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.

Gadling Take FIVE–Week of Feb. 21-Feb. 27

First, Tynan and Todd are off on their Pan Panama Road Trip with a new video update to prove it. Also, throughout the week, there have been more installations on Gadling’s Budget Travel Series: Mexico; Seattle; Boston; and Ft. Lauderdale.

Life Nomadic: Traveling without Planning

Ahh, and we’re back. After a semi-hiatus of a few months, Todd and I are back to the full nomad lifestyle. I say semi-hiatus because within those four months we both spent a good amount of our time traveling around the US, Mexico, and Canada. And even when I was in Austin, where my family and most friends are, I lived in a 21′ RV on the side of the road.

Once a nomad, always a nomad?

Our trip this year is going to be very different from last year, but our first stop is the same as last year’s first stop: Panama.

I’m not sure why exactly we chose Panama last year, but this year we chose it because we’d fallen in love with the country. The people are universally friendly and warm, as is the weather, the food is dirt cheap and amazing, and there’s no shortage of adventure to be found.

Not to mention that Todd and I are both nearing fluency in Spanish and Panamanian Spanish is actually known for being very clear.

One hallmark of our trips is that we usually don’t plan much. We often go to a city with no place to stay and no plans, assuming we’ll figure it out once we get there. That’s probably where our mantra, “everything always works out” comes in.
When our flight landed in Panama, it was two in the morning. We have a few friends in Panama from last year, but imposing on them to sleep on their couches at 3am seemed a bit cruel. Getting a hotel was an option, too, but it doesn’t make much sense to pay for a hotel you’re going to be in for just eight hours, even at Panama’s bargain rates.

And so we chose the third, less obvious option. In our backpacks we cram in luxury-lite cots, giving us the ability to sleep in perfect comfort just about anywhere.

(side note: if you have the foresight, check before deciding to sleep in an airport. They have a good database, though most of the complaints people register are negated with a luxury-lite.)

We headed upstairs to the waiting lounge, where a dozen or so fellow travelers were awkwardly sleeping on the hard tile floor or slumped over in chairs. I hate to admit it, but I felt pretty smug knowing we were about to rest in perfect comfort in an otherwise inhospitable environment.

And we did. A security guard gently woke us up at 7am, we packed up our cots, and headed in to one of our favorite cities in the world with no plans or accommodations to speak of.

Life Nomadic: Welcome to Life Nomadic

The border agent was very suspicious of me.

“Where’s your luggage?”

“I don’t have any.”

“Do you have a return ticket?”

“No, but I have a ticket to Panama for next week.”

“Where do you live?”

This never goes over well.

“Well, nowhere, really…”

And it’s true. The closest thing I have to a home is a 21 foot RV that I park on the street and live in when I’m in Austin, Texas for a few months every year.

Last year my friend Todd and I made the decision to become modern day nomads and make the wonders of the world the backdrop for our every day lives.

We sold everything we owned other than two small backpacks crammed with cutting edge gear, and chased our whims around the world.

We ran with the bulls in Spain, sat under the cherry blossom trees in Tokyo, explored the catacombs of Paris, rode 4x4s across the dunes of Qatar, marched in the Carnaval parades of Panama, and a whole lot more.

This year we have a lot more planned, along with plenty of time to fill with whatever last minute adventure catches our attention.

And even better, we’re blogging about it exclusively for Gadling. Our goal this year is to show you what it’s like to be a modern day nomad, how to do it, and also how to use some hardcore nomad strategies to make regular travel even better.

We have three main principles that we follow, which you will hear a lot more about:

  1. Versatility

    We aim to be as versatile as possible. We pack extremely light, but with enough gear to cover any likely contingency. My small 28 liter pack has enough gear to keep me warm in 10 degree Toronto (where I write this from) and cool in 90 degree Panama (where I head this week).

    Our incomes are unbound from any location and we’ve developed good work habits to put in a full effort from anywhere in the world.

    We have no obligations back home to pull us back or encumber us while we’re gone.

    On top of all that, we eat healthy foods and exercise so that we can hike a few miles through the mountains just as easily as we can flop down on a hammock on the beach.

  2. Technology

    We use the latest technology available to fuel our worldwide adventures. Not just electronics, although we’re packed to the gills with those, but cutting edge clothing technology (more exciting than it sounds…) and even camping gadgets.

    Beyond what we carry, we use technology to keep in touch with family and friends all around the world as well as to generate enough income to fund our nomadic lifestyles.

  3. Deep Experience

    Our backgrounds and available time pose some restrictions, but we try to live like natives rather than trample the country like tourists.

    We try to learn the language of anywhere we stay for at least a month, rent apartments rather than hotels, and spend our time exploring the city rather than hopping from one Carlos and Charlie’s to the next.

    Whenever we’re able to make friends with locals we get a much richer experience, and we follow their recommendations on where to visit.

Whether you’re a fellow nomad, someone who plans to go nomadic eventually, a hardcore traveler, or even just an occasional traveler who wants to get more from his trips, I hope that we’ll be able to provide you with inspiration as well as practical tips.

There are a couple things I’d like from you:

  1. Your questions. Every week I will write an “Ask a Nomad” column. E-mail me directly at tynan DOT gadling AT weblogsinc DOT com and you may find your question answered right here.
  2. Your feedback. We’re nomads because it makes our lives better, but we write to try to make your life better. If you let me know which articles you like and which you don’t like, I can do a better job covering topics you’re interested in. Again, my e-mail is tynan DOT gadling AT weblogsinc DOT com.
  3. Subscribe. You can subscribe to the Gadling feed here, or to Life-Nomadic-only posts here.