7 Skills You Should Master Before You Travel

Nobody told me I'd need to know how to squat pee or haggle! These 7 travel skills have made my travel life a lot easier and you can learn and perfect most of them at home! Click through to find out what they are and how you can learn them >> yesandyes.org

After traveling around the globe, I can tell you that travel skills you need to get by are more than just packing light and drinking bottled water! While those travel skills are not to be underestimated, I have learned the hard way that there are a few other travel skills to add to one’s repertoire before skipping around the globe.

Must-Have Travel Skills Worth Learning

Repacking without hating your life

If you’re traveling for more than a few days, you’re probably staying at more than one hotel/hostel/Airbnb. Which means re-packing your suitcase many, many times.

A few tips to make daily re-packing a lot easier:

  • Use packing cubes
    If you learn nothing else from this blog post, let it be this: OMG BUY PACKING CUBES. Fill each cube with a different type of clothing; one cube for underthings, one cube for tops, one for bottoms, one for dirty clothes, etc. Then just pull out the cube you need and re-packing will be a breeze.
  • Pack less 
    Most of us hate repacking because we have to smash everything down and in and eventually sit on our bags while we tug the zipper closed. And then we’re late for the flight and everything falls apart. Just pack less and give yourself and your belongings some breathing room.If you can’t carry your bag around one city block without getting a blister or breaking a sweat, it’s too big.Here’s how to assemble a stylish travel wardrobe!
  • Pack a few items you’ve been meaning to get rid of
    Pack that pair of jeans you don’t love any more. Wear them once and then leave them at the hotel. Voila! More space in your suitcase and you don’t hate repacking so much!

Choosing the right souvenirs

How many times have you spent too much money on a souvenir, meticulously and carefully transported it home … only to send it to Goodwill a few years later?

Yeah, me too.

Here are a few tips that have helped me choose better, more loved souvenirs:

  • Check if the item is actually made locally
    Because who wants a snowglobe from Aspen that’s actually made in China?
  • Ask yourself if it would look at home in your home
    You’re a lot more likely to use that embroidered pillow sham if it would fit right into the boho vibe of your house. But if you’ve got a spare, minimalist vibe maybe you should find a different souvenir.
  • Buy an unexpected souvenir
    You don’t have to buy knickknacks, scarves, masks, or tiny spoons (though if you really love those things, you should buy them!) I like buying perfume, jewelry, and cds by local musicians. They’re all small, cheap, portable and easy to use in my daily life back at home.

  • Remember, you are not required to buy anything
    There are so many other ways to remember your trip! Remember the dishes you ate and learn to cook them at home, take videos and photos, or make a list of 100 memories of your trip on the flight back home.

Communicating in a broken second language/body language

If you’re in a country where you don’t speak the language (or you speak it poorly) it’s very, very tempting to throw up your hands and just go to hotels, restaurants, and tours that feature English.

Let’s not.

I know it’s embarrassing and awkward to bumble our way though another language and culture. Believe me, I know. I once swore in Chinese when I was trying to order noodles! But attempting a second language is good for our brains. It shows our host country that we respect them enough to make an effort. It reminds us of what millions of non-native English speakers experience every day.

You can practice speaking your second language awkwardly at home by taking a language class, finding a language exchange partner, or just going to the [insert country here] neighborhood in your city and attempting to order at a restaurant.

It’s also worth remembering that 99% of the time, locals will be able to look at you and realize you’re not a native speaker before you even open your mouth. They’re not expecting you to be fluent in Spanish/French/Russian! But they’ll be glad you tried and you’ll be amazed how far you can get with a few nouns, some present tense verbs, and a smile.

Squat peeing

What?! Yes, dudes. I know. But squat peeing isn’t just for camping. Millions of people around the world exclusively use squat toilets and if you´re heading to Asia, India or the Middle East (or even parts of Europe) I´m afraid you´ll have to learn how.

When I was living in Taiwan, using the squat toilet correctly (without taking your pants off or getting anything wet) was a much-lauded right of passage. It seriously took me a good month to master. But I´m sure you´re much smarter than I am! Here´s a tutorial if you are, in fact, as inept as I.


Most Westerners, myself very much included, turn inside out with embarrassment at the thought of haggling over prices. But it’s an unavoidable part of travel in most countries, and you’ll get stuck with crazy inflated prices if you don´t hone your bargaining skills.

