Safari Packing Checklist (Infographic)

If you’re going on safari, the last thing you want is to forget a critical piece of gear that leaves you uncomfortable, unsafe, or unhappy.

We’ve looked at the perfect safari packing list before, but I wanted to make things even easier on you.

So I’ve created this handy infographic, a checklist of the absolute essentials.

You might end up with more than this in your bag, but you won’t want to get any of these essential items wrong!

To get the most out of this checklist, check off the items that you already own and make a list of the things you need to pick up.

Then again when packing you can check off the items to make sure nothing accidently gets left behind.

safari packing items
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How to Get Paid What You Deserve As A Freelance Writer

freelance writingKnowing how to land clients is great.

Knowing how to get your clients to pay you what you’re worth is even better.

Because any freelancer willing to cut their prices will eventually find someone willing to pay bottom dollar for their services.

But only the ones who earn what they ask for will build a thriving, successful freelancing business.

And today I have something that will make you feel like you have freelancing superpowers:

The techniques I use not just to set my rates, but to have people pay them.

How to Set Your Rates – The Right Way

In order to get paid what we’re worth, we have to start by figuring out just how much we’re worth in the first place.

In other words, we have to set our rates.

This is one of the most difficult steps for freelancers just getting started.

In fact, most people get it completely wrong, and it harms their career for months or even years to come.

So don’t be like the average freelancer. The one who sees how much their competitors charge and to does the same.

Or worse, tries to undercut the competition by setting even lower rates.

Why is this a bad idea?

Because it means that, from the outset, you’re letting everybody else decide how much money you can make.

With this approach, you have literally zero influence over your pay.

If the competition says $1.00 per 100 words, you’re stuck at that rate – for better or worse. If the market drops to $0.50 per 100 words, your income is cut in half, and you’re completely powerless to do anything about it.

You require a certain amount of income to live the lifestyle you desire, which means that you have to be the sole decider of how much your writing is worth.

If you’ve stressed out about this problem before, there’s an incredibly simple technique for determining your rates that takes no more than 2 minutes to complete.

There are only 2 factors you need to consider.

1) How much you want to write per month.

2) How much you want to earn per month.

If you know both those numbers, then you know exactly what you need to charge.

calculator-428294_640Simply divide your target income by your target word-total.

For example, say you want to earn $1,500/mo as a freelance writer. This is the number I use as my gold standard, as it’s enough to travel the world on a permanent basis.

Next, you decide that you want to write 2,000 words a day, 4 days a week. You were always a fan of long weekends after all.

That comes to 17 days a month writing, times 2,000 words a day gives us 34,000 words a month.

So, to make your target income of $1,500 – you would need to charge ($1,500 / 34,000 words) = $0.044  per word.

That’s 4.4 cents per word.

Or $4.40 per 100 words.

Or $22 for a typical 500 word article.

See how easy that was? You now know exactly the minimum you need to charge for your work in order to have the business and lifestyle you want.

But maybe you don’t know right now how much you want to work or earn.

No problem.

Just make your best guess and adjust along the way.

This isn’t a hard and fast rule that will be set in stone for the rest of your freelancing career. Don’t get so caught up in the minutiae that you miss the big picture: The only way to succeed as a freelancer is to set your rates yourself, and not have your competitors decide for you.

After all, they hardly have your best interests at heart.

Making Ends Meet Vs Building Your Dream Business

Once my coaching clients have learned how to set their rates properly, they typically run into the following problem:

They love the shiny new rate they’ve given themselves, but they’re not sure how to find someone to pay that rate.

Great, you want 5 cents a word or 10 cents a word. But if all the jobs you find are paying $0.02, then what happens when the pressure on you  to make ends meet mounts and you have no high-end clients?

Naturally, you’ll cave in and go back to taking whatever tasks you can find at whatever rate someone’s willing to pay.

It’s the only sensible option. I’d do the same. Hell, I have done the same.

And here lies the crux of the freelancer’s paradox:

The urgency of making ends meet.

Versus

The importance of finding your “ideal” clients.

Just like the rate-setting problem, there’s actually a very simple and elegant solution:

Keep your “making ends meet” work while building your ideal business and landing ideal clients.

I actually use a variation of this concept for people who want to quit their jobs and travel: Keep their job to get by until their dream business can replace their conventional working income.

This actually works very effectively, because the impact of even a single “ideal” client is enormous.

For example, if you’re earning an average of $1.00 per 100 words in your “survival mode” gigs, and land 1 dream client at $5.00 per 100 words, you’ve basically just swapped out 5 assignments for 1.

With the time you free up, you can look for your next dream client, and your next, until the transition is complete.

This is the best of both worlds. You maintain the security of your old gigs, while building the client base that your dream business demands.

So that leads us to the question: How do we get people to actually pay us what we’re worth?

Winning Freelancers Don’t Compete on Price

compete on priceOne thing should be immediately apparent here:

If we want to be paid our target rate, we can’t really compete on price anymore, as that would immediately take us out of dream business territory and back into survivalist freelancing mode.

So what do we compete on?

Here’s what. And it’s one of the golden rules to successful freelancing:

Successful freelancers don’t compete on price, they compete on results.

To understand this, we have to step back and think about our ideal client.

What does our client really want?

They don’t want our article. (Or our info graphic, our our website design…)

In fact, as brilliant marketer Eban Pagan has said, “your product (article) is a barrier between your client and their desired result.

No, they don’t care about the actual words you write. What they want is the result the content can produce for them. Something such as:

  • Drive SEO traffic.
  • Add value to email subscribers during a product launch.
  • Capture leads.
  • Drive traffic to a sales page.
  • Go viral on social media.

If you can show your prospect how you’re addressing their real need (traffic, conversions, sales), you’ll be way ahead of the competition who are offering articles – which are actually a barrier in the mind of the client.

There’s a much different mindset between the freelancer who says “Choose me because I’m the cheapest” and “choose me, because I’ll make you the most profit.”

