You will likely come across many different animals along your travel trail. Among others, I’ve seen monkeys bite and dogs nip. All were avoidable, but once in a while someone wants to show-off or maybe just had one to many drinks and found a dog simply irresistible, that would otherwise seem completely mange and disgusting. Keep away from fleas, ticks and injury by keeping your distance.
I started doing some research on this subject because a travel friend of mine is currently dealing with credit card fraud in Panama. Internet cafes may have software that records your keystrokes as you type. In this way, when the “keylogger” sees 16 digits in a row, it knows its is likely to be a credit card number, or possibly a password if you type your password multiple times while online.
One way to combat this is to open another internet window. Then, when you are halfway through writing your credit card number or password, type some random numbers or charictures in the additional window before completeing your password.
I am currently in Panama, but was reflecting on my time in South East Asia last year, where I experienced many friends and fellow travelers fall victim to accidents including motorbike and water activities. We all travel to experience new things, often pushing the limits of our own personal comfort zone by taking it a step too far. Know your limits and don’t let the excitement of travel take you over the edge. If you haven’t been on a Motorbike before, its best not to rent one out in the hectic streets of Hanoi, Vietnam. If you haven’t surfed before, don’t rent a surfboard and hit the big waves on your first day in Panama. These may seem obvious, but unfortunately i have seen both of these circumstances play out several times over. If it’s not your own urges, it could be from the pure pressure of you travel mate(s). I’m guilty of taking things too far on many occasions, but I’ve been lucky enough to come away unscathed. It’s interesting how our minds change and transform while we travel, but its essential to keep your urges in order.
Ranging between $65 and $130 USD per day, per person, traveling on a cargo freighter is a unique means of travel that not many people get to experience. At freightercruises.com you can look up the different routes of the cargo freighters to see what works for you. They typically do round trip tickets, but offer one-way trips or “segments” as well.
For my trip to South East Asia, I went though the Travel Jitters for about six months. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to travel anymore, but I didn’t want to make the wrong choice in leaving my life behind. It had a lot to do with what was going on in my personal or work life day to day. But, over time, I knew if I didn’t get on that plane, I would look in the mirror some day and see that my own fear of the unknown defeated me. I spoke to countless people from generations above me and the resounding answer was they wished they had traveled more when they were young, or they absolutely loved their time traveling and wouldn’t give up the memories or friendships they created along the way for anything.
Overanalyzing the details is completely normal. Typically analyzing all the things that could go wrong, and assuming you will eventually wish you hadn’t left your life at home. I have yet to meet someone in any age group who regrets traveling for an extended period of time. I will not say it’s always easy, as traveling has its hardships, but I assure you that it’s not only the path to foreign discovery, but to self. The best way to find out who you are is to get out of your familiar space and explore. At home it is much more difficult to find the same stimulation that will automatically bombard you while traveling in the way of smells, sights, sounds, history, architecture and lifestyle. With all these senses firing, you will gain a much broader outlook of the world and, as a result, yourself.
Knowing who you are will allow you to choose a path that will ultimately make you a happier person. Maybe you will realize leaving you past job is what you want to do for the rest of your life after traveling for a while. Maybe you’ll leave that job and be completely disgusted by the thought of it. What’s important is that you questioned it and traveling has given you a clear view on life and the confidence in knowing who you truly are.
As Confucius said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” That first step is deciding to travel. Once that step is taken, the hardest part is over…I promise.
Over the past two decades, the popularity of guidebooks has grown rapidly. There is likely to be several guidebooks to choose from no matter where you travel. Typically, popular guidebooks like Lonely Planet, Lets Go! and Rough Guides cover an overview of the history and statistics of the city or town your visiting, followed by suggestions for accommodations, restaurants, activities and transportation. The only way you will be able to find the right guidebook is to have a look for yourself. I suggest going to your local book store to check the formats of each and browse amazon.com for online reviews. The following points should be considered:
- How current is the book? Is it the most current addition? The accuracy of guidebooks begin to fade before their even printed, so you don’t want an old book which could have outdated addresses and contact information.
- Are you looking for more information about the history of a location, or the most popular bar to meet fellow backpackers? What does the writer emphasize?
- Look at the maps given in the guide. Are they detailed?
- If you choose the popular Lonely Planet as your guide, you can expect to see high demand for accommodations suggested in the book. Know that many other travelers will be reading exactly what you read, and as a result, competing for the same beds. During high season, consider contacting popular accommodations before arrival.
- If you’re visiting a few countries in a region, consider buying a guide which covers multiple countries. As I write this I am in Cambodia, but I have been carrying the same lonely planet guide that covered other destinations i have visited on this trip including Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar. The book also covers Indonesia, which I wont be visiting, but it was worth not having to carry several book or purchasing one for each country. Consider cutting out the pages of the countries you wont be visiting.
