InspiringTravellers.com » Travel Tips and Advice http://inspiringtravellers.com ...ideas from the road Sun, 21 Dec 2014 23:59:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 How to conquer your fears and start traveling http://inspiringtravellers.com/conquer-fears-start-traveling/ http://inspiringtravellers.com/conquer-fears-start-traveling/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 14:56:41 +0000 http://inspiringtravellers.com/?p=9761 How fears can hold us back from seeing the world and what you can do to eliminate them.

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Today Casey Dugas from the Simple Travel Life talks about how sometimes our own fears can hold us back from seeing the world and what you can do to eliminate them.

Does it terrify you too?

You’re sitting there, minding your own business and planning your trip, when you glance down at your to-do list…

That’s when the panic sets in.

So many things could go wrong when travel is involved.

You have no idea what you’re doing—you don’t even know where to start! There’s too much to do and not enough money! Abort! Abort!

Yikes.

Deep breaths people.

Don’t let your fears get the better of you. You can conquer them and finally start planning that trip you’ve been postponing for ages.

The real reason most people never travel

Everyone assumes the hard part of travel is getting on the plane, but really, the hard part is planning the trip.

No one talks about how terrified and doubtful they were when they were planning their first trip.

And that’s where most people give up.

You have to overcome the doubts and fears that bubble up during the planning phase if you ever hope to get on that plane.

When people start to have these feelings about travel, the usual strategy is to do more research. They want to find all their answers by reading different websites and books.

But you know what the problem is with that strategy?

Why you should never do research first

Never do Research First

When people first start planning for travel, their research is all over the place.

They’ll read just about anything related to travel—including things that they weren’t originally worried about (but they are now).

The problem with this type of research is that you’ll come away with more questions than answers.

This is because travel is almost entirely built off the unknown, which is one of the most nerve-wracking things travelers must deal with.

The unknown really shows up in your what-if questions. These are the questions that you’ll never be able to fully answer.

  • What if I run out of money?
  • What if I get pickpocketed?
  • What if I hate the food?
  • What if I can’t make any friends?
  • What if I ruin my career path by traveling?
  • What if I get homesick?

The list can go on forever and usually ends with a resounding, “I can’t do this!

Traveling can feel somewhat pointless once you start thinking of all the things that could go wrong.

After all that research, most of your “answers” will just be large question marks.

Those question marks will start to convince you that you’re not ready to travel—I mean, you’re not even sure how much money you’ll need!

How can you leave now?

Clearly, you must put off travel until you’re ready—when you have more time, more money, and more answers.

But, that time will never come—the problem isn’t that you need more.

The problem is that you’re scared.

You need to understand the fears that keep you from moving forward with your travel plans.

The real first step to conquering your travel fears

The Real First Step

Fears can have a huge impact on how we live our lives, and half the time we don’t even realize what we’re scared of.

This is especially true of travel fears. We all know that travel can be scary, but what, specifically, about travel scares you?

The first thing you must do is make a list of your travel fears.

Spend some time writing down everything you’ve ever worried about while travel planning. And don’t just say “I’m scared.” That’s not enough. You need to go deeper than that and be specific.

Our what-if questions would be a good place to start—your list could include the fear of running out of money or the fear of being pickpocketed.

Try to get as many on paper as you can. Got it? Alright, now let’s take a closer look at those fears.

How to eliminate irrational fears one by one

How to Eliminate

All of those what-if questions can send us into a panic, which leads us to thinking irrationally and turning simple things into insurmountable fears.

The worst part is that we don’t even realize we’re thinking irrationally—everything seems legitimate.

Most of the fears on your list are blown out of proportion.

Take a look at one of the fears on your list. Is it really good enough to keep you from traveling?

For example, should the fear of possibly being pickpocketed keep you from traveling?

This was something I worried about all the time before I moved to Peru. What if they got my phone? Or my wallet?! I need those things!

But then I realized that having my phone or wallet stolen really wouldn’t be that bad. I mean, sure, it would be upsetting, but I would survive.

It’s the same way I feel about running out of money. I would be upset and have to cut my trip short—but I still got to see a new country, didn’t I?

Isn’t seeing a different part of the world worth the risk?

I think so.

I had to accept that it’s a little scary, but it didn’t matter—I was going anyway.

As you go through your list of fears, decide whether or not it’s really enough to keep you from traveling.

If not, stop using it as an excuse to stop planning.

How to minimize the chances of your fears coming true

Minimize Chances

Now that we’ve looked at all of our fears logically, we know that they’re not as scary as they seemed.

But some of them are still at least a little scary.

This is where our beloved research comes in.

You’re going to use research to tackle each one of your fears. This gives your research a focus.

Now there is one important mind-shift that you need to make regarding travel research.

You’re not looking for answers—those what-if questions will never have answers, remember?

What you’re looking for are prevention strategies—things that will decrease the chances of your fears coming true.

I can never be 100% certain I won’t be pickpocketed.

But you know what? I bought a really nice anti-theft bag that makes me a less-likely target for pickpockets.

And that makes me feel better.

Same thing goes for the fear of running out of money.

I researched how much my trip would cost, added a little more as a cushion, and then created a daily budget for my time abroad. I knew exactly how much I could spend each day to ensure that I had enough to complete my trip.

At the end of the day, all you can do is be as prepared as possible for your fears. And that makes them less likely to happen.

So, are you ready to start traveling?

Ready to Travel

Maybe your fears are still keeping you from chasing your travel dreams, but you know what?

Traveling will always involve some risk—everything important does. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be fulfilling.

The only true way to get yourself to travel is to have faith in yourself and your abilities.

Faith that you’ve done enough research and have made the right decisions.

Faith that you will survive—even if everything doesn’t go according to plan.

If you continue to let every little fear keep you from travel, you’ll never visit that place you’ve always dreamed of seeing.

But if you look over your fears and realize that you still want to travel—no matter what—you really only have one choice.

You must gather your courage and start traveling.

So brush your fears aside and take the leap.

You’ve got a plane to catch!

Bio: Casey Dugas is a world traveler who will help you fulfill your travel dreams. Check out her blog: Simple Travel Life.

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When We Can’t Wander As Much As We’d Like http://inspiringtravellers.com/wander-location-independent-living/ http://inspiringtravellers.com/wander-location-independent-living/#comments Fri, 07 Mar 2014 17:18:31 +0000 http://inspiringtravellers.com/?p=9046 Are you building the life of your dreams or simply dreaming about it?

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When we become travellers, I think we become something else. Perhaps we are more liberated beings, suddenly aware of the great world beyond our doorsteps and more curious about all the things that we now know we’re clueless about. Maybe something within us changed on that first excursion to a foreign land and we want to become better acquainted with that self we met while we were away. We might have unfinished business with the world, whether that’s a destination list we want to get through or a culture we’re determined to learn more about. Some of us just know that there are other possibilities for our lives now, and that the ways we thought we had to live were out of date, not guaranteed or limited in some way.

location independent living

When we set off on our around the world (RTW) trip in 2011, we knew it wouldn’t be forever. We had no illusions that we would become permanent backpackers, trotting from city to city endlessly and living as perpetual nomads. That’s a fabulous lifestyle if it’s for you and you can happily sustain it. But by the end of the year we were exhausted. We still wanted to see the world but thought we’d try the expat life again for a while. We’d get to absorb a new culture and would still be able to travel quite a bit. And we did see a lot of places in 2012 and 2013: Finland, Estonia, France, London and the United States. Norway might be frighteningly expensive as a place to live, but at least the vacation days are numerous.

Then we moved back to the United States. Despite all its problems, I love my country. But I don’t love working 50-80+ hour weeks and having very little time off to travel. We also live in a city that’s pretty isolated from the rest of the country. Long weekends are great, but when you have to fly there’s not a lot of time to relax. We’ve been taking driving trips and checking out the local attractions, but if you’ve been a traveller you know the feeling of itchy feet. We have dreams of taking a few weeks to road trip out west this summer but right now with everything that’s going on with work, we’re not sure when or even if that’s going to happen. So we feel disillusioned and perhaps a little sad. Sure, we could take off again if we really wanted to, but that would be short-sighted.

Because what we’ve realized is that we need to get our freedom back. And the only way to do it is to put in the time and hours now and set ourselves up so our lives can go in the direction we want them to later. We miss travel. Our first RTW was a test – one that seems it was so long ago now – to see what we like and what we don’t. We’ll never travel that quickly again. In fact, all we want is the ability to pick up and go whenever we feel like it. To not have to turn down invitations to foreign countries because we have jobs that require our presence in the office every day (yes, we’ve had to say no to a few of those in the past six months – heartbreaking!) The term “location independent” living may be a little trite, but isn’t it still an exciting concept?

I believe that the old/current work and lifestyle model is dead. Every day people are getting laid off from their jobs, burdened with enough work for two or three employees or finding their performance goalposts moved back further and further. Human beings get stuck in old modalities, thinking that what worked for their parents will work for them. Right now somewhere, someone is plotting a way for a computer or a robot to do your job. Technology is wonderful and amazing, but it is also altering everything about the way we live and work. According to the linked Economist article, “no country is ready for it.” Think about that for a moment. Widespread changes in the way we create our incomes. Social upheaval on every level. A truly globalized workforce. If you haven’t been thinking about this it’s time to wake up and do so. Nothing has been more empowering for me to shun a corporate job and create my own ways of employing myself. Yes, it’s been a struggle, but most people have to struggle a little and make mistakes before they hit upon their golden idea.

I did not mean for this post to drift into ideas about how to change your job to change your life but I’m happy about where the stream of consciousness went. I miss travel. But most of all I miss not being tied to one place and being independent of things I can’t control. We want back in. Some have chosen to do this through their blogging or travel writing. I do enjoy that but I also don’t want to be working 75+ hours a week while I’m travelling. I do that now and as much as I love all the projects I’m involved in at the moment, I don’t want to be a slave to my boss-self either. Early retirement is more of what I had in mind. Which, of course, means that one has to either become rich or develop a form of residual income.

None of these are new ideas. I just want to put it out there that I’m reaching. Travel has made me discontented with the “standard American lifestyle.” Perhaps once you break out you can never return. How many of you are in the same spot? Let’s talk about what you’re doing today to make those dreams a reality…

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How Languages Can Transform Your Travel Experiences…and Your Life http://inspiringtravellers.com/languages-transform-travel-experiencesand-life/ http://inspiringtravellers.com/languages-transform-travel-experiencesand-life/#comments Mon, 03 Feb 2014 18:25:17 +0000 http://inspiringtravellers.com/?p=9007 Planning a trip to a foreign land? Planning to pick up the local language is the best thing you can do to enhance your travel experience.

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Did you know that there’s a very simple way for you to get so much more out of your travel experiences? In today’s guest post, Sam Gendreau of Lingholic is going to explain it to you and tell you just how easy and fun it is to get started!

If I told you that you could incredibly enrich your travel experiences by following this one tip, would you believe me? And if I told you that by doing so you could broaden your horizons, meet fantastic people, be presented with opportunities you’d never dreamed of, and perhaps even discover a new found passion for yourself, would it sound too good to be true?

faces-from-the-world-

Today, what I’m proposing to you is to begin a fantastic journey, one that I’ve begun over six years ago and that has fundamentally changed my life. It’s a journey worth traveling for its own sake, without any precise destination. Just a lot of roads branching off here and then, bringing you to novel places where fascinating people are bound to be met. Just like any good traveler enjoys the trip itself and not the destination, the same applies to this mind-opening adventure I’m proposing you to begin today. This journey is that of learning foreign languages.

Learning a Foreign Language?

To many people, learning a foreign language is something unthinkable, way beyond their ability, or simply too boring (or all three). It’s something that requires years of painful effort, expensive books and classes, and above-average intelligence. And many would add, along with many other excuses, that learning a foreign language has no obvious, direct benefit since “everybody speaks English anyway.” This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Learning a language can be fun, affordable and accessible to anybody of any age. The best of all is that it doesn’t necessarily require any significant investment of time (you can study as little as you want every day), and you do not need to have any particular “talent” to do it. If you’ve had a bad experience at school learning a foreign language and it discouraged you, you’re not alone.

outdoor restaurant

Susanna Zaraysky, a world traveler, polyglot, author, and filmmaker, was told by her teacher in high school that she wasn’t talented with languages and that she should probably look for another subject to focus her efforts on. She now speaks nine languages and has traveled to over 50 countries. Benny Lewis (fluentin3months.com), another globe trotter and blogger strongly against the idea of “innate talent” in foreign languages, was an engineer who only spoke English 10 years ago. He held the firm belief he had no “talent” whatsoever with foreign languages. He now speaks over 10 languages and has traveled to dozens of countries all over the world.

The point is, anybody can learn a language; do not fool yourself into believing the contrary. Best of all, you can learn as little or as much of it as you want. Yes, reaching native-like fluency might take many years of study and practice, but reaching conversational level can take as little as a few months (or even weeks, depending on your experience and approach!). Even learning a few greetings and basic phrases will go a long way in making the locals appreciate the effort you’ve put in, and they will be much more open and receptive. Believe me, speaking even a modicum of the local language will make all the difference between a nice trip and potentially the trip of a lifetime.

So How Can I Do It?

By now you might be somewhat intrigued, if not incredulous. Affordable? Little investment of time? Accessible to anybody? “Is this guy drunk?” you might be asking. The truth is that anybody can learn a language on their own, without taking expensive classes and without having to go through boring grammar drills and manufactured, fake-sounding conversations. There are literally hundreds of very good books and audio methods that do a great job at teaching you anywhere from the basics to the advanced workings of a language. As if this weren’t enough, with the advancement of technology and the internet, you can access millions of amazing resources online for absolutely free (or at very low cost), such as blogs, dictionaries, apps, movies, music, and much more.

