How to: stay informed about country warnings as you travel

This is a Hipmunk guest post from Jodi Ettenberg of Legal Nomads

Seeing the devastation after days of rioting in London, I wanted to post about travel warnings and travel advice, something I get a lot of emails about every week.

Screenshot from the verified incidents of riots Google Maps mashup.

Travelers tend to turn to their country’s Department of State (in Canada, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade), but often write to ask me what I do since I’m usually moving around. Do I pick and choose based on country advice? What made me stay put in Bangkok during the 2010 protests, despite warnings that people should leave the city?

Until recently, I used a combination of checking different government warnings, forums (for Southeast Asia, I used the Travelfish forums quite a bit), Twitter, and my own common sense. But there’s a new service that cobbles together different country warnings and provides updated issue pages as larger events (like the London riots) unfold.

FTAS Online (the Foreign Travel Advisory Service) aggregates travel advisories and information, and also allows you to build your own trip, receiving updates from the places on your destination-list. The site is free, and at present they’re also including their alert services and update bulletins free of cost. This means that you’ll get updates via email for your destination list as situations change.

Topic summary from recent unrest in the UK, via FTAS Online

I have no affiliation with FTAS but I am always on the look-out for new sites that provide a helpful service for travelers, and it’s a solid resource for one-stop, verified information as you go.

Best Smartphone Apps for Worldwide Travel


This is a Hipmunk guest post from Jodi Ettenberg of Legal Nomads

As a part of an ongoing series on technology and travel (first up was my favourite USB gadgets while on the road), I’d like to post about the best smartphone apps for travel. These aren’t apps for booking your flights – I’m assuming you’ve already got that covered with hipmunk and the free hipmunk iOS app. Rather, it’s a list of useful downloads to help navigate, communicate or stay sane and safe while travelling around the world.

When I started my trip in 2008, I had no laptop and no smartphone. As the years have gone by and I’ve continued my travels, I’ve picked up a phone and kept an eye out for apps that help me as I navigate strange places, be it via language, food or helping make my life a little easier as I go.

1. Onavo (iphone only): Onavo’s aim is to shrink your data usage, and it does so by installing a configuration profile on your phone, so that the data you receive from the interwebs is streamed through their cloud-based compression service. This means that the compression takes place before it gets to your phone, and this also means Onavo saves you some money if you’re not on an unlimited data plan.

2. Skype: Being on the road for over three years means that I’ve had no SIM card and no home base. As a result, Skype has been a saviour – it allows me to use WiFi to reach my friends, I can forward its services to a local number, and I’ve added SkypeOut credit for those family members (*cough* dad *cough*) who refuse to get an account themselves.  For those of you who want to stick to apps from Google, Google Voice’s app is an alternative, allowing you to text freely within North America from anywhere in the world.

3. TripIt: TripIt has been getting rave reviews from friends and travelers alike. It’s essentially a trip organizer – forward your trip details or confirmation to them, and TripIt will build you the full itinerary, accessible from mobile or the web. If you’re a frequent traveler with plenty of reservations to keep track of, this app might make your life quite a bit easier.

4. Urbanspoon (for travel to UK, US, Canada or Australia): I’ll admit, I don’t travel often through North America or Europe; most of my trips take me further afield, to street food fun in Asia. But for the trips I do take in these parts, Urbanspoon is a great way to find out where I should eat. I prefer its interface and enjoy using it more than the also-popular Yelp app.

5. ICOON Global Picture Dictionary: this is near and dear to my heart and I’ve used the old-fashioned Point It Dictionary (i.e. paper) version a lot on my travels to far flung places. When words just won’t work, be it because you can’t speak the language or you need a doctor ASAP, this is your friend. Photos by category, foods, body parts, lodging basics and more. For Android, the Picture Dictionary is an option, though less pretty in design and function.

6. Google Maps: it works in a startlingly comprehensive list of countries; it helps when you’re really exhausted and just cannot figure out where your hostel is and all the street signs are in an unfamiliar language. If you’re directionally disabled like me, Google Maps is a must, especially when you can use it to show your taxi driver where you need to go in their native language

7. Speaking of language, I’m enamoured with Word Lens (iPhone only). The app instantly translates printed words from one language to another using your phone’s video camera. It’s a pretty nifty idea, and even if you don’t absolutely need to get a message across right now, you’ll have a great time playing around with translation on-the-go.

8. Oanda’s Currency Conversion App: Currency conversion is a helpful thing to have available on the road, especially farther afield where you are sometimes negotiating for rates when changing money. Those countries with a closed monetary system (Myanmar, for example) won’t really care what your app says, but for the most part it’s very helpful to have an interbank rate at your immediate disposal. I’ve used this app throughout my worldwide travels and it comes in handy not just for ensuring I get a decent rate, but also to keep track of what I’m spending by converting to USD as I go.

9. Sit or Squat (available for Blackberry or iPhone) might not be the most useful, but bonus  points for creativity and for listing 109,280 toilets around the world (and counting). Just plug in your address and find a place to relieve yourself.

Bonus: Tipping Bird. A Hipmunk user (@jyzhou) created this app and I have to say I wish I had it prior. Divided by country, the app lets you know what you ought to be tipping as you go, in a cross-section of industries. Country tips are divided by restaurants, bars, taxis and others, with info from Thailand to Argentina to the States. Looking forward to using it the next time I travel!


Anything I left out? What are your favourite smartphone apps for worldwide travel?

What’s in your first aid kit?

This is a Hipmunk guest post from Jodi Ettenberg

Part of being a savvy traveler is knowing what to pack. I recently wrote about some useful and fun USB travel gadgets, but I wanted to go back to the basics: a first aid kit.

(photo credit: mwichary)

I rarely leave home without mine, and it’s been the subject of some gentle (and not so gentle) mocking. But the travelers who split their calf open on a rusty nail in the middle of a Dominican Republic national park (true story) or fell down the stairs and got bitten by a blood-sucking cockroach in the Philippines (also a true story) didn’t laugh: they were just happy I had something to help make it better.

Many of these can be purchased and/or replaced from the road, but if starting out in a more remote destination, it’s a good thing to have a more thorough kit from the get-go.

For general travel:

  • Neosporin or a similar triple antibiotic cream 
  • Anti-itch cream
  • Benedryl or other anti-histamine
  • Small sutures/stitches 
  • Burn gel
  • Diclofenac (anti-inflammatory cream sold over the counter)
  • Gauze
  • Sewing kit 
  • Safety pins (large size)
  • Matches
  • Duct tape
  • Ibuprofen
  • Band-aids
  • Moleskin for blisters
  • Diflucan (for the ladies)
  • Anti-mozzie spray
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Tweezers
  • Leatherman Micra (mini and awesome multitool)

For travel to developing countries, I add the following:

  • Ciprofloxacin (if you get food poisoning/stomach infections, you will want some of this), though self-medicate at your own risk. I’ve done so in the past, but only when I’m nowhere near a clinic  or doctor and really ill.
  • Metronidazole (for giardia or amoebic dysentery; I’ve picked these up for reasonable prices in Thailand or other parts of Southeast Asia)
  • Immodium, but only to take if absolutely necessary since trapping whatever bacteria you’ve got in your intestine is a bad idea. I only use it if I’m about to board a bus for 8 hours and know that I’m not going to make it without copious bathroom breaks. 
  • Anti-malarials if you are heading to a malarial region.
  • Oral rehydration salts

What’s in your first aid kit? 


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