FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
This document is not intended to be an exhaustive list of answers to every travel question, since many of those are specific to the individual or group. If you don’t find the answer to your questions below, I’m happy to set up a private consultation with you. Simply email me at email@example.com
Below you’ll find responses to general questions regarding what to pack, camera equipment and photography, computers, phones and internet, travel visas, vaccinations and other tips and trips for short or long-term travel.
In addition to the answers below, I invite you visit my Pinterest page at www.pinterest.com/johnmlangford/travel . You’ll find a wealth of information for travelers which I update frequently.
Please email me with any suggestions to add to this list!!
HOW CAN I FINANCE LONG-TERM TRAVEL?
I traveled for 3 years and financed my travels exclusively from the proceeds of selling everything I own (and I do mean EVERYTHING) and then investing the money. So, in order to make my travels last as long as possible, I’ve lived frugally and forgone the comforts that other travelers wouldn’t. On the other hand, some of the backpackers I’ve traveled with would view my budget and style of traveling as extravagant.
I arbitrarily came up with a budget based loosely on previous travel I’ve done and how long I wanted to travel. I took my net profit and divided by 48 months, which gave me 3 years to travel and a year of income when I returned. I was about 30% over budget, but my investments have taken care of the difference and I returned to the States significantly under budget. And then I broke my collarbone and the visit to the emergency room and subsequent surgery took care of that!
Keep in mind that your budget not only has to include:
• getting to destination and on to the next one and then your eventual return
• buses and taxis
• car or van rental
• entrance fees to national parks, museums, temples
• any activities or side trips you want to do while you’re there such as scuba diving, zip lining or visiting an elephant rescue organization
• travel visas
• departure taxes
• incidentals like toiletries and clothing
• unforeseen expenses like medical care or having to purchase a last minute flight
Ways to earn income or reduce travel expenses:
Read “How to Travel for Free (or pretty damn near it!)" by Shelley Seale and Keith Hajovsky
Volunteering: Do NOT pay to volunteer!!
Peace Corps and NGO’s
I’M A LITTLE NERVOUS ABOUT TRAVELING ALONE…ANY SUGGESTIONS?
Yes..Travel alone. At least for part of your trip. You will have a COMPLETELY different experience than traveling with a partner or a group. You will find yourself having experiences you wouldn’t have otherwise, and hopefully meeting and interacting more with local people than you do when traveling even with one other person.
Women wanting to travel alone should not be fearful of doing so. I’ve met women of all ages who are traveling solo, and aside from exercising a reasonable amount of caution and not putting yourself in harm’s way, there is absolutely no reason for a woman not to travel by herself.
WHAT ESSENTIALS SHOULD I PACK?
• Headlamp: I have one made by Energizer which has 5 modes and both white and red LED bulbs. These come in handy when riding a bicycle or walking at night, as well as rummaging through your bag without disturbing others who are sleeping in the same room. There’s nothing quite as disconcerting as waking up in the middle of the night when there’s been a power failure and having no idea how to find the bathroom down the hall. Don’t forget a spare set of batteries! Keep a small spare flashlight in your pocket….great for unlocking your room in the dark.
• A six meter (20 feet) long piece of nylon cord: Can be used as a clothesline and a variety of other purposes
• Swiss army knife or a multi-tool: It’s nice to have a knife, corkscrew and a pair of scissors…just remember to put it in your checked luggage when flying, or it will be confiscated by airport security.
• $100 in U.S. currency: Crisp, new, unmarked, unfolded $10 bills, hidden somewhere in your bags. If all else fails and you’re out of local currency, you can sometimes get yourself out of a pickle with U.S. dollars. If you spend it, replace it as soon as possible.
In some countries, such as Burma and Cuba, your credit cards and ATM cards won’t work, so you’ll need to travel with enough cash to cover your expenses while you’re there. Euros are accepted in many countries, but personally I feel that $US are more widely accepted and because I think in $US, that’s what I carry as my emergency supply.
