Digital Nomad Lifestyle – Can you work & travel?

It’s 7:30am and the town of Boquete, Panama is just starting to wake up. But there I am, first up in the hostel, sitting with my MacBook Pro on my lap in the open-air dining area. I’m enjoying the refreshing breeze coming through the walkway, but more importantly I’m writing a client back in the states who has no idea I’m in Central America on a what I call a semi-holiday.

I had been wanting to visit Panama for a while but this trip was designed to be equal parts enjoyment and work. A test, of sorts.

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10 Things We Fear When Traveling, and How To Get Over Them

Last week I brought up how fear is likely the most limiting factor to many people’s travels. Let’s look at a few of the biggest things people fear about traveling and hopefully debunk them.

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Fear: The Enemy of Travel

It never ceases to amaze me how much fear people have about traveling.  I’m tempted to just roll my eyes and think, “silly ignorant Americans,” but then I realize I too once shared that fear of traveling.  We fear the unknown and for most Americans, the unknown is the rest of the world.

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Working in a Hostel While Traveling

OK, you’ve handed in your notice, packed your bags, said bye to mum, paid off the credit card (well, most of it) and you’re off on your yearlong adventure. Problem is if you are anything like me you’ve spent a little too long in Europe, enjoyed a couple extra flights in lieu of excruciating overnight chicken buses, sampled a few too many brews in Mexico and before you realize it you are not quite half way through your trip and over three quarters through your budget.

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What to Pack For Morocco

This is the first in a series of posts about what to pack for specific destinations.  I noticed an unbelievable amount of Google traffic searching for information on what to pack for Morocco, one of my favorite previous trips.  Since I never touched  on what I packed for Morocco, I decided to write a post about it.  Occasionally I’ll revisit this topic for other destinations that require certain types of clothing or gear.

Morocco is a very unique destination.  Located in North Africa but still carrying the vibe of the Middle East.  Morocco is full of culture, languages, sights, great food, amazing landscapes, and best of all, relatively safe.  This makes it a popular destination for independent travelers and backpackers flock to the various areas around the country.

Morocco is not your every day tourist destination though.  Being a conservative Islamic republic, you should be mindful of Moroccan’s customs and be respectful in your dress.  This means that, despite the often warm temperatures, you should not plan on walking around in shorts and short-sleeved t-shirts.  This goes for both men and women.

For men, jeans, khaki’s and cargo pants are acceptable and long sleeved t-shirts, thin jackets, or lightweight casual button-down shirts are recommended.

Women can generally follow the above recommendations but just be mindful to not wear tops that expose cleavage or have short sleeves.  It may not be considered risque in western culture, but these items are generally unacceptable in Moroccan culture.

Recommended Packing List:

  • 4-5 shirts (or blouses) – preferably long sleeved
  • 1 jacket or sweater
  • 2 pairs of comfortable pants
  • swim suit – if you’re visiting the beach
  • hat – especially if you’re visiting the desert
  • enough socks and underwear
  • comfortable sneakers or hiking shoes
  • toiletries – don’t go overboard, but shopping for your typical toiletries in Morocco might be difficult
  • digital camera – smaller is better

Morocco isn’t particularly dangerous, but places like Tangiers do suffer from slightly more than normal amounts of petty theft.  If you are spending time in any medina areas and want to take photographs, a small camera is a better idea.  Remember, this is where Moroccan’s live and work and aren’t necessarily tourist areas, despite the popularity of them.

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Off the Beaten Path Destinations – How to find the highlight of your trip

Ask anybody who has backpacked for any amount of time what the highlight of their trip was and they’ll likely tell you about a place that you’ve never even heard of.

That’s right, I’ve never met anybody who said the Eiffel Tower was their favorite part of their trip to Europe.  Nothing against the Eiffel tower, it’s wonderful, but often the small, out of the way places that you never planned on visiting are what really make your trip.

For me, it was Cinque Terre, Italy in 2004.  It was my first backpacking trip and I was all by myself.  Made my way from Paris to Venice and met three Americans who were studying in England.  They were in my hostel and we decided to go out for dinner.  We ended up spending the next day together exploring the neighboring islands before heading to Florence which so happened to be both of our plans.

