Posts Tagged ‘international travel’

medical recordsAlthough anyone can get sick anywhere in the world—including at home, with a few precautions, you can minimize your chances either of getting sick or of irritating some pre-existing condition you might bring with you on your mission trip.

Here are some things that Sherrylee and I have learned to do—and we have rarely been sick in all of our travels to all parts of the world. I’m not a medical doctor, so the information I’m giving to you is totally based on experience. If your doctor tells you something different, then he is right!!

  1. If you deal with chronic health issues, choose your destination more carefully If you have severe asthma, you might want to go to a place that does not have severe air pollution. If you have knee issues, you might not want to go to a church that meets on the fourth floor with no elevator.  If you have immunity issues, you might want to go to a more hygienic country.  You do have choices! God’s people all over the world need help, not just in the countries that would most endanger your health.
  2. Go with people who understand your health needs. This is usually a spouse or near relative, but if you are not going with someone that close to you, then go with a good friend to whom you can fully disclose your health situation. If you are not willing to tell someone the full story, then you probably should not go.
  3. Get all of the appropriate vaccinations and shots before you go. The CDC is an excellent source of information about health and foreign travel. You may have a travel clinic in your city, and they too will provide good information and the medications that you need.
  4. Take all the medications/equipment needed with you for any chronic condition that you have, including prophylactics to prevent the onset or to control an unexpected attack or event.   You cannot count on getting medicines you might need, nor seeing a doctor for a local prescription, so get enough for your whole trip–and a little longer–to take with you.  Be sure and put your important medicines—whatever you can’t do without–in your carry-on, just in case your checked luggage does not make it to you! I always include my extra contact lenses and/or an emergency pair of glasses. And if you are prone to bronchial distress or events related to diabetes or hyper allergic to . . . anything that could become life threatening, just be sure you take with you whatever you would keep handy at home.
  5. Don’t go if you are already sick! This seems so logical, but after you have bought expensive tickets and made very important plans, it is hard not to get on the plane.  It might be easier to make the right decision if you have Travel Interruption/Cancellation insurance that covers illness. It is also possible to change most tickets for a fee—which is worth it to you, to your fellow passengers, and to the hosting people you might be infecting if you go.
  6. Try to adjust to local time zones as quickly as possible so that you stay rested. Starting your trip more rested and sleeping on the international flight go a long way towards helping you feel good when you arrive and adjusting more quickly. Short-term missions do not lend themselves to lots of rest, so if your health requires more rest, you may have to sneak away for a nap every now and then.
  7. Be aware of everything that goes in your mouth! We all wish we had iron stomachs that could eat anything anywhere, but most of us don’t. On a short-term trip, you really don’t have enough time to adjust to local bacteria like a long-term worker can, so you just have to be careful.  Water is a big culprit. Safest is not to drink anything that is not bottled—with the lid commercially closed. Safest is to use the same bottled water to brush your teeth. Foods that have a high water content can be bad also, so avoid lettuce, soups, ice cubes, and jello that are made with unknown water.  Honestly, this is very hard to practice 100% consistently, so take the approach of just minimizing your exposure to bad water as much as you can.
  8. Wash your hands a lot—with soap. While I’m generally opposed to overuse of anti-bacterial hand products, I use them regularly when traveling overseas for added protection.
  9. Follow the suggestions of the local hosts. If they say use a mosquito net, then do so. If they say don’t eat from street vendors, then don’t. If they say, take malaria meds, then do it.  The only thing you have to be careful about here is when you are with locals who have not traveled out of their country and do not understand what your special needs might be.
  10. Know the difference in yourself between minor sickness and major sickness. Almost everyone who travels internationally has experienced some degree of upset stomach and/or Montezuma’s revenge. Most people don’t die even from food poisoning that can occur no matter how careful you are. One can become dehydrated though, so treat your symptoms and monitor your condition even with minor things so that they don’t become major. In almost all countries, you can trust local doctors for treatment of minor sickness, so don’t be afraid to ask for help if a minor illness seems to last too long or you begin feeling even worse.

