A travel blog for those afraid to travel.
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It has many different names; wanderlust, the travel bug, vagabond dreams… Call it what you will, if you’re here, odds are you’ve got it. That feeling you get when you step onto foreign land for the first time, or the relentless drive to find out what’s just over the horizon; it’s something that is seemingly impossible to explain to people who don’t feel the same way.

But why do we do it? What pushes us onward when others around us seem content to live the 9 to 5, buy a house and settle down? Where does that spark come from?

The reasons are as numerous and unique as the individuals who hold them.

For me, I feel a connectedness with the world unlike any other when I find commonalities with a stranger across the globe who speaks a different language and comes from a culture vastly different than my own. It’s a genuine connection, the likes of which I know I could never find back home.

We tend to sleepwalk through our daily routines and relationships when we get too comfortable, but meeting new people abroad feels like being awake for the first time in a long while.

Maybe you’re a foodie who enjoys sampling exotic cuisines. Perhaps you’re a lover of the arts and want to walk in the footsteps of the world’s greatest artists. Or maybe you just read about your next destination in a book and figured, “why not?”. No matter your reason, don’t ever let anyone tell you it’s not a good one.

There will always be people who try dissuade you from your dreams. They will tell you that you’re being foolish or running away from your problems. They will stop at nothing to convince you that you need to fall in line and be like everyone else your age with their unsatisfying careers and starter homes.

What they’ll never understand is that our world is so much bigger than theirs, and when the whole world is your home, you would have to be crazy to put down roots in any one spot. That’s not to say that their advice is bad, but it is wrong for people like us with curiosity burning in our hearts.

We find ourselves again at the start of a new year; each of us ripe with unlimited possibility. This year, resolve to be boldly and unapologetically you. Go forth and do whatever it is that makes you happy.

The world is full of incredible people and places and our time here is short. Don’t waste a moment of it struggling under the weights of someone else’s fear and doubt. You are meant for bigger things.

Happy 2017, everyone. Here’s to the next adventure.
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While preparing to travel abroad for the first time, you will undoubtedly hear horror stories from concerned family and friends about unwary travelers being robbed or assaulted while abroad. After enough repetition, it’s understandable to begin thinking it might not be safe out there.

 I remember this experience all too well when I had made the decision to go on my first backpacking trip. I arrived in Europe fully prepared to be targeted by pickpockets and all manners of shady criminals. Thankfully, it didn’t take long for me to relax a bit and retire the hidden money belt I once thought of as a necessity.

Take it from me; the world is not nearly as scary as they make it out to be. In all of my traveling experience, there has only been one occasion in which I was seriously concerned for my safety. I had just arrived in Bangkok for the first time, and within an hour, there was a terrorist attack just a couple blocks from where I was staying.

This highly improbable experience aside, I have found traveling, even by yourself, to be pretty safe overall. That being said, there are a few precautions you can take to help ensure your safety while abroad.


Buy a Good Lock

Just about every hostel you are bound to stay in provides lockers for their guests. Most are large enough to fit all of your valuables while you are out for the day; some are even large enough to accommodate your entire backpack, should you really want peace of mind.

While the lockers are usually provided free of charge, the locks themselves typically are not. Make sure to buy a good, sturdy lock before you leave, but try to keep it on the smaller side to ensure it can fit all locker sizes. Personally, I recommend combination locks over key locks, as I’m always worried I will lose the key. This is the lock I’ve used for the past 3 years. It allows you to create your own combination, which is great if you tend to be forgetful.

If you want to lock up your entire bag but don’t want to take the chance that the hostel’s lockers will be big enough, check out Pacsafe. They make lightweight steel exomesh wraps that cover your backpack and can be locked to a fixture.

I traveled with one of these on my first backpacking trip, but to be honest, I didn’t use it much. They’re great in theory, but it will add a good bit of weight to your pack. Frankly, I don’t think it’s necessary. Over time, I’ve found that the vast majority of people you meet in hostels are going to be of the same mindset as yourself. They’re there to meet interesting people and see the world; not to steal your headphones.

Furthermore, if you can’t fit all of your valuables in an average-sized locker, you should probably re-evaluate your pack with my packing guide.



Be Smart With Your Money

My personal rule of thumb when it comes to carrying cash while traveling is to never have more than $50 of the local currency on you at any one time. It’s just not needed. Just about every restaurant, store, attraction, etc. you are going to visit will accept credit cards. If they don’t accept cards, remember, you’re backpacking on a budget; $50 should be more than enough to cover whatever you need in that situation.

