Trip down South: 10 Practical Tips
Preparing well for your next journey down South will undoubtedly save you some money. Here are some clever tips.
1.When is the best time to take a trip down South?
Avoid the peak season. Many hotels and airlines raise their rates during the holidays and during spring break – that is to say, from mid-February to mid-March.
Check out the monthly weather averages for the destination you’re interested in. You’ll find that the sunny months aren’t limited to the peak periods!
The off-season also means low traffic. The archaeological sites and attractions are all yours, without having to bake under the sun in waiting lines! Another good way not to mess up your trip.
It’s also easier to get in touch with the local population during these periods, when it’s not drowned out by tides of tourists.
Since the hotels and restaurants don’t fill up as much, the off-season also offers more flexibility, which is perfect for those who shun the all-inclusives and prefer to wing it once they arrive.
2.When should you purchase your trip down South?
The ideal time to book your plane ticket and your hotel room at the best rate is between one and four months before you plan to take the trip. If you book earlier or later, you risk paying more.
Some wholesalers also offer discounts for trips booked more than 3 months or 6 months in advance. It’s therefore best to start shopping around early!
You’ll find over the course of your search that the keyword for saving money is “flexibility.” By avoiding travelling on Fridays and Sundays, in particular, you can save dozens – even hundreds – of dollars.
Do you like deals but don’t feel like looking for them yourself? Yulair does the job for you. Their team identifies the best-priced flights leaving from Montréal, Québec, Toronto, and Vancouver.
3.Is it better to fly out of the United States?
By taking off from Plattsburgh or Burlington in the United States, you could save a few hundred dollars.
However, you’ll have to calculate the extra travel expenses in your car, the overnight stay at a hotel if you need to arrive early to the airport, the checked baggage fees, etc.
You should also consider the high-traffic periods at the Canada-US border. It would be a shame to miss your flight because you were held up at customs… Check the current wait times at the border and calculate your travel time accordingly.
4.What precautions should you take regarding your passport?
If you don’t want to be turned away by the customs officers upon arriving at your destination, check the validity of your passport before you leave, as well as the minimum period before the expiration date required by the host country. In certain countries, the passport must be valid for up to six months after the scheduled return date. Give yourself lots of wiggle room: if a disaster or any other unforeseen event keeps you abroad, your passport will still be valid for a long time, especially if you opt for a passport valid for 10 years, offered since 2013.
Remember, too, that a passport is now required to visit the United States.
Before leaving, make two photocopies of your passport and your tickets. Leave one copy with a friend or loved one who’s staying in the country and keep the other in a different travel bag than the one where you’re keeping the original. In case of loss or theft, it will be easier to replace the document if you have access to a copy containing the pertinent information.
5.What vaccinations are recommended before travelling south?
For trips to Cuba, Mexico, or most Caribbean destinations, the Greater Montréal Travel Clinic recommends vaccinating yourself against typhoid fever as well as hepatitis A and B.
Make sure that your tetanus and diphtheria vaccinations are up to date and that you’ve received your measles, mumps, and rubella immunization.
6.How to choose a destination for your first trip down South
The all-inclusive formula works well for most novice travellers. Here are some tips for choosing an establishment that suits you:
- Determine your priorities. Do you want to eat like kings? Do you like to party, or are you looking for peace and quiet? Do you want to combine beach time and archaeological visits or explore the underwater depths? For an experience that lives up to your expectations, have clear priorities in mind when choosing an establishment. Beyond the destination, each hotel has its own unique atmosphere and offerings.
- Check with your entourage. Your friends, family, and colleagues will be happy to praise their favourite destination. The more the people you consult have interests and financial situations similar to yours, the more valuable their opinions will be.
- Contact a travel agency. Yes, they still exist! These travel experts will be able to guide you in putting together a trip that matches your budget and interests.
- Do some digging online. Check ratings sites like TripAdvisor or Monarc to see what visitors have to say about the destinations and establishments you’re interested in.
7.How to withdraw money and make purchases at the destination
In Mexico, the government now requires that travellers use the peso and not the US dollar. Except in Cuba, where ATMs are quite rare, you can obtain the local currency with your bank card.
Another option: get an interest-free cash advance on your credit card by depositing extra money beforehand on your card. This strategy has a downside, however, since, unlike the amounts of fraudulent transactions made with your card, this extra money isn’t protected in case of theft.
You should also consider taking two credit cards, preferably issued by different financial institutions. And pack them separately. That way, you won’t be caught off guard if you’re the victim of a theft or an overly greedy ATM.
Along the same lines, make larger withdrawals and divide the money into two bundles packed separately. As an added bonus, you’ll reduce your banking fees that way.
Please note that American Express cards aren’t accepted in Cuba.
And don’t forget to let your financial institutions know about your imminent departure, since foreign transactions might lead them to block your cards.
8.What to do if you don’t speak the language of the host country
Try to learn a few words in the language of the country you’re visiting before leaving. People will find you friendlier from the start and you’ll get better service, maybe even discounts.
Need some extra help during your trip? The Google Translate app for smartphones and tablets translates between dozens of languages, both spoken and written. Perfect for deciphering menus and traffic signs!
9.What to pack for your holiday in the sun
Besides the essentials (swimsuit, sandals, light clothing, underwear, toiletries, sunglasses, and sunscreen), pack pants and a warm sweater for cooler evenings, as well as comfortable shoes for excursions and dressier shoes for dining at a restaurant.
Choose crease-resistant clothes in matching colours to make coming up with outfits easier.
Slide a pillowcase into your suitcase to put dirty clothes in.
A headlamp is very useful if the power goes out or simply to read without disturbing your partner.
Insect repellent and after-bite gel are often practical… Protecting yourself against insect bites is especially important in countries affected by the Zika virus epidemic that appeared in 2015. Cases of infection by this virus, which is transmitted by insects, have been reported in several destinations in the Caribbean and Central and South America (see the list on the WHO website), as well as in certain parts of Florida.
Health Canada recommends that pregnant women and those who plan to become pregnant avoid travelling to the affected areas in order to avert complications for the unborn child that could result from a Zika infection. Other travellers, meanwhile, should protect themselves against insect bites when they travel to these countries; see the Health Canada advice and recommendations on this topic.
A luggage scale will help you respect the weight limits imposed by the airline. Consider leaving extra room (and at least a bit of extra weight) so you can bring back a few souvenirs from your trip.
Things to keep in your carry-on luggage:
- Tickets, money, passport, and other documents associated with the trip (plane ticket, hotel reservation, proof of travel insurance, driver’s license if you need to rent a car, scuba diving accreditation if applicable)
- Electronic devices and chargers for them
- Books, magazines, or an electronic tablet
- Your medication in its original container
- An empty water bottle (to be filled once you’re in the international area)
- A full set of spare clothes (in case of misplaced luggage)
- Travel-sized toothbrushes and toothpaste
- A big scarf or a warm sweater (it’s often cold in the cabin…)
10.A few books to check out
Even though the internet is now a great showcase when preparing for a journey, the travel guide remains a valuable tool, both before you leave and once you arrive at your destination.
Here are some suggestions for books to inspire you:
- Discover Caribbean Islands, Lonely Planet, 2014;
- Mexico, Lonely Planet, 2016;
- Fodor Caribbean, 2016.
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Edited on 23 March 2017