Archive for April 2007

David Browne: Stay safe while travelling

April 19, 2007

This article was written by David Browne:

1. How can you stay safe while out and about in the town while travelling?

Look like you belong in the area, blend in, don’t make it obvious
that you are lost, helpless and desperate, even if you are. Don’t go
round with a map in front of your nose all the time – that marks you
out as a stranger who doesn’t know the way. You will be pestered with
people offering to help you, some with good intentions but some with
not. Be streetwise and suspicious of anyone deliberately slowing you
down, offering you things, or trying to sell you things as you walk
along. Dress appropriately at all times. Not too flashy and bright,
but not too poor looking either. Take care of your back-pack in
towns, they are easy to steal from when they are on your back in a
crowded street. Jewelry, expensive-looking watches, cameras, i-pods,
all attract unwanted attention so keep them discreet nor you risk
becoming the victim of a street crime. Avoid crowds gathering for a
demonstration, they can get passionate and you could get caught up in
scuffles or conflict between groups and the police. Be on your guard
when local people approach you and strike up a conversation. It
sounds harsh to say this, but not all have good intentions and
westerners are presumed to be rich in many countries of the world, so
fair game for robbing or deceit. Be vigilant at all times, but don’t
be paranoid that there is an attacker round every corner. Walk
purposefully with your attention on what’s going on around you and
don’t linger to deal with tricky situations, get out of them.

2. Using public transport – should I?

It’s part of the cultural adventure to travel with locals on buses
and trains. Of course use public transport, but be sensible about
awareness of pick-pockets in close contact situations like local
buses. Keep wallets and purses close by you and not in the back
pockets of trousers or jeans – it’s so easy to steal from back
pockets. Travelling by metro or city bus lines is a great way to get
around cities like Berlin or Paris or Rome, and so much cheaper than
taxis. Crowded places like bus stations and train stations or
airports are favourite places for thieves and conmen to operate.
Beware of being distracted by a stranger while another person could
be robbing you by stealth. Night trains are the worst for incidents
of thieving, so keep you sleeping compartment locked while you are
inside. On the Belgrade to Budapest sleeper they used to give you an
iron bar to put across the inside of the door as extra protection.
The Serbs would say it was only needed as the train crossed Hungary,
and the Hungarians would warn you it was needed only in Serbia. I
never experienced any trouble myself on many journeys along the route.

3. How can I keep my mobile phone and wallet safe?

If you must carry them around, keep them out of sight until you
actually need to use them. Do you really need to carry a mobile phone
everywhere? If you do, keep it switched off while on the streets of
an unfamiliar town or city as you could easily be distracted and
attract thieves by phone going off as someone calls you – it’s better
to check for calls and messages when you get off the streets. Carry
two wallets – the one with your genuine local currency and credit
cards, and another stuffed with useless old foreign banknotes that
look good to a thief. Hand over the decoy wallet if you get mugged.
Don’t keep all your money in one place.

4. What should I do if my passport gets stolen or I lose it?

Report the loss or theft to the local police immediately and ask for
their help to call the nearest Consulate or Embassy for your country.
Of course you always keep a photocopy of your passport in a safe
place like a bag in your hotel or scanned into an email that you can
access from an Internet cafe… don’t you? This simple precaution can
speed up the preparation of a new temporary travel document as you
will be able to give the Consulate or Embassy the details of your
original passport. Don’t delay getting a replacement for a lost
passport, in many countries it is compulsory to carry i/d and for
British people with no national identity card, the passport is the
only form of i/d acceptable to the authorities. Take great care of
your passport, don’t leave it out on a table or desk and don’t hand
it to anyone except legitimate officials like customs, immigration or
police, and then wait until you get it back after inspection before
you go anywhere else. Passports are valuable items on the black
market and highly favoured by thieves as they can be concealed so
easily in a pocket after a theft.