I’ve met many travelers who will take out several hundred dollars worth of the local currency from an ATM when they arrive in a new country. Should they unfortunately be robbed, it would be an expensive, easily-avoidable mistake.

Be cautious when taking money out from the ATM as well. If someone did want to rob you, the ATM would be a good place to do it. Make sure to stay aware of your surroundings while withdrawing cash. Also, give the machine a quick look over before using it; paying particular attention to the keypad and the card slot. Computer-savvy criminals can use what are known as “skimmers” to steal your banking information while you are using the ATM.

Watch the video below for a good explanation of what to look for.




As for your credit and debit cards themselves, I typically recommend traveling with one debit card and two credit cards. With the exception of when you’re withdrawing cash, don’t go out with your debit card. Leave it locked up in the hostel along with your backup credit card and other valuables. That way, worst case scenario, should your wallet be lost or stolen while you’re out, you won’t be completely out of luck.


Pick a Backpack Hiding Spot

As I mentioned in the above tip, I typically leave my debit card and a backup credit card in the hostel while out exploring a city. In addition to a backup card, I also recommend bringing $100 US with you while traveling as an emergency cash reserve. Should you find your cards unusable for any reason (maybe you forgot to notify your bank that you were traveling and they’ve locked the account), $100 should be enough to get you by until you straighten things out.

But where do you stash these cards and cash? While it’s highly unlikely that someone will steal something out of your backpack, it’s even more unlikely that they’ll take the whole thing. That being the case, pick a seemingly low-value item in your pack that you can use to hide your cards and emergency money.

Personally, I’d recommend a toiletry bag or medical kit; something that is not likely to be stolen by any would-be thief. Again, you will more than likely have a locker where you can keep these things safe while you are out, but on the off chance that one is not available, it’s always a good idea to have a backup plan.

 

Trust Your Gut

Quite simply, if something seems off or too good to be true, it probably is. Now, I am a big proponent of taking chances and putting yourself out there while traveling. Without a doubt, the greatest part of backpacking is meeting new people, and as a result, the incredible experiences you will have with them.

However, there is a big difference between striking up a conversation with a stranger in a bar and learning about an upcoming event in the city, and being approached by a stranger on the street and told about an amazing party going on in an abandoned warehouse right now. The point is, use your head. Don’t be afraid to live, but do be wary of bad choices.


Keep Your Head on a Swivel

To put it plainly, be aware of your surroundings. You don’t need to be hyper vigilant at all times, but you should always have a sense of what’s going on around you. It’s unfortunate, but there are people who make a living off of pickpocketing tourists in crowded areas like train stations and at famous landmarks.

In times like these, though it may look ridiculous, shift your backpack or purse around to the front of your body. If you make stealing your things difficult, odds are thieves won’t bother trying.

While on the subject, if you notice someone staring at you and they seem suspicious, the best thing I can recommend is to stare at them right back. Make it known that you are watching them watch you. Confidence goes a long way in keeping you from becoming a target. Just be careful how you go about doing this. Remember, the goal here is not to pick a fight.


Insurance

Granted, this is more of a reactive approach, but having insurance while traveling goes a long way should worst come to worst. A good travel insurance plan will cover you not only in the event that you need medical care; but if your gear is stolen or damaged; lost luggage; cancelled flights and more. Personally, I’ve used World Nomads every time I’ve traveled.


World nomads travel insurance

That story I mentioned at the top of the article about being in Bangkok during the terrorist attack? World Nomads was the first call I made after the US Embassy. The situation ended up calming down over there, but the representative I worked with was beyond helpful and was ready to secure me a flight out of the country if I didn’t feel safe staying. On top of that, she even called me every day for the next three days just to check in and make sure everything was still alright. That, to me, is above and beyond good service, and why I will always use World Nomads when traveling. Check out their plans here to see which one would suit you best.


Conclusions

Overall, this isn’t a subject worth losing much sleep over. The vast majority of people in this world mean you no harm. In fact, they’re quite nice! Just keep the above tips in mind while traveling and you’ll get by just fine.

Do you have questions about staying safe while traveling or want to share your own tips? Send me an email! I’d love to hear from you.

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Hi there!

It’s been almost two months since my last post on here. I definitely did not intend to let that much time go by without an update, but those two months absolutely flew by. But hey, you’re not here for my excuses.

