Travel Tips

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Safety Tips for the Skittish Traveler

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Be safe wherever you go.

The world is a crazy, unsafe place. At times I too wish I could just bury myself in a hole in the ground and shut out all the insanity and insecurity. But the inherent problem with holes in the ground – the Grand Canyon not withstanding – is that they usually don’t offer a very good view. For that, it requires the courage to get out there and explore. Below I’ve listed 8 steps on how to travel safely and still maintain relative peace of mind.

1) The World is Just as Crazy Where You Live

Crime, terrorism and natural disasters are not limited to those on vacation. Sadly, such risks are part of the global human experience. This goes for visiting popular tourist attractions and traveling by air just as much as going to and from your job or school. Yes, it is possible something bad might happen while traveling, but statistically it is far more likely that you’ll have a car accident on the way home from the store than experience a terrorist attack while traveling abroad. By gaining some perspective on the risks involved, you can ease your worries and take comfort in knowing that you’re likely not at any greater risk than you are in your own hometown. That is, unless you’re visiting Falluja.

2) Be Shrewd, Dude

Taking practical precautions before embarking on your trip can do much to allay anxiety. Travel insurance is an increasingly good idea, not just for its practicality but also for the peace of mind. Thoroughly researching your intended destination can alert you to potential threats or dangers, both health and safety-wise, and buying a money belt or similar products can help lessen the your odds of being a victim.

3) Here’s Looking At You, Punk

Imagine for a second that you’re a pickpocket or any other variation of street criminal. Would you rather target the oblivious tourist that’s so engrossed in looking at the sights that they don’t even notice you’re there, or the wary tourist with the shifty eyes that are constantly scanning the surroundings? If you didn’t choose the former, then maybe you’re just not cut out for a life of petty crime. Yes, criminals prey on the easiest targets, and nothing says “I see you, punk. Try someone else” better than being aware of those around you and making eye contact. Sure, you might come off as paranoid but at least your message won’t be missed.

4) You’ve Got A Brain. Use It.

What you wear, bring, do and say can all have a direct bearing on your safety. Wearing expensive jewelry in poor cities is an invitation to potential muggers. Flashing costly electronics and camera equipment at inappropriate places and times can have the same effect as well. Even traveling through relatively safe areas and neighborhoods after nightfall may increase your risk, as might talking loudly in your native tongue, as nothing screams “tourist!” more than asking for directions. This is not to say that you should stay in your hotel room and not speak to anyone. Just use your head and the risks will be much lower.

5) If You’ve Got It, Don’t Flaunt It

Standards of dress and conduct vary wildly worldwide and to keep things on the up and up with the local populous it’s a good idea to learn what they are and then follow them. In many places in Latin America and India for example, women will at times draw unwanted male attention in direct proportion to the amount of skin they show. So ladies, be prepared to cover up if you don’t feel like being stared at by often not-too-subtle men. And don’t get me started on the Italians….

6) Make Friends, Not Mistakes

One of the best things about travel is the possibility of interacting with so many different people. While I heartily encourage all to mingle with the locals, this doesn’t mean drop your guard. Be mindful that some in bars and restaurants frequented by tourists may have their own agenda and be wary about what it is in (and how much) you drink. And sometimes (not all) that friendly local that just happens to strike up a conversation with you will eventually reveal that they want to take you to a “friend’s” shop where you can get bargains unheard of elsewhere. Again, you’ve got a brain, and don’t be afraid to say no. Most of all, don’t let the few bad eggs ruin the joys of cultural exchange.

7) Don’t Forget What Your Mommy Told You

As it turns out, your mom was right about a lot of things. While traveling, many of her adages still hold true if you want to come home safely: Look both ways before crossing the street (especially in London), be careful after dark, don’t walk through the woods by yourself and many more I’m sure. About the only one I would openly contest is the prohibition on going swimming for at least an hour after eating (An hour. A good hour).

8) Face Your Fears & Get Out There

With all the rampant insecurity in today’s society, it may be hard to overcome your fears to get out there and explore. But identifying your fears is a necessary step if you’re to experience peace of mind in travel or anything else. As I said in my 2015 humor/travel guide You Can Keep Your Adventure, Just Leave Me the Toilet Paper, “finding the root of your fears is like giving a prostate exam–uncomfortable even if you do manage to put your finger on it.” But once you do, and you’re willing to challenge yourself, enjoying the world – risks and all – will become a whole lot easier.

