Travel Questions Answered

Your Travel Questions Answered – August 2011

Derek Travel Questions Answered 24 Comments

Travel Questions Answered
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 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 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, 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!

Hotel Room Aleppo, Syria

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.

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Comments 24

  1. I have a somewhat personal question Earl, you seem to be open about answering most things openly so I’ll ask here 🙂

    Is diarrhea a common occurrence for you while traveling? What do you take to alleviate it? Any funny “emergency diarrhea” stories?

    1. Hey Michael – That’s a reasonable question. And I will say that it’s not really common for me. I can remember one instance when I was quite sick with a stomach illness during my first trip to India (which you can read about here) but that one case seemed to toughen me up. I just don’t get too sick at all these days. However, if it does happen to travelers, there are certain medicines that you can purchase to kill the bacteria that is causing the problems. These would include such pills as Flagyl, which can often be purchased over the counter in many developing countries. A week of these pills and you should be all ready to go, but of course, it’s always best to check with a doctor 🙂

  2. Great post earl – you’ve got some very interesting tips here.
    With the duration of your stays extending, do you feel like you’re more interested in getting further from where you were staying when you were backpacking – for instance now that you’re staying in mexico, are you more likely to head to asia than south america?

    1. Hey Jeff – I was actually just thinking about that very question earlier today. And that is exactly what happens. I would love to visit South America but I do feel as if I need a change after spending so much time in Mexico. That is why I am thinking about heading to Eastern Europe instead. I do like to keep things fresh and the only way to do so is to completely change my surroundings as much as possible whenever I head into a new stage.

  3. I was also wondering about how you manage health insurance, and it sounds like you have a pretty good policy. I like that you point out expenses vs benefits. While health and travel insurance are additional expenses, I see it as the sort of expense that I would not be willing to risk doing without. Also, I agree with Nomadic Samuel and Matthew Karsten. Lots of companies play up people’s fear that travelling abroad is much more dangerous than home.

  4. Earl, I like your answer to question #5. I think the biggest misconception regarding travel has to do with a perceived level of danger one potentially faces while abroad. Although things can/do go wrong at times one is just as likely to encounter something similar at home. I would go as far as to say that an entire industry has been created out of this ‘fear’ with things such as money belts, ankles belts, special locks, etc. Generally speaking, if I wouldn’t use it back home I don’t take it with me on the road.

    1. @Nomadic Samuel – I couldn’t agree with you more. I once considered buying a PacSafe chain thing that wraps around your backpack so that you can tie and lock it up in your hotel room when you’re out for the day but then I thought, “Do I really need that?”. I sure wouldn’t use one of those at home and as we’ve both mentioned, home is about as ‘dangerous’ as most of the other countries out there in the world. Fear spreads quickly though. All it takes is one story or one article to make everyone feel that a particular place is unsafe. So the money belts will keep on selling!

  5. Great post Earl!

    In terms of staying healthy on the road I don’t know about you but very, very occasionally on a trip of several months long, I treat myself to two or three nights of luxury. This makes for an awesome physical and mental refresher thereby me stay healthier in the long run.

    I’m not talking about anything crazy expensive, maybe just ensuite bathroom, air conditioning, that kind of thing which you really appreciate after hostel accommodation.

    1. Hey Rich – I also do that and it is another solid way to keep one healthy (and sane) while on the road. And the thing is, in many countries, such ‘luxury’ can be had for less than $50 USD (even much less). I normally will try to find a place with a swimming pool as there’s something about going for a swim a couple of times a day that really energizes me 🙂

      Thanks so much for sharing your advice! Very useful stuff.

  6. Earl, good thoughts on both health and safety. On my two year trip around the world, I stayed relatively healthy by always washing my hands before eating and always having good water to drink by having my own water bottle that I’d filtered & filled back in my room (no need to carry your filter around with you in your day pack). So, the tip: always have clean hands and good water! Simple

    1. Hey Steve – Those are excellent tips as well. Clean hands can make a huge difference as we pick up all sorts of germs throughout the day. When I worked on board cruise ships it was actually a requirement that we wash our hands before/after every meal, before going to the office, and dozens of other times throughout the day. It makes sense and it’s a great practice to put into place while on the road!

      And yes, clean water is important too. Luckily, citizens of many countries, even those in the developing world, drink only bottled water so it is becoming easier and easier to find clean drinking water wherever we travel.

  7. Hi Earl,
    Cant get enough of your postings, they are absolutely the best thing for travellers of all kinds. I have not been around as much as you have and most probably never will. This said I have been around Mexico for a good many years
    (11 trips). You seem to really enjoy the Yucatan peninsula as much as I do. Having read your August Travellers Questions Answered, I was really surprised to see that in the 5th queation answered you mentioned Mexico as one of the most dangerous countries you have visited along with others such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria and El Salvadore. Although I have never been to the other countries mentioned, I have a bit of a problem seeing Mexico on the same list as the others. Would there be a particular reason as to why you would put Mexico in the same basket.
    Not critisizing but curious.
    Thank you kindly Earl.

