help! I’m going somewhere sunny!

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A friend recently asked me for Guatemala advice, because she will be visiting the country in a few months. So I shall share with you, in no specific order, any bits of potential wisdom I have gleaned from my 70 days of experience in this country.

(For reference, I have spent four days in Guatemala City, several weeks in a rural mountain town named Magdalena Milpas Altas, a weekend on the Pacific coast, four days on the Atlantic coast, and the vast majority of my time in the esteemed city of Antigua.)

I apologize in advance; a large number of these will almost exclusively be female-specific. But as I packed for Guatemala, I remember frantically looking at peoples’ blogs and packing lists online, because I had no earthly idea of how I should pack. I promise you, there are gender-neutral tips here. Also, many of these tips are specific to Guatemala, but others will be very applicable to other Latin American or Spanish-speaking countries. Regardless, these are all things I wish I had known when I came here.

1. Bring a jacket. Don’t bring a coat, but please do bring a jacket. This doesn’t apply to you if you will be staying on the coast, because it’s hot and humid there. But if you’re even a couple hours into the middle of the country, it will get chilly. By chilly, I mean about 65 degrees Farenheit, give or take a few, depending on your altitude. Nights and mornings can feel quite cold. I left my jacket in Guatemala City the first week we were in the country, so I have learned this fact well.

2. Pack clothes that you can layer, like tanktops, t-shirts, cardigans, simple dresses, etc. I brought four identical spandex/polyester tanktops in different colors (dull green, peach, maroon, and black, for the record), and these have been a lifesaver. There are very few days that I don’t wear one of my tanktops.

3. Girls, please dress modestly, but you don’t have to be Amish. I paid strict attention to the clothing guidelines that my university suggested, like “ABSOLUTELY NO SHORTS OR SKIRTS ABOVE THE KNEE” and other such frippery. Sigh. Yes, catcalls are commonplace. Yes, after a few weeks here, short-shorts seem jaw-droppingly scandalous in comparison to locals’ conservative clothing. But you can wear normal clothes. The next few tips are my clothing suggestions, influenced by seeing too many people not do these things.

4. Don’t show midriff. At all.

5. Shorts will almost ensure that people know you’re foreign, but they will know anyway, so that’s fine. Just make sure that they’re not shorter than about mid-thigh.

6. Please don’t wear zip-off pants unless you’re actually hiking. And in the spirit of this tip, know this: you are neither visiting a zoo nor a disaster area. Don’t pack like you are.

7. Tanktops are great for hot days. But because you’re a classy lady, make sure your bra straps don’t show.

8. If you have clothes that you really like and wear frequently at home, bring them. (Unless, of course, the garment in question is a furry-hooded puffy parka.) I really miss my Converse. And my cute dresses.

9. Flip-flops are really comfortable for wearing around your room, but they’re a little too flimsy for everyday wear, and they’re also considered very informal in Guatemala. Choose shoes that will stay on your feet and that will not facilitate spraining-of-ankles. But you don’t need to wear orthopedic shoes. If you have some and have broken them in, I suggest Chacos for derping-around-town. Stiletto heels are a bad idea, because A., there will probably be either mud or cobblestones or both, and B., you should evaluate your footwear on whether or not it lets you sprint when you spot an motorcycle coming at you in the middle of the street. If you really want to wear fancy-schmancy high-heeled shoes, I suggest a wedge heel. I have not tried this personally, but have noted a significant difference in gait and also in apparent stress level between people in traditional high heels and wedges.

10. Bring an umbrella. It will probably rain while you’re here. Most of the locals use umbrellas. Umbrellas are a hundred times cuter than raincoats. Have I convinced you yet? Good. I wish someone had convinced me.

11. Your purse (or murse) should ideally have these characteristics: fairly small size. zipperable or otherwise closeable. not sparkly or flashy colors. a shoulder-strap that can go diagonally across your body.

