Archive for the ‘Hacks’ Category

Breaking Into the Diving Scene

by admin

As 70% of the planet is covered with water, there is much more of this world to explore than most people can fathom. Being able to traverse underwater wrecks and caves, photograph multi-colored fish in tropical reefs, and see how all the different types creatures interact opens your eyes to an entirely new world and experience. After you become certified, you will be able to dive anywhere in the world for the rest of your life. Diving also opens up additional career avenues in the commercial, police, scientific, and military sectors. Over a million new people (aging from 10 to well into their 80s) are getting certified every year. If nothing else, it provides a fun, new hobby to broaden your horizons. The answers below should get you all the information you will need to start your new found hobby, or even down the path to a new career.

Why do you need a certification?

Besides getting used to breathing under water at different depths and how to use different types of scuba gear, there are various risks with how pressure affects your body you will need to learn about. Careful training and preparation helps to significantly reduce these risks, which include:

  • Decompression Sickness (DCS, or the “bends”) – This is caused from surfacing too quickly from a deep underwater dive. It can cause a lot of pain, and, if untreated, can result in nerve and tissue damage, and even death.
  • Air Embolism (Pulmonary Barotrauma) – Happens when a diver holds his or her breath while ascending. The air inside the lungs will expand and can cause serious or even fatal damage to the lungs.
  • Nitrogen Narcosis – A feeling of drunkenness that divers feel at deeper depths, usually around 80-100 feet. It is not directly damaging, but can cause bad decision making and motor coordination. This can lead to poor decisions, resulting in DCS, drowning, or Pulmonary Barotrauma.

What does certification entail?

Your initial certification will allow you to dive down to 60 feet. To obtain this, divers must be at least 10 years old, be able to demonstrate they can swim 200 yards, and tread water for 10 minutes. Scuba courses are typically divided into three parts:

  • Information Development – Learn the basic principles of scuba diving. These include planning for a safe dive, how pressure affects you underwater, and dealing with various underwater creatures. This can be usually taken online beforehand ($120).
  • Pool/Confined Water Learning – Learn how to use your dive gear and get used to scuba diving in a confined environment.
  • Open Water Learning – You will need a minimum of four open-water dives to achieve certification. This will usually take two or more days, as most agencies limit training dives to two a day. You can get a referral to do your open water dives in a destination of your choice once you complete the information development and pool learning sessions. Upon completion, you will receive a C-card, which is physical proof you are certified. This is good for the rest of your life and you will need to be able to present this when doing subsequent dives.

After you have received basic certification, you can proceed to more advanced courses, which can open up additional commercial and career opportunities for you.

Where do I get certified?

With more than 1,800 professional retail dive stores in the US alone, finding a place to learn how to dive is pretty simple. There are three main scuba diving certification agencies:

  • PADI – The front runner with 55% of the divers around the world certified through them. PADI is geared more towards recreational diving during initial instruction.
  • NAUI – NAUI courses are longer in duration and delve more into technical matters related to diving and specialty.
  • SSI – SSI courses are similar to PADIs’ and are offered in 2400 locations around the world.

When picking an agency to get certified with, make sure you find out what the price includes up front. The pricing should be made up of the following components:

  • Equipment – The use of gear (other than mask, fins, and snorkel, which you usually provide), and the cost of airfills for the scuba tanks you’ll be using.
  • Coursework and Confined Water Sessions – The training you‘ll be doing at your dive center’s facility, or at the facility they use.
  • Open Water Sessions – The real-world diving (usually 4 or 5 sessions) that you’ll do at an actual dive site.

An accredited training course from a certified instructor will cost about $300-$500, including practice and certification dives.

Where can I find dive shops and referral locations?

There are many places to find dive shops and places to complete your training around the world. These include:

How much does diving gear cost?

If you are expecting to dive only a few times a year, renting is more cost-effective than buying all your own equipment. Daily rental costs range from $40 to $60 for a two-tank dive. If you own your own equipment, the cost of air ranges from $5 to $8 per tankful. At the minimum, you will need to purchase a mask ($40-$70), snorkel ($20-$50), and fins ($50-$100). If you want to buy all of your own equipment, you are looking at shelling out around $1300-$1500. On top of the mask, snorkel and fins, here’s a rundown of standard scuba equipment that will get you started with warm water dives:

  • Buoyancy Compensator (BC) – Inflatable jacket allowing divers to adjust their buoyancy in the water ($250-$500)
  • Regulator – This mouthpiece from which you breathe. It is connected to the air tank and regulates the pressure to a safe level for you to inhale ($150-$600)
  • Weight belt – Holds you down in the water and counteracts the buoyancy of other diving equipment ($20-$50)
  • Air Tank – Holds the compressed air you use underwater ($150-$400 each)
  • Octopus – This is your alternate air source used as a back up to the regulator ($125-$350)
  • Depth Gauge – Displays your air supply and depth. ($75-$350)

You can get all the new scuba gear you will need from places like Scuba.com, Divers-supply.com, or Leisurepro.com. Or you can find used gear on Ebay.com and Craigslist.org. I will have a later article describing a detailed rundown of the top valued scuba equipment to purchase.

