Tuesday Travel Tip: How to Travel Responsibly in Burma

Published June 26, 2012

Now that Burma has begun to take it’s first cautious steps towards democracy, is it okay to travel there? In this week’s Tuesday Travel Tip, I’ll be looking particularly at the question of traveling to Burma. Is it safe and ethical for foreigners to go there? And if so, how can we as responsible travelers, use tourism to support the local people? In the Lonely Planet’s 2010 Myanmar guide, it poses a serious question for all potential visitors:
Does your money, no matter how carefully spent, sustain a military dictatorship that has imprisoned political dissidents, used forced labour, cracked down on peaceful demonstrations (as was seen in September 2007) and seized foreign aid (most notably following the Cyclone Nargis in May 2008)? Or does isolating one of the world’s poorest countries not only deprive a burgeoning private sector of income, but also push the government into the arms of neighbours with bigger bankrolls and their own serious human rights issues?
As we looked at in last week’s blog on Myanmar’s recent political developments, 2012 has been a big year for the Burmese people. Whether or not his election was fraudulent, since U Thein Seintook office in 2011, he’s followed the UN guidelines for democratic reform, releasing many political prisoners, allowing Suu Kyi to run for office, and negotiating ceasefires with ethnic minorities. These changes have shifted the lens through which tourism is approached, and when the NLD rescinded their 15-year travel boycott in Fall 2010, the question evolved from “should I travel there?” to “how should I travel there?”
Young Buddhist Monks in Bagan
At the beginning of November, 2010 Win Tin, co-founder of Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), issued a momentous statement: “We want people to come to Burma, not to help the junta, but to help the people by understanding the situation: political, economic, moral—everything.” After supporting a 15-year travel boycott, times had changed to where isolation was doing more harm than good to the Burmese people. “For the outside world to see, to know our situation,” Win Tin continued, “that can help our cause a lot.” As a conscious traveler, how can we take up this call to action and endorse positive change by understanding and sharing the political, economic and moral situation of the Burmese people?
The Burma Campaign UK, an organization dedicated to promoting “human rights, democracy and development in Burma” lists the NLD’s official statement on tourism, released May 2011. The NLD explains that “while tourism could enhance the economic life of the people of the host country by creating new jobs, bringing in hard currency and raising the standard of living, it could have negative consequences if environmental issues are ignored and the meeting of different cultures and social values are not approached with sufficient sensitivity.” Although Burna’s political and human rights situation has improved vastly over the last year, many problems still exist within the tourism infrastructure. To understand and address the current issues facing Burma, I’ve broken them down into three main problems:
Intha man fishing on Inlay Lake
  • Environmental Concern. Tourism has lead to the destruction of native ecology, where the clearing of forests has been used to make room for large hotels, golf courses and resorts. Waste management is another major concern. A lack of proper regulations for garbage and sewage has threatened such ecosystems as Inlay Lake, the home of the leg-rowing Intha people. Pollution from fertilizer and human waste dumped into the lake has driven many fish species near extinction and threatened the livelihood of the local people.
  • Crony Alert. Big tourism related businesses are still owned by members of the government or their cronies. In fact, many large “private” companies are run by what the Lonely Planet describes as “government members on the sly.” Most of these cronies are involved in the gem and timber trade, but some have also infiltrated tourism. Tay Za, a notorious government crony and businessman, has founded two luxury hotel chains: Aureum Palace and Myanmar Treasure Resort. Government-owned hotels have historically imposed forced migration of locals to make room and forced labor for their construction.
  • Ethnic Conflict. While Sein Thein has extended the olive branch to most of the country’s ethnic minorities, recent bloodshed in the Myanmar’s Western state of Rakhine may impact the continuation of Myanmar’s democratic reforms. While these conflicts are not directly related to tourism infrastructure, the world is watching how Myanmar handles the conflict between Buddhists and the Islamic ethnic minority, the Rohingya, who have long been persecuted by the government. 
U Bein Bridge, Mandalay

No matter how hard you try, a percentage of the money you spend will inevitably go to the government, whose track record over the past 50 years has been more than questionable. However, it is possible to travel responsibly. As Burma’s era of isolation draws to a close, it’s our responsibility as travelers and global citizens to ensure that our actions, observations and interactions help and not harm the Burmese people. The best way to promote sustainable and ethical travel is to set an example with your own trip.

