How to Haggle Overseas

Haggling is still a way of life in many counties around the world. If you are new the to concept outside of purchasing a car or going to the local swap-meet and want to be prepared for the lively and sometimes overwhelming wild west of open markets you will confront abroad, have a look at the tips below.

1. Don’t get visibly excited. When you find something you like, get a solid poker face on and be ready to bluff your way to a good price. If your face lights up and give off the “Oh my god this is perfect” vibe, you will likely get an even higher markup from the vendor, as they know you really want the item.

2. Decide how much its worth to you. How much are you willing to spend on the item? If you don’t set a limit in your mind, the item may remind you of the high price you paid as opposed to the cultural memento it should remind you of.

3. Allow the vendor to give you a price. I typically cut that price by 1/3 to 1/2 of the asking price and work my way up from there. This cannot be a set rule as all counties and vendors are different. It typically depends on how much im willing to spend.

4. If you are not happy with the price, feel free to start walking away.  Often, they will bring the price down further. If not, you may have brought them down as low as they’ll go. There is no shame in walking right back to the vendor to make your purchase. The vendor has their tactics and we have ours.

More often than not, there is another store or market vendor near the one you are at which is selling a similar or the same item you are bargaining for. If you cant get the price you want, take a second to look around and compare prices. Its one of the greatest powers you have over the vendors.

Haggling is not about being a hard ass. It works for some, but I don’t recommend it. You are going to want to do haggle with a smile and try to connect with the vendor. This should be a fun experience. Maybe even learn how to say clever statements like, “you’re breaking my heart” in the native language. The vendor will likely get a kick out of it and laugh. If the vendor likes you, they will give you a better price than the person who says something like, “F%&$ that, ill give you $6”. The vendor would rather have fun at work, just like you when you’re at work. You don’t necessarily have to try to be their buddy, but try to be nice.

Also, if you are serious about your markets and want to make sure you are able to get the best price, leave the nice watch (which you shouldnt bring traveling with anyway) and designer clothes behind. If you reek of the big bucks, that’s what you’ll end up paying.

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Vaccinations for travel abroad

Depending on the region you will be traveling, you should prepare your body to face the foreign diseases you have no natural immunity. Some vaccines and immunizations can be expensive, as many are not covered by insurance. But, if you come down with Yellow Fever, you’re going to wish you had splurged for the treatment.

On one of my first trips, I decided to visit my doctor the days before I left. Bad idea. I was able to get my Malaria pills squared away, but they didn’t have Typhoid available. I left on my trip and ended up being fine, but my doctor was able to scare me enough to make sure that the next time I took off on a trip, I would come to the office six weeks before departure.

Your doctor should know about all the vaccines needed for each country, but its always best to check with the CDC (Center for Disease Control) or Netdoctor before hand. Its a good to have and idea of what treatments you need, so you have time to make sure you in fact did get that Tetanus or Hepatitis booster shot you think you had 5 years ago BEFORE the doctor asks you. Some of the most common medical issues that may come up in discussion with your doctor are:

Yellow fever
Malaria
Hepatitis
Diphtheria
Tetanus
Polio
Typhoid
Cholera
Meningitis
Rabies
Encephalitis

You will also want to make sure you get the appropriate proof of immunization from your doctor. Some countries require proof of immunization, so discuss the requirements with your doctor during your consultation. One example is Yellow Fever, which is a vaccine required to enter some countries in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America.

The CDC website and NetDoctor.com allow you to click on the particular country you will be visiting on their websites world map and it will kick back information on what vaccines they recommend and other tips for staying healthy in the country selected. Here are the Links for each:
Center for Disease Control
NetDoctor

How to keep you and your belongings safe while backpacking abroad

Keeping you and your belongings safe:

  • Don’t keep all your cash in one spot. Just in case you’re robbed, its best to have some backup cash in separate bag, shoe, or pocket.

  • Don’t walk around at night by yourself. Anywhere.

  • If you are robbed, don’t resist. Give them what they want and go your separate ways. Its not worth getting injured or killed.

  • Don’t leave your bags unattended. Not only could they get stolen, but if you’re traveling between destinations, there are cases where people have planted drugs in a tourists bag and use them as a drug mule until they transport the drugs to the destination without the traveler knowing.

