Reducing Your Slavery Footprint

slaveryDespite my awareness of sweatshops, I was shocked while flipping through the July issue of Marie Clare on a recent flight, when I came across an article entitled, “What’s Your Slavery Footprint?”

According to slaveryfootprint.org, (which is backed by the U.S. State Department), there are up to 27 million slaves worldwide, many of whom work in the mining and agriculture industries. The result? A lot of our everyday household goods, including shoes, cosmetics, and toiletries, raw materials for cars, and the seafood industry utilize slave labor.

Some of the worst offenders include China, parts of Southeast Asia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (definition: irony) and India. You can actually add up the “slave footprint” in your home by utilizing the website, or by downloading its “Free World” app, which also enables you to send letters of protest to major chain stores known to use products made with slave labor. You can also make donations to Slavery Footprint to help enslaved workers.

As Alison Kiehl Friedman, deputy director of the U.S. State Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, says in Marie Claire, “[businesses] should be transparent in their practices.” We all need to pick our battles when it comes to purchasing power, but it’s fascinating, as well as chilling, to find out just how much of what we own is made using forced labor. Knickknacks for thought.

[Photo credit: Flickr user stevendepolo]

Five things (most) women should pack when traveling to a foreign country

women's pack listI’m not one to whine about the hardships faced by solo female travelers. Sure, some things are frustrating, but in general, I much prefer to travel alone, and the more challenging the destination, the better. I don’t go out of my way to attract trouble or visit sketchy places, but I’ve had my share of close calls and situations that set off alarm bells.

For the most part, however, I’ve been treated with generosity and kindness while traveling alone, and had my most rewarding travel experiences. That said, there’s a few things most women should bring on trips to foreign lands, solo or no. Guys, you got it easy.

1. Appropriate attire
More than just practicality, wearing the right clothes is important from both a cultural/religious respect and personal safety standpoint. Showing too much skin or your hair is definitely not cool in much of the Middle East or Muslim world, and skimpy attire or sunbathing topless is just plain disrespectful, not to mention dangerous, in many countries.

Remember that we’re incredibly liberal here in the U.S. (too much, in my opinion) when it comes to public dress code…or lack thereof. Don’t make yourself a target for crime or unwanted solicitation. You don’t have to go all Victorian, but use good judgement.

2. Tampons
It may come as a shock, but to most of the world–including much of Europe–tampons are a foreign concept or a luxury/exorbitantly expensive. If you’ve ever tried to find tampons in Latin America, you know what I mean. Whether the reasons are cultural, religious, or geographical doesn’t matter. If you’re not down with wearing the equivalent of a diaper, BYOT.

[Photo credit: Flickr user fisserman]

Solo Travel Tips For Womenwomen's pack list3. Prescriptions for UTI’s, yeast infections, morning-after pill, etc.
There’s no better teacher than life. Let’s just say that enduring 14 hours of rutted highway on a janky Mexican bus while suffering a raging bladder infection is not an experience I care to repeat. These days, I travel with a full-on portable pharmacy, but at the very least, bring these basic Rx’s.

As for the morning-after pill, better safe than sorry. Don’t assume you can get an Rx filled overseas, so bring the actual dosage in its original packaging, and scan and email yourself copies of all prescriptions. And speaking of the morning after…

4. Condoms
You never know when you might need them, and purchasing them from a vending machine in a bar in a developing nation (not that this happened to me) because they’re not available elsewhere is just asking for trouble. Don’t trust foreign condoms–they’re not subjected to the same FDA testing and safety standards as American brands manufactured domestically. And please: if you’re having a foreign (or any other) fling, no glove, no love.
women's pack list
5. Hard and email copies of important documents and contact information
Email yourself, family members, and a close friend your itinerary, contact numbers (if applicable), emergency contact numbers (including bank and credit card companies), and copies of your passport and medical (and travel, if applicable) insurance card. If you’re going somewhere prone to natural disasters, civil unrest, or general sketchiness, it’s not a bad idea to register with the U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).

Oh, and one more thing you should always bring with you:Common sense.
Don’t be lulled into complacency: always walk with a sense of purpose, and keep your wits about you. Same goes for partying: the only one responsible for your personal safety is you, so go easy on the beer or local libation. If you’re going to hook up, better to go back to your accommodation, and make sure an employee sees the two of you together or openly text a friend of your whereabouts and who you’re with. And please, don’t be tempted to use or buy illegal drugs: besides the stiff penalties for getting caught (life in a Thai prison or death isn’t a good way to end a holiday), you may also find yourself the unwitting victim of a set-up. Just say no.