What Does A Client Want?

As someone who has hired over 100 freelancers over the last 6 years, I’ve seen pretty much all the mistakes that hopeful candidates make.

In my mind, the cardinal sin of sending an application is that they try to make close the sale in the first communication.

Sales statistics show that only 2% of sales occur upon the first contact. Most occur after the 7th or 8th, though for freelance writing it will probably be less.

Your goal with the first contact isn’t to make a sale – it’s to make second contact.

Specifically, it’s for permission to continue the conversation and find out exactly what the client wants (hint: not articles)

For example, say you’re applying for this job on the leading freelancing website UpWork:

upwork

You could do what everyone else does, and respond with:

  • How great your writing is
  • Your experience
  • Your rate
  • Your best reason they should hire you

Leaving the employer left to pick between 10-50 nearly identical resumes, and hope they grant you the job or at least an interview.

A huge committment to make when they know nothing about you.

Or you could take a single step forward – and one which requires much less committment and is easy to say “yes” to: Moving to a Skype or phone conversation.

Now, many freelancers are wise enough to put something in their applications like, “you can contact me on Skype at [their ID]”.

This is good. But we need to go one step further.

We have to make it a no brainer for them to say “yes.”

I prefer something like: “If you have 5 minutes to hop on a Skype call, I have 3 questions about the assignment that will help determine whether we’re a good fit working together. My ID is _______”

Why does this simple addition work?

Because interviewing is just as hard on the interviewer as the interviewee. On both sides of the equation time and money are on the line.

This particular approach gives 2 immediate benefits to the interviewer:

  1. It’s fast – only a 5 minute time committment
  2. You’re doing the work for them: You have 3 questions that will determine whether the fit is good.

Plus there’s an indirect benefit of sounding like a professional. You’ve been down this road 100 times. You know when an assignment is a good fit and when it isn’t.

Note that this technique only works with result-oriented clients. The ones focusing on spending as little as possible won’t be swayed by this sort of offer, as it’s irrelevant to their underlying interests.

Which is exactly what we want, really. The farther penny-pinching clients stay away the better.

On The Call

Your goal on the call is to understand the client’s needs so you can match your services to them better than anyone else.

This means less talking about how great you are and more asking about what the client’s needs and concerns are.

Remeber: The client doesn’t want your article, they want the result. This is what your conversation should hinge around.

These are some questions I would consider asking, depending on the circumstances:

  • Where will the material be published?
  • How will they be promoted?
  • What do you want readers to do while/after reading (what action should they take)?
  • Do you want me to link out to top resources to empower an outreach campaign for backlinks?
  • What performance benchmarks are you looking to reach, in order to deteermine the success of the project?

*Pro Tip: Don’t refer to your writing as “articles” – this sounds cheap. You are a professional doing premium quality work (Right? Right?) Ramit Sethi from I Will Teach You To Be Rich prefers to call his writing “material” and I use either this or “piece(s)”.

At the end of your day, you want your prospective client not to see you as any old writer churning out words, but an integral part of their business process.

Showing them not only that you “get” the big picture, but showing them how you’ll make the overarching plan come to fruition will – if done correctly – make you the only candidate worth considering when a hire is to be made.

Life may never work out so perfectly – but with this approach and striving to this level of excellence you’ll start earning the rate you asked far more often than you used to.

Standing Out From the Masses

In order to land great clients and earn your target income, you have to differentiate yourself at every step of the way: from your applications/initial contacts, to your negotiations and communications, and to your work itself.

Essentially this translates into: Providing a larger benefit than just writing some material.

We’ve discussed this to the point of exhaustion, so let’s see how an expert freelancer does this in practice:

For example, take the About Page of professional freelance writer Kristi Hines. It’s a wealth of marketing gold for the up-and-coming freelancer, not to mention probably brings her more offers for work than she can take.

In one section she adds value by showing how she doesn’t just provide an article, but extra exposure through her personal social channels:

Kristy HinesFor web copy, I will create content that is optimized for search and will help convert website visitors into customers. For blog content, I will include relevant images, help you establish Google+ authorship with my profile (30k followers) or yours, promote posts on Twitter (56k followers), provide revisions when necessary, and engage with your readers through the blog comments.

-Kristy Hines, freelance writer

What client wouldn’t think that’s a sweet deal?

There’s actually another level of subtlety here too – by mentioning her nearly 100k social followers, Kristy has also established the impression as a badass marketer – not just a writer.

Already she’s put herself at a level above most of the competition, just because she’s talking about the big picture result and not about articles.

Further down, she drives the point home that her writing gets massive traffic – and provides proof:

On a monthly basis, my content receives over 150k clicks from Google search visitors. See a snapshot of my author stats from Google Webmaster Tools.

Now, if you’re just starting out you won’t be able to say any of this.

Fine.

That doesn’t mean it’s time to throw our hands up in the air and admit defeat, it means we have to start intentionally building some of these trust signals.

At one point Kristy was also starting out and didn’t have massive traffic stats to flaunt either. She built it from 0 just like everyone else.

It’s hard to get to her level, but it’s easy to get started.

The best way to immediately get yourself such references is by guest posting on sites that receive large volumes of traffic (over 1 million monthly views):

Then you can simply add these pieces to your writing resume, the way Kristy has.

You can also search Google for “[YOUR TOPIC] + guest post” or “[YOUR TOPIC] + write for us” to find other sites that accept guest posts:

Say your specialty was “dog training”, you could do the following search:

google001This is far from the only way to stand out, but it’s a time-tested and proven technique that you’ll probably want to employ to whatever extent you’re able.

The real key is this:

Find ways to add value that go beyond the job description.

That means understanding your client’s needs better than everyone else – possibly better than they do themselves.

This is so important, that I actually have developed my own predictive metrics I use to estimate for how much success a freelancer (or any new business) will have:

  • How many prospective clients you talk to every week?
  • How many past clients you talk to every week?
  • How many people with the profession you want do you talk to every week?

