When it comes to leaving the United States for medical treatment, Amy Scher knows a thing or two. “This Is How I Save My Life,” Scher’s autobiographical account of her trip to India to receive stem cell therapy, describes her experience in detail. However, several of her insights can be helpful to travelers of any sort. Getting to know the local people is one that she considers particularly important. Says Scher, “Perspectives of another culture can change you in ways you never imagined. But, you have to be out there to run into it or you’ll miss all the good stuff.” Here are more of her hard-learned tips for long-term travel.
Transportation: Communication is critical to getting where you need to go, and for getting back in the right cab, as Scher learned during her trip. She crossed the language barrier with three simple tools. First, a local cell phone kept her in contact with her hospital’s doctors and staff when immediate communication was necessary. Second, the medical institution’s business card – printed in the local language – provided a free way to let drivers know where she needed to go without needing to find and tip an impromptu translator. She simply showed them the card and mentioned well-known landmarks that were near the address if the cabbie in question seemed unfamiliar with where she wanted to go.
The third solution involved a humble pencil and piece of paper. Scher made writing down the license plate number of her cab part of her travel routine, since she typically arranged for the same driver to come and pick her up again later when shopping for essentials. Stepping outside and seeing a sea of matching cars with drivers who aren’t looking for you can be overwhelming. Advises Scher, “Having a reference to what car is yours makes a big difference.”
Spirituality: Scher attended religious services for balance, and met other expats in the process. This provided her a healthy camaraderie, and friends to do things with while receiving treatment so far from home. In fact, some members even took her to a Hindi language production of “Fiddler on the Roof!” Finding a place to worship according to her Jewish faith wasn’t an obstacle at all. “I simply Googled to find a local temple, then emailed to make sure newcomers were welcome,” Scher said.
Networking: Helpful connections can be made outside of religious organizations as well. When Amy posted about her upcoming trip on Facebook, she was surprised at the number of friends who had uncles, friends and even former spouses living in the area. The majority of these people put her in touch with their in-country contacts in an effort to expand her overseas support network. Developing local friendships is also helpful, and provides an inside perspective on area customs, price points and events. In fact, Scher credits the fact that she bypassed Western shopping centers in favor of local markets as playing a large role in how she was able to feel at home while so far away from her own. These contacts where the ones who offered expert advice on how much she should or shouldn’t be charged for things like medical tests, souvenirs and even access to local attractions.
Nutrition: Scher’s shopping solution applied to her groceries as well. This enabled her to get the best prices on produce and other healthy food items, which she then prepared by herself. “If you want to be a long-term tourist,” coaches Scher, “you can’t eat out for every meal. Because I lived out of a hospital room, I had to get very creative.” Since she wasn’t allowed to have any type of portable burner in her room, Amy relied almost exclusively on her electric teapot and rice cooker. With these two tools, she was able to prepare hard-boiled eggs, macaroni and cheese, fresh vegetables, oatmeal and more. Bacterial concerns were addressed with boiled water and antibacterial wipes. The room’s small fridge allowed for the storage of leftovers, which she was able to reheat in tin foil packets placed over a carefully-watched space heater.
Photo Credit: Amy B. Scher