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10 Travel Tips from A Regular Jetsetter

1. Travel Light: I almost never check in luggage, unless its on the last leg of a trip and I’m on my way home (this is when I have extra stuff to bring home anyways from my travels).  Standing in lines to check in bags is something I don’t enjoy. If you are planning an international trip to multiple countries, avoid brining a lot of “stuff” with you.  Bring the bare minimum and if you need something along the way, buy it.  On top of it, checking in luggage can be expensive.

2. Don’t plan too much: Make general plans and figure it out the details when you get there.  Many times, I’ve booked hotels/accommodations in advance to find they are unsatisfactory upon arrival.  Also, too much planning is stressful!  Be spontaneous… you will enjoy traveling more.

3. Bring essentials on an airplane: Charged laptop, charged smartphone & external battery pack(s), good headphones, a book, magazines, notepad/pen, earplugs (huge!), neck pillow, jacket (staying warm helps you sleep).

4. Print out destination guides for your trip to read on the plane:  You can find these on international airline’s websites.   They usually provide pretty solid information on the city/area you’re traveling to without fluff.

5. Buy food prior to getting on the plane:  Unless you’re flying first/business class, you will probably be stuck eating some expensive & mediocre airplane food.  

6. When researching places to stay, find out if the showers have good water pressure and that the wifi signal is good:  To a business traveller like me those are probably the two most important things to look out for.

7. Avoid tourist-trap restaurants (a huge rip off!):   One of the biggest benefits of traveling is being able to eat the local cuisines and try food that you wouldn’t otherwise find here in the States. Stay away from bogus “tourist-friendly” restaurants near tourist attractions.  Talk to locals to find out the best places to eat, or visit some foodie blogs to find out the best places and dishes to eat in each city you visit.

8. Buy things like plug converters before you travel:  Typically these types of goods are much more expensive and harder to find once you reach your destination.

9. If you are planning to see multiple countries in the same region during your trip, check budget airline sites: I also like to use sites like SkyScanner.com, Expedia.com, Kayak.com, etc. to find the budget airlines (or just google ‘budget airlines in asia’ for example) then I check those airline’s websites directly to find the best deals.

10. Never use currency exchange services at airports or tourist traps, unless you absolutely need to: They are usually a rip-off.  Find out what the currency exchange rate is and use that as a guide for any/all transactions. Use your ATM to pull out cash when you arrive at your destination instead, and pull out more than you think you need so you dont need to use the ATM more than once and incur extra fees. Spend all of your coins from the foreign country before departing (unless you want it as a keepsake) because many currency exchange companies will not accept coins.

Bonus tips:

A. Use Google Voice to make/receive free phone calls and text messages with your friends, family and colleagues back in the States while you’re overseas.

B. Take photos of your passport and other important documents and email them to yourself so that you can print it out in a worst-case-scenario situation.

C. Call your debit- and credit-card companies before you leave on your trip to let them know the countries you’ll be visiting, to ask about fees, etc.

D. Unlock your smartphone before you leave on your trip, so that you can get a SIM card at your destination.  Having internet on your phone while traveling is hugely helpful.  Trying to find wifi is a total pain!

If you travel a lot and have your own tips, please leave them in the comments below!

 

 

Random Thoughts on Entrepreneurship, Traveling and Life

A few days ago I returned from a 67 day trip around the world. In total, I hit 18 countries.  This might sound like a big deal to many people, but to me its business as usual.  Since I left the corporate world and focused my efforts on building my own businesses, I’ve been able to enjoy an extensive amount of freedom.  I’ve taken advantage of this and have been able to enjoy  international travel every year, sometimes more than once a year.  Seeing the world and experiencing new cultures, languages, foods and cities is a big passion of mine.  I literally feel like I have been able to live the lifestyle of a millionaire!  I have an inside joke with one of my business partners: we call each other multi-millionaires and multi-billionaires — its silly, and we laugh about it, but in reality, we both have the freedom to do pretty much anything we want in life, due to our unique work situations.

This trip was different from the ones I’ve done in the past…  this time I traveled around the entire planet instead of coming home after hitting one continent/destination.  I’ve always wanted to circumnavigate the world and I can finally check that off of my list!  Thanks to my internet based businesses, I have been able to live my life with a high level of flexibility in terms of when and where I work and play.  With the current modern day technology we enjoy, now is probably the best time in the history of the world to be an entrepreneur!

