Saturday, September 13, 2008

Travel Tips

I will be updating this post as I travel and learn more, so whenever you see it at the top of the page, please check it for new info.

  • Bring US Dollars, anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand
    • They're used every day in Ecuador.
    • If the ATM isn't working, some places will exchange them for local currency. This can be a lifesaver—it was for me yesterday.
    • Some other places (hostels in Chile, I've heard) will give a significant discount for payment in USD—this may depend on exchange rates and economic predictions.
  • Photography-related tips
    • Keep your camera put away until you're ready to take a picture.
    • The crappier your camera bag looks, the better.
    • The easier your camera is to access, the better.
    • Don't leave your SLR at home—once you're at your destination, you'll wish you had it.
  • Buses are ubiquitous down here. If you travel much in Latin America, you'll end up on a bus. At the bus terminal, the ticket agent will tell you that your bus will pull into a specific bay—and they will commonly give you a range of possible bays. Make sure to check with the bus driver of any bus that pulls in near your departure time, even if it's not one of your "possible" bays. Not infrequently, the bus will pull into a different bay, and you don't want that bus pulling away without you in it.
  • Regarding theft and hanging on to your possessions
    • If green goo from air conditioning units drips onto you and some friendly people show up immediately to help you clean it off, here's what you do.
      • Make sure you are aware of and in control of your bags.
      • If you have a wallet, cash, or valuables in your pocket, you might want to put your hand in your pocket to make sure those things stay there.
      • Last, but not least, I would recommend punching, head butting, eye gouging, or slitting the throats of the criminals who want to steal your stuff.
      • Later, you can dab your finger in the green goo and taste it—it's really just mustard.
    • If someone gets your attention and points to money or a wallet lying on the floor, here's what you do.
      • Make sure you are aware of and in control of your bags.
      • If you have a wallet, cash, or valuables in your pocket, you might want to put your hand in your pocket to make sure those things stay there.
      • The criminal put the money or wallet there to distract you while they steal potentially massive quantities of your extremely valuable possessions. I'm using big words here with good reason. You need to trust me on this.
      • They want you to bend down to pick up the money or wallet, even if just to help return it to its owner. While you're doing that, they will steal your stuff!!!!!
    • If someone gets your attention and acts like they need help or directions with something and want you to look at a map or step away to help them, here's what you do.
      • Make sure you are aware of and in control of your bags.
      • If you have a wallet, cash, or valuables in your pocket, you might want to put your hand in your pocket to make sure those things stay there.
      • If you step away from your things or look away for even just a few seconds, they will steal your stuff.
    • Just heard another technique. If you have a pile of bags on the floor that you are watching, someone might trip over one of the bags. At this instant, when you turn your attention to them, someone on your other side will grab a bag and book. In my opinion, this is a tough situation to deal with. Ideally, you have three people in your group. Two can watch the bags while one-at-a-time goes to the bathroom or goes to buy a ticket or whatever. Or, just situate the bags in a corner, where access is limited. No one can trip, and there aren't multiple directions your attention could be focused.
    • Don't leave your things lying around loosely at hostels. Hide them away or put them in a small bag. Best of all, lock them up or get a private room. I had a ninety-dollar pocket knife stolen from the shelf next to my bed in Rio.
    • There are many travelers you'll meet who are wonderful. They are trustworthy and will lend you money or help you in other ways if you need it. A highlight of your trip will be meeting people like this and becoming friends with them. On the other hand, there are travelers who are idiots: loud, obnoxious, and thieves. Those are the ones to be wary of. The challenge can be telling the difference. I hope you're a better judge of character than I am.
    • Just because your point-and-shoot camera is in a little pouch hanging around your neck, don't assume it's safe. Your camera could get "pick pocketed" right out of the pouch! You'll still have the strap around your neck and the little camera bag will be on the end of it—just minus the camera! NEW
    • If you bring a watch, make sure it's one you don't mind parting with. You can get that watch ripped right off your wrist. This is obviously not a sly or tricky theft technique. Someone I met back in El Chalten had a very expensive watch ripped right off her wrist. If your watch is a piece of crap, it probably won't get stolen. If it's nice, you're just asking for it. Remember—your camera has a clock in it. You can use that to tell time. I didn't bring a watch and haven't missed it too much. NEW
    • When traveling by bus, keep your really valuable things in your day pack—photo backups, camera, VISA card, passport, money, etc.—and don't store your day pack in the overhead bin. Keep it at your feet and keep it situated so that it would be difficult for someone to unzip a pocket while you sleep. Better yet, just pretend it's your girlfriend and hug it while you sleep. People will steal things out of your day pack and even your pockets while you're sleeping on a bus, so be careful! NEW


