Surprising Kidnapping Hotspots and How to Stay Safe
In our commitment to making travel accessible to everyone, Budget Travel does not enjoy sounding the alarm bells. But a strong piece of reporting by Vocativ's Gordon Bottomley points up some popular 2014 travel destinations that have an unusually high rate of kidnapping. Vocativ is a new global social news network that is establishing a great reputation for mining internet data that most other news sources don't. For "The Places You're Most Likely to Get Kidnapped," Vocativ focused on popular travel destinations where the risk of kidnapping is surprisingly high. (You don't need a reporter to tell you, for instance, that Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are unsafe at the moment, right?)
How do you stay safe? If you're in one of the hotspots listed below, consider sticking to the popular tourist sites or resorts, traveling with a guide, not wandering alone, not showing off your money, and learning the specific risks that your vacation spot may hold. In some cases these days, the risk is of an "express" kidnapping, where a hostage is held only until his bank account is empty and credit cards maxed out. Here, some of Vocativ's kidnapping hotspots and the risks you may face if you travel there.
Mexico. Unfortunately, one of the world's most popular vacation destinations also has the most kidnappings, topping 1,500 last year. Mexico's crackdown on drug traffickers has caused kidnappings to rise. "Express" kidnappings are a risk here, as are "virtual" kidnappings—in which criminals fraudulently claim to have kidnapped someone in hopes of collecting a ransom. The paradox is, if you stick to secure resorts, you will be completely safe.
Brazil. Though the site of the 2014 World Cup has a modest "official" annual kidnapping total of around 300, its government does not count "express" kidnappings in that number. Vocativ's research suggests that the real annual number may be more like 6,000. Kidnapping in Brazil is often the work of organized criminals or gangs of poor young men looking for easy money. With the 2016 Summer Olympics not far off, the country is stepping up efforts to halt this and other crimes.
India. Another paradox for travelers: Popular Indian sites like the Taj Mahal are sometimes located in poorer regions where the risk of kidnapping by either organized criminals, rebel groups, or less-organized thugs is on the rise. Sticking to the well-traveled path and booking a package tour with a guide are good ways of avoiding the risk of kidnapping, violence against women, and other crimes.
Kenya. No, you shouldn't cancel your safari plans—or take them off your bucket list—but you might consider sticking only to the wildlife park with a package tour and experienced guides. Serious economic and social inequality, terrorist groups, and criminals from neighboring Somalia are bringing kidnapping to the resorts on Kenya's north coast.
Will Cell Phones Ruin Air Travel?
Ok, so commercial air travel isn't exactly the most cushy, can't-wait-till-next-time experience. Literally flying in the face of centuries of philosophers, where baggage fees, shrinking leg room, missed connections, and canceled or delayed flights are concerned, it's the destination, not the journey that counts. But federal regulators seem to be itching to make your airplane seat feel just a wee bit smaller, having announced that they will weigh the possibility of allowing cell phone calls on planes. Labeling the existing rules against calls during flights "outdated," the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Tom Wheeler, drew the scorn of travelers, airline professionals, and, yeah, me, almost immediately. There's so much not to like about the proposal, including the fact that Wheeler is a former lobbyist for the cell phone industry who joined the FCC less than three weeks ago. It's too soon to tell where this will lead (the next step is a mid-December hearing), and two of Budget Travel's favorite U.S. carriers—JetBlue and Southwest—have already indicated that regardless of whether the regulations are changed they may stick with a no-cell-phone-use policy during flights. Before we hear from our favorite travel experts—the Budget Travel audience—I'd like to make a modest proposal: On the commuter train that takes me down the Hudson River from my little suburban village to Manhattan, cell phone use is allowed, but a firm announcement is made before and during each train ride noting that cell phone use should be kept to a minimum and kept quiet. Mind you, even this considerate, flexible policy has occasionally led to situations in which otherwise mild-mannered passengers (some of whom I know personally) descend into Goodfellas-style dialogue as they clash over the precise meaning of words like minimum and quiet. But it seems that some version of "use your phone only if you need to and don't annoy the people around you" might be appropriate if regulations are changed to allow in-flight cell phone use. What do YOU think? We want to hear from you in the comments below—and we'd love to use your thoughts and suggestions to formulate a Budget Travel policy on airline cell phone use in a future story!