Summary

Of course, despite taking all these precautions you can still get hit by a bus, but hey, a meteor strike is a possibility as well. My point is that it is impossible to eliminate all risk in this world, so you’ll just have to do your best and relax. By taking practical steps you can lower your risk of danger while traveling, and I say that¬† if you have to accept a level of risk, it might as well be on vacation.

Do you have any safety tips you’d like to share? Leave a comment below!

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Cruising Advice For People Who Don’t Like Cruising – Tip#2

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Pick your ports wisely

In my first installment of cruising advice for people who don’t like cruising, I thoroughly – and with more than just a little scorn in my literary voice – debunked the common excuse given by reluctant cruise-goers of “There’s no privacy” or some other such nonsense. In this installment I shall refute another common excuse that comes in a variety of forms. I shall also do so with my trademark cunning and sarcasm (humility sold separately).

The excuses I deal with here all have to do with the ports of call: There’s not enough time in port/I hate the crowds in port/I really dislike some ports of call. While those might seem to be legitimate gripes on the surface, the truth is, they’re not. Don’t believe me? Read on for the explanation. That is, if you haven’t already closed your mind to logic and reason (yeah, there’s some of that scathing sarcasm now).

There’s not enough time in port

This complaint just begs to be answered with the retort: not enough time to do what??!! Is it really necessary to snorkel until your skin shrinks up like a prune? Must you lay out at the beach until melanoma sets in? Is it so important that you visit every single jewelry, souvenir and craft shop before weighing anchor?

The fact is,¬† the cruise lines have done a pretty good job ensuring that you have enough time in port to see what’s important. Stopping in Progreso, Mexico? Don’t worry, you’ll have time for Chitchen Itza. Calling on San Juan or Ocho Rios? You’ll have plenty of time for El Morro or Dunns River Falls. And while some major metropolises also double as cruise ports with all their attraction-rich diversions, even in world-class cities like Sydney, New York and Rome you should still be able to fit in a few of the main attractions before having to get back on board. At the very least you’ll get to see if you think it’s worth a return trip.

I hate the crowds in port

If this is you then know that I’m right with you. I can’t stand being trapped among the gluttonous hordes. But this doesn’t stop me from enjoying my time in port. The key lies in being willing to venture out on your own. Sure the cruise-run shore excursions are convenient and offer the safety net of knowing the ship won’t leave without you; but by arranging your own excursions in advance you have more control over your time, itinerary and the amount of elbow room. When safe to do so, I heartily recommend renting a car and exploring beyond the rows of souvenir shops that seem to follow you around (I’m talking to you, Alaska!). That’s where the best (and least crowded) travel experiences lie.

I really dislike certain ports of call

This may be true. It might even be fair. But it still isn’t an excuse not to cruise. The solution to this conundrum is twofold – either change your activity or change your itinerary.

It may be that you have no desire to visit a certain port or have already had a bad experience there. My advice is: Get over it! Find something else to do if what you did before was unappealing. Didn’t enjoy snorkeling in Belize? (FYI you’re a weirdo if you say yes) Next time go for the jungle tour. Not a fan of the pushy vendors in the Bahamas? Why not try parasailing next time? It’s unlikely they’ll follow you up there. And if you’re really just so very snobbish that you refuse to set foot in a certain port of call, my advice is: Don’t!!! Nobody says you have to get off the ship. Get your nails done, play Bingo or just lay by the pool. If that’s the worst case scenario, is it really something to complain about? And yes, I meant that sarcastically.

As for your itinerary, unless you’re stuck doing a family reunion at sea, there’s no excuse for choosing one you dislike. Even mainstream cruise lines offer “exotic” itineraries that veer off the beaten path. Personally I’ve found Princess Cruise Lines to be a good blend of value, comfort and interesting routes. But whoever you go with, it’s not hard to avoid the places you don’t like – just take a different ship!