• Plastic bags in various sizes: Great for protecting your passport and travel documents from moisture. Very handy for packing wet bathing suits, wet towels and wet shoes so that everything else in your bag doesn’t smell like death when you arrive at your destination. Don’t forget to unpack these items and let them air out as soon as possible. Remember, you have a length of rope you can use as clothesline (see #2 above). If you’re traveling in a climate where it rains a lot, it’s a good idea to pack your clothing in plastic bags to keep them dry. It’s a real drag to have EVERYTHING in your bag get wet.
• Fast drying towel
• Sleep sack: These can be purchased commercially or made at home. Simply take a queen-sized sheet, fold it in half lengthwise, then sew one long edge and one short edge closed. Take a standard pillow case and sew it inside the open end. Now you’ll never have to wonder when the sheets were changed last, and there’s always a layer between you and the blanket, which almost never gets washed. You can put put the dorm room pillow inside the pillow case, and lower your chances of getting head lice or bed bugs.
• Duct tape: Spool about 3 meters around a prescription bottle so you don’t have to carry the whole roll. Great for repairing maps, fixing plumbing, sealing plastic bags and silencing room mates who snore.
• 4oz. Bottles with screw on lids: I wish I had 10 cents for every time something liquid has exploded in my bag. They’re not easy to find, but small, clear bottles with lids that screw on are perfect for shampoo, conditioner, lotion, sunscreen and insect repellent. I’ll never go back to flip-top bottles
• A small first aid kit: It should include antibiotic ointment, ibuprofen, tweezers, gauze, tape and Band-aids, laxative and anti-diarrheal medicine
• Unlocked smart phone, car charger and Mophie Juice Pack: Get your smart phone unlocked before you leave home, and if you plan to be gone for any length of time, discontinue your contract or keep only the essential services that will allow you to avoid paying a penalty for breaking your contract. Usually you can get your carrier to give you the code to unlock your phone if you've been under contract for more than 3 months...or if you're really persuasive, by sweet-talking the customer service person on the phone or the sales person when you buy it. Do not pay for international roaming...call home via Skpe or use free texting apps like What's App which enable you to send texts when you're in a wifi environment. If you plan to be in a country for any length of time, simply buy a local pre-paid SIM card for your phone when you arrive. These are available everywhere, and you can have the salesperson install it and set it up for you. If your credit on the phone starts to run low, you can top it off almost anywhere you see the logo of the carrier whose card you bought.
If you plan to drive and use the GPS feature on your phone, a car charger is essential for obvious reasons. Since it's not always easy to charge your phone, I also recommend the Mophie juice Pack which fits around your phone like a case and contains a battery for when your phone battery dies. Don't forget and let your phone AND your Juice Pack die...
• Universal Adapter: Most electronics these days are dual voltage, meaning they can be plugged into a socket that delivers 110 volts which is the standard in North America or 220 volts which is the standard in Europe and in many Asian countries. What you will need, however is a universal adapter which fits all electrical sockets worldwide, and these vary widely. Don’t confuse an adapter with a transformer, which converts current from one voltage to another. These are heavy, expensive and unnecessary, unless you're bringing a hair-dryer, curling iron or certain kinds of battery chargers. Read the specifications (usually printed on a label on the appliance itself). Better yet, don't bring those items, or buy them when you get there.
• Laptop computer or tablet and charger: Give some thought to whether you’ll be using your device primarily for emails and storing photos, in which case I recommend a tablet…or whether you need something with more horsepower if you plan to use it for photo, movie or music ediat applications such as Photoshop, Lightroom, Final Cut Pro which require a faster processing speed and more memory. Personally I use a Macbook Pro, disguised in a brown faux-leather clamshell case so that it looks almost like a binder. At least it doesn’t advertise that I have an expensive computer with me.
• USB drives, memory cards or external hard drives: I strongly recommend making 2 backups of your photos and other valuable documents such as emails, travel itinerary in case your laptop or table gets lost or stolen? So many travelers I’ve met along the way have told me sob stories about losing every photo they’ve taken. I carry 2 external hard drives which I use to back up my photos every evening. Depending on what type of device you’re using and how many photos you’re taking, you could use a small USB drive or memory cards. Remember: Make 2 backups frequently and keep them in a separate place from your laptop, tablet and camera. Don’t forget USB cables, card readers or adapters for transferring data.