12. If you will be here for an extended period of time (I would say two weeks or up) or have other members in your group living separately from you, buy a phone! Tigo and Movistar are the two important carriers here. Tigo is better because the minutes don’t expire. Go to a local supermarket or phone stand (they’re all over, just look or ask someone who knows) and buy a cheap cellphone. Get the cheapest one you can. I got the second-cheapest option. For Q160, or about $21, I now own a brick that can text, take pictures, call anywhere, play awesome games like Panda, and do lots more things that I haven’t explored yet. Charging the battery of my brick lasts me, on average, about a week.

13. My phone came with some minutes on it. Your minutes won’t be on your phone right away, but they’ll show up after about five minutes. That might seem like a pointless tip, but knowing that would have saved me five minutes of panic and miscommunication with the gringo-weary sales dude.

14. Also, when your minutes show up, you will get a text with your phone number. Don’t delete that text, and write your number down somewhere until you have it memorized. (And for the record, if you jimmy the back off of your phone, your number will be printed there.)

15. Eventually, you will need to buy more minutes, or in the local lingo, “recargar.” (Yes, “recharge” means to buy more minutes, not to juice up the battery.) You can recargar your teléfono just about anywhere; look for the blue-and-white ubiquitous “tigo” logo, walk in, and tell the person in charge, “Necesito recargar mi teléfono.” They will ask you what provider you have, so tell them it’s Tigo. Then be prepared to rattle off your phone number in Spanish (or to hand him a slip of paper with your number written on it to prevent miscommunications).

16. Tigo has “triple saldo” days (while saldo refers to minutes on your phone, the word technically means “leftover” in a financial sense… if you’re on a budget, but you’re miserly that month and have $100 left over to blow on Star Wars memorabilia, that money is your saldo). If you buy Q100 of saldo on a triple saldo day (which you will know because every tienda will have a tigo sign with a giant “3” emblazoned on it, and you will also receive texts informing you of the happy circumstances), you will end up with Q300. Get the picture? It’s a good financial investment.

17. Texting is dirt cheap. Also, if you don’t speak Spanish, get help changing the language of your phone to English. It can be done and it will save you heartache. Also, you can use T9 in English that way.

18. If you want to text or call the US from Guatemala, just dial the US number format, including area code ([112] 358-1321 <– call Fibonnaci for a good time). All you have to do is add 00 in front of the number. (So it will look like 001123581321 when you dial it.) Calling the US on a Tigo phone is Q2 per minute, which comes to about 26 cents a minute at a 7.5Q to the dollar exchange rate. I’m not sure what texting costs. I just do it anyway.

19. If someone from the US wants to call or text you, they need to dial your eight-digit number with 502 (Guatemala’s country code) in front of it.

20. Calling someone else costs you money, but doesn’t cost them a centavo. Texting is the same way. I know this because when I run out of saldo, I can receive texts but not respond to them, and I can answer calls (and talk for however long I want) but not make any calls.

21. To know how much saldo you have left on a Tigo phone, call *256. A very nice recorded lady will tell you, “El saldo total disponible es: setenta y dos quetzales y treinta centavos” (or whatever amount you have left… it will be said in Spanish).

22. The electric plugs in the walls here are not quite the same as they are in the United States. Most of them here are simple two-prong plugs, so anything without the third rounded prong will be fine. If, however, you are bringing any three-prong-plugged electronics, you can go to Walmart or Menard’s and buy some three-prong-to-two-prong converters. They’re little, they’re chunky, and they’re cheap.

23. As you arrive in Guatemala, it is a wise idea to have some Guatemalan money (Quetzales). Around airports, many places take dollars, but don’t count on it. They may not accept dollars, and if they do, they will definitely rip you off. To facilitate this money exchange, when you travel to Guatemala, have some US money with you in clean, crisp bills. Most places will not accept torn or dirty or otherwise aesthetically-unappealing bills. At the airport, exchange about $20. This is taxi and emergency money. (Don’t exchange any more than that, though — you will get an awful exchange rate there.) Afterwards, head to a local bank (we went to a Banrural and it was easy-peasy) and exchange however much money you want. I changed $200 for about Q1500. Keep your money somewhere very safe. Very very safe.

