Those of you following my blogs know that I am well into a trip around the world. Along the way I’ve realized I’ve done some things right – and there are things I would have done differently if I had to do it over again. Let’s start with what I would change.
I thought I would buy travel clothes in various countries as I traveled through them. That is a good idea if you want to pick up a few accent or fun items here and there but a bad idea for assembling your ‘real’ travel wardrobe. When I was traveling I found it was hard to find the quality and style of clothes I wanted. I wasted a lot of time looking around. At home, I knew exactly where to go to get what I wanted.
Without question, your most important piece of clothing is your shoes. Get shoes with thick rubber soles. I bought New Balance shoes and lived in them.
Buy most of your clothes at MEC if you live in Canada or REI if you live in the States. The clothes are a bit pricey but they will last you longer than stylish clothes and will give you a lower ‘cost per wear.’
Take the Biggest External Battery Pack You Can Find
Battery packs are heavy and I wanted to minimize my weight, so I made the mistake of discarding my battery pack that would recharge my phone, iPad and camera. In retrospect, I see that was a big mistake. In many parts of the world you simply cannot find a place to plug in your iPad or phone. Right now, I’m sitting in a Starbucks in Makati, Philippines. This is the business centre of the country. The coffee vendor offers good internet but there is absolutely no place to plug in to recharge my battery. This is not unusual outside North America.
If your electronic equipment is important to you – and they are vital to me – then buy the biggest battery pack you can you can find. Keep it charged.
Give a Friend an Irrevocable Power of Attorney
While I was in Asia, I lost my Bank of Montreal ATM card. Getting a replacement should not have been a problem – or so I thought. I called my bank, explained that I was traveling and had lost my card, and asked for a replacement. The bank agent asked me to go to my local branch in Canada to get a replacement. I tried to explain that I was on the other side of the planet and that it would be inconvenient to fly back just to get a replacement. The agent wouldn’t budge.
I could have short circuited this problem if I had given a friend an irrevocable power of attorney before I had left the country. I could have had the POA notarized in Canada and there would have been no question that it was legitimate. As it turned out, I had to turn backflips to get a replacement card. The lesson is clear: give a friend an irrevocable power of attorney. You never know when you’ll need it.
Keep Your Luggage Locked – Always
I have a couple travel locks I slip through the zipper pulls to keep my luggage locked. It’s always a bit of a hassle to put them in place and then remove them just a few minutes later. So, when I was in ‘safe’ places I didn’t bother. That proved to be a mistake. You are NEVER in a safe place.
I remember two overnight bus trips I took in Thailand. I kept my backpack close to me and slept with one eye open. An experienced thief worked his way through the bus looking for opened bags. He found mine and pulled out most, but not all, of my cash. He never touched my passport or anything else. The result was that I suffered a loss that was a major inconvenience but not a catastrophe. It wasn’t worth reporting to the police. I met a few others on the bus who suffered the same fate.
In addition to zipper locks, I also bought a loop lock. This lock has a metal cord that wraps through my luggage handles and something fairly secure such as a building pipe or a big piece of furniture. Thieves can break these locks if they really want to, but that’s not the point – 99.9% of all thefts are ‘thefts of convenience’ (I just made that number up!). If you make it the least bit inconvenient for a thief, he won’t bother stealing from you.
Don’t Cancel Your Old Phone Number
When I left Canada, I cancelled my cell phone number because I planned to be away for 5 years or more. I set up a VOIP service with Fongo and chose a new phone number. Obviously, the people who call me at my old number can no longer reach me. Recently I found that Fongo allows you to transfer your old phone number to their service. That’s a huge plus! Of course, callers can only reach you when you are in the presence of WiFi, but that does not need to be a problem. You can just roll your calls over to voice mail and play them back the next time you are near a good internet signal.
Interestingly, I’ve found that the voice quality and the number of dropped calls with Fongo is far superior than with Skype. My friends south of the 49th parallel should look for an American VOIP service such as Line2. One of my buddies recommended I check out Google Talk to make free phone calls anywhere in North America from anywhere in the world!
Don’t Buy a Good Camera!
A few months ago I bought a beautiful Sony HX400V compact camera. This little beauty is loaded with features that made me drool. I paid $500 USD for the camera in a duty free shop in Bangkok.
Then I started learning what is wrong with the camera. One day I crawled onto a boat and dropped my camera bag just a few inches; the camera hit the boat with a thud. That knocked the camera out of whack! I didn’t think the impact was great enough to cause a problem but I was wrong. Fortunately, the camera was still under warranty. I took the camera into the Sony repair depot in Bangkok along with my receipt and they did an excellent job of repairing the camera within a few days.
But there are a couple ‘gotchas.’ First, I had to pay $20 for the taxi to get out to the Sony depot to drop the camera off and another $20 a few days later to run back to pick it up. Ouch! A couple months later while I was in the Philippines, I needed another repair. The Philippine service centre would not initiate the repair without my warranty card. I had thrown that card away because I had registered my camera online. As it turns out, the Philippine service centres don’t have access to those online registrations (the Philippines operates in the dark ages in so many ways I can’t begin to explain how bad it is.) At the end of the day, I could not get my camera repaired in the Philippines and I had to wait until I returned to Bangkok. I later learned that the Philippines offers one of the worst customer support programs for all products and services in the world!
My advice would be to buy a smaller camera with fewer features for a lower price and ask specifically whether the camera is shock resistant (not shock proof). You want to be able to throw you camera in your knapsack and carry it around on your outings without worrying about breaking it. I need to look into lighter weight, shock resistant cameras before I can recommend one. In the meantime, I recommend you check out what Kim Komando has to say about cameras. She gives good advice about a wide range of consumer products.
Figure Out the Bare Minimum You Can travel With – Then Get Rid of a Third of It
I was planning to go to some cold countries and some warm countries so I packed for both seasons. I knew the water in India and Nepal was undrinkable so I bought a top-of-the-line Katadyn water filter and extra filters. I bought a nano-lantern because I knew that some places didn’t have electricity. And the list goes on and on.
I lugged this stuff around for six months and then realized that I wouldn’t need the water filter or some of the other stuff for at least another year. When I finally ‘got it,’ I started throwing stuff away, giving stuff away and mailing stuff home. With a bit of work, I was able to get my load down to what I could carry in my own two hands. At that point I was truly mobile.
Now, I’m planning to head off to Nepal and I need the stuff I mailed home to Canada. No problem! I just sent an email to my Canadian friend and asked her to send me the box I sent to her some 9 months ago. Sure, it cost me a few bucks to mail the stuff back and forth but it is definitely worth it because I didn’t have to carry it for those 9 months. Now, I will have the stuff I need during my trip in Nepal. When I am ready to leave Nepal, I will mail the stuff home again.