15 ways to reduce the risk of being robbed while traveling

Nobody likes to be pickpocketed or mugged. Unfortunately, travelers are easy targets for thieves. Here are some tips to help you avoid being a victim, and to minimize your losses if you do get robbed. The world isn’t a dark scary place, but following these simple tips can reduce the small risk and give you peace of mind.


1. Never travel with anything that you aren’t willing to lose.

2. Guys: Your back pockets don’t exist. Keep your wallet in your front left pocket.

3. Girls: Use a zippered purse that goes over your shoulder and let it rest forward of your hip, not behind. Bonus points for choosing thick material, such as leather, that can’t easily be slashed with a knife.

4. Separate your credit card and debit card. Never carry both. Accessing your money abroad becomes a serious problem if you lose both.

5. When going out, bring only cash and one form of ID. An easy trick is to have a money clip just for going out that is separate from the rest of your wallet valuables.

6. In crowded places (such as train stations), wear your backpack facing forward.

7. When standing in packed buses and subways, keep your hands in your pockets.

8. In semi-crowded areas that seem risky, let your thumbs graze your side pockets as your arms swing naturally while walking. This way you feel your phone/wallet/keys with every step and will immediately notice if something goes missing.

9. Get TSA approved locks for at least one compartment of your backpack (make sure your backpack has double zippers or you can’t use a lock!)

10. Hostel lockers. Use them.

11. Put your cash in your shoes after an ATM visit.

12. On planes and buses, always carry on your valuables (especially overnight buses with multiple stops!)

13. Act like you know what you are doing. Never stop in the middle of a plaza to look at a map. Move into a less obvious place and lean against a wall so nobody can sneak up behind you.

14. Don’t leave your electronics unattended in hostels. Leaving your laptop on your bed or in a common area to charge makes it easy for someone to swipe on their way to check out.

15. Lock your passport in your room. Many people refuse to let their passport out of their sight, and even carry it on a money belt at all times, but personally, I think the odds of someone smashing your lock with bolt cutters in your hostel room are much smaller than the odds of your passport slipping out of your pocket or you forgetting your money belt after taking a swim.

 

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20 Things to know before taking a Great Lakes roadtrip

Bruce Peninsula, Ontario

Bruce Peninsula, Ontario

1. Since 2009, travelers of all nationalities will need a passport to travel between the USA and Canada.

2. If traveling during summer, book in advance. August is high season around the Great Lakes and nearly every campground close to the lakes will be full. The same goes for hotels/hostels in Chicago, Toronto, etc. Make reservations!

3. Gas prices vary considerably by state, but gas anywhere in Canada will be more expensive than the USA.

4. Camping is extremely popular around the Great Lakes. Unfortunately, that means it is expensive as well. Even basic tent sites can run 30-40 USD a night! However, this is still the way to go if traveling on a budget–especially if you can split the cost with a friend.

5. In general, most Americans agree that driving 10mph over the speed limit or less will be slow enough to avoid a run in with police. In Ontario, 15-20kph over is the equivalent standard.

6. The Great Lakes are always cold. If you plan on swimming in the crystal clear waters, bring a wetsuit or have a towel and a change of clothes ready. (You can check water temperatures around the lakes here)

7. Be sure to check the current USD/CAD exchange rate

8. Many towns around Lake Huron and Superior are tiny by most standards and therefore competition can be limited. Attraction prices (ex. kayak rentals) can be much higher than places with numerous options.

9. Almost all of the Great Lakes are on Eastern Time, with the exception of western parts of Lake Superior and the western shore of Lake Michigan. Map

10. Niagara Falls can be visited from either the US or Canada. The US side allows you to be up close to both of the falls, but offers limited views. The Canadian side is hundreds of feet from the falls, but offers spectacular views of both the American Falls and Horseshoe Falls.

Horseshoe Falls from the Canadian side

Horseshoe Falls from the Canadian side

11. Be sure to bring plenty of cash for tolls.

12. Lake Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes and is therefore generally the warmest in the summer, and the most frozen during the winter.

13. The Great Lakes technically have tides, but they are unnoticeable. The water levels never vary significantly during the short term.

14. Be mindful of the weather. Winds out of the wrong direction can lead to massive ocean-like waves that could cancel kayak tours and boat cruises. The wind blowing off the lake can also have a significant effect on the surrounding air temperature and snowfall amounts during winter.

15. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is commonly abbreviated as U.P. leading to the nickname “The yoop” and “Yoopers.”

16. The U.P. is famous for their meat pie variant, called the Pastie (pronounced pass-tee)

17. If you are looking for fresh local fish, try Whitefish. Lake Superior is full of them.

18. Be mindful of wildlife. Take precautions to avoid encounters with bears or other wildlife at your campsite or car.

19. There are many shipwrecks around the Great Lakes. With the proper cold water equipment, this is an excellent scuba diving area.