24. Sarita is a wonderful ice cream chain with shops everywhere. Everywhere. Have some quesofresa ice cream. It is super delicious.

25. Don’t walk anywhere by yourself after dark. Don’t walk anywhere by yourself when it’s getting dark. It gets dark around 6:30 pm here, and 6 is about my limit. I walked four blocks the other day by myself at 8 pm, and it was really sketchy.

26. Please, please, don’t assume that people speak English. Learn some phrases. If they interrupt your fumbling and they speak English to you, by all means, speak English back to them. Here are some Spanish phrases that I’ve found very helpful in day-to-day life here:

“Me gustaría…” (use when ordering something off of a menu, and insert the name of the item after saying that)
“No gracias; no quiero comprar nada.” (Use when street vendors approach you and you don’t want to buy anything)
“Cuánto cuesta esto?” (point to something and ask the price)
“Es muy caro… me puede dar un descuento?” (That’s expensive… can you give me a discount? NOTE: never say this in a place with established prices, like a Sarita or a supermarket. Verrrry generally speaking, if they sell touristy things, don’t have barcodes, or are selling things in an open-air market, they’re open for bargaining. Use caution, but don’t get ripped off.)
“Me llamo [Erica]. Mucho gusto conocerle!” (My name is [Erica]. Nice to meet you!)
“Soy de los Estados Unidos.” (I’m from the USA.)
“Lo siento, solo hablo un poco de español.” (I’m sorry, I only speak a little Spanish.)
“La cuenta, porfa?” (The bill, please? To be said to a waiter after the meal is over.)
“Perdón?” (Excuse me! in a “pardon me, good sir, could I ask you…” sort of way)
“Con permiso!” (Excuse me! in a pushing-through-a-crowd, make-room-for-my-rolling-suitcase sort of way)
“Lo siento!” (I’m sorry! Literally means “I feel it,” which helps to convey the empathy implicit in this statement)
“Qué chilero!” (Guatemalan slang for “That’s awesome!”)
“Qué lástima!” (What a pity!)
“Qué interesante!” (How interesting! Use in a conversation if you have no idea what to respond to someone’s strong opinion.)
“Tienes cosquillas?” (Are you ticklish? Use at your own discretion.)
“Me duele la cabeza/el estómago.” (I have a headache/stomachache)
“No quiero hablar ahora.” (I don’t want to talk right now. This has been quite useful with creeps in el Parque Central.)
“Que tenga un buen día!” (Have a great day! This is quite useful and friendly when combined with the ever-useful adiós.)
“Que le vaya bien!” (Say this to people as they’re leaving, wishing them “May it go well with you!” This phrase is EVERYWHERE.)
“Hoy es un día fantástico!” (Today is a fantastic day.)
“Me quebré el dedo pulgar.” (I broke my thumb.)
“No me toques!” (Don’t touch me!)
“Cuál es la contraseña para el internet?” (When you’re at a place with WiFi and trying to get onto the locked internet, say this and you’ll have the password in no time.)
“Me puede traer un vaso de agua, porfa?” (When you’re at a restaurant and want a glass of water, ask the waiter this. In place of “un vaso de agua,” feel free to substitute “un tenedor” = a fork, “una cuchara” = a spoon, “un cuchillo” = a knife, “más aderezo” = more salad dressing, “una servilleta” = a napkin.)
“Cómo amanecieron?” (This literally means “How did you guys dawn,” and the implied meaning is, “How did you sleep and how was waking up?” To one person, ask “Cómo amaneció?” My host mom always answers, “Bien, gracias a Dios.”)
“Cuándo saldremos?” (When will we leave?)
“Cuánto costará?” (How much will it cost? Suggested uses: arranging things with a travel agency, taxi driver — always, always agree with the driver on the cost of the ride before you start driving!)
“Tus ojos me encantan. ¿Cómo te llamas, amor?” (Your eyes enchant me. What’s your name, love?)
“Me quemó el sol.” (I have a sunburn. Literally, the sun burned me.)
“Tiene usted cambio para 100 (cien) quetzales?” (Do you have change for 100 quetzales?)
“Tengo diarrea.” (I have diarrrhea.)
“Lo siento… me puede ayudar a destapar el inodoro?” (I’m sorry… can you help me unclog the toilet?)
“Tengo una iguana en mi cuarto y no puedo dormir.” (I have an iguana in my room and I can’t sleep.)

