Travelling internationally and seeing things is perhaps one the best things that we can do our ourselves. It benefits perspective. Makes us more empathetic. It helps us understand humanity and all of its wonderful, glorious nuance. This list of international travel tips is meant to make it more approachable and fun.
International travel makes us better story tellers. It teaches us about new and exciting takes on food and drink. Travel introduces us to great people—who often think and see the world much differently from how we do. It teaches not only new languages, but new takes on our own.
There’s perhaps no clearer example of the relativism of the English language than a certain word that starts with “c.” In America, people have been canceled for offenses less grievous than calling someone this word. Folks from New Zealand or Australia use it all the time, to describe everyone from their friends to some jerk that cut them off in traffic.
A few years back, I was telling my Kiwi buddy about doing some work for some people who were slow in paying me. It was no big deal… I was waiting on a pack of lures that they promised to send, but it hadn’t arrived.
“They haven’t paid you, mate? What a pack of cunts,” he said. (Note, typing this word is ok because I’m typing the New Zealand version, not the American).
I was at once flabbergasted and amazed. With a laugh, I incredulously asked, “Did you just call them a ‘pack of cunts’? His reply was straight faced, awesome and every bit New Zealand.
“Yeah mate. You’re a cunt too…. But you’re a good cunt!”
Travel teaches us that most things are indeed relative and that many things need not be taken with such absolutism. It does this through language, culture, food and drink.
When you add fishing to the mix, travel becomes even better. When you add travel to the mix, fishing becomes even better too.
Many of the world’s best fishing destinations lie beyond the confines of the United States. Travelling to catch these wonderful creatures where they live adds adventure and wonder to what is already an adventurous and wonderful pastime.
Over the course of my life and career, I’ve gotten to travel to many places. I think the country count is 18. Between being a marine biologist, writer and “professional member of the sportfishing industry” I’ve been blessed with the ability to do all kinds of crazy shit. It’s been great.
What follows are some practical tips and techniques for making the most of your travel experience. This serves as a guide and hopefully an inspiration to get up and go someplace.
Some of these considerations result from a series of trials and tribulations of my own—
- Accidentally importing more rods and reels into Mexico than was allowed (I was helping a Canadian buddy of mine outfit the custom tuna fishing machine we had just built) before being taken into the backroom of the San Jose del Cabo Airport to pay taxes on them (I may or may not have somehow convinced them that the duty should be $16).
- Being forced to buy an airplane ticket at the airport in order to be able to leave the Dominican Republic.
- Once trying to fill up my Australian rental car with something called “GoGas”—which I now believe was natural gas. As I was feverishly trying to mash the nozzle (which didn’t fit into the car’s fuel tank…. I was running late to the airport and figured that Australian cars must have different set ups than those in the States), some friendly taxi driver yelled to me, “That’s GoGas mate! You need petrol!”
- Then there was the time that our mothership was boarded by the Panamanian coast guard frequently enough that me and the officers were able to recognize each other on sight.
- Or the time that me and two friends came within a couple of groups of being locked out of borders when COVID -19 shut everything down in 2020—two groups after us in that came to fish in the Galapagos got stranded in Colombia for three weeks as the world tried to make sense of a pandemic.
Many of the lessons come from experiences of friends or things I’ve picked up along the way. If you’re going to do this kind of thing, you might as well try to do it right. That said, please don’t take any of it as Gospel truth—if you’ve got a trip coming up, research the rules and regulations as they change and vary by country and through time. This should however provide a practical guide to making the most of your upcoming international fishing trips.
International Travel Hacks for the Travelling Angler
Compared to any other time in human history, international travel is incredibly easy. We’ve got it all—transcontinental flights, global internet and communications connectivity. This situation makes it possible to fish nearly anywhere in the world. Here’s a few international travel hacks we’ve compiled along the way.
Passport and Entry Requirements
Everyone knows that you need a valid passport to legally enter another country. But not all passports are created equal.
Make Sure That Your Passport is Valid for At Least 6 Months from Your Date of Entry
Some countries require that your passport is valid for a period of time after your entry date. In Panama, you cannot enter the country without a passport that is valid for at least six months from your date of entry into the country. The logic behind this is simple…. If you decide to extend your trip, they want to make sure that you can leave.
I know of a guy who was refused entry into the country with a current passport that was not valid for the necessary period of time. They turned him around at the airport… no fishing, no vacation, no fun.
Make Sure You Have a Return Ticket
Many countries will require that you have a return ticket in order to enter the country. In these cases you will need to show proof of a ticket or be forced to purchase a ticket on the spot, at the airport. This happened to me when I flew from Panama to the Dominican Republic for a buddy’s wedding…
Some countries require not just valid passports but tourist visas to enter. The requirements for obtaining a visa vary, from online purchase to setting up a meeting at an embassy. This can be easy to overlook for Americans who are accustomed to visiting Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.