Ski Resort Survival Guide
Psst! I have a confession to make. I've never skied. Seriously. All my friends are doing it. Geez, even their kids are doing it. But I've never quite mustered the right combination of guts and know-how necessary to try it. I dunno. Maybe it's because for me the word downhill brings to mind an ill-advised—and ill-fated—sledding stunt I attempted when I was 11. It involved a slight, um, cliff. And a second or two during which I was completely airborne. All these years later, I distinctly remember how my (relatively brief) life flashed before my eyes, and how it felt to finally hit the ground and walk away (lucky for me) with just a few bruises. Well, it turns out skiing at a good resort is waaaaay safer than my rogue sledding expedition. Those of you who have also never been skiing—or those skiers who feel you haven't yet gotten the hang of booking and getting the most out of a ski resort—are in luck. I've decided that this is the year I take the plunge, and I thought it would be the ideal opportunity for me to reach out to an authority—About.com's skiing expert, Mike Doyle, to help me and my family get started on our adventure. SEE SOME OF AMERICA'S MOST BEAUTIFUL SKI RESORTS! CHOOSE THE RIGHT DESTINATION "Before you can start planning, you'll need to think about two main factors: where the group wants to ski, and where the group can ski," says Doyle, an award-winning ski journalist who covers downhill and cross country skiing and has the brag-worthy distinction of dividing his winters between Park City, Utah, and Killington, Vt. "Set a budget for transportation costs and then decide how far you want to travel; once you have a location determined, look within that area for a ski area that best fits what you're looking for." Doyle notes that your number-one concern should be what kind of terrain that resort you're considering offers: "Are there enough beginner trails to keep the newbies occupied, enough intermediate runs and groomers to engage those who are advancing in their skills, or enough expert terrain to satisfy the long-time skiers? Obviously, what you're looking for depends on the skill set within your group, but you want to make sure everyone will be entertained. Also keep in mind lodging options; nightlife activities; childcare opportunities, if necessary; and lift ticket cost. If you run into a roadblock and can't decide, research ski resort reviews to get a feel for the true experience." GET GOOD DEALS "The number-one way to snag a deal is to start planning now," Doyle advises. Getting started well ahead of ski season gives you time to compare prices, and booking early can also allow you to get some nice discounts. "If you buy an all-inclusive lift ticket and lodging package in advance, you'll likely spend a lot less than if you found a place to stay last minute and bought a lift ticket each day." As with other kinds of travel—especially to popular areas and resorts—avoid winter holidays and "peak weeks" when school is out. These are the busiest times and also the most expensive, and Doyle predicts, "You'll end up paying more just to stand in long lift lines." And while most ski resorts don't offer "flash promotions" independently (the way theme parks might), you can find similar deals online. (In fact, we unblushingly recommend BudgetTravel.com's Real Deals for winter getaway packages!) "It's pretty rare to see lift tickets on sale," Doyle notes, "but you can usually find great lodging deals." RENT OR BUY EQUIPMENT? I've always been a bit puzzled by how much ski gear can cost. (Okay, I'll admit my idea of "gear rental" is bowling shoes or ice skates. Needless to say, skis, boots, and poles scare me a bit.) "Renting vs. buying is a very personal decision," says Doyle. "It all comes down to how often you think you're going to use the equipment. If you're only going to ski once or twice a year, renting is the best bet. Usually, you can rent nicer skis and boots (which will make your day a lot more enjoyable) for less money than you can buy baseline, entry-level equipment. I generally recommend that new skiers rent for the first few times even if they think they're going to be skiing a lot, so they can get a feel for the sport and what kind of skis they prefer." WHAT IF THE WHOLE FAMILY ARE BEGINNERS? In my case, no one in my family has ever been skiing. So a ski resort visit will involve two adults, an 11-year-old, and a 6-year-old learning. How can that possibly work? "Regardless of the age of the children, the best bet is for separate lessons," says Doyle. "The techniques to teach children skiing vary from how adults are taught. I would recommend that the adults take a lesson together, while the children are in their own lesson. Then, once the adults are comfortable, the family can start taking runs together on the beginner trails." WHAT SHOULD WE PACK? "Before you head to the resort, make sure you have all your gear in advance, including less obvious items, like hand warmers and a neck gaiter," Doyle recommends. "If you forget to pack something, many of these accessories are available to buy at ski resorts, but at a significantly higher price." That can go for food as well. A ski resort cafeteria can charge $12 for a hamburger and $5 for a bottle of water! "Multiply that for each member of the family, and you're looking at a lot of unnecessary costs." WHAT WILL MY SKI-RESORT DAY BE LIKE? So, I know my family and I will be taking some ski lessons, breaking for a packed lunch, and attempting the beginner slopes