Info Dive Travel Planning

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Dive Travel Planning​

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Map of the Caribbean by CIA World Factbook (Public Domain)

Recreational divers enjoy a wide range of underwater environments; local flooded rock quarries to coral reefs, ship wreck diving in the Great Lakes or ocean, kelp forests to shark diving, cave exploration and onward. Many are blessed to live near quality diving, which by cost and convenience bear heavily on choice of site, but most engage in long-distance travel for at least some of their diving. That’s what I’m writing to introduce newcomers to.

I’ll write from the perspective of a U.S.-based diver who may not have traveled internationally before, focusing on the U.S./Bahamas/Caribbean region (what I'm most familiar with). Some aspects of trip planning (e.g.: passport specifics, airline baggage restrictions, expedited trusted flier programs) are nationally specific. Hopefully in time other contributors with regional knowledge of other nations can offer insights into specifics there.

Deciding Where To Go

The stereotypical diver fresh out of open water (OW) or advanced open water (AOW) certification traveling to dive seeks mainstream destinations for tropical oceanic coral reef diving with lush reefs, pretty fish and benign conditions (e.g.: warm, high viz., low current or modest drift diving). For the North America-based diver, that’s usually southeast Florida’s upper Keys (e.g.: Key Largo) or the Caribbean (e.g.: Cozumel, Belize, Roatan, Bonaire and the Cayman Islands). In time many desire large animal encounters (e.g.: reef sharks in the Bahamas or Turks & Caicos, sand tiger sharks on off-shore wrecks out of North Carolina, or goliath grouper and lemon sharks out of Jupiter, FL). The Caribbean is broadly dived into the Greater Antilles (largest islands) and Lesser Antilles (the rest); the most popular have named sub-forums and the rest share the Lesser Antilles section.

Western European divers often fly to dive the Red Sea, I’m told. Should you be ready to move on, there is so much more to diving! Wherever you’re going, ScubaBoard has the Regional Forums & Dive Clubs section with regional forums to search out trip reports and consult fellow divers to find what you need (or use New Posts - ScubaBoard offers different ways to view threads). Some destinations offer diving within MPAs (marine protected areas) where the fight against over-fishing may offer greater numbers and sizes of the animals you wish to see (international list) - a practice worth supporting.

Once you narrow down roughly where you want to go, it’s time to explore how to get there and what you need to know, what arrangements to make and assistance to get. There are questions to ask of specific accommodation and dive services providers. You can research a great deal yourself (e.g.: using ScubaBoard, Undercurrent (a paid subscription online magazine) and Alert Diver online (a magazine by DAN)). That’s where this article comes in…helping newcomers understand the issues common to most dive travel so you know what to expect and are ready when you get there.

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Group Trip, Dive Travel Agent or Independent Travel​

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The main components to organizing a trip are determine what you want, research options, find the place with the best overall ‘package,’ book accommodations and diving (and possibly a rental vehicle), book airfare, be sure your passport will be active with at least 6-months left at trip’s end and take care of any specific needs (e.g.: schedule COVID-19 testing or vaccination). Would you like help?

Group trips are organized by dive shop staff, dive clubs and such. They may reserve a number of slots at a dive resort, often with a free slot for ‘x’ number of filled slots. Some may keep the money and some may divide the savings amongst the divers. They may negotiate a lower price or extras. Such trips may or may not be a bit cheaper than you can arrange, but don’t discount the value of ‘Mother Hen.’

The trip organizer can answer logistical questions (e.g.: about flights, where to eat on island), act as ombudsman and deal with vendors when problems arise, lead group activities and help everyone have a good time (e.g.: for the ScubaBoard Curacao Surge in 2019, Roxanne posted packing, travel, resort info. and diving tips. My first 4 dive trips were group trips to Bonaire. ScubaBoard has medium (Surge) and large (Invasion) organized group trips (see more on past trips). Your local dive shop probably has a list of foreign and domestic offerings. You’re not likely to pay much more if any, and might even save some money. If international travel is new to you, I recommend it.

Dive Travel Agents may work for you but get paid via the dive resorts/operators they book you at. In practical terms, it’s likely free for you. Some, like PadiTravel.com and LiveAboard.com, serve as nice ‘dive trip stores’ to browse and price myriad offerings. Some are known for expertise and working with divers to customize trips, give logistics advice, etc… If you don’t want to join a group but want professional guidance, ideally from an agent who’s been where you want to go, this is a way. I use it for more complicated foreign trips – like the Galapagos, or planning a Raja Ampat trip. See Undercurrent's free access article Those Internet-Based Dive Travel Websites, and ScubaBoard's Pros & Con.s of using a Dive Travel Agency vs. Booking Direct.

