Summer is nigh, the fulfillment of travel promises of earlier months, and with as yet no sign to remind one that the fresh young loveliness of hitting the road will ever fade.
It is the time to turn new corners, to raise the nose to fragrances thick in the air, to cup the ear to the murmurings of water, and to wrap the eyes in blankets of color. We can go barefoot in the grass, pluck the charms of flowers, whistle in the warming breeze, and board the planes to the romantic places of our dreams. Summer is the perfection of thought, until we remember we left the stove on.
As with any summer travel, the smile of light can have its pitfalls and pitsummers, if the traveler is not rightly attuned to or aware of warning signs. Many, and I include myself, celebrate uncertainty, mystery, and well-planned trips gone wrong. But it is just to a point, as nobody wants to go over the cliff of recklessness.
For many years I've tested the parameters of travel, and have made discoveries, and mistakes. I've learned equally from both. And so, to guide those desirous of good travel this summer, passages without dread or detours, I've put together my list of the top five travel tips for this summer, gleaned from delirious misadventures all over the world:
1) Keeping Cool in the Heat: Lessons from Libya
I obtained the first permit to lead American tourists to Libya, but it was for May, when the Sahara really starts to burn. As we were crossing the southern desert with our camels and Tuareg guides, the temperature soared to 140 degrees, Fahrenheit. We started the trip with 16 folks, but heatstroke began to claim one after another, each of whom had to be evacuated. By the time we finished the trek, only four made it the whole 10 days.
What did I learn?
a) Protect your skin in the sun, and wear loose-fitting, light-colored natural fabric clothing, and a wide brimmed hat.
b) It may seem obvious, but drink plenty of water, frequently, along with sports drinks or other sources of electrolytes. Sip, don't gulp. Adding mint leaves, or orange, lemon or cucumber slices to your water makes it more refreshing
c) I learned this trick from my guiding days in the Grand Canyon. Every hour or less remove your cap or hat, and pour a bit of water into the hat, then quickly invert it and place on your head. Also, soak your bandana frequently
d) Avoid caffeine and alcohol, as these promote dehydration.
e) Eat spicy food. It's not a coincidence that many in hotter regions of the world eat spicy food. Spicy food increases perspiration which cools the body as it evaporates. It also can cause an endorphin rush that is quite pleasant and might make you forget about the heat.
2) Getting through Foreign Customs and Immigration: Lessons from Ethiopia
I once carried two new whitewater rafts into Ethiopia for an expedition. Customs wanted to charge me 100% of the cost of the rafts as duty, but said they would waive if I had my passport marked that I was responsible to export. Both the rafts were bitten by crocodiles, and ruined, but rather than carry them home, I put them on a train to Djibouti to a made-up recipient, and had my passport cleared.
What did I learn?
a) Check the government website on your destination country to understand customs and duties for anything you are carrying in. It's often cheaper to buy locally if there is a high duty.
b) Make sure you have enough blank pages in your passport for any additional stamps, and that your passport is valid for six months beyond your entry date into the country
c) Be courteous, respectful, responsive and humble when dealing with customs and immigration officials. They are human, but with a lot of power, and can pull you aside just because of an unpleasant stare or sharp word.
3) Power While Traveling: Lessons from Annapurna
I was at basecamp on Annapurna with Ed Viesturs, who was attempting to climb the last mountain in his quest to summit all 14 8000 meter peaks in the world. I was on assignment to cover the story for Microsoft, but my sat phone ran out of juice. Luckily my friend Didrik had brought some solar panels, and he unfurled them in the snow, and we were back live.
What did I learn:
a) Bring phone battery chargers, such as the new Energizer portable chargers.
b) Bring an international plug adapter, so you can plug into those weird foreign sockets
c) If in a remote area, consider bringing a solar battery charger
4) Travel Immunizations: Lessons from the Amazon
I was in Manaus, Brazil, overseeing an expedition that was hoping to cross the Amazon basin, north to south, when suddenly I collapsed in a hot sweat that then turned into chills. I had malaria, and had not taken the proper malaria prophylaxis, but rather a dosage left over from Africa.
What I learned:
a) Don't use out of date medicines, or those prescribed for a different region.
b) Check cdc.gov for recommended immunizations for your destination
c) Consult your physician 4-6 weeks before traveling, and ask him to research through his professional sources any medical precautions or preventatives currently recommended.
5) Finding a Great Restaurant Anywhere: Lessons from Chile
I arrived in Santiago, famished. I checked in, and decided to find a place to eat. I saw a sign that said "Ñachi," which sounded interesting, perhaps a Chilean variation on nachos. But when the dish was served I discovered it was hot, fresh blood from a goat slaughtered in the back. After one bite, I barely made it to the bathroom in time to recycle.
What did I learn?
a) Don't be random. Look for an online edition of the local newspaper. Most newspapers have on-line editions that contain large collections of dining recommendations and reviews from previous issues.
b) Don't trust the hotel concierge. They are often paid to recommend certain restaurants. Rather, ask at a fine wine store where they like to go eat.
c) Don't always trust the first person you ask. Some people have weird or just plain bad taste. It's always good to corroborate someone's opinion with at least one other person.