Florida for Idiots: Summer 2010
Before you leave the UK
You've booked your holiday to Florida. Great! Before you leave the UK there are some essential checks and actions to take.
Is you passport up-to-date? It must be valid for 6 months after you return (no, I have no idea why). Dig out your passport right now and check it.
You must register your passport with the US Visa Waiver authority, known as ESTA - Electronic System for Travel Authorization. Basically this involves getting on-line (with your computer, to the Internet) to https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov (this will redirect you to the correct page). There you fill out an electronic form, giving your details and passport number and so forth. If you are accepted then the authority to travel lasts for 12 months from the time of application. Print out the authorisation and take it with you on holiday.
If you are denied the ESTA authorisation you must personally visit an American Embassy to get a travel visa and can take many weeks as well as the hassle and expense of actually getting to an Embassy (probably in London). If you have a criminal record you may have problems.
Have you travel insurance? This is a requirement of your booking and you might be denied boarding if you haven't provided evidence of adequate health insurance. If you travel more than once a year it's worth taking out a annual insurance policy (either for Europe or WorldWide incl. USA). You can always take out insurance with your tour operator but it won't necessarily be the best value (or offer the best cover). It is, however, the most convenient. Take your holiday insurance (including on how to claim) with you on holiday but don't put it in your suitcase.
Foreign currency and travellers' cheques. The former are easier to work with (some places refuse travellers cheques, such as the Golden Corral restaurant) and if you have a safe in your hotel room then they are safe too. Travellers cheques are safer inasmuch that if they are lost or stolen they will be replaced by the issuer (American Express, for example, or Thomas Cook).
Either way, you can convert unused notes or cheques back to UK Sterling on your return, at the rate you bought them if you paid the buy-back guarantee when you purchased them. No-one I know takes coins though.
Take a copy of the brochure from which you booked your holiday with you. If it shows a room with 4 beds and a jacuzzi then that's what you're expecting and it can be useful to show both hotel staff and tour operator rep if you get a one-bed shoe cupboard instead. Leave the brochure in the hotel as it will eat up valuable luggage allowance on the return journey.
Weather Forecast for Florida:
Mostly Sunny today with highs in the high 80s and low 90s.
Chance of rain later is 50% with some thunderstorms later this afternoon.
Enjoyment factor: 100% at all times.