• USB battery charger and rechargeable batteries: Use this to charge batteries for your headlamp or any other battery operated devices. Try to to choose devices that only use AAA batteries. They're lighter weight, and you only have to carry one type of battery. Plus, they're readily available everywhere in the world
WHAT TYPE OF LUGGAGE DO YOU RECOMMEND?
Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t recommend a standard backpack, unless you enjoy unpacking everything you brought with you every time you want to get something out of your bag. The other thing is that backpacks don’t stand up by themselves. If there’s nothing to lean it against, you have to lay it flat on the ground, and often that means mud or water or worse.
I personally recommend the Osprey line of luggage www.OspreyPacks.com ,
Specifically the Osprey Sojourn, because it’s a rolling case that also converts to a backpack with a heavy duty waist belt as well as a handle which allows it to be carried as a suitcase. I’ve had to carry it on my shoulders fewer than 10 times in 3 years.
Whatever you do get soft sided luggage, particularly for your carry on, so that it’s flexible and can conform to the space available. Make sure that your checked luggage weighs no more than 20 kilos/44 pounds and that your carry on weighs no more than 5 kilos/10 pounds excluding your laptop or purse….most airlines won’t count those against you.
Most travelers over pack. Carry only what you absolutely must have, and preferably clothing that you can wash in the bathtub or sink, or that you don’t mind losing if the hotel where you’re staying ruins it when they do your laundry.
Wear your socks, underwear and T-shirts at least twice depending on how much you sweat, take one pair of shoes for hiking if you plan to do that, a pair of everyday shoes and a pair of flip flops. Ladies…you’re allowed one more pair. Choose wisely. J
WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE PLACE?
I particularly enjoyed the South Island of New Zealand for its amazing natural beauty, as well as Cambodia for the richness of the experiences I had while volunteering there. Burma was another favorite.
HOW DO YOU FIND ACCOMMODATIONS?
I find that “the closer to the ground” I travel, the more likely I am to have the sort of adventures that make travel so appealing to me.
HOW DO YOU PURCHASE AIRFARE?
I purchase plane tickets, train tickets, ferry tickets, bus tickets at the last minute. This gives me maximum flexibility and allows me to stay as along or as short as as I want to. But it also means I often pay a premium for purchasing closer to my departure date and that I might not be able to travel on a particular day if all the flights are sold out.
WHAT ABOUT DRINKING LOCAL WATER EATING LOCAL FOOD?
I always drink bottled water, and if I’m in a restaurant I usually ask the waiter not to open the bottle. I realize that that’s not very environmentally friendly, but having an intestinal bug can really ruin a trip. I eat meat from a street vendor only if I can actually see it being cooked. This doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get sick, but at least you know that the meat’s been freshly cooked. Unless you’re in an restaurant that caters mostly to foreigners, you might not want to eat salads (the lettuce is washed in water that might disagree with you) or drink anything mixed with water unless it’s been boiled…like coffee or tea.
DO YOU EVER GET SICK?
I’ve certainly had a few run-ins with unwanted gastro-intestinal visitors, but this was early on in my travels. And as far as other types of illness go, I’m fortunate to have a pretty robust immune system, so other than a couple of sinus infections and having my chin stitched up because I was going too fast on a motorcycle, I’ve been very lucky. Look before you leap, and consider the possible consequences of doing something while you’re drunk.
If you go the www.nc.cdc.gov/travel/ website, you can look up what immunizations are recommend for any country. You can then get these vaccinations from any travel clinic. Keep in mind that it’s their job to scare you into purchasing as many of these as possible and you can spend a fortune on this. For example, if you’re going to an area where malaria is present, you might be inclined to take an anti-malarial. You have to start this a week before you travel and take it daily. It’s not great for your liver, especially when combined with alcohol, and is ineffective against certain strains of mosquitoes. Since the treatment for malaria is the same as prevention, I prefer to take my chances. There is no fool-proof protection…even locals contract malaria.
WHAT ABOUT INSURANCE?
Travel/Health insurance HTH.com
WHAT ABOUT YOUR PERSONAL SAFETY?
