January 3 2016

Travel Mistakes I Keep Making Over and Over

We all make mistakes.. .especially when doing something you’ve never done before, and traveling to a new place definitely fits in to that category. It seems as if I make at least 10 mistakes a day when I’m traveling. In that regard, I am just like everyone else [although I am not ashamed to admit my shortcomings], and when it comes to traveling, I make plenty of mistakes… usually the same ones or variations of the same theme.  You’d think I’d learn, but so far, I haven’t… it’s almost as if I am allergic to learning or something.

I’ve been on my own now for half of my life, and sneaking away to travel even earlier than that [Exhibit A–Alone in Atlanta as a 7th grader… Exhibit B… Baseball in Baltimore as a 14 year old], so you would think I’d learn a thing or two about this whole put stuff in a bag and go somewhere thing.  Yet, I am surprised as anyone… maybe more so because a reasonable person wouldn’t keep doing the same things over and over again…when things don’t go according to some ill defined plan.

Traveling is not easy… Things do not always work out like you think they should in your head… There are often hiccups, last minute change of plans, substitutions, and other clusterfucks that a lot of people never talk about. So with that in mind, let’s review the travel mistakes I keep making.

galapagos iguanas

Mistake # 1  Not making reservations ahead of time.

I really [REALLY!] hate planning.  I also hate commitment, and to me, making reservations, is both planning AND making a commitment.  In my head, I’m screaming “Reservations cramp my style.  I want to be free.  I want to be spontaneous.  What if I change my mind?  What if something better comes along?”  In reality what happens is the flight I want is already booked.  There are no more hotel rooms to be had.  I have to keep changing hotels everyday because none of them had availability for the duration of my stay.  Or I have to scrap plans all together.  I really should get my ass in gear and make reservations more than 45 minutes before something starts.

Seeing fireworks at the Eiffel Tower on New Year’s Eve was awesome; arriving in Chamonix, France in the French Alps on January 2 without a place to stay and without a cellphone [see #4] during a snowstorm was not awesome.  Spending 400 Euros for the last remaining hotel room in town [#truestory] also was not awesome.

Mistake # 2  Packing the wrong things

I’m a pretty light packer as things go.  I have never had my bags go over the weight limit, and I’ve never had more than I could handle.  South America in general was a lot colder than I thought it would be… [altitude is a tricky beast]  I ended up wearing the same clothes for days… [I did change my underwear though] because they were they only warm clothes I had… I even slept in my fleece pullover a few times… In the end, I had to buy some things while I was on the road, and at least in the upper half on the continent 5’9″ women aren’t too common so fit was generally an issue.

You’d think that in those two bags, I’d have everything I need for a year + in South America.  Nope, I had to go shopping in a mall in Quito for for jungle/cloud forest gear.  I had to buy a poncho for warmth in Peru [and used it in Bolivia].  Traditional Andean clothing does not come in tall… just so you know.  My flip flops fell apart in Chile.  I rented clothing for the Inca Trail.  I bought a warmer jacket [down in case you are wandering] for Patagonia, and by the time I hit Brazil, I was ‘accidentally’ leaving things behind.  Let’s not even talk about the time I showed up in a ski resort area without appropriate gear. I am ever hopeful that I will eventually happen on the right combination of clothing for the actual destination and the actual weather.

Just a few weekends ago, I went to the coast for a few days.  When I left it was 75F with highs in the mid 80s.  When I came back it was 48F.  I did not pack for 48F… Yes I know it was October, but it was 75 degrees at 8am.  I threw in my swimsuit, a pair of shorts, water sandals, 2 t-shirts, and one long sleeved shirt… .Yes I probably should have thrown a sweatshirt and jeans or something in my bag, but my mind was singularly focused on being on the water and 80 degrees.  Friday and Saturday were awesome; Sunday I froze my ass off.

Mistake #3 Not letting anyone know my itinerary.

This all goes back to #1.  I don’t intentionally wander; I just change my mind.  I may intend to go one place, but hear something great about another so I just go… Or some place may be great, and I end up staying there longer than planned.  Or I meet fascinating people and want to hang with them.  All of these things have actually happened, and all have changed my original plans.  I’ve boarded a plane for Chicago on the spur of the moment.  I was in Serbia when I ‘should have been’ in Austria.  I was having such a good time in Peru that I got an apartment.  Chile wasn’t as awesome as I thought it would be so I dipped in and out, never staying in one place very long.  Venezuela nor French Guiana were never on my original itinerary, but I made allowances and ended up spending Euros in South America.

