Not every travel question requires a blog post as an answer so a few weeks ago, I put out a call on social media to ask me anything! I love answering your questions so while I’m currently on my way to Chile to head to Patagonia to commune with nature, today’s blog post is a simple Q&A. I took the best questions and compiled and answered them here! So, without further ado, here they are:
Kelsey: If I have Citi ThankYou points and Chase Ultimate Rewards points, is there a way to combine those?
You can’t combine points from credit card companies into one pool, but if they share transfer partners, you can put them all into that shared company. For example, Starwood and Chase both transfer to United. Citi and Chase both transfer to Singapore Airlines, so you can transfer points like that, but you can’t transfer Citi points to Chase. It’s not worth transferring hotel points (except Starwood) to airlines, because the conversion rate isn’t that good, as hotels don’t transfer to airlines on 1:1 ratio.
CJ: How do you schedule your blogging with a hectic schedule and stay disciplined enough to stick with it?
I create a schedule. There’s actually more time in the day than we think. There’s this great article called “The Busy Trap” that is worth a read on the subject. But create a routine, like: every morning from 8 to 9am, you’ll blog. Once you do that, you’ll find the time.
Janet: What resources do you use to research your destination?
For countries I’m not familiar with, I buy a guidebook. Hostelworld is a great place to look for accommodation for the first night or two. Then once I’m there, I decide if I want to stay for longer, or switch to a better hostel or hotel as I talk to other travelers and locals that I meet. With all of the other stuff, I research that by talking to people when I arrive. Other travelers, hostel staff, and tourism offices all have the information you need! Sometimes you can’t find complete insider-traveler information online!
Camille: Here’s a question that I think applies to many: traveling with a disability. What if I need to have medication with me at ALL times? Will that be a problem in some countries, and what’s your advice?
I can’t give advice on this. It’s best to talk to your doctor or find online message boards and forums where you can talk to other people who have a similar disability as you.
Patricia: Passport holders of Western countries can travel easy. How do you inspire people that do not have the same “privilege” to travel, like people in Asia?
Westerners have golden passports, but that doesn’t mean we’re the only ones who can travel. I’ve met people from every country on the road. The visas just take more time and perseverance. It’s not fair and it sucks, but you can’t give up! You just have to keep trying — or go to countries where the visa is easy. Starting somewhere is better than never leaving at all! Here are some interviews with other travelers that might be helpful:
- How this Indian couple navigated a complex visa system to travel the world
- How DJ from the Philippines made all his travel dreams come true
- How Jon (British) and Kach (Filipino) backpack the world as a couple
- How Aileen from Southeast Asia created an online business to fund her life overseas
Sonia: How do you select the hostels that you’ll stay in, especially if you have never stayed there before?
I go to Hostelworld and look for the ones with the highest ratings at the budget that I want. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, but most of the time the hostels are exactly like the reviews say. You can always use TripAdvisor as a backup for reviews too.
Geetanjali: How much advance planning is ideal?
When I go away long-term, I usually come up with a general route I would like to take and then I book the first few nights in the first destination. After that, I leave it all to chance. I’ve changed my itineraries too many times to know that when you are going away for a long time, you’re going to change your plans half a million times. It’s much better to come up with a rough plan and fill in the details as you go.
Ashley: What’s your ultimate favorite place, and what made you fall in love with it?
Thailand is my favorite place. It was the first place I really traveled on my own, the place where I decided that traveling the world was for me, the first place I lived outside the United States. It’s home to me, and if I had to get stuck in one place for the rest of my life, I would pick there.
I think that if you ask any traveler which country is their favorite, they’ll probably tell you the first country that made them fall in love with traveling — whether that was their first trip overseas or twentieth! We feel that connection to the one where we got bitten with the travel bug.
Alli: Do you suggest purchasing malaria pills for Southeast Asia? Is it cheaper to get them there or should I buy them in advance?
I would say you don’t need malaria pills in any of those countries. I don’t know anyone who has got malaria there or takes the pills. Dengue is the one you need to keep an eye out for, but there’s no pill for that. If you really wanted them, you could get them cheaper at a hospital in Thailand. If you have any other medical question, you should ask your doctor and make your decision based on that. I’m not a medical expert.
