Planning Your Trip, Part 1: Deciding Where to Go, Who With and When
I'm ready for budget travel! What are my first steps? Here's how to get your trip in motion.
Getting Started, Travel Tips
Planning Your Trip, Part 1: Deciding Where to Go, Who With and When I'm ready for budget travel! What are my first steps? Here's how to get your trip in motion. Okay you're going to do this thing. It's a very exciting time when you decide to take your first budget trip. You might not be sure where exactly to start. What are your first steps? Here are my suggestions on how to put together your trip. Travel Buddy or Solo? Are going to go alone or with someone else. If you are going with someone else, the first thing to do is find that person (duh). This can be easier said than done! Not everyone has the same travel style, destination desire, budget, and time off. If you already have a destination in mind and/or when you want to go, that's going to narrow down your options, too. Choose someone that is easy going. Travel can be trying at times and you don't want any extra drama. Also make sure that your buddy is ready for the same style of budget travel you're aiming for. If they want to stay at nicer hotels and take taxis instead of staying in hostels and taking the public bus, you need to work that out ahead of time. It's not enough to tell someone that you want to do it on a budget. To them, budget might mean something else entirely. Let them know your basic $ spending goal (which might be determined after you decide where you're going), and specifically how you are hoping to travel. Like that you plan on riding in chicken buses, eating street food, and that you would like to stay in hostels (private rooms are a great option if you have a travel buddy!). Tell them that it might not always be comfortable and it might be dirty at times, but let them know that you will be saving a ton money and will have such an incredible time!! If you're going to try out solo travel - great! Then step 1 is done. :) Things to Take Into Consideration For Choosing Where and When We all want your first trip to be successful. Choosing the right spot and when to go can be crucial to your success! A bit of research can help you choose wisely, Grasshopper [insert Chinese accent here]. What kind of trip do you want? Think about what interests you. Do you want to lie on a tropical beach (Thailand), do you want to see the Taj Majal (India), do you want to hike a volcano (Costa Rica), see monkeys in the rain-forest (Bali), take a language course (Mexico), are there any special events you want to witness (Guatemala), or do you want to marvel at architecture and visit museums (Mexico City)? Don't go somewhere just to go. Make sure you'll be doing things that interest you. What do you want to see and do? Check the dates for any festivals or special events and open/closed seasons for attractions you're interested in. Also check the cost of visiting attractions! I didn't properly research Belize at all and was shocked at the price to visit the ruins (like $100 USD!) that were not accessible without a tour. Semana Santa in Antigua, Guatemala is something to behold! Planning on visiting the Similian Islands? They're closed during certain months. How long are you going to go for? I typically like to go for a month which my boyfriend totally makes fun of me for since most people don't get that kind of vacation time. From my experience, a month allows you the time to see a lot of a country without having to rush around too much. You'll have to decide how much time you can manage and still be able to see and do everything you want to. If you only have two weeks off, a big country like Australia might not be your best choice. Tourist High/Low Seasons Most places have a busy season and an off season. During busy season, prices are higher, sights are more crowded, and accommodation is at a premium. During low season, attractions and facilities (like restaurants and ferries) tend to be closed or have limited hours and you weather is less desirable (this could mean anything from it being too hot to it raining a lot) but prices are lower. How to balance both? Shoulder season! Usually the months bridging the high and low seasons are ideal for a successful budget trip. Of course if the off-season negatives in a certain location don't bother you, then go for it; it will be even cheaper. Going to Costa Rica in July might save some money but you'll be inside a lot because of all the rain! Or there might be some great deals to go to Hawaii in January, but the water is rough and grey and you won't get the experience you were hoping for. For SouthEast Asia, check this site (SelectiveAsia) and select the country/month you're looking at. Let the smiley faces guide you! This helped me perfectly choose the Perhentian Islands for a July trip a few years ago. How touristy vs. rugged do you want to be? Choosing a popular tourist destination for your first trip does have its benefits. There will be a lot of infrastructure for travelers such as accommodation, signs in English, tours, transportation options, etc. And just because you choose a popular destination like Bali or Costa Rica doesn't mean you have to be touristy! On the other end of things, you can go all out and go somewhere that doesn't see many tourists and you will have to rely more on your skills to find food and get from point A to point B. That might not be the best idea your first trip, but can be fun later on. Language How comfortable will you be with the language barrier? It really does make traveling so much easier if you speak the native language. Do you speak English? Perhaps visit Roatan, Honduras or New Zealand. If you speak Spanish, you might want to choose something in Central America for your first trip. English is generally the common travel language throughout the world. Many places in the world speak at least some English, and some speak a lot of it; especially in the more touristy areas. But there are also some countries that speak almost zero English with perhaps French as their tourist language. Wherever you go, you'll want to pick up as much of the local language as possible (at least a few key phrases to be the polite traveler rather than the demanding tourist and also to be able to ask for simple things like vegetarian food or a room with 2 beds). So consider how easy the language is to learn. Asian languages are tonal and are much more difficult whereas Latin-based