Danger...danger
Although I should probably let people know if I am headed to an area where there are landmines.

Mistake # 4 Not using a smartphone when I travel.

I realize that a smartphone is so much more than a phone, but I’m terrified of forgetting to turn off the roaming or something and the racking up a $500 bill.  So on international trips, I turn the phone off completely.  I know I need to suck it up, move into the 21st century,  and just get an unlocked phone.  Life abroad would be SO.MUCH.EASIER.

Update:  I now have a smart phone. Life is grand.

Mistake#5 Not signing up for any loyalty program

Nothing. No travel rewards credit cards. No airline frequent flyer program. No getting triple points for every $ I spend. Nothing. I don’t know where to start. I have rarely fly the same airline twice, and 10,000 miles just  doesn’t get you very far.  If I had started way back when I could have at least gotten an upgrade by now.

meow meow

Mistake 5.5 Booking things at the wrong times.

I am inherently a night owl. I am much more likely to stay up until 5am than get up at 5am. I know myself well enough to know that there is not a snowball’s chance in hell that I am going to be able sleep the night before anything is scheduled, and if I do, I am likely to nod off 30 minutes before it’s time to get up and wake up in “oh shit!” mode… either I’m in a rush or I have missed it all together. I’m getting better at picking the right flights, buses, tours, ect, and I am fortunate enough to be able to sleep just about anywhere. As long as I can make it to the beginning point, I’m all right.

Mistake # 5.75  Not having insurance.

After getting severely dehydrated in the jungle… falling a breaking my arm in Mexcio… needing stitches in Belize, I have come to accept that I am inherently clumsy, and as I get older, I am less likely to bounce back from various injuries. Starting a couple of years ago, I never leave the country without travel insurance.  Since I’ve started buying travel insurance, I’ve yet to have an accident. Coincidence… I think not.  I’m never leaving home without it again.

See… all is not lost… I do learn from my [oh-so many] mistakes… eventually.

July 19 2015

Poop, pills, and parasites…oh my

Disclaimer #1:  I am not a doctor, but I do work in a hospital in the USA; I have graduated nursing school [just last week!], have examined my fair share of poop and snot, and have volunteered/visited several health clinics in my travels.  I DO consider myself an expert on all things related to green snot.

Disclaimer #2:   I do not advocate unyielding doctor avoidance or rampant self-medication. Sometimes,  there can be something seriously wrong that you can’t fix on your own, but quite often, there are simple ways to treat what ails you without spending piles cash on tons of medicine either at home or abroad.

Without further ado:  an around-the-world traveler’s guide to poop, parasites, pulmonary related issues, pokes, motion sickness, headaches, birth control and women’s health, cuts, breaks, sprains, scrapes, burns, and all things snot related.

At home, I am a healthy, but clumsy individual.  I attribute it to all the time spent around snot-nosed kids who happen to be sick and in the hospital.  My immune system is in overdrive.  All the time.  Flu-schmu.  I almost never get sick beyond a simple sore throat and cough.  But when I travel, it’s a difficult story.

Evidence #1:  Every time I change environments, this guy sets up in my chest [or more accurately, my nose].  I don’t freak out, run to the nearest pharmacy, or anything out of the ordinary.  He just has to run his course.

Mr. Mucus likes to travel too

Evidence #2:  While living in a low-malarial risk area [and on prophylaxis]  I inexplicably caught malaria.  Even though mosquitoes rarely bother me at home.  I thought I might die.  It was really that bad.

Evidence #3:  This little guy must live on my passport.  He’s responsible for all things related to excessive poop.  He always follows me out of the country.  Even to Canada.  Even though I carry a supply of metronidazole with me at all times.

[a member of the Giradia family]

Evidence #4:  I have had stitches and broken bones in five separate countries [USA included, but also Mexico, Peru, England, and Russia.]

Evidence #5:  A particularly nasty little bout of excessive poop acquired in Mexico robbed me of my will to live.