I figured I was long overdue for an update on here. The reason I’ve been slacking on the blog lately is because I’ve spent the majority of the last two months applying for the JET Program. If you’re not familiar with JET, it’s a year-long program for teaching English to students in Japan. With any luck, the next adventure for The Born Wanderer will be living in and exploring Asia over 2017 and part of 2018!


Jet Program

I’ve been hard at work getting TEFL certified with Boston TEFL these past few months. It’s a fantastic program and it is without a doubt making me a better teacher, but it has definitely cut down on any free time I’ve had to work on the blog. That being said, as the course is coming to a close, you can start to expect more frequent updates on here. I promise I’ll have the blog, photo, and social media updates coming out on a more consistent basis moving forward.

Lastly, I have received a couple emails from readers over the past month or so inquiring about submitting guest blogger articles. I’m always happy to post other travelers’ articles on here that I feel my readers will benefit from! If you have written an article that you feel would be a good fit for this blog, send me an email! I’d love to read it.

That’s all for now! Stay tuned for some new posts and travel guides in the very near future.

-Matt
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In this article, guest blogger Danielle Robidoux shares her experience of being a solo female traveler in South America. Read about the challenges and rewards you can expect to encounter on your own journey abroad.

I was raised by my off-the-boat Italian grandmother. Let’s just say if she could have kept me in a bubble, she would have opted to do so. Naturally, as human beings, when our freedom is restricted, we seek freedom, exploration– discovery. As many are, I was also afraid to take the leap, buy the ticket, or take the risk of solo travel. Then one day I decided I was going to Costa Rica, I was going alone, and I was going on the cheap.

I listened to endless stories from all walks of life telling me that I was stupid and that it was dangerous to travel alone as a female in Central America. I cannot tell you how many people asked me if I have seen the movie hostel. The answer is yes, I have seen it. I have stayed in countless hostels and they are nothing like the movie—worry not, my Achilles tendons are fully intact.

I went against all advice from all of the people I loved and I sat alone, quietly in a café and bought my ticket… with absolutely 0 idea what I was doing. It was the first step. After buying the ticket, the rest just falls into place. No plan can begin to prepare you for the feeling of stepping out of that plane into a foreign airport and having no idea what to expect. Sure, you can read articles, but the beauty and adrenaline rush in travel is that you do not know what is in store for you. You do not know who you will meet, the strange animal parts you may consume, the diarrhea you might incur, the mountains you will climb, the warm beer you will swig at a bar in the middle of nowhere, or the waves you will surf and wipe out on leaving you gasping for air— all hypothetical, of course.

Point being, the magic of travel is that you are going where you have never been before; seeing the world around you with totally new eyes and without expectation. It is truly the way we should try and live our everyday lives. It is a perspective that we take back with us when we return home. We remain forever changed, and with that, we can take a little bit of everywhere we have been with us.

Does this mean walking into a dark alley way intoxicated on the streets of Lima at 1am? No. No it does not. It means life is about risk. It’s about exploration, discovery, and diversifying our perspectives. You cannot do that in your hometown, face-deep in your smartphone. Travel is about stepping into the unknown, to realize uncertainty, and to trust it will all work out as it should. So I buy the ticket, I research, I do everything I am supposed to do. My credit card points are stacked, I have all the 5-star hostels booked (yes, it’s a thing), safety tips researched, Skype and Viber downloaded; I am ready to embrace pura vida.

I finally arrive at the airport to meet my host from Airbnb. I walk reluctantly over to a man holding a sign with my name scribbled onto it in a poorly executed scrawl. Part of me wants to run back onto the plane where I belong, but I stand there. I forced a smile while having this internal battle of fight or flight in my mind. I sat with my fear until it became uncomfortable, all the while trying to make small talk as I mentally reviewed all the Spanish lessons I had ever learned in my life. Then I saw and felt the genuine kindness of the man holding this sign and I trusted my gut.  My Airbnb family ended up being the nicest, grooviest family who had traveled the Pan-American Highway in a VW bus; couchsurfing their way along to eventually settle in Costa Rica. Sort of like the Oregon Trail, but different.

