Rocky Braat – Blood Brother

Rocky Braat is a young American man who found his calling while traveling through India, after helping out at an orphanage for children with HIV. After spending a few days with them, he found that he couldn’t leave them and so he returned to America, sold everything he owned and went back to help care of the children who thought of him as a big brother.

“Blood Brother” is the Sundance award-winning documentary about Rocky, and was one of the most moving films I have ever seen. Some of it is hard to watch, and it won’t leave many eyes dry. But it is also so inspiring and I found myself thinking about it long after. Many of us see the hardships of others on our travels, or in the media, and feel empathy… wish we could do something… maybe even send a donation. Rocky is doing something.  He was so touched by the children’s joy and love in spite of their hardships, that he packed up his life in America to live with them at the orphanage and become a family.

Steve Hoover is Rocky’s best friend and filmmaker. In an effort to find out what motivated his friend’s drastic action, Hoover decided to film Rocky’s as he left his home in Pittsburg to return to the orphanage in India.

Part of the film’s impact is the honesty and vulnerability of how Rocky’s is portrayed. He is not a saint, but a real person who is living with the joy, sadness and frustration that comes with caring for his new family of children at the orphanage. These kids are dealing with serious health problems as well as abandonment and rejection by their families. “Rocky Anna,” which means “Brother Rocky” in Tamil, serves as their teacher, doctor, dentist, father, and friend.

See the “Blood Brother” film trailer.

“Blood Brother” is available on iTunes and Amazon. All of the filmmaker profits are going to Rocky and the kids and other HIV efforts.

If you would like more information about Rocky and the orphanage, or would like to make a donation, see their website www.givethemlight.org.

anchovy and tomato on bread

Eating out in Spain – Tapas 101

Tapas are not a particular type of food but a fun and casual style of eating out and socializing in Spain. A tapa is simply a small snack that is served with your drink, and several tapas can make a meal. Bonus – in southern Spain, tapas are usually free with your drink! Often people will visit a few different tapas bars in one night.

At a tapas bar you will usually find:

  • tapas: snack-size portions
  • raciónes: larger portions, good for sharing. (these are not free)
  • media ración: half a raciónes. If this isn’t offered on the menu, you can still ask
  • pintxos: also called pinchos, little open face sandwiches, spiked with a toothpick. (usually not free, but inexpensive)

The cost is generally about €1.50 for drink plus a tapa. The drink doesn’t have to be wine or beer – you can order a water or soft drink with a tapa also. Sometimes we might order a raciónes of one item, then round out the meal with a variety of tapas. To find a good tapas bar, try walking a street or two off the main tourist areas or ask locally for recommendations. The best tapas bars are often the busiest, and may seem intimidating at first, but go for it!  Sometimes it seems that there is no room, but somehow a space opens up eventually. You will find all ages in tapas bars, and they can be a great place to meet locals and fellow travelers.

You usually order your drink at the bar. You might be offered a tapa, but if not just ask. Often at the bar there is a display of food on offer, some of which is served cold, and some will be cooked for you. Some tapas bars specialize in one type of food, such as seafood, ham, or pintxos. You pay at the end when you are ready to go. In the case of pinxtos, the toothpicks will be counted to keep track of the bill.

Below is a sample of popular tapas

  • habas con jamón: broad beans with ham
  • huevo cocido: hard-boiled egg
  • jamón Serrano: thinly sliced, cured ham
  • jamón Iberico: thinly sliced, cured ham from free-range acorn-fed pigs
  • magro con tomate: pork with tomato
  • mejillones: mussels
  • patatas alioli: potatoes in garlic mayonnaise
  • patatas bravas: fried potatoes with spicy tomato sauce
  • pimientos: peppers
  • pinchitos: spicy pork kebabs
  • pisto: ratatouille
  • pulpo: octopus
  • rabo de toro: oxtail stew
  • sardinas: fresh sardines
  • salchicha: sausage
  • sepia: cuttlefish
  • tortilla Española = Spanish potato omelette (served hot or cold)
  • pan: bread
  • pan con tomate: bread with tomato
  • queso Manchego: cured sheep cheese (specifically, cheese made in the La Mancha region of Spain from the milk of sheep of the Manchega breed)

How to Bring Your Dog to Europe

We recently took a six-week trip to the Costa del Sol in Spain, accompanied by our yorkshire terrier, Winston. He has travelled with us on several road trips in western Canada and the US, but we have never taken a pet on a transatlantic flight.  The experience turned out to be a great one for us as well as Winston.