All of these incidents occurred outside the friendly confines of my home state.  So I know a thing or two about travel related maladies.  For #5, I called my boss [who was a Mexican doctor] and he called a friend of his who lived in the city I was visiting who brought me some oral re-hydration solution.  That saved my ass — quite literally.  It’s no fun pooping mucus.  Take it from someone who knows.

So after you have traveled all over creation, battled a few bugs, completed two health care degrees, got accepted into a health graduate program, worked in a hospital for a few years, worked and volunteered in hospitals and clinics all over creation, you come to know a few things. Or at least you think you do.   Or at least your friends and family think you do.  And they ask questions.

So here goes–a list of common travel illness scenarios, where they are likely to occur based on my limited experience, how you might want to treat what is going on, and some secrets on how to acquire drugs inexpensively.

Problem #1:  My snot is lime-jello green.

green snot

 

  • What it is:  More than likely it is a sinus infection.
  • Where it often happens:    In public places, touching stuff and not washing hands afterward.  In large, heavily polluted cities.  Anywhere air quality is poor.
  • What to do: After 7-10 days with no improvement, go for a round of an antibiotic like Amoxicillin. Amoxicillin [for sinus infection] is currently out of fashion in the US, but it is cheap and easy to get in most of the world. [Do not take if you are allergic to any of the -cillin family of drugs]

My disclaimer about antibiotics: I try to avoid taking antibiotics if at all possible because they kill all the bacteria in your body [not just the bad bugs]. Additionally, over-prescription of antibiotics in recent years has helped lead to drug-resistant strains of bacteria such as MRSA and VRE.

Problem #2. I’m pooping all the time! (and it brings its friend–vomit)

  • What it is:  More than likely it is traveler’s diarrhea. [or vomiting]
  • Where it comes from:  Most cases come from an intestinal bacteria or viral infection.  It could come from food, water, dirty glasses, pretty much anything.
  • Where and when it happens: Countries throughout Latin America, South America, Asia, and Africa.
  • What to do: Avoid getting sick, but if you do get sick, try the following:  Treat the emergent: You are about to board a night bus for _____.  You have a queasy tummy.  You know bathroom breaks will be few and far between.  Take loperamide [Immodium] or diphenoxylate/atropine [Lomotil].  But not both.  Or your intestines will turn to cement.  Crisis averted for the next few hours.
  • Address the cause: If you have bad traveler’s diarrhea doesn’t go away in a day or two, it’s likely you’ve got a bacterial or viral infection.   I always carry a supply of Ciprofloxacin [Cipro] or Azithromycin [Z-pak] — an antibiotic easily found almost anywhere in the world cheaply — as my first line of treatment. Often, you’ll see your body recovering in 24-36 hours. However, once you begin taking an antibiotic, you MUST take the full course. Never stop after you feel good.  This also contributes the the multi-drug resistant bacteria  surge.
  • If you can’t keep anything down, including medications–hydrate, hydrate, hydrate:  Don’t drink plain [bottled or boiled] water, but find yourself some packets of hydration salts, make your own using this formula, or buy some Gatorade and cut it with water. This will help replenish your system with salts, sugar, and minerals that your body has violently kicked out.  It’s all too easy to end up in the hospital from dehydration.  [I would have–twice–if I didn’t know how to start my own IV and carry a saline bag with me.  I don’t always do this, just to remote places]
  • If you have a virus, antibiotics will not help you. Period. If it lasts more than a couple of days without improvement, suck it up and go see a doctor.  They are almost always cheaper than in the US.  Especially if you have travel insurance.

Problem # 3  My burps smell/taste like rotten eggs.

  • What it is: When you’ve got a case of burps that smell and taste like rotten eggs or sulfur, there’s a good chance you are dealing with a water-borne protozoa like giardia.
  • Where and when it happens: Latin America/South America, Asia, Africa–any where that can’t purify the water system.
  • What to do: Take a full dose of  Metronidazole or Tinidazole (4 tablets at the same time). If you have this particular parasite, the burps will go away and you’ll feel better pretty quickly. If they don’t, get yourself to a doctor.  As a bonus, Metronidazole can be used to treat bacterial infections in the genitals. [should you need treatment for that sort of thing]

Problem #4  I can’t poop! [or my poop is really hard]

  • What it is: Constipation
  • Where and when it happens: USA/Canada… Pasta belt in Europe… Dumpling Belt of Central/Eastern Europe… anywhere where there is heavy food
  • What to do: Back off the pasta, dumplings, bread, and cheese. Eat as much fruit, greens, and water as you possibly can. If that doesn’t work, bring out the big guns and eat a bag of prunes (with another few liters of water).

