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What advice do we have for other travelers? Basically make things as easy as possible for yourself. To that effect I have written the tips that follow.
Before leaving home on a long trip, check the validity of your passport, driving license and all your bank and credit cards. Aside from these things what else should you take? Not much.
Some people stock up on more or less everything before they leave on a trip, as if there are no shops once they leave their home country! In fact you can buy almost everything as you go, the only things you really need are, your passport and access to your money.
Things, such as travel guides, clothes, toothpaste, airline tickets, malaria pills, you name it, only buy them when you need them, it avoids carrying useless things or risk loosing them, and it is probably cheaper as well.
For example, it is much cheaper to buy tickets in Bangkok than in Europe, so why buy more than your (return-)ticket to Bangkok? The same goes for travel guides, an endless supply of second hand ones are for sale wherever backpackers congregate.
Do not buy new clothes before traveling, clothes are a lot more expensive in Europe than anywhere else in the world (amongst other things due to high import taxes). Take old stuff with you that you can dump or give away to make space when you buy something new.
Try to get rid of stuff you don't need. For example sell, exchange or give away books that you have read. Send stuff home that you do not need for the rest of the trip but want to keep anyway. Less baggage to carry really does make life easier on the road.
Have your digital photos put on a CD. Make another copy and send the copy home (or upload them all to a server on the Internet, if you have enough space). Photos are in my opinion something that you do not want to loose, so play it safe.
Or rather what not to take along. Here is short list of the things we had with us (besides clothes):
I am sure I do not need to tell you that the Internet can be wonderful tool. You can keep copies of important documents online, use online banking from anywhere in the world, read other people's travelogues and stay in contact with friends and family. It is a great tool to research your next destination, read up on what other travelers say, where they stayed and how they got there.
It does unfortunately take some of the distance out of traveling, as you are only an e-mail away from most people you know even if you are on the other side of the world.
Avoid those who are involved in the tourist business or somehow prey on tourists. They can be quite annoying. Touts for example can be pushy and invariably will increase the price of whatever you are purchasing. Try to meet locals who are not involved in the tourist industry. They are usually friendly and helpful and will give you a nice insight into their culture and way of life.
Except for a few places on Earth, these two categories of people should never be trusted. Check and control everything before a deal and afterwards. Have a healthy paranoia that they may try to rip you off.
With taxi drivers always agree a price beforehand or make sure there is a trustworthy taxi meter. If the driver refuses one of these two options get out immediately. But besides cheating on the fare, taxi drivers often try to steer you to hotels that pay them commission. Always decide where to stay before getting in a taxi and always say that you already have a reservation even if you don't. Any commission will invariably be added to your hotel bill.
When changing money, observe similar rules, ask the exchange rate beforehand (in writing if you don't speak the same language). Your money should stay on the table as long as the deal is going on. Count all your cash again AFTER the money changer has handed it over to you. If he even touches the money again, count it again.
With money changers if the amount is not correct, they were probably trying to cheat you, consider to end the transaction immediately. The first time could be a mistake, but if it happens again, you must terminate the transaction. Don't reward such a person with your business, take it to someone more deserving of your business.
The bottom line is, don't reward theft and treachery, reward honesty.
Try to make your presence in other countries a positive thing for the people who live there. As an individual traveler, you will most certainly not be able to alleviate all the poverty that you may see. But you can do your little bit. Spend your money wisely, buy local products and services. Reward hard working locals who are doing their best to build their own lives.
That not withstanding, as a foreigner you may end up being "ripped off" so to speak, just because you are a foreigner and are perceived to be rich.
Bargaining is part of the process and you can bargain about nearly everything, but just accept that you are not going to get the lowest possible price, instead try to think what something is worth to you and be happy if you get it for a much lower price. Also take into account if the person you are buying from is a commercial middle man, or is it the person who is actually making the product or service? How many foreigners are buying at the place, if you are the one foreigner in a week who is buying a carving from someone in the middle of nowhere, let him or her have a nice little windfall. After all what is a few dollars or euros to you, and how much is it to them.
Similarly with tipping, it is not abnormal to leave a 5 euro tip in a restaurant in Europe, so why not leave a dollar tip if the food was delicious and the staff friendly even when the entire meal only costs 2 or 3 dollars?
A word of caution, I am not a doctor nor do I have any health education background, opinions expressed in this section are purely mine (in other words that of a non-expert) based on my own experience and my interpretation of my own doctor's advice. Ignore the advice of your doctor at your own risk!
It cannot hurt to take some precautions such as vaccinations. Start preparing for such vaccinations at least 7 months in advance, because this is how much time you need to complete a hepatitis A+B vaccination. However if you started this vaccination closer to your departure date, you could arrange for booster shots while on the road or complete the treatment when you return home. For other vaccinations 7 weeks before departure should be enough.
However it is my opinion that the malaria profilaxe western doctors prescribe for minimal risk areas is a complete overkill. In these areas bite avoidance is the best policy, mosquito nets, coils, repellents, screened windows and air-conditioned rooms all help to avoid being bitten. You should do this anyway because there are no preventive drugs against other mosquito borne diseases such as dengue fever.
Certain areas are more at risk than others, so before you take pills make sure that the risk is real. For minimal risk areas, the tell tale comment from your doctor will be: "to be on the safe side". However I would rather not take anything as the side effects of the pills may outweigh the benefits. Besides if you do not take the malaria profilaxe, you will be more careful about being bitten.
Furthermore you can buy many (but not necessarily all) anti-malaria drugs in your destination countries, usually far cheaper than at home.
Visit your dentist before you leave and after you return. If you need to visit a dentist on the road do so in a well developed area. Or go to a dentist that treats the expat community.
Drink a lot of water in the tropics, just be careful that the water you drink is clean. You can get safe bottled drinking water more or less anywhere. It's always good to take a bottle with you when walking around or visiting something. A bottle carrier can be practical.
Do not let potential annoyances and risks impact your travels negatively. Remember why you are traveling, so relax, have fun, be open, meet people, make new friends, learn new things, experience life.
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