Under the Sea – Planning a dive vacation

Scuba diving offers travelers seeking an active vacation the opportunity to view parts of our world seen by very few. Divers are part of an exclusive club, sharing experiences normally reserved for marine life. Like few other activities, diving provides an unparalleled reason to travel and one that will leave you searching for your next marine adventure. If the idea of sharing your holiday with angel fish, eels and sharks, watching turtles gliding along the sea bed and exploring shipwrecks appeals to you, read on and learn the basics of dive travel planning.

If you already are an experienced diver, you know the joy of seeing a rare underwater species or one that you have never seen before. Add to that experience the thrill of traveling to a new, perhaps exotic, destination to explore, and you have a real adventure at hand. Setting off on a dive vacation in a distant land may seem daunting, but with the help of your travel agent – who can take care of the planning – diving will add an entirely new dimension to your adventures. If you are new to diving, traveling with a tour company that provides expert guidance is one of the best possible introductions.

A successful dive trip relies on choosing your destination and travel dates wisely, a good travel consultant to assist with the logistics, a little luck, and a lot of coordinated planning. If you currently dive, it’s likely that you have already traveled at some point to pursue your hobby. If you are new to diving, or if this is your first diving holiday, then you may want to consider taking a “learn to dive” holiday offered at many resort locations worldwide. PADI is a certification association for divers and a worldwide source of diving knowledge, advice and instructors. Dive resorts most often require PADI certification to rent equipment to divers or to provide refills for air tanks. PADI offers training through YMCAs and dive supply shops. Basic training can be done in a swimming pool with final certification taking place in “open water”. A PADI open water certificate can be gained anywhere from 4 days to 6 weeks, depending on your training time and ability, and you can comfortably go on holiday to learn about and experience diving in the ocean by the end of a week. You’ll need to learn a lot of the theory that goes with this qualification, which means you should be prepared to do some homework during your holiday – but it’s time well spent.

As you begin planning, have a general idea of the amount of time you want to spend diving and the time you want to enjoy other activities. Also prepare your budget for the trip, weighing diving costs against transportation, lodging, food, and entertainment. When you evaluate the type of experience you’d like to have, ask yourself if there are species of marine life you particularly want to see, or if there’s a part of the world you’ve always wanted to visit? Do you want a “live aboard” experience, or are you looking for a resort – and diving is a secondary activity? The more consideration you give these issues, the more efficient the planning process will be, the more you’ll enjoy your vacation, and the quicker you will be on your way.

Your first stop should be a good travel agent experienced with tour operators offering dive trips and dive destinations. Because of the logistics of a diving trip and your investment in both time and money, it is important to have a practiced set of eyes watching out for you. A good travel consultant will know which destinations and tour operators are appropriate (and which to avoid) and can assist in pulling together less obvious components of the trip, often at substantial discounts. Many dive shops also work with the PADI Travel Network and can arrange travel.

If you are an experienced diver, then the world literally is your playground. Most divers have a long list of where they want to go and wrecks and marine life they want to see. Naturally, your budget will be a key factor when you finally decide where to go. Be sure to let your travel agent know any special preferences or requests at the first opportunity, so every possible detail is taken into account early in the planning process. In South America and the Caribbean, top destinations are Belize, the Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos and Mexico. In Europe, Italy, Malta and its famous Blue Lagoon, Spain, and Croatia are all popular. The Red Sea is a world famous diving destination that’s accessible from Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, Sudan, Jordan, Egypt and Israel. South Africa offers cage diving to see Great White Sharks, and opportunities are endless in Asia and Australasia. Not to be missed are Truk Lagoon in Micronesia, and of course – the Great Barrier Reef. Very few localities require special dive permits; in most cases, a local PADI dive center can obtain a permit in short order. However, in some countries, notably in the Middle East, permit acquisition can take more than a week, so plan well in advance.

The weather at your destination will greatly affect your dive experience. And unfortunately, when traveling great distances, it is not easy to cancel at the last minute without losing some or all of your deposits. Keep your eye on the weather and be careful about booking travel during times of the year, for example hurricane season in the Caribbean, when you’ll have an above-average chance of trip disruption. Ask your travel consultant to check on the cancellation policies available from the tour operator or resort and if travel insurance is available for severe weather events.

