There’s endless information out there on helping girls travel the world. How they can stay safe, overcome their fears, dress appropriately, how many bikinis to pack, dealing with foreign men etc. I even put together a whole interview series about it.
But what about the dudes?
Don’t worry, fellas. I haven’t forgotten about you.
I know as well as you do – it’s tough being a man in today’s world. And it can be tough on the road as well.
What follows is my guide to travelling the world as a modern man. What to look out for, what to wear, how to stay safe, dealing with girls, things you should pack and so on. It’s all here.
Let’s do it.
Part 1: Safety
It’s generally said that travelling is a lot more dangerous for women than it is for men. In my experience, that’s not true. I’ve seen far more men get mugged, become victims of violent crime, end up in hospital with injuries and get into altercations. I haven’t been able to find numbers, but I would bet good money that male tourist deaths outnumber female tourist deaths, too.
Why is this?
Because we’re boys. You have about twenty times more testosterone bubbling through you than your female travel buddy. Science says you’re likely to be more adventurous, take more risks, visit more dangerous destinations and do more dangerous activities. You’re more likely to try and fight someone who mugs you rather than hand over your wallet. You’re more likely to get into an argument in a bar, and you’re more likely to throw a punch. You’re more likely to walk home alone in the middle of the night, even if you know it’s dangerous. You’re more likely to do the cliff jump. You’re more likely to ride the motorbike without the helmet. You’re more likely to start prodding that weird looking snake with your hiking pole to see what it will do. You’re more likely to thrill-seek, be a daredevil, and follow your male brain into a bad situation. Man hormones are risk-taking hormones. That’s why we always get into trouble.
So how do we stay safe?
I’ve never been mugged. I’ve met a lot of guys who have, and almost all of them fight back. The funniest was the Aussie guy in Colombia who had a couple of kids pull a knife and ask for his wallet. He went into fight stance and said, “Go fuck yourself.” The most recent case was in Ecuador, where my Israeli roommate got lured to a “cool party” by two local guys who jumped him once they were out of the main streets. Of course, he fought them both, ending up in hospital with a couple of nasty wounds but, in his words, at least he “got blood from the other guy too”.
I would like to say if this happens to me I will hand over my wallet and walk away, but I’ll never know until it happens (what were all those fighting classes for?). Either way, that’s the smart thing to do.
Of course, avoiding confrontation is not only something that arises when you’re getting mugged. It also means you should avoid causing scenes and pissing people off, such as in restaurants and markets, at events and festivals and with taxi drivers and so on. Things can escalate fast, especially in less reserved cultures, so while you’re overseas it pays to tone things down and swallow your ego. Sometimes you need to check your pride and take a punking on the chin. Not as easy as you think.
Easy on the drink
If a girl is drunk in a bar and causing mischief, even shouting profanity and throwing drinks on people, it’s unlikely anything particularly terrible will happen to her. How many times have you seen an obnoxious women get knocked out? I can safely say, zero. She might get shouted at, shoved, talked to by a bouncer or thrown out, but that’s about it. If she’s alone there’s always the risk she gets taken advantage of, but as long as she’s got friends around she’ll probably be okay.
As a man, things are different. If you behave like that, you’re getting punched in the face, bottled, or taken outside for a beat down. I’m sure you’ve seen all three. What’s more, in some countries there’s not a lot of trash talk build up before a fight – sometimes the punches come far sooner than you’re used to seeing. I see arguments and fights all the time on the road, and it’s always between drunk men. Like I said, men are more likely to throw a punch and more likely to wear a punch.
Take extra precautions
I know I can’t just tell you to be careful. If there’s some shady jungle walk where you might come across bears or lions and you want to do it, you’re going to do it no matter what I say.
What I can say is take as many precautions as you can. If you’re heading somewhere iffy, make sure you tell your friends and family, and some people on the ground as well, where you’re going and when you’re expected back. Take efforts to make sure you’re contactable at all times. Take a first aid kit. Ask people about the risks and dangers of the area and get educated. You can still do cool shit out there and be safe at the same time.
Likewise, exercise these precautions in everyday situations too. I generally leave my wallet at home and keep cash in my socks if I’m walking around somewhere shady at night. I always ask which streets I should avoid, and even though my curiosity can kill me, I do generally avoid them. If I do want to go there, I find a fixer. When heading out at night, I also wear looser jeans and shoes rather than flip flops, as it would be much easier to run fast (or throw a roundhouse) in those clothes. There’s nothing unmanly about taking an extra moment to think about safety and take easy precautions that can pay off (and maybe even save your life) in the long run.
