Travel Preparation: Before You Go

IMG_9544

Okay, here’s the thing: I originally wrote this post around two weeks before I was meant to leave to Tanzania but never had the time to read through and edit it before I left. It was meant to document my travel preparations, but then I got too busy with all these last-minute arrangements. Yes, this entire trip has been incredibly hectic from the beginning.

I’ve started the process of applying to an organisation that provides internships all over the world in late April when I went to an info event. This included having an official interview. I signed up for the online platform and internship database in mid-May. After that I had to attend two further workshops/meetings, met with a buddy that was assigned to me to discuss my search for internships, and so on. This database offers you a couple of thousand of internships in all over the world and I had huge troubles choosing. I was open to a lot of different projects and wanted to go to a lot of different countries. I’d have been willing to do an internship that wouldn’t have been my top interest, if it was offered in a country I loved. Or I’d have done a really interesting internship even if it was in a country that wasn’t high on my preference list. Can you see the problem here?

In any case, I finally settled on an internship about Gender and Health Improvement in Tanzania (never mind the fact that I ended up doing something entirely different in the end). This was my way of giving Africa a second chance after my experiences last year, and I was actually quite excited about this.

So apart from all the stuff I had to do in order to get this internship, what else does travel organisation include?

VISA

Please check a couple of weeks in advance about the best way to obtain a visa (if needed). Most embassies have websites now and offer a lot of visa information on there. You can either send all your paperwork there via mail, or go there personally. However, be prepared for one or two hurdles along the way (they need more paperwork and other forms, you need to attach this or that… there always seems to be something missing).

Some countries also offer Visa Upon Arrival. This way you can apply for a visa once you’ve landed at the airport (or passed the border). If this is too unsure for you, then just get the visa in advance.

Make sure you get the right visa, though. Depending on the country, there are a lot of different visas offered. For example, multiple entry and single entry visas. Please make sure to read the information on these as well. In India for example, it’s possible to get a multiple entry visa, though they state that there has to be a certain time frame between each entry.

VACCINATIONS & FIRST AID

IMG_9235

Another thing to get done in advance are your travel medications and vaccinations. Some vaccinations don’t require a big time frame but rabies injections, for example, you need to plan well in advance.

If available, it’s best to go to a Centre Of Travel Medicine and get advice from the doctors there. They are very competent and know about which vaccinations are required for which countries/regions. If you don’t have that nearby then discuss it with your personal physician. They will tell you what they feel would be necessary for you, depending on the country you’re going to and the activities you have planned there. In some countries, certain vaccinations are required and people actually check your immunization card before they check your passport, so make sure you are covered.

I’ve been going to the same institute in Vienna for years and I’m very content with that. I’ve never felt like they talked me into getting vaccinations that weren’t all that necessary just for the sake of making money.

If you’re from Vienna here are two places you can check out:

One last thing about the topic of malaria and mosquitoes. I have never taken malaria pills to India, Nepal or Thailand so far and I haven’t had any bad experiences. However, (and this goes for those countries as well as Africa) be smart! There are two ways to protect yourself. One is to use repellant. Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts and sleep under mosquito nets. This is about 80% of how to avoid catching malaria. Two: take malaria pills if you are in regions where this is an issue. Again, your doctor will provide you with more information about this and will help you choose the malaria pills that will be best suited for you.

But don’t forget that the pills are only part of the deal. Minimize the threat of being bitten by mosquitoes first.

Again for people in Austria or Germany: I have had very good experiences with “No Bite” and “Anti Brumm”. Both are available at pharmacies. You can buy repellant for skin, but also for your clothes, which is also recommended. Furthermore you can also buy already impregnated mosquito nets, they might be a bit more expensive – it’s entirely up to you if you feel like this is necessary or not.

For all things first aid and travel sickness related I have to repeat myself once again: get advice from your doctor or pharmacist, but here are a short list of what I usually take with me:

  • Something for diarrhoea
  • Band aids
  • Disinfecting wound spray
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Pain medication
  • Something to bring down fever

Also, do not forget to have your teeth checked by your dentist before you go on longer trips. There’s nothing worse than having toothaches while miles and miles away from home.

INFORMATION

Inform yourself about the country you’re going to! Just to throw some questions at you:

  • What is the dominant religion?
    This might influence the time you want to make your trip, as people usually advise you against going to islamic countries during Ramadan for example. Therefore it is also important because it can influence the clothes you need to pack.
  • How is the political situation?
    Is it safe? Are there areas, times or activities you need to steer clear off?
  • What is the weather like?
    Summer? Winter? Rain season? Dry season? No season at all?
  • Are there ATM’s I can access? Is it better to take Visa or MasterCard?
    Visa, by the way, is better in most countries. You can run into some problems with MasterCard, but you best check this with your bank.
  • How’s the medical situation?
    What standard are the hospitals? Where can I find them? Do the people there speak sufficient English?
  • What are the costs of daily life there?
    Is it cheap or expensive?