Over the past weeks, I’ve had many people ask me: “Mike, how are  you doing that?  What kind of job do you have that you can travel like that?” I want to say to any of you who might be reading this that seek the same lifestyle setup that I have been enjoying for the past 5-6 years… it is completely possible.  Yes, it will require a lot of time and effort to get over the initial hurdles to leave your job and start and grow an internet based business, but in the end it is definitely worth it.  You can have it all – just act now and don’t defer your happiness to the future! Many people along the way have questioned my life choices and only focused on the negatives about leaving my old career (management consulting) or home for long periods of time and “missing out” on things that were important to them.  The bottom line is that you are the only person that can make decisions in your life to be happy.  Decide what you want, and go for it.  Stop thinking so much and act!  I encourage you to take some concrete steps towards what you want in life!

Forget the concept of retirement and the rest of the deferred-life plan—there is no need to wait to enjoy life. Whether your dream is escaping your dead end job, world travel, or just living more and working less, getting started with your own business is really the way to go.  At this point, I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.  The thought of going back to corporate America to work as an “employee” to grow someone else’s bottom line just doesn’t sound appealing in the least to me.

Traveling internationally has really opened my eyes.  In many ways, we live in a cultural bubble here in the states.  Yes, the USA is an amazing country, but there is a lot we can learn from the way people live and the way things are done in other places around the world.

Experiencing new places and ways of life is both an educational experience and a pleasurable one.  Despite meeting up with friends and business partners on my trip, I did spend a good amount of time traveling solo.  I’ve found that making new friends is easy in nearly any culture/environment, even more so if you travel alone because you are forced to talk to people!  If you are friendly, genuine and charming, making friends with people from every culture and background is possible.  Once you make these new friends, you can learn a whole lot about the world from the other person’s vantage point.

Another way traveling has opened my eyes is that it has taught me to not take anything for granted.  You don’t know what you’ve got ’till its gone!  Just off the top of my head, I have gained a newfound appreciation for space.  Here in the states, we really live in luxury in terms of the amount of space we have in our homes and apartments.  In most places I’ve been on my trip, people live in small, cramped living quarters — but they make it work and are used to it.  When I returned back to my house here in California, my eyes really opened and I realized how luxurious my place really was!

While traveling is a ton of fun, there are a couple drawbacks!  One of my primary complaints about traveling as an internet marketer has been lack of access to wifi and a proper workstation — desk, nice office chair, large external monitors and even simple peripherals like a printer.  Moving around constantly limited my ability to get a solid amount of “work” done.  Yea, I have a great laptop and everything but its really not the same when you aren’t in your natural office environment.  Despite all of this, I was able to get the basics done and keep things functioning.  Another issue I found has been that I totally lost my workout routine and clean diet streak.  A big part of traveling is trying new food and drinking a lot of alcohol.  After over 2 months on the road, I have to say I lost a lot of the progress I saw in my fitness level – not being able to play basketball or lift weights frequently really took a toll on my strength and body composition! A big part of it is due to the completely irregular meal frequency and volume of delicious food and drink I enjoyed on the road!  Yea, I probably could have worked out more by doing body weight workouts in my hotel rooms and etc, but its just not the same as the routine I have back in California.

Here is a basic outline of where I went, in order:

San Francisco, California (start)

Stockholm, Sweden – Very clean country with nice public transport, excellent food, and very beautiful parks and buildings!  A bit expensive though

Berlin, Germany – A nice city with a vibrant nightlife scene among young people, great food and beer, internet not so great surprisingly, efficient transport system — lots to see here!

Prague, Czech Republic – Very beautiful and affordable city with great food and beer (fresh draft beer is under $1 at bars!) – definitely worth a visit

Vienna, Austria – Super efficient and clean place with beautiful parks and very friendly people

Bratislava, Slovakia – Small town with very beautiful women and a great nightlife scene

Budapest, Hungary – Once again, gorgeous women and incredible architecture.  Breathtaking city, really.  I will definitely return here someday.

Prague, Czech Republic

Rome, Italy – Already been here several times in the past, but never stop enjoying this place.  Incredible basilicas and churches, architecture, passionate people, and great food!