5. What safety precautions should I take before I go?

Do your homework about the places you are visiting. Find out where
the nearest hospitals are along your route and make sure you have
health insurance for your touring. Know where you are going when you
first arrive at each stop-off by planning ahead how to get to your
first location, usually a hotel or guest house. Photocopy and scan
your passport and visas, tickets and travel insurance and send them
by email to yourself, so you can access them from an Internet cafe.
Prepare a detailed travel plan, so people at home know you should be
each day. Pack small and light. Big bags can slow you down and hinder
your progress if you need to move out of a difficult situation
quickly, and big bags mark you out as a tourist, ripe for scams,
sharks and downright thieves. Make sure your mobile phone is topped
up with a reasonable amount of credit before you leave the country,
and arrange to have access to sums of money through credit cards and
bank machines, then you don’t have to carry large amounts of cash
which would increase your chances of being robbed.

6. What should I do when I first arrive in a new place, should I register somewhere?

Get to your hotel or hostel first of all. Spend some time getting
orientated, talk to the hotel staff and get clear directions for your
first venture on to the streets. In most countries you need to
register with the local police, but this is usually done through the
hotel recording details of your passport. They may hold your passport
for a while, but make an excuse that you are going out somewhere and
will need to produce it for identification and don’t leave your
passport with anyone – even hotel staff – overnight. It’s safer in
your own pocket.

7. People keep looking at me weirdly, why is that?

Perhaps because you are weird in the circumstances, such as pink or
white in a tropical country where you look like an albino amongst the
locals. Perhaps because your clothes are so casual and revealing that
to local people it looks like you are going round in just your
underwear. Then again, it may simply be that you are a woman
travelling alone which is very unusual in some countries and
cultures. Sometimes a weird look is a sign of curiosity rather than
anything sinister, so carry on with what you were doing, but alert to
the fact that you have become an attraction, and avoid becoming the
target of unwanted attention. Move on briskly if people start to
interfere with you. In some cultures, a single woman in a public
place is automatically thought to be available as a prostitute. Sad
but true, and best dealt with by a cold reaction rather than a
conversation, no matter how brief.

8. Is there any way to avoid getting ill from eating local food?

Be sensible about food hygiene wherever you go. Keep you own hands
scrupulously clean when eating food with your fingers (carry
alcohol-based hand cleansing gel for this purpose as you may not
always have access to clean water and soap). Beware of uncooked food
like salads in hot countries as the leaves and raw vegetables are not
always washed in the cleanest water. Fruit that you peel yourself is
generally safe, and hot food should be piping hot and freshly cooked,
not left for a long time in a warm bulky serving container. Watch out
when the serving spoon used by the food seller on the street in kept
or dipped in a water pot – the water can harbor a lot of nasty
bacteria that get passed on through contact with the food. And when
it comes to drinking water, it’s best to drink bottled water even if
guidebooks tell you the local tap water is safe. It may be safe but
still contain small amounts of bugs that are unfamiliar to you
digestive system. And best of all, drink fizzy, sparkling, carbonated
water in preference to still bottled water – the gas makes the water
slightly acid and less prone to bacteria contamination. Don’t drink
from public fountains in streets or market squares, even if the
locals do. And in a bar, don’t accept drinks from strangers chatting
you up as the new face in town, unless you see the drink poured by
the barman and delivered directly to you. Some people will do
anything to spike a drink with a drug potion to relax you even
further than the alcohol.

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Travelling across South America

April 19, 2007

Chris Beaumont, 33, Bradford, West Yorkshire, Carpenter and dive master

South America

1. How long are you travelling for?
6-8 months
2. Where in South America are you travelling?
brazil , uruguay , argentina , chile , bolivia , peru , ecuador
3. Is it an easy place to travel around?
The transport network is very good , and like asia , oz, nz s africa the
hostel network is huge , if you can speak a littly spanish much easier ,
4. What places have you been to?
brazil -rio ,- iguazu falls ,- pantanal -buenos aires – ushuai (southern
most city in the world , and now working my way up the west coast
5. What’s been the best bit so far?
All of it
6. What’s been the worst bit so far?
none
7. What advice would you give people wanting to travel to South America?
Be street wise and be on guard , heard of a lot of muggings and robberies , but mainly young people getting drunk and walking home alone , you wouldn’t do it in Leeds or London so why expect to get away with it here?

