Travel Safe News

by Kristin Gagnon, RN Kristin Gagnon, RN No Comments

Destination Kilimanjaro: Does It ‘Peak’ Your Interest?

One step in front of the other. After 7 days of hiking through jungle, hot sun, arid desert, rain, fog, hail, wind and snow we are almost at the summit. And finally, after hiking all night, we make it to the summit just as the sun is rising. And here we stand at 5,895m on Uhuru Peak, the roof of Africa, on the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro (with a bonus surprise at the top!)

Mt. Kilimanjaro is one of the world’s seven summits, representing the highest peak on Africa’s continent. Located in Northern Tanzania it attracts an estimated 25,000 climbers per year but for those attempting the 4-5 day routes only 10% will reach the summit. As Kilimanjaro does not require any technical climbing skills many people underestimate its seriousness. At TravelSafe Clinic we’d like to prepare you for a successful climb. Keep on reading for tips about choosing your route, tour company, packing, and high altitude.

Choose your route

The Marangu route is the classic route up Kilimanjaro and is usually sold as a “5 day, 4 night” trip. This route is often named the “Coca-Cola” route as accommodation is in bunkhouses rather than camping. Many people who attempt this route do not successfully summit as there is little time to acclimatize to the high altitude. There are at least 9 other routes which involve camping and are usually sold as 6-9 day packages. Choosing a longer route will provide more opportunity to acclimatize to the high altitude. We chose the 8 day Lemosho route, which has a high success rate and provided us with sufficient time for acclimatization. This route begins in rainforest and travels upwards through moorlands, arid desert, and glacial zones. It is considered one of the most scenic routes on Kilimanjaro!

Choose your tour company

Trekkers must book through a licensed agency and be accompanied with a guide. Do your research as your success greatly depends on the support of your tour company. TripAdvisor is a great place to look for climber’s reviews. The cost of a trek can range from USD $1,000 to USD 5,000+. You can find a great company for less than USD $5,000 but don’t cheap out as you may be sacrificing gear and guide experience. You may find some discounted packages by booking your trek and safari with the same tour company. Some important considerations when choosing your tour company:

  • How many people in a group? Your experience will vary greatly if you are a group of 25 versus a group of 2-6 people
  • Ask about gear and ensure it’s high quality (you don’t want to wake up in a puddle if it rains!)
  • Ask about the guide’s experience and ensure that medical checks are included and oxygen is provided (our guide carried oxygen throughout the entire trek and checked our blood pressure, pulse, oxygen saturation and breath sounds twice per day)
  • Is the company a member of KPAP (The Kilimanjaro Porter’s Assistance Project)? The KPAP’s website isn’t lying when it says that “the porters are the heart and soul of your trek.” The porters carry the heavy gear, cook and serve food, and ensure you are well looked after. KPAP ensures that partner companies are in compliance with guidelines for the proper treatment of porters, to ensure that they are paid fairly and do not carry more than the maximum allowable weight.


What to pack?

From hot humid jungle, to dry desert and glaciers. Be prepared for sun, rain, cold and snow. Layers are key!

  • Hiking boots (well worn in!)
  • Camp shoes (it feels so good to get your feet out of your boots after a day of trekking)
  • Headlamp and extra batteries
  • Hiking poles
  • Breathable, waterproof shell jacket
  • Breathable, waterproof pants
  • Down jacket
  • Fleece jacket
  • Fleece pants
  • Moisture-wicking long sleeve shirts and t-shirts
  • One to two base layers (tops and bottoms)
  • Hiking socks (with a variety of cushioning)
  • Sock liners (for summit night and to prevent blistering)
  • Sun hat
  • Warm hat
  • Glove liners
  • Warm, waterproof gloves for summit night
  • Sunglasses
  • Gaiters (we didn’t use these but many people swear by them to keep the dust off)
  • Day pack (large enough to carry your water, camera, lunch and layers)
  • Waterproof duffel bag (the porters will carry this)
  • Water bladder (3 L) or water bottles
  • Warm sleeping bag
  • Sun screen
  • Lip balm
  • Wet wipes
  • Electrolytes (i.e. hydralyte)
  • Snacks (although we didn’t end up eating most of our snacks as we were extremely well fed on our trek)
  • Blister bandaids
  • Camera and extra batters (Our iphones and gopro didn’t work at summit due to the cold)
  • Medications: ciprofloxacin, diamox, immodium, ibuprofen, antiemetic, antimalarials (if needed)
  • Cash for tipping guides and porters
  • Cards or book for down time

Much of this gear can be rented in town before starting the climb. We rented waterproof duffel bags, waterproof pants, and a warm jacket for summit night. I wouldn’t recommend renting boots as these should be well broken in and moulded to YOUR feet to prevent blisters.