While being spoiled with choice can be a good thing, it can also be very confusing, because you might simply not know where to start. Through my own experience, and the experience of several distinguished polyglots I’ve interviewed over the past year, I’ve found that a few methods of exceptional quality are consistently used by experienced language learners (including me). No matter which method you choose though, at the end of the day it’s all about passion and consistency. A little bit of study/practice every day (~30mn) will go a long way in making you conversationally functional after two to three months.

IMG_0124

Strapped for time? Look for an audio-only method or podcasts; you’ll be able to listen to them on your way to school/work, or while walking, shopping, doing the dishes, or taking the plane! That’s part of the reason I say learning a language doesn’t necessarily require any significant investment of time: you can do it during so-called “transition” or “dead” time, that is, when you’re commuting or doing nothing much besides staring into the air.

Now what?

Now that you’ve spent time and effort learning some bits and pieces of the language spoken in your future travel destination, what’s the next step? You’ll be facing two challenges from now on: the need to actually practice speaking your newly-acquired language with an actual human being, and the associated initial fear of expressing yourself in that foreign language.

Simply put, you can’t get better at speaking a foreign language unless you actually speak it. Speaking is a skill, whereas such a thing as grammar is knowledge. Just like a person wanting to get better at driving wouldn’t spend his days reading books about it, you’ll want to work on developing your active skills. As stated above, with technology nowadays it’s incredibly easy to learn and practice foreign languages from the comfort of your home, and there are many sites and programs that can help you do exactly that.

If you’re looking at getting a language exchange partner (entirely for free) or a private tutor (usually for very reasonable hourly rates, done over Skype), I would highly recommend checking out one of the multitudes of website offering such services, such as Italki, Livemocha, Busuu, and Verbling. For more info on how to learn and practice a language on the internet, take a look at an article that was published on my site.

You might be reluctant to do so, though. We all are, to some extent, especially when it’s the first time we learn a foreign language. Just keep in mind that absolutely nothing bad will come out of speaking in a foreign language, no matter how bad your skills are. Very rare are those who will laugh at your mistakes. The overwhelming majority of people will welcome you with open arms and will feel truly appreciative to see that you’ve put the effort to learn a bit of their language and understand their culture.

If I can allow myself to give an additional tip, I would say: open your mouth right from day one. Don’t wait months until you begin practicing your target language. Just speak it out loud to yourself (when reading and practicing dialogues) and find a language exchange partner or a tutor as soon as possible. It’s part of the fun. It will get you up to speed with the culture associated with the language, and it’ll release some of your inhibitions that will initially keep you from speaking it.

Hong Kong night market

I cannot emphasize this enough: learning a foreign language, even as little as a handful of phrases, will make your travel experiences so much better. Knowing how to speak a second (or a third, fourth…) language is a gift. Not only will this make you feel more welcome from the locals, it might bring you opportunities that you’d never thought could befall to you, and it will enrich your life by offering you a deeper understanding of the culture and history of the people you’ll encounter.

Travel is not just about taking pretty pictures and posting them on Facebook or Instagram. It’s about building unforgettable memories, meeting people with vastly different life experiences and mindsets, and opening your mind to ultimately make you a better person.

What do you think? Are you convinced that learning a language can really add to your travels? Do you have particular stories you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you, so don’t hesitate to comment below.

Bio: Sam Gendreau is a passionate language learner and traveler, and the founder of www.lingholic.com, a blog that helps language learners acquire foreign languages as smoothly, quickly, and effortlessly as possible. He has lived and traveled in Oceania, Southeast and East Asia, and across North America, and he has learned French, English, Spanish, Korean, Portuguese, and Mandarin Chinese to varying degrees of fluency. You can find him on Facebook or Twitter and share your thoughts!

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What To Expect During a Weather Delay In the USA http://inspiringtravellers.com/weather-delay-usa/ http://inspiringtravellers.com/weather-delay-usa/#comments Thu, 09 Jan 2014 18:31:01 +0000 http://inspiringtravellers.com/?p=8934 What to do when bad weather foils your travel plans.

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A fierce nor’easter blew across several states last week, cancelling thousands of flights over a few days. And for the first time in a long time we were caught up in it. The last time I missed a flight because of snow was in 2005 as I was headed out of New York to begin my life with John in Australia. That delay was a long one, but at least the airports were closed immediately, sparing me the initial trip to the airport in order to learn about the cancellation. This time we got jerked around from beginning to end as we tried to make our plane from Chicago to Detroit on January 2. I wish I’d known what to expect. And as the United States faces its coldest winter for a long time (in some places for over a century), I figure there are many more delays to come.

weather delays usa

Air travel in the United States has been on a steady decline for years now. I forget that I’ve been out of the country for almost nine years sometimes. I’m definitely guilty of “back in the day” syndrome where I idealize everything that I remember about life in these United States and am constantly disappointed. Yes, there was a time where we did not pay extra for checked baggage, meals were served in first class on domestic flights and those first class passengers had access to a lounge that didn’t require a separate membership. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has only been around since 2001 and flying was, at one time, a joy instead of something I loathe and dread. There was a time when I yearned to fly instead of drive (I took my first flight at age 16 because my parents preferred long car trips when we had a family holiday). Now I have seriously considered sticking to US destinations that we can reach by car.

Our day began with optimism. We could see that the incoming equipment for our flight was going to be delayed so we called the airline (United) on their Premier 1K number and tried to suss out whether our flight too would be delayed. They had the same information we did: on time. Common sense told us they were wrong but if you aren’t there when they’re ready to go you’re in trouble. So off we went to the airport with John’s parents. John noticed that the Chicago to Detroit flight after ours was already cancelled, which became interesting information as the day progressed. Our departure time changed to an hour after schedule, and then later again. We finally boarded and then waited some more. The crew didn’t know what was going on, first announcing that we were just waiting for the pilot who was ten gates away. Then they told us we could get off because they were going to call in a back-up pilot and that could take some time. Then we were told we had to disembark because our pilot had been diverted to Milwaukee. Gather all your stuff. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

We sat in the gate area for about 45 minutes before they finally cancelled the flight. A swarm of passengers made their way to the service area to reschedule. We happened to be in first class that day and luckily got in the short line. You get nothing extra for being in first. We were already disappointed by the snarky demeanor of the flight attendant serving us on the plane. Now we were told there were no available seats to Detroit until three days later, which was the day John and I were scheduled to return home. Because the flight cancellation was deemed weather-related we were not offered any compensation short of a refund of our ticket. And we had to decide our new plans on the spot. John’s parents decided to take the bus to Detroit while we booked seats on the first flight home the next day. Plans to see family were ruined. We were not alone, of course, as O’Hare had the largest number of cancellations in the country that day.

Then there was the ordeal of getting our bags. Despite the fact that nobody on our flight could possibly get to Detroit by plane until the fifth, United policy is to forward all bags on the next available flight. In a process that took three hours, we had to request our bags to be found and brought to baggage claim. The lesson here is this: when travelling in the United States you have no rights when bad weather strikes. There are no laws in place to ensure you get food or a place to sleep and nothing protects you in the event of a delay. Airlines have to get you there eventually but they aren’t likely to make an effort to ensure your convenience. We checked online later in the evening and Delta had available flights to Detroit for the following day. But do you think we were offered those flights? Even as first class passengers there was no serious effort made to accommodate our plans.

So what are the lessons here?

  1. Get travel insurance. Usually we don’t bother with this on domestic trips. But if I ever fly again in winter, particularly to a destination where I don’t have family who can accommodate us (luckily we did this time), I will definitely be purchasing insurance. Of course, weather delays happen even in the warmer months. Our trip to Maine in August got off to a terrible start when heavy rain caused us to miss our connection in Atlanta, leading to a delay of more than seven hours. At least Delta provided us with food vouchers. I remember being livid with them at that time but now after our experience with United I see that they actually provided better service in a tough situation.
  2. Always think about your alternate options. We were forced to come up with a new plan quickly under pressure, which was a little stressful because we were already emotional about our plans being lost. Later when we had calmed down there seemed to be many options. It would have been helpful for us to be better prepared.
  3. Be prepared. Always have extra supplies of things like medication and underwear when you travel. I always assume I might be stuck for three to five days somewhere. Ensure you have emergency funds or credit cards to pay for your alternate accommodations as you will not receive any money from your insurance company or the airline right away.
  4. Ask for what you need. You may not get it but sometimes you get lucky. It may be possible to state your case to an airline representative and make a specific request. Getting a seat on another airline’s flight, for example, may be an option but only if you ask for it.
  5. Be clever at the airport. If you see a flight to your destination that isn’t cancelled it may be worthwhile to head straight for that gate to try to at least get on standby. Things change by the minute in situations like weather delays where multiple airports and hundreds or thousands of flights are affected, and a flight that had no seats at one point may suddenly have some available an hour later. Multitask by getting on the phone to the airline’s service staff while simultaneously visiting the gate staff of the flight you want.
  6. Ask for discount vouchers. Even if the airline won’t pay for your accommodation they often have discounted rates at local hotels. Be sure to inquire about these discounts should you need them.
  7. It’s not just flights that get cancelled. If you’re travelling by bus, train or road you may also be subject to cancellations and delays. If you are driving yourself it’s important to pay attention to weather reports and conditions, which can deteriorate rapidly. Consider waiting out bad weather situations, especially if you are inexperienced in driving when there is ice, heavy rain or poor visibility. Hurricanes, tornadoes, flash floods and blizzards are common seasonal conditions in the United States and you should always check for weather advisories before heading out on your own.
  8. Know how to get your money back. Airlines may have special procedures, phone numbers and web pages for initiating the refund process. It is unlikely that you’ll receive a refund in person at the airport.
  9. Don’t forget to cancel unused portions of your flight. If your plans change you may have segments of a multi-city itinerary that you don’t end up using. Be sure to let the airline know if you’ll be missing a flight so that they can cancel that portion. In some cases missing a flight could cancel the rest of your itinerary automatically.
  10. Stay calm. I’m as guilty of losing my cool as the next person but getting angry and emotional about delays rarely helps the situation. Remaining calm and polite makes it easier to think clearly and is more likely to garner sympathy from airline staff.

As an interesting final note, we saw that the return flight we would have taken on Sunday was also cancelled. So we made the right decision as we needed to be home for the start of the week. When flying in winter, keep your plans flexible and don’t go anywhere you can’t afford to be stuck.

Have your travel plans been affected due to the weather? What was your experience?

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Travel With Dietary Requirements http://inspiringtravellers.com/travel-dietary-requirements/ http://inspiringtravellers.com/travel-dietary-requirements/#comments Mon, 29 Jul 2013 15:54:57 +0000 http://inspiringtravellers.com/?p=8337 How I'm dealing with travel and my new dietary restrictions.

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For me, food is one of the greatest joys of travel. When I start planning a trip I’m usually dreaming about what I’m going to eat before thinking about what we are going to do. So what does a foodie do when she suddenly has to worry about what she can eat?

Photo by kakisky from morgueFile

Photo by kakisky from morgueFile

I’ve always prided myself on being a non-fussy eater. We can go anywhere, I would tell a friend as we greeted each other for a meal overseas…I eat anything. Well, those days are over for me. I recently found out that I have a genetic mutation requiring me to change my diet. It’s a little complicated to get into here, but basically my body doesn’t detoxify as easily as a “normal” person. I am also prone to vitamin deficiencies and can actually be harmed by eating foods fortified with the wrong forms of B vitamins. It is best that I’m on a gluten and dairy-free diet and for me to limit my intake of processed foods and alcohol.

Yikes. Readers of this blog will know that John and I love our craft beer and have enjoyed eating all kinds of food as we make our way around the world. I have never turned down a drink or a bite of anything for as long as I can remember. I don’t usually overeat so dieting for weight loss isn’t something that I tend to do very often. I’m just not used to restrictions. But as I get older I’ve become more concerned about my health and this new discovery, combined with another chronic condition that I have (hypothyroidism), has shown me that some of the niggling health issues I’ve been dealing with for the last year may very well be caused by this issue. A change of diet is crucial for me at this stage in my life.

I was particularly tested on our recent trip to Las Vegas. Never before have I had such a quiet Vegas trip, enjoying only one or two drinks in the evening and adhering to a strictly gluten and dairy-free diet. I also already eat organic, drink only bottled water and avoid soy as much as possible, so the addition of further restrictions in a place like Las Vegas was particularly interesting. I found that I could pretty much only eat one or two things on each menu and had to forgo many of my favorite food items like hamburger buns, the bread basket, fried chicken and Italian food. Overall I still had a good time and ate plenty of delicious things. It just took a bit more effort than normal.

airline food

At home, I’ve been cooking more and we eat out less. Thankfully we are back in the United States now where there are tons of gluten-free products and dairy alternatives. I have my organic produce delivery service and a local co-op, as well as alternative supermarkets like Whole Foods, Sprouts and Trader Joe’s. Our local, HEB has a really nice selection of hormone and antibiotic-free meats and eggs, some organic fruits and vegetables and plenty of gluten-free items. I’m so impressed with the amount of things that I can eat that I really never feel deprived. But travel is a whole other animal. On the road I will feel like I’m missing out, especially when it comes to regional dishes and delicacies. In some instances, yes, I can just “cheat” on my nutrition plan. Supplements help out with a lot of my issues and it’s not the end of the world if I have a drink now and then or indulge in something that is essentially toxic for my particular body. I am grateful to not have Celiac’s disease where I absolutely have to worry about cross-contamination from gluten, or a food allergy that could instantly kill me.