What to Avoid:
  • Avoid staying at large luxury resorts as they are likely owned by the government or their cronies and have contributed to sever environmental and human rights abuses.
  • Don’t give money to beggars. The NLD warns that indiscriminant handouts can create a population of beggar children and do not actually help the community at large.
  • Don’t travel in a large package tour. Most package tour providers are interested in making money, not promoting the well being of the local people. They tend to patronize government and crony hotels with questionable environmental and human rights records. And as Suu Kyi explained, “tourists who go around in ‘air conditioned taxis’ don’t see anything that’s going on in the country.”
  • For your own safety, unless you are an experienced journalist, stay away from areas of ethnic conflict. 
Bagan, Burma
What to Do:
  • Stay at small guesthouses and patronize local eateries. This will ensure that your money goes to benefiting the local people.
  • Spread your money around. Buy souvenirs from multiple vendors and eat at a different restaurant for each meal, not only will this enrich and broaden your own experience, but it will also help spread your money to benefit as many people as possible.
  • Talk to the local people. After years of isolation, the Burmese love meeting and talking to foreigners, whose presence shows that Burma and her plight have not been forgotten by the rest of the world. The best way to learn about Burmese culture, politics and everyday life is through interactions with locals. Indeed, cultural exchange was one of the main reasons the NLD has decided to advocate for tourism. However, approach political subject matter with caution. Even though the government has begun to democratize, criticizing the government may have negative repercussions on the local people.
  • Support programs that are environmentally and ecologically conscious; the NLD welcomes visitors who seek to ameliorate Burma’s troubles through their business.
  • Share your observations. Your trip doesn’t end when you return home. In fact one of the responsibilities of travelers to Burma is to share with the rest of the world what they have seen and learned in order to promote the continuation of democratic reform and pressure the government to protect its citizen’s civil liberties. 
Burma is one of the most, beautiful, diverse and culturally rich places in the world, but if you decide to visit, please take the NLD’s call to action to heart. If playing golf and relaxing at a resort is the vacation you desire, then please don’t go to Burma. Tourists have the ability to positively influence the country’s progression to democracy and this is a power that should not be taken lightly. Remember, your actions have consequences. By using your trip to set an example in sustainable and ethical travel, you can transcend ordinary tourism and forge a path towards positive political, economic and social change. 

