Japan: Leaving a job overseas

As someone living a mere ferry ride from the coast of Japan, I’ve been hearing a lot of debate among ESL teachers as to whether they should leave the area or not. Italy has offered a free flight home to their citizens living in the area, and other countries have issued warnings to leave at one’s own discretion.

It takes a certain amount of planning and effort to find and secure a job overseas, move your things there, and get settled. Some people would think it mad to leave when there is no direct threat looming. However those closer to the disaster may think differently. Ultimately, however, whatever you decide is the best choice for you.

Are you an English teacher living in Japan and thinking of leaving? Or have you left your job in a different foreign country due to a local disaster or crisis? Tell us your story.

Posted by | Comments (2)  | March 23, 2011
Category: Asia, Travel Safety, Volunteering Abroad

Are trusted traveler programs worth it?

I regularly fly through Houston’s IAH airport when I’m returning from travel to Central and South America, and lately, I’ve been running into brochures for the Global Entry Trusted Traveler Program. Enrolling allows members to speed past those horribly long immigration lines, and check in at a kiosk instead, currently available at 20 airports in the United States and Puerto Rico.

So far, because I’m not into giving the government more information than is absolutely necessary at any given time, I haven’t signed up. You enroll online, which seems easy enough, and pay a $100 application fee. Then, you must schedule an interview at one of the Global Entry Enrollment Centers. If the interviewer determines that you’re eligible to enter the program, they’ll take your photo and fingerprint scans. All done!

There are a slew of reasons why a person may not be eligible, so don’t waste your money and apply if you meet any of the descriptions. Additionally, if you already belong to other trusted traveler programs such as NEXUS or SENTRI, you don’t need to pay the application fee.

Are you a member? If so, has the program been beneficial for you? If you’re not a member, what’s the barrier to entry for you: cost, privacy, or other?

Posted by | Comments (1)  | October 8, 2010
Category: Air Travel, Travel Safety

Packing light girl-style

Lightweight female travel

As you may have noticed, Rolf is currently in the midst of traveling around the world with only what he can carry in his pockets.  He’s got a toothbrush, a change of underpants, and an iPod Touch to do his blog posting from, as well as some presumably bulging cargo pants pockets.  I did see one blog post on his round-the-world-as-a-lightweight diary, pointing out that replicating the experience for women would be majorly worth a go.

There are a couple of things that women have to deal with when traveling that men don’t, which make it somewhat harder — but not impossible! — to cram everything into your pockets.  Clothing-wise, women can wear the same clothes as men — depending on which countries you go to, nobody will chuck you out for wearing a long-sleeved shirt and cargo pants instead of a flouncy sundress.  You may have to dress up for a formal state dinner, but, well, maybe consider buying something from a thrift shop in your dinner location?  Or borrowing?  Or consider doing the whole thing in an easy-to-wash dress over your cargo pants — check out Alex Martin’s Little Brown Dress project for how that might be possible.

So what do women need to worry about that men don’t?  Primarily, in terms of stuff to carry: periods.  Yep, we have these irritating times of the month (most of us) that make us carry supplies.  There’s a couple of low-impact-packing solutions to this one: get a menstrual cup, which can be washed and reused every period, squishes down to a small size, and can even be boiled for sanitation (if you get a silicone one).  Consider the Diva or the Mooncup.  Alternate solutions to reusable menstrual supplies: some IUDs, particularly hormonal ones, will reduce or get rid of your period entirely.  You can also use birth control pills to manipulate your period, although then you have to carry birth control pills too.

Personal safety can be more of an issue for women than men as well.  For things that fit in pockets, a rape whistle is pretty handy, lightweight, and can be very surprising and deterring in a pinch.  A Wedge It doorstop can be used on the inside of your hotel/hostel/bedroom door to stop anyone from opening it while you sleep…or used as a bottle opener, a fancy necklace, or for it’s original purpose: to keep doors open.  In a pinch, you can also wedge anything solid under a door: like your toothbrush.

