Ask the TAFEA Tourism Office

Ticket, Passport, Bags – ready to go!  Not quite.  There are a few other things to consider before embarking on your holiday in order to minimize avoidable travel hassles later.  Here is some advice on travelling; depending on how long you are travelling for and where.

1. Research your destination

Read good travel guides such as Lonely Planet.  Although sometimes out of date, (room rates have changed, restaurants have closed, etc., since the printing of the book) it is still considered to be a very reliable source of information for Vanuatu by industry and the travelling public. Websites such as this one; or "Google" your interests. Make sure you have at least 6 months validity on your passport or you may find yourself unable to travel.

2. Read all travel advices from your government

Early planning is essential: contact the embassy, consulate or diplomatic mission of the countries you are travelling to and through and acquire all the necessary information on issues such as visa requirements, health and medical issues, local laws, differences and cultural norms. If in doubt, do it before you leave

3. Accommodation

If you are arriving on weekends or late night (ie., when many hotels/guesthouses will not have reservation staff on) you are making it more difficult for yourself.  It is often better to book the first couple of nights as a hassle-free start to your holiday especially if the destination is out of the tourism mainstream such as an outer island.

4. Luggage

Vanuatu customs are becoming increasingly vigilant in their search for drugs and pornography (both big no no’s in Vanuatu. For example "Playboy" magazine is not sold in Vanuatu).  Ensure your luggage cannot be tampered with, that all parts of your luggage are lockable.

5. Transport

In Vanuatu, the most economical and reliable transport is by bus. Sadly, there are too many buses (last count around 520 buses for a 100 square kilometre) all burning up fuel unnecessarily, all competing for an ever decreasing portion of the business as the different government authorities issue licenses to all and sundry.  As a result, you, the traveler are over serviced.  Second best is by taxi, but a little on the expensive side.  Mopeds, and scooters are available, but the potholes can be dangerous – ensure that your travel insurance covers this. Also, don’t allow rental agencies to convince you that a helmet is not necessary, riding without one is fool hardy as some local truck and car drivers in Vanuatu are oblivious to sharing the road with others, especially the two wheel variety.

6. Plan ahead

Spare your family and friends’ needless worry, stress and waste of their time. If you can, scan or photocopy all your papers: passport, visas, bank accounts, prescription for medicine especially credit cards, medical records, identification, birth certificates (keep a copy with you and give one hard copy to someone you trust on their computer for immediate access in case you lose and need a new passport), Marriage certificates; in other words, everything you would need if you lost everything overseas (it happens; even worse, on a public holiday!).  Everything you need to identify yourself, or access your financial and medical records.

  • Set up a variety of ways of being able to access money overseas, such as credit cards, cash (belt) etc.
  • Check with your bank if your ATM card will work overseas and where they have branches where you are travelling.
  • Leave a copy of your itinerary with your family or friends.
  • Establish an email address that you can access whilst travelling.
  • Take a mobile phone and obtain global roaming but remember that it may not work everywhere.
  • Contact your family or friends immediately there is a natural disaster, major accident or terrorist attack in the region; you should inform them you are OK.
  • Work out with your family and friends how often you will contact them whilst you are travelling.

7. Whilst Travelling

Don’t carry more cash than you think you need and be aware that expensive watches, jewellery and cameras are targets for thieves. Whenever possible, leave valuable documents such as passports, etc., in a safety deposit box or safe at your hotel. If you must carry them, ensure you have them on your person not bags. (bag snatching on motor bikes are a specialty in Asian countries). Lock your baggage when unattended, especially at airports, train stations and on buses.

8. Personal Safety

  • Be aware of food and drink spiking; never leave food or drinks unattended.
  • Beware of local dress codes for men and women and local cultural sensitivities especially in public places. Respect the culture you are visiting.
  • Don’t hitch-hike
  • Stay away from unlit and back streets at night
  • Keep your hotel door locked and meet visitors in the hotel foyer
  • Do not give out your hotel name or room number to strangers – or say it where it can be overheard
  • Think carefully before accepting an invitation to go out alone with a stranger.

Don’t be a total idiot, don’t do drugs overseas.┬áThis is one thing you should be paranoid about, because it can bring you trouble you never imagined; even the death penalty.

In order to increase dramatically your chances of a worry and trouble free holiday:

  • Get smart, don’t buy, take or travel with drugs (remember: there is no part of your body customs will not hesitate to search).
  • Lock your bags – ensure there are no side pockets (zipper or other) left unlocked for someone to hide their stash whilst they accompany you on your trip.
  • It goes to say that you do not ask strangers to "keep an eye" on your luggage unless you trust them.
  • If you must, pick a family or elderly couple.
  • Never, never carry a parcel, bag or container for someone else at anytime.
  • Make sure your prescribed medicines are not considered illegal drugs overseas (contact the country’s embassy) or see their website for information.  Take your doctor’s prescription for proof of legality.

