Category Archives: Organization

Top 10 Tips for a Successful International Trip

Top 10 International Travel Tips
photo by Pablo Suárez

There’s a World Atlas from 1977 on my bookshelf that shows countries that don’t exist anymore. Despite it’s antiquity, this book gets more use than you’d think! I’ve been very blessed to have had the resources to take seven international trips in my life, and I use that atlas to plan my travel. I’m a country boy from Terry, MS, and I never dreamed as a kid that over the past fifteen years I’d see so much of the world I studied about in school.

I’d recommend international travel to anyone. Here’s why. It will exhaust you, yet refresh you. It’ll give you something extra not only to look forward to but something that makes life worth living. This kind of travel makes you appreciate your own country and educate you as to the plights and wonders of other countries—expands your world view, if you will. More often than not you’ll find that the kindness of the people you meet will stand out in your memories above the touristy places you’ll see.

From the glittering night shore of Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro to the breathtaking mountain vistas of northern Colombia, I’ve been blessed to see some of the most beautiful sites in the world. And I’ve met people that have enriched my life and spoiled me with their kindness and hospitality as I explored their countries.

So now that I’ve got you jazzed up to hit the road, I want to share what I’ve learned about preparing to travel that can make your trip easier and less stressful. Here are some important tips to keep in mind as you plan your trip (and some of these can be applied to domestic or business trips as well.)

1) Itinerary – Regardless of whether your friends think you’re too structured, plan your trip—at least to an extent. Talk to people, read travel guides, and use to get an idea of what you’d like to do in each city. Research! Does the country require a Visa? Are there certain times of the year to avoid to save money (Carnival, Easter, local holidays, etc.) When is the weather not too hot or cold? What is the local time zone? Will you need to bring or buy an AC adapter for your electronics? Start planning at least six months prior to your target departure so you can plan during your leisure time.

Keep a copy of the main page of your passport with your itinerary. With this it’s easier and faster for your Embassy to help you get another passport in the event you lose it.

2) Language – If you’re going to a country where your native language is not prevalent, brush up on key phrases (e.g. “Where is the restroom?” or “How much does this cost?”) Google translate even has a button you can click to hear pronunciation.

Ibirapuera Park
Ibirapuera Park – Sao Paulo, Brazil

3) Flights – Use your credit card points for a discount. You’ll probably have to buy tickets through your credit card company’s interface, but you could save hundreds. Don’t feel like you have to return home from the first city in which you landed. Not only will this save you time, but it may cost less than you think. If you’re seeing several cities, start with the furthest, and work your way back. Flying home from the closest city to yours will make for a shorter flight when you are tired and just ready to be home.

Price “broken tickets,” i.e. using Delta to fly into city #1 and out of city #3 and use a local airline for the middle flight; sometimes this is cheaper than buying a circuit of airfare between all cities from a big carrier.

Pay careful attention to your gate number. Some smaller airlines, while cheap, may change your gate number between when you get it and your boarding time—it’s happened to me!

4) Packing – Don’t over pack. Try to get it all in a medium-sized suitcase, and bring a backpack or satchel for use on the plane as a carry on and to take your convenience items around each day. You can cut the amount of clothes you’ll need in half by packing a detergent pod and doing a load of laundry halfway through your trip. Put your crucial items in your carry on in case your checked luggage is lost or delayed.

Mecardo de la Merced
Mecardo de la Merced (bazaar) – Mexico City, Mexico

5) Money – About a week from leaving, alert your bank and credit card company of the dates and places that you’ll be travelling. This way they don’t shut off access to your accounts assuming there is fraudulent activity happening. Bring only enough cash with you to have a bit for your expenses coming and going from your native country, but use the ATM upon arrival to get cash in the native currency. Yes, your bank* will charge a small fee for each withdrawal, but this is better than bringing travelers checks which many shops and restaurants may reject. Add the exchange rate to your itinerary the day before you leave so you can remember what it was. Remember to exchange any money you haven’t spent before your departing flight; international airports always have a currency exchange.

Include a budget in your itinerary. You’ll need it to have a rough idea of how much to save for your trip. This should include not only the cost of airfare and hotels, but in-city travel such as bus, subway, and taxi fare; money for shopping and admissions to attractions; food; Passport; Visa (if necessary); and traveler’s insurance.

*I highly recommend the Kasasa checking account at Main Street Bank. It pays 2.25% interest on your checking balance and give you 2% cash back on your ATM/Debit card purchases if you can meet a few criteria each cycle. I just changed my local checking account to Main Street and am very happy. Check it out for more information.

6) Safety & Health – Be aware of your surroundings, especially at night. Walk around with friends, and get off the bus as close to your destination as possible. Leave your Passport in your main bag at your room; don’t carry it around with you as an ID; use your drivers license for that. If mugged, scream or start yelling to attract attention to yourself and make the attacker flee. If he has a weapon, don’t fight back.

