concealed under your clothes. It is a good idea to put your passport in a small sandwich press and seal bag to protect it from sweat and rain.
Do not carry all your money in one place; put some in your wallet, small amount in your pocket and most in your security pouch worn under your clothing. Travelers’ checks are not recommended because they would be very difficult to cash in some areas. Debit and credit cards are advisable instead of traveler’s checks. In some third world countries debit and credit cards may not be used in some out-of-the-way places. Check with your host about availability and concerning currency exchange. American currency is sometimes accepted in some countries. Correct change is difficult to receive so be sure and carry at least (30) one-dollar bills and an assortment of five, ten and twenty dollar bills.
Always keep your passport in a secure place. Make three photo-copies of your passport information page. Take a photo-copy with you while in the field perhaps in your wallet, keep the other copy with your bags as a back up and leave one copy at home for your family. If you were to lose your passport the information would be important to get a replacement at the U. S. Consulate Office.
Personal security while traveling is something not to be taken lightly, especially in a foreign country. While in country never travel anywhere by yourself. Usually the larger the traveling party the safer you are. Avoid traveling at night. When possible have a local person to serve as a guide. Do not give money to street beggars in crowded areas—you can cause a small riot.
When obtaining services, it is better to lose a few dollars than to put yourself in an awkward or dangerous position. Don’t haggle over a dollar and cause a scene. (The local market is a different story; they expect and enjoy the bartering.) When I travel to a foreign country, I assume I will pay too much for something—it just happens. We need to be good stewards of our money and we have every right to question if something is outrageous but don’t be stupid! “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
You need to be aware of how you present yourself. As much as possible, you need to blend with the locals. It is not a good idea to wear expensive jewelry, dress like “Mr. Jungle Jim”, or look like the typical tourist just off the cruise ship. On my first trip to India, I noticed no one wore baseball caps so I will not carry one again. I love my cadet cap (army style) but I left it at home when I went to Cuba. It seems every mission group loves screen printed t-shirts all the same color and I understand with a large group it helps to spot a wandering ‘newbie’ but they look like a pack of cub scouts going to the park. If you are going to Mexico or one of the Caribbean countries you can get by with the tourist look, because they are accustomed to it but with many countries we need to fly under the radar as much as possible. I am very proud to be a Christian and an American but in today’s world, when I travel to places in Europe, India, and Cuba; I am very careful not to wear caps and clothing with military styling, American flags, and Christian symbols. Jesus said, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16 NKJV).
The rules for bags are apt to change and may differ from airline to airline. When you book your flights, you need to double check the baggage allowance for your flights. Do not assume anything, check online with the airline to determine baggage allowance and any fees you may need to pay.
Checked bags on international flights are usually limited to one to two bags with the first bag incurring a fee of about $25 and second bag over $100. A checked bag is limited to 50 pounds and a size of 62 inches of combined measurement (W+H+L). It is good idea to purchase a baggage scale to check your bag’s weight as the cost of the scale is much cheaper than the fee for an overweight bag. Hard-cased luggage should be strapped. If you wish to lock your bags you need to use TSA locks. TSA locks are combination locks that have a key way for the TSA master key.
Carry-on bags are usually limited to one carry-on bag of 45 inches of combined measurement (W+H+L) and one personal item (briefcase, laptop computer, shoulder bag, or small backpack). The one personal item must be no more than 36 inches of combined measurement (W+H+L) and be able to place under the seat. Both the carry-on and the personal item are limited to 40 pounds. Other additional items allowed beyond the restriction includes: coats, books, hats, newspapers, etc. Liquids, gels, and aerosols in carry-on bags must be in individual containers with a maximum capacity of 3 ounces. These items must be placed in one quart size press and seal bag (8” X 8”). Liquids, gels and aerosols in containers larger than 3 ounces must be packed in your checked bag.
PACKING AND TRAVELING
Knives, scissors or other cutting instruments cannot be packed in carry-on luggage or carried on your person. These items must be packed in your checked baggage. Sometimes they will allow small round-nosed scissors with a blade no longer than four inches (TSA may allow it but the foreign security people may not allow it).
Even if you use a checked bag be sure to include at least one or two sets of clothes and essential toiletries in your carry-on in case of lost luggage.
Make sure your name and address is located on the inside and outside of the bag. On the outside a name-tag works great. On the inside a strip of duct tape with your name and address is sufficient.
Do not put expensive items such as video cameras or expensive cameras in checked baggage but carry these items in your carry-on. Electronic devices with lithium batteries must be in your carry-on bag.
