How to find cheap international flights

Flexibility and timing. Ive looked high and low for the secret to cheap flights, but it comes down to flexibility in when to fly and timing of when to buy. Its just that easy and its just that simple.  In speaking to some experts on the subject and having lived with a friend who worked for one the large online airfare search engine sites, I have come up with the following tips, which are the best way to find the best price:

  • In my conversation with Mike Kytoski of Kayak.com, he recommends departing on a Tuesday and returning on a Wednesday to save money for international flights. These flights were 21% lower than the average.
  • Consider flying during the low season or just before high season begins. For example, growing up in Hawaii, the high season begins December 15th and carries through Spring Break. You should aim to avoid traveling to Hawaii during this season all together as flights and accommodations are more expensive, If you decided to travel, try to schedule at least one of your flights before or after high season begins or ends.
  • Flying non-stop will usually cost you, Be willing to take the flight with layovers,
  • Purchase your flight at least three weeks in advance. Yes, once in a while prices will drop in the last three weeks, but the majority of the time they increase during this time.
  • Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are typically the cheapest days to fly. Avoid the days surrounding a holiday. Often on the holiday itself you will find great deals if your are willing to travel on say, Christmas day.
  • If you have a favorite search engine like Expedia, find the flight you like. Once you see which carrier is the cheapest, go directly to that carriers website to see if its cheaper. For example, if you’re using Expedia and AirAsia is the cheapest option, go directly to Airasia.com and plug in the same dates you used on Expedia. Often, its just a bit cheaper than going through a flight search engine.

A useful and fun tool to use when searching for a flight if you have flexibility in your travel plans is www.Kayak.com/explore/. Simply plug in your budget, where you’ll be flying from and the month you want to travel and it will give you a map of all the places around the world that fit your budget.

If you have any helpful tips, please feel free to share!

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.

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!

Uncommon packing list for backpacking abroad

Besides the usual t-shirts, socks, shoes list of things to bring that one should be able to put together for themselves, I have some uncommon items to consider for your trip.

  • Sham-wow or Quick-dry towel – Carrying a bath or beach towel, especially in humid and wet locations, can become big inconvenience. In Costa Rica, I was slinging it over my backpack, trying to let it dry out in time for my next shower or surf session. Drying off with a Sham-wow is perfect, as I can wring all the water out of it and put it back in its small plastic container.
  • First-aid kit – Band-aids, antibiotic ointment, butterfly bandages, tweezers, gauze and athletic tape.
  • Steripen – My previous post talk about the specifics of the UV pen, but its a great way to create clean drinking water and also keeps your waste level down as you wont be throwing away all those water bottles after every use. Also, good in emergency situations if you’re in the wilderness and need drinkable water.
  • Laundry Bag – Guard all your clean clothes by bringing a small laundry bag or plastic bag.
  • Rubber flip-flops – You do not want to take a shower in a shared bathroom without them. All the body fluids, dirt and foot fungus are waiting for a tender unsuspecting foot to stick to.
  • Pillow case – I don’t personally carry a pillow case, but i know a few people that are afraid of the cooties and other stains that frequent hostel pillow cases. Could help you from getting head-lice, which I’ve dealt with. It seems the headrests in buses are the culprit for the spread of head-lice.
  • Headlamp or flashlight – Even if you don’t plan to go on any late night walks, if you’re in a hostel dorm, you will definitely want a flashlight if you need to find something in your bag late at night. Your fellow roommates will appreciate it if you keep the main overhead light off if they’re sleeping.
  • Needle and Thread Kit – For rips in your bag and clothing or possibly for a bad wound away from civilization.
  • Anti-diarrhea pills – When you’ve had too much street food and you’ve been sitting on the toilet all night, it is no fun if you have to sit on a bus the next day without these. I have over the counter diarrhea pills and when I told my doctor I was going to South East Asia, he also gave me prescription pills.
  • Multivitamins & Vitamin C- I currently have a cold (10/01/12)  as I write this in Cat Ba, Vietnam.
  • Note Pad and Pens- Whether meeting someone on the street and you want to write down there email or the name of their hostel, to filling out boarder crossing paperwork, its great to have a pen and pad handy.
  • Copies of passport – In case its lost or stolen.
  • Electrical outlet converter
  • Depending on the country, you may want to get the local currency before you arrive. Also, look up the currency exchange rate, so you don’t get taken advantage of when you first arrive.

Feel free to add any items you’ve found helpful in your travels.