Creating a backpackers travel budget

Your budget will depend on the region you choose to travel. Traveling to South East Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe or South or Central America is going to be much cheaper than Australia, Western Europe, New Zealand or North America.

There are four basic aspects to a travel budget:

  • Transportation
  • Accommodations
  • Activities
  • Food

Transportation is the necessary evil that can be controlled to some degree. You can travel with the locals on public buses or in economy class trains. Besides the initial flight to your destination, which is typically one of the first items to go into your budget, you can decide not fly if there’s the ability to travel by slower means. Also, transportation adds up no matter what country you’re in. The more you move around, the more expensive it gets. You will be able to save yourself a lot of money if you stay in one place for an extended period of time.

Accommodations can give you a good estimate on how much you will be spending in a town or city. I can typically estimate how expensive a destination is by the cost of their hostels or budget guesthouses. I usually assume if my budget accommodations are $4 US per night, I will be spending an additional $8 each day. If its $15 per night, I should expect to spend an additional $30 that day in food, activities, and transportation around town, Simply double the cost of my accommodations.  It specifically depends on how you prefer to travel. I personally look for the cheapest option in town. These hostels and guesthouses are typically not for people who need a strip of paper over the toilet, while they convince themselves they are still the first person to sit there. More often than not, its got a friendly group of international travelers whose budget reflects mine. This is also a benefit when you start making friends in a hostel and decide to go out for food, activities, and onward travel. Activities and onward travel will often cost less if you link up with fellow travelers. For example a cab ride or a shared room in a guesthouse will cost less if divided among friends.

Food is on of my favorite subjects while abroad. I love heading into open markets and searching out new things to try. In fact I was able to do this today in Mandalay, Myanmar/Burma. If you can find an open market or street food is typically the most economical way to eat. You’re also able to immerse yourself in cultural foods, which you may miss if confine yourself the touristy restaurants which are typically overpriced. Obviously, markets aren’t everywhere, so look for restaurants where the locals are eating. Typically shows the food is well priced and prepared safely. I realize that street food and markets can cause some interesting bowel movements, but in the end when i return home I always De-worm myself. But, i would suggest that to anyone who has traveled to 3rd world countries upon their arrival home whether they eat from street vendors or not. Also, drinking alcohol can severely deplete your budget.  In some typically inexpensive countries, a beer will be expensive in comparison to food and accommodation.

Activities are the most manageable part of your budget. You either choose to do the activity or you don’t. If i plan to do an expensive activity such as a 3 day elephant tour home-stay, skydiving, or scuba certification you will likely want to balance the cost with a few days of being more thrifty.

There are several ways to look at a personal budget and whats discussed above is what works well for me, but possibly not for everyone. If it looks like it will work for you, make it your own and tweak it along the way, as your  budget has the ability to make or break a trip of a lifetime.

How to keep you and your belongings safe while backpacking abroad

Keeping you and your belongings safe:

  • Don’t keep all your cash in one spot. Just in case you’re robbed, its best to have some backup cash in separate bag, shoe, or pocket.

  • Don’t walk around at night by yourself. Anywhere.

  • If you are robbed, don’t resist. Give them what they want and go your separate ways. Its not worth getting injured or killed.

  • Don’t leave your bags unattended. Not only could they get stolen, but if you’re traveling between destinations, there are cases where people have planted drugs in a tourists bag and use them as a drug mule until they transport the drugs to the destination without the traveler knowing.

  • Watch your drinks and never accept an opened drink from a stranger.

  • Don’t wear fancy jewelry, watches, or clothes. Yes, you will likely stick out as a traveler in the towns and cities you visit, but you don’t need to stick out more than necessary to thieves. I typically don’t travel with any material items i wouldn’t mind losing. This allows me to feel more relaxed when traveling.

  • Walk with a purpose. Walk like you have a specific destination in mind. Don’t give off the vibe that you’re lost. Thieves are attracted to people who look lost or confused.

  • Carry a money belt. Thieves know about money belts, so if you get robbed they will likely find it, but at least you won’t fall victim to pickpocketers. I don’t wear mine every day, but when I’m in cities, i feel more comfortable wearing mine.

  • Its always good to be cautious, but not to the point where you’re too afraid to walk out the door in the morning. Find your perfect medium between fun and safety and stick to it.

  • Be careful using your electronics. Here’s a few stories I’ve experienced:

    • I was in Laos a couple weeks ago (today’s date is 11/3/12)  and a girl fell asleep with her laptop on her stomach in the common area of our hostel. She woke up and someone had taken it right off her stomach.