For simple itineraries such as same-day flights to mainstream destinations to taxi or take a rental car to the resort or liveaboard boat, it’s not that hard to make your own arrangements. Here are factors to consider for most any dive travel trip organized into sections so you can skip what you’re already fluent in.

Contents​

  1. Dive Travel Planning (this post)
    1. Deciding Where To Go
    2. Contents
    3. Group Trip, Dive Travel Agent or Independent Travel
  2. Dive Travel Insurance
    1. More than paying medical bills
    2. A note on auto insurance...
  3. Travel Documents
    1. Passports
    2. Travel VISA
  4. Medical Clearance to Dive & Liability Waivers
  5. Travel by Plane
    1. Customs and Connections
    2. Expedited Travel
    3. Baggage Limits
  6. Travel Time
    1. Driving
  7. Local Considerations
    1. Electricity
    2. Language & Customs
    3. Communication
  8. Money
  9. Budgeting
    1. Medication
    2. Food & Water
    3. Amenities
    4. Rental Gear Availability
  10. Regional Legal Concerns
    1. Crime & Safety
  11. Pests, Diseases & Health Issues
  12. Marine Life Dangers
  13. Dive Logistics
    1. No Fly Time
    2. Certification
    3. Nitrox
  14. Liveaboard Concerns
  15. Tipping
    1. Non-Divers
    2. Warning
  16. Pandemic
    1. Packing
  17. Regional Seasons & Conditions
  18. Know Your Operator & Be Ready for the Boat
    1. Dive Work-flow
  19. Special Interest Groups
    1. Air Hogs
    2. Solo Diving
    3. Extra Assistance Divers
    4. Kid Divers
    5. Cruisers
    6. Technical Divers
  20. Odds & Ends
    1. Study Your Boat's Safety Profile
    2. Have a Plan B
    3. Destination-specific Gear
    4. Know Your Limits
    5. Learning Opportunities
    6. Write A Trip Report

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:alphaflag: Dive Travel Insurance :diveflag:

Usually optional but often advisable. Many travelers get travel insurance (e.g.: Travel Guard) as a mix of foreign health insurance and trip cancellation insurance. On the former, read the fine print…travel insurance may act as secondary insurance, not willing to pay until your primary insurance (if any) pays what it will. On the latter, pay attention to exclusions.

Then there is dedicated Dive Travel Insurance, to cover medical costs if you are injured diving, and possibly help pay to send your body home if that doesn’t work out. Since compression chamber fees for treating decompression sickness is expensive, you should probably get this. DAN (Diver Alert Network) and Dive Assure are well-known names; you may care to start with them. See Alternative to DAN Insurance? (But be mindful terms may change over time).

More than paying medical bills 🚑

DAN provides an emergency hotline number for dive-related mishaps and can offer consultation and coordination services, including guaranteeing payments, which can bypass treatment delays (time is of the essence with DCS). They have a beautiful print magazine called Alert Diver, and you can also read articles online.

Possible points of differentiation include whether it serves as primary or secondary insurance and which regions are covered (e.g.: only abroad, or also in America).

A note on auto insurance... :auto:

You may think your credit card company or other vendor provides ‘free’ auto insurance coverage abroad. Read the fine print. An off-road worthy pickup truck in Bonaire may fall under an exclusion. CDW coverage is often not included in package deals, a nasty surprise at the rental counter when you pick up your ‘pre-paid’ vehicle.


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Travel Documents​

Passports​

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For international travel, you need a passport. They’re officially good for 10 years (age 16+), or 5 years (minors < age 16). It’s a common requirement for travelers to have at least 6 months remaining on passports (and the airline may not let you board without it), so in practical terms, they’re good for 9 ½ and 4 ½ years, respectively. Passports come in 2 forms; the passport book (good for air and land border travel) and the passport card (only good for land and sea border crossings from the U.S. to/from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean; looks much like a driver’s license). Adding the card is a modest upcharge and provides a laminated government I.D. card (similar to a driver’s license) for an adult or minor.

As of Oct. 8, 2021, the U.S. Dept. of State Bureau of Consular Affairs notes routine passport service can take up to 14 weeks from application till the new passport is received, and recommends you apply at least 4 – 6 months before planned travel. Expedited is an extra $60 and takes up to 10 weeks. Average times vary widely depending on societal issues (e.g.: the COVID-19 pandemic), so be aware.

