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Keeping Healthy

Do Your Homework Before You Take Off

February 02, 1986|DR. KARL NEUMANN | Neumann is a Forest Hills, N.Y., pediatrician who writes on travel-related matters

Trekking in the Himalayas, rafting in East Africa, bicycling across China, backpacking in the Arctic, ice-climbing in the Rockies, canoeing in the Appalachians. The list of adventure travel options goes on and on.

Once only for the robust, rich and venturesome, there are adventure trips now for just about everyone regardless of age, physical condition, ability or experience.

But choosing the right trip takes homework. It is a lot like choosing a winning racehorse, according to Backpacker magazine. You want to know the track record of the groups you are interested in, the capabilities of the person holding the reins, the kind of course to be covered and the abilities of the others signed up.

Read Carefully

So before you make your choice and put down your money, read the literature carefully and ask a lot of questions, especially ask what is expected of you and about provisions for health and safety. Here are some key questions and considerations for anyone thinking about an adventure trip:

--Are you qualified for the trip? Some brochures say, "for people of all backgrounds who have never shouldered a backpack, donned a climbing helmet or paddled a canoe." But other brochures call for people "self-reliant, highly qualified and competent in their field."

--Are the leaders thoroughly familiar with the activity and the destination? One well-known group, Outward Bound, has leaders who are "Red Cross-trained and qualified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and employ the latest technical expertise in wilderness skills. Forty percent are Emergency Medical Technicians."

--Always ask to talk to people who have gone on trips with the firm. Do their descriptions agree with the brochures? Don't be put off by a few negatives. In fact, be suspicious if participants or brochures paint an unrealistic picture. Consider the prospectus of a popular archeological expedition to Guatemala, which notes: "Accommodations are primitive, dirty and crawling with insects. All sorts of unexpected delays can be encountered; planned schedules have little meaning in the middle of a Central American rain forest. We guarantee an exceptionally interesting trip, but it is not recommended for chronic complainers."

--When going to remote areas, ask if provisions are made for purifying water and maintaining sanitation.

--What happens in case of illness or accident? Ideally, the group should have arrangements with one of the many reputable organizations that provide medical care and, if necessary, medical evacuation even in remote areas.

Health Exams Required

Be suspicious of any group that does not ask you a lot of questions about your physical condition. Many groups require comprehensive medical examinations, especially for more strenuous trips. And the group should want to know, for example, if you can swim if you are going canoeing and your experience, if any, at high altitudes if you are going trekking in Nepal or Bolivia.

For travel to Third World countries you should receive detailed instructions about preventive medicines and immunizations. This information should come from a physician with expertise in the area, not from the national tourist office of the country you are visiting. If the group does not provide such information, see such a physician yourself.

Weigh carefully trips to Third World countries that include "eating and living with local people." While this may be the best way to learn about the culture of an area, it is also likely to make you ill. In primitive surroundings, it is far safer to do what many groups do: Camp out and prepare your own food.

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