7 Things I Would Have Changed During My Travel

Cheung Chau, Hong Kong- July 2013

Cheung Chau, Hong Kong – July 2013

I have had five months to reflect on the 11 months that I travelled, and I can say that I would like to go back in time and give my 27-year-old self some frank advice. However, I can’t do that. Instead, I’ll give that advice to you, and hopefully, you won’t repeat some of my mistakes.

1. Don’t hike in flip-flops (or Vans for that matter)

Just don’t do it. Ever! When I was in Livingston, three of my friends and I walked a mile to see Las Siete Altares; however, I had the bright idea to think that foot-flops would be an acceptable form of footwear. Let me tell you. It’s not. Add in the fact that the foot-flops were six years old and were literally held together by a thread.

Walking along the beach in Livingston is kind of like walking through a graveyard of old beer bottles, clothes and fishnets. Pedestrians should take precautions to make sure they’re feet aren’t going to get massacred while taking a stroll down the sand.

About 30 minutes into this walk, the toll of travel finally split my foot-flop into two. Now, there was no way that I was going to be able to keep this shoe on my foot. So, I carried my broken foot-flop and took off the other one. Worrying about a staph infection will probably lead you to take the most precaution while walking. I certainly slowed down my pace to the dismay of my friends.

Honestly, walking in the sand barefoot wasn’t that bad, but once we got to the entrance to Las Siete Altares, that’s where my feet began to rebel. I didn’t research ahead of time to learn that the path to Las Siete Altares is 100 percent rock. There is no trail. There is just boulder after boulder, pointy geological formation after pointy geological formation to cause immense pain with every step.

This is one of the beds of water on the path to Los Siete Altares. Remember, bring your hiking shoes.

This is one of the beds of water on the path to Las Siete Altares. Remember, bring your hiking shoes.

Lamenting may be too strong of a word to use in this case, but my feet were ready to be amputated from my body. And that was just the journey to the waterfall. On the way back, I was miserable. Somehow, I managed to push myself to get back to the entrance and talked a Quebecois woman into hailing a boat to bring me back to town.

Basically, the moral of this story is if you plan to do any significant amount of walking, regardless of terrain, wear hiking shoes, not foot-flops. Vans aren’t a good idea either.

2. Buy an e-reader. Your backpack will thank you.

One of my friends suggested buying a Kindle before I left on my trip. I wish I would have listened. Lugging around books started to become cumbersome as I lost space in my bag. Having an e-reader would have given me the opportunity to read multiple books and not just the crappy one I was carrying.

Keep in mind, hostel book exchanges are awful for English speakers. There’s a slim chance you’ll be able to find a book you actually want to read. Even if you speak Spanish or French, don’t think that’s going to help too much. Most of the available books I found were in Dutch, Swedish or other European languages (but if you speak those languages, cool points for you).

Don’t be worried about recharging your new electronic toy. In 11 months of travel, I only went off the grid three times, and two of those places still had wi-fi and generators to charge my electronics. Trust me. Spend $70 on an e-reader. It will be one of the best travel investments you’ll make.

3. Go for more batteries over memory cards

If you take nothing else from this article, remember choose the battery over the memory card. I lost the ability to record countless memories from my journey because my batteries died. Two batteries are not enough for a camera, especially if you plan on doing video on a point-and-shoot. Instead, bring at minimum three (five if you plan on recording a lot of video). If you buy a card with enough memory, you’ll never need to change it.

Shooting pictures and video can take up a lot of battery life. Always opt for more batteries.

Shooting pictures and video can take up a lot of battery life. Always opt for more batteries.

4. Stop treating travel like a vacation

This one probably sounds the most crazy, but it’s the most true. If you plan on traveling long term with no intention of returning to the job market, you have to make sure that you have a way to continually finance your travels. If you write, design or photograph, have a professional-looking Web site already created before you leave. In addition, I recommend finding clients before you embark.