I traveled for 3 years through 38 countries and I’ve never had anything bad happen to me or had anything stolen. This is mostly due to the fact that I exercise common sense and that I don’t live life in a state of fear. I don’t wander down dark alleys, I don’t carry a lot of cash, I put my money and valuables in a secret place in my luggage. I don’t get drunk with people I don’t know….or wander down the street when I’m not sober. I typically don’t go out after 10pm by myself if I’m in a big city. And if a situation starts to look a little iffy, I try my best to keep my cool no matter what, and speaking in a friendly but firm tone. If you start shouting or swinging your fists, things can only get worse.
DON’T YOU GET LONELY?
Yes…I’d say that’s the biggest challenge of traveling alone…especially if you’re travelling long-term. But hostels are a great place to meet other travelers to hang out with, and often you meet people who are going to the same destination you are and you can travel together. I always make it clear up front that we’re not joined at the hip and that each person gets to do their own thing, including saying “It’s been nice knowing you…see you down the road.”
WHAT’S AN APPROPRIATE AMOUNT OF TIME TO TRAVEL?
Depends on what your travel goals are. My personal recommendation is to travel for at least a month, and to stay at least 4 nights in each place you visit. That would allow you to see 7 to 8 different locations. Otherwise, travel becomes a blur, a job and a chore. When you travel for 3 months, or 6 months or a year, the benefits of spending time alone, and becoming an expert traveler, go up exponentially.
WHAT ABOUT COMMUNICATING IN COUNTRIES WHERE ENGLISH ISN”T SPOKEN?
I’ve never found it to be a problem…in fact I really enjoy the creativity that you have to employ in order to negotiate various situations. It took me a while to realize that making a gesture of washing my hands was a much better way to communicate “where’s the bathroom” than doing something less subtle.
That said, do your best to learn the basics as quickly as possible…and get them right. It’s not that hard to learn “Please, thank you, hello, how are you, where’s the bathroom, and may I have another beer please?” in just about any language, especially if you’re going to be there for a while. People appreciate the effort, and you feel a tiny bit less like a tourist.
That said, English speakers have a real advantage due to the fact that just about everywhere on the planet there’s SOMEONE who speaks English.
WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO GO ABOUT BOOKING TRAVEL?
I like to have maximum flexibility when I travel, so I book my travel as I go. Of course I pay a premium for that when it comes to booking airfares, but there’s almost no amount of planning from another country that will save you money on things once you get there. Once you’re on the ground, you can usually find better deals than you can on the internet, and again, it’s nice to have flexibilty
WHO SHOULD I CONTACT IN CASE OF EMERGENCY?
It’s a good idea to let SOMEONE SOMEWHERE know where you are if you’re traveling alone, even if it’s an agreement to check in once a week. That way if they don’t hear from you, they know to send out a search party.
WHAT ABOUT INTERNET AND PHONE SERVICE?
There are very few places I’ve been where there isn’t internet. Most hostels have it, and if not, there’s usually an internet café nearby. Some countries like Vietnam and Cuba block a lot of sites, but you can get around this by accessing a proxy server.
Don’t expect lightning fast connectivity, and expect that you will lose your connection repeatedly…so don’t wait ‘til the very last minute to book your ticket.
Unlock your smart phone and buy a SIM card in each country. Great for texting and will save you a bundle of money. Or buy a phone in each country and sell or give it to someone when you leave. Reduces the risk of having your expensive iPhone lost or stolen or damaged. Be aware that you can usually unlock your smart phone for free if you've been under contract with your U.S. carrier for three months or more. Or sometimes by sweet-talking the salesperson behind the counter. This suggestion does not come with any guarantee or implied guarantee. Do so at your own risk.
CAN I DRIVE?
If you’re over 21 and have a valid driver’s license from your home country, you should be able to rent a car or van. Most scooter or rental companies only require a passport and a deposit. Think carefully before renting a scooter or motorcycle if you haven’t ridden one before. They’re EXTREMELY dangerous, especially when you’re unfamiliar with local driving laws, driving on the other side of the road than you’re accustomed too, and on wet pavement or gravel. I have heard SO many horror stories, seen lots of girls with the “Thai tattoo” where they put their leg over the back of a motorcycle and burned the inside of their calf on the hot exhaust pipe. Definitely get insurance if it’s offered…and definitely avoid driving at night as much as possible when you’re drunk. If you get in an accident, even if it’s not your fault, as a foreigner you can really be in a bad spot resulting in a huge expense or even jail.
