A guide to self defense for travelers

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Traveling is a thrilling experience. It takes you to new places, allows you to meet new people and in some instances gives you a sense of adventure. But, sadly when traveling tourists can be easy targets for small crimes such as pick-pocketing/muggings and sometimes crimes even more grisly. That is why everyone (especially travelers) should know how to defend themselves. Self-defense skills are not limited to physical contact. In fact, much of self-defense is how to AVOID getting into a situation where there is physical confrontation and how to deter would-be predators. Below, are a few lessons that have served me well in my own travels.

Walk with purpose

Have you ever been walking along and someone comes up to you asking for money? Perhaps canvassers trying to get you to sign a petition? Or in some cases maybe you got the impression someone wanted to lift your pocket? Either way — all of these people were trying to engage you in some way or another to achieve their ends. However, when you walk with purpose and at a faster pace (as if you are determined not to be late somewhere) — it becomes much more difficult for you to be approached by someone on the street. People with more nefarious intentions are going to be on the look out for someone who seems a little lost, distracted or not getting anywhere fast. Walking with purpose will make you appear focused and act as a deterrent to anyone wishing to approach you.

Look alert

When you’re by yourself and it’s after dark, constantly be scanning the area. This should entail doing a 180 degree scan of the area in front of you so that you’re swiveling your head slowly from right to left. Keep looking ahead and at your peripherals as you walk somewhere.  Obviously, you are trying to be alert and keep away from anyone or any place that might look suspicious. But, the fact that you appear alert is going to make you immediately less attractive to someone hoping take advantage. Do NOT be listening to music, trying to read a map or talking on your phone. People often think there is security when speaking to someone on the phone, but it actually serves as a distraction and might not deter a would-be attacker.

Don’t be afraid to be rude

Someone comes up and asks you for directions on the street, you perhaps provide them with instructions on how to reach their destination or explain that you’re not from around there and sadly can’t help them. Then, they start asking you other questions like where you’re from, who are you with and where you’re headed. Suddenly, you start to feel a little uncomfortable but you keep finding yourself answering these questions because you feel trapped by being polite.

This happens more often than you think. People who are looking to take advantage of you might start with a seemingly innocent question about how to get some place and then start to ask a lot of other unnecessary questions or seem intent to keep you talking. My rule of thumb is that I’ll answer the first question and then if things seem a bit odd, promptly excuse myself. If they keep talking, just walk away from them fast. Obviously, there are times when people are trying to be friendly but that’s a judgement call you have to make in that instance. At the end of the day, if things feel out of sorts it’s better to be rude and safe.

Shout “fire!” instead of “help!”

Believe it or not, shouting “help” will not necessarily get people running to your aid. My taekwondo instructor explained this in a self-defense seminar. It’s been shown that if bystanders hear someone shouting help, they might hesitate to get involved for their own safety. But, if you shout “fire!” people will tend to come running because as far as they know it’s their house on fire. Bottom line, if you’re trying to get people out onto the street where you and a would be attacker are alone —learn how to say fire in the local language and shout it at the top of your lungs.

Follow your instincts

I can’t stress this enough. If something doesn’t feel right then don’t ignore it — act on it and get to a place you feel safe.

If you are forced to physically engage with someone as a matter of self defense, I recommend to always keep your keys in your hand — they can be used as a weapon especially in terms of gauging at someone’s eyes. Additionally, the throat, solar plexus and groin (both men and women) are always targets you should aim for as they can be debilitating. However, I highly recommend you go to a self-defense seminar or practical martial arts class where you can learn how to defend yourself correctly. If you have been to a seminar once, then go again. The more you practice these skills, the more likely you will be able to use them should you ever be in need. As always, safe travels!

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Two Countries, Two Weeks — One Carry-On Bag!

Back in June, I pledged to take the one-bag challenge for my trip to Eastern Europe. Now having returned from my journey — I am proud to report that I managed the entire trip out of one carry-on bag.

This saved me a lot of time because I didn’t have to wait in line to check the bag and then wait once again at my destination to pick it up from baggage claim. This also provided the added convenience of having everything on me at all times; in case I wanted to change out my shirt or grab an extra sweater.

Then of course, was the ability to move a lot faster…literally. When you aren’t struggling with a bulky suitcase or having to move a luggage trolley, it becomes easier to maneuver the crowds as well as enter and exit airport buses/trains quicker.

