Travel Questions Answered

Travel Questions Answered: September 2011

Derek Travel Questions Answered 8 Comments

Travel Questions Answered
Here we go with this month’s installment of the Travel Questions Answered series. The goal of this series is to share my responses to many of the emails I receive from readers just in case more of you may have the very same questions on your mind.

This month’s questions focus on such topics as saving money, travel motivation, safety in Mexico, traveling with a laptop, where to obtain visa information and carrying a sleeping bag while on the road…

Let’s get started!

1. I have a chance to stay at home for the next three months and save $2000 more before traveling, or I could just take the money I have now and start my journey. My gut tells me that if I want to start living life to the fullest, then I should take the jump now and go. But more money would help me travel for longer…..any ideas?

That’s always a tough decision to make. I would usually say that taking the jump now and starting your travels, without worrying about how much money you have in the bank, is the way to go. However, the main reason I say that is because it is quite common for those three months of extra work to turn into six months and then turn into one year and on and on. In the end, the allure of a steady paycheck keeps many people from achieving their goals in life, so if they don’t take that step and start traveling immediately, they may never take that step at all.

On the other hand, if you are confident that you are definitely going to travel once those three months of extra work are complete, then it might not hurt to stay at home and save up that additional money before beginning your adventure. But again, if you feel that you might lose your desire to travel if you don’t leave now, then I would just pack up and leave right away!

2. What is the main reason that you have decided to continue traveling for so long?

The reason I continue traveling is because I have become fully addicted to the education that such travel provides. As soon as I realized that visiting and trying to understand places and people and cultures with my very own eyes offered a way to learn about the world that could not be matched by listening to the media, reading books or even taking classes, I knew that I needed to educate myself as much as possible.

And so, my goal has always been to learn and to then share that knowledge with others in order to hopefully help eliminate many of the misunderstandings and assumptions that we hold about our fellow human beings around the world.

I really don’t care much for the main sights or popular attractions. In fact, I’m perfectly happy traveling in any country as I’m more interested in the human interactions that take place than I am taking photos or visiting museums. And those human interactions are something that I look forward to so much that I want to continue traveling and having such unique, educational experiences for as long as I can.

3. We are currently preparing to move to Playa del Carmen, Mexico but we recently heard that this town is not particularly safe due to the drug wars. We were wondering if you have any observations about safety issues there?

I can honestly state that I have not heard about or seen any drug-related violence (or any violence for that matter) in Playa del Carmen during the 18 months or so that I lived there. Playa del Carmen and the surrounding region is actually experiencing a major increase in tourism levels this year and there is simply no way that tourists would be flocking there if there was any violence or threat of violence.

And it’s not that big of a town (100,000 people) so if such danger existed, I believe that I would certainly have known about it. But in reality, I, and all of my friends, both locals and foreigners alike, would often talk about how safe the town was and how we would never hesitate to wander around any neighborhood, even in the middle of the night. There’s definitely a reason why so many people living in Playa like to tell others that it is “the best place to live in Mexico”!

Playa del Carmen Beach

4. How do you like your new Acer laptop after having it for awhile? Do you find the 11.6” inch screen rather small when working? I am looking for a light yet powerful laptop for traveling and am considering getting the same as yours.

I absolutely love my Acer Aspire Timeline X 1830T-6651. It’s fast with it’s i5 processor, it has 500 GB of storage, 4 GB of RAM and it can handle every program I use with ease. The 11.6″ screen is more than sufficient for me as everything fits on the screen without problems and without being cut off at all. Also, despite my laptop’s small size, it has a full size keyboard which makes a huge difference.

I also looked at the Mac Air and while that is quite a tempting machine, I just prefer not to travel around with something so expensive. Also, if my $600 Acer works so perfectly well, then I don’t see any reason to change. After all, this is now my second Acer 11.6” laptop (I spilled lemonade all over my last Acer which is why I bought a new one) and I have nothing to complain about at all.

Acer Aspire Timeline X

5. I plan on blogging about my upcoming travels, but besides that (and Skype) I don’t think I’ll be online much. Do you recommend that I not bring a personal computer at all and just utilize the internet cafes? If you think I should bring my own, what are your feelings towards something more along the lines of an IPad due to its light weight?

As for whether or not to bring a computer, I’d say it all depends on how serious you will take your blogging. If it’s solely for fun and to keep family and friends (and maybe some strangers) up to date with your travels, then an iPad or using internet cafes would be fine. However, if you’re planning to try and create a more serious travel blog by increasing your following and readership and attempting to make a name for yourself, then I highly recommend taking a laptop with you.

While internet cafes are plentiful in most countries, working on creating a more serious blog takes a huge time commitment and so it just isn’t feasible to spend so many hours in an internet cafe. With your own laptop you’d be able to write posts at night from your hotel/hostel room and even take advantage of free Wi-fi, something that is more common around the world than you might think.