    • Ipods are a popular item to steal. If you’re listening to your ipod in a bus or train, its a common occurrence for thieves to disconnect the headphones from the ipod, which is typically sitting on your lap. Make sure you keep it in your pocket if you think you may fall asleep.

    • One of the biggest internal debates i have on a daily basis is whether  to bring my camera with me when i leave the hostel. No fun losing a camera or getting it stolen, but you should document your trip. If you decide to take photos, be careful and keep a close eye on the people surrounding you. I was at Carnival in Brazil back in 2008. I was walking around with a group of friends with thousands of people around and one of my friends pulled her camera out to take a photo of the group. Just then, a guy came by grabbed the camera and ran down down an alleyway. Nothing we could do, but maybe not the best idea to pull out your camera with thousands of people partying in the middle of the night.

A lot of the time its just dumb luck when someone gets robbed. You’re simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Don’t get stuck on the should have, would have thoughts if you do get your things stolen. It happens to the best of us and i promise you, your nerves will subside and you will still be able to enjoy the rest of your trip.

As a closing note, I’ve found I’m always a bit paranoid about my stuff for the first week of a trip and then my nerves calm down and I find my travel groove. I notice that keeping my stuff as safe as possible becomes a subconscious habit and it doesn’t take as much effort to stay safe. So, if you feel that same slight paranoia, give it time and let your nerves settle.

Health Insurance while traveling abroad

When traveling abroad, health insurance is a topic that may not be as fun to plan as your trip itself, but its still an essential part of well planned adventure.

If you currently have health insurance, you will need to call your insurance company to see if you will be covered while abroad. If your current health insurance company covers you while abroad, make sure they cover medical evacuation, which is typically one of the most expensive aspects of international insurance plans.

If you do not have health insurance, there are several private companies that have affordable plans. If you are based out of the US, the government has put together a list of companies to choose from which, can be found here. Be prepared to give the companies your ore-existing conditions, a list of places your are going to visit, how long you will spend in each location and dangerous activities you will be partaking in i.e.bungee jumping, trekking.

Make sure the plan you choose covers exactly what you need and understand the co-payments. Also, consider choosing a medical insurance plan that has a 24 hour call center.

Once you have your coverage decided, its a very good idea to keep a list of items you will need to get at the hospital if you are injured. Your insurance company will give you a list of items you will need to get in order to make a claim to the the insurance company. Obviously, if you are severely injured you will not be able to gather the items listed below, but if you are able to, its typically easier to get the info when you are at the hospital than once you are home and trying to contact a hospital abroad. Besides carrying around your insurance card, bring a copy of a claim form or a printout of the items needed to make a proper claim: For example my insurance company needs:

1) My Name and Date of Birth
2) Diagnosis from foreign doctor*
3) Procedures and date of service*
4) Name and address of doctor*
5) Name and address of facility*
6) Receipts of payments made converted into USD and exchange rate of date of service*
*All need to be translated into English.

Ive also heard some say insurance is not necessary if you’re going to a country with a socialized health care system. I have personally seen people get free treatment for stitches and other minor ailments, but this is not always the case.

What to do if your passport is lost or stolen

What should you do if your passport is lost or stolen?

First, you are going to contact the police for a police report. If your not traveling between destinations, the front desk of your hostel, or guest house should be able to help you through this first step as many of them have dealt with the issue before.

Second, you will go to your countries consulate or embassy with the police report. Here they will be able to help you deactivate your old passport (using a DS-64 form for US citizens, which can be googled). You will be asked several questions in regards to the possible whereabouts of the passport, to if you have lost or had your passport stolen before. Note: Once your passport has been deactivated, it cannot be reactivated.

Third, you will apply for a new passport at your embassy or consulate. They will issue you a new passport (using a DS-64 form for US citizens, which can be googled).

Tips to prepare for a lost or stolen passport:

  • Make copies of your passport and keep a copy in your backpack and day bag.
  • Take your drivers license as a backup id for easier identification at your consulate.
  • Scan copies of passport and email a copy to yourself. This way you will just need access to a computer print for the embassy.

How to choose a laptop or tablet for travel

I went back and forth between bringing a tablet PC, laptop/netbook or smart phone. Here are the questions i asked myself once I came up with my budget.

  • Do i want a traditional keyboard or a touchscreen? If I’m blogging or journaling, which is easiest?
  • How much extra weight am i willing to carry around?
  • What dimensions will easily fit in my day-bag?
  • What is the smallest size screen am I OK with?
  • How important is battery life?
  • Do I want a hard case to protect my laptop. I just have a waterproof bag i keep my laptop in, just in case it rains.
  • How many Gigabytes do i need? Will i be uploading my pictures to my computer, an external hard-drive, or strait to the Internet?
  • Don’t forget about internet security if you end up with an PC. I use Avast! and love it.

