Tips for Surviving the Tropics

Travel Tips
Especially during dry season, getting hit on the head by a falling coconut is a real danger!
Especially during dry season, getting hit on the head by a falling coconut is a real danger!
Stepping aside from the idyllic photos, the warmer climates have their downfalls; from falling coconuts, to the heat, to nasty stinging things. Have a look at these tips before you head to the tropics!
I've been spending a lot of time in Costa Rica lately and if you can consider any place tropical, it's there. I also spend a lot of time in SE Asia and other Central American countries; also very tropical. There are some benefits to being closer to the equator such as the warm weather and the calm turquoise seas, but there are also a lot of inconveniences or even dangers to contend with.

A particularly large beetle in Costa Rica.
A particularly large beetle in Costa Rica.
Immediately when I say I'm going somewhere tropical, people ask me about bugs, lots of lots of giant bugs to be specific. That's not necessarily accurate. First of all, there are also lots and lots of small insects. From mosquitoes to noseeums, and they'll get you just as bad or worse than the big scary-looking ones. Normally the larger ones are just lumbering along anyway not looking to land on you, it just happens by accident and startles them as much as it does you.

Next is the heat. The heat and humidity really can get unbearable at times. And it's not just a matter of keeping your body cool, your gear can be seriously effected by this type of climate too.

Trying to take a step back to realize some of the things that have become commonplace for me while traveling in these hot and humid climates, I have come up with this list.

Bugs & Creepies

  • In your hotel, keep your bags shut at all times to keep bugs (cockroaches) from crawling in. My purse, backpack, day pack, and packing cubes are all kept zipped shut.
  • Never put your hand where you can't see what's there. Like reaching under a table to move it, grabbing the underside of a railing, or picking something up off the ground. There could easily be something on the other side that's ready to give you a good sting!
  • I actually got stung by this scorpion that was in the threshold of my doorway. :(
    I actually got stung by this scorpion that was in the threshold of my doorway. :(
  • In places with scorpions, always shake out clothing and towels before you use them. It's a common hiding spot for them and scorpions don't take kindly to being disturbed. I have even taken to checking my bed for scorpions before I hop in. Maybe overkill but a friend of mine was just stung in her bed a few days ago.
  • Your room will be full of geckos which can startle you sometimes when you see one of them crawl up the wall or scamper away when you are grabbing something off your shelf. But this is a good thing! They eat insects.
  • Because of the above, your room will also be full of gecko poop. They spend a lot of time on the ceiling and drop it from there. It's sort of like a mouse poop with a white dot at the end.
  • Because of the geckos (and various other unknowns), rinse off any dishes or glasses before you use them. The other day I was reaching for a coffee cup and a gecko scampered out of it.
  • Roaches and scorpions like to come up drain pipes. If it's a problem where you're staying (usually if you don't have screen covers over your drains), you can put something over them like a plate or a garbage can. Anything to keep the creepy crawlies out!
  • Always use your flashlight at night, particularly in jungly areas. You don't want to step on anything alive! For example, in Costa Rica, toads and crabs are super common, but scorpions, snakes, and unidentifiable insects might also be on your path.
  • Always have bug spray with you and optional light-colored long sleeves at night. Mosquitoes are attracted less to light colors and the sleeves can help protect you from bites. (see Mosquitoes 101: Your Guide to Bite-Free Travel)
  • If you're going out and it might be dark before you get back, bring bug spray and your flashlight along with you.
  • Your room will never be bug-free, get used to it.
  • As far as first aid, you can carry small items like Tiger Balm or After Bite Plus to help with post-bite itching. Also keep in mind that toothpaste or making a paste with meat tenderizer can be used to draw poison out of a sting and help alleviate pain.

Heat & Humidity

  • You will always be sweaty - get used to it. (see How to Keep Cool Traveling In Hot Humid Climates)
  • You won't want (and might not have) hot water in either your shower or sink. Cold showers are nice and refreshing in the heat so you won't miss the hot water. But it does turn into one of things that once you do have a hot shower, it will feel so luxurious!
  • You will take multiple cold showers a day, and you will sweat as soon as you get out.
  • Some people automatically run toward air-conditioning. Although sometimes a nice cool room feels like a godsend, I think you never get acclimated to the heat if you are always jumping between cold and hot. I really recommend forgoing the A/C.
  • Beware that your electronics don't like humidity. Laptops get ruined more quickly in these climates, so try to keep them out of the elements (i.e. in your backpack) when not in use and if you have an air-conditioned room, use this as a safe haven for your electronics. It may or may not help.
  • In extremely humid conditions, things will get damp just by sitting there. Try to air things out regularly. A pile of clothes kept folded in your pack will become really musty! And your passport not kept in a ziploc will become damp and warped.
  • Nail polish doesn't behave well. It gloms up the minute you start to paint with it.
  • Curly hair? Don't fight it. Let it go all out curly in the humidity.

Other Tips for the Tropics

  • The ocean water doesn't itch when it dries like it does in say, California. You might, however, encounter stinging plankton. You'll feel a bunch of little pin-pricks while you swim, but it's harmless.
  • Cold beers sweat a lot. To keep from creating a lake on the table, put a folded up a napkin covered in table salt under your beer! The salt absorbs the moisture, keeping your napkin from getting soaked.
  • Do not touch soft and fuzzy-looking plants! Many tropical plants are covered with a disguised blanket of tiny spines.
  • Put food away as soon as you're done using it. Ants will appear out of nowhere within minutes.
  • This coconut fell right in the middle of that path I had just walked on. Not to mention those palm fronds, too!
    This coconut fell right in the middle of that path I had just walked on. Not to mention those palm fronds, too!
  • Don't put organic garbage in your open trash bin. It will only attract insects or other critters. The best thing to do is to try to get rid of it right away. Find a place in your hotel to put it or, depending on where you are, toss it out into the bushes.
  • FYI, ants like Rolaids and once they find them, you'll have a frenzy on your hands.
  • Get used to putting toilet paper in the bin. (see Essential Toilet Tips for Foreign Travel)
  • Be careful walking under coconut trees! Coconuts and palm fronds fall and are dangerous. There are actually statistics for death-by-coconut.

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