From that you can pretty much predict the success of any enterprise.

These interactions is where you’ll find all the information necessary to market and sell your services – not in marketing blogs that know nothing about your particular business.

The people who do this almost inevitably succeed, and the ones who don’t – don’t.

Note that here I don’t mean pitching to clients and prospects, but talking to them about their business needs/goals and how content creation fits into the bigger picture. What are their concerns, fears, hopes, etc.

Nothing will improve your marketing faster, or give you an edge over the competition with more certainty than this.

The Only Times You Should Discount Your Rates

I want to wrap things up by looking at a few instances where it’s smart business not to take your target rate.

These cases are few and far between, so it’s essential to know when this is helpful and when it’s undermining your entire business.

For instance, some people might tell you to start out with low rates “to get experience” or “break in” to the industry.

This is nonsense.

“Experience” and “breaking in” are not concretely achievable metrics. and this sort of reasoning is a weak excuse for having no strategic plan in place.

Acting randomly in the name of “experience” will never bring you success, unless your strategy is to get lucky.

I think we both know how that will turn out.

If you’re going to take a gig for a lower rate, you need to have a concrete reason behind that choice that will result in long-term success. Here are three.

1. Large, Recurring Orders

If you have an excellent client who wants a large volume of writing done, writing done on an ongoing basis, or even better: both – it’s okay to compromise on your rates a little.

Why?

Because as a freelancer – especially just starting out – a ton of your time will be occupied looking for new clients.

Remember, whatever your per-word rate is, you have to consider the fact that all the time spent on non-writing activities is effectively lowering your hourly-earnings.

Therefore, if a client wants upwards of 25% of your target monthly wordcount on a recurring basis, it may be better value for your total time investment to discount your rate and land/keep the client than to be unwavering about your rate, lose the gig, and have to spend hours of your time replacing that client.

However, a word of caution:

The best clients aren’t the ones focused on price in the first place, but the ones focused on results! Therefore, if you feel compelled to lower your rate to get a big gig, instead of making the sale by displaying the value you offer, this means that either:

1) The client isn’t as valuable/reliable as you’d like to hope (they’ll run to a cheaper option as soon as they find one)

2) You haven’t effectively communicated the value of your services in your marketing and educational materials.

Ultimately, you have to weigh the pros and cons of doing this. A goodway to do this is to extrapolate: If all your clients were paying this discounted rate, but you didn’t have to spend any more time looking for new clients as a result, would you do it?

If not, then don’t compromise, continue to follow your goal.

2. Portfolio Building With Authority Publications

If you get an opportunity to write for a website like The Huffington Post, CNN, or LifeHacker – would you turn it down even if the gig was unpaid?

Probably not. Your intuition would be screaming that the opportunity is too good to turn down.

And you’d be right.

Unlike taking a gig for random portfolio building – simply putting a notch in your belt, writing for an authority site gives you credibility you can leverage in all future applications, negotiations, and marketing materials.

If you approach a new client who has never heard of you, but they know you’ve written for LifeHacker and About.com, then they’re immeditely going to trust you more than if your resume had pages of gigs for unknown publications or websites.

“Great, I see you wrote for ironicbeards.com…excellent – you’re hired” is the sort of phrase you’ll never hear.

This is a strategic and logical time to ignore your rate and get the reference. If you get the opportunity – take it.

3. Testimonials

When you’re just starting out, it’s true that you’re in a place of weakness from a marketing standpoint.

It will be really tempting to take any gig that comes your way, just to “get on the board” so to speak.

I know, I’ve been there too.

One thing that sets successful freelancers apart from the majority who never make it past the initial struggling stage is the ability to grow strategically at this moment.

Taking any old gig for some vague “climbing the freelancing ladder” purpose is silly. Nobody is going to come along and tell you it’s time to get paid what you’re worth. Nobody is going to come along and give you a raise.

That’s why we started by looking at what you’re rate is.

So if you’re not going to charge that rate, you need to have a damn good reason to do so.

One such reason is to get a glowing testimonial that you can use in future marketing materials and show to future prospects.

This one I need to heavily qualify: If you do excellent work and have good clients, they should be happy to provide you with a glowing review anyway.

But maybe you’re just starting out and don’t have any great clients willing to vouch for you.

Or maybe you’re looking for a testimonial from a specific person and there’s no opportunity to get a paid gig with them.

For example, Kristi Hines, whom we discussed earlier, has done a bunch of writing for Neil Patel at QuickSprout.

Normally Neil doesn’t pay his interns, so you’d be very hard pressed to get a paid gig with him.

However, you could probably get an extremely valuable testimonial if you did excellent work over there.

Pro Tip: Like all things in business, leave nothing to chance. If you’re going after a testimonial, make it a condition of the job that you receive one!

Resources

At this point, you should have a good grasp on the mechanics of getting paid the wage you want as a freelance writer.

Now, it’s time to get out there and make it happen.

That’s why I’ve put together some resources that will put you on the right track:

  • UpWork – My favorite freelancing website with a wide variety of jobs (not just writing). I’ve used UpWork (formerly oDesk) since 2010 as both a freelancer and client, and continue to do so today. They also have a resource center for freelancers who want to further develop and market their skills, and guides to help businesses find the best-qualified freelancers for their project. Check them out.
  • TextBroker – One of the biggest freelance writing websites. Lots of gigs, good pay. But only open to American writers.
  • 25 Websites That Pay You (Well) To Guest Post – A list of 25 sites looking for writers and willing to pay for content. A broad range of topics are covered. Hopefully several will suit you!

Do you have any other tips for getting paid what you deserve as a freelancer? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Democratic Republic of Congo Travel Guide

Democratic Republic of CongoThe Democratic Republic of Congo – a country on few people’s list of “top 10 must-see destinations.”

In a cruel twist of fate, the DRC – a country containing the world’s largest deposits of natural resources, is one of the poorest on the planet.