I hope this rundown has cleared up a few common misconceptions (a.k.a. excuses) about cruise ports of call. I also hope that if you’ve used one of these, you feel a certain measure of shame. With a little foresight, preparation and a dose of daring, every port can be a good thing. So when you’re done whining, call me and we’ll book that cruise.


Do you have any port-related advice to share with your fellow travelers? Leave a comment below!

 

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A Wanderlust Wardrobe for the XL Seasoned Traveler

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Picking the properly-artistic souvenir t-shirt is an art unto itself

Just recently I participated in an internet challenge seeking the advice of seasoned travelers as to what it is that we like wear while galavanting about the planet. I consider myself a seasoned traveler. I’m also kind of fat. So I decided to share a post about my ideal “wanderlust wardrobe” from the perspective of someone whose total number of miles traveled is nearly on par with their daily caloric intake. In other words, the kind of guy you hope you’re not seated next to on the plane.

For me, the greatest trial when traveling isn’t the foreign languages or jet lag. It is all about trying to stay comfortable when crammed into a tiny airplane seat for ten hours or waiting for a train with a humidity level of over a million. Travel logistics can be uncomfortable and/or fatiguing even under the best of circumstances. Tight shoes and a rigid waistband don’t help matters. Below I’ve listed some elements of my ideal “wanderlust wardrobe” for achieving both comfort and style. Feel free to comment with ideas of your own.

1) Pants with an elastic waistband

I guess you can say I have a classic hourglass figure with between twenty to twenty-five minutes shoved in somewhere around the middle. OK, maybe I’m exaggerating (about the hourglass part), but for those of us with a little ‘cushioning’ located around the equator, an inflexible waistband makes the already-challenging act of finding a comfortable position while on a transcontinental flight a real nightmare. Loose pants may sound appealing, but unless they’re accompanied by a sufficiently-strong belt, they can make for some very embarrassing moments while running through the airport. And if you have to wear a belt (and take it off getting through security) you’re back to square one. With elastic waistbands, those who carry their share of famine insurance around the midsection can have the anti-gravitational support they need while still being able to properly contort into a coach class seat.

2) Moisture-wicking shirts that breathe

When traveling to tropical or warm weather locales, I have long suffered from being drenched with sweat – often on my way between getting off the plane and the terminal. With today’s technology, synthetic materials can wick away some of that self-produced moisture and allow your overheated torso to breathe without taking your shirt off. If, like me, you fit the description listed in the point above, then you’re probably doing everyone else a favor by keeping it on.

3) Slip-on shoes with comfortable insoles

Since I’ve already substituted my belt with an elastic waistband, I see no point in having any delays at airport security due to my shoes. Being able to slip them on and off at will also comes in handy while on the plane or upon arriving at the beach. As for the comfortable insoles, just consider the long walks between the terminal and baggage claim in your average international airport – and that’s before you even take a step outside. And if you’re traveling to a place with great vertical range, such as the Amalfi Coast and its endless stairs, buying comfy insoles will cost you less than a visit to the podiatrist.

4) The right t-shirt

When it comes to buying a souvenir t-shirt I admit to being a bit OCD. As I mentioned before, the right t-shirt would not be 100% cotton due to stickiness and shrinkage issues (I mean the shirt, of course), though it is in this arena that form outweighs function. The design should indicate where the shirt was purchased without looking like it was picked up out of the clearance bin. The image should represent a distinguishing element of the place visited without being tacky or overly-busy. Understatement works well in this tiny, under-served niche of the fashion industry. I’m actually quite proud of my collection of t-shirts from around the world, and in almost every case their purchase was the result of a protracted search and intense elimination process. Those who have traveled with me can attest to my scrupulous efforts to seek out the right t-shirt. They can also attest to the validity of points 1-3 while waiting for me to choose.

5) A wide-brimmed, crushable hat

My travel hat is one of my most prized possessions. Not only is it a vehicle to showcase my exhaustive travel pin collection, but it serves any number of useful purposes; like protecting my eyes and scalp from the sun or covering up my messy hair. You can also throw in looking like an experienced traveler to dissuade any charlatans who might be thinking about running one of their scams on the wide-eyed foreigner. Just be sure that your hat is wide, weathered and stylish enough that you come across as a traveler, not a tourist.

