Dive Travel Tips for 2010

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Bret GilliamIt never ceases to amaze me what level of useless stuff people will bring on a dive vacation. You’re going to be on a boat or a resort for a week or two where the uniform of the day is shorts, bathing suits, and tee shirts. Keep it simple. One pair of running shoes, sneakers, or sandals will pretty much make it in the footwear department. Once aboard a vessel, you probably won’t wear them anyway unless you go ashore to explore or walk about a local town or village. A sweatshirt or pullover for a cool evening and maybe a pair of jeans can pretty well round out your wardrobe. A good rule of thumb is if you can’t completely pack your clothes in a light soft-sided duffel bag that will fit in an overhead compartment on an airplane, then you’re probably bringing too much.

For those prone to seasickness, I recommend consulting your regular family doctor for his advice on over-the-counter and prescription medications. Triptone, Bonine, Marazine, etc. seem to work fine for most folks and the Scopolamine transderm patches have about an 80% success rate among adults. Yes, Scopolamine was one ingredient in the notorious World War II “truth serums”. This may be a consideration for some divers… given the potential for spoiling some perfectly good sea stories over dinner. Govern yourselves accordingly. Only kidding, folks.

International travel is notorious for luggage “problems”. A non-descript plain dive bag with TSA-approved lockable zippers is preferable to one in neon pink with dive flags sewn on each end that fairly screams “steal me” to some Third World baggage handler. Likewise, plain appearance camera cases are less likely to end up in the “Halliburton” twilight zone. A carry-on soft camera bag is a smart idea for your most valuable components. Extras can be padded in foam or rolled in wet suits and checked with the dive gear. But the abiding rule should be “don’t look expensive”. Avoid the flashy, gaudy, and trendy luggage temptations. I travel with a nasty, smelly, plain black roller-duffel that looks like I’m bringing my laundry home from college in it. I’ve never had a problem.

And if you have connecting flights on Third World airlines, know in advance what the weight limits are and stay within the range. Otherwise, the fees can be astronomical. Check with your liveaboard agent before leaving as many operations have negotiated special extra weight allowances for their divers and include special luggage tags to expedite your stuff. It can mean the difference between your bags getting on board or waiting until the next flight three days later when you’re already 150 miles away in some secluded anchorage. ‘Cause the ship ain’t gonna wait. Although they’ll do their best to arrange for your gear to catch up via launch, charter flight, or dugout canoe.

Make sure your passport has at least six months left before renewal. A lot of countries now require this as a minimum or won’t let you enter. In fact, most international airlines won’t let you even board the plane from the last U.S. departure point if your passport doesn’t meet the rules for your final destination. And be certain that your ticket is issued to you with exactly the same name as appears on the passport. And that includes middle names now. If you ladies recently got married, get an endorsement from the Passport agency that is stamped in the back of the passport to indicate your new status.

Dive gear is fairly self-explanatory. Take what you need with some level of backup in case of failure in the field. Resist the urge to pack an inventory equivalent to a local dive store. Get your reg serviced before departure if you haven’t done that in a while and make certain your dive computer battery has sufficient life for your projected trip; otherwise get it changed. Check in advance for advice on thermal protection. Don’t take your 5mm farmer john with hood to Belize. Most folks will be comfortable in lined dive skins or 2-3mm one-piece wet suits for all but the most uncooperative Caribbean conditions. But if you’re going to the Bahamas in January, check with the resort office for their recommendations about air and water temperatures. You can freeze to death there when a good Norther comes through.

Be sure to pack a surface-signaling device. These should be standard equipment on every dive and especially on liveaboards where you may be hundreds of miles from conventional rescue systems. We have the economical tools to provide at least a fighting chance for recovery if an inflatable “sausage” and a sonic Dive Alert device are carried. These items are small enough to be carried in a BCD without intrusion and cheap enough to remove any financial obstacle.

Make sure that batteries are removed from lights, strobes, and other equipment as new TSA and other countries consider them potentially to be detonators for explosives in our new age of terrorism. Don’t even consider arguing about it, especially in Australia. If you don’t have the batteries separate and available for inspection, they’re not going on the plane. I even suggest having re-chargeable ni-cads and their ilk fully discharged so when a voltage test is made, there is nothing to alarm security personnel. Remember, a package of big ni-cad batteries looks just like a bomb when it goes through the x-ray screening.

