Tips for international photo tours


Tips for International photo tours.  Preparation.

Arctic Tern
Arctic Tern 

Documents

If you don’t have a passport you will need to apply for one to visit countries outside the U.S.. If you have one already, check the renewal date several months before departure to be sure it covers the dates of travel. For passport info visit https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/passports.html

For visa requirements for the country to be visited, go to the country’s consulate website for requirements and fees. In the past I have successfully used a visa service called Travisa, www.travisa.com in the past and recently recommended them to a friend who also employed their service. In all cases, they were quite helpful answering questions about the visa process and application and review your application before delivering them to the respective embassy. Since you are sending your passport to them to hand-carry to the country’s embassy in Washington, D.C. and returning the documents to you, it is critical that the service is reliable.

Travel Alerts

Check the following websites, US State Department website (www.state.gov), the CDC http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel and the World Health Organization (http://www.who.int) for travel advisories for the regions to be visited. The state department site has passport forms and other travel info as well as a convenient travelers check-list https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/go/checklist.html. Be sure to photo copy travel documents and store separately from your originals in case the originals are lost or stolen.

Consider signing up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). They send travel and security updates about your destination and being register can help them contact you in the case of an emergency. https://step.state.gov/step/

Credit Cards:

Notify your credit card company either on-line or via phone of your upcoming travels so your charges from your new location will not be rejected as suspicious. I recommend carrying a travel wallet with protection from theft and with RFID blocking in the lining so scanners can’t read the radio-frequency tags embedded in your credit cards and passport. Distribute you cash in several locations in the event that you loose or have your wallet stolen.

Whale off shore of Iceland
Whale off shore of Iceland

TSA Pre-check

If you travel frequently, you may want to consider enrolling in TSA pre-check. Go to the TSA’s website www.tsa.gov to begin the enrollment process on-line. Afterwards you will have to go to a TSA center to participate in a 10-minute interview and fingerprinting.   TSA pre-check status allows U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents to go through an expedited TSA screening process if available. Those travelers will be allowed to leave on their shoes, light outerwear, and belt. You can keep your laptop in its case and compliant liquids or gels in your carry-ons. When registered, you receive a TSA number that you report when you purchase your airline tickets. In most cases, TSA pre-check will be printed on your boarding pass allowing you to use the TSA pre-check line at the security check- point at the airport. At the airport, a TSA pre-check line may or may not be available depending on availability of staff and security level of alert. If available, the TSA security check is expedited — lines are shorter and passage through TSA security screening is faster.

Currency exchange

Check common policies for acceptance of credit cards in the areas to be visited and the tipping policy. It is best to carry some local currency for tips, small purchases, taxis, sometimes airport taxes, etc. You can exchange dollars at the local airport when you arrive at your destination or at local banks, or money exchange centers but there is usually a higher service charge and less favorable exchange rates than if you can obtain the currency in the U.S. If you belong to AAA, they have a service whereby you can obtain foreign currency before your trip for a reasonable fee or no fee if $200 or more is exchanged. In Italy when we were running out of local currency and had problems finding a bank willing to exchange US dollars for Euros.

Health check-up

Several months before traveling overseas, it is a good idea to investigate what is required in terms of inoculations, etc. I visit Johns Hopkins Travel Clinic in Baltimore for needed shots, medication, and health adversaries. Locally you can obtain similar services through organizations such as Passport Health, https://www.passporthealthusa.com/travel-medicine. In some cases, you may have to be given multiple injections over a period of time. Some malaria medicines require taking pills several weeks prior to travel. With Johns Hopkins, they maintain a record of my visits and prepare a shot record to take with me. Also they provide a summary of the health concerns for the area. Note: Some countries require documentation indicating that you have received certain vaccinations, for example Yellow Fever.

Atlantic puffin.
Atlantic puffin.

Prescription medicines       

Make sure have enough of your prescription medicines to cover trip and any delays. Keep them in your hand-carry baggage. Have had meds stolen from check luggage. If you need an item refilled in a foreign country, you may have difficulties and may be required to visit a local doctor for a prescription. 

Emergency evacuation related to health

MedjetAssist is a global and domestic medical transport company with several membership programs. https://medjetassist.com/ It’s not a health insurance program for travelers but if you are hospitalized 150 miles or more from home, Medjet will arrange air medical transport back to your hospital of choice in your home country — all you pay is your basic plan membership fee.

You might wish to consider purchasing basic travel insurance offered by companies such as Travel Guard http://travelguard.com. Depending on the program, they cover costs related to in-hospital medical care, lost luggage, travel delays, trip cancellation, etc. Prices and plans vary according to benefits and the cost of the trip. It is best to check with your personal health insurance company for their policy regarding paying for overseas treatment and hospitalization.

Oystercatcher along coast of Iceland with chick.
oystercatcher

 

On the plane

Stay hydrated and avoid alcohol. Walk or exercise your legs when possible to maintain good circulation and avoid possible blood clots. There are compression socks that are supposed to help.

Relief for long delays between flights

On occasion, I have had excessive delays between flights   If you belong to an airline club such as United’s, at some airports they have a lounge with personalized travel assistance, Wi-Fi, beverages, snacks, and most important, it is a much more pleasant environment in which to wait than sitting in the public areas of the airport terminal.

For my upcoming trip to Brazil, I have approximately a 10-hour delay between my domestic and international flight heading back to the U.S. I discovered that within the airport there is a “hotel” with small sleeping quarters where you can rest in privacy while waiting for your flight. At Sao Paulo airport, it’s called “FastSleep” and you pay by the hour.

Equipment check

I typically have my camera cleaned and serviced at least twice a year if used heavily particularly before a major trip. Since I am a Nikon user and Nikon Professional Services member, I send my cameras to Nikon’s New York Service and Repair Center. Using my NPS number, I receive expedited service. It may cost a bit for a “once over” on your camera periodically but it is worth it when you have invested several thousand dollars in a trip. Note: I always carry at least one spare camera. (If camera sent for cleaning, check your setting when the camera is returned. Often set to defaults.

Carry-on luggage

I travel on the airlines with my camera gear loaded in a Gura Gear light-weight backpack and place my computer in a rolling computer bag. Chargers, power strips, filters, tripod ball head, etc., I place in my checked luggage with the more delicate items placed in a small padded backpack that can double a field pack. TSA locks may help against in experienced thieves but do not guarantee absolute protection from others and less reputable TSA inspectors. I have had items removed from my luggage more than once.

 

Hummer stalled in mid-air
Hummingbird

Saving digital files while traveling.

I carry my Apple laptop computer, card reader, and two potable Seagate 2 T drives. When possible, I transfer image files from my compact flash cards each evening after shooting to my portable drives. I don’t save the files on the computer itself since they consume too much room. When possible, I quickly review the images on Adobe Lightroom. Once assured that the camera is working properly and my technique is solid, I then put the cards aside for reformatting in the camera. I usually carry a number of compact flash cards and cardholders to store cards in case transfer of images is not possible. I have card-holders color coded for cards needing to be transferred and others of a different color for cards where the images have been transferred and are ready to be re-formatted in the camera where they will be used. Any scheme that works for you is fine.

International calling plans

I add an international calling/data plan to my cell phone for the month I will be traveling. This provides an economical way to communicate the event of an emergency, delays in travel, urgent business, etc. If you have the Whatsapp application on your phone, you can make long distance calls or send text messages via Internet for free. Recently I used it for the first time and was impressed that the transmission was so clear.

Common Gallinule stretching.
Common Gallinule