Tips for Traveling the World
I have flown enough miles by plane to circle the world five times over. I have lived and worked on nearly every continent and traveled to more countries than I wish to list. My passport became so full, I had to add pages to it (you can do that with American passports).While I still have thousands of places I haven't yet been, I'd say that my list is fairly comprehensive for a broke guy of only 27. I have made many of the mistakes. I have suffered on a budget of $1 a day. And while I have mostly lint to line my pockets, I'm a veritable millionaire in experiences and adventurous stories.
Here, I will try to give you as much information as I can and in a way that's useful for you so you can go traveling or living abroad yourself.
Cheap Plane Tickets
You'd like to get a cheap plane ticket? If you're traveling to a country that's poor and inexpensive, this could be the most expensive part of your trip. Here are some tips for finding cheap plane tickets:
Airline Search Engines
There are many great websites out there for finding the cheapest flight. Among them is skyscanner.com. A better, lesser known, Swedish website can be found here. When using these websites, there are a few tricks you could use in order to get a better price.
First of all, the more in advance you can book your flight, the better price you will get. Getting a better price also depends on when you are flying. If you're flying during peak season, the rates could be higher. It also helps to vary your dates by a few days too. Flying on a Tuesday tends to be cheaper.
Be careful, if some websites notice that you've bookmarked a particular flight, they'll raise the prices the next day. Get in there, do your research on which flight is cheapest and book it.
I've also heard that can be cheaper to buy your tickets very late at night. At 2am your time, try going online to buy your tickets and you might be able to save a couple hundred dollars or more.
Around the World Tickets
There are several websites out there that offer an around the world ticket. This is a ticket that you book to several different countries and you get a ridiculously cheap price for all the flights. If you are going to multiple countries and you have the foresight to plan your trips early on, I would recommend looking into this. Click here for the recommended "Around the World Ticket."
I've only heard of this through rumor, never tried it myself. While I've confirmed it through some veteran airline staff, it could nevertheless just be a rumor. With that disclaimer, read the following:
It is possible to get international plane tickets for free. Or that's the legend, anyway. Here's how it works: somebody flies with an airline and then leaves some valuable piece of luggage. They need it returned. What you do is you get to fly one way to return the luggage. I'm not sure if you bring it to the house or you just take it to the airport but regardless, your ticket is free.
Here's the catch though, you can't chose your destination and you need to be available at the drop of a hat. You get this by going to the baggage claim, not the check in counter. You ask if they have any packages that need to be returned, or something like this. Most likely, they wont have anything so you might have to check in several times before striking gold. Once you get something, I believe you have about one week to make up your mind. And then you're gone!
Again, this could be totally false so don't get your hopes up. But how cool does that sound?
When booking a flight, make sure you look at any additional fees, especially checked baggage. Some flights might look like the cheaper choice but once you slap on all the fees, it winds up being the more pricey one. Also, be sure to check the airline itself. Are they an airline that is constantly losing baggage or, say, vanishing without an explanation? (A reference to the Malaysia Airlines incident.)
By the way
Did you notice the picture above? It is the fine line between daytime and nighttime.
Manage Your Money
Before you leave the country, you should let your bank know that you will be travelling abroad. This way, you can avoid having your card be declined when you most need it. If you're making a career out of traveling, I would even suggest that you reevaluate the bank that you are with or the plan that you currently use. Some banks will charge a ridiculous amount of money for a single ATM withdrawal while other banks will give you bonus points for any money spent while traveling. Look into it.
If you are working in another country, I suggest setting up a bank account in that country and connecting a Paypal account to that foreign bank account. You should also set up a separate Paypal account that is linked to your bank back home. This way, if you are transferring money between the two countries, simply transfer from Paypal to Paypal. The percentage they take is much cheaper than a bank and you could wind up saving hundreds of dollars on needless wire transfer fees. Also, Paypal only takes a small percent and they don't have any wire transfer fee. That means you can transfer any small amount as many times as you'd like without the fees adding up.
Don't ever use Western Union. They cost an arm and a leg. This would only be handy in a last ditch effort to stay afloat. This is only handy if all your belongings are stolen (except your passport -- proof of identity) and you need to be bailed out.
I highly recommend getting some travel insurance. You can get many things covered such as lost baggage or injuries. It's very unlikely that you will need it but it's always good to be prepared.
If you are doing volunteer work, there are some companies that offer some fantastic and inexpensive travel insurance.
My favorite currency exchange is Travelex. They have nice, low rates and you don't get charged a fee, just a percentage. Many currency exchanges will charge you a small fee plus the percentage. Also, many currency exchange places will charge you a fee for each unit of currency you are getting. Not the case with Travelex.