27. Sparkling water is called “agua mineral.” It’s lovely.

28. Drink water. Always, always, always drink water. It is so easy to get dehydrated. Common symptoms of dehydration: dizziness, confusion, exhaustion, nausea… basically, exactly what you’ll experience in a Spanish immersion setting for the first day or two.

29. Before you leave, go to your doctor and get a prescription for ciprofloxacin. This medicine takes out even the most hardy bacterial infection, and those nasty buggers are everywhere.

30. Bacterial infection: you know exactly when your symptoms hit (you’ll be able to say, “I started feeling sick at 9:15 on Thursday night”). These symptoms are diarrhea and/or vomiting. Either one will probably be explosive. Between your times in the bathroom, you might feel peachy keen. But if it continues for longer than a day, take a Cipro. Please, for your own good. If you desperately need to do something on that awful day, like climb a mountain or teach a class of squirrelly second-graders, take an Immodium. It’ll stop you up. But if there’s any way you can get out of your activities for the day, do it and just lay in bed (or the bathroom) until the storm passes. You can take a Cipro every 12 hours, and it’s usually prescribed for up to five days. Take it until you feel better. If you don’t feel better after that or if you’re not able to keep water down, ignore the cost and go see a doctor! Also, please take a probiotic if you take Cipro. After less than 24 hours of taking Cipro, I had a full-blown yeast infection. Nasty, but it happens. Don’t leave your intestines clean and empty, because there are plenty of nasty little friends looking for places to live. Take probiotics and eat yogurt. Hooray for good bacteria!

31. Parasite: your symptoms are a little more subtle. You might have been feeling kind of weird, drained, achy, or just queasy for a week or two. Then you’ll have a little diarrhea. “It’s nothing,” you’ll think. “I’ve been feeling like this for a while. I’m probably just homesick for Caribou Coffee.” Or maybe worms and amoebas have taken up residence in your intestines. There are plenty of labs around — talk to someone who knows what’s going on. You’ll need to have a stool sample done, or a “muestra.” Yay, you get to poop in a cup! You should hear back from the lab within the day. If they say it’s positive, well then, take action from there. If the results are negative but nothing is making you feel better, do it again. People are human and sometimes don’t notice things. The best part? The muestra only costs about $3.

32. You’re not going on a backwoods trek. Bring your straightener. Bring your blow-dryer. Bring your scented lotion and perfume and makeup if you want them. If you use your electronic frippery, though, unplug your computer and turn off the lights so you don’t blow a fuse. Okay? Okay. Thanks.

33. Go to bed early. Wake up early. It’s better for you anyway.

34. Guys, go ahead and skip to tip 36. Okay, ladies? You don’t need to bring enough pads and tampons for the whole time you’re here. Really, there are women here too. They also buy these things. Unless, of course, you have brand loyalty issues. Then go ahead, stuff your suitcase with Kotex. It ain’t none of my nevermind.

35. Better yet, save some money and stress and time and the environment by using a cup instead! I ordered one from http://www.divacup.com/ in December and haven’t looked back. It takes a few tries to get the hang of it, but after making it over the learning curve, this for me has been life-changing. If you’re interested, read the reviews on the site. It’s worth the money. I will never, ever, ever ever travel without one again. And I won’t ever not travel without one again.

36. If you’re going to be gone for a long time, put your cellphone service on hold before you leave. This way you won’t get charged while you’re gone.

37. What I did to get money, and what I think you should do too, is this. I got a checking account with a debit card. I made sure my debit card had a 4-number PIN (some ATMs here only accept 4-digit PINs). I hooked up my checking account to my savings account and transferred most of my money into my savings account, just in case someone hacked into my checking account and stole my money (I left about $300 in there, and when my balance gets low, I go online on a secure network and transfer more money in). I also left my log-in information with my parents so that if something goes terribly, horribly wrong, they can transfer money into my checking account for me.