You will be lucky to have one, maybe two, electrical outlets in your cabin. Bring an appropriate adapter plug for the country you are going to so your 110-volt U.S. plug will fit in the socket. I always bring a simple six-outlet power strip along and then you can charge your I-Pod, SoundDock, batteries, etc. off one outlet and one plug adapter. In today’s world, just about all electrical devices are dual-voltage and will run off either 110 or 220 volts. The exceptions are things that generate “heat” like hair dryers and fast-charge batteries. You will fry these instantly on 220 volts and scare yourself silly as the sparks fly. The ship will have a dedicated step-down transformer probably in the camera station. Find it and use that sensitive stuff there only.

Although a lot of folks think Travelers Checks are a good idea; they are not in most remote “civilizations”. Good old cash is king. Bring enough to get through your trip with adequate reserves, as you do not want to use a foreign ATM and get totally screwed on fees later when you get your statement. Also, check with your credit card company and see if they charge a “foreign transaction/currency exchange fee”. These can run as high as 5%. A call in advance may waive it or reduce it to a manageable rate.

Hotels, restaurants, retailers, and the like in most places will take credit cards. But in the Solomons, PNG, Bali, and other areas you will need to do your buying in local currency. Believe me, you won’t want to miss out on the local markets and crafts available, especially the incredible woodcarvings. So bring cash and keep it in a secure place. On arrival, only carry what you need for the time you’re out and about ashore. On board, I’ve never experience theft problems, but if in doubt, have the captain or cruise director lock your cash in their safe and dispense it to you as needed.

Do not bring drugs or paraphernalia unless your idea of a good time is explaining to an ex-Sandinista with mirrored sun glasses that you must have picked up your teenager’s gym bag by mistake since you would never consider trying to smuggle in a couple of joints into his country.

“Si senor, just step over here and let’s have Juan show you his little trick with the rubber glove. Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges…” I think you get the idea. And that’s the good news. Get caught in Indonesia with dope and you go to jail for a very long time. In Singapore, they hang you.

No matter what I tell you, you’re going to bring more than you need. Sunglasses and a hat along with some sun block should be mandatory. Concentrate on the essentials and forget about trying to make a fashion statement. This ain’t the Love Boat. Stay comfortable.

I usually sit in mute wonder while male divers board the airlines dressed in blazers, ties, and alligator shoes. Their ladies follow in full fashion regalia suitable for the society luncheon at the Junior League. Who are they dressing up for? The baggage handlers in San Pedro Sula or Sorong or Honiara? Or maybe the plane crew? Trust me on this: nobody cares what you look like.

Even more preposterous are those who insist on bringing their heavy winter sweaters and coats with them to the tropics just because it was snowing back home when they left. Leave that crap in the car at the airport. Your clothes don’t need a vacation, you do! You can probably tough it out in some lightweight casual garb from the curb to the airport counter. You’ll thank me.

And never even consider leaving without your fully loaded I-Pod and Bose headphones. Nothing takes the edge off a long flight than music. I also cannot be separated from my re-chargeable portable Bose SoundDock. You have to have the right music on the upper deck for Sunset Appreciation. My I-Pod now has nearly 25,000 songs loaded. Remember when you had to agonize over which 20-30 CDs to bring? Now you take the whole damn music library.

So that’s “Travel 101″ for 2010. It’s all good advice based on 40 years of experience. I’ll be the guy in first class wearing Croc flip-flops, running shorts and a tee shirt with one small duffel shoved in the overhead. Make sure you come over and say hi so we can both enjoy Biff and Muffy trying to hang up their wardrobe…

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Dive Travel Tips for 2010, 4.6 out of 5 based on 45 ratings
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17 comments for “Dive Travel Tips for 2010

  1. January 10, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    Brett,

    Had a good giggle at your opening sentence. Don’t get me started on the people that bring one litre glass bottles of after-shave or perfume with them!