Packing for the trip probably took as long as it would with a regular suitcase because a lot more thought went into the little I could take. I considered the practicality of what I was bringing — especially with clothes. I had roughly four outfits that I could interchange and layer up depending on the weather. But, the trip was much less cluttered and therefore keeping track of all my belongings was easier. In past trips, I constantly checked and re-checked a room before I left it in fear that I had forgotten something. That wasn’t an issue this time because I had a very clear idea of EVERYTHING I had brought and knew exactly where it was.

Challenges

There were a couple of challenges involved with bringing only a carry-on bag. The first is that my carry-on luggage comes in the form of a shoulder bag. After about 30 minutes of walking around with it, my shoulder began to ache. Having a bag with wheels in an airport is a huge benefit in this case. However, I was later walking down a lot of cobbled stone streets where wheeled suitcases would not have done so well.

I found that having one bag with you means you’re forced to wear your bulkier items whenever you’re in transit. This is a good idea, but unfortunately it is not as comfortable for the plane journey. I had a pair of Frye ankle boots that I had to wear at every airport junction because they wouldn’t fit in my bag. Moreover, they were a major pain to take on and off whenever I went through security. Lastly, I didn’t have the luxury of wearing sweatpants on the plane as it was more practical on my packing needs to wear jeans.

Helpful tips

There are numerous travel sites that will tell you rolling your clothes, as opposed to folding them will help you fit more into a suitcase and also keep them from wrinkling. I tried this out for myself and while i’m not sure how much more space I saved — I was impressed that my clothes didn’t need to be ironed after a ten hour journey in a small bag.

When flying on an airline you are usually allowed a personal item in addition to your carry-on luggage. Rather than just have my purse — I took a foldable canvas bag. The bag was able to hold my purse, two bottles of water, a magazine, an iPod, socks, eye-mask, chap stick, and sanitation wipes. My advice; don’t limit yourself to a small bag for your personal item.

One major benefit I had in this trip is after the first leg in Budapest; I was able to stay with my in-laws in Lithuania where I could do my laundry. But, even if I hadn’t been staying somewhere with a washer and dryer, finding a laundromat would have probably still been feasible.

Overall, the benefits outweighed the challenges considerably! I think for future trips I will continue to rely on a simple carry-on bag.

How I Learned to Travel

 

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Traveling is a whole brand of education unto itself and it’s one that never ceases. What we learn from our experiences becomes a type of blue-print we follow for future travels.With my upcoming trip to Lithuania and Hungary in the fall, I thought I would share some of the travel lessons I’ve learned over the years.

1.) You don’t have to learn a whole new language

It’s impractical to try and learn an entire language before you go on a trip. If in a pinch, the best thing to do is learn the basic phrases of the native language in whatever country you’re traveling to such as; hello, thank you, please, and good-bye. However, I always make a point to know how to order beer and coffee in the local language. This is helpful as bars and cafes can be loud and busy, so this saves everyone a lot of translation trouble.

Lastly, always be able to ask someone if they speak English. More on that in the next rule.

2.) The first words you speak to a local should be in their native language

Never assume that someone speaks English if you’re in a non-English speaking country. While it’s true that many people all over the world (especially in Europe) do speak English,  it’s impolite to jump to that conclusion. Imagine if someone in your home country walked up to you and started speaking a foreign language. It’s off putting and out of place. Show a little effort and greet them in the native tongue then ask (again in their native language) if they speak English.

3.) Make friends with the bar tender 

Bar tenders are always a guaranteed source of knowledge. If you’re interested in finding out where the best local hangouts are or what tourist traps to avoid, a bar tender can usually clue you in. Additionally, if you treat your bar tender well, they to treat you well. When I was in Dublin with some friends we went to a Temple District bar where we chatted with the bar tenders the whole time. They let us stay past last call and we didn’t get charged for probably half of what we drank.

4.) Go off the beaten path

When I visit a country, I like to feel like I’m actually in another country and not on a perpetual tour with other visitors. Whenever I travel, I usually get up early one morning (around 7 or so), get a cup of coffee, grab a map and walk all around the city/town i’m staying in. It’s a neat way to see the city wake up and the best time to go into a cafe or shop because it’s early and everyone is a lot more relaxed.

