Chris and I are getting ready for our next trip to South America so we're off to the doctor to find out if getting our Yellow Fever vaccine is right for us and to find out if there are any others that we need. Travel vaccines can be expensive, but we'd like to do everything we can to reduce our risk of mosquito-borne illnesses. The video above shows the vaccines that we needed based on our personal health and vaccine history, what the side effects were, and how much we paid.
Long-term travel is different than going away on vacation for a few weeks and so the planning you need to do for a long trip takes a bit more effort. When you're going traveling for months at a time, you need to think about all the regular things you would normally take care of when you're at home like paying bills and watering your plants, and also how you're going to pack and prepare for living out of a backpack or suitcase for a long time, potentially over different seasons. These are some of the things we do to prepare for a long trip, before we even start packing:
1. Check on bills that might be due. Credit cards are due regularly and pretty easy to pay using online banking, but we also consider yearly bills that will come due while we're away. For us on this trip, this means our home insurance, home tax declarations, and even our personal income tax in April. Though we can't file these before we leave, we can make sure we have access to the info we need to file while we're travelling.
2. Get someone reliable to watch your place. For us, we have someone who comes in regularly to water our plants, take in our mail, and just do a quick tour around our apartment to make sure everything looks reasonable. We've also notified our insurance company that we'll be away and we have someone watching over our place.
3. Figure out your cell phone plan. We don't like to use our Canadian cell phones when we're travelling long-term outside the country as that can get very expensive, very quickly. So before we leave on our trip, I always look up the different mobile plan providers and figure out the carrier and plan that will work for me, along with where I can buy the plan. If we can get a sim card at the airport with the carrier we want, that usually works best for us. E-sims that you can purchase online before you leave are another option, but we haven't been able to get that to work for us yet, so we're still using physical sims. As a side note on this, banking apps and other secure sites often rely on 2 factor authentication, where they send your cell number a text with a number that you need to then enter on the site or the app to log in. Since we're not going to have access to these texts when we're travelling, we use other options to verify our identity. These options are often either through email or a separte authentication app.
4. Learn a bit of the Language. We've been learning Spanish for several years, so we feel comfortable carrying on a basic, though somewhat slow conversation in that language. If we're going to a non-English, non-French, or non-Spanish speaking country, especially if we're going to be visiting smaller towns, we try to learn a few basic phrases, like "Hello" and "Where's the Bathroom?". We also install a translator app on our phone, with the language downloaded so we can use it even without internet access. This comes in handy if we're at a restaurant with no English menus or at places like bus depots when we're trying to buy a ticket or board the correct bus.
5. Get some of the local currency before you leave. We don't like to carry too much cash on us, and rely on getting small amounts from ATMs as we go, assuming they are available, but we always like to have a bit of cash in the local currency available when we land. It's helpful for paying for buses or taxis when leaving the airport or anything we want to pick up before we figure out where the ATMs are.
6. And speaking of ATMs, check your PIN code requirements. In some countries, the PIN codes accepted by the ATMs may be different from our home country. For example, sometimes people have a 6 digit PIN, but in some countries, the ATM will only accept a 4 digit PIN. And we also make sure we're using a card that's on a network supported by the country we're visiting.
7. Check your gear. We don't like to buy a lot of new stuff for our trips, but sometimes it's inevidable. On this particular trip, we know we're going to be doing a lot of multi-day hikes, and our current trail runners are on their last treads. So we're picking up some new goretex trail runners before we leave. We'll also review our packing list and make sure that we're not running low on any consumables that we might want to bring with us, like soap and batteries.
8. Go to the doctor and check your prescriptions. Depending on where we're travelling, we may need updated shots and medication. We like to book a doctor's appointment too so they can make appropriate recommendations. And because sometimes vaccines take a while to kick in, we try to see our doctor several months or even more before our planned travel dates. And for prescription medications, we may also need to fill more of the prescription than usual. Since we're travelling for 4 months, we're going to need at least that, plus some backup meds. And we always make sure that the meds are well-labelled, are legal in the countries we're travelling to, in the dosages we're carrying. Just because a medication is legal in Canada and the US doesn't mean it will be legal everywhere. And in some cases,there may be limits on the amount of medication as well.
9. Plan your trip from the airport to your accomodation. It's fun and exciting to plan out all the trips and excursions we're going to do in a particular place, but we also make sure to look at how we're going to get from the airport to our accomodation on the first day. Airport wifi isn't always great and we may not have a SIM card yet, so make sure we know how to navigate to our destination without the internet. Downloading Google Maps before leaving helps too.
It's been almost two months since we've arrived back home from our last trip. Though I enjoy the comfortable familiarity of Vancouver, my interest in daily life is starting to wane as winter approaches and the days grow darker. The motivation I have for doing anything that requires getting off the sofa is diminishing fast even though it's also making me feel a little ill. I think it's time to get back out there.
