“Is that a baby alpaca in the kitchen?” It was most certainly, but I didn’t care.
Our tour bus had finally found a place to stop for an overdue dinner on our nerve-wracking journey to Lake Titicaca. Locals protesting Peru’s upcoming elections literally stopped all forms of transport by piling rocks, old tires and even dead washing machines onto the highway.
A six-hour trip became a 14-hour experience in civil unrest. Riot police marched ahead to clear debris allowing traffic to snake past protestors. We stooped in our seats as stones were thrown at our bus.
1. Enjoy the Ride
A baby animal wandering around our restaurant was the least of my concerns. But hey, I was practicing Lesson One: Go with the flow and enjoy the ride.
Travel is a constant adventure, but some experiences are unwelcome. In today’s uncertain times, preparedness has taken a new meaning. There will come a day when we’ll start crisscrossing the globe again, though, so there’s no time like the present to share travel tips for the unpredictable!
2. Take an extra supply of medication
In 2010, I became an accidental Irish tourist during a business trip when the Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted, shutting down all air travel. During the early days, exploring Dublin and jumping on the train to Galway was great fun, but by day four, reality set in.
I didn’t have enough medication for a serious health condition and there was no indication when flights would resume. Fortunately, my hotel recommended a clinic where I was able to get a prescription.
On day six, airlines started up again, but I learned Lesson Two: bring at least a week’s extra supply of critical medication while traveling.
3. Translate important medical conditions
While speaking with an Irish doctor was simple, communicating in a non-English speaking medical office brings its own challenges. My calf was swollen during my time in Cusco. I have a clotting disorder and truly struggled to explain that to the Spanish speaking staff that I thought there was a blood clot.
Fortunately, there was nothing wrong, but that brings me to Lesson Three: if you have a medical condition, consider wearing a medical alert bracelet while traveling and translate your medical condition and medications into the local language.
4. Always pack hiking sticks
Injuries can also wreak havoc on a trip. While gazing at the rocky hillsides that surround the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, I missed a step and tumbled down a few stairs, which ended badly with my ankle swelling like a battered melon. I could hardly walk.
A dear friend came to the rescue with a pair of hiking sticks which gave me the support I needed to get through the last few days of the trip. Lesson Four: foldable hiking or walking sticks are light, take up virtually no room in a suitcase, and come in handy for those (like me) who are less graceful on their feet.
5. Carry small bills
India is absolutely one of my favorite places in the world, but it can try your patience.
The all-time most memorable was when Prime Minister Modi removed virtually all of India’s cash from the economy, overnight. With no warning.
We literally woke up to a memo slid under the door of our hotel room in Goa stating that 500 Rs denominations (a mere $7.50 in November 2016) and higher would no longer be accepted…anywhere.
India operates largely on a cash basis and when exchanging money, it’s difficult to receive notes smaller than 500 Rs. Ninety percent of my currency was now useless. The hotel couldn’t exchange money and the lines at the banks stretched around blocks.
With a little creativity, some bartering and perhaps looking the other way, we were able to get around. We made the most of it, which is a lesson in itself. Learning to roll with the punches while traveling can make or break your trip.
However, the real takeaway is Lesson Five: ensure that if you’re in a “cash-only” country, carry plenty of small bills. Not only are these good for tips or a chai (tea), but they can literally get you places.
6. Dress like a local
The rioting in Peru also reminded me of Lesson Six, one that I’ve been practicing throughout 20+ years of travel. The angry mob throwing stones were not protesting the USA that day, but they certainly were not fans of America.
The civil unrest that day necessitated a low profile so as not to inflame the situation. Like it or not, Americans are not always welcomed where we might want to travel.
My words are no doubt controversial, but I avoid wearing baseball hats, shirts with sports logos, white tennis shoes, and anything else that screams “hey, I’m American” when traveling abroad. After all, this is an opportunity to step into another culture, and that includes dressing like a local.
7. Register with STEP
One final lesson – Lesson Seven: register with the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) when traveling off the beaten path or during a crisis.
STEP registration enrolls you with a local US Embassy or Consulate where you are traveling, keeps you informed of necessary advisories, and may assist during an emergency. For example, this program coordinated the repatriation of stranded travelers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s free to register and in times of conflict, it will keep you informed, which is worth it for peace of mind while enjoying that long-awaited trip. STEP registration can be accessed via https://step.state.gov/step/.
From baby alpacas in the kitchen to carrying small bills to dressing like a local, just remember, travel is all about making memories and enriching experiences. Being as prepared as you can will enhance the enjoyment factor.
Author Bio: When not mentoring scientists, speaking at conferences or sunning herself at the beach, published author and photographer Julie D. Suman can be found traveling the world and capturing those moments through her lens. Follow me on Instagram @seebyjuliedee. (www.seebyjuliedee.com)