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.

Choosing a Backpack for Traveling Abroad – Tips

The most important piece of equipment while backpacking is the backpack itself. It can really make or break the amount of stress and pain you have to deal with while in transit to your next destination. I personally have an Eagle Creek bag and absolutely love it. Its a good quality bag that Ive had since 2006 and have not had any issues. When purchasing a backpack:

  • Determine the items you’re going to be traveling with before you choose a pack.
  • I suggest an open-faced bag. This means that the bag opens from the bottom to the top, If your bag only opens at the tops you’ll have to unload all your clothes before you get to the item you want. Packs that only open at the top are more durable backpacks for trekking, but not as convenient. If it opens like a suitcase, you will save yourself a lot of time.
  • I have traveled with two good friends from collage who purchased bags with similar features to my Eagle Creek, but tried to get away with spending as little as possible on a counterfeit north face bags and the straps broke on both of their bags within  two weeks of the trip. Look at the stitching. Are the stitches close together? Are the stitches strait? A good quality bag with the correct support is a must.
  • My backpack has detachable day bag. This allows you to carry all your valuables in a small bag and attach it to your big bag when walking long distances.The detachable day bag should have a hidden sipper pocket for money and passport.
  • Depending on your location, you may want to get a waterproof cover for your bag. Often manufacturers include the cover with the backpack.
  • The bag should be made of water-resistant material. Doesn’t have to be waterproof for light rain.
  • Look for ventilated back support and waist-belt.
  • Check reviews on Zappos or Amazon before purchasing.
  • For each zipper, you may also want to get some mini locks so you can lock your zippers when in transit. I don’t know anyone who actually locks their zippers in transit, but just having the lock gives the appearance the zippers are locked together. Some are against the zipper lock because it gives the appearance that there’s something worth stealing inside if it is locked.

Please share any additional specs or comments!

Uncommon packing list for backpacking abroad

Besides the usual t-shirts, socks, shoes list of things to bring that one should be able to put together for themselves, I have some uncommon items to consider for your trip.

  • Sham-wow or Quick-dry towel – Carrying a bath or beach towel, especially in humid and wet locations, can become big inconvenience. In Costa Rica, I was slinging it over my backpack, trying to let it dry out in time for my next shower or surf session. Drying off with a Sham-wow is perfect, as I can wring all the water out of it and put it back in its small plastic container.
  • First-aid kit – Band-aids, antibiotic ointment, butterfly bandages, tweezers, gauze and athletic tape.
  • Steripen – My previous post talk about the specifics of the UV pen, but its a great way to create clean drinking water and also keeps your waste level down as you wont be throwing away all those water bottles after every use. Also, good in emergency situations if you’re in the wilderness and need drinkable water.
  • Laundry Bag – Guard all your clean clothes by bringing a small laundry bag or plastic bag.
  • Rubber flip-flops – You do not want to take a shower in a shared bathroom without them. All the body fluids, dirt and foot fungus are waiting for a tender unsuspecting foot to stick to.
  • Pillow case – I don’t personally carry a pillow case, but i know a few people that are afraid of the cooties and other stains that frequent hostel pillow cases. Could help you from getting head-lice, which I’ve dealt with. It seems the headrests in buses are the culprit for the spread of head-lice.
  • Headlamp or flashlight – Even if you don’t plan to go on any late night walks, if you’re in a hostel dorm, you will definitely want a flashlight if you need to find something in your bag late at night. Your fellow roommates will appreciate it if you keep the main overhead light off if they’re sleeping.
  • Needle and Thread Kit – For rips in your bag and clothing or possibly for a bad wound away from civilization.
  • Anti-diarrhea pills – When you’ve had too much street food and you’ve been sitting on the toilet all night, it is no fun if you have to sit on a bus the next day without these. I have over the counter diarrhea pills and when I told my doctor I was going to South East Asia, he also gave me prescription pills.
  • Multivitamins & Vitamin C- I currently have a cold (10/01/12)  as I write this in Cat Ba, Vietnam.
  • Note Pad and Pens- Whether meeting someone on the street and you want to write down there email or the name of their hostel, to filling out boarder crossing paperwork, its great to have a pen and pad handy.
  • Copies of passport – In case its lost or stolen.
  • Electrical outlet converter
  • Depending on the country, you may want to get the local currency before you arrive. Also, look up the currency exchange rate, so you don’t get taken advantage of when you first arrive.

Feel free to add any items you’ve found helpful in your travels.

Best way to Sterilize / Filter drinking water while traveling abroad

One often unforeseen costs of traveling is drinking water. Many people opt for buying bottled water, but the cost and inconvenience becomes a nuisance . The way I have gotten around this cost is using a Steripen, which can be purchased on Amazon.com. Its a Ultra Violet light pen that kills bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. Ive used on tap water in Central America for a couple of months and currently (9/29/12) in South East Asia  with no illness due to drinking water in either location. As a side note, many of my travel mates have also used the pen with no issues. Its battery operated and all you need to do its swirl the UV wand in the water for about a minute depending on the size of your water bottle and its ready to drink.

