Make your own travel safety net by getting prepared! Image from

As I write this, 9 days, 216 hours and  1,3140 minutes separate me and Guinea-Bissau in West Africa, the country where I’ll spend the next two months of my life volunteering and working at the United Nations Integrated Peace-Building Office. I have to keep pinching myself since I’m basically living a childhood dream, working with the UN. But more about that in my later posts.

I can’t contain my excitement. But, naturally, with excitement comes anxiety: nervousness, a feeling of “unknowing,” and a rush of adrenaline that you may never have felt before but fills you from head to toe. It reminds you that you are alive.

Monica will travel to Guinea-Bissau in West Africa. Image from
Monica will travel to Guinea-Bissau in West Africa. Image from

For many of us travelers, these feelings are part of the experience. Traveling is adventure, and adventure is risk-taking, and risk-taking is jumping into the abyss not always knowing that the net will appear. More often than not we listen to the voice in our heads reminding us of the negative consequences of our actions, scaring us with the idea of the unknown, talking us out of our endeavors with “what if’s.” I do my best to avoid listening to this voice, especially its opinions on travel, because it stumps the adventure that comes with venturing into the world.

Whether you’re an experienced traveler or jet-setting for the first time, I want to share tips and ideas that have helped me silence the voice, conquer the unknown, and make my own net:

1. Make lists.

One for clothes and shoes, one for medical supplies, one for things I need to buy (bug repellent and mosquito net), one of books and reading/writing material, and one with things I plan to leave behind. If you’re unsure of what to pack, call the embassy of the country you’re visiting or your local Travel Clinic, visit LonelyPlanet, or talk to a travel agent (beware the sales pitch).

All this list making may seem a little excessive. Find a system that works for you. Organizing what to bring makes packing a lot easier. Be sure to maintain your list while traveling, including any purchases you make while backpacking or living in hostels or with host families. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I also believe in being safe. Thefts on tourists occur all the time; we’re often less aware, and locals can take advantage of that.

2. Contact the Embassy.

I’ve found embassies and consulates to be some of the most helpful resources in preparing for my trips. Embassies employ their own citizens, who are the best ambassadors for their countries. They will distinguish the myths from the truths without trying to make you scared and will advise you if they themselves feel concerned.  Additionally, they’ll provide the correct information about visas and entry. Travel clinics can also provide you with detailed information regarding immunizations, health risks, and common concerns. Even if you’re not traveling to a less-developed-nation, I’d suggest you visit a clinician just to double check you’re fit to fly and have all the immunizations you need. Some of that research can also be done at home. Visit sites such as the Centers for Disease Control.

3. Do practical (and cultural) research.

Learn about the country you’re visiting. Read travel guides and travel blogs, speak to people who’ve traveled to the location, watch videos (documentaries are my favorite!) and the Travel Channel, and, most of all, look at an atlas. It may sound funny, but it’s important to know what’s around you in the case you need to leave the country. Know where there is medical amnesty, and find the location of the closest embassy or consulate of your home country. For example, I know that there isn’t a Portuguese embassy in Tanzania, so I made sure I knew where the closest one was (Kenya, in case you’re curious).  You don’t want to “wait and see” what happens in the worst case scenario, so be smart and know where to go.

Learn about the culture. Being aware of cultural norms, religion, language, clothes, and foods of a place before you get there will highly benefit your adjustment stage. What clothes do they wear? In the Middle Eastern parts of Asia, it’s rude to show your lower legs or ankles, so bringing shorts may be inappropriate  Pick yourself up a phrasebook or dictionary. We often expect everyone to speak English but make close to no attempt at learning other languages. Impress the locals with your skills. Learn about the tribes in East Africa. Understand the political spectrum of Russia. Research the traditional foods and drinks of Chile. I guarantee it will change your experience and perspective and make the trip more rewarding and adventurous.

4. Bring disposable cameras.

They are less invasive, safer to carry, there’s a thrill in wondering how the picture turned out, and they’re “vintage!”

Gifts help to make travelers seem less like strangers. Image from
Gifts help to make travelers seem less like strangers. Image from

5.  Carry gifts.

Chocolate and pens are great if you’re in Africa. Children will ask you for small things, and it makes you as a traveler seem less like a stranger to the locals.

6.  Journal.

Bring a notebook and pen (or iPad). Even if you don’t journal at home, keeping a journal abroad is a perfect way to remember those people and places you want to keep forever.

7. Give back.

Find a local organization, orphanage, or school so you can give back to the community. This is a personal mission of mine. If you can find some time in your travels to help those in need, you’re more likely to go back. Make the relationships that will change your life.

8. Take risks.

Try something you never would at home: frogs legs, sky-diving, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. You want a story for the grandkids, right?


Even with these basic tips you can start to silence that little voice in your head and take risks, knowing you’ve made your own secure net below you.

What preparations do you make to get the most adventure from your travels?