From Fieldworkguide


[edit] Money

In my opinion travelers checks are nothing but trouble. You almost always get a worse exchange rate and some exchanges require that you bring the receipt with the checks, essentially defeating the point of the checks of being able to keep the receipt separate for proof if the checks are stolen. However, if you really feel you need a safety net it is not a bad idea to get a few travelers checks, just verify that there are American Express, Thomas Cook or other agencies where you are going that can replace them for you if the checks are stolen. I sometimes get $300 worth of emergency travelers checks, which thankfully have not had to use, and deposit in my bank at home when I return.

In my experience if you are going to a country with a poorly regulated money exchange market or a rampant black market, larger bills can sometimes get a better exchange (i.e. you get more money for a single hundred dollar bill than for five twenties). For cash transfers, I feel ATMs are really the way to go. The most I have been charged for an international withdrawal was $3, which is quite reasonable and I have frequently found ATMs that do not have a service charge. International ATMs, especially those affiliated with reputable banks, tend to have excellent exchange rates and sometimes can give you dollars. Lastly, a convenient option is to open an account with one of the international mega-Banks. The largest that I know is Citibank, which has branches all over the world. If you are a Citibank member you can access all services overseas, as if you were in the USA (i.e.. free ATM withdrawals, replacing lost/stolen ATM cards). Most banks, either on their website or from their 800 number can tell you what international cities they have branches and ATM’s in.

[edit] Gifts

If you have the time before heading out try to get a box full of cheap souvenirs can be good. Something as simple as key-chains of your city or university, or postcards to write thank you notes on can be very useful.

[edit] Business Cards

Especially ones emblazoned with your university seal will be very useful when meeting people (it is even more helpful if that seal is from Harvard). If you do not have a local telephone number where you will be doing your fieldwork yet, it is sometimes useful to have the printer just put Tel:_______ and you can fill in the blank later (I prefer this to scratching out and incorrect number). It is probably not a bad idea to have put the web address of your webpage on the card (make sure there is a link to your CV) in case anyone want to verify who you are. I recommend putting this in the signature of your e-mail as well.

[edit] Organizer

A poly expanding file can be really useful if you are moving around a lot, tend to be disorganized or are living in simple accommodations. It is amazing how many loose pamphlets, business cards, and official documents you can accrue in a short period of time. The file helps to keep them safe and organized. Any office supply store in the USA should have them.

[edit] Vitamins

I always think it is a good idea to go into the field with a big bottle of children’s chewable multi-vitamins. Often your diet changes a lot when you go abroad and you are exposed to new germs, the effects of both can be mitigated by supplementing with vitamins.

[edit] Granola Bars

A big box of Cliff bars/Power Bars/Granola bars can be extremely handy. On long train/bus rides (often with unexpected delays) they can be a lifesaver. Additionally, if you get sick they can help sort out your digestive system, or give you energy if you are bed ridden.

[edit] Chapstick/Lip Balm

This might seem a tad random, but this is one item I have not regularly been able to find overseas. If you use it, bring along a few extras. My lips always get chapped in dry climates.

[edit] Rehydration Salts

Salts usually come in packets of powder you add to water and their main function is to help you absorb the water you are drinking. Rehydration salts can come in handy in a few situations. First, if you are in a hot climate where you are loosing a lot of water. Just drinking water alone may not be enough as you don't absorb enough without the salts. Secondly, if you are experiencing some digestive problems the salts help you absorb more water (instead of it passing through you), which is critical to feeling better. A more palatable alternative are Gatorade type drinks that have become increasingly wide spread overseas.

[edit] Passport

I usually try to travel with two photocopies of my passport ID page. If you have a residency permit or special entry visa, it may be useful to make a copy of these too. I try as much as possible to use the photocopies so I don’t have to carry around my passport too much. It is also a good idea to scan the ID page and e-mail the image to yourself. If you are separated from your passport and all else fails, you can go to an internet café and print off a copy and take that to the friendly marines at the embassy.

[edit] Passport Photos

In my experience you often need 2-4 passport photos when getting a visa, residency permit, drivers permit and often for enrolling in institutions or signing a lease in other countries. Old fashioned film photos can be obtained fairly cheaply overseas (especially if you order 10-20 at a time, make sure you hang on to the negative if you need more in the future). Another route is to take advantage of a self service digital photo printer, commonly found at major drug store chains in the USA, where you can print a whole sheet of photos for just a few dollars.

[edit] International Drivers License

They are relatively cheap, usually available at any AAA office and can be incredibly helpful.

[edit] Cell Phones

Cell phones are perhaps the best thing ever to happen to people doing fieldwork. Being able to be easily reached by your contacts is priceless, just get one. Remember, cell phone technology is actually more advanced in many other countries than in the United States. I was peacefully hiking on a mountain in rural Yemen when I saw a local coming the other way chatting away on his mobile.

However, there are a few things to keep in mind. Most countries I have been to use a pay-as-you-go system and you are usually only charged for outgoing calls. You may be able to use your current US handset abroad, by simply swapping out the GSM sim chip under the battery, but check with your service provider to make sure that your phone is “unlocked” before you go (this probably applies mostly to T-mobile and Cingular phones). Also, text messaging tends to be used more often in other countries, even in formal situations.

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