What else do you think women might want that men don’t need?  How would you adapt it for the lowest amount of packing you could possibly do?

Posted by | Comments (6)  | September 7, 2010
Category: Female Travelers, General, Simplicity, Solo Travel, Travel Gear, Travel Safety, Vagabonding Advice

Are you seeing the whole road?

I got stopped by the police last night because my flashlight was at half-power. Specifically, my car had a headlight out. I couldn’t see the whole road, and the road couldn’t see much of me.

The officer wanted to make sure I knew, because people often overlook their lack of illumination. It’s easy to do. You can get by with one headlight, streetlamps mask the outage, or it’s not fully dark yet.

Travelers and would-be travelers: Are both your headlights working? Are you seeing the whole road? When one goes out, who can you trust to tell you?

(And hey, if you’re on a motorcycle, it’s even more important to keep that headlight shining…)

Photo by marfis75 via Flickr.

Posted by | Comments (0)  | July 28, 2010
Category: Travel Health, Travel Safety, Vagabonding Life

The US State Dept unveils an all new travel site

After a year of collecting suggestions from over 32,000 people, the U.S Dept of State has unveiled a completely revamped source for travel information, travel.state.gov.

While most Americans may only interact with the Bureau of Consular Affairs when they obtain or renew their passports, their charter also includes assisting citizens who fall victim to crime, accident or illness in other countries, or just want to cast their absentee votes in US elections. They “deal with events and issues that have a personal impact: birth, death, marriage, adoption, child custody, citizenship, and relocation to another country” and they manage the visa applications of visiting foreign nationals.

Together, the CIA World Factbook and the State Dept site provide vagabonders with useful information when planning international travel, such as the history, climate, geography, political structure, economy, travel warnings, entry and exit requirements, crime, medical facilities, criminal penalties, and embassy locations of countries worldwide.

The new travel.state.gov highlights recent travel alerts on their front page, such as lifting a six month warning on Sri Lanka and noting a possible danger during the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. There are easily navigable links to hurricanes and emergencies, passports and visas, and of course, country information, where you can find out that “Traffic in Laos is chaotic and road conditions are very rough. Few roads have lane markings. Where lane markings, road signs, and stoplights do exist, they are widely ignored. Many drivers are unlicensed, inexperienced, and uninsured,” or that “An exit tax must be paid when departing Guatemala by air.”

Posted by | Comments (2)  | May 27, 2010
Category: Travel News, Travel Safety, Working Abroad

Demystifying Mexico travel warnings

Mexico FlagWith the current war on Mexico’s drug traffickers erupting into violence in certain border towns, some folks with travel plans to Mexico are confused about whether to keep them. Here are some tips on how to study up on the current situation and the likelihood of events affecting you on your travels.

  • Check travel warnings from the United States Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs. The most current one, issued on March 14, advises delaying unnecessary travel to parts of Durango, Coahuila and Chihuahua states (with details on which towns and why). Even if vagabonders may not be traveling for Spring Break, read the “Spring Break in Mexico—Know Before You Go” post on the site. It lists specific issues in some destination cities, as well as overall safety tips.
  • Balance the above travel warnings with those of another country, such as the travel advice from the U.K.’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (its most recent update is listed for March 18). The advice given can only add to your understanding, and help you determine whether you should delay or adjust your trip … or continue with your plans. Even though government agencies may be interested in looking out for citizens when they travel abroad, remember that they are government agencies, and may have political agendas as to how issues may be worded.
  • Review other sources, especially those that regularly update lists of worldwide safety concerns, such as World Travel Watch.
  • I often do an online search of news articles on the area. Looking at the situation from all angles gives me a better perspective on whether I’m likely to be affected as a traveler.
  • Standard travel safety tips (such as not being showy with money and gear, being wary about walking alone at night, etc.) apply in places around the world. It’s always good to remember them.

