It’s been a while

Hello Stranger.  It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on here.  That’s because I haven’t gone anywhere.  I’ve been travel from my house to the office and back on a daily basis for almost 3 years now.  But that’s about to change.  I’m preparing for another trip to Asia again.

I’m taking off for 2 weeks.  I don’t have to pack that much with me this time because I’m going to big developed cities.  However, I still pack a decent amount of gear, both tech and non-tech.

My tech gear has significantly changed in 3 years.  Things have gotten smaller and more useful.

I’ll post a picture of what’s in my bag in the next few days.

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Don’t Wait, Travel Now

Life is too short to put off the things you want to do when you can do it.  A few years ago, my health was a major concern of mine.  It’s nothing serious, but it was a reminder that I have an expiration date.  Life was too short to stress out about stuff that doesn’t matter.  Really, what’s the point about earning money when you’re stuck at work with no time to really enjoy that money.

So…I started to travel.  I love packing up my camera and jet setting to a different country.  It’s a great big world out there.  Go see it before you can’t.

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Top 10 Things to Know When Traveling to China

1. Don’t drink the tap water. You have to boil the water before drinking it or buy bottled water. When buying bottled water, make sure it’s from a legitimate market. Shady vendors are known to sell you a bottle of tap water.

2. Media (Internet and TV) will be cencored. You won’t be able to access some sites, unless you use a VPN. Some international hotels do provide the occasional CNN channels.

3. Sensitive information. Forget accessing sensitive information in China. There are eyes and ears all over the place.

4. There are a lot of people. They will push you in crowds. They don’t know how to form a line.

5. Watch out for pickpockets. This is pretty universal. Keep an eye on your stuff if you want to keep your stuff, especially in your hotel room. Stuff from toiletries to colgne will go missing.

6. Street vendors will try to sell you everything from really cheap LV bags to Rolex watches. It’s all fake and be careful about “following” them to their shop.

7. Avoid the street food. Your stomach is probably not ready for international stomach bugs.

8. Pack your own toilet paper. It’s not provided for you.

9. Learn to bargain if you buy something from a store. It’s okay if you don’t know the language because they’ll pull out a calculator. I normally like to start with 75% off and work from there. That may seem low, but that still leaves them with plenty of profit.

10. Don’t feel pressured to buy anything. Just walk away or do what I do, put on my headphones.

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Wifi and Internet Access Abroad

Internet access is pretty much standard these days. Everyone is connected 24/7. We pretty much live our lives on the internet. So what can you expect when you travel?

Most hotels provide internet access for their guests. Make sure you ask the front desk for the login information. The speed will vary depending on the country. Don’t count on video chatting or VOIP calls. Some hotels only offer a wired connection in the guest rooms. Ipads and other tablets are out of luck. I always carry a small travel router for these situations. A lot of hotels still charge for access.

If you travel to China, internet access will be censored. You can’t access Facebook, Twitter, CNN, and etc. Gmail is good to go. If you value your privacy, don’t connect in China. Always assume their government is reading whatever you are doing while in China. Hong Kong is the exception to this.

TP-Link TL-WR700N

For travel routers, I like the TP-Link TL-WR700N. It’s small and lightweight. The plug is folds flat into the router so that you don’t have to carry another power brick. The best thing of all, it’s rated for 100-240V. That means it will work in 110 or 220V countries. You just need a plug adapter. It’s seriously small and cost about $25. The WR702N model is slightly smaller and comes in blue. However, that has an external power brick. The WR703 model lets you plug in a broadband mobile usb stick.

Here’s the Amazon Product Link for the WR700N for about $25.

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$99 Tour to China Review

You see advertisements for $99 tours to China. You pay for your own airfare as well. Too good to be true right? Well, not really. This is not a scam. You really pay $99 for all your lodging, transportation, meals, and sightseeing. You’re going to stay in really fancy hotels, have a nice air conditioned bus to take you around, and eat decent food.