Problem #5  Jackhammers are being used inside my skull.  

jackhammer

 

  • What it is: Depending upon the intensity and location of said jackhammer, you could be experiencing a garden-variety headache or a migraine.
  • Where and when it happens: After a series of overnight buses with blaring music and jerky stops. Sleeping in cheap hotels with giant pillows. People yelling outside your room ALL. NIGHT. LONG.
  • What to do: For regular headaches, Tylenol or Advil will usually do the trick.  For tension headache/migraines, try Tylenol with caffeine.   And quiet.  And darkness.  And not moving.

Problem #6  I don’t want to get malaria.

  • What it is:   A parasitic disease transmitted by the bites of infected mosquitoes
  • Where it happens: Africa, parts of Asia, select parts of Latin America, the Caribbean
  • What to do: Once you have an itinerary, consult the CDC malaria map to determine malaria risk for the regions where you are traveling. Two things will matter most: where you are going and in what season.  Not all malaria is created equal, so you’ll need different medication for different parts of the world.  [I contracted P. vivax  malaria in the Amazon even with Chloroquine–so take this advice with a grain of salt]
  • Doxycycline: Insanely cheap when purchased locally and fairly cheap in the USA. Two things to note: doxycycline tends to make people more sun-sensitive. It can also conflict with some birth control pills. It’s also an antibiotic.
  • Malarone: It’s insanely expensive, but its chemistry supposedly messes with your mind and body less than larium or mefloquin.
  • Chloroquine:   Not really cheap. Chloroquine tablets have an unpleasant metallic taste.
  • On the cutting edge of malaria remedies is the Chinese artemisia plant (or qing hao, “sweet wormwood” or “sweet annie”).  It appears to be commercially available from Novartis as the drug Coartem (Artemether 20 mg, lumefantrine 120 mg). It’s now on the WHO essential medical list. [2018 update:  Coartem is in in Peace Corps med kit for treatment of malaria so it is now a pretty standard drug].

Problem #7 I don’t want to catch Dengue fever/Typhoid fever.

  • What it is:  A viral infection transmitted by A. aegypti mosquito [dengue] or a bacterial infection caused by Salmonella typhi [typhoid].
  • Where it often occurs:  sub-tropic regions such as  Indonesian archipelago into northeastern Australia, South and Central America, Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and parts of the Caribbean [dengue] Most of the world except USA/Canada/Australia/ Western Europe. [typhoid]
  • What to do:  There is no prophylactic medicine for dengue. The best thing you can do is avoid being bitten.  These are the ones that come out during the day.  There is a vaccine available for typhoid, and it can be treated with good old Ciprofloxician. And wash your hands. Frequently.  Like become OCD obsessed with it.

Problem #8  I’m going to vomit on this bus/boat/plane/donkey cart/ect.

  • What it is: Motion sickness
  • Where and when it happens: On windy buses in the mountains of Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru.  In a donkey cart in Guatemala. On a research boat headed to the Galapagos Islands in a storm.
  • What to do:  Option #1– If you’re prone to motion sickness, keep a stash of Dramamine or my personal favorite Bonine  (aka Antivert, Meclizine) handy and take it 30 minutes before departure. If you take it once you’re on the road, it’s too late. As a side benefit, Dramamine will usually knock you out so you don’t have to watch the death defying acts of the bus driver.
  • Option #2:  Purchase a pair of pressure point wrist bands (usually go by the name of Sea Bands). Not sure if their effect is psychosomatic or real, but some people swear by them.

Problem #9 . I’ve gone too high. My head is going to explode.

  • What it is: Altitude sickness.
  • When and where it happens: Hiking or walking anywhere above 2500 meters, particularly if you’ve just arrived by air, train, or bus. The worst I have ever experienced was taking a bus from sea level in Ecuador up to Quito. I felt as if my head was going to blow right off.  La Paz, Bolivia and Bogota, Colombia were no picnic either.
  • What to do: If you can, take altitude slowly, acclimatize. Outside of that, try local remedies like coca leaves (recommended in the Andes, chewed or in served in coca tea) before resorting to traditional altitude sickness drugs like Diamox [which is a diuretic].

