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Part 7 – Anatomy of a Solo Female Backpacking Adventure: Travel Health in Central Asia

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(Back to Part 1)

When the travel doctor told me I’d need a typhoid vaccination, I clenched my teeth, envisaging a long, thin needle creeping closer.

No such thing.

All I did was swallow a little pill every other day for three days. Bliss.

It’s not always this easy, and depending on where you travel, protecting yourself against standard ailments is not only common sense but could save your life. Just how prepared you need to be is… more up for debate.

Stabs and jabs – getting the right vaccinations

Getting ready for a month-long trip relatively far from modern health care requires a bit of preparation, not to mention research.

Exploring vaccinations was my first step for Central Asia, and what you need is pretty standard: tetanus, polio, diphtheria, Hepatitis A and B – if you’re a tourist. If you’re staying more than a month or so, you’ll probably need a few more.


Tien Shan Mountains (photo Wikimedia Commons)

A quick visit to the hospital’s tropical medicine department earlier this week confirmed most of my vaccinations were still valid.

Less good news is the high prevalence of rabies, especially in Uzbekistan, for which no treatment seems to exist in-country. One wrong bite could mean a death sentence. Discussion and research calmed me down: yes, there are plenty of rabies, but you can prevent infection by not getting your skin pierced by a rabid animal – mostly stray dogs, foxes and bats.

Good idea. I’ll avoid petting stray dogs, keep out of batty grottoes and I won’t chase any foxes. Mostly I’ll be careful, keep my body covered if I’m in the wild, and make sure I can find refuge indoors should such a beast take a liking to me.

Not quite Harley Street

Things can happen. Bad things. Mostly they don’t but just in case, it’s best to be prepared.

The first thing I need is health insurance. Right now and until I turn 66 (three years from now), World Nomads is my go-to insurance company (the cut-off age may be earlier depending where you live).

Health insurance is a good start but because I’ll be in areas far from… everything, I’ll go a few steps further.

Should something drastic happen that can’t be fixed locally, I’ll need to be evacuated so yes, evacuation insurance.

I’m also taking a personal locator beacon, a Delorme InReach my brother is lending me. When he biked to the Yukon last year I tracked him in real-time and enjoyed knowing exactly where he was.

Being tracked means someone will be able to find me should they need to. I can also receive messages on it and there’s a panic button for emergencies. Like my tsunami alert service for Sri Lanka, I just feel safer with this extra (and probably unnecessary) help.

Other considerations on travel health in Central Asia

Much of the water isn’t potable so rather than take chances I’ll be using bottled water throughout. I’ll also take a SteriPen in case I run out of bottles – it’s light and practical and one of my standbys for travel.

Hygiene might be an issue (even five-star hotels in New York have been known to sprout bedbugs) so I’ve got a silk sheet with me, or more formally put, a Sea To Summit Silk Stretch Panel sleeping bag liner).

Song-Köl Lake, Kyrgyzstan - travel health

Ondrej Zvàček CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Another concern, especially in Kyrgyzstan, is altitude. Song-Köl Lake is at more than 3000m (nearly 10,000ft) so I’ll go up slowly, drink a lot of water, and be prepared to turn back if I feel ill. I did once spend a month in Addis Ababa (2400m/7700ft) and other than some shortness of breath, I was fine. My doctor says not to worry (I was concerned because I have high blood pressure) and that altitude sickness is a predisposition – you get it or you don’t but your health isn’t a factor. The toughest athletes can suffer from it and little old ladies not feel a thing.

A final risk is that of tick-borne encephalitis – from infected ticks, usually in forests. Same rules apply as for leeches in the tropics: long sleeves, and long trousers tucked into boots or shoes. And lots of (yuck) permethrin sprayed on your clothes.

But then, that’s just the cautious side of me talking.

Part 8 – Researching Central Asia


  1. Linda on August 11, 2016 at 12:16 pm

    I’m enjoying these posts so much and learning lots about useful things to take along on a solo adventure. I’m more of domestic type and never travel anywhere without my electric espresso pot!

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on August 11, 2016 at 12:26 pm

      Hah! I’ll think of you when I’m up on a mountain praying for coffee rain!

  2. Dyanne on August 11, 2016 at 5:45 pm

    Goodness Leyla, but you are prolific in your lead-up to this new adventure!

    Just an added tip: Yes, World Nomads insurance’s upper age limit is 66, but – IMG Patriot insurance (International Medical Group) offers a policy up to age 80! And they’re rates are as good or better than WM. I carried a policy with IMG for years while I was in Asia, and only cancelled it when I obtained permanent residency here in Ecuador, and (happily!) was able to join the national EC insurance system (100% medical, dental and vision for just $70 per month!). But for my own trip soon to the Balkans and Turkey – I’ll again purchase an IMG policy (looks like for my dodderin’ age, $170 for 6 weeks with a $2,500 deductible).

    In short, when you reach the loftier age of “dodderin'” like me – do look at IMG for your future travels adventures! 😉

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on August 11, 2016 at 8:40 pm

      Great advice for the mellow crowd – thanks Dyanne!

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