Here’s the part that’s not mentioned. You’re going to spend more than half your time shopping at the government stores. When you join a tour to China, they are required to take you to these stores that sell stereotypical Chinese items such as tea, pearls, jade, artwork, herbal medicine, silk blankets, clay tea pots and more. I call this “hostage shopping” because you really don’t have a choice. The salespeople will pitch you on all these great properties of their product. Every city you visit has a distinct product that they “only” make there. If you asked me, don’t believe in their sales pitch. If you want to buy the item, buy it because you want it and not all the crap that comes spewing out of their mouth. That’s just verbal diarrhea.

How could you tell if it’s a government owned shopping establishment? The big giveaway is that they don’t allow you to take pictures. They don’t want you to have any evidence of this “experience.” I think they don’t want to take pictures because you might show your friends back home or you might have evidence that disproves their sales pitch. For example, when I was at Xian visiting the terracotta soldiers, the farmer that discovered the terracotta soldiers was there to sign books for a fee. There was a strong presence of security making sure people don’t have their cameras out. Why? This is just some old guy acting like the farmer. They will just replace him with another old guy when he can’t do this anymore. That’s why they don’t want pictures. It’s all a dog and pony show.

The tour cost $99 because they expect you to buy stuff to make up for the low price. Who would run a business if they’re going to lose money right? The tour guide and the driver split all the commissions from your shopping. Often times, that commission range from 40-60% of the price.

The tour agenda is very rushed. They rush the group through some of the most scenic parts so that they can maximize your time shopping. If I had to break it down, you’ll spend 50% of your time shopping, 25% sitting in the bus, 25% of your time sightseeing. In my opinion, don’t take your vacation time and waste it on Chinese hostage shopping.

China has a lot to offer tourists. I’ve been there more than 5 times. Most of the time, they treat tourists like great big piles of cash. That’s not what I want on a vacation. You just have to find the right travel company that will customize a vacation for you.

Thailand and Hong Kong do this too.

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Some travel do’s and don’ts

As a traveler or tourist, you’re going to stick out like a sore thumb to the locals. That means that you’re going to attract some unwanted attention when roaming the streets. I always have a backpack when I travel. Messenger style bags are too easy to get snatched off your shoulders. I like backpacks because you can always flip it to the front when you need to keep an eye on your bag. I always make sure my backpack has an internal pocket that can’t be cut open from the bottom. Call me paranoid, but it happens.

When traveling, thieves are after cash, cell phones, and iPods. Since tablets are now so mainstream, they’re quickly rising to the top as well. So keep all that stuff out of sight and use a money belt for your cash, credit cards, and important documents. Do keep enough cash in your pocket or wallet to use for the day. The last thing you want to do is fish out the money belt in public.

Be aware of your surroundings. Don’t let your guard down. Just because your on vacation doesn’t make you invincible. You’re supposed to relax during a vacation, but being robbed of all your belongings will create more stress and ruin your expensive vacation.

To summarize:

Do’s

  • Keep your belongings out of sight.
  • Keep your bags secured on you.
  • Use a money belt and make sure you have some cash on hand for the day.

Don’ts

  • Don’t let your guard down.
  • Don’t think people are not watching you.
  • Don’t flash all your goods and become a target.

Just have a little common sense and don’t let your guard down.

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Bitten by the Travel Bug!

I love to travel. What’s better than roaming about, discovering a new destination and immersing in a new culture? A lot of us cubicle jockeys, myself included, dream about taking off to exotic destinations and spend an extended amount of time away from it all. The sad reality is that traveling costs a lot and time off work is a limited resource.

After taking a couple 3-week trips to Asia, I always asked myself why I don’t travel more often. This blog is about my travel plans, travel tips, research, and everything else that I do to make things easier.

My travel style is to pack really light and have all the gear I need to take care of anything that might come up. My passion for food and photography also comes along with me on my trips.

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