Alexandra: I have excellent credit but a short and limited credit history. Is there a card you would recommend for this kind of situation?
I would ask for a credit limit increase on your current cards. That will help improve your score. Capital One and Barclays give often approve people with a limited credit history or try a student or prepaid card, which generally are for people with a limited credit history.
Generally the more credit you have, the more credit you will be offered. So once you get the ball rolling, it shouldn’t be hard to get the good points and miles card, then you can really get into travel hacking!
Natasha: Do you know of any stylish female travelers who are actually traveling long-term and carry-on only? Or companies with stylish female travel attire?
I would look into these three posts for tips on female packing suggestions:
- Alex in Wanderland often shares her packing process and favorite products for being on the road long-term.
- Amanda from A Dangerous Business has a whole section on her blog devoted to packing lists for different kinds of trips.
Valérie: I’m leaving for Tanzania in a little less than four months. When is the best time in your opinion to buy my plane tickets?
Right now! The best time for international airfare is 2-3 months before your trip so I would get that ticket soon!
I’ve written all of my best, most useful tips to finding cheap tickets to anywhere in the world here, so that would be the best place to start. My process is a little bit different, but I follow all of those guidelines when booking.
Dani and Kevin: How has traveling changed since you started? Is it more difficult to move around the globe? Is it more difficult to make connections with locals and experience a real sense of the culture?
Visibly, people are much more connected to electronics than ever before. That means that being away from home doesn’t feel so distant (hi, mom!), but it also means that you could miss out on cool experiences because you’re watching Netflix in your hostel. It’s a double-edged sword.
As for meeting locals, it’s never been easier. The sharing economy boom has provided local with the chance to host travelers and make money doing it. Backpackers love this easy, electronic-friendly way to participate in local culture and flavor wherever they are. Sites like EatWith let you share meals with locals, Vayable connects you with guides, Airbnb let’s you share homes, and Lyft let’s you share rides. It’s never been easier to interact with the communities you’re visiting!
Montserrat: I’m Spanish and wondering I could sustain myself teaching English if I get a TEFL certificate. Have you met anyone teaching English whose mother tongue wasn’t English? Is that possible?
The reality is that most schools want to hire a native English speaker, especially in Southeast Asia. You’d be able to volunteer teaching English with very little problem, but getting hired (and paid) to teach is a different story. It doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but it’s rare and more unlikely. If you got a TEFL certificate, you could increase your chances in other parts of the world (Eastern Europe, Spanish-speaking countries). If you were to go on this path, I would definitely get a TEFL certificate that has in-class experience, as it would hold more weight. In the application process, try to do some volunteer stuff at home so you could include that experience on your résumé too.
Lauren: I have saved all year and have been traveling with my friend for two months in Southeast Asia. She leaves soon and I have no idea what to do! How do you pick and choose which opportunities to take?
Do them all. Pick one and if you don’t like it, pick another. You can also flip a coin and leave it to fate!
Sometimes, I let how cheap a destination is decide where to I’m going next. Are you in Thailand deciding if you should go to Hong Kong or Cambodia? I’d start with Cambodia. Then move onto Hong Kong later, since it’ll be more expensive to get there and to stay there.
Natasha: My fiancé and I are traveling Southeast Asia for 3-4 months starting in March. What is the best way to plan travel once you are there?
Before you fly over there, use a guidebook or Google to find out the best way to get from the airport to the hostel. Then once you’re at your hostel, you can ask the people at the desk for everything else!
Pat: What country has the most strict immigration/border patrol that you have encountered, and what do they require?
The United Kingdom. The UK border control always seems to ask a ton of serious questions. I almost got denied once for not having proof of onward travel. I always print out my outbound train or flight ticket now (and would never go into the UK without one). I’ve seen people get denied. Ireland is strict too.
Ben: I’d like to know the best way to get your dollars into pesos in Argentina? I’m curious to hear your experience, since last month the government made some big changes.