If you plan to make international fishing a regular part of your life, you might consider getting Global Entry. It costs some money and requires a bit of upfront logistics, but it can make getting back into the States much quicker and easier. One three hour wait at Miami International or Houston Intercontinental and you’ll see why so many frequent travelers swear by Global Entry.
Travel Cards- Perks and Benefits
Credit cards that specialize in travel rewards can be a great benefit to the wayfaring angler. Many cards offer such perks as credits for Global Entry, international rental car insurance (if you run over a wild cow in Mexico, you have a better chance of being covered if you booked with your travel card!) and no fees for foreign transactions.
We use a Venture X by Capital one. This card offers all of these things as well as a Priority Pass membership to airport lounges, its own travel booking platform for flights, hotels and rental cards, purchase protection (which can be useful in recouping some of the costs from a trip that is canceled at the last minute), and mileage multipliers that are redeemable for travel credits. Paying for your charter on your card is a great way to avoid having bring a pile of cash on an international trip.
Currency Conversion- How Much Cash to Bring
How much cash to bring and whether, when, and where to exchange it are questions that vary by location and region. If you bring more than $10,000 cash across an international border you are required to claim it. So let’s here assume that you have less than that threshold— and you can check the “no” box when asked if you have to disclose cash.
Changing Money and ATM Withdrawals
When it comes to changing dollars into other currency used in other countries, you have several options. The first and easiest is not to change money at all. Ask the lodge you’re staying with about best practices. Many places that cater to a large number of American tourists will actually prefer dollars to the national currency. If this is the case, break a $50 or $100 and keep some ones, fives, tens and a couple twenties to use for taxis or tipping.
If you do need to change money, you generally have three options—airport kiosks, ATM withdrawals in the national currency, and paying in dollars and getting pesos/colones/reales, etc. in change. Each has advantages and disadvantages.
Maybe the easiest way to exchange dollars is to do so at the kiosks in the airport. Often times the posted exchange rates here are not traveler friendly. That said, if you’re just changing out some money for tipping and taxis, it might be easiest way to do so.
In many places you can withdraw local currency from ATMs. The best and safest way to this is from ATMs from names that you recognize—HSBC, Santander, or other. When you enter your information, you’ll get the choice of dollars or national currency. Say you choose the national currency, the next screen will some times offer you the option for a special rate of exchange. If that’s the case, you should often decline it (but read it for yourself before making your decision).
If you plan to withdraw cash from an ATM abroad be aware of a few things:
- Call your bank before leaving the U.S. Inform them of your impending travel. This can avoid having your account flagged and your access to cash temporarily suspended.
- Many banks and ATMs have daily limits on how much cash you can withdraw. If you plan to pay for most of your trip on a travel card, but the region you’re in has limited connectivity restricted access to cash can bottleneck you.
- Foreign ATM fees can be a real bitch. Some banks have accounts that waive them. The combination of daily withdrawal limits and high withdrawal fees can make getting your money abroad an expensive proposition. Schwab’s checking account refunds ATM fees—even those in other countries. I have not switched to this yet, but that is more due to laziness and less to do with the fact that it would be a much better solution than the one I currently use.
- At the risk of writing something that is too stupid and obvious, make sure not to withdraw more foreign currency than you plan to use (or mind keeping). In places that accept dollars, you can change out dollars for national currency. It can be more difficult to turn foreign currency back into dollars—especially if you don’t want to be gouged out of an obnoxious percentage for the privilege.
The third option is to pay in dollars and get local currency in change. This presents its own set of considerations. The first relates to the exchange rate. If you traveling with a local, ask them what the current exchange rate is. You can also look it up online.
Before you pay for a product or service, ask about their rate is to exchange dollars. Bars are notorious for making extra money by squeezing tourists.
If you are traveling to a place that accepts dollars but is a bit off the beaten path, businesses may offer exchange rates that are a bit less than the stated national rate. Before bring up “Gringo Pricing,” consider that many times these businesses get this rate (not the stated rate) when they turn the dollars you give them back into national currency.
The last consideration for how much cash to carry does not involve macroeconomic trends but rather arithmetic… and your ability to perform it after a few beers. If your bar tab in America is $20 and you pay with a $100 bill, you’ll get back $80. The money is easy to count, its form shape and appearance, familiar.
If this same $20 bar tab, paid with a $100, is changed out in the currency in the country that you are fishing and drinking in, it becomes a bit more complicated. If the exchange rate is 16:1, say, your $80 will come back as 1,260 units of currency. It will be given back to you in a pile of denominations—colorful, awesome and interesting as they are.
By this time, your buddies are leaving. You have a lot to count and compute. If your accounting is off, were you screwed on the exchange rate or is your drunken adult math not as good as it was in your algebra 2 days?
International Travel Tips- How to Avoid Being Hosed
- Before engaging in any service, ask about and agree to a price. If you are paying in US dollars, know the exchange rate. Stories of taxi drivers bait and switching tourists happen all over the world.
- Bring plenty of small denomination bills to pay for things and use as tips. If you try to pay for $15 taxi drive with a $50, the driver “might not have or be able to get change.”
