7Nov

Traveling for Food: Exploring food allergies

What draws you to travel?

What blossomed in the East started to find its way into the global palate. Expats from Europe and the US have made gastronomic trips to Asia to further understand the culture of each different country, from the bowls of spicy noodles to the more exotic street and hawker stalls.

However, there is a limit to knowing the world through cuisines. Embedded within us is a limiting agent in the form of allergies to remind us that our body can only handle so much.

Allergies are our body’s unique way of telling us what is compatible and what is not to our system. The reactions extend to the basic choices we make such as “tasty” or “not”.

By law, the FDA has listed eight categories as designated food allergens (Milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans).

The categories seem easy on first glance until you realize that food allergies vary individually. Recent researches highlight the stark contrast with allergens through regions, such as in the West versus the East. This is vital information for travellers.

Here are a few common food allergies to help backpackers, expats, and casual travellers be more cautious while they explore Asia through food.

food allergies while travelling - Village Insurance Direct Hong Kong

Shellfish

According to a paper written in 2013, shellfish tops the list in food allergens in Asians, particularly in children, mainly due to its availability and demand in the region. A 2014 study from the Singapore Medical Journal, also reinforces the idea. While a lot of Asian cuisines is built on shellfish, a large chunk of the population remains highly allergic to it.

Peanuts

Peanuts remain as the top allergen in America and in some parts of Europe. The total number of cases in Asia is relatively low, but in some areas like in Singapore, the statistics prove otherwise. A good 15 years ago, peanut allergies had lower cases and aren’t considered a top allergen, until recently. This is a testament to the changing diets Asians have had through the years.

Wheat

Rice is the staple carbohydrate of every Asian. But to have wheat included in the list makes you want to feel bad for craving for bread as much as the next guy. Japan and South Korea, two countries famous for revolutionary modern takes on bread, suffer from prevalent cases of wheat allergy. They also rake in high numbers of anaphylaxis cases from this specific allergen.

Travel as much as you like, and eat as much as you like. Food allergies exist to make you aware of your limits, but not to scare you to crawl back to your comfort zones. Be bold and stick NOT with what you’re always comfortable with, but with what you’re COMPATIBLE with.

Serious allergic reaction to food can cause some people to be hospitalized. To be more secure during your travel, make sure you find a travel insurance that covers emergency hospitalization in the country you’re travelling.

We find the best travel insurance for expats living in Hong Kong.

27Sep

Traveling to Iran: A Quick Guide

What about a change of pace for your next holiday? Maybe it’s time to swap the crowded cities for historical grounds and the sunny beaches for pristine architecture.

Why not let Iran be your next destination?

Don’t let erroneous media portrayal fool you: Iran is a breathtaking country and a refreshing experience that flows beautifully on its own. The beautiful landscapes are one thing, but it’s the people’s warmth that really gets you. Among Middle Eastern countries, Iran is considered one of the safest nations to visit. Backpackers and casual travelers themselves have recommended touring Iran, nullifying negativity surrounding it as mostly outdated and inane. Touring Iran is gradually becoming more of an addition to every traveler’s bucket list.

When in Iran, teach yourself a life hack and go straight for the unexplored gems. For the common traveler, the biggest challenge isn’t necessarily to visit the place but to enjoy it before the sudden rush of other tourists.

The clouds of Filband

In the heart of the Mazandaran Province, for example, lies a scenic “Neverland” in the form of Filband. What awaits is an unparalleled beauty of cotton-like clouds and lush forests that almost makes you feel dancing among the mountains.

Shiraz

Just a little close to the very popular destination Persepolis is Shiraz, the city of gardens and poets. One of its best-known grandeurs is its wine (although reserved for religious practices), that matches perfectly with the relaxed atmosphere that the surreal place offers.

Qal’eh Dokhtar

In Fars is a notable historical beauty called the Qal’eh Dokhtar. “The Maiden Castle” was made in honor of the Goddess Anahita, who represents fertility and wisdom. The structure overlooks the Kavar-Firuzabad Road and features a great variety of architecture: including age-old windows and stairways. It has stood for some 1,800 years and is always a pleasure to visit while in the country.

