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Bon Voyage!

C Money, pick pocketing/carrying valuables

Cheers for the effort of maintaining the 'travelindependent'-page, great info on there! I wish I'd read it a couple of years ago when I first started travelling - would have saved me lugging a packsafe round the world, among other things... Anyhow, I was going to add something to the 'securing your money' section.

1. Shop around for an account that doesn't charge you for taking out money abroad: Nationwide do it in the UK, their Flex account is free, and there are no charges. Which means you can get out, say, 10 dollars for a last snack and some fags before you board a cross-border bus, without having to pay something between 2 and 8 dollars in charges. Also, it means you can get out money more often without being charged, thus obviating the need to carry around large amounts of cash. E (Note Nationwide now charge, but still worth shopping around for the best deal of which Nationwide still is).

2. I also "spread out" my cash on my body when travelling, especially if I've just taken out a sizeable amount. However, I have also found it to be a bit confusing when piecing it back together ("did I spend those rupees I had in my inside pocket, or did I use the ones from my back pocket"). Thus, I do this with very large amounts that I am unlikely to use. Then, I keep small change for quick buys like fags or a taxi fare in my shirt pocket, like you said. but I also carry a wallet for the money I am likely to spend on the day (plus a little extra), cause I just lose my money otherwise. Obviously, wallets are targets for pick-pockets, so I secure my wallet with a chain. Now, I reailse this is also an advertisement for where my money is - however, as I wear shirts when travelling and do not tuck them into my trousers, potential pickpockets can't see how it is attached to my belt. Hence, I think anyone trying to steal it would need pliers to cut the chain in a sneaky moment. and if they want to mug me, well, then they want to mug me anyway. I've thought about what the chain signifies, as it kind of says: "hey, I'm keeping my money in check here, as you're all a bunch of shifty little crooks in this country". Which is not necessarily a very friendly message to send out to people. That said, I had my walled pinched by a Bulgarian pensioner on a bus once - when I wasn't wearing the chain. And the locals scolded me for not taking better care of it. So in the end, I just prefer to wear the wallet on a chain.

3. Carrying cameras. Keeping them in a daypack (yes, I do prefer them, as I normally have lots of water and some books in there) is not very helpful if you've just spotted a monkey stealing a t-shirt off a washing line, and want to capture the moment. That said, it's not even that convenient just carrying them in a shoulder bag: for those moments, it needs to be easily accessible. And easily accessible makes it easily 'stealable'. So what I do is carry it in the front pocket of my trousers or shorts (yes, also wear those, but with red hair and fair skin, I look like a tourist even in most parts of Europe). To secure it there, I sow one the receiving end of a clip (taken from an old ID pass you wear around your neck) into my front pocket, and attach the other end to the camera sling (could also be done in a shoulder bag). If they really want to steal it, a strong pull could perhaps rip it out.Cash However, anyone trying to pickpocket will probably give up as soon as they notice resistance. I normally also have my hand on my camera, though, just for some added protection.

4. This is not connected to security, but to the cutlery issue: totally agree that a bowl an a knife and fork are a waste of space when travelling, e.g. in SE Asia. The only thing I do take is a spoon - I sometimes get fed up with the breakfasts on offer, and I like yogurt a lot. And it's kind of difficult to eat a yogurt without a spoon...

Just some ideas, and thanks again for maintaining the site - the effort is really appreciated! Cheers, Michael

C Packing advice, Clothing and footwear

A few of my recommendations are: 1) never buy clothes from the sort of fabric that makes you sweat instantly, cotton is king, 2) don't bring hiking boots unless you will absolutely need them, 3) don't take a wide brimmed hat; its unnecessary and a bugger to carry, a cap is both more practical and more stylish, 4) do bring a raincoat, if going to mild rainy climate, 5) always take a basic medical kit but only the basics as you can buy the rest (along with much stronger and much more interesting drugs) in most places, 6) don't take a water bottle, do take a Platypus water-bag-thingy, 7) a pillowcase stuffed with clothes makes an acceptable substitute for a pillow and also means you can keep your dirty clothes separate, 8) wash bags are great for keeping electronics (and associated wires) and other knickknacks in 9) a travel chess set (with magnetic pieces) and a pack of cards are essential items, 10) water purification tablets are small and cheap; its really not worth not bringing them as they don't take up a lot of room and could save you many trips to the toilet - if in doubt, purify.

Re: Undies, shirts and laptops. Great site even for old hands, just thought I'd offer some hard won wisdom.. :-) One of the best bits of advice for travelling and packing clothes: Pack primarily business shirts. Light blue is the best. because you can dress them up or down as much as you like, if it is hot, roll the sleeves up, if cold down, you can wear them to fancy restaurants and hotels without getting sneers and with a pair of cream/beige shorts you'll look casual. David Attenborough was onto a winner with the beige/brown pants and blue business shirt combo, it is something that will not be out of place almost anywhere in the world. The other big advantage is you won't look like every other 90l backpack wearing, dread-locked, lonely planet wielding tourist in them either. I've spent most of my adult life in the Middle East, Central Asia and USSR and I swear by it. Normally pack 2-3 blue shirts, one darker one (currently a very dark green) one white and 2-3 pairs of beige/brown trousers. 1 shirt, one pair of shorts that double as boardies. They fit into my tiny little 40l backpack.

One thing in the article though I would have to disagree with is you can NEVER have enough pairs of socks or underwear, EVER. Used socks can really cause damage to your feet if you do a lot of walking and once you've had a fungal infection from undies (Papua New Guinea + Fungus From God = almost one year incapacitation from exercise), you will never ever again not change underwear fastidiously. One other recommendation too is to invest in at least one pair of underwear along the lines of Under-Armour with their moisture wicking and not chafe material. In *edit* we used to call them 'magic underpants' and they truly are. The first pair I bought I had to mistakenly ordered express shipping from the US to Australia so the total cost was $100 for one pair of undies and even still I would say they were worth it and would pay it again (if I had the money)...

