Getting it Together on the Road – Preparing for Travel to a Third World Country

While you’re reading this, I’m probably getting my butt kicked by some waves in Nicaragua. The WiFi situation is not good (i.e., third world country Internet) so sorry for my laziness/lack of photos. Also now you know why I’m not commenting on your blog. I’ll be back soon, I promise!

Can I even say Third World country? Is that politically correct? I think it’s developing nation but whatever, I majored in fashion, not poly sci. This post isn’t about how to act in a Third World country – act like a normal, respectable human being and be compassionate, duh – but rather, how to prepare so you can have an awesome, stress free trip and maximize your time doing cool things, not dying of food poisoning or getting Tom Hanks-ed at the terminal when you don’t have a visa.

I recently joked to my father while packing for Nicaragua that I couldn’t remember at what point in my life that I traveled somewhere so unprepared that it caused me such post traumatic stress disorder that I grossly over-pack every time I leave the house, let alone the country.

In college, I studied abroad in Hong Kong for 6 months, which is clearly not a third world country – it’s much cleaner and more advanced technologically than the US in many places. I literally had no idea what to expect especially since I didn’t even know where it was on the map (nerd alert: coming from a girl who competed at the State Geography Bee numerous times). So what did I do? I thought about every country in Southeast Asia I would potentially visit while there and prepared accordingly.

  • Check what vaccines you need.
mekong river delta |almost getting it together

Me five years ago in the Mekong River Delta, not dying of malaria because I was prepared.

If bugs are bad where you are going (so, basically everywhere in Central/South America, Africa, or Asia), and you can get anti-malarial pills, do it. Something in them definitely helps keep bugs away. Also use a bug repellent with 40% DEET. I don’t care about the chemicals, I care about scratching myself to death in my sleep and how I look with shorts on.

Make sure you get booster shots. One polio shot in the US as a child is good, but in places where it hasn’t been eradicated, it’s probably a good idea to get it. Same with hepatitis A – you can get it from contaminated food/water, and last I checked, kidney transplants aren’t fun.

If you’re going to South America or Africa, you’ll need a yellow fever shot. You can also get a typhoid shot for Central/South America and Africa. Five years ago I was able to take pills for typhoid, but allegedly according to my doctor now it’s shot-only.

  • Find out if you need a visa.

This should be self-explanatory – see if you need a visa in any of the countries you are traveling in. If you’re a US citizen, it’s more likely you’ll need one than your foreign pals. Take visa photos (you can get them taken at any pharmacy) for any country where you get a visa upon-arrival.

Always make sure you have at least 1-2 completely blank pages in your passport as well as at least 6 months’ validation left. If you’re traveling and about to run out, you can stop by the American Embassy (you usually have to make an appointment) and get more pages added.

  • Pack snacks.

I know, I live in fear of being hungry. I pack snacks for the drive to work basically at this point in my life. You never know what the food options are going to be where you’re going – I kind of remember one Sunday in Italy where everything was closed, including the grocery store, and I was literally about to eat my arm I was so hungry. I only kind of remember because we finally found an open bar and a bottle of wine on an empty stomach with our new 80 year old friend Rocco really did me in.

I’m also a complete psychopath and pack oatmeal, nut butter packets, Kind bars, chia seeds and protein powder with me whenever I go anywhere. Then I know I at least have some nutrients in the form of fiber, protein and healthy fats. My family actually packed a suitcase full of American food for me every time they came to Hong Kong (then took back a suitcase full of crap I was over).

  • Get currency before you leave.

Third world countries are great at ripping you off with fees and awful exchange rates. Some countries I’ve visited, like Cambodia, take American money – but it has to be in PRISTINE condition because counterfeiting is rampant. If you give your bank enough notice, they can order any currency for you for free – you just pay the exchange rate.

Also – tell your bank you’re leaving or they’ll cut off your card.

  • Don’t flaunt your wealth.

Leave the good jewelry at home. I don’t care if you feel naked without your [insert jewelry here]. So do I, but I’d rather feel naked for a week or two rather than never see it again. There’s pickpockets everywhere, even in Pittsburgh, I’m sure, but you don’t want someone to cut off your wrist for your diamond tennis bracelet. Also it just makes you feel guilty. This tip is also especially good for Europe, especially Southern Europe. A gypsy once stole my grandmother’s wallet when we were in Barcelona (still hasn’t turned me off from My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding).

