Traveling advice for staying safe and healthy in remote destinations
If you travel to remote destinations, you have to remain vigilant to stay safe and healthy. By its very definition, voluntourism often takes you to places far off the grid, far from reliable medical services, and far from the safe sanitation and food handling practices you’ve come to expect in the United States.
Don’t I know it. During my last trip to Nepal I was a good boy: drank only bottled water, used Purell hand sanitizer by the gallon, and ate only food that was hot, hot, hot – cooked completely through and through. But I let my guard down.
During literally the last hour in Nepal, at the Kathmandu Tribhuvan International Airport, I convinced myself that the fruit plate in the VIP Executive Lounge could be trusted. Big mistake. In about 20 hours, during the final flight from New York to Denver, digestive distress kicked in, alleviated only once I arrived home and downed some DiaResQ, a natural diarrhea relief aid made with bovine (cow) colostrum. Sounds awful, but it worked. Eating that last snack in Nepal was a rookie move on my part as I realized during my eighth trip to the tiny airplane lavatory. Too much information. Ok, let’s move on.
There are certain measures I employ that have worked well for me to stay safe and healthy in more remote destinations, and they might also be appropriate for you.
Traveling advice to help you stay safe and healthy
- Vaccinations. Depending on the destination, 22-64 percent of travelers report some illness – generally they are mild and self-limiting, such as diarrhea, respiratory infections, and skin disorders. But some travelers return to their own countries with preventable life-threatening infections, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. Consult with a medical professional prior to departure and ensure that your inoculations are current or you have special ones advised for a certain area.Before my first trip to Nepal I became a human pincushion after I decided to get caught up after years of lapsed vaccinations. For me, it took rounds of Tdap, Typhoid, hepatitis A and B, meningococcal meningitis, poliovirus and a good old flu shot before I was ready to face the world and head out on travels. Your needs may be different.Travel health precautions are available from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and World Health Organization (WHO). Additional information on vaccines in the form of Vaccine Information Statements (VIS) is available for download.
- Safe food tips. Whether traveling with a tour operator or alone, eat foods that are fully cooked and served hot. Stay away from the salads and tuna fish sandwiches and that tea house cheese plate dotted with house flies that were previously dancing the Alley Cat on some yak dung.
- Best beverage advice. Drink beverages that have been bottled and sealed and forget the ice. While you’re at it, squeeze the bottle first to make sure it hasn’t been resealed (not to forget the scene from Slumdog Millionaire, the 2009 Academy Awards Best Picture, where a water bottle is refilled and the cap super-glued for resale). Carbonated beverages are much safer than non-carbonated – flat water drinks can be diluted with local tap water.
- Greens and veggies. Fruits and vegetables are always questionable, unless you wash and peel them personally.
- Bathroom musts. Don’t let your guard down in the bathroom. That means rinse toothbrushes only in bottled water and no singing in the shower lest tap water gets into your mouth. Practice for a week before you leave home. It is incredibly easy to slip up and find yourself using tap water out of force of habit.
- Hand sanitizer is your best friend. Use it frequently and avoid putting your hands anywhere near your eyes or mouth. Let that hangnail wait for a proper pair of nail clippers.Read our story “Travel hacks for fighting germs in public spaces” to learn traveling tips and tricks from experts.
- Snack attack. Pack some energy bars for sustenance if you arrive late, the restaurants are closed, and Oreos may be your only choice in the hotel vending machine. I especially like Bobo’s Oat Bars, which, according to the website, is an alternative to the cluttered snack bar aisle riddled with over-engineered bars made with unrecognizable ingredients. It’s best to take a hard pass on those snacks.
- Now for something fairly cringe-worthy: check for bed bugs. You can thank me later. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advises that bedbugs can be found around the bed, they can be found near the piping, seams and tags of the mattress and box spring, and in cracks on the bed frame and headboard. They can also be hiding in the seams of chairs and couches, between cushions, and in the folds of curtains. These are nasty buggers.Look for rusty or reddish stains on bed sheets or mattresses caused by bed bugs being crushed, dark spots about the size of a period pencil point, eggs and eggshells, which are tiny (about 1 millimeter or about the size of a period on this page), pale yellow skins that nymphs shed as they grow larger, and live bed bugs themselves.For more information on how to avoid bed bugs when traveling, read the article “8 tips to avoid bed bugs when traveling.”
- Emergency escape preparation. Make a mental note of what to grab in case of earthquake or fire. It happened to me in southern California. I grabbed my laptop, pants, shoes, and wallet; other guests in the lobby were shivering barefoot in their tighty whities. False alarm, but still.
- Staying in touch. Before you leave, set up an international package with your smartphone service provider, or plan to buy a local SIM card at destination, so that if you have to use your phone in an emergency, the call doesn’t cost dozens of dollars – or more.
- Suitcase contents. Carry an inventory of the contents of your checked luggage. That way, it will be easier to file a claim afterwards. Photos of the contents are helpful too. Take a photo of the suitcase itself to show officials in case the bag decides to take a detour.
- Dress down. Avoid looking too prosperous. Leave the real Rolex home and buy a $20 Timex instead. Leave valuable jewelry at home, and wear some fave costume pieces. Keep money in three different places on your body and create a throw-down wallet – something with a few dollars that looks like you’re handing over your real wallet in case of trouble.Blending in is key. Find useful traveling advice to help you blend in as best you can with the locals in this article “How to blend in when traveling.”
- Be situationally aware. Stay alert and forego the use of personal headphones when you’re walking about. Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, is a city with a myriad of hazards. There are wild dogs, five lanes of traffic on two-lane streets, a rat’s nest of wires hanging from utility poles, open conduits in the sidewalk, and strange locals approaching you to strike up chatty conversations or seeking money for “baby milk” or similar. It pays to know what’s going on around you.
Travel with Purpose: A Field Guide to Voluntourism
“Traveling advice for staying safe and healthy in remote destinations” is excerpted from the book, “Travel with Purpose: A Field Guide to Voluntourism” by Jeff Blumenfeld (Rowman & Littlefield 2019).
Travel With Purpose deals not with celebrities, nor the rich and famous. Instead, it relays examples from Blumenfeld’s travels and many others from Las Vegas to Nepal. From health care facilities to impoverished schools. These are stories of inspiration from everyday people, all of whom have definite opinions about the best way to approach that first volunteer vacation.
You don’t need to be wealthy to travel to foreign lands to volunteer; you may not even have to go to foreign lands, as opportunities may exist within your own state. Blumenfeld shows readers how to identify the right location and volunteer opportunity, how to go about planning trips and preparing for activities, how to reach out, how to help. Through vivid examples and first hand stories from both recipients of volunteer work and the volunteers themselves, Travel with Purpose may make you rethink your next vacation.