One little piece of advice about laptops, even those fancy new cheap 'netbooks' that look super-small and great for travel are a pain to bring with you and carry everywhere, especially once you start adding in the charger and everything. Unless you are going to be in one place for a long time (I am currently studying in Iran) I would say leave them at home, it means I need to carry it in a separate day-pack which is driving me nuts when I go for little holidays to places like the Caucuses. And the 'logic' of backing up all your photos onto it falls over because you're always worried someone will steal the damn thing or it will get broken. Hope these help some first timers (and others) - Luke Y.

Re: Teva Jandals - I just wanted to make a comment about not sticking out, I have two Teva items one is a pair of Teva sandals, that make me look like an obvious tourist, and slightly stupid. I could walk anywhere but not fool anyone. The second item is much simpler and I stumbled upon their Flip Flops or Jandals (as we call them in NZ), that you mentioned, they also come in black and look very unassuming, I have done 15km hikes over canyons in the Australian desert and across step hills and jaggard rocks at low tide and have managed it with ease. They are amazing footwear and give you a much less tourist appearance. And never a blister or sore between toes sensation that Thongs love to give. And I have done huge walks in them without any discomfort. Crazy I know. These not only give great ventilation but allow you to fit in where you might otherwise look like a target.

Hi! Love this site, so very useful! I have one suggestion, a pair of cheap, light flip-flops, the old navy ones or what have you. Two words, shared showers. Always make me a happier person. I thought I'd share.

Re Packing not so light: Awesome website! I felt that your "what to pack section" could use a little more balance. There shouldn't always be an obsession with packing light simply for the sake of packing light! Unless you're planning to move around like crazy within an extreme third-world environment, it's more than okay to pack a very LARGE suitcase for your travels (in addition to a regular/cheap backpack). It's no secret that very, very, very few experienced travellers have remained on the road for extended periods packed as lightly as the extreme suggestions outlined in many guides (cough, including yours!). Not just this, but the combination of travelling with a suitcase plus a backpack allows one to better compartmentalize their luggage (i.e. dirty clothes here and clean clothes there, toiletries here and medical there, double copies of documents stored in both, etc.). Also, having the extra option of a suitcase allows you to store certain shaped items that may not fit well in most backpacks (i.e. a larger laptop, shoes, etc.). I really do feel that you should put more perspective into your otherwise 'great' section on what one should pack. It's not all that necessary to pack to light when the heaviest of things can be stuffed into a relatively cheap, wheeled suitcase.  The primary goal, in my opinion, should be for a traveller to simply do everything possible to avoid packing things that are unnecessary. A traveller should be free to make those sort of decisions on their own with respect to which type of luggage they prefer (backpack or suitcase). And I don't think it is fair to chauffeur them in any particular direction. Recommending only a backpack and no other option limits the point! I prefer to carry both as it keeps me five times more organised! It also makes it unnecessary to shop so hard for an expensive backpack (the $30 55-litre pack at Wal-Mart is my preferred choice) since the heaviest items are to be placed in the suitcase! A traveller can very well carry over a full week's worth of clothes (have you ever, for example, gotten food poisoning and, while ridden in a bed, ran out of clean underwear!?) and not feel hog-tied or have to spend multiple (valuable) hours a week washing the same clothes over and over. It's not necessary to cut so many corners with one's presentation (and potential stench) just for the sake of travelling light! You can do both if you abandon the strict backpacking concept of carrying it all on your fragile back! Many a traveller have set me straight in pointing out how such a traditional approach is only necessary in the woods! I've even been known to carry my own plastic dishes (to disinfect) as well as an iron skillet to give away as a gift! If you're travelling to an area that is developed, you don't need a backpack.

And, on a different note, I can tell you that one of the best ways to save money (i.e. as much as $400 -- more or less) is to go on a restricted diet while on a longer trip. The constant distractions of travel combined with the need to walk as exercise have, for me, often made it the easiest time to lose weight.  - Steve

Author Comment/reply: Steve is correct in what he says to a great extent and what and how to pack is everyone's own choice. The what to pack section does despite the opening words in bold of: 'The less developed a country you are in and the more you move around the more this counts. The more developed a country you are in and the less you move around (certainly if you have your own or prearranged transportation) the less this counts. It is also worth remembering that this list is not designed to cover every eventuality or circumstance. It is based on experience, the necessity to keep size/weight down, and what the average backpacker on the average trip would need (which in fairness is most backpackers who are not camping).' have a strong bias. Clearly no matter attempts to give balance, this is a site aimed at backpackers and backpacker travel/destinations. In a country like India or Thailand in May, using public transport getting round different sights and cities and having a big heavy bag, suitcase or whatever is clearly more of a hassle and stress than not having.

