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Dr. Anderson: Stress-Free Travel Part 2

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Dr. Anderson: Stress-Free Travel Part 2

Doctor Eric Anderson, a charter diplomat of the American Board of Family Practice and a former president of the New Hampshire Academy of Family Physicians is a regular contributor to Travel Tips 'n' Tales. He is widely traveled and published, having written a travel health column for Travel 50 & Beyond and a weekly online column, Ask The Doctor, for The New York Times Syndicate.

Dr. Anderson invites you to send your questions regarding travel health issues to ericmd@lorrypatton.com

The following is part two of Dr. Andersons tips on traveling stress free. View Part One Here

Tips to Cut the Stress of Travel: Part Two

Dr_Anderson.jpg Eric Anderson, MD

I know it sounds patronizing, but when abroad, I have been surprised and even amused at times, overhearing American tourists talking in the Europe I know so well -- only because I was born there!

"Does Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister, live in Buckingham Palace with the Queen?", "How often do the boats for Scotland leave England?"and "I see all those Roman ruins in Greece, but I'm wondering, are there any Roman ruins in Italy, " are just a few of the questions I've heard tourists ask guides. And each time, the guide's face was a picture worth a thousand words. Except once, after the Roman ruins remark, the guide hissed at me -- perhaps feeling since I was born in Scotland, I couldn't be a complete American -- "How can a country like the United States be so powerful in the world when its people are so ignorant?"

How indeed. By not bothering to do even a minimum review of a country before they visit it.

6: So, do some research on where you're heading... at the very least, sort out your arrival.

An experienced travel agent should be able to give you answers to questions like:

* Is France still politically so left wing that railway porters at many stations simply don't exist or they decline to help and you may have to drag your own baggage over railway lines?

* Can you expect to be cheated by taxi drivers in Rome?

* Is street crime a problem in Barcelona?

* Despite apparent government programs, is it almost impossible to get your Value Added (sales) Tax refund from Britain?

* Will you be shabbily treated by money changers in Hong Kong?

* Should you bring a small umbrella to Britain even in the summer?

* Is it true that no matter how much you plead, they will X-ray your film at De Gaule airport in Paris -- and sneer as they do it?

The answer to those questions, by the way, is yes, but you'll only find that out by thinking things through and asking. And if you get the wrong answers, you'll know to find a more knowledgeable agent next time.

I once went especially early to the airport in Paris hoping to get my 50 rolls of film hand inspected. I had been a guest of the French government, shooting some photographs for them and my own stock. I felt I might get that non-X-ray courtesy due to that fact. I showed my letter from his government to the X-ray attendant and requested visual inspection of the rolls. When he refused I asked to speak to his superior. "I have no superrr-iorrr," he said, "I am Frrrench. X-rrray!"

7: Assess your vacation safety risks.

Just as white water rafting operators have learned the necessity of revealing to their participants the degree of difficulty and danger in a river run, so it is important for you to find out just how much physical exertion is expected of you and what your chances are of becoming a victim of a crime on your trip. There are ways to reduce the risks, especially for women traveling alone, such as buying a garment bag with special inside pockets; wearing a money belt; packing a security door lock for your hotel room ...

Before you leave on your vacation, make enquiries at the country's local embassies or tourist bureaus, even though you may not always get answers to your questions. Seattle, for instance, with its low incidence of crime, may be more open than New Orleans and similarly, Singapore may be more frank than Rio de Janeiro.

8: Use your imagination.

In tournaments, Jack Nicklaus played every hole in his mind's eye before he picked up his club. In the same way, travelers should imagine themselves in their distant location, and see themselves going through the activity they -- or a tour operator -- have planned.

I had great ambitions once to photograph the windmills on Mikonos in Greece. Our ship, the Constellation, was indeed docking there for half a day. Once I found the arrival and sailing times, however, and allowed extra time in my mind for getting off and on the ship, it became clear to me that the flashy brochures weren't completely honest. I reconciled myself to the reality that our shore excursion would be a brief shopping spell and a short walk along the beach past nude 250 lb women sunbathers.

A dry run in your mind, especially one that pays attention to the clock, will show the schedule is often too busy and indeed unworkable. Of course, this requires some knowledge of where you're going. (See Tip number 6)

9: Choose your traveling companion very, very, carefully.

An old school friend of ours, after a year of widowhood went on a cruise with her new next-door neighbor, another widow. The two women were just starting to get to know each other before their departure. However thrown together in such close proximity, they couldn't enjoy each other's company. Now, back at home, they barely speak to one another.

If you are going on a trip with someone else, it would be wise to clarify certain points before the vacation starts, not only the obvious ones like: shall we be eating out a lot in expensive restaurants and shopping in fancy stores? but the less obvious ones like: are you interested in photography or do you find it fun to do nothing but lie on a beach?

Even couples need to discuss expectations: If a spouse, for example, wants to sunbathe a bit, but the partner would rather spend a half-day with his or her briefcase, then less tension results if one spends the morning on the beach while the other works on business matters in the room. Psychological studies have shown that vital signs like blood pressure and pulse are lower if the workaholic is allowed to conduct affairs on vacation and not be forced to lie on the beach.

10: Spend more on basics.

Jo Ellen Patterson, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of San Diego has traveled the world on government duties with her physician husband. Patterson feels that many tourists allow a more than adequate budget for shopping and entertainment, but shortchange themselves when it comes to room and board. To avoid stress while traveling is to be comfortable, according to Patterson. Be prepared to make life easier. Use porters, choose a better hotel, upgrade your room. It's money well spent. After all, you are on vacation to enjoy yourself and anything that reduces stress improves a vacation.

Patterson confesses, however, her own honeymoon in Europe in 1980 was not a good example. Her husband, an MD just out of his FP residency, had gone without sleep, one night in three, for three years and was well conditioned to this pattern. With only $20 a day to cover expenses, he arranged they go across Europe on a Eurail pass, traveling every third night sitting up in the train to save the cost of a hotel -- for an entire month. And so they did. They are still married, but she learned her Golden Rule:

"Spend less on sightseeing and more on the basics", Patterson says, " like eating and sleeping."

» » More articles by Dr. Eric Anderson

Lorry Patton's Travel Tips 'n' Tales would like to remind you to always consult with your personal physician before following any medical advice and to please read the Travel Tips 'n' Tales "Terms of Use" found on the bottom of each page of this website. Dr. Anderson's opinions are not necessarily the opinions of Lorry Patton or Travel Tips 'n' Tales.