Having seen more than it’s fair share of heartbreak, the DRC has seen a string of wars (both civil and international), political instability, and one of the world’s lowest levels of human development leave it a fair distance behind its neighbors Rwanda and Uganda in both standard of living and desirability as a tourist destination.

Definitely not a travel destination for the faint of heart.

But that being said, it’s always easier to look at the negative – to come up with a reason not to go.

The challenge is to look at this much maligned country – larger than Greenland, with 75 million inhabitants – to find the good and the beautiful hiding beneath the surface.

Where is the Democratic Republic of the Congo?

Democratic_Republic_of_the_Congo_in_its_region

It is bordered by several other countries as follows:

To the East by Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda
To the North by the Central African Republic, Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan
To the South by Angola and Zambia
To the West by the Atlantic Ocean, and a small, separate region of Angola

The capital city of Kinshasa is the nation’s largest city, with over 9 million residents, and is situated towards the westernmost region of the country, which consists of 5 regions:

DRC regional map

DRC Quick Hits: Useful and Interesting Facts

Climate notes: The Congo is also the home to the world’s largest rainforest outside the Amazon. Being located in the central sub-Saharan region of the continent, the Equator transects the DRC slightly north of its central section.

As a result of this, the DRC experiences the highest thunderstorm frequency in the world and witnesses an annual rainfall that can easily exceed 80 inches (2,000 millimeters).

Official Languages: Although the official language of the DRC is French, there are 4 other recognized national languages – Kituba (“Kikongo”), Lingala, Swahili, and Tshiluba.

Population: Official estimate of 77.4 million, the 4th largest population in Africa.

Area: 2.34 million square km, or almost 4x the size of France.

Currency notes – the currency of the DRC is the Congolese Franc (“CDF”) or the “Second Franc” – as it was called when it was established in 1997 to replace the New Zaire.

Banknotes were originally issued in 1998 in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20 and 50 centimes and 1, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 francs. In 2000, the 200-Franc note was introduced and that was followed two years later by the 500-Franc note.

Coins were also issued when the Second Franc was originally introduced. However, thanks to the ravages of extreme inflation, coins are no longer in use. The 50-Franc note is the smallest currently in use today.

There is one exception to be aware of regarding the currency. If you are traveling in the DRC’s eastern regions, the only negotiable instruments being circulated are the 50, 100, 200 and 500 denominations. So keep this in mind.

Here are the exchange rates at the time of this writing:

Exchange rates drc

To get today’s rates, click here.

Interesting facts – the following is a list of 6 interesting facts regarding the Democratic Republic of the Congo:

  1. ATM’s did not make their appearance in the DRC until 2010.
  2. Congolese children are oftentimes accused of practicing witchcraft and will get severely beaten or killed due to the locals strong belief in the black arts.
  3. Geographically speaking, the DRC covers a larger land mass than the countries of France, Germany, Norway, Spain, and Sweden combined (roughly 3.5 times the size of the US state of Texas).
  4. Be careful where you point your camera: Photographing the residents of the DRC should be avoided unless you get express permission – and they may get very upset if you try to take pictures. Many locals believe that “capturing” a person’s image removes their soul or spirit.  In fact, it is illegal to take pictures in some areas of the DRC. Perticularly avoid photographing police/military and their buildings.
  5. The Congo is the only place in the world where you can see the Eastern Lowland gorillas, but the bush-meat trade, deforestation, and pollution have endangered them to the point that many experts believe they will become extinct within the next 8 to 10 years.
  6. Would you believe that the DRC has a space program? Despite the fact that this nation has seen its share of conflicts and has struggled economically, the government is very supportive of the privately funded exploration endeavor.

Additional facts regarding the DRC can be found online by visiting sites such as Encyclopedia, National Geographic, and World Vision.

DRC Visa Requirements

The DRC has one of the most closed visa policies in the world, only allowing citizens of 6 countries to enter either visa fee or visa on arrival: Burundi, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Mauritius, and Tanzania.

Everyone else has to apply for a visa at a local DRC diplomatic mission. Should your country lack one, you can send an application to their immigration center by email. If accepted, your confirmation letter will allow you to obtain a visa on arrival.

In any case, you will need an invitation from a local entity. Your hotel should suffice in most cases.

Getting Around in the DRC

dr congo transportation
If you’re going overland, make sure your vehicle is up to the task

Unfortunately, transportation infrastructure in the DRC leaves a lot to be desired. The country is huge, and a combination of insufficient funding plus decades of instability have resulted in a country that’s relatively difficult to get around.

The state of the roadways in the DRC is poor at best, and the same can be said for the rail system. Traveling by plane is the preferred method for getting around quickly.

Air travel doesn’t have a perfect safety record, but it’s the best of the options available.

Here are a few suggestions for different transportation venues.

Ferry Travel

If there are no major security issues to contend with during your stay, you can travel via the ferry that operates on the Congo River.

Every week or two, the ferry travels from the capital city of Kinshasa to Kisangani in the northwest. If you’re quick enough to catch it, the ferry stops briefly at several interesting places along the way.

You can treat yourself to some of the cafeteria food served on-board, provided you can offer the boss a suitable bribe for such things.

Despite the lack of cleanliness, comfort, and the occasional security problems, traveling by ferry on the Congo is a great adventure for the intrepid backpacker.

Rail Travel

drc train transportThe few trains that are still operating in the DRC run on tracks that are over 50 years old and were originally laid by the Belgian Government when it was still the ruling entity. Furthermore, all of the cars, including the engines/locomotives, are dilapidated and very old.

You’ll be lucky if you can find a hard seat to relax on and even more fortunate if you can catch a train that has a dining car. If you are that lucky, be prepared to see a very limited menu at best. Chances are, whatever is available to eat will be gone about halfway through your trip.

Most cars are going to be overcrowded with locals and it isn’t uncommon to see people riding on the roof of the cars. Additionally, trains run erratically as fuel and funds run out on a regular basis. Not to mention the fact that breakdowns and repairs occur frequently.

