Traveling Solo vs Traveling with a Friend – Advantages and Disadvantages

I went to Cuba with my good friend Barb. She’s an enthusiastic young woman who’s both smart and attractive. Because accommodation and car rental prices would remain the same whether they serve one person or two, I thought that if I were to take that trip with a friend instead of going solo, the price would be more bearable and we could both enjoy an affordable, yet action packed vacation. This was in fact true and having Barb with me proved to have further advantages. If you’re in a country where average monthly wage equals to what you spend on a nice dinner for two back home, you get hustled a lot. This is understandable because one dollar is a lot of money for those people. However, regardless of how much you can relate and how much you would like to help, there is only so much you can do before you run out of resources and patience to put up with this. Hustling in third world countries is overwhelming and follows you on every step of your trip. Sooner or later it’s bound to get extremely irritating.

Photo: Me and My Friend Barb Traveling Together to Cuba. Picture Taken on a Plane to Varadero
Photo: Me and My Friend Barb Traveling Together to Cuba. Picture Taken on a Plane to Varadero

Having a friend by your side is a huge help in such cases. Not only does it allow you to use your friend as an excuse when all other excuses are countered, you are also less likely to fall for shady tricks because one of you two could pick up on it while the other one is talking. There is hardly ever such thing as a friendly local whose sole interest is to help you – even though that’s the way they present it. They are only and solely looking to help themselves, however they are ready and willing to say anything that will make you spend that dollar. And after spending a lifetime of trickery pulled on foreigners visiting their land, they know very well what works and what doesn’t so you can count on right psychology to be used against you. Having a moral back up in form of a friend who’s on your side is invaluable and could save you from a lot of disappointment.

However after Cuba, I went to the Dominican Republic solo. While Cuba was mind-blowingly awesome, The Dominican Republic was even better. Yes, I had to pick up the tab for car rental and the rooms myself with no one chipping in and yes, I had no one to help me out when locals were trying to take advantage of me, but I had no one to discuss where we’re going and what we’re doing next, whether we’re going to pull over and have a beer where those hot chicks are or not, etc. There was no one to compromise with, no one to be telling me that hitting on random chicks was boring, no one to go through their backpack while I was feeling like taking a nap.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both traveling solo and traveling with a friend (or a group). I have learned overtime that traveling solo strums my cord better than traveling with someone else. But it truly is nothing more than a personal preference. The best way to take it is by having your mind open. For me personally – I know that I will start each travel on my own, however if I was to meet someone interesting along the way who wishes to explore the same place as me or is heading in the same direction as me, I would not mind for them to join me for as long as they don’t mind me joining them. We’ll enjoy each other’s company and when we hit the place where our paths part, we will simply go each our own way.

I do personally like travelling solo better than traveling with a friend but that doesn’t mean I would ditch latter for former. Again, there are advantages and disadvantages to traveling with a friend as there are advantages and disadvantages to traveling solo. You will probably figure out which works best for you after you have tried them both.

Photo: Girl from the Dominican Republic I Wouldn't Have Met If I Wasn't Traveling Solo
Photo: Girl from the Dominican Republic I Wouldn't Have Met If I Wasn't Traveling Solo

There is one specific advantage to traveling solo, though which applies particularly if you are on the road for a long time. As you move from place to place, you meet many interesting people – both locals and other fellow travelers. Some happen to be interesting to a point that you would like to get closer with them. Having a partner traveling with you could hold you back and prevent you from exploring this part of local culture. Whereas if you travel solo, you are on your own devices and you decide what you do with your time and who you spend it with. If you want to get to know someone you have met while traveling, as a solo traveler you can do it without issues. But if you travel with a friend or with someone you’re in a relationship with, you are likely to give in on the opportunity without even trying or else it could cause needless tension. And that strips you from some of the most joyous experiences you could stumble across while traveling.

I’m not necessarily talking about having sex with people you meet on the road. People engage in all sorts of activities many of which could not be presented to you because you are there with somebody, or you could feel awkward explaining the wheres and whys. Being with somebody, regardless of what type of relationship is between you makes each of you feel as though you are responsible for answering to one another. But being on your own leaves you answering to no one but yourself. You don’t need to explain anything to anyone if you want to do something spontaneous.

When you travel solo, you don’t have to take care of anyone. There are no rules, no restrictions, no boundaries, except from those you set for yourself. On the other hand, traveling solo also means that there could be no one for you when you need to talk. There could be no one to offer different perspective when you could be opting for something that may not be good for you. There are advantages and disadvantages to both traveling with a friend and traveling solo. You should always explore both possibilities and find one that works best for you. And keep in mind that the universe likes change. If you’ve been on the road on your own for a while, don’t oppose the offer to explore the city you have just got to with someone who just got there too.

Travel Tips – Easy and Cheap Laundry Cleaning

As part of my travel advice column (just kidding) I would like to share another of my travel tips that help me along as I travel on a long term basis. Let’s take a look at one of the essentials – keeping your clothes clean and ready to wear when you need it, while keeping the laundry cleaning efforts easy and cheap.

Unless you are embarking on a less than a week long trip, chances are you will need to get your laundry washed. If you are a long term traveler like me, you will be in need of ongoing laundry cleaning service so unless you can provide yourself with an easy and cheap way to wash your own clothes, you may be stuck with costly and inconvenient options of using hotel laundry services or worse.

