Don't forget your visa

Make sure you have your travel visas.

I’m not talking about credit cards, although travelling with more than one credit card is always a good idea in case one gets deactivated along your travels.

The travel visas I’m talking about are the extra “hoops” you must jump through to get into some foreign countries. It is not always apparent when booking flights online that it may be required. 

Lack of the proper documentation can stop you in your tracks at your international departure point, regardless of how many prepaid travel arrangements you may have.

Visa requirements are based on your passport nationality; as a Canadian resident may not need a visa but your Chinese companion does. 

Whenever you are travelling internationally, you should verify the following:

  • Required validity of passport – countries can require that your passport be valid anywhere from 3 to 6 months beyond your date of entry
  • Proof of payment of reciprocity taxes – Argentina as example requires a receipt proving you’ve paid the required entry tax prior to arrival
  • Required entry visas based on passport citizenship

Not validating this information can be a costly mistake. There are two ways to investigate your entry requirements. Canadian citizens can go to this website.

The most precise and up to date information is found on the individual country’s embassy or consulate sites.  Through this avenue, you can check all nationality’s requirements. You can also speak to consulate staff to verify any specific challenges or questions you may have.

The visa itself is an official document, usually stamped or glued within your passport. It is processed and authorized by foreign government offices operating within Canada.

Each individual country has its own requirements, fees and varying processing times.  Many countries are now adopting online pre-approved visa processes called ETA’s (Electronic Travel Authority).

Be aware that when researching how to facilitate visas through the internet that there will be several Visa Processing Centers showing in your search results offering to handle the procedure for you. 

These “centres” charge very expensive processing fees, much higher than the applicable visa fee that is charged by the consulate of the country you are hoping to visit. 

Always deal directly with the source.

Visa processing can be a tricky matter at times. The representatives of the country to which you are travelling need to physically see your passport before they can issue the visa. 

If you are unable to visit the foreign government office in person, you will have mail in your passport, fees and application form along with a self-addressed return envelope. During this processing time, you are of course unable to leave Canada. Be sure to leave yourself ample time to facilitate the documentation. 

Expedited or “Fast Tracked” processing can be done in emergencies but at a much higher cost.

Do your due diligence and research your next destination. Don’t get enticed by a “too good to be true” cruise sale out of Brazil only to find that you need both a newly renewed passport, visa and pika vaccination.

Easter Island enigma

Every ardent traveller has a bucket list of destinations. Recently, I helped some clients check Easter Island off their list.

For some, the unresolved mysteries of the large sculptures and their historic relevance are just too much to ignore. This speck of an island, 3,700 kilometres off the coast of Chile, is one of the most remote places on Earth. 

It is not an easy or inexpensive destination to explore.

Planning is truly necessary as there are few flights between Santiago and Easter Island (also known as Rapa Nui). Minimum round trip airfares start at $950 Cdn. An interesting fact to remember is that the local population is allocated unlimited baggage allowances in contrast to the one piece maximum afforded tourists.

The check-in line in Santiago was an amazing assortment of everything from toaster ovens to toilets.

Upon arrival, you must pay a $60 US national park fee. Now that’s another point to remember. Cash is king on the Island and banks or cash machines are few. 

Be prepared.

Accommodations are limited due to the ever-increasing demand from international tourism therefore even the most basic hotels with limited amenities are expensive. If you’re looking for luxury, I would recommend the Explora Rapa Nui.

Rapa Nui is best explored with a local guide who can tell you the legends involving the mysterious moai.  There are over 900 of these sculptures scattered throughout the island. 

They range in height from four to 10 metres. Their significance is a hotly debated topic. Some believe them to be tribute to ancestors and others say they were created in the image of supernatural god.

How these huge, heavy images were transported from the Rano Raraku quarry to their various positions around the island is the true conundrum. 

There is, however, more to Easter Island than just the vacant stares of the monolithic stones. Fabulous white-sand beaches, crystal-clear waters and unpolluted reefs await the avid scuba diver, as well as wonderful cycling and trekking for the exercise enthusiast.

Sadly, Easter Island’s increasing popularity has its downside. The local population numbers 6,000 and welcomes over 80,000 visitors per year. Chileans immigrating from the mainland to open bars, restaurants and hotels now outnumber the original Polynesian Easter Islanders. 

Garbage collection and recycling is a major issue when you remember that the island is only 25 km from tip to tip. Worst of all is the continuing vandalism of moai.

Easter Island is a stunning place. The moai, standing on their stone plinths and gazing over the rolling, green landscape, are an unforgettable sight. 

If so called progress continues without addressing the need for major infrastructure improvements, the future of one of the most unique places on Earth may be severely threatened.

Where's my luggage?

It seems incomprehensible that in today’s world of computers and tracking systems that thousands of pieces of luggage still go missing daily. 

I suppose when you compare that figure to the millions of bags that do transport correctly it’s something of an acceptable risk. Sadly, the more you travel, the more likely you must deal with this eventuality.