Here are some tips I have learned so far for dealing with food restrictions:

Bring your own snacks

I find that snack time is the most difficult, especially when travelling. While a restaurant usually can or does cater to alternative diets, smaller snack stands or vending machines will often have nothing for you. It’s easy to pack your own snacks and this can also be a lifesaver if you have to visit several restaurants at meal-time to find a suitable one. I always get hungry when I have to walk from place to place.

Choose places that will cater to you

When looking for a hotel, breakfast is important if it is included and you want to ensure that you won’t be left with nothing on your plate after you’ve paid for it in your room rate. Many B&Bs ask their guests if they have dietary requirements when the reservation is made and larger hotels usually have buffets with ample choices. It is important to always ask, however, especially when staying at smaller hotels. If you’re going on a tour with meals included, it will be important to confirm that the company can cater to your dietary needs. Most of the high-end restaurants with degustation menus ask at the start of the meal whether anyone at the table has any special needs, but you can also call ahead to enquire. This goes for countries too. I recently noticed on Katie Aune’s travel blog, for example, that Finland offers gluten-free foods throughout the country. She also mentions Italy, Northern Europe and Scandinavia as excellent gluten-free destinations. If you’re tossing up between one destination and another, that could easily be a deciding point.

picnic basket

Seek out diet-specific restaurants

The internet is your friend here. Search for a gluten-free directory in the particular city where you’re located and use it to find favorable places to dine. Sites like Yelp usually have a ‘gluten-free’ category for restaurants or you can find apps like Is That Gluten-Free? or iEatOut, which also lists for allergy-friendly establishments. Many restaurants are catering for special diets these days and it’s easy to call up and ask. Vegan or vegetarian restaurants can be a great alternative for those with very restricted diets and many Indian restaurants have vegetarian menus.

Focus on what you can eat

While it is sad to miss out on foods, I never dwell on it. There are probably lots of amazing foods that you can eat and I tend to focus on those. The wonderful thing about travel is that you’re usually exposed to lots of different new foods every day and you’ll be able to eat many of them. Variety keeps you busy and happy.

Make your own

Save lunchtime headaches by heading to the supermarket in the morning and making your own picnic. Even better, visit the local market for fresh, organic produce and a dose of resident culture.

farmers market

Call ahead

I’ve never flown on an airline that doesn’t have a wide variety of meals suited to specific diets, particularly when it comes to international flights or those that include a meal. Call the airline at least 24 to 48 hours in advance to organize one for yourself (the good news here is that you get to eat first as these meals are usually served ahead of the general menu). This rule goes for other establishments as well – it pays to ask and you’ll often be surprised at how eager your hosts will be to please you.

Don’t forget to translate

If you’re headed to a country where the language will be a problem, be sure to translate your requirements ahead of time so you know what to ask for. Make index cards with the phrases on them so you can easily show the person who will serve you food what your dietary restrictions are. This is especially important if you’ll be travelling outside of large cities where options and the foreign-language skills of the locals are likely to be limited.

Allergies are a lot more tricky. Unfortunately for people with severe food allergies, going out to a restaurant can be life-threatening because of cross-contamination or simple carelessness on the part of the kitchen or food server. Be sure that the person who is taking your order understands what you are asking for and get a manager if you are at all unsure. It is not worth it to take risks with your life. I really like this article from Suitcase and Strollers on the topic of travel with dietary restrictions.

If you’re interested in the particular genetic disorder that I’m dealing with, which may be relevant to you or someone you know because it’s been estimated that 30-40 percent of people have at least one of these mutations, please check out my new website devoted to the subjects of MTHFR and hypothyroidism. The genetic mutations can potentially lead to serious health problems if left unacknowledged but the good news is that a proper lifestyle, diet and vitamin supplementation are all you have to do to fix yourself and prevent more serious illnesses down the line. As always, I’d love for you to leave your own tips, thoughts and experiences on this issue in the comments below.

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Why You Should Plan Your Next Getaway On a Boat http://inspiringtravellers.com/plan-getaway-boat/ http://inspiringtravellers.com/plan-getaway-boat/#comments Tue, 21 May 2013 20:21:33 +0000 http://inspiringtravellers.com/?p=8068 Leave all your worries on land far behind and charter a boat for your next adventure. Here are some tips and suggestions on where to go.

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Having done a sailing holiday before, I can certainly vouch for its charms. In today’s guest post, Kelly Girl Waterhouse shares her tips on why you should consider chartering a boat for your next adventure and what destinations not to miss.

For your next getaway, consider chartering a boat. Chartering maybe easier than you think. It can be as simple as:

  • Selecting your destination.
  • Packing light using soft sided luggage or a backpack for ease of stowing.
  • Provisioning your boat with food

The chartering company can provide a captain and crew or, if you have documented sailing experience, you could operate the vessel yourself. They will also assist you with your provisioning and will have suggestions on which islands to visit.

Our sailing vessel

Our sailing vessel

Once on the boat, you will have an experience of living like the sailors of old; sailing to new destinations, harnessing the power of the wind and leaving all your worries on land behind.  If this appeals to you, below are five boating destinations not to be missed.

Bay of Islands, New Zealand

The Bay of Islands, is a treasure with over 80 mystical islands containing rolling hills with lush green trees. Cool clear-blue water invigorates the soul when you go for a dip. Here you can find dolphins playing with a boat’s bow as it sails towards a new destination. Look to the rocks to find millions of mussels and oysters on shore-side rocks, ready to be harvested and served on the half shell with a lemon-wedge and hot sauce. Trek around an uninhabited island or visit a harbor town to mix with the locals or for a dinner out.

Nautical Note: Many of the islands are sheltered and close in proximity. This allows for protected anchorages and short day sails to each destination allowing enough time to enjoy your surroundings.

Marmaris, Turkey

Charter a traditional Turkish vessel, called a Gullet, or charter a modern-day sailboat to explore the historically rich and vibrant coastal towns of Marmaris Bay. In the city, haggle with vendors at the local bazaar, experience a Turkish bath or find the local coffee shop to enjoy a thick Turkish coffee and decadent baklava. Tour a Turkish rug gallery, walk over ancient roman fortresses or swim in the aqua blue waters of the Mediterranean.

Nautical Note:  In this region, the wind is brisk that can promise a lively sail to each coastal destination. Anchorages are well protected.

sailing in turkey

Vavau, Tonga

Named the “Friendly Islands” by the legendary Captain Cook, this Vavau island group in Tonga lives up to its name. The Tongans are reserved but friendly, keeping to their traditions. Don’t be surprised if you find men wearing a traditional woven Tongan mat around their waist, called ta’ovala. This island nation does not have large cities, just villages where you can hear the rooster crow, smell the floral incense of burning coconut shells or partake in an Umu–a Tongan feast where the local dishes are cooked underground. It is a laid-back destination with pristine anchorages. This is also a destination for humpback whales from Antarctica. These mystic creatures come to the warm Tongan waters to mate and give birth. This is a popular location for diving and kite surfing.

Nautical Note: The sailing is exhilarating with steady summer breezes and islands within an hour’s sail or full day-sail.

B0000121

Phuket, Thailand

Thailand is diverse. Some examples include an aromatic spicy cuisine, majestic Buddhist temples, intrepid rock climbing, sugary beaches and gracious people.  Visit a fishermen’s stilt village, James Bond Island where “Man with the Golden Gun” was filmed, or Ko Phi Phi Leh Island made famous by the film, “The Beach.”  All these destinations are only accessible by boat.  Explore seaside caves or barter with the local fisherman that stops by your vessel to sell the day’s catch. The choices are endless.

Nautical Note: Most Islands are within a day’s sail or island hop to farther destinations. Winds can range from 5-20 knots.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Pacific Northwest, Washington, USA

When cruising the waters of the Puget Sound you may have the good fortune of spotting an Orca whale pod or Humpback whales. Whether or not you see whales, the San Juan Islands have it all, from quaint sea-side towns to uninhabited forest-packed islands. Go to town for a grilled salmon or Dungeness crab dinner or put on your hiking shoes for a walk in the woods.  While sailing, you will see the white-capped mountain peaks of Mt. Rainer and Mt. Baker as you steer clear of a Washington ferry making way for port.

Nautical Note: When sailing watch for strong currents. Protected anchorages and marinas are abundant.

What companies charter boats?

Sunsail and Moorings have charter boats in the locations I have mentioned.  Both are reputable and have chartered vessels for many years. Also check out local operators for price and service comparisons, which may have more of a local flavor.

Remember: when you are chartering a boat, be flexible with your schedule and be safe. Fair Winds my friends.

kelly and kelly waterhouse

Bio: Kelly “Girl” Waterhouse, has sailed to over 30 countries, covering 35,000 nautical miles with her husband, Kelly on their 35 foot sailboat (yes, they have the same name). Read more about their adventures on their website, Sailing the Waterhouse.

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Stay Connected When You Travel With Your Own WiFi http://inspiringtravellers.com/stay-connected-travel-wifi-router/ http://inspiringtravellers.com/stay-connected-travel-wifi-router/#comments Mon, 28 Jan 2013 13:52:10 +0000 http://inspiringtravellers.com/?p=7309 XCom Global offers personal wireless internet access in 175 countries, making it the perfect solution for travellers who have to stay connected.

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WiFi for travel is essential. I cannot be without an internet connection for more than a couple of days. When researching accommodation, I immediately dismiss any place that does not have wireless broadband (and demote those that charge exorbitant fees for it). Increasingly, however, I find that my roaming internet needs go beyond just the hotel room. We have tablets and a smartphone, which aren’t too useful when they are offline. I tried to stay connected on my smartphone’s mobile SIM card last time we were overseas and it was too complicated to connect. The WiFi hotspot provided in libraries, bars and cafes isn’t always a reliable solution either. These connections can be difficult to come by and are usually slow when they are provided because everyone else is using them. These connections can also be insecure.

xcom global wifi travel router

Enter a brilliant solution for the digital nomad. XCom Global offers international 3G mobile internet access in 175 different countries via either mobile hotspot or USB modem, which essentially gives you a wireless travel router. We tested out their services during our recent trip to New Jersey, where we stayed with older family members who don’t have internet access at home. All I had to do was place my order, providing the address where the device was to be delivered. Afterwards, I was told, it would be easy to return the device using an included pre-paid envelope.

The day we arrived at the house, the device had already been waiting for us a couple of days before. I opened the package to find a slim little MiFi device, instruction booklet and the cables we would need to keep the device charged. Within minutes I had powered it on, selected the correct network on my laptop and was happily checking my emails. Everyone else in the house also had access so we could use our multiple devices. We enjoyed fast, uninterrupted service for the duration of our stay.

xcom travel router

On the day it was time to return the device, I packed everything up in its little carry-case, popped it into the pre-paid mailer and took it to the nearest FedEx drop-box. These are easy to find on the FedEx website via a simple address search. There were many drop-boxes in the local area, the closest one being less than a mile from the house. Too easy! 

XCom has a number of plans and special offers, including support for those travelling to multiple countries on the same journey. This is essential for those of us who take longer trips. And the cost of staying connected constantly is a very reasonable US$14.95 per day – that’s for unlimited usage. I highly recommend this service and we’ll definitely be using it again on our travels.

 

Visit the XCom Global site and stay connected wherever in the world you may roam.

 

XCom Global hosted our trial of their service. As members of their affiliate program, we receive a commission for services booked if you reach their site via the links within this post. All opinions, however, are always our own.

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Comparing Car Rental Companies For the Best Deal http://inspiringtravellers.com/comparing-car-rental-companies-deal/ http://inspiringtravellers.com/comparing-car-rental-companies-deal/#comments Tue, 22 Jan 2013 12:43:50 +0000 http://inspiringtravellers.com/?p=7276 Search 50 different providers at once for the best deals on car rental with Carrentals.co.uk.

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When visiting cities and other spots with excellent public transportation (or that are easily walkable), we seldom hire a car. But I’ve found that in many destinations, having a vehicle is a nice option. You can see more of a city’s surrounding areas, enjoy the freedom of going where you want to when you want to and you don’t have to worry about booking tickets in advance for tours and public transportation. What often holds us back from renting a car in our travels is the cost. In some places it can be prohibitively expensive to hire all but the smallest compact vehicle. I like options when I’m doing a road trip and prefer to have a larger car. This often means that we’re spending hours checking out all the different car companies and looking for the best deal.

cheapest car hire carrentals.co.uk

So it was awesome to discover Carrentals.co.uk, which searches up to 50 different suppliers (including all the majors) in over 15,000 locations around the world. I loved using this website. The interface is attractive and easy to use, allowing tons of flexibility for choosing all the options you want using filters. The vehicles are categorised using ACRISS Car classification codes so you can easily figure out what size car you need for your journey. Once you choose and book, you receive a voucher via email. From there all further transactions regarding options and extras can be done directly with the car hire company.

carrentalscoukselect

We used the service for our recent trip to New Jersey. I always feel like I need a car in the United States, unless I’m in the largest cities. We had family to visit on this trip and also wanted to take a day trip to Philadelphia from Atlantic City. We needed a car, and for eight days over the Christmas holiday period. I was delighted to find that the price for this was only £255.22 (around US$405) for the cute little Nissan Versa pictured below (a compact car). While I selected ‘121’ as the car hire company, our hire ended up going through Budget, who provided excellent service and a nearly new vehicle for our journey.

Nissan versa rental car

Being in “my country,” the US, I was the designated driver for our trip. John hates driving when he’s on holiday and, after driving us practically everywhere for the entire time we lived in Australia, that’s only fair. After my trial by fire getting out of Newark airport, and a hair-raising first hour down the NJ Turnpike (what a bunch of speed demons over there!), I actually started enjoying the drive and realized how much I actually miss having a car. We decided against buying one in Norway because it is so prohibitively expensive to have a car there. I love the freedom and flexibility to explore a destination, to enjoy listening to music while we drive and stopping off along the way if we choose. Now that we’ve found such an excellent value solution to finding the best deals on car rental, I think we’ll be renting a car more often.