Naples, Italy – You can skip this place haha

Amalfi Coast, Italy – Very beautiful coastline with winding roads high above the ocean.  Absolutely delicious food everywhere.  A bit expensive but well worth a visit at least once in your life.

Positano, Italy – One of the most beautiful places on the planet – high end vacation spot.  Spent over a week here.  The water was really clean and warm.  Just look up some photos on google and you’ll see what I mean.

Pompeii, Italy – Always wanted to check this place out since I learned about it in elementary school.

Rome, Italy

Vatican City State – Home to the most beautiful basilica and piazza on the planet.  All designed by Michelangelo.

Brussels, Belgium – A beautiful, diverse city with excellent food and friendly people.  I was surprised to learn that everyone speaks French here.

Amsterdam, Netherlands – Stunning little city with canals all over, tons of places to eat and drink, lots of people partying everywhere, amazing parks, great food, inexpensive, thousands of people on bikes.  I want to move here someday!

Antwerp, Belgium – Sort of just passed through this place but it was very nice.

Paris, France – One of the most beautiful cities in Europe.  Great food and views.  Very expensive place to visit!

Lisbon, Portugal – Portugal is really underrated.  Some of the freshest and best food I had in Europe.  Very beautiful monasteries, churches and monuments all around.  Great nightlife scene.  Very cheap!!!!

Nazare, Portugal – A stunning coastline home to some of the largest waves ever ridden by man.  Great seafood here!

Fatima, Portugal – A pilgrimage spot I’ve always wanted to visit.  If you are Catholic this is a must see!

Lisbon, Portugal

Barcelona, Spain – Tons of stuff to see here. Great churches that are not really churches anymore since you have to “pay” to go inside.  A bit run-down and not what I expected but I am glad I visited this place.  Great food and nightlife.

Stockholm, Sweden – Flew back here before catching my flight to Asia

Bangkok, Thailand – Bangkok is pretty amazing.  Its a slum but at the same time a sophisticated city.  Very friendly people, lots of scammers trying to get your money, awesome shopping and food, great nightlife.  Bangkok is crackin’ 247!

Hong Kong SAR – One of my favorite cities on the planet.  I’ve been here maybe 10 times before this trip.  Incredible architecture, infrastructure, and public transport.  Most free economy on the planet.  Food is insanely good!  Nightlife is awesome.

Macau SAR – Small place, this is the Vegas of Asia.  Tons of cash coming in here from wealthy mainland Chinese people.  Resorts/casinos here are incredible.  Food was VERY good and not too expensive.

Seoul, South Korea – I decided to visit Korea before returning to the States, and what a great idea it was.  This was my first time in Korea.  Its really a fascinating place that is alive 247.  Much more affordable than I thought it would be.  Japan-level efficiency/technology/hospitality but 1/5th the price!  Food was very very very good, nightlife was awesome, shopping paradise.  I may want to move here someday!

San Francisco, California (end)

Fun, crazy things I experienced on this particular trip:

Drank alcohol in public – yes, this is crazy because its basically illegal everywhere in the United States and legal everywhere else in the world.  Shocker!

Watched live World Cup games in Italy, Netherlands, France and Portugal with the locals while their team played (Being of Italian descent, I had always wanted to see Italy play a WC game while in Italy!)

Ate hundreds of incredibly tasty meals….  Also tried exotic things like birds nest soup and other random stuff

Saw Pope Francis at the Vatican during his public Sunday Angelus, the 3rd pope I’ve seen in real life (JPII, Pope Benedict)

Paid a visit to the four major basilicas in Rome, a famous Pilgrimage for many Catholics

Drank some incredible beer in Austria – an amazing place!  Was cool to see the stomping grounds of one of my favorite composers (Mozart).

