Preparing Yourself for Dive Travel

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” — Benjamin Franklin

We all dream of some day going to that special place somewhere around the globe for that ‘dive of a lifetime’. In our imagination, we see the beautiful hotel, the splendid rooms, exotic foods and underwater scenery that truly takes your breath away. Whether your travel takes you to your dream destination or to your favorite local dive site, the key element to truly enjoying the trip is preparation.

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Going to Europe or just passing through?

The Schengen Area is the area comprising 26 European countries that have abolished passport and any other types of border control at their common borders, also referred to as internal borders. It mostly functions as a single country for international travel purposes, with a common visa policy. That means that travelers arriving i.e. from the United States only have to go through immigration once when traveling to Europe.  

The area is named after the Schengen Agreement. Not all EU member states have ratifed the agreement. Most notably the United Kingdom has opted not to become a member. Meanwhile Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland who are not members of the European Union participate in the Schengen Area.

"Pill passport"

Schengen rules require travellers to apply to their doctor for a certificate, valid for 30 days, proving their right to carry certain drugs to other Schengen countries. In particular this applies to medications with narcotic effects. This certificate must be approved by the National Board of health.

Unclarity reigns

There has always been a rule that the traveller should be able to prove that medicine in his/her luggage is for his/her own use. The problem is that the lists used by different countries do not comprise the same drugs.

However, research on practise in various Schengen countries, resulted in the information that i.e. France with her 60 million inhabitants issues fewer than 500 certificates per annum. This seems to indicate that the French authorities do not take the rules very seriously calling into question how much the rules are actually enforced among the European member states. ■

Preparation must begin long before you arrive at your chosen dive site and involves a number of components. These components include the trip as well as the diving. We will focus first on preparing for the trip to your dive location. Whether your travel takes you across town or across the globe, preparation will reduce frustration and inconvenience so that you can truly reap the benefits and rewards of the dive location.

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” — Bilbo Baggins

Before you begin your journey with that very first step out of your front door, there are several things that you should first consider.

The first step: Make your lists

Any successful plan begins with a comprehensive list or, more appropriately, lists. Since your travel involves many facets, it may require more than one list. Besides the essential pre-dive checklist, which will be addressed in a separate article, these lists can include your itinerary, which is, in reality, a list of what you are doing, where you are going and when you are doing it, a clothing list, camera equipment (surface and underwater) list and, of course, a diving equipment list.

These lists are to make sure that you have not forgotten anything essential that would impact the full enjoyment of your travels and to make sure that you are bringing everything back with you at the end of your trip.

Know the laws

When making these lists, it is important that you know about and comply with any laws or regulations regarding what you can and cannot bring into a region or country.


Make sure that any medications are in their original bottles/containers and that all prescription medications have the prescription information intact on the bottles. Any medications, prescription or not, that are suspect may be confiscated by the authorities upon entry into the country.

Camera equipment

There are countries that restrict the amount of camera equipment you may bring in with you. There are popular dive locations in countries that limit the traveler to no more than two cameras.

Clean your gear.

Many countries around the world are concerned about travelers bringing in invasive species and may require any hiking, camping, fishing and diving equipment to be fully cleaned and debris free upon entry. Carrying dirty or suspect equipment may result in confiscation, a fine or both.

 It is the traveler’s responsibility to comply with any and all laws and regulations.

Don't overpack

When preparing your lists, you may want to sit down with a pad of paper and go through your itinerary, thinking about what you would need each day and for each activity. Be very careful, as you may have a tendency to overpack.

As Caroline Morse wrote in her 10 Cures for the Chronic Overpacker:

Lay out the clothing and cash you plan to bring on your trip. Now pack just half of the clothes and double the money.

Bring extra cash

And, speaking of money, it is always wise to bring extra money for contingencies including emergencies. Credit cards are a good thing as long as you notify your credit card company that you will be traveling and buying outside the country so that they don’t misinterpret foreign spending and issue a fraud alert freezing your credit card. It may also be wise to carry some local currency to use until you can determine whether you can use your own cash or have your currency converted at the local bank or hotel.

Travel insurance

Before leaving the issue of finances, you may want to protect your personal finances by considering insurance. To protect your investment in your ‘trip of a lifetime’, you may want to consider trip insurance to cover trip cancellation or interruption.  

Many credit cards have some level of insurance coverage if the trip is purchased using their card. However, this coverage may be limited, so it is incumbent upon the traveler to understand what coverage they have and how to access it.

Remember, when it comes to trip insurance, purchase it early (probably when you book your trip). To have coverage for trip cancellation due to storms such as hurricanes or typhoons, coverage must be purchased before a storm is named by the weather service. Once a storm is officially named, it is an event in progress and you can no longer purchase coverage for it.  

Health insurance. Having insurance coverage for health-related issues when you travel is also essential. You just never know when you are going to experience a medical issue when you travel.

The Center for Disease Control states that between 20 to 50 percent of all international travelers, an estimated ten million persons, develop traveler’s diarrhea each year.

Although you may have complete coverage in your home country, your healthcare coverage may not extend to a foreign destination.  Some trip insurance plans do provide some medical coverage it may be limited.  

Be sure to check with your healthcare provider to understand the limits of your coverage and be prepared to purchase insurance to make sure you are covered for medical issues while traveling.  

Dive accident insurance. One other area of insurance to consider is diving accident insurance.  Although recreational scuba diving is an inherently safe sport, accidents do occur and those that do may require specialized treatment in a hyperbaric chamber.  

Although treatment facilities are spread around the globe, treatment for pressure-related diving emergencies (arterial gas embolism and decompression sickness) may require specialized medical evacuation.

The cost of medical evacuation and treatment can be staggering and financially devastating to the uninsured. Make sure that whatever specialized insurance coverage you choose, it covers the costs associated with medical evacuation to the nearest appropriate treatment facility as well as coverage for all necessary treatments.  

Insurance is as necessary and essential for dive travel as your mask, fins and snorkel.    

Dynamic lists

And, by the way, these lists are dynamic. As you continue your preparation, you may think of things to add to your lists or things to modify if your itinerary changes.

Save lists. It is also wise not to discard your lists after a trip. Using past lists, as a starting point for subsequent trips will save you some time and effort so you don’t have to start from ‘ground zero’. There may be some benefit of having a permanent list of ‘basic essentials’ that must be part of each trip regardless of the destination or duration.  

With your lists in hand, you are now well on your way to having a successful and truly enjoyable trip.  

In the next article, read about Step Two: Fitness to Dive.

Dan and Betty Orr are consultants with over 80 years of combined diving industry experience. They provide diving safety and emergency management consultation, product review and evaluation, product and services marketing and educational expertise.

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