It’s finally done. I ventured outside of Europe all the way to the other side of the world, to Hawaii. On the same trip I also had time to do a quick visit to New York, so this was definitely a grand experience for me.
For someone like me, who has traveled half of her life, most of the time alone, flying and all the procedures of getting into another country seem quite straight forward. Especially in Europe, oh darling Europe. How easy they’ve made our lives traveling-wise here.
When preparing for the trip to the US, I quickly realized how much we take for granted here in Europe; we can cross borders without passport checks or customs declarations. Heck, I’ve traveled from Estonia to Finland, and the other way around, multiple times with my passport securely in a drawer in my bedroom. We don’t need to declare a purpose for going into whatever country we want to go. And we don’t need to sign endless documents assuring that we’re not terrorists or bringing plague and dracunculiatis into the country.
But, as they say, every day we learn new things and, thank goodness, I love learning. So this trip was quite a learning curve for me on what it actually takes for us Europeans to leave our safe haven. Here are some of the main things to remember when traveling to the US.
This is specifically for European and Australian travelers. People coming from outside Europe, Canada, Japan, Australia, and Chile (qué?) have to apply for a Visa. So, what is ESTA?
Electronic System for Travel Authorization is an application that you must fill at least 72 hours prior to your trip, and which will determine whether you will be allowed into the country or not. ESTA is part of the Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens of certain countries to enter the United States without needing to apply for an expensive and complicated Visa.
With ESTA you can stay in the country for max. 90 days and your travel reason must be either ‘holiday’ or ‘business’-related. The application is about 6 pages long and all you need to list are your basic information (name, passport number, address), contact details for a contact person in case of an accident, your latest work experience and tick off boxes stating that you’re not a terrorist, a criminal or intentionally bringing foreign diseases into the US.
Now, you can fill the ESTA application in multiple places but I would suggest that you NEVER use any other site than the U.S. Customs and Border Protection site. Reason for this is simple: to complete the application you need to pay a $14 fee. But I’ve heard people, who have used other sites, paying up to $120. They got the ESTA, but who knows what sort of trouble you might get into if your ESTA was acquired from a site that’s not supported by the US Customs. So, don’t risk it, peeps.
This was one of my biggest worries before the trip; Hawaii was exactly 12 hours behind Estonia, and knowing my body I thought it would go haywire due to being thrown “upside-down” time-wise. But in fact, we were not worst off: one couple had traveled to Hawaii from Hong Kong, which meant that their time difference was a messed up 18 hours.
Perhaps because I was a first-timer, or because traveling there took 30 extremely tiring hours, I wasn’t jet lagged at all at any point. I got the hang of the local time straight away. But most of the others were sleeping on the dinner table every evening. The only jet lag-related symptom that I did suffer from was that my stomach was a little upset on the first couple of days.
Even though I didn’t suffer from the most common symptoms, which are disruptions to sleep, tiredness, stomach problems, headache and feeling weak, I am very familiar with how disruptive jet lag can be at its worst. Being in a relationship with a person who has to travel for work sometimes multiple times a month, and to complete opposite sides of the planet, I know that jet lag is not something to be trifled with. The more you have to deal with it the more time and effort your body will need to recover from it.
There are ways to make the effects of jet lag a little less severe, though.
Sleeping times: You could start to adapt yourself to the destination’s sleeping hours couple weeks before going. Avoid napping when at the destination and try to go to sleep according to the local time, no matter what time it is at home.
On the way: Alcohol is always a bad idea on long flights. Instead drink plenty of water and juices on the way. Alcohol will mess up your already messed up body even further and getting over jet lag gets more challenging.
Do light sports activities: A short jogg or a relaxing walk in fresh air each morning will set your body up better than a bucket of coffee. Although, I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a bucket of coffee after the sporting activities.
Medicine: If getting over jet lag becomes an issue, you could try some sleeping pills or take melatonin. Melatonin should only be taken for the first two or three nights, though.
Possible Banned Items
The US differs from Europe in a way that each State has their own laws and regulations. In Europe countries attempt to agree on common practices so that, for example, illegal substances in one country are illegal in all European countries. This is another life-simplifying aspect that we Europeans tend to take for granted because it’s something that we don’t notice in our everyday lives. (I’m starting to sound like a proper advocate for Europe… but then again, I am! I love this continent of ours.)
In the US, on the other hand, one substance can be illegal in Texas but totally fine in Florida. One such substance was sunscreen: In Hawaii they are going to make it illegal to use any sunscreen that includes oxybenzone. Other states are not interested in banning such sunscreens at all, but in Hawaii oxybenzone is a big culprit on the destruction of the coral reefs. Coral reefs are a major part of maintaining Hawaii’s tourist industry rolling, so it makes complete sense that they would take severe actions with such seemingly insignificant product.
This might be something to remember when traveling to the US. Check if there are items that aren’t allowed in your destination so that you can avoid unwelcome surprises at customs.
Pack Essentials In Hand Luggage
Take it from a seasoned traveler: it’s very likely that you will lose something on the way. Suitcases get lost on the way or you forget your beach hat at the airport café when rushing to the gate when boarding starts.
To make sure that you’ll be covered for at least one or two days onwards, pack all basic essentials in your hand luggage: couple panties, a top and a skirt or a pair of shorts/trousers. It’s the perfect precaution in case anything goes wrong on the way.
This strategy has been extremely helpful when I’ve been stuck at airports due to snow storms or volcanoes erupting. I didn’t need to spend those 3 days in the same clothes because thankfully I had spares in my hand luggage.
By remembering these few simple facts and covering all the angles you ensure that you next holiday overseas is as straight forward as possible, and you’re left with nothing but time to enjoy every single minute.
I’d love to hear if you lovelies have some essentials you’d always pack for a long flight or make sure of before embarking on an adventure, so hit me with a comment. xx