Friday, August 25, 2006

Helpful Hints:

Whether leaving the U.S. for a Fulbright experience or simply traveling abroad, I've posted here some information that might be helpful in preparing for your trip...esp if you're traveling to a transitional country or location that is particularly distinctive in some way.

We do live in a world where travel--even with security concerns--is easily accomplished but for anyone traveling abroad, remember: you are in another country and things won't work or operate as they do in the United States. Sometimes things will function much better; often, things will move at a much slower pace. The slow pace isn't a bad thing either, as long as you prepare yourself to respond accordingly to the different pace.

What would I take with me if I were leaving the U.S.? In no particular order....though for reference purposes, I have numbered the items.

1. An unlocked, multiband cell/mobile telephone. An unlocked phone accepts a SIM card. The SIM card is the circuit card that can be obtained from any mobile phone provider in a country you visit. Unlocked means the phone is not dedicated to a particular cell company. Can you buy a phone once you're there? Yes...though sometimes they're even more expensive than in the U.S. And, they might not always be unlocked. Buy a local SIM will come with a phone number, some prepaid minutes...and more time can easily be bought. Check the frequency the phone will operate on...there are several frequencies used for mobile service around the world. A phone with tri-band or quad-band service capability should work in almost any circumstance. Ideally, the phone's charger will work on any voltage--though you may need a plug adapter for it. Also, expect to learn to text message--if you don't already text message. This website has more information:

2. Pack at least a small quantity of a comfort food that you enjoy and don't think will be available. I took a 20 ounce French Press coffee maker, some "Eight O'clock" brand Columbian coffee, and a small jar of peanut butter. I knew from experience that U.S. drip coffee wasn't likely to be available...nor would I find peanut butter. If you drink decaf coffee or tea, pack probably don't be available.

3. If you take a laptop computer, don't expect to find WiFi service--unless you're in a hotel or major city. Dialup should be available. Create at least one alternate email address. If you have a webmail account from your workplace or a home university, some browsers in Internet Cafes have block-up poppers activated and you won't be able to change the setting. Find an alternate email service and open the account before you leave. Even if you never use it, it's better to have it as an option than to struggle with creating it while on the road. Do download a VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) program for your computer before leaving home. The most common service is probably Skype. Go to for info. You can actually get a telephone number with a local area code and prefix that your family can use to contact you. Skype works pretty well with a dialup connection. I've used Skype in Montenegro, Serbia and Albania. There are other services besides get one. The calls are much cheaper and it is often difficult and expensive to call from your country back to the U.S. Most services even allow you to create a mailbox where someone can leave a voicemail for you. You might also look into DSL service in some countries...also, some universities have pretty good connections. In Montenegro, I found the university's bandwidth to be limited and connections slow.

4. Orient your spouse/family/friends on how Skype is used if they also open a Skype account or plan to contact you at yours. Many VOIP systems, like Skype, will let you call another account--computer-to-computer--for FREE. Calls to a regular phone number or your Skype number will cost a little something but the cost is modest.

5. Take along a good voltage converter and buy a surge protector once you're there. The quality of the electrical service can vary...esp in the rainy season.

6. If the climate is rainy, get some really good rain shoes. Perhaps my experience was atypical but I walked a lot and did so regardless of the weather. Even a 20-30 minute walk in the rain was better than a 30-40 minute wait for a taxi...but there's nothing worse than having wet feet all day. I took some hiking boots which also protected my feet from uneven sidewalks or hidden obstacles.

7. Pick clothing that's easy to take care of and that will blend in with the population...also know that you can buy locally many things you need. Ask a local contact about an open market where the local population shops so you'll buy what they buy and get better prices. You'll know you're dressed appropriately when people stop you on the street to ask directions--they happened to me a lot in Montenegro and Serbia. Buy a couple of small, cheap plastic ponchos...the kind that are made from thin a trash bag...and plan to tuck them away in your travel bag or coat pocket. When you're caught in the rain, you will be really glad to have it. Years ago, I was in Zambia during the rainy season and it was an essential item. I only used my poncho a couple of times in Montengro but I never had to worry about being caught without some sort of protection.

8. If you're in a place with good Internet technology, a webcam and Instant Messaging might be useful. I don't want to go too far afield on tech stuff to keep you in touch with the are, after all, there to experience another culture and country. But, mailing contact is comforting to family. Do take a digital camera but be sensitive about snapping pictures.

9. A flexible disposition, a heaping-helping of patience, and a willingness to enjoy adventures... whether presented through food, travel, daily experiences or interpersonal encounters.

I may update this post in a couple of days as I think of other matters...but this is a start. Email me if you have questions or comments.

Monday, August 21, 2006

I'm back...I've been back in the U.S. since June 1. Yes, I'm tardy in adding another post to my blog but not because I haven't thought about things I wanted to talk about. Since returning from Montenegro, I've spent most of the summer with my has been a time to make amends for my absence and the many things they had to do without me. I needed the time away and regret that they did not travel with me...I hope that I can arrange something for them in the future so they will see the beautiful places I've visited and get to talk to the people I've met.

Being back in the U.S. has been both wonderful and challenging. The first month I was back, the sheer overstimulation I felt from the pace of life and conspicuous consumption in the U.S. was stressful. I was almost immediately walking less and eating more. I'm still not walking more but I have begun to control the eating--I've added back four of the six pounds I lost. I also feel like I'm ready to travel again outside of the U.S....somewhere, anywhere...but not for such a long period of time. Perhaps the day will come when I get to travel again.