- Creativity is Endless When Someone Wants Your Money · 2011-06-29
- Food Safety on the Road · 2011-04-15
(Note: If you're shopping for an upcoming trip, this Amazon list contains many of the items that I've mentioned in the series.)
Let’s face it: if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably from a developed nation. Odds are pretty good that you’re American, even. And America is a pretty safe place to live. Sure, there’s crime and car accidents in the cities, and the usual dangers when out in the wilderness — but when was the last time you were bit by a mosquito in America, and were worried about contracting dengue fever or malaria? When was the last time that a government collapsed in the US? If you need a blood transfusion, or intensive care, is there a hospital nearby that can handle you? If you’re out hiking, does the country have search-and-rescue teams?
It’s not good to spread too much fear on this subject, as most countries these days have basic medical infrastructure, but there’s lots of possible outcomes where you’ll need help to get out of a bad situation quickly. There’s no point in taking unnecessary risks, just because the same services may not be available to locals.
After a lot of research, I settled on evacuation services from Global Rescue. Unlike other evacuation services, they’re pretty proud of the fact that they rescue people from the field all the time. There’s stories floating around of helicopter medivacs from the South American jungle or African savannahs, and they’ve organized evacuations from all of the recent revolutions in the Arab states. (You can read their blog for more). When I had dengue fever, they were the first people I contacted, and had I needed translation services or transport out of Chiang Mai, they would have provided it.
Of course, you need to be able to contact them during an emergency — not to mention any local search-and-rescue teams. Your mobile phone will work a lot of places, but what if you’re off hiking somewhere? I carried a personal locator beacon from McMurdo everywhere I went, for just this reason. These are single-use emergency devices that transmit an SOS signal to the America- and Russia- operated COSPAS-SARSAT satellite listener network. The signal includes your GPS coordinates, and will keep broadcasting for many hours. Distress signals are first routed to the country you registered the beacon in (e.g. the United States), and then to the appropriate authorities in the country the signal originates from. I specified Global Rescue as my primary emergency contact when registering the beacon, and informed them when odds were higher that I might need to use it — when hiking, for instance.
For that matter, carrying a PLB is a good idea when you’re out in the wilderness in developed countries. It’s small and lightweight, but can save your life.
Global Rescue also encourages their subscribers to carry satellite phones. Although I didn’t, this is certainly a good idea. Prepaid satellite phones are available these days for prices that normal human beings can probably afford. Just make sure that the coverage area is truly global before putting down your money: some satellite networks won’t work over the ocean, for instance.
- Other entries in this series:
- Part 10: The Ejection Seat
- Part 9: Notebooks, Journals, and Diaries
- Part 8: Guidebooks
- Part 7: Money and Banking
- Part 6: A Virtual Home
- Part 5: Toiletries
- Part 4: Clothes
- Part 3: Health
- Part 2: Keeping in Touch
- Part 1: Bags
When I first started traveling, I carried a Moleskine notebook in my pocket. I thought I was pretty hip, and it was really useful: you should always have a notebook and pen handy. But then I started to sweat, and the Moleskine wore out really quickly. The finishing blow was when I walked up Mount Fuji; never mind that the notebook was in a plastic bag, the rain turned it to pulp.
At the same time, I hadn’t brought anything with me big enough to be used as a daily journal, and I was seeing so much that I regretted not writing about. Writing on the computer was far too impersonal, and, besides, by the time I could open up my laptop, the moment had often passed.
So, having learned my lesson, I bought a few Rite in the Rain waterproof paper notebooks, and I’ve never looked back. These things are absolutely incredible. I once tore out a page, wrote on it, and then ran it under the kitchen faucet for five minutes. The paper didn’t get soggy, and the ink didn’t run at all. My little green memo book is a permanent fixture in my back pocket, and hardly shows any wear after a year and a half.
I filled up my first all-weather travel journal in six months; it was the perfect size to pull out during while traveling by train or bus and do a little reflection.
The final ingredient is a pen that will work with waterproof paper. I carry the "bullet" style Fischer space pen, which is small enough that it fits in my wallet, yet as long as a normal pen when opened. All in all, carrying a waterproof memo book and bullet pen have saved me a lot of frustration on the road.
So, get out there and write! People will quickly get tired of looking at your pictures, but you can tell a good story over and over again.
Yes, you should bring guidebooks with you. More specifically, you should bring Lonely Planet country guidebooks with you, and supplement them with the fantastic resources available for free at Wikitravel. But don’t buy the paper copies; they weigh a lot, and you’re only going to be using a few pages at a time.
Instead, buy digital PDF editions of Lonely Planet guides through their online store. It’s often cheaper than buying the print edition, and though you may feel that the prices are steep when you’re on a limited budget, it’s like having a local friend in every new place you go.
Now, of course, you’ll want to carry useful maps and information with you while you’re out and about exploring, but carrying your computer or tablet would be ridiculous and cumbersome. This is easily remedied.
Many smartphones can read PDF files, so you could just copy the file to your phone, and read it there. But that’s not easy to do, and often the readers are quite slow and difficult to use. Remember, you only need a few pages out of each book.
Instead, do this: use the camera on your cell phone (or your digital camera) to take a picture of your computer screen displaying the information you want to carry with you. I’ve used this method many times while traveling to “print” information, even hotel reservations and train tickets! It’s one of those things that seems obvious in retrospect, but never occurred to me to do until I saw someone else doing it.
Likewise, if you are in an unfamiliar town and see a big, public map, take a picture of it. The streets that you’ll get lost on are rarely the same ones that have maps handy!
Why Lonely Planet?
When I first started planning trips, to Europe, I would buy loads of guide books, from Rick Steves, Fodor’s, Michelin, and everyone else professing to be an “expert” on Europe. And I’m sure that some of those guides — the Michelin in particular — are useful to a certain variety of traveler, but the Lonely Planet never hit a wrong note. Their mainline country-level guide series always seem to have the right amount of detail, and I’ve never been disappointed by their hotel or restaurant recommendations. (I will leave aside one glaring error in the location of a London restaurant called “Café in the Crypt,” to be charitable).
These days, Wikitravel can fill in the blanks and update what Lonely Planet can’t, but too often Wikitravel is written by amateurs, or overtaken by local commercial interests; it can have big black holes. (The up side, of course, is that it’s easy to help improve the site).
What really convinced me of Lonely Planet’s superiority, though, was meeting one of the authors. He was an American who spoke fluent Mandarin, and knew Singapore inside and out. We were both staying at the best hostel and tour company in Singapore, the Betel Box. Shortly thereafter, it would go from zero recognition to the top listing in the new edition of Lonely Planet Singapore.
Lonely Planet’s always been honest, not too serious, and full of travelers’ tales. Their history and culture sections are top-notch, too. I can only hope that they don’t lose this spirit under more corporate ownership, but there are worse masters than the BBC.