THE DOLLAR IS STRONG, airfare prices are decreasing, and there has never been a better time to engage in some angling travel. Here are ten tips you may not have thought of to make your international travel easier.
#1 Electricity Is Easier than You Think
The first time I went to Brazil, I killed a camera flash and an electric razor. The country–like most places–is on 220 volt electricity, you see, and I didn’t fully appreciate the need for a transformer as opposed to merely getting a plug-converter.
Fortunately, those issues are largely gone these days, thanks to two factors: USB and voltage-sensing power bricks. Believe it or not, your Apple laptop (and likely any other brand too) has the capacity to automatically sense whether its power brick has been plugged into 110v, 220v or 230v power. Apple sells an international plug kit for $29, which will set you up for power basically anywhere. (Ever wonder why their power bricks have those convertible tips?)
Once you have power to your laptop, I recommend re-charging one of those cell phone battery packs, which you can now buy for less than $20, using its USB ports. Cameras, cell phones, audio equipment and even the newest laptops themselves can all be charged from a handful of simple connectors (USB-C is the newest standard to come along). In short, use your laptop as a power hub and charge your accessories off that. The battery brick will come in handy if you find yourself in a place running on a generator, because it can soak up power while you’re out fishing, then dole it back out if the generator isn’t running overnight.
#2 Roll Your Clothes
This is an old airline stewardess’s trick, and it totally works. For maximum compression, the best thing you can do is neatly fold your clothes and then roll them into tight cylinders. Buy a bag of strong rubber bands (which weigh nothing) to keep everything tight while you pack. Stack your stuff like cordwood and you’ll be shocked how much more you can fit in.
#3 Pack a Couple Trash Bags
Trash bags?! That’s right. This is another zero-weight item that will come in amazingly handy if you have to transfer between locations and need to repack your gear. First of all, they’re perfect for sealing wet boots off from the rest of your equipment and clothes, so they don’t foul the rest of the luggage. Secondly, they can serve as a “vapor barrier” for your dirty laundry and keep it separate from your clean clothes. Nothing’s worse than unzipping your luggage halfway through a trip and realizing everything smells like hobo funk.
I’m a firm believer that the TSA primarily supplies us with security theatre. Nonetheless, they aren’t going away, and dealing with bureaucrats–especially at the END of a long trip–is a nightmare that you can easily avoid. Take the half day to voyage to your nearest major air hub and sit down with Uncle Sam to be enrolled in the Global Entry Program. For the low low price of about $100 and some of your freedom, you’ll be fingerprinted, face-scanned, mildly interrogated, and then issued the rights to pass through the United States’s borders without being treated like a perp who just stole a candy bar. Global Entry comes with a Known Traveler Number, which you should save and input every time you fly. That KTN often includes so much information, half your airline ticket forms will already be filled in as soon as you input it. You also get TSA PreCheck enrollment, allowing you the human dignity of keeping your shoes on and your laptop in your bag in *most* places. Be sure to double check for the TSA PreCheck logo on your ticket when you get it printed, and go to the counter if it’s not there. Best of all, you’ll be able to use Global Entry to skip directly to the head of the line at U.S. Customs when you return. Foreign nationals and unprepared Americans can spend two hours waiting to have their passports stamped, while you simply breeze by a kiosk, scan your passport, and wave at security as you head for baggage claim.
#5 Know Your Rod and Reel Regulations
Traveling with fly rods isn’t a hassle, but many anglers find a way to make it one. First of all, it’s not 1997. Invest in a four piece rod for international travel, period. Second, did you know that every airline considers a rod tube to be a “carry on item,” like an umbrella? That’s right! You can march right onto a plane even with those big “Bazooka” tubes AND a maximum legal carry on. I usually bring four rods on every trip – one of each size I think I’ll need and as many backups as I have space to carry. For trout fishing, you can often fit a reel or two in the rod tube, or even a 6-pack of Clif Bars in case you get hungry. The only caveat here is remote parts of Argentina: for some reason, Patagonian authorities in Esquel and Bariloche consider fly rod tubes to be dangerous weapons, and will force you to check your gear at the bag check. This rule is inconsistently enforced, and I recently flew out of El Calafate, also in Patagonia, with my rods on my back as usual.