To get the best prices shop around a bit (you’ll find heaps of shops selling the same things) and if you see a local buying something you like, eavesdrop to see how much they’re paying. Don’t be afraid to walk away if you feel you’re being taken, and bring a calculator with you to the shop if you don’t know your numbers in the other language. There’s a good tutorial here.

Sleeping on transportation

Confession: I’m not that great at sleeping on planes or buses, but if you can do it, you’ll exponentially improve your travel experience. Ear plugs will help and I love this eye mask and this dorky-looking but amazing neckpillow.

The “Don’t Mess With Me” walk

Okay, so all those other travel skills? They pale in importance compared to this one, friends. Acting like you know where you´re going, what you´re doing and generally behaving like a force to be reckoned with will save your cute little bum just about anywhere in the world. There will be no peering up unsurely at street signs, skittering away from people or mumbled requests for directions!
There will be only walking like you own this cobblestone street! In all of my travels, I have never been mugged, groped or seriously hassled and I credit my walking skills. When I´m not feeling up to strutting, I channel Charlize Theron’s ‘Murder Walk‘.
What travel skills have helped you to be a better traveler?
photo credit: kazuend // cc

Celebrating Women’s History Month

Hi there, I’m Dollface from Rotten Little Girls. While I’m sure Sarah Von is having fun in South America, in the states (at least the Northeast) it’s very dark and cold. Instead of griping about the massive amounts of snow still piled everywhere, I thought I’d mention that March is Women’s History month! Now is the time to celebrate women’s achievements, focus on women’s issues and discuss feminist topics like abortion and domestic violence. I wanted to share some of my favorite events that will be taking place in and around this month.
  • March 8th is International Women’s Day. Celebrate by getting a “This is what a feminist looks like” button or donate some of your time at a local women’s shelter or domestic abuse center. Check out the official website to search for events and more information.
  • While it’s not exactly a part of Women’s History Month, Eve Ensler has given Valentine’s Day a whole different purpose. If you haven’t heard of her, she is the fabulous woman behind V-Day and the Vagina Monologues. She wanted to bring attention to violence against women, so she wrote an amazing play that theater companies and campus groups perform annually as a part of V-day. Check out the V-Day website to find out how to get involved.
  • Find out if your local library or community center is having any events or guest lectures
  • Activism can be fun, and there are many causes to get involved with. Women’s History Month in particular is a great time to focus on women’s issues. If you’ve always wanted to march with MADD or do a walk for breast cancer, now is the time to look into participating.

Women’s History Month is about empowering women and paying our respects to the strong women who have fought for our rights. However, there’s nothing wrong with being stylish while participating in some of these events. I’ve put together two outfits on Polyvore that I imagine some women wearing this month. I’ve also created a few character sketches to accompany them, although I’m sure they aren’t as awesome as Sarah Von’s!

V-Day Outfit

Lena sat in the dark theater clutching her Vagina Monologues playbill tightly, inspired by the women performing before her. As the other audience members rose to give a standing ovation, she fingered her purple domestic violence pin thoughtfully. When she got home that night she wrote a monologue of her own.

Feminist Rally Gear

Taylor hoisted her sign high above her head while women rushed past her into the clinic. She cringed as men and women heckled the Planned Parenthood employee attempting to break up the protest. Taylor stared straight ahead as someone yelled “Baby murderer” in her face. Her sign read “77% of anti-abortion leaders are men. 100% of them will NEVER get pregnant.”

How will you celebrate Women’s History Month?

Nice work if you can get it: Dogwalker


This is part of our series of interviews with people who have interesting/envy inducing jobs. And what could be more envy inducing that hanging out with pooches all day?! Making your own hours and avoiding a life of desk-sitting are bonuses as well. Susan is actually the friend of a friend who is living one version of my dream life, owning her own dog-walking business.


So what’s the deal? What do you do?
I provide a pet service; I’m a dog walker and I board dogs in our house.Tell us about an average day in life of your job.
The average day starts around 11:00 and ends around 2:30. I have seven dogs to walk three times a week and three dogs two days a week. Each walk averages 20 minutes, but with the way the temperatures have been,the dogs can’t last more than 5-10 min. Poor pups!

I also board dogs in our home. This is where the real pleasure is. Having a pet or three in our home is a blast and especially for our youngest daughter.

Did you go to school for this? Or get any special training?
No school or training. Actually, I never even grew up with dogs but I married into one and she was the best trainer I could have ever had.

