It doesn't matter if your objective is safeguarded by red tape (isolated Nepalese village) or the Mob (that underground Russian nightclub you read about online), there are simply some places you won't make it alone. Fixers are a globe-trotting journalist's secret weapon. Translators, drivers, navigators, skid greasers— they're just as happy to work for you as for a deadline-driven reporter. The best ones, according Scott Anderson, who has reported from places like Lebanon, Darfur, and Chechnya, have "a scoundrel's personality"—i.e. they enjoy gaming the system, which is exactly what you need for everything from negotiating tricky border crossings to locating obscure trailheads. Start searching for your fixer before you go by posting queries on travel sites like ThornTree.LonelyPlanet.com, BootsNAll.com, or Robert Young Pelton's site, ComeBackAlive.com. Once on the ground, try a bus station, coffee shop, hotel, or bar where travelers and expats hang out. You want a local. "Look for someone cocky who isn't in a hurry to lower their price," says Anderson. "That shows competence." Expect to pay $20 a day someplace like India, but up to $200 a day in Afghanistan.
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