languages are a bit easier with pronunciation. Granted, I wouldn't make difficult language a reason not to go somewhere, but it's just something to know going in. Another thing that makes a difference in the ease of your first trip is if a country uses Roman letters or not. If you are from a country that does use Roman letters (A-Z and 0-9), you can at least read signs even if you don't know the language! If you are looking for a restaurant in Tanzania and you use Google Translate to find that restaurant = yokudlela in Zulu, you'll at least have some chance at spotting that on a sign. Whereas if you are looking for it in Thailand, good luck recognizing ร้านอาหาร! This also goes for reading numbers/prices. Culture More than likely if you are choosing a budget location, you will not be able to drink the local water and who knows what kind of toilets and transportation you might experience! Sometimes it's best to leave some things as a surprise and not include them in your research. If food is important to you, look up some typical local dishes. For me, being vegetarian (although not a factor in whether or not I visit a place) does make a difference on how easy or difficult a trip will be. Eating was a dream in India! I didn't have to worry if street food was actually something I could eat or not. In Africa, my food was super limited and mostly just for sustenance. I personally find this more interesting than limiting, but it might be a deal-breaker for some of you if a country is very conservative. In some countries, getting alcohol is more difficult and you might have to cover up more than you want to (especially in the heat and especially for women). For example, if going to Pakistan, you'll want to wear long pants, sleeves, and cover your head no matter how hot it is. Flight Cost This is a huge part of the trip budget. Look up flight prices. There might be a great sale to a certain spot during the time you want to travel and you'll end up somewhere you weren't planning on because of a too-good-to-pass-up flight deal. Safety Safety is always a big question, especially for less experienced travelers. Yes, you want to be aware of any extreme political situations, but generally a lot of media hype doesn't effect tourists. Well, other than maybe lowering flight prices! :) Some countries are less safe for women or people traveling alone but a lot of it is how you carry yourself and if you follow general travel safety rules. (see 10 Smart and Easy Travel Safety Tips) Visa Requirements Depending on where you're from, getting a visa and/or the cost of one might make a difference in where you choose to go. My visa into Tanzania cost $100! Overall Cost And finally, how much will it cost once you're there?! This the star of the show. You might find a super cheap flight to Iceland (well maybe not anymore - thank you Wow Airlines), but once you're there, nothing is cheap. Western Europe is generally pretty expensive, too. Look up sample transportation, accommodation, and food prices. You can check Lonely Planet's typical budget travel cost, look at my Average Costs, look at other travel blogs (yeah, whatever), check hotel booking sites, etc. You can usually find low average travel costs in SE Asia, India, parts of Eastern Europe, Mexico, some of Central America, and Africa. My typical spending goal is $30-$35/day not counting airfare. That includes all transportation, accommodation, food, sightseeing, and booze. Picking a Destination Deciding on where to go can be a difficult task, and for good reason. The world is your oyster - there are so many good choices! Do you have a timeframe in mind? Look up online best place to travel in [insert month name] and you will get a lot of information on places to consider. This will give you a general starting point. There are so many other things to consider though! Go through the list above and in the end, you'll just need to pick somewhere. Trust me, it's a never-ending list. Some words of wisdom. Feel free to think outside the box! For instance, if you want a tropical getaway, Cancun might seem an easy choice. But the reality of Cancun is that you'll likely end up in an expensive touristy resort and spend your time at CocoBongo and Sr. Frogs with nothing but other tourists. There are a lot of great areas around there though like Puerto Morelos, Isla Holbox, Isla Mujeres and even Cancun city itself. Know Where You Want to Go? If you have a location in mind, you should still make sure you check out the stuff listed above. There might be something you didn't think of. Now you just need to decide when to go. Look up online best time to travel to [insert location name] and you will get a lot of information on the seasons of your chosen spot. Look at the pros and cons of going one month vs. another. Once you decide which general time of year appeals the most to you, start looking up flights . You'd be surprised how much the flight cost can vary by date! If you are on the fence about going a month earlier and the fare turns out to be a lot lower during that month, well there's your decision. So have you done it? Have you chosen the perfect spot? Hooray! Now you're ready for Planning Your Trip, Part 2.
Planning Your Trip, Part 2: Prepare, Pack, and Go!
You've decided when and where to go, now it's time to get into the real preparation for your trip!
Getting Started, Travel Tips
Planning Your Trip, Part 2: Prepare, Pack, and Go! You've decided when and where to go, now it's time to get into the real preparation for your trip! Once you know where you're going, when you're going, and who you're going with (see Planning Your Trip, Part 1), you're ready to dig into the details of your trip planning. These suggestions will take you through my general planning process and the steps to go through until that final moment when you are at the airport and can finally exhale. What's done is done. You're on your way. Book Your Flight You've already looked at airfare and made the decision to go, you may as well solidify it. Book that baby! amzn_assoc_placement = adunit0; amzn_assoc_search_bar = true; amzn_assoc_tracking_id = lesliestrav02-20; amzn_assoc_ad_mode = manual; amzn_assoc_ad_type = smart; amzn_assoc_marketplace = amazon; amzn_assoc_region = US; amzn_assoc_title = Important Stuff for Your Flight; amzn_assoc_linkid = 4074360dfc4437b8501669b86d7a106c; amzn_assoc_asins = B075D7F482,B000WGD13U,B01J4MF5UY,1559935758; Research There are quite a few different aspects of a trip