Whether you’re looking for wonderful wildlife facts, inspirational tales from around the globe or tips on how to cure travellers' diarrhoea, Jane Wilson-Howarth – zoologist, author, GP and travel health expert – is your go-to guide.
We caught up with Dr Jane to talk animal encounters, terrible toilets and how to stay healthy on the road.
Where was your last trip?
I went to see great bustards in Wiltshire, England. Bustards are huge birds that they’ve tried to reintroduce into Britain.
Where is your next trip?
My husband and I went to Myanmar in May, so we’ll probably go somewhere like Scotland next time. We like to mix the very exotic with local stuff. There’s also a possibility I might go and help in Nepal. I’m on various registers and I’d love to go off and help with the earthquake rehabilitation.
What is your first travel-related memory?
Eating fruit cake on the beach in Guernsey. We used to go on family holidays to Guernsey quite a lot and we found this little beach where you had to rock climb to get down to the shore. My mother would produce fantastic picnics and we would spend the day in the sea, on the beach, climbing rocks and exploring rock pools.
Aisle or window seat?
Definitely a window seat. I love looking out over the scenery and trying to put the geography together, trying to work out where I am and wonder whether I’ve been there or whether I might go there.
Do you have any travel habits or rituals?
I always put a little notebook in my bag and I try to keep notes on what I’m doing. If I’m doing a long-haul flight, I try to eat oily fish before I fly – that’s supposed to prevent deep vein thrombosis.
Favourite city or country or region?
Nepal is closest to my heart. I lived there for six years and celebrated the best and the worst times in my life there. It’s the most beautiful country in the world with spectacular mountains and wonderful jungle – I’ve been lucky enough to see tigers on many occasions. And the Nepalese people are just so great. They laugh a lot and even after an earthquake they will be getting on with life. I just love their approach to whatever life throws at them.
What has been your most challenging travel experience?
I got lost in a cave in the Kathmandu Valley for about thirteen and a half hours. My friend and I went into a series of caves which were arranged in a sort of herringbone pattern, so when you went in you thought there was only one cave but when you turned around to come back there kept on being three or four tunnels to choose. We were walking round in circles until we ran out of light and ended up stuck in this small chamber where you couldn’t even stand up. We thought we might die there. Fortunately the owner of the teahouse, where we were staying at the time, knew where we’d gone and came to find us with a candle.
What is your top tip for staying healthy abroad?
Choose a restaurant which is popular. If there isn’t fast turnover of the food you’re more likely to get sick. So a really popular street stall is going to be a much healthier than a deserted hotel restaurant.
What is the most common illness people get abroad?
Gastroenteritis is probably the commonest significant illness. But many people don’t realise that lots of people also get coughs and colds, especially after flights. And then mood problems are really common. You can go a bit bipolar when you’re travelling I think.
Where are the world’s worst toilets?
Probably in Madagascar. You sometimes get squat toilets that aren’t flushable, and they’re on bus routes, so you get busloads of people using them. There was one really amazing loo, en route from Antananarivo to the extreme north of Madagascar, where the maggots were actually leaving the toilet. There are some good ones in Nepal too, up in the hills, where you can get stalagmites of shit sticking out of the toilet.
Where did your fascination with the natural world come from?
I’ve always been quite interested in bugs. When I was a kid I spent a lot of time nose down in the pond. There’s a lot of quite serious life and death stuff that goes on in ponds. David Attenborough’s films were a huge inspiration as well as Gerald Durrell’s book My Family and Other Animals.
What is your most memorable animal encounter?
I got stung by a scorpion in Madagascar and I thought I was going to die. We were on an expedition to the extreme north and I saw some lemurs running across the trees above me and I thought I saw the first baby of the season. So I went to grab a new film for my camera and there was a scorpion in the bag. It felt like a thump and then a wasp sting, but I was actually in a lot of pain for about 24 hours. What was worse, I was the doctor on the expedition and all the rest of them were looking at me, with that face that says ‘oh god, the doctor's going to die’. I’ve still not got normal sensation in the finger that got stung.
What is your best or worst travel souvenir?
The souvenir that I retain is irritable bowel syndrome. Many people who’ve travelled a lot end up having quite unreliable intestines and I’ve certainly got that.
What is the best or worst piece of travel advice you’ve received?
There’s a mantra: ‘Peel it, boil it, cook it or forget it’. I don’t know who invented it but it’s well-quoted by travel health experts.
What’s your biggest travel fail?
We were living in Indonesia where the temperature is about 30 degrees all the time, so we didn’t have any warm clothes. And we went up to the Dieng Plateau, which is about 10,000ft high, booked into a hotel which didn’t provide blankets, shivered all night and got woken up by the call to prayer at dawn. The next morning at about 6am we went to find something hot to eat and drink. The first restaurant we went in only served goat stew, but we were so hungry and cold we decided to have some. Unfortunately, they served it up cold. When you’re so cold that even your mouth gets cold anything greasy you’re eating just stays in your mouth as grease, which is what happened with this goat stew. We had to go to the next place to find something hot to drink to wash the grease out.
Quick, an asteroid is going to hit the earth in one week! Which is the one travel dream you’d rush to fulfil?
I'd probably go to Antarctica. I’d love to be on the beach with walruses and penguins – it would be awesome to be able to go up close to such rare animals.
What advice would you give a first-time traveller?
Go with your gut feeling. Don’t try and do everything that the destination has to offer and take plenty of time to just sit and talk to people and watch the world go by.
To find out more about Dr Jane, as well as her numerous travel and health publications, visit her website at wilson-howarth.com. It may not protect you from traveller's tummy, but travel insurance is a no-brainer. Get a quote for your next trip now.