 Problem #10 .  I’ve got blood spurting from somewhere it shouldn’t.

  • What it is: Scrape, cut, gash, road rash.
  • Where it happens: Being smashed into rocks when trying to learn to surf in Peru.  Falling off the sand board in Chile.  Getting too close to the reef in the Caribbean.  Running into trees while skiing. Ect.
  • What to do: I always carry an assortment of band-aids, bio-occlusive dressings, gauze, steri-strips [for wound closing], ACE bandages, hydrogen peroxide, neosporin, saline, and iodine. And Cortisone cream–for rashes and bites.  I may be going overboard, but then again, I am pretty clumsy.

Problem #11. I do not want to get pregnant and/or a souvenir I can’t get rid of…

  • What it is and where it happens: Me hopes you should be able to figure this one out on your own.  But beaches, booze, and bathing suits are a heady combination.
  • What to do: Contraception options are many, but if you choose to take birth control pills, here’s some advice:  Before you leave home, ask your doctor to put you on a pill with a hormone formula that is more universally known.  Drugs are known by different names around the world, so write down the commercial name of the drug as well as its chemical and hormone structure.  Condoms are available [can be expensive], but especially if you need the non-latex variety, bring some from home.

In my experience, many countries outside of North America and Europe (and I assume Australia) will sell birth control pills without a prescription. Along your journey drop into pharmacies and ask if they carry your particular pill. Birth control pills are rather expensive (especially by local standards) and choices are limited in many Central and South American countries. However, they were relatively inexpensive and easy to find in Argentina. So, when you find yourself in a country that carries what you need for a good price, stock up.

How do you get all these drugs on the road?
Most pharmacies outside Europe, North America and Australia will sell you whatever you need without a prescription and at a much lower cost than you’ll find at home. My advice: if you’re going on a long journey, travel first to a country where prescriptions are not required for basic medications.

  • Prescriptions: not necessary.
  • Prices: much cheaper than back home
  • Medicines (at least based on my experience): the real deal

I have only had to buy medicine in countries where I speak the language, but knowing the generic name for a drug will help immensely.  Write down the chemicals (and percentages if you can find it) that go into the medication you need instead of just the commercial or generic name of it. The chemical names translate roughly the same in all languages even if the medication is called by another name in that country.

There it is.  My best advice for staying healthy on the road.  Take it or leave it knowing that I have had my fair share of sickness on the road, but it has kept me alive and mostly healthy.

October 19 2014

So you want to start a blog, do you?

I’ve had a few blogs over the years.  All were the free kind with a very specific focus.  Like when I went to south america–my blog was more like a travelogue.  When I went to nursing school, my blog was all about that….travels to Europe– more travelogues.  So I’ve learned a thing or two about blogging.  I am still no expert, but…

THINGS I’VE LEARNED:

Blogging is hard.  It’s time-consuming.  The learning curve is steep.  There’s a lot to learn even if you are technology guru. Which I’m not.  Finding ‘your voice’ takes time [I’m still finding it.  How ‘authentic’ should one be?  What constitutes over-sharing? Ect, ect.]. Writing for an audience is a lot different than writing in a journal.  Editing photos [and videos too I’d imagine, although I haven’t gone down that road yet] isn’t as easy as applying an Instagram filter and hitting ‘publish’.  Design is hard.  Getting ideas from your head into html code isn’t easy.  Reading other blogs, seeing cool features you’d like to adapt but have no idea how to do so is frustrating.  Thoughts like ‘is it stealing if I  use the same plug-in as someone else?’  ‘Will they mind?’  ‘How do I adapt it to make it different, but still what I want? ect, ect’ are ever present.

So what have I learned in since starting this blog?  I am glad you asked.

1.  Defining your purpose is crucial

everglades kayaking 1

If you can answer the question “why do I want to start a blog?’  [this goes for any type of blog], it will make your life a whole lot easier. People start blogs for many different reasons. Some to showcase a house remodel; some to showcase fashion ideas.  Some blogs are set up to keep friends and family up to date on trips around the world. Other people want a blog to show their photography to the world, and some people have a blog as their career.  They network with other travelers, bloggers, products and companies and actually make a living blogging. Whatever your goal may be having a clear purpose at the beginning will help you create a blog to address those goals.