Honestly, this is probably one of the best tips I can give you for staying safe. Your body language says so much about you, and people will make a judgement about you in a split second based on your body language. If you walk with your chest out, chin up, looking straight ahead and moving confidently, you’re far less likely to be bothered than if you walk with your head down, walking too fast, glancing left and right and looking uncomfortable. People, and especially bad people, can smell weakness – they can see it from miles away.
Over the years I’ve managed to fine tune this body language, and local friends constantly comment on how comfortable and confident I look. After a night out in the outskirts of Nairobi, I was walking home with a couple of local guys in the early a.m. and they couldn’t believe I’d only been in town a week. In their words, “It looks as if I live here” and “white people are normally shitting themselves”. I’ve had similar comments in many countries and I attribute it to having good body language that doesn’t show I’m uncomfortable or scared, even when I totally am.
Tips for good body language:
- Body language is just good acting. Imagine you’re walking down your street in your home town. Imagine as if you’ve been walking down this street every day for your entire life. Nothing here can surprise you. Nothing here is new. You belong here. You live here.
- Walk with your chin up, looking straight ahead. Look around casually. Sigh, like you’re bored. Nothing to see here. You walk here every day.
- Ooze confidence (not arrogance, there’s a difference). Emit no fear. Make the shadies think twice before approaching you. If you’re generally a fearful guy, consider taking some self defense or martial arts classes to improve your self confidence. There’s a good chance you’ll never need to use those skills, but they can greatly improve your peace of mind in situations like this.
- Walk a normal pace. The slower the better. Relax. People walk fast when they’re afraid or nervous, just like they breathe fast and talk fast. Walk slowly. Nothing to be afraid of here. You’re not rushing anywhere. You’re comfortable. You belong here.
- If you’re lost, keep walking. Don’t look around all flustered and worried. Discretely pull out your phone and check your map. Hop into a convenience store if you need to or sit down at the bus stop. Don’t be obvious about it. Pretend like you’re just reading a text message. Just a normal day. Nothing to be afraid of.
When you walk with that mindset, and you really go into character with that mindset, you’ll give off a strong, positive vibe. It’ll show confidence and calm, and will get you out of more trouble than you realise.
If you do get approached and they ask if you’re a visitor, always say no. Tell them you’re working here for a short time or your brother lives here. This works well to deter hustlers and scammers. It can also make people think twice about bothering you if they know you have a few connections in town.
Local friends are instant social proof. Similar to your body language, they can prevent bad situations from starting in the first place.
During my first trip to Africa I had one afternoon where I’d spent a little too long playing with my students and lost track of time. I found myself walking home after sunset, on a main road that was pitch black and suddenly a lot more spooky than it was in the day time. I could feel people looking at me wondering what a silly Chinese boy was doing out alone at night. I knew I needed to blend in more so I caught up to a lady a few steps in front of me and asked her where she was going and if it was okay if I walked with her. Of course she said yes because I was such a polite young gentleman (i.e. she knew I was shitting myself). I could feel the difference instantly. I only got passing glances, as I now looked like the guest of a local rather than a wandering idiot.
I have countless stories like this. In tourist zones you’re fine, but once you venture outside the Lonely Planet boundaries you’ll feel a lot more welcome if you have a local by your side. This is especially true for local nightlife, and places like slums and rural villages. It’s almost like showing you’ve been invited to the party, rather than just showing up as an obvious outsider. If you don’t have local friends, you can simply ask an independent tour guide, find a Couchsurfing buddy etc.
Final words on safety
Staying safe is usually just a matter of common sense. If it’s a dangerous neighbourhood, don’t go there. If you’re getting a weird vibe, leave. Be extra careful after sundown. The world is safe for the most part. I am not a big guy at all but by using simple methods like the ones above I’ve only had really minor incidents in my five years on the road. Stay aware of your surroundings and trust your instincts and I’m confident you will be fine.
Part 2: Packing
So, we don’t need hair straighteners, tampons or lipstick, so what do we need?
Luckily for guys, we can buy most things we need on the road. While some girls will never use anything other than their latest edition GHD hair straightener from home, guys will generally use any razor, any shaving cream, any shampoo, wear any shoes and so on. This makes packing for us a little less complicated.
I’m not going to write out a whole packing list for you – I’m sure you’re all capable of packing a bag. However, here are a few things to think about:
Other than specific medications, there are very few ‘important’ things you can’t rent or buy on the road. If it’s something you don’t expect to be using daily or at least a few times each week, I’d suggest leaving it at home. This includes things like sports gear, blazers, extra pairs of sunglasses and so on. If there comes a time when you really need it on your trip, you should be able to find it.