When exchanging your money abroad, be cautious of who you are exchanging your money with. Exchanging at the airport is always safe but you might not necessarily get the best price. It can be good to go to a bank closer to your hotel. Just remember, in changing money, you'll always lose some small amount of money, no matter what. You can essentially chalk it up as a "travel expense."
There is the option of bringing gold bullion jewelry across the border and then selling it at a gold shop. That way, you probably wont lose any money to conversion. I am mostly saying this as a joke, even though it could be an option. This is extremely risky, however, because some countries might view this as gold smuggling, which can be as high a punishment as smuggling drugs. You also open yourself up to robbery, etc.
Additionally, never exchange money from vendors on the street. That's just common sense but it had to be said because some people do that.
It's important to pay taxes to the country you are working in. More importantly, you should always file your taxes in your home country as well. I suggest talking to your tax guy about this.
Be safe. It's an amazing world out there that is filled with mostly good people but don't let this fool you that very real danger lurks out there in many shapes and forms.
Be aware of robbers, pickpockets and muggers. This mostly boils down to common sense. When you're traveling, you should develop a high alert at all times. The people who let their guard down are the people who become victims.
Many people carry a money pouch that is hidden under your shirt. This is difficult for pickpockets to access and muggers don't always check for it.
When traveling by bus, pick a seat that is by the window near the luggage door. This way you can easily see if some punk is about to run away with your bag. Also, you should only put less valuable, bulky things in the main luggage and keep anything truly valuable in a separate bag that you always keep with you. The main luggage can go down below and you keep your smaller bag in your lap.
Unless you're staying at a fancy hotel, I would hide some of my valuables inside my hotel room. I also like to set up decoy bags and prop things on them so I can easily tell if anybody has gone through my bag while I was out.
When you're out and about, just pay attention to what's happening around you at all times. Pickpockets are very skilled in their trade. Don't get distracted and let your guard down. In Thailand they have a saying that translates to "pineapple eyes." Have you ever noticed how pineapples seem to have many "eyes" all around them? This means that you can always see everything around you. When you're traveling, you should always have pineapple eyes.
In some countries, a beer or two is the same price as a hotel room. At this point it can be a choice between having a beer or being able to travel longer. But people want to drink when they're abroad. Some people feel that they need to cut loose in a way that is impossible back home. It baffles me why someone would spend so much money, flying across the world to get wasted when they could do it in their own city.
Regardless, sometimes you might go for a drink. When you get your drink, try to make sure nothing was slipped into it. Watch the bartender mix it or make sure the bottles are closed when you get them. If anybody brings you an already opened bottle of beer, send it back.
Keep your wits about you. I think you're a fool for getting drunk in a foreign country as this is the best time for others to rob, rape or even kidnap you. Don't think someone would kidnap you? Think again. Human trafficking is the second most profitable illegal activity in the world. That's big business. That means it happens often enough that you should be wary. I don't mean to scare you out of traveling but you must be responsible and cautions.
As I was saying above, kidnapping is very real. And the likelihood of us having a father like Liam Neeson (Taken) to save us, isn't very high. Don't think that you will be able to spot a kidnapper so easily. He wont necessarily be a scruffy man with an eye patch, missing teeth and a peg leg. He could be a clean cut, perfect gentleman. He might even take care of you, put you up in a hotel room where he doesn't even lay a finger on you. He may even have plenty of chances to kidnap you but doesn't. You think he's a nice guy and you let your guard down. Then, one day, you find yourself in a situation where his friends outnumber you and then you have no way out.
I've known some girls who had different tricks of staying safe. For example, if they even had the slightest discomfort about a taxi driver, they'd take a photo of his license plate with their phone, making sure the driver could see. Then they would pretend to be on the phone with a friend, telling them everything about where she was on the drive, etc.
Know your tier rating system. But always keep on alert as if the country you're visiting is Tier 3. Click here for more information about the Tier Rating.
Follow the laws of the country you are in. Some countries have extremely steep penalties for drug use. You could be facing several years in some of the world's most harsh prisons for being caught with a single joint. Or, depending on how much you have, you could be facing life in prison (not back home, in the country you did the crime) or you could even be looking at the death penalty.
Even if you are in a country where drugs are legal, I recommend staying away due to the safety issues listed earlier in this section.
I will make this simple: DO NOT SMUGGLE ANYTHING, EVER. If you're having difficulty with this one, I suggest that you watch episodes of "Locked Up Abroad" until it sinks in.