You must apply in person for a U.S. passport when it’s your first, you are < age 16, your prior passport was issued when you were < age 16 or was lost, stolen or damaged or was issued > 15 years ago. When it’s time to renew (which you can do early; no need to cut things close), most adult U.S. citizens can fill out an application online and mail it in with payment and the old passport book. Minors < 16 have to appear in person and with both parents or guardians; those 16 or 17 must apply in person and show at least one parent or legal guardian is aware of the application. You’ll need a passport photo; in my area Wal-Mart and Walgreens offer this. You must send your current passport book with your renewal application, which can leave you without one for several weeks.

U.S. Dept. of State – Bureau of Consular Affairs – U.S. Passports.
U.S. Passport Book vs. Card

🪄 Tip You’ll need your passport number and related info. when filling out a Customs declaration form en route to another nation, or returning to the U.S. Losing your passport book is very bad outside the U.S. (See Business Insider’s Here’s what to do if you lose your passport while traveling abroad). Take a photo of the main info. page in your passport book, and keep that somewhere secure you can access (e.g.: a cloud storage service, perhaps a trusted family member’s smartphone or computer). Some people take photocopies in their carryon bag.

Travel VISA​

A VISA is an official document granting legal entry to a foreign country. There are different types (e.g.: student, work, tourist and transit). For short-term leisure travel in mainstream Caribbean region destinations, you’re unlikely to need one. Check the U.S. Dept. of State Bureau of Consular Affair’s Country Info. page and use the Learn About Your Destination option to see whether yours requires a VISA.

Passport Health is a global travel medicine and immunization services provider with a page including entry requirements in the Caribbean and Northern America. They only list Cuba as requiring a tourist VISA. A number of Caribbean countries are noted to have required vaccinations, but I’ve never been asked for such in my travels (note: COVID-19 may change this).


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Medical Clearance to Dive & Liability Waivers​

Many dive operators require you complete paperwork attesting to dive certification, understanding the risks inherent to diving, fitness to dive and release of liability of the dive operator should you be injured (to the extent permitted by law). The extent to which you may be required to specify that fitness (e.g.: attest you do not have specific medical conditions) varies. On the other hand, if you take any scuba course, you will likely be required to attest you do not have a whole list of medical problems.

If you attest you have such a condition, you likely must provide documentation from an approved level of medical provider attesting fitness to dive (these may be time-limited). Most physicians aren’t familiar with recreational scuba diving. Don’t show up at a dive operator on dive day and announce you’ve got asthma, diabetes mellitus, etc…, and expect to dive without clearance…which may be tough to get quickly.

Forum members have heatedly debated the use of these forms, confidentiality concerns, right to self-determination vs. obligation to submit to oversight, diver autonomy vs. dive operator risk management and potential impact on staff and other customers, sincere concern for diver risk vs. lawsuit prevention and honesty/ethics in form completion as it pertains to minor issues unlikely to impact diving.

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Humboldt Explorer in the Galapagos Islands


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You can often download these forms from vendor websites, or ask for a copy. Review and be ready to deal with its requirements before you travel. The Undersea & Hyperbaric Medical Society's Diver Medical Participant Questionnaire is commonly used, and as you see from it, if you’re > age 45 and attest you have high cholesterol or high blood pressure, or just smoke…you’re required to get medical clearance from a physician! These forms are legal documents that may (if not completed properly or lacking medical clearance if required) permit the dive operator to decline services and disqualify you from any refund.

DAN has a Diseases & Conditions section to help you learn more about medical conditions as they pertain to diving.


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Travel by Plane​

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Historically for domestic U.S. flights a driver’s license was valid I.D., but as of Oct. 2021 not all states’ driver’s licenses meet the stricter Real I.D. quality standard required of I.D. for air travel starting May 3, 2023 (you can use a passport book or card). In Kentucky, one can get either a ‘regular’ or ‘Real I.D.’ driver’s license. Always choose ‘Real I.D.’ if your state does likewise. If traveling with children who lack a passport, determine current documentation requirements. A passport book works fine as I.D. for domestic or international air travel.

If you’re new to air travel, it often goes like this. Get to the airport at least 1 ½ hours before domestic or 2 hours before international departure. Go to the check-in area for your airline. If you’re lucky, a human will check you in. If not, you’ll need a credit card or passport for the automated kiosk used to check-in, and pay and print labels for checked baggage. Then humans will finish up, taking your checked bags. From there go to a security checkpoint, where you send most personal property through an X-ray machine and step through a scanner. There are lines and this takes a while. Then proceed to a departure lounge (called a Gate) for your flight (note: there’s a common practice called the ‘ten-minute rule’ whereby the plane door may close and won’t reopen. Plan to be at your gate a dead minimum of 30-minutes before departure).

