Cheesemans' Ecology Safaris

Travel Tips

We compiled this list of tips from our long travel experience and suggestions from our travelmates. Some tips may be more or less appropriate for your destination. We will send you specific suggestions for your destination after you make your reservation. Be sure to also see our list of Travel Resources too.

Money

Should I notify my credit card company about travel plans?

Some credit card companies, particularly those that use the newer chip cards, don’t require a travel notification anymore. Check if you need to place a notification on the credit card website and, if you do, fill out the online form while you are there. Or simply call the number on the back of your card. Also, be sure to keep this phone number and your account number with your travel documents (separate from your credit card) in case you need to report a lost card.

How do I avoid paying credit card foreign transaction fees?

Check with your credit card issuer to find out their foreign transaction fee; many banks charge 3%! There are a few credit card issuers that do not charge this fee. Read more about these fees at CreditCards.com and do your own search on the web.

How should I carry cash when traveling abroad?

If possible, leave excess cash and valuables in your hotel room safe (if there is one) and do not bring it with you if you visit crowded tourist areas. It is better to keep only a few dollars in a pocket to pull out when buying incidentals or tipping rather than rummaging through a wallet full of cash or revealing the hidden pocket with your stash. If you must carry all your cash, divide it in two or more packets to conceal in different locations, preferably in inner pockets or a hidden pouch.

Small plastic zip-lock snack size bags (6-1/2″ x 5-7/8″) are the perfect size for US dollars. Use several bags to separate your cash into packets (such as for spending and gratuity). The bag also protects the money from sweat if you stash it in a pouch that is hidden next to your skin.

How do I convert currencies to the US dollar?

Many countries will accept U.S. dollars, either outright in stores or for exchange at a bank, airport, or your hotel. It is a good idea to bring crisp and untorn bills in the new style (dated after 2000) since some places will not accept old worn bills due to counterfeiting. Smaller denominations, such as US$20, are more readily accepted. This is especially true in South America and Africa. Traveler’s Cheques are not readily accepted anymore, so we advise against bringing them. Use this currency converter to convert between 164 countries using the OANDA daily rate.

What should I do with local currency at the end of a trip?

For most trips you will want to convert some dollars to local currency to use for incidentals such as souvenirs. If you have extra local currency left at the end of the trip, you can use it as part of the gratuity you give to the local trip leader to save you from converting it back to dollars.

Travel Documents

How should I check my passport before traveling?

Most countries require that your passport is valid for six months past your travel date. Also, make sure you have two to four blank passport pages to allow space for visas and entry and exit stamps. If possible, start your passport and visa processes several months before your travel date since most processes are only done by mail and there could be a difficulty at the passport agency. Get current passport info and forms at the U.S. Department of State website. Fill out the emergency contact information in your passport (pencil can be used for easy updating) then if your passport is lost, some kind person will know where to mail it.

How can I get a travel visa if I am not near a consulate?

Sometimes it is not possible to get your country-specific travel visa in person or mail directly from the issuing agency so you will have to use a visa service. Recommended by some of our travelers, CBIT and Travel Visa Pro will get the necessary visa for you for a fee.

What information should I carry with me when I travel?

Make a list of important contact information that includes your credit card company (both account number and phone), Cheesemans’, neighbors, relatives, pet-sitter, airlines, etc. Make multiple “paper” copies of this contact list along with copies of your passport, visa, drivers license, flight itinerary, and other travel documents. Also store these copies on your smart phone or laptop (password protected, of course!) and email them to yourself so you can get them online from any device. Keep copies separate from the originals when traveling, so they will be handy in case the originals are lost.

Do I need travel insurance?

There are many types of travel insurance, including emergency medical and evacuation insurance and trip cancellation insurance. Read more about our travel insurance recommendations.

Security

How do I protect my devices when I travel?

Enable password protection of your electronic devices such as laptop, smart phone, book readers (ex. Kindle) while traveling so they will be protected in case they are lost or stolen.

How can I keep safe on city streets?

