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

Continued in the next post

 

Hoag

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One thing that I would like to add is to check with your airline to see if they have any special programs that you might be able to take advantage of. Both Air Canada and WestJet for instance offer free checked bags* (the last time I looked, it was 3 free up to 50 lbs each) for active duty and retired members of the Canadian Armed Forces or allied nations. This benefit can be huge, and both airlines offer non-stop flights to many Caribbean destinations. If you live in Canada or in a US town near the border, it might be worth it to look into whether flying out of a Canadian Airport is worth it for you or if any airlines that service your local airport offer plans that will help to reduce the cost.

*Please note, that since this is an airline policy, it is subject to change at any time.
 
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drrich2

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An update from the experience of getting signed up for the U.S. Global Entry program, and using it for travel. I ran into some issues and it may be useful to know.

Applying

1.) It's $100 to apply, which is done online, and they keep that whether they reject or give you conditional approval.

2.) Just because there is a Global Entry place near you doesn't mean that's an option for a timely interview. If you get conditional approval, you may find yourself resorting to a center much farther away. I'd assumed I could do it at Nashville Airport, about 1 1/2 hour drive from me, but that option didn't pan out. Instead I had a 4 hour (each way) drive to an airport in Memphis.

3.) The in person interview for Global Entry was at an office near the TSA PreCheck interview office, but they weren't the same. The Global Entry one had blinds down and looked desolate from the outside, but it was open. I sat in the TSA PreCheck interview office for awhile before I learned I was in the wrong place.

4.) Once you're approved, you can use it right away from what I understand. They can mail you a card, which you need to activate online, but it's my understanding it's linked to your passport.

5.) If your photo and finger prints are in their system from some time frame in the past, online interview might be an option for some (at least for Global Entry; I don't know about TSH PreCheck).

Using it for TSA PreCheck Benefits

1.) On a trip to Nashville Airport, I got in the TSA PreCheck line because Global Entry is supposed to include TSA PreCheck benefits. The security guy who checks passports and boarding passes before the line for the X-ray machine didn't know anything about that, but scanned my passport and that didn't work out either, so I had to go back to the other line.

2.) In Bonaire, I did some Googling and learned both Global Entry and TSA PreCheck programs give you a KTN (Known Traveler Number), and you can enter it in your airline's frequent flier program online. I did this for American Airlines and Southwest Airlines while in Bonaire. On my return from Bonaire Airport, TSA PRECHK printed in large font on my boarding passes automatically. TSA's PreCheck Page says "Add your Known Traveler Number to your airline reservation to enjoy faster, more seamless screening." Customs & Border Patrol's Global Entry has this page that says:
"How It Works

If you are a Global Entry member or eligible NEXUS or SENTRI member, enter your membership number (PASS ID) in the “Known Traveler Number” field when booking reservations, or enter it into your frequent flyer profile with the airline. The membership number enables Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) Secure Flight System to verify that you are a legitimate CBP Trusted Traveler and eligible to participate in
TSA Precheck Logo
."

3.) At Miami Int. Airport, it got me through Customs faster. I didn't even have to scan my passport and finger prints, just stand with my face showing up in the monitor markers; I hit a button to take my photo, it spat out a receipt and I went to the Customs guard. Yah!

4.) But it didn't do anything to make the baggage people get my baggage out on Carousel #9 any faster! In my experience, if you re-enter the U.S. with checked baggage and need to make a connecting flight to get home, this is a key limiting factor in your travel time. Global Entry may speed you a little, but can't do much with this bottle neck. If you don't check luggage, that's another story.

5.) It did speed getting through Security a little.

If you book air travel through Orbitz, pull up your account and you'll see a TSA Info. section where you can add a KTN.


Bottom Line: Global Entry is a modest hassle to get but good for 5 years, not terribly expensive and I don't see why for the small price premium I'd consider TSA PreCheck instead (unless I only traveled domestically), but you need to do a little extra legwork to get your KTN in systems so your boarding passes identify you as qualifying for TSA PreCheck status.
 
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drrich2

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Australian traveller strip-searched, held in US prison and deported over little-known entry requirement

An article by Elias Visontay dated June 7, 2022, published online in The Guardian.

Here's my summary of main points:

1.) If I understand correctly, this only matters if you are not a U.S. citizen and are entering the U.S. with a visa waiver.

2.) Non-U.S. citizens entering the U.S. on the waiver are required to have booked a return flight or onward travel to a country that does not border the U.S. (so Mexico or Canada alone will not do!).