25 Years of Isolation

Published June 14, 2012

Part I: The History Behind the Burma Travel Boycott

Burmese Freedom Fighter Aung San Suu Kyi
April 2012 was a landmark month for Myanmar (formerly known as Burma); as ex-political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi was elected to parliament, President Barack Obama dropped the 16-year US travel boycott against the country. Over the past 50 years, Burma had been one of the most isolated and mysterious places in the world. It’s diverse ecology, rich cultural history and gold-coated pagodas are juxtaposed against extreme poverty and human rights abuses. In 1962, less than 20 years after Burma’s independence from British colonial rule, General Ne Win seized power through a military coup, abolishing the parliament, setting up military junta rule, and closing Burma off to the outside world.  Visas were limited to 24hours and a 17-member “Revolutionary Council” was put in charge, using the guise of socialism to march the country into abject poverty (Lonely Planet).
By 1988, fed up with a continually disintegrating economic situation, the Burmese revolted, taking to the streets in huge pro-democracy demonstrations. On the 8th of August 1988 the government hit hard against the people, killing over 3,000 citizens in less than six weeks. Worn down by protest and bloodshed, the military junta promised to hold free elections in 1989. In response, the National League for Democracy (NLD) was quickly formed and, Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of revolutionary hero Aung San, became the spokesperson. The vote took place in 1990; the first Burma had seen in 30 years. With 82% of the votes, the NLD won in a landslide election, but the Junta refused to handover power and instead imprisoned the party’s main candidates, including Aung San Suu Kyi, who was  placed under house arrest, where she remained off and on until 2010. In 1991, Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, drawing international attention to the struggle and plight of the Burmese people.
It was in this environment of slaughter and oppression that the first western embargos against Myanmar were formed. In addition to economic sanctions, in 1995, Suu Kyi made an official statement against tourism to her country, asking international visitors to “visit us later,” qualifying traveling to Myanmar as “tantamount to condoning the regime.” “The bulk of the money from tourism goes straight into the pockets of the generals,” Suu Kyi stated in 1995. Those in favor of the boycott saw travel to Myanmar as simultaneously an economic and symbolic endorsement of the military junta. The Free Burma Coalition explained that “Nowhere else in the world have human rights abuses and tourism been so closely linked.” Indeed according to the Burma Campaign “local populations have been displaced… for the construction of hotels and other tourist facilities,” while forced labor has been used to construct these tourist accommodations. “The net result is economic hardship exacerbated by the abrupt breakdown of a traditional way of life and gross violation of human rights.” 
However, while the tourism boycott did help to cripple the economic power of the military junta, it also had adverse effects on the people it proposed to protect. In 2003, Zarni, the founder of the Free Burma Coalition, reversed his position on the travel boycott, stating that  “the whole boycott and sanctions campaign, in which I played a lead role, was a major strategic mistake” (qtd. in Lonely Planet). By stopping tourism, the Burmese people became more cut off from the outside world than ever before. Not only were they blocked off from international news sources, but the lack of international monitoring only increased the junta’s ability to continue down its path of oppressive human rights violations. Indeed, despite the efforts of the boycott and embargos, the junta still remain in control. In 2007, a protest against high fuel prices led by students and Buddhist monks led to violent crackdowns. Less than a year later, in 2008 Cyclone Nargis stormed through Yangon and the Irrawaddy Delta, killing a reported 85,000 people with an approximate 54,000 still unaccounted for. The junta did almost nothing to help its citizens during this crises and foreign aid was blocked for nearly three weeks (New York Times).
Would a lack of trade embargos and travel boycotts have made Burma’s situation different? It’s a question than can only lead to speculation. But as democratic change starts to corrode the framework of junta rule, it’s clear that the question of traveling to Myanmar needs to be reassessed. Perhaps shutting off a country from the rest of the world is not the best way to bring about political change. Take Cuba for example, where over half a century of a US embargo has done nothing to change the government and only harmed civilians.

In November 2010, the NLD retracted its support of the travel boycott, but despite the country’s recent advancements, Burma still has a long road to democracy. The question is no longer whether or not to travel to Burma, but rather how to travel there? Is there such a thing as responsible and ethical travel? Can your trip make a positive difference on the country and its people? In its 2010 Myanmar guide, the Lonely Planet cites Suu Kyi’s statement about conscious tourism: “Visitors to the country can be useful, depending on what they do, or how they go about it,” she explains, “tourists can open up the world to the people of Burma just as the people of Burma can open up the eyes of tourists to the situation in their own country if they’re interested in looking.” But, she continues,  “tourists who go around in ‘air-conditioned taxis’ don’t see anything that’s going on in the country.”

Tuesday Travel Tip: Ethical Travel Photography

Published June 5, 2012

Student traveler in Vietnam

I’d been living abroad in Vietnam for three months and was having one of those days were the cacophony of a foreign culture was starting to grate on me. I had reached that point of romanticized nostalgia for the states that my very gut throbbed for home. I was whining to my friend over Skype about my homesickness, when he asked me a question that gave me pause: “why do you travel?” It was so simple. It seemed like the most obvious question to ask myself before moving to a different continent, but I had to admit I had no idea. Why do I travel? I must think there is some implicit value to the experience, but why was I doing it? What was the value? And how could I get the most out of it?
When I sat down to write this travel tip on ethical travel photography the same question popped up again: why travel? Before you can be a responsible photographer, you first need to be a responsible traveler. And in order to do that you need to ask yourself: what is it that I am trying to get out of this travel experience and how can I document my experience in a way that is accurate and beneficial? These are difficult questions to answer because there is no one right response. People travel for a variety of reasons and individual interests and experiences will influence those. But over the years, I’ve noticed a fundamental, reoccurring theme: travel is about gaining new perspectives, about learning how other people live and about humility (realizing that your way isn’t the only or necessarily the “right” way). Having respect for the people and place you are visiting is essential in order to gain these insights. And when it comes to taking photos, respecting the humanity and cultural norms of the place you are visiting is key.