together. But what else will our days at a ski resort involve? "Many resort towns offer fun winter activities like ice skating, dog sledding, snowmobiling, or sleigh rides," says Doyle. "Do your research before you arrive, so you know what to expect. If you're into resort nightlife, one of the best times to hit up the aprés ski bars is when the lifts close, around 4 p.m. Many offer happy hour discounts on both food and drinks." ARE THERE ANY UP-AND-COMING—OR BUDGET—SKI REGIONS? At Budget Travel, we're always looking for what's next, and I wondered if there are new ski regions on the rise in the U.S. "Not really," is Doyle's surprising answer. Although there are certainly areas that are perhaps underappreciated as excellent ski destinations, such as West Virginia, there really aren't new ski areas being developed. The exception, Doyle points out, is expert terrain that is being expanded into what's called "sidecountry," which means experienced skiers can venture outside the resort boundaries via "gates" that are accessible from the lifts. "Revelstoke Mountain Resort in British Columbia, for instance, is going into its sixth season, but it's pretty remote." As for destination ski vacations, Doyle recommends Park City in Utah: "It has three world-class ski areas all within a free bus route, and offers all the variety, abilities levels (including beginner-friendly), and is only 35 minutes from Salt Lake City airport. The town offers a wide range of lodging and dining that will fit any budget." With Doyle's advice ringing in my ears—and a brother-in-law in Park City—I hope to introduce my family to the joys of downhill skiing this winter. Do you have a great first-time skiing story? "Like" Budget Travel on Facebook and tell us all about it!
4 Scams To Watch Out For In Paris
I just got back from an amazing trip to London and Paris with Contiki, a tour company that specializes in tour packages for 18-to-35-year-olds, where I spent nine days touring the sights and attractions both cities are known for—my London & Paris, plus Paris Extension tour included guided day-trips to Stonehenge, Bath, and Versailles, as well as group visits to the Eiffel Tower at night, a show in London's West End (ours was to Mamma Mia!), and an optional trip to see the Moulin Rouge dinner show that I couldn't resist. Needless to say, I was able to get a great sense of both places before the two-day extension portion of my trip started in Paris—Contiki's plan allowed for a great mix of time spent with the group, time in smaller groups, and plenty of solo travel time during the last two days, which I used to explore the city on foot, armed with my camera and a few French phrases, soaking up every moment and appreciating the beauty around me. For a look at my journey through London and Paris, please follow our brand new Instagram page, mybudgettravel. A special thank you to everyone who shared their favorite places to visit (and eat!) in London and Paris in the comments section of this story. I loved reading through these and testing them out, and if you're in the process of planning a trip to either city, I suggest you do the same! Paris, like any other city, is no stranger to petty theft and we've covered this before in this story about how to visit Paris without getting your pocket picked. On our first night in Paris, our knowledgeable Tour Manager took us aside and told all of us to watch out for these three popular scams practiced throughout the City of Light (the last is a variation of one of the big three) in case we should encounter them during our trip. Armed with this knowledge, I was able to meet each of them head-on as a level-headed traveler, rather than ill-informed tourist, and escape each of them without a fuss. Please don't let this affect your doey-eyed, romantic view of Paris (I didn't!), just think of it as something to be aware of, you know, just in case. Please Sign My Petition for a Super-Worthwhile Cause!This scam is really banking on you being a nice person who wants to help change the world...and a silly tourist who can't understand French writing. I was standing on the "Love Bridge" at Pont de l'Archeveche, looking for a spot to attach my lock when a young girl approached me with big, sad eyes, said nothing, and shoved a clipboard in my face that said, "Won't you help the blind and the deaf?" There were a few signatures to indicate that this was a petition, but the rest was all in French, and as our Tour Manager informed us, most likely said something along the lines of, "If you sign this, you have to give me 500 euros or else." Recognizing the scam for what it was, I simply said, "No, sorry, no," until she took the hint and moved onto the next person. Watch out for this one around any major city sight, and never sign anything while you're away from home just to be on the safe side. The String TrickThis particular scam is most commonly practiced throughout the Montmartre area and our group ran into it on our way from the Metro to the giant staircase (described below) that leads to the Sacre Coeur, a popular stomping ground for tourists. Honestly, this is the one I really want you to watch out for—the other scams are all based on distractions and tourists not knowing any better, but this one could actually get ugly if you're not paying attention. What happens is someone will approach you on the street with a piece of string, yarn, or other crafty-looking item and ask if you want them to make you a "Friendship bracelet" or "Friendship Ring." Whatever you