We're packing for 4 months of travel through 6 different countries over all 4 seasons and everything we're bringing needs to fit into just 1 backpack each. Our clothing and gear needs to let us tour big cities and eat at restaurants in trendy neighborhoods, do multi-day hikes sleeping in tents in the mountains, swim and snorkel in the ocean, and trek through the jungle. And our computers and electronics are coming with us too.
And because we'll be travelling on planes, buses, and boats, some of which only allow small amounts of luggage on board and we want to be able to move easily from one location to the next, everything we're packing needs to fit into one backpack each. We do also get a small carry on bag too.
Chris and I are leaving Vancouver for the next four and a half months to travel through six different countries and all four seasons. As we begin this next adventure, we must ask ourselves, "is it bad to travel?"
It seems like there are more and more news articles and social media posts how travel and over-tourism negatively impacts environment, population, and livability. According to the David Suzuki Foundation, global tourism is responsible for 8% of the world's total emissions, which is higher than the construction industry. The carbon impact from a single flight is the same as driving your car for an entire year, and unlike so many industries that are reducing their impact, the airline industry's emissions are continuing to rise as more and more people are travelling more and more often.
To help curb airplane emissions, France has banned short-haul flights between cities that can be travelled to in less than 2.5 hours by train or bus. And travel isn't just bad for the environment, it can be bad for locals too. The Hawaii Tourism Authority indicated that top issues in 2022 for tourism as cited by locals on their island are overcrowding (69%), damage to the environment (67%), higher cost of living (62%), and traffic problems (62%) . In fact, 67% of residents strongly or somewhat agree with the statement: "This island is being run for tourists at the expense of local people."
In Venice, Italy, its canals are extremely polluted, its city streets are ridiculously crowded, and its cost of living has skyrocketed because of over tourism. It's become so bad that the city's population of locals has been declining rapidly over the last decade . To help protect itself, the city of Venice is introducing a pass system. The system requires tourists wishing to enter the city to book their visit ahead of time. This ambitious system to control the number of tourists entering an entire city is the first test of its kind to see if it will improve the conditions of this very popular area.
In developing countries, many of the areas tourists frequent are owned by larger organizations and the money tourists spend does not go to support the local population. Furthermore, the hotels and resorts built-up in these areas make the rest of the area too expensive and not very attractive for local businesses, office space, agriculture, and recreation, driving locals out of a place they once called home.
We know that travel has a downside, and as someone who loves to travel we wonder if our lifestyle is contributing to over-tourism and environmental decline. But there must be some benefits to travelling right?
I know from personal experience that travel has opened my eyes to how other people live and see the world, and this has made me more understanding of other points of view. I feel like it's made me more compassionate and has allowed me to see how lucky I am to have grown up in a G7 country. Before I started travelling a lot, I'd look at postcards from beautiful, sunny destinations and wonder why anyone would emigrate away from such amazing places. Now I see that these picture-perfect destinations might not be so perfect for those trying to create a life with choices, freedom, and opportunities, for themselves and their families.
I've seen studies that indicate that people who travel are healthier and less likely to suffer from a heart attack, that travel makes you happier and less likely to suffer from depression, that it enhances your creativity, boosts your confidence, and reduces stress. Though funny enough, many of these studies seem to be funded by the tourism industry.
Despite the source of the funding for these studies, from personal experience, I do think there are huge benefits to travel. The biggest ones to me are about learning about other ways of life, experiencing language and cultural challenges that change my frame of reference, and meeting people with different views and upbringings from my own. But do these benefits outweigh the negatives?
I can't say that these benefits out weight the all the negative impacts caused by overtourism but I do think there is value in it.
So does wanting to travel make me selfish? I hope not. So here are some things I try to do to reduce some of my impact.
The first thing we try to do is avoid areas that have been over-visited with little tourism controls. We also try to work with local companies that provide benefits to the local economy. We'll be doing the Salkantay and Inca Trails in a few months, and though it's not perfect, the Peruvian government has put a permitting system on the trail to reduce the damage caused by hikers. To hike the trail, we must also go with a licensed guide. There are tons of Inca Trail tour operators, and we tried to choose one that benefits the locals. The company we went with was started by 2 local porters from Cusco, they pay their porters and staff a fair wage and give them vacation time, and they are one of only two companies that hire female porters.
The second thing we do to reduce our travel impact is to visit local restaurants and buy from local establishments. Instead of looking places to eat that cater to tourists wanting a meal that's similar to what we can get at home, we try to find restaurants that are operated by locals, where we can experience the local cuisine and try something new. And by doing so, hopefully we're supporting the local economy and local businesses too.
To further reduce our impact environmental impact, we try to visit places for extended periods, so with one flight we can see many things. When we're at our destination we opt to walk as much as possible, just like when we're at home, and we try to buy local foods, often from farmer's markets to reduce the distance the food is travelling while we're there.
Travel seems to be getting a bad rap in the media these days, but I think a lot of good can come from it too. I don't know how to get around the carbon emissions of plane travel, maybe purchasing carbon offsets can help, but I think we can take action to make it so tourism benefits the local economy instead of taking away from it and in doing so, the learnings and new understandings we take away from our trips can make the world a more compassionate place.