3.) A 23-year old Australian man flew to Honolulu with 'enough (money) for a 3 to 4-month adventure.' His plan was spend time in U.S., then Mexico and South America. When he arrived in Honolulu, he had not booked onward travel beyond Mexico.

4.) He wasn't able to book a ticket to correct this while at the airport. He was refused entry to the U.S., hand-cuffed, taken to a prison, strip-searched (twice, under his scrotum and anus, for contraband), was admitted, had no access to his phone or contact with his parents in Australia, was put in a cell with a fellow prisoner who'd smeared blood and feces on the wall, and he was told to sleep on a concrete floor with a paper bag for a pillow. He spent about 30-hours there, then was taken back to the airport and put on a flight to Sidney.

5.) U.S. Customs and Border Protection regrets any inconvenience or unpleasantness a passenger may have experienced during his/her CPB processing.

If you or someone you know is contemplating a trip as a non-citizen to the U.S. having applied for a visa waiver, be sure you comply with this requirement. Judging from Visontay's article, it may not be evident online that you need to do this.

If anyone else has any similar 'Watch Out' warnings about foreign travelers to a nation, this thread might be a decent place to post that info.
 

Centrals

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This is incredible.
You gave some people certain power and they think they can got away with murder.
That Aussie was naive not to have onward ticket and certainly won't be allowed in. Period.
What was the reason to strip search him? Any would be criminal would have all the papers in order so as not to draw any attention from the authority.
 
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drrich2

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What was the reason to strip search him?
It says for contraband; it may be routine for new inmates, and the tourist said once police dropped him off, the guards and inmates had no idea what he was there for.

In such situations it's natural to figure the tourist likely didn't do his due diligence to learn what the requirements were and meet them. But that may not be true here. From that article linked above:

"The entry requirement is not listed on the US embassy’s website, nor on multiple US government websites that it directs travellers to."

As a U.S. citizen who's traveled to dive, I'm accustomed to foreign nations I enter requiring I have a return or onward ticket to substantiate that I will leave their country within a required time frame. I don't travel for long time periods, so concerns about waiving a visa requirement haven't come up. It would never have occurred to me to inquire whether it mattered what my next destination country was, and whether being a geographically adjacent nation mattered.

I'm shocked that a federal prison was used. In the U.S., people convicted of a crime and sentenced to incarceration tend to go to jail for shorter sentences (under a year); prison is for longer term convictions for more serious crimes (e.g.: felonies). Going off memory here. The idea of being put in a prison (with a bizarre cell mate) as a holding measure without trial till put on a plane home is shocking. Ironically, it's this type of story that tends to make many Americans think 'I'm glad I live in America, where I've got rights.' Only this time...it happened in America!

People don't know what they don't know. Which is why I added the post about this situation.
 
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drrich2

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In other news, a range of highly popular dive destinations are in the large, spread out island archipelago nation of Indonesia; Raja Ampat, Komodo, Bali, Wakatobi, Lembeh Strait and more. Interestingly, I haven't seen much on ScubaBoard trip reports about restrictive regulations on bringing medication into the country. What's more, many Americans have grown accustomed to legalized marijuana, and hemp-derived CBD products that have very low THC levels may be legal in some places (e.g.: Kentucky) where marijuana itself is not. So someone might have a CBD oil product and not think how another nation will view that. Not only is Indonesia's regulation more restrictive than many Americans would anticipate, the consequences of getting caught can be brutal.

There is now a thread on Indonesia Legalities exploring some of these issues.

In yet other news, in Post #10 of that thread, @Centrals reported pseudoephedrine (i.e.: Sudafed) is illegal in the Philippines. I found an online article 5-20-22 stating it's illegal in Japan, too (and Diphenhydramine (i.e.: Benadryl) is limited to 10-mg capsules - but what we buy in the U.S. tends to be 25-mg strength). The airport in Tokyo is a layover option for some multi-flight trips to/from Indonesian destinations.

Sudafed is a popular over-the-counter (U.S.) decongestant medication used to aid clearing of the ears via the Eustachian tubes. I'd heard it was illegal in Mexico (e.g.: Cozumel).

The scope of this thread topic is too broad to explore every topic in great detail. Just because a medication is technically illegal doesn't mean nobody takes a small supply for personal use (e.g.: Sudafed). And some might discriminate between just changing planes in a country en route elsewhere vs. staying. My point in posting on the issue is to cue people in that when traveling internationally, taking over-the-counter and prescription medications (especially 'controlled substances' (i.e.: potentially addictive) may run afoul of surprisingly stringent regulations, so check into it when planning your trip.
 

Jcp2

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With regard to the Australian traveler’s cell mate smearing feces on the wall, that poor fellow may have had the midnight runs.
 

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