Developing countries offer travelers some of the most rewarding, meaningful, and adventurous experiences in the world. However, they also bring challenges that one is less likely to face in richer nations. We here at OIRED are experts on navigating the ins and outs of emerging states. Here is part 1 of my two-part series outlining my top 26 tips guaranteed to make your trips safer and more enjoyable!
26. Buy Tickets on Tuesday Afternoon
More specifically, 3:00 on Tuesday afternoon. According to Rick Seaney, CEO of Fare Compare, Tuesday afternoon is the best time to buy tickets, because budget airlines usually announce sales on Monday night. By 3:00 pm Tuesday, the bigger airlines will have lowered their prices to match their competitors. Don’t wait too long though; sales usually end once flights are fully booked and prices will rise faster than you can say “economy class.” (This tip goes for every traveler, not just those visiting developing countries.)
25. Pay for Lounge Access if You’re Traveling Long Distances
This assumption is based solely on personal experience, but airports in emerging countries tend to be less fancy than those in the developed world. Hence, your layovers may be far less comfortable. VIP lounges are lifesavers in this regard. Thanks to my good colleague, Kurt Richter, I was able to use his VIP status to enter the Kenya Airways lounge and take a much needed shower while in Nairobi. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take advantage of his special access to lounges on the way back because I was travelling alone. However, it is possible to buy one-day passes for exclusive entrance. Just ask! I bought access to the British Airways lounge in Nairobi for $25, and believe me, the clean bathroom, strong wifi connection, and good food was well worth it!
24. Sign up for the State Department’s Smart-Traveler Program
If you’re a U.S. citizen, it would behoove you to register your trip with the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. Check out the website here: https://step.state.gov/step/ The program is a free service where you can notify the relevant U.S. embassy of your upcoming trip and give pertinent details about your itinerary, locations, etc. That way, the embassy will be better able to assist you in case of an emergency. You will also receive valuable travel warnings and advisories about the country you’re visiting. The program also has a smart-phone app! If you’re not a U.S. citizen, check with your equivalent ministry to see if they offer a similar service.
Not that kind of shot! (Save those for the airplane.) Check the CDC’s website to see all of the required immunizations necessary to enter a country, and any recommended ones that will keep you in tip-top shape.
22. Make Copies of Your Passport and Other Important Items
In case your passport and important items, like your credit cards and travel visas, are stolen, having copies readily available will help you immensely. I leave copies with trusted family members at home and bring copies on hand as well. If you do bring copies with you, make sure to keep them secure. You can also upload copies to a secure cloud storage space, but internet connection may not be available everywhere.
21. Call Your Credit Card Companies and Banks Before Leaving
Make sure to call your credit card companies and banks to inform them about the trip. They may flag usage of your card as suspicious activity and deny transactions unless you inform them beforehand. I’d limit my credit card usage though.
20. Purchase Travel Insurance
Always buy travel insurance with emergency evacuation coverage! You never know when an attempted coup could close the airport and leave you stranded. Or heaven forbid, a tsunami hits your area and leaves you in desperate need of a helicopter. Make sure to read the fine print so you fully understand all of the coverage restrictions.
19. Money Belt
A great place to store your cash so that would-be pick-pocketers come up empty-handed. You may also think about buying a pair of pick-pocket proof travel pants if money belts aren’t your thing. Clothing Arts sells great pants for about $100.
Your hotel rooms may not come equipped with a built-in safe. A padlock is a godsend if you want to keep valuable items (like copies of your important documents) secure. For instance, I was able to keep my valuables safe by locking them in my wardrobe in Juba, South Sudan. Padlocks with combinations are preferable because you don’t want to deal with keys.
17. Tactical Flashlight
A handy tool in case you’re in a situation where there is very little or no lighting. Tactical flashlights can also be used as weapons. They are usually smaller than most flashlights, made of durable aluminum, and emit a much stronger beam. When choosing your flashlight, make sure it emits at least 120 lumens, which is the output necessary to temporarily blind someone. I personally carry the Mini Cree torch pictured above. It has a bezel on top that can supposedly break glass and it only cost me $5 on Amazon!
16. Pocket Knife
Like the tactical flashlight, it’s just a good tool to have. You never know when it will come in handy. Only bring one if you are checking luggage.
