By Henrylito D. Tacio
Most people love to travel — especially if the trip is to another country.
While most travelers find their journey memorable and exciting, there are those who come home frustrated and exhausted. A few unfortunate ones even end up facing life imprisonment or the death penalty.
There are several reasons for travel fiascos but most of them can be avoided. Here are some basic rules to keep in mind when traveling abroad:
1. Be prepared. Get to know the country you’re visiting. Buy a travel book and a map of the city you’re going to. Get phone numbers of your friends or relatives who may be living in the area (just in case you get lost).
Be sure to have all the necessary documents: a valid passport (check six months’ validity), visa (if the country you’re entering requires it), plane tickets, letters from your sponsors (if you’re invited), identification card, and other pertinent papers.
Don’t forget to bring your camera, video recorder, and medicines (if you have health problems). If possible, make a check list and check all items you put into your luggage. That way, you won’t miss anything.
2. Read up and make sure you know what you need to know. Before leaving, get some firsthand information from your government through its travel advisory. Ask friends or relatives for tips. Read news stories about the country you’re visiting. But don’t believe everything you read or hear.
3. Observe regulations. Be at the airport at least two hours before departure. Carry-on luggage must fit under the seat or in an overhead compartment. Dangerous articles such as compressed gases, explosives, flammable liquids and solids, and poisons and infectious substances, are not allowed in carry-on luggage.
Do not carry drugs. In most Asian countries, travelers found carrying illegal substances undergo the death penalty or life imprisonment.
4. Expect the unexpected. Murphy’s Law states: If something can go wrong, it will. Some incidents that are likely to happen include flight cancellations, delayed flights, lost or delayed luggage, and being singled out before entering your flight.
5. Watch out for killer legs. Thomas Lamb, 68, had been sitting in his economy-class seat for almost a day traveling from London to Australia in 2000. When he arrived in Melbourne, he had breathing difficulties and was taken to the hospital where he fell into a coma and died later. Cause of his death: deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
“DVT is caused by the combination of the following: changes in the levels of blood clotting factors, sluggish blood flow, and an injury to the protective lining of the vein,” explains Dr Gary Raskob, dean of the college of public health at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
To avoid having DVT while flying, experts recommend dress comfortably, preferably in loose clothing. Get up to stretch the legs at least once every hour. Avoid alcohol and drink plenty of non-alcoholic liquids (water, orange juice, etc.). While seated, stretch your legs occasionally.
6. Get ready for jet lag. Most experts believe that jet lag occurs when a traveler’s internal biological clock is out of synchronization with the time zone of a person’s destination, thereby disrupting the normal daily rhythms of sleeping, eating, and other activities.
Some symptoms of jet lag include constipation, clammy sweat, diarrhea, disorientation, dry cough, dry eyes, dry skin, ear ache, fatigue, headache, hemorrhoids, impaired coordination, impaired vision, impatience, and insomnia.
To zap out of jet lag, experts recommend getting enough sleep before flying. During the flight, drink plenty of fluids, avoid alcohol, pretend you’re not on a plane, socialize, and relax. When you arrive at your destination, don’t take a nap- — especially if it is still afternoon. Wait until it is and you have eaten your dinner.
7. Shop till you drop. This is one of the most common things a foreigner usually does in another country. Before going out, however, have a good idea of what to buy and don’t be impulsive. Do research on the product beforehand and decide what your price limits are.
Alan Robles, an award-winning Filipino journalist who has been in almost all parts of the world, recommends shopping around. “Don’t snap up the very first offer you’re made. Say you’ll think about it, or you only have so much cash, and go to other shops. This holds true for impulse buying as well, when you find yourself attracted to something you never meant to buy. Check out other shops. As for being tempted by a too good to believe offer on luxury goods, well, you’re on your own there. Chances are it’s pirated.”
8. Beware of rip-offs. Wherever you go, rip-offs can happen. In Malaysia, for instance, a common complaint is overcharging taxi drivers who either “forget” to turn on their meters or claim they are broken.
9. Don’t be lost in translation. One good thing about traveling in non-English speaking countries is the opportunity of reading some signs that are totally absurd if not funny. In Bucharest, for instance, a hotel posted this notice: “The lift is being fixed for the next four days. During this time, you will be unbearable.” A hotel in Japan has this notice on its elevator doors: “Do not open door until door opens first.”
Some businessmen have their own way of promoting their skills. An Israeli butcher in Nahariyya assures: “I slaughter myself twice daily.” A dentist in Hong Kong advertises: “Teeth extracted by latest Methodists.” This one comes from a barber in Zanzibar: “Gentlemen’s throats cut with nice sharp razors.” A barber in Tokyo beats them all when he publicizes: “All customers promptly executed.”
10. Mind your manners. When visiting temples and mosques in Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, wear proper attires and remove shoes at the entrance. n Burma, remove your shoes before entering homes.
Touching someone on the head is considered rude in Vietnam. In Japan, if bowing does not make you feel awkward, bow. When sitting in South Korea, do not stretch your leg out in front of elderly people or women. When eating a Chinese meal in Singapore, never stick your chopsticks into your food.
In most Asian countries, the left hand is regarded as unclean, so avoid using it when handshaking, touching, eating or passing food, papers, and money. In Malaysia and other Muslim countries, avoid giving a bottle of alcoholic drink or a pigskin wallet. Just remember: The culture of the country you’re visiting is different from yours.
11. Travel with open mind. American novelist Mark Twain once said: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”
12. Pay attention to what you eat. When abroad, you have to cope with the unique types of food served and how they are offered.
Four years ago, I visited my sister Elena Chase in Minnesota. One night, we went out to an “all you can eat” restaurant in Duluth. Getting thirsty, I walked to the place where the drinks were located. I took a glass from the table, scooped some ice, and filled my glass with soft drink. I returned to my seat.
Before I could touch my drink, I saw a waiter pouring hot water into the mount of ice where I had scooped earlier. With no clue, I whispered to my sister and told her what I had done. “What?” she exclaimed. “That’s dirty ice.”
The above rules are far from complete. But they’re a good start. You will discover more as you travel from one country to another.
Robert Louis Stevenson, Scottish essayist and author of fiction and travel books: “I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”
Happy trip! — ###