I traveled to Honduras in August and September 2009, when the U.S. State Department advised against “non-essential travel” to the country. I follow news in Honduras daily and went anyway, and happened to be in country when former President “Mel” Zelaya returned. Aside from a 12-hour curfew, which was not observed in my area, my travel was unaffected.

Above all, it’s your vacation and your decision. If you have plans to visit Mexico, by all means go. Just read up on the destinations you’ll be visiting so you don’t overreact and you know what to expect. It’ll also help you put the worries of relatives and friends to rest when they ask about your trip.

Do you have a great source you consult for travel safety information? Please share it in the comments section.

Posted by | Comments (10)  | March 19, 2010
Category: North America, Travel Safety

Tools and tips for immediate post-earthquake travel in Chile

Terremoto en TemucoAfter the 8.8-magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami that struck central Chile on the morning of February 27, the country is focusing on cleaning up, getting aid to affected regions and attempting to return to functionality. What do you do if you’re traveling or scheduled to travel in the country?

Citizens of the United States are encouraged by the U.S. State Department to register with its travel registration website to receive updated information on security and travel within Chile. For U.S. citizens in Chile without Internet access, it’s suggested that you contact the U.S. Embassy in Santiago (tel. 56-2-330-3000). Canadians in Chile requiring emergency consular assistance should contact the Canadian Embassy in Santiago at 56-2-652-3800. For contact information of other embassies in Chile, check this list.

If you’re looking for someone in Chile, or if you’re in country and trying to communicate to folks back home, the Google Person Finder is available for this need. Other options are to contact your country’s embassy or state department.

Strong aftershocks following an earthquake of this magnitude may occur for weeks afterward. The American Red Cross recommends that in the event of an aftershock, people who are outdoors should avoid being struck by falling debris by moving to open spaces, away from walls, buildings and other structures that may collapse.  If indoors, get under a sturdy desk or table, hold on, and protect your eyes by pressing your face against your arm. If there is not a table or desk nearby, sit on the floor against an interior wall away from windows and tall furniture that may fall on you.

WorldNomads.com has put together an extensive list of advice for travelers currently in Chile, from safety tips to environmental hazards. If you have plans to visit Chile in the next few weeks, check out Wendy Perrin’s region-by-region report on where it’s safe to go according to Chile travel specialist Vanessa Guibert Heitner. And guidebook author Wayne Bernhardson has provided first-hand information from his contacts in Chile in his blog.

As the Santiago airport gets back to normal service, some travel may be a bit easier—especially to those areas that were minimally affected by the earthquake and tsunami. According to The Wall Street Journal, the airport has begun to operate national and international flights with restrictions.

Are you in Chile? Please share your tips and experience about the current situation in the comments section.

Posted by | Comments (3)  | March 5, 2010
Category: South America, Travel Safety

Survival: Don’t count on the helicopters

The recent Machu Picchu rescues succeeded admirably, but in most emergencies there won’t be a helicopter ready to whisk you to safety. Whether at home or abroad, you have to be prepared to rely on your feet.

Be prepared to walk to the nearest gas station, through a pitch-black subway tunnel, or down the fire escape. Through waist-deep monsoon rain in Trivandrum, out of New Orleans, or across the Brooklyn Bridge on the most horrific day of your life.

No matter where you are, at any moment there’s the chance of becoming a refugee. We have to be careful not to let the Machu Picchu incident fuel the false notion that survival scenarios only pop up deep in the Andes, or on a poor Caribbean island, or when the ground gives out high in the Himalayas. The more time you spend on Earth, period, the greater your chances of finding yourself in a tight spot.

When disaster happens at home, at least you have a reserve of local knowledge to draw on. You know what’s over the horizon, how to speak the language, and a million other mini-advantages. But while traveling, confusion can rapidly take over. It’s your duty to maintain an understanding of where you are while on the road. Just in case circumstances demand you decide between walking, pronto, or staying put.

