Sunday, March 25, 2012

Couchsurfing safety

Couchsurfing (CS) is a great way to save money and meet locals while traveling. It is often the best way to find great places to dine, drink, and hang out in a foreign city. It keeps you from staying at a sleazy motel with gross beds or a packed hostel with noisy roommates (who may even steal your stuff). I couchsurf as often as I can and have never had a bad experience with it. I have made amazing friends and family with it.  However, I am often asked about the safety of couch surfing. “What keeps crazy people from using the site?” “How do you know that they won’t kidnap or kill you?” “What if you don’t like them?”

These are all valid questions; with CS you are about to travel to an unfamiliar city to stay with someone who you’ve only met through their profile and a brief couch request. Couchsurfing has three main safety measures to keep killers, kidnappers, and other creeps from using the site: verification, references, and vouching. Verification is easiest to get (in my opinion). You make a donation to CS and they send a postcard to your billing address. On this postcard is a code that needs to be entered to become verified, which shows other users that your identity and location have been verified (you need an identity to get a credit card and a physical address to receive a postcard).

References are left by people have met on CS (either previously or through a CS experience). A reference contains the length of stay, the type of experience (surfing, hosting, or traveling), your comments on the user, and if the experience was positive, negative or neutral.

Vouching is most difficult to explain, and the hardest type of verification to get. When a user has three vouches (from three different users), he can in turn vouch for other people. You can only vouch for people you have met in person, and you should only vouch for people who you trust beyond all doubts to host or surf, no matter what.  Initially, only the people that started the CS movement could vouch. They in turn vouched for others, and others could eventually vouch when they had received three vouches. Got it? If not here’s how CS describes it. is an amazing travel tool, for all ages and types of travelers. Go to their site, check it out, sign up, and find some members in your town to talk with if you don’t believe me. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Kony 2012: A reflection

The Kony 2012 movement has introduced the world to some of the atrocities committed in Africa. In its wave of controversy, it has also introduced many Americans to a concept that many had never known before (or taken the time to think of): 100% of money donated to charitable organizations will never get to their cause. Never. Some organizations get close with very low overhead costs compared to their income, relying heavily on volunteer labor. However, 100% is just an impossibility, but that's okay. The percent that goes to management, organization, etc. is what makes sure that the rest of the money gets to the right place and gets used for something meaningful.

Think of it like this: you can either send an envelope to Africa with $100 dollars and hope that whoever receives it will use it how you want them to OR you can donate $100 knowing that only $70 will get to Africa, but that it will be spent on what it is intended for.

I'd probably choose the second option. When that $100 dollars starts turning into $50 or $30 or $10, the decision gets harder. There is no concrete line for when it is no longer a good idea to donate. That decision is made by the individual.

As it stands from their 2011 financial report, Invisible Children gets 30-40% of their income directly to their cause. Probably still worth donating for most people. As this campaign is new, I expect this percentage to increase as they will no longer need such a large budget for awareness campaigns. All in all, I support IC's movement for increasing awareness of Kony. Awareness is a good thing. I have yet to decide on my support of their business model.

Note: Of the percentage of you donation that gets to the cause, you can also expect some portion of that does not get used correctly. Most organizations are pretty good at keeping this kind of misappropriation under control, but it is known (and a sad fact) that embezzling and misappropriation of funds in non-for-profit organizations exists on both ends (at the cause and in management).

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Traveler's Pledge

As travelers, we have a responsibility to the communities we visit, to the people within those communities, and to ourselves. We owe it to the community hosting us to preserve its integrity. We owe it to the people hosting us to respect their culture. We owe it to ourselves to enjoy our travels and represent our own communities well. I enourage you to take the traveler's pledge:

I pledge to travel responsibly, to show the utmost respect for the people, community, and culture.
Wherever I travel, I shall find my family, my community, and my culture.
I will treat the people as family, listen to them, care for them. I will enjoy my time with them.
I will treat the community as my own, preserve its beauty so that others can enjoy it.
I will show understanding for the culture, learn about it, participate in it.

While traveling, I will be a representative of my home community. 
I will teach others of my culture.
I will teach others of my people.

I pledge to travel as a world citizen, to participate and engage, to learn and teach, to respect and protect, so that those who have been there before me and those who will be there after me shall have the opportunity to enjoy the world as it should be.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Bucket List

You should have a bucket list. You need to have a bucket list. Everyone, no matter what their age is or where they are in life, should have a bucket list. I don't care if you are 5, 55, or 95, start and maintain a bucket list. NOW!

Find a piece of paper. Buy a journal or notebook. Use the last page in your planner. Start your bucket list by dedicating a place for it.

What do you want to do before you die? Eww, that sounds a bit grim. What do you want to do during your life so that you die feeling accomplished? What experiences do you want to have? What knowledge do you want? What do you want to see, feel, eat, or learn? Write it down. No matter how small the chances are that you will achieve your goal, write it down. 

Knock some items off the list. Make plans, break plans, do it spontaneously, do it with friends, family, co-workers. Start heading towards your goal.

