A Travellerspoint blog

A Few Ways to Avoid Getting Robbed in Central America

I bet you're wondering, "How does she know how NOT to get robbed?" Well, I'll be honest with you. I've gotten robbed plenty of times, enough to know exactly what I did wrong and how I could have avoided being robbed from the get-go!

Good example; my sister-in-law and I went to the coastal areas of Guatemala. I had my little purse on me and pants with many pockets. My sister-in-law, said, "Marina, I really recommend you put your credit cards and money in your pants pockets." I listened to her very carefully and didn't do a thing about it.

It took us three hours to arrive. Five minutes after we got off the bus and started headed in the direction of the hotels, two teenage boys on a bike came booking at me and -guess what - ripped my purse right off my shoulders. Thirty minutes after hunting them done and being left with nothing, we were right back on the same bus going back to the house. Let's just say it wasn't a very successful trip!

So, after all the wonderful lessons I've been given, I hope I am qualified to share with you what I have learned, so that you can learn vicariously through me and NOT do what I did!

Funky bus in Latin America by Piecar

Funky bus in Latin America by Piecar

Passport Copies

Do you know how hot an American, Canadian, European or Australian passport is in Central American countries? So hot that the black markets can't get enough of them! With the economy in the pits, more and more people are becoming unemployed and thinking that these nations have the answers to the good life and buy stolen passports with their life savings to leave.

To protect your passport it is completely acceptable to have a copy with you instead of an ID. Even most banks are OK with a copy these days. To secure the legitimacy of your copy you can get a notary public to stamp it before you leave for your trip.

Note: You still need the real deal when entering the country and leaving. Just leave it in the hotel for safety.

Take What You Need

I used to carry a full backpack with me on day trips or a purse when going out. After having sneaky professionals slyly reach in and clean out my backpack without me feeling a thing, or having my purse snatched off my shoulders, I decided it was time for a change.

I have always had the habit of carrying my backpack on my back. You know, the normal place for it. On multiple occasions I have had someone very quietly reach in and take my wallet, money and camera. So it took me a few times around to learn that one, but after those episodes, I had a long hard think and realized that I didn't need 90% of the stuff in my bags. For one, these days cameras are so small they can fit into your pockets. Money should always be kept close to your body and there's no need for bulky wallets. A jacket or a long sleeve shirt could be hung around your waist giving you extra security for your money and camera. If you have a guide book, it may be a good idea to simply rip out the pages for that particular day trip rather than lugging around the whole book.(Editor's note: I agree with this wholeheartedly, unless you are thinking to trade for a book from another area somewhere down the road.) You can buy a comfortable water holder which also has a safe pocket for a cell phone.

If you do need to carry a backpack, wear it facing front. Even in the safest of cities, you just never know.

Touts waiting to put the con on tourists, Costa Rica/Nicaragua border by Shmips

Touts waiting to put the con on tourists, Costa Rica/Nicaragua border by Shmips

Jewels

Chances are you are not walking down the red carpet showing off your most precious possessions. There really isn't any reason at all to wear anything of value while traveling to these countries. It's one thing to buy some locally made jewelry but completely another when your engagement ring is worth more than some local person will make in five years.

At one point I was guilty of this, or maybe just plain stupid. Granted, it was one of my first trips out and I wanted to be 'stylish'. Before my trip, I bought a very pretty jewelry holder bag and stuffed all my most precious wares inside. Within two days of my trip, while sitting on a bus dozing off, I awoke to my bag wide open and my jewelry holder gone. That was enough to teach me that it's such a bad idea to do that.

So, leave them at home and you'll appreciate them that much more when you return.

Luggage

Some of the most common robberies happen on public buses. Since thieving is practically a profession in most towns, they have it down to a science. There are now many affordable options to public transport systems. You can either take a private shuttle like Grayline or Interbus from one location to the next. Most hotels have shuttle services to and from the airport. If you can splurge, there are tons of private drivers that work for reputable companies and taxis.

If you do take the public bus, it's best if you can take your bag with you in the cabin and keep it by your side. The pros lurk around buses watching where you stick your bag and where you end up sitting. Since most public buses fill up fast and have plenty of stops along the way, they make sure to hear where you are getting off and slyly help themselves to your bags. Keep the bags close, and if you must put them below, sit in the seat that overlooks the compartment. And always look out for shady characters.

