Travel Tips to a Friend

Some recommended travel tips and Health Precautions for Adoptive Families

Consider health conditions that you personally are more likely to get. I am prone to ear infections especially when flying long distances. Prepare and take along medicines that you “might” need. I spoke to my doctor who gave me an antibiotic prescription that I was able to start taking immediately when an ear infection started. This way you don’t have to miss a step shopping in pharmacies when you don’t know your way around and time is precious.

I also packed an entire ziplock bag full of over-the-counter drugs and necessities. Ibuprofen, nausea, headache, antihistamine, sleeping aid . I use a sleeping aid at beginning of long airline flights. And they help sometimes when your sleep cycle is disturbed by the travel.

Germs and Hygiene: Children need all the love and affection they can get. But remember to carry a 3 oz travel bottle of hand sanatizer. While in close contact with children, love them all you want but do not touch your mouth, eyes or any scratches or open cuts. Then sanitize your hands as you are leaving.

Purchase a roll of camping toilet paper and carry it with your small hand sanitizer everywhere. These are compact and its easy to face any bathroom or latrine when you have your own supplies. (even your own Sham-Wow is nice.)

If you do get a small scratch or cut on fingers or toes, disinfect it and treat it. Then cover with a band-aid and keep it clean. If if should start to show signs of infection…soak twice daily in very hot salt water or hot water with antibacterial liquid available in pharmacies there. If you get any cut on your feet, treat as above and discontinue wearing flip-flops for a few days. Wear closed toed shoes instead. Try to bring a very good First Aid Kit. It will provide many little things you probably won’t need but nice to have if necessary and it makes a great gift for the orphanage before you leave.

Mindful Steps: When walking, climbing stairs, getting in and out of cars or just moving about, be more mindful of your movements than you are at home. We are very unconscious about our movement. We have an expectation that sidewalks do not drop off 3 feet and stairs will be an equal height as we descend them. It’s easy to twist an ankle getting down out of a 4 wheel drive and stepping into a unexpected pothole. Watch and think where you are going. You’d be surprised how quickly this becomes habit.

Read up in travel books about water and what kind of food is safe to eat. Drink and brush teeth with bottled water only. (Even in nice hotels.) Check the plastic cap of the water bottle to be sure it hasn’t been tampered with. Avoid dairy products unless you’re in a nice hotel. Before ordering a meal, ask what takes less time to prepare. You can end up waiting 3+ hours for your meal to arrive.  It’s a good idea to bring a supply of protein bars and beef jerky. Dried food that can satisfy hunger if you get delayed somewhere. (And you WILL get delayed somewhere.)

Oregano Oil Capsules: Take a bottle of oregano oil capsules purchased at the Health Food Store. It is a natural anti-parasitic and antibiotic.If you suspect you have eaten something that could cause GI problems. You can take a capsule of oregano and it will kill anything in your stomach before it can make you sick. Avoid food from street vendors unless it’s fruit with a peel. Pineapples and avocados are fine and delicious. Restaurants are usually fine. But be careful of raw fruits (with thin peels) and vegetables like salads or coleslaw. And avoid dairy products unless you are certain they are pasteurized.

Since DR Congo is not recommended as a travel destination for US travelers, it is wise to have reliable contacts there that can advise you about the areas of active rebel activity versus safer areas. This frequently changes so it’s good to get updates. Also, register your itinerary with the State Department website.  Get your vaccinations…small pox is required but I never had anyone check my card.  Be sure to take your malaria medicine one week before you depart and a full week after you return from your trip. I found the whole range of prices for malaria prevention medicines was based on increasing side effects with decreasing price. Doxicycline is an effective malaria prevention even though it is technically an antibiotic. Gave me bad dreams for a few days. I think it was available at Wal-mart’s $4.00 group.

If you are going to Kinshasa, ask you agency representative about the following.

Make an appointment with your bank to go in and take out your cash for the trip in almost new and perfect $100 bills. (Do not expect to use a credit card.) These bills need to be within 3 years of new print, never folded and without ink marks or the tiniest tears. Best to carry them in a passport pouch and money bag wrapped under your pant leg. Obviously, if folded bills are not accepted, the travel belt with a pocket for folded bills is not useful. Bank tellers will be annoyed unless they understand the reason for your request. That’s why it helps to make an appointment.

Open markets are fun places to shop. But remember you stand out like a sore thumb. You are assumed to be very, very, rich. So vendors will inflate their prices. Ask a local to ask the price for you. And these are crowded places…good for pick pockets. I never kept more cash in my pockets than I could afford to lose when shopping.

I encourage everyone to take advantage of their excess baggage allowance and bring items to donate. At this writing, each 50 lb box or suitcase costs $150. A steal when you think of how it will affect lives. Remember that if your excess baggage charge goes over $500 it must be paid in cash at the ticket counter. Giving things away in Africa was my greatest pleasure. Medwish International is a non-profit organization that donates FREE medical supplies to anyone who is serious about delivering them to places where they are needed. Vitamin Angels does the same thing for Children’s Vitamins and Prenatal Vitamins. Be very cautious about expiration dates on the vitamins. It is not recommended to try and bring donated medicines past Customs.(Those for your personal use are fine.)  It’s best to raise funds and purchase medicine in country for various clinics. Antibiotics, Anti parasite and anti-malaria medication will save lives especially young children.

Take a camera with a rechargable battery with a two-prong European style adaptor.  You don’t want to have to stop on your trip to shop for more batteries. I took several ShamWow towels. They are highly absorbant. If you get stuck in a hotel room without towels, they work great. And they take up very little room in the luggage. They can also be given away as gifts…they can be used for diapers and women’s products.

A couple pair of nylon underwear that can be hand washed (with small bottle of Woolite) and dried overnight came in handy.

Make copies of your passport. Pack them in several different locations. Leave a copy at home with friends or family.

I was glad I had earplugs a few times. Some planes are very noisy and you never  know where you’ll end up in a hotel.

I collected jewelry from women friends who were not wearing it…ever. The jewelry was easy to pack and became wonderful friendship gifts for Congolese women. Remember, a caregiver in an orphanage may make about $100 per month. Saying “Thank You” and following with an unexpected gift is a wonderful surprise for her.

And a small journal is wonderful. I wrote in a diary everyday. It was handy entertainment and also very therapeutic for processing the diverse new experiences and culture shock.  I hope this helps. Good luck to anyone who’s planning a humanitarian trip to Africa.


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