The thought of business travel usually conjures images of shuttles to the airport, crowded departure lounges, cabs to hotels, and garment bags. Restaurants featuring baked potatoes, steaks, Malibu chicken, dinner rolls. Meetings with PowerPoints and suits.
Clothing usually is composed of slacks, dress shirts, shiny shoes. Toiletries include shampoo, toothpaste and toothbrush. Maybe some aspirin or Tylenol for the fatigue- caused headache.
I certainly have that kind of business travel. But I also have business travel of a different kind. This kind of travel usually begins with the shuttle and the airport, but there the similarities start unraveling. This kind of business travel may involve 4×4 trucks and snakes, cold-water showers, pickpockets (and worse), as well as myriad language difficulties.
With these alternative types of trips, an equally alternative travel kit is in order. I have learned, oftentimes the hard way, a few lessons in how to travel the less beaten paths.
Clothing. In the last couple of years, I have been working on a project in the Manu region of Peru. We’ve been working on a water system serving a mixed native population on the edge of the Amazon where the Andes meet the jungle. One thing I discovered was the importance of pants that close at the ankles. I once heard a comic making fun of all those pants that have ankle closures. He said “Are they keeping stuff out or keeping stuff in?” I’m here to tell you, it is to keep stuff out.
Tropical climates and especially grassy areas in the tropics are alive with little bugs that have their way with your ankles if you let them. I know a Brazilian anthropologist who duct-tapes his pants closed around his socks. Light colors are important too — Tsetse flies are drawn to dark colors. In Peru, you may travel from 200 feet in the jungle to over 11,000 feet in the Andes in a few hours. Lightweight layers of clothing are essential, as well as many, many pockets for everything from cameras to GPS to notebooks or cookies.
And don’t forget that hat! I did once and it almost cost me sunstroke listening to a long drawn-out speech on a plaza in Nicaragua during the noon heat (although I admit that drinking Fleur de Cana at a New Year’s party the night before and only getting a couple of hours sleep in 48 had something to do with my general condition that day). Fortunately, a thoughtful person loaned me a painter’s paper hat.
Speaking of shorts, they are oftentimes not appropriate outside of tourist areas in Central and South America, nor are sleeveless blouses for women. And don’t show the bottoms of your feet to anyone in Thailand, they will be gravely insulted. Details, details.
The toiletry kit needs a bit of enlarging also. Besides shampoo and razors, it’s a good idea to take Neosporin and anti-fungal cream. A small wound in the tropics can turn into an ulcer quickly. DEET insecticide is essential. I put it on my clothes, my skin, everywhere but around my eyes. Some people like to throw in ORT (Oral Rehydration Therapy). If you get ill, it is important to keep your electrolytes balanced. ORT contains salts and glucose. If you get cholera, it is important to drink as much water as you can to keep from debilitating or fatal dehydration.
A washcloth and a towel should also be in there somewhere, as they may not be available at local hotels. And there are more than 50 known uses of the Southeast Asian sarong, those batiked wraparounds so popular in Thailand.
I tend to leave the laptop at home on these trips. The tropics are not friendly to laptops, nor are bumpy back roads. I have one friend that bought a Panasonic armored model after her regular business laptop broke two months into the Peruvian experience. I do take my GSM network Treo 600, though. If you order the phone direct from the factory “unblocked” it will work just about anywhere in the world. When I was in Sumatra in March, I could get my e-mails by pushing one button. With a PDA like that, I can do without the laptop, especially since all major cities and airports these days have Internet cafes.
Food is always a big issue with adventure/business travel. I tend to eat and relish everything, everywhere I go. I like to partake of the local food for the pleasure of new tastes, as a way to show respect to those I am dealing with, and as a way to understand the local culture. There are some rules here though. To avoid the scourges of typhoid, I never eat raw foods that I can’t peel myself. Avoid salads, anything uncooked. I drink water that I know is safe, either bottled, chlorinated, or water from one of our slow sand filters.
A whole other topic is personal security, but at least remember the three A’s — Awareness, Assessment, and Action. Ruminate on those words for now and I’ll share some of those experiences another time.
And finally, I try to check the news before I go. I always feel really dumb when I arrive in a country to find a revolution going on that I wasn’t aware of. Substitute “revolution” for “hurricane” or “national strike” — and you get the picture.
No matter where you travel, however, as the Boy Scouts always say, it pays to be prepared.
Humphrey Blackburn is the president of Blue Future Filters Inc. in Bellingham.