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tower_of_babel.jpgIt has been said over and over again in a hundred different books and articles about foreign countries:  locals everywhere love seeing that you're taking the effort to speak their language.  I've heard it repeated that it can be pretty difficult to learn a foreign tongue as an adult, but the benefits are manifold.  You will certainly make more interesting friends and learn more interesting things when traveling, but you will also probably save money and hassle by being able to get along somehow.

I firmly believe that we all have the ability to learn additional languages, even as adults.  If you are going to travel in a foreign country, you owe it to both yourself and your nation full of hosts to give it your best effort.

Those interested in learning a language quickly might want to take a look at Tim Ferriss' technique for learning a language in three months, or his tips on getting by in a language in an hour.  I'm not sure those techniques work, as I tend to be more of the "plod along and hope it sinks in" sort.  Another good guide is available at How To Learn Any Language (also check out their excellent list of tips and tricks).

Finding a teacher or others to speak with can be invaluable.  There are also a number of websites that can help you learn a language, such as (in fact, look me up!).  Word2Word has a large list of different language tutorials to explore.  Frankly, with some of the cool tools out there, learning a language can be really fun.

Perhaps the key to learning a language is to figure out a linguistic approach that appeals to you.  Maybe you're really into geeky linguistics and love breaking language down into parts of speech, but maybe you're really into the beauty of poetry and you just want to read Rilke in his native tongue.  Finding an approach that appeals to you may just be the key you need.

I'd also recommend all of the old-fashioned techniques, too.  As my Spanish teacher told me at my first class just a month ago: "Ver, escuchar, y hablar."  Use flashcards, speak as often as possible to others in your new language, and practice.  It really is rewarding.

Finally, I would advise carrying a good phrasebook or knowing of some good translation websites.  My favorite German translation site is the LEO Deutsch-Englisches Wörterbuch, and my favorite Spanish site is SpanishDict.  I have yet to find a great website for Dutch translation, though, and I haven't even started looking at some other languages I'll be needing in the future.

Rolf Potts, of Vagabonding fame, is currently making a trip around the world with no baggage.  It's called, appropriately, the "No Baggage Challenge".  Recently he wrote about a Thai train trip and meeting an unfortunate traveler with nine pieces of luggage, including one monstrous 60kg bag.  Go read his excellent article and then come and make fun of me for carrying too much stuff to Costa Rica.  Our next trip, we shall be packing much lighter.

However, unlike Mr Potts, I will still have at least a little bit of luggage.

alfa-wireless-adapter.jpgFinding an Internet connection on the road can be really tricky, but if you're near a city or town it shouldn't be completely impossible.  Sometimes you will find yourself just a little bit too far away from a signal to be comfortable.  My advice in this sort of situation is to find yourself a bigger antenna and more power.  Pictured to the right is a 1W wireless network adapter from Alfa, which should boost your broadcasting and receiving power enough to double or even triple your range.

As a caveat, know that the USB ports on a computer only output 500mW (that's half of 1W) of power, so it may not be possible to reap the full benefits of one of these guys.  I have heard that one can purchase special dual-plug USB cables that harness the power of two USB ports, but I've yet to try one.

Make sure to get ahold of the wireless adapter long before you leave home, because you'll want to test it as much as possible to make sure it works.  This can require quite a bit of fiddling and research, as the proper hardware drivers are not always available.  These guys are for those times when you really need a broadcasting boost to connect to that distant access point.

Another handy feature of the Alfa external adapters is that they have a replaceable antenna, so you can always swap it out with something more specialized, like a directional antenna.  Read more about antenna choice at RadioLabs.  Do not be afraid to experiment, but make sure to test out your equipment at home before you need it desperately abroad.

ExOfficio Travel Underwear

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exofficio-briefs.jpgThis may seem like an odd thing to write about, but earlier this month I mentioned I'd be talking about some non-natural-fibers that I enjoyed traveling with.  I've had a couple pairs of ExOfficio Men's Briefs for almost three years now, and they have proven to be invaluable travel companions.  They are light, comfortable, and remarkably sturdy.  They are easy to clean, easy to wear regularly, and I am confident that a man could get by for several months with just three pair if he was diligent about washing them.

So the drill is that each morning when you shower, just take your briefs with you and wash them.  After the shower, wring them out, roll them up in a towel and ring them again, and then just hang them up to dry.  In a humid climate, they will still managed to be clean and dry later in the day.  In a dry climate, they will be ready in just a couple of hours.

These guys are entirely artificial: 94% nylon and 6% spandex.  They're odor-resistant, anti-microbial, and very stretchy.  You can also find them as briefs, and I'm pretty sure that ExOfficio makes a whole line of men's undergarments in the same material.  I can't say that I'd want to wear an undershirt made of this stuff, though.

I was curious about travel underwear when I first purchased these, and thought that the high price tag (usually over $15) was a bit excessive.  However, on this trip I've been traveling with both normal cotton underwear and my fancy space-age ExOfficio underwear, and the latter have outperformed in every way.  They dry faster, are remarkably easier to clean, and I'd love to have another pair.  The two pair I have, as I mentioned earlier, are three years old and still going strong; my normal underwear rarely lasts that long.