    On a more serious note, to add to your passport paragraph, people should also be aware that you need at least one completely blank page in a passport at all times. And no that doesn’t mean the page set aside for endorsements. Some US buddies had to buy their way into Indonesia recently because of this.

    Beth

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  2. Sherri Dullingham
    January 12, 2010 at 3:00 am

    Loved it! I’ve been hassling my husband to replace our old, ratty gear bag for a couple of months now; I may have to rethink that after reading this.

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  3. Jim Jimsen
    January 12, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    This entire article is xenophobic, near racist garbage.

    ‘remote “civilizations”’, “We don’t need no stinkin’ badges…”, etc

    If you don’t have any respect for other countries or cultures, stay home and stop complaining.

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  4. Bret Gilliam
    January 13, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    To Jim Jensen:

    Loved your comment. Did you have your sense of humor removed at birth like most Germans or wait until you reached puberty? You are exactly the kind of person that Halstead, Bantin, I, and most other normal divers dread having to sit next to at dinner on a liveaboard. But if you’d really like to get worked up, try tuning into Jon Stewart, Steve Colbert, some old Monty Python, or the on-line version of The Onion. You’ll have enough fodder to work yourself into a frenzy. As Mark Twain once aptly noted about an individual he didn’t care for that had recently passed away, “I didn’t attend the funeral, but I approved of it.”

    Lighten up, mate! And take something for that constipated personality bypass procedure you endured that needs some obvious updates for sardonic perspective and the ability to recognize humor… not rancor.

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  5. John Bantin
    January 15, 2010 at 10:19 am

    Jim
    You must have been reading a different blog!
    I’m sending this from a remote civilisation near West Papua.

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  6. Jerri Moore
    February 8, 2010 at 6:59 am

    Some good tips ….thanks for taking the time to post.
    (and…you may have saved me from blowing up a hairdyer.)

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  7. Klaus Glismann
    February 8, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    Hello Brett,
    I’m one of the Germans with no sense of humor, born 41 and diving since 57. I never fly 1st class because I spend my money on diving not on flights. Have you ever thought that the behavior of the foreigners you described is a reaction to the behavior of the usual US-American tourist or the behavior a foreigner is used to by entering the US? I think Jim was right in telling you that your language is impropiate even if the the things you tell are mostly ok.
    PS: I loved your blog about the whales.

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  8. Bret Gilliam
    February 8, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    Klaus,

    I have to disagree… you are obviously a German with sense of humor. Yeah, you’re right, a lot of what I’m poking fun at is directed exactly at Americans and their outlandish travel behavior. And I actually love Germans. You guys have it totally figured out when it comes to food, beer, cars, beautiful country, and blonde women. But I still would pick an Irishman to lead the humor dialogue even at OctoberFest. And don’t even get me started on most Russians that you meet on dive vessels… Glad you liked my whale article. Cheers, Mate!

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  9. Mark Boehle
    February 18, 2010 at 4:12 am

    Brett, Liked the tips.. Liked the replies to those offended by your comments… Life is too short.. Of course I like Monty Python, Mel Brooks and the like so my sense of humor is a bit bent.. Since we once had our luggage stolen we now have refined our travel gear needs… All dive gear goes into carry on that fits in overhead (we do not have camera gear.. bc, computer, flashlites, batteries, booties, shortie, etc… Fins get bungee strapped to outside of suitcase.. All else goes into small backpacks which we do our best to carry on (most airlines)… Everything else we are wearing.. Don’t know how my wife does it (or does without it) but she does..

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  10. christy Lee
    March 26, 2010 at 8:38 pm

    your article on what to take on a dive trip answered a lot of questions. I did want to add that I HATE sitting on a plane next to someone who has their ipod turned up so loud the music is pouring out of their ears and I have to listen to it. Sometimes even my silicone earplugs can’t keep it from being annoying. The only consolation I can offer myself is that these people are going to be deaf soon. Of course, then I will be listening to them yelling, “WHAT? WHAT WAS THAT? SORRY, I’M HARD OF HEARING!” So it’s not much of a consolation. So if you are a music lover, please be considerate of others and your own poor ears and keep the volume low.

