women travel tips

RTW Travel Tips

Tips for planning an extended, around-the-world trip
by Kari J. Bodnarchuk

The night before I left for an 18-month, around-the-world journey, I stayed up until 2 a.m. skimming through a towering stack of travel books, printing reams of information off the Internet, and penning final tidbits into a journal. I carried those notes with me for seven months, before using them as campfire starter. About 95 percent that information turned out to be useless—prices went up, guesthouses closed, tour operators opened, businesses moved, and opportunities I had never dreamed about suddenly materialized.

It's a great idea to make a rough itinerary, research countries you want to visit and worthwhile things you want to do en route, and it's essential to have all your paperwork in order, but don't over-plan. Some of the best, and most up-to-date, information can be gleaned from other travelers you'll meet, from local guesthouses, or from tourist bureaus.

Besides, serendipity is part of the thrill of travel. Had I stuck with my original plan, I never would have discovered Laos, stayed on a sheep farm in New Zealand, or spent five days with native tribes in a Malaysian jungle.

Once you have taken care of all the nitty-gritty details and mapped out a loose route, let the road unwind before you. The following tips will help you prepare for an extended trip overseas.

Organizing your stuff
Find someone to housesit, sublet or rent your home or apartment, or consider getting a caretaker. You can post a listing in The Caretaker Gazette, a bimonthly newsletter published in River Falls, WI, and find someone to oversee your property—even your plants and pets—while you're away. (Call 715-426-5500 or check www.caretaker.org). If you need to store your belongings, find a secure, indoor facility that's temperature controlled, so nothing gets moldy or damaged.

Money matters
The amount of money you'll need depends on what type of traveler you are—do you want budget or five-star accommodation? Will you eat in hotels, local cafés or from roadside vendors? And are you planning more expensive adventures, like live-aboard scuba diving trips or soaking in Swedish spas? Whatever you plan to do, you'll need to access money as you travel.

Leave the bulk of your money in a home bank account and access it as you go. Carry money in several different forms to allow yourself more exchange options, in case an ATM is out of order, moneychangers are closed, or credit cards aren't accepted. ATMs offer the best exchange rates and are available worldwide—the Visa/Plus network is the most widely available (121 countries), followed by MasterCard/Cirrus (105 countries).

American Express ATMs are only available in 30 countries, mainly in Europe and Northeast Asia, but cardholders can write personal checks at Amex offices worldwide and receive cash or U.S. traveler's checks on the spot.

Traveler's checks are invaluable—American Express (free for AAA members), Visa and Thomas Cook traveler's checks are the most widely accepted. Always carry some cash, in several different denominations (ones and fives are useful for tips and small purchases; twenties may cover airport departure taxes or be helpful when you don't want to exchange that $100 traveler's check).

Passports and visas
Passport applications, available at passport agencies in major U.S. cities, at post offices and online (travel.state.gov), take about six weeks to process for first-time applicants for $85. In a rush, overnight service is available through passport agencies for an extra fee, about $60. Many countries require your passport to be valid for six months after your planned visit.

Passport renewal forms ($40 for new digitized passports) can be obtained by mail from the National Passport Center (888-362-8668, a $4.95 charge for this service) or online at travel.state.gov. To find out about visas required for countries worldwide, check with passport agencies, consulates or online at travel.state.gov/foreignentryreqs.html. Note that some visas are activated the instant they're issued, while others go into effect the day you enter a country.

Some vaccinations (hepatitis A, hepatitis B and rabies) require several injections over the course of weeks or months, so visit your local travel and immunization clinic early for a consultation and shots.

Always travel with a yellow International Certificate of Vaccination, available at travel clinics, which is a record of the shots you've had and proves to border officials you have the right immunizations to enter their country—the certificate must be stamped and signed by your doctor to be valid.

If you're heading to less-developed nations, ask your doctor about carrying syringes so you can provide your own needles in an emergency, or if you need additional vaccinations en route. For more vaccination information, contact the International Traveler's Hotline of the Atlanta Centers for Disease Control at 404-332-4559 or online at www.cdc.gov.