Again, let me say that if you are in pretty good health, then you can participate in most short-term mission programs. But even the healthiest of us will be more effective on our mission trip if we stay healthy!  We don’t have complete control over that, but these few tips will certainly help you.

Now, Go . . . into all the world!

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medical recordsAny person with average health ought to be able to go almost anywhere in the world.  In the last few days, however, I have had several conversations about health and short-term mission workers, so let’s talk about it briefly.

As a general rule, you should be in pretty good health for most short-term mission trips. Why?

  • Even just air travel requires pretty good health: carrying suitcases and bags, sometimes climbing outdoor ramps into planes, lifting bags into overhead spaces, sitting (in middle seats) for hours, and the dehydration of overseas travel.
  • Adjusting to new places: eating and sleeping hours are confused because of time zone changes, changes in air quality, changes in altitude, widely varying degrees of cleanliness.
  • New food and water: Trying new foods can be fun, but it can also make you very sick. You may also have problems eating regularly, if that is important to your overall health. And guarding against contaminated water is harder than you think. For instance, you can get bad water in ice cubes, hot tea, soup, stew, popsicles, even lettuce. You can get it in the shower or brushing your teeth—and especially swimming—or even baptizing.
  • New animals.  I’m not so worried about your being eaten by lions, but maybe by mosquitoes or lice or gnats, some of which can make you very sick.  Poorer countries don’t always clean up after animals like you might want, so you have to watch where you walk. If you handle chickens or other feathered creatures, you can pick up stuff too. That’s why U.S. Customs asks you if you have been on a farm or been in contact with farm animals while overseas…..
  • No elevators or air conditioners! You need to know if the place you are going is hot or cold because most people in most countries do not control the air temperature or quality in their homes. At best they might have a fan. In addition, you need to know if you can climb the steps into apartments—sometimes several floors up, multiple times a day?  Or walk 30 minutes to the bus stop?
  • Availability of quality health care! Are you subject to attacks (asthma, for instance) or dizziness or do you have to see a doctor either quickly and/or fairly often for any condition?  You cannot assume the availability of health care, accessibility to health care, and/or the quality of health care you might receive.

Now that I have made everyone over age 25 afraid to do short-term missions, let me say that in spite of all of the above concerns, there are many things you can do to guard your health while traveling and not exacerbate any relatively minor conditions that you may have to deal with.

Next post, we will look at things you can do to both protect your health and to accommodate minor conditions you already have, so that you can go on short-term mission projects.


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If you fly into a new country, but only stay in the airport, you can’t put a pin in your map for having been in that country!  International airports are notoriously void of anything representative of local cultures.

You deplane (I really don’t like all these nouns turned into verbs!), stand in windowless rooms with only legal posters on the walls as you wait to have a completely silent passport officer check your passport. If they talk to you at all, they only want to know where you come from, where you are going, and how long you are going to be in their country.  Only in Israel did they actually ask the names of the people we would be visiting.

The passport officer then stamps your passport, waves you through so that you can go get your luggage in the prayer room—I mean, the baggage claim area!

In most countries you have two or three choices of exit doors from baggage claim. One says “Nothing To Declare;” another says “Something To Declare”—I’ve never seen anybody go straight to that line—and then in some countries you have special lines for special citizens. In Europe, both in the passport lines and customs, if you are a citizen of a European Union country, you bypass the more stringent controls for those of us who are “Other passports”. It’s a good lesson in humility for us Americans.

Of course, we do the same thing –maybe worse as non-citizens come to the U.S.  I find our passport and customs controls among the most rigorous.

Now to make choosing the correct line even more interesting, there are some countries who introduce a random search element to the process.  One country we have visited has each person hit a big button which lights up the green Go or red Stop light. Randomly, I suppose, you get the red light and must open all your suitcases.

