14,016 – That is the number of passenger aircrafts in the air the moment I sat down to write this article. Traveling abroad is no longer just a line item on everyone’s bucket list but it’s finally being crossed off. Chances are you’re about to find yourself catching a flight in the near future, so what are you doing to keep yourself healthy, safe, and happy on your next adventure?
Nothing ruins your perfect vacation like spending it locked in the bathroom, stuck on the phone with your bank, or arranging for new documents at the embassy. I will neither confirm nor deny having found myself in each of these predicaments. I never thought my life would take me all over the world – Kenya, Guatemala, Peru, Cambodia, Nepal, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan – just to name a few. Through each of these opportunities I have learned a lot from personal experience and fellow travelers. From one travel lover to another, here are a few helpful tips to keep yourself healthy, safe, and happy so you can enjoy your trip to its fullest:
Before you go:
Be informed about your destination:
Before you even pick a travel destination, do your research. It’s a good idea to visit the travel advisories from the State Department. This will provide you with initial information and safety warnings on your chosen destination. You should also sign up for Google Alerts, which will send you current content and keep you in the know. Look for trends in the area. Is there a popular scam, something you should avoid, a unique local food you need to try, or a must see tourist attraction nearby? All are equally important. Don’t just focus on the negative, there is good and bad no matter where you are in the world. Proper research can not only help you travel safely, it builds excitement for the adventure awaiting you. Google Alerts is also a great thing for your friends and family to sign up for while you are away.
Get Travel Insurance:
Now that you’ve booked your flight, your next step should be to purchase travel insurance. This is often overlooked by so many travelers when it can provide you with a lot of support if you run into problems. You can find a variety of affordable plans that offer plenty of coverage. You should never leave without it. Youthlinc uses Wallach & Company, Inc. for all of our participants. A quick web search can bring up plenty of options but make sure to read all the details and pick the option that will work best for you and your travel plans.
Visit a Travel Clinic:
Visiting a travel clinic is another crucial part of traveling abroad that we often forget and need to take seriously. Travel clinics are staffed with medical professionals that specialize in travel and infectious disease. They see it all and look at very specific areas you will visit and tell you the risks you may encounter. Sometimes it’s viruses or diseases you may have never heard of before. Youthlinc partners with the University of Utah Travel Clinic for all of our participants but you can check your county health department or your health insurance company to find a travel clinic near you.
Share your itinerary with family/friends:
Once you have a travel itinerary make sure to share it with either family or friends back home. This can be as detailed as you would like but should at least include flights, hotels, and in-country transportation plans.
Make copies of important documents:
Passport – Making a copy of your passport is one of the most important things you will do. Make at least three colored copies of the front page of your passport and leave one at home with family, another in your personal bag (in a different location then your actual passport), and the last copy in your checked bag. This may seem over the top but while you are out of the country your passport is the most important document you will carry. If your passport is lost or stolen while you are out of the country, you will need to locate the nearest U.S. Embassy and begin the process to get a new one or an emergency temporary passport. If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation you will be happy you have a copy of your passport on hand ready to go.
Important phone numbers – Incase your phone or wallet is stolen, you will also want to make sure you have all important phone numbers written down. Remember to store this separate from your phone and wallet. For example, write down emergency numbers for your destination, your bank’s phone number so you can put a hold on credit/debit cards, your cell phone provider so you can lock your phone, and any local contacts you have in the area. Again, if you find yourself in a situation where you need them, you’ll be happy you have them ready.
This one is simple. The less you take, the less that can be taken from you. If you have fewer things it is much easier to keep a close eye on or prevent from being damaged or stolen. You’ll be more at ease knowing valuables are at home and you can relax and enjoy your trip. So it’s better to just leave your beloved two carat diamond ring at home.
Protect your phone/devices:
Sometimes we forget that everything about us is at the tips of our fingers. And no I’m not talking about our fingerprints. I’m talking about how our smartphones and other electronic devices become even more dangerous while traveling. Before you go you should make sure you have the latest virus protection update on both your phone and computer. As tempting as it may seem, be weary of unfamiliar Wi-Fi networks. I know it’s hard not to be connected all the time so if you can’t help it, you may want to invest in an international phone plan so you have a direct connection. Unfortunately as our devices get smarter so do the people trying to hack into our devices. Sitting in an airport on a layover or waiting for your coffee, have you found yourself plugging your phone into an available USB charging port? Why wouldn’t you? Well it’s been reported that even USB charging ports can be programmed to leave viruses on your device. It is recommended that you only charge your phone or other electronic devices in public directly into an outlet. However, if you don’t want to keep all of your charging cubes on your person you can get a USB data blocker, I don’t travel without one now. This little device blocks all unpermitted data transfer allowing you to plug into any port with peace of mind.