I really wanted my first blog be like a travel journal.  It’s took a few weeks of design trial and error to decide that.  Some blogs are really cool, but they have features I’d never use, and by not using them, the blog loses something.  So for now, my blog is a ‘personal’ blog. I’ve started a new career.  I’m still in school, and I still travel as much as possible.  I’ve got a lot going on.  My blog reflects that.

Of course blogging purposes may change over time. If you think you might want to blog long term, try to develop your site with flexibility in mind.  Know that a re-design is always possible, but changing things like the title, web address, and type of blog may be committing [blog] suicide.

2.  Consider your audience or who you’d like your audience to be can help you ‘find your voice’

For most people, the first few blog posts will be aimed at friends and/or family…especially if the blog is set up prior to a long trip or housing remodel.  However, if you’d like to reach a broader audience, consider who you’d like that audience to be.  Backpackers?  Luxury travelers?  People with kids?  First timers?  Retirees?  20-somethings?  Somewhere in the middle?  A unique niche?  If you are looking to get traffic on your website, write with your audience in mind and let them know what you can do for them.

For example, my short-term goal is to finish nursing school, get experience, eventually sign on with a travel company, work as a travel nurse while earning my nurse practitioner degree. That goal is so far away right now it wouldn’t make sense for me to target people who want to do travel nursing.  None of that has anything to do with travel blogging.  But right now I CAN target students–especially older students, people who have limited time and/or money for holidays, and people who want to travel– just not travel long term.  All of that has to do with travel blogging and going to school.

3.  Thinking about your blog name now will pay dividends in the future.

Choosing a blog name is hard.  Real name vs fake name?  Full name vs Partial name?  Something with the type of blog in it or not?  Something completely different?

I went through at least 10 names before I decided on Chasing Dreams; Herding Cats, and I’ll get to why I decided on it in a minute.

First, I didn’t want use my full name as my web address, and besides, I have a fairly common name with a teeny tiny twist on the spelling of my last name.  If I type my name is a google search, the first few pages are other people with the same name as me.  However, if you want to blog under your real name and that name isn’t all that common, you shouldn’t have problem.

 If you decide to choose a pseudonym [aka something other than your real name], there are two main  things to consider:

  • Is that name available [as a domain plus any other platforms you might want to use such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, Reddit, ect]?  I didn’t have Twitter before I set up my blog so once I decided on a name, I set up a Twitter account with the same name…[@Adventureadikt in case you are wondering…I’m still not very Twitter savvy yet, but I’m working on it.]  I created a Facebook page as an adjunct to my personal page [called Chasing Dreams; Herding Cats…]  My Instagram account was already set up.  I just changed the name and have to refrain from posting pictures of my cat everyday, but I’m finding Instagram the easiest to use.  I’m still debating the usefulness of having Google+, Pinterest, ect account devoted to my blog, but I have already staked claim to Pinterest and Google+ as Chasing Dreams; Herding Cats.
  • Is someone else using the name you want?  If so, in most cases, it’s prudent to choose another name to avoid creating audience confusion and blog confusion.  I’m sure there are cases where it exist, but imagine the confusion for someone coming to your site but perhaps going to a porn site instead…

I first thought of creating a blog using the name Peripatetic Michelle.  I thought it was snappy.  Most people didn’t know how to spell ‘Peripatetic’, or what it meant.  I spent a lot of time spelling that word then explaining it meant essentially the same as nomad…which is a lot more common word and a lot easier to spell.

I then thought something like Out and About with Michelle would be cool.  That’s entirely too long of a name for a web address.  Out and About was taken, and I didn’t want to change the spelling too much in order to claim it. I them thought of names like Michelle’s Big Adventure [oh wait…I don’t have a big adventure]  On the road…[taken].  I went in a different direction thinking of my favorite travel quotes, poems, ect…

  • Two roads diverged[taken]  The road less traveled [from Robert Frost’s poem…taken]
  • All who wander [taken…from a Tolkien quote]
  • I’m not lost [also taken…also derived from the same quote]