WHAT DOCUMENTS DO YOU RECOMMEND BRINGING?
• Color photocopies of your passport in a small ziplock bag. Make several of these before you leave home so you have a ready supply when they get torn or misplaced.
• A copy of your itinerary and onward ticket. Many countries will not let you enter unless you can show proof that you have purchased an onward ticket. This can be a plane, bus, train or boat ticket (preferably one that’s fully refundable should you decide to extend your stay.
• Passport photos. These are useful for border crossings and obtaining visas. Not having them may prohibit you from entering the country, or be very expensive to obtain in a hurry.
• World Health Organization immunization booklet. This document is the same size as your passport, yellow in color and is universally accepted as documentation that you’ve had your inoculations and vaccinations required to enter certain countries.
• Prescriptions for any medications you are taking. Not only does the prescription show that you are carrying the drugs legitimately, but if you run out or lose them, it makes it a lot easier to get your prescription refilled.
• Eyeglass prescription. Useful if you lose or break your glasses and need to replace them. I recommend carrying a spare pair of glasses in your bags.
• Credit cards. Be sure to check with the credit card issuer to make sure they don’t charge overseas transaction fees, and what the fee is for cash withdrawals from an ATM. Choose cards that earn you points, travel miles, or cash back rewards. Also, it’s imperative that you let your credit card company and bank that you’ll be traveling overseas so that your card isn’t declined
• Keep photos of all your documents on your phone and laptop or tablet. Very handy if should lose the originals. Keep your phone and laptop/tablet password protected.
HOW DO I PREVENT CAUSING OFFENSE WHEN I’M NOT FAMILIAR WITH LOCAL CUSTOMS?
Smile a lot! Speak softly. Look around you. Take your cues from local people. Don’t assume that what’s good manners in your country is the case in another country. Don’t assume that cultural differences are bad manners. Smile some more! Learn the phrases for please and thank you. When in doubt…ask.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A TRAVELER AND A TOURIST?
A tourist is in it for the short term. They usually have their itinerary mapped out, and they’re looking to maximize their time on the ground. You will recognize them from their pale skin, trousers that zip off into shorts, floppy hats, unfolding large maps, and taking pictures of everything in sight.
Travelers tend to me more low-key, open-minded, laid-back and they have an air of quiet confidence that lets you know they’ve been doing this for a while. And they have a killer tan.
• What kind of camera do you use?
I carry a compact, professional grade camera with a built in zoom which fits in the pocket of my jeans.
• What kind of camera should I buy?
I’m often asked this question, and it might surprise you to learn that unless I’m getting ready to purchase a camera myself, I really don’t follow what’s going on in the marketplace, because the advances in camera technology are happening so rapidly that what I learn today will be obsolete in a week or two…
Much like the question “What kind of car should I buy?” the answer depends on several factors:
• What is your budget?
This will help to narrow the scope of your google search considerably. And remember, if the price it seems to good to be true, it probably is.
• What is your level of experience or interest in photography?
As someone who loves photography, I want everyone to love it too. However, prior to taking a trip, many people purchase an expensive digital camera with interchangeable lenses. But what they find when they’re actually traveling is that it’s too heavy and cumbersome to carry with them, that they end up leaving it on automatic mode because it’s too much trouble to learn and remember all the different settings, and that as a result they get frustrated and don’t take very many pictures.
Unless you already own a digital SLR and are familiar with using it, or have plenty of time to practice using a new one before you leave, I don’t recommend purchasing an expensive camera that you’re going to leave in your hotel room.
• What do you plan to do with the images?
If your main purpose is for social media purposes like Facebook or Instagram, your mobile phone or an inexpensive point and shoot camera will suffice.
For example, will you view them primarily on you computer monitor, tablet and phone and email them to friends and family, or do you plan to make big prints, put together a photo book or have an exhibition
Point and shoot
If you visit your local camera store to compare different models and get the advice of a salesperson, I strongly encourage you to buy your camera there rather than on the internet. You’ll support your local economy, and hopefully develop a relationship with a salesperson who can give you personal service with any problems or returns.
