Do's and Don'ts Abroad

On this page we suggest some common sense do-and-don'ts to travel safely and stay healthy abroad. We provide these suggestions because we want you to have a fabulous experience on your trip and go home with nothing more than great memories about some of the greatest vacations you have had in your life. Don't let these suggestions discourage you, because exploring other countries is one of the greatest pass-times in one's life! 


Carpe Diem

In most places, the best hours of the day are the early morning, whether you are a culture lover of a tree hugger. The morning hours are always the coolest hours of the day, which in the tropics is important. If you want to see birds and wildlife, the best hour of the day is from 5:30 - 6:30 AM. For photography, the best hours are from 8 - 10 AM and then again one or two hours before and including sunset.


Unload the pictures from your camera onto your laptop or cyber space whenever you get to your hotel. If you lose your camera, at least you will still have your pictures. Also charge your batteries on every opportunity you get and Don't forget to take your charger out of the outlet each time you put the battery back in its place (I lost so many of those already). Always check the outlets when you leave your hotel room (and your closets of course). On a friendly note: You can always enjoy Music on Repeat!


Always know how to find the way back to your hotel

Always ask for a business card of the hotel at check in and put it somewhere in your clothing where you will have it when you leave. Nothing is more annoying than having forgotten the name of your hotel and being stranded somewhere in an unknown city. For several of the larger cities, free maps are available. Depending on where you are, English is not as often spoken as you would wish, so write down your destination before entering a taxi. Have someone do it for you in the hotel if you are in a country with an non-roman script.


Quito and other cities

Traffic in most is chaotic, but don't let it unnerve you. But when you are in the highlands above 2,000m, your attention may be slightly off because of the elevation. When you are taking pictures in the lovely narrow streets of an adorable town, chances are that you forget to look out and walk straight under a car. So many times, that I barely escaped disaster when taking pictures.


One does hear many stories about taxis, but when traveling their use often is necessary. Always point at the taximeter when you hop on board of a taxi if there is one, or ask for a price before you take off, or you may be surprised by a stiff foreigner fee at the end of your ride. If you carry a beg, sit with your beg in the back seat or keep it in your lap, so you won't forget when leaving the taxi. I left several carry-ons and a laptop in taxis, and they never came back, even though they had my address. Still, always label all your bags.


Pickpockets are everywhere in the world and you can become a victim anywhere. However, simply losing your money, is always a far greater risk than getting it stolen, let alone getting violently robbed! In fact, the only time in my life I got violently robbed, was in the tourism Holy Grail, Costa Rica, out of all places! I personally have a few very simple rules against petty theft:

  • Whenever I travel overseas, I leave my passport in the hotel as much as possible, although it is probably illegal to go into the street without it. However, I prefer going to the police station apologizing for having left my passport in my hotel over having to report that it has been stolen. After having traveled abroad for more than 5 decades to more than 80 countries, neither has ever happened;

  • I leave my money, credit cards and passport in the safety box in the hotel, while always carrying a few 10 - 20 dollar bills lose in my pocket and just one credit card. Keep your credit card in a different pocket from your money. Why not in a wallet? The bulge in your pocket draws attention;

  • Never carry valuables in your backpack but rather in one of those hidden purses around your neck or waist. The ones that go around your waist: always carry those in the front where you can see people. Always have them hidden under your clothes;

  • When in crowded places, particularly on a crowded bus or tram, keep your hand on your pouch all the time, and again - as much as possible - avoid boarding public transportation with all your money and cameras on your body;

  • Ladies, if you can do without jewelry for a few weeks during your vacation, that is probably wise. And gentlemen, that Rolex really gives off the wrong signal to pickpockets! Worn clothes, old suitcases, carry-on bags and backpacks draw less attention than new ones. In general, don't draw attention showing off as the well to do tourist from North America or Europe.


Do's and Don'ts in Ecuador: Take pictures in the early morning.

Do's and Don'ts in Ecuador: Take pictures in Quito in late afternoon

Early morning cloudless sky over Quito. Always rise early, take your breakfast quickly and go see the town before the clouds move in.

Sometimes around 5 PM, the clouds move out and the city bathes in the warm colors of the late afternoon.


Traffic, petty theft and safety

Always be aware of traffic. You are in a foreign country and many impressions overwhelm you. When you take pictures, stay aware of the traffic. (I am a picture taking fanatic and I always become oblivious of traffic when I see a great shot to take and had many narrow escapes).


Always travel with a medical insurance that cover your medical expenses in the country of your travel. BEFORE you leave home, check with your health insurance provider if you are covered for medical expenses overseas in general and your country of destination in particular. Check if medical transportation is included. If not, take a travel insurance.


I guess, - but I don't have figures - that it is much and much safer to travel by bus, than riding a private vehicle, as is the case in most other countries of the world. On the other hand, the petty theft risk in public busses is considerably higher, particularly in the trolley busses and metros in large cities, which have a reputation for being frequented by pickpockets. But then, again, I have not seen any statistics. So in city busses keep your hand in your pocket on your wallet, travel pouch or loose money all the time.


If you must carry valuables, it is probably much wiser to take a taxi. More and more cities however are building a reputation for taxi robberies. So depending on the city, you may want to order your taxi through your hotel lobby, but of course this is not an option if you are not at your hotel. Always only take registered taxis with a number on the outside and - where present - with a taximeter.


