Don’t fear travel, fear NOT living

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A new year, new U.S .presidency, and new travel concerns.  It’s no secret 2017 has ushered in new and uncertain times.  A couple of weeks ago, when our president (yeah, I’m in still in shock too) issued the first travel ban against immigrants, many fellow travelers expressed concern and even panic.  With an upcoming trip to Cuba and Iceland, many people hit me up inquiring about my thoughts on traveling abroad.  Am I going to cancel?  Is it safe?  Am I afraid of experiencing any anti-American sentiment when traveling abroad?  Well, yes and no.  There will always be a fear that something could happen when I crossover into international territory, but it’s no greater than the fear I experience when I drive to work every day.  Looking at the data and statistics, I probably have a greater chance of being killed in a mass shooting at my local shopping mall or movie theater, than being killed in a terrorist attack abroad.  So what will I do?  How will I proceed?  I plan to do exactly what I’ve always done:  be aware, stay informed, and practice common sense.   While others are hesitant, I plan to continue to live. And there is absolutely no judgment towards those that choose to pull back on their travel experiences.  At the end of the day, you have to do what is best for you and your comfort level.  Hopefully, the following tips can help guide you in your decision making and ease your fears when it comes to traveling abroad.

1. Enroll in the STEP program

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The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service that allows U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.  As a participant, you can receive important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country, allowing you make informed decisions about your travel plans.  Participation can also help the U.S. Embassy contact you in an emergency, whether natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency. And you can also help family and friends get in touch with you in an emergency.

2. Travel alerts/warnings

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The U.S. State Department issues travel warning and alerts and updates information on their website regularly.  This site is helpful in guiding your destination choices.  A travel warning is often long term and in place until the situation resolves itself. A travel warning can include unstable government, civil war, ongoing intense crime or violence, or frequent terrorist attacks.  A travel alert is short term and usually related to an election season or a health alert, such as an influenza outbreak.

3. Turn off the Television

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Stay informed, but don’t become obsessed.  I am a firm believer that the very thing we focus on the most shapes our reality. Constantly watching the same negative news reports over and over again only reinforces the very thing you want to avoid.  It incites and fuels fear.   If I governed my life based on the news, I’d never leave my house…and I’m just talking about the “local” news.  Be aware of what’s going on around you, but don’t let it overwhelm you or take hostage of your life. There is always the risk that something can happen.  It can happen abroad or right in your own back yard. Life is risky, live anyway.

3. Communicate/Check-In

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Communicate your travel plans to your family.  Provide them with a copy of your itinerary, flight/lodging information, excursion information, and copy of your passport.  While I’m a proponent of remaining unplugged and disconnected when traveling, it’s a good a do to check-ins, through social media.  If something happens, your loved ones will have a time line and information on your last known location.

4. Roadtrips/Domestic travel

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If you’ve decided that traveling abroad isn’t for you right now, it doesn’t mean you have to stay grounded. There are a plethora of things you can do right here on U.S. soil.  Take a road trip and visit some of those landmarks that remain unchecked on your bucket list.  Spend a weekend in New York and catch a Broadway play. Consider catching a flight deal and attending a music or film festival in a city you’ve never been visited before.  The possibilities really are endless.  Last summer, I launched the Tourist in My Town campaign.  This campaign provides tips on how to take advantage of the tourism opportunities right in your own backyard. If you didn’t participate last summer, this is the perfect time to put it into practice.

Safe travels and wishing you the best in 2017!

 

@urbantravelista 

Day Trips/Excursions: Ten essential items you’ll regret leaving at home

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I love day trips and excursions, but I love them even more when I travel prepared. Some excursions don’t require intensive preparation, it depends on the activity. Some can be short (a few hours) and others run ALL DAY (up to 12 hours).  When I visited the Chichen Itza last fall, I had a scheduled pick up time at 7:00am and didn’t return until after 6:00pm. That’s longer than my work day!  Although I felt prepared for the long day, there were a still a couple of items I wish I had brought along. Here’s my personal list of 10 essential items that will make any summer excursion or day trip run more smoothly:

 

  1. Water bottle: The tour operator may offer water (depends of the tour), but it never hurts to have your own to stay hydrated.
  2. Disposable Camera:  It’s a good idea to bring a disposable camera, just in case. They’re inexpensive, light, and compact. There’s nothing like traveling thousands of miles to see a landmark only to find you can’t take a picture because you’re primary camera failed.
  3. Portable External Battery Pack:  Some excursions can last just a few hours and as long as 12 hours. Bring a backup portable battery for your electronic devices.
  4. Crossbody Bag/Backpack:  These are probably the most comfortable and efficient bags to carry. They’re big enough to hold your essential items and usually have enough room to add items you might purchases along the way. They’re also durable and comfortable to transport.
  5. Sunscreen:  Depending on the climate and destination, the temps can really climb. Protect your skin just as you would if you were lounging at the beach for longer excursions.
  6. Rain Poncho:  If you’re bothered by heavy downpours, bringing a disposable poncho might be of benefit to you.
  7. Snacks/Energy Bar: Again, this depends on the length of your excursion.  Some tour operators offer snacks and others don’t offer anything.
  8. Travel medications:  The registered nurse in me never leaves home without meds like Benadryl, ibuprofen, or anti-diarrheal. History demonstrates that disaster usually strikes when you have no access to relief.
  9. Sunglasses/Sunhat:The sun can be really unforgiving and cruel during long day excursions. You will appreciate the shade.
  10. Hand towels/Moist Towelettes:  To freshen up during long excursions.