do, just say no and keep walking. Trust me. Our Tour Manager explained how if you agree, the person will slide the string over your finger (or wrist) and tie it so tight that it's impossible to escape from. This person (and possibly a few of his or her larger friends) will then lead you over to the nearest ATM, only setting you free from the trap after you've emptied the contents of your bank account. A group of hopefuls approached us as we walked, but we knew it was coming, so were able to say, "No" and keep walking away, no harm done. We did, however, spot a woman on the other side of the street having a bracelet made, so it was a rude awakening that this actually does happen. Just say no thanks, and keep going. The Ring TrickDeeply based in distraction and the hope that the victim will fall for just about anything, there are several versions of the Ring Trick that usually involve a gold ring or otherwise valuable looking object being left in plain sight. When the unsuspecting tourist picks it up and tries to see who it belongs to, someone either steps forward and demands money for your newly-found "gift," or tricks you into believing it's worth paying crazy amounts of money for. Our Tour Manager said he's heard of people paying 50 euros for a gold ring they were promised would bring them luck. Please, oh please, don't be that tourist. If it's not yours, just leave it alone. Did You Drop Something? (A variation of the Ring Trick)I encountered this one on the steps of the magnificent Sacre Coeur in the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris, just moments after ascending what has to be the world's longest, steepest, tallest staircase—at least it feels like that. (Lesson learned, next time, just suck it up and take the nifty little funicular stationed right next to it!) Anyway, it's a distraction technique guaranteed to draw your eyes—and your attention—off your wallet. Basically, if you're standing somewhere and hear something drop to the ground, but you know you haven't dropped anything, just walk away. The idea is to make you think you did actually drop something of value, and bend over to look for it, thus giving the person who really dropped it enough time to snatch your wallet. Sneaky, huh?
How To Travel The World For Free
We know, we know. You can't actually travel the world without paying for something along the way. But we've got a few ideas to help cut down on costs and ensure you'll have a more authentic adventure. Barter your time and hard work for a place to stay Christine Maxfield, founder and editor of CompassMag.com and producer of the When In Roam: Conversations with Travel Writers podcast on iTunes, recommends work-exchange programs like WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), HelpX.net, and WorkAway.info as a way to immerse yourself in new culture and make local friends quickly. "Work exchange is a little different than volunteering because you barter your time for food and lodging with a host rather than spending money for the opportunity, said Maxfield. "I've learned the most interesting jobs that way, from black-pearl diving to working at a sea-turtle hatchery, and it only cost me my hard work! It was a very fulfilling way to travel, and I also made lifelong friends with my hosts so I was never lonely." Another option is to pitch in at a local hostel you plan to stay in, as oftentimes owners can use the extra help and may be willing to offer you a free bed for the night as payment for a day's work. How to get started: In the case of WWOOF, the hardest part is deciding where you want to go. Some countries have their own WWOOF organizations, websites, and programs, so visit the link listed above, choose a country, and browse through the farm lists. Sign up to be a volunteer—as long as you're over the age of 18—and follow the instructions. In some cases, you may have to pay a fee of up to $72 to view the final listings for a country, but it's well worth the money you'll be saving on accommodations in the long run. Pack sturdy work boots, prepare to pay for your travel expenses to and from the farm, and set aside some extra cash for day trips while you're off. The program is available in more than 60 countries worldwide including Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, South Africa, Costa Rica, Thailand, Ireland, Italy, the United States, and Canada, so take your pick! Related: 50 Incredible Images of New Zealand and Australia House-sit your way around the world You’ve heard about pet–sitting, but what about house–sitting to save money while traveling? Dalene and Peter Heck are one Canadian couple who did just that: four years ago, they sold everything for the sake of travel, started a website, Hecktic Travels, and wrote a book about how they saved over $30,000 in accommodations costs by house–sitting their way around the world. The basic idea is reciprocity: keep an eye on someone's home while they're away, and you get to stay in it for free. It's a win–win since the owners get the peace of mind in knowing their houses (and sometimes pets) are safe, and you get to take the price of accommodations out of your vacation budget. (You'll also save money on food, since your lodgings now include a kitchen.) Jobs can last anywhere from two weeks to six months and give new meaning to the term culture immersion. "The best part about the whole experience has been the ability to really dig in to a destination and get to understand the culture. We get to know people and visit places that