Cheesemans' Ecology Safaris
Passports and Visas
Visiting our exciting destinations often require advanced preparation to obtain valid passports and visas. We provide information for your convenience, but ultimately it is your responsibility to ensure that you have everything required for travel. We have partnered with G3 Global Services to provide professional assistance for Cheesemans’ travelers, but it is only available to US residents. Other paid services our travelers have recommended are CIBT Visas, Passport Visas Express, Visa Travel Pro, and VisaHQ.
Passports for US citizens
Start the process early if you need to apply for or renew your passport since processing times may be long. Application and renewal information is available on the US Department of State’s website.
Check your passport expiration date
Most countries require that your passport is valid for at least six months beyond the completion of your travel.
Check your passport for empty pages
Most countries require several blank pages in your passport for entry visas. Make sure you have enough blank pages to accommodate visas for all of the countries in your itinerary.
Plan ahead for visas to destination countries
Visa requirements for your trip vary depending on country. Some may have long processing times. Your Trip Essentials document will provide information about the specific countries on your itinerary; we advise you to verify the information themselves or work with a professional agency, as requirements may change. Check visa requirements for all of the countries in your itinerary.
Learn about what you need to do to stay healthy by reading location-specific advice and visiting your doctor for any needed vaccinations.
Do your research
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Travelers’ Health website has a wealth of information related to disease risks, including location-specific advice, vaccination guidelines, and a disease directory. More general travel health information is available at the MedlinePlus Traveler’s Health website, a service of the US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health.
Talk to your doctor
We encourage you to have routine vaccinations up to date before any travel, and to speak with your medical provider about any additional location-specific precautions, such as additional vaccinations and malaria protection, to take for your itinerary. Please plan ahead, as some vaccinations require boosters at specific intervals to be effective.
Yellow fever is found in tropical and subtropical areas of Africa and South America. The virus is spread to people by the bite of an infected mosquito. Once contracted, there is no treatment or cure for the infection.
Yellow fever vaccine is in short supply in the United States, and clinics are currently offering a replacement commonly used in Europe. Plan ahead as access may be limited.
After receiving a yellow fever vaccine, you should receive a signed and stamped International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICVP, sometimes called the “yellow card”), which you should bring with you on your trips. Some countries require all travelers to show ICVPs before entering the country. Other countries require proof of vaccination only if travelers have been in a risk area, so if you are visiting multiple countries, check your order of travel.
If you take prescription or over-the-counter medications, bring enough for your trip; it may be impossible to refill them while you are traveling. Keep all medications in their original labeled containers and wait until you arrive at your destination to put them in your daily medication dispenser. Keep all necessary medications in your carry-on luggage. You may want to bring a note from your physician explaining your required medications, especially if you use syringes or other unusual supplies. Some over-the-counter medications in the United States are listed as controlled substances in other countries, and possession of these medications may carry heavy penalties. Please refer to the US Department of State’s website for travelers and look up any known restrictions prior to packing your medications. Information on controlled drugs are usually listed under “Local Laws & Special Circumstances” on each country page.
Don’t let the fear of motion sickness deter you from ship-based trips! Some of the most breathtaking sights and regions of the world are only accessible by ship. You can find natural and medical solutions to seasickness; refer to our guide to managing seasickness.
A few of our trips visit high elevations, where the low oxygen levels can cause altitude sickness for some travelers. The CDC provides information on altitude sickness. The symptoms of altitude sickness are similar to those of a hangover: tiredness, headache, and vomiting. You can usually control it symptomatically – for example with rest, water, and aspirin. Very rarely, people experience severe altitude sickness, which may be deadly if not immediately treated. If you find yourself experiencing any symptoms at altitude, please let your trip leader know so they can take appropriate measures.
If you have pre-existing medical conditions, especially heart or lung disease, are pregnant, are diabetic, or are thinking of a travel itinerary that involves more than a 9,000ft increase in altitude on any given day, please talk to your doctor about your itinerary.
