After backpacking through over 80 countries, you learn a thing or two about the rules of the road: what to pack, what to wear, what to eat, who to trust and how to survive on the cheap. For those planning an extended backpacking adventure, or even a quick holiday jaunt, here are a few handy travel tips to keep in mind:
-Before you go, research travel insurance, immunization shots and tourist visa requirements. The more you know before you leave home, the better prepared you’ll be for any unwanted ‘surprises’ on the road. Guidebooks like Lonely Planet http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/ and government travel websites, such as http://travel.state.gov/ are good places to start your research.
-Carry various forms of payment, not just one, including: bank cards, credit cards, US and local currency. To keep track of your finances from anywhere, sign up for on-line banking. Also notify your home bank about your trip so they don’t cancel your accounts and credit cards for unexpected overseas transactions.
-For frequent fliers, check out the new American Express Gold Card Rewards (www.amex.ca) it allows you to earn double rewards points on all eligible travel related purchases and redeem points across any airline, on any dates, with no restrictions. Just charge any travel to your Card and then call Amex to pay with points. The Card also comes with a travel insurance package – including emergency medical, trip interruption, car rental theft and damage, travel accident, lost or stolen baggage, flight delay and hotel/motel burglary – so keep that in mind when researching what supplementary insurance you may need.
-Pack light-weight clothing that is versatile, doesn’t wrinkle or show dirt. I like to travel with older clothes, so I can donate them and buy new ones as I go.
-If you’re addicted to certain brands, stock up before you leave home. Everything else you pretty much buy overseas as you go.
-Bring a headlamp, perfect for those all-too-often power outages.
-A retractable clothes-line to hang up freshly washed socks and underwear.
-A calculator helps to convert currency and avoid rip-offs at borders. Go to xe.com and print yourself a ‘cheat sheet’ of foreign currency for quick and easy conversions.
-Don’t forget plug adapters, a quick-dry towel and a battery-operated alarm clock for those early morning flights.
-If you’re buying a new backpack, get one with “panel loading.” It opens like a suitcase and is more accessible than a hiking backpack.
-In my opinion, Lonely Planet is the best guidebook series. Comprehensive, with off-the-beaten track advice and affordable accommodation recommendations, LP is the backpacker’s bible. But don’t live by the
guidebook. Explore, go off-the-beaten-track and ask fellow travelers for advice.
-Don’t reserve all your accommodations in advance. Book the first night, then just go with the flow.
-Organize tours locally. It’s cheaper than booking a tour from home.
-If you’re visiting during low season, ask your hostel for a discount. Often you can negotiate room rates if it’s not too busy.
-Double check when your tourist visa expires. Don’t overstay your welcome or your may face expensive fines.
-When asking for directions, check with a few different people (not just one). If everyone says the same thing, then there’s a pretty good chance it’s the right way.
-Expect different perceptions of distance. When I was traveling through Eastern Africa, if anyone said “it’s just near,” it usually meant it’s way way too far to walk.
-Carry small bills, for safety, convenience and ability to buy sizzling street foods.
-Take an overnight train. It doesn’t cut into your daytime sightseeing and saves on a night’s accommodation.
-Eat where locals eat. If a restaurant is busy, it generally means a higher turn-over of fresh food. There’s less chance of getting sick.
-Schedule flights so they arrive in the morning/afternoon, not at night. It’s safer and easier to navigate a new city in the daylight hours.
-If you want to buy souvenirs but can’t carry them in your backpack, hit the post office. Sea mail takes a few months but is the cheapest way.
-If you want to meet and mingle with fellow travelers, hang out at a local hostel. Check out www.hostels.com for a list of accommodations around the world.
-Ask trust-worthy locals what the going rate is for food or taxi rides. You’ll be less likely to get ripped off if you’re well informed about how much things should cost. Embrace the fact that you might get charged a “Tourist Price” – at least for the first few days as you get your bearings.
-Read local newspapers for information about what’s going on in the city.
-Carry toilet paper and anti-bacterial lotion with you in your day pack.
-You can’t be a hard-core sight-seeing tourist all the time. Take days off to kick back, hang in the hammock, lie by the pool and enjoy!
What are your best travel tips? Feel free to share here….
(Photo credit: appartmenttherapy.com)