Enclosed some, I hope, useful travel advices from "Preparation of your travels" over "What to pack" up to "What to do when you are on the road".
A special thanks to my friend Margherita - who has given me the majority of belows recommendations in the first place as she has already been on a "around the world" trip about 4 years ago and I can echo most of them !!
Essential Tips before you go on the road:
- Make a "more or less" plan on where you want to travel, this will help you throughout your travels - for example with your packing or to know where the journey goes next. On the other hand leave enough flexibility for spontaneous situations. You never know who you might meet along your travels, what special events are coming up in the near future (e.g. for me it was a night of Carnival in Cartgena, Colombia which made me stay longer as just everybody said it is a "must be there" event) or what recommendations you might get on the road.
- Talk to people who have been on world trips already to get their recommendations and find out about places/areas. The best tips I got were from people who have traveled before and not from travel guides. Don't be shy to ask for recommendations once you are on the road as well. Who doesn't want to pass on information of places they had a great time at ?!!!
- I recommend to spend the money on a travel-health- and travel-equipment-insurance: It is worth the money in case something happens. But even more: it takes thoughts off your mind like: What happens if my bag gets stolen should you sit in a Bus and your bag is in the luggage compartment and the bus is stopping every 5 minutes. Or should you have to go to see a doctor - wondering what the bill will be and not getting the full extend of medical examinations you usually would request. For travel insurances but especially health insurance check out STA Travel - they are worldwide active and have insurances especially geared towards world travellers (incl. coverage for e.g. visits at home, extreme sports, sicknesses you might have had before the start of your travels but symptoms came only up during travels, etc.)
- Think about what you want to experience during your travels - don't just make it a "tick off boxes where I have been" travel - learn new things, sign-up for experiences you normally wouldn't. It is the experience you make along your travels and the people you meet that will make your trip special - not yet another Fort, City-Wall, Temple, Church or Plaza. Think about what you want to get out of your travels. A lot a people use traveling to also find more inner balance - what does that mean for you? Understanding what you are looking for in your travels helps you to enjoy it and make decisions along the way
- If you are taking off for a year or longer I can really recommend to volunteer in that
time. It will give you a different insight of a culture as you will stay in one place for a longer time, it is rewarding as you will be able to give something back, it will be a great experience doing something different than usual, it will give you a social life right away with having colleagues around and makes it easier to settle into a culture. I can really recommend my mixture of volunteering and traveling: 3 months volunteering - 2 months traveling - 2 weeks visit at home - 3 months volunteering 5 months traveling.
- If you are on the road for a year or longer consider to plan a home-stay to mentally recharge. Being on the street for a year or longer is mentally tiring. Always having to get to know new people, having to be social, no couch where you can sit on in your pajamas and just switch on the TV and relax, no breakfast with friends, always culturally different food, always living out of a bag..... it just feels great to go back home for two to three weeks and mentally recharge - spend time with family, talk about your experiences with your friends, not to have to wear travel-cloth and eat Mam's food. And I promise after 3 weeks you are itching again to get back onto the road :-)
- Ensure you know your running costs while you are gone. It is worth-while to check your running costs at home while you are on the road. Any insurances you want to keep going while you are gone? Any payments you have to consider - make sure you have enough budget for them and "freeze" any costs you might not need for the time being.
- I am not regretting to have a digital SLR with me. This was a long discussion point for me. Do I take an D-SLR which I have to worry about and which attracts attention (e.g. to be robbed) but I am not regretting my choice at all. I got myself a specific DSLR-travel insurance to cover world-wide loss, damage or robbery for 60€ a year - this takes the concerns off your mind and you become much more relaxed with using it in public or lend it to somebody. And the pictures I got out of it are definately worth having it with me rather than a point-and-shoot camera. But be aware - only having a DSLR is not guarenteeing great pictures - if you spend a grand or more on a camera make sure you know how to use it and a photographer class for a day or two is worth the investment.