regular tourists never would," said Dalene Heck. How to get started: A number of websites, such as TrustedHousesitters.com, House Sitters America, The Caretaker Gazette, and Mind My House among others, provide listings for a fee (ranging from $20 to $60 depending on the membership), but consider this an investment. The couple recommends creating an account on multiple websites to increase your chances of being chosen for a coveted house–sit job. Planning ahead is the key, since it can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to fully flesh out the details of a contract. House–sitting hopefuls from the U.S. should remember to check Visa requirements for countries they plan to apply for, Dalene warns. "In 28 countries of Europe, Americans are only allowed 90 days total at a time, so the dream of bouncing around from house–sit to house–sit indefinitely isn't really an option there." Crash on someone's couch Websites like GlobalFreeloaders.com and Couchsurfing.org aim to bring together like-minded travel-worshippers and promote a more authentic, cultural exchange between them. The other perk of course is that free accommodations are more than likely part of the equation, with hosts offering an extra bed, couch, futon, or other temporary place to crash while you're visiting a new city. Participants get in contact with each other and can interact as much or as little as they want: if you'd rather just meet a host for coffee or lunch, that's fine. If you decide to host someone in your home (or are hosted at someone else's home) and want to cook for each other, even better. The whole point is to leave your comfort zone behind and get to know someone new from a different environment than your own, so take this free opportunity to make a new friend and embrace a new culture. How to get started: Both sites require you to create a free profile—GlobalFreeloaders only lets you do so if you're able to host someone in your own home within six months of signing up, as there are two sides to this travel coin, visiting and hosting. Couchsurfing, however, is more flexible and gives you the option to create an account so you can participate, and lets you list "Not Right Now (but I can still hang out)" if you're not ready to host someone in your own home but are still open to the idea of meeting new travelers, whether for a quick drink or to show them around town. Related: 11 Bucket List Adventures You Can Actually Afford Embrace the art of travel hacking The idea behind travel hacking is simple: work the system to score enough free rewards points on hotel and airline loyalty programs to earn free accommodations and transportation. Sign up for any credit card that offers ridiculous amounts of miles just for joining, enter contests that give away free miles or points, and basically jump at anything that offers free travel benefits. Keep up with special promotions and always be on the lookout for more point-earning opportunities, whatever they may be. With a little time (okay, more than a little time) and creativity, Matt Kepnes of NomadicMatt.com explains how it's possible to hack anything from airline costs and accommodations, to transportation, restaurants, and even attractions—he even has a new e-book about it, on sale now for $37 through his website with a money-back guarantee if you don't earn enough miles for at least one free flight within six months! How to get started: Register to receive emails from The Points Guy, a website founded by road warrior Brian Kelly that is dedicated to tracking and sharing the best ways to make the most of your travel rewards points. Either purchase the book mentioned above or sign up with the Travel Hacking Cartel to learn more about this gutsy new travel frontier. (Try a $1 14-day trial subscription to the Travel Hacking Cartel, or opt for more in depth packages starting at $15 a month). Teach English in a foreign country This has always been a really popular way to see the world and make a little money in the process—several of my college friends actually went on to teach English in Japan, China, South Korea, and in one case, Romania. While you will receive a steady paycheck and a place to stay, it's important to remember that you will basically be expected to work the equivalent of a full-time job, teaching students of varying ages the art of the English language at least five days a week with a full level of excitement and enthusiasm. Prepare to be exhausted, yet fulfilled, if teaching is your passion, and try to do a little exploring on weekends and holidays when you and your class have some free time. Or better yet, try to save up a little money for day trips or other regional travel from your new location if you can. How to get started: First, you'll need to work on getting TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) and TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) Certification—basically you pay for and take a course online or in person (options vary), and learn everything you'll need to get started in your new classroom. Once you're certified, decide which country you want to live and work in and how long you're willing to sign a contract for. CIEE Teach Abroad offers options for teaching assignments in Chile, China, South Korea, Spain, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Dominican Republic. Apply through programs like JourneyEast.org for teaching opportunities in China, The Jet Programme or AEON for options in Japan, or search for teaching job openings around the world via