After a couple of days in Florence they invited me to Cinque Terre.   “Where?” I asked.

I looked it up in my Lonely Planet.  At the time, there was just one paragraph that said that the olive farming villages of Cinque Terre had no hotels and you had to find a local to rent you a room.

It sounded interesting, but the last thing I wanted to do was be stuck in some place I didn’t know with nowhere to sleep.  I was also convinced I needed five days to explore Rome.

Somehow they talked me into it, and after a brief obligatory stop in Pisa, we ended up in Vernazza, one of the villages of Cinque Terre.  It was there that an old lady met us at the train station and offered us a room.  Thanks to my Pimsleur Italian level I audio tracks and a lot of body language, we secured a room for the night.

The village was beautiful, located right on the water and offered the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen (keep in mind I live at the beach in Southern California and it’s hard to beat our sunsets).  We had an amazing and affordable dinner at a restaurant up on a cliff that overlooked the ocean.  The sky was lit with nothing but bright stars.  No lights from any nearby metropolis polluted the sky.

View from above of Vernazza, Cineque Terre, Italy

View from above of Vernazza, Cineque Terre, Italy

The following day we hiked between the villages along a path that had previously been used by the olive and grape farmers.  Some of the hillside had been carved specifically for the harvesting and that way of life hadn’t changed for many of the residents of Cinque Terre.

These days many Cinque Terre has become quite the hot spot.  Located on the Italian Riveria, it’s surprising that it took this long for it to become such a great spot for tourism.  Now, nearly every body I speak to who has backpacked Italy has told me they stopped in Cinque Terre.  I haven’t looked at the latest Lonely Planet guidebook for Italy but I would bet that there is MUCH more than the same short paragraph that I took a leap on five years ago.

I had a similar experience in Morocco when I visited Chefchaouen.  While I had read a bit about it in the guidebook, it certainly wasn’t the destination that bigger cities like Casablanca, Fez, and Tangiers were made out to be, but it ended up being the highlight of my trip for both its beauty, and the wonderful locals who invited me into their home for a great meal.

My point is that you never know what is out there when you are traveling.  Your guidebook is a necessity but you can never expect that the author visited every square mile of the country.

There are still many of places that have yet to be bombarded with tourists and in the case of Cinque Terre, they soon might be, so go see them while you have the chance!

Chefchaouen, Morocco

Chefchaouen, Morocco

Talk to other backpackers at hostels or ask a local their opinion on places you can visit to get a real feel for the culture.  You’ll be surprised with what you may find.  Just because a guidebook doesn’t listen a place, or doesn’t provide you with a lot of information, doesn’t mean it won’t be the highlight of your trip!

Have you found a great off the beaten path destination in your travels?  If so, post a comment and let us know where and how you came across it!

10 Must Have Items for the Independent Traveler

Throughout my travels I have learned a lot of things about what and what not to bring when traveling independently. If you’re the type of traveler who is constantly on the go, I think you’ll benefit from this list.

1. A good backpack:

Sure, you might have some fancy luggage in your closet but if you’re going to be traveling independently on trains, buses, or by foot, you’ll soon be sick and tired of dragging that rolling suitcase behind you.

That’s why I bought the Kelty Redwing 3100 (read my review) for as my main pack when traveling. I’ve gone through three packs before I found this one. It holds about 50 liters of gear, has great padding, and can be adjusted to fit snug and comfortably.

And as a final testimonial, I had shoulder surgery a year before using this for the first time and I never once got sore wearing this bag.

Of course, everybody’s tastes will differ. It might be a good idea to try on a few at your local outdoors store, but with this model being such a bargain, it might be worth the risk to just give it a shot and return it if it doesn’t work out. Note: good backpacks can run upwards of $300.  They might have more space or pockets, but unless you’re packing snow clothes, you shouldn’t need more than 40-50 liters of space.

Best part about this pack, you can carry it on the airplane!

2. A good day pack:

Not everybody will need a second bag, but it can be useful of you will have a base location and be venturing out on hikes or day trips. It’s much easier to leave your large bag behind and load up your day pack with the things you’ll need to get you through the day.
Almost any backpack will do but I particularly like the North Face Recon pack. It holds plenty of gear and is extremely comfortable. As with the Kelty bag, this is one of the first bags I’ve had that doesn’t hurt my shoulders despite loading it up daily with a gallon of water and other junk.