I’m pretty sure most customs officials work off of profiling passengers. You can bet on some scruffy student being stopped.  Yesterday, upon arriving in Frankfurt from Turkey, we faced immediate passport control by the police before getting ten feet into the airport, then again at the normal passport control. For the first time in thirty years as well, there were German customs officials actually stopping people and looking in their luggage.  I’m pretty sure it was because we were flying in from Istanbul.

If you haven’t seen The Terminal (2004) with Tom Hanks, you should rent it today!  Everything that has to do with the official side of entering a foreign country is perfectly believable!

Today, Sherrylee and I start the last two weeks of this trip. Today we drive to Antwerp, then to the Netherlands, then to Germany for about 10 days, finishing our trip with the American-European Retreat in Rothenburg.

Now, instead of talking with potential LST sites, we are visiting workers and sites that we have worked with for many years with one exception.  But relationships are everything, so we look forward to visiting to encourage them and to find out how we can serve them better.

I apologize if you need now to pull those pins out of the map for places you just flew through the airport! No cheating! You can’t count that country unless you have really had a conversation with someone other than the passport officer!

And if you need help finding that conversation partner, we at Let’s Start Talking would love to help you!

What are your experiences in international airports?

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It is not the last minute before our trip, but because Sherrylee and I will be doing these things in that last twenty-four hours, I’m going to write about them now!

  1. Check in online before you go to the airport, if possible. It’s not always possible because of the information the airlines and the government must collect for overseas trips and sometimes for security reasons, but if it is, do it! It will save you standing in lines that are unpredictably long and watching your two-hours lead time at the airport dwindle to a panicky thirty minutes before you board your plane!
  2. If you haven’t started packing yet, get the suitcases out—the smaller ones—and start putting the clothes you are taking near, if not in, the suitcases. Allow yourself at least a couple of hours between packing and closing the suitcase to walk out the door. If you wait until the very last hour to pack, you will forget something!!
  3. Get your quart-sized plastic bag and put all of your liquids in it to make sure it all fits.  If you need to purchase travel size deo or shaving cream or toothpaste, then put it on the final shopping list.
  4. Go to the store only once today and do it at least 2-3 hours before you leave for the airport.
  5. Decide which lights to leave on, which timers to set, and where you are leaving a spare house key for emergency purposes. You may want to unplug most other electrical items, just in case of a power surge. I usually turn our home computer completely off.
  6. Think ahead about the weather at home and prepare your house for it. Do you need to maintain a certain temperature to keep things from melting? Freezing?  We’ve had wax decorations melt in the Texas summer as well as unexpected freezes that would certainly threaten your pipes if you don’t have a minimum amount of heat still on in your home.  Make sure you set everything appropriately as you walk out the door.
  7. Go over your checklist one more time, but realize that everything is no longer of equal importance! At this point the highest priorities are
    1. Tickets, Passports and documents
    2. Money—however you decided to carry it
    3. Medicines

The nice thing about international travel these days is that if you suddenly need a jacket and you didn’t bring one, or if your battery-operated toothbrush gets turned on accidentally in your suitcase and runs completely out, you can find what you need in the airports or wherever you are going.

I have a friend who always said that any problem that can be solved with money is not a real problem! I’m not quite sure that works for every situation in life, but it is very true about traveling overseas. Having said that, those items in #6 are much more difficult to remedy, so double-check those before you leave.

Then walk out the door! We always feel this great sense of relief when we leave for the airport because whatever is not done will not be done, and whatever is forgotten is either unnecessary or replaceable when we arrive at our destination.

If you have done a little planning, started a little early, not left anything too big until the end, then you should be able to board the plane ready for a great trip.

There’s a sermon in that last sentence somewhere!

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A week from today we leave on our overseas trip. What should I be thinking about after having finished most of the items on the big checklist I gave you in the last post.  Just one big thing left to do before we get to the things that can only be done at the last minute:  Go back over your big check list to make sure you really did everything you checked off—or that you forgot something that should have been on that list.

