“Travel does what good novelists also do to the life of everyday, placing it like a picture in a frame or a gem in its setting, so that the intrinsic qualities are made more clear. Travel does this with the very stuff that everyday life is made of, giving to it the sharp contour and meaning of art.” – Freya Stark
Since time immemorial, man has traveled. The Bible, for instance, is replete of people who traveled from one place to another. In the book of Exodus, Moses led his people out of Egypt. In the New Testament, Paul chronicled his visit to various places through his epistles. Matthew wrote the story of the “wise men” who traveled from east to Jerusalem looking for the Holy Child so that they could worship Him.
Today, traveling has become a major part of life for a modern Dabawenyo. This is especially true in Asia, where you could go and see mesmerizing locations, eat exotic foods, and immerse in a totally different culture. “Travel broadens the mind, flattens the finances, and lengthens the conversation,” Lois Haase once said.
While most travelers find their journey memorable and exciting, there are those who come home frustrated and exhausted. A few unfortunate ones even end up facing life imprisonment or the death penalty.
There are several reasons for travel fiascos but most of them can be avoided. Here are 10 basic rules to keep in mind when traveling abroad:
- Secure a passport from any offices of Department of Foreign Affairs. A passport is a document, issued by a national government, which certifies the identity and nationality of its holder for the purpose of international travel. A passport entitles the passport holder to return to the country that issued the passport. The elements of identity contained in all standardized passports include information about the holder, including name, date of birth, gender and place of birth.
Get a travel visa for countries that require it. A visa (from the Latin charta visa, literally “paper that has been seen”) generally gives non-citizens clearance to enter a country and to remain there within specified constraints, such as a time frame for entry, a limit on the time spent in the country, and a prohibition against employment.
- Get ready. Get to know the country you’re visiting. Buy a travel book and a map of the city you’re going to. Get phone numbers of your friends or relatives who may be living in the area (just in case you get lost).
Be sure to have all the necessary documents: a valid passport (check six months’ validity), visa (if the country you’re entering requires it), plane tickets, letters from your sponsors (if you’re invited), identification card, and other pertinent papers. If possible, make a check list and check all items you put into your luggage. That way, you won’t miss anything.
In addition, read up and make sure you know what you need to know. Before leaving, get some firsthand information from your government through its travel advisory. Ask friends or relatives for tips. Read news stories about the country you’re visiting. But don’t believe everything you read or hear.
- Have yourself (and your companions) get vaccinated – if needed. There is no point spending hours choosing your swimwear, beach bag and flip-flops if you barely think about the bugs and other health risks that could ruin your holiday. Infectious diseases can make you very sick, spoil your holiday and even kill or disable you. Vaccinations protect you against many travel-related infections, such as yellow fever, typhoid and hepatitis A.
- Observe regulations when checking in. Be at the airport at least two hours before departure. Carry-on luggage must fit under the seat or in an overhead compartment. Dangerous articles such as compressed gases, explosives, flammable liquids and solids, and poisons and infectious substances, are not allowed in carry-on luggage. Do not carry drugs.
- Expect the unexpected. Losing a luggage is one of the most-often complaints of air passengers. If you lose your luggage while flying, seek help from airline personnel and present your luggage tags, advises the Philippine Travel Agencies Association (PTAA). If the airline locates your luggage, ask to have it sent to your hotel. If you lose your baggage outside the airport, inform local authorities.
What if you lose your travel documents? The PTAA suggests that you present photocopies of your documents – if you have them. Be prepared for delays. If you lose your plane ticket (these days, e-ticket is more preferable), inform your travel agent or airline so they can send you a substitute ticket. If you lose your passport and/or visa, you can no longer continue your trip. Visit the nearest embassy to arrange for temporary travel documents.
As a result of losing your visa or passport, you need to cancel or reschedule your trip. To do this, call your travel agent or airline. There is usually a last-minute penalty for cancellation. In some instances, penalty can be waived for valid reasons like sickness or death in the family – but be sure to present pertinent documents.
- Pick your seat. A 2007 study by “Popular Mechanics” found passengers sitting at the back of a plane are 40% more likely to survive a crash than those sitting in the front. Although the article quotes Boeing, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and a website on aircraft safety, all claim there is no “safest” seat. The article studied 20 crashes, not taking into account the developments in safety after those accidents. However, a flight data recorder is usually mounted in the aircraft’s empennage (tail section), where it is more likely to survive a severe crash.
- Secure travel insurance. This is intended to cover medical expenses, financial default of travel suppliers, and other losses incurred while traveling, either within one’s own country, or internationally. The most common risks that are covered by travel insurance are: medical emergency (accident or sickness), emergency evacuation, repatriation of remains, return of a minor, trip cancellation, trip interruption, accidental death, overseas funeral expenses, lost, stolen or damaged baggage, personal effects or travel documents, delayed baggage (and emergency replacement of essential items), missed flight connection due to airline schedule, and travel delays due to weather.
- Don’t be afraid of flying. “There’s still this mystique about flying,” said Ron Nielsen, a retired US Airways pilot who’s found a second career counseling people who are afraid to fly, was quoted as saying by “The Seattle Times.” “There’s a fear of being closed in, and there’s a fear of dying.”
A 10-year average of US National Safety Council statistics from 1996 to 2005 showed only two people died in commercial airline crashes per 10 billion miles traveled. That compares to a death rate of five people per 10 billion miles on passenger trains. And in cars, 81 people died for every 10 billion miles traveled.
- Enroll in a frequent-flyer program. It is a loyalty program offered by many airlines. Typically, airline customers enrolled in the program accumulate frequent-flyer miles (kilometers, points, segments) corresponding to the distance flown on that airline or its partners. There are other ways to accumulate miles. In recent years, more miles were awarded for using co-branded credit and debit cards than for air travel. Acquired miles can be redeemed for air travel; for other goods or services; or for increased benefits, such as travel class upgrades, airport lounge access, or priority bookings.
“Airlines generally award one air mile for every mile flown on a full-price flight, and some airlines even give a reduced allocation on discounted flights,” informs the Asian edition of “Reader’s Digest.”
To end this piece, the statement of Paul Fussell seems to apt: “All the pathos and irony of leaving one’s youth behind is thus implicit in every joyous moment of travel: one knows that the first joy can never be recovered, and the wise traveler learns not to repeat successes but tries new places all the time.”