Thank you for a great site! I used it extensively when travelling south east Asia and found it to be one of the best sources. Here are some comments:
Footwear: 99% of travellers wear flip-flops in warm countries, the Teva walking sandals make you really stand out as a "German"/"American" backpacker, and may attract undue attention. While the soft/cotton flip-flops are more comfortable, they dry slowly, and need frequent washing to stay clean/not smell, while havaianas don't. Flip flops are really light weight as well. To get into nightclubs, in anywhere but the most touristy places you need sealed shoes, so bringing a pair of lightweight hiking shoes that look decent can be practical. Especially places that have tarantulas and similar creatures. (they also require socks, and pants!)
Clothes: Bring a lot of underwear! Running out of anything is ok, but wearing dirty underwear is something I at least don't enjoy. Rain proof pants can also double as regular pants and are usually lightweight. Bring clothes you are comfortable in and like! Bring broken clothes and get them fixed while you are there!
Stuff in general: If you are bringing a laptop, get a Kensington lock, usually enough to deter casual thieves, An iPod touch (or good cell phone) can usually replace a laptop in most respects. Bring a small cheap sleeping bag, if you find you are not using it, just give it away to a homeless person or something. Chances are you will on overnight buses and dirty hostels. Don't get the expensive microfiber towels, towels need to dry after use, which may cause you to forget them frequently.
65 litres is the perfect backpacking backpack (backpack should be slightly bigger than what you bring so there is room for more, and you don't have to spend lots of time packing). Bring as little, and as little valuables as humanly possible. A lot of places carrying a backpack is drastically going to increase your chances of being robbed, if you travel with only a "daypack" you will have no such troubles. While buying things at home may be more expensive, at least you don't have to spend your vacation looking for them. A lot of things can be surprisingly hard to find, albeit the general rule of what you need in an area is available in an area does apply. List of things which may be very hard to find when you need them: Gear for your hobby, medications (especially malaria like Malarone), security oriented gear. Don't get Travellers stuff, usually more expensive, less durable, and makes you stand out in a negative way. Bring books!
Where to go first: The place you always wanted to go!! is my answer. Your personal attitude and expectations are the biggest influence on your experience. Also I think a general tip for (pan-) Americans, Australians, and Asians who can afford it is to start out in Europe, where everything is close together, fun, and interesting (the south-east Asia tip, is not bad, I just think most non-Europeans would enjoy it). Africa is not as dangerous, difficult or inaccessible as people seem to think. In fact, if you have the time, it is often times stunningly beautiful, and I find it the best destination of them all.
Price ranges: Although your living costs may be accurate for most people (I really don't know!!). Here would be my way of presenting it: 1.) You can travel anywhere in the world for about 1250 Euros ~1500 USD / whatever pr month, if you keep your costs down. 2.) The major expenses are the amount of destinations and transport you do. So costs are to a degree time independent. 3.) When in Rome.. Is extremely important and is why I don't think these daily budget estimates give a correct image: ...when in Europe (especially expensive countries): Buy food at the supermarket, and cook it yourself or eat in a park ...when in south east Asia: don't worry and try some street food! ..when in USA: eat at cheap diners/fast foods where you pay at the counter (and therefore don't have to tip) and drink water ...when in Africa: be prepared to spend money on food, or have an angry stomach ...when in Japan: Discover cheap fast foods and izakayas. Everywhere where alcohol is expensive in bars but cheap in stores, drink in parks or hostels, especially Norway, Sweden etc! -  Aasmund G

Hi, this page is great work! [What to pack] I'm travelling every year for a few weeks as backpacker to different countries (one at a time, preferably eastern Europe, middle east), and this page was a great help ever since.
I'd like to give a few comments on different points I came across: (with most of them I can just encourage the hints already given)
--> The small backpack beats all! Thanks to you I am travelling with a 35+8 l pack, which can be taken as cabin luggage on flights, just serves as daypack if needed, and even is no issue when visiting crowded middle east bazars.
--> Taking shirts can not be overestimated! Always made a good experience in warm climates (sun protection) and it looks somewhat smarter than a t-shirt.
--> On the sleeping-bag- and jeans-discussions: Just leave both of them at home.
--> Putting small things in a tupper box works great (I think that was a readers comment). Plus, the box can work as bowl for self-catering, together with a spoon as most useful tool. Typical situation: Breakfast in a western capital after a night in a hostel.
--> "buy on route" doesn't work for clothes, if you are more than two meters tall. Plus, despite appropriate clothing I am noticed as tourist most of the time ("sticking out" literally). That never was a problem so far. Better, it often opens doors off the beaten track and gets people to meet you for a talk, tea, whatever. When showing respect to local cultures, being just a tourist or more likely a "traveller" has never been a bad experience.
--> When it came to money-based hassle (bazar, street dealers, etc), it was often helpful to claim to be a low-budget student. I hope this will continue to work for a few years, as I am in my early thirties now. Anyway, great site, I recommended it to lots of people. - Jörg


I've been going camping up in New Zealand bush since my late teens and started out with 60- to 70-litre packs crammed with everything but the kitchen sink. My clothing started out as "whatever fit me" mixed with Army Surplus and sneakers (which progressed to heavy leather tramping boots). As time passed, however, I lightened the load considerably, getting rid of a lot of "absolute necessities" that I'd never once needed and had lugged up a mountain trail or river bed - and back - for nothing. Modern synthetic clothes helped - quick-drying, light and compact. Modern lightweight tents and the ever-expanding range of lightweight modern alternatives to the old camping gear also helped. Lightweight tramping shoes replaced the heavy, rigid-soled tramping boots. The ideas on packing light espoused on this site are just as relevant when camping out in the wilderness as when travelling around the world - minimise the number of spare clothes (use modern synthetics and you can wash and dry them quickly if needed) have options for various layers to regulate your temperature (if you get cold, add more layers) and you can minimise the need for lots of different "outfits" for all weather conditions. Even carrying a sleeping bag, gas cooker, mess kit and such for camping, I can fit everything I need, except the tent itself and a foam mat, into a 30-litre pack: clothes, sleeping bag (you can get good 2-3 season bags that are lightweight will compress down very small, so won't take up a lot of room in a 30-litre pack), lightweight shoes or sandals to wear around the camp site, 3 days supply of food, small survival kit, first aid kit and camping gear. The tent and foam mat have to be tethered to the outside of the pack, but generally they're tethered to the outside of the pack even if you're carrying a 60- or 70-litre pack. The big difference is that "30-litre pack + tent" is smaller and lighter than "60-litre pack + tent". That's how much "absolutely necessary" stuff I've weeded out over the years - don't miss any of the stuff, either. I also don't miss the aching shoulders, fatigue and other problems caused by lugging a bulging 60-litre pack all over the place. And bear in mind, I'm still carrying enough clothing to deal with anything from hot sun to cold nights or heavy downpours, and equipment that's sufficient to survive out in the wilderness and my food supply - all in a 30-litre pack.

