Waiting in a winding airport security checkpoint line is just one of many potential headaches today’s travelers experience. Worrying about what to pack, what kind of identification is required, and how much cash to bring are yet others. In order to help ease the stress level before and during your next trip, it might help to review some guidance from the officials who oversee our nation’s travel rules and regulations.
What Do the Experts Recommend?
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) keeps up-to-date information on all rules and regulations concerning travel by air, rail, and sea. At the organization’s website, vacationers and business travelers alike can review rules and get tips to help make their trips as hassle-free as possible. For example, they can review the “3-1-1 liquids” rule, which states that passengers boarding an aircraft are allowed to carry bottles containing up to 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) of liquid or gels in a single, one quart-size clear plastic zip-top bag. Note that this rule does not apply to prescription or over-the-counters medications, and baby food, baby formula, or breast milk as long as an infant is present. Such liquids, however, are subject to physical inspection.
Other recommendations from the TSA and the U.S. State Department include:
- Don’t carry large amounts of cash. Consider using credit cards instead, but leave unnecessary cards at home. Record the information that is on the cards you bring with you and keep it separate in case of an emergency.
- Try not to look like a tourist — minimize the appearance of affluence. Dress conservatively and avoid wearing expensive-looking jewelry. Travel light so that you can get around with little encumbrance, and don’t pack many valuables. Lock what you do bring in the hotel safe.
- Consider carrying cash and valuables in several places on your person rather than in one purse or wallet. A money belt is probably the most secure place for cash and traveler’s checks, but a sturdy shoulder bag with the strap worn across your chest is a good option, too.
- Keep your bank’s telephone number with you — in case of a financial emergency, you may be able to have money transferred to a local financial institution or travel agency.
- Be sure to bring any medication you will need, and consider an extra pair of eyeglasses or contact lenses as well.
- Make sure your name, address, and telephone number are on the outside and inside of all your luggage. Note that covered luggage tags will conceal your personal information to the casual observer. If you prefer to lock your checked baggage, be sure to use TSA-approved locks, which can be accessed at http://www.safeskieslocks.com or http://www.travelsentry.org.
- Don’t pack wrapped gifts in checked baggage — they may be opened by security personnel during the screening process.
- Leave a copy of your itinerary with friends or family members back home.
- Check your credit cards, and homeowners’ and health insurance policies to see what’s covered while traveling. You may want to consider purchasing travelers’ insurance, which covers such things as an unexpected cancellation of your trip, medical emergencies, lost luggage, and other problems. Be sure to read the policy’s fine print, however.
- Let your children know about airport screening procedures ahead of time, and allow yourself extra time to get through the checkpoints with youngsters in tow. Note that everything you carry on with your family needs to be put through the X-ray machine. Items that are too large (such as strollers) will be inspected physically by the security personnel. The TSA recommends that children who can walk without assistance pass through the metal detectors separately; however, parents can carry their younger children through if they choose. Folks traveling with multiple children may want to request a private screening.
- Consider signing up for TSA Pre-Check, which qualifies you for expedited airport security checks.
Tips for International Travel
Americans need passports to travel to and from all foreign countries, including Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean. This may surprise some vacationers accustomed to showing a picture identification and a birth certificate. Many countries require that your passport will not expire until six months after your trip.
Generally it takes six to eight weeks to receive a passport, but the State Department recommends applying several months in advance. Expedited service is available for additional fees. For more information, visit the State Department’s passport page.
The State Department also recommends familiarizing yourself with your destination prior to arriving. At the State Department’s main travel page, you’ll find links to information to know before and during your trip, such as fact sheets for more than 170 countries. You may also sign up for the Safe Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive travel alerts and warnings and to register your trip with the appropriate U.S. Embassy.
Finally, be sure to get any required immunizations and vaccinations at least six weeks prior to departure. The Centers for Disease Control’s Travelers’ Health page provides information for all countries and also offers ideas for maintaining healthy children while traveling.
Going Abroad? Review These Guidelines.
- Check with your bank to see if the country you’re visiting has ATMs that will accept your card.
- Keep all medications in their original, labeled containers. For unusual or narcotic medication, carry a note from your doctor attesting to its necessity. This may help you avoid unpleasant delays at customs.
- Keep a photocopy of your passport information page and a few extra passport photos separate and ready to access in case your passport is lost or stolen.
- If you purchase a calling card, make sure that it is usable from wherever you plan to travel.
- Check your health insurance coverage and investigate temporary coverage if necessary. Note that Medicare and Medicaid do not cover medical services outside of the U.S. Seniors should contact the AARP about supplemental Medicare for traveling abroad.
- If you use credit cards, keep a close eye on your spending limits. According to the State Department, in some countries exceeding your credit limit is an arrestable offense!
Traveling — especially for vacation — shouldn’t create more stress in an already hectic life. Knowing what to expect before your pack your bags will help ease your troubles while you travel.
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