In the event that you are arrested on drug charges, be aware that:

  • As soon as you arrive in a country, you are subject to this country’s laws (no matter how draconian they are); claiming ignorance of the country’s laws is not accepted. Tough!
  • If arrested, you have the right to contact the representative of your government, but consular assistance cannot override the country’s laws.

In Vanuatu, the possession of small quantities of "soft or person recreational drugs" can attract jail sentences or serious fines. Regardless, kiss your holiday goodbye!

9. Health and Safety Issues

Take out comprehensive travel insurance that will cover all overseas medical costs. Make sure that your insurance policy covers your whole time travelling, and all the activities that you plan to do. i.e., ride motorcycles, scooters, bicycles or scuba diving. Repatriation back to your country etc.

10. Why you need travel Insurance?

Daily hospitalization costs is very expensive (for example in Noumea, New Caledonia, you are up for AUD$1,500 a day in a general ward, AUD$3,000 in intensive care. Vila Central Hospital starts at $50 a day up to $200 a day for a bed and basic support systems.

11. Vaccinations and your health

It is wise to have a dental and general health check-up before travelling. Further information on health travel, can be found on the following sites:

  • World Health Organisation
  • Health Services Australia
  • Travel Doctor
  • Medical Advisory Services for Travellers Abroad
  • Travel Clinics Australia
  • Traveller’s Medical and Vaccination Centres

12. Further (personal) precaution

If heading "off the beaten track" it pays to be cautious. Being prepared could save you falling ill and avoid your holidays being a costly health disaster.

Before you leave:

  • Enquire as to the condition of local tap water and food. If you have doubt, then bring/carry what you will need to sustain a healthy diet. The type of diseases you may be exposed to.  Throughout certain South Pacific Islands, the most common problems are: Malaria, Dengue, and TB.  Once you know, then assemble a small first aid medical kit for the situation you are most likely to be in (make sure to include Hydrogen Peroxide for coral cuts and Betadine antiseptic cream).

    Take precautions to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes (it is rare for mosquitoes to carry Malaria or Dengue) – don’t get paranoid, just be smart.  Mosquitoes are not born with Malaria; they have to find someone with Malaria to transfer contaminated blood. Wear light coloured, loose fitting clothing.  Added advantage is they are also cooler to wear. Cover your arms and legs, regularly apply insect repellent and sleep in mosquito-proof accommodation. Also burn mosquito coils at night.  If you have to go to a kava bar, and if people are coughing, you may be exposing yourself to TB as it is transferred through air by coughing. If you must stay, then move upwind!

    If you intend to do outdoor activities check if the weather is likely to change quickly otherwise you could find yourself stranded and/or injured without any means of communicating for help.  Ensure you have advised where you will be or going, and when to expect your return, so they can raise the alarm if you do not return on time.
    The most common health problem in the tropics is infection from coral cuts or insect bites as coral is everywhere, (roads are built of crushed limestone/coral), and hence you don’t have to be at the beach to have a cut infected.

13. Reciprocal health scheme agreements

Some countries have these in place but many do not. Ensure you know before travelling and note that these health care agreements are not a replacement for travel insurance; they will not cover you if you need to be repatriated home.

99% of people that visit our shores do not fall ill, so let’s not get carried away, but ensure an enjoyable holiday by being cautious.  A big part of that 99% was.

Travel Tips To The Outer Islands:

  • Bring combination bottle, can opener/wine corkscrew etc
  • Carry WC paper for those trekking excursions (wrapped in a plastic bag for wet weather)
  • Solar rechargeable flashlight
  • Bring Vatu cash in small denominations not AUD or US$
  • Small combination padlock (some island bungalows do not have locking doors, but have latches for locks)
  • Adaptor – French/Australian etc especially for recharging your digital gear
  • For thanking locals in islands: Buy 1Kg bags of rice, colouring pencils, phone cards, lighters, metal files (for axe and bush knife sharpening). These will be highly appreciated
  • Photography: Due to the high glare factor when shooting ocean and landscape photography; a polarizing filter is indispensable, as are extra camera batteries In many areas, there are no shops or no power to recharge batteries.
  • Plastic ponchos (raincoat) come in tiny travel packs, are of negligible weight and are useful when caught in a tropical down pour
  • Insect repellent: a few small roll-ons are more useful and take up less space than spray cans
  • Mosquito coils
  • Bring your own snorkel, mask, and fins
  • Basic First Aid Kit – See the excellent Lonely Planet advice on this (I always carry Hydrogen Peroxide and Betadine for all those cuts, blisters, etc)

Tips for Women Travelling in Melanesian Countries:

In order to avoid unwanted attention from local men in Melanesian countries, it’s probably best to say you’re married when asked.

Vanuatu is a developing country and some local men see marriage to a "Westerner" woman as their ticket to a better life.  Some local men are quite direct in their intentions and regrettably this produces tension between Vanuatu men and single western women.

We also suggest that sexy, skimpy or see through clothing is interpreted as intentional to attract attention from local men.  

Port Vila is not a beach town, hence walking through it in a bikini or very brief clothing is not only a beacon for attention, but foolish.  This warning is especially pertinent to tourists visiting the destination by Ship.


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