It is better to travel well than to arrive.
~ Buddha ~
SU has had much more experience than I in international travel. He has seen things and traveled places that I would never imagine going. I’d traveled, while a child to see relatives a few short hours’ drive away and even flown to Eastern Canada to see my mother’s side of the family; but until my children were part way grown I’d never traveled internationally. And once I’d taken that first trip to meet SU in Europe for deployment leave, the travel bug had bitten me. Although it would be several years more before our finances allowed my second trip, again during deployment leave this time to Australia, I knew there was more of the world I wanted to see. And over the years we’ve been fortunate to enjoy many trips together.
I’ve been very lucky to have SU as my traveling partner. We balance off each other’s strengths well, I’m the organizer and researcher he’s the lead scout, head packer and baggage boy. Even when I travel by myself, back to Canada or to PTY, I try to convince him to do my packing for me, that’s how much I dislike it.
I forget that there are many people who aren’t as fortunate as I have been to get out of their home country and explore. And here is where I have to give a “high five” to my cousin that was recently here visiting us. While she was here I had fun explaining to people that she was my “Prima Mejor” (my older cousin) or my “Prima Blanca” (my white cousin). In truth I admire her because for her first international trip a) she traveled alone and b) she chose Panama instead of an all-inclusive resort as a lot of first time travelers do. Although her trip was only ten days long, I hope she had fun and took some good memories home with her.
My Prima Mejor will admit that she made some first time traveler mistakes. Today, I’ve composed a short list for those of you thinking about traveling to Panama for the first time. PM didn’t necessarily make these mistakes but to stay healthy and enjoy Panama I thought that these general tips might be useful for others either traveling internationally or traveling to Panama for the first time. As I began to write I’ve kept an eye on the “word count” and because I don’t normally like writing lengthy posts I’ve decide to break my tips into a series of three, and even then these posts are quite long.
Today here are a few tips for traveling:
1. If you’ve had your passport for a while (or several years) hoping to make a trip that never happened and it’s getting close to expiring make sure you check the dates on it. Every country issues a visa for your entry (although you may not be aware that you are getting one if it is free) and all need a valid passport for entry. What some people don’t know that a passport must be valid for a amount of months from the date of entry, or a certain number of months after the passport holder leaves the country. Each country makes its own rules and the rules sometimes change so check the requirements in plenty of time before you travel. Panama enforces the six month rule. True story it happened to me, traveling to the South Pacific I wasn’t permitted to board the plane and had to get an expedited passport issued and rebook my trip a week later because my passport had less than six months left on it. Luckily my employer was very understanding and flexible and although it was a mad dash to rebook everything it all worked out in the end;
2. If you’re struggling with check in machines at the airport ask the attendant for help. Often if you have a connecting flight in another country the machine might not work for you. Avoid frustration and ask for help;
3. While going through security if you have a choice look for a line that looks like it has business travelers in it, take it. It will go faster because they know the routine than a line up with families or first time travelers in it. I once got stuck in a line where a woman who appeared to be a first time or inexperienced traveler was attempting to bring her whole cosmetic cabinet with full size products on the plane. Remember, a quart-sized bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams and pastes is allowed in your carry-on bag and through the checkpoint. Sizes permitted are 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less per item. If you take this bag out of your carry-on baggage it speeds up the screening process. Pack your larger items in checked baggage. Having said that I forgot a full size can of bug spray was in my carry-on bag when I returned from Canada this year. Bye, bye $9.00 can of bug spray;
4. Bring a pashmina (light weight shawl) or a light sweater as you may get chilly. I always tie a pashmina around the handle of my purse for traveling, even on the bus. The airlines have begun charging for pillows and blankets in economy so you may also want to carry a light weight travel pillow with you. Just remember the more you bring the more you have to carry;
5. Pack ear plugs and an eye mask for longer trips. They will come in handy particularly if the plane has one or more screaming babies. I love kids but they get tired and cranky and have trouble dealing with the changes in air pressure. Speaking of air pressure, pack some gum to help you deal with air pressure or learn how to yawn on demand. It will help to ease the pain;
6. While you’re traveling make sure that you keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water, don’t consume too much alcohol or caffeine, it will dehydrate you. If you don’t want to eat a full meal (or two depending on your travel time) eat some hearty and healthy snacks. Most airlines do not offer any more than free water, pop or coffee/tea now so if you have a connection and a little time, eat or buy a sandwich, some fruit, nuts or anything with some substance to it. I find Subway Sandwiches in either turkey or chicken to be a healthy choice and failing that, spend a couple of bucks to buy the wrap or sandwich the airline offers, they are actually quite good. If you don’t eat you’ll get gassy and uncomfortable but if you need to fart for goodness sake fart and be unapologetic about it. Just try not to gas out your cabin mates;
7. Even though you’ll be tempted to book a window seat so you can see everything from the plane window, don’t bother, especially if you’re traveling at night. You’ll only see flashes of land or water when the plane is lower and you’ll suffer having to climb over your seat mates if you need to use the washroom. An aisle seat offers more freedom of movement and if needed you can stretch your legs out better;
8. Expect to pay for the entertainment system the airline offers as well as earphones. Bring your own earphones if you don’t want to buy the ones on offer and if the entertainment is gratis it’s a bonus. If you don’t want to pay for the entertainment then bring lots of reading material or a notebook, laptop or IPad to keep yourself entertained. Many people find it worth it to buy the entertainment package as it makes the time go faster;
9. Pack light, you don’t have to carry the cosmetic department with you. You’ll need bug spray, sunscreen, shampoo, toothpaste etc. but some items will be cheaper in Panama than you can get at home and you’ll save weight buying them here. Also you may be sweating so much that you won’t wear all that makeup you normally wear at home. I’ve also found umbrellas and sunhats are much cheaper than what I could buy in Canada;
10. Make sure your inoculations are up to date. They can help prevent many but not all cooties that run around here, be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to your health. Although health care is relatively cheap here you may want to purchase some sort of catastrophic travel insurance or something that covers your repatriation back to your home country in case of an accident or illness. Also, even though there are many drugs available without a prescription here make sure that you bring your meds and keep them in a labelled bottle;
11. When booking your trip make sure that you have plenty of time between connections for clearing customs and gathering and rechecking bags if required. Most code share partners will ensure that you have ample time and will have someone at the gate to assist and direct you. If you’re not sure if you have to recheck your bags ask the airline agent at the airport of departure; and
12. Most of all, relax and enjoy the experience. If you have time, explore the airport that you’re connecting through. Remember to double check the waiting area if you’re leaving it for things left behind. This also applies to your seat on the airplane. Move around the different terminals (see number 5 this will help get rid of some of your bloating), browse the stores, use the washroom to brush your teeth and clean up and take the opportunity to people watch.
There are many more tips out there for first time travelers, if you have one or more that are favorites please add them in the comments section. Join the conversation, sometimes I feel like I’m doing all the talking…in the campo.