Chat with me:
Have you ever traveled to a Third World country? How did you prepare? Would you ever want to visit one?


Spill It Sunday [2]

The theme of this week’s “Spill It Sunday” is one of my favorite things – traveling. I’ve been so many places it’s hard for me to narrow it down – each place is so special and has its own memories and awesome things about it. I picked three of my most memorable trips – runners up that almost made the cut were Argentina and possibly Paris, because despite everything, I still love it. Thanks Arman for hosting such a fun link-up with the best topic this week!

The Big Man's World

1. Hong Kong
Hong Kong will always be such a special place to me. I literally went there on a whim. I had no idea where it was on a map until I was booking my plane ticket. I don’t know if I even realized it was kind of China at the time. This sounds really ignorant coming from the girl who got a 5 on the AP Human Geography exam without taking the class and was a total geography/history/social studies nerd but I was a freshman in college so what do you expect – clearly I was concerned about drinking vodka and not what the globe looked like.

If you go: Eat a ton of dim sum and eggettes (street-waffles), pay a hospital bill at 7-Eleven (long story), go see the Tin Tan Buddha on Lantau Island (Take the cable car, duh – and be sure to eat lunch at the monastery. I still dream about their vegetarian meals), check out the Jade Street Night Market and mingle with the other expats in Lang Kwai Fong.  Also make the trek out to Shek O – it’s one of the best beaches on the island.

I could go on for days about Hong Kong. I would probably live there if it weren’t for the oppressive heat and humidity. If you’re ever going be sure to let me know and I’ll make you potentially the best itinerary in the entire world.

almost getting it together | hong kong lantau island

Me on Lantau Island

2. Cambodia
Cambodia was life-changing for me. I remember watching the sun rise at Angkor Wat (best known from Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) and being so inspired and in awe that I literally could not sleep that night. That had never happened to me before a day in my life and hasn’t happened since.

almost getting it together | sunrise at angkor wat

Sunrise at Angkor Wat. I never pretended to be attractive at 19 or 20.

Cambodia is so inspiring and yet, so sad. Millions and millions died under the oppression of Pol Pot in the 1970s. If you don’t know, everyone educated and living in the capital, Phnom Penh, was marched out by the Khmer Rouge to work camps in the country, unless they were murdered first. A lot of the citizens are begging in the street or maimed from land mines that are still extensively in the countryside. There are monuments to “The Killing Fields” all over the country and nothing stops you in your tracks and puts things in perspective than a case of skulls out in the open.

If you go: Get up early and see the sunrise at Angkor Wat, go horseback riding through the countryside to see little known Wats, rice fields, and the beauty of the country, eat at Happy Herb Pizza and Cambodian BBQ and spend too much money at the Artisan’s Market that is run by victims of land mines. You can get amazing hand-knit silk scarves for $1o and you know the money is going to a good cause.

I have only been to Siem Reap but in another life or time I hope to spend some extensive time in Cambodia volunteering. (Once I break myself from the dependence of needing to be no more than 20 miles from a Whole Foods at any time).

3. Hawaii
My dad and I went to Hawaii earlier this year. I had never thought about going to Hawaii until my dad wanted to go “see a volcano” (literally his words). He more or less had to put me kicking and screaming into the car to go to the airport to come back to Pittsburgh (after I demolished an entire papaya with my hands, of course).

Hawaii is great because it’s technically in the US but you don’t feel like you’re in the US. It’s expensive and difficult to get there so you see more Japanese and Australians than Americans. (I love America – I love Americans – I hate American stereotypical tourists. We’re the worst.)

almost getting it together | hawaii

Lava selfie.

If you go: We went to Oahu and the Big Island (Hawaii) but plan on going back to Maui and Kauai hopefully in 2014. In Oahu, do the hike up Diamond Head’s Crater, eat too many Acai bowls, head up to the North Shore and grab shrimp at every single shrimp truck on the way (I know I’m allergic – I just took my chances because they were too delicious not to). On the Big Island, you’re cheating yourself if you don’t go see lava (look up to see where it’s flowing – when we went it was across private property so we had to pay $100+ to hike 2+ hours over hardened lava to go see it). If you don’t go surfing while you’re in Hawaii you’re a fraud.
Chat with me:
Where’s your favorite place that you have ever visited?