20. There are four National Lakeshores in the USA. Two are located on Lake Michigan (Indiana Dunes/Sleeping Bear Dunes) and two on Lake Superior (Pictured Rocks/Apostle Islands). They are all popular destinations and well worth a visit.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

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VIDEO: Around the World in 100 Days

14 Countries
5 Continents
18 Flights
19 Hostels
40,000+ Miles

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The Greatest Lesson I Learned From Traveling

Colonia, Uruguay“The world is a book, and those who don’t travel only read one page.”

-Saint Augustine


 

Traveling is a learning experience. You meet different people, see new things, and work through new challenges. Your mind is stretched and your beliefs are challenged. There is one lesson in particular that kept reaffirming itself during my travels and still pops into my head frequently:

Nobody cares.

Outside of your little bubble in your little corner of planet Earth, nobody cares about your upbringing, your accomplishments, your social standing, or who you know…and that’s awesome.

We get so wrapped up in our own world, when the truth is that most of the things that occupy our thoughts are laughably insignificant. In college, students place a huge emphasis on what fraternity or sorority someone is in, what bars they go to, what clothes they wear, and who they know. People actually form an opinion of someone based on these superficial habits and traits.

Think I’m just talking about high school or college students? This misguided thinking only intensifies as we get older. We get caught up in job titles, which college our kids are going to attend, or who has the newest car on the cul-de-sac.

It’s engrained in our minds. How many times have you watched a movie and become completely caught up in the characters and their world? With movies, we either snap out of it when the lights come on, or the strong emotions fade as we reenter our own reality. But we don’t regularly escape our bubble and see the bigger picture. Travel, especially solo travel, provides this dose of perspective.

Nobody in Germany cares about what sorority you are in; they might not even know what greek life is. Your new friend in India doesn’t care that you know Cam Newton. Even if you explain that he is a famous athlete, they don’t care about American football just like you probably don’t care about Indian cricket players. A farmer in Papua New Guinea doesn’t care that you developed an app that syncs Outlook with your car’s bluetooth system. That doesn’t help him sell more coffee beans. As you struggle to express the importance of the things that are valued by people you would interact with at home, you’ll experience a sense of frustration. They just don’t get it. Even if it’s a good friend that shares your interests, trying to explain the joy of “tailgating” won’t ever do the experience justice.

The end result of all of this not-caring, is that you become free. You’re liberated from the societal norms that define you without your permission, you’re freed from doing what is expected, and barriers break down–nobody is out of your league. The only thing that defines you is what you do and say in that moment. Everything else is irrelevant. Isn’t that the way it should be?

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10 Budget Breakdowns That Will Destroy Your Wallet

You’ve done your research and you know exactly how much money you need to travel…now add 10-20% on top of that. Why? It doesn’t matter how well you budget, there will always be unforeseen budget breakdowns that you will encounter in your travels. Here are a few examples:

1.) Leftover cash when you leave a country
You can try to predict exactly how much cash you’ll need for your last ATM withdrawal but you’ll always end up with a few cents or a few dollars left over (at best). It’s not worth converting this small of an amount at a currency exchange, but this loose change adds up over time.

2.) No choice costs: only one bus left and it’s expensive
That low cost bus you planned on taking last week got canceled due to lack of demand. Now you have to take the standard fare option or pony up for the train. Unless you want to hitchhike, there’s nothing you can do.

3.) Your stuff breaks
You never expect your hard drive to crash, your camera lens to get sand in it, or your flip flops to rip. You can try to go on without the broken item, but if you brought it in the first place, you probably need it. Is saving 100 dollars on camera repairs worth losing all of the memories from the rest of your trip?

4.) You’re in a dangerous area and you need to get out fast
Your bus ran late and now you find yourself alone in a sketchy part of town after dark. You can try to walk it, but if you really feel unsafe then that ten dollar cab ride to your hostel is worth the peace of mind.

5.) Chaotic areas and quick decisions
You just waited fifteen minutes to get to the front of the pack at the best goulash stand in Hungary. There’s a mob of people behind you waiting to order and there’s no sign of any prices anywhere. There’s no time to ask what everything on the menu costs, so you order and pay whatever they tell you to pay. Then you hear the next guy order and you realize that the goulash soup is less than half the price of the goulash (plate). Whoops.

6.) No change for city buses
Even in America, I got burned several times from not having exact change on city buses. If it’s three dollars and all you have is a five, then your trip just became a lot more expensive.