It feels oh so good to check an item off of a to-do list. Multiply that by about a million, and you get the feeling of checking off an item from your bucket list. Rejoice that you have accomplished one of your goals. Enjoy the moment, revel in it as you continue down the path of life.

Note: It is my opinion that everyone should have skydiving on their bucket list. Do it! NOW!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The 7th and Final Dislocation

Seven dislocations. 1st one during softball. Next three snowboarding. Two more skydiving. One during jiu-jitsu. The 1st, 5th, and 7th were extremely painful. Each time it's a complete surprise.

It's impossible to describe, but dislocating my shoulder is the most embarrassing thing that I can do. I work out 3-5 days a week to strengthen the muscles that support the joint. I wear a brace. I limit my range of motion. Still, I can't keep my shoulder from cutting-short a day of skydiving or ruining jiu-jitsu class. All of my friends look at me inquisitively as I reduce my shoulder into the socket, "You gonna be alright?" I feign a smile and let my eyes stray away from theirs in shame.

It can be fixed with one of two surgeries. The choices are repairing the shoulder capsule or using a bone graft from my hip to shape the socket. My insurance covers most of the surgery; I can probably afford the portion that isn't covered. Typical recovery times are about 6 months for 80% strength. Yet, it's been seven years since my first dislocation, and I still haven't gotten my shoulder fixed.

Although dislocating my shoulder is embarrassing and it keeps me from doing what I love, I haven't been able to shake the fear of surgery. With any surgery there are obvious risks. The shoulder is such a complex joint; it has the largest range of motion of any joint. What if surgery doesn't fix it? What if it makes it worse? What if I never regain the strength I had before surgery? What if I dislocate it after surgery?

So, I'm left with three choices:
1. Stop doing all of the things I love,
2. Do the things I love and deal with the dislocations,
3. Get surgery and hope it works.

What would you do? Not number one. Take away skydiving, SCUBA, biking, snowboarding, motorcycles, skiing, swimming, running, football, softball, and tennis; What would be the point of living? Not number two. Two dislocations during skydiving are enough; no one should have that much practice at landing a parachute one-handed. That leaves option three, and although it's scary, it's gotta be done. The things that make me who I am are the same things that dislocate my shoulder. I'm left with no choice but to get surgery.

So, here it is. My pledge to get surgery. I will get my shoulder repaired. But I need your help. I will use all types of delusion and deceit to get out of it. As soon as the joint no longer hurts from this dislocation, I will convince myself that "Next dislocation is the one that I warrants surgery." When you see me, ask me how my shoulder is. Ask me when I am getting surgery. Remind me of my pledge. Force me to get surgery. I need it. Remind me that I can't be Julian without it. I need your support. I will hate it at the time. I will shy away from the scalpel. I will curse your name as I struggle through physical therapy after surgery.  But some day, I will thank you, when I can skydive without thinking about my shoulder, when I can snowboard without a brace, when I can grapple without fear of shoulder pain. I will thank you.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Find your travel buddy.

The only way to travel is with your best travel buddy. Trust me: I love my best friend to pieces. But if you stick us together 24/7 in close quarters for a few weeks in another country, we are both ready to strangle each other (sorry know it's true).

Get me stuck in the middle of nowhere with my best travel buddy (Gare Bear, you know I'm talking about you), and I'll have the time of my life. So what is the difference? Why do I butt heads with Ann and not Garet on my trips?

A great friend is brutally honest, will never leave you behind, and is always there for you. A great travel buddy will use honesty, deceit, or whatever necessary to push you to be your greatest when traveling. While your best friend is often so similar to you that you can finish each others sentences, your best travel buddy is often the foil to your traits. They fill in your gaps and support your weaknesses, and you fill in and support theirs. Your strengths push them to be better as their strengths do you. I am a morning person, Garet is a night owl. I'm a conservative with risks, Garet is willing to do anything once. I'm more extroverted in public, Garet is a bit more introverted. I wake him up at 7 AM with coffee, he keeps me up 'til 2 AM with gin and tonics. He makes me more adventurous, I keep him safe. I introduce him to new people, he keeps us away from strangers. He's the perfect travel buddy.

Choose your travel buddy wisely; your trips will be infinitely more memorable, infinitely more fun, infinitely safer. If you choose wrong, don't worry. There are always more trips. Travel safe!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Travel Tools:

Why do I use when planning trips? Kayak is simply the best travel site for planning trips. No contest. It's the best search engine for finding flights when your dates are flexible. While Kayak has always allowed easy trip planning for flight flexibility within a week of your desired travel, they recently upgraded to a new style that also lets you search weekends near your trip dates and an entire month around your trip dates.

When using these features, Kayak generates a unique, easy to read chart detailing the prices of your tickets based on possible departure and return dates. While other travel sites have similar "flexible searches," most do not offer results in an easy to read format or they require additional user interactions to find the actual prices ( >:-0 ). If you desire to search other travel sites for tickets, Kayak allows you to simultaneously search Priceline, Expedia, Travelocity, CheapOair, and Vayama without entering any more information. In addition to all this, Kayak saves previous searches for later, and remembers your home airport. 

Kayak, saves you money on tickets, while saving you time on searching.