If chased, run to a public place like a museum, bar, or restaurant, and call the police. Never smell anything someone you don’t know asks you to (there’s a drug that can incapacitate you.) You may need to wear your backpack on your chest if you’re, say, in an outdoor flea market that is subject to pickpockets or grab-and-run thieves.

Never eat food from a beach vendor that a local friend does not approve. Frequently this food has not been kept at a proper temperature for many hours and can be a top source of food poisoning. Likewise, try to steer clear of street vendor food, especially if you have a sensitive stomach.

As soon as you buy your airfare and know what other items you’ll pay for prior to departure, buy travelers insurance. You never know when you might be injured, have items stolen, or become sick enough to want to see a doctor. I’ve always used Travel Guard, and like their rates and options. The level of coverage you should choose will depend on the riskiness of the country to which your travelling (e.g. Colombia vs. Canada.)

If in a risky country, stick mostly to using cash, not your credit card. You never know when a waiter is going to write down your card info and use it later.

Let your neighbor know the dates of your trip so he or she can watch out for suspicious activity and possibly park an extra car in your driveway. You may even consider using a timer on a light to give the appearance you’re home. Don’t post to your social accounts that you’re leaving so that people don’t know you’re not at home.

Use hand sanitizer after holding on to bus or subway rails and especially before you eat if there’s not a way to wash up beforehand. Put a luggage lock on your bag if you are checking one.

Casa Oniri Hotel Boutique
Casa Oniri Hotel Boutique – Barichara, Colombia

7) Water – Stay hydrated on the plane to avoid headaches, etc. Plan to buy large bottled water(s) on your first day—but only enough for the days you’ll be in that city. Any more and you’ll have to throw it away at airport security. Keep your small water bottle so you can refill it from the one you bought and bring it along each day. Due to the quality of some destinations’ tap water, use bottled water to brush your teeth or clean your contact lenses if you’re in a country like Mexico or India where ingesting the water is ill-advised. Keeping hydrated will help stave off constipation as well as well.

8) Communication – Use your smartphone as a wifi device to Skype, check your email, email loved ones that you’ve arrived alright, and in some cases, text for free. Check with your cell phone carrier prior to leaving about the cost of using your phone in the countries you’ll visit. At work, change your phone greeting so callers know the date you’ll return, and set up an out of office alert on your email. Remember to change both back.

London Eye/River Thames
London Eye/River Thames – London, England

9) Sickness – Pack Zicam (and maybe your treatment of choice) in case you feel a cold coming on. To avoid becoming sick during your flights, try these tips. Tray tables have been used to change diapers and many surfaces are not sanitized when planes are cleaned, so use hand sanitizer before eating. Keep your fingers out of your nose and eyes. Never use plane restroom water to rinse your contact lenses: It’s non-potable water and full of germs. Point the A/C vent away from your nose. Wear a scarf to keep your neck warm, and get up every couple of hours and walk around to keep the blood flowing (and your immune system up.)

10) Flexibility – Let me tell ya, unexpected things will happen; you can count on it! I’ve had friends I came to see cancel, an airline go under and thwart my visit to paradise in Santorini, rain ruin my beach side trip, a bad cold send me to the doctor—twice!, and my stuff stolen—also twice. So be flexible. Make alternate plans. Spend a little extra money if you need to substitute something else last minute. Breathe, and people watch or journal if you’re subjected to a wait longer than expected. Stay positive. After all, this is your vacation; you don’t want to sit fuming and angry for days on end because of disappointments.

St. Mark's Basilica
St. Mark’s Basilica – Venice, Italy

BONUS – Packing! Don’t forget to bring:
• Airborne
• Anti-mosquito cream (the healthy version of this can be made with hand lotion and eucalyptus oil)
• All charger cords (& AC adapters for the countries you’ll visit if needed)
• Earplugs (great if you’re using the Euro-rail, need to sleep in a noisy environment, or want to keep out water when swimming)
• Hand sanitizer or sanitizer wipes
• Laundry detergent pod
• Logins for your email, Facebook, etc. accounts
• Luggage lock & key
• Passport (and Visa if necessary) and a copy of it
• Pencil or pen
• Pills/meds/vitamins
• Sunglasses
• Sunscreen
• Swimwear and swim items such as flip flops and goggles
• Trip info – all addresses, phone numbers, flight details, email addresses, etc.
• Walking shoes
• Water bottle, small and empty
• Zicam, your favorite cold medicine, and muscle cream (e.g. Icy Hot)

So spin a globe or crack open an atlas, and dream about where you want to go. Save what you need so you can get there debt free. And with a reasonable amount of preparation, you can create a safe and fairly stress free trip. After all, haven’t you earned a vacation?