Where can I find a diving buddy?

If you would like to feel more safe, or just want to make new friends, there many easy ways to find a diving friend:

12 Ways to Make Friends in Foreign Places

by admin

Traveling or moving to a foreign place can be fairly overwhelming for the majority of people, especially if you are by yourself.  Not only is it stressful getting adjusted to new surroundings, but many people find it difficult to break into local cliques and make new friends.  This can lead to an immediate longing for a return home.  On the bright side, even if you are the shy, introverted type, it doesn’t have to be difficult to meet people. As long as you’re open and willing to try new things (which most travelers are) you’ll have no problem breaking into the local seen and developing relationships with almost anyone. The list below should provide you with a plethora of ideas for going to the right places and finding new friends.

1.  Stay in a Hostel – Hostels are usually full of very open, international travelers looking to get the best cultural experiences.  Some may consider these place to be lower quality (when compared to nice hotels), but they will allow you to save money and meet other like-minded individuals.  Check out Hostels.com to find a hostel in cities around the world.

2.  Take a Class – Art, language learning, yoga, dance, and many other types of classes offer an easy opportunity to meet people with similar interests in a small group setting. People are not on their guard as much as in a nightclub setting, making it easier to open a conversation.

3.  Volunteer – Volunteers are generally very helpful, trustworthy, and open to new friendships.  Check out ‘4 Hacks for Working Anywhere’ for places to look for volunteering activities globally.

4.  Learn the Local Language – Most countries outside of the US stress language learning from an early age.  It is common for a foreigner to know 3-4 languages fluently.  Most people from the US know English and the eight Spanish swear words they learned during their three years of studying it in school.  Foreigners greatly appreciate and are much more receptive to those who make an attempt at speaking their language. Check out ‘Best Language Learning System For Everyone’ for getting up to speed on a new language quickly.

5.  Group Sports – Any type of group competition or sporting event helps you develop an instant bond with those you’re playing with.  For example, if you don’t speak any of the local language, but you’re a good basketball player, you’ll make new friends in a heartbeat.  Ask a local or pick up the local paper to find leagues or pick up games in the area of your choice.

6.  Ask For Help – Most people in foreign places are very helpful to those who ask for it and love to show off their own knowledge.  People will not usually talk to you if you are standing around without saying anything.  Be outgoing and ask people questions, even if you already know the answer.

7.  Online Social Networking – Wayn.com, TraveBuddy.com, Facebook.com, Myspace.com, Plentyoffish.com, among others are free, social networking sites hosting millions of people’s profiles from around the world.  From any internet accessible location, they provide an easy way to make new friends in a foreign location.

8.  Religious Services and Gatherings – Churches and the events associated with them offer some of the most friendly and open people you will ever meet.  FindaChurch.com and Google Maps are excellent resources for finding churches and services in any city you visit.

9.  Sporting Events – Wear the local team’s sporting apparel and you can easily strike up a conversation with numerous fans (or haters).  You can meet people tailgating in the parking lot or even in the stadium during the event.  Local sports bars off the same opportunities.  Use Ticketmaster.com to get tickets to larger sporting events, and local papers for finding out about others.

10.  Craigslist Community – The community section of Craigslist.org (click on your city and then the community section) lists plenty of local activities on a daily basis for cities around the world.

11.  Couchsurf – As stated in an earlier article, CouchSurfing helps travelers find hosts who will let them stay at their place for free. It is the largest hospitality exchange network with over 1 million members (35% of them are offering a place to stay for travelers) in 232 countries. This large and active community is one of the best portals to making new friends, experiencing local cultures, and traveling cheaply.

12.  Bars/Clubs – Typical places to meet others looking to party and have a good time. Check out Worldsbestbars.com, or do a search for “Nightlife” in the Tripadvisor.com forum of the city of your choice to find the best venues.