Some of you Readers, especially Randy,  made some excellent suggestions of actions that should have been on the first check list that I gave you.  It’s hard to think of everything at once.  Here is what you have added to my list:

  1. Check for visa requirements. This should be done at the same time you are checking on your passport for the first time. If you need a visa where you are going,  it can take up to a month to get; for other countries perhaps only a week; and for many countries you can just buy it at the border. Most visas are pretty easy to get, but some are not. Be very exact in filling out their forms and following their instructions. If you have any doubts about how to fill out the forms, you may want to use a visa service. Their prices are not unreasonable.  And, lastly on visas, sometimes you have to send your passport in to have the visa inserted into the passport, so you can only start the visa process after you have a passport. You must plan ahead for this! Also, always use a mailing procedure that allows you to track where your passport and/or visa is in the mail.
  2. If you are taking anything electrical (phone chargers, computers, etc), you will need a plug adapter at least and you may need a voltage transformer.  Fortunately, most of our gadgets and computers are built to transform their own current, so you just need a plug adapter. I recommend that you take nothing that has to heat: curling irons, travel irons, hair dryers.  Our experience is that they are likely to burn up no matter how careful you are—and they may burn your clothes or your hair!!  Buy one in the country where you are going to be!
  3. Speaking of phones, if you are taking your phone, especially if you have a smartphone, check for both call rates and international roaming charges where you are going.  There are many ways to make cheap calls—which will have to be another whole posting—but the one that you might miss is that all that internet usage that you enjoy in the States for a package price could cost you per MB in other countries. I have heard stories of hundreds of dollars of charges just for checking your email on your phone. Check this out before you go!
  4. Double check your itinerary.  For me that means printing out the confirmation pages from every flight and hotel I booked and every car I rented. I can’t tell you how often some little discrepancy has popped up—maybe because I changed our plans in the middle of booking things or maybe just human error—but it is so much better to catch those mistakes and fix them before you have to stand in front of a counter in a foreign country and try to work it out with someone there!

Have I ever told you about the time we had a flight booked from Antalya, Turkey to Frankfurt, Germany, via Istanbul.  It was scheduled to leave about 10pm—in foreign countries many flights leave and arrive in the middle of the night! We got to the airport in plenty of time—which I always recommend because things go wrong—and this time, we got there and could not find the counter where we should check in. We searched in the international terminal and then went to the domestic terminal. All kinds of people told us where to look, but we never found the counter where we should check in. The clock was ticking too. Our scheduled departure was less than an hour away!!

After trying to communicate with a number of people whose English was sketchy, we finally were informed that the airline that we had booked with no longer even flew out of this city! We had a worthless ticket to Istanbul! Our only alternative was to buy another ticket to Istanbul and connect with our flight the next day to Frankfurt.

This whole fiasco probably took two hours to work through and on a scale of problems was a fairly minor one—which is the only kind I wish for you in your travels!  But if you travel much internationally, you will eventually have these kinds of experiences.

–which brings me to my last piece of advice as you get to the final countdown for your trip!

5.  Get yourself into the frame of mind that things will not go as you planned them! Count on it! So you can either be flexible and take it as part of the experience, or you can wind yourself up, yell at the people who do you wrong, complain about how you were jerked around and cheated for the rest of your trip, and make yourself and others quite miserable.  And if you are a Christian and doing this, you should have stayed at home! You are not representing well that Name you are wearing.

If you tend toward the wind-up side of things though, you might want to consider fairly comprehensive travel insurance.  It might provide you with a little peace of mind. A good website that allows you to compare many plans is www.insuremytrip.com .

Soon—before you leave—I’ll give you a list of things to do during the last twenty-four hours before you go!  No, you are not procrastinating, but there are some things that just can’t happen any earlier.

Don’t begrudge preparation!

I love the quote from Abraham Lincoln on preparation: “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six sharpening my axe.”


