There are no instructions for being a traveler, but I remember what it was like planning a trip and having no idea how to do it. So there were 10 things I could recommend, this is what it would be:
1.) Take care of business before leaving
Inform your bank and notify them of where you intend to go so they don’t assume your debit card has been stolen. Your health insurance may have certain policies involving international emergencies. If you have a car try to leave it with someone you trust, and see what the best option will be for it’s insurance (a.k.a. putting it under your parents name or “storage” options). Set up automatic-payment for any outstanding bills. Get the necessary immunizations shots you’ll need for where you plan to go. Look up traveler visa requirements. (http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/)
*Obviously you are not going to want to carry your entire savings with you for your trip, so visits to the ATM become frequent. Look for an online bank account that will reimburse you for ATM fees, which can add up very quickly ($5+/ transaction) and drain you bank with companies like Bank of America or Wells Fargo. Make sure they can mail you a new card if yours is ever lost/ stolen (some will only mail it to your address on file). They also tend to answer calls faster, which is useful if there are ever any problems to report.
**Keep watch of websites like Expedia, Kayak, and Spirit to see where you can get the best deals. After a while you will notice which airlines/airports are cheapest to fly in and out of and you can structure your plans around this if you need to. Buying a one-way ticket allows more flexibility for your return. You may get hassled by the airlines because they think you might over-stay your visa, but an easy loophole is to just buy a refundable return ticket or an open international bus ticket.
2.) The Essentials
Less is more. Despite the fact that your life revolves around what you can fit in a backpack, the truth is that you don’t need to bring as much as you think.
-(2) Bathing Suits (can be used as shorts for guys)
-(1) Fleece Sweater
-(1) Thin rain jacket
-Cross training shoes
-Multi-tool kit/ Swiss Army knife
-3 Underwear (poly/ nylon)
-Sunglasses (knowing they’ll probably break)
-Small first aid kit
-Krazy glue (liquid stitches and can fix anything fast)
-Bag Rain Cover
-Copies of passport/ health insurance cars (hidden in bag, online, and/or on USB stick)
-Duct tape (rolled around pen)
-Combination Luggage Lock (keys can be stolen/ lost)
-Zip lock bags
-Hygiene Kit (keep it compact)
*Think waterproof. You never quite know where you’re going to end up or what the conditions may be. Whether it’s when your stuff gets soaked while being strapped on top of a bus during hurricane season or even just after you wash your clothes it’s very convenient to have things that either are waterproof, dry-quickly, or won’t easily get moldy. Great things to look into buying are polyester/ dry-fit clothing, waterproof electronics/ cases, bag covers, gortex shoes, or sandals.
3.) Bring the right electronics
In theory you have to be ready to lose anything you take when you travel and most likely the most valuable possessions you will be carrying will be you electronics. With that being said, deciding what to take and what to leave behind take is crucial. Unless you have a reason why you absolutely have to bring a laptop, it’s a good idea to leave it behind. (Of course I write this from my laptop in Colombia)
An iPhone/ iPod touch can access Wi-Fi anywhere and if you are ever in need of a real computer then internet cafes are pretty easy to find and usually relatively cheap with their rates (compared to the cost of replacing your laptop). A low cost USB stick will still allow you to bring files or documents you may need as well (You can also store them online through Google Docs/ Dropbox). If you do bring a phone, look up what the international rates will be. Electronics put a large bull’s-eye for criminals. Plus they are heavy.
4.) Lightweight Hobbies
It’s inevitable that you’ll have a lot of downtime so when you need to a few hours it’s nice to have a hobby that also doesn’t require a lot of baggage room or weigh a lot. Good examples of this would be an iPod, book (or better yet e-books), drawing pad, harmonica, juggling balls, ukulele, yoga mat (which can also be used as a sleeping mat), fishing line, or swimming fins /mask. However, if you are insistent on bringing larger items like a surfboard or guitar just keep in mind that you will most likely pay extra in every mode of transport you take, plus you will spend more time worrying about them getting broken or stolen.
5.) Start somewhere for a month
Arranging a volunteer position or home-stay (living with a local family) is an excellent way to start a trip because it will help ease you into the backpacking experience. It will allow you to really get to know an area while meeting other travelers who will have valuable advice on places to visit afterwards.
Websites like helpx.net and wwoof.org can help find a location to start. Most will trade housing/ meals in exchange for a few hours of work each day.
6.) Keep an open mind
Understand that the places you go may have completely different cultures than you are used to. The people you meet may have contrasting perspectives or worldviews. This is not because either side is right or wrong, but instead because we are a product of where we are from. If you try to look at things from their point of view, you just might learn a thing or two.
7.) Leave the areas you visit better than how you found them
Simply put: responsible tourism can help a community thrive and irresponsible tourism can destroy one. Easy ways to positively contribute are volunteering, cleaning up after your self (or even others), buying goods from locals, and donating to reliable organizations.
8.) Make friends with the locals
When it comes to certain things, I think most of us can agree that we know the in’s and out’s of our own hometown better than any travel agency does. This is the easiest way to learn about the culture of an area, avoid danger, and find good or inexpensive places to stay/ eat/ or visit. It also gives good practice to speaking the local language
9.) Get a guide book
A large part of backpacking is the adventure in not knowing where you will end up next. But this doesn’t mean you should be naïve about the possibilities. This is why it is good to research the different areas that you can possibly visit.
Some may be able to get by without a guidebook, but for a novice traveler this is one of most valuable items they bring on their trip. With it you have access to maps, bus schedules, hostels, They also provide information on the history/politics of an area, expected prices, places to eat, things to see, etc. Lonely Planet and Frommers are usually the most popular brands and they can be purchased cheaply on Amazon.com
Before you set out take some time looking through your guidebook, research the internet and speak to locals or other travelers about how to get where you need to go, how much it should cost, and any other helpful tips. One way I avoided getting the gringo rate on buses was by having exact change that I needed for the fare. Figure out the bus schedules for connecting terminals and always be ready to go earlier than you think. You never know when you’re something will be late and you need to always have a Plan B. Not only will this keep you safe, but it will also help you save money.
10.) Stay Healthy
It’s expected that your lifestyle will dramatically change while traveling, so things like exercising can easily become ignored. But if this happens for a few months time, you will quickly lose everything you worked hard for back home. It’s very easy to incorporate 15 minutes of push ups/ pull ups into you travel schedule and going for a run or hike is a great way to see the exotic places you will visit.
When it comes to eating remember cooking your own food is an easy way to stay healthy while saving money. Rice, beans, pasta, veggies, fruit, and bread are available just about everywhere you go and they can cost next to nothing. Plenty of hostels have kitchens where you can cook your food and while in transit you will definitely want to think ahead and pack a meal. The obvious things are fruits or a PB&J, but my personal favorite was cutting up a bunch of veggies and putting it on a tortilla with (unheated) refried beans.
*Good rules of thumb:
- If you’re in doubt about buying clean fruit, go for the ones you have to peel (bananas, oranges, pineapple, mango, etc.)
- If they have a water well, then it’s most likely safe to drink.
-If you want to try the street food but are skeptical of how clean it is, then go for the fried food, because any bacteria would have been sizzled right off. If you’re still worried then drink it with a coca cola. I figure if it can erode nails then it can probably kill off a parasite before it harvests itself inside your stomach.