I had actually started in the right direction when this happened to me. I took my backpack into the compartment with me. It was a small bag, and since I was a newbie traveler and very naive, I placed the bag above my head. Not once did I think that the bus would fill up till you couldn't see in front of you, nor did I think that the nice people piling on the bus would want MY BAG. At one point I remember my friend yelling to me from the other side, "Marina, where's your bag?" To answer, I got up to look for it and, miraculously, someone just happened to hear the conversation and hand it back to me, right as they were getting off the bus. So what do you think I found? An empty bag!

Money

As I mentioned earlier, keep your money as close to your skin as possible. I have seen plenty of amazing pickpocketing moves that are so well orchestrated that you don't have any idea what is happening until you are left with nothing. Spread your riches around. Don't congregate all your money in one place. Put it in your pockets, in your bras, in your socks, in your underpants and always try to have a money belt secured around your waist.

My final example actually didn't happen to me, but to a friend of mine. We went to a local fair that was packed with people. As my friend started turning the corner he kind of got jammed between people. After watching the scene unfold in slow motion, I realized that it was three guys who had him cornered and were reaching into his pockets while the others were pushing as though he was stuck in the crowd. By the time I realized what was happening and started yelling, "They're robbing you!" They were long gone in three directions with his wallet and Ipod.

These five simple rules have made my life so much easier. I walk with more confidence knowing that there is nothing to steal. And, even though I'm a blonde amidst the masses, I don't have anything that is screaming come and rob me.

Bio
Marina has been living in Central America for over 7 years and her site Travel Experta is all about traveling in Central America. Marina loves to help people plan the perfect vacation to this amazing part of the world! You can sign up for her RSS feed and join the fun on her facebook fan page and follow her on Twitter at @MarinaVillatoro.

Posted by mvillatoro 17:04 Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (0)

7 Ways to Improve Your Travel Blog

Eye of the Zebra. Photo by snowgirl

Eye of the Zebra. Photo by snowgirl

When you've spent three hours - or more - crafting a brilliant blog post, filled with unique insight and valuable information, you want people to pay attention. Am I right?

People have a very short attention span.

But when it comes to publishing content on the internet, you have to remember one thing: People have a very short attention span.

On the internet, most people don't read. They skim. They might read your first line, scroll down a little, see if anything catches their eye - and if nothing does, they'll be on their way again. There are millions of things to read out there. Why should they waste a second reading what you've written?

In this article, I'll give you a series of tips to help you improve your blog posts and catch visitors' attention. If you want your visitors to engage more with your content, implementing some of these tips can help you achieve this.

1. Write wonderful posts

First things first. You need to be writing posts that are worth reading. To help you do this, ask yourself what purpose your blog post serves: Is it informative? Is it entertaining? Is it thought-provoking? Is it challenging? Figure out why people should read your posts before expecting them to do so.

2. Include photos

Big, beautiful photos go a long way to setting a blog post apart. Remember, people have short attention spans. Give them something beautiful to look at and you increase the chance they'll hang around and delve deeper.

How to include a photo in your Travellerspoint blog:

Adding photos is simple on Travellerspoint with the Img button in your blog editing panel. Just click Img, find the photo you want to add and click the size you want to use (you might have Thumb, Regular and Large to choose from).

3. Use headings, bold text and lists to draw attention to important ideas

You know that people skim articles. By extension, they are also drawn to bits of text that are set apart visually. Headings, bold text, lists, photo captions - learn to use these to guide your visitors and draw them into your post.

How to add a heading in your Travellerspoint blog entries:

If you have spent any time contributing to our wiki travel guide, you'll be glad to know that adding headings in blogs works just the same as it does in the guide. Simply add == before and after your heading to make it a heading. For sub-headings, use === before and after the heading.

4. Use headings to split up long posts

If your blog post is long, consider using subheadings to split it up. Besides drawing attention to the post's most important ideas, this also helps condense each section into a bite-sized chunk. I use subheadings on most posts I publish that are over 500 words long, because it improves their readability.