Service is so erratic that you may not be able to catch a train but once every 2 to 3 weeks. On a positive note, few fatalities occur on the railways, making train transport a relatively safe, albeit unreliable way to travel. So keep that in mind when trying to choose a transportation option.

Truck Travel

If you’re going to brave the roadways of the DRC, you’ll be wise to do so by truck.

Smaller vehicles do not navigate the roadways well in the DRC due to the condition of most of them. Consequently, a great deal of traveling over land is done by truck, which is great if you are traveling on a budget. If you go to one of the local markets in the larger cities, you will most likely find a truck park sitting adjacent to them. In most cases, it is relatively easy to find a truck driver that is heading your way.

If you can find a truck that is hauling bags of softer items such as peanuts, your trip will be more comfortable than say riding in the back of a beer truck. This is especially important if you will be traveling in the back of that truck for a few days or so.

Hopefully, the passenger seat in the cab will be available, but don’t count on it. You’ll have to negotiate the fare with the driver as no two charge the same rates. Ask the hotel staff where you are staying what the going rate averages and use this to protect yourself from being charged up to double as a foreigner.

Most trucks depart at the end of the day, as it will be cooler during the evenings and overnight, but some drivers are very flexible about their times of departure. Food usually isn’t an issue as you can either buy some from the driver or when he stops at a roadside vendor every 5 to 6 hours. It pays to have your arrangements planned out 24 hours in advance and it is best if there are others traveling with you. (NOTE: Women should never travel alone in the DRC.)

What to See and Do in the DRC

gomaBecause the DRC is still a developing nation, you would think that sightseeing opportunities are rare. Don’t be fooled. Once you venture out from the few urban areas, the adventure is just beginning whether you are exploring the massive rainforest or the great savannas of the higher country. Still, you want to be sure and include the following on your itinerary:

Academie des Beaux-Arts – this is the best place to meet some of the DRC’s most renowned artists such as Roger Botembe, Lema Kusa Oder, and Alfred Liyolo, all of whom teach here. You should also visit the private studio of Henri Kalama Akulez.

Congo River – this is west central Africa’s largest waterway and it is easy to see why this is such a popular attraction given the landscape surrounding its path. The ferry ride alone is well worth the money spent.

Mount Nyiragongo – you will find this volcano in the DRC’s easternmost region near Goma. With its red lava lake, this is one of the most popular areas to explore.

Lowland Gorilla Trekking – Entering from Rwanda or traversing the massive width of the country, you can trek for lowland gorillas in the Goma/Kivu region.

Vaccination Requirements and Suggestions for Staying Healthy

Diseases such as Dengue Fever, Malaria, Yellow Fever, and a number of other tropical maladies are quite common in the DRC. You will not be able to enter the country if you have not had a Yellow Fever vaccination and there are health officials at every entry point to ensure that you have had yours before allowing in.

Mosquitos carry malaria, which is extremely common here. Areas in close proximity to rivers are more prone to mosquito infestations and malarial outbreaks. On a side note, the Kivu Region is somewhat safer because of the higher altitudes in this area, which don’t allow disease carrying mosquitoes to thrive.

If medical assistance becomes necessary, go to your nation’s embassy. Here you will find able, willing, and (usually skilled enough) doctors who can assist you if your situation warrants it. The Centre Medical de Kinshasa, or CMK (founded by European doctors) as it is more commonly referred to, is a private facility and probably one of your safest choices. In the Mont-Ngafula district, the Centre Hospitalier MONKOLE is staffed with Congolese and European doctors. This is also a private, non-profit facility.

A Brief Word about the Culture of the DRC

dr congo peopleWith hundreds of different ethnic groups living throughout the country, the DRC is considered one of the most culturally diverse nations in the world. The more traditional lifestyles have undergone considerable change since the late 1800’s. This has been attributed to a number of elements and events such as colonialism, the fight for independence, the Mobutu Era’s eventual stagnation, and the First and Second Congo Wars of recent times. Although the DRC’s history has been marked with conflict and turmoil, much of the individuality of these different cultures and customs has remained intact.

While only 30% of the DRC’s total population (an estimated 77.4 million in 2014) lives in urban areas, they are extremely open to Western Civilization when compared to the rural populace, which leads us to another facet of the culture, namely the music of the Congo. Soukous is the music of the land and is a blend of the Cuban merengue and rumba style with the ethnic sources of the DRC. Additionally, the music genres produced in other African countries are derived from the Congolese Soukous. If you visit a local bar or disco/nightclub, you will be able to enjoy the irresistible rhythms of this music.

Another aspect of DRC culture is the many sports that are played in the country which include basketball, football (soccer), and rugby. While there are numerous stadiums throughout the country, the DRC is renowned for its production of professional basketball players, most notably Bismack Biyombo, Christian Eyenga, and Dikembe Mutombo. These three are also well-known for the many humanitarian efforts they have been involved in.

Staying Safe while visiting the DRC

It goes without saying that the Democratic Republic of the Congo has not been immune to conflicts, fighting, and other regional violence. Indeed, this has been the case since winning its independence from Belgium in 1960. We still see regional violence occurring sporadically in today’s world. Consequently, there are certain areas within the country that you should stay away from even today. For instance, the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) is still very active in the jungle area bordering the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and Uganda.

There are still some areas that are safe to visit near the border with Uganda. However, you should avoid traveling north and east of Bumba and Kisangani. Since the earlier years of the ’90s, we have seen continuous conflict throughout the northern and southern regions of Kivu. It was during the First and Second Congo Wars that this area witnessed the death of 5 million at the hands of bloody violence as well as disease and famine. It should be noted that the peace treaty of 2003 put an end to this conflict.

Unfortunately, as of 2012, this area has become the home to the largest peacekeeping mission involving the UN because of warlord, faction-based, low-level violence that erupts sporadically. Goma is another area where the threat of fighting remains high. Regardless, I am not trying to frighten you away from travel hacking the DRC, but your well-being demands a certain air of caution when traveling through certain areas.

