It 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…