38. When I need cash, I go to an ATM at a bank (Cajero 5-B is usually pretty secure, but generally speaking, you can judge the safety of an ATM by how sketch it looks… ATMs inside banks are the best). Put your card into the slot. The machine might grab it out of your hands and suck the card inside. Do not panic. Everything will be okay. You can sometimes choose Spanish or English on the machine, which is awesome. You will have a few options. You can make a withdrawal or check your balance. You can have a credit card, a monetario/DDS account, or something else. I forget. For me, even though it’s a debit card, I have to choose the weird monetario/DDS option. The motto of ATMs is basically this: try things until the machine works. Also, don’t forget to take your card when you’re done.

39. There’s sometimes a Q1000-withdrawal limit on ATMs, so if you’ve withdrawn some funds that day and it’s not working anymore, just chillax. Everything will be chilero tomorrow.

40. Make big withdrawals and then keep them somewhere safe. The fewer withdrawals you make, the safer you are from getting your financial identity stolen. And in that spirit, check your bank account online after making a withdrawal with your card, just to make sure that no shenanigans are going down.

41. Super important! Talk to your bank before you leave (or your credit card company) and let them know you’ll be out of the country. Tell them where you’re going and for how long. Otherwise, you might well find yourself stranded in Guatemala City with a blocked debit card and no way to get funds.

42. When you buy something, you will probably get asked, “NIT para la factura?” This means that the nice cashier is asking you for your tax identification number in case you are buying something for a charitable cause or for a business. Unless you’re buying pizzas for an orphanage or an office chair for your boss, you’re probably safe without the tax number on your receipt. The correct answer for you, then, if you’re a normal person, is “Consumidor final.” It means that no, you will be eating both of those pizzas by yourself tonight as you watch Spanish-dubbed episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, or that the office chair is for your own personal use in your own personal house.

43. Get to know how the money looks so you don’t look like a doofus, and know approximately how much each bill is worth in US dollars for comparison’s sake. Chart:
Q100 = about $13
Q50 = about $7
Q20 = about $3
Q10 = about $1.30
Q1 = about $0.13

44. Leave tips when you buy food. The word for tip is “propina.” To tell someone to keep the change because it’s a tip, say, “No necesito cambio. Es una propina para usted.”

45. That reminds me. Please, please please please, don’t use the “tú” form when you’re speaking with people. Address them as “usted.” It might be technically acceptable to speak to someone as “tú” if they’re younger or have less authority than you, but hey, being polite wins you points and is awesome. Most high school Spanish classes have students use “tú” with each other, so most gringos are used to that form and so use it with everyone. It’s a bit jarring. You won’t lose any friends by using “tú,” but you will earn respect if you treat others with respect. Better safe than sorry… but if you accidentally use the “tú” form while you’re speaking, don’t apologize. Just keep going and use “usted” next time. People understand.

46. You will hear the word “gringos” more than you ever have before. And gringo, and gringa, and gringas. These are generic, inoffensive words for foreigners with light skin. Also, “canche” is a guatemaltequismo (Guatemala-ism?) for “blond.”

47. If you have food allergies, be prepared to explain over and over what you cannot eat and why. Potentially helpful:
“Lo siento, no puedo comer ____, porque tengo una alergia.” (insert: maní = peanuts, leche = milk, lactosa = lactose, gluten = gluten, trigo = wheat, huevos = eggs)

48. Go ahead and buy fruit from street vendors. But buy whole fruit (“la fruta entera”) and then take it home and wash it with either pure water and soap or a special vegetable-washing soap or with diluted bleach. Then nom to your heart’s content.

49. Wear sunscreen. It’s called “bloqueador de sol” around these parts. It’s pretty easy to identify who is new to the country by seeing who has lobster-shoulders. This country is fairly high-altitude, so even if it’s cloudy, you can easily burn. Trust me… sunscreen doesn’t block tan, it blocks burn. And if you burn, you peel, and if you peel, your potential tan rips off of your body.

