A common question seen on many travel forums is “how safe is it to travel to X (one on the Latin American countries) as a solo female traveller?” It is fully understandable why travelling alone to Latin America can seem an intimidating prospect, particularly if you are a woman. However, women who have already been to this region of the world know there is no need to post this type of question. All of the countries in Central and South America are generally safe to visit as a solo female traveller. There are, however, some areas that pose a risk and these should be avoided.Many of the large cities in Latin America have areas that aren’t particularly desirable and you should stick to the main tourist or modern parts of these cities if you visit them. This includes all of the major cities in Central America (i.e. Belize City, Guatemala City, Managua, Mexico City, Panama City, San Jose, San Salvador and Tegucigalpa). There are also certain parts of South American cities that should be avoided such as Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, and Sao Paulo in Brazil, and Caracas in Venezuela. As with the large cities in Central America, stick to the touristy areas and you’ll be fine. You should also take care when visiting particular areas of certain countries such as in Colombia and Venezuela. For example, it isn’t a good idea to hang around the border regions of Colombia or travel to obscure, off the beaten track destinations. Although Colombia and Venezuela get some bad press they are both relatively safe to visit if you stick to the top tourist destinations mentioned in reputable travel guides. If somewhere is mentioned in a reputable guidebook, it is almost certainly safe to visit.This leads to an important point in the discussion. It is very easy to get paranoid about visiting certain countries and cities but this is totally unwarranted. Remember, it’s only certain parts of these countries and cities that are best avoided, just as certain parts of cities in Europe or North America are best avoided. In fact, travelling around most of Latin America is far safer, and more pleasant, than travelling around many parts of Europe or North America. Additionally, as Susan Griffith rightly points out in ‘Travelling Solo as a Woman in Asia’ “there is a pernicious mythology surrounding the lone female traveller, whether it be as a hitchhiker around Britain or a traveller in Southeast Asia. Many people instantly exaggerate the perils and dwell on a single woman’s vulnerability. Often this doom-ridden response is just an excuse for their own timidity of spirit.” Don’t get paranoid: the countries of Latin America are no more dangerous than many other countries in this world, and in reality you are more likely to encounter problems in some European countries or North American states.Referring back to the classic question seen on travel forums (i.e. how safe is it to travel to X as a solo female traveller) it is worth mentioning the responsibilities and abilities of the individual. Safety is inherently linked to knowledge and experience. Whenever planning a trip to Latin America or anywhere else in the world, it is absolutely essential you do your research. Try and find out as much information as you can about the country or countries you wish to visit. Travel guides such as those produced by Lonely Planet and Footprint will help you decide which places you want to visit and those you might want or should avoid. The internet is also an invaluable source of information and there are many websites dedicated to the concerns of solo female travellers. We often hear people described as being ‘streetwise;’ if the definition was applied to travel rather than the urban environment, some travellers could be easily be labelled as ‘travelwise’ (i.e. having the shrewd awareness, experience, and resourcefulness needed for survival in a difficult, often dangerous overseas environment). Travel experience (particularly in the third world) goes a long way in ensuring safety. This is because people with extensive travel experience evaluate risk more effectively and size up situations more successfully. Thus, it’s fair to say that overall safety is partly dependent on the qualifications (age, knowledge and experience) of the person posing the question.To a large degree safety is simply a case of being sensible and staying alert. For example, flaunting items such as expensive cameras, jewellery, or mobile phones is likely to attract opportunist thieves. Similarly, putting your day pack on the luggage rack of a public bus rather than keeping it on your lap or by your feet is asking for trouble. The key message here is don’t take any unnecessary risks. You might fancy a late paddle on Copacabana beach (Rio de Janeiro) but any guidebook will tell you not to visit this area after dark. You might want to hit the bars and clubs in Quito but leave your valuables in your hotel. You might want to get drunk in the nearest disco but don’t try walking back to your hotel late at night. It’s all a matter of common sense really.The main issue for solo female travellers is the threat of sexual harassment from local men and even male travellers. While male travellers might be a problem on occasions, you need to be aware of the culture differences between Latin American men and those from your own country. Machismo attitudes are fairly widespread among Latin American men and it is advisable to follow local practice and take your cues (i.e. how do local women deal with prolonged eye contact, etc) from local woman if you don’t want to be the object of curiosity. Appropriate dress and conduct will attract less unwanted attention from the local men. It is a sad fact that many local men view Western women as promiscuous. This impression is largely due to how some women dress. Acting drunk and a bit wild is also bound to create the sort of interest you are trying to avoid. You need to balance your sense of adventure with an awareness of cultural differences. It is also important that you listen to and trust your instincts. If you are in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable as a woman, you need to follow your instincts and leave.Most countries in Latin America are well established on the ‘gringo trail,’ hence, there will always be opportunities to hook up with other travellers. This will greatly reduce any hassle you might get. This should not deter any woman from travelling alone as this can be a rewarding and empowering experience. There is probably nothing more satisfying to a solo female traveller than knowing she forged her own path.While it’s true that there are specific concerns for female travellers, the risks that are out there shouldn’t stop you from hitting the road. There are thousands of solo female travellers currently exploring Latin America and you could be one of them.