that you can research online before you go. I have gone on trips where I research the heck out of it before I go and ones where I can't be bothered to open the guidebook until I'm on the plane. I have to say that I have liked both equally. And now with WiFi pretty much everywhere, you can always search online for tips as you go. But for your first trip I recommend getting your ducks in a row ahead of time. Also, I prefer to book accommodation as I go, but if you prefer to book your hotels ahead of time, you definitely need to do this research early on. There are so many good resources online. Try to steer clear of marketing hype and look at real traveler experiences like on Leslie's Travel Snacks (he he)! You can join Facebook travel groups, look online at TripAdvisor, read travel forums like Lonely Planet Thorntree, and get guidebooks (Lonely Planet) either online or from your library (yes, libraries still exist and they have old-school paper books ;) ). Local Food - Look up common street food. It's easier if you can recognize a few dishes by name or sight. Learn which ones you think you'll like, and which ones you want to steer clear of. Not into trying sheep balls just yet? Take note of that dish LOL. If you're vegetarian, see if there are any vegetarian options or any specifics to look out for like dishes that might seem vegetarian but are made with meat stock. Attractions - This includes not only major sites, but secret traveler recommendations and also celebrations and events. Having an idea of what you want to see, any timing limitations (the museum is only open on Saturdays or the parade is on the 15th) will help you have a general roadmap of how you want to move through the country. Transportation - Every country's public transportation is different. Some use shared vans, old school buses, or taxis. You should learn what to expect, how to use them, and basic cost. Phrases - Learn how to say in the local language hello, thank you, excuse me, vegetarian (if you are), and anything else that's important to you like no spicy or toilet. See each country for some useful local phrases. Customs - It's like being responsible for knowing the laws where you're visiting. Knowing the local customs will help you fit in, make you a a better traveler, and help avoid travel faux pas. In some countries, pointing, eating with your left hand, or even sitting the wrong way are big no-nos! Scams & Safety - Don't stress too much about this but know some basics like if there are areas not to go to after dark or common scams. (see Common Travel Scams to Watch Out For) Money - Get a general feel for the conversion rate. Write down $1 = x in local currency and 1 in local currency = $x so you can make quick calculations in your head. ATMs are pretty common these days but make sure they are at the airport and in the main areas you want to visit. Electricity - You'll want to bring any necessary electrical adapters (this just adapts the shape of the plug, not the voltage). If you are going places that will require more than one adapter, consider a universal adapter. You shouldn't need a converter unless you're bringing something like a hair flattener. Gather Your Gear If this is your first trip, you will be buying a few essential backpacking goodies, starting with a good backpack. The Osprey Fairview is the best on the market at the moment. It's not too big, is high quality, has good features, and has a zip-away suspension. Check my packing list for suggestions on what to pack. You'll definitely want a laundry line, sink stopper, good backpack, flashlight, first aid kit, a travel towel, and luggage locks. Read my packing tips and get your wardrobe together for your trip. It's better not to wait until the last minute in case you need to buy a few extra items to complete the perfect set of clothing. If you bought new shoes for the trip. start wearing them in ASAP. Blisters and travel are no bueno. Especially when you only have one pair of shoes! amzn_assoc_placement = adunit0; amzn_assoc_search_bar = true; amzn_assoc_tracking_id = lesliestrav02-20; amzn_assoc_ad_mode = manual; amzn_assoc_ad_type = smart; amzn_assoc_marketplace = amazon; amzn_assoc_region = US; amzn_assoc_title = Some Essential Budget Travel Gear; amzn_assoc_linkid = 4074360dfc4437b8501669b86d7a106c; amzn_assoc_asins = B014EBM3KA,B003MU9JZC,B001Q3KLF4,B07BC9LDRC; Logistics to Take Care of Before You Go Before you do anything else, check the visa requirements for the country you're going to. This includes what it might cost you, if you can get it on arrival or if you have to apply for it in your home country before you depart, and how long you will be allowed to stay. There also might be requirements on your passport like having a certain number of blank pages or having at least 6 months before it expires. Do you need to arrange for someone to watch your house or pets? Have your mail held and deliveries suspended while you're gone or ask a neighbor to take those in for you. No matter how much pre-trip research you do or don't do, always know how to take local transportation to your hotel when you land and how much it should cost. Have a printout of your hotel reservation (in the local language if possible). This will make it so much easier to ask people (airport info desk, taxi driver, bus helper) to help you find your hotel. You need to determine how you will be paying for things as you go. I personally prefer using ATMs. Not every place takes credit cards and you can incur foreign transaction fees using your card abroad. Double check that there are ATMs at the airport and that they are usually open and functioning. By now you should know about how much the trip should cost you. If using a bank card to get your money, move almost all of the money out of that account other than what you'll need. This is just extra protection in case your card is compromised. Figure out what you're going to do about your phone (if you need phone service or data or if WiFi will suffice). (See Using Your Phone While Travelling Internationally) Lastly, be sure to follow my Pre-Departure Travel Checklist! Now pack your bag and get outta there! Soon you'll be in the seat of the plane and on your way!
What is Budget Travel?
You'll hear many serious travelers talk about the difference between vacationing and travelling, exploring, wandering whatever you want to call it. In short, on a vacation, you are a tourist whereas a traveler strives to do as the locals do.
