*Preparing For A Long, Multimodal Trip*
By: Roto
01 August 2011

Some Do's and Dont's:

  1. Don't plan your trip around the weather forecast. It's subject to change without notice and you may end up stuck in the location of your layover for longer than you expected. Don't dress for the forecast either if the forecast is warm. Flying in shorts and a t-shirt even if your heavier clothes are in your carry-on isn't good. You might not get a chance to change into more appropriate clothing in case of an emergency, theft, or some other unforeseen circumstance. Also remember that airplanes and airports tend to be heavily air conditioned.

  2. Don't assume anything even if you have double checked. For instance, at some point you weren't required to get a transit visa when going through Russia and only laying over in one terminal under 24 hours. Than that changed and changed again without much notice and many people were forced to board their next plane home at their expense without being able to continue to their destination. Make a call to the embassy or consulate of every country you will be traveling through and make sure you will not have issues. Make that call around two weeks prior to the trip since that's still enough time to fix issues and then make another call a day prior just in case.

  3. Don't assume that your credit cards will work or that your wallet will not be stolen. Distribute your cash in such a way that, if your wallet or a piece of your luggage goes missing, you will not starve or be left on the street in the middle of nowhere. Don't assume, just because you call a credit card company and notify them of where you will be traveling, that they will not flag and decline your overseas transactions. It happens a lot, doesn't happen during their business hours and you're stuck looking silly at the very least, but things can only escalate from there. I was stuck with not being able to pay for my rental car even though I had cleared it with the bank a week prior to the trip.

  4. Don't plan trips on a very tight schedule unless it's absolutely necessary. You can get sick and your whole trip will be a disaster. During my last trip I got sick twice and the only thing that saved me was that this was accounted for. There was a buffer planned into the trip of 4 days which I intended to spend on the beach in case all went well.

  5. Make sure someone at home knows your plans down to every stop. Also make sure that they know how to use MoneyGram or Western Union. You never know when you will need extra cash. Also it's not a bad idea to leave phone numbers of every person you're supposed to be meeting up with.

  6. Make sure your cell phone is enabled for international calling even if you don't intend to use it. Even at $10/minute, saving your rear in case of a real emergency is priceless. It will not cost you anything unless you actually call. Also, if you have been a good customer, most carriers will let you unlock your phone and then you can use a local carrier sim card. Note that CDMA is different and may not work even if the carrier claims that it will. If you can carry a spare, cheap, unlocked GSM phone. It may just save you.

  7. Don't get into a tight spot with local authorities. You're a foreigner, possibly not able to speak the language. Smile, be nice to them, bribe if appropriate for the culture. Sometimes it's just plain cheaper to bribe than to try to go through proper channels. Research the countries beforehand you will know if bribes are expected. Bribes can also get you into trouble if that's not correct for the culture. Proceed with caution.

  8. If you know the language - try to blend in. Accent, attire, gestures all can make or break your trip. There's nothing worse than accidentally insulting a drunken ethnic group.

  9. When moving around less heavily populated areas make sure that, in your cargo pants pockets, you have: a small umbrella, a multi-tool, a roll of toilet paper, aspirin, activated coal, and Imodium (or equivalents), a few band aids, a small pack of napkins, alcohol serviettes or iodine, your ID, a map of the area, a pen and a small pencil, a bottle of water, and a lighter (some of this can't go in carry-on).

  10. Make sure you have at least 1.5 times your budget, preferably in cash.

  11. Ask if your health insurance works overseas. If it doesn't find local options. Don't take this lightly, as a medical evacuation can cost enough to have a heart attack.

My misfortunes of the last trip were as follows:

  1. I was dressed too light. As a result I arrived with a cold, which only escalated when it poured on arrival.

  2. I put too much faith into the credit card I took with me. (Two is one, one is none... yeah).

  3. I did not take enough cash.

  4. I wasn't ready for one of my phones to be dropped into a puddle and the other one just plain refused to work.

  5. I didn't read the local traffic laws prior to going on a 1500 km trip.

  6. I ate things I knew were dangerous to eat in the summer. Food poisoning as a result.

  7. I didn't plan for not having a car, so scrambling for funds was no fun.

I hope this helps someone.

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