5. Grab their attention with a catchy title

There is a fine art to coming up with an attention-grabbing title. I wrote a whole article about it on the Travellerspoint blog. For the sake of this article, let me point out a few of the most popular articles on TravelBlogs, a website I am the editor for.

6. Start with a strong introduction

Again, this is a topic I have covered more extensively elsewhere (How to Blog Your Way to the Top), but writing a strong introduction is still one of the most important ingredients in creating a great blog post. Starting with a bang helps you hook readers, and I find that it also helps you develop a good flow as you write the rest of your post.

7. Use your blog description to give your blog context

On Travellerspoint, you can provide a description of your blog, which will show up directly below the blog title. The best blog descriptions aren't just descriptive - they're also enticing. They spark the reader's interest. Here are a few examples of great blog descriptions (with links to the blogs in question):

Do you have some tips and tricks for your fellow travelers? Then join us in educating travelers worldwide. To get started, send our editors an email at unravelled [at] travellerspoint [dot] com. Let them know a bit about yourself, and maybe include some writing samples and ideas for entries. They will review your submission and, if you fit the bill, they will welcome you to the team. Each entry published on Travel Unravelled will earn a $5 donation to the Travellerspoint Foundation.

Posted by dr.pepper 03:51 Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (4)

You Want To Stick That Where?????

Health: You're A Human Pincushion & Other Items Of Import

I've been sitting at this keyboard for a while now, wondering just how to start this blog entry. I've actually edited it 5 or 6 times, because it's not easy to write about something as important as one's health. I'm not here to tell you exactly what to do for your specific destinations, but rather to offer up guidelines to help you help yourself as you explore your chosen corners of the world. So, with that, here goes...

Drug Store Products, by jl98584

Drug Store Products, by jl98584

The First And Only Lesson To Learn

Okay, that's an exaggeration as there will be mondo (like big and huge and gigantic) lessons you will learn as you plan your travels--many of them useful, to boot. But, reading through the forums daily, I am constantly reminded of the number of soon-to-be travelers who struggle with the decision between protecting their own health and purchasing that new sleeping bag or pair of hiking boots. No, you may not need all the vaccinations and/or medications recommended for your specific destination(s), but there's a lesson to be learned here: You are NOT immortal, either. (If someone reading this is truly immortal, please contact me because I would love to meet you in person.) As if that weren't blunt enough--your health is the most precious thing you own--protect it. (Here endeth my lecture on lessons.)

The Human Pincushion Effect

Yup - we're going to discuss vaccinations. Regardless of your travel plans--whether they revolve around visiting the most metropolitan areas of Europe or the farthest reaches of Africa or South America--some inoculations are not a bad thing. No matter where your travels take you, Tetanus, Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B should be at the top of your vaccination list. Whereas Rabies, Typhoid Fever, Yellow Fever, Cholera, etc. will all depend on your travel choices and the requirements of those countries. (If you choose to read to the end of this blog, you will find links to important sites and articles regarding vaccinations. Hey, it's a good reason to keep reading...)

In some countries these vaccinations can be obtained for free or a small fee, depending on the health-care system. (I'm sorry I can't provide more info on this as I live in the US and nothing is free when it comes to health care. But, I digress.)

Other Items Of Import

I'm going to start this one by addressing Malaria, because it's always a "big ticket" item in the forums. The areas of most concern are Asia, Africa and Central/South America. This one always comes down to your destinations, your own comfort level, your ability to remember to use the insect repellant regularly (no disrespect intended but I never remember to use it), and what advice you accept from other travelers.

The most effective way to guard against malaria is to have a good idea of the areas you plan to visit in relation to the country itself. Basically, ask yourself "will I be east of this area or west of that, etc.", so you can look at the maps (connected with the links below) to see if you will be at risk. As always, if unsure, check the Travel Guide and/or post in the appropriate forum for that region.

Rabies is the second "big ticket" item. (I love this one because I've had my share of (pre-exposure) rabies inoculations! They aren't as bad as they used to be--really.) This is one of the gray areas for most travelers. Do you need them? Probably not, if you are the average backpacker/traveler. (Don't mean to classify things, but stick with me for a few minutes.) Though rabies is a threat around the world, those most at risk either: 1) work in the veterinary field, 2) work on farms, 3) travel mainly in rural areas, 4) can't stop petting stray dogs, skunks, monkeys, and/or other wild animals. Again, rabies vaccinations fall under the "comfort level" heading and your itinerary. When it comes to this disease, only you can decide if your travel plans put you at risk.