Getting Started, How to Travel Cheap, Travel Tips
What is Budget Travel? You'll hear many serious travelers talk about the difference between vacationing and travelling, exploring, wandering whatever you want to call it. In short, on a vacation, you are a tourist whereas a traveler strives to do as the locals do. What is budget travel? That's a pretty big question that will generate a different answer depending on who you talk to. And you bet I have my own set of opinions so I will outline my version of budget travel here. Some people might picture gap-year kids partying all night in hostels and staying in dorm bunk-beds. Sure that exists and is there if that's what you want. But no, that's not what budget travel is. It's about shifting (not lowering) your expectations, spending more time, experiencing below the surface, and yes, spending less. Budget traveling is also known as independent travel or backpacking. Independent means you are not on a tour. It's DIY travel! Mainly, it's the difference between vacationing and traveling. Some people have gotten sick of this comparison but I think it still holds true. On a vacation, you are a tourist. You don't mind being in touristy areas, you might participate in special tourist activities, you will probably over-pay for just about everything, and you may never see any of the real local culture; just people showing you what they think you want to see. It also tends to be easier and much more convenient. A traveler strives to do as the locals do. The effort might not always be successful, but it's part of the overall attitude. A traveler stays away from touristy restaurants and looks for where the locals are eating. Of course main attractions will be visited (Taj Mahal, Chichenitza, the Great Barrier Reef) but not on an organized tour if it can be helped. Getting off the beaten track is a true joy, seconded by staying in a popular tourist area and spending about one tenth of what most other people are spending. Local transportation is preferred - there's nothing like a good slow chicken bus. You'd be amazed what people bring on buses with them! It's NOT just about saving money. The less you spend on traveling allows you to travel more often and for longer periods of time, but it's about really experiencing a country and PREFERRING the less expensive ways of doing things. Really your whole mindset changes after a while and the expensive options don't even cross your mind as possibilities anymore. It's also not about denying yourself nice things and suffering for the sake of the budget (although that DOES come into play sometimes LOL). It can be a good idea to treat yourself from time to time to a place with a pool or hot water. But you'll get so used to not having it that you won't even know you missed it until you have it! And your standard of nice things becomes way lower. Extravagance just seems wasteful. Horrible beds and hit-or-miss bathrooms all become a part of the journey. Looking at your options and a do-it-yourself attitude play a big part. Don't just take the first tour, or transportation suggestion given to you. Sure the flight might be the fastest and easiest way to to get to where you're going but there might also be an overnight train for a fraction of the cost and a much more interesting ride. An organized tour might not be your only option. Perhaps you can take public transportation and get a local guide when you arrive. Options. It does become a personal challenge sometimes to save as much as you can. I probably go a bit overboard sometimes. But usually if you are traveling longer term you have more time than money and the journey is part of the adventure anyway. Also, money becomes very relative to where you are. After a while you are aghast at the thought of paying $2 for a meal in certain countries! That's generally a good thing since you are acclimating to your location, but there have been times when I have gotten home and regretted not paying $20 for something that at the time seemed so expensive and in hindsight would have been worth the experience. Definitely as I've gotten older I find myself having more and more moments where sometimes it's just easier to pay a little more for some convenience. But you can still work that into your plan and be on a budget. I'm talking things like paying $4 for an Uber to save yourself a 2 hour $1 public bus ride. How rugged is it? Well of course that's up to you. I used to stay in the absolute cheapest place I could find. Now the friends I travel with (I get to blame it on them ;) prefer air-conditioning and seldom a shared bathroom. If you have someone to share a room with, you can usually get a private room for the same price as two dorm beds. And quite honestly, hostels don't even exist in some countries because the private rooms are so cheap. There are plenty of decent and clean hotels in the budget price range. You just have to look. You will get stuck with a crappy gross room from time to time, but you suck it up and move on and hopefully have a good laugh about it later. Travel at your own standards. You will run into people who go so far as to camp to save money and those who prefer air-conditioning. Travel however is comfortable for YOU. Even if you need a little more comfort it doesn't mean you have to spend a lot of money or alienate yourself from the rest of the budget travelers. How much money are we talking about here? For a month-long trip I usually spend around $30-$35 per day for everything (not including airfare). That's food, lodging, transportation, sightseeing, miscellaneous. Rooms cost anywhere from $5 to around $30 for a nicer place with air-conditioning. Meals will cost $1 - $5. Budget travel is an entirely different way of viewing your trip and is for any age. I have friends in their 70s who budget travel. They are super easy going and take it as it comes. Not only do you get a better quality experience, but it also makes travel way more accessible to people who are not super rich. You just need a little time off of work and you can go places you've always dreamed of!!
Deciding to Take Your First Budget Adventure
It might take a bit of faith for your first trip, but it's so much easier and more rewarding than you might think.
Getting Started, How to Travel Cheap, Travel Tips
Deciding to Take Your First Budget Adventure It might take a bit of faith for your first trip, but it's so much easier and more rewarding than you might think. If you are considering budget travel, of course, I highly recommend you try it. Think of your first journey as an experiment. You are not committing to a lifetime. If it doesn't suit you, then you don't have to do it again. If it does, you will have opened up a whole new fun and interesting world to yourself. Fear The biggest challenge for most people is doing something outside of their comfort zone. It all seems very scary. Shoot, I know Americans who are afraid to go travel in Europe and that's an easy place to travel! So many people I meet say you're so brave or aren't you afraid? or I could never do that. Well let me tell you, other than the fact that I have an insane travel bug, there's nothing special about me. I get nervous arriving into a new country (less so now but it's still there), I do not like to do anything alone, much less travel, and I can actually be pretty shy a lot of the time. But despite all of that, I have an incredible time travelling! That just shows you that you don't have to be Lara Croft to experience the world's adventures. The biggest piece of advice I can give for overcoming the fear, is to find a buddy who wants to go with you. At least for me, having someone to share the experience, the mishaps, the trepidation, and the excitement makes it all much more doable. If you are not the type of person who wants or needs a co-pilot, then just pull the trigger and get out there. Experiences are better than things Mindset First of all, know that if the budget thing doesn't cut it for you, you can always shift gears and start taking taxis, stay in nicer hotels, etc. But for true budget travel.... Your trip will not be about