This is actually my biggest packing problem (although I’m not as bad as Tyson).
I want a pair of shoes for the gym, also a good pair of walking shoes for scouting the city, a pair of flip flops for the beach and the shower, and also a pair of nice shoes or boots for a night on the town. Although that would mean 4 pairs of shoes which is Level 10 Stupid.
On my last trip through Europe and Africa, which lasted around 6 months, I had a tidy pair of sneakers which tripled as gym shoes, walking shoes and going out shoes, plus my trusty flip flops. That’s two items of footwear, and the sneakers were on my feet most of the time, which meant I only ever had to make room for flip flops in my backpack.
I now try to keep to these two pairs all the time, but you could probably stretch to three if you really need to. Remember, you can always buy shoes out there if needed!
A pair of board shorts doubles as swimming/beach shorts and gym shorts. If you surf or do water sports some good compression gear can double as a rash guard/gym top. My advice here is don’t pack clothes especially for the gym, or at least not anything you wouldn’t mind wearing on a day out sightseeing. Just make do with any t-shirt or tank top for your workouts.
I always travel with a baseball and some bands to do my Mobility WODs. The bands are practically weightless and a baseball is just, well, a baseball. With a set of bands you can pretty much do a full body workout anywhere, regardless of whether you can find a gym or not. I’ll talk more about working out below, but this is all I pack exercise-wise.
I’ve met guys who travel with full on blazers, dress pants and dress shoes “just in case”. Most will admit to never wearing them, or maybe using them once or twice on a 3 month trip. I don’t pack these clothes because: they’re valuable so you have to take care of them, they take up too much space, and you hardly ever wear them. Instead, in the few times I’ve needed suits on the road, I’ve borrowed or rented them (they’re usually quite easy to find).
How are babies made? Unless you’re keen to find out, pack some rubber.
Guys often think they can just buy quality condoms anywhere. If you’re heading to somewhere like Germany or Canada, sure. If you’re heading to Malawi or Haiti, maybe not?
Condoms are not made to the same standards around the world. Many guys in places like Thailand or China complain that the condoms are much smaller and break often. A good friend of mine in Africa told me she has “living proof that African condoms do not work”. Durex is probably the most reliable brand in the world but there have been places where I didn’t see them, and I’m not even sure their manufacturing standards are the same in every country.
We get condoms for free in New Zealand so I generally take some from home, which is exactly my advice if you’re unfamiliar with where you’re travelling – take them from home. Use ones you’re familiar with and you know are safe. If you consider yourself bit of a stud, take ten boxes. No time for jokes here bros – sex can kill you.
Part 3: Dating
I get it. You land in a new country and see all these exotic women floating around and you don’t know what to do with yourself. Should you talk to her? Can you say hello? What do you do on a first date? Is her mafia boyfriend going to find you and kill you?
Honestly, the cultural differences when it comes to male/female relationships is one of the most fascinating things I’ve noticed in my travels. There are so many small differences that can be any combination of strange, funny, intimidating, pleasant and mind boggling all at the same time. In more progressive countries they insist on splitting the bill. In other countries they insist on paying the entire bill. In more conservative countries they’ll expect you to pay. There will be cultural differences in the way they talk and dress and behave. Some are full of drama and some play no games at all. But an intelligent travelling man like yourself will figure this all out on his own.
I don’t have a lot of advice when it comes to dating. But here a few things to think about:
- The only common trait across all countries I’ve been to is the man is expected to initiate. The guy always asks the girl out, never the other way around. Other than that, interactions between men and women can be wildly different all over the world.
- If a pretty girl is being unusually forward with you, especially in a bar or club, she’s very likely a working girl preying on an unsuspecting tourist (i.e. you). You might like to think this is just normal of the culture, but it’s not. If it were, every man on earth would have moved there already. One of the most common (and funny) hostel stories is the guy who went home with the hot girl and got asked for money or got his wallet/laptop/phone stolen. I hear it almost every year.
- Most fights in bars happen because someone was talking to the wrong girl. Be mindful. Not all places are like the west where you just talk to whoever you want.
- When it comes to dating, the best advice I can give is to just be honest with your intentions and respectful to the culture. Don’t judge the differences and don’t assume or expect her to act in a way you’re used to. You’re the guest, so just enjoy the friendship or romance for what it is.
Part 4: Health
When hanging out with other guys on the road we usually end up looking for the same thing:
- Somewhere to lift weights, and;
- Somewhere to eat a good hearty meal afterwards.
TO STAY SWOLE OBVIOUSLY.
Sometimes we manage to find both rather easily, but they’re prohibitively expensive. And sometimes we can’t find them at all.
What to do?