“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”~~Mahatma Gandhi~~1869-1948, Preeminent leader of Indian nationalismTrend #1 – The InternetEverybody knows that the internet has changed virtually everything… especially the Travel Industry. Online giants like Hotels.com, Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz have revolutionized travel. Even Travel Agents & Agencies are booking online while the general public searches and buys their own vacations online. In fact, it’s estimated that 82% of all travel is now being booked online. Travel is one of the most researched topics on the internet… and also the most profitable.The internet is simple, seamless and the perfect medium for the travel industry. We just point, click, and pack our bags. Before the internet, however, an agent’s bread & butter was commissions earned with business travelers… predominantly flights. American Airlines was the first to pull the plug on paying commissions on flight purchases as the internet started coming into its own and more business travelers were finding better deals online.Since 1997 well over 200,000 agencies went out of business. Over 1 million travel agents lost their jobs to the internet. That number grew after 9/11. The days of brick & mortar very quickly got taken over by click & order, making for a far more efficient system. However, those very few agents & agencies that could foresee the positive impact the internet could have for them, jumped right into the explosive opportunity that the internet introduced, to maintain as much of their client base as possible. Very few, a decade ago, opted to go with the flow of change. Today, everyone understands that the internet is here to stay. When we are adaptable to change, we flourish… and profit.Because of the internet, the online travel agent is also home-based. Because of the tremendous opportunity, continuous industry growth, and #1 industry training, today’s travel agent is your mother, cousin, aunt, neighbour, best friend, etc. and earning 60-100% of the vendors commission. It’s for everyone.Trend #2 – Word-of-Mouth MarketingWord-of-mouth marketing has been and always will be the best way to market anything. Statistics prove that 80% of all vacations (most anything really) are taken because of a recommendation from a friend, family member or co-worker. Think about the last time you came home from a vacation. Did you keep it a secret? No way! We talk about it for 2 months before leaving and talk about it for 2 months after we get back! And we show everyone pictures and videos! And we recommend the destination and hotel to everyone (or not) and tell them where we bought our terrific deal!Familiarization trips (FAMs) play a huge part in word-of-mouth marketing. The only way for agents to really learn about what they sell is to experience it first hand. FAMs are put together by cruise lines, hotel chains and destinations worldwide. They usually include accommodation, tours, meals, shows, transportation, etc. Prices are slashed making it affordable for agents to travel multiple times a year… VIP!. The vendors roll out the proverbial red carpet for agents when they arrive. They’re given the most exclusive experience possible because vendors know that when agents return home… they’re going to talk about it!The average person will purchase his vacation online at retail, once a year.Agents will travel multiple times a year, all over the world as far and wide as they want to go, for pennies on the dollar. For this, FAMs continue to be one of the major perks today for agents in the industry.Which takes us to…Trend #3 – Home Based BusinessTravel students, Baby Boomers and everyone in between are bringing travel home!Leading agencies smart enough to follow the internet trend, have gone online and now offer just about anyone the opportunity to be professionally trained to operate and sell travel from home!! Woohoo!! That’s right! YOU can sell travel from the comfort of your own home and get paid!Doesn’t it make sense that if you’re going to travel anyway (especially as much as the Boomers), that you buy it from yourself and get paid? Or get paid commissions on the trips your friends, family, neighbors and co-workers are taking already? Of course! Most people will do business with someone they know & trust. You may as well be that person, right?Agencies quickly caught on to the franchise phenomena online and have opened up the opportunity to just about anyone with a valuable work ethic who is willing to learn. Coupled with word-of-mouth marketing… you’ve got a winning combination! The more knowledgeable you become, the more perks, FAMs, FREE trips, upgrades, etc, become available to you… cha-ching!I’ve been selling travel for years. Everyone who knows me knows that I’m a travel industry professional. For more than two decades I’ve been asked “How did you come by this work?”But I also get asked, “What’s the best place to go for our honeymoon?” or “Can you recommend a Caribbean cruise itinerary?” or “What hotel should we stay at in the Mayan Riviera?”Hey, it’s not rocket science!! If I have the answers and I can get paid for the sale… Hello??The internet made it possible for me to have my own online agency and benefit even more from the extraordinary perks available to travel professionals! Being online means I don’t really even have to be home. Because my business is online, I am accessible to the world, 365 days of the year, 24/7! Friends and family can book all by themselves while I’m hiking with my dog! I can even book flights or all-inclusive vacations right from my BlackBerry!! WOW! So my home-based travel business is really my mobile travel services!! Super cool!!We must not forget the amazing benefits that come with owning a business from home as well!Aside from the obvious travel perks, just about every family vacation now becomes a FAM. As professionals, when we take a few minutes to inspect and ask questions about the accommodations, tours, restaurants that we ourselves are experiencing while on vacation, we’re really educating ourselves for our customers. So our personal vacation now becomes classified as a business trip… and an expense that we can write off! Super cool, again!On a personal note, I’m only 45 seconds from my bedroom to my office!It’s a beautiful thing to be able to work from home, anywhere in the world, to have your own business and to qualify for such incredible travel-insider perks. Retirees, at-home-moms, students on the run… it’s available to just about anyone with a can-do attitude, has a strong work ethic, loves to learn, and is highly self-motivated. A few hours a day can earn hundreds to thousands of dollars! No bosses, no limits!
