If you’ve traveled the world full-time for seven years, we consider you an expert on how to see the sites and do so safely. Matthew Karsten, the Expert Vagabond, is just that. He has spent the last several years living as a nomad, traveling from country to country, doing remote work for clients to pay for his lifestyle, but living out of a suitcase wherever the winds will take him.
Here are Matt’s top five tips for minimizing the bad stuff and maximizing the good stuff while exploring the world.
Before we get into specifics, here’s a freebie: educate yourself on the travel scams of the country you’re visiting. Ask Google for specific information so you’re not a victim of something that could’ve been avoided, had you only known.
So, Matt’s first piece of advice is to seriously consider what you’re going to take with you. Do you really need your digital SLR camera when you could take pictures with your phone? If you decide you need a valuable asset with you, create a plan for how you will secure it while you’re traveling (zippers and locks aren’t necessarily deterrents) and when you leave it behind in your hotel room.
Secondly, purchase travel insurance for your valuables. If you need to travel with your laptop, you’ll feel more secure if you know that it will be replaced if something happens to it. World Nomads, IMG Global, and TCP Photography Insurance all offer this type of insurance, but read the policies carefully. There are limits to what they’ll cover.
After you’ve secured your valuables, think about your personal safety. Taking a simple self-defense class before you go abroad will equip you to keep your wits about you should you accidentally end up in a place you didn’t intend to. Remember that just because you know how to defend yourself doesn’t mean you have to actually get into a fight. Removing yourself from the situation physically may be all you need to do in order to restore your desired level of safety.
Third, tell your bank where you’re going so that your account isn’t frozen because an employee suspects fraud. Also, spread out emergency cash among your luggage so that if your wallet is pickpocketed, you can still eat, pay your hotel bill, and get yourself to the airport. Securing a backup credit card in case of this type of emergency is also a good idea.
One final money tip? Inspect ATMs before you use them for evidence of tampering. Don’t ever allow anyone to assist you with a cash withdrawal. If you’re not sure, go to a bank during regular hours and ask them for help. (Better yet, try to avoid carrying cash and shop at merchants and restaurants where you can use a credit card. Then you don’t have to worry about paying too much in exchange fees.)
Finally, when exploring a new country’s cuisine, Matt suggests you purchase a filtered water bottle so that you don’t have to continue buying bottled water. This helps you avoid getting sick on the local water, because the filter will screen out any pathogens and bacteria.
He also passed along a few tips from his friend Jodi, another world traveler. For example, Jodi advises travelers to look for places to eat where you can see how the food is being prepared, and where the lines are long. This is an indication that it’s a popular place, and that food isn’t sitting around for long periods of time.
Her most helpful tip is for those with food allergies? Pack a translation card you can show when ordering food to avoid accidentally getting exposed to something you’re allergic to. Asking Google for a simple translation of “I have a peanut allergy” and transcribing that on a card could save you lots of unnecessary distress.
Risk is unavoidable when traveling, and you’re going to run into problems, the same as when you’re at home running errands or just going to work, but it can be managed. Prepare the best you can, practice some basic safety and situational awareness, and see what the world has to offer.
Photo credit: Yonikasz (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 4.0)