The next morning as I awoke after a peaceful slumber, I prepared for battle. I was told by most that I would be bludgeoned to death and left for dead as someone would inevitably attempt to steal all the money I do not have. I had hidden all my important documents, the credit card that was funding this trip, and my ID in secret pockets. My hosts had offered to drive me to the bus, and along the way, we stopped to pick cashew fruit. As I am too short to reach said cashew fruit, I proceed to jump to get high enough to knock it out of the tree and catch a few. Unbeknownst to me, I had dropped, oh you know, the only real thing that I actually needed—my passport. Yup, I lost my passport picking cashew fruit. #priorities

I enroll my host family in a frantic search, but to no avail. Then, a sudden calmness comes over me. “Fuck it”, I thought. The worst thing that happens is I am stuck in beautiful Costa Rica. From this point forward, all of my “planning” (of which there was little of anyway) went out the window. It turned into a go with the flow, ride the wave kind of experience.

I surfed the red tide, danced salsa until sunrise, jumped off of waterfalls, taught yoga, learned Spanish, got incredibly lost basically everywhere I went, ran from a creepy who tried to drag me into the park, met amazing people from all around the world, volunteered on an organic farm, made friends that breathed fire, oh—and eventually made my way back to the US Embassy and got a new passport, which it turns out really is not that big of a deal.

Basically, I did what everyone told me not to do, had a few minor and a few major mishaps, but still lived to tell the tale. Truth be told, you cannot stop bad things from happening. In fact, I might even call it a prerequisite of Latin American travel. No one is on time, nothing goes smoothly or works in an organized way, but it always works out okay and ends with a funny story.

The one piece of advice that I would offer travelers is to be aware. To always listen to your gut. You cannot afford not to. If it feels like someone is creepy, you are being ripped off, you are going the wrong way, or you are in the wrong neighborhood; listen to that. You probably are.

Don’t listen to the people who have barely left their driveway and yet tell you that you will be robbed and killed while traveling. That is not to say that you should ignore the existent dangers; because there are many and these will vary from country to country, but to have a healthy amount of fear and to obtain a balance between being informed, prepared, but also going with the flow. Don’t be attached to outcomes. There are a lot of moving parts in travel and your trip may not be what you envisioned or imagined. But if you let it be what it is, I bet you will find something cooler than even you thought possible.

In this human life, we only have so much time on this planet and so many opportunities. So allow for flexibility in your travel and do something spontaneous or something you have never done before. Explore. Discover. Step out of your comfort zone. Bring yourself to your edge not just physically, but mentally as well. You will never realize your potential if you do not take the first step.




Danielle_Bio_Image


Danielle Robidoux embodies the word “authenticity”, and believes we should be unapologetically ourselves. She approaches the world with an open heart and sees a world without boundaries or borders. Follow along on her journeys at her blog, The Meandering Yogi.

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If you read my guide on How to Save Money Before You Travel, you might have seen that I recommended driving for Lyft or Uber to make some extra money if having a car is necessary for you. Not being one to give advice without first trying it myself, I signed up for both services to compare the two.

Uber is the company that started the whole ride share movement and stands as the leader in the field by far. Their name is even synonymous with the ride share industry as a whole. In fact, most people refer to any sort of ride sharing as “ubering”. While typically associated with luxury black cars, any newer car in good condition can sign up to drive for Uber X; a less expensive option on the Uber app.

Lyft, on the other hand, has built its reputation on being less of a hired private driver, and more of “your buddy with a car giving you a ride”. Where Uber strives for an executive level experience, Lyft embraces more of a quirky, fun vibe; choosing a bright pink mustache as their logo.


Similarities

Before we get in to their differences, let’s look at what these two companies have in common and how they stack up in my Uber vs Lyft head to head comparison.

Getting Paid

Let’s start with what matters most: your money. Both Uber and Lyft take a cut of each fare you collect. For Uber, this is 20%, whereas Lyft takes 25%. On the surface, Uber has the clear upper hand. However, where Uber’s rate is a fixed amount, Lyft’s commission is on a sliding scale based off of your driver rating and how much you drive per week. If you meet or exceed the “Power Driver” goals which Lyft sets for you, their commission percentage will shrink with each tier, ultimately allowing you to keep up to 100% of the fares if you reach the top level goal.

As far as when you’ll get paid, both apps will also pay you weekly via direct deposit, but again, Lyft takes the advantage here by allowing you to get paid ahead of schedule at any time you’d like for just a 50 cent fee.

Interface

Both apps work off of a very similar GPS map interface. They also both show you in which areas users are requesting the most rides so that you can maximize your efficiency. There’s not much to differentiate the two aside from color schemes, but overall, I’ve found Uber’s interface to be a bit more straightforward and easy to use.