CULTURAL KNOW-HOW

What sets Iran apart from other countries is its people’s sense of hospitality, which at times, even extends to the good of your safety. Apart from such trait, the locals are always ready to assist you and even look out for you. In fact, the country is known for being one of the safest spots for female travelers, mainly due to its policies on gender segregation.

In return, as responsible travelers, it is apt to show respect by abiding with their conventions. For example, for both men and women, tattoos must be kept covered by clothing. In Islam, tattoos are considered forbidden by tradition. Women must also wear loose-fitting clothing and don a headscarf in public. While all these rules could come off as a shock for most travelers, treat it as part of the experience. All ready? Now it’s to plan that vacation. Just to be sure, don’t forget the cherry on top and also invest in a travel insurance for your next holiday. Your mapped-out trip won’t be complete without the benefit of being worry-free when you’re far from home.

GET TRAVEL INSURANCE

For a more carefree travel, make sure you get travel insurance. Village Insurance Direct helps expats find insurance that can protect you from losses due to flight cancellations, lost of luggage, robberies, as well as possible health-related concerns. Get in touch with us today.

28Aug

Ten Commandments for Stress-Free Travels

You know what can make your travelling more fun? A comprehensive set of rules.

Here are 10 travel commandments that all wanderers have to live by:

  • Thou shall plan ahead

Contrary to the carefree facade that is displayed, travelling actually involves so much planning. What places should I go to and will there be time? Where do I stay? How much money should I bring? How many clothes do I pack? Does my travel insurance cover my destinations?

The truth of the matter is, preparation is the key to a carefree vacation. Planning ahead can save you from a whole lot headache should the unforeseeable comes.

  • Thou shall not travel without insurance

Extra security is always welcome when travelling especially if you’re exploring an unknown territory. Travel insurance may be costly but you’ll be thanking yourself when you lose a bag, miss a flight, or get sick while travelling abroad.

  • Thou shall stay in budget

Sure. It’s nice to buy your 6th mahogany turtle display, but is it really necessary?

  • Thou shall pack smart

Packing has to be the most tedious task in travelling. Always keep in mind to pack only what is necessary to avoid being weightlifter your entire trip, BUT also have at least 2-3 sets of emergency clothes. You don’t want to end up using both sides of your underwear, don’t you? 

  • Thou shall eat the local cuisines

Whether it’s the famous hawkers in Singapore or the lechon in Cebu, Philippines, travelling is not travelling if you don’t try the local’s specialty dishes. The food is part of the culture.

  • Thou shall refrain from fast food

I know, McDonald’s is calling you but it’s still going to be there after you’ve gone home. That stew made on goat innards will not be. Live a little and try something different for your palate.

  • Thou shall lessen social media

People travel to get away, to disconnect. Travelling should be an immersion but you can’t really, fully do that if 75% of your attention is on your Instagram “Likes”, and 15% is on your “Stories”.

Just post one photo then go offline. Open it again when the has come to an end. Enjoy your travel in real life.

  • Thou shall know and respect another’s house

Gain hindsight of the place you’re going. Research on their laws and a bit of their culture and, most importantly, respect them. Don’t ever think you’re exempted just because you’re not “one of them”.

  • Thou shall keep an open mind

Hate to break it to you but, believe it or not, cultures and customs other than yours exists. Sometimes your weird is another’s normal, what’s nothing for you can be a sign of utmost disrespect. The world is a kaleidoscope. Try to see it in all its colors.

  • Thou shall be brave

Travelling can be scary, especially if you’re doing it alone for the first time. It takes an outstanding amount of courage to take that literal first step out to the world. And sure, mishaps can happen but think about what a great story you’ll have at the end of it all.

For help with international travel insurance, click here. We specialize in finding the best insurance for expats living in Hong Kong.

14Aug

A Beginner’s Guide to First-time Travel

There’s always the thrill of everyone’s first travel. It can be intimidating but it is an experience worth trying.

Like clockwork on the paperwork

Get the must-haves out of the way first. Before day dreaming about your destination and itinerary the first thing to pay attention to are the required travel documents.