Disaster volunteering: Helping tsunami victims in Thailand

April 19, 2007

Chris Beaumont, 33, Bradford, West Yorkshire, Carpenter and dive master

Tsunami

1. Where did you go to volunteer after the tsunami?
Spent all my time in Thailand after that spent all my money and back to the uk

2. How long did you go for?
I was there three months after for four months , went back to uk to raise more cash ,
set up my own charity for it , then back for a further 5 months

3. Why did you decide to volunteer?
Worked in Thailand Khao Lak before the tsunami as a dive master, heard of a
few dive buddies who died and was asked by the dive comp if I could help ,
was told not to go straight away and raise some money and get there when the
real building work was needed ,have traveled for a few years and as a
carpenter and dive master with no real ties to home was perfect to help on
both counts

4. Did you volunteer with an organisation or just go off your own back?
I worked for two organisations set up by Thai’s and just backpackers , the main
one http://www.tsunamivolunteers.net , which is still going now and also
http://www.4kali.org ,. Tsunami volunteers was helped by a major org in setting up but became very successful just using backpackers mainly ,no money was taken all you had to do was turn up , and even unskilled people were soon helping move rubble or trained to build walls , I also trained a few in basic carpentry , which will also help them for life , mainly we used the backpackers though in the unskilled work and paid the Thai workforce in the skilled work, jobs were not taken by us doing it because of the huge scale , most of the Thai’s worked rebuilding the big hotels where they could earn more money!

5. What sort of things were you doing out there?
Also worked on a boat shed and then helping a Thai crew build the long tail boats , so the fishermen could get back to work and feed their families again, spent some time also diving and cleaning up the seas of debris and rubbish but to be honest it was too big a task ands eventually the ocean will do it, but in the main area got rid of the stuff so tourists coming back wouldn’t see stuff to remind them , spent a month on ph phi http://www.hiphiphi.com cleaning the Bay of Phi Phi which was a more obvious job because everything was very close to shore and in a relatively small area. Also volunteers did beach clean up getting rid of rubbish the seas kept bringing up again a lot around the one year anniversary so people who were coming back to grieve were not reminded too much with clothing or shoes etc on the beach also some volunteers did some teaching, read a little on your web and I agree two weeks holiday doing something like this is actually giving a negative affect , so most teachers had to sign up for 2 months or more, so the kids who got so close to you, were constantly, gaining trust then losing it if the teachers kept leaving

6. What was it like?
Emotionally and physically very tough. Everyday you’d here a horror story or see a smashed house or meet someone who d lost someone or a whole family but the rewards , just by a smile or a thanks for rebuilding there house made up for everything
7. How did you feel before you went compared to how you felt when you got back?
Definitely made me a better person, emotionally I struggled and had a little counseling on my return, but again, just by making a difference and knowing you’ve helped and rebuilt
people’s homes and lives will live for me forever

Disaster volunteering: Helping tsunami victims in Sri Lanka

April 18, 2007

Sarah Smith
25
West Yorkshire
Works for a national magazine

Volunteered in Sri Lanka in March helping victims of the tsunami

1) I wanted to volunteer to help out a worthy cause after seeing several
documentaries on tv, and working closely with I-to-I and understanding more
about what they do. I had always wanted to broaden my horizons and step out
of my city life comfort zone.

2)I-to-I were amazing and offered great help and support with good in
country co-ordinators to assist with any issues we had. They were very
committed to our safety also with good structures in place 24/7

3)I was working on a building site helping knock down destroyed houses to
build new ones, teaching children English and also helping at a sea turtle
conservation project.

4) It was a very humbling and moving experience that was very hard at times.
We were living in very basic and uncomfortable conditions but the people
were amazing and it made it very worth while.