Carpooling

Both Uber and Lyft offer a carpool service; Uber Pool and Lyft Line, which allows you to pick up several different passengers all heading in the same direction. Each passenger receives a discounted fare for sharing the ride, and you can make more money than you would have by driving just one person. At least that’s how it works in theory. From my (albeit limited) experience, you almost never come across additional passengers and the end result is a lot less money for you. However, of the two, Uber Pool seemed to work a bit better.

Pros and Cons

Now that we’ve seen how they compare on common ground, let’s take a look at what sets these two apart.


Uber logo


Uber Pros:

    • Consistency

Uber’s strong name recognition means you will have no shortage of passengers requesting rides. Obviously, the more rides you give, the more money you make, so this works out well.

    • Easy Sign-up

Signing up to drive with Uber was easy, and a much quicker process than with Lyft. Basically, you send a photo of your license, registration and insurance info, after which Uber will perform a background check. Once that clears (usually just a few days), you’re ready to start driving! It really couldn’t be much simpler.

    • Peace and Quiet

Maybe it’s because of luxury branding that uber worked hard to cultivate when they first started, but I’ve noticed that Uber passengers tend to be less talkative and typically play on their phones until they reach their destination. If you’re not feeling particularly chatty, this could be the right choice for you.



Uber Cons:

    • Lack of Incentives

As I mentioned above, while Lyft initially charges a higher base commission, if you reach their rather easily attainable ride goals, their rate gets smaller and smaller. With Uber, however, you’re not really incentivized to drive more. No matter how much you drive in a given week, Uber will still be taking 20% at the end of it.

    • The End of Surge Pricing

If you’ve ever ridden in an Uber as a passenger, you’re probably familiar with surge pricing, where you are charged an additional percentage for riding during peak hours. While annoying as a rider, as a driver, this extra money a great little bonus. Well don’t get too excited. Uber is currently in the process of doing away with surge pricing, so no matter whether you’re driving at 2PM or or taking drunken party-goers home at 11PM, the rates you earn will be the same.


Lyft Logo

Lyft Pros:

    • Tips

In addition to your cut of the fare, passengers are also able to leave you a tip; 100% of which goes to you. If you have good people skills, this could mean quite a bit of extra money for you.

    • More Relaxed

Though I haven’t driven for either service all that long, I did find that Lyft passengers tended to be a bit more laid-back and friendly. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying Uber passengers are standoffish, but I think the “Your Private Driver” mentality of Uber creates a bit of an unspoken divide between driver and passenger. I didn’t feel that with Lyft, and tended to have really great conversations with the majority of people I met.

    • Sliding Commission Rate

As I mentioned above, though Lyft does charge a higher base commission rate, the more you drive for them in a given week, the higher percentage of the fare you get to keep, up to 100%. While this may not mean much to someone who only drives a few hours on the weekend, if you’re looking to make this more of a full-time gig, it goes a long way.


Lyft Cons:

    • Higher Base Commission

Yes, I know I just said their sliding commission rate is a pro, but if you are one of those drivers who works a full-time job and only does Lyft here and there when they have free time, you might be better off going with Uber’s lower base commission percentage.

    • Longer Signup Process

As compared to Uber, Lyft’s signup process takes a much longer time. In addition to sending your documents and performing a background check, Lyft also requires you to schedule an appointment with an experienced driver to have what they refer to as a “mentor session”. After setting up a time and place to meet, your mentor will photograph both you and your car, inspect the vehicle, and ask you to take them on a short drive. After this, you will need to wait for them to submit their review to Lyft before they can look it over and ultimately decide whether or not to accept you. In total, the process took just under two weeks for me as opposed to the few days I waited for Uber to let me know I was approved.


Conclusion

 

In the end, the answer to whether you should drive for Uber or Lyft comes down to your personal style and goals. For me, I chose Lyft. I used to bartend, so I’m no stranger to chatting up people I’ve only just met. Because of it, I found that even with the less frequent fares and Lyft taking a higher commission, I still make more money on average than I did with Uber due to passenger tips. I also like that I can be a bit more laid-back and genuine with people as opposed to putting on the airs of luxury and sophistication. So if you have the personality for it, Lyft could be right for you.

That being said, if you don’t feel like having conversations with everyone that gets in your car and prefer to just shut up and drive, I’d recommend giving Uber a shot. Even without the tips, the higher passenger frequency should make you a good deal of money, only without the expectation to be buddies with every passenger you pick up.

Lyft sound like the right choice for you? Sign up to drive and get a $100 bonus!
Or if Uber is more your style, sign up here and get driving in no time.

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