So how do we translate respect into our photos? In an attempt to answer this question, I’ve broken ethical photography down into a handful of guidelines, none of which are set in stone, but instead can be used to assess situations when abroad and make the final decision of whether or not take the picture.
Bagan, Burma
Ask permission before you snap a photo. Human beings are not objects and they shouldn’t be treated as simply part of the scenery. How would you feel if a stranger walked up to you, shoved a camera in your face, snapped a couple pictures and then took off? Unless you’re at a large public event where people expect to be photographed, talk to the subject and make sure you can take their picture. If there’s a language barrier make an effort with sign language, gesturing to your camera. The camera can also be used to build relationships with people. If you take someone’s picture, then show it to them. Use your photography as a means of interacting and understanding the people and the culture you are visiting; this will make both your pictures and your time abroad more meaningful.
Don’t pay for pictures. Especially in underdeveloped countries, you might be asked for money in exchange for a photo. While this might seem like a tempting exchange, Ethical Travel’s Katia Savchuk warns against it. Savchuk references Explorer Worldwide’s Maz Linvingston, who explains that rather than giving back to the community, paying people to take their picture turns travel photography into “a kind of prostitution.” It also transforms what could have been a cultural exchange into a business transaction, creating a staged picture that does not honestly depict the situation or lives of the people.
Respect no photography signs. If there are signs that say no photos, don’t snap any. Taking pictures at important religious sites, for example, demonstrates a lack of respect for the culture you are visiting. Remember you are in a foreign country. This isn’t your home; you don’t know all of the taboos or understand the subtleties of social relations. In this case, err on the side of caution.
Father and son in Kedougou, Senegal
Build relationships with the people you’re photographing. The best way to photograph people is to develop a trusting relationship with them. If you have the leisure to be spending an extended amount of time with a family or group of people, the emotional bond you create with them will enrich your photographs. The more people become comfortable with you, the more willing they will be to let you and your camera into their lives. Not only does a human bond make the photographs more meaningful to you, but they will also be more honest in their depiction of a person’s life and culture.
Photograph honestly and capture diversity. A photograph is a simplification of a complex landscape. Each photo you take tells a short story. It is your responsibility as a photographer to make sure that the stories you are telling are as accurate as possible. When photographing your travels, try to document the diversity of the culture rather than focusing on one thing; this will help you to understand the complexities of the place your visiting and keep an open mind.
Join the discussion! We’d like to hear from you. What do you think about photography and ethics? Post your insights in our comment section.