Are you wondering if you can or should start a REO foreclosed home cleaning business? If so, there are some things you’ll want to be aware of. I’ve been involved in this business in the Phoenix Arizona area since 2008. There are 3 things I’ll cover in this article that I wished I had known about when I decided to get started: 1) Insurance requirements, 2) photo requirements, and 3) the timeframe on payouts.Insurance Coverage RequirementsIf you decide to move ahead and start a REO foreclosed home cleaning, or Property Preservation business, you’ll need to be aware of insurance requirements and costs. There are three forms of insurance that you will be required to carry by most clients who hire you. Your clients will require you to carry any combination of either one or all of these types of insurances.1) General Liability insurance: This is basic “business insurance” that most services businesses are required to carry. It protects your business assets when it is being held liable for damage to property or injury.2) Errors & Omissions insurance: This is a more specific type of insurance usually held by real estate agents and inspectors. It is required if you start an REO foreclosed home cleaning business so that your business will be covered for liabilities that result from misinforming another party about a property’s condition that results in financial harm. When you do property preservation work for a client, you are in effect telling any of your clients, “I will be your eyes and ears onsite at these properties. I’ll report to you and provide documentation of their condition, any damages, and any work I perform there.” If some financial harm results from an error you made or your omission of a vital detail about the property, you may be sued by the company that hired you. E & O insurance will protect your business’s assets in this instance.3) Workman’s Compensation insurance: This is a type of insurance that pays medical expenses for you and your employees and compensation for wages lost due to injuries suffered while doing work for your business. Insurance Costs are a monthly overhead expense you’ll need to consider immediately upon securing clients and one that will be a constant. These can cost you $100 – $200 /mo for each insurance type.Photo DocumentationStarting an REO foreclosed home cleaning business doesn’t mean you will just be cleaning foreclosed homes, submitting invoices, and getting paid. There is an often overlooked variable when people are evaluating whether or not to start a REO foreclosed home cleaning business: photo documentation. In many cases, you will be servicing properties for out of town clients, but even locally based clients will sometimes require photos. All of my clients (local and national) required photo documentation of the work I performed. This means you have to shoot photos with a digital camera of the work you performed at a property. Specific photo requirements vary by the client however, as a general rule they will want you to shoot photos of the property your servicing before and after you’ve performed the agreed upon work. The majority of clients I’ve had have also required during, or ‘action’ shots showing the actually being done. Actually shooting the photos is one part of photo documentation.When we discussed the types of insurance policies you’ll need, I said you act as the “eyes and ears” of your client. These photos you take and submit are their “eyes” into the property. These photos are how you prove you did the work you agreed to and to their specifications. If your photos do not meet their standards, you risk not getting paid. You may be sent out to redo work and shoot photos again in order to have your invoice approved. But taking the required photos is not the only challenge, submitting them in a format, sizing and naming convention they require is another matter entirely. For example, most clients have a requirement that all pictures have a date stamp to ensure when your work was completed. They also have picture sizing requirements (usually 640×480), and yet others require you to label them with a given naming convention. For example B4Lawncare042611 – 123 Abc St. Organizing, labeling, resizing, and sending photos to your clients can easily add 1 -3 hours to every work day after your work in the field is completed depending on how many jobs you completed that day. Which brings me to my next point: different companies have different methods for submitting photos. Some want you to email photos and others will have specific areas of their websites that will allow you to upload photos using their custom uploading application. You’ll need to learn each of your client’s systems and processes for submitting photos and invoicing and follow those for each job you complete.When Do I Get Paid?If this is not your first services business venture, you may already be covered here and have realistic expectations. For me, this was my first foray into the services arena, as well as the business to business services arena. What I mean by that is your clients will always be institutions, not general consumers. When I got started, I thought I would do the work and get paid within a couple days or weeks of completion. That is not how it works. These institutions all have internal processes for approving and paying on invoices. What this means for you and your business is that you will have to wait a minimum of 30 days, sometimes over 60 days from the day you complete the work and submit your photos and invoice until you receive payment on the work. If you are coming from the 9 to 5 world this can sound like a bit of a shock, but it is an industry norm. Rest assured that it is something you can manage and be successful in spite of, but I think it is important to know this upfront.Do not despair! The point of this article is not to discourage you, but rather to inform you. I’ve made good money in this business, and I believe you can too.