Ultimately, I decided on Chasing Dreams; Herding Cats for a couple of reasons.  Life can become very stagnant without having dreams [or goals].  I think everyone should have a dream–whether it’s something lofty like visiting every country in the world or trying to find the perfect grilled cheese sandwich. The second one being it’s a nod [albeit a slight one] to the fact that I am NOT a full-time traveler.  Traveling is by far my favorite activity, but I currently have a job at a hospital, go to school full time, and have two kitties at home that keeping me on my toes.

kaos-loves-the-computer-too

4.  Platforms and hosting has nothing to do with shoes and parties

I am so glad I researched this before my first blog.  Everyone said use WordPress.  It will make your life easier.  I like easy so I used WordPress from the start.  I have never used anything else and I have not had any issues…

If I have any problem with WordPress, and really I don’t, it’s that there are SO.MANY.OPTIONS …widgets [not just -something discussed in Economics class] and plug-ins, themes and menu…it’s a bit overwhelming in the beginning.  There’s also the free [with wordpress.com] or the paid [just the name of your site].

For this blog, I use the self-hosted one at wordpress.org.  I do have to use a hosting site and I use SiteGround…I’ve never had issues, but I really don’t know enough about them.  I just googled ‘self-hosted servers’ read the reviews, and picked one.  I’ve used BlueHost in the past and while they were OK, contacting customer support usually turned into an all day affair.

Do yourself a favor though, use wordpress from the beginning.  Seriously.

5.  Choosing the right technology will make your life easy

Potion making at old operating museum

Technology is advancing every day, but choosing the right tools makes life a lot easier.

On my first big trip to the UK, I had a 2 SLR cameras and a point and shoot camera [OK…my first, first adventure was still on film!  I sound so old!] and a CD Walkman.  I used PIN telephone cards to make phone calls and sent my negatives back home.  It was frustrating.  It was slow.  Then I upgraded to a DSLR…It was still mind-nummingly frustrating to get my photos off the camera onto my Facebook page. My next adventure was a month long trip through the north eastern US and parts of Canada.  I traveled with a netbook and the same cameras.  I used my regular cell phone, but it didn’t work for the nearly two weeks I was in Canada.

For my next adventure [6 weeks in Europe in winter], I took my Kindle and the cameras.  I could upload photos taken with the kindle directly to Facebook and while writing on a Kindle isn’t the easiest thing in the world, it’s better than depending on others for technology.

I’m still working out the right amount of technology for a trip, but I’ve got a head start on what’s too much.

6.  Blogging is hard

kayaking off tybee island

It’s even harder if you are doing it on the road.  It takes time to come up with ideas, write them out, take pictures, edit them, and post it all to a blog consistently.  A blog is not a blog without content.  And yet content–or I should say GOOD content– is the hardest part of any blog.  There are millions of blogs on the web these days, and content is what makes one blog succeed while another one fails. Content and consistency.  My goal is to blog content twice a week and add a photo post in once a week.  I have found, from reading other blogs, that it is important to let the reader know how often new content will appear.  Whether its twice a day or once a week, it’s a lot easier as a reader to say ‘oh, it’s Wednesday…let me pop over to Chasing Dreams; Herding Cats and see what’s new’ than to randomly check in and get frustrated when there’s nothing new.

I have read that it helps to have a months’ worth of posts ready before you publish the first one.  I don’t have that many, but I do have a couple weeks’ worth of posts ready.

Good, regular content is the key to successful blogging.

Foot hills trail hiking

January 15 2012

The adventure that almost wasn’t

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last year or so, or in case you’ve just stumbled across this blog, I’ve recently returned from an amazing 16 month trip around South America where I visited every single country on the continent.  Some for only a day; some for a few months. But did you know that this trip was almost the trip that wasn’t? It almost didn’t happen due to my own incompetence.  You see, I lost my passport in the days before departure.  When?  who knows.  How?  don’t know.  Where?  well, if I knew that, I  wouldn’t have lost it, now would I.  My only guess is that it got lost [threw away, destroyed…] while I was making copies of the front page to distribute to friends at home. [Travel tip #1:  Make copies of the front page of your passport. Take one or two with you. Leave one or two with someone back home.  It’s immensely easier to get a replacement with that copy.]

I almost didn’t get to see the sun set in the Pacific all the way down the Pacific coast.