Please note: the following reflects our experience bringing our dog from Canada to Europe. The procedure for pet travel from the United States to Europe is almost the same. Contact the USDA for more information and forms. Check with your veterinarian, preferred airline, and destination authority for travel and pet import requirements specific to your situation. The following information is essentially the same for cats and ferrets. 

Why we decided to take Winston on this trip:

  • Our stay was long enough to make the effort and expense worthwhile.
  • Winston is small enough to fly in the cabin with us.
  • We were planning to stay at one location, rather than moving a lot from place to place as we have on other trips.
  • There is no quarantine period for pets entering the EU from Canada (or the United States).

If we were taking a shorter trip or one with multiple stops, we wouldn’t bring Winston, as it wouldn’t be worth the expense, red tape, or the stress on our pet.

At a glance

  • Our cost: about $600 including airline fees, certification fee, and veterinarian fees.
  • Airline requirements: A pet reservation must be made in advance, and a limited number of pets are allowed in the cabin. Some airlines or specific flights don’t allow pets. Check airline pet policies before booking your flight.
  • Visit veterinarian at least one month prior to travel to check pet’s health, rabies vaccine and microchip. Second visit to veterinarian 7 to 10 days before travel to complete Veterinary Certificate.
  • Cross-border requirements: Completed Veterinary Certificate, endorsed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Planning ahead

  • Check the rules for bringing your pet into your choice of destination. Our dog was traveling from Canada to Spain, and there are different procedures depending on both the country of origin and the destination.
  • Certain dog breeds may be restricted from entering certain countries, so check with your destination country and airline.
  • We chose to avoid connecting through the UK, as they have their own process that would have meant additional paperwork and restrictions. There are also specific country requirements for Finland, Malta, and the Republic of Ireland.
  • Check with your airline for their pet policies, and to make a reservation on your specific flight.
  • Check the location of your nearest Canadian Food Inspection Agency office. If there is not one in your city you will need to allow time to have the Veterinary Certificate endorsed.

One month or more before travel

  • Obtain Veterinary Certificate form from a local Canadian Food Inspection Agency office or download the Veterinary Certificate. If convenient I would recommend picking up the form as the CFIA agent can explain how to fill it out.
    • It is recommended that the certificate be printed double-sided on letter-size paper in English and the language of the Member State of entry, and that it be completed in block letters. The reference number of the certificate must appear at the top of each page. The pages should be numbered (page # of total # of pages) so as to make each sheet part of an integrated whole. The signature and stamp must be in a different colour to that of the text of the certificate.
    • The certificate must be completed in English and the official language of the first point of entry into the EU.  (This really means the questions on the form are bilingual, not that your answers need to be.)
  • First visit to your veterinarian (This is not mandatory but recommended to be sure your pets identification and vacinations are in order)
    • Bring Veterinary Certificate. Even though it’s too early to fill out, it may be helpful to your veterinarian to see the form in advance, and know what the requirements are.
    • Pet Identification: make sure your pet’s identification either has a microchip compliant with ISO standard 11784, or a clearly readable tattoo applied before July 3, 2011. If the microchip isn’t compliant you may need to bring your own reader so the border agent can read the microchip.
    • Make sure your pet’s vaccinations are up-to-date. The microchip or tattoo number must appear on the rabies vaccination certificate in order for it to be considered valid. There is a 21-day wait period if this is a primary rabies vaccination or if the booster vaccinations were not kept up-to-date.

