11 easy steps for researching your journey abroad

By Philip Wagenaar
This item appears on page 58 of the March 2012 issue.

In the box on the right are steps that will help you arrange a trip overseas. Last month I elaborated on the first four. I continue.

Step 5: Health Information


1. For comprehensive health information, visit the Centers for Disease Control webpage. Consider visiting a travel health clinic.

2. To research any medical condition or any medication before departing, consult…

MedicineNet.com, which offers complete and easily understandable information about diseases and medications.

MedlinePlus, which is very good for drug data.

RxList, which is a gem for drug information.

Mayo Clinic, which provides superbly written dissertations on many conditions.

• Google.

11 Easy Steps

11 easy steps for researching your journey abroad

When arranging for a trip overseas, follow these steps in the order in which they are presented.

  1. Check the US State Department travel advisories for the countries of interest.
  2. Investigate the area’s climate, weather and best time to travel.
  3. Peruse public holidays and summer and school vacation periods.
  4. Decide whether you will travel independently or on an escorted tour or do a combination of both.
  5. Obtain medical information related to your own health and to diseases you may encounter.
  6. Buy the appropriate guidebook(s) and overview map(s). On the latter, delineate your tour with the help of the “Itineraries” chapter of each guide.
  7. Contact the appropriate government tourist offices.
  8. Decide how to reach and return from your destination (e.g., by air, ship, train, etc.). Research local transportation (e.g., Japan’s bullet trains).
  9. Integrate any desired accommodation into your plans (ensuring that hotels, etc., will be available on the chosen travel dates).
  10. Investigate trip insurance.
  11. Prepare your finances (debit cards, travelers’ checks) and apply for visas.

3. Regarding high-altitude acclimatization or illness, go to www.princeton.edu/~oa/safety/altitude.html.


• Have your doctor or (preferably) pharmacist check all your medications, including over-the-counter ones. Watch for interactions, sleepiness and dizziness.

• Watch the potassium level in your blood.

Diuretics (water pills) often decrease potassium. To counteract this, ask your doctor about potassium-sparing diuretics (water pills that prevent the loss of potassium in the urine) and potassium pills. If applicable, eat potassium-rich foods, such as bananas, oranges, etc.

Blood-pressure pills often increase potassium. To neutralize this, avoid high-potassium meals. Use Google to find a list of low- and high-potassium foods.

• Make a list of the brand and generic names of each drug you take.

• Don’t start a new drug just before traveling, barring an emergency.

• Several overseas medicines have brand names that are similar to US brand names although the medications are different. Be careful about what you buy.

• Take at least a week’s extra supply of medications, in case your trip is delayed. Take additional prescriptions, in case you run out (although many pharmacies abroad won’t accept foreign prescriptions).

• Use the 24-hour clock to figure out the correct time to take your medicines. An example follows with a time difference of nine hours between Seattle and Amsterdam.

The first pill is due at 7 a.m. Seattle time. The next medication is due at 7 p.m., or (using the 24-hour clock) 19:00 hours. 19:00 Seattle time + nine hours (time difference between Seattle and Amsterdam) = 28:00 - 24:00 = 4:00 (4 a.m.) Amsterdam time.

To continue your pill schedule at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Amsterdam time, you must adjust its timing DURING plane travel. This should be roughly halfway during the plane trip. The timing doesn’t need to be exact. Diabetics must take extra precautions.

C: AMBIEN (generic zolpidem, a sleeping pill) CAVEATS

• Take no more than 5mg of Ambien.

• Use it only on flights of seven to eight hours or more.

• Note that side effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, lightheadedness and difficulty with coordination may still be present the next day.

• Bear in mind that the drug may cause “traveler’s amnesia” (memory loss) and changes in behavior (agitation, hallucinations, etc.) the following day.

Step 6: Buy Guidebooks & Maps

• Buy the appropriate guidebook(s) and overview map(s) and delineate your tour on the latter with the help of the “Itineraries” chapter of each book. I have found the following travel guides the most helpful: Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, Bradt, Moon and Footprint.

• Some guidebooks come with a link to download a full-text e-book.

• Buy Michelin maps, which I think are the best, whenever possible. These are sold as overview maps, on which you highlight your itinerary, and as detail maps, which you use during your tour.

You usually can buy overview maps before you leave. Detail and topographical maps may not be available outside the country visited. Occasionally, you may not even find them overseas, which is what happened to my wife, Flory, and me when we took a bicycle tour in Tunisia. Fortunately, we had brought along an overview map.

• Government tourist offices (GTOs) frequently will provide you with city plans.

• Of course, for getting directions, a GPS for your car also is exceedingly useful.


• Buy maps and travel books at Wide World Books & Maps (Seattle, WA; 888/534-3453).

• Scout the travel section of your bookstore.

• Contact the GTO.

• Find out before departure where you can buy maps and books in English at your destination.

Step 7: Contact The Government Tourist Offices

For a list of government tourist offices, go to www.towd.com or www.worldtourismdirectory.com. You also can find them on ITN’s website.

GTOs vary tremendously in their responses to queries. I usually get the most help by calling the relevant office with a detailed series of requests.

Unfortunately, many GTOs have curtailed their assistance and prefer that you obtain your information from their websites. However, it is still worth a try to call the GTO. Note that there may be a charge for some of the requested materials.

My standard list of requests for a GTO — with slight variations, depending upon the country — is as follows:

• Country and regional maps.

• City maps, particularly of the arrival and departure gateways, with airport layouts.

• General information.

• Sheet of events.

• B&B guide.

• Hotel and restaurant brochure(s).

• Camping and youth hostel guides.

• Addresses, phone numbers and fax numbers of local tourist bureaus. Once you have decided upon a particular region, contact the particular office.

• Brochures with bicycle, hiking or car tours plus publications related to other interests, such as skiing, fishing, visiting museums, etc.

• Printed matter available for purchase.

• Public transportation schedules.

• Info on shipping a bicycle by train.

• Info on car rentals.

• Calendar of school vacations.

• List of vacation rentals, such as apartments, condos, aparthotels and vacation cottages.

If you plan to visit cities, also request the following:

• Descriptive walking tours.

• Local transportation schedules and discount passes.

Next month, I will continue my discussion of “researching your journey.”