As mentioned, a key consideration for any dive vacation is how much time you want to devote to diving. Some resorts offer diving opportunities as one of many activities for visitors, and only one afternoon of an entire week might be devoted to diving. Other destinations, however, center all activities around a full diving schedule, and travelers find themselves below the surface for hours each day – then usually relaxing at night with a big meal and a cold drink.

If you are going with a group, early in your planning, determine how much diving each traveler wants to do so you can choose the best location that offers interesting and alternative activities. Remember, too, that diving is an active sport with a small, manageable risk element. If the skill levels in your group vary greatly, your destination and tour operator should take those differences into account; if this is the case, you might not be able to dive together, unless the more experienced divers chose to do easier dives. Many dive centers will offer a range of dives allowing you to meet up with others in your group between dives. If you plan to travel with children, make sure that your travel consultant checks with the destination or tour operator about the appropriateness of the trip and alternative care, if needed.

You will most likely have a range of likely accommodation options, from budget to deluxe hotels. There are also “live aboard” options where you sleep on a boat and dive from the boat during the trip; if you go this route, you are likely to sleep in a twin bed cabin with limited space. However, if you want to maximize your diving opportunities, a live-a-board might be your best option. Imagine diving in the morning, enjoying lunch in the sun, diving after lunch and then reflecting on the day and making plans for tomorrow as you cruise to your next spot, watching the sun go down. These arrangements typically include high-quality meals and air for two dives per day in the package price. A couple of days on dry land at each end of your trip will give you a chance to enjoy life above the water as well.

While almost anyone can dive, make sure you are prepared for the physical demands of the trip and that the dive area is within your skill level. Some dives involve strong currents or extreme depths, so knowing what’s in store and getting a few hours of preliminary dive time at comparable depth and terrain will make your time on vacation more productive and enjoyable.

In addition to considering physical demands of a dive vacation, be aware of any indigenous diseases in your chosen destination, such as malaria or yellow fever, and protect yourself against them. As early as possible in the planning stage, consult a physician to determine what shots and other precautions you need prior to travel. Importantly, also consult your physician and dive masters about your flight schedule and appropriate wait periods before your first airline flight and after your last dive prior to flying to prevent problems with nitrogen build-up in your blood from the compressed air in your dive tanks.

Your tour operator no doubt will provide a complete list of recommended clothing and gear. In general, however, it is a good idea to pack as lightly as possible to ensure you can carry all of the equipment you need with you. Most airlines charge for excess baggage, and diving equipment tends to be heavy. Most airlines will carry empty cylinders, but consider renting your cylinders and weights at your destination to save baggage costs. Remember that diving knives must be packed, not carried on. Some localities do not permit spear fishing equipment, so check prior to your trip. If you do travel with your cylinder, you will have to remove the pressure valve during travel. Many destinations will have rentals of all equipment available, so just confirm the availability during your planning stages. You will almost certainly want to pack your own mask and flippers as these will need to fit perfectly. And remember to bring along your certification card, which is required by most dive locations, in addition to a logbook, sunscreen, and any necessary international travel documentation, such as your passport and visas. Prescription drugs should be carried with you, not checked. Work with your travel consultant to check in advance that your airline will be able to take everything you want to carry with you.

You may be asking, is dive travel safe? It is important to remember that diving in new surroundings will always entail a greater degree of risk. So play by the rules, listen to your tour operator and dive master, and stay within the limits of your skill level. The basics of safe diving apply in every instance, no matter where you are. Use the buddy system, be smart about your dives and take the same reasonable precautions you would in any unfamiliar dive territory. Drinking and diving? Allow adequate detox time and be responsible. Finally, remember standard precautions about airline travel post-dive.
The costs associated with your dive trip will be your transportation to the destination, your transportation at the destination and to the dive sites, your accommodations, your food, any dive master services and any additional activities. Tipping should also be considered as an additional expense. Many tour operators cover all, or some large portion, of these items in the cost of their tour. Work with your travel consultant to determine exactly what is included and what’s extra to avoid last-minute surprises.

Dive travel is almost more than a hobby, it can be a way of life. Come on in, the water’s fine.

About the author: Richard B. Earls

Richard Earls has spent the last 28 years in the travel industry as an agency owner, a technologist, a publisher and a writer. The publishing credits to Richard’s resume are many, including Weissmann Travel Reports, STAR Service, Intelliguide, BTP24, Voyager Travel Guides and Travel Research Online. He is currently self-unemployed.

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