Year of the Snake

One of my teammates organized a dinner for our group with two Malaysian students this past weekend. That was the greatest idea. We had a lovely dinner and were able to ask the students any questions we had, and hear all about their country and their customs. For instance, in Malaysia, they do not discuss the weather like we do here in Atlantic Canada. Instead, their casual greeting is “Have you eaten?” This is good to know, as if I haven’t and say so, they may just respond “Oh, that’s too bad,” but will not be looking to feed me, just making conversation. I’ll know not to expect a snack every time!

Near the end of the meal, I asked the question I’d been dying to ask, “What about the snakes and insects? Should I expect to see them outside, inside?” I hate snakes.Or, I’m afraid of snakes. I don’t hate them from afar, just the thought of them near me.

Last year in New Orleans on the swamp tour, there were snakes in the trees, and our tour guide was warning us to keep our feet up if a snake fell into the boat… Luckily, no snakes decided to hop on board, but the thought of it still freaks me out. I didn’t see Snakes on a Plane, but Snakes on a Boat sounds just as scary to me…

neworleans

The swamp in Louisiana – there were snakes in the trees. I didn’t get any pics of the snakes I saw as I was cowering in the boat…

Anyway, I’d read about all the snakes in Malaysia and pictured them slithering into my bed at night. When I asked my question to our Malaysian friends, they both burst out laughing. So, I feel much better about my chances of coming face to face with a snake now.

As an aside, 2013 is the Year of the Snake according to the Chinese zodiac.

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Travel Shots – Get ’em or Skip ’em?

In the past, I’ve gone to get travel shots at two different times. The first time, I got a ton of them before my trip to Hong Kong. The second time, I think, was before I went to Mexico. What did I get each time? Honestly, I have no idea. I went to a travel clinic that no longer exists, and while I’m sure they gave me a little booklet with my immunizations to keep in my file (or give to my doctor), I don’t know what I did with it. And, I’m not sure why I felt I needed travel shots either time as I was going to well developed areas. I think I was just scared and thought it worthwhile to be “better safe than sorry”.

Same thing happened for this trip. Since this is an organized trip through Rotary International, we would have to get vaccinations if they were mandatory to enter the countries we’ll be visiting. There are no mandatory shots for Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. So, it was up to us and our doctors if we wanted to get any.

I went to see my doctor and after discussing the shots I know I had in the past (tetanus booster and Hep A/B), he got out his big book of diseases (at least that’s what I assumed it was) and asked where specifically I was going. Apparently, it would be helpful to know more about the towns I’ll be visiting. While I assume they are all built up villages, I’ve got no clue just how urban they will be, or how mosquito filled, etc. So, my doc told me what he thought I should definitely have (polio, typhoid, and Hep A), and what he would get if he were going (meningitis). He separated them onto two scripts so I could do my research and weigh the costs and benefits.

After talking to a friend who is a doctor, I decided to do them all. I do plan to travel more in the future, so why not? Then I found out the cost. The optional shot was $134 and my health plan doesn’t cover any of them, so I thought more about it. I talked to another doctor I know, and he said it wasn’t necessary… I did my own research over the weekend, and I agree, unless I plan on going to Africa in the next five years, it really isn’t necessary. And now that I cancelled that one, going against what my doctor suggested, I sure hope I was right.

If you haven’t guessed by now reading my blog, I over think and worry about so many little things. I read my travel guide for two hours the other night after going to bed. However, it does make me feel more prepared. Though now I’m worried about those 10 metre pythons that live in Southeast Asia. I sure hope I don’t see any of those!Image

Should Fear Affect International Travel?

I was searching the news sites this morning when I saw an article on google news from Brisbane that talks about the conflict going on right now in Sabah, Malaysia. Hundreds of Filipinos made their way to Sabah a few weeks back to try to claim the land back for the Sultan of Sulu, and over 25 people have been killed in the conflict. It made me start to think about travel and how you can be putting yourself in some interesting situations when you travel to foreign areas where you don’t have a clue what issues might be brewing there. Should fear stop you from travelling to foreign places?  

I’m not concerned for my safety at this point (obviously, since I’m still in Canada), and I’m not overly worried about myself and my group related to this current conflict. I have faith that the Rotary International organizers will adjust our visits if this situation escalates or is still not over by the time we visit. But it sheds a whole new light on reading international headlines. I can only imagine how much more interested I’ll be in the battle for Sabah once I’ve been there and have met some of the residents. I’m already thinking about the people that I haven’t yet met, and how this whole situation is affecting them and their safety. 

I’m happy that my mother isn’t overly interested in international headlines, and that she doesn’t know much about where I’m headed other than I’m going to Malaysia… If she heard this news, it might worry her unnecessarily. However, it very well could have happened in a few months time when we are scheduled to be there, and still could be happening, or happen again. 

So, how safe is it to travel internationally? How much research should a person do on the areas that they are going to be visiting? I find this an interesting topic as I’ve always had people who don’t travel much telling me to “be careful” when I take a trip.

The first time I went to Asia, I’ll admit that I was terrified. I’d only know little bits of about the places I was visiting, and was afraid of pretty well everything. It was my first trip outside of North America, and I was terrified that there would be a language barrier at customs and I’d get put in a prison somewhere. (This is thanks to watching the movie Brokedown Palace and seeing Claire Danes’ character go to jail in Thailiand for smuggling.) But I put all my faith into my friends who lived in Hong Kong and would take care of all my concerns while I was visiting, and I’m glad to say that customs was not at all intimidating. 

I’m still full of fears about traveling. I’m always afraid I’ll run into strange wild animals. This was not at all helped by a fruit farm guide in Malaysia getting fruit for me from a bush that cobras are known to sleep in. And the bumblebees in New Zealand are terrifying. I’m still nervous every time I go through customs. Mexico terrified me when I heard that you push a button at customs to see if you get an extended search or not. However, things are never as bad as I think they will be, and so far not worth any of the worrying I do before hand. 

So, I’m worried about going through customs, and wild animals that I’ll likely never see, but I’m not worried about the big issues like standoffs. Why is this? What about the rest of you travelers? What concerns you before you travel to international destinations?