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VIP (Very Important Paperwork): your pre-departure materials

Ah, paperwork.

You've just booked that long-awaited trip, and then paperwork begins to arrive. Even if you booked online or by phone, there will be paperwork.

Pre-departure documents—from your initial reservation confirmation to the final details you receive right before departure—are all very important and should be read carefully. Please read them as soon as they arrive. These documents are written by the professionals who create and execute your travel experience, and they are designed specifically to provide critical information about your trip and the destination, gather needed data from you, and answer most common questions.

Information you receive may include, (but is not be limited to) the following points:
• Air – including recommended flights and suggested arrival and departure times, and the best way to connect with your travel director or expedition leader. May include transfer details if included in the program, and allotted times for best connections.

• Attire – wardrobe recommendations and suggested items to keep you comfortable, dry, and able to participate in all activities. Packing lists, if provided, are a general guideline and can help you decide what to bring (and what to leave at home). Read this well in advance of departure date so you have time to shop for any items you may need to purchase.

• Weather/Climate – your documents will typically explain the general local weather for the program’s destination(s). It will also be helpful to do some research on your own, so you understand what variations to normal weather patterns may have recently taken place.

• Passport and Visa Requirements – read carefully. Most countries have specific (and rigid) requirements, and you must be in compliance to be allowed to enter the country. These requirements are your responsibility, not the tour operators or the airlines.

• Detailed Itinerary – make certain to understand the daily activities, including the activity level described. If you have any concerns about your ability to participate in certain activities, please call the tour operator’s guest services department to ask questions and describe your situation.

• Optional Activities/Excursions – take advantage of additional opportunities to participate during the program with optional activities or excursions, which may be offered at an additional fee.

• Currency – understand the currency for the countries you will visit, if credit cards are accepted, and if ATMs are available. Make sure to discuss international fees with your credit card company or bank in advance of your trip.

• Gratuities – learn which gratuities are included or excluded from your reservation cost. If gratuities are not included, the documents will suggest recommended amounts. It’s best to know this ahead of time so you can plan accordingly.

• Hotel/Cruise Ship Details – the documents will explain accommodations details including specific amenities like room details and voltage units for electronic devices. Information on Wi-Fi or internet access is also typically listed in this section.

• Health requirements – including general activity level requirements and also specific information regarding inoculations if traveling to certain countries.

You will also receive a Guest Information Form to complete, which provides the tour operator any personal details needed for your particular travel program. It's a good idea to return this form promptly, so there is time to plan for any actions that are needed.

The Guest Information Form may include (but not be limited to) the following points:
• Air Details – including your flight schedule so the tour operator can arrange transfers and manage any potential conflicts with the travel itinerary.

• Contact Information – emergency contacts for all travelers. Hopefully not needed, but just in case.

• Special Occasions – any special occasions during the trip, including birthdays, anniversaries, or special reasons why you chose the trip. Tour operators will be happy to help you celebrate, they just need to know in advance.

• Medical Information – any food, insect (or other) allergies or special medical conditions that need to be accommodated during the program. Be as detailed as possible. Your personal information will be handled discretely and only given to those who need to know. If there are special requirements for things like oxygen tanks or wheelchairs, call your tour provider to make sure needed items can be provided where you will be traveling.

Be an informed and well-prepared traveler. Do your homework ahead of time and you will have an extraordinary journey—discovering new lands and meeting wonderful new friends.