Know where you are — it sounds superficial. It’s not. It’s easy to hop on a train knowing only the name of your destination. To fall asleep on a bus and wake up in strange surroundings. What lies within a one, ten, fifty, hundred mile radius? Where does that river go? What’s on the other side of those mountains? How tall are they? What’s up the coastline? And in the other direction? Who lives where? What kind of weather might develop overnight?

There are many sources of survival skills that trump a blog post (preferably hands-on training), so I’ll avoid any specific tips. However, the most important thing, more than any individual skill, is shifting your mind into survival mode. This is what will keep your feet going.

It’s what 17 year-old Juliane Köpcke did when she walked 11 days through the Amazon with one sandal after a plane crash. It’s what sustained Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and three other Spaniards for eight years as they bungled their way from Florida to Mexico City, the only survivors of a soured 1528 expedition. Two weeks ago, it’s what Cole Gainer did when he left Machu Picchu at 4 a.m. and walked 27 painful miles to Ollantaytambo. And it’s what would have been required of the other 3,900 locals and foreigners if not for the helicopters.

How do you prepare for the unexpected while traveling?

Photo by h.koppdelaney via Flickr.

Posted by | Comments (3)  | February 10, 2010
Category: Notes from the collective travel mind, Travel Health, Travel Safety

Handy skills every traveler should learn

Apart from time, some money, and an open mind, the act of traveling doesn’t really require much from the traveler. Still, there’s always an incident where I find myself saying “I wish I knew how to do that”. Here are some skills I wish I learned before I started traveling:

Tying knots. I used to think that knots were mostly for scouts – until I was forced to deal with an uncooperative clothesline. For clear instructions on how to tie knots, visit AnimatedKnots.com. Apart from having an animated tutorial, the knots are categorized based on use – such as boating, camping, and home use.

First aid. From stomach pains after an unusual meal to a sprained ankle while hiking, there’s no shortage of situations where you’ll need a bit of first aid knowledge. The Mayo Clinic website and Health World both list emergency first aid procedures. Nothing beats a real-life demonstration so attend a first aid class or workshop, if you can. Keep in mind that first aid is only emergency care. It’s not a substitute for a licensed doctor’s help.

Map and compass reading.
While many writers have said that the best part of travel is getting lost,  too much of it can be an inconvenience. No matter how adventurous you are, there’s always the odd situation where you need to find your way back. This is where reading a map and a compass comes in. This PDF file from Britain’s Ordnance Survey discusses the basics of map reading. As for using a compass, the Learn Orienteering site has several illustrated lessons.

Camping. If done right, camping can prove to be a cheaper and more exciting accommodation alternative when you’re traveling. Of course, this depends on the campsite, your level of experience, and your expectations. For a beginner’s guide to camping, check out Go-Camping.org, Love the Outdoors and Smart Camping Guide. Local state parks also often have camping workshops. For me, the most intensive way to learn is to go on trips with friends or relatives who are already experienced campers.

What other skills proved to be valuable during your trips? Share them with us in the comments.

Image by mioawee from sxc.hu

Posted by | Comments (5)  | July 22, 2009
Category: Adventure Travel, Backpacking, Travel Safety, Vagabonding Advice

Safety Tips for Danger Zones

Money belt

Money belt

While many intrepid backpackers talk up the joys of traveling to “dangerous” countries, it still pays to be exercise some good sense.  New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristoff assembled an excellent list of safety tips.  Some of the humor is very tongue-in-cheek, such as his advice on dealing with terrorists.

One tip I would add is to have a copy of your travel insurance policy on hand, with the policy number and international phone number highlighted.

Even just buying travel insurance is something many travelers forget to do.  An Australian government website has a collection of sobering stories about the dangers of being an uninsured traveler.

The website also helpfully points out another risk of going to danger zones: “In choosing a policy, we would note some insurance policies will not always cover claims made in those countries to which the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade recommends against travel.”  Read the fine print, and choose wisely.

Got any safety tips to share?

Posted by | Comments (2)  | July 10, 2009
Category: Travel Safety, Vagabonding Advice