Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

ASK JOURNEYS: Be prepared for your time of fun in the sun

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Most of the questions I am receiving these days relate to popular sun destinations and other hot spots, but for those who like to explore on their own in a rental vehicle here and abroad, forewarned is forearmed.

QUESTION: We are travelling to Mexico in February. Is it true your passport has to be valid six months after your return date from Mexico? I am not sure of this rule but my passport expires in August 2013, which would be past the six-month date.

I know we are supposed to get new passports next year in Canada, so I don't want to renew now unless I have to do so.

ANSWER: The only requirement for your passport is that it must be valid during the time of your stay including the date of departure. Your tour operator may have other requirements beyond that, but Mexico's requirement is simply that it be valid.

I always suggest passports be valid for some period beyond the official requirement in case you are forced to remain longer because of health issues.

Other popular sun-spot countries we can fly to non-stop from Winnipeg that have similar requirements are Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.

When you go to Jamaica, you receive an Immigration Entry Card from your tour operator in flight to your Jamaican destination. It's important to note you need it to present it to authorities upon exit, so be sure to keep it in a safe place with your passport.

Cuba demands that passports be dated one month longer than your expected departure.

QUESTION: We are looking at the possibility of going to Rio de Janeiro this February for Mardi Gras. I know it has a worldwide reputation and I wonder if it is a worthwhile event and destination to take in.

ANSWER: While New Orleans may strongly disagree, I think it is acknowledged that the Rio Carnival is the place to go for the grand excitement of this annual celebration.

There is something about the Latin American spirit that comes through in a genuine and enthusiastic manner.

Rio and other parts of Brazil offer many dozens of alternatives for an extended-stay vacation.

Known for its beaches and bikinis again today, there was a time when its reputation for thievery on its beaches was almost taken for granted.

Authorities have stepped in to alleviate that problem, but like all large cities, Rio itself is still a place where pickpockets thrive. And during major events like Carnival, they will be out in full force.

If you decide to go, you should book soon, as a visa is required to enter Brazil. To obtain one, you have to forward your passport to them and processing can take two or three weeks.

Their processing system is not as efficient as it should be and offers no alternatives for those who cannot release their passports for that long.

I am aware of at least one situation in which an individual had to forgo a trip to Brazil because, as a weekly business traveller to the United States, the person needed the passport and Brazil has no facility for speedier processing at any price.

As a result, the tourism revenues of an entire family were lost to the country.

QUESTION: I have been watching with an equal degree of anger and horror stories about how a car-rental company in B.C. has been seemingly ripping people off by charging and overcharging customers for minor dents and scratches.

How widespread is this practice and how can it be stopped?

ANSWER: While the CBC television exposé you refer to uncovered these practices in the only rental company they were led to, it is a suitable warning to all of us.

How often do we casually sign the waiver saying we have checked for damage on the car we are renting, without actually doing so carefully?

I recently returned an automobile in another Canadian city where the checkout agent pointed out a scratch on a bumper. I would have ignored it even if I had done a check before driving away.

The agent seemed to accept my protestations that it was regular wear and tear and would not require repair. But that, in combination with the CBC documentary, has really made me think differently about the acceptance process I have not taken as seriously as I should have in the past.

We all need to take whatever extra time it takes to point out even the most minor scratches and dents that may not have been circled on the rental document.

With cameras now integrated into most cellphones, it is also wise to take any number of close-up photos of those areas to later prove the so-called damage was there when you drove off with the vehicle.

It is also prudent to have the attendant walk around the car with you and sign their approval of a good condition return.

In the B.C. case, charges were made to the credit cart after the fact, even though the customer was not informed of that possibility at the time of return.

Forward your travel questions to askjourneys@journeystravel.com . Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found on www.journeystravelgear.com or read Ron's travel blog at www.thattravelguy.ca .

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 15, 2012 D5

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