A few tips that may work for people travelling around the world as well as they do up in the bush:

"T-shirts":
I quickly discovered that polypropylene short-sleeved tops, although designed to be worn as warm undergarments, are great T-shirts - far superior to cotton T-shirts - when wandering around in the hot sun. Why? You're going to sweat, no matter what. When you do so in a cotton T-shirt, it becomes saturated and clings to your skin. The slightest breeze then chills you. And the shirt takes ages to dry afterwards. When you sweat in a polypropylene "T-shirt", the sweat is wicked away from your skin and when it evaporates, it does so away from your body, cooling you gently rather than chilling. It also dries a lot faster than a cotton T-shirt. It also breathes far better than woven cotton and helps regulate your temperature. So, as "counter-intuitive" as it may sound, wear a polypropylene "thermal" T-shirt instead of a cotton one. You'll be cool but not chilled and you won't be waiting hours for it to dry, even after properly washing it.

Wet weather:
A light "windcheater" and a woolen bush shirt make quite adequate rainwear - wool is not waterproof but stays warm when wet. Unfortunately, it's not windproof, but a light Nylon or polyester shell jacket, although not truly "waterproof", will stop wind. With both used together, you're protected - you'll get soaked through to the skin but you'll avoid potentially lethal wind-chill (hypothermia can ruin, at the very least, your month). You can survive being soaked through to the skin so long as you're not chilled - remember: being wet won't kill you, being in the wind won't kill you, but being wet and in the wind can kill you. I know this works as I've walked out of the bush down a rough trail in the midst of a downpour wearing a woolen "Swandri" and a single-layer windcheater, soaked through but actually overheating due to heavy exertion while wearing a woolen bush shirt. So, if you're really attached to your bulky GoreTex raincoat and leggings, by all means carry them, but you can save space and weight by carrying a woolen (or decent synthetic with similar properties) top and one of those light windcheaters that folds into a tiny pocket - both of which can be used singly or in combination to keep you warm and keep the wind at bay when it's not raining. Flexibility and multple functions, once again. Never trust the "waterproofing" of a normal backpack. Plastic rubbish bags are cheap and can most likely be picked up anywhere. Stick one into your pack and shove everything you're taking into it. You can just fold the top down over your stuff or you can seal it with a rubber band if you wish. No matter how bad the downpour you get caught in, at least you'll arrive at your destination with dry clothes to change into. A couple of spare rubbish bags can be folded up and slipped into your pack or map pouch in case you tear or otherwise hole the one you're using - they won't add much to the weight or bulk. You could buy a more expensive waterproof "pack liner" bag but if it gets holed or damaged, you've lost more money than you would have if you'd been using a cheap rubbish bag - and you can always pick up more rubbish bags elsewhere. Bin-liner bags (made for the small kitchen rubbish bins) usually come in a box of ten or so and can be used instead, if you want to divide your stuff up into smaller compartments.

In general: I can't extole the virtues of modern synthetics enough. Clothes that can dry overnight under a rough shelter after being soaked through by rain or river can certainly dry in a hotel/youth hostel room after being washed in the hand basin. Many thanks for your enjoyable site and I hope some of my suggestions and tips are helpful to other travellers. - Jon Tocker

C Bag size and backpacks

The small bag is a winner. What amazes me is that in six months we've met nobody with anything approaching the size of our packs. '"Travel light" is such clichéd travel wisdom but I guess most people haven't read it's possible to fit everything into a 40 litre pack. I've managed fine with 34 litres; my girlfriend who feels the cold has a 45 litre to fit her sleeping bag. Other than that, we seem to enjoy ourselves best when we stay put, meet local people and get local knowledge. Also the South American Explorers' Club trip reports and the New Zealand BBH guide have both been superb for really good recommendations. As we do a lot of hiking we took raincoats and we were glad of them. There's a quote from a reader on your site about 14 days rain in 1000 days travel or something to that effect: I think a bit of context on where they travelled might help, we've definitely exceeded their tally by far in 6 months. We've just had 3 days of solid rain in New Zealand summer! - Mark, Dublin

Less is definitely more! Well me and my friend travelled SE Asia, me with a 25L backpack and small handbag and her with a suitcase (smallest I've ever seen!) and a small swim bag style rucksack! Our combined weight of rucksack and suitcase etc was a massive 15Kg!!!!!!!!!!!!! Did us grand for months! Washed clothes as we went mostly every night and bought the odd thing as we went! never found my bag a bother! could take it on planes with me which saved hours sometimes! and found it easy to carry! I wouldn't recommend a suitcase personally but my friend coped fine! The only thing I would add to your list is a comment for girls! Sarongs! are excellent - as both skirts and a towel! But also instead of taking vests I took 3 very light weight dresses which were about 3 each from Primark and I could wear them as T-shirts over trousers (actually looked quite similar to the idea that Asian women have!) or as a dress at the beach, or for a night out!! Meant not having to coordinate my wardrobe so much! brought them back home with me afterwards and still use them. The only thing that I really had trouble finding in Asian countries was tampons. They just don't sell them! so girls! either take them! ( one on they're really small!) or back to back your pill!!!! - Kathryn

To be completely honest, initially we were both horrified at many of your suggestions! The thought of discarding our beautiful new packs (mine 60L plus 15L, and his 75L plus 15L) seemed unthinkable. How could we ever leave home without necessities such as denim jeans, mosquito nets, sleeping bags, extensive first aid kits, and all of those things that tend to get packed just in case but never ever used?

