Just in case you lose your Backpack

Whether the airline loses your backpack, or it gets misplaced somewhere along your journey, its a good idea to have a photo of your backpack and day-bag. Its much easier to show a picture of your backpack you have printed out, or the photo saved on your camera, than trying to describe the specific color and size of your bag to someone who may not even understand the language you’re speaking. A picture is worth a thousand descriptive words about your backpack and time is of the essence when it goes missing.

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Online Diagnosis – How to determine an illness if no doctor’s available

If you are away from a doctor and want to figure out what illness you have, you need to check out WebMD Symptom Checker for a free online diagnosis. I have used this website at home and on the road and its been a great aid to me. In fact, I was in Myanmar two weeks ago and used it, which is the reason I’m writing a blog about keeping healthy this week. Its a great site, which allows you to first choose your age and sex. Then,  choose a section of the body and your symptoms. It will then give you the possible conditions you may have and the likelihood of which illness you have come down with.

Vaccinations for travel abroad

Depending on the region you will be traveling, you should prepare your body to face the foreign diseases you have no natural immunity. Some vaccines and immunizations can be expensive, as many are not covered by insurance. But, if you come down with Yellow Fever, you’re going to wish you had splurged for the treatment.

On one of my first trips, I decided to visit my doctor the days before I left. Bad idea. I was able to get my Malaria pills squared away, but they didn’t have Typhoid available. I left on my trip and ended up being fine, but my doctor was able to scare me enough to make sure that the next time I took off on a trip, I would come to the office six weeks before departure.

Your doctor should know about all the vaccines needed for each country, but its always best to check with the CDC (Center for Disease Control) or Netdoctor before hand. Its a good to have and idea of what treatments you need, so you have time to make sure you in fact did get that Tetanus or Hepatitis booster shot you think you had 5 years ago BEFORE the doctor asks you. Some of the most common medical issues that may come up in discussion with your doctor are:

Yellow fever
Malaria
Hepatitis
Diphtheria
Tetanus
Polio
Typhoid
Cholera
Meningitis
Rabies
Encephalitis

You will also want to make sure you get the appropriate proof of immunization from your doctor. Some countries require proof of immunization, so discuss the requirements with your doctor during your consultation. One example is Yellow Fever, which is a vaccine required to enter some countries in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America.

The CDC website and NetDoctor.com allow you to click on the particular country you will be visiting on their websites world map and it will kick back information on what vaccines they recommend and other tips for staying healthy in the country selected. Here are the Links for each:
Center for Disease Control
NetDoctor

How to find cheap international flights

Flexibility and timing. Ive looked high and low for the secret to cheap flights, but it comes down to flexibility in when to fly and timing of when to buy. Its just that easy and its just that simple.  In speaking to some experts on the subject and having lived with a friend who worked for one the large online airfare search engine sites, I have come up with the following tips, which are the best way to find the best price:

  • In my conversation with Mike Kytoski of Kayak.com, he recommends departing on a Tuesday and returning on a Wednesday to save money for international flights. These flights were 21% lower than the average.
  • Consider flying during the low season or just before high season begins. For example, growing up in Hawaii, the high season begins December 15th and carries through Spring Break. You should aim to avoid traveling to Hawaii during this season all together as flights and accommodations are more expensive, If you decided to travel, try to schedule at least one of your flights before or after high season begins or ends.
  • Flying non-stop will usually cost you, Be willing to take the flight with layovers,
  • Purchase your flight at least three weeks in advance. Yes, once in a while prices will drop in the last three weeks, but the majority of the time they increase during this time.
  • Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are typically the cheapest days to fly. Avoid the days surrounding a holiday. Often on the holiday itself you will find great deals if your are willing to travel on say, Christmas day.
  • If you have a favorite search engine like Expedia, find the flight you like. Once you see which carrier is the cheapest, go directly to that carriers website to see if its cheaper. For example, if you’re using Expedia and AirAsia is the cheapest option, go directly to Airasia.com and plug in the same dates you used on Expedia. Often, its just a bit cheaper than going through a flight search engine.

