I was born a worrier. As a child I used to lie awake, fretting that all the electrical appliances plugged in downstairs were going to explode during the night. As an adult, I tend to assume my boyfriend has been axe-murdered if he doesn’t reply to a text within the hour. In short, I am someone made so neurotic by daily life in a first world country, you would think me the last person to go travel the world for seven months.
And yet here I find myself, hovering nervously in the hallway of my parents’ house in London, a Lowe Alpine rucksack on my back so heavy it could be packed with hardback editions of George R R Martin novels. Outside, it’s a cool grey afternoon and my dad is warming up the car to drive me and my boyfriend to Heathrow, where the two of us (both virgin travellers) will be getting on a twelve-hour flight to Hong Kong.
Somehow, the extensive planning of the past four months has finally come together. Ahead of us lies a trip that will take us through China, South East Asia, Australia, New Zealand and North America. We will be staying in fourteen-bed dorms, eating street food, braving sleeper buses and traversing tropical climates alongside all manner of deadly creatures. Right now, I should be hiding under my duvet and refusing to leave the house.
So how did I learn to put aside my worries and plan this trip? Well, for the past eight months I’ve worked as a freelance writer for LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor, which has involved reading and writing about horrifying travel-related diseases such as rabies and malaria. As it turns out, this has taught me how to properly take care of myself.
Travelling the world has become a bit of a cliché for the twenty-something Brit but, according to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, not all of us take the necessary precautions before setting off. One study found that in 2012, 48% of 15-24 year old Brits did not buy travel insurance before going overseas, which is pretty scary when you consider that 3,157 Brits were hospitalised whilst abroad between 2013 and 2014 alone.
I’m not trying to put anyone off, but in my opinion the more you prepare for the worst eventuality, the better equipped you are to enjoy your trip. And the good news is that in this day and age you can pretty much buy peace of mind.
Here are a few tips on how to do it.
If you’re going to travel overseas, you should strongly consider getting travel insurance; if you’re going to travel the world or visit far-flung places, you should definitely get travel insurance. What kind you get is up to you, but taking the time to find a suitable one is essential.
Once we had booked our flights, my boyfriend and I began researching insurance packages for backpackers. In the end, we settled on a joint package from Cover For You (other travellers recommended Virgin, Holiday Safe and Downunder, but if you’re unsure you can use a comparison site), paying a little extra for Catastrophe Cover. This means we’re insured for:
- Emergency medical expenses up to £10,000,000
- Cancellation cover up to £3000
- Lost baggage up to £1500
- Lost passport up to £150
Altogether, we paid £418 (£209 each) for seven months of cover. My main advice would be to think about what’s most important to you, look for a package that suits your needs and then read the small print. Are you covered for all the activities you want to do, and protected in the all the countries you’re visiting?
Vaccinations for South East Asia
The only area we’re visiting where we’ll really be at risk of getting ill is South East Asia. This is largely due to poor water and sanitation infrastructure, and the local wildlife. So, in the name of not dying, I received the following vaccinations:
- Hepatitis A & Typhoid (1 injection)
- Diphtheria, Tetanus & Polio (1 injection)
- Rabies (3 injections over a month)
The first two vaccines are available for free on the NHS, and I had mine administered in one appointment by the nurse at my local GP surgery. I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to pain, but I barely felt these injections.
The rabies vaccine is a course of three injections costing around £130 on the NHS and is only available for free if you regularly handle bats – to my eternal regret, I do not. I wasn’t 100% sure I needed it, but after careful discussion with my boyfriend (read: we panicked about what would happen if a baby monkey bit us), we both decided to get vaccinated. The good news was that I had barely any soreness and zero side effects from the course.
To find out which vaccinations you’ll need, you should read up on the countries you are visiting at Fit For Travel.
As with the rabies vaccine, malaria tablets tend to be very expensive but are essential if you’re going to be in a high-risk area. My boyfriend and I opted for Atovaquone with Proguanil to last ourselves a total of three weeks.
Mosquitoes, which can transmit the parasites causing malaria into your bloodstream through a single bite, thrive in humid, warm conditions. So, no matter how dreamy your tropical destination, be sure to check whether there is a malaria risk before you travel, and take the proper precautions whilst there (be aware that malaria tablets need to be started before reaching a malaria zone). For more information on the use of malaria tablets, read this article.
Between the two of us, my boyfriend and I settled for the following essentials, some of which are pictured in the photo below (along with a pack of malaria tablets):
- Rehydration sachets (in case of diarrhoea)
- Buscopan (for stomach cramps)
- Piriteze (antihistamine, for any allergic reactions)
- Cystopurin (cystitis relief)
- A “mosquito bite clicker” (you press it on a bite, click the button and it delivers a small electrical charge which supposedly kills the itch)
- Blister plasters
- Hydrocortisone cream (for minor skin irritations)
- Pyramid 100 Insect Repellent
- Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream (for minor skin irritations, sunburn and chapped lips)
- Ultrasun Face lotion (SPF 30)
- Vichy Capital Soleil sun stick (SPF 50+)
- Cleansing antibacterial wipes
- Travel wash
- Emery board
- Toenail clippers
Get more inspiration for what to pack here.
Vaccines and malaria tablets aside, the most helpful thing I found in getting prepared for this trip was talking to other travellers – which is why I hope this blog, which will chart the next few months of my life, including how I’ve survived sunburn, food poisoning and insect bites, will be of use to others.
Anyway, my time’s up. My dad is calling to me from the car, keen to leave soon and beat the rush hour. I readjust the straps on my shoulders and pat the passport in my pocket one last time. The world awaits, and I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.