Anyway, the more we thought about it, the more it made sense. We eventually bought new bags (mine is a lovely little 34L, and his is a 35L plus 8L in extra pockets - but only used for emergencies). After we came to see the great wisdom in packing light, we delighted in telling friends and family about our new packing plans just to see the horrified looks on their faces! People have all sorts of crazy ideas about what defines an essential travel item - e.g.. beanie just in case it gets cold when your are heading to SE Asia, a hair straightener, complete sewing kit....We carry our packs onto the plane for all of our flights - as they are over the 7kg limit for Air Asia, we buy a checked allowance just in case but after 10 flights we still have not been forced to use this. When catching buses, we keep them with us and the peace of mind that this brings is great.

We have now been on the road for 4 months, so far we have been travelling in SE Asia (and finding it difficult to leave). After reading the Where To Go section, we added a few places that we probably would not have travelled to, including Sumatra which has been our favourite so far.
Everywhere we go we see travellers carrying and struggling with not only enormous backpacks, but smaller packs on their fronts as well. Lots of people comment (often enviously) on our small packs, and say they wish they too could have a small pack instead. We always tell them about your website, and the joys of having a small bag (I hope we may have even converted a few people!).

We have picked up things and discarded others of course. We both travel with cut down pillows which we store in compression sacks - one little luxury we did not want to give up. I have since bought a pair of light weight jeans that I wear at least 4 or 5 times per week, but only after doing without for 2 months to see if I really needed them (turns out I have a denim jeans addiction). We initially invested in a lot of supposedly technical fabrics, but except for a few choice pieces, we have found that clothes bought locally are not only cheaper but often more suited to the local conditions.

One thing that we do often buy locally if we will be in the same place for a while, is a plastic bucket for washing and soaking clothes overnight. Not exactly an essential travel item I know, but it has led to some pretty funny conversations with fellow travellers. While in Sabah, I had bought a particularly good bucket, and decided to take it with me to the next two destinations as we had pre-arranged transfers. While staying at a jungle river camp, one English girl confided that when she first saw us with the bucket - she wondered if she had somehow overlooked an essential piece of hiking equipment.... while the Dutch people on the bus thought perhaps that I had motion sickness. Anyhow, I think we may have inadvertently started a trend, as the next time we saw them they too had a bucket! I am thinking of looking into a fold away bucket, so we will always have one close at hand, as it is not always possible to find somewhere to soak clothes..

An innovation we claim as uniquely our own is the Luggage Mule (inspired by drug mules but entirely harmless and legal). In an early bid to overcome the tight weight restrictions that budget airlines impose on carry on baggage allowances (for example 7kg with Air Asia as I mentioned earlier), we purchased a Fishermans type vest with a multitude of pockets for Luke to wear onto the plane. We would load up all of the pockets of the vest to bring down the weight of his bag from 9kg to the required 7kg - and so the Luggage Mule was born! We have since decided that cargo pants are just as good, but if your bag is small enough, and you spend a little extra on a checked allowance, the airline staff don't really care too much what weight your carry on bag is. Anyway to get back to the point, thank you for your sound, sensible and comprehensive advice. We are the truly converted to the packing light philosophy and every time we see someone with a massive backpack, we are also eternally grateful. - Sarah and Luke McL..an, Melbourne Australia.

BackpackRe: Recommended Backpack - Just want to say that you have the best backpacking site around. Your suggestions for packing were spot on. I'm currently road testing them as we speak. I highly recommend the Berghaus Freeflow IV 35 + 8 as a backpack. I love it. The back part is curved and then there is a straight mesh which is contact with you back. This maximises breathability. It has a built in rain cover, a nice big lid pocket, and two expandable side pockets that come out like chipmunk cheeks. I'm proud to say that even when fully loaded I never had to put it on the roof of a bus while I was in India. It always fitted in the overhead racks. At the mo it's weighing in at 10kg. I really pity everybody else with there huge 70L bags. - Jonathan

C Insurance

I have now spoken to probably every travel insurance company on the face of the planet. There are a few things worth noting.

  1. A great many companies won't touch you if you do not have a return ticket. This is a problem if, like me, you are travelling overland and don't know exactly where you will be coming home from.
  2. It is nigh on impossible to find adequate insurance for camera equipment. Insuring it on your house is one possibility, but this is usually limited to up to three months out of the country in any one trip.

The best compromise I have found is Endsleigh insurance (UK) who offer the most comprehensive travel insurance package I have found, including unlimited medical and repatriation costs, 5000 pounds of cancellation or curtailment, 1000 electronic goods, 2000 personal belongings and up to 1500 of cover for specific valuable items. This all comes at a cost, but if you want an all-singing all-dancing package this is the one to go for. - Al

Re: Insurance - World Nomads in USA - Re: Maximum item coverage. It turns out it is just the US policy. I still like World Nomads a lot and will buy my insurance through them. Their web site is easy to understand, they offer coverage for all the fun stuff we hope to do, and they are far cheaper than any other company we looked into. Michelle has been very helpful, kind and patient with my questions and concerns.

I was a little bit concerned about the information I was given from their US affiliate as she knew very little about the plan... not exactly what you want from an insurance provider but probably just a new employee or something....

You might just add that benefits vary depending on the country you buy their policy from. It's too bad they don't cover high priced items - when we read that we got really excited. An alternative people might look into for covering high priced items is through their renters/home insurance. We get renters insurance through SafeCo Insurance for just under $10 a month and they allow you to add valuable items to your coverage for an additional fee. They will cover my $1500 camera for $24 a year if I break it, loose it, or if it gets stolen - even while travelling. Of course you have to have insurance through them. So about $150 - kind of expensive but not too bad if you want renters insurance anyway or if you get it just while you are travelling.