As a backpacker, you will likely try to keep the size of your luggage as small as possible so you don’t have to haul it around in sweat like a mule. I keep mine down as much as possible by limiting the number of clothes article to no more than three of the same type. But it comes at a price – you quickly run out of clean clothes to wear. And if you also happen to be in a tropical country during wet season when temperatures reach 40 Degrees Celsius and humidity is near 100%, you may be forced to change clothes twice or more times a day. How do I deal with such situations?

I was my clothes each time I shower.

It’s as simple as that. Each time you get a chance to take a shower, grab a handful of your clothes with you and after you are done lathering your body, apply some of the soap (no problem using the same soap you use on yourself) to your clothes and give them a nice rub. Depending on the size and number of your clothes, this could only take a couple extra minutes or could add a quarter of hour to your total shower time, but if you do it regularly, it will be a quick and easy thing to do and you will always have clean clothes.

Then when you get a chance and have actual washing machine available – go ahead, make use of it and have all of your clothes properly washed and rinsed. But many areas, especially when it comes to third world countries don’t have coin operate laundry facilities so options are few and if they exist, they are pricey. Giving your sweat drenched t-shirt and underwear a quick rub while you’re having a shower can avoid running out of clothes and having to deal with big pile of them at once. There’s nothing like having to have a “laundry day” while you’re on the road.

The main advantage of laundry cleaning while you are showering is that dirty laundry won’t pile up on you. Washing your entire load in one sitting is a daunting job. Doing it a couple of pieces at a time turns it into “not a big deal”. It’s very cheap and easy and if you make a habit of it and instantly go through your backpack to pick soiled clothes prior to hitting a shower, your traveling will be more enjoyable and you will always have clothes available no matter what occasion pops up.

Another advantage of laundry cleaning in small chunks while you shower is that you will be able to dry it in your room wherever it is you are staying at the moment. You won’t need an outdoor laundry line – just use bed posts, window sill, chairs, door knobs, coat hooks, etc. Every room has more than enough options to hang a small load of washed laundry dry.

Photo: Any Room Will Offer More Than Enough Options To Hang Your Clothes Dry After Hand Washing
Photo: Any Room Will Offer More Than Enough Options To Hang Your Clothes Dry After Hand Washing

An important thing to remember – as a long term traveler on the road, never ask permissions to wash your laundry in the shower. Simply take a few articles in the shower with you and wash it. Many hostels offer laundry services often at an extremely high per kilo price. Having to pay $4 for 4kg of laundry (small load) is truly a lot and it requires you to hand your soiled underwear to a person you don’t know. But it’s an easy stream of income for any hostel so it’s to be expected that they will want to discourage all of their guests from doing their own laundry and will want you to use their overpriced services instead. Asking for permission to do your laundry in the shower room can result in a “No!” so they can get a chance to make money off of you.

You don’t have to be a traveler on a budget. Avoiding payment for ridiculously overpriced services does not necessarily mean you are cheap. It simply means that you are smart. Add to it the fact that do it yourself laundry cleaning can be done on the cheap and on the easy, so why consider overpriced options? Just do it the way I do – while you’re showering or find your own way that works best for you and use the money saved for something worthwhile. Smart travelers know little tricks that get them by for free or for cheap and don’t get fooled by artificially inflated price tags from institutions that like to take advantage of unsavvy travelers.

Stop Theft Plate – Tagging my Laptop to Prevent Theft

Laptops come in a variety of slick designs which along with their great resale value make them an attractive target for thieves. After my laptop was stolen, I was gonna watermark my new laptop with irremovable information that would identify me as a rightful owner. Just as I was about to do that, I found out about Stop Theft Security Tracking Tags and ordered one to use as a superior way to watermark the laptop which not only watermarks it, it further deters theft, increases chances of recovery and unlike regular, hand-crafted watermark, increases resale value if the equipment is sold by the rightful owner. I had ordered my Stop Theft Plate and received it in a little over week despite international shipping (from the USA to Canada). Installation of the tag was easy and straightforward except from one inconsistency in the manual which kept me constantly confused (hope Stop Theft people are going to look into that and fix it). This is how I went about tagging my laptop to prevent theft with Stop Theft Plate:

Photo: My Stop Theft Tagging Plate Came in This USPS Package
Photo: My Stop Theft Tagging Plate Came in This USPS Package

Stop Theft Tag – What’s In The Box

My Stop Theft tag came well packaged, shipped by USPS after I opted against the UPS delivery (my previous experiences with items shipped to me via UPS from abroad resulted in prolonged delays due to excessive screening of international shipments using non postal delivery services). The box contained the Stop Theft kit and a sales receipt. Within the Anti-Theft System box were the following items:

  • Stop Theft Steel Plate with Red Warning Sticker
  • Instant Adhesive
  • Cleaning Alcohol Swab
Photo: The Package Contained Stop Theft Kit and Sales Receipt
Photo: The Package Contained Stop Theft Kit and Sales Receipt
Photo: Stop Theft Kit Contained Tagging Plate, Adhesive and Alcohol Swab
Photo: Stop Theft Kit Contained Tagging Plate, Adhesive and Alcohol Swab

Stop Theft Tag Installation

Tagging my laptop with a Stop Theft plate was simple and straightforward except from a confusing statement on both the kit which contained the installation instructions on its rear side as well as on the pdf document containing installation procedure posted on the Stop Theft website. The confusing part consisted of referring to the instant adhesive as “adhesive’, “glue” and “gel”. In order for the tattoo to properly etch on the casing of your laptop, it is important to apply a thin strip of “gel” which will activate chemical process resulting in permanent ink on your equipment. Because you will not find anything labelled as “gel” in the kit supplied to you, referring to something this important as “gel” is extremely confusing and makes you feel like you are not doing it correctly.