So what do you do when you realize that your luggage is just not going to show up on that carousel? 

First thing is find the lost luggage counter for the airline you arrived on. 

Even if you left on one airline and transited to another, it’s the last airline that assumes responsibility for the delay or loss. You won’t be the only one at that counter as luggage rarely goes missing on an individual basis.

The claims agent will have you fill out a form describing your bag and its contents and will ask to see your luggage tag. 

Generally, they can usually enter that tracking number into the system and confidently tell you exactly where your bag is and when you can expect to receive it. 

Compensation for delay of delivery depends on whether you are in destination or arriving back to your home base. 

When arriving home, the best to expect is free delivery to your address of choice once the bag arrives. If in destination, the rule of thumb for more than a four-hour delay is $120 for essential toiletries. 

This can vary depending on situation. Be sure to get clarification from the claims agent before you spend money on new business attire. Most airlines have an online tracking system which allows you to gauge when to expect delivery.

After you have made your claim, be sure to also check with your credit card carrier. Many cards these days include baggage loss and delay coverages. That four-hour delay window can allow for up to $400 in new attire as well as cover the cost of sport rental equipment for those of you on a ski or golf trip. 

As the commercial says …. “know what’s in your wallet”. No point in paying those annual fees if you don’t know what they’re for.

If your luggage is eventually deemed irretrievably “lost,” the maximum compensation is usually $1,500 per piece. This value would be substantiated by a detailed inventory. In cases where the airline has forced you to check what you thought was to be a carry-on bag with valuables then you could likely argue a higher claim amount but only if at that time you declared and recorded the value.

Now, there’s no way to guarantee that the airline won’t lose your bags, but you can do things to make them easier to find. 

First and foremost, consider buying something other than black luggage. Let’s face it, the fuchsia pink with black polka dots will be much more recognizable. Invest in permanent colourful luggage ID tags and be sure that they have your current address information on them. 

Remove all old airline baggage stickers to avoid confusing the tracking system. 

Rule of thumb:

  • Never check something you can’t replace or live without. Medications, identification such as passports or visas, computer or camera equipment as well as their power sources should always be carry on items. 

Don't wait for 'one day'

How many times have you put your travel plans on hold to accommodate someone else’s budget or calendar?  

Are you always accommodating your travelling companion’s destination choices? 

Do you catch yourself saying “one day” in regards to the trip of a lifetime? Why not today? 

Hopefully you’re not letting the fact that you are a solo traveller keep you back.

Solo travel is one of the fastest growing trends in the travel industry. 

Whether it’s due to divorce, death or choice, single travellers are getting tired of waiting around for like-minded adventurers to join them.  Women out-number the men when it comes to solo travel and there are several tour suppliers that cater specifically to that market. 

Male or female, a great way to start your first solo trip is to join a tour. 

There are many small tour companies—G Adventures, Intrepid Traveller or Peregrine—that have great pricing policies for single travellers. 

You can pay a small single supplement and have a private room or, if you like, pay the regular rate with the understanding that you will likely be matched with another single traveller of the same sex. 

A word to the wise: since there are much fewer men travelling solo, they very often end up with a private room for the regular rate. 

Personally, I’ve never scored a private room, but I now also have wonderful friends from around the world.

The small group aspect allows for the single traveller to be included and “absorbed” into the group dynamic. You have your private time, but you are also noticed and missed if you are waylaid along the way. 

You have people to share those “surreal moments” with as you discover and explore the vistas and cultures of the world. 

Whenever I travel to a new destination on my own, I book into a short tour to get oriented. It’s a wonderful way to get a feel for the area, to visit the must-see sites and learn about the history and customs of the culture. 

I then continue my own and immerse myself into the local scene.

Cruising is another matter, however.

Sadly, ocean cruising is the least inclusive of the solo traveller when it comes to pricing. 

Generally, most ocean liners charge a 100 per cent supplement for a single cabin. Life aboard though is full of new experiences, opportunities to meet new people in a safe environment and great entertainment. 

River cruising has recognized the solo trend and many operators offer special single cabin pricing. 

These specific cabins are limited in availability, however, and require advance booking to secure. 

With a maximum of 300 passengers, a river cruise is good for the solo traveller. 

Staff and fellow passengers are quick to welcome and include you in daily activities, excursions and meals.

Travelling solo does mean putting yourself out there.

I’ve discovered that generally people do respect a single woman’s privacy and personal space until she sets the tone.

You must be ready to introduce yourself, be open to joining in and ready to share in conversations.  Listen to your instincts, but not your fears. 

It’s time to get rid of “one day” and start working on today.  The world is full of wanderlust seekers.

More The Joy of Travel articles

About the Author

Joy has long been a believer in the art of travel: the belief that a vacation is something to be anticipated savored and then long remembered as one of life’s great adventures. 
Website: thejoyoftravel.ca

You can contact Joy by email.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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