- Think of how to back-up your pictures: Tons of people loose them and regret it a lot as they are great parts of your memories. Use some big SD-Cards to back-up your pictures and keep two copies, or take a external hard-drive with you or even better upload them into an online space (even though that might not always be possible if you don't have a proper internet connections available). Keep your back-up seperate from your camera in case it gets stolen. And from time to time just send home a SD card, once arrived at home you can delete those from the back-up you keep with yourself.
- Keep important information online available. E.g. a copy of your passport, a copy of your vaxinations, credit-card information, bank account information, emergency contacts, etc. this will help you in case you will loose all your belongings.
- If you don't have one then get a credit-card. This will make your money situation so much easier. No need to carry around to much cash with you, Credit-Cards have usually better exchange rates than local money-exchange offices (except there is an illegal exchange market like in Venezuela where you get much better rates than the official one) and you don't have to pay any fees for exchanging travlers-cheques (which most foreign banks take). My experience: "Visa"-Cards are the most commenly accepted credit-cards. Master-Card is often available as well but not as much as Visa. "American Express" cards are only accepted in a very few places. If you are German I can recommend the credit card from the "Deutsche Kreditbank / DKB" - no basic fees, cash-withdrawals abroad are free of charge, it is a Visa Card and if you use the credit card account then the intrest rate is not to bad.
- Make a medicine bag and know what is in there. Taking medicine you know how you react to and know what they are against will help you should you get into a difficult situation. I can also recommend to take a couple of injection needles and syringes with you if you travel to very remote areas. You would be surprised about the hygiene standards of some "hospitals" and you will be happy to have your own syringes with you that you can have the doctor use. Also keep the leaflets of the medicine you have with you - many medicaments are useful for more than just their main purpose.
- Take the time and to put together a proper music-selection for your travels - it will sweeten long bus-rides, stop-overs at airports and help you to get through bad-moods. Spend some time on getting the right music together it is worth it. Also try to get your hands on local music - it will remind you of the good times you had during your trip. For example I have tons of Salsa, Reggaton and Merrenge songs as a memory of my South-America time, which is also such a big part of the culture there.
- Buy some GoreTex Sneakers instead of heavy and bulky trekking shoes. One of my best investments I have to say - trekking shoes are great for trips into nature but are heavy and bulky and very expensive. My experience sneakers with GoreTex functionality are fine for any nature-trip or trekking and keep your feet dry in case you should come into rain. OK in river crossings your feet will get wet - but that will happen with trekking shoes as well. It will amaze you in what shoes people sometimes take on nature tripps. But I can really recommend to buy sneakers - in fact for me I even went excersizing in them and ran a marathon in them. The shoes I am using are Adidas ResponseWear with GoreTex and I am more than happy with them - but I am sure other brands have those type of trekking-sneakers as well.
- Less is more: Travelling around I have seen plenty of people with humongous back-packs - having a hard time carrying them around - and how much do they really use of it ? If you ask them - most of the time not more than 50%. So before you pack think about what you really need to take (do you really need cloths for 3 weeks or are 2 weeks enough already as you will have to locate a laundry anyway? Do you have to wash a Jeans really after every time you were wearing it?), think on how you can use things in several ways. I started my travels with a 19kg backpack - by now I have 14kg all together and get by just perfect. Certainly you will get more experience with the time travelling and will know exactly what you actually need. So if you realize that you won't need things anymore - leave them behind as you travel. Give them to local poor people: you can always make somebody happy with the most basic things you carry with you.
- Don't forget to pack a nice outfit: You never know where you might need it - maybe you will have a date or you are invited to a special event. It always comes in handy to have a nice outfit with you. (For example in Cambodia I attended 4 weddings and a good outfit came certainly in handy there).
-Make a packing list and put everything you are planning to take in one place - I can't emphasis this enough. Seeing your packing-list on paper and everything you are going to take in one place gives you a different perspective. Writing everything down helps you to pack efficiently and it is easier to strike things off the list (e.g. do you really need 8 T-Shirts, 4 longsleeves and two proper sweaters ? For example you replace a proper sweater by wearing a longsleeve with a T-Shirt on top of it!). Also it is easier to realize what you might have forgotten.