Photo: Stop Theft Kit Contained Installation Instructions
Photo: Stop Theft Kit Contained Installation Instructions

I believe Stop Theft people should revise their installation instructions and clarify this statement. Since there is no gel provided with the kit, only Instant Adhesive, it would be advisable to refer to it as such throughout their installation instructions. Confusing the crap out of their customers doesn’t do the otherwise solid company any good. The process of tagging my newly purchased Samsung N150 netbook is shown below with pictures:

I wanted to have the plate on the lid of the laptop, to ensure it is highly visible, but chose the far end of it so it doesn’t deface the flipping side of it too much. In order for the tag to properly attach to your equipment, it is essential that you choose a flat surface and DO make it the front of your computer, not some obscure side of rear end.

Photo: My Samsung N150 Netbook Ready to be Tagged for Theft Prevention
Photo: My Samsung N150 Netbook Ready to be Tagged for Theft Prevention

Step 1: Cleaning the Area for Tagging

Photo: Cleaning Swab Contains 70% Isopropyl Alcohol and Works Great in Removing Impurities and Oil Deposits
Photo: Cleaning Swab Contains 70% Isopropyl Alcohol and Works Great in Removing Impurities and Oil Deposits
Photo: I Cleaned the Far Corner of the Laptop Lid with Alcohol Swab and Let It Dry Thoroughly Before Proceeding
Photo: I Cleaned the Far Corner of the Laptop Lid with Alcohol Swab and Let It Dry Thoroughly Before Proceeding

Step 2: Applying Gel to the Plate

Photo: Loctite 454 Instant Adhesive Bonds Skin Instantly. Only Apply Small Amount to the Plate to Avoid the Excess Oozing Out from Under the Plate
Photo: Loctite 454 Instant Adhesive Bonds Skin Instantly. Only Apply Small Amount to the Plate to Avoid the Excess Oozing Out from Under the Plate

I applied a thin strip of adhesive along the entire width of the tattoo and a tiny drop near each corner of the plate before placing the plate on the case.

Step 3: Apply Tagging Plate to Laptop

Photo: I Kept the Plate Firmly Pressed Against the Case to Ensure Firm, Airtight Bond for About 20 Seconds
Photo: I Kept the Plate Firmly Pressed Against the Case to Ensure Firm, Airtight Bond for About 20 Seconds

Step 4: Apply Red Warning Sticker

Photo: After Steel Plate Was Firmly Affixed, I Applied Red Warning Sticker Next To It
Photo: After Steel Plate Was Firmly Affixed, I Applied Red Warning Sticker Next To It

Step 5: Register Tagged Laptop

After proper hardware application, I went to to register the laptop and link it to my tag ID. The warning sticker which informed me not to forget about the registration as sole application of the plate without registration of the ID is worthless was on the steel plate and I removed it after I was done registering.

Careful application of the adhesive should ensure that you don’t experience any excess oozing out from under the plate after application. However if you go overboard applying too much, take the protective backing you peeled from the back of the steel plate and use it to gently wipe off the excess.

Photo: My Samsung N150 Netbook Tagged with Stop Theft Security Plate
Photo: My Samsung N150 Netbook Tagged with Stop Theft Security Plate

My laptop was protected. Stop Theft is a simple, yet effective way to watermark the equipment. I was gonna watermark my laptop anyway, but Stop Theft plate made it simple, more effective and more elegant, while retaining the resale value while in control of the rightful owner. This protection will be on my laptop for as long as the laptop is around. If I decide to sell the laptop, new owner will get it with complimentary Stop Theft protection. This added value will increase the resale value of the unit. There are no annual or renewal fees to continue having the tagged equipment protected.

Stop Theft Tag – Security Tracking of Office Property

After I had my laptop stolen, I realized that one of the most powerful and easiest to implement ways to deter theft and identify yourself as a rightful owner even if the laptop is not in your hands is by permanently watermarking your unit. If you are able to make a permanent, irremovable mark on a visible part of your laptop, than chances of resale drop significantly, value drops insanely and chances of recovery increase. Writing your name and contact email address with accompanying text that identifies you as the rightful owner with a permanent marker would be somewhat good, but carving the information in just in case someone uses a solution that can wipe off the permanent ink is even better. This is what I was going to do but then I found out about much better a solution, one that serves a bunch of other good causes – Stop Theft Tag for Security Tracking of Office Property.

Photo: Stop Theft - Security Tracking of Office Property Package
Photo: Stop Theft - Security Tracking of Office Property Package

Stop Theft is a security plate that gets permanently attached to your office equipment (most popular with laptops, but can be used with other office equipment) and requires great amount of force to remove. Any attempt to remove Stop Theft tag results in visible damage to the equipment which significantly decreases its resale value. Removal of the plate also reveals the etching below which is permanently tattooed on the casing of your equipment and contains words “Stolen Property” along with the toll free number (+1 800 488 STOP) which connects to the Stop Theft’s recovery hotline. This toll free number also appears on the security tag along with bar-coded ID. There is a highly visible, well worded warning on the tag which makes everyone aware that tagged laptop is police identifiable and contains other information to quickly facilitate the recovery of your laptop whether it’s stolen, lost or misplaced.