The deciding factor for me was the keyboard. I realize I could purchase a traditional keyboard for a tablet, but the weight of the keyboard with the tablet came out to be similar to the HP Mini, which I decided to purchase in the end. I paid $150 for my HP Mini, which i think was a very reasonable price. Ive been using this Mini for two months with no issues and love how light, durable and fast it is. AND if something does happen to it, at least I’m not out several hundred or a thousand dollars if i brought an expensive computer.

Another service if you decided to travel without a computer, but want to be able to connect directly with your home computer, is  GoToMyPC.com. It allows you to log-in directly to your desktop at home and work with all your files, just as if you were working at home.

If you didn’t want to carry around a device of any kind, the vast majority of hostels have computers with interment access for typically little to no charge.

How to stay in contact with friends an family while traveling

Staying in touch with friends and family back home while traveling abroad is becoming easier by the day. With WordPress, Skype, Facebook, ichat and others, many people I know are more connected to their friends and family while traveling than when they are at home. This is because people back home are interested in what you’re doing and honestly may be living vicariously through you and all the excitement going on in your life while abroad. Can you blame them? Below some tools to stay connected:

  • WordPress is a perfect way to allow others to follow your online journal. It takes only a couple minutes to sign up and you can be posting photos and text in no time. Also, if you want to make your posts private, you can do that too. Honestly, if you can log into your email account, you can figure out WordPress. They have made it very user friendly.
  • International Calling Cards are handy if you are only spending a week or two in a country. If your spending months in a county you may want to visit a cellphone store to get cheap phone and SIM card.
  • Flickr is an efficient website allowing you to upload your pictures on the web for photo storage and also works as an album for friends and family back home.
  • I enjoy using facebook chat to talk to individual friends. Even if the internet connection is slow, Facebook chat works well. I do not suggest using facebook as a platform for storing photos. Flickr allows for storage of larger images and better privacy.
  • Skype is a great video chatting tool, which is free. You do need a fast internet connection to keep it from pixelating. For a very small fee you can also make international calls directly to your friends cellphones back home.
  • Twitter for quick updates. Especially nice if you bring a smartphone for wifi access only.
  • If you’re planning to travel with your Mac computer, ichat is a quick any easy way to stay in touch. I used it many times while in a long distance relationship and had no issues.
  • A good’ol post card is fun. The ones i sent from south east Asia and central and south America took about 3 weeks to arrive. Sometimes arriving after I’m already home. But, it does show a lot more care and thoughtfulness to send a postcard than an email, as far as I’m concerned. Especially to the parents or grandparents.

Choosing a Backpack for Traveling Abroad – Tips

The most important piece of equipment while backpacking is the backpack itself. It can really make or break the amount of stress and pain you have to deal with while in transit to your next destination. I personally have an Eagle Creek bag and absolutely love it. Its a good quality bag that Ive had since 2006 and have not had any issues. When purchasing a backpack:

  • Determine the items you’re going to be traveling with before you choose a pack.
  • I suggest an open-faced bag. This means that the bag opens from the bottom to the top, If your bag only opens at the tops you’ll have to unload all your clothes before you get to the item you want. Packs that only open at the top are more durable backpacks for trekking, but not as convenient. If it opens like a suitcase, you will save yourself a lot of time.
  • I have traveled with two good friends from collage who purchased bags with similar features to my Eagle Creek, but tried to get away with spending as little as possible on a counterfeit north face bags and the straps broke on both of their bags within  two weeks of the trip. Look at the stitching. Are the stitches close together? Are the stitches strait? A good quality bag with the correct support is a must.
  • My backpack has detachable day bag. This allows you to carry all your valuables in a small bag and attach it to your big bag when walking long distances.The detachable day bag should have a hidden sipper pocket for money and passport.
  • Depending on your location, you may want to get a waterproof cover for your bag. Often manufacturers include the cover with the backpack.
  • The bag should be made of water-resistant material. Doesn’t have to be waterproof for light rain.
  • Look for ventilated back support and waist-belt.
  • Check reviews on Zappos or Amazon before purchasing.
  • For each zipper, you may also want to get some mini locks so you can lock your zippers when in transit. I don’t know anyone who actually locks their zippers in transit, but just having the lock gives the appearance the zippers are locked together. Some are against the zipper lock because it gives the appearance that there’s something worth stealing inside if it is locked.

Please share any additional specs or comments!