Our India vacation is only my second trip abroad IN NEARLY 20 YEARS. A pathetic fact, I know.
But it gets worse…
My lack of experience with the real world has created stoopid, last-minute problems that have, thankfully, taught me a lot.
- Problem #1: I needed to obtain a visa to enter India. Of course, I’ve always understood the concept of a visa. But when I was a kid and we went to Asia, my dad arranged everything. During my marriage, my husband took care of our travel stuff. When I went to China in 2005 with two girlfriends, one of them handled all the logistics. So I’ve never had to physically do the paperwork myself. Three days before our flight, a buddy asked me about my visa situation. Luckily, the Indian consulate in NYC can issue visas within 24 to 36 hours.
- Solution: Before visiting a country, check its website for visa requirements.
- Problem #2: Even on connecting flights, a customs form is still a must. I was the alleged adult who chaperoned my daughter and her two teen friends over to India. (The parents of the teen pals met us there later.) During our Continental Airlines flight, one attendant told me to fill out a single form to cover all four of us. But another attendant said not to bother with anything since we were making a connecting flight within India. Well, when we landed in Mumbai with no custom forms, it took us forever to clear customs before going on to Chennai.
- Solution: Remember, each passenger needs to complete a customs form.
- Problem #3: Using an American Express card overseas requires a PIN #. When I learned about the PIN number — again, a few days before departure — Amex issued me a number right away. But I can only find out what it is when I open the Amex letter snail mailed to my home. The company rep said it was against procedures to express mail me the letter overnight. So I boarded the plane with no PIN number and $1,500 in cash.
- Solution: Don’t assume credit and ATM cards automatically work overseas.
- Problem #4: The American Express customer service people are idiots. During my PIN number convo with Amex, I received a temporary PIN that was good for the next seven days. This number proved useless since I left home with plenty of cash. But Amex also assured me that if I needed money later, it could help. Guess what — I just called an Amex rep who apologized and noted that some of her colleagues “don’t have accurate information.”
- Solution: Don’t trust anybody; companies just don’t train their people well.
- Problem #5: I should have figured out my cell phone options before leaving. Yes, I know — roaming charges cost a fortune. So I don’t want to make unnecessary calls from India. But what if I need my phone in an emergency? Is there a way to use it? I haven’t a clue.
- Solution: I should have called my carrier (Verizon) before departure.
- Problem #6: Setting up Internet on my iPad is a pain. Speaking of phones, I am furious with AT&T. I signed up for Internet hookup on my 3G iPad. (The standard iPad relies on Wifi). But it turns out that I was supposed to call AT&T and request activation. This fact is not clearly explained in the AT&T service confirmation email. So here I am in India with a dead iPad. It was supposed to be a great research and blogging tool. :-(
- Solution: All I had to do was test drive my iPad before the trip.
If I was this dumb when I was younger, I’d be extremely embarrassed right now. Instead, I’m taking a deep breath, coping and moving on. I’m not out of cash yet. One of the parents on this trip has a working cell phone. But trust me, I’ll never make these same mistakes again. I also plan to put my new wisdom to use by getting out more. Gotta make up for a lost lifetime!