International travel depending on the country requires tourist visas as well as passports with expiry dates no shorter than 6 months from your day of departure. Check these details to avoid the any issues with immigration.

Securing your flight dates should be much simpler these days compared to the past decade. There are numerous of mobile apps to make selection and purchase of flights quick and easy plus there are features that show cheap flights for budget-travellers.

Prepare up to three government-issued IDs as well as medical certificates for pregnant women and for travellers who need to take larger volumes of medicine such as insulin for diabetics. Baggage security will need to see these documents during luggage check-ins.

Finally, get travel insurance that covers all your destinations. For some countries, Visas can only be granted if the traveler has the required travel insurance amount coverage.

Smart tip: Email a copy of all your documents to yourself in case you lose any of them.

What’s in your bag?

Pack smart and check for prohibited items (e.g. Don’t bring gum to Singapore). Mind the weight of your luggage and if you plan on purchasing a good amount of souvenirs and goods you may want to bring an extra bag or purchase one before returning.

Some ways to maximize storage in your bag are:

  • Vacuum sealing
  • Removing boxed items from their packaging (if possible)
  • Roll clothes tightly instead of piling them flat
  • Choose one versatile outerwear instead of bringing three

A good time to be thrifty and a good time to indulge

It’s impossible to do away with horror stories of tourists who run out of money while on vacation. The danger even heightens for first-time travelers and solo backpackers. One should never make the mistake of a limited and exact budget for the itinerary. It is possible to set a specific amount on less important items like gifts and souvenirs, but never for the essentials like food and lodging. The best way to do this is to always overestimate expenses for everything. It would certainly be better to have financial excess by the end of the trip, but never a deficit.

Call your bank to make sure there won’t be issues with ATM withdrawals or credit card use.

Travel insurance works wonders

The irony in insurance is that people buy them in hopes that they won’t ever need them. Some people say that getting insurance is a waste of money but in reality the losses are higher for people who travel without one. Should anything happen to you like loss of luggage or medical emergencies, you’ll have peace of mind that you will be cared for and compensated.

Be one with the destination

Taste the local cuisine. Engage with the locals. While there is nothing wrong with going to tourist spots, ask a trusted local for a better recommendation. Be wary of tourist traps and enjoy the moment without thinking about posting it immediately on social media. Travel for the experience and not just for the photos.

7Aug

Diseases in Southeast Asia: Commonly Contracted Diseases

OTHER than culture and food, another thing that Southeast Asia is abundant with are, unfortunately, communicable/ infectious and tropical diseases.

So, before packing up and fulfilling that persistent wanderlust for the wonders of Southeast Asia, here are some diseases that all travelers must look out for:

Dengue

Dengue is a mosquito-borne viral disease common in tropical countries, including the Philippines and Malaysia.

Classic manifestations of dengue are sudden, high-grade fever, the sudden appearance of rashes two to five days after onset of fever, muscle pain, bleeding gums, and many more.

As a traveler, the best way to prevent acquiring the disease is by avoiding the bites of infected mosquitoes. This can be done with the use of mosquito repellent sprays and lotions.

Malaria

Another mosquito-borne disease, however, instead of a viral pathogen, malaria is actually caused by a parasite that has five species, two of which are uncommon.

Just like Dengue, Malaria is acquired when an infected mosquito, specifically a female, takes a blood meal.

Malaria is suspected when there is a sudden onset of shivering by the patient, followed by a spike in temperature and, lastly, profuse sweating—chills, fever, sweat.

Still, the best way to avoid contraction of the disease is through mosquito repellents and wearing clothes that minimize skin exposure

Gastrointestinal (GI) diseases

Gastrointestinal problems, such as traveler’s diarrhea, can be caused by a myriad of pathogens including enteroviruses which can be found in improperly handled and served street food which is very common in Southeast Asia. Needless to say, it is begrudgingly advised that travelers should venture into these uncanny cuisines with caution. Being a picky eater in this situation is actually a good thing.  Thorough hand washing before and after a meal is also an important practice.