Security regulations vary from country to country, but these tips should help you breeze through US airports. For an overview of what you need to know for going through US airports, please see the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA’s) website.
Know what you can pack and carry on
When packing, know what you can pack in your check-in bag, and what can go in your carry-on. If you are not sure, please refer to the TSA’s website before packing it for your trip. Spare lithium batteries, commonly used in cell phones, cameras, laptops, and other rechargeable electronics, must be carried in carry-on baggage only. For more information about packing spare lithium batteries, please refer to the FAA battery information website.
Before finalizing your packing list, make sure you know your luggage weight limits for all of the flights on your itinerary. Check with all of your airlines for the weight, size, and quantity limits, plus the costs for your luggage – both carry-on and checked. The best place for up-to-date and correct information is your airline’s website. Recheck the requirements closer to your departure date because policies often change.
Know what you can bring home
Certain countries, such as Madagascar, limit what tourists can bring out of the country. Please familiarize yourself with the export laws of the countries you are visiting if you wish to bring souvenirs home.
In addition, US Customs and Border Protection has strict rules governing prohibited and restricted items that may not be brought back to the US. That African drum might look great in your living room, but the skin could carry active viruses, and the customs agents at airports across the US look to keep dangerous and contraband items out of the United States. Find a list of prohibited and restricted items here.
Safety and Security
Travel to foreign countries is an enriching and satisfying experience, and the majority of travelers do not encounter any problems. However, being prepared for and aware of potential issues are important factors in staying safe.
The US Department of State provides helpful country overviews with general information such as the location of the US embassy or consulate, health conditions, minor political disturbances, unusual currency and local regulations, and security concerns. It also provides up-to-date travel advisories; check these on a regular basis and prior to your departure. To receive updated Travel Advisories and Alerts from the US government, you can choose from a variety of options to stay connected while traveling.
Dress conservatively and try to blend in. Keep cell phones and expensive camera gear hidden while in cities and crowded tourist areas. Don’t walk alone or after dark without consulting your trip leader about the area’s safety. Use transportation only from scheduled transfers, official pickup points, and taxi stands at transportation hubs and airports.
If possible, always leave excess cash and valuables in your hotel room safe if one is available. If you must carry all your cash, divide it in two or more packets to conceal in different locations, preferably in inner pockets or a hidden pouch. Keep only a few dollars in your pocket to pull out when purchasing anything rather than rummaging through your wallet full of cash or revealing the hidden pouch with your stash.
We provide hotels with in-room safes whenever possible, and work with local guides who are familiar with local safety; however, you are ultimately responsible for making sure you and your valuables are safe. Check with your insurance agent to see what items may be covered by your travel insurance and ask specifically about high-value items such as jewelry and camera equipment. Generally, while on a guided trip, it is safe to leave equipment in the vehicle under the care of the driver.
Before you travel, remove all unnecessary items from your wallet to leave at home, including your Social Security card, bills with addresses, credit cards you won’t use, checkbook, and driver license. Since you’ll have your passport, you will only need your drivers license if you rent a car while traveling or plan on driving yourself to or from your home airport.
Before leaving home, back up and enable password protection on your electronic devices in case they are lost or stolen.
Hotel and cabin safes
If your hotel room or cabin has a safe, use it for your cash, credit cards, travel documents and even camera equipment. Don’t hesitate to ask for help if you are unsure how it works. To prevent leaving anything behind, tuck an indispensable item like your shoe or eyeglasses in the safe so you can’t forget. Locked suitcases are easy to break into or carry out of your room, so they do not provide a secure place for your valuables.
Keep vital information on hand
Make a list of important contact information that includes our credit card phone and account number, Cheesemans’ itinerary and emergency contacts, and phone numbers for neighbors, relatives, pet-sitters, airlines, etc. Make copies of this list along with copies of your passport, visa, driver license, flight itinerary, and other travel documents. You can keep paper copies for your wallet and/or store these on your password-protected smart phone, tablet, or laptop. In case you lose the originals, keep copies separate from them.