Sometimes you’ll find a gym that will let you in on a day pass. I’m always happy to pay $5-$10 for a day in the gym. Some gyms however charge $20-$30 which is a joke. If they don’t offer day passes, or are too expensive, you can tell them you’ve just moved to town and you’d like a free day trial. This works often.
Using the nearest playground is always a fun workout, especially if you have partner. What you’ll find varies throughout the world, but at the very least you can find a few soccer goalposts or if you’re lucky you might even find a full-fledged outdoor gym. Regardless, a few horizontal bars is all you need to for a full workout. Here are some ideas for upper body and leg day.
My last trip I was away around six months and only step foot in a gym once, yet I came home in better shape than any other trip. The reason was a personal challenge I had set myself for 100 push ups a day, no matter what. I ended up doing them in all sorts of strange places like the airport and hostel corridors, but it worked. I stayed in shape the whole time and was in better health for it. When I think about it now, I’m not surprised – over six months that adds up to 18,000 push ups!
If it gets too easy, you can try some of these variations. If you’re worried about leg day, add on some body squats to round out your workout.
You’ve probably seen these resistance bands popping up around your gym. They’re awesome for travellers. You can stash a couple in the front of your backpack and they weigh almost nothing. It’s like carrying around a mini gym that you can pop out in any hotel or hostel room. Here’s a good introduction.
You don’t need the fancy ones either. I just have some elastic tubes I got from my physio.
The M100 has been my go-to cardio workout for years and still knocks me out every time. Can literally do it anywhere. Once I had a room so small that I could only do it in the shower. Still worked.
The best advice I can give for staying in shape is to work out every day, no matter what. Even twenty push ups each morning is better than nothing. Over 3 months that’s 1,800 push ups. Not bad right? It’s much easier to stay in shape than to get in shape, so keep your workouts constant, no matter how short they are, and you should come home without a belly.
Part 5: Diet
I’m bit of a health nut, but I’m not a nutritionist or dietitian, so I don’t want to be giving advice on what you should and shouldn’t eat. Instead, I will tell you how I eat while travelling, and you can use or discard this information as you like.
Nuts and seeds
I almost exclusively snack on raw nuts and seeds. Raw almonds and pumpkin seeds are my favourite, but a bag of mixed nuts will do. Real easy way to get a dose of fats and protein, and won’t plump you up like a tube of Pringles. Perfect for long bus/plane rides and airport layovers.
Fruit and veges
Peelable fruit such as mandarins and bananas are the safest from a cleanliness perspective, and are also easy to carry around and eat on the go. I also eat a lot of carrots and cucumbers while lounging around the hostel. If I ever find a juice bar, I’ll get the biggest vegetable juice on the menu and if possible will drink one every day. As any backpacker knows, your diet goes to shit pretty quickly out there so it pays to get a hit of fruit and vegetables whenever you can.
Great for your gut and pretty healthy in general. Try to keep it natural and stay away from the sugary ones.
Classic source of protein and real easy to cook. All you need is boiling water for a breakfast (or evening snack) of hard boiled eggs.
I eat a crapload of tuna while travelling, at all times of day. If I’m scrounging for cash, a few cans of tuna with some carrots, a couple of eggs and some fruit is a standard lunch for me. Why? Because it’s cheap, healthy and available. There’s not a single country in the world I couldn’t find this.
I always stay hydrated with water or unsweetened tea. I don’t even think about touching Coke, orange juice or any of those other sugary drinks. If there are some unique local drinks to try I’ll give them a go, but otherwise it’s H20 all the way.
I travel with a multivitamin and a few other supplements. It’s not necessary but it’s nice to have. There have also been times when I’ve had protein powder with me, on trips to Africa where I knew I wouldn’t be eating much meat. However generally I’m pretty light on this stuff.
One of the many joys of travelling is eating, so I don’t suggest you hold back in that department. In fact, I’ll go absolutely nuts on the local food when I travel, regardless of how healthy it is. However, when it comes to snacking I generally stick to the stuff above and stay away from pizza, fast food and other junk. This keeps my health in check and isn’t hard on the wallet either. Backpackers always complain about getting sick and out of shape a lot during their travels, which I attribute almost entirely to diet. All the beer, burgers, fast food and skipping meals doesn’t take long to catch up to you. Stay conscious of your diet and I’m sure you’ll notice a huge difference.
That’s it, bros
Okay men. I hope that readies you for world domination. Interestingly we don’t see a lot of advice on man travel, so I hope this was as interesting for you to read as it was for me to write. If you’ve got any other questions, leave them in the comments below and I’ll get to ’em. Otherwise, see you on the road. Grrr.