Be wary of free roaming animals… No matter how cute

You will likely come across many different animals along your travel trail. Among others, I’ve seen monkeys bite and dogs nip. All were avoidable, but once in a while someone wants to show-off or maybe just had one to many drinks and found a dog simply irresistible, that would otherwise seem completely mange and disgusting. Keep away from fleas, ticks and injury by keeping your distance.

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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.

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.