Creating Privacy in a Dorm Room – The Bunk Fort

Creating privacy in a dorm room is very difficult to achieve, especially since someone is always around. If you’re like me, your room back home was your sanctuary where you could go to get away from it all, to have some peace and privacy. This doesn’t happen in hostels, especially in the dorms. Noise and lights at all hours of the day and night are part of life and can be very irritating at times. There are ways to mitigate these problems though, to find some bit of privacy where you can get away from it all and just be by yourself.

The most important thing about staying in a dorm is moving to the bottom bunk as soon as possible. The top bunks are absolutely the worst places to be sleeping. Top bunks have absolutely no privacy and are notoriously loud and shake the most. If you check in,  realise that you are most likely going to be stuck in a dorm room on the top bunk unless you are really lucky. Usually after a few days, you can move to a bottom one but you need to be quick. Try and wake up somewhat early so you can relocate your belongings the second someone checks out. Bottom bunks are premium space in dorm rooms so it is critical you are faster than your room mates at moving. Early bird catches the bird! The longest I ever spent on the top bunk was a straight 19 days, it was hell.

Bunk Fort Bed - Second to None for Privacy

Bunk Fort Bed – Second to None for Privacy

Once you have the bottom bunk, privacy is much more easily achieved as you can make a bunk fort using blankets, jumpers (hoodies), towels and just plain clothes. My recommendation is you buy a cheep blanket somewhere as this is the best way to cover a large area efficiently. My bunk fort is made up of a wall on two sides, a towel and blanket on one long side and a towel and a jumper on the final side. Obviously the best bunk is the corner one so you don’t need as many items to cover the sides.I can sleep at any time day or night because I can make it dark enough that light coming in through the windows or from the room lights don’t bother me. I might not be alone in the room but I am in my subroom!

Noise obviously is a problem in a dorm room as people have different schedules and different amount of respect for their fellow room mates. I have discovered I can fall asleep with headphones playing in my ears and I won’t hear anything at all. If you play music from your phone, you can wake up to your alarm without a problem as it too plays through the earphones.

Eventually you will get to the point that no matter how much light is coming in or noise, you will be able to fall asleep but it can take a while to get used to. I highly recommend making a bunk fort for your sanity and the ability to sleep at any time you please, not just when everyone else decides it’s time for lights out. You might be sharing a room with 7 other people (sometimes more) but remember, privacy can be achieved.

Some things to note, your bunk fort will fall apart from time to time. This is usually do to the person above you moving or changing sheets as they undo your stuff in the process. They are usually rude about it too and will not fix it for you, bastards. The best way to avoid this is to use some zip ties or duct tape (see my article on why duct tape is so important) to capture the materials through the cracks so that they are still supported by something when the bed above you is moved around. Gravity sucks but you can over take it if needed. If you are only going to be in your bunk fort for a short period of time, using zip ties or duct tape isn’t worth it, just deal with the pain of redoing your fort every now and again. Anything over two weeks though, it is worth securing the sides of your bunk fort.

Book a Ticket and Just Leave

Book a ticket and just leave. Seems simple right? I mean after all, we have all thought about it at some point, just getting on a plane, bus or train and leaving everything behind and starting anew. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that, at least for most people. We have jobs, mortgages, bills, pets, family and friends. It’s hard to leave all that behind in the blink of an eye, trust me I know, I had to do just that back in May.

Book a Ticket and Just Leave

Book a Ticket and Just Leave

I never saw myself as an expatriate or someone who could live out of a backpack with just the bare minimum. I always was materialistic and thought traveling was something only the rich could afford so I surrounded myself with inanimate objects to acheive happiness. Ironically, if I had never purchased all those pointless things, I could have seen the world 3 times over by now. It turns out, even those with little means can see the world, regardless of the amount of possessions you have. In this post, I hope to introduce you to the idea of leaving it all behind and the basics of what you need to do to be successful at getting out.

Whatever your reasons for wanting to leave are, whether you’ve had it with your government, are escaping a maniac (or maniacs), can’t find a job, or just want to experience something new, you can do it. The most important thing you need to remember is you cannot second guess yourself. If you want to get out, get out and do not return until you are ready to go back.

Set realistic goals. Where do you want to go? What do you want to see? How will you make money? How long do you want to travel? You need to ask yourself these questions before you even begin to pack. Leaving your country for an extended period of time is something that should not be taken lightly because if you start your trip only to change your mind, you will end up losing a lot of money. Just like a regular short vacation, you need to always have a plan. You don’t necessarily need a concrete plan but at least a general idea of what you plan on doing.

Research the countries you plan on visiting and learn everything you can about them. If you’re an American, realise that if you don’t plan on doing a working holiday, and there are few countries where we can do them, you will be working illegally. If possible, get a working holiday visa, if you have a unique skill or degree, you can get a work permit in most countries as well.