- Think about where you will be going and research how the weather will be in the time you are planning to be there. Mainly people choose warm areas so don't take to much warm cloth.
- When you are on your way back home than leave your cloth behind if you can - it will make local poor people happy and give you more space for things you want to bring back home. Furthermore - after wearing certain cloth for a years time you just don't want to see them anymore. So only keep the ones you might use again and leave the others and help some less fortunate people at the same time.
- Travel pants are certainly worth the money. They are light to wear and pack, but at the same time endouring enough to withstand all sorts of environments. Unzip able legs make them even more useful as you can use them as shorts too - so less pants to carry around with you. I can really recommend the ones I have with me: Fjäll Räven G-1000. They are light, comfortable, protect you against mosquito bites, UV, have unzipable legs, you can go for a swim in them and they dry super-quick and are though enough to survive jungle trips...
- Take some photos of your family and loved ones: I find myself from time to time just taking out some pictures from family and loved ones and look at them when I feel homesick and it already is easier on me.
Useful things to take
- Flashlight (it just comes in handy in so many situations - many countries don't have 24/7 electricity and you find yourself having to find your way home in the middle of the night, or try to find a toilet in a jungle-camp without a flash-light, etc.)
- Swiss Army Knife (Comes in handy in many circumstances... you need to fix something, open a can, open a bottle of wine, cut bread to only name a few)
- Duct-tape: If you can't fix it with duck-tape (at least temporarily till you get a way to proper fix it) you most likely can throw it away. I fixed my shoes, a back-pack, a laptop and even hung-up my mosquito net with it... there is endless use for it
- Take a lighter: Even if you are not a smoker - a lighter comes in handy in many situations.
- Bring some elastic bands and string cords - they always come handy - if only to neatly pack things together to pack more efficiently
- A lock: all hostels will provide you with a basic locker to lock away your valuables but you need to bring your own lock
- Spoon/Fork and spices: Always come in handy to enrich any food you might have or prepare some by yourself. Used them already a couple of times.
- Condomes if you are single: Better be safe than sorry. You never know who you will meet along the way and local products are often just not safe.
- Ultra-light sleeping bag is a good investment. It doesn't need much space, is light and you can use it in many situations: You have to sleep in a place which is rather gross? Wrap yourself into it! You are on a long bus ride and the AC is on full blow? Wrap yourself into it! You go on a nature-trip and will sleep in the wild? Take it with you! You need a comfortable pillow? Use your sleeping bag! and many more situations
- Mp3 player: gets you just through a lot of lenghty bus-rides, airport stop-overs and moods
- Notebook: Write down your experiences and thoughts along the way, mark your next destinations, write down any recommendations you get, contact details from other travellers, or just any information you might need
- A deck of cards: Breaks barriers down with everybody and is a good laugh should you have to kill time
On the road:
- When it comes down to it - the only thing you need to travel is a Credit Card and your Passport. Everywhere in the world you will get your hands on cash if you have a credit card with you, (not said that you won't get ripped off using the credit card to get the cash) so you can buy everything needed. And in worst case getting back home you only need your Passport and the credit-card to book your flight. So always keep those close to you when you are on the road with all your luggage or keep them safe if you are checked-in a hostel or hotel. When you are checked-in,
leave your Passport there and only carry a copy of your Passport with you - most of the authorities accept a copy or at least allow you to provide the Passport at a later stage.
- Be prepared to be robbed and give everything away if it should be the case. Nothing is worth your health or worse your life. I have heard of many stories where travellers have been robbed and then stupidly brave people who got injured because they defended their backpack at the time. Just consider the thought of being robbed beforehand and ask yourself if defending belongings are really worth your health.
- Buy things as you go along: Buying cloth on the way will be a nice memory once you go back, will have you blend in more with the lcoals and cloth most the time are much cheaper abroad than at home.