In Latin America, in the more expensive intercity busses, the risk of losing stuff by theft is much less, particularly for the ones that don't stop on the way. They cost a few dollars more, but you get to your destination quicker and they really are more secure. The few times that I take the bus anywhere in the world, I get off the bus when it stops at a bus stop and I watch my luggage until the driver closes the luggage compartment again. So I guess you can consider me a bit paranoid...........


Where-ever you travel, always be aware of your surroundings, your luggage and valuables, but don't overdo it. Don't let your travel fun be overshadowed by continuous fear. This is YOUR vacation, YOUR great time, don't let a petty thief ruin your fun! ALWAYS ENJOY YOUR VACATION, even if someone succeeds in snatching something away from you! Changes are that whatever someone steals from you is only a fraction of what you spent on your total journey. So don't let some petty thief ruin your vacation experience and if it happens, - for your own peace of mind - consider is as a part of the overall costs.


How to stay healthy

You may come across friendly travelers and local guides who will tell you that is safe to eat and drink. Never be fooled by the such advise from others. Having travelers diarrhea and a fever is no fun, so don't take risks. It is not a question of how harmful or harmless the local microflora and microfauna is, but how YOUR BODY reacts to it. So if you are new to a country, always drink bottled water (never from the tap) and hot drinks. Fruit juices in the tropics are delicious but you don't know if they have been made with bottled water. Raw salads are always a bit risky and you have to ask yourself how sensitive your stomach is.


Do's and Don'ts in Ecuador: Always bring bottled water with you and drink plenty

Do's and Don'ts in Ecuador: Salad may cause you travelers diarhea, so avoid eating

Wherever you go, always carry a bottle of commercial water, which is the safest water in a place where your body is not accustomed to the the local bacterial flora. In restaurants always ask for bottled water.

Avoid eating raw salads if you are new to the country. Most restaurants will simply wash the lattice in water, which will not kill the local bacterial flora which may cause travelers diarrhea. Order dishes with cooked vegetables.


When all fails, Imodium still seems to be the "kill or cure remedy" of choice. You may want to check this webpage: http://www.drwisetravel.com/td.html. Consult your doctor for prophylactics for malaria in the country of your travel at least a month before departure. In most developing countries, many prescription drugs are sold over the counter in any pharmacy and they are usually much cheaper than in North America and Europe, but be careful playing your own doctor. If you have a problem, usually your hotel can get you a doctor consult, and most doctors will charge a reasonable price, but always ask before requesting a consult. Consults at the emergency rooms of hospitals are usually very reasonably priced, but you may spend some time waiting for your turn.


Having mentioned the raw food risk, it should be mentioned that in general, most middle class (and higher) restaurants in developing countries seem clean and serve good food.


When in the mountains, always be careful with alcohol consumption. At higher elevations, the effect is much stronger than at sea level. Always take enough rest. You may have gone through time changes and in many cases, you have spent a day on board of an airplane, so you arrive tired. In general, during the first days, don't overdo, particularly not at higher elevations.


At the higher elevations, you are likely to be short of breath and you will tire rapidly. When going into the mountains for tracking, take several days to acclimatize your body to the elevation before you start doing some serious hiking. In general, younger people are more sensitive to "elevation sickness" than older people. If you have a light case of elevation sickness, sit down for a while and return to a place where you can quietly recover, usually your hotel.


In the tropics you will be much closer to the Equator. UV radiation is extremely high everywhere you go and you need to protect yourself adequately, even if you are dark-skinned. Always wear a hat, not just a baseball cap, and please, be careful with sandals or bear feet when you come from abroad. I have seen such horribly painful feet on people who covered everything but their feet. Your feet get the most direct sunlight as they are exposed horizontally to the sun! So acclimatize your feet gradually by adding an hour of sunshine every day, even in the tropical rainforest.


Always put on high grade sun block (don't forget the edges of your ears).  Gradually accustom your skin to the sunlight by exposing it for no more than an hour the first day and add an hour everyday afterwards. Don't be fooled by an overcast sky, you can still get sun burn when it is cloudy. Be particularly aware in the high mountains and on the water, where the UV effect is much greater. Also beware of wind, as it also tends to increase the sun burning of your skin.


Wherever you go, always carry some toilet paper with you as not all toilets are adequately provided.


Stay Away from Drugs

It is amazing this still needs to be said, but every year foreigners end up in prison for the possession of drugs. If caught with drugs, you may be in for a long time already in for-arrest. I don't understand why this needs to be said, but stay far away from drugs when traveling. Each year, worldwide many foreigners are arrested for attempting to traffic drugs to North America and Europe. Many of those arrested claim not to have known they were transporting drugs. Under no circumstances should you ever accept gifts, packages, or suitcases from anyone you do not trust and know well.


More ideas and tips on do's and don'ts in Ecuador will come over time and suggestions are always welcome. Enjoy the beautiful country of your visit!


Smoking in Public Places

When the USA started banning smoking in public places it was quite a surprise to me to immediately see that Latin Americans voluntarily followed suit even before imposing legislation on banning smoking in public places. People simply stopped doing it! People simply stopped doing it! In most countries in Africa, smoking is not so common as elsewhere.


In regard to smoking, American tourists behaved as they do at home: they leave the building and smoke outside. Both in Africa and Latin America, the only smokers inside buildings are invariably Europeans and Asians! The natives of a country won't comment easily on smoking inside, but they certainly don't appreciate it. So, I would urge smokers to respect the the non-smokers and enjoy your moment of pleasure where your smoke can't discomfort others, which usually is outside buildings.