Form Vs. Function

Naturally, there’s a form versus function aspect to all this. A shirt can be the most comfortable article of clothing in the world, but if it looks hideous, I still have enough vanity not to wear it. And those mud-stomping, gel-filled, air-cooled, super-dope-looking hiking boots with 4.7 miles worth of laces certainly do have their place, but that place is not in the airport security line. I guess it all depends on the nature of the trip, how much you want to lug around, and of course, who you’re looking to impress. Personally, I go for the Indiana Jones & the Temple of Comfort look – part adventurer; part lazy bum – on travel days. After that I seek to return to my normal, style/weight-conscious self, who is happiest when filling in immigration forms and stretchy t-shirts around the globe.


Do you have an item of clothing that you won’t leave home without? Share it by leaving a comment below!

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Cruising Advice For People Who Don’t Like Cruising – Tip #1

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Rainbow over Puntarenas, Chile

As readers of this blog already know, I’m a big fan of cruising (see my book You Can Keep Your Adventure, Just Leave Me the Toilet Paper) In my professional experience, I have run across those who vehemently oppose the very idea of a vacation out on the briny. In this installment (and some future ones as well) I will use my insight, hindsight and foresight to explain why such opposition is unwarranted; nay, downright silly.

Tip #1 – Finding Your Escape Route

A common reason given by those who aren’t interested in a cruise vacation is the desire for privacy and the assumption that aboard a cruise ship, this is not a likely possibility. An understandable assumption to be sure, but we all know what happens when we assume.

The truth is that now more than ever, cruise guests have the option of greater privacy and less forced interaction with the maddening hordes clogging the buffet line. They key lies in knowing where to go (and not go) to get away from it all. The following are some examples of where you can go to escape the crowds so that this lame excuse of needing “privacy” can be debunked for the myth it truly is.

1) Your Cabin

Consider your cabin your own personal sanctuary. It is your space and your space alone. You can refuse daily cleaning service. You can order room service all day long from your bunk. You don’t even have to leave until disembarkation. If you want to live like a recluse and let your hair and fingernails grow until they curl, that is your option. Of course, if this is the option you choose, you might want to ask yourself why you’ve bothered to cruise at all. You’ll also probably want to take a shower.

Yes, for those moments you wish to be utterly alone, you can hide out in your own accommodations. If that’s your game plan, then I highly recommend that you invest on a nice cabin – preferably one with a balcony or a porthole – where you can take your rest and room service in peace. It will also help to get rid of the stink.

2) Your Table

That’s right, most cruise lines these days give guests the option of choosing freestyle dining times and configurations. So if you’re turned off at the idea of a week of forced conversation with strangers (which can be a lot more fun that you think) just let the maitre’d know you want a table for two. You and your significant other/family can dine in peace without hearing about how much the middle-aged couple from the Midwest lost at the casino or a how the elderly couple from Florida almost won at Bingo but were waiting on an I 27.

3)Adult-Only Areas

More and more, recently refitted ships are reserving portions of their public space as adult-only areas. Usually in the vicinity of the spa, these oases are all about relaxation and tranquility, and have zero room for screaming infants – or for that matter, any other screaming individuals regardless of their age . You may not be completely alone, but you’ll be far enough from the masses so that with a decent set of headphones it should be more than just an adequate amount of privacy.

4) Libraries and Lounges

Every ship has those little corners that look nice in the brochure but are often underutilized. The libraries are commonly without seething throngs of patrons and there’s always a bar or lounge that sits quietly when no scheduled activities are taking place. If you’d like to get out of your cabin but still would rather not rub elbows with the masses, this might just be a good compromise.

5) Your Own Balcony

I alluded to this in the first listing, but having a private balcony means you get to be with you, your travel partner(s) and the ocean below – that’s it. If that’s not enough privacy, then perhaps you should move out to a cabin in the woods. I hear the Unabomber’s is available…

There are other places you can go for “privacy” on a cruise ship – your closet, your suitcase, or you can sneak into a smokestack. But the above suggestions are enough to brush aside the quote unquote lack of privacy issue. Besides, if you really want to be by yourself that badly, maybe you should stay at home. Just remember to crack a window…

 

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