15. Carry an Empty Water Bottle
Sanitary water is a treasured resource in the developing world. Tap water is unsafe to ingest in many countries, so you may need to brush your teeth and wash your face with bottled water. Until you’re able to buy clean and unopened bottled water at your destination, I suggest bringing an empty water bottle that you can fill up at the gate in the United States. That way you can have clean water once you arrive. Moreover, once you buy bottled water at your final destination, make sure you hear a “click” when you open it. Make absolutely sure it’s a fresh bottle and not one that was opened and refilled.
14. Bring a Bag of Peanuts (or any type of protein) Everywhere You Go
This a great recommendation from my colleague, Miriam. Eating norms vary widely between countries, and you may not get the chance to eat full meals until much later than usual. To keep you satisfied until your next meal, always keep a bag of peanuts or some form of protein with you at all times. You need to keep your energy up!
Check out my next blog post for tips 13-1!
Is that a storm on the horizon? Or is it a “live chat” on sea level rise and coastal storms, hosted by the National Science Foundation and featuring Virginia Tech’s own Jennifer Irish, a coastal engineer in the College of Engineering?
The NSF’s Division Director for Ocean Sciences David Conover is also likely to participate.
It’s in the works, like a tropical storm getting ready to cross the Atlantic. It will probably make landfall in September or October. We will keep you updated.
The NSF has hosted several live chats in the past, including this one on avalanches.
Irish, in the meantime, published a study about two adjacent towns on the Jersey shore.
Before Hurricane Sandy made landfall on Oct. 29, 2012, there were few differences in the residential development, dunes, beaches, and shoreline of beachfront communities Bay Head and Mantoloking in Ocean County, N.J.
Afterward, the researchers found the real difference was hidden under the sand.
Or, if you prefer your news in Dutch, you can read this.
The word Hokie resonates with any person who has ever stepped foot onto Virginia Tech’s campus or into Lane stadium. The visualization of a HokieBird rushing onto the football field and a university built of this foreign material called “Hokie Stone” comes to mind.
But to define a Hokie by these visualizations is certainly not sufficient, just ask any Hokie. The sense of community one takes away from Blacksburg never perishes. A Hokie embraces its community wherever that is or has become and upholds the university’s motto of Ut Prosim (that I may serve).
Thus, it only seems natural that a road lives in Blacksburg to serve the community in innovative ways no other road can. The research conducted on this road has been recognized internationally and has helped influence policies that help make all other roads safer.
The Smart Road is owned by the Virginia Department of Transportation and is managed by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, whose mission is to save lives, time, money, and the environment. A mission that, quite literally, demonstrates the Institute’s dedication to upholding our motto, that I may serve.
Construction of the Virginia Smart Road broke ground in 1997. It was the first (and still remains the only) road built from the ground up for research, quite a good fit for Virginia’s leading research institution, Virginia Tech.
Next to the road, resides the largest collective group of safety transportation researchers in the United States. This road has helped create over 350 jobs (and counting) in the New River Valley. This is the 25th year anniversary for VTTI which grown from one building to three and has recently honored its Director, Tom Dingus, at the White House as Champion of Change.
Anyone conducting transportation related research can use the road. It is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and has clocked thousands of research hours since it opened. The road has weather making capabilities (rain, snow and fog), 12 different kinds of pavement, a variable lighting system and is built to federal and state specs – a one stop shop for transportation research.
The Smart Road has shown to be a job creator for the New River Valley, it has informed state and federal policies – reasons that demonstrate its dedication to serving the community in and beyond Blacksburg. While I am Hokie, a vessel upholding service to my community, I can proudly say – so is the Smart Road.
By Cecilia Elpi
Events/External Relations Coordinator, Virginia Tech Transportation Institute
Imagine a substance created by your own body that could heal wounds, direct the growth of your organs, and even signal your friends to act in their own defense against a common threat. Imagine further that something with these superpowers invades your house every summer, growing up over fences and along porch rails. Or is growing in your garden at this very moment.
Sound like science fiction? Not for plants!