    1. Hey Roger – Thank you for the comment and believe me, I don’t consider Mexico to be dangerous at all. What I was trying to say in the answer above was that I have visited many countries that other people (especially those who don’t travel much) believe to be very dangerous, when, in fact, they are not. I get many emails from people who ask how the safety situation is in Mexico and how I can live here when it is so dangerous. So in terms of perception, many people consider Mexico to be dangerous, just as they consider Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, etc. to be dangerous as well.

      I repeatedly mention in my posts that Mexico is wonderful and that most of the country is completely safe. I would never include Mexico on a list of the most dangerous places I have visited. Actually, I don’t even have a list of the most dangerous places I’ve visited as I’ve never really felt in danger in any country 🙂

      1. Thanks for clearing that up Earl, as you have so well said, common sense is what it’s all about.
        Much appreciated.

  8. Nice post Earl! I really appreciate you taking the time out to answer questions and love the idea of putting them in a post. Wow 12 years of traveling I bet you have met a lot of people along the way. Anyone special for a relationship or is it hard to find someone if you are not already in one with this type of lifestyle?

    1. @Bluegreen Kirk: While I do prefer not to discuss my relationships on the blog, I will say that there are obviously challenges involved with trying to maintain something long-term. However, it is possible and chances are that many of the people a traveler meets during their adventures are going to be of a similar mindset. A love of travel does unite people and then it is just a matter of whether or not two people are able to make it work. There are a lot of factors involved, as in any relationship, and as long as two people want to find a way to create a life together, then even two long-term travelers can make it happen.

      Sorry I didn’t provide much detail 🙂

  9. Of course we must be mindful of our most precious belongings; but, I also find it odd when I notice backpackers clinging to their packs in sheer paranoia. A minsicule percentage of people are theives. I’ve found Italian train stations to have way more pickpockets than developing lands I’ve been to. I was at a pro baseball game in Nicaragua taking pictures. At first I was worried about the camera as the place was jam-packed. Not one person tried to snag it while anyone could have easily tried, and these people have nothing. I’ve recently been on crowded local buses in India, Panama, and Nicaragua; not once did anyone try to steal from me. When I communicate w/ people back home, when we say goodbye, they often end with: “Be safe.” I then follow up with: “You be safe too.” 🙂

    1. Hey Mike – I have experienced the exact same thing as you during my travels. The world really is a safe place and the overwhelming majority of people, in any country and regardless of their economic situation, are good people who are not at all interested in stealing anyone’s stuff. And similar to your comment of “You be safe too”, I always remind people to open the newspaper back home, read a few stories and then tell me that what they read seems less dangerous than wherever it is I’m going!

  10. Yes, yes, couchsurfing – you really should try it Earl (I’ll bet there’s a tons of CSers right there, so you could sample it for a night or two – even though I know you presently have your own place).

    Indeed, as I’m headed to move to Vietnam soon and have a week to spare in Hanoi before I head south to Saigon to take an EFL teaching course – I’m presently searching the site for CSers in Hanoi. Turns out there’s TONS of local folks happy to lend a couch or show me around.

    1. Hey Dyanne – I know, I know 🙂 I’ll get into I’m sure. Given the fact that I’m such a last minute planner I just find it hard to get on there and try to find people willing to host on such short notice. Perhaps I’ll start getting more organized soon and will be able to start using the service.

      Seems like it’s working out quite well for you in terms of your upcoming trip to Vietnam 🙂 And that’s awesome that you’re moving over there. I’m always jealous of anyone who is heading off to Southeast Asia to spend some significant time in that region!

  11. Thanks for these answers. I’m planning my first vagabonding stint in Poland for September. I just booked my ticket and am highly excited. I’m still a little nervous on finding the accommodations. I’m worried about not being able to find a place as quickly as an experienced traveler like yourself does.

    I was curious with how you deal with productivity on the road? How do you find the time to maintain your work?

    Thanks Earl!

    1. Hey MD – Productivity is admittedly difficult when I’m moving around and this is why I’ve changed my travel style over the past couple of years. These days I’ll typically spend 3-4 months living in one place (as I’ve been doing recently in Mexico) and then I’ll take off for 3-4 months of backpacking to a new region of the world. This allows me to catch up on work and ensure that I get stuff done while I’m in one place so that when I’m traveling around, I just need to keep things running and won’t be overwhelmed by having to do so much work.

      Other than that, if I do find myself needed to catch up on work while on the road, I’ll generally find a city or town that I like, stay for a few weeks or a month and spend some days exploring and some days working (assuming I can find wifi or a cafe with internet).

      So far these methods have proved the most effective as I trying to work on major projects while traveling from place to place at the same time is quite a challenging task!

      On a side note, congratulations on your upcoming trip to Poland and on booking your ticket! I always find that the moment I hit the “Confirm Ticket” button, everything changes. The excitement immediately builds and keeps on growing from that point on. And my suggestion would be, if you’re worried about finding a place, why not book a hostel for your first night or two? You can find plenty of reviews on and that way you have the security of knowing where you’ll stay when you arrive. Then, you can start to branch out and look for another place or whenever you get to your next destination in Poland, you might feel more confident to begin searching on your own. It’s never a bad idea to ease into one’s travels!

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