Thanks for your reply. And your web site is really great. I hope it didn't come across that I was blaming you I am sure it is hard to keep up with all of the information on your web site and there is really no way to track everything. We have gotten a lot of information from Travel Independent and have found your web site the most comprehensive and easiest to navigate thus far. - Kind Regards, Michele

C Medication and Immunizations

Re: Immunizations and their costs within Canada - In regards to immunizations and their costs within Canada a lot depends upon which province the person is living in, the individuals drug plan, and whether they qualify for coverage ( if they are deemed high risk of exposure). Within Ontario, OHIP covers regular booster shots such as Tetanus/Diphtheria, Influenza, and sometimes Polio). As for Hepatitis A or B it is advised to see your family Doctor or Local Health unit with regards to prescriptions and immunizations. The Twinrix (Hep A&B) or the Havrix (Hep A) vaccines may be covered by certain health plans. The best advice is to make sure that you have your immunization record checked and updated with your family doctor, they should have a record of past immunizations and will gladly give you a copy.

Re: Vit B1 - The water and energy required to flush out 500mg of B1 is quite large. Yes, it stops mosquitoes and bugs nibbling quite so much. I've heard drinking some vinegar can help too, and imagine there are various other options. Readers should be wary of available water supply (e.g. on a week-long trek through desert or dry area) and heat, and be aware that large daily doses of B1, at 10 times the amount of our body's needs, is NOT recommended in the long term.

Re: Malaria medication on-line - Hey there... just a tip for ordering anti malarial tabs online.. difference was [for 36 tabs] - GBP115 in chemist, compared to GBP 80 online.. dunno, but I reckon probably worth a mention..?

Tip: Look for Malarone online...it's MUCH cheaper [you will however be restricted by law, to ordering from pharmacies within your own country/region, but you should be able to find a least one or 2 suppliers].. Just go through the online ordering process, then send in your script ..ordering this way cuts down/out any associated administrative costs and can reduce the overall total by 25-30%. Although (in the UK) pharmacies are only licensed to provide Malarone for 28 days, they do not seem to have any issue with providing larger/longer doses. Certainly they document it has been used for periods up to 6 months without any issue. Recommended online pharmacy in UK is Stratford Pharmacy.

Re: Thrush - Something often over-looked when packing is thrush treatment. Thrush (aka yeast infection) is such a nuisance - just walking around becomes a hassle and it gets worse very quickly if not treated early. Even if you think you will always be near a chemist, it's worth taking some medication along because, frankly, it's a bit embarrassing to purchase... especially if your lack of language skills means resorting to gestures (you get the picture). Double strength thrush cream in tiny tubes are available or the oral pills (so it really doesn't take up any space!)

C Things to take (or note to take)

Re: Tupperware - I found taking various sizes of plastic Tupperware-like or take-away boxes really handy I used one for keeping my camera power charger and lead, plug adapter and MP3 etc. A smaller one for my compass, padlocks, batteries, post-it notes and other little things, and a third for my first-aid kit. These also doubled as useful containers for food when in hostels and when taking out a packed lunch - to save having to buy food when out for the day in a developed country, for example]. - Angie

Re: Click don't scratch - There is a new product out for insect bites ('Click don't Scratch' is one brand name) that I took travelling and would recommend: it's a little device that gives a micro electric shock. You click it around the bite and it stops it itching and swelling. - Angie

One thing you haven't included but which I highly recommend is a 'zanza-click' (http://www.tecnimed.it/zanza_click_e.html) within a few hours your bites will be gone and they last almost forever. It's tiny so take it where ever you go, even Europe; I've had worse mosquito bites in Rome than Malawi (tip: if used on the appropriate nerve points, such as the palm or wrist, they make you do some pretty cool muscle spasms (only minor ones though)). - Chris (Nottingham)

Re: Water Pump Filters - I recently went on a 6 week trip to Africa. Egypt and Ghana. Fully agree with you on Ghana, they are the nicest people in the world.
If you are doing a longer trip I would recommend that you take a pump water filter. Obviously we would not drink the tap water and bottled water is the way to go but buying bottled water day and day out can get expensive. Here you can pump straight into your platypus and you have a good two litres to go and just use the shower water. - Kushan Fernando

I absolutely love the website. I found it a while ago and couldn't seem to find it again until tonight. One suggestion I wanted to add was about purifying water. Ideas on the website have been filters and tablets and I haven't read anything about a steri pen. The SteriPen is a portable water filter that I have used to purify water on my last two trips to Africa. The pen uses UV rays to destroy waterborne microbes and takes less than 2 minutes to do so. Stick the wand in your water, swirl it until the light goes off and presto clean drinkable water. It costs around a hundred dollars and is a worthwhile investment if you're doing a lot of travelling in countries with questionable water and saves you cash that instead of being spent on bottled water can be spent on other more fun things. - Aubrie Eisenhart

Re: Soap and tissues - Your website is awesome, you have many essential information, and the comments are making it even better. I just wanted to mention a very small thing. Travelling to middle East, Central and South America taught me to keep a small bottle of liquid soap and small amount of toilet paper with me all the time. There are many restrooms that don't have paper or soap. You can just use a small bottle, like shampoo container or any resealable container. Some times I take the soap in my hotel room and keep it in my back pack. If there is a place that I need it, I use it and then leave it for others to use. - Fera

RE: sewing kits - I always found it handy to have one of those small sewing kits. I long ago gave up carrying a  mosquito net but sometimes when you reach a bungalow the mosquito net that is provided may have holes ripped in it. A quick couple of passes with a needle and thread to bunch it closed can make your time in bed much easier to handle. Repairing clothes can be done very cheaply in most places so you don't need a large kit. The little cardboard ones they sometimes give out in hotels should work. And they are no bigger than a book of matches. Wish I had thought of this before getting Dengue fever. - Megan Smith

C Keeper / Mooncup

Besides the obvious space advantages of carrying a 1" by 2" little cup for the few needed days of the month, this product is much healthier than tampons. Without going into to many details, because it is non-absorptive, it does not cause Toxic Shock Syndrome. Any woman who has travelled can attest to the fact that bus schedules and bathroom availability don't adhere maximum 8 hour wearing time of a tampon. The keeper, however, is not dangerous if left in those extra few hours until a reliable place is found to empty it. And there is no worry of disposal. Just another update there is another version called the "DivaCup", same thing but made out of silicone. - Sarah Feltmate

One other traveller e-mailed to comment that although this is a great product you really need 3-4 months practice with it before travelling. Her comments reflected that this is not the product to use for the first time when on the road.

