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August 31, 2014 by Robert Camp 8 Comments Basic survival in another country means being prepared for an emergency long before you board an airplane for your travel destination.
As an outdoor guide, I’ve been asked to go to many different parts of the world, and I lived in Japan for 3 years. Before boarding the airplane, heading up the gangway to a ship, or getting  in my car to go visit, work, or live in a foreign land, there are a few preps I’ve learned to undertake.
Purchase a travel guide or two (see the links above) and maps to learn about the lay of the land, people, culture, customs, language and currency. The CIA puts out an annual publication called The World Factbook that is chalk-full of data about every country in the world.
I make a copy of my passport, driver’s license, birth certificate (proof of your country of origin and usually citizenship beyond just your passport), travel itinerary, and any other important records for the trip. The records are also turned into images or a PDF and placed on a password protected memory stick on my key chain, especially if I’m going to a country with a poor internet infrastructure. If a natural disaster, difficult medical situation, or other major emergency occurs in the country I am traveling in, there are places to go that can offer help.
In addition and as a backup, I find the same information for any country which uses English as a primary language, such as the UK or Australia.
Knowing where medical help can be obtained before departing on my excursion is particularly important.
Locate the address and phone number for hospitals and medical clinics in the area of travel and find out if any of these facilities are designated for English-speaking or tourist care. In general, depending on the country and type of trip, I check in with my emergency contact person via email, text or phone every couple of days. If an issue arises and I cannot make contact, they will start making inquires and looking for me. Understanding a few key words and phrases will never be more critical than if a personal emergency or larger event happens while you are traveling in another country.
You can find all kinds of crash courses on the internet to help you learn basic phrases like greetings, how to order food, and asking for help.
I practice and memorize key words and phrases such as hello, thank you, how much does…cost?, how do I get to…?, where can I find…?, I need help!, hospital, police, fire, emergency. I think it is important to understand the basic customs and manors of the people in the country I am visiting.
For example, did you realize in Greece, using the hand sign for stop is a nasty hand gesture and can land you in trouble without even realizing what you did?
Another important thing I research is what is appropriate as far as personal space and touching: Hugging, hand shake, facial expressions. In addition to customs and manors, I also take note of how people dress where I am headed and plan my travel wardrobe accordingly, within reason.
I found the phrase “When in Rome do as the Romans do” never more applicable than when learning and understanding the customs, manors, and dress of the people in the country I am going to visit.


As an outdoor  guide, I am responsible not only for myself but also for the safety of my clients. To help ensure a great experience and be prepared if an emergency arises while traveling abroad, you may want to take a little extra time, do a bit more homework, and prep.
There may be links in the post above that are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission, which does not affect the price you pay for the product.
Robert Camp turned his love of the outdoors into over 35 years of professional guiding and outdoor leadership.
One other recommendation, particularly if traveling to Asian countries, is to visit a restaurant of that culture in the U.S. Similarly, even if you are in the most developed cities of the Asian world, ALWAYS get a business card of your hotel with the name and address of the hotel in the local language glyphs, as many taxi drivers cannot read anything else and this may help get you home.
Finally, even in establishments that openly display the credit card logos, do NOT expect them all to honor them, as at a whim they will simply start emphatically shaking their heads no at bill time demanding cash. It’s great to know some key basic information about the country and not just from the latest travel guides or internet sites. Nothing can ruin travel plans faster than missing documents, especially after you have left your home country. The electronic version is also uploaded to either my Dropbox or Evernote account which can be accessed from the internet anytime anywhere via computer, smart phone or tablet. It is one of the best ways to insure help and communicate your appreciation even if you don’t speak the local language.
My map, one you typically find for sale with travel books and guides, is carefully marked with the locations I am staying at during my travels as well as the U.S. A few key words and phrases, well spoken by you, may make the difference between success and something less if an emergency arises. In Thailand, propping your feet up and talking a load off your legs must be done with discretion. Helping them have the adventure of a life time is the goal, while ensuring their safety is my top priority. Who knows, you may even find yourself helping  a fellow traveler who didn’t plan or prep for an emergency. He has helped develop programs, lead trips, and taught for juvenile diversion programs, the U.S. So always have at least the price of meals and transportation in local currency on your person. Was there anything new or different from the preps in my article that you did getting ready to travel in Kenya?
This was an area that would resemble slums to us, but was nice compared to the Mathare slum where we spent the bulk of our time.


You can research topics including history, geography, culture, government, economy, communications and transportation. That being said, I carry a minimal amount of cash and try to use a designated credit card for most of my financial transactions when I am overseas. Like emergency (embassy, consulate) and medical institutions, I try to locate where the local banks and ATM machines are along my travel rout.
Don’t expect the locals to speak your native language, especially if you plan to travel off the beaten path. I don’t count on electronic translators, Google, or any language app I can put on my smart phone. Showing the bottom of your feet is considered so abhorrent, people have been killed for doing it (yes, including tourists).
That is why my travel preps are so extensive and probably a little unique compared to what most travelers need to do. Please adapt, modify, and tailor them to fit you and your families needs as you plan and prepare for your travels. If the local language is in glyphs (Chinese, Japanese, Korean) even better, as many locals cannot read Roman alphabets.
While we never used American cash to get out of trouble, our hosts used Kenyan currency to get us out of a pretty frightening situation.
That way I can quickly get more cash if needed, minimizing what I need to keep on my person. These gadgets work most of the time, but a lot can go wrong  which could render them useless. If Robert is not out traveling, he and his family are home in Colorado or posting on TopClimbPublishing on Facebook. We ate goat meat boiled in water that they found who knows where a dozen miles from anything resembling civilization. I also took with me everything over the counter I could think of–Tylenol, ibuprophen, Benadryl, Pepto Bismol, Immodium, etc. The light identified him as the nightwatchman and likely ruined his night vision for awhile.




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