7.) Baggage handling losses
Either that airport baggage handler stole the rain jacket out of that outer pocket in your backpack or the conveyor belt ate it. That situation may be avoidable, but sometimes an unscrupulous worker will decide he needs your stuff more than you do.

8.) When your host/friend wants to splurge
You just came half way around the world to see your foreign friend. He was even nice enough to take vacation days during your stay so you guys can hang out. Unfortunately, he has a real job and wants to escape for a few days so he booked lodging on the coast for both of you that costs three times what you would pay at a hostel. You can’t tell him “that’s too expensive!” He just used precious vacation days to see you.

9.) When your travel buddy has more expensive taste
You’re traveling with your best friend from home, but they have double the budget that you do. You’re both after the trip of a lifetime, and for them that means eating brunch at a nice cafe instead of buying a loaf of bread from the grocery store. Sometimes you can pass on the invitation or settle for the cheaper option, but inevitably you’re going to spend more money.

10.) When you and your friend are borrowing from each other
Maybe one of you has high foreign ATM fees so one person pays for the cash items while the other books the hostels with their credit card. Maybe your friend lost their wallet. Either way, as soon as you start borrowing from each other a few things happen:
-You completely lose track of how much money you’re spending. Paying for two sometimes and just yourself at other times makes your bank statements worthless.
-You round. Nobody wants to be that uptight friend about decimals, so you start rounding.
-You forget to record things. Every time you forget to record that tram ticket or candy bar, the lender/cash person loses money.

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39 Observations from a 105 Day RTW Trip

1. Most people don’t cheese as hard as Americans when taking pictures.

Find the Americans!

Find the Americans

2. A lot of South Americans really don’t like that we call ourselves Americans instead of United Statians like they do in Spanish.

3. Your network is way bigger than you think.

4. New York and Los Angeles are where you go to make it. Miami is where you go after you’ve made it.

5. South Americans love the word “linda.”

6. You can get a totally wrong impression of someone if they are speaking to you in a language in which they aren’t fluent.

7. (Non-alcoholic) Drink sizes around the world are much smaller than in the US, with the exception of beer.

8. For good or bad, Americans don’t know the meaning of moderation.

9. Sometimes sitting down for a drink by yourself can change your attitude completely.

10. Many countries have a real catch-22 when it comes to currency. Their governments issue huge denominations (that you inevitably receive at ATMs) but nobody has change or is willing to accept the big bills.

11. Knowing what language to start a conversation in with a group of travelers is as hard as guessing someone’s age.

12. Many young people around the world truly believe the US government is evil and that 9/11 was an inside job.

13. Many people think that American food just consists of hamburgers and other fast food.

14. Tourists are highly susceptible to advertising messages because they have no loyalty to any local brands.

15. Air pollution is a serious problem.

Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro

16. Hitchhikers share a special bond that lasts a lifetime. A 65 year old that hitchhiked in his twenties will be more likely to pick up another hitcher than a 25 year old that has never hitchhiked.

17. Obesity isn’t just limited to the US. It is a growing global issue.

18. Solo travel sucks if you are only staying at each destination for a couple nights–too much small talk and too many casual acquaintances. You never form any real friendships.

19. Huge chain hostels suck for meeting people. So do empty ones.

20. Everyone thinks their country has the best coffee, pizza, and sunsets.

21. Situational awareness is an essential travel skill.

22. Everyone thinks the weather where they live is incredibly unpredictable.

23. Everyone thinks their new trend is only happening in their own country.
Ex. The emergence of Microbreweries or pay-by-weight frozen yogurt places.

24. People outside the US are extremely curious about fraternities and sororities in America.

25. Thai people either can’t come to a consensus or just don’t care about spelling in English.
Ex. Ko Pha Ngan, Koh Phangan, Ko Pha-Ngan

26. There is a severe shortage of trash cans in public places in Thailand.

27. American girls have an irrational love for Mac and Cheese. The rest of the world doesn’t get it.

28. Croatians expect you to be decisive when ordering at a restaurant. Don’t ask for recommendations.

29. The US is very cheap for the standard of living we enjoy.

30. Native English speakers are lucky to have the ability to travel almost anywhere without a significant language barrier.

31. Party hostel staff members are the star athletes and cheerleaders of the backpacking world.

32. Prague and Budapest are remarkably similar physically. They both have a river splitting the city down the middle, a castle on the west bank of the river, and lots of underground attractions (bunkers, caves, etc).

33. It rains a lot in Europe in the spring.

34. Germany has huge pillows.

germanpillow

35. American entertainment (music, movies, TV) is king.

36. Berlin clubs have the most bizarre entry rules in the world.

37. Bedding around the world varies a lot.

38. Pool (billiards) rules are different almost everywhere; you might even find five different sets of rules in the same town.