Saw the location where the miracles of Fatima occurred in Portugal

Visited dozens of World Heritage Sites

Visited dozens of world famous museums, one of my favorites being the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam and the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya in Barcelona (amazing collection of Medieval/Gothic art)

Saw the canals & Red Light District of Amsterdam and the world famous “coffee shops” 🙂

Visited historical sites such as the home of Anne Frank in Amsterdam and the Berlin Wall in Berlin, Germany

Was able to visit Portugal and 2 of its colonies in a 1 year period (Brazil and Macau)

Drank some of the best beer I’ve ever had in the beer capital of the world: Prague, Czech Republic (including real Budweiser Budvar beer – totally different from the stuff sold here in the States)

Experienced some of the best local nightlife ever with some great new friends in Budapest, accompanied by 2 bodyguards – one of which was a UFC champion

Saw some of the most beautiful coastlines in the world in Amalfi, Italy and Nazare, Portugal (Nazare is the location of the largest waves in the world)

Saw the famous ruins of Pompeii

Ate some great Belgian Waffles in Brussels, Belgium (and chocolate!)

Lived like a local in Paris, France with 2 great friends and their family (including some insanely-good food!)

Met with many of my best friends and business partners from around the world who hosted me and/or travelled to Europe to meet up!

Saw many famous places in Spain like Sagrada Familia, Guell Park and the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona

Partied at the Sky Bar in Bangkok, Thailand, made famous by the movie ‘Hangover 2’ (side note… Thailand has a great nightlife scene – the clubs are top of the line!)

Trained with world class kickboxing teachers on a rooftop in Hong Kong (Bruce Lee style)

Partied at Lan Kwai Fong (LKF), Hong Kong’s nightlife district with hundreds of bars and clubs — one of the best places to party on the planet (my personal opinion)!

Witnessed great performances by Olympic Gold Medalist Zou Shiming and others at the Champions of Gold professional boxing event at the Venetian Hotel in Macau (also saw Michael Buffer do the announcing and Freddie Roach in his corner) –
side note: Macau is amazing! Both the food and casinos are world class

Visited Seoul, South Korea – their display of efficiency, infrastructure and cuisine is second to none! – Great nightlife scene there as well.  The Samsung HQ was REALLY impressive.  They are coming out with some great new products!

Where are all the pictures?

I’ll be posting some photos of my trip here soon.  I decided to take my Canon DSLR along with me and I literally took thousands of photos, so theres a lot to go through and it will take some time!  Bear with me.  In the meantime, add me on instagram.com/banana_ads to see some pics that I’ve already put up.  I did lose my iphone in Germany so theres a few weeks where I wasn’t posting anything.

 

Have a great business idea? Go for it!

Several years ago when Groupon was blowing up here in the states, I thought it would be a great idea to clone this business model and start it overseas.  At the time, I had a Korean friend who I was working with and we decided to start on this project together and launch a similar site in Korea.  We built/coded the site, put it on a nice domain (one of them was Sadah.com (the word pronounced in Korean means “buy”), and even lined up everything we needed to start the business and go live.  We hopped on a plane to Asia, and spent 8 weeks traveling and partying instead of focusing on this business opportunity.  I got a bit burned out from all of the moving around and decided to come home instead of venture on to Korea with my friend to start the business.  In the end, we never got the website off the ground and live…. what a huge mistake!

On a flight to Brazil recently, I was casually reading Forbes magazine, and ran across this article (http://www.forbes.com/sites/jjcolao/2013/08/14/how-an-e-commerce-king-is-conquering-korea/).  As it turns out, someone else ran with this same idea, a year or two after we were even going to start it, and it became a HUGE success!  $650 million + in sales in their 2nd year of business!

I knew this was a huge opportunity, but I wasted it.  Don’t make the same mistake I did… If you have what you believe to be a great idea, go for it!

Hang Gliding In Rio De Janeiro!

One of the most amazing things I did in Brazil these past few weeks was jump off a cliff!  Check out the video below (jump is around the 3 minute mark).  This gift of flight was made possible by two of my best friends (they are also my best business partners!).  Watch in 1080P HD in full screen for the best experience 🙂

Going global with affiliate marketing

Promoting products in global markets can be a challenging task, but targeting global markets is really starting to take off for many affiliates. There are many benefits of going global when it comes to affiliate marketing. In general, most affiliates don’t really think outside of their geographical domain when promoting internationally. Most of these international markets are relatively new since international affiliate marketing lags behind the US by some time, in terms of the adoption of internet marketing. Germany and the United Kingdom are some of the most robust economies in Europe, and there is very high disposable income which is something affiliates can capitalize on.  Another point to consider is that many internet vendors such as Google, Yahoo, or Bing charge such a high price for clicks in the US (due to the saturated market — many bidders on the same keywords increase prices), for example if you were to search for “Auto Insurance” on Google (some keywords can cost $40+/per click). For some foreign markets, these clicks are seen to be significantly lower since international ad space is considerably less saturated.