If you plan on teaching English or plan on searching for jobs on a working holiday, head to that country where you plan to earn money sooner rather than later. It’s better to have a cushion to keep travelling rather than being forced to return to your home country.

Don’t get me wrong. The purpose of your trip is certainly personal, but the key is to find balance between work and play. Please don’t make the mistake I did when I left Louisville. I could never quite shake the feeling that I was on vacation. My last week in Louisville was a non-stop party, along with the get-togethers with family in Kansas and Arizona over the next month. It wasn’t until sometime during my trip in California that I realized, “This is my life. You’re a nomad now. Get some income.”

However, I continued to squander my money when I arrived in Belize two months later. Being in a new country felt like another vacation. I drank Belekins and rum concoctions all day and night on Caye Caulker. I don’t regret it. I had a lot of fun, and I made lasting friendships, but looking back I realized that I could have worked more on my Web site and tried to make more of an impact on the island.

Note: I stayed at a cat sanctuary while on Caye Caulker. The woman who runs the sanctuary works tirelessly to provide for these stray animals. Consider helping with a donation or, if you are a veterinarian, your time.

Caye Caulker, Belize - November 2012

Caye Caulker, Belize – November 2012

5. Which leads to volunteering …

This is an easy way to stretch your budget if you can find a place that will cover your lodging and food in exchange for your time. My friend, Dillon, tended a bar at a hostel in Antigua, Guatemala. Another friend of mine volunteered with WWOOF to travel in Italy and Croatia. Another friend of mine from Switzerland taught English at a Guatemalan school.

In my own experience, I was offered a chance to work for a hostel owner in Semuc Champey, Guatemala for tips (required by hostel guests), free lodging and complimentary meals. To be honest, I’m glad that I didn’t stay. Lifeofabackpacker.com would have most likely disappeared due to the limited use of wi-fi.

My only caution with volunteering is to make sure that you’re not paying a significant amount to volunteer. Small donations are OK, but question any organization requesting a significant amount of money before volunteering. Chances are your donation is fattening a bigwig’s wallet.

6. If you blog, take it seriously

The best piece of advice is don’t blog if you want to make money. Several successful travel bloggers have written about this, and it’s a long road to success. The majority of your viewers are going to be family and friends unless you’re committed to marketing and updating your website every day. That means constant social media updates, advertising and networking with editors who will publish your work.

Also, start your website with a business model in mind. Market your services from Day 1. Sell merchandise or e-books. Ask for donations if you’re ballsy enough. Remember, the only person who’s going to take care of you is you. If people enjoy your content, they will support you.

You can have fun while you travel, but if you plan on working on the road, strive to achieve work-play balance.

Have fun on your trip, but if you want to work and travel, strive to achieve balance.

7. Don’t be a cheapskate

This may seem counter-intuitive to most of the advice that I give on this Web site. I still advocate budget travel, but also know when it’s a good idea to splurge.While working in sales, I learned the motto, “You get what you pay for.” Sure, that $3-a-night hostel might seem like a good idea, but then when you learn the staff doesn’t clean the sheets every day, you may want to rethink that “bargain price.” It’s better to check the amenities and perks of any lodging you may stay in while traveling. Check if the place has wi-fi (if that’s important to you). Know if you’re getting a free breakfast or free coffee (and if it’s real coffee). And bottom line, if your hostel makes you pay for sheets, it’s probably not a good idea to stay there (calling out a certain hostel in Rio Dulce, Guatemala).

Have you travelled? What would you have done differently? Leave your comments below.

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One Response to “7 Things I Would Have Changed During My Travel”

  1. Something I learned while abroad: when given the option ALWAYS allocate more money to travel to different places over buying souvenirs. This might sound like a no brainer, but when you’re gone for a significant amount of time it might seem like you should be buying a lot of stuff in your new country. By the end of your trip you probably could’ve seen a few more cities if you hadn’t spent all your money at Zara. Plus you don’t want to be at the airport throwing items away because your suitcase now weighs too much.