The highs of Kilimanjaro – coping with altitude

After months of preparation and years of dreaming everyone climbing Kilimanjaro has the same goal – reaching the summit. Unfortunately many travellers arrive under-prepared, ascend too quickly, and fail to reach the summit. Proper acclimatization is not possible for many trekkers and so most people suffer to some degree of acute mountain sickness (AMS).

AMS is a genetic trait that varies from person to person. It is not dependent on the degree of physical fitness and it is not possible to predict the risk of AMS. The only predictor of AMS is how you reacted on a previous trip to high altitude – if there were previous problems at high altitude then these are likely to return on Kilimanjaro.

Symptoms of AMS may be mild and include headache, fatigue, lack of appetite, nausea, insomnia, dizziness, and general malaise. A small number of people can develop more severe symptoms of High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) or High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE). Symptoms of HAPE include a dry cough and shortness of breath at rest, when “it becomes impossible to finish a sentence without gasping for breath.” In addition to AMS symptoms, HACE causes profound lethargy, drowsiness, confusion, slurring of speech, and difficulty walking in a straight line. If symptoms of HACE or HAPE appear a person requires immediate descent and medical attention. Both HACE and HAPE can be fatal if a person does not descend to a lower altitude.

Keep in mind the following tips about high altitude to help you prepare for a successful climb:


Pole pole

  • You will hear the phrase “pole pole” countless times on the mountain. This is the Swahili word for slowly and your guides will say it to you over again. Heed this expression and make sure you walk “pole pole!”
  • Allowing more time to acclimatize will help for a successful summit. Consider choosing a longer route instead of a 4-6 day route or add an extra day or 2 to your ascent.
  • If possible, hike nearby Mt Meru (4,565m) or Mt Kenya (4,895m) before your climb up Kilimanjaro.
  • If you plan on visiting Ngorongoro Crater (2,286m) do so before Kilimanjaro. Sleeping here for the last few nights of your safari will help to acclimatize for Kilimanjaro (especially for those living at sea level in Vancouver!)
  • Don’t try keep up with the porters! Most of the porters have spent a considerable amount of time on the mountain. Even when you feel like you are keeping a good pace your porters will fly by you. Remember to walk pole pole!


Climb high, sleep low

During the day climb higher than your sleeping altitude to encourage acclimatization. Follow your guide’s advice if an acclimatization walk is recommended after you’ve reached camp.


Consider your meds!

  • Consider taking diamox (acetazolamide) to speed acclimatization, starting two days before ascending and continuing until reaching the summit.
  • Bring ibuprofen or acetaminophen to treat headache caused by AMS
  • Bring an antiemetic to treat nausea/vomiting caused by AMS. Ginger is a natural alternative to anti-nausea medications that may cause drowsiness.
  • Avoid alcohol and sleeping pills

Stay hydrated!

Drink 2-3 L of water per day (more on summit day). Urine should remain clear and hydration is absolutely necessary even if you do not feel thirsty (fluid loss from breathing greatly increases at high altitude).


Recognize the symptoms AMS and know your limits!

People with mild symptoms of AMS can safely remain at high altitude and treat headache and nausea. If symptoms continue to worsen while resting at the same altitude then you must descend at least 300m. Listen to your guides if they advise you to turn around. Your guides want nothing more for you to summit so recognize the seriousness of your symptoms if they are telling you to turn around. Reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro is not worth your life! And remember that the journey doesn’t end at the top. You also need the strength to get back down


Recommended reading: “Kilimanjaro: The Trekking Guide to Africa’s Highest Mountain” by Henry Stedman


by TravelSafe Clinic TravelSafe Clinic No Comments

The Road Less Travelled: Driving and Traffic Safety Tips for World Travellers

The Family Truckster and Other Dangers on the Road 

If you were alive in the 80’s, you’ll most likely remember lol’ing while watching Chevy Chase careen off dirt roads, or drift into oncoming freeway traffic in the iconic, yet extremely ugly, “Wagon Queen Family Truckster.”