50. Bring your Bible. I don’t care how much it weighs; put it in your carry-on. I didn’t bring my normal Bible because it was too heavy, and instead brought a bilingual New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs. It’s great having a bilingual bible, but A., I really, really miss all the note-taking I did in my regular Bible, and B., it amazes me how much I miss the Old Testament when I don’t have it readily available. So yes. Bring your Bible.

51. First time writing this post, I completely forgot to write this tip and the next one… I guess I’m getting used to life here! SO IMPORTANT: never ever flush toilet paper down the toilet! Anything related to the toilet that is not produced by your body goes in the garbage can. If you defy this rule, you run the risk of not only clogging your toilet, but of backing up the entire sewer system to which your toilet is connected. (If you’re groggily doing your thing in the morning and accidentally toss a little paper in the toilet, don’t fish it out. Please. Just leave it, say a prayer, and remember for next time.)

52. I know it’s a cliché, and I kind of didn’t believe it before I came, but DO NOT DRINK THE WATER. There are all sorts of nasty critters that live in tap water in Latin America, and actually, in most of the world. It will be strange for the first week or so, but get used to brushing your teeth with bottled water, not gargling in the shower (apparently a favorite past-time of some people… I avoid that because I feel like I’m getting waterboarded), and basically avoiding the intake of any water that doesn’t come out of either a bottle or a jug. The predominant brand here is Salvavidas, and for the record, there’s no weird mineral tastes to the water (I am a water snob… I cannot stand Dasani). Most restaurants will specify that they use agua pura. Just be sure to get a bottle of water, rather than a glass of water. And if you get a glass of ice with your gaseosa (pop), ask, “Este hielo es de agua pura, no?”

My lovely friend Denika added these tips that she gained from her experience in the Middle East:

53. Bring some simple, high-complex-carb snacks with you (Ritz and trail mix are my favorites). You will almost indefinitely have difficulty with the food and/or bacteria, and thus will want something to keep you going that you know you can trust.

54. In the same bent, locate a grocery store close to your place of residence, particularly if you have food allergies. This will allow you to at least go and get some food that you know you can eat. If you don’t know exactly what something is, don’t buy it. Unless you’re adventurous. But you might get sick again (like if the cereal you bought is coated in a milk-based frosting that you didn’t know was there because the packaging was in Hebrew and you can only translate OT Hebrew).

55. If you’re going to a market (or any place where prices are not ‘set’) to buy…anything, split up your money between your wallet (tucked somewhere safe) and both of your front pockets. Only take the amount of money you’re willing to spend with you–leave the rest at your place of residence. This way, if you want something that you know is being way marked up, you can either get out of an unintentional sale with a very aggressive shopkeeper or barter your way down by saying “I only have this much money” as you pull out the meager amount tucked in your left pocket. They won’t know that you have more in other places. Never, never, never put money (or anything valuable) in your back pocket or in any pocket you cannot see (e.g., outside pocket of a backpack) if you’re in a city or crowded area.

56. Locate your country’s embassy (if close enough) or at least a police station as soon as you get to your place of residence. Block out the most direct, most well-lit route, and several back-up routes. If anything happens, or even if you just get lost, you’ll know which way to run and you’ll find someone who speaks English there. If neither of these is close, find a church. They may not speak English, but they’ll at least keep you safe.

57. Bring a slew of meds with you. Everything you use ever. Even stuff you don’t think you’ll need. You don’t need to bring much, but you should have at least 5 or so doses of each medication. Meds in a foreign country might be different and you could get sick, have an allergic reaction, or simply just not see any effect from the meds if it isn’t the pill you’re used to. Case in point: I ran out of Dramamine while in Israel/Palestine, so I jumped over to the local SuperPharm (I kid you not) to get some more. The pharmacist tried to sell me sleep aids instead–she thought they were the same active ingredient. I ended up taking my professor’s wife (who is a nurse) with me to go get them; we had to trek around to 5 or 6 different shops before we could get the right thing. It was a mess. Bottom line: bring every medication under the sun. If you don’t use them, someone else will, and they will think you are awesome and give you money/ask you to marry them/say thanks a whole lot.