Typical luggage allowances include 1 carryon bag (e.g.: a small suitcase) to put in the overhead bin (if it doesn’t fit, they often check it through to your final destination, hopefully at no charge) and one personal item (e.g.: a backpack) to stow under the seat in front of you…usually at no charge, plus the option to pay for up to 2 ‘checked’ bags (i.e.: carried in cargo, not in the main cabin with you) weighing up to 50 lbs. (23 kg) each. Watch the cheap seats! Some of the cheapest economy seats may not include a free carryon. Occasionally a carrier makes an extra allowance for 'sports equipment' - and dive gear may qualify!

Customs and Connections​

When booking flights, allow at least an hour between domestic connections, and at least 2 hours between connections upon return to the United States. It takes time to deplane and walk or take a tram to the gate for your next flight, and for workers to get your bags off one plane and onto another. Flights often run a little late. Allow some extra margin of error. The reason for 2 hours coming home is you have to go through Customs and Border Protection, with the added hassle of picking up your luggage on a baggage carousel, turning it back in to security, then going through a security check point (even though you went through security at the airport you flew in from).

Expedited Travel​

There are 2 special programs that sometimes speed up the airport ordeal (useful trying to make a tight connection). Both require application, in-person interview and cost money.

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TSA PreCheck – to let eligible low-risk travelers get expedited security screening and not have to remove shoes, liquids and gels from carryon, laptop from bag, light outerwear/jacket or belt. Also available if you’re enrolled in a Customs & Border Protection program including Global Entry, SENTRI and NEXUS.

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Global Entry – allows expedited entry to the United States for pre-approved, low-risk travelers using automated kiosks at select airports.

Flexible scheduling – As of Oct. 2021, it’s been noted roundtrip airfare to Bonaire can be several hundred dollars cheaper flying Wed. – Wed. instead of Sat. – Sat. I use Orbitz to screen flights, but some members use the online service Kayak. U.S.-based budget airline Southwest Airlines flights don’t appear on sites such as Orbitz, but offer 2 free checked bags and some international destinations (e.g.: Cancun and Providenciales).

When budgeting airfare, factor in roundtrip checked luggage fees (often 2 checked bags – typically around $120; Southwest offers this free), airport parking if needed, and inflated airport food costs.

Baggage Limits🎒🧳

Domestic U.S. flights usually involve checking baggage at your point of origin, then you don’t see it again till your destination airport (you hope!), and you just pay baggage fees once, and only face point-of-origin baggage limits (often 50 lbs (23 kg)/checked bag). As you branch out into more distant destinations with smaller connecting flights operated by airlines you’ve never heard of, that changes. And they may have more restrictive size and weight limitations on carry-on bags (e.g.: some flights to the Galapagos Islands).

Don’t forfeit your tools! Equipment identifiable as tools (including those roughly $20 scuba tools) are forbidden in the main cabin; you can pack them in checked luggage, but if you didn’t, you turned that in well before the security checkpoint and TSA (or similar) catch you with it. Then you get a choice; go back and try to get a checked bag retrieved to put it in…or sacrifice it. Heed security checkpoint warnings on forbidden items. When they say you can’t bring a container of liquid > 4-oz., a half-full 6-oz. bottle won’t fly – put that in a checked bag!


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Travel Time​

The stereotypical American dive holiday is a 7-day trip; fly to destination Saturday morning, arrive in the afternoon, take a taxi, shuttle or rental vehicle to the resort or hotel, start diving the next day, 5 ½ days diving, stop diving Friday afternoon by noon, head to the airport Saturday morning and fly home. Some less travelled islands may take a couple of days to get to…as I’ve heard with Dominica (not the same as the Dominican Republic).

Those flying to make liveaboard trips literally do not want to miss the boat, and often fly in the day before in case a missing connection or cancelled flight delays travel. Those traveling to the other side of the world for far-flung destinations like Indonesia may need 2 days straight travel, and consider an extra day to rest and adjust to the marked day/night reversal in time zones.

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For mainstream Caribbean destinations from major U.S. hubs, I haven’t had any single flight much over 4-hours. From Charlotte, NC, it’s about 4-hours to Bonaire in the extreme southern Caribbean; from Miami, about 3-hours.

For the more far-flung destinations, even a single flight can be much longer. From California, I’m told it may take > 6 hours to fly to Hawaii, or roughly 15 hours to Manila in the Philippines (then you face more travel to your destination). For Raja Ampat, you’re stuck flying well past the Philippines (e.g.: Hong Kong or Tokyo), then a shorter flight to Jakarta, then a shorter flight onward (e.g.: to Sorong).