Jack & Carolyn Hudkins said...

Jay, thanks for the advice. Enjoy reading your journal. Stay well.


Anonymous said...

Jay, I'm sorry to read about the theft of your gear. I'm fortunate never to have lost as much stuff as that, but did get my passport, credit cards and keys etc stolen while on holiday in the USA, again just due to a moment of inattention when I went to the breakfast bar in the hotel. The thieves are organised and can spot tourists easily. Even though everything is insured it still is an awful inconvenience to sort everything out. I hope that you can put all this behind you and enjoy the rest of your adventure.

-- David

Anonymous said...

i'm wondering why they would want to steal your book

Abhijeeet Thacker said...

Same thing can happen with your wallet if your wallet is thick enough. Pick pocketer can pick it up without you realizing it....

Robert said...

Jay, I was in Colombia in August, traveling with a Colombian friend. In the bus station at Manizales, I was actually thinking about your experience and therefore watching my stuff maniacally. Once on board the bus, however, I let my guard down. Although I fortunately had my D3 and best lens in my hands, a couple of other lenses and a Wolverine drive were in my dayback in the rack just above my head. Before the bus departed, a couple of guys pretending to be bus company employees came through and -- well, the next time I looked in my daypack, guess what. The guys were slick and neither my friend or I saw a thing. I think the lesson is that on travels such as this, you WILL eventually be stolen from. No matter how careful you are, you will get careless, tired, or inattentive, or the thief will come up with a trick you had never thought of. Insurance is indispensable for equipment. One of my lost lenses was covered by my Scheduled Personal Property insurance and I have been paid. Unfortunately, I had deliberately taken a chance and cleared space on my memory cards, leaving the Wolverine backup as my only copies til I got back to my PC that night. Bad move and I lost a bunch of my best shots from the trip as a result. Before my next trip, I will think very carefully about backups and try to plan better for every eventuality.

Meanwhile, your trip blog is a inspiration. Thanks!


Jay said...


Thanks for writing. I'm so sorry to hear about your stuff—and the lost photos. I agree that on a trip of any magnitude, it would be very difficult not to be the victim of theft. I will add your specific situation to my tips.

When I travel on a bus, I worry about my backpack below, but carry my Slingshot 200 (camera bag) with me and place it at my feet, situated such that it would be difficult for anyone to unzip any pockets as it sits. I've heard of people having stuff stolen out of their packpack at their feet while they were sitting there on the bus! When they were asleep, for example, someone reached under the seat from behind, unzipped a pocket, and took stuff. I also am now carrying my laptop in my seat with me. I don't put anything on the shelf above. It's all right in the seat with me.

Also, one of my two identical 250GB USB harddrives in my camera bag and the other is in my main pack whenever I'm travelling (i.e., not in a hostel room). Either bag could get stolen and I still have all my photos. I also send DVD copies home ocassionally.

We live and learn, don't we? Hopefully. It's difficult to know how to hang on to all your stuff until you've gone through it. That's why I'm trying to document this stuff. Certainly, though, and unfortuntely, there will be lots of people who don't read my tips and who will get robbed blind—or who'll get robbed blind anyway! Oh, well.

The most difficult thing is actually being aware that you are being robbed. If you know it, you can—and SHOULD—fight back!!! That's not usually the case, however. By the time you know anything, it's too late.