[Photo credits: pills, Flickr user michaelll; luau, Laurel Miller]

Travel Warnings: often not as bad as they sound

Travel WarningsThe United States Department of State issues travel warnings when dangerous, long-term conditions lead to a recommendation that Americans avoid or consider the risk of travel to certain countries around the globe. They also issue warnings when the U.S. government’s ability to assist American citizens is compromised by the closing of an embassy or consulate or a reduction of its staff. Still, seeing a country’s name on the list does not necessarily mean all travel to a given country should stop.

Mexico is a good example of a country where there have been issues of concern, a travel warning has been issued, but not all travel there is unsafe. Since 2006, the Mexican government has battled drug trafficking routes and other criminal activity. Still, a lot of Americans travel to Mexico safely.

“Millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year, including more than 150,000 who cross the border every day for study, tourism or business and at least one million U.S. citizens who live in Mexico” states the Department of State in their current travel warning for Mexico.

Still, the Department of State notes that violence along Mexican roads and highways in the northern border region make that area off limits to U.S. government employees and their families, good advice to consider for travelers as well. Often, common-sense advice is given for those who must travel

“If you make frequent visits to border cities, you should vary your route and park in well-lighted, guarded and paid parking lots. Exercise caution when entering or exiting vehicles.”

Some travel warnings go back quite some time too, like travel to North Korea where entry requirements are strict and explicit official permission plus an entry visa are required from the government of North Korea.

“Travel by U.S. citizens to North Korea is not routine, and U.S. citizens crossing into North Korea without proper documentation, even accidentally, have been subject to arrest and long-term detention” warns the Department of State.

Again, following some common sense tips for safety when traveling abroad are given by the Department of State including:

  • Dressing for the part– Do not dress in a way that will make you look like an affluent tourist. We got that same recommendation from a friend before our recent trip to Italy who urged avoiding bright colors or designer clothes.
  • Travel light– You can move quickly and have a free hand that way. On our recent trip it was a backpack and a small carry-on for each member of our traveling party.
  • Limit the valuables you take and plan places to conceal them– Inside pockets, money belts worn under clothing and the like are good places for credit cards, passports and cash. Leave the jewelry at home.
  • Keep essentials with you– eyeglasses, medicine and other not easily replaceable items should be kept with you when traveling or locked in a hotel safe.
  • Tag your luggage carefully– Put your name, address, phone numbers inside and outside luggage. Tags on the outside of luggage should be difficult to read from a distance, like standing in line at a foreign airport, where your identity or nationality could make you a target.
See more on these and other tips for traveling abroad at the U.S. Department of State website and don’t forget their Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) that provides most current information about the country where you will be traveling or living.

Flickr photo by Håkan Dahlström

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Safe Food and Drink While Traveling

Passport Day is coming! Do you have one?

Passport Day

Saturday April 9th is Passport Day. U.S. Passport agencies and participating passport acceptance facilities will be open to serve you. Savvy travelers know a passport is required for entrance in to the United States. No big news there. What some travelers don’t know though is how easy it can be to get a passport and the benefits of having one.

Right now is a great time for to apply for a first-time passport or renewal. The U.S. Department of State estimates processing times of 4 to 6 weeks. I recently had my passport renewed, sending the paperwork off on January 16th and had a new passport in my hand three weeks later. Look for processing times to increase as we get closer to the busy summer travel season.
The cost of your U.S. passport will depend on the type of passport you request and how quickly you need it. Adults will pay $110 for a passport plus a $25 execution fee for first-timers. Renewals pay the $110 passport charge only. The passport people recommend paying an additional fee for overnight delivery which allows tracking of your passport once produced. I did that and the total came to $124.96 for my renewal.

Passport Services recommends that those with family living or traveling abroad, thinking about a vacation abroad, or those with a job that could require international travel maintain valid U.S. passports.

U.S. Citizen cruise travelers sailing on itineraries that begin and end in the United States can get away with not having a passport. This is not always a good idea though and those people could end up kicking themselves for not going ahead and getting a passport.

Yes, you can board the ship, get off at the ports and get off the ship upon return to the United States with an original birth certificate and photo ID. But if you should have to fly back in to the country for some reason, you would be in trouble.

When heavy fog kept ships at sea, unable the dock at the Port of Galveston last month, passengers on the next sailing were mad. While safety-first is an admirable quality the cruise lines all share, it is of little consolation to those (literally) waiting for their ship to come in. In the case of some Carnival Cruise Line passengers, they could have taken advantage of Carnival’s exclusive Vacation Guarantee:

“Simply book your cruise vacation and sail away on a “Fun Ship.” If you are not completely satisfied with your cruise vacation experience, all you need to do is notify us before arrival at the first port of call and you must debark at your ship’s first non-U.S. port of call. Carnival will refund the unused portion of your cruise fare and pay your flight back.