There’s no black market anymore. You can simply get pesos at the ATM. The exchange rate went on par with the old black market. You still get people yelling “¡Cambio!” but ATMs are the best way. Credit cards are also widely accepted.
Katelyn: How are you able to live in such an expensive city like NYC and still afford to do the amount of traveling you do?
I rent out my apartment while I’m gone so I don’t have to pay rent! Also, I have two roommates to keep the costs down! New York isn’t as expensive as people think. Sure, rents are too high, but there are plenty of ways to save money on food and drinks. It’s the city of starving artists and actors, right? There have to be some ways to save money!
Dani: What does your backpack look like? Are there any specific ones you would recommend? How much weight should it be able to hold?
I have an REI Mars 65L. It’s an old backpack they don’t make anymore that’s actually too big. I’m looking to get a smaller backpack, as I just have too much empty space in mine (pack light!). This article on backpacks can help you figure out what to get. Still unsure? Over 100 community members have reviewed their backpacks here.
Sofia: What are three tips you would give to someone who is just starting out hosting their own small-group tours abroad?
- Make sure you know your customers and what they want.
- Don’t overplan — let people explore on their own sometimes.
- Make sure everyone has travel insurance!
Salma: Do you recommend a Eurail pass or point-to-point tickets for traveling in Europe for two weeks?
For two weeks, I would say it’s doubtful you would get the full value of a Railpass, so I would recommend point-to-point tickets for such a short trip.
William: I’m going to Vietnam, then leaving to return later in the month. Can I get a second visa or is there a time limit I must wait out before re-entering for another visa?
You’ll need a multi-entry visa. Here are the details for that. It’s just a matter of applying and paying the fees!
Anna: We would love to hear more about travel from a woman’s perspective.
Karen: I know you have to pay a fee before entry into Argentina and can’t do it at the border. Is this a big deal? Where/how do you pay the fee?
To pay the visa fee ahead of time, you pay online through this website and fill everything out. (Here are English-language instructions.) You’ll need to print off the form before you go to show it to the airline/immigration officer when you arrive.
Samantha: Do you know, or have you met, anyone who is traveling the world with a pet? Is it possible to bring along an adventurous pet while also sticking to a budget?
I haven’t met a lot of people traveling long-term with their pets. I’m sure they exist, but you don’t see many in hostels! I would look at the website Dog Jaunt or check out the Lonely Planet forums (as well as ours) and ask around.
Morgan: Have you encountered many language barriers in your travels? How did you overcome them?
Language is not a huge deal, especially when you know English. It’s one of the languages that someone everywhere will know a little bit of. Only when you really get off the beaten path does it really become hard. I try to learn a few phrases before I go, and I keep a phrase book with me.
Pointing and charades really help too. Mime out what you want. That works a surprising amount of times. I said “choo-choo” in Ukraine to convey to the taxi driver that I needed to go to the train station. It worked!
Most of human communication is nonverbal anyways!
Michelle: How do you deal with the inevitably of coming home?
It all depends on the trip. Sometimes I’m ready to see my family and friends and have lots of events to look forward to when I return. But more often I leave the crazy, exciting act of traveling and exploring to come home to my regular, humdrum life. When this happens, I try to combat my post-trip depression by taking classes and learning something new. But typically, after a while, I just end up buying another ticket overseas!
These posts deal with all the issues of coming home:
- The Culture Shock of Coming Home
- Am I Just a Stranger in a Strange Land Now?
- Post-Trip Depression
- Travel and the Art of Losing Friends
Emmanuel: What is the best app you recommend to help you plan a round-the-world trip?
This is probably going to come to a shock to most people, but I don’t use travel apps to plan my trips. I don’t think they are that great for the planning process. Guidebooks and websites are much better!
Laura: I’m going to Thailand for two weeks! Which places would you recommend we see?
Check out my Thailand guide for all my favorite places to see. There are a lot, as I’ve been going to the country for ten years!
If I had to choose one thing to see, I’d recommended making it to the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. Elephants are a huge part of the culture and this is a great place to learn about how feed, bathe, and protect the elephants.