While the Stop Theft tagged laptop is under your control, its value is increased. However if stolen, the tag which is attached at a prominent location, along with the chemically bonded tattoo below make it impossible to explain to a potential buyer, completely eliminating the elicit resale value of the property. Because Stop Theft tag links the equipment to one particular user, this user can sell the equipment along with the access to their Stop Theft account which could serve as added value that comes with the laptop, increasing its potential worth.

The downside of permanently marking your laptop at a highly visible spot is that it ties the laptop to you forever. That diminishes its resale value even if you as a rightful owner decide to sell it. It could also deface your notebook and make it look very visually unpleasing or downright hideously ugly. Stop Theft Security Tracking Tag solves these issues with style, provides the same effect as you would achieve with your own, hand crafted watermark, adds a patented method that etches a permanent, unremovable tattoo to your equipment but also provides easy and free ways for contact rightful owner without disclosing their identity and contains strong language that would make would-be thieves think twice before they touch your laptop. Most of all, unlike self made watermark, Stop Theft Security Tracking Tag adds resale value to your laptop for as long as it is the rightful owner who is looking to sell it. In the hands of the thief, it does exact opposite.

Photo: Stop Theft Tag Applied on My Samsung N150 Netbook
Photo: Stop Theft Tag Applied on My Samsung N150 Netbook

Stop Theft Security Tracking Tag costs only $20 to buy. If you purchase larger quantities of the tag, price per tag becomes significantly lower. This can be particularly invaluable for the use by organizations with many portable devices (such as laptops). Because of attractive price when you buy a bulk of 10 plates and because of savings on shipping, I thought of buying 10 at the same time and possibly using it overtime on new laptops I may buy in the future or some other equipment (use of Stop Theft Security Tracking Plates is not limited to laptops). However I have eventually decided to go with only one after discussing my options with Doug Belfiore, one of the people behind Stop Theft.

Talking with Doug of Stop Theft was a positive experience that further proved the company is on top of the game and uses coveted human approach. Replies were timely and contained no cut and paste phrases. Doug was responding directly to me, addressing directly everything I asked about and talked like a friend, rather than some machine that must deal with customers every day. I had no doubt that Stop Theft is a solid company. I did my research and found nothing but good things that people had to say about them and their product. It is a great value for money and an invaluable security feature that could save you from a lot of grief.

Because Stop Theft is a US based company (located in Norwalk, Connecticut), the tags are shipped from there which means longer waiting times and higher overall cost for all of use who don’t live in the US. Shipping to Canada was almost $12 US (shipped by USPS – the less expensive of two available options) which increased the cost of the whole ordeal by more than 50% however the plate came well packaged and was shipped swiftly (USPS tracking number was emailed to me within hours of order placement), causing no delays in application. I was truly excited when I got the parcel as it made me instantly feel as though the chances of losing my laptop to a theft again dropped significantly. I could not wait to apply the security sticker to my machine.

Stop Theft Security Tracking of Office Property Website is located on


The preceding is my personal review of the office equipment security tracking system Stop Theft. I have not been paid to post this review.

Check out how I tagged my laptop with Stop Theft plate to prevent theft.

Samsung N150 Netbook Canada

My awesome Samsung laptop was gone and all the data on it went with it. It was a horrible loss the repercussions of which are still very much painful. However, this milk was already spilled, crying over it would not make it better. It was time to move on and start looking at buying a new laptop. This time around I took well into account the most important argument one mustn’t forget when buying a laptop to travel overseas with. I was more than happy with the Samsung laptop I bought before and the same company has just released a new netbook with latest Intel N450 processor (known for low power usage) so I went to take a good look at it. It was called Samsung N150 and like it’s bigger brother, it was only available in Mac like white in Canada.

That bothered me not. I knew Samsung makes solid portable computers and as I was looking up N150’s specs, I had no doubt that just like Q320 in laptops, this is the best netbook on Canadian market and it’s also the best value for money. Unlike great deal of its competition, Samsung N150 netbook was sold for $399 or less at Canadian big box electronics stores which beat many inferior models by $50 to $100 Canadian.

Future Shop Canada had Samsung N150 listed for $399 and since I bought my previous laptop with them, including an extended warranty (never ever again), I thought of giving them a call to see if they’d be able to work something out for me. Afterall, I had just spent $300 half a year ago which they can stick right in their pocket as there will never be any warranty claims against that purchase. I phoned the Future Shop location in West Edmonton where I bought my laptop and asked to speak with the computer department manager. It was a bit difficult to get to him but I was persistent as non managerial person would not be able to address my issue.

I eventually got a manager on the line and explained that I had spent $300 for 3 years of extended warranty with Future Shop but the laptop was stolen so I won’t make any claims with it hence basically all of it goes unused because the laptop was still under manufacturer’s warranty. I told him that I would be interested in purchasing a new laptop with them if they were able to work out part of the money I spent on the extended warranty towards the purchase of my new Samsung N150 netbook.

The manager was a complete ass and acted like the world belonged to him. Once he was done explaining how important he and the company he works for were, he mentioned that he would be able to put part of the extended warranty I had already purchased towards the purchase of a new extended warranty. In other words, I lost $300 once and he used it as an opportunity to upsale me with another rip off extended warranty. Nevermind the fact that Samsung Q320 which I had stolen was more than 3 times as expensive as N150 so extended warranty for my new netbook should be less than one third of what I paid for Q320. That means that not only should I get the extended warranty for free, there should be the left over money on it to use towards the purchase of the netbook itself.