Travel Math can help estimate flight times.

Driving​

Some places will let you rent and drive a car based on your American driver’s license, and many have low enough traffic density to make it a good way to get around, but the advisability varies widely. On some islands they drive on the left – such as St. Thomas, St. Croix and Grand Cayman. Don’t be surprised if your rental car has the steering wheel on the left, like in the U.S., though. And speed limits are apt to be in kilometers (1 km roughly = 0.6 mile).

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Manual transmission (a.k.a.: ‘stick’) vehicles are much more prevalent in parts of the world, yet a small minority in the U.S., where many of us don’t know how to drive them. Bonaire is famous for shore diving as you drive around in your rental pickup…but that pickup defaults to stick unless you make advance arrangements (at a higher cost). Bonaire also has international travel signs (InfoBonaire has a list)…interpreting them on-the-fly can make your trip more interesting.

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In Cozumel, scooters are a notorious hazard — and a number of people have been badly hurt. Yes, zipping around San Miguel (the main town) on one looks like fun…but if you’re not already fluent with scooters, don’t.

In the past, Doc has cautioned driving in Roatan may put you at more liability risk than you bargained for if anything bad happens. Paying a driver may make more sense here.


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Local Considerations​

⚡Electricity⚡

U.S.-style plugs and power (120-volt, 60-Hz) are common but not universal, and there are odd situations. For example, Bonaire uses U.S.-style plugs (amongst others), but 127-volt, 50-Hz power, and the power supply may fluctuate (use a surge protector!). It seems most American tourists don’t bother bringing voltage convertors to Bonaire but some U.S.-based devices may run ‘hot.’ Some electronics (e.g.: some laptop computer chargers) are made to accommodate a range of electrical supplies, including Bonaire’s.

Electricity can be expensive in the Caribbean; in Bonaire don’t be surprised if the house keeper turns off your A.C. while you’re out, or your hot water heater is on a timer you set.

Liveaboard boats may limit device charging to set hours or locations to reduce risk of fire.

Language & Customs​

Most mainstream greater Caribbean dive destinations have strong prevalence of English to meet the needs of tourists, so the English-only speaker should have little trouble in Cozumel, Belize, Roatan or Bonaire, whether at airports, hotels, stores, at dive boats or out on the street. Some travelers advise making an effort to use a few phrases in the local language (e.g.: hello, thank you), as this seems to create good will. If you venture farther from touristy destinations (e.g.: parts of mainland Mexico), that changes, but those reading this article probably aren’t doing that yet. If you want an immersive French language experience, Guadeloupe and Martinique are part of the French Republic (see elgringoperdido's trip report Guadeloupe).

A common quip and annoyance by Caribbean tourists is ‘Island Time,’ a reference to the unhurried pace of service often seen at restaurants and elsewhere. Be mindful cultural views impact this. At a U.S. sit-down restaurant, we expect waitstaff to notice when we’re finishing up and bring the bill unbidden; staff at a foreign restaurant may view that as pushy and rude, and wait to be cued you’re ready for the bill.

In restaurants, don’t expect free refills on soft drinks and ‘water’ may be bottled and a cost. That soft drink may be brought out well before the food (a personal annoyance I had in Bonaire).

The farther you go from the U.S. (e.g.: to the Philippines or Indonesia) or from touristy areas, the greater than chance local ways of doing things differ significantly (see Countries That Do and Don't Use Toilet Paper, Wikipedia's Tabo (hygiene), Lonely Planet's Indonesia in Detail - Toilets and Two Fish Traveling's Pooping In Indonesia: A How-To Toilet Guide). Wayfaring Humans 25 Essential Things To Know Before Visiting Indonesia is interesting reading.

:wifi:Communication:wifi:

Most dive resorts you’re likely to try offer free Wi-Fi service. Quality varies; if you need very reliable service, video or movie streaming capability, ask in advance. Some streaming media services like Netflix have content restricted to streaming to certain regions, so you may not have access (unless you use a VPN – virtual private network – to mask your location from them).

📱Cell phone service varies by destination, carrier and your cost tolerance. Cell service is often unavailable on liveaboard boats away from port; if present, you may face tight limitations (e.g.: texting only). Land-based destination use can put you on roaming status, and if your phone automatically downloads texts and e-mails (much less software updates), you may run up data charges.

