Travel can be exhilarating but steep culture shock awaits you if you're unprepared for a foreign country's culture, customs, and day-to-day lifestyle. This is not only in reference to external factors, internal ones matter are equally pertinent; in fact, a lack of mental and physical preparedness can hinder your enjoyment of new vistas. Having recently returned from a trip to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand, I underwent numerous bouts of trial and error and discovered the following to be some of the most useful travel items you should consider including in your toolkit:
Our travel clinic doctor recommended Woods: Premium Insect Repellent Pump Spray with Icaridin. As adamant as I was to use all natural varieties-- realistically, they do not protect you from mosquitoes and blackflies, especially ones that harbour infectious diseases. Our physician, Dr. Jay Keystone C.M. and Director of the Medisys Travel Clinic in Toronto, recommended the following to us:
Always apply sunscreen first. Wait a few minutes and then spray bug repellent on top and liberally rub in. If you do this first thing in the morning, you don't have to reapply the bug spray, it protects you from ticks and mosquitoes for 12 hours and black flies for 10.
Compared with past expeditions, this time, my partner and I did not 'rough' it per se-- however, the various modes of transportation we used (overnight train, junk boat), did not offer valued amenities for body and face. However, even if it were provided, I would recommend you skip their offerings and just bring something you trust. Who knows who and where one has used that communal pink soap on. For convenience sake, I bring a small travel bag for my toiletries. I prefer Canadian-made Consonant Skincare's Bath and Body Products -- all in 3.3 oz or less containers (note: ideal for airline carry-on baggage). Their body lotion, foaming face wash, and body wash are all made with 100% natural, organic ingredients. In fact, if I've ever found myself depleted of another essential item, I've even used the face wash as hand soap and the wash for shampoo as a temporary remedy.
Apparently, my body cannot contend with foods from foreign countries. In other words, it's incredibly difficult to remain 'regular'. Fibre also happens to be a rarity in Southeast Asian countries so I brought a few allies on my trip to assist with this issue. I recommend the aptly named 'Constipation' by Orange Naturals. Developed by Naturopathic Doctors in Canada, the vial contains all-natural ingredients to regulate your body: ginger, dandelion, and aloe. And fear not, unlike over-the-counter laxatives, this one won't suddenly have you in dire straits without a washroom nearby to relieve you of your suffering. The product just eases your body back into a regular rhythm-- so to speak.
In unfamiliar climates, my face tends to breakout in pimples. Although I have prescription acne creams, I've been trying to wean myself off them; I don't like the potentially long-term side effects of relying on these products (e.g. dries out skin). Instead, I use Orange Naturals Acne Control Cream whose medical ingredients include Belladonna (plant), Berberis aquifolium (root from shrub plant), and Kali bromatum (bromide of potassium). By using it sparingly to target blemishes and uneven skin, I found I was able to tame any potential breakouts.
Throughout my journey, I would find myself uncontrollably starved at the most random hour. Chalk it up to equal parts jet-lag and strenuous activities during the day. Rather than play Russian Roulette with my stomach and the local street food at witching hour, I brought with me the following:
Larabar Bites: Although the primary ingredient is dates, you only taste chocolate. They're akin to the flavour and texture of brownie and surprisingly satisfying, despite its diminutive marble size. My favourites were the Mint Chocolate Truffle and the Double Chocolate Brownie. For those with dietary needs, they happen to be gluten-free, non-GMO, vegan, dairy free, kosher, and use fair trade certified chocolate. But the reason I enjoy them is simply because this 'health food' actually tastes good.
Seven Grain with Quinoa Honey Oat Flax Bars and Dark Mocha Almond Bars: These whole grain bars are perfect for the road and texturally pleasing due to their crunchiness. Also, they hold up well in hot climates because they aren't coated in chocolate or anything else that could melt and turn into a gloopy mess. And while I don't consider myself a health fanatic, it's satisfying to know that the bar avoids refined sugars, artificial ingredients, and preservatives.
Although I brought runners with me, sneakers cause my feet to swell up in the sweltering heat and flipflops or Birkenstocks don't provide enough foot support on long walks and hikes. I suggest Keen Uneek 02 as a solution that offers the best of both footwear worlds. It's essentially a sneaker in the back and a sandal in the front-- but the only difference is a cushioned heel which allows for extra support. Also, due to the cord construction, the shoe is extremely breathable and ensures feet are dry rather than sweaty/ smelly at the end of the day.
I must confess that loathe wearing hats. This is a terrible thing to admit because they're so essential for travel but for the longest time, I could never find one that was aesthetically and functionally pleasing. Then I discovered Tilley. Yes, at almost $100 (after tax), they're costly but each Canadian made chapeau comes "guaranteed for life not to wear out" and it is insured against loss for 2 years, with a 50% deductible. The aspects I most enjoy about my Mash-up hat (made with recycled hemp, organic cotton, and other fabrics) is that it offers UPF 50+, is waterproof, and offers a hidden Velcro pocket to carry money and valuables in.
For carry-on plane baggage or hikes in the countryside, I prefer WillLand's College Victoria knapsack. Compared with MEC backpacks, this one is light enough to carry around all day. With loads of pockets, zippers, and a padded pouch for a laptop or iPad, it's a stylish, functional item to carry around instead of a purse or satchel. Bonus: Willand Outdoors offers a Lifetime Warranty on the backpack.