Tuesday Travel Tip: Bargaining 101

Published May 15, 2012

Souvenir shopping goes hand-in-hand with travel, but when your adventuring through South America, Asia or Africa this process becomes a little more complicated than swiping your credit card. Haggling, even over small items, is not only expected, but also plays a big part in the cultures and everyday life of most of the world’s countries. Unless you plan on systematically paying an exorbitant “tourist” price for everything you buy, it’s necessary to participate in the bargaining game. Being skilled at bartering is an essential trick of seasoned travelers, but with a little practice even the greenest traveler can pick it up.
So, how does one learn to be a good haggler? Unfortunately, as John Navata explains in his article “Bargain when in Foreign Countries,” “most North Americans are terrible at bargaining.” But don’t get too down on yourself, “bargaining simply does not play much of a role in our everyday transactions.” Even more so, bargaining can be counterintuitive to our culture. To walk into a department store in America and try to haggle over the price of a T-shirt would be gauche to say the least. But keep in mind, you’re not in America anymore and in most countries the price is always negotiable.
Bagan, Myanmar (Burma)
To help you get comfortable with bargaining before you burn a hole in your pocket, I’ve outlined a few easy mantras follow, so you won’t arrive at the market completely unprepared:
Never settle for the first price. Remember you are expected to bargain. This means the first price offered is often two to three times higher than what the merchant is actually expecting to get. Think of the first offer is an invitation for you to make a counter offer. You are a tourist and you definitely stand out. The very fact that you have the leisure to travel means you have money to spend. Merchants target tourists and will often list exorbitant prices with the hope that you will be naïve enough to pay it. Don’t fall into this trap: make a much lower counter-offer and see if you can both can compromise on something in between.
Decide how much you are willing to pay. Value, especially in bargaining, is in the eye of the beholder. How much you want something will affect your ability to haggle. Decide how much you would be willing to pay for the item, make that your maximum price and stick with it. Keep in mind, the merchant’s first offer is much higher than the price they are trying to get, so make your first offer much lower than the maximum you are willing to pay.
Don’t be afraid to walk away. Disinterest is key. If the merchant is sticking to a high price then walk away. Being disinterested in the items for sale gives the buyer the advantage. If the seller is interested in making the sale, then the act of leaving will force them to drop their price. Of course this doesn’t always work and you may end up walking out empty handed. Ultimately it’s up to you to decide just how much you want that item and if you are willing to pay their price.
Make an effort to use the local language. There’s a local price and a tourist price. No matter how hard you bargain, you’ll never be paying the local price. The goal is to get a close to the local price as possible. One of the best ways to do this is to speak in the native language. People respect when you make an effort to learn their language and participate in their culture. Even trying to bargain in the native tongue can drop the price significantly.
Have fun. More than anything, remember to enjoy yourself. You’re traveling in a foreign country and have the opportunity to participate in a different culture, so appreciate it; these chances don’t come often. If you approach the process with a positive mindset your likely to get way more out of the experience. If this is your first time haggling, you are guaranteed to get ripped off at least once. Don’t let this intimidate you, instead learn from your mistakes, keep a smile on your face and enjoy the game. You’ll meet some interesting people and certainly learn a lot.

Having to bargain over even the smallest items can be shocking and intimidating at first. But if you’re willing to embrace the learning curve and put in a little practice, bargaining can be enjoyable and educational; and it will certainly save money. 

Tuesday Travel Tip: Flying Affordably

Published April 24, 2012

With summer approaching and gas prices rising, many fear cheap airfare will be a thing of the past. But with a few tricks of the trade, finding affordable flights is still possible. In his article “8 Insider Secrets to Booking Cheap Airfare,” US News reporter, Daniel Bortz gives readers the scoop on how to snag the best deals.  So to help you get the most of your summer vacation without breaking the bank, we’ve listed a few of his key tips:

1)    “Book six weeks in advance” – on average, “most people booked the cheapest airline tickets 42 days in advance.” Buying your ticket last minute or too far ahead of time usually means that you are spending more than you need to.
2)    “Scan for morning deals” – in this case the early bird does catch the worm. Airlines tend to post their cheapest tickets overnight, so scanning deals early in the morning is the best way to grab them before they sell out.
3)   “Best time to buy”— if the morning deals elude you, try “Tuesday at 3p.m. Eastern.” Some experts say that there is no exact date/time correlation for cheap airfare, but it’s still worth taking a look.
4)    “Cheapest day to fly” – “Wednesday,” according to Farecompare.com is the best day to book for domestic flights. This is the day the least people fly, which means the airlines are more likely to release more deals in order to fill the seats.
5)    “Fly out early”— “The cheapest flight is typically the first flight of the morning,” says Bortz. This means flights leaving around 4 or 5a.m.. But booking times around lunch or dinner as well as red-eye flights will also help you to fly more economically.
6)   “Check low-cost airlines individually” – price compare websites don’t compare everything. Some airlines only release cheap tickets directly, so it’s important to peruse for deals through airlines like Jet Blue and Southwest. However, make sure these low fares aren’t a trap: remember to watch out for  additional costs like baggage check fees; they can add up quickly.
For his last two tips and additional facts and figures read Bortz’s article in its entirety by clicking here. Or check out some of the best low-cost airfare and travel tip websites: Joe Sent Me, Airfare Watch Dog and Fare Compare. Students are also eligible for discounted tickets and can find the best deals with STA Travel. Now that you know the secrets for finding affordable airfare, you can save your money for your travel destination and enjoy your vacation to the fullest. 