Sexually transmitted diseases

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and their complications are disturbingly common in Southeast Asia. Earlier this year, the New Your Post released an article of the rise of a “super gonorrhea”, a strain of STD acquired by a man who traveled from Southeast Asia, that is apparently resistant to all antibiotic treatments. HIV/AIDS cases have also skyrocketed in a particular Southeast Asian country.

Travelers who practice sex tourism are, of course, of high risk. The blame is commonly pinned on sex workers; however, the bigger liability lies on unhealthy sexual practice, such as having multiple partners and unprotected sex.

This article was not written to scare all the travelers away from Southeast Asia; however, does serve as a reminder. Countless mishaps can happen out there in the big, wide world, most of which you cannot control. So, isn’t it better to take hold of those minute things that you can control?

There’s no such thing as too much security when traveling, especially if it’s in another country or continent. Investing in travel insurance, specifically one that covers Health, is always wise, especially if you’re one who takes long trips. Just always keep in mind, thorough preparation and planning is key to safe travels.

Need travel insurance for your next trip in Hong Kong and other South East Asian countries? We help expats find the best covers. Get in touch today!

15Jul

Why More People are Choosing to Travel Alone

Traveling solo at least once in your life can be one of the most liberating and eye-opening experiences. The Internet has changed the culture of travel by becoming a platform for awareness of different exotic places as well as increased the urge to share our personal lives with friends and strangers. A large group of the expat community in Hong Kong live this kind of life and they would be the first people to attest to the value of exploring new territories on your own.

We are only young and strong once in our lives and getting invaluable life lessons by traveling is a chance we should take when it presents itself. So why are more people traveling solo?

1.       You have no one to worry about but yourself.

The comfort of having zero responsibility to anyone is a needed break from our busy work lives. This makes it easy for you to plan your journey and you have the freedom to make any change without a second thought. Do everything you want and nothing you don’t want.

2.        Experience real local life.

Traveling with other people does not often elicit a need to dive deeper into a country’s local culture because you already have people you can talk to and engage. However, being alone in an unfamiliar place pushes you to connect with your immediate community because these are the people you can possibly turn to in case you need help. You are also more uninhibited about impressions towards you because no one really knows you. Learn the language, break your routines, live a different life.Quote_imge_2,1

3.       Make new friends, or don’t.

Meet fellow expats and travelers or choose to be antisocial. It’s really all up to what you feel like doing. Hunt for hole-in-the-wall cafes and enjoy being with your own thoughts or go out at night and create a new network of interesting individuals at your own pace.

4.       It makes you more resourceful and confident.

Leaving your comfort zone increases your threshold. Hesitation is normal especially for anyone doing it for the first time but once you find yourself backpacking through the countryside or ordering your meal with broken local language, your self-assurance instantly gets a boost and you will discover things about yourself you have not yet realized. Most expats have said that after their first solo trip, they made sure that they would be able to do it again.

5.       The trip is more profound.

Whether you hated the place you visited or fell in love with the country and the people, the experience is an unforgettable one mainly because it’s solely yours. The satisfaction of checking off an item from your bucket list and having done so on your own is incomparable.

Make plans, break itineraries and gain more perspective from people and places. Try it at least once. And if you do decide to go for it, don’t forget to secure proper Travel Insurance for yourself. Get a Third Party Comprehensive Travel Insurance Plan to get covered for more risks—from loss baggage to repatriation in case of any medical emergencies. We can help.

Good luck and safe travels!

6Jul

Reducing the Stress When Travelling with Kids

Travelling with a child is not easy. As much as we would want to travel with the whole family, the logistics can be a great source of stress and anxiety. However, just like with anything in life, just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Here are a few tips for stress-free travelling with a child:

Take care of yourself before anybody else.

Monkey see, monkey do. If a child sees or feels anxiety from the parents, then they would most likely copy the mood. It’s important to remember that in order to take care of someone, you have to be in your best condition first. So, make sure that you get enough sleep before the trip and your health is conditioned for travel. Take Vitamin Cs to boost your immunity. With all the stress that’s bound to come, you’re going to need it.

Destination, planning, and packing.