These people, rightfully or not, were very upset but had used birth certificates to board the ship and could not take advantage of the cruise line’s generous offer because without a passport they could not board a plane outside of the United States for their free ride home.

That’s a pretty good benefit of having a passport.

Passport Cards are another matter altogether. They can get you into territories in the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which includes Canada, Bermuda, Mexico and the Caribbean, but by land and sea only. Passport Cards cannot be used to gain entry into countries if you’re flying internationally. The lower price ($55 for first-timers, $30 for renewals) is attractive but Passport Cards are not good for much. Bite the bullet and get a book, then you know you are covered for any travel, anytime, anywhere.

Flickr photo by Dyobmit

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Ask Gadling: You develop a serious illness while traveling

serious illness while travelingThe very thought of acquiring a serious illness or injury while traveling strikes fear into the hearts of even the most stalwart adventurers. Speaking from personal experience, it’s terrifying to find yourself alone (or not) in dodgy accomodations, in a remote area of a developing country, with a raging fever and/or an uncontrollable case of the runs or other unsavory symptoms. Which isn’t to say the same ailments suffered in the comfort of a five-star hotel in Paris are a picnic, either. Any way you slice it, getting sick in a foreign country sucks.

And sometimes, despite taking precautions, you fall ill anyway, as I can attest. It can be a matter of circumstance (That water my guide “boiled” in a bamboo culm on a Thai Hilltribe trek? Yeah, I pretty much saw the resulting case of dysentery coming), or just bad luck. I’ve been on my own during most of my unfortunate on-the-road maladies. Between my experiences and those of fellow travelers, I’ve accumulated some wisdom over the years for dealing with sudden-onset illness in less-than-ideal circumstances.

For the purposes of this article, I’m not going to include injuries, pre-existing conditions, or focus on food poisoning, which was well-covered in a previous Ask Gadling post by Melanie. I also want to stress that we’re not medical professionals here at Gadling, myself included. For the technical stuff, I turned to Dr. John Szumowski, Clinical Fellow of University of Washington Medical Center’s Division of Allergy and Infectious Disease.

After the jump, tips on prevention, what to do when illness strikes, and how to get yourself home in the event of a full-blown medical emergency.

[Photo credit: Flickr user MoHotta18]

serious illness while traveling

Before you leave home

Hit the internet
Do a bit of research on emergency medical options for a worst-case scenario. The U.S. Department of State produces a list of American doctors and hospitals in foreign countries.

If you have specific questions (about, say, where to find the best dentists in Europe), Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree travel forum can be a useful place to get ideas (please do additional research before following any advice). Take the diagnostic-related questions directed to forum members with a heaping grain of salt, and save them for your doctor.

Get vaccinated
Check the CDC’s (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) website to see what, if any, vaccinations you need before your trip. You can also get updates on things like outbreaks of cholera or bird flu. Be sure you allow ample time before your trip for the protective effects of vaccines to establish themselves. Dr. Szumowski also recommends the CDC’s “Survival Guide to Safe and Healthy Travel” webpage.

View more Ask Gadling: Travel Advice from an Expert or send your question to ask [at] gadling [dot] com.

Keep an immunization card on you (some countries require proof of certain vaccinations) as well as an online record, like Google Health.

All travelers should get flu and tetanus shots. If you’re a frequent world traveler, get vaccinated for hepatitis A, typhoid, and polio. Depending upon where you’re traveling, you may require a Yellow Fever or Japanese Encephalitis vaccine, or malaria prophylaxis.

I used to think a rabies vaccination was overkill until I saw a fellow traveler get seriously nipped by a puppy we were playing with in a remote village near the Myanmar border. The deathly silence that followed was sufficient motivation. Adds Dr. Szumowski, “It’s still important to remember that excellent wound-care and post-bite medical evaluation are necessary, even if a person has had prior rabies pre-exposure vaccination.” The International Society of Travel Medicine has a list of global travel medicine clinics.

I also carry an EpiPen, because you never know what could trigger anaphylaxis while you’re abroad. It also bears mentioning that you can develop a life-threatening allergy to something previously benign. A chef I know went into anaphylactic shock after tasting one of his dishes containing taro root, even though he’d been cooking with it for over 20 years.

If you get sick

Stay calm, and assess your symtoms
It’s easy to get carried away and assume the worst, but odds are your sudden fever isn’t malaria.
serious illness while traveling
Try to identify the source of infection or illness

Know when to seek professional medical assistance
In general, says Dr. Szumowski, some symptoms or exposures that should prompt “expeditious” medical evaluation include:

  • high fevers (over 101ºF, especially if sustained or accompanied by shaking or drenching sweats)
  • bloody diarrhea
  • inability to keep food or liquids down in situation of significant vomiting or diarrhea
  • confusion or severe headache
  • severe cough, especially if accompanied by shortness of breath
  • animal bite or other animal-related attack

Tips for self-care

Stay hydrated
If you’re vomiting or have diarrhea, stay hydrated with (purified/bottled water), and Gatorade or other electrolyte beverages. If you absolutely have to travel, take Imodium as an anti-diarrheal.