Tuesday Travel Tip: Avoiding Culture Shock

Published April 10, 2012

Dog, sold at the market in Hanoi, Vietnam
Culture Shock is an affliction that affects all travelers to varying degrees; it is a form of anxiety that occurs when we lose the familiar social cues and norms with which we daily orient ourselves. Dr. Lalero Oberg, cultural anthropologist, explains: “These cues, which may be words, gestures, facial expressions, customs, or norms are acquired by all of us in the course of growing up and are as much a part of our culture as the language we speak or the beliefs we accept. All of us depend for our peace of mind and our efficiency on hundreds of these cues…” But when we travel to a different country, all of these bearings are stripped away and we lose the most essential method of orienting ourselves. This makes traveling to a country with different traditions, languages and social norms a stressful and even traumatic experience. Struggling to communicate and function within an unfamiliar place can make even the most basic tasks (e.g. buying food, crossing the street, shaking hands) seem as daunting as Herculean labors.
The idea of culture originates with the German philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder and his concept of Volksgeist, which means “the spirit of the people.” Cultures are a complex network of social identity, which includes symbolism, language, religion, social rules, fashion, art, &c. They are developed over time through particular historical circumstances and traditions and shape the way we identify ourselves and conduct ourselves within the social community. But when we leave the comfort of our familiar culture and step into an alien one, it is easy to become frustrated by different customs, because they don’t make sense to us.
At its essence, culture shock is a lack of understanding. And a common reaction to a culture we don’t readily understand is to belittle and stereotype its country and its people. Unfortunately this type of response is an easy trap to fall into; this attitude not only prevents one from integrating and participating in a new culture, but also perpetuates the sense of alienation and discomfort that goes along with being an “outsider.”
So how do we visit and participate in a new culture without falling into the negative cycle of culture shock?
Bagan, Myanmar
Completely avoiding culture shock is impossible. Relearning a new understanding and approach to life is difficult and you are guaranteed to make mistakes and feel homesick. That’s natural. But what you can control is your attitude and mindset. Culture shock is lessened when you gain knowledge of the new language and the culture and accept the customs of the place you are visiting. So here are a few tips to help mediate the effects of culture shock and make sure you get the most out of your experience abroad:
·       Learn about the culture before you leave. Doing some research about the place you are visiting and making an effort to familiarize yourself with the new language, history and traditions will help to smooth the transition. Of course there’s no way to truly experience and understand a place until you’ve been there, but at least this way you won’t be taken completely off guard by the unfamiliar.
·       Keep an open mind and be flexible. As I have discussed earlier, this is a new place with different norms. But just because something is different, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Don’t judge immediately; remember your culture is just as bizarre to the people you are visiting as theirs is to you.
·       Laugh it off. Humor is the best approach to frustrating situations. Laughing at yourself and your own difficulties will prevent you from getting hung up on what’s different and will allow you to enjoy every step of your adventure.
Bagan, Myanmar
·       Try to speak in the local language. Even if you only know a few words and your pronunciation is horrible, just making the effort to communicate with locals in their own language will make a HUGE difference. It shows that you respect their culture by making an effort to participate on their terms.
·       Be a participant observer. Join in local activities, talk to local people and try to learn about their history and perspective. This will help you familiarize yourself with the new culture and will help you to re-orient yourself within the terms of new social norms.
Overcoming culture shock isn’t about rejecting your culture for the acceptance of another; as Dr. Oberg explains, it’s about developing “two patterns of behavior,” so that you can accept multiple ways of life and participate within more than one “spirit of the people.” 