One week to 10 days before travel

  • Second visit to the veterinarian for completion of the Veterinary Certificate
    • Note: The certificate is valid for 10 days from the date of issue by the licensed veterinarian until the date of the checks at the EU travellers’ point of entry, with the exception of dogs to Finland, Malta, the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, where the echinococcus treatment will be the time-limiting factor for length of validity for entry into the EU (i.e. treatment must occur between 120 and 24 hours of entry into the EU). For the purpose of further movements within the Union, the certificate is valid for a total of four months from the date of issue or until the date of expiry of the anti-rabies vaccination, whichever date is earlier.
  • Present certificate to local CFIA office for endorsement
    • Fee is $20
    • When the certificate is presented for CFIA endorsement, it must be accompanied by supporting documentation, or a certified copy of it, including vaccination certificate and official microchip certification. The documentation must bear the identification details of the animal concerned.
    • It is also highly recommended to bring this supporting documentation for presentation at the port of entry in the EU , should it be requested. It is better to overwhelm them with paperwork at the border. Our experience was that it was barely glanced at in Spain, but better to be prepared.

Airline rules and fees

Check with your airline, and find out what their fees and requirements are for accompanying pets. Some allow pets within their weight restriction to fly in the cabin with the owner, and some don’t. There may also be a limit on the number of pets allowed in the cabin, so reservations are a must. Know your pet – if you think your dog will be barking for the whole trip, let him travel in the baggage hold for the consideration of your fellow passengers.

The following info is from KLM, but always check with your specific airline.

Pets in the cabin

  • In a suitable kennel or pet travel bag no higher than 20 cm (7.9 in). Your pet must be able to stand up and lay down comfortably.
  • Total weight of pet + travel bag or kennel may be max. 6 kg (13 lbs).
  • The kennel must fit under the seat in front of you for take off and landing.

Pets as check-in baggage in a ventilated part of the aircraft:

  • In a rigid plastic kennel that complies with IATA rules – for example those of the ‘Sky’ and ‘Vari’ brands. You can purchase such a kennel at larger pet shops or specialist shipping agents. Read more about kennels on www.iata.org.
  • Total weight of your pet and kennel combined may be max. 75 kg (165 lbs).
  • They are kept in a dark, heated, pressurized hold, which encourages them to sleep for the duration of travel.
  • Please note that airlines may not take pets as check-in baggage on specific flights during certain times of the year, due to risk of heat or cold.

Our experience

  • We purchased Winston’s travel bag a couple weeks before the flight. We used it for car rides and he began to associate being in the travel bag as a positive experience, as it meant he was coming along with us. The bag itself is a lightweight duffle bag specifically for pet travel, with ventilation on both ends as well as the side. This is essential so your pet gets enough air while down at your feet. During takeoff and landing the carrier has to slide under the seat in front of you, but at other times they can be between your feet or on your lap (but never out of the carrier).
  • Winston basically slept through most of the flight and didn’t seem too stressed or excited on the plane.
  • At the airport, let airline personnel know you have your pet with you in case there are any unexpected procedures.  We had to have our pet reservation approved at the airline ticket counter before we could check in.
  • At the advice of the airline, we did not let Winston eat or drink four hours before departure. At our connection we allowed him a tiny bit of water.
  • It is not recommended to tranquilize your pet, as altitude can affect medications.
  • You can’t bring pet food with you, but in Spain it was easy to find in pet stores, as well as larger grocery stores.
  • We unfortunately had two connections, in Amsterdam and in Paris.  In both airports there are no areas within security to take your pet outside to relieve themself. In Amsterdam we didn’t have a long enough layover to go through border control and security, and were told just to let Winston go on the floor, and it would be cleaned up. We actually saw another passenger with a dog lay out papers on the floor for their pet to go.   Winston isn’t used to this and wouldn’t go indoors so he actually didn’t pee until our next connection in Paris, where we had time to exit security and take him outside for a bit. (on a side note, in Paris nobody asked us for Winston’s papers when we went through border control.)
  • This is stating the obvious, but make sure your accommodations allow pets. We chose to stay in an apartment that included a yard which was a great home base.  Our apartment was in Nerja, which is a pet-friendly smaller town, with a lot of areas to go for walks.
  • Pets can be a great conversation starter! Winston enjoyed meeting other dogs and we enjoyed talking to other locals and vacationers.