5.) Don’t mistake directness for rudeness

The Americans and Brits really love to make niceties in every conversation with lots of how are you’s, pleases and thank you’s. It’s part of our culture and how we speak, but just because another culture does not make all these niceties doesn’t mean their being rude. Some cultures and people — as I like to describe it —  don’t waste a lot of words. So if you sit down in a restaurant to order lunch and the waitress simply asks you what you would like without warmly saying hello and asking how you are — don’t take it personally.

6.) Don’t wear a backpack 

It’s fine to wear a backpack when you’re actually en route from the airport to your hotel/hostel. But, if you’re just out and around the town — leave the backpack! Backpacks are easy for someone to pick pocket you, especially in crowded areas and when you’re waiting in line somewhere. Additionally, backpacks are harder to control when walking through an indoor shop. On a trip to London years ago, my friend was wearing a big backpack and we walked into a crowded pub. Unfortunately, when she turned her backpack knocked a guys beer clean out of his hand. My recommendation, if you  need a bag then get a small-medium sized messenger bag that closes securely.

Got any worthwhile travel tips? Let me know!

I am embarking on the one-bag travel challenge!

After watching this video, it reminded me of the time I spent two weeks trekking around Europe in 2007 with literally nothing but a backpack. It was a pretty liberating experience being sans suitcase. In addition to being less hassle — only having one bag makes you less of a target for pick-pockets looking to take advantage of a tourist who is bogged down with luggage. Then of course if you have last minute flight or travel changes, you don’t have to worry about your checked bag ending up in another location.

Overall, I think Man Repeller gets it right; extra stuff clutters your trip and at the end of the day no one cares what your wearing except you. As I embark on my upcoming fall trip to Eastern Europe, I plan to pack only ONE carry-on bag for the entire trip. Keep an eye out for upcoming posts on the experience!

Six rules to consider when traveling with others

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There are certain stepping stones we come across as we transition from adolescence to adulthood. One in particular is the first time we set out and travel somewhere without our family. This is the point where we make our own journey (literally) and choose not just our road stops along the way but also who we travel with. I have been making these trips for the last seven years and over that time I have learned some rules to go by. These are based on my own experiences and the experiences of others.

1.) Five is the magic number

For those who are beginning to plan their first big trips with a group of friends — the more is not necessarily the merrier. The bigger the group of people you travel with, the more hectic it is to keep up with everyone. It is difficult to get places in a large group — you take up more space and you’re constantly looking around to make sure you don’t lose anyone.This can take away from the actual vacation and make the experience more exhausting.

2.) Voice your trip expectations

It is key to discuss what you want on this trip before you embark on your destination. People want different things when they go on holiday. Some want to sightsee, others want to relax, some want to be a tourist and others want to go as far off the beaten path as possible. Everyone can get what they desire out of the trip, just make sure you plan it out so that there is time for everyone to do what they want.

3.) There is a difference between someone who’s laid back and someone who is just along for the ride

Sometimes it’s not fun to have people who are too indecisive to make decisions or who are inactive in any decision making whatsoever. This can put pressure on one person to make all the decisions on the journey and that isn’t an ideal situation. Make sure you travel with people who are relatively decisive and maybe have some specific things they want to do or see (see above rule).

4.) Don’t bring someone who is just ticking a location off a map

What this means is that there are individuals who travel for status reasons — they feel they just need to go somewhere to say they went. That’s it. The entire point of traveling (at least in this bloggers opinion) is to experience a new place and a new culture. Therefore, bring someone who has a genuine desire to enjoy the place they’re traveling to.

5.) Bring someone on the trip who does well in a pinch

Sometimes when you’re traveling things happen…crazy and unexpected things. This can make what started out as a vacation into an adventure that would put the National Lampoon’s Vacation series to shame. Trust me…I have lived through some of these experiences. So you want to have someone on the trip (at least one person) who you know is good under pressure and who will not fall to pieces if things go wrong. This can be anything from missing a flight and having to figure out another connection to having your passport stolen.

6.) Don’t travel with anyone you don’t trust

This doesn’t just mean someone that you trust around you. It means don’t travel with someone who would pull a stupid stunt like trying to get through airport security with a stash of weed in their luggage. Don’t travel with someone who could potentially land themselves in jail for disobeying local laws or by just pissing off the wrong people. Only travel with those who aren’t going to hinder the trip for the rest of the group with some selfish antics.

Photo credit: Red Head Travelers http://redheadedtravels.com/wp-content/gallery/sideblogging/luggage.jpg