All prescription drugs must be in your name and in pharmacy issued containers.
I have found one of the frustrations in living out of luggage on a trip is finding my stuff. If I have all my clothes just loose in a piece of luggage, it is difficult to find my socks, etc. I like to use zippered packing cubes to keep my clothes organized. They usually come in three different sizes. I use the large one for my pants and shirts, the medium size for my underwear and t-shirts, and the small one for socks, handkerchiefs, and such. It is easier to pack and keeps the wrinkles to a minimum. Then in country, I am organized and they help to keep the bugs out of my clothes.
You can also buy oversized press and seal storage bags. These bags can be found in the closet organizing department of such stores as Wal-Mart and come in three gallon and ten gallon sizes. You get a number of them in each box and you will have enough for many trips. The ten gallon size can be used as a clothes washing bag if you need to wash clothes when there is not a bucket or basin available.
Bottled water is usually available for purchase in most places. This can get quite expensive though. Be cautious when locals tell you a water-well or facet has safe water because it may be safe for them but it may not be safe for you. Caution: if water is not safe to drink, it is not safe to use in brushing your teeth—many people have gotten sick from brushing their teeth with bad water. Also, be careful with ice; ice made from bad water will make you sick. I have had more trouble with locals about the ice than anything. Sometimes the ice company has filtered water but not always. Some mission bases will have the big jugs of water but you will need some 16-ounce empty water bottles for your personal use. I try to carry a couple of water bottles with me on a trip.
There are some wonderful water filters available now. They have 0.1 micron filter membranes that filter out most pathogens to the point of 99.99999%. Just in case I get in a situation with no bottled water, I always carry a Sawyer Mini filter; they are only about five inches long and screw directly onto a water bottle. These can be purchased at Academy Sports or online (www.sawyer.com) for about $25—never go to a foreign country unless you have one or something similar in your gear. Note: There are many water filters available that filter out lead and chlorine but not pathogens, make sure it filters out 99.99999% of pathogens such as E.coli, Giardia, Vibrio cholera, and Salmonella.
One of the treats in going to a foreign country is to eat the food. You usually need to avoid street vendors but some can be okay, your host can help you with this. Restaurants and your host can provide you with safe food. Generally speaking, if something is cooked or peeled you can eat it.
Snack foods may be hard to find in some areas. I usually like to carry some food items when I go on a mission trip. Many times only two meals per day are available so you may want some things for a snack or easy lunch. Foods such as fruits and vegetables, bread, soft drinks, bottled water, and ice can usually be purchased easily in a foreign country.
Suggested items for lunch and snacks are crackers, peanut butter, cracker snack packs, granola bars, nuts, cookies, candy bars, candy, pop-tarts, dried fruits, small summer sausage, tuna, Pringles, etc.
If you pack any bread, the best to pack are sub rolls or crackers. Instant drink packages such single use packets of tea, coffee, and lemonade are easy to pack and great to have. Salt, pepper, ketchup, mustard, sweetener, jelly and creamer are best carried in small packets secured in a press and seal bag or other container. A big bag of hard candy is a great treat to pass out to children at church or in small villages.
All food should be packaged in non-breakable containers. Food containers need to be labeled. Custom officers may question white powder in a press and seal bag. Containers or original wrappers that could spill or tear need to be placed inside press and seal bags.
Another great idea for food especially if you are in a remote situation is to pack military style MRE (Meals Ready to Eat). You can readily order these online from several companies. One source I have ordered from is www.TheEpicenter.com but there are others. This company also has water filters and other great items. Caution, most airlines will no longer allow the flameless ration heaters (a chemical reactant pad in a plastic sleeve that produces heat when water is added).
Some other handy items to pack are a plastic cup, small plastic bowl, a few plastic forks and spoons, and a straw (for drinking coconut milk from fresh coconuts).
SPIRITUAL PREPARATION AND PURPOSE
It is important for you to be spiritually prepared! Please pray for the spiritual effectiveness of your group and mission. You need to pray for the safety, health, and general well-being of those in your group. It is also very important to pray for your family’s well-being while you are away. Be filled with the Word and be filled with the Spirit so that God can empty you out in effective ministry.
Go with the purpose of sharing the Gospel and love of Christ, go with the purpose of helping others, and go with the purpose of enjoying the journey of life. Do not go as a tourist, just to gawk at the different places and people but go and build relationships with people who have hopes and dreams for their life just like you.
Enjoy the journey!
–Harry L. Whitt