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5 Folders You Should Create to De-Stress Your Job Search

5 Folders to organize your job search
Photo by Computers-R-US Florida

Now you may be looking at the title of this post and thinking, “How can something as piddly and insignificant as folders on my computer merit a blog post or do anything for my job search?” Allow me to explain: I’m a very organized guy. Ever since I was about 13 and starting high school, ways of organizing things started to come to me. It was just logic.

As an adult, I was able to enjoy the fruits of my already established organized habits. And after my first layoff from a record label (my dream job in moving to Nashville) in 2000, I’ve been applying my organization skills to perfecting the job hunt. Making and regularly using the following five folders can help you find what you need quickly and take the tendency toward procrastination out of your daily job search activities.

1. Job Search – This is your top-level master folder and should contain the folders below plus any other files, such as aptitude tests, letters of recommendation, articles, references page, business card print files, etc.
2. Company-Specific Information – This is where you’ll store information on any company for which you prepared for an interview or put in an application and can include documents you’ve created or information you’ve downloaded. You can make sub-folders by company name here and use those to file applications, directions, background check documentation, etc.
3. Core Items – This folder should contain the files you use most frequently such as your most current Action Plan, elevator speech/exit statement, versions of your résumé, and job application and networking tracking spreadsheets.
4. Letters (cover, follow up, future position, and thank-you) – Keep all these letters in this folder. You can save a lot of time using them as templates, modifying them when applying for similar jobs. I suggest this format for naming the files: Account Exec–Aug 15 ABC Enterprises.doc (i.e., job title, month/year you applied, company). Then you can add “–fu” for follow-up, etc. to indicate what type of letter it is. This will keep the files sorted by job title, which is best when using these letters as templates.
5. Résumés–Old – Store older versions of your résumé here. It’s good to keep these, since at some point you may need to reference one to refresh your memory about some of your experiences or use the information when applying for a position that’s a bit of a stretch.

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12 Lists You Should Keep To Make Your Life Easier!

lists, organization, action items
Photo by Cheryl Chan

Occasionally I’ll be taking some breaks occasionally from writing about job search best practices to cover a few somewhat related and helpful topics. List making has been second nature to me since I was a teen—and so helpful, I couldn’t refrain from doing a post on it. Here are 12 lists you can create and maintain that will help you keep up with things and make your life easier. Some were mentioned in the Moolah Mondays series.

1. Christmas Gift Ledger – Oh baby—with this one, not only will you easily see who you need to buy for, but what you got them in years past—which will help you avoid giving them something too similar or (when doing some sly re-gifting) what they gave you!
2. Doctor Appointments, Mileage, & Expenses – List the doctor or dentist’s name, the date of the appointment, what it was for, how much you had to pay out of pocket, and the total mileage to and from the appointment. Having a list up on the wall you can add to that shows all your appointments for the year at a glance will not only help with remembering them but with tax preparation come tax time.
3. Errands List – Save gas and time by combining trips. List all non-food items you need or places you need to go next time you’re out running errands. You can keep your grocery list in the kitchen for writing different food items down as you run out of them.
4. Miscellaneous – I use Google Drive for my Miscellaneous list and log anything from template email responses to info about my cell phone plan or credit card interest rates. This way, I can CTRL-F search for a keyword instead of pawing through loads of paper notes in my file cabinet each time I need to recall some helpful bit of info.
5. Monthly Action Items – For example, my reminder list separates things into even, odd, and every month sections and contains things like: cleaning procedure for my printer, contact lens care, running spyware cleaners on my PC, a reminder to tithe, submitting volunteer activity reports, certain car maintenance, etc.
6. Pending Mail – This lists everything you’ve ordered that has not yet arrived, what company it’s from, and the date you ordered it. Never go from memory if you’ve pre-paid and ordered something.
7. Tax Prep – This is a list of all the 1099s, statements, and W2s you’ll be waiting for before you can file your taxes…plus any various notes about things like your favorite H&R Block tax preparer’s name, minimums (for deciding about itemizing), bank routing and account numbers, and special roll-over amounts for next tax year.
8. Vacation Day Use – List how many vacation days your employer allows, including flex and floating days and holidays. Then you can decide how you’ll use them and probably track them better than your boss! Especially helpful come vacation planning time or year’s-end so you won’t lose any not yet taken.
9. Vendors – If you find a great plumber, mechanic, recording engineer, whatever, log their contact info. Then you can easily find them down the road when you need their services again or recommend them to someone else if asked for a referral.
10. Want List – Here, list things that you want to buy and their estimated costs. This will help you save for them instead of getting everything you want now and forking out dough for credit card or loan interest.
11. What’s In Your Wallet – This should list every credit card, ID card, discount card, etc. you keep in your wallet and the customer service numbers of your credit card companies. This way, you won’t have to go from memory replacing these items if your wallet is lost or stolen.
12. What’s On Loan – Anything you loan to someone, list it here. Scratch it off when they return it. Never forget who has what again!

What is your most important list?

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Looking for a new job? Want to get the one you want faster? Check out my new book, Here Today, Hired Tomorrow.