You’ll probably want to have a pack that can hold a water bladder, or at the very least, pockets for water bottles.  You can never have enough water with you!

3. Lonely Planet guide books:

Depending on where you’re going, you’ll likely have a choice of several guidebooks. Over the years I have found Lonely Planet to be the most accurate and helpful for the independent traveler. They tend to cover all types of restaurants and accommodations from the bottom of the barrel budget hostels to five star luxury resorts. Several times I have brought two different guidebooks with me and every time, I end up relying solely on the Lonely Planet.

4. Rough Guide books:

Ok, I wasn’t entirely truthful before. When in Morocco I found myself relying a bit more on the Rough Guide. Since Morocco is a bit difficult to navigate, I often utilized information from both books to determine the best route or activity.

On the other hand though, I’ve browsed other Rough Guides at the book store and some have not been very good. When in doubt, check the reviews on Amazon.

5. Digital Camera:

This probably goes without saying as many people don’t leave home without their camera these days.  My trusty pocket camera is a Nikon S600 which has recently been replaced by the Nikon S610.
You can’t go wrong with just about any modern digital camera and the choices are endless.

I also use a professional Nikon D200 body, but often I find myself leaving it behind and relying on my smaller camera. It’s easier to carry and takes great photos. Don’t forget, most of these small cameras also record movies now. The quality may not be as good as an expensive camcorder, but they work surprisingly well.

6. iPod touch:

Can you tell that I’m a bit of a gadget freak yet? I’ve always brought an iPod along with me ever since I began traveling. You won’t find me walking around the street with headphones in my ears (I prefer the sound of the world around me), but they are great on airplanes and long train rides.

Earlier this year I learned how great my new iPod touch really was. Not only could I use it to listen to music and watch videos on, but its built in WiFi allowed me to hop on to the Internet at every hostel I’ve been at this year and keep in touch with my friends and family. Check your email, surf the web, even post to your blog. Not to mention you can use it to find the latest information on happenings wherever you may be. I’ve since upgraded to an iPhone, but it is so powerful that I don’t even bother carrying a laptop with me anymore. Not even for business trips!

7. Bpa free water bottle:

Ok, enough with the gadgets. No matter where you are, you’ll need to drink water. Depending on where you are, bottled water can often be much more expensive than you’re used to. Solution? Carry your own bottle and refill it with tap water. Just be sure the water is safe to drink where you are visiting!

These CamelBak BPA free water bottles are  great.  Safe to use, strong as heck, and spill proof.  I carry a 1 liter bottle with me every day.

8. Hiking shoes:

You might not need shoes specific to hiking but if you’ll be doing any treading on uneven ground you’ll surely appreciate them.

They’ve evolved over the years to fit and look more like regular old sneakers and less like the mountaineer boots of yesteryear so you won’t feel dorky wearing them around the city as well.

9. Sport sandals:

These are something I wish I had in Costa Rica (and now I do). I tried to make due with my sneakers but every stream, lake, or waterfall we came to I had to sit down and take off my socks and shoes. Then try to keep them dry as I crossed the river only to put them right back on.  I’ve learned my lesson.

They’ll do for mild to medium hikes and you don’t have to take them off when you want to get wet.

10. Quick drying towel:

Last but not least is a quick drying, lightweight towel. They’re thin, light, extremely absorbent, and dry quickly. Much easier to carry than a regular cotton towel, they dry so quickly that they won’t get mildew easily.  Perfect for camping or showering at hostels where you generally need your own towel.  Some hostels will let you use a towel, but there is often a charge. I won’t travel without one anymore.

That’s it! Throw in a few t-shirts and a couple pairs of shorts and you have my backpack, loaded and ready to see the world.

Do you have any suggestions or special items that you can’t travel without?  Please share them in the comments below.

I hope you found this list useful.  If so, and you plan to purchase any of these items or anything else from amazon, I will earn a small percentage of any sales made through the above links.  Anything helps to keep the site up running.  -Thanks!