Travel insurance
In 18 months, I had one medical, two dental and two lost-luggage claims. It's worth being prepared. Make sure your insurance company covers emergency evacuation, lost luggage, trip cancellation, medical, dental, and life insurance coverage, at the least. If you're a scuba diver, Diver's Alert Network (800-446-2671) offers complete coverage for diving accidents, and if you're a thrill-seeker or mountain climber, ask your insurance company about special insurance to cover adventure sports—these activities are often excluded from basic insurance plans.

Travel Guard International (800-826-1300) and Access America (800-284-8300) offer overseas insurance plans, while the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (716-754-4883) provides a free directory of English-speaking physicians worldwide.

What to Pack
Any good guidebook will provide a suggested list of standard items to bring (see Judith Gilford's "The Packing Book," Ten Speed Press). When packing, consider local customs (do women bare their legs?), climate zones (will you be swimming in Australia and hiking the Annapurna Circuit on the same trip?) and seasons (visiting Asia during the monsoons?). Also, take into account your environment (is malaria prevalent?), interests (planning to ballroom dance in Vienna or build sandcastles on a Greek island?), and your own comfort level (do you get cold easily? Keep in mind that it can get chilly even in the tropics and frigid at higher altitudes).

The key to packing for multi-activity trips is choosing mix-and-match clothes (stick to two colors) that you can layer. Look for lightweight, quick-drying, wrinkle-free fabrics, available at many outdoor recreation shops or through mail-order catalogs like Magellan's (800-962-4943), Travel Smith (800-950-1600) and Campmor (800-525-4784).

Be culturally sensitive
Learn a few words in the local language, always see yourself as a visitor, and observe local customs and manners—Do people take off their shoes when entering a house? Do men take off their shirts in public? How do women dress in temples? Be considerate of local resources (your 20-minute shower may be a week's worth of local water), and ask to take a photo of someone first.

For more background on countries you intend to visit, order Culturegrams, four-page pamphlets outlining the cultural nuances any one of 154 countries, published by the David Kennedy Center at Brigham Young University (800-528-6279).

Staying healthy
To avoid sickness, stick to the age-old adage, "boil it, peel it or forget it." Stay away from salads and raw veggies (unless washed in purified water), and fruits cultivated in the ground or ones that can't be peeled. Only eat fresh meat and seafood you've seen prepared in front of you, or in a kitchen or facility you trust. And be wary of tropical reef fish, especially in tropical areas of the Pacific and Indian oceans, since they may contain toxins.

Only drink water that's been boiled (for several minutes, longer at high altitudes), bottled, treated with iodine drops or purifying tablets, or filtered and purified. The SweetWater Guardian and Water Purifier and the PUR Explorer Water Purifier claim to filter out and kill practically all harmful bacteria and parasites.

Also, eat plenty of yogurt containing the live bacteria acidophilus, which helps prevent stomach problems; protect yourself from mosquitoes, which can transmit dengue fever (by day) and malaria (by night); and avoid swimming in still, freshwater lakes, streams, ponds, or rivers if there's any chance parasites exist.

In your first-aid kit, pack oral rehydration salts and anti-diarrhea tablets, among many other things, and include a small reference book, such as Stephen Bezruchka's "The Pocket Doctor: Your Ticket to Good Health While Traveling."

Safeguarding your gear
Put your money in several different places, including a money belt worn around your waist or under your shirt. Keep your most treasured valuables (ones you can't live without) with you, unless you feel completely confident leaving them behind. Lock your bag for flights, keep essential items with you during bus travel, and consider bringing a small chain to lock up your luggage on night trains or in youth hostels without lockers. And anywhere you go, keep alert.

Safeguarding yourself
The best precaution you can take is to trust your instincts. Only choose accommodation you feel comfortable with and stay away from ground floor rooms or ones with easy access from the outside (i.e. a balcony). Ask to see a room before you take it—is it clean and safe enough?

To help safeguard yourself, consider taking a self-defense course, let someone at home know your itinerary, and register with the closest overseas U.S. embassy if you're going somewhere unusual or offbeat. Also, act confident (even when you're lost) and pay attention to social customs (do women go out alone after dark?).

Most importantly, don't carry so much baggage that it could compromise your safety and prevent you from keeping one hand free. If you're feeling weighed down by all your baggage and travel books, mail something home. Or consider it prime campfire starter.

All rights reserved. © Kari J. Bodnarchuk

This story first appeared in The Denver Post. It is available for reprint by the author (contact ekarib@yahoo.com).

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