7 Tips To Having A Smooth International Trip by Rotimi Olawale
My first International travel opportunity came in 2005, I was selected by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Nigeria to be one of two Nigerian representatives to the United Nations Pan African Youth Leadership Summit which held in Ifraine, Morocco. I was excited about the trip and made some mistakes (which should have been avoidable) if I had been well informed.
Armed with my Moroccan visa, I was informed I needed to pick up a French transit visa as I would be flying to Morocco via Paris, I was shocked! Why would I have to fly from Nigeria to Europe in order to connect to another part of the African continent? (I gained a piece of information that has bothered me about Regional transportation and trade in Africa). This is a story for another day!
Without any tangible explanation, the French embassy denied me a transit visa (a transit visa meant I won’t even leave the Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris at all on any grounds). I placed a call to UNDP, they pulled a few strings and I was back in the embassy the next day, where an irritated visa officer didn’t have any option than issuing me a visa.
Visa now intact, I was informed by my contact at UNDP that due to the fact that I missed my flight the previous day, I would have to cough out a $100 bill at the airport to pay for a flight rescheduling fee. I had only few hours to the flight and all I had on me was $120. I got to the airport, paid the $100 and flew out of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport with a $20 bill in my pocket which I declared in the immigrations form on my way to the boarding gate.
The rest they say is history!
That was 6 years ago. In the space of time between then and now, I have had 10 different opportunities to travel and attend international conferences, workshops and meetings in different parts of the world and I have gained a few valuable travel experiences that I would like to share, particularly for the benefit of would be first time travelers.
- Have a pen handy: To have a seamless international trip. It is important to have a pen handy. As simple and stupid this may sound, it will interest you to know that you’ll fill at least 2 or 3 immigration forms at the departure airport and at your point of arrival. In order to quickly breeze through immigration and not having to borrow pen from others, having your pen handy means you’ll fill your form in good time without disturbing other passengers
- Print your invitation letter and keep it in your hand luggage: If you have been invited to attend a conference, meeting, workshop or an exhibition, please print your invitation letter as you can be questioned by immigration officials, the police, or airport officials. If you don’t give a satisfactory answer or have any documents to back your claims, you might be delayed for several minutes and made to go through tough and embarrassing questions.
- Make sure you have a contact address and phone number: Most times, when invited for an international meeting, you get an email that says, a volunteer will be waiting for you at the airport with your name written on a placard. It is important that you request for a contact address (possibly the hotel or guest house you’ll be lodged in) and a phone contact so that you can reach someone in case there is a mix-up somewhere. Sometimes last year, I landed at the Airport in Johannesburg on my way to attend the Digital Natives with a cause? Workshop, I breezed through immigration, picked up my luggage, walked out to the arrival hall and scanned through the sea of heads and raised placards for my name or any sign that says Digital Natives, I didn’t find it. After pushing the trolley from one point to another a couple of times, I approached the bank to convert some US dollars to South African Rands and placed a call to the contact phone number I had with me. I was asked to stay at a certain point and within minutes the cab driver located me and I was saved a whole lot of trouble.
- Only travel with Dollars or Euros: Most local currencies are not easily converted in another country. Despite the fact that flying from Lagos, Nigeria to Accra, Ghana is a one hour flight, it is easy to change the American Dollar or Euros to Cedis at the Airport and almost impossible to change the Nigerian Naira. So before you leave your country, convert your local currency to an internationally acceptable currency preferably the US dollars and ensure you have a minimum of $100 with you so that you can deal with any exigencies or emergencies.
- When in Doubt ask questions: Don’t sit at an airport waiting for your flight to be called and when you don’t hear anything you continue to sit down endlessly. Stand up, walk to the information desk to ask questions about where your boarding gate is, when the flight is expected to leave and any other valuable information. In most international airports, screens are also placed in strategic places that display regular flight details including arrivals and departures.
- Always pack valuables in your hand luggage: Phone chargers, phones, laptops, i-pads, expensive jewelries and other valuable items should preferably be packed in your hand luggage. This is to avoid damage during handling and storage and to also avoid theft or your precious personal items. Also ensure that your hand-luggage is a small or medium sized bag. If you carry a large bag as a hand-luggage, there is every tendency that you’ll be asked to check the bag in if it can’t fit into the overhead compartment above your seat.
- Always travel with a pack of toiletries: Depending on the hotel you’ll be staying, several hotels do not provide toothpaste, toothbrush or body creams for guests in their rooms. If you arrive in a foreign country without these items, you might end up buying it from the hotel and this might costs you almost 5 times the normal price when you do your conversions to your local currency. So, travelling with a toiletries kit can be a life saver!
Now you have the 7 tips! It is not an exhaustive list and I am sure that a lot of frequent flyers can contribute more tips to this list. We’ll be glad to have your contributions. Bon Voyage!
Rotimi Olawale, co-founder of youthhubafrica.org is a youth development expert. For more than six years he has been involved in leading youth advocacy efforts mainly around the Millennium Development Goals. In 2006, he represented Nigeria as a youth ambassador at the United Nations Global Youth Leadership Summit held at the UN Headquarters in New York. Rotimi has held several global leadership positions including; member, UNFPA Global Youth Advisory Panel for 2 years; member, African Youth Panel. Rotimi is currently involved in shaping local, national and global policies to benefit youth and also leverage opportunities for young people. He was listed by the Nigerian government as one of 15 Nigerian youth on the world stage in 2008.
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