- Write a travel-journal for yourself - not about where have you been but about experiences or people that have impressed you. This will be great memories in a couple of years time and remind you of the great experiences you made.
- Research in which accommodation you will be staying thoroughly. It is worth the time spent to find a good place to your liking and standards as you will use it for a base for a couple of days you have to feel comfortable with it. It is a big part of your experience, if your accommodation does not suit you - your experience most likely won't be a good one. For example, do you want to stay in a party hostel vs. a relaxed hostel. Read reviews of the places you are going to stay to find out what the vibe of the place is, how dorms and bathrooms look like, what services are
available. www.hostelworld.com is a great page to find out more about hostels as well as gives you the most recent list of hostels which travel-guides might not do.
- If you are flying a lot - try to find flights locally. 80% of the time you will find that flights booked locally are much cheaper than from abroad. Also all airlines accept credit-cards so you can always purchase a flight online/locally.
- Wherever you go, try to learn a couple of local words like: Hello, Goodbye, Thank you, Excuse me, I don't speak [local language]. This will break barriers down right away and people appreciate you making an effort trying to communicate in their local language. If you don't speak the language nor expect anybody to speak English - take pictures of food and things with you. Communicating with hands, sounds and pictures goes a long way all over the world.
- Don't be shy and try local street food. It will surprise you what great street-food is out there in all corners of this world. As long as it was prepared in front of you and heated up properly you shouldn't have a problem.
- At arrival in a new country, try to eat a fresh yoghurt and honey on the day of your arrival. It helps your body to adjust to local bacterias and against any potential Hay Fever.
- Try to send regularly eMails to the people "left behind". Your family will be happy to regularly receive an eMail knowing that you are OK and add a picture of you so they don't forget how you look like ;-). In fact people change a lot being on the road for a year (weight loss, grow a beard, cut their hair, etc.) Even better make a blog and put pictures up there. A recommendation for writing a blog: Don't bother to write to much - people are mainly interested in pictures :-)
- Send packages home: Your luggage will grow througout your travels with things you purchase or get as a present. Pack a package from time to time and send it home. It will keep your luggage light and you going to enjoy to find things from your travel once you come home.
- Traveling is schizophrenic: Why do we travel? Most of us travel to find "that special place" which amazes us - might that be an impressive land-sight, a buzzing market, a stunning building, a peaceful lake, breathtaking nature or just something culturally different. But once a place is encountered by tourism, it most the times destroys it at the same time. Why? Mainly because tourists don't think about the implications of them being there, nor do they care about their environment! So once you are traveling, be considered, respect people and their privacy, respect if people don't want their photo to be taken, protect nature, choose local travel-guides vs. big travel agencies and maybe spend a dollar or two more to use a eco-friendly accommodation run by local families rather than big companies. One of the major considerations if not THE major considerations - be moderate with your water-consumption. The majority of this world still does not have access to running water or if, then only limited while tourism wastes daily tons of water unnecessarily. A traveler told me once: "Tourists in Africa have a shower in the morning and then go out to see/take pictures of a local woman with a pot of water on her head which she has to carry for hours - and they don't make the connection" - that makes you think, no ?!
The rather odd travel-tipps:
Meeting a lot a long-time travellers along my way - I most the time ask them what their most useful things are on their travels. Here is a selection of their topics:
- A coffee maker: I meet a South-African couple who has been on the road for 1.5 years and when I asked them what the most useful thing is they got with them - they walked up to their backpack
and unvield one of these italian coffee-makers you can put on a stove or fire to brew coffee....
- Deodarant: An Australian mate, screamed that out the second I was finished asking. "So I don't have to shower every day and still smell good" - well thats a way to see it :-)
- Laptop: A british couple who was on the road for a good year used it to overcome borism in the evenings with watching movies. In most the countries the latest movies are availble as illegal copies
and are as cheap as 0,50 US$, so certainly a valid option.