✈️One cost control measure is to put your phone on Airplane mode (which stops cell and Wi-Fi service), then manually turn Wi-Fi back on. Now your phone can log onto Wi-Fi networks without using expensive cell roaming.

Your carrier may offer the option to buy an extended coverage plan for some destinations. This may not make it ‘free like home,’ but may cut usage charges.

Some cost-control options for travelers:
  • Time-delayed (create now, send later when Wi-Fi available).
    • E-mail.
    • Text (using data systems rather than cellular, such as WhatsApp or iMessage, or a cellular over Wi-Fi device).
    • Messaging via Social Media (e.g.: ScubaBoard, Facebook).
  • VOIP (Voice-Over-Internet-Protocol) options.
  • Video conferencing platforms.
    • WhatsApp.
    • Apple's FaceTime.
    • Skype.
    • Zoom.
  • Cellular over Wi-Fi is useful when cell service is poor and Wi-Fi is strong. Akimbo pointed out 2 articles:
  • If you have an unlocked cell phone, you may have the option to buy a local SIM card to use in it temporarily.


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💰Money💰

Remember the old commercial line “VISA…it’s everywhere you want to be,” from years ago? That’s pretty true! With other credit cards…it varies. Master Card is fine. Others seem less accepted from what I recall. Many credit cards charge foreign transaction fees (which may appear separately and later in your online account listing), but some don’t. U.S. dollars are surprisingly widely accepted; the U.S. dollar is even the official currency of Bonaire (which is part of the Netherlands). I had to pay cash for gas in Bonaire in 2019; the station didn’t take VISA. Your credit card company may be alarmed seeing charges from another country; whether you need to phone them in advance, or answer an automated text or e-mail it’s you, be mindful they might stop card service till they hear from you.

Be wary of street ATMs (looking at you, Cozumel). If you need to use an ATM for cash, try to access one at a bank; if not that, a large, mainstream business such as a big supermarket. Take at last 2 cards (e.g.: credit card and debit card), in case there’s a fraudulent charge on one and you need it shut down (happened to me) or an ATM eats your debit card.

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In Mexico, you may get somewhat better deals if you carry and deal in their currency, the peso. It’s not likely to be a huge difference, and whether it’s worth the bother is up to you.

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Foreign currency makes a nice souvenir; buy something, pay cash and ask for change in the native currency.



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Budgeting​

Highly variable in terms of traveler, plan and destination, but too critical to ignore. Many divers are middle class, but dive travel trips often cost a few to several grand for a solo traveler or couple, and up from there. How do you budget?

First, some destinations have a rep. as budget-friendly and some are pricey. To get a sense of overall cost for some mainstream destinations, here are total trip cost estimates (with airfare, housing, food, diving, etc…) from my solo travels. Warning: U.S. dollars and fixed in time; inflation will keep raising trip costs.

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7-Day May 2021 CocoView Resort in Roatan Trip: an easy $3,600. 22 Dives (would’ve been more, but night sea conditions were often rough that week).

8-Day Oct. 2019 Bonaire Trip (Sand Dollar Condo.s + Dive Friends): $3,000 + food & a few miscellaneous costs, figure $3,500 total to be on the safe side. 30 Dives.

8-Day Sept. 2018 Cozumel Trip: $3,250 with food. 26 Dives.

7-Day April 2018 Turks & Caicos Aggressor II Trip: $3,350 (would’ve been ~$4,255 without 34% off Aggressor Fleet sale). 27 Dives.

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6-Day Aug. 2016 Truth Aquatics Vision Trip: Base cost of trip $1,531 + parking, taxis, baggage, airline, airport food… My airfare was $600+. I would guess this trip cost around $2,500, maybe up to $2,700. 24 Dives. (Note: California has fine diving…but cold water). In the wake of the Truth Aquatics Conception disaster, much has changed.

A Jan. 2020 Galapagos Islands (an expensive destination) 7-day Humboldt Explorer trip was an easy $8,000 on sale. A Jan. 2019 Curacao trip joining the ScubaBoard Surge ran roughly $9,500 (4 of us, 1 diver); I did 10 boat dives, but my wife, child, mother-in-law and I had a great week at all-inclusive Sunscapes Resort Curacao, enjoyed topside excursions and have wonderful memories.

I budget ~ $3,500 – $4,000 for a solo trip. To contain costs:
  • Pick a cheap destination – As of this writing, Cozumel may be the Caribbean budget leader by reputation.

  • Add up all aspects of your trip. As of this writing, Grand Cayman has a rep. for being expensive, but airfare and car rental can be cheap, a stay at Turtle Nest Inn can be very budget friendly (albeit far from 7-Mile Beach, though at another), and Comfort Suites and Sunshine Suites are budget options along 7-Mile Beach. Prepare most of your meals. Do some shore diving.