Currency Conversion Fees (And How To Avoid Them)

by admin

foreign_money

Financial companies make their astronomical profits in one way or another. Foreign currency conversion fees are one of the ways they accomplish this. Any time you’re using or exchanging money in a foreign land, someone is trying to make money off of your transaction. Banks and credit card companies aren’t letting you make purchases around the world without getting their own cut. Most of the companies add a few extra percentage points onto the transaction and include it in small print on your statement. These “hidden fees” can pile up quick, and are easily overlooked. This can lead to a couple hundred dollars in fees you could have saved on your foreign vacation. The same goes for any foreign currency exchange location.  All of the rates are exaggerated in the house’s favor.  The following list will give you an overview of the currency conversion fees you will encounter and help you find the best options for making payments while traveling:

1. Exchange Rates – Get an idea of the current exchange rates before you leave for your trip. XE provides current exchange rates of currencies around the world. You can also view historical rates. The site also includes a useful Travel Expenses Calculator for keeping track of expenses in foreign currencies) and a Global Payments and Transfers Tool (for sending and receiving payments (with a guaranteed best rate) around the globe) for free.

2. Credit Card Fees – Most people are unaware the majority of credit card companies tack on an extra 3% foreign transaction fee. This usually includes the 1% Visa/Mastercard fee and a 2% bank fee. The chart below shows the foreign transaction fees for mainstream credit cards. Cards from Capital One, which eats the 1% Visa/Mastercard fee to offer a 0% foreign transaction fee, are your best bet for travel purchases. And don’t even think about taking a cash advance from a credit card. The fees for a cash advance usually include 3% on top of the normal foreign transaction fee and 24% interest accrued daily.

Card Issuer Fee
Capital One 0%
Wachovia 1%
Washington Mutual 1%
Discover 2%
American Express 2%
Bank of America 3%
Citibank 3%
JP Morgan Chase 3%
Wells Fargo 3%
US Bank 3%

3. ATM Fees – Call or check online to see what fees your bank charges for ATM withdrawals. Some banks charge a fixed fee (around $5), some charge a percentage of the funds taken out, and some charge a combination of both. Find out which brands of ATMs are in your bank’s network and how much they charge. For example, Bank of America customers who use ATMs with the Global ATM Alliance network can withdraw money from ATMs for free, but are assessed a $5 fee for ATM usage outside of their network. Citi will charge a 1% conversion fee (with no ATM fees) for in-network ATMs, and an extra $1.50 fee for out-of-network ATMs. Doing some extra research and writing down addresses for several compatible, in-network ATMs in every city you plan to visit can save you some headaches and money in the long run.

4. Dynamic Currency Conversion – When making a purchase overseas, always decline when a merchant asks if you want to convert the purchase to your credit card country’s currency before charging it. These rates of conversion are usually much worse (sometimes up to 6%) than the rate you will get from the credit card company. Always check the receipt to make sure the merchant has not done this conversion without asking, which is against credit card merchant agreements. Make sure the purchase was charged in the local currency.

5. Debit Cards – Like ATM cards, check with your bank for the fees (usually around 3% and called “Point of Sale Fees”) you will incur while using a debit card abroad. It is recommended you don’t use a debit card when traveling because, unlike a stolen credit card (in which charges can be easily disputed), a stolen debit card can lead to a largely overdrawn bank account with a significant amount of turmoil to get it fixed.

6. Cash Exchange – Exchanging money at a certified bank is your best bet. You will get the best rates and have the least risk of fraud. At a hotel or airport, you will get the highest transaction fees and worst exchange rates.

7. Prepaid Travel Debit Cards – Visa currently offers the only travel debit card (Visa TravelMoney Card). You can purchase it at US banks and AAA. Fees typically vary from US $4.95 to $9.95. You can reload the card online or via phone, with up to $15 charge. You can use it to withdraw money from any Visa compatible ATM ($2.50 charge) and to make purchases. Making purchases in any other currency than is on the card will incur a gouging 7% conversion fee. It is recommended to pursue other options for making foreign purchases.

8. Travelers Checks – There are many pros and cons to using these. The advantages include: refunded usually within 24 hours if lost or stolen, can be purchased in currencies (Euro, Canadian Dollar, Australian Dollar, Pound Sterling, and Japanese Yen) other than US, no withdrawal fees, and you can cash in your checks for local currency wherever you are. On the other side, you have to first find a bank that will cash the checks (many countries will not cash them), you usually will be given you a bad rate and charged you a high commission for cashing them, and you are charged between 1% and 4% when purchasing them. If you decide to buy some, stick to major brands like American Express, Visa, and Citibank. Also, consider buying checks loaded in foreign currency. For example, checks in Euros will be much easier to use and cash when traveling in Europe.