A useful and fun tool to use when searching for a flight if you have flexibility in your travel plans is www.Kayak.com/explore/. Simply plug in your budget, where you’ll be flying from and the month you want to travel and it will give you a map of all the places around the world that fit your budget.

If you have any helpful tips, please feel free to share!

Creating a backpackers travel budget

Your budget will depend on the region you choose to travel. Traveling to South East Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe or South or Central America is going to be much cheaper than Australia, Western Europe, New Zealand or North America.

There are four basic aspects to a travel budget:

  • Transportation
  • Accommodations
  • Activities
  • Food

Transportation is the necessary evil that can be controlled to some degree. You can travel with the locals on public buses or in economy class trains. Besides the initial flight to your destination, which is typically one of the first items to go into your budget, you can decide not fly if there’s the ability to travel by slower means. Also, transportation adds up no matter what country you’re in. The more you move around, the more expensive it gets. You will be able to save yourself a lot of money if you stay in one place for an extended period of time.

Accommodations can give you a good estimate on how much you will be spending in a town or city. I can typically estimate how expensive a destination is by the cost of their hostels or budget guesthouses. I usually assume if my budget accommodations are $4 US per night, I will be spending an additional $8 each day. If its $15 per night, I should expect to spend an additional $30 that day in food, activities, and transportation around town, Simply double the cost of my accommodations.  It specifically depends on how you prefer to travel. I personally look for the cheapest option in town. These hostels and guesthouses are typically not for people who need a strip of paper over the toilet, while they convince themselves they are still the first person to sit there. More often than not, its got a friendly group of international travelers whose budget reflects mine. This is also a benefit when you start making friends in a hostel and decide to go out for food, activities, and onward travel. Activities and onward travel will often cost less if you link up with fellow travelers. For example a cab ride or a shared room in a guesthouse will cost less if divided among friends.

Food is on of my favorite subjects while abroad. I love heading into open markets and searching out new things to try. In fact I was able to do this today in Mandalay, Myanmar/Burma. If you can find an open market or street food is typically the most economical way to eat. You’re also able to immerse yourself in cultural foods, which you may miss if confine yourself the touristy restaurants which are typically overpriced. Obviously, markets aren’t everywhere, so look for restaurants where the locals are eating. Typically shows the food is well priced and prepared safely. I realize that street food and markets can cause some interesting bowel movements, but in the end when i return home I always De-worm myself. But, i would suggest that to anyone who has traveled to 3rd world countries upon their arrival home whether they eat from street vendors or not. Also, drinking alcohol can severely deplete your budget.  In some typically inexpensive countries, a beer will be expensive in comparison to food and accommodation.

Activities are the most manageable part of your budget. You either choose to do the activity or you don’t. If i plan to do an expensive activity such as a 3 day elephant tour home-stay, skydiving, or scuba certification you will likely want to balance the cost with a few days of being more thrifty.

There are several ways to look at a personal budget and whats discussed above is what works well for me, but possibly not for everyone. If it looks like it will work for you, make it your own and tweak it along the way, as your  budget has the ability to make or break a trip of a lifetime.

How to keep you and your belongings safe while backpacking abroad

Keeping you and your belongings safe:

  • Don’t keep all your cash in one spot. Just in case you’re robbed, its best to have some backup cash in separate bag, shoe, or pocket.

  • Don’t walk around at night by yourself. Anywhere.

  • If you are robbed, don’t resist. Give them what they want and go your separate ways. Its not worth getting injured or killed.

  • Don’t leave your bags unattended. Not only could they get stolen, but if you’re traveling between destinations, there are cases where people have planted drugs in a tourists bag and use them as a drug mule until they transport the drugs to the destination without the traveler knowing.

  • Watch your drinks and never accept an opened drink from a stranger.

  • Don’t wear fancy jewelry, watches, or clothes. Yes, you will likely stick out as a traveler in the towns and cities you visit, but you don’t need to stick out more than necessary to thieves. I typically don’t travel with any material items i wouldn’t mind losing. This allows me to feel more relaxed when traveling.

