Sunday, December 21, 2008

I took this photo while traveling alone and it ended up in the Schmap guide :)

For those who don't know, gives you free .PDF maps of destinations. They use photos from fellow travelers. In this case, my pic of St. Michael's Cathedral in Toronto was selected :)
I also had one of Stonehenge selected for their Salisbury guide.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Pictures For One

Unless you can find someone around to take your picture, traveling alone makes you very good at self-portraiture :) Here are some of mine from Morocco.

The Importance of Telling People Where You Are

There's no doubt that traveling alone has the asset that you can REALLY get away from it all. You can leave your cell phone at home and there's no way for anyone to know what time you've left your hotel room (or if you even checked in), where you went or where you're going. That in itself can be a freeing experience, depending on what goes on in your personal life at home. BUT BUT But, there should be some precautions you should take. I think at least one trust-worthy person back home should have an idea of your itinerary and even possibly a way to contact you in an emergency.

Smart Tip #1:

If you don't do this already (and you really should be!), take photocopies of your passport before you leave. Leave one copy at home with someone you trust. Take one with you in your luggage. Take an extra with you for when you're walking around town in the foreign country. This is because in some places, authorities have the right to stop people on the street and ask for identification. Understandably, you may not want to carry your passport with you at all times (leave it locked at the hotel). You can provide the photocopy and if they have further questions, they can follow you back to your hotel.

Or, if you lose your real passport, a photocopy *may* help you get out of the country or help you at your country's consulate. Having a copy at home means that a friend can possibly fax you a copy (if you lose everything) and also provide identification to authorities in the event of a disaster and you go missing. Sounds horrible? I know, but plan for the worse, I say.

Smart Tip #2:

Leave a copy of your itinerary with a trusted friend. These usually have confirmation numbers and they may be required to board a train or plane. In the event you lose your papers, you don't want to have to guess what time your plane leaves! A quick phone call will get you the info you need. Also keep copies of departure times and confirmation numbers in your email.

Smart Tip #3:

Agree to email or call your trusted friend at agreed times or dates, just to let people know you're alive. It's nice to go where the wind takes you and to email from a different location everyday saying, "oh, I'm in Egypt now!" but people do worry and it's nice to make sure they don't worry too much. It's for you and your friends and family to work out what works best for everyone's comfort and feelings of freedom.

While I was traveling, I discovered two things:

1) I actually wanted to communicate with the people who worry about me most, more than I valued the idea of freedom/independence. My mother, who is usually over-bearing, respected my desire to be left alone and DID NOT call me this time. It did the opposite and worried me. At the same time, I realized I like hearing from her and it was nice to chat on my cell phone with her while wandering around alone.

2) I had a few vulnerable moments (lost in the dark, feeling ill) where I realized how alone I was and if I fell and died on the street at that moment, NO ONE would know where I was or even WHO I was. It would be days before I would be found or reported missing...who knows? It was at those moments that I realized how important it was for people back home to know I was alright and where I was. Obviously, you can't tell them every minute, but at the very least, the name and address of where you plan to sleep at night and the next plane/train/bus you plan to take.

For my own comfort, I bought a cell phone at my destination so that I could call people and they could call me. I also made a point to email daily. Do what works for you and do it responsibly.

How To Pack Light and Stay Healthy

I got back from a solo trip to Morocco just over two weeks ago, so I have lots of fresh advice to offer from my experiences.

1) Half the clothes, TRIPLE the money!

You've probably heard of the travel advice: spread out all the stuff you want to take with you, half the clothes and double the money. Well, I'm changing that to half the clothes, triple the money.
I bought so many clothes, I had to buy a new suitcase! (Yes, I was trying to "rough" it and backpack, but I had to cave. So many great deals!)

Clothes can often be part of your souvenir collection from a trip and they're often cheaper in developing countries, making them enticing. For me, I really wanted to fit in with the locals and their clothes were suited to the climate.

Also, when it comes to packing, leave home with a few choice shirts and one pair of pants. NO MORE! Honestly, the clothes I wore the most were the ones I spent the most on - tops and socks I invested in that were easily washable and fast-wicking. They were all made from merino wool - very thin, yet can keep you very warm or very cool, depending on the situation. For a two-week trip I had two pairs of the good socks and two good tops. I brought some cheaper socks and tops with me and left them in places along the way to decrease my load. Next time, I will go with four good tops and maybe two or three pairs of good socks AND THAT'S IT! I found it very easy to get my washing done in sinks and baths. Add to that the local clothes I bought and I had enough clothes to last my trip. I only did two "loads" of laundry.

2) When it comes to medication, always take more than you think you'll need.

Before I left, I thought I might be being a little paranoid. I truly planned for the worst. Here's what I took with me:

-one pack of travel-sized Aspirin
-one small bottle of Dramamine
-about 20 Pepto-Bismol tablets
-4 sachets of Gastrolyte
-one round of Cipro (prescribed by my doctor in case of traveler's diarrhea, UTI or other infection)
-my regular daily vitamins (B100 complex)
-three hypodermic needles
-a small first-aid kit
-sleeping pills
-one Diflucan pill
-my regular daily prescription medications.

I did not actually follow my own advice and travel with a Plan B this time. Out of all that, what did I actually use? The Dramamine, the daily vitamins/prescription and the Gastrolyte. But I'm glad I was prepared.
I did actually catch an intestinal virus while in Morocco, which made me exceptionally happy to have the Gastrolyte, an electrolyte-replacement drink. It comes in a sachet, in powder form, making it very easy to carry around. You just have to add fresh drinking water and drink it. It did not taste great, even though I had the "fruit punch" flavor. However, after having been glued to the toilet bowl and the bed all morning, it definately helped wonders. I was happy I was "paranoid" enough to have brought it. I still felt sick and weak, but because of it, I felt that I would be strong enough to leave the safety of the guesthouse I was at and head out for real food.

What do I now think I should have brought with me that I didn't? Laxatives.
After getting rid of the virus, I was left with the opposite issue :(
You can't win.

I also had to buy more adhesive bandages because I got blisters (all those new shoes I bought!)

Just goes to show, each trip is different and you never know what will happen or what you'll actually need. Because of that, I think you should always prepare for the worst. Besides, medical supplies don't take up very much room. It's always nice to come home and unpack it all, thinking, "gee, I'm so glad I didn't have to use those needles or something worse."