Health matters. Staying healthy is important, and in this regard, I have a few suggestions.
- Get every vaccine that you can get. If you’ve already had the disease (e.g., measles), get a booster. Vaccines are usually covered by health plans, and, if not, they are cheap. DON’T GET THEM ALL AT ONE TIME. I don’t care if it is safe; you will feel like crap. Spread them out over many months in advance. Get them all. Including rabies. I’ve known people who were in the middle of nowhere and got bitten by a stray dog; their stress goes through the roof as they try to get to a hospital for treatment. Having already had a rabies vaccine means that you are protected; you still need to get medical care just in case, but you won’t be stressed and scrambling. Let me reiterate – get them all. Hepatitus A, common in some parts of the world with occurences even in the Western countries, may not kill adults, but it can make you feel like crap. The vaccines are free or low cost and there’s utterly zero evidence that vaccines are unsafe.
- Download a general health book. I had a hard copy of the Mayo Clinic guide which I scanned in and saved to my hard disk before I left. It’s a general-purpose health manual that I can use even if I don’t have Internet.
- Pepto-bismol. I don’t know how this stuff works, but my experience suggests that it is a useful tool. I got food poisoning a few months back. I know this to be the case because I ate some not-fully-cooked eggs (I prefer them over medium, and I did the cooking), and within an hour I felt bad, and within a few minutes after that, I broke out into a very cold sweat. (The autonomic nervous system is an amazing thing.) I immediately made a dash for the pepto-bismol and ate two or three of them and laid down. The chemical must make things inhospitable because I got up an hour later feeling peachy keen and never got sick.
State Department. Finally, I want to suggest that US citizens take two steps to enhance their security. The first is to enroll in Global Entry with the Department of Homeland Security. It costs about $100, and lasts 5 years. Of course it gives you the speed line through airline security, but it’s really about a couple of other things that you should consider. You get your fingerprints taken and they run an FBI check on you, and you’re pre-validated as to who you are (i.e., US citizen) and that you are not a threat. And second, they provide you with a government-issued photo id which could prove useful should your passport is ever lost. That is just a guess, but I think if you walked into an embassy with your Global Entry card, they would have good reason to believe that it was you. Keep it apart from you passport.
In addition, I enrolled in the State Department’s STEP program, which is their online, self-administered way for the US government to know where you are. They will send you relevant travel alerts (e.g., I got Turkey warnings while in Bulgaria) as well as notices from the embassy (e.g., We got an invitation to the ambassador’s home for his annual town meeting for locals – it was interesting in many ways). More importantly, if something really bad happened, they would know your local address and phone number in order to provide protection or evacuate you. Finally, for me it also provides government-aware documentation of my expat status, which could be relevant for taxes, Affordable Care Act, etc.
Finally, let me identify a few handy items that one might not consider, but which are very useful when traveling for a long period of time:
- Scissors. A good pair of scissors is extremely handy at times. They raise fewer suspicions than knives, too.
- Permanent markers, preferably an ultra fine point sharpie. This is a very handy tool. You can take notes on any glossy paper in an airplane or hotel. You never have a problem dashing off a post card. You can write your name on cellophane food packages or wax coated milk cartons if you are staying in a hostel and have your food in the kitchen.
- Lightweight cord.
- Zip ties, preferably the small ones. These are remarkably useful throw-away devices. For example, you can make a quick laundry line with cord by tying it down. If you have quick dry clothes, then you can always do a simple wash in the sink if necessary. MORE IMPORTANTLY, you can zip tie your luggage zippers; yes, they can be cut, but the preference will be to go after bags where it will be undetected.
- Wireless router. This sounds a bit crazy to some, but I assure you that it can be useful. I brought a router and 50 ft of very thin Ethernet cable. With it, I’ve been able to set up a wireless access points in a hotel room where access was otherwise crappy. Also, if it has DD-WRT, you can set up your VPN on the router and every device you have will be VPN-enabled without havign to do anything on the devices. Third, it also beats having to get the wireless login and add the network to all the devices; just plug it into the existing wireless router, and everything lights up since they already have this network keyed in.
- USB drives. Not one. Multiple, including some throwaways. These are cheap, and having them allows you to use Internet cafes (assuming you scan the device afterwards) or to share photos with others.
- Headphones. Your travel partner will appreciate not having to listen to your phone calls, music, movies, etc. If space is an issue, have earbuds.