Choose your Travel Guide Book

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 The accuracy of guidebooks begin to fade before their even printed, so you don’t want an old book which could have outdated addresses and contact information.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.

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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.