Miranda shares: Re Menstrual keepers - http://www.mooncup.co.uk/ sells them. The store is super-friendly and the cup is great! I've used one for about 5 years now, travelling or not, and it's the best 18 you'll ever spend! Hygienic, safe, cheap and environmentally friendly - what more could you want? I know it's an icky topic, but it also reduces your chances of getting thrush while you're away (or indeed while you're at home), as tampons alter the pH balance of your body, encouraging the dreaded thrush to take over.

Phillippa adds:I just wanted to add a comment about the Mooncup. I agree that this is an excellent invention for eliminating the need for tampons and pads, however I wanted to echo someone else's' comment that if you have not used it before, definitely try it out for a couple of months before you rely on it without packing any other sanitary products. Again, without going into too much detail, but it has to be said,  when inserting and removing the Mooncup, it can get messy, if you are in a place where you are unable to wash your hands before and after, or not able to clean out the Mooncup before using again, then I don't think that this is the best thing to use as could end up being unhygienic when compared to applicator tampons. On the odd occasion some form of wipe could be used but I guess it depends on how prone to infections people are. It is also advised to boil the Mooncup before using the next month, again - this means running water and a hob! On another point, there are plastic scented sanitary bags (tie up top) which come in very useful when toilets have no bins, and of course are multi-purpose! The other thing is a shee pee - a plastic funnel for ladies to pee through, for those that may find it difficult to squat over a hole,  don't like the look of sitting on the seat, or get caught short on a walk.

Angie shares: Re: Mooncup (this is what I used (you can buy them in larger branches of Boots now apparently)) and I think they're great all women should use them whether travelling or not and tampons/sanitary towels should be banned whoops, gone off on one there a bit, sorry!

Vania shares: I really like your site and I am finding it really useful! :) just wanted to add a comment on the Mooncup advise (girls...): I think it s a great invention, and it will prevent so much rubbish that we should all use it. In our normal life! Not where it is difficult to maintain basic hygiene! You need to wash it properly and to put your finger "inside" every time you have to empty it. And in some regions it is really rare that your hands are so clean. Sometimes you don't even find a toilet or a place to wash your hand properly. I am using the Mooncup, but I would not suggest it for trips in places like Asia, unless you know you will always be in nine toilets with a clean place to wash your hands.

Others are less positive: 'You have on your site a comment that menstrual cups are perfect for women to bring travelling instead of the bulky pads and tampons, but you really should put a note that in some women (like me) they can cause horrendous bladder infections. Having to explain to a group of French-only speaking people at 3am in a hospital what was going is not one of my fondest memories'

C Sleeping Sacs and Sleeping Bags

Link which would be useful is for buying silk liners (for sleeping). You know the ones that cost about 50 in Dublin's 'Great Outdoors'. Found a sites that sell them over the net- http://www.jagbags.co.nz/ Took the chance and bought two. Cost only 54 for the 2. Postage was free! Came within 5 days of ordering them from NZ. Quality is good. The ones we bought are basic undyed light silk. It's possible to buy heavy endura silk for a little extra-selection of colours to choose from. Highly recommend this site. - Gerry Maher

I want to agree with the view that a sleeping bag isn't necessary (unless camping). What I take with me is a silk sleeping bag liner and an alpaca blanket. The latter was made by hand-sewing together two large Ecuadorean alpaca scarves. It is very light, comforting and warm, and doesn't take up much room in the pack. It's perfect for sleeping at airports and stations, keeping me warm in planes and buses, and as an extra blanket if the hostel bedding isn't quite warm enough and I don't want to try getting another blanket from the owner. - Paula

C Backpacking Security - Crime and Theft

Re: - Cable Ties

Plastic Cable ties/tidies...about 50p/$.70 for 20. Ideal for fastening backpacks, securing backpacks to anything unmovable (good for sleeping on trains etc). Fasten zips, buckles, etc. Lock them up and then cut the ends off. Really not obvious but really hard to break with out a knife. Doesn't stop the hardened thief but excellent deterrent to the opportunist thief. And very light weight. - Cheers Ainz

This is absolutely brilliant idea for securing backpacks. Instead of padlocks (heavy, expensive), you can use this plastic straps used with electric cables (SWAT lately uses it for restraining suspects) - you pull it and then can't open, must cut. It's cheap and lightweight. You can secure this way fasteners of your back pack, zips or even attach the whole pack to radiator in a hotel or rail on the bus. If someone's so desperate going through your pack to cut this strap, he's also desperate enough to cut padded zip off or even cut a whole in a pack and pull everything out through it. It's no difference, then. Cons: you must take e.g.. 50 of them, they are disposable - and a knife to cut them off. But still - it's lighter than a padlock or/and steel Expander string or so. - Tomasz Michniewicz

On your bike!Re: Bag snatching from bikes - In your security/how to avoid being robbed section, you might want to insert a paragraph about guarding your daypack while on a bicycle or motorcycle. Particularly within Southeast Asia, there have been a lot of drive-by pack snatching's when folks put their daypack in the basket of the bicycle or motorbike. It is usually two youths who sneak up from behind on a motorcycle, with the rider snatching the pack from the basket. The best thing to do is to wear the pack on your back. In Vientiane in late 2003, I made the mistake of tying my pack to the basket. So, when the two guys on a motorbike tried to steal my pack, they didn't get it, but they did manage to knock me over, which hurt a bit for a few days. Please forgive me if you've already mentioned this on your site, but I thought this info might help prevent someone from being ripped off. Cheers - Mark.