Jasmonates are molecules that were first isolated in the common jasmine plant, but are found in plants across the globe. They’re responsible for a wide variety of functions: ripening of fruit, producing pollen, inhibiting root growth, germinating seeds, flower development and nectar secretion.
In short, jasmonates can do a whole lot more for one plant than most people manage in a lifetime.
Researchers at Virginia Bioinformatics Institute are studying how jasmonates regulate stress in plants. Several experiments suggest that jasmonates are the primary means of dealing with stress, turning genes off and on to produce defensive responses to herbivorous insects or diseases.
For example, if the dreaded tomato hornworm is munching on your prized tomatoes, jasmonates are ultimately responsible for giving the caterpillar a good case of indigestion. Jasmonates carried from one leaf to another may also be indirectly responsible for signaling to other plants that an enemy insect has the munchies. The other plants can then ready their defenses against the hornworm’s attack.
Jasmonates are what make pumpkin vines coil and what makes bean seeds germinate. They’re why apples and oranges ripen and they help flowers produce the nectar that honeybees eat. They’re the primary punch in a plant’s arsenal when it comes to self-defense. Without them and their superpowers, life would be a lot less sweet!
By Tiffany Trent
Communications Director, Virginia Bioinformatics Institute
Mistakes are most welcome in Justin Barone’s laboratory.
After all, some of the most interesting work going on in Barone’s shop in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Department of Biological Systems Engineering is a result of an unintended consequence.
“Everything we are working on right now was a mistake at one time,” said Barone. “Something unexpected happened and we kept looking at it.”
Because Barone is a believer in taking chances, looking under the unknown rocks of research, and walking down scientific roads others don’t dare venture.
“You have to go down that path, because it is going to lead somewhere,” he said.
Case in point: Barone and his students were playing around with agricultural byproducts — gluten — to see what they could do with it.
Let’s break it up into smaller pieces and see if we can make glue out of it, they thought. But when they did this, something unexpected happened — the gluten started to build itself into defined structures such cylinders and flat bars. He had no idea it was going to happen. It was an accident.
Now, Barone’s lab is working with grants form the National Science Foundation to build parts for cars or airplanes or what-have-you from gluten. His work could lead to an inexpensive, environmentally friendly building material that could replace plastic.
“I’m not looking for incremental change, I’m looking for the next big thing,” he said. “And to do that, you have to be willing to take chances and make a few mistakes on the way. The important thing is figuring out what those mistakes are trying to tell you.”
By Zeke Barlow
Academic Programs and Research Communications Manager
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Using the same digital sculpting and animation tools that artists use for video games and animated films, Webster and his students are developing a production pipeline that cleans scanned data of bat specimen noses so they can then be used to study the ultrasonic behavior of the dynamic devices using high-performance computing.
Biological systems are often ahead of engineering when it comes to finding innovative, powerful solutions. In particular, dynamic solutions that give a lot of headaches to engineers come naturally to biological systems. This leads to dynamic solutions cropping up in unexpected places.
Bats, for example, have an active sonar sensing system that allows them to travel in complete darkness solely by listening to the echoes triggered by their own ultrasonic emissions. Part of the secret behind this extraordinary feat may lie in ubiquitous dynamic effects: Bats rely on complicated shapes for interacting with the ultrasonic waves they emit and receive.
Their outer ears have many unusual shape features and even more unusual are the shapes that surround the nostrils in species that emit their bio-sonar pulses nasally. These structures are not only remarkable because of their Gothic shape features, but also because they can be set in motion and undergo many different types of nonrigid shape changes.
The same process used for preparing specific body parts for sounds analysis is also being utilized as part of an effort to creating a repository of digital models that catalogues the immense biodiversity found in bats. Working alongside Webster and Mueller is Anupam Gupta, a mechanical engineering Ph.D. student spearheading the sound analysis work on the bat noses.
Webster, Mueller and Gupta hope to achieve a setup for the automated (robotic) three-dimensional digitization of biological specimens from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History using high-resolution computer tomography.
“Through our team’s expertise in advanced imaging and visualization techniques,” said Webster, “we will also be able to effect a major transformative impact not only on how biological specimens are digitized, but also on how biological specimen data can be explored in the digital domain.”
For more information, visit Mueller’s faculty page with the Department of Mechanical Engineering.