57. Bring a belt. Or two. I don’t usually (read: ever) wear belts, but I’m so glad I brought one with me. You will lose weight. Your body will take a little bit to adjust to the food, so you’ll probably eat very sparsely for the first 1-4 weeks. I lost 12 pounds in 15 days in the Middle East simply because I wasn’t eating like I was used to doing. Your pants will be too big. Bring a belt.

58. If you use a cross-body purse (which you should), hang on to the front strap when you’re in a crowded area. A person may not be able to get into your purse, but they can run at you with a scissors and cut the purse right off of you, catch it, and run. If you’re holding on to the strap, this can’t happen.

59. If you can, travel with someone who has traveled in the area before. They’ll know how to deal with the culture without trying to cross a cultural barrier to tell you how to do so.

60. If the plugs are different, bring more than one adapter. You may need to charge your camera while you write a paper on your nearly-dead laptop.

61. Never call home super happy. Your relatives/friends, if they really love you, will miss you, and they might be hurt if you are happier there (without them) than you are at home. Also, you might feel worse after calling home if you were really happy before, because you’re now dwelling on how much you miss your family/friends. Call home when you’ve had a rough day, or at least a boring one. Seeing familiar faces will make things better then.

62. Find a common, simple drink and meal that you can order at most restaurants. If you’re out at a restaurant and you aren’t sure what most things are on the menu, you can ask the waiter (in the local language–find out how to ask for these things) if they have that drink/meal. Think of it this way: most restaurants in the States can make something like spaghetti with marinara or a grilled cheese, even if it’s not on their menu. For me, in the Middle East, it was a falafel sandwich and a mint tea. Things are just easier this way.

I will add more tips to this as I think of them. If you have any tips gleaned from Guatemala or Latin America or the Spanish language or even just from generic traveling, leave them in the comments and I will (probably) add them to this post!🙂

2 responses »

  1. keeping my responses in order….

    9. in guatemala flipflops are considered shower shoes, not real shoes, consider your audience. also i hate the excuse “well, they are used to it because of so many tourists,” you’re the visitor, adapt yourself.this also applies to points 3-7.
    23. Airport money exchanges are a total ripoff- terrible exchange rates, dont change more than you need to at the airport. Banco Agromercantil (BAM) has the best exchange rates but has more restrictions on changing money, min of $50 per transaction, max of $200 per week, wherever you go plan to present your passport or a copy of your passport to change money (not a bad idea to carry a copy with you anyway)
    28. less common symptom of dehydration: fractured thumb
    29. a travel nurse can also prescribe the necessary meds, malaria meds if you’re going to visit Tikal, cipro for travelers diarrhea (some will prescribe azithromycin which is a better antibiotic for upper respiratory infections-request the ciproflaxin.
    30. dont take the cipro if it’s only one day of symptoms, cipro’s not candy and is really hard on the system. take it with food. a usual round of treatment is every 12 hours for 5 days, dont stop taking it when you feel better at day 3- thats how people build up a resistance to antibiotics.
    drink a lot of water to make sure the bugs you pick up don’t grab hold, take those probiotics, eat yogurt, and rest to help maintain and/or restore a good healthy intestinal flora. the cipro wipes out good and bad bacteria alike, chances for reinfection are high, take care of yourself and take the time to rebuild good intestinal flora.
    31. there are such things as false negatives on stool samples-especially when it’s coming out ‘puro liquido’, so even if it comes back negative, go get checked out anyway- it’s like $20 to see the dr. that’s essentially a co-pay. (+meds)
    34. tampons are expensive and less common but you can pretty much find pads everywhere
    35. diva/moon cups are better for you anyway- if you want to see it in person before you buy it, most coops sell them in store

  2. Haha “Call Fibonacci for a good time.” You make me smile.

    Some things I gleaned from my travels:
    1. Bring some simple, high-complex-carb snacks with you (Ritz and trail mix are my favorites). You will almost indefinitely have difficulty with the food and/or bacteria, and thus will want something to keep you going that you know you can trust.