Its never fun to wake up in the morning, realize your out of water and need to head to the store to buy a bottle, which you often want to drink the majority of before you leave the store. Simply hit the tap with your Nalgine and sterilize as much as you want in seconds. This will save you time and money, not to mention all the bottles you wont have to throw away.

Travel alone or with a friend – Deciding the best option for you

It’s a big decision whether to travel alone or with a friend. Depending on your personality and travel goals, I have brought up a few points to consider, which will help you make a better and more informed decision for your upcoming adventure.

Benefits of traveling alone:

  • Create your own itinerary. You are the master of what you want to see and experience. You don’t have to compromise one activity for another which often happens when planning with someone. Just grab your bag and go do and see what YOU want.
  • You choose when you want to be alone. Then, when you feel like it, you can socialize at the hostel.
  • You will come away from the trip with a greater sense of accomplishment for concurring the adventure by yourself.
  • You can travel as cheaply or luxuriously as you see fit. You can decide if you want to splurge on nicer accommodations for a night. You can allow your budget to fluctuate and you don’t have to worry about your travel companion disagreeing.
  • Hurry Up! You don’t have to wait for anyone. No waiting for him or her to go to the bathroom, brush their teeth, floss and get caught up in a conversation with someone else when you just want to get on the road. It’s all in your hands.

Benefits of traveling with a friend or group:

  • Companionship in difficult situations. If you get stuck at bus stop and you’re uneasy about your surroundings, its nice to have someone you trust.
  • If you loose your bag or wallet, you have a friend who can support you.
  •  Its nice to have another pair of eyes watching your stuff if you need to go to the restroom or take a walk.
  • It’s cheaper. You can share rooms, taxis, food costs etc.
  • Often when I’m traveling, if I find something amazing, I enjoy sharing the moment or activity with a friend.

Choosing a Travel Partner

1. Analyze their personality.

When you’re with someone in their comfortable state of mind at home, they are one type of person. If you are able, picture them in a situation when they found themselves out of their element or comfort zone. Did they embrace the situation, or react in fear of the unknown? This is the type of person you are going to be traveling with. As the Italian poet Cesare Pavese said, “Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky…”. You want to make sure your travel partner can adapt and will be accepting of new cultures, traditions and values.

2. Does their budget fit yours?

You might be great friends and get along perfectly, but if one person wants to got out every night  for a nice meal, while the other wants to stay at hostel and fry up a frozen hot dog, you may not be the best travel partners.

3. What type of activities are they interested in?

Are they type of person who simply wants to seek out 15 century churches or more of an adrenaline traveler looking to do activities like bungee jumping? Maybe a little of  both?

 

If you cant find anyone to travel with, I suggest checking out FindMeetGo to find likeminded people to travel with.

 

 

Best site for learning languages

As many travelers know, there’s nothing like learning a language in the host country while traveling or taking part in a language immersion homestead or school. Whether you choose a form of schooling or not, if you have the time, it’s a good idea to learn some basic phrases that will at least allow you to get transportation and find accommodations. Or, if you have a good understanding of a language, but want to spruce up your skills for a trip, I’ve found a few of the best sites for learning languages, which have been helpful to me:

Busuu.com

This site allows you to look over vocabulary, dialogue, writing and Bussu Talk, which enables you to have a real conversation with a native speaker. This allows the native speaker to learn English, while you correspond with them and learn their native language at the same time. I’ve used the free membership for a couple of trips in the past. I’ve mostly used it for vocabulary and dialogue, but the other services offered are very user friendly and will surely help you out whether you’re a beginner or advanced speaker.

BBC – Languages

This site has a several different links to learn languages including, French, Spanish, German, Italian and more. If you learn better with person to person interaction, Busuu.com has more social capabilities, but the BBC website has many creative ways to learn on your own.

Rosetta Stone

Rosetta Stone is a very popular option for learning a language. I have not used the for purchase software, but I have used the free Demo where you can learn, practice and play games to aid in the learning process. If your purchase the program, you are also able to interact with others online. I thought the demo was great and very helpful, so if you have the money, Amazon sells the software. I have listed some popular selections below:

Rosetta Stone Spanish (Latin America) Level 1-3 Set

Rosetta Stone French Level 1-3 Set

Rosetta Stone Chinese (Mandarin) Level 1-3 Set

Rosetta Stone Portuguese (Brazil) Level 1-3 Set

Rosetta Stone Italian Level 1-3 Set

Rosetta Stone Japanese Level 1-3 Set

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” ‒Nelson Mandela

If you have found other language learning venues, which have worked for you, please share!