Leave jewelry at home. Dress conservatively and try to blend in. Keep cell phones and expensive camera gear hidden while in cities and crowded tourist places. Use the hotel room safe when you leave valuables in your room. Don’t walk alone. Use transportation only from official pickup points and taxi stands at transportation hubs and airports.

How do I secure my valuables?

We are very concerned about, but not responsible for, the safety of your valuables. Generally speaking, while on a guided tour, it is safe to leave equipment in the vehicle under the care of the driver, but we do not guarantee the safety of your valuables. We recommend keeping items of significant value with you or in your hotel room safe. Please leave expensive jewelry at home. Some items may be covered by your travel insurance, but you should check your policy carefully for limitations and restrictions. If you have expensive camera equipment, you may consider purchasing an additional insurance policy; contact your insurance agent for information.

Before you travel, remove all unnecessary items from your wallet like Social Security card, bills with addresses, credit cards you won’t use, driver’s license (you will use your passport as ID – a driver’s license is only useful if you rent a car), and checkbook. It’s best to leave these at home.

Should I use the hotel room safe?

If your hotel room has a safe – use it for your cash, credit cards, travel documents and even some camera equipment! These safes are secure and easy to use. Don’t hesitate to ask for help if you are unsure how it works. Locked suitcases are easy to break into or to just carry out of your room, so they do not provide a safe place for your valuables. But to prevent you from leaving important items behind, tuck an indispensable item like your shoe or eyeglasses in the safe so you can’t forget!

Is the Internet safe to use in foreign countries?

Don’t access financial or other sensitive accounts on unsecured networks while you are traveling. The internet connection is becoming more reliable in remote areas, but you should not depend on access at all times.

Are there any items I should not bring back into the USA?

The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) enforces the laws that prohibit or restrict you from bringing specified items into the U.S.A. Many animal products (such as skins, tusks, bone, feathers, or eggs; or articles manufactured from wildlife or fish products) and food items are prohibited or restricted. Visit the CBP website for a complete list.

Should I label my travel gear?

It is a good idea to label your gear with your name. Some remote lodges only have electricity generated in common areas where you can charge your batteries and gear, so it is a good idea to label these items so they are easily identified. Also your travelmates will keep an eye out for each other’s gear, especially if it can be identified as belonging to someone in our group.

Luggage and Packing

What are airline luggage Limits?

Be sure to check the weight, size, and quantity limits, plus the costs for your luggage – both carry-on and checked. The best place for up-to-date and correct information is your airline’s website. Don’t forget to check all the airlines that you will fly. Recheck the requirements right before departure since luggage policies change often these days.

What kind of luggage do you recommend?

We recommend a medium or large soft-sided duffel with or without wheels. Even though they are now popular, large, hard-cased luggage is unwieldy and does not fit well in taxis, transport vans, and safari vehicles. Some of our tours have very specific luggage requirements; please find that information in your Trip Essentials that we will send you.

How do I prevent lotions from leaking in my luggage?

To prevent bottles of sunscreen or shampoo from leaking in your luggage, remove the lid, place plastic cling wrap over the open top, then replace the lid. It is also a good idea to pack these in ziplock bags.

What about doing laundry when traveling?

To avoid over-packing we advise that you do laundry while traveling on a long trip. Most lodges have very good one-day laundry services at a reasonable price. With today’s quick-dry travel clothes, it is also convenient to wash your own laundry by hand. Simply enclose your laundry in a large ziplock bag, add some detergent, close, massage the bag, then rinse. Save the bag to reuse later. You might also consider bringing a plastic disk-shaped drain stopper since most lodges don’t have them. We find that the powdered detergent that you normally use in your washer works fine and won’t leak from a small container like liquid detergents sometimes do.

Gear

How do I carry lithium batteries when traveling?

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, you may not pack spare lithium batteries in your checked luggage. You should pack spare lithium batteries in your carry-on luggage. Read about traveling with lithium batteries.

Should I bring a walking stick on a tour?

