Tips for Tropical Travel

Prepare for your trip by considering practical matters:

When is the best time to go to the Tropics?

Any time is a great time somewhere in the Tropics. The Tropics, by definition, extend from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn. The Tropic of Cancer is the latitude north of the Equator that runs through southern China, northern India, North Africa, Cuba, and the northern end of the Hawaiian Island chain. The Tropic of Capricorn is the latitude south of the Equator that runs central Australia (near Alice Springs), Madagascar, Namibia, and Rio de Janeiro. That's a considerable portion of the Earth.

In the humid part of the Tropics, the best time to go is generally whenever the rainy season is not happening. For example, in Central America you would be more comfortable from November to May when the weather is drier. In Fiji, which is in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are reversed: the driest time is from May to November.

The closer you are to the Equator, the less difference there will be between times of the year relative to weather.

The higher the elevation, the less the time of year matters: in the highlands of Costa Rica, for example, San Jose enjoys almost perpetual springtime weather.

In the arid parts of the Tropics, you would be much more comfortable when it is winter and thus cooler. For example, in the Outback of Central Australia, winter is April-September. In North Africa, winger is October-March.

There can be local factors which affect the timing of the best time to go. For example, you might want to be in Hawaii during the annual whale migrations which occur in March-April. In the Amazon, you might not want to go during June-August when the Amazon is in flood.

Hurricanes dictate the best and worse time to go to the Caribbean part of the Tropics. For more information, see Hurricanes & the Caribbean.

For a summary of best times to go to the Tropics, see When is the "best" time to go? Or ask for advice in the planning of your trip.

Is your passport current? Every country requires US visitors to possess a valid passport. Generally, most countries require that the passport have at least six months left on it after the date you expect to depart from the country. That's because they don't want you to be stranded without a valid passport which could happen if your passport expires before you leave. Some countries require your passport have a year left before expiration. Check with your travel agent to find out.

Do you need a visa? Check with your travel agent to find out.

Plan to be safe - With a bit of forethought and awareness during your trip, you can increase your safety and have a much more hassle-free trip.

Avoid jet-lag - It can be done; let me tell you how.

Money matters - For almost everyone traveling anywhere, using your ATM card is the best (and least expensive) way to obtain cash. Prepare by checking with your bank to make sure your ATM card will work in where you are going. It may not in some destinations, such as French Polynesia. If your PIN is not four digits, change it so that it is only four digits as that is the standard at ATMs throughout most of the rest of the world.

Do you need an International drivers licence? Check with your rental car company. The purpose of an International drivers license is to translate what is on your US drivers license in places where the Roman alphabet is not used or where English is not widely understood. In most tropical destinations neither of those factors are issues. But some rental car companies may insist you have an international drivers license. If that is the case, go to AAA and get one.

See your doctor - Wherever you travel, you want to make sure your health is optimal to allow you to enjoy your trip to the fullest. Since exotic diseases, such as malaria, flourish in some tropical areas, you need to find out if there are any particular health issues where you are going. A good source of information is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Regardless, visit your doctor for medicines to prevent you catching a nasty bug and to make sure your normal vacinations, such as tetanus shots, are up-to-date.

Pack light! - Your goal should be to have only a carry-on bag and no checked luggage. Even on a cruise you don't need to haul all your possessions with you. No one ever returns from a trip saying, "I wish I'd have taken more clothing." Rather, the opposite is true. If you think you might need something, leave it home. Take only those items that you know you will need and be miserable without. If it turns out you really do need something, use that as an excuse to buy it while on your trip. That way, you will have a wonderful souvenir when you return home. And you will get a chance to shop like a local. But most of all, you will save your back, you will have fewer bags to watch out for during your trip, you will be able to go sightseeing while lugging your bag with you (there are very few luggage storage facilities any more).

Send an email to Carole to request a packing list to help you to pack light.

Be ready to go through airport security - You can reduce the aggravation of going through the security checkpoint at the airport by paying attention to what you pack (nothing that could be used by a weapon if you had sufficient imagination) and how you pack (make it easy for your bag to be inspected by putting your belongings into clear plastic bags or packing cubes). Make sure your shoes are easy to remove and that you are wearing socks without holes. Carry your boarding pass and passport in a readily accessible, secure place. A pouch that hangs from your neck works very well. A small "fanny pack" worn in front is a good alternative. At the very least, wear a jacket or sweater with pockets so that you can easily reach your boarding pass and passport when necessary. Being prepared will speed up the process of going through security so you will have less chance of missing your plane, will have time to relax before the flight, and will generally start the trip off right.

Hand Lotion - countless thousands of travelers are delayed at U.S. airports every year by the most unlikely of culprits: hand lotion. Some hand lotions contain glycerides, which trip alarms on one kind of explosive detection machine that is widely used to screen checked luggage at U.S. commercial airports including Los Angeles International Airport. Federal security authorities are aware of the hand lotion issue, said Suzanne Luber, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration. "It does delay the process," Luber said. But the TSA has not asked people to refrain from moisturizing before packing or handling their bags because not all luggage goes through the machines that react to the glycerides, she said.

Decide for yourself if you want to risk delays passing through airport security by using hand lotions containing glycerides.


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