Try to get as much information about the country you’re visiting as you can. This will help you make your stay a lot smoother.
I was debating whether to write this or not, but please also inform yourself about the legal situation regarding alcohol and drugs. You might want to know that in Thailand, for example, the possession and use of drugs are punished very severely. And trust me, you don’t want to end up in jail in Thailand just because you’re having fun at a full moon party.

FLIGHTS

Get your flights booked and confirmed in advance. This might be necessary as some embassies require a confirmed flight (and return) ticket to issue you a visa.

 IMG_9427

I had a lot of fun writing this. I guess for me it was quite therapeutical at the moment, because apart from the information and vaccination I hadn’t done anything from my list when I wrote this. I was trying to get all the paperwork needed for the visa for weeks, but ultimately ended up getting a Visa Upon Arrival for the first time. I was praying that it would go off without a hitch and it did. The wait was quite long but apart from that I had no troubles at all. My flights were still not confirmed because I was flying with staff tickets. It’s utterly chaotic and stressful – as it is every time I travel but there’s no sense in worrying now. The flight to Tanzania turned out well, the flight back was a nightmare. Some tears were shed in frustration and desperation but it all worked out somehow.

This entry is supposed to give you some ideas on what travel preparations (can) involve. I do not claim that it is complete. If you think something major is missing please do let me know. Also, and I cannot stress this enough: I do not have a medical degree. Please contact your physician and talk to them regarding travel vaccinations and medications.

Advertisements

Travel Stories: Water & Food Culture

Let’s talk a bit more about food, water and food culture, okay?

Water:

I’ve been sick because I drank bad water before. It happens. I’ve never had something serious (thank God!) but it’s definitely annoying. Still, it’s very important that you stay hydrated. Especially in countries like India, Thailand or Nepal where it can get super hot! (Believe me, fainting twice in the middle of a sightseeing tour is not a fun experience!).

So what do you have to look out for? Again – most of this is probably common sense:

Don’t drink tap water. Just don’t. Maybe you’re not used to drinking tap water anyway, but in Austria we have great tap water, super clear. I usually always prefer tap water to any other drink if I’m thirsty so this is something I always have to remind myself of.

A lot of private households will have a filter installed and it’s mostly safe to drink the water. The occasional ice cubes in a drink won’t kill you either, but if you’re unsure, just say you don’t want ice in your drink. That problem is solved easily.

If you’re out sightseeing and you buy a bottle of water from street vendors or little shops, make sure that the cap is still sealed and cracks when you open the bottle. Sometimes people will collect used bottles and fill them with dirty water, put on the top and sell it again. Please pay attention to this!

When I discussed this with a group of friends, a different topic came up: namely the issue of waste. If you drink about 3 litres of water per day – that’s a lot of garbage. Especially in countries where the recycling system isn’t as elaborate as it is in Europe or North America.

We came up with a couple of alternatives:

1) Chlorine tablets: This may not taste so great and it’s probably also not the healthiest solution if you’re staying long term, but it makes the water drinkable.

2) Solar filter: This is a bit pricier but my friend swears by it. She said she traveled for months and always used this and never got sick and would recommend this to everyone who’s traveling for a longer period of time. It’s a small solar filter you can stick into a bottle of water for a few seconds and the water’s clean. I have no personal experience with this but it may be an alternative.

Food Culture:

Don’t waste food. Only take as much on your plate as you can eat – you can always get a second serving if you’re still hungry.

I know from my experience in Nepal and India that people sometimes can consider it rude if you don’t help yourself to a second serving. In this case it might be wise to purposely take less at first so you can agree on a second serving.

Be a bit adventurous. Try new things – you might like it (or you might not at all, but try it anyway!) I’ve had fish ice cream (there was this store in Singburi, Thailand that only sold food made from fish. Cakes, chips, ice cream… not my favourite but a lot of fun to try!) I’ve also tried scorpion (uhh…. what can I say? It tasted very bitter….). These things might not be culinary highlights but they’re fun and if you get the chance, why not give it a try?

IMG_0465
[Above: Fish ice cream | Below: Scorpion we ate on Khaosan Road in Bangkok]
IMG_1642
However, it doesn’t have to be stuff like that: Asian countries are well known for their great food. Try curries, salads, noodle and rice dishes. In touristy places they won’t be very spicy (if you ask them to make you authentic Thai food, they will be though!) anywhere else: spice is good. I love spicy Asian food because even though the seasoning is hot, it doesn’t override the actual taste. With European food, if you eat hot there’s the possibility that all you taste is spicy and hot and no actual taste – that’s not the case with Asian food (if you eat well, of course ;))

Keep in mind: spicy is healthy. It will quickly clear out a blocked nose, for example.