Kathryn: What happens if you run out of pages in your passport when traveling?
The U.S. no longer issues extra pages in your passport so you would need to go to the nearest embassy or consulate and get a new one!
Carmen: Why don’t you ever travel to Mexico or Central America?
I’ve been to Mexico and Central America multiple times. I love the region. I’m actually thinking of running some tours there next year. You can see my guide to Central America and all of my blog posts about the region right here.
Tom: How do you handle people who want a bribe?
Honestly, I’ve never been asked to pay a bribe. I’m not sure how I would handle the situation. It would depend on the circumstances I guess. Would I pay to save my life? You bet! Would I pay to get out of some “fine?” No. Most of the time cops don’t want to do the paperwork and are looking for some quick and easy cash, as the “fear” of a foreign prison is enough to get people to pay money.
But like I said, it’s never happened to me.
Diane: Which culture has been your favorite to live among?
All of them? I’ve lived in a lot of countries. Besides the U.S., I consider Thailand to be my second home.
Colten: What’s your best advice for students?
If you’re a student that’s eager to travel, study abroad for a semester (or a year!). It’s something I missed out on and it became my biggest travel regret! Studying abroad gives you access to such a cool side of other countries that tourists passing through don’t have access to. You get to go much deeper into the culture. You have instant friends (your classmates), a place to stay (a dorm) with locals, and an endless list of things to do (classes in another country are way more interesting) and college activities. It’s also great because college students are notoriously broke, so everything is cheap, cheap, cheap!
Shelly: What’s the best international bank? I’m trying to avoid fees while traveling in Ireland in March.
If you’re American, Charles Scwhab is the only bank card worth having. It’s the one I’ve had for years. There are no ATM fees, and they reimburse you any fees you’re charged. Saving on ATM fees is a small way to save a lot of money!
Rachelle: What are your thoughts on budget travel options in Myanmar? And where’s the best place to search?
The best website for travel in Southeast Asia (besides mine!) is Travelfish. That site will have all the travel information you need for Myanmar.
Charlie: What do you think about the “slow travel” movement? Have you ever traveled slowly?
Slow travel, experiential travel, flashpacking — names come and go. I just travel. I don’t like all the labels that come with travel. Travel at the pace you are comfortable with and the one that causes you the least amount of stress.
Mac: When you quit your job to travel the world, around how much money did you have to start up your journey?
I spent over two years saving and had a little less than $ 20,000 USD saved for my trip.
Gloria: How do you respond to developing countries who don’t know how to manage or operate mass tourism yet?
It would be nice if everyone handled tourism in a responsible way, but that’s not the case. Look at the Asia tsunami in 2004. That was a good chance to start fresh, and now most of those places are even more developed than before.
How can I blame a man trying to feed his family for taking the quick and easy solution? And often governments are corrupt and locals don’t have a say in the matter.
Education is important, and NGOs play a strong part in this, but so do we. Use your money to affect change. Frequent tourism sites and hotels that have a strong commitment to the environment. Use local operators.
And when you see something wrong, say something.
Never underestimate the power of money as an incentive to get people to do the right thing.
Allan: How come you rarely travel around cold places during the winter (December to February)?
I hate the cold. I grew up in Boston and spent 25 years shoveling snow. I don’t like it. Once in a while, I’ll go somewhere cold (like Iceland!) for a bit, but I’d rather be warm.
Allan: What is your favorite season to photograph?
Fall. I love everything about it. The air, the light, the colors of the trees — it’s all perfect.
Richard: Best travel credit card right now?
There are some good overall credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Barclays World, and Starwood American Express, but the best credit card is always the one that gets you closer to whatever your travel goal is. If you don’t have a specific goal in mind and want a general all-purpose card, try the ones above or the ones here.
That’s it! I hope these questions and answers helped answer some of your questions but if you have any, feel free to leave them in the comment section and I’ll answer them!
P.S. – The Women’s Travel Fest is happening March 4-6, 2016 in NYC! It’s a weekend of empowering networking for women that includes speakers, workshops, panels, and more. Save 20% off your tickets with the code: NomadicMatt!