Carrentals.co.uk sponsored our car hire for this journey, but all opinions are always our own.

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When Travelling, Be Very Careful Where You Volunteer http://inspiringtravellers.com/travelling-careful-volunteer/ http://inspiringtravellers.com/travelling-careful-volunteer/#comments Thu, 13 Dec 2012 12:54:35 +0000 http://inspiringtravellers.com/?p=6844 You might be surprised to learn that volunteering overseas can do more harm than good. Here's why.

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A common plan among travellers doing a gap year, going abroad during retirement or engaging in long-term travel is to do some volunteering in a foreign country. Thousands of volunteer placements are made in dozens of countries every year, making “voluntourism” a fast growing sector in the travel industry. Armed with lofty notions about doing good and giving back to the world, the buzzwords of sustainability and community embedded in their thoughts, many volunteers head out into the world without a second thought about their actions and intentions.

If I sound harsh I do so because this is a very serious issue. Of course doing good is a good thing. Of course giving back will make a difference in this harsh world that sometimes seems to be crumbling around us. But did you know that going to volunteer in a poor country can often do more harm than good? Many people are now challenging common assumptions about “charitable” work overseas, including authorities like UNICEF and professionals who work closely with the beneficiaries of volunteer efforts. And they do so for very good reasons.

cambodia orphanage voluntourism children

Photo by Neon Tommy from Flickr (illustrative purposes only – we do not know the situation of any of the people depicted in this post)

“It is really important for potential volunteers to research this subject to ensure they do no harm,” says Alan Kiff, campaign manager for International Child Campaign, a United Kingdom (UK) registered non-governmental organisation. “They should also be very aware that there are many people waiting to cash in on the good intentions of potential volunteers…who use children to get money from western donors…Compared to many other business opportunities, orphanages are easy money. Set up an orphanage, ask for donations, ask for volunteers (and their fees) and you can live a rich life in Cambodia. It is no accident that most orphanages in Cambodia are set up near the tourist trails and resorts.”

The International Child Campaign, which works for children’s rights, education and welfare worldwide is one of many organizations currently raising global awareness of this issue. Their efforts are sometimes difficult.

“In countries like Cambodia and Nepal, many organisations providing service in-country cannot speak out freely about the situation they face,” says Kiff. “Otherwise they could be closed down or otherwise harassed, to the detriment of the children they help. Many of the people who run these orphanages are criminals and can be a real danger to anyone who speaks out against them. They often have connections in the police force or in local government that protect them.”

It is important to understand the hard facts about what happens when western volunteers come into a poor country. In many instances, the demands of the wealthy visitors, often packaging a volunteer experience with a holiday, overrun the needs of the impoverished community. Local workers are replaced by volunteers, especially when they pay to volunteer, which is detrimental to the community and its people. The institutions have to use much-needed resources to upgrade their facilities to suit the expectations of rich foreigners. In the case of orphanages, vulnerable children are further traumatized by the short-term bonds they form with visitors who inevitably abandon them to return home. In the very worst cases child exploitation and abuse are rife.

Think about it this way. People in rich countries like the United States complain when cheap labour takes their jobs away. The same thing can happen in poorer communities when white foreigners offer to come in and work. Most of the time the volunteers are young and coming from the UK, United States (US), Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. They are often given jobs that they have no specialized training for, building houses when they have never picked up a hammer in their lives, for example. When working with people, especially children, the issue is significantly more serious.

cambodia orphanage

Orphanage in Cambodia – photo by Frontierofficial from Flickr.

The Problems With Orphanages

Only trained social workers and childcare professionals should work with these children,” says Kiff. “They are vulnerable, often traumatised and very fragile. When trained social workers and childcare specialists do visit these orphanages, they see through all the pretence. It is only untrained, well-meaning, relatively rich people that the orphanages want to attract,” says Kiff.

It becomes a bit arrogant when you think about it. What would the reaction be if untrained foreigners came into a children’s facility in the US or the UK to be responsible for the children there?

“Consider a volunteer organisation or business who are in no way specialized in child protection, social work or knowledgeable in child care selecting a Cambodian gap year student to volunteer with these children in your country,” says a representative from Orphanages.No, who prefers not to be named for safety reasons. “It wouldn’t happen because in the west we have strict regulations for who is allowed to interact with vulnerable children and rightly so since vulnerable children also attract people that want to take advantage of them. So why is it ok for western volunteer agencies and businesses who are in no way specialized to do that in Cambodia? Are children here not worthy of the same protection as we provide our own children back home?

Inevitably the biggest benefits are for the volunteer. The issue of orphanages is even more important because in many cases these children are not even orphans in the first place.

“We ask people to stop and think about orphanages for a moment – where are all the orphanages run by the big international child welfare organisations like UNICEF, Save the Children and Plan International? They don’t run any. Not one. None,” says Kiff. “All these top professional child welfare care agencies are against using orphanages as a system of childcare. They know that children should grow up in a family environment, in a community. Not locked away in an orphanage. All orphanages in western Europe, Australia and New Zealand were closed down in the 1970s. With a few notable exceptions, governments do not run orphanages.”

“Most children in orphanages, in Cambodia and in other countries, do have a family that they could live with. Most do have a mother or a father. There are organisations that work specifically to reunite children with their families, to support those families if they are in need and to find suitable alternative families where the biological family really is not a good option. The use of the word orphanage is used specifically to open the pockets of donors. The two things all children in orphanages do have in common are poverty and a desire to live in a loving family. Every dollar given to an orphanage, through direct donations or through volunteering fees, keeps those children away from a loving family.”

Kiff also notes that while this problem exists in many places in the developing world, it is particularly bad in certain countries, such as Cambodia and Nepal. From 2005 to 2010, there was a 75% increase in tourism in Cambodia. During those years there was a 76% increase in orphanages.

“This fact alone should ring alarm bells in everyone thinking of volunteering at an orphanage,” says Kiff. “Tourism does not create poverty, but it can create orphanages.”

child coloring orphanage

Photo by mrcharly from Flickr.

But be aware that this problem is also present in many other Asian and African countries. According to Orphanages.no, this will most likely become an issue in any developing country once it becomes a popular travel spot. Indonesia and Sri Lanka, for example, also have very high percentages of non-orphan children living in orphanages.

“In terms of the damage provided by orphanages or institutions you don’t have to look that far back into our own history, where the abuse of children living in institutions in Europe is well documented and so is the psychological and physiological effects of institutionalization of children,” said the representative. “We in the west have a demand, to visit ‘orphans’, here they provide a supply and we can go away feeling good about ourselves thinking we did something good for half a day. When in fact we contributed to both damaging the child mentally and our drive to experience this ensures that yet more children are separated from their families.”

With the exception of two, all of the world’s governments have signed up to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is elaborated in the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children. These documents stress the need for children to grow up in a family and that residential care should only be used as a last resort – and for the shortest possible time.

“So, in theory,” says Kiff, “the government in Cambodia has an obligation to step in and protect these children. Working against this obligation are many vested interests. Some are very powerful. The criminals who run orphanages for profit buy influence in the law enforcement agencies. Also, many orphanages are run by foreigners and the government washes it hands of these as it does not want to fight against these well-meaning people, many who are backed by powerful faith-based organisations.”

On a positive note, many governments are working to combat these problems and abuses. But it is taking time for them to catch up.

“It’s a relatively new problem,” says Tessa Boudrie, a child protection specialist with a degree in social work, currently living and working in Cambodia. “It’s very popular at the moment to volunteer, much more than 15 years ago, and governments need time to adapt.”

“It’s not always money driven,” she says. “There are people who really believe that children are better off in their specific orphanage. And of course if you look at it from a very simple perspective you say that children living in a poor family who do not go to school, do not get enough food, do not have clothes, are better off in this orphanage. But if you were to look at what effect that has on families and on those children and how you could have actually used that money that was spent in a better way, and working with families and communities to ensure that these people can actually stay together.”

vietnam orphanage

Photo by Tormod Sandtorv from Flickr.

Charity Should Begin At Home

Volunteers have to be vigilant and exercise due diligence when choosing what they do when travelling or living in foreign countries. According to Boudrie, the problem of doing more harm than good exists across all charities, not just orphanages.

“Why would you want to go and volunteer to build a house when local carpenters would do a much better job,” asks Boudrie. “It destroys the local economy.”

“The easiest thing would be to just enjoy your travels and do volunteering back home in your own country where you can be sure that you can have a positive impact,” says the Orphanages.No representative. “If you necessarily feel that you have to volunteer during your travels than aim for things that don’t involve children to start with, but always be critical.”

“Broadly speaking, volunteering abroad is a good thing,” says Kiff. “It particularly helps the volunteer to see past the tourist trappings and get to know real people. This helps break down national stereotypes. Like with many ventures, volunteering can do harm or it can do good for the people in-country.”

But If You Still Feel That You Must Volunteer Overseas…

Boudrie, who also runs her own consultancy, Boudrie Advisory, advising wealthy people on philanthropy, has some tips. She says that the first step is to assess for yourself why you want to go and volunteer in the first place.

“What is your motivation? Are you doing it because it makes you feel good? Because you think that it looks good on your resume? If you really want to contribute something the biggest question you have to ask yourself is what am I good at and what can I contribute instead of asking what is the need can I do something there,” she says.

“I see lots of people doing work that they’ve never done before in their lives but suddenly because they think that because they are in a poor country they think they can take on those jobs. Volunteering itself is not necessarily a bad thing. If you have a specific skill that you can transfer to a group of vulnerable people then that could be a great contribution. It’s about what you are good at and what is actually transferable.”

Once you have that clear you can then start to ask yourself how you can be the most effective. The mission will then become about what skills you have and what you can transfer. After all, teaching people how to do something for themselves will help them more than just doing things for them.

“Once you’ve done that then you’ve actually narrowed down quite a bit to be able to specifically search for certain organizations or charity opportunities,” says Boudrie.

Volunteering with refugees at home - photo by World Relief Spokane from Flickr.

Volunteering with refugees at home – photo by World Relief Spokane from Flickr.

She warns, however that it is not easy for the average person to do their own due diligence. Determining where to give money is what she does for a living and she claims that it is “a very difficult job.”

“I do lots of due diligence, looking at individual opportunities from so many different angles,” she says. “It is tough, even for a professional. Don’t be naive. Get specialized help with that.”

She finds that many websites and companies who have listings for volunteer placements have a financial benefit to them.

“So then you have to wonder how well the due diligence is done.”

According to Kiff, “There is so much good that can be done. And so much harm. The most charitable thing people can do during their travels is first learn about the issues facing other communities and treat them with dignity and respect.”

“Helping communities to overcome the issues they face is not easy. Otherwise it would have been done long ago. We recommend that people who want to volunteer start at home, checking with their own county’s volunteer service organization or equivalent (Peace Corps, United Nations Volunteers, Australian Volunteers International). The next step is to contact the many highly respected development agencies, such as UNICEF and Save the Children. The answers from the VSOs  and UNICEFs are unlikely to be as easy as ‘great, pay your volunteer fee and off you go.’ Development is not easy. We caution against the many commercial companies (many posing as non-profits) who advertise for volunteers and charge volunteer fees.

Lots of people don’t realize that they are actually doing it for themselves,” says Boudrie. “And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing – doing something for yourself is great, and if you acknowledge it then you’re already [getting there]. People literally think they are going to make a difference for someone else or a particular cause but that’s not always the case.”

If you’ve already done a volunteer placement, don’t despair. Following these tips, however, in the future is important. And if you noticed unacceptable conditions or practices at the place where you volunteered, blow the whistle on it. You can contact any of the organizations mentioned in this post and find out where the most appropriate place to report the misdeeds are. Awareness is crucial in order for these practices to change for the better.

Further resources and opportunities to make a difference:

Child’s i Foundation

Hope and Homes for Children

The REPLACE Campaign – replace the need for orphanages

Think Before Visiting

 

 

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12 Ways To Save For That Special Vacation http://inspiringtravellers.com/12-ways-save-special-vacation/ http://inspiringtravellers.com/12-ways-save-special-vacation/#comments Thu, 22 Nov 2012 12:43:10 +0000 http://inspiringtravellers.com/?p=5911 Here are 12 practical ways to save your way to your next dream holiday.

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We write about a lot of amazing destinations on this site but today’s guest post is designed to help you actually save money in order to make your travel dreams come true. Sheri Staak brings us 12 practical ways to finance your next trip. 

1. Set up a travel account

Having a separate, dedicated account helps keep your travel funds protected from other savings goals like retirement or college funds. Plus, you won’t be tempted to dip into it for impulse purchases or those inevitable “household expenses” that always come up like a new hot water heater or replacement parts for the air-conditioner.

saving coins for travel

 2. Stash surprise windfalls

Immediately deposit any “surprise” cash that comes your way into your travel account, whether it be birthday money, a commission check, a work bonus, a payoff on that lottery ticket or even a $20 bill discovered in the pocket of your jeans. Since these surprise windfalls are separate from your usual income, you’ll never miss the money that’s stashed away.

3. Collect your coins

Make it a ritual: empty your pockets or collect the loose change from your purse every single night and put it into a jar or container. While you’ll never miss those nickels and dimes on a daily basis, collecting your coins will add up considerably over time. Even a dollar a day adds up to more than $300 in a year’s time. For faster and increased savings, try setting aside your single dollar bills or coins in addition to the loose change.