As I said earlier, it's a good idea to have traveler's insurance. I also recommend researching your country along the line of medical problems and get the needed shots before your trip.
This comes in handy more often than you would think. For more on this see my hub, How to Bribe Somebody: For Dummies.
Couchsurfing.org is a remarkable thing. This is a free website for travelers who understand how expensive hotels are when you're travelling and they offer you their couch to stay on for a night or so. I'd say that 98% of the people on that website are good people who like to help.
You can search for a place to stay anywhere in the world. You can specify when you'll be coming and if you are travelling with a companion, etc. Some people have a couch for you. Some people just have a bare spot on the floor while others with provide a decked out guest bedroom. You'll probably have your own room but you might be sharing a bachelor apartment with a married couple. All of this is clearly explained on the host's profile.
You can stay of a day, you can stay for a week. Everything is between the surfer and the host.
I have hosted countless people, providing them with their own room. Very often the people would bring interesting gifts from their home country. And almost every traveler had amazing stories. Very often you'll make lasting relationships.
I think that couchsurfing is great not only because you are saving money on accommodation but you will also be staying with a local who knows the good spots to go. Think about it: they know the good restaurants and interesting things to see that most other tourists would never find.
Some hosts are more involved with their guests while some will give you a room and leave you alone. Some surfers would like to be taken around town by their hosts while others just want a quiet place to crash for one night. It all depends on the individual.
I recommend looking into a person's profile before surfing with them or hosting them. You'll know then if they're your kind of person. You aren't obligated to be with anybody who you don't want around you.
I've had an Italian man stay at my place who rode his motorcycle from his house in Italy all the way to my house in Thailand. (You're thinking about how that's physically possible right now, aren't you?) I've had a couple stay with me who were traveling the world and funding it through their ability to walk on stilts, breathe fire and juggle. This list of amazing people I've met through couchsurfing goes on and on.
If you are going to travel, sign up for this website.
Unless you're rich or able to telecommute, you'll need to get a job in another country if you plan on staying abroad.
Possibly one of the best types of jobs you could get would be a position at an international company. Maybe and American company has a branch office in Singapore and they need personnel to live out there. In this case, you'll get a good salary, living arrangements, etc. This is, however, more difficult to get and it requires that you have education and/or experience in a specialized field.
What about the average person then? Typical jobs for foreigners include English teacher, au pair, farm worker, factory worker, fisherman, hotel staff, restaurant/bar staff or any number of physical labor jobs such as woofing.
I will attempt a general outline of different jobs in different areas.
The best job for a foreigner in Asia, especially a native English speaker, would be to teach English. Most every country requires you to have a university degree and a TEFL certificate (Teaching English as a Foreign Language). In many of these countries, schools are required to have a native English speaking teacher but there aren't enough teachers so they start to look the other way on your qualifications. If you do have your university degree and TEFL, you can land teaching jobs where you make three grand a month and the school pays for your housing. With meals being as cheap as one or two dollars, you are essentially living like a king.
Remember, learning English isn't just a fun pastime fun people in Asian countries. English is a global language, the language of businessmen, doctors, computer programmers and engineers. Knowing English gives them opportunities in their career that they would never see otherwise. Being able to speak English means that they can get better jobs and earn more money. Teachers are highly regarded and respected. So don't think that you are a bum of a traveler and you can dress and act sloppy. No. You are the key to success and prosperity and your dress and manner should reflect it.
South Korea and Japan (and possibly Singapore) are the best paid countries as far as teaching goes. The cost of living is higher than other Asian countries but in the end you'll have more spending cash for when you go back home.
Thailand is probably the most popular SE Asian country for English teachers. Thailand is more lax on the requirements and they have so many public holidays. Thailand has three different New Years that happen during different times of the year and they get time off for each one of them.
Vietnam has a surprisingly good market for English teachers. You earn more in Vietnam than you would in Thailand but they have few holidays and the air pollution can be depressing at times. As far as the history goes with the Vietnam war, they don't hold a grudge. They're very friendly to Americans.
China is in high demand for English teachers but most of the schools pay a small amount of money. I believe they average about $500 -- $900 a month of salary. The upside to this, however, is that many of the schools only have you working an average of twenty hours a week.
Cambodia, Laos and Malaysia are not the favored places to earn money as a teacher though Malaysia is the best of these three. You could work in North Korea too, even if you're American. It has happened before. Though this would be very difficult in many ways.