In a foreign country, one will spend a great deal of time dealing in a different currency.  Learning how to deal in a currency can be kind of tricky: it's very easy to either empty one's wallet prematurely, or to look very foolish when attempting a transaction.

Before arriving in a distant land, one should check out the way the currency usually trades, using a website such as XE and maybe by downloading a currency exchange rate program such as a mobile currency converter from Oanda.  These can be great tools, but in addition, one should do two simple things.

Learn Typical Conversions

Figure out currency conversions for basic amounts:  $1, $5, $10, $25, $50, and $100.  Once these basic conversions are memorized, one can then easily estimate most values in one's native currency.  The conversion does not need to be exact: it doesn't matter that $5 is exactly €3.88, just remember that it's about €4.  If one is really great with math, it makes even more sense to just remember a basic multiplier: the price in Euros times 1.25 is about the price in dollars.

Learn to Count

In the official language of the foreign land, that is.  Learn all the numbers one can remember and then practice them.  Count, listen to native speakers, and listen carefully.  If one doesn't have a lot of experience with foreign languages, this can be a very difficult skill to pick up, but it's so helpful that it should not be neglected.  And it may not come easily.  The words for numbers are so commonly used that they are almost always spoken quickly and slurred together.  Indeed, think of how frequent it is for "fifteen" and "fifty" to be confused in spoken English and imagine how difficult it must be for one who barely speaks the language.

If any of you readers have additional tips for dealing with foreign currencies, please share them in the comments!
my_beautiful_bike.jpgBicycles are far more common in other countries than they are in the United States, so it is very likely that wherever one ends up, one will be renting or buying a bicycle to get around. It follows that learning basic maintenance on a bike is a helpful skill and will save both time and money.

Unless one happens to be a really hard-core cyclist, a single-speed used bicycle will probably be perfectly sufficient.  One should of course always take the bike on a test ride, and then give the bike as much of an examination as possible.  If one already knows how to tune and inspect a bike, that will be a huge advantage.  One should try not to spend more than is comfortable, but also remember to compare the price of the used bike with the cost of long-term rental.  For instance, in Costa Rica we paid ₡25,000 (about $50) each for our ugly used bikes.  This seemed like a rip-off until I compared that price to the price of renting bikes for even just a month or two.  (Note that the beautiful beach cruiser in the photo above is actually back home in storage and cost considerably more than $50.)

Before riding a bike in a foreign country, make sure to learn the basics of the traffic laws there, and try to figure out the basics of bicycle safety in that country.  Will there be a need to travel at night, for instance?  Which side of the road should a cyclist be traveling on?  If there's a lot of heavy traffic and hand-signals are expected or required, figure out what they are before needing to use them.

Among the things that one should learn about a bike are the very basics, such as adjusting seats and handlebars, to the slightly less-basic like changing tires and tubes and tightening bike chains. One should also become familiar with basic maintenance, such as lubricating bike parts and inspecting spokes and wheel alignments. Here's a list of resources for learning basic bicycle repair and techniques:

The other day we were discussing some ideas for our long trip to Europe in the Spring.  We talked about Eurail Passes and how confusing they are, and then I found this great article on Vagabondish about choosing between passes and point-to-point tickets.  It's quite informative.

tropical_beach.jpgThis has been my first trip to the tropics as a somewhat responsible adult, and there have been a few interesting lessons learned along the way.  For instance, choice of clothing needs to be adjusted for a long stay in the tropics.  Even though Fall approaches in the northern latitudes, down here the weather remains the same.  All of my tweed and worsteds remain in Oregon where I left them.  I should also note that I'm not a big fan of weird modern fabrics, and tend to stick with old-fashioned natural fibers most of the time.  However, I will write about a few exceptions to this in the future.

I was very worried about the heat down here.  It is warm, but not so hot as high summer in Southern Oregon.  It is humid; in fact, far more so than Oregon, but not so humid as Georgia in the Summer.  My ability to handle this sort of climate for a long period of time was completely unknown, so it was difficult to know what to pack.  The following are a few lessons that I hope our readers can benefit from.
Now that Leisure Nouveau is finally starting to include articles about travel (frankly, we've been wanting to do this from the beginning, but for some reason got really hooked on just beer and cigar reviews), I thought it would be great if all of you loyal readers took a look at WikiTravel, which is a collection of free travel guides posted online.

They need more writers and many articles need fleshing out.  You could help by looking up your hometown or some location dear to you, and expanding their guides.  Then post something in the comments about what you changed, so we can all marvel at your works.

Planning for Long-Term Travel

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Chris Guillebeau recently wrote an article called The Calm Before the Storm, about the stress and unpredictability of a big event in one's life and the difficulty of planning for it.  No plan should be so inflexible that it cannot adapt to new situations.

Long-term travel can be difficult to plan.  It's not exactly the same as a three-week vacation in another country, because you have to decide what to do about everything.  Recurring bills are a big one:  what should one do about car insurance, telephone bills, and even rent?  As Mr. Guillebeau writes, it is a process.

Among the times to think about for long-term travel are the following:
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