Tuesday Travel Tip: Crossing the Street in Vietnam

Published March 27, 2012

Crossing the street is one of those things, like lacing your shoes, that hopefully, by the time you’ve reached adulthood, is second nature. We’re trained to cross the street safely from the time we can walk. Form holding your mom’s hand to journeying on your own, the method is the same: pause at the corner, look both ways, make sure all cars are stopped and no one’s coming; and if you live in a city, stop when there’s a red hand and walk when the green “walk” is flashing. But if you’re traveling in urban Vietnam, the rules are a little bit different. First off, there are next-to-no crosswalks or lights for pedestrians. Secondly, if you wait for a pause in traffic you might be standing on the street corner well into the night. So what exactly is the first step?
Traffic in Saigon
Before you take the plunge into oncoming traffic, it’s best to acclimate yourself with the new environment. Traffic in Vietnam is notoriously bad and can make navigating LA’s 405 seem like a breeze. Here are a few things to keep in mind about Vietnamese rules of the road: there are none. Forget whatever you’ve learned at home, here honking is like saying hello and street lines and red lights are mere suggestions. Think of the road as a Hobbsian state-of-nature: whoever is biggest has the right of way, no matter what side of the street they’re supposed to be driving on. In other words, above all, watch out for buses. If this makes being a pedestrian seem scary, you’re not alone, but believe it or not there is a way to safely cross from one side of the street to another.
When I first moved to Vietnam at the beginning of 2011, it took me a good two weeks before I picked up the rules of the game and felt comfortable and confident stepping into what seemed like unorganized chaos. At first I trained myself by shadowing locals, observing their method and often following closely so as not to get hit myself. But after six months in Hanoi, I  became a traffic traversing pro, so here are few of the methods to the madness to help you on your own adventures.
Crossing the street in Vietnam 101:
·       NEVER make eye contact. Looking a scooterist in the eye will only greatly increase your chances of turning yourself into their moving target.
·       DON’T STOP, no matter what, keep walking. Drivers judge your walking speed so they can move around you without having to stop. You pausing like a deer in the headlights in the middle of the street is guaranteed to get you whacked and definitely yelled at. This should go with out saying, but NEVER stop in the middle of the street to take a photo.
·       WATCH the locals, they know what they’re doing, don’t take your cue from fellow tourists (they often have no idea).
·       TAKE a deep breath. This might just be a placebo effect, but it helps me calm down and center myself before I step out into the madness.
·       LET cars pass. Scooters will move around you, cars and buses are much less likely to, so let those guys go first (remember the first rule of the road: the biggest thing has the right of way).
·       NO sudden movements. Just as you shouldn’t stop in the middle of the street, you also shouldn’t change your pace. Sprinting to the end or slowing down is only going to mess up the drivers’ anticipation of your speed and location.
So take a deep breath, find your moment, look straight ahead and start walking. You can do this. 
For more tips about safely crossing the street and having a positive attitude about it (like smiling into oncoming traffic), check out the LonelyPlanet’s “How – and how not – to cross the street around the world.”
Enjoy your travels, have fun and be safe! 

Tuesday Travel Tips: Avoiding Jet Lag

Published March 13, 2012

photo by William Eggleston
Jet lag might seem like a small price to pay for the adventure of international travel, but it can still be a huge inconvenience, especially if your travel time is limited. There is nothing more annoying than wanting to discover the sights and sounds of a new place, only to be struck by jet lag’s paralyzing, mid-afternoon exhaustion. Not to mention the horror of being wide-awake at 3am with nothing to do but watch MTV Asia. But how do you stop jet lag from plaguing your trip? Every savvy traveler has their own solution, ranging from homeopathic remedies to superstitious rituals, but the key is always the same: stop this cycle before it begins.
One way to successfully combat jet lag is through homeopathic remedies. No-Jet-Lag is one of the most common brands and is available at almost any travel store for about $15. While many travelers swear by its efficacy, this miracle cure has its drawbacks. In order for No-Jet-Lag to work, you need to take one pill every two hours throughout the international flight. For those who don’t sleep on airplanes, this is a great solution, but if you are anything like me, and try to sleep away the discomforts of economy air-travel, the benefits of No-Jet-Lag are voided.
Jet leg isn’t just about changing time zones; it’s also a bodily reaction to being inanimate for 12 hours in a pressurized cabin. So it’s important to start battling jet lag even before you step on the plane. One thing to remember is that pressurized cabins and recycled air suck all of the moisture out of everything, including your body. There’s a reason airplane food looks freeze-dried and is smothered in unidentifiable sauce. So if you decide not to go the No-Jet-Lag route, or even if you do, here are a few tips to keeping your body healthy, happy and ready to acclimate to the new time zone:
·       Hydration is key! Drink lots of water while you are on the plane. Most airlines skimp on providing you with bottled water, so bring your own. Since security won’t allow you to carry water into the airport, you will have to buy it at your gate. I know it’s expensive, but it is worth it to have at least one large bottle of water for your flight. Remember, many of you will be in the air for at least 12 hours, so keep drinking.
·       Avoid airplane food! This might sound like a no-brainer to most of you, but it is still worth reiteration. Not only do we have no idea where that food came from, it is also jam-packed full of sodium, which will only dehydrate you more. Some people prefer to not eat at all on the airplane, but I like to bring at least a snack to munch on. Dried fruit is a good option or even trial mix; something small that will help tide you over until you can get a real meal that wasn’t microwaved twice in the air.
·       Move Around. Being cramped in one position for hour-upon-hour is no friend to your body. And no one outside the airline industry has ever tried to claim economy seats are comfortable. Make an effort to get up and walk around the cabin at least once during the flight. This will help keep your blood circulating and ward off swollen feet.
·       STAY AWAKE! Traveling for hours is exhausting. When you land, it’s tempting to go straight to your hotel and sleep. DO NOT DO THIS. It’s important to acclimate to the new time zone on day one. So stay up, go sight seeing, get some food and don’t go to sleep until at least 10pm local time. You shouldn’t have trouble falling asleep on this first night, but if you do, try taking natural sleep aids, like Melatonin, to help regularize your sleeping pattern. By aligning your sleep schedule with your new time zone on day one, you can avoid the aggravating cycle of jet lag before it begins. 