 

 

 

 

24 Hours in Beautiful Cordoba Spain

Mezquita

The courtyard of the Mezquita de Córdoba

If you are traveling in Andelucia, Spain, the UNESCO city of Córdoba is well worth a visit. The famous Mosque-Cathedral and surrounding old town can be explored in a day, and most significant monuments are within walking distance. If you can stay at least one night, there will be fewer tourists and at sunset it looks especially magical.


1

Visit the Great Cathedral and Mosque (Mezquita de Córdoba)

Great Cathedral and Mosque (Mezquita de Córdoba)

Great Cathedral and Mosque (Mezquita de Córdoba)

The Mezquita Cathedral is a significant place for Muslims as well as Christians. The amazing mosque is remarkably well-preserved, and dominates the old town that surrounds it. The interior prayer hall, made up of red and white arches, is so vast that it can take a while to even find the cathedral, which was built inside the mosque.

  • The original Mosque was built over the 6th century Visigothic Basilica. In the 1940s parts of this original Basilica, mainly mosaics and pillars, were discovered in the subfloor of the Cathedral when building work was carried out.
  • The construction of the Mosque began in 786 A.D.
  • Since its beginnings, the Mosque has been the biggest building of its kind in the western Muslim world.
  • The first Eucharistic ceremony of the Dedication of the Cathedral was celebrated in 1236.
  • The construction of Renaissance style Chapel was initiated in 1523.
  • In its heyday, a pilgrimage to the Great Mezquita in Córdoba by a Muslim was said to have equaled a journey to Mecca.

Fee: 8 € Adult

* From Monday to Saturday, from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., it’s possible to visit the Cathedral free, but individually and in silence.

2

Visit the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (Palace)

ALCAZAR OF CORDOBA

Alcazar of Cordoba

 

The 13th century Alcázar (castle) of Cordoba is not comparable to the the Alhambra at Granada or Seville’s Alcazar, but it is still worth a visit. The wonderful gardens are the highlight, with ponds and statues providing an oasis of calm in the city.  Climb to the top for impressive views of both the city and gardens.  Don’t miss the Hall of the Mosaics, a small Baroque chapel, where Roman mosaics are displayed on the walls. The exterior of the Alcázar is especially photogenic at sunset.

3Explore the cobblestoned streets of Cordoba’s old town.

Cordoba is very walkable, with the major sights all within close proximity of the Mezquita.  The streets immediately off the Mezquita, while pleasant, are very touristy. But if you venture a couple blocks further you can enjoy a more peaceful walk through the old town, with shady narrow streets, whitewashed walls, colourful doors and flower-filled patios.

4Puerta del Puente (“Gate of the Bridge”)

The 16th century Puerta del Puente is located on the site of previous Roman and Moorish gates, and leads from the city to the Roman Bridge. The square next to gate is a nice place to sit and listen to street musicians.

5Cross the Roman Bridge

Puente Romano – Roman Bridge

Puente Romano – Roman Bridge

This bridge crosses the Guadalquivir River, and was built in the early 1st century BC, during the period of Roman rule, although all of its 16 arches have since been replaced.

6

Visit the Calahorra Tower and Museo Vivo de al-Andalus (“Museum of Andalucia”)

The 14th century Calahorra Tower is located at the south end of the Roman Bridge, and stands on the foundations of an earlier Islamic building. The museum features the Moorish history of Córdoba from the 9th to the 13th centuries, when the city was the cultural and intellectual center of Europe, and with emphasis on this period of peaceful co-existence between the Jewish, Christian and Moslem cultures. The top of the tower has a great view of the city and the river.

Fee: 4,50 € Adult

7

Experience the Arabic baths – Baños Árabes de Córdoba

After a day of exploring, what better way to unwind than to experience a traditional Arab bath and massage. The Cordoba Hammam has recreated these traditional baths with Caliphate architecture-style mosaics, arches, plinths, lattices and columns. In between your bath and massage, you can relax with a green tea with mint. The Hammam is located about a block east of the Cathedral/Mosque.