5) I was terrified of going alone, but found it to be one of the best
experiences possible. I came back a very happy and confident person, who
realised how much I took for granted back in the UK

6)I have plenty of photos and some video footage of the area

7)We were based in Kosgoda near Galle on the South Coast which was one of
the worst affected areas of the whole Tsunami. There were over 30,000 people
killed and the devastation is still as if it happened only yesterday.
We were working with Orphans and homeless people, and also travelled further
north but were transported back down south when two bombs were dropped by
the Tamil Tigers on Columbo airport.

8) I would only used i-to-I for this type of volunteer travel

Templates configured, Rolf Potts and how to be a travel journalist

April 18, 2007

I’ve sorted out my templates, it’s a hell of a lot easier to run the site when using them because it means I don’t have to change about 50/60 pages myself when I want to make a tweak to the navigation. Glad I figured out how to use them, and it means I can create content and put it straight onto a pre-figured template that I know I won’t have to change once it’s done.

Got two pieces of content up today, Rolf Potts got himself up on the site. Did a nice little picture gallery of his top five places to travel to. Thought that worked well, and I remembered how to do the behaviours so only a little window opens up with the main image. The How to be a travel writer article has been huge for traffic on the blog so I put a lot of effort into it to try and make it look good. Went with the simple Q&A layout for it, as I didn’t think the interview descriptive style worked as well. People have questions and David Browne did a fantastic job of answering them.

I’ve asked David Browne if he’ll write me some stuff for the advice section, be great if he can because he’s an experienced traveller and a really good writer. I like his style.

Got in touch with the two people I need for my ‘disaster volunteering’ flash presentation, hopefully I will get some good images etc and it will come together into a 10-15 slide presentation on flash. Need to get a few more travel reports, but they are taking a while. Might see if I can find some people to write them for me, I’d rather have user-drive content.

Tested the general layout of the website on my mate Ruth yesterday, she wants to be a travel writer when she graduates so she is a good test market. Her comments were:

– professional

– why can’t I click that? (maybe make the headlines into links)

– liked the use of images

– liked the colour scheme

Overall it was very positive feedback. In a week or two I’ll get her to test it again and maybe a couple of other mates, and I’ll get Chris to run a userability test over it as he does a module in that.

Teaching English in Ecuador

April 17, 2007

Amy Barnicoat-Hood, 18, from Kirkby near Lancaster

1) I was in Ecuador for exactly 4 weeks, in the capital city of Quito.
2) The culture was amazing. At first it’s a little hard to adjust to things like having a maid (I got told off for making my bed…) and the things they eat (lots of soup and sweetcorn), but you do find that you get used to it pretty quickly. The worst thing by far is the poverty. I heard of one volunteer feeling so bad she gave this little girl a dollar, and then next thing she knew everyone had heard and she was inundated with these children all wanting money. You feel terrible about not giving them anything, but you really can’t. The other thing whilst I was out there was the political climate. There were riots in the old town because the new president Correa had just been elected and he wants to re-write the constitution. I heard this morning that he’s got the vote to do it now, so hopefully things will have calmed down a bit. It was dead exciting though. I was also quite pleasantly surprised when I went to a house party and all of a sudden the music was changed to samba and there was dancing in the garden. I wasn’t quite sure if Latin Americans actually did that sort of thing, but they do and it’s absolutely fantastic.
3) I was teaching English in a Children International school in an area called Atucucho, which is towards the north end of Quito. It’s a sponsored school, so people donate money and the kids get taught, and as you can imagine it’s in a pretty poor area, although by no means the worst. I spent one morning doing community service in a market, with an organization called Cenit. I don’t think I was supposed to go, but I tagged along with some friends and it was a real eye-opener. The volunteers go into the market and round up the children and take them back to this classroom. They get their hands and teeth cleaned and the older ones read and write; with the little ones you play games and sing songs. Then at the end they all get a small cup of soup, and they’re all really sad that it’s over. You can tell it’s the highlight of their day.
4) It was a placement with i-to-i. The great thing about that is that you get to meet people doing all sorts of different placements, and if there’s a problem there’s always someone you can turn to for advice. However next time I’m doing it solo.
5) I’m going back in May, to spend 6 weeks doing the same thing. I’m a complete sucker for Latin America.
6) The best thing was actually extremely strange. I bumped into someone I knew when I was 3 years old and living in London, who I haven’t seen for about 14 years. Apart from that probably the people and the general atmosphere. The climate is pretty wicked too.
7) It wasn’t nice feeling extremely rich, because everything is so dirt cheap out there. In theory this is fantastic, but in practice it just felt horrible, especially when you’re in a dirty market surrounded by barefoot children who are just so happy that you will play with them.
8) When I’m going in May, I’m going to arrange my own accommodation and not stay in a homestay, even though that would be cheaper and probably easier. I want to do this purely because the experience will be completely different, and if it all goes wrong then I can always email the family I was with before. I am also going to travel to other countries after my volunteering, because everyone who I met there was making the most of their time and I hadn’t even thought about going anywhere else – I was just coming home. So this time I’m going to Venezuela for about a fortnight after Ecuador. I wish I could afford to go to more places though!
9) I have some photos up on http://www.flickr.com/photos/amybh . There’s a set entitled Ecuador 07 or something. Just skip the drunken ones from other places, haha.

