Author Jo Patti, who has travelled to places including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, Egypt and Iraq, gives her best tips for preparing to travel off the beaten track, and outside your comfort zone.
My life and work require me to do "extreme travel". Like "extreme sports", this is not for everyone. However, if you are going to travel to places most people would not go, there are some strategies and gear you can pre-prepare which will help you be better equipped in risky areas.
I have learned from first-hand experience it is better to be "over packed" for journeys to danger zones than to lack what you need. The saying "two is one and one is none" should be kept in mind.
Before you depart from home, I recommend the following actions:
1) Digitalise/scan all your important documents, send them to your own email and to at least one other trusted person in case of emergency. Make photocopies and place them in plastic sheaths to carry with you. Take extra photos for visas, paperwork.
2) Learn by heart how to say "stop", "help", "water", "watch out" or "attention" as well as greetings, basic directions, please and thank you - don't rely on translation apps. You may not have consistent access to Wi-Fi where you travel.
There are numerous free online sites that have basic words and phrases with phonetic spelling and audio for pronunciation. I recommend you choose one, bookmark it, play the audio and repeat out loud as often as you can, starting about one month before your departure date.
3) Pack a first-aid kit that includes the traditional Chinese medicines: Po Chai pills for food poisoning, bowel troubles, hangover; Tiger Balm for muscle sprains, aches, breathing difficulties (put under nostrils and/or on chest) and Bach Flower Rescue Remedy in lozenge form in case of shock, anxiety or trauma - in addition to the usual items for first aid kits. Water-purification tablets are also an essential item in your kit. Include a reliable, portable multi-tool (Leatherman or SOG) with scissors and file.
4) Get a multi-use, dark-coloured waterproof jacket that has a zip in/out insulation lining and a hood. This can be used in wet, mild and cold weather.
5) Cargo-style pants with zippers or Velcro pockets are easiest to move in, come in many colours and wash well. You can securely carry your cellphone, keys, ID and even cash in those pockets. Bring at least two pairs.
6) Invest in a sturdy, handheld compact torch and a head lamp with long battery life as well as extra batteries. Practise using both. Adjust the headband to your comfort.
7) American dollars are accepted widely, more so than any other currency. Carry cash in small denominations, concealed. Compare rates of exchange for the best conversion rate. Procure the American dollars in your home country, if at all possible.
8) Buy a simple flip-top cellphone and local sim card. Be careful not to display any expensive electronic gear - notebooks, computers, smart phones, headphones, especially in crowded public places, villages and on public transport.
9) When travelling as a female in Muslim countries, be sure to pack long-sleeved shirts, long skirts, long dark-coloured coats and plain scarves. It's better not to wear bright colours, which may focus attention on you. The objective is to blend in where you travel.
Always remain situationally aware and don't smile at strangers. Some other cultures do not interpret women smiling or making direct eye contact in the same way, as in New Zealand. You can smile inwardly all day long.
Jo Patti is currently travelling New Zealand and promoting her book, Getting Off The X. She will be speaking at events around the country, kicking off at the Timeout Bookstore in Mt Eden, Auckland on Sunday, May 26, 1-3pm.