Over my years of travel, you tend to learn most travel tricks the hard way. See below for my favourite backpacker hints and tips…
General Backpacker Hints and Tips
- Offline Maps
- Photograph your documents
- Medical and Insurance
- Washing Clothes
- Washing Clothes
- Free Accomodation Options
South East Asia Backpacker Hints and Tips
- Closing on Random Days
- Air Conditioning / Fan Rooms
- Renting Motorbikes
- Sim Cards / WiFi
- Travel Options
- Zipped Pockets
- Saving Money on the fly
When withdrawing money from an atm, sometimes they will ask “would you like to accept this exchange rate to continue?” This is the local bank trying to encourage a lower local exchange rate so they may take a small cut from the withdrawal. It will always be 2 – 3% cheaper to say no to this offer so get your bank’s exchange rate back home. Another important difference you might encounter – card or cash first? ATMs in Asia and many other countries around the world will give the cash first, then receipt, the finally your card. If you’re used to getting your card first, then cash (which is standard in many countries including the UK), you might forget to pick up your card afterwards once you see that glorious new wad of beer money appear in front of you! I’ve met lots of people who have lost their card in this way, so watch out!
There are plenty of good offline map Apps available. Maps.ME is a good one to download a whole country before you visit. You can pin your hostel’s location wherever you are, which means you can always find your way home when needed.
Photograph all documents
Make sure you hold copies of all your travel documents/passport/insurance/VISA/bus tickets. Just in case anything gets lost, it will be easier to recover if you have a copy. If you’re using your phone to take pictures, use services like Google Photos/Dropbox to back up all your photos automatically so you never lose your copies.
Medical & Insurance
So, you’ve had an accident. If it’s pretty severe, then of course go and get treatment as soon as possible. If you’re checking into a hospital, then if possible call your insurance to find out where is recommended. You’ll generally go to an international hospital if possible, and they’ll take good care of you.
When making an insurance claim, you’ll need to prove your journey from your home (where you bought your insurance) to your current destination. This will require your paper or electronic confirmations of flight bookings, train tickets etc. Again, this is a reason to photograph all your tickets as you go. You may also require proof of home residence (e.g. Work contract, rental agreement, mortgage conformation etc.)
Before you leave, pick up a small first aid kit too with bandages, plasters and some anti-septic cream. Pharmacies can also be quite pill happy, and antibiotics/painkillers can be handed out without a prescription. Although this can be helpful, you can always visit a doctor for some proper medical advice. I also travel with various pills for stomach upsets, and you don’t want to get into a situation where these are needed and you don’t have any. Additionally, rehydration salts are great when ill, tired… or hungover!
There’s plenty of clothes washing services wherever you which are generally inexpensive. However if you’re constantly on the move or travelling to more remote areas, then you might want to invest in your own washing equipment. This could be as simple as using a sink, although a simple makeshift washing machine can be created from a dry bag, water and detergent. Then simply add your clothes and shake it around for a while, before draining and rinsing the clothes. Products like Laundreez are a very similar concept, although there’s also a valve which means you can easily drain / refill the water.
VISAs are an ever changing subject due to the continual changes countries are making with regards to their tourism policies. Even government websites can’t keep up, and blogs can become quickly out of date. VISA applications are increasingly becoming available online, saving you the hassle of going to VISA offices in big cities. Of course, some VISAs are more complicated than others, but if you have any questions, Emailing the VISA offices or asking your hostel / hotel staff to call them will generally be a stress free way of getting answers.
Frequently, countries have a requirement of entry of an “onward flight booking”. I’ve only been asked for this once, but sometimes it’s wise, as you may have to book a last minute ticket out of the country when you get to the airport (and that might be expensive). Services such as Fly onward enable you to “rent” an onward ticket – saving you from any stress at immigration.
Free Accommodation Options
There are plenty of opportunities to travel cheaply (or even for free if you’re willing to put some work in!)
- Free Camping: There is a great culture of free camping in many countries around the world, from Scotland to Norway to New Zealand (and many more). Look out for websites and Apps in your respective countries which provide detailed information about locations.
- Couch Surfing is the most famous community for free accomodation for staying at someone’s home. Before you leave for your travels, take the opportunity to host someone. You’ll understand the set up better, and hosts in other countries will appreciate you have hosted someone before.
- Workaway – Get a real taste of a different culture by staying and working at a household. You can essentially live for free if you donate a few hours a day to help out around a house, around a farm or anywhere else!
