By Dan Kidder
Americans are spoiled with wild places. We don’t always recognize how abundant wilderness is for us in the U.S.A. Those who live near big cities may not always appreciate how abundant our woods, forests, deserts, swamps, mountains, and streams really are. But no matter where you live in this country, it is a relatively short drive to the great outdoors.
I used to live in New York and even for those in Downtown Manhattan, they are just an hour or two away from beautiful and lush arboreal forests and rolling mountains. The Catskills, Adirondacks and many more beautiful ranges of mountains crisscross this densely populated state. Thousands of lakes and streams, rolling countryside and excellent trout fishing are never very far away.
But as blessed as we are in this country, we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to recreating in the great outdoors. A year ago, I had the opportunity to hunt moose, whitetail, and roe deer in Finland as a guest of SAKO Rifle. Visiting this beautiful country with her warm people and cold evenings left me even more determined to travel further afield looking for outdoor adventures in other lands. It also opened my eyes to the many different and diverse legal challenges with hunting and fishing in other nations.
I thought I had done my research pretty well and having served in the military, I was aware of how important proper vaccination records could be when heading overseas. Since my immunization records were destroyed in a flood, I opted to have all of the major vaccines re-administered so I had proper documentation. Once I arrived at the airport in Reykjavik, Iceland, my entry point into the European Union, I presented my passport, visa application, customs declaration, and immunization paperwork, only to have my passport quickly stamped and a hearty "welcome to the EU".
Nobody even cared about my vaccines. This was a surprise, because of how much of a deal immigration officials had made of them years previous when I entered Africa or the Middle East.
And this is a big thing to consider if you opt to travel abroad. Some countries care a great deal, some don’t care at all, and some only care depending upon where you are coming from. If in doubt, contact the U.S. embassy in the nation you are visiting. They will be able to advise you on necessary visa requirements, immunization regulations, and any other information you will need to know to make your entry into that country as easy as possible.
Since I was visiting a rifle company and would be shooting their gun, I didn’t have to travel with a firearm on this trip. We take for granted how easy it is to travel across state lines in the U.S. with a hunting rifle, with very little restriction in most states. Traveling with firearms into other nations can be a very big deal. The first step is to gather the serial number of your rifle and fill out a U.S. Customs Form 4457 (Certificate of Personal Effects Taken Abroad). This form needs to be filled out in advance and in the presence of the U.S. Customs officials. You will need to make an appointment and pay them a visit. This can be done at most major airports prior to your flight but leave yourself a few hours to get it completed before your departure. This form will allow you to bring your rifle back with you when you return to the U.S. I would also include any optics that are on the gun, as some international treaties make the importation and exportation of some optics a regulated affair.
Once you have cleared the domestic hurdles to travel with a firearm, you will need to determine the regulations and rules of the country to which you are traveling. Many overseas outfitters will have this information, and in some countries, you are required to hire a professional hunter or guide to hunt there. Of course, to fly with a gun anywhere, it will need to be in a locked case and the ammunition must be in a secure container, not stored in the same case as the gun. Make sure you use TSA locks that can be opened by TSA to inspect your gun.
The bottom line is to properly do your research. Find out from your hosts what the nation you are visiting requires and comply fully. I have known friends who have bought a very expensive plane ticket, spent hours on a plane, and then were turned away upon arrival and sent home without getting to experience their adventure simply because they failed to follow all of the required rules. This can happen even if you are not traveling with a firearm if you fail to fill out the proper form, get the proper visa or make some minor mistake.
You also need to learn the regulations regarding shipping back trophy animals. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) sets strict regulations regarding the importation of certain trophy animals. I know one hunter who faced a felony charge from the US Fish and Wildlife service for telling the customs inspectors at the Canadian border that he was driving a friend’s brown bear to his taxidermist. Months later he was visited by federal agents because he failed to fill out the proper form and even the outfitter in Canada wasn’t aware of the regulation. He was able to work out a deal with them to avoid prosecution, but the outcome could have been very serious.
Even if you aren’t hunting or fishing and just looking to hike or camp in one of the exotic locations across the globe, you need to do your research and be aware of potential issues that may arise. I am thinking of those American hikers who inadvertently crossed over into Iran and spent years in prison trying to get things sorted out.
Check with the State Department about any places you may be traveling and also look for travel advisories. These bulletins will show up-to-date information about potential health issues, civil unrest and possibilities of war, kidnapping, murder, or other dangers.
One thing I always do when traveling to underdeveloped countries and really anyplace outside the US, is carry an Adventure Medical Kits Suture & Syringe Medic kit. This provides sterile surgical tubing, IV needles and other items for places that may not have sterile supplies available. I also take out travel insurance. This insurance can cover issues from lost luggage, canceled flights, lodging and even medical emergencies and evacuations. All of this for a couple of hundred dollars. To me, it is well worth the peace of mind it provides in case of an emergency. Depending upon how far I will be from civilization, I also carry a trauma kit as well as a Garmin inReach Mini so I can contact rescue services.
It is also prudent to check with your mobile phone provider to see if they offer international calling as part of your plan or if they have the option to add it on to your plan for the period of time you will be traveling. Many phone providers have arrangements with overseas companies to let you purchase service on a day-by-day basis while you are in that country. If you will be traveling across multiple national borders, you may need to purchase a variety of calling plans or even disposable mobile phones for your trip.
Another area that can often be overlooked is for those who have had brushes with the law in the U.S. Every year, we run into a case with the Pro Membership Sweepstakes of a winner unable to enjoy their prize because they have a criminal record or have received a DUI (Driving Under the Influence) conviction. Many nations will not permit you to enter if you have a previous criminal conviction, even for a minor offense. If you have been convicted of a crime, you will need to make sure you are eligible for a visa before you purchase your plane tickets.
Another thing to make sure is in order is your passport. Make sure that it is current and has at least six months before it will expire. Many nations will not permit you to enter if your passport is nearly ready to expire.
To find some inexpensive flights to international destinations, enroll for free in Scott’s Cheap Flights. This service scours the multiple airline websites and sends you emails of upcoming sales. Sometimes you can find flights to exotic locations for thousands less than you would normally have to pay. (ScottsCheapFlights.com)
All of this seems daunting, but it shouldn’t dissuade you from considering a trip abroad to experience all that the many nations on the globe have to offer. I am already saving and planning a fishing excursion in Iceland for next year. Also on my list is canyoneering in Nepal, fly fishing in Patagonia, SCUBA diving in Belize, hiking in the Australian Outback, caving in Mexico, and of course no list would be complete without an African hunting safari. You can hunt several animals from multiple species for less than the cost of a Colorado trophy elk hunt.
The world is vast and the adventures are waiting, but it will take proper research, planning and a few precautions. If you do it right, the memories you create will make every step of preparation well worth it. So, tap into your inner Hemingway, get a great camera to capture the spectacular views, and start preparing for an adventure of a lifetime. Heck, throw a dart at a map if you need to. No matter where it lands, there are amazing outdoor adventures waiting to be experienced.