There are many other issues that could be addressed in this particular blog. But, since there will be a "table of contents" for you to peruse at your leisure, I will end here and add more information as time goes. Until then, if you have questions/doubts, please check some of the following links:

TP Travel Guide - Travel Health
CDC (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention - US)
WHO (World Health Organization)
Mayo Clinic
NHS (National Health Service - UK)
Global Health (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services)
AIHW (Australian Institute of Health & Welfare)

Until next time... happy travels!!!!!!!!

Do you have some tips and tricks for your fellow travelers? Then join us in educating travelers worldwide. To get started, send our editors an email at unravelled [at] travellerspoint [dot] com. Let them know a bit about yourself, and maybe include some writing samples and ideas for entries. They will review your submission and, if you fit the bill, they will welcome you to the team. Each entry published on Travel Unravelled will earn a $5 donation to the Travellerspoint Foundation.

Posted by Isadora 13:28 Tagged health_and_medicine Comments (2)

Meet the Editors

Working behind the scenes of Travel Unravelled is a group of members who have volunteered their time and expertise to edit the blog and ensure typos are kept to minimum, formatting is slick and post frequency is regular. Let me introduce you to our esteemed group of editorial talent:

Keeping The Temple Clean. Photo by Mavr8k

Keeping The Temple Clean. Photo by Mavr8k

Greg Wesson

Greg Wesson started travelling later in life, only making his first trip outside of North America, where he grew up, at the age of 31. Since then, however, he has been making up for lost time, having visited almost 30 countries in the past eight years. Greg has tried many different styles of travel, from independent backpacking to package trips, from 3rd class trains to business-class flights, from business trips to pleasure travel. The primary lesson Greg has learned is that, no matter how much effort you put into the planning, it very rarely goes exactly to plan. Luckily he has a lost puppy-ish quality that compells locals and other travellers to take pity and help Greg out of the jams he finds himself in. Most recently, Greg moved to the United Kingdom where he is trying his hand at being an immigrant. As might be expected, it isn’t going exactly to plan, but no matter. Greg is still having quite a fun adventure learning to live abroad. You can follow him more closely on his own blog at Greg Wesson's Esoteric Globe

Derek Logan

Derek Logan's first solo trip was across the city of Toronto when he was eight. The excitement of not knowing where he was going or how to get back awakened a lifelong interest in getting a little further down the road. He took a hide tanning for that little stunt, but it was worth it. He has been travelling ever since. He's visited over 40 countries and has lived in Honduras and Colombia for lengthy periods. He spent years on a travelling carnival, even more years in the Canadian movie industry, and has been a hot dog vendor, cook, department store Santa, rock promoter, and countergirl (seriously, that's what it said on his cheque!). He is currently living and working in Santiago, Chile

Tina Wayland

Tina's first trip was to retirement-capital St. Petersburg, Florida, when she was 4. Although she can't remember much (except for a bathing suit full of sand and a giant lobster), the travel bug bit and she's been trying to pack trips in ever since. A honeymoon to South Africa and Mozambique with 15 other travellers and on a big, red bus has been the highlight to date! Tina works as a copywriter for a Montreal ad agency, and is about to take a year off to look after little Bump--a TPer in the making, if all those restless kicks are anything to go by.

Brendan Harding

Brendan Harding is an Irish writer of travel-related literature--both fiction and non-fiction. In his other life, he works as a freelance graphic artist, which is taking more of a back seat to his writing with each passing month (and complaining loudly to the driver as it does so). He is currently working on his first novel, which is set in rural Kenya and is a cross between a travelogue and a ‘strange tale’.
His short stories have won awards for him (but little money) over the years, as has his travel writing. He has broadcast about his travels in the Kenyan bush on Irish National radio Lyric FM. This daily broadcast--in the form of an observational diary--dealt with the work of a team of opticians who travelled from Ireland to conduct eye-screening in the remoteness of the Ukambani in the country’s semi-arid and drought-afflicted Eastern province. Travel, anticipation of travel and thoughts of travel are his passion.

