Here are some tips for international travel, especially for India. Use these to make sure you trip gets off to a smooth start.
Please note I’m not a medical professional, I’m just sharing what I’ve learned for myself, so always check with your doctor to see what you’ll need before you go!
Tips for International Travel #1 – Take a Good Guide Book
Lonely Planet (I tried to leave this behind because it’s so big, but ended up buying one as soon as I got there!) Some people say you may as well throw away bits of your guidebook as you go, but in my opinion that’s (a) a waste of resources and (b) a shame, as you’ll want to go back to India before long and will have to buy another one! If you really do want to buy another guidebook for your next trip, consider leaving the book intact somewhere where it can be reused, like a youth hostel. India is a culture that recycles well, so you may as well join in! Also, I bought a different brand of guidebook last time I went, just to compare. I don’t know why but the format of Lonely Planet just seems to make info easy to find when you need it, so if you don’t already have a favorite guide book, then the LP will get you out of trouble many times over.
Tips for International Travel #2 – Money Belt not Fanny Pack
Definitely by ‘money belt’ I mean one that’s worn inside the clothes, against the skin. There are two main types, ones which go around your neck and ones which go around your waist. Either is fine, but I find the waist ones the easiest to use, as I usually travel in pants and tops, or shalwar kameezes (beautiful, long, loose (and very comfy) pants –salwar–with a long tunic top—kameez.) If you wear dresses, you may have no choice but the round the neck ones.
Keep your passport in there as well as your emergency cash (USD50-100) and if you have them, any paper airline tickets. (Your hotel manager may want to keep your passport while you’re checked into a hotel, but try to keep it with you if you can, just for your own peace of mind.)
Tips for International Travel #3 – Photocopy Important Papers
As well as taking an extra copy of papers for yourself, kept separate from the real documents (passport/visa/tickets/itinerary), copy another set and leave them at home with a trusted family member or friend. If something really strange happens, you can always call home and have those documents faxed where required.
Tips for International Travel #4 – Write Down Your Passport & Visa Number
The amount of times I’ve been in an aeroplane in a squishy seat and then had to dig around to find my money belt and drag out my passport to fill out a landing card! Every time I think, ‘I really should write remember my passport number or write it down somewhere’. I did memorize it, but then something foggy happens to my brain when I’m in an airport or on the plane and I’m never 100% sure. Just write it somewhere in your handbag and you can grab it easily when you need it.
Tips for International Travel #5 – Water
Now I don’t know about you but these new rules in many countries which disallow taking water onto the plane are reaaaaaallly annoying! I like to travel with a decent, solid water bottle (available from adventure shops and other places). If you want water on the plane and in the airport, there are two options—you’re allowed to take an empty water bottle, so just refill it from a tap after the security point, or get it refilled by a flight attendant when you get on the plane. It’s really important to stay well hydrated, especially if you plan to drink anything on the flight (the altitude heightens the effect of the alcohol).
Tips for International Travel #6 – Waterless Hand Cleaner Gel
This is always part of my carry on allowance of liquids. It’s great for when you just want to clean your hands but can’t get to a bathroom. It’s an antibacterial gel that is great for airports, flights and just having in your handbag for when you’re out and about during the day. Especially in India, where there are few public toilets for women but every street is a public toilet for men—eew! There are several brands available, now available in many supermarkets, but my travel doctor also carries it.
Tips for International Travel #7 – Don’t Forget Your Shots and Tablets!
Now which shots you require will depend on where you’re coming from and may change depending on the parts of India you’re traveling to, the season and current medical wisdom. Allow at least six to eight weeks before you travel in case you need a course of injections, some of them need time in between, such as those for Japanese Encephalitis. I’ve had shots for Hepatitis B, Japanese Encephalitis and Typhoid, for instance. These aren’t always cheap, but your health is not something to mess with.
Before my first trip, my travel doctor gave me a little passbook with the injections I’d had written in and when they were valid to. I keep this with my passport, so I can easily remember to check it before each trip and see if I need any booster shots. Ask your doctor if they have something similar, otherwise any notebook will do—get your doctor to write in the details.
You’ll get your malaria tablets at the same time as you get your injections. Most likely you’ll be told to take them for a few days before you arrive and for four weeks after you get home. From experience, I can tell you it’s really easy to remember to take them before you go and really hard to remember to take them when you get home (as you’re mentally finished your trip). So plan in advance—put a daily reminder in your phone or on your computer or similar. You need to remember to take them because you’re still susceptible to malaria for that four weeks after exposure, I’m told.
I once worked for a man who had contracted malaria in Africa and it had done horrible things to his fine motor skills, for instance and I’m sure it does other things too. There’s no way I want malaria, put it that way!
Tips for International Travel #8 – Mosquito Repellent
This might sound really lame, I mean why go to a challenging destination like India and then be worried about mosquitoes—toughen up?! But actually, it’s related to the previous tip—mosquitoes are pesky disease carriers (and the reason I could never be a Buddhist, but that’s another story) and even if you’re on preventative medication, you want to avoid being bitten as much as possible. Long sleeve/leg clothing is not only culturally appropriate in India, it’s another barrier between you and the mosquitoes, definitely a good thing. As for repellent, the best ones are sold in travel doctors/adventure stores but also some supermarkets. Look for long-lasting effects, you can even get some that are combined with sunscreen—also handy.