Prices from 24 €

Reservations required. 15% discount with Cathedral ticket.


 Historical Highlights

  • Prior to the arrival of the Arabs, Cordoba was a prosperous city in Roman times.
  • After the fall of the Romans, the city was taken over by the Visigoths.
  • In about 600 AD it was taken over by the Arabs, who brought scientists, scholars, and philosophers, and generated great prosperity from trade.
  • From the 8th to 11th centuries, Cordoba was an opulent society and center of great learning and culture, while most of Europe stalled in the Dark Ages. With double today’s population of 320,000, Córdoba was the capital of Iberia, and home to Europe’s first university.
  • In 1236, Muslim Andalusia was recaptured by the Christians (The Reconquista). Under various Catholic monarchs, Cordoba went into a decline that lasted for centuries.
  • The historical importance of Córdoba was recognized by UNESCO, and the title of World Heritage Site was given to not only to the Mosque-Cathedral, but also to all the streets and buildings around it.

Eat

There is no shortage of great pastry shops, tapas bars, and restaurants in Cordoba.  Try wandering a bit from the Mezquita for less tourists and better prices. We tried the local specialty, salmorejo, which is a creamy version of gazpacho – yum!


Stay

IMG_1508

Breakfast at Hospederia De El Churrasco

Hospederia De El Churrasco

We loved this hotel, with lots of historical charm and a great location in the old town, on a narrow street near the Mezquita. We received a warm welcome with a glass of wine, and the room was beautiful. The excellent breakfast was included and served in our room.

Hotel Marisa

This is a budget choice hotel, recommended for its excellent location directly opposite the entrance of the Mesquita. The rooms are small and simple, but clean and comfortable.

nancy camino

Fulfilling a 40-year Camino de Santiago Dream

An interview with Nancy of WalkSit.com.

Nancy felt pretty unfit, and wondered if she could I actually walk nearly one thousand kilometres at the age of 56. Her Camino de Santiago dream began 40 years ago, but like many of us, life got in the way. She recently decided to wait no longer, bought her ticket to Spain and completed her first Camino! Nancy’s story caught my attention as completing a long-distance walk like the Camino is a goal of mine too, and I could relate to her age/fitness concerns. I’m delighted Nancy agreed to answer a few questions about her journey.

The Via de la Plata Camino Route

The Via de la Plata Camino Route

Q: What made you take the plunge and fulfill your 40-year dream?

Nancy: I’d gone through a bad workplace experience at the beginning of the year that sort of topped off an arduous 12 months the year before. So I decided to “retire” as I’d reached my Super’s preservation age [in Australia, early retirement – Ed.] and access most of my Super to renovate my house, take a sabbatical to recoup, and to fulfil my dream. Until I’d bought the ticket ($3K) I didn’t actually believe I was going to walk the Camino after all these years.

Q: Why did you choose the Via de la Plata Camino route (Seville to Santiago de Compostela) instead of the more popular Way of St. James route?

Nancy before the Camino, at the airport in Australia.

Nancy before the Camino, at the airport in Australia.

Nancy: My answer probably says more about me than anything else. OK – since I’d taken the plunge and accessed my Super, I thought I’ll do this Camino thing, then I thought I can’t be bothered with crowds of people (the Camino Frances is very populated) and I certainly didn’t want to be competing for beds every day SO I picked one of the hardest and least travelled routes. The Granada route sounded too hard (see Sinning Across Spain by Ms Piper) so the Via de la Plata was my first choice. Veteran pilgrims I met along the way said they’d rarely heard of any newbie tackling the Via de la Plata as their first Camino.

But my attitude was just to do it – I didn’t know what to expect really so I went in naïve and ready for anything.

Q: Did you do a lot of physical preparation for the walk?

