Category Archives: Before You Go

Squat Toilets and Bucket Showers – Essential Information

Traveling to remote parts of the world, especially in Asia, may require Americans to rethink some fundamental aspects of their daily activities. We have found over the years that the squat toilet and the bucket shower can be problematic for some students. To help everyone prepare, we want to provide some information to consider.

Here is a link to a good site that explains the essentials of the squat toilet.

http://migrationology.com/2011/08/how-to-use-a-squat-toilet-like-a-pro/

Here is a link to using a bucket shower

http://matadornetwork.com/life/how-to-bucket-shower-like-a-pro/

Might be a good idea to have a look at these before we go. When we stay in peoples homes, understanding these makes for better relations with the family and the village as a whole.

For Those Staying – Travel Insurance

Travel insurance comes in two parts: travel health insurance and trip cancellation insurance. Travel health insurance assures that any medical expenses if you become sick or injured abroad will be covered. This covers minor illnesses to serious injuries or illnesses that require potential evacuation. It will also, if necessary, cover expatriation of remains in case of a death. It is highly recommended that everyone obtains travel insurance while they are abroad. Some domestic insurance coverages will cover international travel, but it is not nearly as convenient.

Trip cancellation insurance is insurance that will pay you a percentage of the trip costs if, for some reason, you have to cancel the trip. This can be due to illness, a crisis in the country you are visiting, or other event that may cause cancellation of the entire trip.

Continue reading For Those Staying – Travel Insurance

How to Start a WordPress.com Account

For your pre-trip research blog post and your trip report blog post, you will need a WordPress.com account to post on this blog. Here is a quick video on how to do that. I will send you email invitations. If you don’t get one, please let me know and I will send it to you again.

Remember, you don’t need to create a blog (WordPress.com will ask), you only need an account.

What to Bring – A Personal First Aid Kit for International Travel

Stuff happens, and at inopportune times. So it’s best that you’re prepared. We will have a group first aid kit, but it is prudent to have a personal one as well. Not a huge one that will take care of any possible accident or disease that could happen. You’d need an entire hospital and a staff for that. What you want is something that will take care of minor problems that occur so that it doesn’t get worse, and for those with existing medical conditions, something that can make sure those conditions are taken care of. Plus, we’re not going to have enough NSAIDs, bandages, or Immodium for everyone; you are responsible for bringing your own.

Now, the easiest way to do this is purchase a premade first aid kit, and add on to it. The best ones for international travel are ones that are specific for that, such as the one above (which you can purchase at REI). But any first aid kit is better than none.

Continue reading What to Bring – A Personal First Aid Kit for International Travel

What to Bring – Personal Items

Of course you’re going to need personal stuff…toothbrush, deodorant, medication, sunscreen, etc.  Luckily, most items are readily available in Thailand, as long as you’re not too picky about brands.  So don’t worry about bringing a month’s supply of shampoo or soap, unless you HAVE to have a particular brand.  Just bring a few days worth, and buy what you need when you get there.

Items that can be easily purchased in Thailand include:

  • Soap
  • Deodorant
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Hair products such as gel, mouse, etc.
  • Toothpaste and toothbrushes
  • Floss
  • Mouthwash
  • Moisturizing lotions (although when the humidity is 90%…)
  • Shavers
  • Shaving cream
  • Over the counter medications (ibuprofen, acetaminophen, etc.)
  • Laundry detergent

Continue reading What to Bring – Personal Items

Money, Money, Money

You’ll need money in Thailand. In Thailand, the currency is the baht, and 30 baht is roughly equivalent to US $1. If you want to check the current exchange rates, a good site is xe.com. Dollars are not very widely accepted here in Thailand, so you will have to get some baht when you’re here.

So what’s the best way to get it? Forget traveller’s checks; they are a total waste of time and money. You actually get WORSE exchange rates for traveller’s checks, and they aren’t honored everywhere. And don’t bring a lot of US dollars to Thailand, either. The best way to access your money is through the thousands of ATMs all over Thailand. This gives you several advantages:

  1. The best exchange rates – since the banks are negotiating the rates, you get much better exchange rates than if you go to a bank with US dollars and definitely better rates than the tourist exchange booths.
  2. Convenience – ATMs are literally everywhere in Thailand. Just make sure you know your pin number!
  3. Reasonable fees – the transaction fees are reasonable. It’s about $1.00 for the Thai bank and $1.50 by your US bank. To minimize fees, you’ll want to minimize the number of withdrawals. I usually withdrew about $150 at a time, and I never had to go to the ATM more than once a week.
  4. Security – Now you can withdrawl funds as you need them, and not have to carry large amounts of currency or traveller’s checks.

