Gadling Take FIVE: Week of June 12–June 19

Happy summer. It’s official. The Mermaid Parade is happening in Coney Island today, and Catherine has the scoop on the solstice in Alaska. Hopefully, you’ve snagged a travel bargain. Tomorrow, for starters, take Dad to a National Park for Father’s Day–or take yourself.

  • Annie’s reminiscence of Old San Juan might trigger your own memories of a place you went as a teen.
  • For tips on how to make your life more like travel, Jeremy has advice worth heeding-even if traveling is your middle name.
  • In case Orlando only gives you images of amusement parks, read Tom’s post on what else to do in Orlando. There may not be time for the Magic Kingdom. Next time I go, I want that scenic boat trip in Winter Park.
  • If the world about the news seems too darned depressing, check out Kraig’s post on Art in All of Us. Yes, indeed there are wondrous, uplifting happenings as well.
  • For anyone heading to Morocco, do read Tynan’s latest Life Nomadic missive on the Moroccan hustle. Reading about his experiences trying not to be taken reminded me of the Moroccan segments of Brook Silva-Braga’s documentary, “One Day in Africa.” Being prepared for the everyone is trying to make a deal experience is a wise move. Tynan covers the issue to a T.

Life Nomadic: Tynan’s Top Ten Cruise Tips


Ahoy! Here’s a quick followup on my last post about cruising, posted from Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas. I’ve been on a bunch of cruises now, and have come up with a few tips and tricks to help you get the most out of your cruise.

1. If you’re really into safety, go to the “mandatory” lifeboat safety drill. If you’ve been to one before or think that you can handle following the green arrows and putting on your life vest, stay inside your cabin. They don’t actually check names or your cabin to make sure you go.

2. Never go on official shore excursions. If you just walk off the ship you’ll find lines of touts waiting to give you the same thing for half the price, usually with more flexibility if you want something slightly different. Walk past the touts and you’ll usually find stores offering the same tours for 25-30% of the cruise line quoted price.

3. When choosing your cabin, choose one near the stairwells and elevators. You’ll be making that walk many times every day.

4. At dinner you can order as many things off the menu as you want, not just one appetizer, salad, and entree. My record is 31 plates divided between a friend and I.5. You can also have meals customized based on your dietary needs. Contacting the cruise line in advance will get more promises than actual actions, but if you talk to the Maitre’D the first night, he’ll make sure you get what you want.

6. Don’t eat your meals at the buffets or informal dining rooms. The food quality in the main dining rooms is ten times better. If you’re hungry before or after your assigned dinner time, go to the other seating and eat two dinners.

7. Insist on carrying your own bags up to your room when you check in. If you give them to the porters you’ll end up waiting in your cabin for a few hours for your stuff, and you’ll have to tip them. It’s a short walk to carry them yourself and you’ll be able to explore the ship as soon as you get in.

8. On long cruises, don’t buy an internet package until the first sea day. The daily newspaper will usually have a 50% off sale, and you can use the minutes you buy for the rest of the cruise.

9. Make friends early. A good way to do this is to enter contests or sing karaoke on the first day there. People will recognize you and start conversations. If you have a choice of what size table to sit at, pick the biggest one possible.

10. You will be assigned a checkout time for the last day of the cruise. The cheaper your cabin, generally, the earlier it will be. Do like I do and ignore the time. Pack up the night before and sleep in until the maid comes knocking to clean your room for the next group. I’ve been the last person off the ship every single time.

Bonus tip: Make friends with the staff. They’re from all different countries and have all sorts of stories. They also know the ins and outs of each port and might even invite you to the staff parties, which are a lot crazier than the passenger parties.

Gadling Take FIVE: Week of April 11–April 17

How wonderful to be in the middle of April when the flowers are blooming, the sun is shining. By now, you’ve noticed Gadling has a brand new look. Kudos to the design team! We’re pleased as punch. With wider photos, Karen can show off her photography expertise all that much more.

Along with the changes, we found out that Tynan, thankfully, survived a mugging. He has tips on what you need to remember to keep safe and to hold onto your belongings if you can.

Tynan is not the only one who offered tips this week.

Life Nomadic: The Art of Getting Mugged

After a safe return from Haiti, universally advertised as too dangerous to visit, my opinion on danger was stronger than ever. Everyone blows danger way out of proportion, and if you walk around confidently without being flashy, no one is going to rob you.

Here in Santo Domingo I eat at the same restaurant, Ananda, every night. It’s an amazing vegetarian restaurant that bears a startling resemblance to my favorite restaurant in Austin, Texas (Casa de Luz). It’s an eleven minute walk away through the main roads, or a ten minute walk with a shortcut.

The shortcut goes through the scariest little alley I’ve ever seen. The buildings on it are crumbling, it’s covered with trash, there are no streetlights, and just to make it a little more spooky, one side of it borders an overcrowded cemetery. Worse, the alley is a series of three sharp angles that make it hidden from nearby streets.

I liked walking through the alley. It made me feel tough, and I was proud to not have the same irrational fears that everyone else seems to have.

As it turned out, those fears weren’t quite so irrational. After the eight hour bus ride from Haiti I was starving, so I started walking towards the restaurant. At this point I’d gone through the alley so much that I didn’t even think about it. Two twenty-something-year-olds were walking towards me. I moved a bit to the right to pass them, but one went to one side of me and the other went on the other side.”Hola,” I said cheerfully.

Just as it started to register in my brain that something might be fishy about them surrounding me, they were on me. Their hands grabbed my shirt, they pushed me back against a wall, and started pulling the rings off of my fingers.