IMG_0461
[Above: a typical Thai-BBQ. The water heats up so you can boil vegetables while you can grill meat in the middle. | Below: Self made Papaya-Salad (Som Tam). Super easy to prepare and super tasty – However, take care, this can be extremely spicy!]
IMG_0496
IMG_0500
[Above: Pad Thai. Personally, I don’t quite like the texture of the noodles. Nevertheless it is one of the most well known thai dishes and still very delicious. | Below: My lunch during my week at the beach in Koh Samet. Just some fruit – it was too hot for anything more than that.]
IMG_1513

Some more important info:
Thai’s like to decorate and season with peanuts. Be conscious of that if you dislike nuts or are allergic and make sure that you tell them when ordering your food.
In general vegetarians shouldn’t have huge troubles finding food they can eat. If you travel to places that are less touristy, ask a receptionist (who almost all speak English as well as Thai) to write down that you’re a vegetarian on a piece of paper in Thai script. You can show this paper at a restaurant and people will understand.
If you eat in a typical thai restaurant, you will probably never find a knive. Knives only exist in the kitchen. Cutlery consists of forks and spoons. This is mainly due to the fact that typical thai food doesn’t consist of huge pieces of meat that you have to cut (like a big steak). Most of the food will have the meat and other ingredients cut into small, bite-sized pieces. Not having a knive makes things like spreading butter or nutella or jam on a piece of toast kind of interesting, but it does work with a spoon as well. It just takes some time getting used to ;)

DISCLAIMER:

All opinions and recommendations on this blog, but especially concerning these travel stories, are solely based upon my own experiences and in no way imply that anyone else will have a similar experience. All travelers are encouraged to use good sense and to keep their eyes open whenever venturing forth into a new place. Please use your common sense and listen to your own instincts.  Each traveling experience is unique to the person having it and I hope you have many!

[If you think these posts are helpful, or if you think there’s something missing then please let me know! They’re part of a presentation  I gave with a group of friends and we will hold it again twice next autumn. If there’s something we can do to improve it I’d really appreciate some feedback! Thanks.]

Travel Stories: Presentation!

017_18A (3)
[Thailand 2004]

Yesterday was the day!
Together with 2 other girls, I held a presentation about how to travel safely and smoothly through Thailand. We were a small group, roughly all in my age and it was quite a lot of fun. The Feedback we got was very positive as well and we’ve been asked to do it again once or twice in September or October. So if you’re in Vienna and planning to travel, come say hi?
There will be presentations about Nepal and India as well, and I’ll probably join that preperation too. (Presentations about East Africa and South America will be offered as well, best see this website about information :))

All in all we spoke for about 90 minutes, which we think was maybe a bit too long and it will be held shorter next time. Still, I think the personal stories and experiences made the whole presentation a lot livelier and fun :)

As an unexpected bonus we were told we’d get paid a tiny amount from the organisation who approached us – it’s not much but a nice sentiment none the less. However, I’d love to make a job out of this. Would anyone sponsor me? Any volunteers? That would be a dream come true.

Until that happens, I’ll continue to crawl my way to the end of the uni semester and try to get some last minute travel preparations for this summer done. That’s not too bad either, I think :)

We ended last night talking about the feedback and the experience (first ever presentation that wasn’t for university or school, but work!) while sipping this really nice lemonade:

IMG_8113

Sparkling water, lemon juice, mint leaves and ginger. Yummy and so refreshing!

I hope everyone had a lovely week as well,

xo Kristina

Travel Stories – Food: Street Vendors

019_20

Food is a huge topic when traveling, no? It’s an even bigger topic when you’re traveling to what we’d call a developing country.

Let’s address some topics that might be of concern:

Street vendors (and food sold at markets):

005_6A (4)

People often warn you, “Don’t eat food from street vendors!” But should you really? Is it really that unsafe?

In my opinion: No.

It can be, sure, but if you pay attention you can very easily find out where it’s safe to eat from and where it is not. Keep your eyes open, and observe closely. Are there other people buying from that vendor? Does it look clean and fresh?
A tip (and this goes for street vendors as well as restaurants): if there are a lot of locals it’s most probably safe and definitely delicious.

My experience was – not only in Thailand but in India and Nepal as well, – that you can find the absolutely best, most delicious and authentic food in tiny roadside restaurants or at street vendors. When I travel with my family, we generally always try to stay clear of typical tourist restaurants. We stumble in the most unlikely places and have the craziest, but most delicious and yummy food you could ever imagine. Plus, it’s much cheaper!

The same thing goes for local markets. You can find amazing fruit, vegetables or pastries there, but rely on your common sense and if you’re unsure about it, then I’d say better safe than sorry.

026_27A (3) 027_26 (2)
013_14

Raw food:

026_27

In general there’s this rule you should stick to:

Cook it, peel it or leave it.

That’s it, not much more to say about this one. It’s pretty self explanatory.

009_10A (2)

[Photo credit goes (sadly) not to me but to a close family friend. All pictures were taken in 2004 on my first trip to Thailand. We forgot to take our own camera. Stupid, I know.]

DISCLAIMER:

All opinions and recommendations on this blog, but especially concerning these travel stories, are solely based upon my own experiences and in no way imply that anyone else will have a similar experience. All travelers are encouraged to use good sense and to keep their eyes open whenever venturing forth into a new place. Please use your common sense and listen to your own instincts.  Each traveling experience is unique to the person having it and I hope you have many!