visiting a single destination. You will not just go diving in Roatan. You are there to experience the entire place, soup to nuts. Your trip begins from the time you get off your plane. You will not be whisked away to your destination, but will have the fun of mixing in with the locals and finding your own way to your next stop. You'll walk a lot more, find hole-in-the-wall places to eat, meet other travelers, wander down roads with no tourists, and also see the sights! Side note: You can indeed do single destination budget travel! I tend to err on the side of dramatic and longer term traveling and moving around. You can certainly budget travel to Roatan for diving no problem! Well, snorkeling might be a better budget option. ;) You are going to travel slower. Local transportation might take you all over town on the way to your destination but it's like you get a free tour of local daily life! Sometimes it takes forever to get your food at a restaurant and everyone at your table might get their food at different times. Or sometimes you might stop and stay in towns along the way that look interesting that you never would have seen if you were rushing from point A to point B. Accommodation is more utilitarian but still feels like home. Your room might not be a sealed sanitary air-conditioned box with a comfy bed, and your bathroom might be down the hall with no hot water. All things that soon become no big deal. You will start automatically going to the the sort by price option to find your hotels! Think of how at home you would never consider calling a limousine to take you to the movies (you wouldn't would you?!). Soon you won't even consider taking an expensive taxi to get around but will instead be searching out the local bus stop where the trip might take you an hour and a half, but it will only cost you 25 cents. Be flexible and don't limit yourself by trying to stick to any kind of schedule. Take each day as it comes. You never know what might come across your path. Read Basic Tips for a Successful Journey Attitude Be open to just about anything. Expect the unexpected. It's not always going to be a bed of roses but that is half the fun. You might be waiting for your boat with no indication of when or if it's even coming. You might get crammed into an an already-full bus and have to hang on for dear life lest you spill out the open door. The museum you just traveled 3 hours to get to may have closed 2 years ago. The taxi driver that said he'd return for you might never show. You might show up to your 8-hour ferry to find out it's actually a 3-day ferry with no accommodation or food. Take it all in stride. I can tell you that sometimes those end up being the best memories, or at least the funniest. When our taxi driver left us stranded, we hitched a ride in the back of a truck with some workers coming in from the field with a pig nibbling at my travelmate's feet. And the ferry on Lake Kariba was a rare and unforgettable few days. On the flip side, sometimes is IS a bed of roses and things go even more smoothly than planned. You may have set aside half a day to get to your next stop and you're there in a few hours, or you plan on waiting at the station for 4 hours for what you thought was the next train, and there's suddenly one leaving in 5 minutes. It's really quite fun either way. Random kindnesses from the most unexpected places will make your day, and the way the locals treat you once you make the effort to get off the tour bus gives you fuel to keep at it. You'll meet people from all over the world Traveling Alone vs. Need a Buddy This is an entire subject unto itself so I'll try to be brief here. For some people this is a total non-issue, but for others like myself, it is. If you don't want to go it alone, then talk a friend into going with you for your first journey. No uptight or lazy people!! If you don't have a friend, then there are resources such as ThelmaAndLouise.com to find travel buddies. Some friends of mine asked me to go to Thailand with them for their first trip to SE Asia since I had been quite a few times and they weren't sure what to expect. After they got their feet wet, they had a blast going by themselves. The travel community is very open and welcoming. You will meet like-minded people, have very interesting conversations with people from all over the world, and sometimes find someone to travel with, have dinner with, or simply share travel tips. Traveling solo can itself be part of the adventure. You can really see what you're made of. You'll have time to introspect, do exactly what you want to do, keep your own schedule, and sometimes it's easier to meet other people. And there are possibilities such as going to a meditation retreat that are better done without having connections to anyone else. Safety All the frightening stories you see on the news rarely appear in your travel life. Out of all my travels, I have seldom felt unsafe. Don't let your friends and family freak you out! Typically if there is some sort of political or civil strife in a country, it's not targeted at tourists and/or it's easy to steer clear of any hot areas and you will never even know that all that stuff in the news is going on. Sure, you need to be aware of your surroundings but it's usually not any different than at home where you have good and bad neighborhoods. A little research and heeding advice from locals will clue you in to what to watch out for. Read Basic Tips for a Successful Journey Rewards The rewards are immeasurable. Budget travel might take a little more effort, but you gain so much more. As with anything in life, having to work for it or even having a little adversity makes the reward oh so much better. The same goes with travel. Get out of your fancy Novotel and EXPERIENCE the culture you came to see in the first place. Your eyes will be opened not only to the amazing variety the world has to offer but also with how attainable it is, how kind and helpful people are, how happy people are with seemingly very little, how many other people are out there traveling like you are, and the true peace and joy you can attain from the simplicity of it all. You will wonder why you didn't do this sooner! At the very least you can tell your friends Yeah, I went on an African safari and it was cheap! Go on trips you thought you could never afford Choosing your First Destination There are certainly destinations that are easier than others. Consider language, if they use Roman letters (it's so much easier if you can read signs), infrastructure, flights, and of course how much it costs once you're there. If you speak Spanish, consider Mexico, Guatemala, or Costa Rica. Those countries see plenty of tourism and have a lot of options for independent travel. Thailand and Bali have become quite popular and have a ton of infrastructure focused on tourism to allow you to get around easily. Although westernized European countries might be appealing, it will not be as easy to keep a low budget. Pick a place that suits your interests. Choose Central America for Mayan ruins, Mexico City for museums, El Salvador for hiking, Malaysia for jungles and pristine beaches, Tanzania for wildlife. You might even consider the type of food you want to enjoy. For me, I much prefer the food in Asian countries rather than Central America. You'll feel more comfortable if you do some research about where you're going. Not only what sights you might want to see, but how to get around, the basic cost of transportation food and accommodations, customs, etc. To Sum it Up I wish I could take everyone in the world on their first budget travel trip. It's such an amazing option and costs so much less than you would ever dream. Forget the expensive trips to Disneyland (although yeah, I don't mind doing that every once in a while too) and see the things you only see on TV or are straight out of National Geographic. There are so many moments of awe and gratitude when traveling that I think everyone should have the opportunity to feel.
Having just the right things with you in one lightweight bag will make your trip so much more enjoyable.