My logical mind kicked in. If I just spoke to them in Spanish they’d see that I’m not a typical gringo tourist.

“Espera! Que paso?”

They couldn’t have cared less, of course. They kept tugging at my rings and sliding their hands into my pockets. I didn’t have my wallet on me, but I did have a wad of cash. They took my passport, both rings, and the keys to my hotel. I glanced down at my expensive GPS watch which one of them was trying to take off, and realized that the longer I stood there, the more stuff they were going to take.

Cash and watch still attached, I started to run away. I figured they’d chase me, but as I looked back I saw them running the other way.

I felt calm during the actual incident, but afterwards I was rattled. I walked around the block a couple times, trying to process what had just happened. I didn’t care so much about what had been taken, but my worldview had just been shattered. I was naively optimistic enough to think that no one would mess with me because I was a nice friendly person who cared about the cultures I was visiting. It hadn’t occurred to me that wannabe thugs with probable drug habits don’t really care about any of that.

When I got home I went on the internet, determined to learn how to fight. I would buy a knife every time I landed, and learn knife fighting. If someone tried to rob me again, they would get stabbed.

Luckily, my first search yielded this site, which describes exactly why my plan was a terrible idea that might end up with me getting killed. Every post on the site links to twenty others, which meant that the following couple hours of my life were dedicated to learning everything I could about personal defense.

Here are the important things I learned, with links to No Nonsense Self Defense, in terms of avoiding getting mugged while traveling:

  • Low level criminals, like muggers, are not logical. Trying to use logic to dissuade them will never work.
  • Criminals are professionally violent. Training to fight them without the same real world experience they have, will lead to you getting hurt.
  • Mugging is a low level crime, which means that it is mostly perpetrated by younger people (18-25) with drug problems.
  • Crimes happen in “fringe areas“, places between isolated areas and highly populated areas. Isolated areas don’t have enough victims, heavily populated areas have too many witnesses.
  • To escape a bad situation, make sure you run towards a heavily populated area. Running “away” is likely to lead you into a less populated area.
  • Criminals are selfish and are obsessed with their status. Challenging them (“You wouldn’t shoot me”), is a good way to make them violent.

What I realized, more than anything, was that I was asking for it. Sure, no one ever has the right to rob me, but I entered an area that I knew was dangerous, and I did it habitually. My original idea that the world is safer than people say is probably correct, as long as I do my part to avoid danger.

Life Nomadic: How Much Does it Cost to Be a Nomad?

Tynan and Todd getting fitted for tuxes in Bangkok

One of the big barriers between most people and becoming a nomad is money. It sounds expensive. Most questions I get about it have to do with affording the trips.

Here’s the big secret: being a nomad is not expensive. In fact, without knowing how much money you spend monthly, I can confidently say that you can probably comfortably become a nomad and spend less.

I don’t have exact numbers, but I’d say that Todd and I each average spending under $3000 per month. That includes everything including lodging, airfare, food, entertainment, and small gear purchases along the way.

There’s a big difference between “cheaply” and traveling “cheaply and well”. I have little interest in eating ramen in a hostel or taking buses across the country.

That’s backpacking. Nothing wrong with that, but being a nomad is different.

The key is not treat it like a vacation. Many people spend money outrageously “because I’m on vacation”. Life Nomadic is a lifestyle that’s intended to be sustainable.

One big advantage the nomad has is that he has no expenses back home. The tourist is paying nightly for a hotel, but he’s also paying rent, electricity, and cable back home.

That’s like trying to pay for two lives at once.
A basic hotel in Tokyo will cost at least $150 per night. That’s not a great hotel, and it’s definitely not in a great location. $1050 for 7 days.

Renting a large room with a fridge, two beds, and a couch cost Todd and I $1000 for a month in the most desirable neighborhood of Tokyo. That’s cheaper than it would have cost us for a mediocre hotel for a week.

It’s almost always cheaper to rent an apartment for a month than to get a hotel, but you can also just choose cheap destinations. Thailand is full of great hotels for $20/night, either in downtown Bangkok or on the beach on an island. In Panama City you can get a solid (but not exceptional) hotel for around $30 a night.

If you really have a limited budget, go to any of the countless cheap-but-awesome destinations. You’d be shocked at how cheap great places in Southeast Asia are.

The savings you create by living in such cheap locales can easily pay for the plane tickets you need to get there.

If you really have NO money, go to Ko Phi Phi in Thailand. You can hand out flyers for the big reggae club for four hours a night and make enough cash to pay for all of your food and hotel forever. And that little island is paradise, believe me.

Every country you visit will have a whole tourism industry centered around creating an America-like experience for you at a premium price.

Avoid that. Live like the locals.

Take the train, walk, or buy a bike like the locals. Don’t take overpriced cabs. Buy food from the grocery store and cook for yourself in your rented apartment. Ask around and see which beach the locals go to. It’s usually much better than the one that tourists are whisked off to.

Spend time in nature. It’s usually free or cheap and some environments you’ll see are unlike anything back home. Even something as simple as the deserts of the Middle East are breathtaking to a foreigner.

If you’re going to be somewhere for a month, don’t feel like every day needs to be filled with sightseeing and adventure. Spend four days a week practicing your language, working, and walking around town like you would back home. Then on the weekends go white water rafting through the rain forest instead of seeing the latest disappointing movie.

Above all, don’t let money stop you from living the dream. Being a nomad can be as expensive or as cheap as you want it to be, and the sheer adventure of doing something almost guarantees that the money you spend on a monthly basis will be well worth it.