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We are leaving in ten days for a four-week overseas trip. Between now and the time we leave, we have three days of activity at the Global Missions Conference and a five-day visit with our kids and grandkids in California. That leaves today and one day next week to get ready to go.

Sounds impossible, but it can be done with a little planning, so here’s my checklist. I thought I’d share it with you just in case you needed to make an extended trip on short notice or with an unusually short amount of time to prepare.

Let’s start with the things that must be done at home before you can leave:

  1. Stop your mail. Go to www.usps.gov and give them the information and that’s all you have to do! Your mail will be waiting when you return . . . which leads to the next item!
  2. Make arrangements for all recurring bills and payments that will come while you are gone. You don’t want to come home to cut-off notices or threats to ruin your credit.  I have put everything on some form of autopay where possible, including all our utility bills, our water and sewage, gas, electricity, telephone.  If you have any credit cards payments to make, go to your account online and set it on auto pay for the minimum amount each month just to make sure you are never late.
  3. Call any credit card companies and let them know of your travel plans. There is nothing worse than using your credit card once overseas and having it blocked by the company thereafter as part of their fraud security.
  4. Check the weather where you are going, so that you will take the appropriate clothing. It is so very hard to wear a heavy winter coat to the airport in DFW, when it is still 80 degrees every day!
  5. Check your passports TODAY and make sure that they are valid for at least six months beyond the date of your return! This is a fairly new requirement that even seasoned international travelers may not know!  You are also certain then where your passports are.  And carry a second form of picture ID, like your driver’s license, even if you don’t intend to drive.
  6. Take care of pets and/or houseplants.  What about your yard? Make the necessary arrangements with friends or professional services so that you don’t come back to either a jungle or a desert!
  7. Make sure you have enough of all prescriptions for the entire trip. Carry this medicine in original bottles, so it is easily identifiable as prescription medicine.  Also make sure you have an adequate supply of contact lenses and solution.  You probably should carry a copy of your lens prescription with you.  Purchase any OTC medicines you intend to take. In some countries you can find any drug over the counter; in other countries, you can’t even get aspirin without a local doctor’s prescription.
  8. Reduce or replace everything liquid you think you need to take! Shaving cream , toothpaste, deodorant, perfume, men’s cologne, liquid makeup, nail polish remover, cough syrup, nothing liquid can go in a bottle more than three ounces, and ALL of your liquids have to fit into one quart-sized plastic baggie.  And no big cans of hairspray!
  9. Decide about luggage!  The size and number of pieces you need depends on how you pack. We are going to be gone for three weeks, so we will pack for one week—does that make sense? We will pack into carry-on-sized suitcases, knowing that we will likely be forced to check our luggage on every flight except the Atlantic crossing.
  10. Determine how you are going to pay for daily expenses while traveling?  Cash? Travelers Checks? Credit Cards?  I used to use travelers checks but haven’t in years. ATMs have made getting local currency much easier, though not always safer. You have to be a little careful when and where you get cash out of ATM machines; nevertheless, you should make copies of front and back of all your debit and/or credit cards that you are going to carry with you and leave one copy with someone at home and take the other copy with you.  That way, if one or all of them are stolen, you can easily report the theft—or have someone in the States do it for you!

By the way, don’t carry cash in your billfold in your back pocket, not in your backpack, nor in your purse, nor in those fanny packs (either front or rear versions).  The only safe place to carry cash is in one of those money belts that fits under your clothes—which is quite inconvenient, so you put just a little in your pocket, but no more than you could afford to lose.

That’s enough for today, but before Sherrylee and I leave, I’ll be back writing about preparations at work and things that must wait until the last minute to do.

Here are a few thoughts for you on leaving things until the last minute. I hope they make you laugh!

  • “Only Robinson Crusoe had everything done by Friday.”
  • “You know you are getting old when it takes too much effort to procrastinate.”
  • “Even if you’re on the right track-you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”  Will Rogers


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