The key is to stay alert and be aware of your surroundings at all times, something you should do no matter what country you are traveling in. Robberies are common in Kinshasa, especially in those areas close to centrally located hotels and markets. Furthermore, an increasing number of robberies are being committed by aggressive gangs of children who live on the streets. According to authorities, the criminal activity in the northern and southern Kivu region has been increasing where crimes that target the international visitor are concerned.

Should you be traveling in or out of the Goma area, be advised that banditry and robbery have become somewhat common after the sun goes down. Try not to walk alone on city streets at any time of the day or night, especially if you’re female. If the hotel you are staying in has a safe, use it if they will allow you to. You should store your important documents and your passport in it. If you have cash and valuables on your person, keep them concealed. Keep your purse close to your body or your wallet in a front pants pocket.

Be aware that there are certain gangs who have been known to use young girls to lure the unsuspecting visitor into a trap. While some individuals pose as police officers or members of the country’s security forces, others will promise discounts on diamonds or gold. There is also an elevated risk of arbitrary and unjustified arrests of international travelers by security personnel who demand a bribe before releasing their captives.

Despite the fact that the DRC has had a less-than-stellar safety rating and that is not near as risky as it once was to travel there, only the seasoned international traveler should venture off there. For the average backpacker, cultural experience seeker, luxury safari aficionado, or unseasoned tourist, this is a vacation that you might want to rethink. However, if you are an international travel aficionado that wants to journey out and experience the potential adventure of a lifetime, then the DRC might just be the thrill ride you have always been looking for.

Photo Credits: Nick Hobgood theglobalpanoramaAhu2

19 Ways to Get Free or Cheap Accommodation All Over The World

luxury resortHaving traveled the world nonstop these past few years, I can say definitively:

Accommodation is the most important part of your  travel budget.

Why?

Because it’s a decision with huge financial ramifications that we have to make every night.

Compare that with flights – an expensive but relatively rare expense.

And an expense we control the frequency of for that matter!

Or compare it with food, a frequent but small expense.

Finding affordable accommodation makes a noticeable impact on your budget every day.

Here’s the good news:

Even though the accommodation options may vary wildly from region to region, there is simply so much choice that there’s no excuse for not being able to find an affordable option.

In fact, I wanted to collect all the available options and put them in 1 place, so you can see that there’s more to travel than paying full price at hotels.

As it turns out, in total there are 19 ways to find cheap accommodation all over the world.

You may want to bookmark this resource for future reference, as there’s a ton of information here.

Accommodation is just one of the important aspects of travel covered in my upcoming guidebook: How to Travel The World: An Unconventional Guide to Smart Budget Travel. Members of my newsletter will get early bird access plus a massive discount, so sign up now.

What option is best for you? Let’s find out.

Affordable Accommodation 1: CouchSurfing

Cost: $0 Per Night

couch surfing
Photo Credit: BJBEvanston

Couchsurfing.org is the quintessential choice for budget travelers. With a massive community of over 5 million members spanning the globe and ready to open their homes to travelers – for free. While they might just have a spare couch to crach on, they’ll often have an entire bedroom for you to use.

Why do people host complete strangers? To meet interesting people from all over the world. To have a cultural exchange from the comfort of their own homes and surroundings. Maybe just to make new friends.

As someone that’s both surfed and hosted on multiple occasions across 3 continents, I can say that the idea that CouchSurfers must be freeloaders with poor hygiene is not the case. The verification & vouching system and detailed profiles makes it rather easy to choose the type of hosts/surfers you’re most interested in connecting with.

CouchSurfing Tips:

  • Fill out your profile as completely as possible, including several great photos of you, in order to gain trust.
  • Create a couch request template with your story, but personalize it to each prospective host.
  • CouchSurfing is free, but it’s nice to take your host out for dinner or otherwise show your appreciation.
  • Trampolinn & Hospitality Club are other communities you might want to check out.

Affordable Accommodation 2: Budget Hostels

Cost: $3 – $20 Per Night

Backpacker dorms are a great way to keep accommodation costs down. Because sleeping space and bathrooms are shared by multiple visitors, they’re able to charge modest rates even in relatively expensive destinations such as Europe.

Rooms typically sleep 4-8 people on bunk beds, though you can find situations where there will be 10-16 in a room. In Europe, you’ll often find a very basic breakfast to be included.

One of the biggest advantages (or disadvantages) of hostels is their highly social atmosphere. There is almost always communal space where you can meet new people and plan evening activities out on the town.

And for those who prefer to have a bit more privacy, most budget hostels also have private rooms at reasonable rates.

Backpacker Hostel Tips:

  • Bring earplugs and an eye mask to ensure a good night’s sleep! You never know who your rooommates will be.
  • Book on Hotels Combined – an aggregate site that checks every booking from Hostel World to Hotels.com

If you don’t mind a bit of noise and sharing your space, hostels are a great way to save money in practically any destination.

Affordable Accommodation 3: Guest Houses

Cost: $8 – $40 Per Night

Guest houses are basically slightly more comfortable versions of hostels. You get a basic, affordable room without the noise and crowds of a budget hostel and without the extra frills of hotels.

Unsurprisingly, prices also tend to lie between cheaper hostels and more expensive hotels.

Guest houses are a good option in locations where budget hostels aren’t available or don’t exist – such as many developing economies in Africa.

Guest House Tips:

  • Ask to see 3 rooms and pick the best one. This ensures you won’t get stuck with the worst room in the house.
  • Find reviews on your favorite booking site or TripAdvisor.
  • Ensure that doors and windows are secure.

Affordable Accommodation 4: Short-Term Apartment Rental

Cost: $7 – $30 Per Night

A recent arrival on the budget travel scene, short term rentals allow travellers to take advantage of a spare room (or entire living space) of a home or apartment owner.

You can rent these spaces daily, or for weeks (or months) at a time. It’s a great way to mimic the local experience in a way you never could with hotels or hostels.