Getting Started, Packing/Gear, Travel Tips
Packing 101 Having just the right things with you in one lightweight bag will make your trip so much more enjoyable. As I think most longer-term travelers do, I have become almost obsessed with packing as small and as light-weight as possible while having everything I could possibly need. It becomes a challenge between friends ... How much does your bag weigh? or Wait, do you need one of those? I have one in my bag! Depending on where, how long, and often you travel, you can take or leave as much of this advice as you'd like. I actually pack WAY less for a month in a foreign country than I do for a weekend in Vegas! LOL I firmly believe in high-tech performance gear. This goes for your luggage, your flashlight, your clothing, your organization. Why? It typically weighs less, is more comfortable, is durable, and has features created by experienced travelers. Of course it depends on if you are going to be traveling regularly but if you are, it's worth investing in this stuff as it will last you forever. View my Packing List for ideas on what to bring and see Packing/Gear Travel Tips. You really do need very little When you're moving around on buses, or finding your hotel, or even in the airport, you'll be happy to have one small light bag. You can wear the same thing over and over and nobody is even going to notice! Leave the entertainment items at home. Other than maybe a book or a journal and your smartphone for internet, you will be plenty entertained by everything else around you. If you go through any substantial sized town, you'll be able to buy anything you need. Do I need to bring a backpack? No, you don't. I have traveled with people who bring a rolly and get by just fine. Here's the main difference between bringing a backpack and a rolly. Rollies themselves are usually heavier. Backpacks are easier to maneuver in non-smooth areas (cobble or poorly maintained roads). You can take a backpack hiking. Backpacks are easier to grab-n-go or run with if you're catching a bus. Rollies are obviously easier on your back, but a good bag won't pain you too much. It's usually easier to stuff a backpack at your feet in a bus or under the seat. You might be rolling your wheels though some nasty stuff. That said, now that I have started working while I travel, I am considering my first rolly trip. Even bringing the most minimal computer gear has made my bag so heavy. :( So it all depends on where you're going, what type of trip you are planning, and how much you will be moving around. In Italy I brought a fancy rolly and about 50% of the time I wished I had a backpack. Keep the total weight under 20 lb. I know some long-term travelers that get down to 15 pounds! I am at about 18 lb and my bag itself is about a pound or two heavier than newer models. Seriously. This includes everything. Your purse, day pack, large pack. Consumables - only bring the amount you need for this trip Don't bring 16 ounces of shampoo if you only need 2. That weight adds up! Either buy travel-sized items or simply get a few travel-sized reusable containers and fill them up with your soap, conditioner, sunscreen, liquid soap, etc. Get rid of all packaging materials Packaging materials have no place in your bag. Picture your first-aid kit. If you have a box of ibuprofen, a box of imodium, a box of bandaids, and a box of motion-sickness pills, that's pretty big. Take all those things out of their packaging and put them in a ziploc bag. Voila - you just took up about 1/4 the space! Ladies, this also goes for tampons. Bringing OB or a Diva Cup instead of regular 'pons will save you a ton of room. Clothing - find a balance between form and function You want your clothing to be lightweight (actual physical weight) and quick-dry. You will probably be doing laundry in your sink and you don't want damp clothes hanging around for days. Even if you send out to have your laundry done it's probably line-dried. Not to mention if you are in a sweaty climate - dry dry dry! Some people travel with jeans but for me that is a huge no-no. They don't dry, they are heavy, and they take up a lot of space. I really love performance clothing (the type you get at REI). I know you all might be picturing the Steve Irwin look, but it's possible to get somewhat cute stuff that is also high-tech. You will be much happier with something that allows you to be comfortable and doesn't cause you problems. If you are traveling somewhere that is either very hot or very cold, performance is particularly important. There is a huge difference between a regular cotton t-shirt and a wicking performance tee that will make you feel so much cooler in a hot climate. The same goes for for underwear. So far ExOfficio Give-n-Go is the best; they don't even have a cotton crotch. Yes, this stuff matters. Do your best to make your clothing items mix-n-match and you'll end up with a bunch of different outfits with very few pieces of clothing. Clothing - be respectful to the local culture Another big thing to consider when choosing your wardrobe, is how conservative the areas are where you'll be going. I pack very differently if I'm heading to SE Asia vs. a touristy beach in Mexico. Some tourists say Oh, they're used to seeing tourists in tank tops and short shorts so it's okay but no, that is not a good attitude. Be respectful. This particularly goes for women. If the local women all wear long skirts and pants, a short skirt or shorts would be completely out of place. Picture if there were a woman in a bikini walking around a Nordstrom store. It might be totally normal where she lives, but trust me that everyone where I live would stare and think it's inappropriate. It sure becomes an extra challenge when you are visiting a hot and humid climate! OMG it was so difficult to keep cool in India and Comoros! Clothing - bring something normal Although I lean more toward function than form, there are times when I want to go somewhere and not feel like a grubby backpacker. Bring one outfit that you would feel comfortable in going to a fancy mall, or a decent restaurant but is functional enough to wear any time. Maybe a little dress or skirt and top. Shoes - you might just need one pair + rubber flippies It's pretty safe to bring a pair of rubber flip-flops wherever you go. Sometimes I end up wearing those more than anything. You can use them at the beach, in a shared shower, and they are easy to take on and off if you are in a culture where you take your shoes off to go inside. Other than that it's pretty much personal preference on what you like to walk/hike in. I personally hate closed shoes so I either bring a rugged sandal (Teva type) or a more rugged flip-flop like Reef Fanning that's great for walking. Purse & Jewelry? No. Well, maybe a travel version of each. Decide if you want to bring a small cloth purse to carry a bit of money, sunscreen, and your cell phone. Sometimes I just opt for using my daypack as my purse, or sometimes bring a larger packable sling that I can use as a purse and grocery bag and day pack! 100% leave any expensive-looking jewelry at home. You will just make yourself a target. If you have jewelry you really do like to wear even when roughing it, then of course bring just one or two things along.. A few important things to bring There are a lot of little items that can come in handy. Some of my favorites are a cable lock, plastic utensils, ziploc bags, a bit of duct tape, and an inflatable pillow. A flat sink stopper and laundry line will save you time and money being able to rinse out your clothing in the hotel sink every few days. And since all your stuff is quick-dry, it'll be dry within hours! A copy of your passport and emergency stash of cash in case you get robbed. A sarong is great for both men and women to wear or use as a towel, blanket, etc. See my My Favorite Gadgets / Stuff for more ideas on what to bring. Use packing cubes & folders Packing cubes - a packing epiphany. I started using these back in 2000 and have never looked back. They are like dresser drawers for your backpack. They not only help keep you organized, but they help compress clothing to save space. You can fit almost your entire wardrobe into a small packing folder which really compresses it and also helps keep your clothes wrinkle-free. Wait for sales to buy any specialty items I rarely buy anything full retail. Last year's items go on sale, or maybe you can find something used on EBay. Even Costco has some performance clothing sometimes for amazingly low prices. I just bought a 2-pack of lightweight wicking t-shirts for $8 and a pair of Columbia capris for $25!
