Fieldwork and Travel Advice

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Planning a research trip ?

Working and studying in the area ecology and the environment is inevitably tied to taking on fieldwork, which can feel daunting to organise whether you’re heading into your backyard or the depths of the wilderness far, far away.  Advice from our friends and colleagues has made plain sailing out of some potentially difficult or dangerous situations. So, here are some tips we have collaborated from our community to help you on your way!

Before you go…

1. Important Documents: Take photocopies of  your passport, visas, tickets etc. and/or email digital copies to yourself. If you are working in protected areas or are planning to remove samples from the site; check you have all the relevant paperwork first.

2. Visas and Immunisations: Without these you may not even get to the field site! Start organising them long before your departure date as it often take much longer than you intend.

3. Communication: Make your friends/parents/spouse/colleagues aware of how long you will be away for and you accessibility during this time i.e email, phone, skype, message-in-a-bottle.  This may save some panic on the other end whilst your away with your head in the trees. Oh, and while you are away.. immersion is a great way to learn a new language, but we’ve found this website and app was a handy way to get going, before you go.

4. First-Aid: training is always useful, even if not a requirement of your trip.

5.Note-to-self: Your trip is likely to be full of challenging/exciting/ exhausting/educational/enriching/insightful  experiences. A wise man once told me to write a letter to yourself before you go, perhaps about your expectations (in the same way you may be writing your scientific hypothesis).  On your return from the field, enjoy reading it to see how much you’ve grown/shrunk/learnt/forgotten.

Packing

Know how to use your kit before you head out (it’s worth learning how to use a map and compass for example!). Obviously what you take should be tailored to your trip, research, and guidance of your colleagues but here are some of our essentials:

Essential Packing List

  • Torch + Spare Batteries /Charger
  • Multi-Adaptor (with USB sockets for gadgets)
  • Duct Tape
  • Compass + Maps
  • Multi-tool/Swiss army knife
  • Basic sewing kit for self-fixes
  • Small lock for luggage
  • USB stick –Good for backing up photos/data when a computer becomes available, or for insurance in case of the demise of your own gadget.
  • Notebook and stationary; a rain-writer (or a cheap clip board folded in half) or waterproof paper and pencils if undertaking wet fieldwork.
  • Ample water containers, and water cleaning and purifying kit if needed.
  • Day pack
  • Ziplock bags of varying sizes handy for all sorts of reasons; from carrying food, to keeping electronics dry, or dirty laundry sealed away!
  • Thin sleeping bag liner- even if your not planning on camping it can make sleeping arrangements more comfortable, or just be used for storage. Also, the silky ones feel great.
  • Quick dry towel (and clothing), especially handy if you’ll be staying on the move.
  • Wellies/Walking-boots/Trainers
  • Flip-flops- generally handy for indoors or campsite use
  • Map and compass

Toiletries

  • Biodegradable shampoo and bodywash- especially when travelling to more remote locations, to avoid polluting the environment you are studying in!
  • Babywipes
  • Talc powder (especially if travelling somewhere moist and hot!)
  • Toothbrush, and a spare!
  • Contraception (if there is a chance you may need it).

 Medical Kit (use drugs with medical advice)

  • Any prescribed medications e.g Epipen, Inhaler – make sure you order enough to last the trip and a bit longer, as fieldwork seems to often take longer than originally planned, or become extended due to changes in travel plans.
  • Anti-malarial tablets- if travelling to a region known to have malaria, consult your GP
  • Bandages
  • Plasters
  • Micropore Tape
  • Painkillers
  • Imodium/Loperamide
  • Rehydration sachets

Bugs + Bites

  • Mosquito net
  • Head net
  • Insect repellent- DEET is a strong chemical contained in many repellents, which is considered to provide strongest level of deterrent. However, use with care as it may be unsuitable if you are working with animals, and may also contaminate samples taken for chemical analysis (e.g plant material for Nitrogen content), while it has also been known to melt plastic sunglasses on occasions. Repellent applied to clothing often lasts longer than skin, especially in hot climes, as it doesn’t get sweated away so quickly! Alternatively look for products containing citronella, which can also be effective and friendlier to clothes and skin, and keep an eye out for a local method or product, which may be the best tried-and-tested solution to keep away the bugs.
  • Tea tree, Camomile, Tiger balm, or 1% Hydrocortisone Cream is handy for soothing bites when the bugs inevitably break through all your guards.
  • Aloe Vera, for bites and burns

 Other:

  • Binoculars- 8×32 is generally advised for most activities including birding, but as the tech specs go up so does the weight.. so pick carefully based on your usage and needs.
  • Local SIM card for phone,
  • Camera
  • Money belt- good to hide valuables underneath your clothes
  • Radios, SPOT GPS, Sat-phone
  • Bear-spray
  • Sun Protection (suncream, hat, glasses)
  • Small comfort items you may miss e.g Tea/Chocolate/Pillow/Cosy-blanket
  • Marker pens, masking tape
  • Hand lens
  • Small tupperwares/petri dishes/falcon tubes for specimens
  • Small presents from your country to give to host-families/new friends/colleagues

Suggestion Welcome! Comment or email: ecopostblog@gmail.com

6 responses to “Fieldwork and Travel Advice

  1. Pingback: Life hacks (fieldwork edition) | Dr Kirsty MacLeod·

  2. Pingback: Field Safety | Conversation Ecology·

  3. Before you go, know how to use the kit. In my experience (and I have done it myself) the number of times I have been out and someone has pulled out a bit of kit and gone uhhh it’s broken or I don’t know how to use it. Along with this, try and be inventive, why carry stuff you don’t have to. Think about where you are going, how long you will go and can you botch a light weight version of what you want to achieve in the field rather than carry around the 12 ft stainless steel thing that is just a pain in the arse. Also know how to use a map and compass! Don’t rely on fancy GPS, chances are you will lose/run out of batteries or it will break. Finally come up with contingency plans and what will happen if things go slightly awry. Planning and preparation prevent piss poor performance, don’t let the unexpected catch you out by surprise.

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  4. As well as sample bags, I always carry around masking tape + marker pen, and a hand lens, as well as small tupperwares/petri dishes/falcon tubes for specimens

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