  • Watch your drinks and never accept an opened drink from a stranger.

  • Don’t wear fancy jewelry, watches, or clothes. Yes, you will likely stick out as a traveler in the towns and cities you visit, but you don’t need to stick out more than necessary to thieves. I typically don’t travel with any material items i wouldn’t mind losing. This allows me to feel more relaxed when traveling.

  • Walk with a purpose. Walk like you have a specific destination in mind. Don’t give off the vibe that you’re lost. Thieves are attracted to people who look lost or confused.

  • Carry a money belt. Thieves know about money belts, so if you get robbed they will likely find it, but at least you won’t fall victim to pickpocketers. I don’t wear mine every day, but when I’m in cities, i feel more comfortable wearing mine.

  • Its always good to be cautious, but not to the point where you’re too afraid to walk out the door in the morning. Find your perfect medium between fun and safety and stick to it.

  • Be careful using your electronics. Here’s a few stories I’ve experienced:

    • I was in Laos a couple weeks ago (today’s date is 11/3/12)  and a girl fell asleep with her laptop on her stomach in the common area of our hostel. She woke up and someone had taken it right off her stomach.

    • Ipods are a popular item to steal. If you’re listening to your ipod in a bus or train, its a common occurrence for thieves to disconnect the headphones from the ipod, which is typically sitting on your lap. Make sure you keep it in your pocket if you think you may fall asleep.

    • One of the biggest internal debates i have on a daily basis is whether  to bring my camera with me when i leave the hostel. No fun losing a camera or getting it stolen, but you should document your trip. If you decide to take photos, be careful and keep a close eye on the people surrounding you. I was at Carnival in Brazil back in 2008. I was walking around with a group of friends with thousands of people around and one of my friends pulled her camera out to take a photo of the group. Just then, a guy came by grabbed the camera and ran down down an alleyway. Nothing we could do, but maybe not the best idea to pull out your camera with thousands of people partying in the middle of the night.

A lot of the time its just dumb luck when someone gets robbed. You’re simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Don’t get stuck on the should have, would have thoughts if you do get your things stolen. It happens to the best of us and i promise you, your nerves will subside and you will still be able to enjoy the rest of your trip.

As a closing note, I’ve found I’m always a bit paranoid about my stuff for the first week of a trip and then my nerves calm down and I find my travel groove. I notice that keeping my stuff as safe as possible becomes a subconscious habit and it doesn’t take as much effort to stay safe. So, if you feel that same slight paranoia, give it time and let your nerves settle.

Health Insurance while traveling abroad

When traveling abroad, health insurance is a topic that may not be as fun to plan as your trip itself, but its still an essential part of well planned adventure.

If you currently have health insurance, you will need to call your insurance company to see if you will be covered while abroad. If your current health insurance company covers you while abroad, make sure they cover medical evacuation, which is typically one of the most expensive aspects of international insurance plans.

If you do not have health insurance, there are several private companies that have affordable plans. If you are based out of the US, the government has put together a list of companies to choose from which, can be found here. Be prepared to give the companies your ore-existing conditions, a list of places your are going to visit, how long you will spend in each location and dangerous activities you will be partaking in i.e.bungee jumping, trekking.

Make sure the plan you choose covers exactly what you need and understand the co-payments. Also, consider choosing a medical insurance plan that has a 24 hour call center.

Once you have your coverage decided, its a very good idea to keep a list of items you will need to get at the hospital if you are injured. Your insurance company will give you a list of items you will need to get in order to make a claim to the the insurance company. Obviously, if you are severely injured you will not be able to gather the items listed below, but if you are able to, its typically easier to get the info when you are at the hospital than once you are home and trying to contact a hospital abroad. Besides carrying around your insurance card, bring a copy of a claim form or a printout of the items needed to make a proper claim: For example my insurance company needs:

1) My Name and Date of Birth
2) Diagnosis from foreign doctor*
3) Procedures and date of service*
4) Name and address of doctor*
5) Name and address of facility*
6) Receipts of payments made converted into USD and exchange rate of date of service*
*All need to be translated into English.

Ive also heard some say insurance is not necessary if you’re going to a country with a socialized health care system. I have personally seen people get free treatment for stitches and other minor ailments, but this is not always the case.

