30 Things to do Before an International Photo Safari
Before you jet away on your next long-distance photography tour. check out this list of 30 really important things that you should do at a minimum of 30 days before your departure date. I would suggest tackling the top 4 items ASAP since they may require a little more time to complete. Since I am about to head out to the Masai Mara in Kenya, Africa for the great migration, I will use this area as an example of the types of things to consider. (Check out photos from a prior migration trip here).
1. Start a shared folder online and a physical paper folder for all of your important travel documents.
There are many moving parts to planning your epic international journey. As you put the work into planning, it's a good idea to use a central place to store all of your important documents such as itineraries, locations, important contacts and many other items that we will cover in this list. By using a secure shared online folder, you and your loved ones back home will have quick access to all of this info. In the event that any of your paperwork is lost or stolen, you will have backup copies available to help you to get through a potentially disastrous situation. Services like Google Docs, OneDrive, Evernote and Dropbox will work great for this purpose.
Don't forget to actually give access to this online folder to at least one trusted loved one back home. If you give them access to make changes to the folder, this will allow them to add in any documents that you may have forgotten and you need copies of while abroad.
Also start a physical folder to store printed copies of documents so they are all handy when it's time to take off. Keep this folder in a secure location and try to actually remember where you put it! (I am famous for forgetting where I hide stuff) There are some pretty cool travel document/accessory organizers out there for this purpose. The ones with RFID blocking help to keep your identity safe from scammers with scanners.
Here are a few options:
Lewis N. Clark RFID Blocking Stash Neck Wallet
Family Passport Holder RFID Blocking Passport Wallet
Famavala RFID Blocking Case Cover Holder Wallet With Belt Feature for Passport
Handmade Mens Leather Travel Wallet
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2. Secure some travel insurance.
This should really be done as soon as you shell out the first deposit on any part of your trip. Not only do you want trip cancellation insurance, you really should also opt for the emergency medical coverage. A good all-inclusive plan covers these losses along with others such as trip delay and lost or damaged luggage.
I used to always think that this was just an unnecessary expense that was being pushed on me. Then I realized the importance of it when a fellow guest on a safari in South Africa injured her leg and had to have surgery before traveling home. The insurance company paid for most of her expenses and those of her travel companion and their extended stay.
I recently signed up for an annual plan through Allianz that covers all trips that I take throughout the year. It may seem like a lot of money but the peace of mind is worth the cost. Check out their options here - https://www.allianztravelinsurance.com
Once you secure a policy, send a copy to your travel host and place a copy in your online shared folder.
2. Make sure your passport is in order.
For Kenya, the expiration date must be less than 6 months after your scheduled date of return back to your home country and there must be at least 2 blank pages left. Check the official website of the country that you are visiting for their requirements. For info on how to obtain a new United States passport or renew one, visit https://www.usa.gov/passport. You will need to provide a passport photo. You can take one on your own but it's kind of a pain because there are strict guidelines on how the image should be captured and printed. It's easier just to do an online search for places near you that do them. In my area, the big chain drug stores like Walgreens and CVS provide this service. Some pack and ship FedEx and UPS stores also do it.
Scan a copy of the main mage of your passport and place it in your online folder. You will need this to help you to get back home if it gets lost or stolen. Place your passport in your physical travel folder.
3. Visit a local travel clinic.
A good travel doctor will do the research for you on the types of vaccinations that are required and/or suggested for the areas that you are traveling to. For Kenya (at the time of writing this), you are required to provide proof that you have been vaccinated for Yellow Fever and you must present a certificate to the customs officer. You can visit the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for up to date requirements, recommendations and health advisories - https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel.
You may also want to get a prescription for malaria prevention pills and a Z-pack in case you get sick and are in need of antibiotics. You can also talk to them about over the counter medications to consider such as imodium for traveler's diarrhea (This is no fun when you are stuck on a safari vehicle in the middle of lion country. Trust me on this one.) or a mild sleep aide to help you with insomnia due to jet-lag.
Scan a copy of your immunization records and any certificates you receive and place them in your shared online folder. Put a printed copy in your travel organizer.