4. Clean out your closets

Sort through your closets, basement, storeroom, or anywhere you’re collecting or “saving” stuff you aren’t actually using anymore. Look inside cabinets, on bookshelves and under the beds. As a general rule, if you haven’t used something in a year, you probably don’t need it and you’ll never miss it. Keep anything you love, or that has a sentimental value, but consider selling those unwanted or unused items to add to your vacation fund. You might try having a garage sale, selling large-ticket items on eBay or Craig’s List, or bringing your gently used clothing to a resale shop.

garage sale sign

5. Can the coffee

Do you really need that $3.50 specialty coffee when a cup brewed at home can be just as satisfying? If you’re used to hitting Starbucks on a daily basis, consider this: kicking that habit can easily translate to more than $1,000 a year for your travels. Put a coffee can or jar next to your coffee pot, and “pay” yourself for the cup, just as you would at the specialty shop. Then watch the savings grow. A memorable cafe au lait in Paris or a yuangyang coffee Hong Kong will make being your own barista a worthwhile endeavor.

coffee

6. Party responsibly

One cocktail at a bar can easily cost $10. Plus, when you start to imbibe you become more generous, loosening your inhibitions as well as your purse strings. You might find yourself buying rounds or leaving big tips for the bartender and before you know it, you’ve racked up a significant bill. Instead of weekly or monthly bar binges, invite your friends over for an evening at home. You can ask them to bring what they like to drink, or buy the beer and wine yourself and still end up saving money in the long run. Alcohol and entertainment can devour a travel budget quicker than a green bonfire.

7. Brown bag it

Bring your lunch with you to work and don’t go out to eat on a daily basis. Not only will you save as much as $50 a week by eating at your desk, you’re more likely to pack healthier choices, which will keep you in great shape for those future trips to the beach. Keep your dinner outings to a minimum as well. Restaurant checks can add up quickly; the same meal at home is a fraction of the cost. Perhaps treat yourself or your family to one meal out a week, or once a month if you can swing it, and put the savings into your travel fund.

8. Pay yourself first…and second

Financial planners always advise their clients to pay themselves first. Your long term financial goals should be the primary savings focus, either through a 401K at work or a direct deposit into your bank account. But most employers allow you to make more than one direct deposit. Set a percentage for long term savings, i.e., pay yourself first and then pay yourself again, setting aside an amount to have direct deposited into a second, travel-dedicated account. In this way, you won’t ever “see” the money, so the temptation to spend it disappears.

shop the sales to save for travel

9. Write it on your wish list

When a birthday, special occasion, or holiday comes around, family and loved ones are often at a loss when it comes to gift giving. There’s no shame in dropping a few hints or even creating a wish list that you can share with those who may ask for gifting ideas. Be open about your passion for travel, communicating your desire for monetary gifts, airline gift cards, or prepaid credit cards to help you fund your dreams. Family and friends will welcome the suggestions, and will be more than happy to get you something you really want.

10. Shop the sales

Look for bargains, and never pay full price. Shop frugally for your clothing purchases, not like a magazine model with unlimited funds. Scour the racks of less expensive and discount stores for trendy, fashionable looks at a fraction of the cost of boutiques or department stores. For household bargains, shop the sales, clip coupons, or buy in bulk. Every little bit saved is more put aside for exploring the world.

11. Rack up points

Airlines make money by being associated with credit cards. When you use those cards, you can earn points that translate into frequent flyer dollars. Pick your credit card wisely: if you plan on traveling domestically, consider a domestic airline’s card; but if you’re saving for international flights, choose a branded card from an airline that services international destinations to better suit your needs. Why pay cash when your purchases can help pay for future travel? Be sure to use your cards wisely though, making only essential purchases and never over-extending yourself. In addition, pay your bill in its entirety each month, never carrying a balance that will rack up late fees or hefty interest charges.

frequent flyer

12. Book the bargains

Once you’ve saved enough to start making travel arrangements, take the savings one step further by doing your homework to get the most bang for your buck. Spend time surfing the web, gathering brochures, and talking to friends about where to get the best travel deals. Sometimes you save hundreds of dollars just by booking flights on non-weekend days or during “off” hours. Research wisely, combining activities when discounts are offered and taking advantage of “free” services offered by your hotel or airline, such as shuttle buses or complimentary meals.

Also, don’t overlook the possibility of staying with friends or family who may reside in a dream locale. Most people are more than happy to accommodate travelers if you simply ask. Hostels are another inexpensive choice for young or single vacationers, but aren’t ideal for families. Get creative and explore all your travel options, finding the right mix of fun and frugality!

Don’t just sit around dreaming of a trip you think you could “never afford.” Visualize your travel goals, and take steps, both large and small, towards making that dream a reality. By implementing even a few of these 12 savings strategies, you’ll be fast on your way to funding the trip of a lifetime.

Bio: Sheri Staak has served in many vice presidential roles at both large privately held and publicly traded global companies. She’s been a corporate powerhouse for 29 years and has been the recipient of numerous sales awards and recognitions. In addition to her key position in a highly aggressive, extremely competitive industry, Sheri is a regular contributor to a travel newsletter, lending her expertise by writing articles that provide tips and advice for business travelers. She also shares her wisdom and business perspectives with regular postings at her leadership-focused blog, The Staak Report.

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Posture and Ergonomics for Digital Nomads http://inspiringtravellers.com/posture-ergonomics-digital-nomads/ http://inspiringtravellers.com/posture-ergonomics-digital-nomads/#comments Tue, 05 Jun 2012 02:57:34 +0000 http://inspiringtravellers.com/?p=4630 An important reminder for laptop users on the road: ergonomics and posture are very important, as I've learned in a painful lesson.

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When preparing to head off travelling, plenty of people worry over which laptop and equipment they should buy to make that switch to working wanderer. But what too few of us remember to do is think about how becoming a full-time laptop user is going to impact our health. You may not be guilty of this and if so I congratulate you. Keep doing what you’re doing. This post is for those who haven’t thought much about posture while travelling and working full-time.

Definitely not one of my finer moments when it comes to a good makeshift work space.

I got a scary wake-up call a couple of weeks ago. I’m not travelling at the moment but for about fifteen months I was using only makeshift workstations while we were on our around the world trip. I’ve never had any back problems until now and I’m still reasonably young (early thirties), so I really didn’t think about the impact my computer use and crappy posture were having on my back. I’d work in bed with the laptop, sitting on airport benches or in front of plane or train tray tables. Desks and chairs were rarely ever in the proper alignment while I was using them to work on the computer. This is difficult to avoid when travelling. I’ve found that even luxury hotel room desks and chairs are not always designed for ideal posture, never mind what you’ll find in a mid-range or budget offering.

One Friday night after a full day sitting in front of the computer I began to have really powerful muscle spasms in my lower back. I could barely walk and when they hit me the pain was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. Over the next couple of days the spasms eased off but my body had become contracted on my right side (I’m right- handed) so that one leg felt shorter than the other and my back was curved to one side. I looked as if I had scoliosis and I was completely locked up and could not stretch out my right side. Any attempts to straighten myself out were met with stiff resistance and sometimes a confronting spasm – my body’s way of telling me, “Uh, uh. Not happening. This is your punishment.”

This may look at bit better but those trendy dining chairs are not intended for hours of seated computer use.

Things eventually became so bad that I could not lay down in bed. I had (and still have) two large knots in my lower back and laying on them had become intolerable. When I had to spend the night stretched across two bean bag chairs in the living room because it was impossible to find a non-excruciating position in bed, I consulted a naprapat recommended by a friend of mine. I’ve been trying to find a website in English that describes this practice but, having never heard of it until now, am assuming it’s a Scandinavian thing. If you have a translator on your browser and are interested you can read more in the Wikipedia article. After one session I was remarkably better and am continuing the therapy once a week. I’ve also improved my posture, which is easier because I am at home and have a proper desk setup.

Because I did not have a specific instance of injury, I’m pretty sure my problems were caused by my total disrespect for my body over the last year and a half when using the computer. If you’re about to quit your job and head off on a long adventure with your computer in tow you may find you’ve taken for granted that nice ergonomic workstation at your office. Human beings were not designed to sit upright for hours at a time and work at a computer as it is; they were especially not intended to use a laptop.

As soon as I buy a new desktop computer, this setup will be perfect. I have a proper desk chair and everything is adjusted to the correct height. This is not a luxury afforded to travellers unfortunately.

Laptops cause special kinds of problems. Your head is bent over awkwardly and your hands are in a terrible position over those small keyboards. Even now as I type this I’m waiting anxiously for the day when I buy a desktop computer. I’m in a perfect ergonomic position otherwise but it’s impossible to get completely comfortable.

You cannot have perfect posture when using a laptop but I wrote this post to remind everyone to take care of your body when you’re working on the road and do your best to practice good posture. I’m not an expert in this area so I’ve pulled together a few articles and videos that will help you with this:

Good Posture to Maintain While Using Laptop at Home, Office and while Traveling :: Technified

5 Solutions to Create Good Ergonomics for the Nu Nomad Office :: NuNomad

Tips for proper Laptop-Ergonomics :: Physical Therapy Coach

What are your good posture tips for working from the road?

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What If You Could Travel the World? Would You? http://inspiringtravellers.com/travel-world/ http://inspiringtravellers.com/travel-world/#comments Fri, 25 May 2012 10:48:36 +0000 http://inspiringtravellers.com/?p=4617 There are many excuses for not travelling the world, but are any of them really valid? Motivate yourself with this awesome video from Henk van der Klok.

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Today we have an awesome video post from travelling Dutchman, Henk van der Klok. It’s a pretty inspiring call to action for those who are thinking about taking the travel leap. And for those who aren’t…

For me, travelling the world is a lifestyle and I believe that anyone can choose to live this life. All you have to do is cross that barrier of fear and get out there!

On the road I usually travel alone and often meet people from completely different walks of life. For me this is one of the greatest joys of travel. For a short while you are immersed in some distant culture and share stories with a total stranger. You learn time and again that there is no right and wrong in life. There’s only “different.”

Often people ask me how it’s possible to stay on the road indefinitely. How do you get money? What if you run out of it? Where do you meet other travellers? What about your future back home?

Many would love to travel long-term themselves but often they think of all kinds of reasons that stop them. I don’t speak English very well, I just bought a house, I have to finish school, I’m afraid of flying and the list goes on.

The truth is that you can do anything you set your mind to. The only limits are those you put on yourself!

Most of us have all kinds of insurances. Car insurance, health insurance, funeral insurance, fire insurance, theft insurance. These are all very good things and it’s wise to have them. Sometimes, however, you get so mixed up in the plans and routines of everyday life that you forget that there are no insurances in life.

Travel, for me is all about embracing the insecurities. I believe that when you’re open to it, opportunity is just around the corner and so you can find adventure, jobs, money and ways to keep travelling anywhere. In the videos on my blog I show other adventures but also how to get a job and different ways of traveling cheap.

The only question you have to ask yourself is, if you could..

Would you?

What If You Could Travel The World Would You (Video)

Bio: Henk van der Klok is a 26 year-old Dutchman with a passion for adventure. He’s been on the road for quite some time now and documents all of his adventures and travel stories in videos on The Dutch Adventurist. Follow him on Facebook.

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Prioritizing Travel: How to Make Those Travel Bucket List Trips a Reality http://inspiringtravellers.com/prioritizing-travel-travel-bucket-list-trips-reality/ http://inspiringtravellers.com/prioritizing-travel-travel-bucket-list-trips-reality/#comments Thu, 22 Mar 2012 18:05:50 +0000 http://inspiringtravellers.com/?p=3959 Shanna Schultz shares some practical tips for making your travel dreams a reality.

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I love to daydream about destinations and have a long list of places that I’ll see ‘someday.’ In today’s guest post, Shanna Schultz gives some practical tips for making your travel dreams a reality.

Where in the world do you want to travel? Do you have dream destinations on your bucket list? What is stopping you from getting to those places? Time? Money? Kids? Friends and family are frequently amazed (or sometimes exasperated) with how many places we have been to. I frequently hear, “That’s really great that you are going to [insert location]…I would love to go there someday.”

Sensoji Temple, Tokyo

This is usually followed by some reason that they are unable to travel: “but it would be too hard with the kids, maybe when they’re older, I don’t have the vacation time, I don’t have the money.”

Travel doesn’t just happen. One very rarely just has a pile of money or time sitting to apply towards knocking one of those trips off the bucket list. So, what do we do differently than the majority of other people out there making excuses for why they can’t go places?

Travel is a priority in our lives.

What does making travel a priority mean in our daily lives? It takes diligence and sacrifice. We don’t eat out. We shop at the thrift store. We don’t travel like most people, we travel cheaply so that we can go to more places.

There are many things that you can do to make travel a priority in your life so that you can make some of those bucket list trips a reality instead of just a far away dream.

Other than the practical tips below, the most important advice that I can give you is to dream big and look for outside of the box ways to make your travel dreams happen. Instead of saying “I want to go, but I can’t go there until X, Y and Z happen,” look for solutions to the roadblocks that are stopping you from going.

I can’t imagine our lives without travel. It is our escape and it feeds my imagination and my soul in ways so profound and deep that I have a hard time putting them into words. I wish that I could share that with the world (and in many ways, this desire to share is what made my blog come into being). You CAN travel to see the places that you want to see in your life. It will take some planning and some rearranging of your priorities to make your travel dreams a reality, but you can do it!

St. Peters Basillica, in all of its HUGE glory.

Relish the Planning

So maybe you have a few years of saving before you can go on one of your bucket list trips. Savor the planning. Clip photos out of magazines and make collages out of them. Read and participate in blogs about your destination. Cut clippings out of magazines and absolutely make the most out of your planning time. The planning and anticipation are half the fun, and your trip will be here before you know it!

When times get rough and my butt is dragging through another day at work, I pull out my mental file that I keep for upcoming trips and it makes those little road bumps in my day easier to handle.

