Happy Tuesday everybody. Well, I guess it’s more of a happy Tuesday if you’re getting ready for a trip this weekend. I’m not traveling this weekend, but I just returned from a trip (which you’ll hear more about on Saturday) and I’ve already got my next trip planned.

As we all know, travel is fun and exciting, but it can be a little less than fun when things go wrong. So, to kick things off for my new site, I collaborated with freelance travel writer and International Living magazine/website contributor, Bel Woodhouse , to give you some things to think about before you leave home.

10. Have a “Go-bag” You know who has go-bags? Criminals & smart travelers. (One of those two are my target audience. Which are you?) What I mean by a Go-Bag, is when you travel, don’t take your home phone charger. Don’t take your entire medicine bottle from the cabinet, and for cripes sake, don’t take your toothbrush from home! Buy an extra phone charger, travel toothbrush, tiny tubes of toothpaste, and a weeks worth of your meds. Put them in your suitcase and leave them there! ALL. THE. TIME. That way, you’ll have less things to remember to pack, and if you leave those things behind at your hotel when you’re heading home, you won’t be out of luck until you can replace those items. As a man that has bought and lost my fair share and your fair share of phone chargers, having a Go-bag is a smart move.

9. (From Bel) Always have a good old fashioned paper map. Don’t rely on technology. Batteries go flat, coverage gets spotty, phones are stolen. Paper doesn’t let you down. I’ve had one in 30+ countries and have never been lost, mugged or had anything bad happen. EVER.

8. Count your kids: Traveling as a family? This ain’t your local shopping mall. Don’t take your eyes off your little ones. If there’s anything Home Alone taught us, it’s that you need to count your kids wherever you go. MacCaulay Culkin was left home alone and look how he turned out:

7. (From Bel) Know where you are, where you shouldn’t go and how to get back to your hotel, accommodation or nearest taxi.

6. Do the Math! Growing up, I hated mathematics. When you travel, it comes in handy. Just because it seems like you have plenty of time to get to your gate, don’t be fooled. If you show up at the airport Friday through Monday, four days of the week, you need to factor in extra drop off luggage line time and extra security line time. On those four days there’s a higher volume of travelers and lines will be longer and slower. Also, if you have connecting flights, book your flights with at least a one hour and ten minute window between the first flight landing and the second flight taking off.  Trust me on that one.

5. (From Bel) Keep the majority of your money on your person, not in your wallet in case someone lifts it.

4. How to tip the housekeeping staff: If you’re staying in a hotel or resort with daily housekeeping, tipping them is customary, but how and when you tip makes a difference. $5 a day American is pretty standard, but should vary depending on the hotel you’re at. Let’s say you’re staying five days, do you dole out that $5 each day or wait until the end of your stay? Don’t wait until the end of the stay. Leave at least a $10 tip the first morning and spread the rest out over the week. My reason? Sometimes if you tip well early, you get better service, like a few extra coffee pods, extra towels, chocolates on the pillow, or just a generally better room cleaning. These folks work hard. Don’t be stingy!

3. (From Bel) Have situational awareness. Take note of what and who is around you. I was in a market in Nicaragua and made eye contact with a guy, then held my camera close until he moved past me only to push over another young woman and steal her camera. Know who and what is around you and keep an eye on your stuff.

2. Talk to the hotel/resort staff before going out: Not every hotel has a concierge, but the staff at every hotel is knowledgeable about the surrounding area and they always have tips and tricks to make your adventures safer, less costly, and more fun. Ask them if there’s some not so well known restaurants that are secret gems.

1. (From Bel) The biggest thing -Always be polite, manners get you everywhere in every country. Show respect. You are a guest and you’re not entitled to everything you want. I have seen many tourists be invited by locals on free tours and into their homes for a meal just by being polite. It opens doors and means the world to people no matter what country you’re in. It is the difference between a traveler and a tourist.

Thank you Bel for visiting #ThePhilFactor and thank you for being part of my Philliver’s Travels blog launch this coming Saturday.

Bel: “I love helping any way I can when someone has the courage to reach for the stars and try to achieve a new dream, project or just have a creative outlet. If you have the courage to try, you can enrich your life in so many ways. I used to be in the Navy, now I’m living my dream life in the Caribbean. Anything is possible when you have the courage to try.”