  • Walk with a purpose. Walk like you have a specific destination in mind. Don’t give off the vibe that you’re lost. Thieves are attracted to people who look lost or confused.

  • Carry a money belt. Thieves know about money belts, so if you get robbed they will likely find it, but at least you won’t fall victim to pickpocketers. I don’t wear mine every day, but when I’m in cities, i feel more comfortable wearing mine.

  • Its always good to be cautious, but not to the point where you’re too afraid to walk out the door in the morning. Find your perfect medium between fun and safety and stick to it.

  • Be careful using your electronics. Here’s a few stories I’ve experienced:

    • I was in Laos a couple weeks ago (today’s date is 11/3/12)  and a girl fell asleep with her laptop on her stomach in the common area of our hostel. She woke up and someone had taken it right off her stomach.

    • Ipods are a popular item to steal. If you’re listening to your ipod in a bus or train, its a common occurrence for thieves to disconnect the headphones from the ipod, which is typically sitting on your lap. Make sure you keep it in your pocket if you think you may fall asleep.

    • One of the biggest internal debates i have on a daily basis is whether  to bring my camera with me when i leave the hostel. No fun losing a camera or getting it stolen, but you should document your trip. If you decide to take photos, be careful and keep a close eye on the people surrounding you. I was at Carnival in Brazil back in 2008. I was walking around with a group of friends with thousands of people around and one of my friends pulled her camera out to take a photo of the group. Just then, a guy came by grabbed the camera and ran down down an alleyway. Nothing we could do, but maybe not the best idea to pull out your camera with thousands of people partying in the middle of the night.

A lot of the time its just dumb luck when someone gets robbed. You’re simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Don’t get stuck on the should have, would have thoughts if you do get your things stolen. It happens to the best of us and i promise you, your nerves will subside and you will still be able to enjoy the rest of your trip.

As a closing note, I’ve found I’m always a bit paranoid about my stuff for the first week of a trip and then my nerves calm down and I find my travel groove. I notice that keeping my stuff as safe as possible becomes a subconscious habit and it doesn’t take as much effort to stay safe. So, if you feel that same slight paranoia, give it time and let your nerves settle.

Health Insurance while traveling abroad

When traveling abroad, health insurance is a topic that may not be as fun to plan as your trip itself, but its still an essential part of well planned adventure.

If you currently have health insurance, you will need to call your insurance company to see if you will be covered while abroad. If your current health insurance company covers you while abroad, make sure they cover medical evacuation, which is typically one of the most expensive aspects of international insurance plans.

If you do not have health insurance, there are several private companies that have affordable plans. If you are based out of the US, the government has put together a list of companies to choose from which, can be found here. Be prepared to give the companies your ore-existing conditions, a list of places your are going to visit, how long you will spend in each location and dangerous activities you will be partaking in i.e.bungee jumping, trekking.

Make sure the plan you choose covers exactly what you need and understand the co-payments. Also, consider choosing a medical insurance plan that has a 24 hour call center.

Once you have your coverage decided, its a very good idea to keep a list of items you will need to get at the hospital if you are injured. Your insurance company will give you a list of items you will need to get in order to make a claim to the the insurance company. Obviously, if you are severely injured you will not be able to gather the items listed below, but if you are able to, its typically easier to get the info when you are at the hospital than once you are home and trying to contact a hospital abroad. Besides carrying around your insurance card, bring a copy of a claim form or a printout of the items needed to make a proper claim: For example my insurance company needs:

1) My Name and Date of Birth
2) Diagnosis from foreign doctor*
3) Procedures and date of service*
4) Name and address of doctor*
5) Name and address of facility*
6) Receipts of payments made converted into USD and exchange rate of date of service*
*All need to be translated into English.

Ive also heard some say insurance is not necessary if you’re going to a country with a socialized health care system. I have personally seen people get free treatment for stitches and other minor ailments, but this is not always the case.