Eat bland foods
Remember the BRAT diet for gastrointestinal upset: rice, bananas, applesauce, and toast.
serious illness while traveling
Control your fever
To lower a high fever, take the recommended dosages of acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil).

Wear ID
Wear a medical alert bracelet for serious conditions, allergies, etc., Write down your condition in your destination country’s language in both your phrasebook, and place a card in your passport.

Emergency Measures

Know when to self-diagnose
Sometimes, you find yourself in a position where you have no other option. That said, this is something you want to avoid for obvious reasons. Says Dr. Szumowski, “Self-diagnosis and treatment can be appropriate for less serious conditions such as traveler’s diarrhea, but it is important not to delay evaluation by a medical professional for more serious illness [see warning signs above]. If someone chooses to self-treat, it’s important to be aware of potential for counterfeit medications locally.”

What if the only available hospital/clinic/doctor’s office is seriously sketchy?
If you’re in a situation where the medical facility is primitive/lacking in sanitation, you’ve got a tough call on your hands.
serious illness while traveling
I posed this question to Dr. Szumowski. He says, “It depends on the acuity and seriousness of the condition. In general, evaluation and treatment in a facility with adequately-trained staff and more comprehensive resources is preferable whenever possible–this may mean seeking evaluation in the capital, at a private hospital, or even returning home. Aside from limited diagnostics and medications, smaller/less-resourced facilities may have inadequate sanitary practices (e.g. reuse of equipment) and screening of blood products, raising the risk of contracting pathogens such as hepatitis C or HIV. Therefore, having evacuation insurance is advisable, especially for extended travels in the developing world.”

In other words, you may be shit out of luck. But this is why you’re reading this article–so you can be prepared for all kinds of situations! Read on.

OTC antibiotics
In many countries, you can buy OTC antibiotics, and indeed, this may be your only option, but heed Dr. Szumowski’s warning, above. Caveat emptor.

If you need to be evacuated, the U.S. government offers financial assistance and/or repatriation loans. The American Citizens Service and Crisis Management (ACS) is linked to U.S. embassies and consulates all over the globe. It’s a good idea to enroll in the U.S. Department of State’s “Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (formerly known as “Traveler Registration)” if you’re traveling for a long period of time, to a high-risk region, or doing any extreme adventure activities.

Travel prepared

Get antibiotic prescriptions (and carry copies with you) from your primary care doctor or internist, or visit a travel medicine clinic, and pack them in you travel first-aid kit (You don’t have one? REI has some great options). Some people also carry sterile latex gloves and hypodermic needles with them. If you’re diabetic or have another condition that requires injections, this makes sense, provided you have a note from your medical provider. For everyone else, this is a personal choice that comes down to, “How comfortable are you with the knowledge that you’re carrying drug paraphernalia?” If you backpack, travel in places with notoriously corrupt law enforcement, or countries like, say, Malaysia, you may want to hedge your bets.
serious illness while traveling
Email yourself and family or a trusted friend copies of medical insurance, itinerary, and a list of medications, and doctors.

Consider traveler’s insurance.

If the worst happens

In the highly unlikely event you do come home with a mystery disease that isn’t responding to medical treatment, get to a specialist, asap. Depending upon where you’ve been, this may be an infectious disease or tropical medicine doctor, a dermatologist or rheumatologist who specializes in tropical medicine, etc.. You may need to travel–out of state–to find the right specialist. Find someone who has first-hand experience traveling/training or practicing in developing countries, and in diagnosing diseases not found in the U.S.. It may even be best to try and seek medical treatment in the country where you became ill (even if that means a return trip).

Unfortunately, I can speak with authority this subject, because I’m in my 22nd month of diagnostics following a trip to South America. If you do find yourself harboring a travel-related (or not) disease that defies diagnosis, you must be your own advocate. No one is more invested in your health than you are, and doctors are human. They may make mistakes, despite their best intentions. Seek not just a second, but a third opinion, from at least two different medical facilities.

And finally, don’t let anything in this article scare you and put you off travel. Odds are, you’ll come home with nothing more than great memories, and the eagerness to plan your next trip. I know I can’t wait.

[Photo credits: vaccination, Flickr user alvi2047; mosquito, Flickr user tonrulkens; toast, Flickr user snowriderguy; farmacia, Flickr user ibirque; drugs, Flickr user cavale]