39. Europe has hardly any skyscrapers.

Prague Skyline

Prague Skyline

 

 

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How Much Does a Round-the-World Trip Cost?

The myth that travel is inherently expensive is finally nearing extinction. Travel is within your reach. Many people have no idea how much money they are spending on rent, gas, and groceries just living their normal life. There are plenty of fantastic resources out there these days to help anyone budget for long-term travel (some links at the end of the post). With that being said, it’s always great to see the numbers. I remember when I was planning, I always wondered what people like me actually spent. People travel differently and therefore total costs vary tremendously, even among backpackers.

Below you’ll find all of the numbers behind my 105 day Round-the-World (RTW) trip. Posting a 110 row Excel spreadsheet in a viewer-friendly format is difficult, but if anyone wants the full file to reference, I’d be more than happy to send it to you (just leave a comment). For now, I’ll just post a screenshot below so you can see how I tracked my spending.

Budget Spreadsheet

The Breakdown:
My trip took me through thirteen countries over the course of 105 days. In total, I spent $11,533. That averages out to $61.59 per day, not including airfare. My flights were a huge expense as I wanted to visit many different regions in just 3.5 months, therefore my ~15 flights came out to almost 5,000 dollars. As you can see, my five categories of spending (lodging, transportation, food, partying, and activities) all came out to be nearly equal. So, would your numbers be anything like mine? Maybe. My style was to travel relatively quickly (taking the absolute cheapest transportation options), do lots of activities, stay in budget accommodation, eat cheap local food, and party a good bit as well. My budget was clearly optimistic as my entire trip was about 1,500 dollars over budget. Many people, like Nomadic Matt, argue that you could average about 50 dollars a day. I agree. However, to accomplish that you would have to visit fewer destinations per trip (travel slower), cut out the scuba diving and bungee jumping, only party in a handful of destinations, and avoid expensive destinations. Sometimes you have to pull your head out of the clouds. I budgeted 60 dollars per day for Carnaval in Rio, but my hostel alone was 50 dollars a night (a good deal for that time of year). Likewise, if you want to scuba dive in Thailand, there is no way you’ll hit 30 dollars a day. Again, if you travel over a long period of time in each destination, your costs go down. This is because instead of doing every activity in two days, you spread your costs over four or five days. Also, any day you buy a train or bus ticket to the next city, you’ll probably be over budget as well (if you travel slower, you have less of these days).

Below I included some of my averages for specific destinations. Take it with a huge grain of salt. New Zealand is an extremely expensive place to go, so why was Dunedin one of my cheapest destinations? I stayed with a friend for free, ate food at his house or McDonald’s, did only free activities (surfing, etc.), and only partied one or two nights. Conversely, Thailand is a very cheap place to go, but I did a LOT. I went diving three days, I went to a Full Moon Party, I rented kayaks and mopeds, etc. If you just go to Thailand to sit on a beach and relax for a few days, you could get by on 25 dollars a day, no problem. Another example–I think Budapest is significantly cheaper than Prague, but I did a lot more activities and partying in Budapest so I spent a lot of money there. Don’t take these averages at face value!

Averages

 

Where I Could Have Saved:

  • Couchsurfing. It’s a great way to meet locals and save money. I only used it twice.
  • Cooking my own food in Europe. This doesn’t make sense in SE Asia (street food is too cheap) but I could have cooked instead of eating döner kebaps at 3 Euros each.
  • Taking the ferry/bus from Koh Phi Phi to Bangkok. The plane really didn’t save that much time, and then I had to pay for a cab from the airport.
  • Not missing buses or changing plans with non-refundable deposits
  • Bringing in duty free liquor into Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore (their alcohol is absurdly expensive)
  • Taking more overnight trains (one less night of accommodation costs)
  • Booking further in advance (trains, hostels, short flights)

Where I Did Well:

  • I stayed for free 55 of 105 days (friends, family, couchsurfing, etc.)
  • Most buses I booked were dirt cheap. Much cheaper than trains.
  • Diving in Thailand instead of Australia
  • Eating Asian food instead of western food in Asia
  • Choosing Eastern/Central Europe instead of Western Europe
  • Buying a RTW plane ticket instead of purchasing individual flights
  • Not buying souvenirs

Budgeting for a RTW trip is a daunting task that involves lots of time and research. Hopefully this post is useful to anyone who is considering taking the plunge or has already begun to plan. If you have any questions about my specific numbers, I would be more than happy to answer them in the comments. If you would like some resources to help you start budgeting, I highly recommend these three below. Happy planning!

www.nomadicmatt.com (general budget travel advice)
Backpacker Index 2014  (estimated cost per day of over 100 cities around the world)
www.matadornetwork.com (a great travel publication with tons of budget-minded posts)

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