My family were really supportive – my dad loves travelling and I think my mum wanted me out of the house. My grandparents were a little anxious about it though.

If you’re going on a volunteering placement for the first time, go with an organisation like Outreach International or i-to-i, because it gives you complete peace of mind when you’re there.

How to be a travel writer

April 16, 2007

David Browne
Travel journalist

1. How long have you been a travel journalist?

Nine years so far. I was previously a staff journalist at the BBC and
left on a redundancy/early retirement deal, to pursue my travel
interests as a freelance.

2. How did you start out as a travel journalist?

I started by doing research projects, updating guide book entries.
This is very tedious work and involves a lot of phoning and emails,
from home. The original writers do the travelling. It is possible to
be a travelling contributor if you contact a big publisher like the
AA or Thomas Cook Publishing, as many country guide books are put
together by a loose team coordinated by a staff project manager. I
then went on to write about travel industry current affairs for a
specialist travel news bulletin, and I write occasionally for
newspapers and magazines. I have also contributed chapters to a book
on adventure travel.

The opportunities for writing a whole book are rare, as publishers
give such projects to already-known writers who have time to live or
travel through a country over a period of 6 months to a year. You
also need to identify the travel and tourism potential of a country
to be able to submit an original idea for a new book, and bear in
mind that the days are gone where you could submit an idea for a
really obscure country (as the concept of Lonely Planet guides
started out) – the publishers will want to be sure that the book
would sell to a mass audience, in order to make money.

3. What’s the best way to start out as a travel journalist?

Submit your work. Write articles on places you have been and submit
them “on spec” to newspapers, magazines, online bulletins. Don’t
expect to be commissioned until you have built  a track record of
published material. But take great care to research the style and
range of coverage of the journal you are submitting to. Length is
important, few newspapers would want more than 1500 on average. Some
want specific recommendations about places to stay, how to get there
and so on, sometimes as a separate “box”, as opposed to being part of
the narrative of the article. A good way to start is to imagine how
to spend a productive 48 hours in a place, then write an article
around that. It’s a good discipline to get into, wherever you go. One
word of the blindingly obvious: don’t try to get away with writing
about places you have not been to, just because you have read about
them on the Internet. And do not rely on the Internet for updating
facts like telephone numbers and opening times. Many establishments
don’t update their web sites sufficiently for them to be reliable.
Sad but true.

4. Should you be a freelance travel journalist or a staff-travel journalist?

If you want a regular income, then go for the salaried staff
position. But it will be mainly office-based with occasional trips
abroad. If you want travel and adventure, then you must go freelance.
You will need to be disciplined about costs as your expenses will
often come out of a fixed project fee, so the more economical you
are, then the more money you make overall. And you must be good at
keeping accounts as you will need to do your own income tax return,
and you will be taxed on your profit, not the whole fee, and will
need to justify the difference to the Income Tax people. But don’t
expect to claim the costs of a holiday as a business expense. Travel
writing is work, with relaxation in unusual places thrown in. Travel
writing is not well paid, and this shows in the quality of work in
some popular guide books. It’s obvious that the writers have used
cheap and cheerful accommodation and glamorized it in their writing
of a review. Then again, you don’t put adverse comments about a
down-market flea-bitten hotel in a guide book do you? You just leave it out.