What to do if your passport is lost or stolen

What should you do if your passport is lost or stolen?

First, you are going to contact the police for a police report. If your not traveling between destinations, the front desk of your hostel, or guest house should be able to help you through this first step as many of them have dealt with the issue before.

Second, you will go to your countries consulate or embassy with the police report. Here they will be able to help you deactivate your old passport (using a DS-64 form for US citizens, which can be googled). You will be asked several questions in regards to the possible whereabouts of the passport, to if you have lost or had your passport stolen before. Note: Once your passport has been deactivated, it cannot be reactivated.

Third, you will apply for a new passport at your embassy or consulate. They will issue you a new passport (using a DS-64 form for US citizens, which can be googled).

Tips to prepare for a lost or stolen passport:

  • Make copies of your passport and keep a copy in your backpack and day bag.
  • Take your drivers license as a backup id for easier identification at your consulate.
  • Scan copies of passport and email a copy to yourself. This way you will just need access to a computer print for the embassy.

How to choose a laptop or tablet for travel

I went back and forth between bringing a tablet PC, laptop/netbook or smart phone. Here are the questions i asked myself once I came up with my budget.

  • Do i want a traditional keyboard or a touchscreen? If I’m blogging or journaling, which is easiest?
  • How much extra weight am i willing to carry around?
  • What dimensions will easily fit in my day-bag?
  • What is the smallest size screen am I OK with?
  • How important is battery life?
  • Do I want a hard case to protect my laptop. I just have a waterproof bag i keep my laptop in, just in case it rains.
  • How many Gigabytes do i need? Will i be uploading my pictures to my computer, an external hard-drive, or strait to the Internet?
  • Don’t forget about internet security if you end up with an PC. I use Avast! and love it.

The deciding factor for me was the keyboard. I realize I could purchase a traditional keyboard for a tablet, but the weight of the keyboard with the tablet came out to be similar to the HP Mini, which I decided to purchase in the end. I paid $150 for my HP Mini, which i think was a very reasonable price. Ive been using this Mini for two months with no issues and love how light, durable and fast it is. AND if something does happen to it, at least I’m not out several hundred or a thousand dollars if i brought an expensive computer.

Another service if you decided to travel without a computer, but want to be able to connect directly with your home computer, is  GoToMyPC.com. It allows you to log-in directly to your desktop at home and work with all your files, just as if you were working at home.

If you didn’t want to carry around a device of any kind, the vast majority of hostels have computers with interment access for typically little to no charge.

How to stay in contact with friends an family while traveling

Staying in touch with friends and family back home while traveling abroad is becoming easier by the day. With WordPress, Skype, Facebook, ichat and others, many people I know are more connected to their friends and family while traveling than when they are at home. This is because people back home are interested in what you’re doing and honestly may be living vicariously through you and all the excitement going on in your life while abroad. Can you blame them? Below some tools to stay connected:

  • WordPress is a perfect way to allow others to follow your online journal. It takes only a couple minutes to sign up and you can be posting photos and text in no time. Also, if you want to make your posts private, you can do that too. Honestly, if you can log into your email account, you can figure out WordPress. They have made it very user friendly.
  • International Calling Cards are handy if you are only spending a week or two in a country. If your spending months in a county you may want to visit a cellphone store to get cheap phone and SIM card.
  • Flickr is an efficient website allowing you to upload your pictures on the web for photo storage and also works as an album for friends and family back home.
  • I enjoy using facebook chat to talk to individual friends. Even if the internet connection is slow, Facebook chat works well. I do not suggest using facebook as a platform for storing photos. Flickr allows for storage of larger images and better privacy.
  • Skype is a great video chatting tool, which is free. You do need a fast internet connection to keep it from pixelating. For a very small fee you can also make international calls directly to your friends cellphones back home.
  • Twitter for quick updates. Especially nice if you bring a smartphone for wifi access only.
  • If you’re planning to travel with your Mac computer, ichat is a quick any easy way to stay in touch. I used it many times while in a long distance relationship and had no issues.
  • A good’ol post card is fun. The ones i sent from south east Asia and central and south America took about 3 weeks to arrive. Sometimes arriving after I’m already home. But, it does show a lot more care and thoughtfulness to send a postcard than an email, as far as I’m concerned. Especially to the parents or grandparents.