#6 Attitude, Attitude, Attitude
The best way to get through security with anything semi-questionable, be it an undeclared llama skull, a six pack of Clif bars which may or may not resemble C-4 on the airport scanner, or some semi-illicit fly rods, is to have the right attitude. Smile, look the security greeters in the eye, and tell them good day in their own language. Have your stuff together; metal objects already stowed in the right places, ticket and passport in a pocket, and shoes on or off as necessary. Move efficiently, confidently, and politely through the station. Most security folks recognize veteran travelers right away and *assume* they are doing everything correctly. Act like you’ve been there before and you will sail through.
Everyone sells a roller duffel these days. My personal favorite is the Patagonia Black Hole series, which has extra-burly wheels (the first point of failure on any roller duffel) AND water-resistant fabric which can survive at least some rain. Learn to properly configure your roller duffel before you go: again, airline stewardesses know what’s up. Place the heaviest items (boots, typically) on the side of the duffel nearest the wheels. On my Patagonia bags, that’s on the right. Stack lighter items like t-shirts or accessories on the opposite side, near the top. Once you lift the duffel, having the weight low will keep it from feeling top-heavy and make it much more maneuverable.
Purchase a maximum legal carry on style bag and learn to stack it on top of the roller duffel with its arm extended. (Again, watch the stewardesses). Patagonia’s Great Divider bags have sadly gone way downhill, but a number of companies offer similar “cube” style bags, including Fishpond and even Yeti. Those types of bags are great for cameras and overhead bins, because they resist being crushed by your fellow travelers’ bag shenanigans.
#8 Understand Tipping
Travel is expensive, and not every country has a tipping culture. However, every fishing lodge is used to handling American anglers, and American anglers tip. Thus, even if you’re not headed somewhere where tips are normal, they will be expected and will be an important part of your guides’ and lodge staff’s income. If you stiff someone, word will get out, I assure you. The fishing community is small. Even writers and professionals should bring tip money on trips, because while the lodge may be footing the bill for your trip, it ain’t tipping the guides on your behalf.
What amount of tipping is normal? I usually make sure a guide is tipped at least $100US per day, but I will split that with a second angler if we are sharing a boat. I tip lodge staff based on the quality of service, but I always leave them something. $100-200 for a week is the norm.
Keep in mind that many lodges pool their tips, so if you’re assigned a hardworking but junior guide, he may miss out on some of what you meant to tip if any of the money flows through the lodge owner. Foreign countries also have extremely variable labor laws, and there are horror stories about some lodges–especially in the Bahamas–snatching guide tips. If you want to be sure your tip is actually going to who you mean it to go to, bring cash onto the boat, and tip your guide out on the water.
#9 Believe in Karma
Maybe the hardest thing to accept about angling travel is that even on the other side of the world, the weather sometimes sucks. The fact that you may have spent $5,000 to get to a certain place has no bearing on whether or not the wind will blow 40mph while you are there.
I look on angling travel as a kind of karmic exchange. Most places are famous because the fishing is typically good, so more often than not, you’ll get what you hoped for. But sometimes, you’ll get locked down and be stuck inside playing solitaire waiting for a weather window. Except you’re not just playing solitaire, you’re actually doing something productive: building up karmic chits. This stuff truly does even out and it truly does happen to everyone. Fishing is fishing, and you have to pay your dues, but eventually those dues will pay you back.
If you are not in a situation where you can afford to ‘spread the risk’ of your trip of a lifetime, I recommend purchasing travel insurance with a very clearly stated bad weather endorsement. These products exist and they are NOT meant for high-rollers who can afford a “little extra insurance.” They are best used by people who CANNOT afford to pull the ripcord and come back next year. Budget for travel insurance in advance.
#10 Understand Car Rental
Car rental overseas is a huge pain in the ass. Particularly in places like Iceland, which is famous for car rental gouging schemes, you can find yourself looking at a $3,000 bill in a hurry (it has happened to me). The best thing you can do is rent your vehicle with a credit card which carries built-in rental insurance. Most Visa and MasterCard credit accounts have some kind of overseas trip insurance — be sure to understand the fine details, and call your card company in advance if you have questions.
The typical requirement for accessing your card’s insurance is that you waive any kind of insurance offered by the rental company (making your credit card insurance primary). In some countries, like Iceland, that’s not legally possible, but you may be able to get a written waiver of that requirement from your credit card company in advance. Whatever you do, DO NOT assume your United States car insurance will cover you overseas. It almost certainly will not, and car repairs are typically even more expensive in foreign countries than they are here. This is another prime reason why you need to buy travel insurance, which can cover things like fender-benders.