Shift Your Target

If you are on a tight travel budget, heading to a place like London, Paris or Italy might not be the best choice for you (don’t get me wrong, these places CAN be done on a budget, but it takes more planning and preparation).

There are a lot of other great places in the world that are just as beautiful and inspiring, more authentic, less touristy and sometimes most importantly CHEAPER.

Italy might not be in the cards, but what about Croatia? I have been told that Croatia is beautiful, and it will definitely be cheaper and much less crowded than Rome. It has much of the same scenery, great Roman runs and the same great Mediterranean climate.

Maybe Tokyo is out of your budget, but what about Thailand?

Paris is great, but not necessarily for someone on a budget. Perhaps you could fly into Paris and stay for a day or two to see the highlights, then head out of the city into the French countryside where lodging and food will be within your budget.

I know what it’s like to have one’s heart set on a specific destination but what I often find is that when I start to look into a different place, it doesn’t take long before I am just as excited about the offerings of the new place as a I was about the old one.

Save, Save, Save!

Traveling is not without its sacrifices and even budget travel requires funding. Take those extra funds that you were using for fancy coffee, cable TV, movies and dining out and put them in your travel fund (this is the part where you have to make a decision about where your priorities lie.) Arrange for a pre-set amount of money to come out of each check and go into a travel savings account. It really is easier to save this way. When the money never actually gets into your hands, you barely notice that it’s missing.

Combine Work and Travel

I know that this isn’t an option for everybody, but if you are at a flexible place in your career right now (or are maybe without a job, like so many other people at the moment) perhaps you can combine your work and travel dreams so that they can coexist happily?

There are many options for working while you travel. While these will vary with the location that you are going to, there are many opportunities for work in other countries (please research and find out what the requirements are to work in the country that you are considering). I have heard of many travelers funding their travels by teaching English, becoming a nanny, being a care taker, etc.

Get A Part-time Job In the Travel Industry

If you have the flexibility, a part time job at a hotel, car rental company or airline is an awesome way to save money if you travel frequently. I work in two of the three so our costs on hotel and airfare are greatly reduced and we get to stay at some really swanky hotels every now and again. This makes up for the times we stay in murky places to save money. Working a couple of days a week will also get you some extra cash to set aside for your trip while saving you money while you’re on the road.

Evening view of Mont St. Michel, France

Evening view of Mont St. Michel, France.

Travel On the Cheap

If we traveled like the majority of people travel, we wouldn’t be able to afford to go to nearly as many places as we have. These are some of the ways that we save money while traveling:

  •  Instead of staying at a big hotel or resort, sometimes we stay at hostels or small family-run bed and breakfast type places. As a bonus, when we do stay in these places, we feel like we are getting a warmer and more authentic experience. I also work for a major hotel chain so I get pretty good discounts on hotel rooms. We stay in a lot of those, too.
  • We eat a lot of inexpensive street food.
  • We go to the grocery store and buy ingredients to make our own food or for a picnic lunch.
  • We are very selective about where our sightseeing dollars are spent. We don’t mind splurging on something great, but we read reviews and listen to what other travelers have said before jumping in. In Paris, instead of spending a chunk of money and a big part of our day going up to the top of the Eiffel Tower, we viewed it from afar instead and spent the day going to Sacre Couer and seeing the view of Paris from there for free.
  • We don’t pay to go on a lot of tours.
  • We generally get around using the local public transportation.
  • We don’t buy a lot of kitschy souvenirs, preferring the experience instead.

These are all things that save you big money when you travel, give you a more real experience and help you to save more money for your next trip. Please, go after your travel dreams. Do not let them slip away. Start planning to check some of those places off of your list!

Bio: Shanna Schultz is a travel writer as well as a travel professional in the airline and hotel industries, and writes the There and Back Again blog. She lives in Lonsdale, MN and enjoys cooking and gardening. Her favorite places to travel to are Scotland and France. Find Shanna on Facebook and Google+.

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My New Friend http://inspiringtravellers.com/new-dslr-2012-camera/ http://inspiringtravellers.com/new-dslr-2012-camera/#comments Thu, 08 Mar 2012 15:49:59 +0000 http://inspiringtravellers.com/?p=3792 After making do with a small point and shoot camera for the last year, I've upgraded to a new Nikon DSLR.

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Heading off overseas almost always leads to something very exciting for me: tax-free shopping before departure. I usually need something new and expensive before I go and I’m particularly excited about one of my purchases this time around.

Before we headed off on our around the world sabbatical, we had a tough decision to make regarding a camera. We were already carrying a netbook and an iPad and there was no way I could take my old film SLR with me. Would I finally use the trip as an excuse to buy a new DSLR camera? I had significant fears about buying such an expensive piece of equipment for our itinerary. We would be trekking in South America, staying in hostels and catching public buses and trains all year. I couldn’t even find any travel insurance to cover a pricey camera and my tiny collection of lenses. John also thought it wise to take either a netbook or a larger camera, not both.

canon ixus 980 is

Our trusty old Canon Ixus 980 IS

So we took off travelling with a Canon Ixus 980IS. I have mixed feelings about the decision though they’re weighted more towards being happy with my choice. Yes, I missed out on the better shots I could have taken with a choice of lenses and a more powerful camera body. Even with the manual settings on the little point and shoot, it’s limited in what it can achieve. That said, I’m a firm believer that photography is not about the camera, it’s about the person behind it and I was determined to still document the year with some great photography. In many situations, the little pocket camera proved invaluable. I was able to shoot while hiking on glaciers in the rain, climbing a windy, snow-covered volcano in Chile and I didn’t have to worry when whipping out my camera in the driving rain and snow of Torres del Paine. I also carried a lighter load and never worried about losing it.

But now that we’re back to shorter trips and a bit more stability (relatively), it was time to upgrade. So I’m excited to introduce my new buddy, the Nikon D7000. We’ve been so busy preparing for our move to Norway that it took over a week for me to get out and have a serious play with it. But I’m completely smitten. It works with my old lenses (though I did pick up the ‘kit’ 18-105 lens) and has more functionality than both the old SLR and the Ixus put together. Of course, this also means I have a bit of learning to do. The transition from film SLR to DSLR is interesting, eh? Especially when my SLR was a beginner body with only the most basic functions. I used to shoot on slide film so I wouldn’t waste much money developing pictures that were often exposed incorrectly. I taught myself when we were living in Paris and I can’t wait to get that box of old material out of storage and have a good chuckle at my work.

nikon D7000 with 24mm lens

My new buddy, a Nikon D7000 – yay!

How nice is it to check your exposures right away? To have a decent light meter? Buttons for ISO and white balance? The first thing I did was purchase Bethany Salvon’s (the talented photographer from Beers and Beans) Getting Out of Auto eBook. I needed a refresher course and some help figuring out what all these buttons on my camera actually do. There’s no way I was going to spend all that money on a new camera just to shoot with the automatic settings. But it had also been awhile since shooting with a SLR – I needed some quick tips and shortcuts to feeling comfortable using the camera in manual.

getting out of auto ebook Can I just plug this book for a moment? It’s a seriously helpful guide written by a woman with over a decade of experience shooting commercial, news, documentary, fine art and wedding photographs. I’m always blown away by the photography on her’s and Randy’s blog. The book starts with basic lessons in aperture, shutter speed and ISO and the interplay between those in creating perfect photos. But she explains these in a way that really helped me to understand the concepts and feel ready to go out and shoot with confidence. When I was teaching myself in the past I went and surfed the net for photography 101 articles, but I haven’t seen any that really put it all together for me as well as this book.

Bethany then goes on to the topic of composition, providing tips and tricks for improving the pictures that you shoot and, most importantly, the chapter on light pulls it all together. I know that lighting is an area where I really need to focus on to improve and she gives really helpful advice for dealing with all kinds of lighting situations, including how to create light when it’s inadequate. The final section is packed with tricks and cheats, including an introduction to HDR and black & white photography, with some handy tear-out cheat sheets to help newbies both in the field and during the post-production process. It’s a bonus that the book is beautifully illustrated, with sample photos (including the exposure settings used to create them), fun photography facts and quotes from some of the most famous photographers of all time. A guide like this will inspire any budding photographer to get out there and improve her work, with plenty of slightly more advanced tips to hold the interest of anyone who has been behind the lens for a little while already.

Pick up the Getting Out of Auto eBook today!

Pretty sure the FTC requires me to tell you that the links for the eBook featured in this post are affiliate links and we receive a commission for referring you to this product.

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Finding Work Abroad http://inspiringtravellers.com/finding-work-abroad/ http://inspiringtravellers.com/finding-work-abroad/#comments Tue, 06 Mar 2012 19:36:09 +0000 http://inspiringtravellers.com/?p=3779 We share 10 tips to help you find work abroad.

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People who want to experience expat life will likely have to apply for international jobs. John recently secured a role in Norway and has also worked in Europe a few times before. If you’re interested in working abroad, here are some helpful tips to improve your chances.

computer work

Photo by cohdra from morgueFile.

1. Start with the low-hanging fruit.

If you’re already employed with a company that you’re happy with, this is a good place to start. Contact human resources or check out the intranet for open positions in another country. This would be your most seamless transition because the company can likely transfer you with minimal visa hassles and cost to you.

2. Start early.

The job hunt can take a lot of time. Most companies will have an application process that could include a couple of interviews. Even after you land the job, visas can take several weeks or months to come through depending on your nationality and the country you’ll be relocating to. It can also take time to develop relationships with recruitment agents and to figure out which country and company is the best fit for you. John started looking for work in September and didn’t accept a position until February.

3. Use agents but don’t rely on them.

By agents, we mean headhunters and recruitment agents. Some industries, companies and countries rely heavily on these people while other industries and professions won’t utilize them at all. You’ll need to research your own industry and make contact with as many agents as you can. In the meantime, however, keep looking for jobs directly with companies. John probably spoke with 10 different agents over the five months of his job search but in the end he found a job by applying directly to a company he’d had a good interview with a few years back. Agents vary in quality and motivation and you can’t count on them alone to find you a job.

4. Be careful with overexposure.

It’s not always a good idea to send your resume out to every agency. Ensure they have jobs in your specific area of expertise and insist that the agent does not send your resume around to companies without discussing each opportunity specifically with you first. It is important to keep a list of where your resume is at all times so that when one company is reviewing your application, they don’t receive your resume again from another agent. It makes you look desperate and as though you’ve sent your resume out all over the place without care.

5. Look for boom spots.

Some countries and regions are just hotspots for certain occupations at any one time. Talk to others in professional online groups on Facebook and LinkedIn to get leads for what areas have the most opportunities and remember that these can change quickly. Looking for a job in an area with high demand will increase your chances of success and provide you with better opportunities for negotiating higher pay.

6. Be persistent.

Like most things, finding a job requires focus and determination. Give yourself time and understand that it can be a lot more difficult to find a job in a foreign country than in your own. You may not have local experience, your references may not be from companies the hiring managers have heard of and the company will have to spend a significant amount of money in order to meet you in person before hiring you. You may need to learn the local language before you can even be considered for the job. You’ll need to be realistic, clever and persistent to find work. If you’re in touch with a few recruitment agents, call them once a week to touch base and keep yourself at the top of their minds. Search job boards every two or three days and set a goal to make contact with a specific number of new companies per week. Look at your unique skills and sell yourself to your potential employers; always tell them what you can do for them instead of simply why you want or need a job.

7. Look in the right places.

Again, all industries are different and this will affect where you can find jobs advertised. Do some networking in online professional groups or seek out foreign branches of professional organizations of which you are already a member. Talk to as many people as you can as you look for leads. It does no good, for example, to look for jobs on a board that isn’t industry specific while all the jobs for your profession are actually listed somewhere else.

8. Be aware of timing.

Every country has different holidays, financial years and work cycles that can affect your job search. John tried looking for work over the end of year and January period and that is probably what took him so long to find work. Keep an eye on the news for swings in a country’s financial affairs and anything else that could affect your employment.

9. Investigate tax implications.

Many countries have tax treaties that prevent things like double taxation, but you need to be aware of what the thresholds and requirements are to avoid financial losses. Americans may be familiar with the foreign earned income exclusion and other countries may have similar arrangements for their citizens. It is important to research how your overseas status will affect the tax that you pay and to also be aware that many countries have very high taxes compared to what you are used to. While some of these countries provide excellent services and benefits for every resident, others give very little back, especially to their high-income earners. Be sure to find out whether you’re required to continue filing a tax return in your home country while you’re away and also any other forms that are necessary (US citizens, for example, are required to submit a form each year listing their foreign owned bank accounts).

10. Be flexible.

You may have your heart set on one particular country or city but it is important to be realistic and set a deadline for when you will start casting a wider net. At the start of your job search it may be best to keep your options wide open until you get a sense of where the best paying jobs are and what the conditions will be like in your new home. When we started looking at jobs and regions we had several options in mind. In the end, we found that US companies were paying too little and the Middle East was too prohibitive for the salaries on offer. So Scandinavia became our number one choice. We kept the UK in the back of our minds because there is so much work there, but again the salaries were much lower. Money isn’t everything, but after talking to a trusted friend about Norway (she’s from Sweden) and doing more of our own research, we realized that not only was Norway booming for John’s occupation, it would also provide the lifestyle we were after: family-friendly, an excellent European location and a beautiful country for exploration in our own backyards, making it the perfect choice for us.

Good luck!

Have you landed a foreign job? What were the keys to your success?

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Renting Your House When You Travel http://inspiringtravellers.com/renting-house-travel/ http://inspiringtravellers.com/renting-house-travel/#comments Fri, 02 Mar 2012 19:47:20 +0000 http://inspiringtravellers.com/?p=3743 If you're thinking about renting your house while you're travelling, here is a helpful guide to doing so.