I turned my entire house upside down multiple times looking for a document the size of an index card.  I never found it. So I did a little bit of research and found out that you CAN get an emergency passport as long as you meet certain requirements–the main one being that you must have proof of international travel within two weeks.  Two weeks, you say?  That sounds a little risky–to have an international trip scheduled without a passport.  Risky it is, but that’s the main requirement for getting an emergency passport.  Oh and $$$.  The regular passport fee + the expedite fee.

At least I had a layover in Miami

My situation was as follows:   I had a flight from Charlotte to Bogota with a 8 hour lay-over in Miami.  As luck would have it, the IS an emergency passport office in Miami. Their hours are 8a-3p.   The flight to Miami is 2 hours and with my flight leaving at 6A I would have time to make the detour.  So I made an appointment at the Miami passport office for 8:45A.  Oh yea, it was a tight timeline, but I guess this is the definition of travel emergency.  As fate would have it, I met another girl on the place who was in the same situation, and we became buddies for the day.  We both had early appointments, forms filled out it advance, pictures in hand, and appropriate  funds.  We took public transportation [there’s a metromover station very close to the to the passport agency], had our appointment [and let me say, for government agencies, fairly efficient], and  were done [except the waiting] by 10:30A.  We were instructed to return after 1p to pick up our passports. The Miami agency is located in a business area so we grabbed lunch, chatted, and waited for time to pass.  At 1p, we returned to  the agency, and were greeted with bright, shiny, brand-new USA passports.  Then the mad dash to the airport ensued.  My flight left at 4p so I had time, but my new friend’s flight left at 2:30p.

Spoiler alert:  We each made our flights, me to Bogota, her to Costa Rica.

Several things could have gone wrong on this trip.  What would I have done had there not been a way to get an emergency passport?  Or had a non-stop flight?  Or a lay over in a city without a passport office?  Or a super tight connection that would not have allowed me to make a detour?  I don’t know. I  know that any one of these things could have halted my trip before it even started.  And none of the experiences of the last 16 months would have happened.

 

It’s the little things that can change our life’s course.

 

January 8 2012

5 steps to survive taking an electric shower

2018 Michelle checking in here:  The electric shower is a scary occurrence in several areas of central/south America.  One one hand, I’m grateful for hot, flowing water; on the other hand, I was seriously scared for my life. BUT figuring out how to work this calamity was one of my greater travel achievements.  I don’t think there will be electric showers in Rwanda, but if there are, it’s OK. I’ve figured that out once before.

It's a toss-up: You may get clean; you may die
The shower in my hostel in Bogotá. It’s a toss-up: You may get clean; you may die

Either this was such a traumatic experience for me before that I’ve put it out of my memory or this is some Colombian designed torture device; this is what greeted me the morning after my arrival to Bogotá.

It’s a large electrical time bomb hanging above my head; luckily all the ends of the electrical wires were covered in electrical tape. I have since found out that this is not always true nor is this device confined to Colombia.

5 steps to surviving an electric shower

  1. Is it high enough so that you will not hit your head?  I’ve had problems with showers before that were mounted for people no taller than 5 feet tall. Luckily, all the electrical showers I’ve encountered are way up there out of the way of an errant splash.
  2. Are there any bare wires that could come in contact with water?  Did you bring electrical tape?  If not, a  wash cloth and the sink might be the best option.
  3. Get naked. Do your thing, and get out.  If you have rubber soled sandals, wear them.  This is not the time to reminisce about the day.  Chances are the water won’t be at optimum temperature anyway.  The only way I’ve found to control the temperature of the water is to control the flow of the water.  There’s a science-y explanation for this but essentially the water needs time to roll through the metal plumbing to heat it up before it before comes out.  So you can have warm water flowing like maple syrup in winter or cold water flowing like a fire hydrant.  But not both. Your choice.
  4. If the pop off valve does indeed pop off– DO. NOT. SCREAM. Like I did the first time this happened to me. Uninvited visitors will show up and cause some slight embarrassment.  It is supposed to keep water from spraying up into the wires which could save your life,. However, I have found that they just pop off whenever they feel like it.
  5.  Yay! You are clean, but also soaking wet.  How to turn off the faucet?  You will only reach for the metal knobs once before muscle memory kicks in and you will remember why you never want to do in again. Nobody in these parts have ever heard of grounding wires.  My suggestion is to have a small towel–hand towel sized–that you use for turning off the knobs.

No need to fear the electrical, non-grounded shower.  I, like several before me have survived; you can survive it too.