At that point the manager concluded that he needed to go and couldn’t discuss this matter with me over the phone. I went to visit said Future Shop in person yet when I asked for the manager and explained who I was, I only got a message that he’s not coming out of his hiding, but one of the staff can work out some kind of a discount for an extended warranty I should purchase for my new netbook. Wow! What a manager. Extended warranties are not worth it to begin with, no matter what kind of discount he’d offer, I’d be losing on it, Future Shop would be the only one benefiting. So they were using my huge financial loss for their own enrichment and the manager didn’t even find the respect to come and greet me and talk to the staff on my behalf. Future Shop – you can keep my $300 I spent for the extended warranty on Q320. I will not ever buy from you again!

I went to the nearby Best Buy Canada shop and checked out what they had there. I really enjoyed the treatment there much more than in Future Shop. Too bad they didn’t have Samsung Q320 when I was buying it prior to my first departure. I would have bought from them but at that time the model was just released and Future Shop was the only outlet in Canada that carried it right away. Best Buy started to carry it later, but I was already gone.

I tried a nice N150 at Best Buy and definitely loved everything about it, except from ridiculously low screen resolution. This was gonna be a tough one to get used to but it was only gonna cost $400 total so I had little room to complain. Best Buy sales people are not commission paid – unlike Future Shop sales people. You experience way less pressure at Best Buy however because Best Buy sells electronic with very little margin, their financial sustainability depends on sales people’s ability to sell extended warranty with each purchase. These try hard attempts to sell extended warranty were too blatant from start to end. I wasn’t even buying, just enquiring yet the debate kept going towards extended warranties all the time.

Never the less, the treatment I have received from people at Best Buy was far better than that from Future Shop so I had nothing to think about. However, the only Samsung N150 model they had in the store was the display one. Unfortunately, on top of already pre-loaded bloatware, Best Buy display models are loaded with more bloatware to display their own sales pitches, mostly geared towards promotion of their Geek Squad.

They expected a new delivery next week so I went home without buying. I still had a couple of weeks before the departure so I didn’t need to rush with the purchase that much. Oddly enough, Best Buy updates their prices on Thursday so when I went to check out their website the following week, I found the price of Samsung N150 dropped down to $369 Canadian. That was my cue – this netbook is not gonna go any lower than this. It was already priced extremely well for what it had at $399 but to see it at even better price was an instant cue to buy it while this special lasts.

I knew that Best Buy in West Edmonton was out of N150s when I was there (except from the display model) so I called them to make sure they did get a delivery of new ones before I travel half way across the city to buy it. Unfortunately, they didn’t. I called their North end location and those guys only had a display model too. That was kind of disappointing and as the days were passing by, I was getting closer to Thursday when prices get updated again so I eventually went and bought it online at – good idea.

Photo: My Brand New Samsung N150 Netbook
Photo: My Brand New Samsung N150 Netbook

Processing of their on line orders is very smooth and fast. My netbook was shipped to me the following day from British Columbia and I got it the day after. From the beginning it seemed as though there will be a charge for delivery, but it turned out not being the case. It’s just that their website is a bit confusing. The good thing about buying on line is that you have no sales person throwing at you their well tested arguments to make you buy the extended warranty package. It is offered on one page when placing on line orders which I declined and that was it. I had my brand spanking new, super awesome Samsung N150 Netbook ready to roll. I was mobile again.

Buying New Laptop – What Is the Best to Travel Overseas With?

Painful laptop theft has opened my eyes and made me realize a number of things I didn’t take into account when I was buying my first laptop for travel. Samsung Q320 was a beautiful machine and it worked like a charm. I loved absolutely everything about it and it would have been my day to day companion for a very long time had it not been stolen. Fact of a matter is, when I was buying it, I took into an account everything but the fact that I will be traveling through the third world countries with it and once you spend an extended period of time in a country where 80% of people who see you are looking for an opportunity to steal from you, it only becomes a question of time before someone succeeds. You cannot be 100% alert and suspicious all the time. And what’s worse, people in third world countries will use the fact that this is where they live so they will portray themselves as extremely disadvantaged to make you want to help them and when you do that, you set yourself up cause that’s when you’re most vulnerable.

Samsung Q320 was the best laptop available on Canadian market at the time of purchase. It was also the best value for money and an insane powerhouse which would allow me to do any kind of work wherever in the world I would be. That’s why I bought it – I went for power, for a machine with which I could do absolutely anything while still keeping the size at around 13″. However, even though Q320 was an amazing value for money, the price tag was at $1,299 CAD. That is a lot of money to lose and that’s what I didn’t add to the equation. Laptops are slick, easy to grab items with narrow profiles which make them easy to hide. There is no wonder that there is one laptop stolen every 53 seconds in the USA alone. What it is on a worldwide scale I’m afraid to imagine. Laptops are plain and simple easy to steal and high demand makes them easy to sell. What better motivation could seasoned or opportunistic thieves need?

You can count on the fact that 90% of people in the third world countries who will see you using a laptop will have all kind of thoughts running through their heads. This one slick, easy to steal product could make them more money even if heavily undersold than they can make in 6 months of daily employment. Cell phones are as attractive, but their worth is lesser than that of a laptop which makes laptops so much more desirable. A thief would have to make 5 or more successful cell phone pulls to make the money equal to one successful laptop pull. If I were a thief, I’d specialize in laptops too.