4. Apply for a visitor's visa
Do a quick Google search for visa requirements in the country you are visiting. Be sure that you select the official government website. There are many shady people out there that would love to scam you into sending them application fees. For Kenya, the site to apply is - http://evisa.go.ke/evisa.html
Before you start the online application, read through their list of required supporting documents and have scanned copies available for upload (See... that online folder is already coming in handy!). If you don't do this, your session may time out while you are fiddling around trying to gather them up and you will lose all the data you already entered. Speaking from experience here. Ugh!
Some common items you may need are:
- A copy of your passport information page
- A copy of your flight itinerary
- Hotel booking confirmations or proof of where you are staying while in the country
- Name, address and phone of the places you will be staying
- A passport photo (But for Kenya, not the same photo that is actually used in your passport. Why, I don't know!)
- Info for an emergency contact
- A copy of your travel insurance policy
- A credit card to pay the application fee
Once you complete your online application it can take a few weeks to get an approval. I always have to remember to check online for the approval status because I don't seem to get email notifications of this. After the visa is issued, print a copy to hand to the customs officer upon arrival at your destination. Place it in your travel organizer and save a digital copy in your shared folder.
5. Register in the STEP Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.
The STEP program is a free service that allows U.S. citizens to enroll their trip abroad with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. This will allow you to receive important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country, helping you make informed decisions about your travel plans. It will also help the U.S. Embassy and your loved ones back home to contact you in an emergency such as a natural disaster or civil unrest. Visit this site to register - https://step.state.gov/step/
6. Check the current regulations for what you can and cannot bring
The rules on what is allowed on an aircraft, whether as a carry-on or in checked baggage is ever-changing. Be prepared and check before you go. Here is a list of commonly questioned items and their current status from the TSA- https://www.tsa.gov/travel/security-screening/whatcanibring/all
It is also wise to check the FAA's website
I recently heard on the news that there were issues with the batteries on 15" Macbooks overheating and catching fire. The FAA was not allowing them on aircrafts. Since I need mine on my trip for photo processing, I got a little nervous. After Googling thee issue, I found a link to check the serial number on Apple's website to see if my model was subject to recall. It wasn't. So I printed the results of the check out and put it in my travel organizer just in case some agent decides to give me crap about it at the airport. If you have a 15" Macbook, you may want to visit this link to make sure yours is not about to blow up - https://support.apple.com/15-inch-macbook-pro-battery-recall
7. Get a few power outlet adapters
Different countries use different types of plugs and voltages for their power outlets. You can find which types to expect here - https://www.worldstandards.eu/electricity/plug-voltage-by-country/. Get a couple of these if you're bringing multiple electronic devices so you can charge more than one thing at a time.
A multi-type international plug adapter is useful to be sure that you have the right kind. If you have a layover in a different country, you may be caught by surprise when you can't charge your devices. Here is a link to some plug adapter options on Amazon.
Europe runs on 220 volts while America uses 110 volts. Most modern electronics are dual-voltage and work for both. Check your appliances to see if they have a rang of 110-220. If not, you may need to purchase a power converter.
8. Do your research on the area
Too often, I will arrive at a distant location and waste precious vacation time trying to figure out things that I could have easily learned back home. Whether it's the type of wildlife that live there, tipping customs
Practice taking the types of shots you will be taking on your trip. Back-button focusing.
Set up custom functions on your camera. Speed, video, go-to setting.
Clean your camera sensor
Get an international data plan
Buy more memory
Research weight restrictions
Test pack and weigh
Notify your bank and credit card companies that you will be traveling. Make copies of your cards.
Let someone know where all the important stuff is
Download music and shows (pack old and new headphones)
Pick up a good book
Read your camera manual
Get small bills for tips
Turn off cellular data on apps that you won't be using. Also turn off background updates. On IOS go to General, Background, App Refresh.
Backup your computer and clear up space
Turn off any background online backups. Backblaze, Icloud, Lightroom CC. Overnight over wifi.
Sync your camera dates/times
Get a compact travel journal