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It was exciting to reach a point in our lives when we were finally able to invest in some real estate. Not to live in ourselves mind you; we still rent the places we live in because we haven’t settled down yet. But one sunny day back in 2006 we made an offer on a very small house on a big block only five minutes from the ocean in the northern suburbs of Perth. And so began the story of us and The House.

renting your house

Photo by thinkpanama from Flickr.

John hates The House. I crap on about how it will be a good investment for the future and that we won’t regret it when the value doubles years from now. And I’m sure it will be years because the price of houses in Perth has sort of stagnated while rents just keep climbing higher and higher. So despite our big mortgage, it’s been working out for us alright as a tax break and we don’t put too much money towards it each month relative to everything else. Money is not the reason John hates The House. He hates it because, quite frankly, it’s a huge pain in the arse. When we started off with it we self-managed and had to deal with almost monthly hassles. We’re model tenants: we keep everything clean, pay the rent on time and rarely ever bother the landlord for anything. For the last several years we have not been reaping what we sow. We were living on the other side of the country as well, which made everything just that little bit more challenging. So before heading overseas on our around the world sabbatical we finally put the house with an agent. And here is where this post may start to have some relevance for you. If you’ve decided to travel for awhile or relocate overseas for a job, you may want to hold onto some property and rent your home while you’re away. We’ve learned many valuable lessons over the last five and a half years. This is by no means intended to be a comprehensive guide to property management and I am not a licensed agent or tax specialist, but if you’re thinking about renting your property while you travel there are a few things you should consider.

4 rent sign

Photo by Kilgub from Flickr.

Employing a Real Estate Agent

I highly recommend hiring an agent to manage your property while you’re away. It may sound easy to do everything via email and direct deposit, but issues will arise and you need to think about how you’ll deal with these while you’re away. When we lived interstate we had John’s parents assisting us with property management and, despite the fact that they know way more about houses and are infinitely more handy than we are, this was still not an ideal situation. Because no one is just sitting at home waiting to deal with your property and tenant problems. Our parents are incredible and look after so much for our house because we don’t live in Perth, but we didn’t feel comfortable in the long-term sticking them with the day to day things or expecting them to hop to it when an emergency situation arose. It just isn’t fair. And these are the types of things that can happen:

  • burst pipes, gas leaks, electrical faults, broken hot water or sewerage systems
  • a leaking roof, flooding, storms, fires
  • appliance, heating or air conditioning breakages
  • the tenant may stop paying rent and you have to take him to court
  • the tenant may break the lease unexpectedly and you have to find a new tenant right away

Periodic inspections are necessary to ensure that your property isn’t being damaged and someone reliable needs to be around to do those and enforce any breaches to the rental agreement. Even if you rent the property to someone you know there may still be issues and dealing with them from overseas will be very difficult, if not a serious damper to the enjoyment of your travels. Trust me. You want to hire an agent. The good thing about agents, at least in Australia, is that their services are tax deductible and can usually be negotiated to a satisfactory price. The management fees are deducted straight from the rent that is collected from your tenant so no money upfront is required to employ one. The bad thing about agents is that they are not all created equal and some do their jobs meticulously, while others are completely careless with your property and let the tenants walk all over you. We’ve dealt with both types and I strongly suggest you interview at least three different property managers before trusting your investment to one. Hiring a quality agent is the most important decision you will make with regards to protecting your asset. It is also wise to hire an agent if you’ve lived in the house that you are renting out. Tenants will not necessarily keep things to the same standards that you did and it is important to know the rules in your state or country concerning tenants and rental properties. What is unacceptable to you may still be within the acceptable standards of the law as far as the people renting your former home are concerned. A property agent will be objective in dealing with any problems and has the experience required to handle all the aspects of managing your property.

apartment for rent

Photo by interpunct from Flickr.

When you interview property managers, you should be looking at a few specific things:

  • Does the person have adequate experience in property management and looking after similar types of properties? Only hire a registered real estate sales representative who works under the supervision of a licenced real estate agent.
  • Does the person have knowledge of the suburb, neighbourhood or area where your property is located?
  • Are you satisfied with the person’s approach to property management, how she presents herself and how she deals with people?
  • Are the agency’s fees competitive and what value do you get for your money? Most agents charge a percentage of the rental income plus one or two weeks rent as a ‘letting fee’ when they find you a new tenant. You will also be charged a fee for other services as required, such as advertising costs, inventory reports if your house is furnished, property inspection reports, lease renewal fees, court costs and usually a monthly administration fee. Don’t judge an agent only on price because as the old adage says: you usually get what you pay for.
  • Is the agent comfortable and happy dealing with most things over email and will she keep you informed while you are overseas? Most agents are fine with this arrangement but it’s worth it to mention this fact during your meeting.
  • In return, a good agent will be able to handle and advise you on maintaining the property, how much the rent should be, advertise for new tenants, tenant selection, bond/deposit administration, collecting the rent, inventories, inspections, paying bills, court attendance, disputes and any other matters related to the property.

Insurance

Your property should always be insured for the buildings and contents as well as legal liability. As a landlord, however, I highly recommmend that you choose a landlord-specific policy. This will insure you for events caused by the tenant such as rent default, malicious damage and theft. Be sure to review the policy thoroughly to ensure it meets your needs before committing to it and discuss with your agent should you have any questions. These policies also usually include landlord worker’s compensation insurance and this may be required by your real estate agent.

Preparing Your Property For Rental

Most real estate agencies will ask you for a few things before you advertise for tenants. These include:

  • Making sure all the external doors are fitted with locks, ensuring there is adequate security at the property and providing copies of the keys to their office. This allows tenants to obtain good contents insurance policies.
  • A copy of the By-laws if the property is located in a community or complex with specific ones
  • Installing a telephone line if there isn’t one
  • Cleaning the property and servicing all air conditioners, pools and other equipment
  • Providing all manuals and warranties for appliances and devices in the home
  • Supply a copy of the title for the property if you have one (providing this avoids a search fee)
  • Bring the property up to code. In Western Australia, for example, landlords are required to have two safety switches (known as residual current devices, or RCDs) and smoke alarms professionally installed to Australian standards before their property may be rented out. Your agent can advise you on any similar requirements and organize a suitable contractor to carry out the work for you. The property’s condition must also comply with all building, health and safety laws. If there is a pool at the property, it must be secure, child safe and compliant with pool safety standards

    breach of agreement

    Photo by rubenerd from Flickr.

Additional Tips

1. Get organized. The more meticulous you are with your records and organization of paperwork for the property the smoother things will go with your agent. Yes, the agency will maintain records related to your property for you once it’s under management, but the average agent looks after anywhere between 80 and 110 properties at a time. Your specific property will not be her only concern. This does not mean that you will get bad service or that she is not doing her job (though this does happen and hiring a good agent is one of the most important things you can do to protect your investment). But no one knows your specific property better than you do and having your documents organized so that you can easily refer to something will go a long way towards ensuring a good property management experience. Before you leave home, scan everything into an electronic file and email it to your agent, keeping a copy in your email or on your computer. Put the originals in a safe place. Keep all communication regarding the property in a dedicated folder within your email.

2. Communicate. I’m a little annoying with this but I put everything in writing in an email and always raise questions and concerns with the agent as soon as I think of them or shortly after we meet. Be clear, specific and concise in your emails and use short paragraphs or bulleted lists. This way you’ll have a written record of things that were discussed and the outcome. In the management of our property I am constantly using the search function to call up old emails and remind myself of the exact outcome of any situation.

3. Streamline as much as possible. You’re travelling, remember? Don’t let your property own you while you’re away. Yes, you can set reminders in your calendar for when bills are due or have them come through your online banking. But if you’re using an agent, bill payment is usually included as a service in the management fee. Have your bills for water and council rates and insurance sent to your agent and give her any authority required to make payments and claims on your behalf. Have all the rental income deposited into the bank account that services your mortgage so you don’t have to organize bank transfers. The more you can automate the happier you’ll be.

4. Be prepared. Set aside enough money to meet unexpected costs that may arise such as repairs or periods where no tenants will occupy the property. Make sure there is extra money in your mortgage account to cover any shortfall periods and the months when major bills like water or council rates are due.

5. Choose your tenants carefully. Even if an agent is managing your property, the final decision on which tenant application you accept is yours. A bad tenant will be a nagging headache you have to live with for at least the life of the lease and it will cost you money to fix and re-let the property once he or she is finally gone. A great tenant, on the other hand, is bliss. If you can find someone who pays his rent on time, keeps the place well maintained and stays in the property for several years, you will save a fortune.

6. Think about pets. John and I love animals but we don’t allow them at our property. While there are certain advantages to allowing pets (it widens your tenant base and puts your property in greater demand because so few properties allow them), you have to remember that it isn’t you who will be looking after the animals. I’ve had dogs and seen the damage they can do if not given the proper attention. Our decision might be different if Western Australia allowed us to take an adequate pet bond, however the maximum pet bond allowed by law is a measly $260 and is only allowed to be used for the cost of fumigating the premises at the end of the tenancy. I’ve seen dogs eat holes through drywall and destroy carpeting in several rooms during toilet training. In cases like that, who pays for the damage? In Western Australia, the pet bond may be increased if the rent is more than $1,200 a week or if the property was your private residence for at least three months immediately before the tenancy, so this may be applicable in your area as well.

7. Take action immediately on arrears. It does your tenant no favours to allow them to fall behind so much on the rent that he can never pay it back. Serve notices for rent arrears immediately and discuss the breach policy and procedure for these with your agent. At the end of the day it is up to you whether you want to run a charity for your tenants but our budget is tight when we’re travelling and if the rent falls too far behind that means we pay more towards the mortgage. Think about where you’d rather spend your money.

8. Delegate someone local as an emergency contact. Give his number to your agent and specify the instances where that person should be contacted rather than you. Usually this would be in the case of a real emergency where a decision needs to be made immediately and you are unreachable. If this person is a trusted family member, you may also give him power of attorney, but this needs to be arranged with a lawyer or solicitor before you leave.

9. Plan your time. If you’re only going away for less than a year, be sure to let your agent know so that he doesn’t sign a year lease with the tenant. Should you wish to move back into your property after renting it out, you’ll want to ensure that it’s available.

Do you own a house or apartment that you rent out while you’re on the road? What advice can you add to this post?

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Travel Tip: Buy Your Travel Gear at the Army Surplus Store http://inspiringtravellers.com/buy-travel-gear-army-surplus-store/ http://inspiringtravellers.com/buy-travel-gear-army-surplus-store/#comments Wed, 22 Feb 2012 00:24:43 +0000 http://inspiringtravellers.com/?p=3690 We were shocked at how much cheaper quality goods are at our local Army Surplus store compared to the larger outdoor, travel and camping stores.

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If you’re preparing to head off on a round-the-world trip, long-term travels or even a shorter holiday you’re probably stocking up on gear. Some people shop online for the best deals but we like to actually go into a store before we purchase things so we can check things out, try packs and clothing on and compare apples to apples when we’re shopping. Before our yearlong sabbatical trip last year we bought around two thousand dollars worth of gear, which sounds (and is) high.

army surplus store bargains

Our surplus store haul

Today we went shopping for some warm-weather gear for our upcoming move to Norway and made an exciting discovery: our local Army Surplus Store had just about everything we paid top dollar for at the big outdoor and adventure stores. At about half the price.

There they were: dry bags, gloves, packs, fleeces, camera bags, scarves, woollen socks, boots, hats, camping equipment and travel gadgets, laughing at us with their price tags: “Haha, suckers! Here we are at half of what you paid for us.” The annoying thing is that we knew about the surplus stores. It just never occurred to us to shop there for travel equipment. Or that it would be so much cheaper.

New gumboots for the constant rain in Stavanger – only A$80 for both!

Here’s what we picked up (we’re in Perth so prices are in Australian dollars, sorry):

insulated beanie hats: $9 each

thick warm lined fleece: $45

thick lined waterproof gloves: $14.50 each

convertible Amphibian trekking pants: $79.50

high quality thick wool blend socks: $12 – $18.95 each

Wellington boots: $29.95 and $49.95 each

balaclavas: $12.50 and $4.95

big waterproof toiletry bag: $19.50

scarves: $19.50 each

I’m curious as to how the prices at your local surplus store compare. You may not find some of the more exclusive brands at the Army Surplus Store and you probably won’t find things like stylish outdoor clothing or shoes, but I’d definitely make this your first stop before you head to the other camping and outdoor stores and pay top dollar.

Where do you buy your travel gear and why?

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Why Travel With Kids Is Good For All Involved http://inspiringtravellers.com/travel-kids-good/ http://inspiringtravellers.com/travel-kids-good/#comments Sun, 05 Feb 2012 17:34:50 +0000 http://inspiringtravellers.com/?p=3397 Nancy Sathre-Vogel, long-term traveller and mother from the free-wheeling, Family on Bikes shares her reasons why travel is great for kids...and parents too.

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Today’s guest post is by Nancy Sathre-Vogel, who made an inspiring three-year journey on bikes through the Americas with her family. The adventure provided her sons the opportunity to earn a world record as the youngest cyclists of the Pan-American Highway. Here she shares some excellent reasons to travel as a family.

I’ve heard it all. Some people feel travel is the best experience kids can have. Others feel kids are better off staying home and going to school each day. I say there’s good on both sides of the equation.

travel for kids cuzco

Hanging out with colorful people in Cuzco, Peru.

There is benefit in giving kids a stable home where they can sleep in the same bed every night. There is also benefit in taking kids out traveling.

In the end travel with kids is good for both kids and for parents.