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  11. Bret Gilliam
    March 26, 2010 at 9:14 pm

    Christy,

    Thanks for your input. I, too, hate having to listen to some moron with a cheap set of ear buds or headphones that blast some crap music in my direction. And I never hesitate to tell them. As an ex-football linebacker at 275 pounds, I usually get their attention.

    I use a set of Bose sound-canceling headphones ($300) that emit no extraneous noise at all to anyone else. They sound great for music, cut out the aircraft noise, and cover the entire ear for comfort.

    You should try them. And carry a small pin to stick in the neck of anyone who plays their cheap headphones too loud!

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  12. Bret Gilliam
    May 20, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    Summer Lewis asked about a web site for info on Thailand. I have to say that, given the present situation there and the obvious lack of control & associated dangers, I’d strongly counsel staying completely out of that country for at least six months until the region can be verifiably stabilized. Far too many web sites and blogs are self-serving while posing as objective information resources. The fact is… you can get accidentally killed in the capitol right now and once in the more removed areas, who knows what you may encounter? I’ve been in several countries when the government is overthrown or destabilized with all the ensuing chaos and dangers. Believe me, you don’t want any part of that scene. Even lesser riots that occurred in Ambon (indonesia) in 2004 left tourists stranded and holed up in dismal hotels to hide out from violence. With the airport shut down, evacuation was no option either. Ambon did stabilize, but who wants to go through that on a vacation? Then add Fiji’s infamous government overthrow in 2000 when a bunch of nutballs actually kidnapped the entire government. I was there for three weeks (my timing is great!) but was hosting 16 divers aboard a liveaboard and we just left the main island and disappeared into the NE remote quadrant. While there were no tourist/visitors injured or killed, there were other deaths and violent incidents along with near total airline disruptions. It was damn circus and I was glad to finally get out of there intact and with all my guests safe. The hostages were still being held six months later and the entire civilized world had cut Fiji off from shipping, air service, tourism went to zero, etc. They repeated the same idiocy a few years later. Never underestimate the Third World’s tendencies for bizarre political turmoil and the frightening lack of sense not to endlessly repeat themselves in futile tail-chasing.

    There are plenty of places you can go including Bali and eastern side of Indonesia (or the wonderful Solomon Islands aboard Bilikiki) where you’ll find a similar cultural experience as Thailand and better diving. And no chance of getting hit with a stray bullet. Be careful; the world is unstable and don’t place yourself deliberately in harm’s way. You can get good curry in Indonesia. Put Thailand on the wait list…

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  13. October 5, 2010 at 9:47 pm

    power strips are very useful but they octopus connection is dangerous~.~

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  14. Bret Gilliam
    October 5, 2010 at 10:30 pm

    Toby,

    I presume that by “octopus connection” you mean having several devices plugged into a power strip? If so, don’t worry about that. You should use a grounded 3-prong plug power strip with a surge protector/breaker at the base that is built-in. These are designed for 10-15 amps of load and that is no problem for a standard electrical outlet in a hotel, resort, or liveaboard ship, whether 110 or 220 volts. Things like I-Pods, Bose SoundDocks, computer chargers, cell phone chargers, portable DVD players all have very low amp loads… sometimes barely 1-2 amps. As long as you don’t do something stupid like break the powers cord insulation or spill water on it, you’ll be just fine. Remember the standard circuit breaker for a duplex electrical outlet in your house, office, hotel… is a minimum of 10 amps. Even if you hooked up everything you’ve got from the list above, it won’t total 10 amps.

    If you doubt me, consult an electrician who will confirm my explanation. Also, just about every foreign resort and liveaboard that operates on 220 volts runs their 110 volt service for North American customers in their photo table rooms on… guess what? Grounded power strips!

    You’ll be okay.

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  15. Amp Accessories ·
    November 9, 2010 at 11:18 pm

    just buy high quality power strips and do not use power strips that are not UL certified ~

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  16. Items From China
    July 8, 2011 at 6:24 am

    Do you have a rss link i can follow this with ?

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  17. October 10, 2014 at 10:34 pm

    If you’re traveling with dive gear today, be sure to allow plenty of time to get through the airport security checks. There’s a lot of funky components the average civilian has never seen so you will likely have to show them it’s diving gear.

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