Continue reading Money, Money, Money

Communicating while in Thailand

We take global communications for granted. We can call, email, text, message, and video chat. We can do it the old-fashioned way, on landlines, or on cell phones, satellite phones, smart phones, tablets, or computers. We can use Facebook, Twitter, Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram, iMessage, and many more applications to communicate. While it may be a bit more challenging to communicate when traveling abroad, especially outside of North America, East Asia, and Western Europe, it has become much easier to take advantage of this brave new world of global communications, even in the most remote locations in the world.

So, how will be be communicating while in Thailand? How will you be able to call home to friends and family? Will there be Wi-fi access? Are there data plans available? I hope this post will answer some of these questions.

nokia_6100Calls to and from the US: We will be providing each of you with a cell phone and a local Thai phone number. If you have an unlocked phone, you can use your own phone and we will provide you a SIM card with a local Thai phone number. You can then choose to have a data plan that will give your phone internet access.

Our experience is that this is still far less expensive than international plans through your cell service in the US. The phone is an older Nokia “dumb” phone that will make cellular calls, texts, and play a few old games like “Snake”. It doesn’t have a full keyboard, so you’ll have to use the old number-pad method of entering text. However, this is extremely inexpensive for calls within Thailand as well as to the US. Calls from Thailand to the US is as low as 3 baht/minute (about $0.10/minute), and calls to a Thai cell phone is even cheaper. Plus, incoming calls are free. Continue reading Communicating while in Thailand

What to Bring – Paperwork

There are some critical pieces of paperwork that you need to bring to Thailand:

  • Passport
  • Extra passport photos
  • Driver’s license or other official ID
  • Westminster College Student/Employee ID
  • Health insurance card (we provide this)
  • Credit card (preferably not American Express)
  • Bank/ATM card
  • Travel itinerary/airline ticket
  • Written prescriptions for ALL prescriptions you are on
  • Eye prescription if you wear corrective lenses
  • Next-of-kin information

Keep these with you in transit, so make sure they are in your carry-on luggage. Also, please make a copy of all of these, and have them in another part of your luggage. Westminster College will also have a copy of the paperwork that you submitted, and I will have .pdf copies of your paperwork that I will place on a secure server, so that we can have access to it. However, it is a good idea to have a copy of this paperwork with someone at home, just in case.

By the way, you don’t have to bring every piece of ID or card from your wallet/purse. Your Smith’s Fresh Values Card and Salt Lake City Public Library Cards are not going to be used in Thailand. Leave those at home.

Powering all your electronics in Thailand

As you probably guessed, electrical standards abroad are different. The US uses 120v/60Hz. Thailand uses 220v/50Hz. That means if you plug an appliance that is set for 120v/60Hz into an outlet in Thailand, there will probably be lots of sparks and smoke, and possibly some charred flesh. I did this once in Uganda, and the resulting smoke and sparks were entertaining, if not expensive.

Now, this doesn’t mean that your US electronics won’t work abroad.  Most modern electronics are dual- or multi-voltage, meaning it will work at 120v or 220v.  Check the label on the power supply to make sure, but all of my electronics, including my MacBook Pro, Fujifilms digital camera battery charger, iPhone/iPad charger, cell phone charger, and my son’s Nintendo DS power adapter are multi-voltage.  Typical multi-voltage label looks like these:

If it is dual voltage, it will say something like INPUT: 100v-240v, 50-60Hz or AC IN: 100v-240v, 50-60Hz.

Continue reading Powering all your electronics in Thailand

What to Bring – Electronics

We live in a world surrounded by high tech electronics. Rarely do we leave home without a smart phone. We also have digital cameras, video players, laptops, tablets, smart watches, Bluetooth speakers, fitness trackers, heart rate monitors, etc. But when you’re traveling like we will be, electronics are both good and bad: they can either enhance your experience, or cause more trouble than they’re worth. Think about these pros and cons:

Pros: they can record your experience in audio, photos, or video, allow you to communicate with the world, entertain you on a flight or a van ride, or allow you to access information that you may need.

IMG_0210

Cons: they are expensive, heavy, delicate, require power, and are a target for theft. They can also isolate you from the travel experience; I’ve seen too many people so obsessed with electronically recording everything around them, or so busy on their texting/email/Facebook/Instagram applications that they miss the true experience.

So before bringing every electronic toy you own, think about if the pros outweigh the cons. Also, try to bring devices that will do multiple things (such as a smartphone). Here are my suggestions for electronics:

Laptop: Leave them at home. Seriously. They are heavy, delicate, and require power. Unless you are planning on blogging extensively, or doing some heavy duty work, leave it at home.

Tablet: If you insist on bringing something that has a bigger screen, or need to do some light-duty work (blogging, journaling, etc.), consider a tablet. They are much lighter, typically less expensive, last longer on battery power, and can do most of the work a laptop can do. If you need to type, and hate the onscreen keyboard, consider a bluetooth keyboard, which are pretty comparable to a regular keyboard. I have one that doubles as a case. If you have a Microsoft Surface, you may already have a built in external keyboard. Continue reading What to Bring – Electronics