Indeed, the National Lampoon, Vacation movies mythologized and hyperbolized the age-old family vacation experience. Of course, talking to most people, you’ll find they have their own “travel disaster stories,” some of which rival those of the sophomoric comedy franchise!

Truth, as they say, is often stranger than fiction.

While those events may make for great cocktail party stories, in the moment, they are anxiety-inducing and even terrifying. Perhaps, more to the point, many of these disasters could’ve been avoided if travelers took the time to take a few easy precautions. Here are some helpful travel hacks to consider before heading out on your next adventure!


Know the Traffic

A staunch New Yorker, Woody Allen famously criticized Los Angeles, lamenting, “its only cultural advantage is that you can make a right turn on a red light.” Whether that’s a fair assessment of LA is, perhaps, fodder for another blog, but what is a valid point is that traffic laws, patterns, and rules differ vastly depending on what state, country and continent you’re traveling in. Case in point, turning right on a red light is illegal in most countries in Europe!


Across the Pond (and Beyond)

England is an obvious example of a country with very different traffic than ours. Indeed, right-hand drive cars are tricky to get used to and downright dangerous if driven without prior practice. If you aren’t confident driving on the other side of the road (or car), it’s best to take the many other forms of transportation available in the UK. Between the subway, trains, buses, taxis, and Uber, there is no need to drive if you don’t want to. The best way to avoid a car accident is to avoid driving a car!


Look Both Ways…

While driving may be optional when visiting the UK, walking is not. While you may have been a pro since the age of 7 at crossing the street, many visitors to England are injured every year due to looking the wrong way before crossing the street. It’s an easy mistake to make, as we are so conditioned to look to the left, not the right, for oncoming traffic in North America.


Pedestrians vs Cars

In many countries, the car is king. Unlike most places in Canada, cars in many other countries may not stop for you if you are waiting at a crosswalk, and, more importantly, if you are crossing the street, don’t assume they will stop either! Pedestrians in other countries often don’t have the right-of-way, and it’s imperative that you exercise extreme caution around traffic, especially in large urban centres.

The reality is that road traffic accidents, including car collisions, vehicles hitting pedestrians and cyclists, account for the biggest cause of death for otherwise healthy travellers. No laughing matter.


Roundabouts and Other Traffic Anomalies

Roundabouts are a good example of tricky traffic anomalies that we don’t experience much here in Canada. It can be difficult getting on and off of these circular conundrums and dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing.


It’s best to inform yourself of the rules before attempting one, lest you get perpetually stuck in a traffic loop, like the Griswold’s in European Vacation (look kids, Big Ben!), or worse, cause an unnecessary traffic accident.


A helpful resource to learn about how to negotiate roundabouts and traffic in Europe can be found by clicking the link below:


Don’t Get Distracted!

Christie Brinkley in a Red Ferrari may have been Clark Griswold’s lone (yet dangerous) distraction in the 1980’s, but today we have so many more potential distractions when traveling.


Turf the Text

Avoid texting, or checking your phone while driving. It’s not only extremely dangerous but illegal in most countries in Europe.



Whether you’re using your smartphone or a GPS device, it’s best to plug in your destination before you start driving and follow the voice commands, keeping your eyes on the road at all times. If you think you’re lost, pull over when it’s safe to consult your GPS or smartphone rather than fidget with these devices while driving!


Consider Car Condition

The risk of accidents is especially high in resource-poor destinations: 90% of fatalities on the road happen in low- or middle-income countries (many in South-East Asia).

Vehicles in such places may not have seat belts, and lights and brakes may not work. Before getting into a vehicle in such locales, be sure to familiarize yourself with its condition and take the necessary precautions.

Keep Calm and Drive On

It’s easy to get frazzled when driving in foreign countries. What with toll booths, higher freeway speeds, and different traffic signs, it can be daunting experience behind the wheel.


The best way to deal with escalating stress is to remember to breathe, keep calm and alert. Losing your cool is a recipe for accidents! Don’t worry if you take a wrong turn–you can always circle back. Keep to the slow lane if you are uncomfortable driving at higher speeds. If you are tired or overly-stressed, find a safe place to pull over and take a break.







Before you travel, protect your health.

TravelSafely with TravelSafe Immunization Clinic