Many countries will accept US dollars, in stores or for exchange at a bank, airport, or your hotel. It is best to bring newer, untorn bills in a variety of high and low denominations. Traveler’s checks are no longer widely accepted. If you prefer traveler’s checks, you may like the convenience and safety of prepaid travel cards, offered by Visa and MasterCard and available through your bank and other financial institutions. These cards often come with hefty fees and would only be useful in countries that readily accept credit cards.
Notify your credit card
To prevent fraudulent credit purchases, credit cards may put holds when they see unusual activity on your card, such as those from foreign countries. Check with your credit card issuer to see if they need prior notification of your itinerary to ensure the card is usable while traveling.
Credit card foreign transaction fees
Many credit cards charge a 3% foreign transaction fee. Check with your credit card issuer prior to travel to avoid surprises. Some merchants will offer the option to charge your purchase in US dollars; please keep in mind that the merchant will often charge a percentage to the conversion so this may not save you money. To find credit card issuers that do not charge this fee, check out CreditCards.com.
We recommend a medium or large soft-sided duffel with or without wheels. Even though large, hard-cased luggage is popular, it is unwieldy and does not fit well in taxis, transport vans, and safari vehicles. Some of our tours have very specific luggage requirements; please check your Trip Essentials document once it’s available.
Some of our travelers swear by walking/trekking poles. If you regularly rely on them when at home, you might consider bringing them, especially if your trip involves walking over rocky or hilly areas and/or if you are carrying heavy camera gear. Check your trip itinerary’s Fitness Level section for information on planned hikes. Collapsible poles pack easiest.
Having the right pair of binoculars can bring you up close to wildlife but choosing the right pair can be a daunting task. We’ve provided a guide to binoculars to help you understand the various features and select the right pair for you.
Your Trip Essentials document will provide details about recommended photography gear for your trip. These additional tools are popular on our trips.
Knee pads: The difference between a mediocre shot and that epic framed keeper on your wall often comes down to angle. Our wildlife photographers love their knee pads – allowing them to kneel on hard, rocky, or wet surfaces for extended periods of time.
Gear protection: Plastic bags come in handy to protect your gear from dust and rain. Large plastic bags (sturdy ones such as kitchen compactor bags) are convenient to throw over your camera while it is on the tripod. Cheap plastic rain sleeves or cheap shower caps slip over your camera and allow you to take photos in the rain. Bring a way to secure these plastics from blowing away in the wind! For trips that involve any kind of small boating, protect your gear with a dry bag.
Reusable water bottle
Bring your own reusable water bottle to avoid consuming disposable plastic water bottles. When possible, we provide drinking water in large bulk containers that you can use to fill your bottles.
In some locations, bottled water may be the only option for a safe drinking water option. If you are interested in minimizing the use of plastic, the Steripen harnesses the brilliant power of ultraviolet light to make water safe to drink, saving plastic water bottle waste, and compact enough to fit into your carry-on. It uses the same technology that leading bottled water manufacturers use to purify water.
You may want to label your gear with your name prior to your departure. This includes anything that is likely to be confused with someone else’s gear – jackets, chargers, backpacks, etc. Some remote lodges and small ships only have electricity generated in common areas or access to many plugs where you can charge your batteries and gear, so labeling helps with easy identification.
To find these and other accessories for your trip, please visit our gear store, which features a range of high-performance, lightweight, and versatile items to enhance your adventure.
We hope that the information above helps you prepare for a safe and enjoyable experience. The best laid plans, however, can still go awry. Travel insurance covers many eventualities that may impact your trip, from medical evacuations to travel disruptions. We recommend travel insurance for all of our travelers, and it is required for some of our trips. Find more information about travel insurance and where to get it on our webpage.