Of course, you also don’t want to fall into the trap of spending all of your time on your laptop! And this is where the dilemma lies. In order to build a blog, you need to spend a great deal of time on it, but it’s hard to justify spending such a large amount of time on a laptop while in the midst of exploring such new and exciting regions of the world.

6. How do you deal with the visa situations when visiting other countries?

All I do is visit the US State Department’s “Americans Traveling Abroad” website which lists the visa requirements (alphabetically by country) for US citizens traveling internationally. You simply click on the country you plan to travel to, scroll down to the “Visa Requirements” paragraph and see what it has to say. If you’re able to obtain a visa upon arrival, then you don’t need to do much else. If you need to obtain a visa for a particular county before you arrive, then just follow the link to the Embassy’s website where you’ll find the instructions you need to follow.

And even if you need to obtain a visa before arrival, you can almost always obtain such a visa while overseas. For example, I often get my visa for India from the Indian consulate in Chiang Mai, Thailand and I’ve also applied for and received a 3-month visa for Indonesia from the Indonesian consulate in Melbourne, Australia. You are generally not required to obtain visas from your home country (with a few exceptions of course).

For non-US citizens, you should also be able to find a website run by your own government that lists the visa requirements for you to travel abroad. Usually, such sites are kept fully up-to-date and offer the most reliable information about visas that you’ll find anywhere.

7. Do you carry a sleeping bag with you on your travels?

In twelve years of traveling, I have never carried a sleeping bag. I would say that if your travel plans are based around camping or you plan to do a significant amount of camping, a sleeping bag would definitely be worthwhile. But if you plan to sleep in hostels, guesthouse and hotels, you really don’t need to carry around a bulky sleeping bag.

If you want to take something to use on the beds you sleep in, consider purchasing something that is super-thin and lightweight such as a travel sleep sack or even a large sarong (which is what I carry). These items not only perform well as sheets and blankets but they are much cheaper than a sleeping bag and they take up almost no space at all in your backpack or luggage.

If you want to have a read through some more questions and answers, be sure to have a look at the previous Travel Questions Answered installments. Also, please continue to send emails my way and to leave questions in the comments. I’ll always respond and of course, your question just might end up in next month’s Travel Questions Answered post!

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Comments 8

    1. Hey Claire – The Acer is definitely a solid machine. As you can tell, I’m a huge fan but it’s really because this laptop has performed better than any other I’ve ever had, including an expensive Sony Vaio.

  1. Thanks for sharing your answers about Travelling! I like the look of your laptop, and your idea about saving space by carrying a sarong sounds ideal.

    Thanks for sharing

    1. Thanks for reading Lisa! I really can recommend my laptop…while it may not have the style of a Mac Air, it sure performs incredibly for such a reasonable price.

  2. Great advice on the sleeping bag, I can also attest that if you are in Latin America you also do not need a silk sleeping bag. I haven’t encountered bed bugs yet (although heard they are rampant on Caye Caulker, Belize) and most places are very clean.

    1. Hey Ayngelina – As you’re aware, I think the bed bug issue is one that is not nearly as common as people would believe. In my years on the road I’ve encountered bed bugs only one time in India and that was it. And like anything else, if a traveler ever decides to go camping, it is quite easy to purchase a sleeping bag in almost every part of the world!

  3. Hey Earl,

    Been reading your blog for a few weeks now and it’s completely inspired me to jump into this lifestyle. Thanks for opening my eyes, I see the light!

    One thing I’ve noticed is that you mostly travel solo. Do you ever travel with friends and if so, what recommendations do you have for a pre-check personality check list to make sure you have compatible travel personalities? I’m quite aware that major problems can pop up while on the road that normally don’t present themselves in “while at home” personalities.

    My logic to travel with a friend is that you split costs and make traveling even more affordable, thus extending your potential travel time. Thoughts?

    Keep up the excellent work!


    1. Hey Brad – You’re right, I mostly do travel on my own. Occasionally, I will travel with friends but usually for only 2-4 weeks at a time and the friends I do travel with are friends I’ve had for years and so I now know that we are compatible travel companions.

      But the thing is, there really is no pre-check personality check list because it is almost impossible to know if someone will make a good companion. You can be the best of friends at home but once you hit the road, it’s an entirely different story. People act differently under the pressures of travel and everyone has their own ideas of how they want to travel as well. So you will never know if someone is compatible until you actually get out there on the road and start your adventure.

      While it does make sense to split the costs, and it might very well work out perfectly, it’s best to go in with the understanding that it still might be challenging. However, if you give each other some space and you’re prepared to be flexible, such as splitting up for a few days here and there when you each want to do something different, you’ll probably find that you’ll get along much better with your companion.

      Of course, keep in mind that after traveling for so many years mostly on my own, my views on the matter might differ from other travelers 🙂

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