Every country has their pros and cons. I could write pages and pages about this but I will leave it up to you to research. Here are some things you should consider when looking at teaching in a country:
- Hours of teaching per week
- Hours of lesson planning per week
- Qualifications needed
- If housing is covered
- Vacation time
- Culture, places to visit and food
New Zealand and Australia
Kiwis and Aussies are very friendly and you shouldn't have trouble getting around because they speak English. Both Australia and New Zealand offer a working holiday visa as long as you're younger than thirty years old.
You typically earn more money in Australia but New Zealand is far more beautiful.
Jobs you can get in either country are farm work, hotel work, restaurant work, etc. Australia also has a large mining industry that pays big money. It might be difficult getting into it and mining work is very physically demanding but you have the opportunity to make and save thousands of dollars a month.
If you are going for fruit picking work in either country, make sure that you arrive at the right time, depending on the type of fruit you will be picking. Remember, fruit picking can be fun but it's more physical than you'd think. Be prepared.
This is more of a tough nut to crack, depending on what country you will be going to. Authorities don't look the other way like they do in Asia or South America. You'll need to have the proper work documents, visas, etc.
Europe tends to be an American's first choice of travel. And it's one of the more expensive places to live (depending on the country) and more difficult to find work as an immigrant.
In Europe you can teach English but you must have your TEFL at least. Some countries, such as Norway, have a big industries in things like oil. You could earn decent money doing that but who goes to Europe to go way north and work on an oil rig? Most people romanticize about France, Italy, Spain or the UK.
Unless you have a specific career path you have already been on or you have a very specialized skill set, then you will most easily find work in Europe doing any number of physical labor jobs.
South America and Africa
I'm not going to get too much into this as these are the areas where I'm least knowledgeable. I know that in South America you can work on some farms or as an English teacher but you wont be making a substantial amount of money. You will only be making enough money to stay afloat and enjoy the experience. This is worth it though as the Latin American culture is rich in so many ways. Not only do they have amazing food but the strong family and group dynamics are potent enough to melt your heart.
Otherwise, the pattern for Africa and South America typically follows the same patterns as the other continents listed above.
Tips for Working Abroad
- Always have your contract sorted out before you start working.
- Make sure your contract is in a language that you can understand.
- Remember, nobody ever has the right to detain you or keep your passport.
- Check a company's reputation before starting.
- Your embassy is your best friend.
- Authorities in that country will help you. Never feel backed off from seeking help from a foreign government.
- Getting a job in a foreign country is always easiest when you're already in that country.
These are just some generally useful tips to have when traveling:
Research the visa requirements of the country you will be visiting.
Do this through the official website rather than through some Joe's blog. Each country has different requirements depending on which country you're from. In many cases you can get a visa on arrival but this isn't always the case. Airlines are always happy to take your money but they wont necessarily tell you to have your documents in order until you are at the airport, trying to check in.
Research the visa requirements of the country you will have a layover in.
You didn't think of this, did you? The chances of this being a problem are very rare but it could happen. For example, if my memory serves me right, US citizens must have a special visa if their layover is longer than 24 hours in a Russian airport, even if they wont be leaving the airport. Be safe, check this one too.
Always carry some USD.
The US Dollar is widely accepted and it's always a good idea to have $20 -- $40 USD in your bag as a reserve, regardless of where you're from originally. Most countries accept USD. You could be on a layover in, say, Qatar and you want some of their delicious food but don't have any qatari riyal. They might not want your British pounds but they'd accept a few USD. What if you're stuck at the Ha Noi airport, unable to pay the second fee even though you already paid an initial fee online. (Any of you who have traveled to Vietnam can relate to this.) USD comes in handy in so many situations and it's always wise to have some in case of an emergency.
Always keep some passport photos on you.
I tend to keep several passport photos in my backpack at any given time. I like to get them for a few dollars when I'm in a poorer country. This saves me money from trying to get them back home and it's surprising how often you wind up using these little photos.
Print out copies of documents and flight info.
The title is pretty self explanatory but this is important too. You should keep a copy of your bank statements and flight info. You should show proof that you're leaving the country. Proof of travel plans or hotel, if you have them can be useful too.
Pig Latin comes in handy.
If you are with someone such as an authority or corrupt law enforcement officer and you would like to speak to your friend without the officer understanding you, you can speak Pig Latin. This might seem childish but you never know how good their English is. Speaking another language -- such as Spanish or French, for example -- is risky as many officials can be surprisingly multi-lingual. Pig Latin is a good way to speak in code in front of others while you are abroad.
Have an address of where you're staying.
Sounds silly but you should have an address of where you intend on staying for when you are going through customs. This was almost a problem for me when I was trying to get into Australia. Customs officers don't accept that you're just going to "wing it." You can get away with putting down an ambiguous hotel name with no address.