How did you get into this line of work?
I lived in Illinois, worked in the golf industry for 12 years (it’s warm weather business) and winters being cold and somewhat snowy in Illinois I started to board dogs while the snow Bbrds made their way to warmer destinations.

I met my husband, who lived here, moved up, and got married…blah blah blah. I attempted to start the business here but it was slow moving, so I got a job at the Edina County Club thinking I’ll befriend some people and get the word out. It didn’t take, so I put flyers up at vet clinics and in the local newspaper. It finally took off in about a year – even with an unfriendly phone call form some woman trying to discourage me from stating it. She said, “she covers all the Edina area and I shouldn’t think of budding into her territory.” I took that as a pleasant Minnesota-nice ‘Hello.’

What are the misconceptions about being a dog-walker?
There aren’t any misconceptions, the title says it all, but my business name Susan’s Pet Services always brings the question of what do I do in my service. This allows people to ask more questions and really get to know me. In this business, your personality and love for animals needs to shine, otherwise the client will go to the next person.

What suggestions would you give to people interested in becoming a professional dog walker?
Make sure it’s what you want to do because once you get involved there is no turning back.

When I vacation, I can’t wait to get back home and see all my dogs. They bring such an awe inspiring drive in me. I could never think of ending this business, even when it’s -20 or 90+, my love for each and everyone of them is overwhelming.

Are any of you guys a bit envious of all this doggy love? Any questions for Susan?

Notes from the Road: Mountain Muling

Friends, If I told you that the main ingredients in our three day mountain trek were:

  • One non-English speaking guide
  • One very gasseous pack mule
  • Three days of hiking at 4,200 meters above sea level

You would think this was a recipe for Disaster Salad wouldn’t you? I mean, it would fit right in at a Minnesota church basement potluck. All orange jello and grated carrots and mayonnaise.

But, you guys? Trekking through the tiny villages and mountains of rural Bolivia is awesome!

And because I´m a little psychic, I knew that this trek was going to be awesome from the moment I laid eyes on our intrepid guide, Mario. Mario resembled nothing so much as an overgrown third grader, complete with a bowl cut, missing front teeth, teal track suit and orange Jansport backpack. To complete the look, he also carried every nine-year-old´s favorite accessory, the all important Stick. The Stick was obviously used for bashing threatening bushes, poking into mud puddles and menacing at our pack mule.

Yes! Our very own pack mule! Granted, this gentleman was prone to tremendous bouts of gas, refused to eat my apple cores and spent most of the trip engaging in disapproving, doubtful noises. But then so would I if someone piled 60 pounds on my back and pulled me by my face up a mountain.
As we started our hike it occurred to me that we were making our way up a path that was more than twice as high as Denver and was that a minor coronary that I was experiencing? And when had I developed asthma? I felt like I was living through one of those dreams where you´re trying to run away from A Scary Killer but your limbs won´t move and you can´t get any traction.
But in this dream I kept getting farted on by a mule and the soundtrack originated from Mario´s hand-held radio.
But as we made our way higher into the mountains, my newly developed breathing problems took a back seat to the insane surroundings. Lush valleys! Sweet little sheep being herded through the passes! Tiny cemeteries crammed to the gills with orange lilies and sparkling statues! As the afternoon wore one, the clouds began to roll in and eventually engulfed us, making things completely surreal. We could only see the path directly in front of us, unable to tell exactly how sheer that drop off on the right was.
As we neared Mario´s village, a tiny woman with gold teeth, black jelly shoes and a pick axe leapt down out of the fog and handed Mario her bag. Mario informed us that the tiny elf was actually his mother, and when I told her that my Spanish was very poor she slapped me on the arm like this was the funniest thing she´d heard all week. We trundled on to their village which consisted of 20 houses and lots of sheep, tucked among the clouds.
Mario kindly offered to let us sleep at his family´s house instead of camping out in the fog. And I was thrilled when I saw their house.
Now, you may not know this about me, but I am total nerd for anthropology. I go absolutely nuts for adventure and cultural difference and any travel experience in which I get to see an authentic, not-put-on-for-the-gringos corner of the world. And this house fit that bill perfectly.
While Mario put the mule out to pasture, we took stock of the digs. Drying sheep skins? check. Some sort of bone hanging from the rafters? check. Root cellar full of tiny red potatoes and onions? check.
Oh wait. That root cellar is our bedroom.
And again, I was oddly thrilled! Because this was a proper adventure! And, more importantly, we were not surrounded by nine other backpackers and an English speaking guide. We hunkered down into our bed (re: structure made of sticks and straw) and set to work charming the family´s puppy.
But despite all my best clicks and whistles and broken Spanish, Pups was having none of it. Mario laughed and informed us that Spartakou didn’t speak Spanish and only responded to commands in Aymara, the indigenous language spoken in the mountains. So once I started hissing ¨Chi-choo¨ at him, our young friend was all over us, jumping up into the stick bed and trying to lick our noses.
After some more pup cuddling, we ate dinner with Mario and spent a good hour making shadow puppets on the wall of the root cellar with our head lamps. In the morning we awoke to the requisite rooster and ate our ridiculously gringo breakfast of yogurt and muesli. We poked around outside till Elfin Mother motioned us over to the tiny windowless kitchen where she was boiling some potatoes.
As I watched her stoking her fire with what appeared to be dried cow manure, I caught sight of something small and scuttling under a bed in the corner. And what did I see there, crouching in the corner? Guinea pigs, guys. Four of them.
Now, I knew that guinea pigs were a common Andean treat, but I rather believed that these guinea pigs would be, um, wildish guinea pigs. With gray fur and long, fierce talons and sneaky, intelligent eyes. Not the white and tan dudes from your local pet store. But there they were, all fat and sleek and white and tan, crouching in the corner of the kitchen.
Elfin Mother laughed and handed me the flashlight so I could better inspect tonight´s dinner. ¨They´re big enough to eat now,¨ She told me in Spanish. ¨Two or three is enough for our family.¨