Sleep, sleep, and more sleep:
You need to sleep. Especially if you have a big time change, you will want to try to get on your new schedule as quick as possible. You don’t need to see the entire country in a day so pace yourself and allow your body time to rest and adjust. Sleep is your first line of defense. When your body is rested it can fight off new bacteria or viruses more effectively. When your mind is rested it can help you remain alert and make good decisions.
Watch what you eat!
One of our favorite sayings at the University of Utah Travel clinic is “Don’t eat Poop!” If you don’t stop and think twice about what you’re eating, chances are you’re going to eat poop. Don’t get me wrong, food is one of the best parts of traveling. Go out, explore, and eat locally. You can be adventurous and still eat and drink safely. You should always stick with sealed bottle water, juice or soda, and hot (steaming) drinks. Ice – no matter how good it sounds is most likely not a good idea. The most dangerous foods you can eat are leafy green vegetables because they have nice little crevouses that love to hang onto all sorts of bacteria and make them hard to get clean. If lettuce in the U.S. can hide poop, lettuce can probably hide poop anywhere in the world…so think twice before you dig into your salad. You should also avoid eating raw or undercooked meats. At every meal and snack don’t forget to take the time to make sure your food is prepared properly before taking a bite.
ATM – Nobody wants to travel with a lot of cash on their person so the next best thing is to take your debit card and head to the ATM upon arrival. I will admit this is one of the easiest ways to access funds and get local currency. However, if you don’t have access to an ATM at a local bank, please proceed with caution. Check for any skimming devices or cameras that are out of place. First thing you should do is test the card reader – tug, pull, and wiggle it around to make sure nothing comes off. Skimmers can look exactly like the card reader but they cover the outside and as the ATM reads your card this device is saving information and sending it to a scammer. You may ask, “So what if they have my debit card numbers, won’t they need my pin?” Yes, you’re correct. That’s why you also need to watch for cameras out of place and always cover your pin so no one can get a peak.
Cash – You never want to keep all of your cash on you at once. You should only take with you what you will need for the day. It’s also a good idea to have some emergency cash stashed in two different locations such as a locked suitcase compartment or in a hotel safe.
Protect your skin!
No matter where you are traveling don’t forget to take care of your largest organ, your skin! The best way to do this is proper attire. Always pack sun protection including sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses. If you are on a Youthlinc trip or planning to visit hot, humid, tropics don’t forget your bug spray. Not only will this help prevent unwanted itchy bites but it is your first line of defense against a lot of diseases transmitted through insects. In addition to bug spray, you may want to consider treating your clothing with permethrin (you’ll be surprised at the difference it can make).
Always pack a first aid kit:
Pack a small first aid kit. This will be something that no matter where you are, you’ll use it. Pack any over-the-counter medications you use frequently as well as other items that may come in handy. Pepto-Bismol may become your best friend, so make sure to have plenty of it. Some examples of things to have in your first aid kit include Ibuprofen, Tylenol, cold/flu medication, bandaids, antiseptic, rehydrations tablets, and allergy medication.
Wash your hands frequently:
The most dangerous thing you’ll encounter on your journey are your very own two hands. You have to wash your hands constantly. Your hands touch absolutely everything, then they touch your food or face and new bacteria have just found the express train into your system. The best offense against unwanted germs is classic soap and water. Some countries won’t have soap in the bathroom to wash your hands so this is something worth keeping in your day bag. Hand sanitizer or wet wipes can work great in a pinch but you should never rely on these if you’re able to find a way to scrub those digits clean.
I hope these helpful tips taught you something new or least got you to stop and think of ways to keep yourself healthy and safe. When in doubt, whether you are traveling in a group or alone, if walking down a dark creepy alleyway seems like a bad idea, it’s probably a bad idea. Sometimes our instincts are obvious and other times they are just trying to give us subtle hints. If you have a bad feeling about someone and just can’t figure out why, it’s okay, trust your feelings and remove yourself from the situation. You may be picking up on non-verbal cues that are telling you something is wrong. The world is waiting to be explored, so don’t ever let fear hold you back, but remember to let it keep you safe.