Apartment Tips:

  • Try AirBnB and FlipKey for short term apartment rentals
  • Make sure you choose a good part of town with easy access to public transport.
  • Check the reviews of past tenants. Video chat with the owner on Skype if possible to see the place live.
  • If you plan on staying for over 1 month, you’ll do better renting an apartment through the channels locals use, such as classified ads.

Affordable Accommodation 5: House & Pet Sitting

Cost: $0 Per Night

pet sitting
Photo Credit: Castaway in Scotland

Dollar-for-dollar, no travel strategy is more profitible than house sitting. It’s possible to get tens of thousands of dollars of accommodation for free, all by being the individual chosen for the task of looking after a person’s home while they’re on vacation or a work trip.

Homeowners with pets would often rather have someone stay at their home and look after their beloved animal(s) while on vacation than having to use a kennel service.

House Sitting Tips:

Affordable Accommodation 6: Volunteer/Work Exchange

Cost: $0 – $30 Per Night

One good way to lend a hand to a worthy cause and keep your travel expenses to a minimum is through volunteering.

The challenge here lies in finding in opportunities that truly provide a long term benefit to the people and community you serve.

Unfortunately, many volunteering opportunities don’t honer the value of a fair exchange, taking advantage of the good will of hopeful volunteers. Others simply fail to make a lasting positive impact on the community. As a would be volunteer, you have to seperate out the best opportunities from a very large group.

Here are some popular options to get you started:

  1. WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) – A popular option, but be sure to thoroughly vet opportunities!
  2. Helping sea turtles in their natural habitats: SeaTurtles.org and CCCTurtle.org.
  3. Idealist – features an internal search engine and large internal database to help you find the volunteer opportunity you want. Volunteer opportunities are featured in a variety of fields (not just environmental ones) – including farming and agriculture – in all 50 states and around the world.

Note that many volunteering opportunities carge a fee to help cover the costs of lodging and feeding their volunteers.

Affordable Accommodation 7: Work In a Hostel

Cost: $0 per night (possibly even paid)

You’ve probably stayed in a bunch of them – why not work in one while on the road?

Working in a hostel – whether for free or a small stipend – is a great way to cut your accommodation costs down and make a longer stay in 1 region possible.

Even though there are ways to find openings online, the most common technique is to simply ask when you’re there. It helps if you’ve stayed a while and made friends with the decision maker, or at least shown other staff that you’re likeable and that other guests enjoy your presence.

You might end up cleaning rooms or working the front desk, but usually the amount of time you’ll need to work in exchange for your bed will be reasonable enough.

Hostel Working Tips:

  • Your odds will be better in low season when there are plenty of unbooked beds.
  • Don’t be discouraged if the first place you ask says “no.”

Check for jobs on the request boards at HostelJobs and HostelManagement.

Affordable Accommodation 8: Local Homestays

Cost: $10 – $50 Per Night

A homestay is a great way to learn about a local culture while keeping costs low.

Even though the per-night cost can be on the high end, your stay will likely include breakfast and possibly other meals as well.

Generally, a host family rents out a spare room for extra income, and in return show you their way of life. It’s also possible to find a free homestay in exchange for some sort of work, such as foreign language lessons for the family’s children.

On the flip side, local language schools often arrange homestays for their students as a part of their program.

Homestay Tips:

  • If you don’t speak the same language as your host – don’t panic! Body language, drawings, and an online translator can go a long way (Katia and I used this in Thailand to great  effect)
  • Be open to local family custom being different than what you’re used to. Everything from dividing of family chores, to child rearing practices may be different from what you’re used to.
  • Google is your best option for finding homestay opportunities (“Homestay” + [country])

Affordable Accommodation 9: Camping

Cost: $0-$10 per night

Many of us have camped at conventional campgrounds, but few think of it as a way to see the world on the cheap. I’ve met a ton of cyclists who swear by it. They often will ask a homeowner in the countryside if they can stay a night on their property with great success.

The great thing about camping is that you can do it almost anywhere for free – though knowing local laws and getting permission before staying on private property are a must.

When Katia and I stayed in Thailand, we met one man who had been camping on the beach for months. Basically his only expense was (extremely cheap) food!

Camping Tips:

  • Don’t keep food in your shelter, which may attract wild animals. Instead, hang it up a tree.
  • Since lugging a tent around is a lot of work, camping only makes sense if you’re going to do a lot of it. Plan in advance.
  • Don’t stay on private property without permission from the owner.

Affordable Accommodation 10: Sleeping in Airports

Cost: $0 per night

sleep in airports
Photo Credit: mikecogh

This technique really only applies to the first or last night in a destination, since paying for daily transport to/from an airport kind of defeats the point of the “free” bed.

Not to mention it’s seriously overemphasizing frugality at the expense of the experiences you could be having if you picked more sensible lodging.

However, if you’ve arrived late at night or are leaving early in the morning, sleeping in an airport is practical from both logistical and financial standpoints.

To have success and not be hassled by security, it’s important you look like a traveller, not a homeless person, so be showered and wear clean clothes. You do this anyway right?

Sleeping in airports Tips:

  • Airports are often well air-conditioned, especially at night. Bundle up.
  • Set an alarm so you don’t miss your flight
  • Secure your valuables! If you can use your backpack as a makeshift pillow/headrest – perfect.
  • Bring earplugs & an eye-mask.

Check out SleepingInAirports.net for a wealth of airport guides.

Affordable Accommodation 11: Squatting

Cost: $0 per night

Squatting refers to living on someone else’s property without their knowledge and consent. It’s actually a sadly/surprisingly common activity for people without other options. Often, squats are abandoned or boarded up buildings.

A more appealing form of squatting is when families or communities build shelters on land they don’t own. It should be noted that this activity is illegal in many countries, though officials will often turn a blind eye so long as the real property owner isn’t being bothered.

I’ve never squatted myself, but Mathew Kaarsten from The Expert Vagabond enjoyed squatting with a Romani (the proper term for “gypsy”) community in Spain.