I couldn’t have been luckier to find Bel on IG (@thetravelbag.guru) and she couldn’t be any nicer. Come back on Saturday for the Philliver’s Travels blog launch and my interview with Bel. Have a great Tuesday! ~Phil

Phil: Bel, thank you for being part of my blog launch. I’m thrilled to be able to ask you a few questions. From Instagram, it always looks to me like you’re living the life so many of us want; waking up to warmth, sunshine and sandy beaches. So, I thought you’d be a perfect guest for the launch of my new travel blog. You grew up in Australia, which I’ve heard is a pretty nice place. How did you catch the travel bug? And what made you decide to live somewhere other than Australia? 

   Bel:   I love Australia and have seen most of it, so decided I wanted to see the rest of the world. I got the travel bug after spending a month in Bali as a 40th birthday present to myself. The trip was spent contemplating and deciding what I wanted my life to be. I speak Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian language) and after talking with locals and enjoying tours, I realized that I loved being immersed in another culture. 

What made me decide to live somewhere else? That’s easy, life, food, culture, festivals, different landscapes, nature and everything another country has that is different from Australia. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a proud Aussie, but I wanted to see the rest of the world. I wanted to see grand European sprawling oak trees, explore all seven oceans, slide down jungle rock slides while jaguar spotting in Belize, learn Spanish, learn how to cook like a Mexican … the list goes on. I wanted to see and experience so many other cultures.

Phil: Once you decided to be a world traveler after you got out of the Navy, where did you go first? 

 Bel: Straight to the top norther half of India, then onto Cambodia, which I have dreamed of since I was a little girl. To see those amazing huge trees spreading over ancient ruins as the jungle reclaimed temples was one of the most beautiful spiritual experiences of my life. I adore Cambodia.

Then I went on a month-long trip through Central America which included Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. From there I went back to Belize, intending to stay and settle, but I preferred Guatemala, so I popped next door to Guatemala and lived in Antigua for 2 years. 

Phil: How did you become a travel writer?

 Bel:I did the  Travel Writer’s Program through Great Escape Publishing and that taught me how to write, what editors look for, how to pitch a story, how to build my professional profile etc. Basically it taught me how to  become a travel writer. Then a lot of hard work. I write for them now sometimes and it’s such a wonderful feeling. They class me as a success story and all I did was read some pages and put into practice. Easy peasy.

Phil: In your books about Guatemala and Mexico, why 21 reasons? How did you choose that number? 

Bel: The number came from David Anicetti, who was the original author of 21 Reasons to Visit Antigua, Guatemala. I was doing ghostwriting at the time and re-wrote a few chapters for him. He liked my writing so much that he sent me the whole book and made me co-author, and a partnership was born. Now, we have four books in the series. I write them and do the photography, and he does the formatting, publishing, marketing side of things. Together we are 21 Reasons book series. 

Phil: Where are you currently writing aside from your blog?

Bel: I am a full-time writer, photographer and videographer. I freelance and write for publications world-wide on a broad range of topics. I do a lot of writing for International Living, Great Escape Publishing (about writing and photography) and am a presenter for their photography workshop next month. I’m speaking about how to make $$ with your smartphone photography and also how photography can be a force for good in the world.  

Phil: As a seasoned world traveler, do you still have any bucket list places that you haven’t been to yet?

Bel: Geez Phil ask a hard question … I have so many. I want to explore Spain, and do the El Camino (a huge walk across Spain) to see it’s quaint villages and golden churches. I want to swim in the beautiful Greek isles, stay in a Scottish castle, hug the largest trees on Earth in The Grove of the Titans in California where the giant old sequoia’s and redwoods are. I want to be lost in the striations of orange, terracotta and red ochres of the Antelope Canyons delicately curved caves and tunnels. I want to see the lake of lightening in Nicaragua, I want, I want, I want … you get the idea. 

My bucket list grows daily and is longer than my street. I can’t wait to see it all. I honestly believe I will spend the rest of my life experiencing the magical cultures and peoples of this world. There is so much beauty to be shared.  Languages to learn and amazing food to learn how to cook. It is a thirst that will never be quenched. My wanderlust delights in tormenting me with places to go next. 

Phil: Bel, thank you so much for your time and for being a part of the launch of my new travel blog. I would encourage my readers that if you thirst for travel adventures please find Bel all over the internet. You can check out her books on Amazon and follow her colorful life on Instagram.