A few of our travelmates swear by walking sticks. They may be particularly useful if your tour involves a bit of hiking over rocky or hilly areas. The collapsible style will pack better. Call us or refer to your Trip Essentials that we will send you.

Will knee pads help with photographing?

Many of our travelmates recommend knee pads for kneeling to photograph while on land and also from Zodiacs and other small boats. They may be particularly helpful on land when the ground is wet or rocky.

What photography equipment do I need?

Please contact us if you have any photography questions.

How do I protect my camera and gear from the elements?

Plastic bags of varying sizes come in handy to protect your gear from dust and rain. Ziplock one-gallon freezer bags have all kinds of uses. Small plastic zip-lock snack size bags (6-1/2″ x 5-7/8″) are the perfect size for US dollars. Large plastic bags (sturdy ones such as kitchen compactor bags) are convenient to throw over your camera while it is on the tripod. Cheap plastic rain sleeves slip over your camera and allow you to take photos in the rain. Please also bring a way to secure these plastics from blowing away in the wind! For trips that involve any kind of small boating, protect your gear from the elements with a dry bag, it can be one of the most important items to bring.

Should I bring a water bottle?

Bring your own water bottle to avoid using disposable single-serving water bottles. When possible, we provide drinking water in large bulk containers (sadly, these are not available in all locations) that everyone can use to fill individual bottles. Collapsible water bottles made of soft plastic conveniently fit in your luggage.

Do I need to bring snacks?

All our safaris include full delicious meals. But since we often go out in the field early in the morning and stay out late, we recommend that you bring a small snack in your pack each day. Individually packaged snack bars are especially convenient and easily pass through agricultural inspections.

Health

How do I carry medications when I travel?

Bring an adequate supply of medications for the entire trip, since we will not be able to help you refill prescriptions or buy over-the-counter drugs. Keep all medications in their original labeled containers and don’t put them in those convenient daily medication dispensers until you get to your destination. Place all necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, in your carry-on luggage. It might also be a good idea to bring along a note from your doctor why you take these prescription medications, especially if you use syringes or other unusual supplies. Please list your medications and health concerns on our Reservation and Release Form when you sign-up for a trip.

What immunizations are recommended?

The best website to check for immunization recommendations for your destination is the Travelers’ Health section of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention website. Travel clinics or doctors specializing in travel medicine are more up-to-date about destination requirements than your family doctor.

Is a Yellow Fever Immunization and Certificate required?

When researching yellow fever vaccination at the CDC, a vaccine recommendation is designed to keep you from getting it; a vaccine requirement is the country’s attempt to keep travelers from bringing the virus into the country. After receiving a Yellow Fever vaccine, you should receive a signed and stamped International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICVP, sometimes called the “yellow card”), which you should bring with you on your trips (this conveniently fits in your passport). Some countries, particularly in South America and Africa, require all travelers to show ICVPs before entering the country. Other countries require proof of vaccination only if travelers have been in a risk area, so if you are visiting multiple countries, the order of travel may be important. Start the vaccination process early since yellow fever vaccine has been hard to find the past few years, certain people require a booster shot, and proof of vaccination is not valid until 10 days after you get the vaccine.

How do I prevent seasickness?

Don’t let seasickness deter you from traveling! Read our suggestions for coping with seasickness.

How do I stay healthy while on a group tour?

More than a month before you leave, visit your local travel clinic to make sure you have the correct immunizations and drugs specific to your destination (note that some immunizations, such as Hepatitis A, require boosters at specific intervals to be effective so these need to be started early). Most doctors will recommend the yearly flu vaccination. Use good judgment about eating food – freshly cooked foods are usually more safe than raw or foods that have been sitting on a buffet at an improper temperature. Find out if the restaurant, hotel, or city water system chlorinates its water before you use or drink it.

How do I make my own safe drinking water?

The SteriPEN harnesses the brilliant power of ultraviolet light to make water safe to drink. It’s the same technology used by leading bottled water manufacturers to purify water. It is compact and fits nicely in your luggage.