This is one of the most important things to consider when buying a new laptop. If you are going to travel overseas with it, especially if you are intending to visit third world countries, take into account the possibility that your laptop could get stolen. This possibility is real, very real. Once again, you can’t be 100% alert 100% of the time and with so many people waiting around for an opportunity to steal something, one of them is going to succeed sooner or later. Look at me, I had my laptop stolen by a hitchhiker I offered a ride to because she would have been stuck without one. I offered help to a person in need and she used it to steal from me. Previously I would not even as much as not strap my laptop bag over my head and across the shoulder, but all it takes is that one moment you let your guards down and bam – laptop is gone.

From this point on, I knew that I’m only gonna buy an inexpensive netbook for travel overseas. Netbooks are lighter and smaller and should mine get stolen, direct financial loss will go into hundreds of dollars rather than thousands. Yes, I will be limited as to the use and capabilities, but unless there would be a secured financial prospect that requires more processing power, memory and larger screen, I will stick with a netbook for up to $400. On top of $1,299 + tax I lost with my stolen laptop, I also lost $300 I spent on extended warranty. This pushed the loss to more than $1,600. This is not the loss I can ever afford again. However for as long as I’m traveling through third world countries, the possibility of having my property stolen remains high. If you stay in a third world country long enough, it will not be a question of whether you will get something stolen from you, it will be a question of when.

In my home country of Canada, 90% of worries that you could be a victim of theft are unfounded. However once as a foreigner you enter a third world country, 90% of beliefs that no one will steal from you are unfounded. Don’t be a fool. I had to learn my lesson the hard way and am still suffering from painful consequences. Don’t buy a laptop worth thousands of dollars to take with you on the road overseas. Go with as cheap as possible one. If it gets the job done, it’s fine. In order to keep your blog updated, download and upload images, do basic image editing and maintain your MP3 player, all you need is the cheapest netbook you can find. That’s the best laptop to buy to travel overseas with, that’s what you need to keep in mind when buying new portable computer.

Extended Warranty – Worth It or Not?

I paid more than $300 for an extended warranty on a laptop I got stolen. That made the financial loss associated with the theft so much more severe and made me question the worth of extended warranties. I have done some research and found out that number of laptops that get stolen is significantly higher than number of laptops that need a pricey repair. What this means is that the chances that your laptop gets stolen (or lost – there is also a great deal of laptops people simply forget at a snack shop of an airport and won’t realize that until after takeoff) are far greater than chances of it breaking down. Taking all that into account – are extended warranties worth it or not? Let’s take a closer look at it:

Manufacturer’s Warranty vs Extended Warranty

Laptops, as well as other electronic devices come with manufacturer’s warranty included in price. In most cases, manufacturer’s warranty covers the product for one year and oftentimes applies worldwide. My Samsung Q320 laptop came with one year worldwide warranty and if you buy an equally reputable brand product, you will likely get the same with it. If something was unstable about the product you buy, it would show within a year of use. If on the other hand the product was solid built, chances are it will serve you well for many years without issues. That thing alone makes extended warranty NOT worth it. If there is an issue, it will show during manufacturer’s warranty. If there is no issue, chances are fair the product will work like it should way beyond the coverage of your extended warranty.

Photo: Sticker on My Laptop Signifying That I Came with One Year International Warranty from a Manufacturer
Photo: Sticker on My Laptop Signifying That I Came with One Year International Warranty from a Manufacturer

Extended Warranty Claims

If you look up statistics on the internet, you will find out that only about 3% of extended warranty cases end up paying for themselves. 97% of extended warranties purchased are a waste of money. The thing is that many people realize that they are facing a possibility of having the money wasted, but since extended warranty is a peace of mind, they are willing to consider that as an option. Sales people know that very well and have a handful of arguments at the ready to throw at you when you are buying a product. There is no wonder why extended warranty upsales make up for most of sales people’s wages. They are aware of statistics themselves and know that for the most part, vast part of extended warranties they sell will expire without any claims made, which literally means it’s hundreds of dollars straight in their pocket with nothing being given in return.

Cost of Extended Warranties

The cost of an extended warranty is not low at all. It’s typically 1/4 to 1/3 of the price of the item. So if you are buying a $1,000 worth of a laptop, you are looking at good $300 for an extended warranty. That’s a big chunk of money if you look at it. But it gets better – consider this:

If you do spend $300 for 3 years of extended warranty for your laptop, you will have your laptop “protected” until such time that it will be an obsolete piece of junk you won’t be able to use because modern application will not run on it. It’s a simple fact that technology progress is immense. You won’t even reach the end of your extended warranty and you will already start looking around for a new laptop that will contain all latest components cause your old one doesn’t have it. Had you not used the $300 for an extended warranty with purchase of this one, but used this money towards the fund for purchase of a new laptop, you’d be much better off right now. Because even if your laptop quits on you after three years, with an extended warranty you could get it fixed but end up with the same obsolete piece. Whereas if you put this money to work for you in the meantime, gain on its worth and use it towards the purchase of new laptop, you would end up with latest technology piece that will far and wide outdo your old one. Fast aging of electronic devices makes extended warranties not worth it. We’re not in the 1920’s when products were expensive, but were made to last. We are living in the age of disposable electronics. What you buy is not built to last, so don’t fix it, replace it.

Replacing a product after a period of use with newer, better, more feature rich and more up to date version is better than having an old one repaired on many accounts. Let it serve you for as long as it will and when its time comes, upgrade to a newer version. Gateway and Dell – makers of portable computers have both admitted that they have seen minimal increase in costs for warranty claims after they started offering extended warranties, but the increase in revenue grew substantially. That means that prior to offering extended warranties their cost of taking care of regular warranties may have been in the $16 Million mark, but as they started offering extended warranties, the cost of taking care of claims rose to $17 Million mark, but their revenue grew by $33 Million which came from sales of extended warranties.

