Welcome to the second installment of my “Travel Questions Answered” series! Here is where I answer questions that I have received from readers, either via email or in the comments of one of my posts. The idea is to share my answers to some of these questions so that others may be able to benefit as well.
This month’s Travel Questions Answered deals with such topics as travel insurance, accommodation, staying healthy, safety on the road and whether or not I consider myself to be homeless…
1. What type of plan do you suggest for health and dental insurance while living abroad and can you get good coverage without paying a fortune?
These days, I have a comprehensive health insurance plan from back in the US, even though I spend most of my time outside of country traveling. I figure that having such a plan would be well worth it in the event that I need to return to the US for a more serious medical issue. However, I normally also sign up for travel insurance, usually through a company such as WorldNomads.com. For a relatively low fee (around $50 – $60 USD per month), I’m able to get quite decent coverage for the duration of any trip, and if I choose to extend a particular adventure, I can easily extend my travel insurance plan as well.
This way, if I have any illness or injuries while abroad, I know that I will be covered in whichever country I am in. Clearly, having both insurance plans increases my monthly expenses but these are the kind of expenses I am willing to incur given the potential benefits.
One thing to note is that unless you have a residency or long-term visa for a particular country overseas, you most likely won’t be able to obtain any local insurance in that country. So in most cases, travel insurance is your only option.
2. As a nomad, does it mean you don’t have a permanent address, essentially homeless? Or do you rent apartments where you currently stay?
I do maintain an official address in the United States, even though I don’t really spend any time living there. Other than that, sometimes I’m just bouncing around from country to country without an address and other times I will plant myself in one place for a few months, such as I am doing here in Mexico right now. When this happens, I rent an apartment and therefore have a local address, however, it is always temporary.
And I wouldn’t classify myself as homeless simply because there are many places I could go at any time and create a home. Also, while it’s true that there is not one specific address where I actually reside, I still do have that one address in the US where I keep a few boxes of my possessions and use as my base during my visits to family and friends.
3. One thing you touched on but I would love to hear more about in the next post: basics on finding accommodation – hostels, couchsurfing, renting apartments. Also, how far do you normally plan in advance? Do you just land in a place and then figure out housing or do you have a place picked out before you arrive?
When it comes to finding accommodation overseas, there are several methods one could use. You could buy a guidebook and follow the recommendations inside or you could check out a website such as hostelbookers.com which lists hostels all over the world. And of course, for the more adventurous, you could simply show up in a new country and figure out where to stay once you’re there. As for couchsurfing.com, many people swear by it and love to use this service but I haven’t really gotten into it yet myself.
When I first started traveling, I would usually show up somewhere and wander around comparing a bunch of budget hostels or guesthouses before choosing the cheapest one. And while I still prefer this method of finding a place upon arrival, these days I will typically look for budget hotels instead of hostels as, in many places, such hotels offer private rooms (and hence a little more comfort) for only slightly more money than a hostel. Also, I usually make sure I have at least done some minimal research as to which section of town offers some decent budget accommodation options so that when I walk out of the bus or train station, or the airport, I have some sort of destination to head towards.
However, if my flight is arriving somewhere late at night or I just don’t feel like spending time looking for a room after a long journey, I will often book a room in advance. When I do this, I usually book a room for one night only as I never know what to expect until I actually see the hotel. If I like it, I’ll extend. If I don’t, I’ll get up the next morning and try to find something better before checking out.
Some people consider finding accommodation to be a hassle and therefore always prefer to book rooms in advance of their arrival. Others look at the search for a room as an adventure and don’t mind spending an hour or two wandering around checking out different places. Whichever works for you, that’s the method you should use. And like me, you can always change it up depending on your mood!
4. I was wondering if you could touch on how you manage health issues and how you stay healthy while traveling? Also do you see a time as you get older where this could become a problem continuing this style of travel?
My advice on staying healthy is that travelers should focus on keeping their bodies and minds as rested and strong as possible at all times. By doing so, you will be able to prevent yourself from getting sick from many of the foreign aspects of travel that our bodies must adjust to, such as air pollution, strange and possibly not the cleanest of foods, contaminated water, extreme temperatures, etc.
If you are feeling exhausted (which happens easily as we carry our backpacks all over the place trying to see as much as possible) or a little under the weather, you should remember that it is perfectly okay to take a day off from traveling. You don’t need to run around sightseeing all of the time.
Listen to your body and if your body is telling you it needs a break, then spend some time relaxing in your room, get a massage, pay a few dollars to swim at the swimming pool of a luxury hotel (which is possible in many cities around the world) and postpone that long train trip you had planned. If you don’t take care of your body in this way, it’s easy to reach a level of exhaustion, both physical and mental, that will leave you much more susceptible to illness throughout your trip.
Another way I keep myself feeling good and healthy is to walk and walk often. In the evening, as soon as I finish eating dinner, no matter where I am, I will almost always go for a long walk of at least one hour. It’s a simple form of exercise and it helps keep me active and fit. Also, such a walk often tires me out, so when it’s time to sleep, I fall asleep quickly and end up sleeping well throughout the night.
As for getting older, I don’t really think about how that might affect my traveling lifestyle. After all, there are plenty of people of all ages out there traveling around the world and I just don’t see much point in worrying about something that has not happened. If I need to change my lifestyle because of any age-related health issues, I certainly will do that, but for now, I feel healthy enough to continue!
5. It’s a big planet with many wonderful places and people, as you are well aware. But, there are some “not so wonderful” people too. Could you speak about your safety and precautions taken as you travel?
Safety is of course another important issue, however, I’m honestly not too concerned about it when I travel. After 12 years on the road I have reached the conclusion that common sense, the same common sense that we would use to keep ourselves safe at home, is usually all that is needed to stay safe while overseas. And in reality, most of the countries that we think are unsafe are probably a lot safer than our home countries.
I’ve had my money pick-pocketed one time while in India, after making the mistake of putting my money in the front velcro pocket of my pants (don’t ask me why I was wearing pants with velcro on them!). And that’s it. I’ve never run into any other safety issues in 12 years, despite having visited such ‘dangerous’ places as Mexico, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria and El Salvador, etc.
Of course, I don’t leave my backpack unattended, I don’t flash my money around and I don’t wander through unfamiliar surroundings at night holding my camera in my hands. But at the same time, I do trust people. I see a lot of travelers who walk around clutching their backpacks tightly with both hands, looking at and treating every person that looks at them as a potential thief. This seems pointless to me. If you do this, then what’s the point of traveling? You’ll never enjoy yourself.
Instead, interact with people but always be aware of your surroundings. If you’re on a bus and two people suddenly sit on either side of you when there are plenty of empty seats, move to another seat or watch your stuff carefully. If the situation doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t, but in the end, you’ll probably be worried about your safety about as much as you worry about it back at home.
And the more you travel, the more you strengthen your safety instincts. You’ll soon find yourself quite aware of everything happening around you without having to concentrate on watching what everyone is actually doing!
That concludes this Travel Questions Answered post. If you haven’t read the July 2011 post, there are a bunch more questions there that you may find useful. Also, please continue to send me emails and leave more of your questions in the comments. I’ll answer some of them right away and keep a few on the side for the September post of this series.