• Do you have any travel photo advice?
Get close, get closer, get closer still
If you take a picture, what’s the center of interest?
Are you simply trying to document your visit to the Grand Canyon, or do you want to try to do something creative…hearts
I always approach people and try to actively engage them for a few minutes before respectfully asking their permission to take their photo. I never take photos without people’s permission unless they won’t be recognizable
If you tell someone you’re going to email them a copy of the photo, please do it.
If you plan to sell an image for commercial or advertising purposes you must have a model release and/or property release.
• Don’t travel if you’re running away from something…a relationship, an addiction, depression...your demons have an uncanny way of finding you even when you don’t leave a forwarding address. If you travel to get away from something, chances are it will come after you.Travel should be expansive, eye-opening, mind-expanding and life-affirming. In other words, travel should be about running TOWARDS life.
• I also don’t recommend traveling if you’re trying to “find yourself”….or find anything for that matter. Travel for travel’s sake, try to let go of your expectations, embrace randomness, take calculated risks, keep an open mind and heart, and see what happens.
• Don’t be so busy documenting the moment that you forget to experience the moment. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of “Won’t these pictures be so cool to post on Facebook” or “Wait ‘til National Geographic sees these!”
CAN I SEND YOU A FB MESSAGE OR A FB FRIEND REQUEST?
I love hearing from fellow travelers, photographers and people who are “redesigning” their lives. Due to overwhelming volume of fb messages, requests and notifications I receive, I encourage you to contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and to “like” my fb page John Langford Creative for updates.
CAN I USE YOUR PHOTOS ON MY WEBSITE OR BLOG?
Yes, as long as it’s for personal use and the photo credit www.johnlangford.com is used. If the photo is being used to promote a product or service, even for a non-profit organization, please contact me for permission.
If it’s used for profit, or without attribution, I will politely ask you to stop using it. If you continue to use it, your karma will prevent you from ever finding an empty parking space for the rest of your life or any future incarnations.
HOW DO YOU ARCHIVE YOUR PHOTOS?
I carry 2 external hard drives with a capacity of 1TB. I back up my photos as often as possible, but there’s no such thing as too often. If you think it won’t happen to you, good luck with that.
CAN I MEET WITH YOU TO DISCUSS MY TRAVEL PLANS AND/OR GET YOUR ADVICE/THOUGHTS?
Meeting with other travelers is one of my favorites ways to spend time but due to time constraints I’m unable to meet with everyone who reaches out to me. If after reading my responses to the FAQ’s above, I’d be happy to schedule a phone or Skype session. The rate is US$75/hour (one hour minimum) Please contact me at email@example.com to schedule a one-on-one consultation.
How to Travel For Free (Or Pretty Damn Near It): Shelley Seale and Keith Hajovsky
The Tao of Travel: Paul Theroux
The Art of Travel: Alain De Botton
Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life: Thich Nhat Hanh
Awareness : The Perils and Opportunities of Reality: Anthony De Mello
Dove: Robin L. Graham
Sailing Alone Around the World : Josh Slocum
The Innocents Abroad : Mark Twain
The Iliad and The Odyssey: Homer
The following resources were contributed by my dear friend and fellow world traveler Jefre Outlaw. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
How to Get Free Accommodation Around the World by Nora Dunn (eBook)
Meet Plan Go: http://meetplango.com/
Go Nomad: http://www.gonomad.com/
Travel Hacking: http://travelhacking.org/ (Free Airfare)
Couch Surfing: https://www.couchsurfing.org/ (Free Lodging)
HostelZ: http://www.hostelz.com/ (Hostels)
Kayak: http://www.kayak.com/ (Airfare)
Outtrippin: http://www.outtrippin.com/ (Funding Travel)
The Professional Hobo: http://www.theprofessionalhobo.com/about/
HuffPost Travel: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/travel/
Trusted House Sitters: http://www.trustedhousesitters.com/ (Free Accommodations)
Eat With: http://www.eatwith.com/ (Shared Local Meals)
Extra Pack of Peanuts: http://www.extrapackofpeanuts.com/
Suitcase Entrepreneur: http://suitcaseentrepreneur.com/ (Build a biz)