Summary (large opportunities, less competition, cheaper ad rates!)

Translation vs. localization- Is one of the big challenges faced with many affiliates. Many affiliates believe that all they have to do is translate their messages and you’re ready to roll internationally. Landing pages need to be properly translated to reflect the target region’s dialect and linguistic nuances.  PPC ads need to have the jargon, colloquialisms, and context-sensitive wording that only a native speaker would know how to use. Anything less can and probably looks unprofessional and may affect conversions.  It’s much better to look at it from the stand-point of localization when promoting affiliate offers. It’s really important to get with someone who knows the culture in and out- (someone who lives their currently). Another example of something else to be aware of when entering new markets is payment methods used by these consumers. For example, there are some countries that don’t use credit cards very often (Germany), so it’s something to be aware of before promoting these products in countries like this.

As a tip, try using Elance.com, Upto20.com or Fiverr.com to find locals to translate and “localize” your ads and pages for you.

Landing Page Tips

1. Be sure to list key points why the customer should sign up for whatever it is you are enticing them to sign up for
2. Display a “call to action” – these can be buttons, text links, etc.
3. Instill trust with good ad copy
4. Satisfy search engine quality requirements
a. Include footer links that say “Privacy Policy, About Us, Contact Us, Terms and Conditions”. Google likes to see these things, as you seem more like a real credible site. Make them actual pages too, just make them pop up in a small window when the user clicks them (if they ever do). Just copy the Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions from the offer you’re running, and then make some content for the About and Contact pages.
5. Boost SEO ranking
a. Have a content written for you (10-20+ articles or something), and link to that from your site. Again you can do this above the footer links or something. Just write something like “Helpful Articles:”, and then list them. When Google or other search engines crawls your page, they’ll see that you’re not just some bridge page, you’re a real site that contains a lot of relevant content.
b. The easiest way to keep adding fresh content to your site is through a blog. Create a blog using WordPress and host it on YourLandingPage.com/blog. Add your initial articles that you’re going to link to from your homepage. Then every few weeks, have a new batch of articles written and update your blog with them. Google will see the new content that keeps coming in and put your domain in good standing. If you have hundreds of articles attached to your site and is accessible through your homepage, you’re going to look like a fully blown website that deserves to be in the search results.
c. Include 1 article on the main page. After the very bottom footer links, put a few line break tabs and then paste and article. When a user comes to your page, they likely won’t see it, but when Google crawls your page they’ll see all the content on it.

Affiliate Summit in the Big Apple 2011

I just got back from New York City, where we attended ASE2011. In short, it was an amazing show. I always enjoy NYC — the food, the architecture, the energy, its all good! Affiliate Summit East is one of the biggest affiliate conferences in the world and this year was no exception. It was so big that they packed 2 conference rooms with booths at the New York Hilton. Not to mention how intense the parties were at night. This is solid proof that affiliate marketing is the greatest industry in the world. You mean I get to hang out with people from all over the world in New York and party for free? Can you really call that work?

On top of all the networking, I also got a chance to listen to some of the top experts in the industry drop knowledge:

1. Amazon tax
For those of you affected by the Amazon Nexus tax in California, there’s a glimmer of hope. Amazon is running a petition drive to get 500,000 signatures to put the tax on referendum. That means that it’ll be voted on in the next ballot by California’s citizens and put on pause for 8 months until it’s been voted on.

2. Affiliate Improv
Are you a new affiliate but don’t know how to get started? Try to make it to Affiliate Improv at the next Affiliate Summit. A panel of industry experts took ideas from the crowd and built an entire business out of their suggestions. This was a very fun and very interactive panel with plenty to learn.

3. Changes to the SEO game
Industry experts are concerned with changes to Google since the introduction of Panda. This great panel drilled down to the bits and pieces of how page ranking will be changed from now on. Google’s going to ramp up their efforts to bring relevant content to its users in many ways using their new system.