Pre-Departure Travel Checklist
You're bound to forget something! But make sure you have a few essentials taken care of before you leave and you will travel with an easy mind.
Getting Started, Travel Tips
Pre-Departure Travel Checklist You're bound to forget something! But make sure you have a few essentials taken care of before you leave and you will travel with an easy mind. ✓ Call your bank(s) You MUST let your bank know of your travel plans if you plan on using a credit or ATM card abroad. If you don't they will be very helpful and shut your card down thinking it has been stolen and absconded to a foreign country! ✓ Set your email auto-reply If you will not be checking your work and/or personal email, set up an auto-reply that tells people you are away. ✓ Change your voicemail greeting Depending on your cell provider plan, you will likely not be using your phone unless you buy a local SIM card at your destination. Some people like to keep the message vague like My phone will not be in service from x to y.... so it's not obvious that your home is empty. ✓ Switch to airplane mode Change your phone to airplane mode while you are still in your home country. That way you don't risk turning your phone on when you arrive and having it automatically download all of your emails and incurring hefty roaming fees! If you are not buying a local SIM, keep your phone in airplane mode until you get home. You can still use WiFi and GPS in airplane mode. Sometimes I just remove the SIM card altogether to be safe but that's not as easy with newer phones. There are other precautions you can take such as setting your phone not to use data when roaming, etc. ✓ Copies of passport in luggage and at home Hopefully you will never need them, but leaving a copy of your passport both at home and in your luggage (separate from your actual passport) will make it much easier to get a replacement passport if yours ever gets stolen. ✓ Emergency cash I keep about $100 USD in cash hidden separately from my other money in case I get mugged. ✓ Print out your first hotel info Be ready for your first destination. Know how you plan on getting from the airport to your hotel and have the name, address and phone number of the hotel printed out. If you can print it out in the local language (some reservation sites such as Booking.com have this option built in), even better. That way the bus or taxi driver can easily get you to where you want to go. ✓ US Citizens register with STEP The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service to allow U.S. citizens and nationals traveling and living abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. ✓ Download offline maps Maps.me and Google Map apps allow you to use these GPS maps while you're on the road without needing WiFi or cell signal. You just need to download the specific areas ahead of time. ✓ Download offline languages With the Google Translate app, you won't use any data or WiFi to translate with offline languages. And just wait until the first time you use your camera to translate a sign realtime! ✓ Download airline entertainment apps Airlines are making the move to using apps for access to in-flight entertainment on your mobile device. But you typically have to download their app ahead of time. ✓ Download copies of any reservation confirmations I never want to risk not having access to email to show someone where I'm going or prove a reservation. Download these receipts to your phone (or print them) before you leave to lessen any risk. ✓ Weigh your luggage Make sure you are not at risk of overweight luggage since the airlines charge so much for this now! If you have to, wear your heaviest clothing and shoes. ✓ Triple check that you have your passport It may sound silly, but I actually had this happen with a friend of mine. We were on our way to the airport and she realized that her passport was still at home in the copy machine! As soon as you start planning your trip, you should make sure you can locate your passport and also make sure it is not expiring soon. ✓ Bring cash as needed If you need to pay for a visa on arrival in the country you're visiting, make sure you either have enough of whatever type of cash they accept (sometimes they take US $, sometimes Euros are okay, etc.). Hopefully if you needed to apply for a visa ahead of time, you have done that already! Make sure your arrival airport has an ATM so you can get money for your first transportation. That or bring enough cash to exchange at the airport or even change money ahead of time at home. ✓ Have handy plane goodies Make sure your inflatable pillow, book, compression socks, headphones, pen, etc. are handy in your under-seat bag. ✓ Pack your travel snacks :) Of course you will want your yummy snacks! Nuts, pre-cut fruit, peeled hard-boiled eggs, snack bars, cookies, cheese & crackers, pb&j sandwiches, are all good things. If you will be in an airport that has free drinkable water (water fountains), bring an empty water bottle to fill once you are through security.
Be Careful ... Be Respectful ... Have Fun!!!
