Jetting off around the world can be a little, well, daunting. That’s why the Felix Travel team have gotten together for The Daily Felix to help you plan that life-changing trip. Over the coming days we’ll be giving you the low-down on some of the more popular travel destinations, but for starters we’ll be covering the basics of backpacking: everything from what to bring, what to do, and getting there in the first place. Word-of-mouth is a traveller’s accomplice, and we hope you find this advice useful if and when you decide to plan that big trip.
A thousand miles seem pretty far but they’ve got planes and trains and cars – if the sun shines on it, there’ll be a way to get there. There are numerous modes of transport for your kind consideration – which gives you bargaining power, my friend.
Budget airlines are aplenty – as well as multi-trip train and bus passes. Utilise online search engines such as Dohop and TravelSupermarket to aid your hunt for cheap transport options.
Use public transport whilst in your destination - not only from a financial point-of-view, but also for the sake of better cultural immersion. Many cities offer tourist passes designed to slash hassle and these will keep your transport nightmares to the minimum.
For the courageous, indulge in alternatives such as cycling and hiking – it’ll give you a better insight to life on ground level. I also advocate hitchhiking, though hitch-ability varies from country to country.
The importance of booking accommodation in advance will vary depending on the destination and time of your visit. For instance, travelling through India in the monsoon season will require no advanced bookings, whereas a peak season full moon party on Koh Phangan will most definitely require a booking to ensure you’re not homeless – and trust me, there’s nothing worse than lugging a backpack with you the whole time.
There are a million online websites that’ll help you book, if it’s required. Like many travellers, I use the trusted HostelWorld.com, which allows you to easily search through popular destinations and list hostels according to price, customer rating and so on.
Customer ratings on said sites are very important: word of mouth is a traveller’s best friend. When on the road, you’re likely to get a tonne of recommendations for hostels, so always carry a notepad. And don’t forget to reciprocate with information!
Making a dash for the nearest burger joint may be tempting, but surely that defeats the entire purpose of seeking exoticism and escaping old routines? Be bold with your travels; be bolder still when tracking down your latest dinner.
My finest culinary advice: follow the crowd. Sighting congregations of diners is accreditation to the caterer, while deserted spots and desperate advertising tactics cry: “Avoid me!”. Local markets and food courts are excellent scouting grounds for a good – and usually cheap – bite. Be adventurous, even if it means tucking into seemingly gruesome delicacies: you can’t judge until you’ve tasted them. Go for a wander, work up your appetite before making a decision – it transforms eating into a most rewarding experience.
For self-catering, try sourcing for ingredients characteristic to the area: often the way to gaze into the soul of local cuisines is through savouring and experimenting with local produce.
Granted, you might want to spend a night-in or two, nursing that exhaustion – though there’s no way of suppressing the nocturnal self forever. Whether it’s the habitual silent pint or gigantic rave-fest, observation will be your best guide for scoring the best nightlife.
Everywhere has some narcotic beverage worthy of trial, so if you’re on your 1000th Heineken since travels began then your sense of adventure isn’t functioning. Counting on word-of-mouth info will probably assist your quest for local brews and chic venues – you’ll most likely find drinking buddies to share the load by hanging around hostel common areas.
If music is what unlocks your grooves then seek out local events – as a bonus, melodic earfuls of cultural education will be up for grabs, from flamenco to tribal dances.
Be streetwise: alcohol does bring out the bestial side of human beings. Avoiding dodgy-looking places and staying in groups should fend off tragic happenings.
Life is never boring. Fact. The moment you embark on your travels you’re exposed to an industry striving to provide excitement and eventfulness - warding off idleness should be the least of your worries.
Safari tours in Africa, riding elephants in India, adrenaline-seeking in New Zealand – every corner of the world has its own enticing speciality which tickles your curiosity. Chances are you have a clear mind on thing you’d like to give a go before you step through the front porch. Do your research - online blogs, travel literature - beforehand. Also, exploring the area upon arrival will yield many discoveries. Ask when in doubt - hostel staff, locals and fellow travellers will readily assist.
Consider responsible tourism options – participating in volunteering programmes will prove meaningful and serve to offset negative impacts of tourism on local communities.
Some destinations will require vaccines and/or prophylactics – don’t let this put you off, but be sure to do your research. Arrange a consultation with your doctor, making sure to leave yourself sufficient time to get any injections done – some will require multiple sessions.
Unfortunately you’ll have to pay for these services, so be sure to get what you need and not everything they try to sell you. For instance, I avoided rabies immunoglobulin in Southeast Asia because the risks were too low to justify the ridiculous costs. Plus, the same vaccines can be purchased from hospitals overseas, often at a fraction of the cost.
Take care when eating and drinking – we’ve all heard the horror stories. Avoid ice cubes, check bottle caps are properly sealed, and eat where there are other people. Finally, be sure to carry plentiful contraception – it’s better to have it and not need it.
Obviously this will depend on your destination, but there are some fundamentals that no backpack is complete without. A camera with accessories and plenty of spare memory cards, a plug adaptor, army knife and basic first aid kit are a great starting point. Even for hot destinations, you can’t go wrong with something warm/waterproof: long bus journeys are often accompanied by chilling air conditioning, and the tropics are known for their heavy (but short-lived) rainfall.
Perhaps consider bringing a cheap laptop: mini netbooks will now set you back as little as £200 and can come in extremely handy. Cost-wise, a netbook will work out cheaper than continually using internet cafes if you’re away for a prolonged period, and if you look after your backpack it shouldn’t be a burden. In general, don’t fill up on unnecessary crap: you can always buy toiletries and T-shirts (and even a new backpack) on the cheap when you arrive.
From a variety of sources – guidebooks, websites, word of mouth – get a good idea about what you should be spending, and stick to it. Indeed, it’s easier said than done, but as university students in London you should all know the score: if you still think clubbing on Leicester Square is fun and affordable then I hate to tell you that you’ve been grossly misinformed. Divide your cash into a daily allowance, allowing for any possible emergencies, and keep tabs of it in your trusty notepad.
Befriending people on your journey is great for both the experience and economic advantages: groups get better rates on tours, hostels and so on – it pays to be a socialite. When you’re travelling, expect everyone to be super social and don’t be afraid to just say hi and grab a beer. Refine your bargain eyes and always look out for deals and happy hours!