    2. In the same bent, locate a grocery store close to your place of residence, particularly if you have food allergies. This will allow you to at least go and get some food that you know you can eat. If you don’t know exactly what something is, don’t buy it. Unless you’re adventurous. But you might get sick again (like if the cereal you bought is coated in a milk-based frosting that you didn’t know was there because the packaging was in Hebrew and you can only translate OT Hebrew).

    3. If you’re going to a market (or any place where prices are not ‘set’) to buy…anything, split up your money between your wallet (tucked somewhere safe) and both of your front pockets. Only take the amount of money you’re willing to spend with you–leave the rest at your place of residence. This way, if you want something that you know is being way marked up, you can either get out of an unintentional sale with a very aggressive shopkeeper or barter your way down by saying “I only have this much money” as you pull out the meager amount tucked in your left pocket. They won’t know that you have more in other places. Never, never, never put money (or anything valuable) in your back pocket or in any pocket you cannot see (e.g., outside pocket of a backpack) if you’re in a city or crowded area.

    4. Locate your country’s embassy (if close enough) or at least a police station as soon as you get to your place of residence. Block out the most direct, most well-lit route, and several back-up routes. If anything happens, or even if you just get lost, you’ll know which way to run and you’ll find someone who speaks English there. If neither of these is close, find a church. They may not speak English, but they’ll at least keep you safe.

    5. Bring a slew of meds with you. Everything you use ever. Even stuff you don’t think you’ll need. You don’t need to bring much, but you should have at least 5 or so doses of each medication. Meds in a foreign country might be different and you could get sick, have an allergic reaction, or simply just not see any effect from the meds if it isn’t the pill you’re used to. Case in point: I ran out of Dramamine while in Israel/Palestine, so I jumped over to the local SuperPharm (I kid you not) to get some more. The pharmacist tried to sell me sleep aids instead–she thought they were the same active ingredient. I ended up taking my professor’s wife (who is a nurse) with me to go get them; we had to trek around to 5 or 6 different shops before we could get the right thing. It was a mess. Bottom line: bring every medication under the sun. If you don’t use them, someone else will, and they will think you are awesome and give you money/ask you to marry them/say thanks a whole lot.

    6. Bring a belt. Or two. I don’t usually (read: ever) wear belts, but I’m so glad I brought one with me. You will lose weight. Your body will take a little bit to adjust to the food, so you’ll probably eat very sparsely for the first 1-4 weeks. I lost 12 pounds in 15 days in the Middle East simply because I wasn’t eating like I was used to doing. Your pants will be too big. Bring a belt.

    7. If you use a cross-body purse (which you should), hang on to the front strap when you’re in a crowded area. A person may not be able to get into your purse, but they can run at you with a scissors and cut the purse right off of you, catch it, and run. If you’re holding on to the strap, this can’t happen.

    8. If you can, travel with someone who has traveled in the area before. They’ll know how to deal with the culture without trying to cross a cultural barrier to tell you how to do so.

    9. If the plugs are different, bring more than one adapter. You may need to charge your camera while you write a paper on your nearly-dead laptop.

    10. Never call home super happy. Your relatives/friends, if they really love you, will miss you, and they might be hurt if you are happier there (without them) than you are at home. Also, you might feel worse after calling home if you were really happy before, because you’re now dwelling on how much you miss your family/friends. Call home when you’ve had a rough day, or at least a boring one. Seeing familiar faces will make things better then.

    11. Find a common, simple drink and meal that you can order at most restaurants. If you’re out at a restaurant and you aren’t sure what most things are on the menu, you can ask the waiter (in the local language–find out how to ask for these things) if they have that drink/meal. Think of it this way: most restaurants in the States can make something like spaghetti with marinara or a grilled cheese, even if it’s not on their menu. For me, in the Middle East, it was a falafel sandwich and a mint tea. Things are just easier this way.

    Goodness. Okay. I’m done now.

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