Disclaimer: this post is not about buying new swimsuit or researching best restaurants, this post is about staying safe, healthy and not getting into trouble. This also probably makes no sense for those who stay and eat at more sterile places and those who do only lightweight exploration within tourist comfort zone.
We are writing this as we prepare for The Journey To The Edge of The World.
Safety and staying out of trouble
- Travel alerts: many countries have their own travel warnings, but you can use pretty much any travel advisory/warnings site as your source, for example, US Travel advisory where you can find current concerns and dangers about any country and area. Don't be stupid, check out these alerts before your trip. Take the no-go warnings very seriously, other potential dangers on these sites tend to be a bit over exaggerated for an experienced traveler (made too scary), so use these in combination with your common sense and experience.
- Check visa requirements for each country, there could be nuances that will affect your travels, e.g. no way to get visa extension, no way to do multiple entry, crazy fees for multiple border crossings for certain nationalities, etc.
- Your bags: while backpacks are common, we found that having bags that can be rolled on wheels AND used as backpacks is best. With wheels you don't have to spend your energy on carrying your bag on your back where it would be perfectly fine to just roll them.
Make sure you have deeper or hidden compartments available and don't keep your valuables in a single place in your bag - hide them all around. In Central America it helps to have 2 wallets/purses - one fake with some dollars and expired credit cards, and one real that's hidden. If you get robbed - the robber/pickpocket will be satisfied with getting the fake wallet/purse thinking you're just as broke as he is.
For staying over night in the wild, e.g. jungles, group your stuff into smaller bags that close tightly if you don't want to meet a tarantula, snake or scorpion hiding in your clothes or shoes.
- Reduce the chances of water spoiling your plans - get waterproof bags for documents and devices (and test them before - 5 minutes of splashing in the water after our kayak turned bottom up in Indonesia forced me to say bye bye to my iPhone, all because the waterproof bag wasnt tested before)
If you're going to Patagonia or going to experience rain season somewhere - raincoats and waterproof shoes are nice to have.
- Reduce your chances of injury if you're planning to do trekking, especially on rocky terrains - protect your ankles with mid or high trekking shoes. They tend to be very comfy as well, most of the time waterproof + ventilation added.
- Don't forget the details: sunscreen (don't under estimate the sun), power adaptors if you need those for devices, mosquito repellents for traveling to lowlands and riversides, phrase books if you're going to remote locations where English is not very common.
Health stuff & feeling good
A lot of this will be relevant to people who travel for more than a month and to different landscapes, climates, altitudes, etc.
- Vaccines: you'll need to make sure you have those standard long term vaccines done (many receive those in childhood, but as precaution should be repeated - ask your doctor), these include diphtheria, tetanus, polio.
Your doctor is likely to also prescribe typhus, typhoid and hepatitis A vaccines.
Highly recommended for those who plan to go to jungles, lowlands, riversides in the tropics or subtropics - yellow fever vaccine and having enough malaria pills for full 7 days treatment cycle. There are no vaccines for malaria, instead you're supposed to start taking malaria pills before entering the affected zone, however the pills are extremely harmful for your liver and have a lot of side effects. Treatment of malaria is done with double dose of the same pills over 7 days, therefore we and some other travelers we met choose not to destroy our livers in advance and only take the pills if there is suspicion of having caught malaria (check symptoms online)
Another very common desease is dengue fever and there is also no vaccines against it. Same as malaria and yellow fever it's transfered by some mosquitos. Dengue is very dangerous because the symptoms resemble common cold, but it progresses very fast and since there's no vaccines - you'll need to rely on mosquito repellents, burning mosquito coils, wearing long sleeves, scarfs and pants, using mosquito nets at all times at night. Same precautions will save you from malaria and yellow fever. Take these measures seriously because there are not that many doctors available in the jungles and remote areas. We used these measures and got bitten only rarely.
There are many volunteering opportunities in South and Central America. If you plan to work with animals (e.g. volunteering with local veterinarian) - rabies shots are advised. Otherwise, getting rabies is pretty rare, unless you like to annoy or tease wild monkeys (I seriously doubt that anyone who met a wild monkey or better a gang of them thinks they are cute and lovely animals :))
- Medications: take the usual stuff like betadine (iodine) and antiseptic cream for bruises, sanitizers, disinfectants (we use Grapeseed extract)
It may sound like common cold in warmer climate is rare, but it's not unusual, besides many other things can cause fever and chills, so take some paracetamol/acetaminophen for that. All this stuff can be bought in any pharmacy, but the closest pharmacy might be pretty far away in remote places.
If you live where locals live, if you eat what locals eat and if you do what locals do, you might get some nasty bacteria in your body that can cause anything from pneumonia to urinary tract infections. And you never know where and how you're going to get the bacteria - taking a shower, having a meal, etc. Btw, learn to take a shower with your mouth closed at all times :) Sometimes you'll totally know that you're getting some bacteria - for example, if you're participating in a local ceremony that involves sharing a hand squeezed drink or better a drink preparation of which involves spitting - if you're not stupid you totally realize what that might mean for you.
So if you plan to stay in some more remote places and you travel for a while, consider getting antibiotics prescription.
Another must have is anti diarrhea medicine in combination with electrolytes to help you stop the diarrhea and re-hydrate yourself. For mild cases over the counter stuff should be fine. Severe diarrhea can be very dangerous, so it's a good idea to visit a travel doctor for antibiotics specific for severe cases. And in some poorer countries or remote communities getting diarrhea is incredibly easy.
Bad water (from shower or swimming), insect bites and a lot of sweating (in tropics) often causes nasty rashes. Hydrocortisone cream can relieve the symptoms.
If you're planning to visit and do trekking/climbing in places at altitudes higher than 2,400 meters - it's likely that you'll experience altitude sickness that is caused by lack of oxygen and air pressure. It can resemble symptoms of flu, extreme fatigue, bad hangover and it can make you pretty miserable causing severe headache, shortness of breath, fainting. Not everyone gets affected, and the symptoms can be reduced by making your ascent slower and allowing acclimatization to the altitude. We don't know yet how we're going to react to such altitudes in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, so we got some medication for helping with altitude sickness, just in case.
And finally - allergies. Your body can react pretty unexpectedly to foreign plants and substances, and you won't know it in advance just because you have never been exposed to the plants that only grow in South or Central America. So it may happen that you suddenly have an allergic reaction out of nowhere.
- Before the trip: visit a travel doctor, get all necessary prescriptions, vaccines. If you're going for a longer period of time - visit a dentist, you don't want to think about dental problems on the way. Ladies will benefit from visiting a gynecologist who can help to prepare for potentially nasty girls-only infections which can be common during longer travels.
Well, thats it, I guess. You can always reach out and ask us a questions about all this stuff.
Here is a fun little clip of our packing