There’s a website devoted to squatting called Squat the Planet where you can find info about all sorts of free alternatives to conventional lifestyle choices. An eye-opening read.

Affordable Accommodation 12: Overnight Transport

Cost: Ticket Price

Not the most glamorous way to get some shut eye, but undeniably effective. Instead of spending an extra night in a hostel before moving to your next destination, why not just sleep on the way there?

Everyone seems to have a unique relationship to sleeping on transport. My buddy Jared from back home can sleep on any transport, no matter how noisy and crowded things are, whereas others might not be able to sleep under any conditions.

I fall somewhere in the middle, but am usually up for trying. I’ve slept on overnight buses, flights, and trains with success. But you’ll have to decide for yourself whether this technique is viable for you.

Overnight Transportation Tips:

  • Things often get chilly on overnight transport, so have warm clothing available.
  • Bring earplugs & an eye mask.
  • If your route includes stops, get your neighbor to wake you at yours – or ask staff when you’ll be arriving and set an alarm well in advance.
  • Make sure your valuables are secure before going to sleep.

Affordable Accommodation 13: Sleep In Public

Cost: $0 per night

Sleeping in public is the most longstanding form of free accommodation. It’s earliest recorded use goes back to ancient Egypt, but experts suspect it was used long before.

Normally sleeping in public would be a move made out of desperation, as sleeping on the street is not the most comfortable, safe or desirable option. I wouldn’t recommend it for the most part.

However, a few years ago I accidently discovered a great strategy for sleeping in public:

When I went to Ibiza, Spain to meet up with a friend from back home, I discovered that after partying until sunrise, instead of going to a hotel, I could pop down to the beach and catch some shut eye until noon (or whenever). Totally inconspicuous to passers-by.

If something has gone horribly wrong in your plans and you really don’t have a place to stay, you might be able to adopt the following strategy: Stay in a 24h McDonalds until morning, and then when the sun rises find a nice tree in a park to sit & sleep under.

Other than that, pick any of the other free options if you’re on a tight budget! There’s no reason for this to be a go-to strategy.

Affordable Accommodation 14: House Swapping

Cost: $0 per night

House Swapping is when two home owners agree to live in the other’s house for a period of time. This is an excellent option for anyone with their own home that wants to live more like a local than a tourist, plus save a ton of cash while doing it.

The only downside of this is you have to be a homeowner (or renter) to participate, so chances are if you’re an extreme budget traveler this isn’t the option for you.

If you do own a home though, this could be an amazing alternative to expensive hotels.

House Swapping Tips:

  • Use a reputable house swapping website such as Home Exchange or Home Link
  • Most established house swapping websites charge a nominal fee – less than a night in a hotel would cost.
  • You can arrange a car swap at the same time.
  • Due your due diligence and thoroughly discuss all details with your potential swap partner. Make sure you feel comfortable with the possibility of them staying in your home

Affordable Accommodation 15: Ask Your Network

Cost: $0 per night

A great way to get free accommodation is to simply ask people you know to stay with them! Most of us have connections outside our hometown, and we can make a point of visiting these locations.

I’ve done this in Hawai’i, Paris, Edmonton (Canada), northern France, and Malaysia – to name a few.

Far more than saving a couple bucks, this is a great way to explore your destination with someone who knows it – and with whom you presumably already have a good relationship.

Tips for Staying With Friends and Acquaintances:

  • Don’t use this option because you’re on a budget. Use it because you want to see the person who would host you. Otherwise choose a different budget option!
  • When you request to stay with someone, be specific about the time frame you’d like to stay, and then don’t overstay your welcome.
  • When you go, help out around the house and make your host glad they invited you. In other words, just be a good friend.

Affordable Accommodation 16: Use Travel Points On Hotels

Cost: $0 per night

hotelIf you have a credit card that accumulates bonus points, one place you can use them is on hotel accommodation.

While a lot of travelers who accumulate points prefer to save them for flights, this can be a good “once in a while” option to treat yourself above and beyond your normal budget allowance.

Think of it this way: by using a reward-points card for all your normal, everyday spending, you could probably earn a week worth of stays at nice hotels every year.

Travel Reward Tips:

  • Be sure to compare using reward points on your flight vs on hotels. After all, it might make more sense to get a cheap/free flight and stay in more modest accommodation.
  • Check out The Points Guy and One Mile At A Time for tips on collecting points
  • Howie at Frugal Travel Guy discusses the difference between air miles and hotel miles here

Affordable Accommodation 17: Campers/RVs

Cost: $0 per night

If you have an RV or mobile home, then this is obviously a way to save money on accommodation, as you can take your bed with you wherever you go.

Obviously this technique has certain logistical limitations – you won’t be flying with your camper, but there’s a lot of world to be seen by road.

On the other hand, you’re also in complete control of both accommodation and transportation with this option, and have a lot of planning flexibility.

I’ve been fortunate enough to drive from coast to coast in Canada (basically equivalent to roadtripping across Europe in terms of distance), and it’s totally worth trying overland travel if you’re used to flying everywhere.

Affordable Accommodation 18: Working On Boats

Cost: $0 per night

Here’s one of the most intriguing ways to get free accommodation: working on a yacht or other boat.

Websites such a Find A Crew help match up boat owners and hopeful workers. The great thing is that there are opportunities for hopefuls who don’t have any experience, which can be a great way to travel and sleep for free and learn a new skill.

Affordable Accommodation 19: Press Trips

Cost: $0 per night

Finally, we have press trips, one of the mightiest perks of successful travel blogging.

The premise is simple: Have enough readers, and hotels, airlines, heck – possibly the tourist boards of entire countries may want to invite you to use their service in return for mentioning them.

Obviously, this option isn’t practical for most travelers, but worth mentioning in case you’ve ever considered starting a travel blog.

What’s your favorite way to stay while traveling? Did I leave anything out? Share your thoughts in the comments below.