Nancy: I thought I was “heroic” walking 8 kilometres every few days for about 4 weeks! Ha! When it came to practising with a loaded rucksack, as they suggest you do, I put that off for weeks as I didn’t want to find out that my back with its severe arthritis couldn’t manage it. Talk about avoidance and procrastination!

Q: Along the way, were your biggest challenges mental or physical? What did you learn about your body’s physical abilities?

Nancy: My biggest challenges, as a new pilgrim, included not being too clingy and dependent on more experienced peregrinos. I spent a lot of my first 2 weeks strongly doubting my own capabilities to get out of the village and manage the distance and get into the next village and find accommodation.

Once I figured out that I could do that, I stopped having expectations of other pilgrims. That eased the mental load.

Physically, the distances took their toll on the soles of my feet more than anything. I managed to inflict blisters on myself through stubbornness, but once they cleared up I was fine. Plus your pain threshold rises so you get to a place where you can cope with whatever your body is screaming and just keep walking. You know that you will get there in one piece!

What I learned about our ageing bodies is that we are actually designed to be work-horses. We/I spend so much time being sedentary it’s no wonder we are prone to disease and decay. We are meant to be out using our bodies to their optimum level each day. Mine thrived on walking 15 to 20 ks a day! And I learned that we don’t need all the food we eat in our sedentary lives. I was one of the youngest ones out there at age 56! The oldest I met was 86 and someone met another person aged 94.

Q: Gear – Is there any must-have item that made your walk easier or more enjoyable. Are there any items you wished you brought?

Towards the end of the Camino, Nancy is looking strong and energized.

Towards the end of the Camino, Nancy is looking strong and energized.

Nancy: I positively couldn’t have managed the walk without my walking sticks. I picked up a pair in the local sport shop and had never used sticks before. In fact I’d never walked more than maybe 10 ks in my whole life before! Walking sticks kept me balanced on muddy ground, through longish grass, on bitumen, up hills and mountains, down as well, through all sorts of terrain. They were a support and became my friends. You hear the pilgrims tap tapping out of any village from around 6am onwards on the cobbled roads.

I wish that I had not thrown out my Tiger Balm! And I strongly recommend buying a pair or two of those little shoe skirts that you can get in supermarkets – tradies buy them to keep dirt or sparks etc out of their shoes. Gravel and sand etc on the Camino can do your head in. Shaking out your boots on the Way involves finding somewhere to sit, unloading your rucksack, undoing your laces, etc etc. Those little shoe skirts would have been wonderful. I would take a pair next time.

Q: Food is usually a big part of travel. Was that still true on the Camino? Did you pack food for along the way or eat at restaurants?

Nancy: I was looking forward to what I thought was Spanish food – tortilla, chilli con carne, very spicy food, as I love heat, spice and more spice. But Spanish food in rural Spain is quite plain – after all they are farmers and crop growers. So the food was quite mundane but still very delicious. I did get sick of Menu del Dia but then I ate around 60 of them – grilled meat of some sort and chips.

A few times early on, I made up a big sandwich for the road – as I thought I might be starving to death with all this walking. But eventually, a couple of pieces of fruit were more than adequate for the walk with a light brekkie to start with and as much as you can eat that night in the next town.

I ate at restaurants each night or bar/cafes – but it’s easy to stock up at the supermarket in each village for supplies for the budget-conscious. Just finding out the opening hours is the thing – Spain closes from 1pm to around 5pm every afternoon. (and remember, due to my super money, this was an adventure of a lifetime – I treated myself to whatever I wanted for the first and only time in my life – money was not going to be an issue on this walk!)

Q: While traveling I’m much more active, and love the feeling of getting stronger. But somehow when I get home it’s too easy to slip into old habits. Have the Camino habits carried over into your post-Camino world?

Nancy arriving at the Cathedral of Santiago – triumphant!

Nancy arriving at the Cathedral of Santiago – triumphant!

Nancy: Funny you should ask that as just today I wrote a post about having become a couch potato. For the first couple of weeks since I got back, in October last year, I righteously walked every couple of days. I didn’t want to lose all my excellent muscle definition and tone and feelings of being in top condition. But then the extreme summer heat AND the Christmas season struck so I spent a lot of time indoors. Even now, nearing the end of March, I’m still sedentary.

