A friend of mine recently learnt a costly lesson about travelling overseas.
A resident in South Africa, she still travels on a Zimbabwean passport and was planning to visit her family in Portugal for a couple of weeks.
When making the booking, she was unable to get a direct flight to Portugal and was advised to fly via Britain. She was also advised she would need a visa for Britain even though it would only be for a one-hour stopover as she waited for her connecting flight.
She duly booked and paid for her ticket and applied for her visa. This is when her problems began.
Weeks passed as she battled to get the visa - for a one-hour stopover! - until eventually she was forced to reschedule her whole holiday at great expense.
To avoid this and other unnecessary surprises when travelling, there are simple rules to stick to:
l Ensure you allow at least six months to obtain a visa. It varies from country to country, but rather allow a bit of extra time. It's better to let your travel agent handle these arrangements even if you have to pay a fee.
l Check up on inoculations for the country you are visiting. For many African countries a yellow fever jab is compulsory. The same applies for malaria. If you are not sure check with your chemist.
l Always take out some insurance. By paying for your ticket with a credit card you are automatically covered, but read the fine print and see what it covers. Extra insurance can be taken out as a precaution.
l Make sure your luggage is clearly identifiable. A bright ribbon tied around the handle is a great way of identifying your luggage. Also ensure your name and permanent address are clearly marked.
l If you are taking gifts overseas for friends, make sure you can legally take them into your destination. Immigration officials in certain countries take a dim view on things like biltong, fresh flowers and even wooden ornaments.
l Read up on the destination you are travelling to. The Internet is a wonderful way to learn about your destination - the weather, cost of drinks, food, places to visit etc. Even public holidays should be taken into consideration. There is nothing worse than arriving in a country and finding out everything is closed because it is a holiday.
l Last but not least, pack for the holiday you intend having. If it's a week of lazing about on the beaches of Mauritius leave the formal clothes behind. There is nothing worse than carting around suitcases with clothes you won't wear.