- If you plan to carry a book for each country, buy one for your first stop and trade guide books with someone as you leave for your next country.
Once in a while, put your guidebook away and find something off the guides trail. Guidebooks are a great tool for reading about culture, history, language and suggestions, but its important to branch out from time to time if you find yourself sticking to a guidebook.
Flexibility and timing. Ive looked high and low for the secret to cheap flights, but it comes down to flexibility in when to fly and timing of when to buy. Its just that easy and its just that simple. In speaking to some experts on the subject and having lived with a friend who worked for one the large online airfare search engine sites, I have come up with the following tips, which are the best way to find the best price:
- In my conversation with Mike Kytoski of Kayak.com, he recommends departing on a Tuesday and returning on a Wednesday to save money for international flights. These flights were 21% lower than the average.
- Consider flying during the low season or just before high season begins. For example, growing up in Hawaii, the high season begins December 15th and carries through Spring Break. You should aim to avoid traveling to Hawaii during this season all together as flights and accommodations are more expensive, If you decided to travel, try to schedule at least one of your flights before or after high season begins or ends.
- Flying non-stop will usually cost you, Be willing to take the flight with layovers,
- Purchase your flight at least three weeks in advance. Yes, once in a while prices will drop in the last three weeks, but the majority of the time they increase during this time.
- Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are typically the cheapest days to fly. Avoid the days surrounding a holiday. Often on the holiday itself you will find great deals if your are willing to travel on say, Christmas day.
- If you have a favorite search engine like Expedia, find the flight you like. Once you see which carrier is the cheapest, go directly to that carriers website to see if its cheaper. For example, if you’re using Expedia and AirAsia is the cheapest option, go directly to Airasia.com and plug in the same dates you used on Expedia. Often, its just a bit cheaper than going through a flight search engine.
A useful and fun tool to use when searching for a flight if you have flexibility in your travel plans is www.Kayak.com/explore/. Simply plug in your budget, where you’ll be flying from and the month you want to travel and it will give you a map of all the places around the world that fit your budget.
If you have any helpful tips, please feel free to share!
Your budget will depend on the region you choose to travel. Traveling to South East Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe or South or Central America is going to be much cheaper than Australia, Western Europe, New Zealand or North America.
There are four basic aspects to a travel budget:
Transportation is the necessary evil that can be controlled to some degree. You can travel with the locals on public buses or in economy class trains. Besides the initial flight to your destination, which is typically one of the first items to go into your budget, you can decide not fly if there’s the ability to travel by slower means. Also, transportation adds up no matter what country you’re in. The more you move around, the more expensive it gets. You will be able to save yourself a lot of money if you stay in one place for an extended period of time.
Accommodations can give you a good estimate on how much you will be spending in a town or city. I can typically estimate how expensive a destination is by the cost of their hostels or budget guesthouses. I usually assume if my budget accommodations are $4 US per night, I will be spending an additional $8 each day. If its $15 per night, I should expect to spend an additional $30 that day in food, activities, and transportation around town, Simply double the cost of my accommodations. It specifically depends on how you prefer to travel. I personally look for the cheapest option in town. These hostels and guesthouses are typically not for people who need a strip of paper over the toilet, while they convince themselves they are still the first person to sit there. More often than not, its got a friendly group of international travelers whose budget reflects mine. This is also a benefit when you start making friends in a hostel and decide to go out for food, activities, and onward travel. Activities and onward travel will often cost less if you link up with fellow travelers. For example a cab ride or a shared room in a guesthouse will cost less if divided among friends.
Food is on of my favorite subjects while abroad. I love heading into open markets and searching out new things to try. In fact I was able to do this today in Mandalay, Myanmar/Burma. If you can find an open market or street food is typically the most economical way to eat. You’re also able to immerse yourself in cultural foods, which you may miss if confine yourself the touristy restaurants which are typically overpriced. Obviously, markets aren’t everywhere, so look for restaurants where the locals are eating. Typically shows the food is well priced and prepared safely. I realize that street food and markets can cause some interesting bowel movements, but in the end when i return home I always De-worm myself. But, i would suggest that to anyone who has traveled to 3rd world countries upon their arrival home whether they eat from street vendors or not. Also, drinking alcohol can severely deplete your budget. In some typically inexpensive countries, a beer will be expensive in comparison to food and accommodation.
Activities are the most manageable part of your budget. You either choose to do the activity or you don’t. If i plan to do an expensive activity such as a 3 day elephant tour home-stay, skydiving, or scuba certification you will likely want to balance the cost with a few days of being more thrifty.
There are several ways to look at a personal budget and whats discussed above is what works well for me, but possibly not for everyone. If it looks like it will work for you, make it your own and tweak it along the way, as your budget has the ability to make or break a trip of a lifetime.
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.
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.