When you’re out on the Camino, that’s like your job. That’s what you do each day – walk walk walk. There are no pressing issues of real life stressing you out and life is clean and simple and basic. Uncomplicated. Back home, it’s quite different. Same old streets, more of a chore, whatever.

But I’m happy to think that it’s a stage I’m going through and that with the onset of our southern hemisphere winter, I will get back out into walking mode. I believe walking is the best thing because it’s not stressful like jogging on our ageing bodies and it’s free and scenic and flexible.

Q: Any advice for fellow boomers considering this challenge?

Nancy: My biggest realisation is that ageing is made out to be a disease. A complete negative. The media and the culture we occupy are complicit in this. I learnt that we are ageing, yes, but we are strong and vital. No need to think about the nursing home at all ever! If some 94 year old pilgrim is out there walking the Via de la Plata then that says a lot more than I could ever write about how we are capable of a lot more than this culture/society gives us credit for.

My advice? Just do it! If it’s still nagging at you, then that’s a glorious part inside you that is telling you a dream is about to unfold. Make it come true!

Nancy is on a mission to show that we are all more capable of achieving our dreams than we think we are. Keep up to date with her on Twitter at @walkingsitting. Photos are courtesy of Nancy.

Are you up for a challenge?

Three Quick Tips for Safe Travels

Be aware of any travel advisories, use common sense, and you don’t need to travel in fear. Here are three quick tips to keep safe while travelling.

When you are overloaded with baggage, you make an easy target.

We’ve traveled in and through London several times, and one time we were at the end of our trip, looking forward to relaxing a few days in a Bath B&B before heading home to Canada. We were carrying our suitcases, along with extra bags with things we bought along the way, and my purse was worn securely across my shoulder.

As we exited the packed subway at Paddington station and headed up the escalator, I realized my purse was gone.  My purse, which contained both our passports, and all but one credit card of my husband’s. All I can figure is the strap must have been cut, and I didn’t notice as my hands were full with my other bags.

After filling out a police report, we made our way to the Canadian embassy, and I was directed across the street where I could get a new passport photo taken.  I was reminded of that day for the next five years by that passport photo of a frazzled me, with messy hair, trying not to cry. Nobody was hurt, we were able to cancel our credit cards and replace our passports in time for our flight home, but I don’t want to repeat that experience. We’ve been in other locations where I’ve been more aware of pickpockets, etc., but in London I felt too safe and was not paying attention to the people around me.

There are at least three lessons I learned from this:
  1. Don’t keep all your valuables in one place. Each person should carry their own passport, and divide your credit cards and cash, carrying some in your wallet, some in a money belt, etc.
  2. If you travel light you can keep track of your things and be a less easy target.
  3. The place you are most comfortable can be where you are most vulnerable.

Take the advice of the locals.

When in Beijing we were told more than once by locals, don’t take a ride on the rickshaws, as they will rip you off.  We took that advice, until one day exiting the Forbidden City, we were tired and the rickshaws were lined up waiting at the exit. Being aware of their tactics, we wisely agreed on the fare to our hotel before hopping aboard. 50 Yuan, that’s five zero, fine.  It was a fun ride, and we arrived safely at our stop.

“That’s $50 US” the driver said.

“No” we said, “50 Yuan”.

“OK” he laughed, he couldn’t fool us.

Unfortunately, we realized we only had a 100 Yuan, and would need change. No problem, our driver had change, and he handed us the fifty and went on his way.  Only then we realized he gave us 50 Rubles, not Yuan, which was probably counterfeit at that. This only cost us about $9, but the lesson was, if the locals warn you, take their advice.

Look both ways when crossing the street.

We are used to automatically looking left when crossing the street, but in London (and Japan, New Zealand, etc.) you usually need to look right. It can be very easy to be on autopilot and step into the traffic.  Play it safe in a new city, and just look both ways.