Once you have a general plan, you need to get rid of your stuff. If you plan on being away for a while, more than 2 years, it’s usually just best to sell everything. If you plan on returning, either lease your house out or have someone watch your possessions/rent storage space. If you are like me and don’t plan on coming back to your home country any time soon, you will need to sell everything. Keep only the bare essentials which are pretty much clothes and a few lightweight electronics for keeping in touch. You won’t be dragging your 52″ TV with you so sell it. By time you get back, it will be outdated any ways and will have to buy a new one, best to get money for it while you still can.

When I was given deportation orders and returned to the states, it took me about 2 months to sell most of my stuff. If you are really determined, you can get rid of it sooner. Obviously I left originally in such a rush, I wasn’t even concerned with my possessions, just my rabbits, family and friends. If you have no real possessions then you can leave quicker than most.

That brings us to the hardest part about becoming an expatriate, family and friends. Fortunately, Skype makes being on the other side of the world feel like you are just up the street. Communicating with those back home is important and you should do it often. These are the people that truly care about you and always will so you need to realise that although you are leaving your country, you are not leaving your family. If you are determined to never return, they can also visit you which is good for them because chances are, especially being American, they haven’t left their country as much as other nationalities.

Finally, once you have your plan, got rid of your possessions, it’s time to book your flight and get out of dodge. You will get home sick and have the urge to return home but I promise you, you will get over it. Talk to fellow travellers, make friends, being abroad is an experience and about getting outside your comfort zone. Some people I have met have been outside their country for 4 or more years. I may be a total newbie when it comes to this but I do know what I am talking about. Homesickness will fade, just keep in contact with your loved ones via Skype and you’ll be fine.

Obviously it’s harder than it sounds, to just book a ticket and leave but it is possible. Follow my numerous articles and you will be on the right path to becoming an expatriate in no time. Although you can start in 12 hours from now, I do not encourage it in the least bit as you don’t have time to get a lot done or even say good bye. If you want out, give yourself at least two months to sell your possessions, say good bye and save up some cash. Leaving the United States was one of the hardest things I have ever done but I am glad I did. Life is an adventure and you only live once so make the most out of it.

Obtaining an IRD Number from Inland Revenue in New Zealand

Obtaining an IRD number, also know as an Inland Revenue Department Number is relatively easy and straight forward. An IRD number is your unique tax number for use within New Zealand. It never changes and will remain the same. If you decide to come back to New Zealand one day, you would use the same IRD number. You must provide this to your employers or you will be taxed at the emergency rate of 40%. Unless you want to pay 40% in taxes, it is critical you get your IRD number to your employers before you even start working.

Givers of the IRD number

Inland Revenue Department

To obtain an IRD number, one first must be in New Zealand legally and be able to produce proof of this. Usually all you need is a print out of your working holiday visa number or working holiday visa stamp in your passport. Some countries such as the United States, do not get working holiday visa stamps in New Zealand, therefore, it is important to bring a print out of the visa. Other work right visas are acceptable as well as long as they show you have a right to work in New Zealand.

The following two categories are a list of what is needed in addition to your visa. You will need to bring a legible photocopy of each in addition to the original. If the visa is in your passport, you will need a photocopy of that as well. You must bring in one document from each category. This list is current as of November 2012 and is taken directly from Inland Revenues website. For an up to date list, visit Inland Revenues website.

Category A Documents:

  • Full New Zealand birth certificate issued on or after 1 January 1998. Birth certificates issued after 1 January 1998 carry a unique identification number. If you hold a birth certificate issued before 1 January 1998, and wish to hold a birth certificate with a unique identification number, contact the Department of Internal Affairs
  • New Zealand passport (please photocopy the pages showing photo, name and specimen signature)
  • Overseas passport with New Zealand immigration visa / permit (please photocopy the pages showing photo, name, any pages showing current work, visitor permits, or residency documentation and a specimen signature) or call Inland Revenue on 0800 227 774 for exempt list (most common for working holiday visas)
  • New Zealand emergency travel document
  • New Zealand firearm or dealer’s licence
  • New Zealand refugee travel document
  • New Zealand certificate of identity (issued by Department of Labour or Department of Internal Affairs)
  • New Zealand citizenship certificate

Category B Documents:

  • New Zealand driver licence
  • New Zealand 18+ card
  • New Zealand student photo identification card
  • A letter confirming registration as a student in New Zealand (if this document is used you must provide a document from category A that contains a photo)
  • An “offer of employment” letter from your employer, on their company letterhead (if this document is used you must provide a document from category A that contains a photo)
  • International Drivers’ Permit (issued by a member country of the UN Convention on Road Traffic)
  • Overseas Drivers’ Licence (accompanied by an English translation completed by an LTNZ authorised translator, if not already in English) (most common for working holiday visas)

Now you know what documents you will use from each category, download form IR595 from the Inland Revenue website. The form is simple and straight forward, just follow the instructions and you’ll be good to go as there aren’t any real pitfalls to note of.

Once you have the IRD number form filled out, originals and photocopies from categories A and B, and a copy of your visa, head down to one of the following appointed verifiers to submit your application:

I recommend going to a PostShop as you can open up a KiwiBank Account at the same time, which I will cover in my next article.