- If anyone offers to help you with any part of the travel process—be it providing directions or helping you with your bags—they likely as not do so with the expectation of getting a tip. Use a couple of those ones you brought… you cheap ass!
Communications and Connectivity
The internet and cell phone coverage make staying connected while traveling much easier today than it ever has been. The degree to which you can use your phone—and whether or not it will cost you more to do so—depends on where you go and what phone service you have. No matter the approach, this is easier than buying a burner cell phone for international use. My wife makes fun of me because I still have an Australian cell phone in my backpack from a trip in 2010.
Call Your Wireless Company
The degree to which you can use your phone—and whether or not it will cost you more to do so—depends on where you go and what phone service you have. A week or two before your trip, give call your provider. Ask if there are any roaming charges associated with the country you plan to visit. Some countries and regions are included in some plans. You can buy service plans that allow you to connect to use your phone in others.
It is important to know your plan. Stories of outrageous data and roaming charges were more common 10 years ago than they are today, but you’re better off checking before you rack up an unexpected bill.
Switch to Airplane Mode and Use Your Phone on WiFi
If you travel to a place where you can’t use your phone normally, you can always connect to WiFi and text and call over the internet. This situation is great, but it means that you’ll be unable to connect in places where there’s no internet. While you’re at the lodge or eating in restaurants in cities you’ll be fully connected. You’ll be out of contact when you’re on the water and while driving, however.
If you are traveling to Mexico or Central America, consider downloading WhatsApp before your trip. This is a standard means of communication for the region. Once you connect to WiFi, you can call, text, and send pictures over WhatsApp as you would on your phone.
Satellite Communications—Phones and Texting Devices
If you need to stay in contact at all times (even when you’re fishing offshore), satellite phones are your best bet. Iridium makes good hardware and offers a variety of services and plans.
You can also invest in devices that can text via satellite. Garmin makes a number of these pieces of equipment. You’ll need to hardware and perhaps a plan, but they allow your family or business to contact you in the event of emergency.
If you are taking medication, bring it with you. If you have medical conditions (cardiac risk factors, diabetes, etc.) make sure to tell the operation you’re fishing with well before hand. This will allow them to make preparations, in the event that any are needed.
If you have serious risk factors, you might consider investing in a medical evacuation service like Global Rescue. A subscription-based service, Global Rescue offers medical evacuation services should an emergency arise.
A Word on Driving
Many places are well set up for renting a car and driving yourself. Costa Rica, Panama, and Mexico (excluding some regions around the U.S. border) have great roads and rental car options at international airports.
Driving can be fun, but if you’ve never driven outside the United States before, there’s a few things to keep in mind:
- There are more street signs and road names in the United States than there are in many other places. If the prospect of driving on streets without names gives you pause, you might reconsider (or do some further research).
- In the Bahamas you’ll be driving on the left side of the road.
- If you plan a long trip, be aware that you could pass through places without internet connectivity. If your directional sense relies on your phone working as it does in the states, you might consider printing a map or directions.
- People who have never driven in Central America before are often scared by what they see. Expect tailgating, the sound of honking and cars that drive faster and closer than you are accustomed to. Leave more room, drive with authority and remember that you, the slow, scared out-scared-out-of-your mind Gringo is the one who’s out of place. Muevate Cabron!
- If you’re driving through remote areas and are not accustomed to the place, you might try to avoid driving at night or risk hitting a cow, goat or horse.
- Many major credit cards, especially those geared toward travel rewards, include rental car insurance if you use them for your booking. Call your credit card company to find out your options…
- If you rent a golf cart, don’t try to drive steep hills. The damned battery powered ones sometimes can’t make it and risk rolling backwards and crashing you down a mountain.
- If you get pulled over by a police officer when you are not speeding, it could well be resolved with a 50-dollar bill. This assumes that you are not driving drunk or transporting anything illegal. This gringo shakedown happens often enough that you should give some consideration to what approach you plan to take should it befall you.
Many reputable international fishing lodges—especially those whose packages include lodging—will offer to handle airport transfers for their clients. If a pick up and drop off is available, this option is easiest of all. Many times, there will be a cooler full of road sodas for the trip. After all, you’re not driving.
Your Bag Tags
I’ve got an old friend who’s got lots of old friends. His friends are probably more interesting than mine… they certainly talk about more interesting shit.
When I told him about this article he gave me this piece of advice. Never put your home address on your bag tag. Doing so allows would be evil-doers to search for your house on the internet. If it looks big and nice enough, they might consider you a good candidate to be kidnapped (were said bad guys in the mood to do such things).
When interesting people, tell you interesting things, you ought to pass them along.
The Most Important International Travel Tip
What is the most important tip when it comes to international travel? It has nothing to do with cell phones, amount of cash to bring, or even your passport.
The most important tip? Do it. Book your trip. Expand your horizons. Stamp your passport. It will be fun… I hope these tips make it even more so.