Basic tips for a successful journey
Getting Started, Travel Tips
Be Careful ... Be Respectful ... Have Fun!!! Basic tips for a successful journey Prepare You should always do some research before going anywhere. Learn the local customs (including dress code, tipping, and bargaining), a few words of the local language,currency exchange rates, if there are ATMs, how to use the public transportation, what areas/sights you want to visit, dangers, holidays, etc. You don't want to plan too much, but having a few things figured out ahead of time can be super helpful when you first arrive somewhere. Determine how to get transportation from the airport (or wherever you're arriving) to an area with cheap hotels. Even better, book the first night's hotel in advance so you know exactly where you want to go when you land. You can always ask the hotel the best / cheapest way to get to there. Also make sure you know if there are functional ATMs at the airport or where you will be able to get local currency. I highly recommend the Lonely Planet guidebooks for maps, transportation schedules, what costs to expect, etc. Don't Prepare Too Much Be flexible and don't limit yourself by trying to stick to any kind of schedule. You never know what you are going to run into and you want to be open to any unexpected experiences. This also gives you the option to move on if you don't care for a certain place. A little structure can be okay, but you will enjoy the freedom of taking it as it comes. Conduct SE Asian countries (and even countries such as Italy or El Salvador) are much more modest than western countries. It is best to only wear bathing suits or short shorts at the beach. Any time entering a church/temple, legs should be covered, and especially women should wear long sleeves. Also when in a temple, you shouldn't point your feet at the Buddha. Watch the locals to see if they take their shoes off when entering somewhere, then do the same. Americans have a reputation around the world for being loud and demanding. Don't expect things in the country you're visiting to be like they are in your home country. Schedules are not as strict, nothing is as clean, and at times you may have to supply your own toilet paper. Be easy-going and go with the flow. You should ask before taking anyone's photo. You'd be surprised how many people do not want their photo taken and some people can get downright angry if you try to snap a shot without permission. Pointing with your finger is generally considered rude. You have to get used to using a waving motion with your hand or other creative method to get your point (ha ha) across. Some SE Asia tidbits: It is a criminal offense to make negative comments about the King or other members of the royal family. It is impolite to touch someone on the head. What to Bring The best advice is PACK LIGHT. Really, one small bag should be plenty. Besides, you will be experiencing a simple life and won't need much, right? You will be carrying your luggage from songthaew, to ferry, to bus, etc. and sometimes it must be done quickly. Therefore, it is also a good idea if your bag is either a backpack, or something with a shoulder strap. Depending on the coutrny, there's not always a lot of opportunity to roll your luggage. Take into consideration where you will be traveling to and what is considered appropriate dress for that area. Read Packing 101 See my Packing List Language Although many people in other countries speak some English, most are by no means fluent. If speaking English to someone, try to speak very slowly and use simple words along with hand signals. You very well may get a smile and nod to just about anything you ask, so beware that all answers are not always correct. You may want to ask the same question to multiple people. A little local language goes a long way. The locals love it if you at least try to speak some of their language. It shows effort at least. Learn to say Thank You, Hello, Excuse Me, and a few other essentials. It can be very helpful when trying to pay for things if you learn the numbers 1-10. Money There are money exchange counters at most airports but I found it easiest to use ATM machines everywhere. You get a good exchange rate and don't have to worry about getting ripped off. Sometimes the currency exchange counter will change one of your large ATM bills into smaller denominations for you so you have money for the bus. Saying something like Can you make small please? should work. Tipping is not part of every culture. Do not tip if it's not the culture! Not only do they not expect it, but you will be setting a precedent for other travelers if you do this. Bargaining is expected in most countries. Even for hotels if staying multiple nights. Two little tricks that help when bargaining: Near the end of your bargaining, have the amount of money you want to spend out in your hand and offer it. If they see the money, they are more likely to want to take it. Also the walk-away. If you can't get to the price you want, walk away. If they are willing to take your price, they will call you back. Also, if you bargain down to your asked-for price, then be prepared to buy the item. It's bad form to bargain, get your deal, then not make the purchase. Even if a country accepts US dollars, pay in the local currency. You will not get a good exchange rate otherwise and will ultimately end up paying a lot more for your purchases. When shopping or doing anything, have small bills on you. Small money is key. Don't use it when you don't have to. Use larger bills any chance you can such as in a grocery store, for park entry, etc. Not only do you need smaller denominations for buses and street food, but nobody ever has change - even the busiest of places miraculously don't have any change for you. Food & Libations I have very good luck with the delicious locals foods wherever I go. Like anywhere, avoid anything that looks like it has been sitting out. Most food is cooked fresh either in a restaurant or at a street stall. Hand signals work well for not getting something too spicy. There is a lot of GREAT food here, so don't be afraid to try something new. When choosing a local place to eat, go to the one that's full of locals, not the empty one that the locals don't want to go to. Drink only bottled water that has not been opened. It will be available everywhere. Also use it for brushing your teeth. The local beer or booze will always be cheaper than an imported alcohol. Sometimes MUCH cheaper. Transportation Most countries other than the US have great public transportation! Don't be afraid to use it. It is so much better traveling as the locals do. You will see the real day to day life and it is much more interesting than taking a private taxi. If taking a taxi of any sort always preset a fare or agree to use the meter. Make sure you stress that it is the price for everyone in your party and NOT per person. For women riding a motorcycle taxi, it is customary to ride side saddle which is surprisingly easy. If you ever need to flag down a taxi, don't wave your hand up in the air, just lift palm-down out to the side and kind of pat the air. In some places (i.e. Bangkok), the public buses and the river taxi boats barely stop for people to get on and off so you really have to run and jump on as well as be ready for your stop. If you miss it, just stand near the front and get off at the next one. More typical than not, you will not pay the bus driver. Just go find a seat and the bus helper will come collect money from you. If you are not sure how much your fare will be, try to watch what the locals are paying. You have a better chance of being ripped off if you ask how much the fare is. Just give them money and act like you're waiting for change. If they don't have correct change, you might not get it until later. Depending on time and finances, the night trains are awesome for getting around the country. You can get to your next destination while sleeping and not spending money on a hotel! Ask for help, constantly. If you are at all unsure of which bus to catch, where to wait for the boat, if you are even on the correct train, ask someone. Or ask a few people as you may get different answers depending on their level of understanding. There are friendly helpful people everywhere. Pottys How many web sites get to have a section on pottys? Just a few things here. Paper does not go in the toilet is most countries! Usually if there is a bin next to the toilet, you should put your paper in it. It takes some getting used to, but just fold your paper in on itself and put it in the waste basket. On the chance that there's no TP and you forgot to bring your own, there may be something like a sink sprayer to use instead. It can be quite an experience. ;) It's true that some cultures use their left hand to clean themselves with. Hence you are supposed to only eat with your right hand if you don't have utensils. There are a few different styles of toilets in SE Asia. It seems the higher the price of the hotel, the more 'western' the toilet. There are some western flush toilets, and there are some western toilets where you have to scoop water from a big bucket to flush it. Then there's the traditional squat toilet which is a p