Once you have lodged your application for an IRD number, they say it will take 8-10 business days. In my experience, it takes longer. If you need your IRD number sooner, the next business day you can call Inland Revenue at 0800 377 774 and get it over the phone. Although you get a card in the mail with your IRD number, you will not need to present it to your employers, only the actual number. I recommend calling them otherwise you could be waiting a long time to get your IRD number in the mail. The sooner you get the number, the sooner you will start being taxed at the proper rate and not the emergency rate of 40%.

As with any unique identification number, never give it out to anyone who doesn’t need it. In New Zealand, only the following should be given an IRD number and no one else. Protect it so no one else uses it because if they use it too, you will be bumped to the next tax bracket which isn’t good for your wallet!

Provide Your IRD Number to Only the Following:

  • Inland Revenue
  • your employer
  • your bank or financial institution
  • your KiwiSaver scheme provider
  • Work and Income
  • StudyLink
  • your tax agent (accountant).

If you have any problems, contact Inland Revenue via their website or by visiting one of the authorised appointed verifiers as listed above.

Protecting Your Information over WiFi Networks

Protecting your information over WiFi networks is paramount, after all, you use this network to communicate with the world, manage your banking, and so much more. Unfortunately, most people don’t understand just how easy it is for that information they transmit to be intercepted by a third party. This risk exists for all users on insecure wireless networks as well as networks that are secured but everyone uses a common connection key. If you are a backpacker staying at a hostel or connecting at a hotspot at Starbucks, your information is at risk. In fact, you can apply this information to everyday life. If you didn’t set up the wireless network yourself or trust those who are using the same wireless network, assume your information is at risk. In this article, I will explain how connecting to insecure WiFi networks as well as shared secured WiFi networks are hacked as well as the only way to protect your data.

WiFi Hotspot

WiFi Hotspots – Might as well be an advertisement that says please hack me.

The best analogy I can use for the insecure usage of a WiFi network is a highway. Imagine a highway where you are driving car, everyone can see into your car and everyone can affect what happens to your car that are near it. You wouldn’t write down your credit card number and show it to another driver on the highway right? Anyone could see it, from other drivers to people on the side of the highway. This is the same thing as transmitting credit card details or any other sensitive details over a shared wireless network. Anyone can see the data. This kind of attack is called packet sniffing and it is extremely easy. All you need is a program called Wireshark. With Wireshark, all that information you transmit is in plain text to anyone on the same network as you.

Someone using Wireshark can also hijack any web session you currently have open, i.e. Facebook, and instantly become you. This is called sidejacking or session hijacking and happens when someone is able to intercept your unique session ID to a website. They clone this session ID onto their computer and the website now recognises them as you. They have full access to everything you do without even needing a username or password (chances are they intercepted this too though). With the advent of the smartphone, sidejacking is even easier and you don’t need Wireshark or a computer to do it. Just download DroidSheep and you’ll be sidejacking people in no time.

In other instances, it’s not your fellow WiFi users that you have to worry about but the operator of the WiFi network instead. Not only could the WiFi network be monitoring your usage but it might not even be the WiFi network you should be connected to. Anyone can easily clone a SSID and redirect traffic through their machine before it needs to reach its destination. This type of attack is called the man-in-the-middle attack and is also extremely easy to accomplish, all one needs is Mallory or Cain and Abel. Even if the WiFi network is the correct one, the true operator may be sniffing the network too and won’t need any of the attacks mentioned above, just a computer connected to the monitoring port of the router.

So what is one to do? Just sit back and take these attacks? As backpackers, is our data destined to wind up in the hands of criminals? No. In fact, it is extremely easy to mitigate every single one of these risks and protect your data no matter what kind of network you connect to. It’s called a Virtual Private Network or VPN for short.

Going back to our highway example, a VPN creates a tunnel for the user that only their data uses. No other cars or people are in this tunnel with you so no one can intercept or view your data. It is 100% secure when traveling over what was a very insecure WiFi hotspot. The data takes this tunnel to where the VPN is hosted out of before dumping it back into the regular internet backbone, just as if you were hard wired into the internet or using your own network. No one can see the data you send through this tunnel until it gets to the other end, that includes the WiFi network operator. If someone were to use Wireshark on these packets of data, they would just see garble and would be unable to decipher it.

VPNs are great for other purposes as well but those are beyond the scope of this article. If you want to ensure your data stays secured and no one else can intercept it, I highly recommend Hide My Ass VPN service. They have servers throughout the world, are fast, cheap and anyone can setup the software, even if you are computer illiterate. Having a VPN is a must have for any one that uses WiFi hotspots, not just backpackers as anyone can be at risk. The small monthly fee is well worth the price to protect your information from prying eyes.

Remember, all WiFi hotspots are insecure regardless of what the operator tries to tell you. Unless you or someone you know and trust setup the wireless network, assume anyone can hack it. This is especially true for WiFi hotspots since they are designed so that anyone can connect to them with ease. If you are unsure about a WiFi network, use a VPN service such as Hide My Ass. There are also many other type of attacks you may encounter using a wireless network not mentioned in this article. These are only the most popular ones but utilising a VPN will prevent the ones not mentioned as well.