ESLcafe.com. Related: 27 Perfect Places To Go Camping Swap houses Anyone who has seen the movie The Holiday, a delightful chick flick that features Kate Winslet swapping her cozy English cottage for Cameron Diaz's Hollywood mansion (and leading to respective love affairs with Jude Law and Jack Black) has probably had this idea on the brain ever since. According to an article by USA Today, home swapping is becoming more and more popular thanks to websites like Knok, Love Home Swap, Intervac, HomeLink, and HomeExchange, all of which allow you to create an account, browse open houses and apartments in whatever destination you're interested in visiting, and connect you with potential home swappers. And you don't have to be a homeowner to participate either. Renters are welcome, and some people even go as far as swapping their places of residence and cars, but the important thing is to set limits if necessary and keep the lines of communication open, as you will be honored guests in each other's homes for the length of your stay. How to get started: You will have to subscribe for the service, and prices vary depending on the website and however many months you'd like to use it—a full year on HomeExchange, for instance, will cost you $9.95 a month, while an annual subscription to Intervac costs $99. Volunteer Abroad Donating your time to a noble cause, whether it's taking care of children at a local orphanage or helping to improve the environment, can be a great way to see the world for less, if not for free. Really do your homework on this one, folks, as there are literally thousands of opportunities and companies to choose from and all the important details, like where you'll stay and how long you'll be there for, vary. Look for free or low-cost volunteer companies that offer an experience you're interested in—you will most likely need to pay for yourself to get to and from your post, and some companies may require you to pay for your accommodations while others may offer to have you stay with a local family while you work. How to get started: Search for voluteer opportunities on websites like idealist.org and workaway.info, or in Volunteer Vacations: Short-Term Adventures That Will Benefit You and Others, available on Amazon from $13 or on Kindle from $9.99.Every travel guide by Go! Girl Guides lists opportunities to choose from, offering listings for Thailand, Argentina, and Mexico, respectively. VolunteerSouthAmerica.net is also a great resource for free and low cost volunteer options, with their enormous list broken down into two main categories: programs that are free to participate in, and affordable options where you live in and pay for your own accommodations. Related: 35 Incredible Solo Trips You Love Work at a summer camp in a different state or country What better way to explore a new place than to spend a season working with children at summer camp, then taking the money you earned and using it to travel? A friend of mine from Australia did exactly that, working a stint at a summer camp in Maine for three months before using her earnings to fund a cross-country U.S. road trip. If you have any experience with children or specialize in a certain sport or skill (like photography), the options are endless and you'll make anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 for a few months of your time and energy, easy money to fund that long-awaited vacation. Working with kids is usually a great addition to any resumé, plus, if you play your cards right, you can work for a camp abroad or at least in another state to keep things interesting during your time off. How to get started: Create a free profile on CampStaff.com and CoolWorks.com, and remember to apply early and often to score your dream camping spot. Join the Peace Corps If you are an American citizen who happens to have 27 months to spare and a strong desire to make a difference in the world, consider signing up for the Peace Corps. Originally started in 1961 by President Kennedy, the Peace Corps relies on volunteers to work with local residents on projects that help to promote peace and understanding between global citizens. Most positions require a bachelor's degree or similar applicable experience and volunteers are matched with available programs depending on their background in volunteering and level of skill—you'll find opportunities in education, youth and community development, health, business and information, and communications technology, as well as in environmental and agricultural areas. Five percent of volunteers are over the age of 50, as there is no upper age limit to volunteer. Other perks include possible student loan deferment, paid travel to and from your country of service, medical and dental benefits, a monthly living and housing stipend, graduate school opportunities, 48 paid vacation days, the ability to take leave for family emergencies, and a "readjustment" allowance of about $7,400 upon completion of service. Not too shabby. How to get started: Don't just sign up lightheartedly for this, as it does require a 27 month-long committment between training and time served in the field. Visit the Peace Corps website to read blogs written by current volunteers, attend any and all information sessions, and try to talk to someone who has previously volunteered for a better idea of what you'll be getting into. Fill out an application online, meet with a recruiter for an official interview, and be prepared to be sent to wherever you are needed if you get accepted.