I nodded and thanked the travel gods for the Cliff Bar I knew I had somewhere in my backpack.

Got the travel bug?  Check out my ebooks and podcasts on making long-term travel a reality!  Only $15 forpetessake!

Web time wasters

Everybody loves getting mail. But if you send these adorable wooden postcards? You might just be fending off marriage proposals.

Never have boxes with stuff in them looked so romantic and whimsical.

Wine of the month clubs are so passe. How about The Thing Quarterly? Subscribers pay $140 a year and receive a new piece of art every three months. The catch? They know who the artists will be, but have no idea what they will get. Past ‘issues’ include a pull down window shade by Miranda July that reads “If this shade is down, I’m not who you think I am” and an orange, rubber door stop with a fan letter to Bill Jean King from Anne Walsh.

I love Michael Eastman’s photography, particularly his collection on Vanishing America.

Ohmygod. A toy a day? 365 tiny, adorable 3-D paper toys you print, cut out, slide together and then display in your cubicle to the envy of all your workmates. I particularly like Frida Kahlo, Brian Griffin, Alice Cooper.

So damn awesome. A Belgian artist builds a man-sized nest on the side of sky-scraper and lives there for seven days. Whilst wearing a feathered headdress and periodically throwing feathers on to the people below.

Who needs squares and stars when you can have ice cubes shaped like dentures? Because that’s what I want to see floating in my drink.

I love this poster.

A fantastic window shade that replicates the look of a city at night.

My Favorite Addictions

A wee while ago the lovely curiousbird tagged me to pull back the rotting log and share the white maggots of my addictions.

As though I´d be into anything as edgy and exciting as maggots.

  1. The Internetz.
    As evidenced by the fact that I am currently on holiday in Peru, and yet? Here I am in an internet cafe, writing a blog post and compulsively twittering.
  2. Cheese.
    Please allow me to share this anecdote to illustrate: I lived in Taiwan for a year and half a while ago and the Chinese people are not particularly keen on their dairy products. For the first two weeks that I was there, I could not, for the life of me, locate any decent cheese. This lack of cheese in my diet resulted in an eight pound weight loss. But don´t worry – after I found the expensive import store, all was once again right in the world.
  3. Magazines.
    Few things beat a sun porch, a cup of chai and a lady magazine. And apparently I´m actually a 45 year old yuppie, because I love Real Simple and the Oprah magazine. So be it.
  4. Baby Animals.
    I don´t actually own any at the moment, but I am often reduced to baby talk and cuddling upon seeing any mammal that is a pre-teen. I recently spent 15 minutes cooing at a stray Bolivian puppy with matted fur. Irresistible!
  5. Planning.
    Hence my daily mantra. If I´m not careful, I´ll spend all my free time waxing Virgo on the up-coming weeks and months. I must always have three back up plans for any given scenario.
But what about you?! What are the things you can´t live without?