Posted by Peter 18:56 Comments (3)

How to Travel With Confidence

...Or at least look like you know what you are doing

Greetings Fellow Travelers, and welcome to the latest edition of Travel Unravelled.

Do you find traveling a daunting experience? Does it all seem like too much to handle? Do you lack the confidence and know-how to just get out there and see what this great big world is all about? Well dear readers, this blog entry will attempt to alleviate those fears and help you prepare to become a traveler who knows no boundaries.

Roads from Marrakech, Morroco.  Photo by Utrecht

Roads from Marrakech, Morroco. Photo by Utrecht

What is it about travel that scares us the most? For most people, it is the fear of the unknown… but hey, isn’t that what all fear is based on, the unknown? But you can, if you just put in a little effort and forethought, gain the confidence to go wherever you want (barring war zones…I don’t recommend those) and find how rewarding it is to learn about different cultures and peoples. The world is an amazing place full of wonders you won’t see at home, and people are remarkably similar throughout every corner of the globe (yes, I know we live on an oblate spheroid, and technically there are no corners, but you get the point).

STEP ONE

Knowing the country and its customs makes travel a much more rewarding experience.

So how does one gain the confidence to embark on a voyage to the unknown? This is a multi-step process that begins with research. The hardest part is deciding where you want to go. Once that hill has been climbed, the rest is simple. Got a computer and internet access? Of course you do, or you wouldn’t be reading this. Start here (sorry, shameless Travellerspoint plug). On TP, you can find virtually anything you want to know about the part of the world you’ve chosen to visit. In addition, almost every country in the world has its own website. Handy, no? Any search engine will take you there; simply type in your destination. Read all about what that country has to offer, from culture to scenery to general travel precautions. Knowledge, as they say, is power, and once you know a little about your intended locale, you are no longer in the realm of the “unknown”, and fear begins to wane. Read as much as you possibly can about where you’re going. Knowing the country and its customs makes travel a much more rewarding experience.

STEP TWO

Now that you have empowered yourself (with some basic knowledge), it’s time to start planning. How will you get there? How long will you stay (no, you shouldn’t say “until my money runs out or they throw me out” – trust me). Where will I stay? What do I want to see? How many souvenirs should I bring back? Where can I exchange my money for local currency? Do I need vaccinations? How do I send Isadora and Beerman a postcard? Is there chocolate there? Do they have beer (personal favorite)? These are all questions you should be asking yourself during your preparations. Future blog entries will discuss these and many other issues so stay tuned!! Be prepared, just ask the Boy Scouts!!

STEP THREE

Once you have all of these questions answered, it’s time to start thinking about personal safety. Good and evil co-exist in the world, regardless of where you travel. So, think safety!! There are numerous ways to protect your money from thieves and pickpockets. For starters, don’t carry all your credit cards and cash in your bag or backpack. Spread it around in different pockets so no one pocket is obviously bulging with cash. Loose or baggy pockets make it too easy for pickpockets. If you are in large crowds of people during festivals or parades, be aware of your personal space and always be mindful of people casually bumping into you. Try to avoid areas or neighborhoods that seem a bit dodgy – you’ll usually know them when you see them.

Most hotels or hostels have safes where you can keep valuables. Most bus and train stations and airports have pay lockers where you can keep some personal belongings – though it is better generally to not keep valuables in them – excess baggage only.

Of the utmost importance, walk and act like you belong wherever you happen to be. Hold your head up. If a street vendor approaches you with some trinkets, be polite, and if you’re not interested in the wares, simply holding your hand up and waving it while saying “no” and walking away usually works. If you decide to purchase from a street vendor, don’t pull out a large wad of cash. It’s alright to turn slightly away while reaching for you cash, pulling out the necessary amount and paying for the item. Always be polite, even with the pushiest of street vendors. Walking away will usually let them know you’re not interested. If they get overly aggressive, look them in the eyes and sternly say no and continue walking away. People are just people, we’re all the same basically. Most countries do not want their street vendors to be overly aggressive with tourists because bad experiences lead to fewer tourists – bad for the economy. If there happens to be a local Constable or police officer nearby, you can always get their attention and point out the offending vendor; generally, they will respond favorably and come to your rescue.