  • Many dive resorts’ prices assume 2 divers/room by default. Pack people into a room in land-based accommodations (e.g.: 4 to a room). Watch single supplements! As of this writing, CocoView Resort in Roatan has a low single supplement. If you accept a same sex roommate on a live-aboard, you can usually avoid a single supplement.

  • See if Southwest flies there (2 free checked bags!); you have to check at Southwest.com.

  • Consider non-ocean front accommodation.

  • Don’t book a liveaboard not on sale.

  • Watch for repetitive sales (e.g.: Aggressor Fleet has tended to have a big annual sale, 25% or more off, around Oct. or Nov., and ‘Dive the World’ specials). Check travel agent listings. Anthony’s Key Resort in Roatan has had BOGO specials.

  • Get a unit with a kitchen, shop and prepare some meals.

  • Look for budget providers discussed on ScubaBoard; you’ll see Dive with Martin in Cozumel, Turquoise Bay Resort in Roatan and Dive Hut in Bonaire have historically been good options.

  • If your dives are purchased ala cart, buy a big multi-day package to cut the per dive cost.
A common surprise where a rental vehicle is needed: even if included in a package deal, you may learn at the rental counter CDW insurance is not, and you’re taking a big chance driving without coverage. Don’t be shocked at an extra $10-20+/day.

Medication​

What’s available (including over-the-counter) varies. If you need something, take it, and pack prescription medications in a carryon. Some of us like to have a bottle of a prescription antibiotic on hand; if the occasional UTI is your nemesis, perhaps Azo is in order? There’s a pill form of the active ingredients in Pepto Bismol. I recommend all medications be in their original containers, including prescription bottles. You never know whether a law enforcement official will be in the mood to take your word for it as to what those little white pills are.

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I take 24-Hour Sudafed, Claritin, Flonase, Benadryl, Ibuprofen, Tylenol, Triple Antibiotic Ointment (good for abrasions), Bonine, Imodium, Azo (or similar), a prescription Antibiotic (Augmentin), a Pepto Bismol-type product in pill form and caffeine pills (if cheap access to large amounts of diet soda is in question).

Food & Water​

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Mexico is infamous for water-related diarrhea, but I had it for months starting early in a Galapagos trip, with an ultimate diagnosis of enteroinvasive E. coli (thank you, Cipro!). It’s recommended not to drink tap water in Mexico or the Galapagos, but it’s fine in Bonaire! Find out what’s recommended where you travel.

On a related note, given the likelihood you’ll eat food that may have a less-than-hygienic background, consider getting the Hepatitis A vaccination (2-shots, 6 months apart). Hepatitis A is a fecal-oral route infectious virus targeting the liver.

Some destinations offer a choice between ‘all inclusive’ resorts (e.g.: food and maybe alcohol included – so you’re pre-paid!) vs. not (e.g.: no food or just breakfast included). On a live-aboard, you have no alternative so food is usually good! If an A.I. package covers alcohol and you don’t drink, you may be paying an inflated price. A.I. resorts have your money so they don’t have to compete for it; many ScubaBoard members prefer at least some eating out at freestanding establishments in Cozumel, but then you need to figure out where to eat. People disagree on what’s best, and it varies with where you stay.

Amenities​

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Some destinations may have toiletry plumbing not designed for the toilet paper wads many Americans flush; this is true of Mexico. While I’ve never heard anyone forbid toilet tissue flushing in a boat briefing on a liveaboard, they implore passengers not to clog them, the flushing mechanism is obviously weak and don’t expect a plunger. For either scenario, I recommend depositing your toilet paper wads in the waste can (which you can bet on a boat will be little).

Air conditioning at dive resorts and hotels in the tropical Caribbean is very common…but not universal, and a few places levy a surcharge for high use. Accommodations with a kitchen make cost-saving via meal prep. practical. ‘Hot’ water may be warm at some destinations part of the day – such as those using solar heating.

Service levels on dive boats vary widely, from a water taxi to the site (e.g.: haul your own gear and tanks aboard and set it up, no guide), to 'valet service' (e.g.: staff take your gear and tanks aboard and set it up, then guide the dives), and shades of gray in between. On multi-day trips, some operators may keep your gear; some will keep wetsuits (check if that's important to you). Some boats have overhead cover for shade or front or overhead storage to keep delicate items (e.g.: cell phones) dry, some don't.
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Living Underwater is a Cozumel operator with 120-cf steel tanks that takes out a max. of 8 divers.
On liveaboards amenity levels vary widely. Some boats were re-purposed from non-diving uses, and some are utilitarian for the demands of their environment. Blackbeard Cruises trips are often called 'camping at sea,' and personal space (e.g.: bunk) and fresh water for showering may be limited, whereas some liveaboards are more luxurious....but Blackbeard Cruises are very inexpensive.