Take into account if the place you’re going is suitable for the child. You can save that Machu Picchu hiking expedition for when your 2-year-old is a little older. Also, make sure that you always have a child-friendly room where you’re going, especially if travelling with an infant.

Create a schedule and book the rooms and the places you want to visit in advance as much as possible. It’s better to have an adjustable itinerary in cases of emergency, rather than have none at all.

Pack just enough diapers and pull-ups for the trip to your destination. Book a room near a pharmacy for easy access to your child’s necessities.

Food, water, and first aid

Keep them fed and hydrated with low-sugar snacks. Make sure all their necessary vitamins, medications and formula are in your carry-on.

Distractions

Bring their favourite toy and keep art supplies within your reach for when your child starts to get bored. Load your tablet or smartphone with their favourite shows.

Keep them close

Save yourself from a heart attack and buy a kid’s harness. It’s weird to see a child on a leash but it will keep them close to you. Before going out, write your contact details on your child’s arm and make them wear a bracelet tag with the same information. At night, make sure that they’re wearing something fluorescent, like a glow stick, to easily spot them in a crowd should they stray.

At the end of the day, we just want our kids to be comfortable, happy, and safe. So, it’s important to meticulously plan a child-centred trip. Making them part of that process ensures satisfaction of not only your child but, also, yourself.

FAMILY INSURANCE

We recommend getting family insurance especially when traveling for an extended period of time. Find an international plan that covers the country you’re visiting. We help expats find the right family insurance for expats living in Hong Kong.

5Jun

Backpacking Tips when Travelling in Southeast Asia

Backpacking in Southeast Asia (SEA) can very well turn out be one of the best trips in someone’s life if planned properly. Like in any trip, it is important to get to know your destinations before embarking on them. As amazing as the countries are in this corner of the world with its tropical forests, flamboyant environmental richness and diversity, and deeply seeded cultures, rookie mistakes can lead to very disastrous results. So, here are few things to take into account if you’re planning on travelling to a SEA country or backpacking across it.

Travel Insurance

It is always recommended to have travel insurance, especially during long trips to foreign countries lasting from weeks to months.

Some parts of Southeast Asia are high risk for foreigners and expats. It’s always better to anticipate the worst case scenario when traveling to unfamiliar territories.

Do your research and look for a travel insurance that covers loss of items, missed or cancelled flights and trips, and, most importantly, any medical conditions that can be encountered. Plus, make sure to purchase one that is covered in the countries that you plan to visit.

Vaccinations

As said earlier, Southeast Asian countries are not just hotpots for culture but, unfortunately, for infectious diseases as well. Malaria, dengue, tetanus, hepatitis A, and typhoid are only some of the serious diseases that’s common in most of the 11 states. Acquiring the disease can lead to serious complications and even death.

“Prevention is always better than cure.” Before going on a backpacking trip, consider the diseases common in the locality that you’re going to or even just pass by, take into account the season and which diseases are more common in that season (i.e. high incidence of dengue in the Philippines during the rainy season). Vaccination should start months prior to your trip make ensure completion.

Other infectious diseases that do not have vaccinations but have post-exposure prophylaxis such as rabies or HIV should be covered by your travel insurance.

Apps

Technology has changed the way that people travel. Here are some of the essential apps when travelling Southeast Asia:

  1. “XE currency” and other currency converters, preferably one that works even offline is a must for travellers.
  2. “Google Maps” and “MAPS.me” are some of the recommended map apps by travellers.
  3. “Google translate” can be both your friend and enemy when travelling. Sometimes translations are inaccurate due to local idioms or figures of speech. Learning the local’s language wouldn’t hurt and the best app for that is “Duolingo.”
  4. Ride-sharing or hailing apps available in the region
  5. “Traveloka” and other flight and hotel booking apps for stress-free reservations.
  6. “Food Panda” if you’re not feeling like eating out or you miss fast food, this is the delivery app to go to.
  7. “Trail wallet” is a budget tracking app being that your financial resources are most likely limited during travel

Planning ahead, learning about the place you’re going to, and being smart with your decisions are the keys to a safe and hassle-free travel.