5. Is travel journalism dangerous?

About as dangerous as crossing a busy road in London. How do you
measure danger? All travel has its risks, but some risks are more
acceptable than others. You must take sensible precautions wherever
you travel and be respectful of local cultures, especially when it
comes to dress. Women particularly are vulnerable to danger and
unwanted attention if they wear skimpy tops and short skirts in some
countries. But men too should dress casually according to the
environment. Do not take valuables like jewelry with you unless you
are prepared to lose it. Bright jewelry attracts the attention of
potential thieves and it is not just the loss of value but the trauma
of being attacked that is hard to bear. Lock the doors in sleeping
compartments on trains and don’t get in situations where you must
rely on strangers to watch your bags. Travel light and wash clothes
as you travel. I could go on for many pages of advice about staying
safe when travelling. Get good travel insurance, but make sure you
are covered for business if you intend to write about the trip for
payment. It is business, after all. One specific tip – carry an extra
wallet or purse with a little money in it, such as a bundle of
useless old foreign notes, and expired credit cards. If you are
mugged, hand over this ‘false’ wallet and safeguard your real money.
On a plane, check where your nearest emergency exit is, and how to
reach it in the dark. A personal experience article about surviving
an air crash could make your career in journalism, remember that!

6. What’s the best part about being a travel journalist?

The travel opportunities, such as going to boring conferences held in
great places. I’ve been to Qatar, Delhi, Washington DC, Madrid,
Frankfurt, Oslo, Hong Kong and many other places to report speeches
at a conference, then spent a day or two exploring the city in my
free time, gathering material for future feature articles. Don’t try
and write just about your own holiday – you have to write to entice
other people to the location and give them reason to go there, and
pack your article with factual information, not just colourful poetic
words that spring from the heart as you bask in an ecstasy of delight
in a remote corner of a foreign land. Tell people how to get there
and what to do, warts and all.

7. What’s the worst part about being a travel journalist?

Without doubt, the low pay. When you measure how much time has been
taken up with a project and checked it against the pay received, you
are way below the minimum wage. Once you have a track record of
published articles, you will find that you may get invited on
Familiarity trips (Fam trips) or press tours, where you are hosted by
a company or a national tourism board. Then you get to stay in smart
hotels and eat good food at someone else’s expense, so it has its
compensations. But fam trips are hard work as you have a punishing
schedule of travel and meetings and briefings from various
stakeholders in the country’s tourism sector. The next worse part
about being a travel journalist is the travel. I mean hours of boring
travel – couped up in planes, economy class, or on trains through
miles of barren countryside, or worse on coaches whizzing along
motorways where reading and writing make you feel queasy and travel
sick. Be prepared for the boring bits by reading ahead your research
material so that when you arrive at a destination your hit the ground
running and don’t waste time looking for a place to stay. Prepare
your journey well and use the limited time in a destination to the
best advantage, and that means a lot of homework before you leave.
Your articles will be better informed for having read about the place
ahead of time. Boring but true.

8. What would you say are the qualities needed to be a travel journalist?

Number one is to be a good journalist. Travel is just a speciality.
All the skills of observation, note-taking, story-telling,
self-editing (prioritising), looking for the human interest angle and
the news peg are  just as important in travel as in business or
sports journalism. Being able to keep a good note of what people say
to you is important, and keeping a thorough journal of your own will
help later when you get home, because you will see and hear so many
things on a trip that one day will blend into another in your crowded
memory. Keep good files with up to date materials such as leaflets
from attractions and museums for later use. Remember one trip can
produce several articles, one on how to have a holiday stay, one on
regional food and wine, another on mountain walks, and another could
be a review of one hotel that you stayed in, and all these could
appear in specialist journals long after you return home.