How to plan + enjoy a scuba diving getaway that's safe, simple and stimulating.
We believe scuba diving is one of the most blissful, otherworldly and adventurous activities. It allows you to enter another realm, and adopt a calm, slow, gentle demeanor, all while observing the fascinating dynamics of the community under the sea.
I adore this aquatic endeavor so much that in my early 20s I became a rescue diver and lived on the Caribbean island of Roatan, Honduras for three years. While this experience gave me an in-depth knowledge of how miraculous scuba diving really is, it also gave me insight into what could go wrong, and what can make a dive trip more enjoyable. Following are tips and tricks I acquired during that time.
1. Choose a location that offers more than scuba diving.
As amazing as scuba diving is, you’ll likely want to do more than just that on your vacation. Selecting a destination that also has amazing snorkeling, beaches, zip lining, or other activities that intrigue you, will allow you and your family to have a well rounded adventure.
2. Become dive certified before you go.
Because you never know how you’ll react during the strange experience of breathing underwater, it’s ideal to test these skills before you reach your vacation destination. In addition, getting the busy-work of studying, and all the requirements that go into becoming dive certified, done before you leave will help ensure your trip is filled with enjoyment and exploration, versus stress about your certification test.
Even if you don’t live near the ocean there are dive shops in almost every major city, and even some smaller towns, that utilize pools and lakes for certification.
3. Research the dive shops in your vacation destination.
The dive shop you select can make or break your trip, as you're putting your life in their hands. Because we live in the age of ample online reviews, making it easy to read about the experiences of past clients of almost all dive shops, we recommend investing ample time reading these reviews, and even contacting reviewers you would like to ask questions. If you are a newer diver, look for a dive shop that has a reputation of being hands-on and extra cautious.
4. Contact your top three dive shops.
After you’ve narrowed your search to two or three dive shops, contact them to ask about specifics regarding equipment, dive times, preferred dive sites and so on. This communication will give you insight into the competency of the employees at the dive shop, in addition to whether their services will accommodate the unique needs of your group.
For example, if you’re traveling with a group of experienced divers who would like to do more advanced dives, it’s important to confirm the shop can accommodate this preference, and won’t charge an exorbitant fee for the service.
5. Book your dives ahead of time.
After you’ve selected the shop you want to dive with, ask them how quickly their dives fill up. If you have a large group, see if they can set up private group dives. If the shop reports that it’s easy to hop on dives last minute, and you want flexibility with your schedule, hold off on booking until you’re at the destination.
However, if they don’t have much flexibility, talk with your group and decide whether you want to do one or two dives each day, and whether you all prefer morning or afternoon dives – then, book the applicable dives.
6. Say yes to morning dives.
If you think it’s possible to get your group up and out first thing, book morning dives, as this is when the wind is often calmer and the water visibility better. However, don’t stress if you don’t think this is possible, as your dive shop will know where to go for fun afternoon dives.
7. Research dive sites.
Nowadays, almost everything is chronicled online, which means you can get information, and likely photos, of the most popular dive sites in various destinations. While there is no guarantee a dive shop can accommodate all your preferences, especially if you’ll be diving with strangers of various skill levels, dive shops often do their best to get you to the spots you’re most interested in.
8. Bring a good underwater camera.
While you don’t want to spend the totality of your dives with your eyes behind a viewfinder, having a decent underwater camera allows you to capture the most memorable moments of your dive. If you score a sighting of a shark, whale, massive eel, or other epic creature, you want to be able to snap some proof. One of our favorite affordable underwater cameras is the FujiFilm FinePix XP120 Compact Rugged Waterproof Digital Camera (no affiliation.)
9. Nurture your fitness and immune system before you go.
While floating around underwater doesn’t seem particularly strenuous, building up your physical stamina with regular light exercise will set you up for ample enjoyment on your trip. In addition, because issues like sinus infections, colds, or ear-related concerns could completely derail a scuba diving trip, be sure to support your immune system by loading up on immunity boosters like garlic, ginger and citrus fruit.
10. Adopt a diving-friendly diet, and limit alcohol.
A belly stuffed with heavy foods, a headache caused by too much sugar or alcohol, or an empty stomach grumbling for nourishment are all physical circumstances you want to avoid before diving.
Set yourself up for optimal physical and mental enjoyment during dives, by eating a diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, protein and water (lots of water!) In addition, avoid stuffing yourself, or running out of fuel, by aiming for five to six small meals during the day, especially if you’ll be doing an afternoon dive. For morning dives, skip a big breakfast and nosh on something that will give you lasting energy, like a banana or one or two eggs.
And now let’s get back to alcohol - hangovers are awful regardless of your location, but are especially painful, and even dangerous, when you're scuba diving. We’re not saying you can’t indulge in any cocktails during your getaway, but limit it to one or two a day to ensure the primary purpose of your trip (diving!) is not only doable but also enjoyable.
11. Rent a wetsuit if you chill easily.
When I worked as a rescue diver in the Caribbean I always wore a full wetsuit, as I goosebump easily, especially in deeper water.
Even if the ocean feels like bathwater when you’re playing on the shore, the temperature can quickly drop as you go deeper. So even if you’re sweating above water, you’ll likely be pleased to have coverage when you get into the depths. The dive shop will be able to direct you regarding the ideal thickness of the wetsuit.
12. Ensure everyone in your group is clear about the dive master’s plan before you set off.
It is imperative that everyone in your group understands the following:
- Who their dive buddy is.
- How to triple check equipment before the dive.
- The conditions of the site where you’ll be diving.
- The signals the dive master will use to communicate various messages.
- The signals to use if you need to communicate something, specifically panic or equipment malfunction.
- How deep you’ll be going.
- What to do if you get into various sticky situations.
- The animals you may see, helping make sure you don’t panic if you come face-to-face with a hammerhead shark or other such intimidating creatures.
- The plan for ascent and getting back to the boat.
- Any other information you or the dive master feels is important to the safety and enjoyment of the divers.
In addition, remind your group to not be embarrassed about asking questions they might have about equipment. Although you would think all dive masters are on top of conveying this info, and ensuring everyone understands, some get lackadaisical in their role, especially if they’ve recently gone on a string of outings with experienced divers.