Extended Warranty Scams

Savvy buyers know that many specialty coverages are a scam. Good example is rust protection for your new car. Car sales men like to offer special coating for your newly purchased car and since you are spending $20,000 on it, you should definitely consider investing additional $1,000 to have your body covered with special anti rust coating, right? It would normally make sense, unless you look deeper into it. And if you do, you find out that car body already comes with 10 years of anti rust manufacturer’s warranty. In other words, car dealership will try to sell you protection for your car that will do the same job factory applied protection does.

This scam is by no means limited to car dealerships. It is not uncommon to have extended warranties for laptops that cover certain parts of it for certain periods of time. But if you were to take a closer look at what is covered by an extended warranty, you would see such thing as “3 years replacement coverage for RAM chips” but oddly enough, most RAM chips come covered for a minimum of 3 years by the manufacturer.

Scams of that sort are very common. Retail outlets will try to sell you something your purchased item already comes with by default. This is yet another reason that makes purchasing extended warranties NOT worth it!

Who Does The Extended Warranty Work?

If you buy an extended warranty with a retailer, it will be the retailer or their sub-contractors who will perform the warranty work. During the course of my research, I have spoken with a number of people who had purchased extended warranties. Vast majority has never made any use of it. Few could have used it, but after 3 years they were not able to locate the receipts which nulled their eligibility for a warranty claim. Then there were a couple who did need to get something repaired and they each had bad experience. It was not uncommon to be told that something is not covered by an extended warranty, however even if a legitimate claim was made, the repair will be performed by their own people who often lack quality expertise and the job will be poorly done. There is nothing more frustrating than wasting time waiting to get your unit repaired, only to find out that after you got it back eventually, the issue still persists.

Conclusion: Extended Warranty – Worth It or Not?

Two things to consider:

  • Unless you are buying an item made by a company notorious for lousy, prone to breaking products (most Apple products, for example), then an extended warranty is most likely NOT worth it
  • If you know yourself as someone who looks after their stuff and doesn’t abuse it, then extended warranty is most likely NOT worth it. If on the other hand you often leave your laptop on the floor covered with an endless pile of garbage so you may end up stepping on it cause you couldn’t see it, and if you have a history of leaving your laptop on an anthill to let all forms of insects get into it, or if you use your laptop as tray for food and drink you consume while you are driving, then perhaps in such cases you should consider extended warranty. In your case it may be worth it.

In conclusion, and as a general rule – extended warranties are NOT worth it. They are extremely overpriced and in most cases end up being nothing more than money straight down the drain. If you do want to have peace of mind no matter the cost, then at least negotiate with the retailer and make sure you do not spend more than 20% of the item’s price on an extended warranty. Even so, if you are willing to admit that the item has a 20% chance of breaking down on you, then perhaps you should do your research better and opt for a brand that’s not notorious for having 20% of their product break down on consumers. If you go with a solid brand, chances that your purchase will serve you well are far greater than chances it will break.

Consider the odds. If you are buying portable electronics, chances of it getting stolen are far greater than chances of it breaking down. If you are going to spend the money, spend it on theft insurance or tracing software so you can increase the chances of recovery.

Products seldom break during the duration of extended warranty. Majority breaks while still under manufacturer’s warranty or die entirely long after your extended warranty has expired.

Given the cost of extended warranties, you are often better off using the money to start the “product repair fund” so you can take care of future issues and if none arise, use the fund towards the purchase of an upgraded version of the product.

If you make an extended warranty claim, you may not see your product for a month. If it’s something you need, such as a laptop for work, you will be screwed. You did not buy a laptop to be a month without it. Loss of productivity you will have incurred far outweighs the peace of mind offered by an extended warranty.

Finally, take a look at all the electronics you have bought throughout your life. How many of those have failed? Imagine you’d have bought an extended warranty for each of them – where would you be now? Would you have saved money or wasted it?

Buying an extended warranty is like going to a casino. The party that takes money from you, does so by making you believe that you are likely to get a lot in return. At the end of the day, whether you spent the money in a casino or for an extended warranty, it’s the receiver of your money who wins, not you. It’s a gamble. That’s why they do it. It’s because they know the odds are heavily against you. On occasion, someone wins, but vast majority lose. Though the reason why stores like Best Buy or Future Shop where I bought my laptop are able to offer near no mark up prices for products is because they rip people off on extended warranties. So I guess I better shut up now because without extended warranties, they would have to bump prices of the products they sell up to stay afloat. The more people buy extended warranties, the more it ensures low, near wholesale prices for products. Yeah, extended warranties are not worth it, but they ensure extremely low prices for gadgets I need. Keep buying, people 😉

Formatted CF Card Files Recovered

As soon as I got back to Canada from the Dominican Republic where my laptop was stolen I started the process of data recovery from the Compact Flash card I have previously formatted. I believed I will be able to recover most of the files that previously occupied the unused space of the card, however there were many files on the card that were taken after I have formatted it. The space these new files occupied was unrecoverable. The question now stood – which of the files missing will I not get back because the sectors have been overwritten with new data.