Rental Gear Availability​

Some divers prefer renting vs. packing personal gear. Not owning saves initial cost, storage, maintenance (e.g.: regulator servicing), baggage fees (i.e.: 2nd checked bag) and fear of luggage loss or delay. Convenient...if they have what you need! What's available varies widely, and may be very limited aboard a liveaboard or at an isolated land resort. If you are mid.-sized and an easy fit, fine; if you are tall, obese, have large feet or are otherwise a tough fit, bring what you know works. It's wise to bring your own mask (fit is very individual) and dive computer (if you're fluent with it). Wetsuits need to fit.


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:jail:Regional Legal Concerns:jail:

This is seldom a big concern, but a few things apply to specific regions. Elsewhere I mentioned tools (e.g.: scuba tools) aren’t allowed in the main plane cabin; pack in your checked luggage. But the main concern every traveler should be aware of is that pseudoephedrine (trade name Sudafed, a decongestant the extended release forms of which are very popular to cut nasal congestion and ease equalization) is illegal in Mexico (note: it’s also used in manufacturing methamphetamine). Some people take it anyway, but be aware it’s a risk.

You may find some things legal you’re not used to…such as prostitution, or social norms with a greater cultural tolerance for topless sunbathing. Or prohibited…be mindful if you hope to use a drone and check local laws.

One regional quirk – at times the United States and Mexico have held opposite opinions on the issue of loose lithium batteries stowed in carryon vs. checked baggage. Since checked bags usually aren’t seen between drop-off at airport and pickup at destination, that has caused some drama.

Some destinations feature diving partly or entirely within marine parks (international list), with varied rules such as no spearfishing, no taking non-litter items (dead or alive), etc… Some places let you spear invasive lionfish and some don’t. In Bonaire, STINAPA forbids use of Cyalume sticks or wearing gloves diving (without a medical exception). Regulations on whether and under what conditions you can spear invasive lion fish in the Caribbean vary widely.

ScubaBoard has a LGBTQIA Friends & Perspectives forum, with the pinned topic Be Cautious Diving and Traveling Abroad, where you can learn more about regions with laws and culture problematic for some groups.

🚓 Crime & Safety👮‍♀️👮‍♂️

Most mainstream dive travel destinations beginning American divers choose have a good safety profile for tourists. If you stay out of seedy looking places, particularly at night, and avoid seeking illegal drugs or getting drunk and hitting on local women in bars, you should be fine. Despite parts of mainland Mexico’s reputation at times (not unlike American cities!), Cozumel is considered a safe place. That said, there are exceptions you should know about:

Belize City, Belize. If you come here, it’ll likely be coming from or returning to the airport, and you won’t spend much time here (or at night). It’s got a reputation for being ‘rough,’ so if you plan to roam (especially at night), research it first. IIRC, Coxen Hole in Roatan didn’t sound like a place I’d want to wander at night, either. Mexico is a country so not to be generalized; major touristy areas should be safe enough with common sense, but research when headed elsewhere.

Bonaire is famous for shore-diving, enabled by sloping reef wall so close you can swim out without needing a boat. Load your rental pickup truck’s bed down with tanks and dive gear, roam the coast-hugging road, hop out, gear up, and go diving! Which means you’re reliably gone and your truck unattended in a secluded place at least 40 minutes. On an island where many locals are poorer than the average American, what could go wrong?

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Petty theft from parked rental trucks is a nuisance in Bonaire, mainly when thieves break windows to gain access to truck cabins. Leave the doors unlocked, windows down (unless it’s raining), and nothing of value in the truck (it’s okay to leave tanks). You can take your chances with flip flops, cheap-looking sunglasses and some bottled water; just don’t leave your smart phone or camera laying around. Take what you dive with, and that’s all. A waterproof dive pouch or box can hold your driver’s license, some money and your room and truck key. See What do you do with keys while shore diving on Bonaire?

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That said, civil unrest, terrorist acts and other social problems can impact your vacation. You can consult the United States Dept. of State Bureau of Consular Affairs page on travel advisories and consider enrolling in the STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program), a free service for U.S. citizens abroad to get security updates. To learn more about your destination, check out the Country Information page.


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