The staff at virtually every hotel or hostel in the world can be an excellent source of information on what areas to avoid. They live there after all so who would know better.

Fruit seller and Monk, India.  Photo by Ardy

Fruit seller and Monk, India. Photo by Ardy

STEP FOOD

Food in different countries can be quite daunting for many people. Street food in many countries is a challenge. Much is quite safe, while some will cause intestinal problems that will shorten your holiday. A good rule of thumb: if it looks wholly unsanitary for your tastes, don’t eat it.

I know many people will argue this point with me, and I have never had a bad experience with street food, even with some that looks like it had been plucked from the local sewer. But as a general rule, use your own sensibilities. It is entirely up to the individual.

Restaurants can pose an entirely different challenge. You’re not in your mother’s kitchen, so don’t expect everything to taste like it does at home. That’s why you’re there, to try new things and new experiences. Mind you, I’d think twice about ordering the jellied ox testicles, but that’s just me. Even if you don’t speak the language, the server can usually describe what the menu item is with hand gestures. This though is where it is handy if you’ve done your research ahead of time – knowing what the local foodstuffs are before you order them will save both yours and the severs time.

So, to summarize:

    • Pick a destination(s) and RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH.
    • Plan your travels – it keeps surprises to a minimum.
    • Be aware of your valuables at all times – don’t stress, just be aware.
    • Walk like you belong there.
    • It helps enormously if you know a little of the local language, even if it’s just “may I have a beer please” – locals almost always appreciate your efforts at speaking their language.
    • Don’t order the jellied ox testicles.

By following these tips, hopefully the experience will seem less daunting. Most of all, get out there and give it a try. Go on that trip and practice, and soon you will become a confident traveler in no time.

Do you have some tips and tricks for your fellow travelers. Then join us in educating travelers worldwide. To get started, send our editors an email at unravelled [at] travellerspoint [dot] com. Let them know a bit about yourself, maybe some writing samples and ideas for entries. They will review your submission and if you fit the bill they will welcome you to the team.

Posted by beerman 15:22 Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (11)

Welcome to Travel Unravelled

Welcome to Travel Unravelled, a new blog designed to help you hone your travelling skills. Read on as seasoned travellers from all corners of the globe share the tricks and techniques they've picked up through years of experience.

Bazaar vendor, Iran. Photo by kavanadb

Bazaar vendor, Iran. Photo by kavanadb

We want to learn from your experience. The hard earned lessons from your greatest mistakes and successes on the road.

Sure, you know how to book a flight, check-in to a hotel and take a photo, but do you know how to respond when you are flooded by touts at the airport when you arrive?

Do you know how to tell the scammers from the helpful locals?

Do you know how to get the best deals on flights?

How to navigate around a city when all the maps are in a different language?

How to take travel photos that not just your mum would be interested in?

If you answered no to any of those questions, this is the blog for you. If you do know all the answers, this is also the blog for you. We need you as a writer! That's right, this blog is not just for you, it will be written by you too. Travellers writing for travellers.

We want to learn from your experiences. The hard earned lessons from your greatest mistakes and successes on the road.

If you are light on experiences but keen on learning, then go ahead and subscribe to Travel Unravelled. A steady stream of travellers' know-how will be making its way on to these pages over the coming weeks, months and years. Think of all the stuff-ups you can avoid by hearing about them here first!

A Travellerspoint Foundation Blog

This blog is a Travellerspoint Foundation project, which means that any revenue the blog gets from advertising will support the Foundation. In addition, Travellerspoint will be making a $5 donation to the Foundation for every blog entry that is published. Foundation funds are used to make micro-loans through Kiva to entrepreneurs in developing countries. As a result, your sharing of knowledge will not only benefit travellers reading this blog, but also will help development in some remote communities around the world. It's a worthy caused wrapped in a worthy cause.

Join Us

So please, join us on this journey. To get started, send our editors an email at unravelled [at] travellerspoint [dot] com. Let them know a bit about yourself, maybe some writing samples and ideas for entries. They will review your submission and if you fit the bill they will welcome you to the team.

With that, let the unravelling begin.

Posted by Peter 17:55 Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (3)

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