Travel is good for kids because:

1) Travel gets kids out of their comfortable routine and opens their eyes to the idea that others live differently than they do. As they visit other cultures and eat different foods, they start to realize the interconnectedness of our world. They step outside their ethnocentric mindset and realize that the world doesn’t revolve around them.

2) Being global citizens in today’s society is critical. In a world that’s shrinking daily, understanding other cultures is a huge advantage.

3) While traveling, kids learn in context. Rather than reading random facts and figures from a book, they are living, touching, breathing new experiences, which makes their learning more effective.

4) While traveling, kids are exposed to many new ideas and may discover new interests or expand on interests they already have.

5) Because they are placed in so many unique situations while traveling, kids learn to be flexible and to adapt to whatever comes their way.

child with monks

Daryl gets to know these monks.

Travel is good for parents because:

1) In today’s workaday world, we rarely get to spend more than a few fleeting moments with our children. While traveling, parents get the opportunity to be with them all day. It takes time to forge a relationship and travel can provide that time.

2) Traveling with kids opens new doors that you would never even know existed if you traveled without them. You’ll meet more people and be invited to events that otherwise would remain off-limits to adult travelers.

3) Kids force us to stop and smell the roses. Whereas we might be tempted to see the sights at breakneck speed on our own, that pace doesn’t make sense with kids. You’ll see less but see it better.

4) Travel with kids is just plain ol’ fun.

family on bikes at the arctic circle

Family on Bikes at the Arctic Circle.

Can all of these things be accomplished other ways? You bet. Is travel essential to have time together as a family and to create global citizens? Absolutely not.

But traveling together is perhaps, the easiest way, and there’s no doubt it’s a lot of fun.

Bio: Nancy Sathre-Vogel, more commonly known as Mom to Family on Bikes, is a long-time traveler. She’s gallivanted around our planet for the past 29 years, the past fourteen with her twin sons. Her most recent excursion was a three-year journey on bicycles from Alaska to Argentina. Now her mission is to encourage others to live their dream – wherever it leads!

Check out her newest book, Twenty Miles per Cookie: 9000 Miles of Kid-Powered Adventures.

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Do Travel Service Providers “Get It?” http://inspiringtravellers.com/travel-services-industry-issues/ http://inspiringtravellers.com/travel-services-industry-issues/#comments Thu, 19 Jan 2012 15:17:28 +0000 http://inspiringtravellers.com/?p=3223 Are standards slipping in the travel industry? How do you deal with bad customer service?

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Travel is a largely unregulated industry. Even hawkish countries like Australia and the UK don’t have travel ombudsmans. What does this mean for the consumer? Buyer beware. In 2011 alone we’ve taken 29 flights, 7 tours (mostly day and one longer) and stayed in 56 hotels, 39 hostels, 10 B&Bs and 7 apartments. We’ve taken countless bus and train rides and eaten in at least one restaurant every day. So I feel qualified to say what I’m about to say.

I am not impressed.

I’ve been fortunate enough to stay at some of the world’s finest hotels in my lifetime and took my first business class flight when I was in high school. I’m also humble enough to have stayed in plenty of hostels and one or two star hotels. So I’ve observed the changes in the travel industry over the last 16 years in every aspect from budget to luxury travel. Sometimes the former make more of an effort than the places that cost hundreds of dollars a night. I know I’m not the only traveller who feels this way either, noting recent posts from Suzy Guese and Emily in Chile. That said, we’ve also had some remarkably positive experiences from managers, companies and brands who really get it. This post is not aimed at them.

Photo by jusben from morgueFile

When travelling full-time it isn’t as big a deal when something goes wrong. But I still always complain if something is truly unacceptable. Because what about those people who are enjoying their only two week holiday for the entire year? When things don’t meet their expectations it can ruin their entire trip. The staff looking after me at a hotel don’t know my personal situation, that this day is just a blip in the scheme of things. Expectations may differ but the nature of people remains the same. We want to get what we pay for and expect value, comfort and a certain level of enjoyment from the travel industry providers we choose.

Travel companies market a dream: relaxation, a safe, reliable way to get from points A to B, cultural awareness, adventure or “getting away from it all.” What many consumers are getting these days is inconvenience and disappointment due largely to rude staff, misinformation, false advertising, sloppy administration and cost-cutting, unless they can afford to pay top dollar for the very best. Even then there are no guarantees.

Some people spend a considerable amount of time selecting what hotel they will stay at, their travel gear, restaurants and activities at the destination. For many travellers, these are not business decisions. They are taking their hard-earned money and spending it on leisure. Their choice was to travel, not purchase a new television or other product in lieu of this activity. Travel providers should care about customer satisfaction. I won’t go into detail about some of the things we’ve seen this year. They range from the minor inconvenience to the seriously shocking. More often than not a dignified response from management will suffice in smoothing things over. But we’ve also been on the receiving end of snarky, snobbish, defensive and manipulative reactions from management. And this I find surprising.

Has this bathroom been serviced properly? Photo by clarita from morgueFile.

Yes, mistakes happen. We’re all human and sometimes a person has a bad day or something was simply overlooked. But there’s no reason to make things worse by refusing to apologize and treating the customer like an idiot. Travellers are now often coached to lower their expectations when they travel. “Be flexible” or “it’s all part of the adventure,” we’re told. Not at four hundred euros a night or thousands of dollars on a package tour it isn’t. Someone’s getting rich off these little mantras. And many of the offences are simple maintenance and communication issues: that broken arm rest or tray table on an airplane,  a broken showerhead, non-working elevators, incorrect information on websites or official communications, faulty internet connections, old mattresses, loose toilet seat hinges, slow drains, etc.  How difficult is it to check each room thoroughly after each guest leaves? Or to service your aircraft or update information on your website?

A variety of online companies exist to empower today’s traveller, from review sites like TripAdvisor, Virtual Tourist and TravBuddy to travel forums and blogs. It is important to examine the effects these sites have on travel providers and customers of hotels, restaurants and services. We now have a place to vent when we have a bad experience. Unhappy customers can be passive-aggressive and dash off a bad review, never bringing the problem to the attention of the manager or someone else in a position to make decisions at the company. Customer relations personnel spend time fighting the fires of the bad reviews, pasting an “official” or “corporate” reply back to the reviewer or, worse, becoming defensive and failing to offer a solution. Even if they respond in a constructive way it is usually too late to positively impact the customer’s experience at the property. I get no satisfaction from leaving a bad review post-experience; by then there will rarely be a satisfying resolution.

Special occasion, special service? Photo by seemann from morgueFile

I like to do a good job and hold others to my high standards when I’ve paid for something. But I am reasonable. I do not expect the same standards at a hostel as I do at a luxury hotel and can easily adjust between the two. I also tend to confront a situation when it’s happening, to give the service provider a chance to rectify the situation. My approach is to contact the most senior person in the company I am aware of because he or she is the ultimate decision maker (CEO emails are easy to find online if you do a little crafty searching). I keep things nonpersonal and stick to the facts. This approach has resulted in everything from angry, defensive, unprofessional, even illegal behaviour from staff to glowing, beautiful displays of grace in knowing exactly how to handle a disappointed client. In my mind, this is what separates the winners of the travel industry from the losers. I’ve been transformed from a critic to a champion of a brand and just as easily from a disappointed customer to a vehement opponent of a company. It’s all about how they handled my legitimate complaint.

As a person who writes about travel I evaluate companies differently than other people might. But we all have the common ground of being human in how we deal with things. Have sites like Trip Advisor made us impersonal and ineffective in dealing with each other in travel? Of course, if your complaint got you nowhere and you received poor services, complaining online may be your only recourse. Most companies are reluctant to provide the one thing they should: money back (or at least something the customer really wants). If the company only provided 60 per cent of the promised service, why should it be paid 100 per cent?

What can managers and CEOs do to improve? Putting themselves in the shoes of their customers would be a good way to start. If your customer is so worked up about something that they’re angry when they complain, don’t get defensive and take the same tone with him. Listen quietly, understand that this is supposed to be HIS relaxation time (after all, he’s paying for it). Apologize for the problem – just saying that you’re sorry can make such a difference. Offer him something (of real value) and do whatever you can to make the situation right. Appreciate the amount of time you’ve taken away from him on his holiday. Do the right thing by your customers or you may one day find you’ve lost them to the competitors who get it. I’m pretty sure this is Customer Service 101.

I am, of course, a capitalist, so I understand the bottom line and why these companies are in business in the first place. But I can’t help but feel that cost-cutting measures have gone too far in many corporate (and even independent) travel businesses. I suspect low pay is the cause of many zero care-factor employees. I’ve even heard a staff member complain about how little she was paid to her customers (yikes!) Whatever it is, I ask every person working in the travel industry to ask himself, “What do I expect when I am on holiday? Am I really being fair to my guests? And if I don’t have the power to change things, or if my bosses won’t listen to advice like this, should I be moving on to another company that does?”

What are your thoughts on the current state of the travel industry? And what’s your style of handling complaints when you travel? Do you rely on sites like Trip Advisor? In general do you feel that travel providers do a good job, either in service or the handling of complaints and disputes? Who shines in this area?

***A note on comments to this post: please do not mention specific business names or people if you have something negative to say. For legal reasons we cannot allow naming and shaming on this website (the stories are fine minus the identifying details of the parties involved, however). We’re responsible for all content on this site, even comments. Thanks and we look forward to your responses!***

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9 Lessons From Our 2011 Travels http://inspiringtravellers.com/9-lessons-2011-travels/ http://inspiringtravellers.com/9-lessons-2011-travels/#comments Mon, 02 Jan 2012 17:15:48 +0000 http://inspiringtravellers.com/?p=3091 What did we learn from travelling to 22 different countries in 2011?

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We visited 22 countries last year in Australasia, South America, Europe and the Middle East and came to some realizations during our international travels. Do any of these resonate with you?

1. English was spoken pretty much everywhere we went.

With a few exceptions, enough English was spoken in areas where foreigners visit to make our travels very easy. We certainly weren’t expecting this and made an effort to learn the language in non-English speaking regions if we were going to be there for more than a couple of weeks. But the spread of English language education has really made visiting foreign countries much easier. Some places surprised us more than others: while many people seem to speak English in Santiago, for example, very few speak it in the rural areas. The language barrier will be an issue for visitors to Buenos Aires who don’t speak any Spanish as well.

packed suitcase

Photo by seemann of morgueFile.

2. We rarely needed to book in advance.

Aside from festivals, major holidays and small towns during high season, we found no reason to make reservations far in advance. We visited New Zealand during summer and, though this year could have been an anomaly because of the Rugby World Cup being held later in the year, we could have easily found a place to stay when we arrived in each town. We did save money on booking buses there in advance because of their particular system, but otherwise we regret not leaving our schedule more flexible. Elsewhere the only places that required advance reservations were Edinburgh during the Fringe Festival, Oktoberfest and El Chalten, Argentina.

3. The world is indeed flat.

I’m referring to the popular book by Thomas Friedman about globalization, which postulates that the histories and geographical distances between countries no longer matter or serve as points of vast differentiation. We noticed very little differences between towns and cities of similar size to each other as we moved from continent to continent. People’s cultural differences stood out in some instances but we mostly felt like the environment was the same whether we were in Lima or Berlin. This further enforces the theory that human beings are the same everywhere, sharing common desires and traits. And now that commerce is so globalized, it’s possible to find practically the same goods and services from one region to the next. There’s plenty of other apt stuff in that book too, but this was the major point for me.

4. If we don’t like a place, we leave.

Some might say that’s not giving a place a fair chance, but if we’re not having a good time after a few days, we’re out of there. Given the situation outlined in item three above, we find little reason to linger in a location with unfriendly people or nothing of appeal for us.

Air Canada plane taking off

Photo by gracey of morgueFile.

5. Long-term travel is becoming less of an “alternative” lifestyle.

After meeting so many people on the road and discovering so many other blogs of long-term travellers, I’m convinced that chucking it all in and taking off on an international adventure is becoming much more mainstream. While some people thought we were a bit crazy at first, we received more positive responses when we told people what we were doing and get fewer strange looks than a year ago. I think the recent economic crisis has helped this, causing people to realize that previously solid notions of “stability” are tenuous.

6. We prefer to be expats or to stay in one place for a long time.

This year was the first time either of us has travelled to so many places in such a short amount of time. We got sick of packing and unpacking bags and constantly moving from place to place. We did take a week or more in several places but since we’re used to being expats or travelling more slowly, the rest of it took its toll. I’m still glad we did what we did because of the sheer amount of places we were able to see without taking a separate long-distance trip, but I think we’ll stick to being expats and taking shorter journeys throughout the year.

airport information screen

Photo by chamomile of morgueFile.

7. Mastering the art of choosing the right place to stay

This is one part Trip Advisor, one part search strategy, one part cross-referencing and two parts self-awareness. And something every traveller must be able to do to enjoy themselves. I am now confident we will not be making accommodation mistakes in the future, though it has meant that the list of acceptable brands for us is considerably diminished (see item nine).

8. People make it for us.

Whether it’s spending time with old or new friends on the road or the friendliness of the locals, we’re always more interested in who is around than what is around.

9. If something isn’t right, complain.

I want to remind every traveller that if you’ve paid good money for something, be it accommodation, a meal, a tour or an activity, and what you receive is not to the standard advertised, be sure to speak up about it. Do this at the time of service, to the highest level of staff you can locate and keep your comments specific and non-personal. Find the CEO if you have to. Tell the manager what you expect to receive in return, be persistent, and take it to a governing body if they still refuse to comply. Not letting senior management know about the problem means that the next traveller has to put up with the same unacceptable service. Often poor behaviour or quality is happening without the knowledge of the people at the top of the company. If you paid good money for something, be sure you get what was offered. What travel lessons did you learn last year?

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