Published December 20, 2011

With an estimated 91.9 million Americans traveling farther than 50 miles from home this holiday season, there are no shortage of travel advisories designed to help the people who help us along the journey.

But sometimes, these recommendations are insultingly obvious.

AAA tells us to “get on the road early.”

Police tell us to “make a plan.”

The LA Times article “Advice for the holiday traveler” reminds us: “TSA rules are inconsistently applied” so… “Be nice to airport personnel” 

Besides the suggestion to avoid cell phone reliance for all planning, emergencies and directions, there are a few more-than-common-sense strategies out there which are actually quite helpful.  Peace Works Travel has culled some bits of this wisdom to help us stay safe and enjoy the ride.   

How to anticipate kid-centered family-travel stress (that makes parents and passengers “not-so-happy”) 
Jeremy Branham, covers “Holiday travel tips for Traveling with kids” and on his website Budget Travel Adventures.

For college students embarking on a study-abroad adventure, UC Berkeley thinks of your health:
“Helpful Health Hints For Students Studying Abroad

Tell the Feds where to find you in an emergency abroad:
Smart Traveler Enrollment Program

Airplane Advice for both the young and old:
How to be appropriate on an airplane: Wiki How and Real Simple Tips on Travel Etiquette:
“How to Practice Airplane Etiquette”
“Your in-flight guide to keeping the peace with fellow passengers.”

Ezine Articles
Best Foods to Take on an Airplane

Independent Traveler’s “Foods to Avoid Before Flying”
And advice on what not to wear on an airplane: “Five Things You Shouldn’t Wear on a Plane”

And most importantly…. USA Today gives tips on How to sleep on an airplane . . .

Tuesday Travel Tips – Acts of God and Terrorism: How to prepare for the unforeseeable or highly unlikely events?

Published December 12, 2011

Visit the Central Intelligence Agency’s International Travel page Cross reference all of the health and safety information you have gathered from the research we recommended in our previous post “Health Preparations – One size fits a few, but not you”.  Register for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)  so the State Department knows your plans, can communicate with you in case of an emergency, and advise the local embassy of your needs. Obtain travel insurance which includes emergency evacuation services.

Conditions Change, Stay Flexible: One month before the elite travel magazines touted the Roman-esque beauty of Libya’s ruins for a “must-see” experience, Tripoli erupted in the bloodshed which ousted 50 year tyrant Mohammar Kaddafi. Make sure that you are following local conditions on the ground in terms of weather, politics, and disease. Setting “Google” alerts with your destinations as the monitored topic is a great way to inundate your inbox with quality information. Much of the content will be irrelevant to your fears and preparations, which keeps reality in check: more often than not, ordinary life is carrying on as usual in the place of your next adventure.