 

This list may seem exhaustive, but don’t stress it. Most tour companies will provide a list of suggested items specific to your activity at the time of booking. Pack light, but pack prepared… and happy travels!

@urbantravelista  

Solo Travel: Tips for a first time “Urbantravelista”

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Last October, I made the decision to step outside of my comfort zone like I never have before. I traveled to Cancun (Playa Del Carmen region) all by myself. No group, no meet-up…just me, my myself, and my fears. So what led to my decision to travel out of the country and vacation by myself? Well that’s a long story that I promise to address in a future blog post. While I don’t consider myself to an expert regarding all things solo travel, I am qualified to share my experience and few precautions I took beforehand and others I learned along the way. Some of these pointers range from basic common sense to borderline overkill. Please, take what you need:

Research

The planning aspect of traveling can range from being fun and excited to exhausting and frustrating. But, if it becomes too much of a chore, please don’t short change yourself. Be patient and spend time researching your travel destination, accommodations, and excursions. I promise, you will really appreciate your effort in the end. Seriously, there is nothing worse than shelling out your hard earned money to travel abroad only to have a horrible experience. And to add insult to injury, you now have to endure it by yourself. Do you really want to spend a couple of thousand dollars to room with scorpions and tarantulas or spend 5 nights/6 days in the midst of a hurricane? I didn’t think so.

While planning, ask yourself the following questions: 1.) What is my budget? 2.) Is it all-inclusive? 3.) When is the best time of year to travel this destination? 4.) What do I want to do or experience while I’m there? 5.) Do I need a Visa or travel vaccinations? 6.) Is there any type of conflict or travel advisory in that area? When I planned my solo adventure to Cancun, TripAdvisor provided a wealth of information on travel destinations, from the popular and touristy to the intimate and remote. What I love most about their site is the ability to see up-to-date reviews and “untouched” photos of hotels, resorts, and excursion companies from actual USERS. As a sidebar, I try to stick with larger to moderate hotel chains or all-inclusive resorts. This isn’t to say that accommodations such as AirBnB, Homeaway, or smaller more intimate chains aren’t safe for solo travel. Nope, no shade at all. It really just depends on your personal comfort level. I find that all-inclusive resorts usually provide more secure controlled access, have on site security, and you don’t have to venture off too much from the resort. And until I become the experienced “Urbantravelista” I’m striving to be, this makes me comfortable.

Travel documents

The following are tips that seems like common sense, but often not thought about. Before you depart, please provide a copy of the following traveling documents to a family member, close friend, or someone you trust:

  • Travel itinerary (including flight numbers)
  • Hotel/resort and/or Excursion company info
  • Photocopy of your passport
  • If you have a pet, boarding/vet contact information

Safety

Again, this is one of those “common sense” things, but with a twist. You’re smart, urban, and survive the day to day ills of living right here on American soil. And if you’re from Chicago like myself, your street cred just went up a 1000 points. So, of course you’re going to be aware of your surroundings at all times. Of course you’re going to safeguard your personal belongings at all times. Of course you’re going to keep an eye on your drink at all times. And of course you’re going to politely turn down that invitation from that sexy locale to venture off the resort. You’re going to take the same day to day precautions as you do at home and maybe use a few of these tips:

  • Decoy wallet- Keep an old spare wallet in your purse with a couple of useless credit cards and about twenty bucks in it. This is what I like to call a “decoy” wallet. If you’re ever in a situation where you are robbed, you can hand the robber this wallet. Now there’s a great chance that you won’t ever be robbed abroad and an even greater chance that you’ll end up using that wallet right here on American soil. But as the cliché goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry later.
  • Purchase a pre-paid credit card with at least $100 on it to keep in a safe place. If you somehow misplace your cash or your real wallet, you will have immediate access to funds.
  • Passport- DO NOT travel out and about with your passport. Keep it securely in your hotel or lock it in your safe. While you might be tempted to quit your job and just stay in Costa Rica, you will have to return home. While I have never attempted to go through customs without a passport, my intuition tells me it would be a complete nightmare.
  • Communicate with your family/friends- Once you get settled in, it’s easy to get lost in your experience and forget to communicate with your loved ones at home. I’m not saying you have to run up your cell phone bill and call them daily, but at least do a check in on your whereabouts from time to time. In the age of social networking and wifi (especially if your hotel/resort offers free wifi) this will be pretty effortless and inexpensive to do with simple check-ins and status updates. Communicating this way not only puts your loved ones at ease, but it leaves a timeline and trail of your activities just in case something goes awry.

Relax

Now that you’ve endured the stress of planning your first solo adventure, the mental anguish of your well-meaning friends and family ensuring you’ll by kidnapped by pirates or sold into the sex trade, and mentally replaying every worst case scenario in your head from the time you book and until you finally land, don’t forget to do this one thing: RELAX. Be open, take in your experience, and enjoy this sense of newfound freedom.

Hopefully these tips will be helpful and put your mind at ease as you plan your first solo travel experience abroad. And as always, embrace the unknown and live fearlessly!!!

@urbantravelista