I must say it comes with great relief that the process of recovery went without major problems and I did recover most of the files I lost when my laptop was stolen. There were more than 7,000 pictures on my CF card when I formatted it and I recovered more than 5,000. The files I was not able to recover were those that were overwritten by new files and unless I get my laptop back (I still keep hoping that by some magic divine intervention I’ll get it back) I won’t see them again. However I can’t complain because after I found out that my laptop was stolen and realized that I lost all of the pictures I took in South East Asia, I was truly devastated. Seeing most of the pictures again was a great relief.

Photo: Sandisk Extreme III Compact Flash Card I Recovered Formatted Data From
Photo: Sandisk Extreme III Compact Flash Card I Recovered Formatted Data From

This basically means that I’ll be able to continue with my journal without the need to skip and never cover the rest of my trip in Cambodia and my enjoyable stay in Vietnam and Thailand. Most of the pictures I am missing are from Siem Reap, Cambodia. Those include smaller temples in and around town, and small venues and cultural events I visited or participated in before going to Angkor Wat Archaeological Park. Occasional image here and there is missing from the rest of the card as well, but I’m still happy and grateful that I was able to get 5,000 unspoiled pictures back. I do not have any of the emails I sent and received since August 2009, I don’t have any contact information on people I met during my travels, I lost all of the documents I was working on, website updates, videos and so on and unless I get my laptop back, I may never see those again, but at least I have most of my pictures back because pictures will serve as memories for years and years to come.

I have a lot of work ahead of me trying to catch up with where I was before my laptop got stolen. So much headache caused by one malicious person who did not hesitate to steal from me while I was helping her. It was a really painful and expensive way to pay for my willingness to make the world a better place. I keep my head up high and remain positive about the fact that for each bad person, there are a dozen nice people. Getting over this horrible experience will take some time, catching up with loss it caused will take a lot of money and extra work, but I do keep my head up high and continue looking forward because no matter how much I like it or not, I cannot change the past. It has happened. I had my laptop stolen for being trusting and eager to help. It’s time to learn from my own mistakes and move forward. I did all I could to recover my laptop and so far it has not paid off, however If I am meant to get it back, I will. In the meantime, I’m moving on and looking forward to new, better life ahead of me.

You Are At Your Most Vulnerable When Helping Someone

Theft of my laptop taught me a valuable lesson – you are at your most vulnerable when you are helping someone. You are simply never more prone to exploit by dishonest people than when you are helping them. Out of your sincere will to help, you go all out to make the world a better place and when you do it, when you offer your unconditional help, you do it believing that receiving party will appreciate your efforts and will be grateful for what you have done for them. And most people would. When you are stranded and can’t get yourself to a destination with your own devices, you will rely upon unconditional help of a random stranger and if such random stranger does offer their help – they will have taken a big weight off your shoulders. If I were in such position, I would make damn sure the person who helped me along knows that I am endlessly grateful for what they’ve done for me.

Trouble is – when you are helping someone, the last thing you expect is for them to take advantage of you and rob you while you are doing your good deed. Whether gratification is expressed or not, it is experienced. At least you who are the one helping subconsciously believe that because you are providing that other person with something they can’t provide themselves with, that they would be sincerely grateful. You know you would be grateful and you just wouldn’t fathom the possibility of them stealing from you (as happened to me) or worse.

Last thing you anticipate when you are helping someone is that they will take advantage of the situation for their own, selfish enrichment at your expense. Thieves have no class nowadays. They’ll stop at nothing and will intentionally put themselves in the situation of being in need of help and if someone who has the means to help stops and offers it, they will abuse it because they know that the helping one is at their most vulnerable, not even in their wildest dream anticipating it from a person they are helping.

It’s truly sad that this is really happening in the world today. When you would least expect it, when you should be receiving endless gratitudes, some people won’t hesitate to steal from you. This makes further helping much trickier. I’ve seen this happening to volunteers in South East Asia. Same thing – they flew across the big pond to help underprivileged people. Those people, people who were receiving financial support as well as support in form of work and shared know how did not hesitate to steal from those helping while they were around improving their lives. It does get worse though as I have also known a girl who was raped while volunteering by the very people she was helping.

Just as was with me, also this girl would never have prepared herself for the fact that an attack against her could be orchestrated by the very people she was helping. She was not ready for it, because you expect people to be grateful for putting your own life and interests aside to help them along. And they abused it.

You naturally tend to be suspicious with people you don’t know or have nothing to do with. If they are around you, you will be looking after yourself and your stuff eagerly because that’s a natural response to such situation. However when you are in a position of helping someone, natural response is to expect gratitude. You don’t actually anticipate them to start singing praises in your name, but you naturally expect them to feel thankful and will be glad they got help. Because of that you are likely to drop your guards. You believe those you are helping will react to help offered the same way you would – by showing appreciation to the person and their belonging and guarding them with your life. And that’s why you are at your most vulnerable when you are helping someone. It’s a lesson I took for my own too late and paid for it immensely.

There are more dishonest people out there than I would like to admit. They make helping others difficult but for as long as the society around them remains poor, they know that others will be willing to help and that means continuous supply of potentially easy victims who do not yet realize that they are at their most vulnerable when they are helping. The results are devastated lives and loss of faith in humanity. It truly is hard to get over it when someone you were helping takes such savage advantage of you while you are expecting their gratitude. This kind of limits your future options and you’ll think twice before you help someone again. In my case – I know I will not let that stop me; however I will limit this type of unconditional help in less civilized societies. I won’t hesitate giving a lift to hitchhikers in Europe, but will pass right by them in Central America or South East Asia.