South East Asia Backpacker Hints and Tips
Everyone has their own bartering techniques (playing hardball, starting to walk away, being friendly etc.) but there’s no such thing as the “best technique”. However, in countries where bartering is accepted (South East Asia mainly), you can pretty much barter anything. Frequently for tuk tuks, taxis etc. drivers will show you a piece of paper with “set prices”. These are never set rules… more like “guidelines”. Never pay those prices. Especially in the low season, you will have more leverage over places like restaurants, bars, hostels, guesthouses, so there’s no harm in trying. Even when you’re set on going to a specific place, if someone greets you outside, you can act pensive and see if you can get the first round half price! Always a fun challenge.
Closing on random days
When you’re travelling, every day feels like a Saturday… Unfortunately there are actually working days out there you need to abide by! Generally, places like restaurants and bars will be open most days through the year. There’s always exceptions as I’ve found locations which are randomly “closed every Thursday”, but that’s not too much hassle as there’s always somewhere open. However, for important public offices (such as immigration offices), national bank holidays will always be obeyed. Every country will have at least 10 public holidays, so always check when you’re planning to go for a last minute VISA extension! Generally, I would recommend asking your hostel/hotel staff to call them beforehand to check.
Across Asia, New Year is a very important few days, so many businesses will close down around then. Make sure you travel a day or two in advance as much public transport will not be available during these days.
Fans / Air Conditioning
More basic rooms with just a fan can be a great way to save money, but I honestly wouldn’t recommend this during the hotter months. You’ll find yourself wide awake and laid out like a starfish trying to hopelessly cool yourself down throughout the night.
At the other end of the spectrum, air conditioned dorm rooms can reach truly arctic levels of cooling, so always bring some warmer clothing for sleeping comfort. On night trains, you can’t always control the temperature, so make sure you’ve got something to wrap up in.
Renting motorbikes/scooters can be a really good way to get around, but make sure you avoid some expensive pitfalls. Generally, always go to a rental shop that has been recommended to you either by your hostel or fellow travellers. Any damage to the bike can lead to hefty fines, and if they have your passport as a deposit, you can get into difficult situation. Especially in Thailand, where you’re generally renting a new (or newly repaired bike), any scratches to the bike will be penalised. Always take pictures of your rented bike, and actually read any documentation you sign! A common scam is to claim a pre-existing scratch was your fault, so photographing any marks beforehand will help you out. And it goes without saying… where a helmet!
Sim Cards / WiFi
WiFi is pretty universal these days, and pretty much all cafes/bars/restaurants will offer it for free. However, if you want to stay online at all times, then you can pick up local 30 day Sim cards for a cheap price. These will generally come with big data packages for all your online needs – just head to a local convenience store to see what’s on offer. I’ve generally fiund that they pay for themselves due to the fact you can find cheaper restaurants online and use helpful Taxi Apps (e.g. Uber, Grab, Gojek (Indonesia only)) to avoid being ripped off by local services.
Most countries have inexpensive bus networks to get you from place to place. Night buses can be great ways to save money as you won’t have to book accommodation, but only do this if you’re a good sleeper. They can be bumpy rides wherever you are, and not always particularly comfortable, but they’re always by budget preference!
Other options will be train or flight. Sleeper trains may be slightly more comfortable, but they can also be slower than a bus due to lots of stops and slow speeds. Sometimes you can book some great deals with flights, so check out websites like skyscanner for deals (Tuesday is generally the cheapest day to fly, and booking further in advance will save you money). Also, airports will generally be further out from the city centre than bus/train stations, so you’ll probably incur greater taxi charges.
OK, this is a slightly weird personal preference (and probably mostly applicable to guys), but I always prefer to travel in shorts with zipped pockets. Losing items like your phone/wallet/passport will always be a major annoyance, so keeping them in a safe place always gives me peace of mind. Bum bags or fannypacks are other alternatives… but I think they look ridiculous 😉
If you want some zipped pocket shorts, it’s best to look online/in-store at outdoors shops (craghoppers is my favourite brand).
Saving money on the fly
Unless you’re travelling during the high season and worried about things booking up, avoiding booking sites will generally save you money if you’re sufficiently savvy when you arrive at your new destination!
Accomodation that use booking websites such as booking.com / hostelworld will always have to pay a fee when you book through them, so many guesthouses / hotels will avoid them. Especially in off/shoulder-season, you can generally walk around on arrival and ask about the prices. If you’re in Asia, then of course the price is always negotiable.