Re: Bras - Tip for women - many bras have little pouches inside for putting in extra padding. A far better use for these is as a money belt substitute - while you can't really put your passport in there (or at least I can't - your bra may be a lot bigger than mine, though!) it's great for money and small documents and feels a little more glamorous than a hot belt round your waist!

C Volunteering Abroad

True Travellers Society (TTS) is a new Canadian not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing information that will assist independent travellers around the world get the most out of their experiences abroad. We aim to connect people to global volunteer opportunities. We do this primarily through our online community that allows individuals to share valuable information with one another (www.truetravellers.org). There is no charge to access any of the information on our website or to join as a member.

TTS was born after we continually struggled to find international volunteer experiences that were not accompanied by hefty fees. Many civil society organizations offer volunteer opportunities and ask for only minimal financial help covering their basic expenses. However, finding these organizations and opportunities is difficult. Our goal is to create a central location where this information can be shared by travellers, civil society organizations and anyone else who is interested. We are trying to get our message out to people who may be interested in this information and may have some of their own to share. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Again, membership is free as is access to all the information on the site. - Andrew Wahba

Volunteer South America, is a non-profit site, created firstly to help backpackers/ independent travellers find FREE and low-cost volunteer work in South America, and secondly to promote some really worthwhile grass-roots volunteer programs in the region. - Steve McElhinney

Your site is great, really great. Your advice is excellent and the readers comments are always interesting (and I especially love that you include comments that don't entirely agree with you, because it recognises that what's right for one person isn't necessarily right for another). One other option for places to stay while backpacking is through the WWOOF network. It's a worldwide organisation where volunteers help out on organic farms in return for food and somewhere to sleep. It can make travelling seriously cheap because you're essentially removing two of the costliest expenses (accommodation and food) - all you've got to do is get from farm to farm and have whatever spending money you need. The work varies but generally should be accessible for anyone who doesn't mind a bit of physical labour. The hours vary too, but are generally between 5 and 8 hours a day, 5 (or sometimes 6) days a week. It depends on what the host needs, and how relaxed they are. It definitely won't suit everyone, but for those who enjoy being outside in often beautiful areas of the world, working with their hands, it's great. One of the things I really like about it is that you actually get to know the locals, rather than just a bunch of other tourists. Good way to develop practical language skills too! And you'll definitely learn something about where food comes from while you're doing it. I definitely think it's worth mentioning - I've just got back from a big trip around the west coast of the US and have spent a fraction of what I could potentially have spent if I stayed in hostels and bought all my food. www.wwoof.net/ - Cheers, Garreth

C Country Comments

Continue to use your site, is brilliant, think we look for very similar things on a trip. I pretty much agree with all your comments on the countries I recently travelled to, just trying to expand a bit. Got back a couple of months ago from a 6 month trip so thought I would give some comments:

Philippines Palawan - Great diving mainly reefs, but the highlight are the huge wrecks in Coron. Getting around can be tricky, with roads getting washed way, early buses etc, but there are always alternatives e.g. Water taxis. Even in this rural area the problem of prostitution is apparent, disturbing and seemingly accepted. Underground river is a bit crowded but quite spectacular. Some enjoyable walks/climbs if you leave before the sun heats up. Manila - You initially hate it, but when you are there for a while you start to enjoy it a bit. Beer - Red horse contains some form of amphetamines (apparently!).

Laos
The newly opened crossing Northern crossing from Laos to Vietnam is spectacular, but transport is quite difficult. Friendly border staff, who still find westerners a novelty, sadly I am sure the banana pancakes will arrive soon! Than Hoa is border name, go via Sam Neua. Appears to get mixed reviews and does take a long time, but who's in a rush! Would be much better with your own transport. Vang Vieng is just plain weird. Struggled to find any form of local culture, eventually went a few miles away and got involved in a football game.

Vietnam
Disappointing in places. Easy Rider trips from Dalat, although expensive are really good fun and a great insight into the country. This is the only way I managed to get of the tourist trail. Best way to eat and drink is on the street, just look for child size chairs.

Cambodia
Sihanoukville - A bizarre little place. Just a line of beach bars all offering pretty much the same thing. The cleanliness of the water is very questionable, but is to tempting to resist. Location certainly isn't idyllic, but is fun to relax for a couple of days. Free accommodation can be found if you drink in there bar. Quite a lot of hassle when you are there

South Africa
Just awesome. If you like keeping yourself busy it is just great. After all the horror stories, I felt the place was very friendly. Even managed to hitch a few places. Diving in Sodwana bay is fantastic. Coffee bay is a great place to unwind and surf. Transkaii and Natal are just so beautiful. The standard of hostels is really good, but probably not ideal for non-drinking vegetarians.

- Matt (UK)

Re: Pakistan - You mentioned that you would like to hear more about Pakistan if anyone has travelled there recently.

I am a 21 year old girl from Australia who travelled with family and friends to Pakistan from June to July 2009. We did a 15 day trek on the Baltoro Glacia to G2 base camp in the Karakoram. It is incredible! It is a very popular destination with trekkers and mountaineers and therefore has a large number of tourists passing through during the trekking season. It also has a number of very good tourist agencies. Two of the largest are Adventure Pakistan Tours and Nazir's Tours. I have been trekking in Nepal as well to the base-camp of Manasalu (one of the best treks in Nepal). Trekking in Pakistan is as beautiful and outstanding as Nepal. The K2, G2 trek is not too difficult and gradually ascends in altitude, in order to minimise the risk of AMS. As for safety, we did not encounter any situation where we felt threatened. There are many tourists travelling to that region during the trekking and mountaineering seasons.

I realise that not all of Pakistan is safe, but overall we felt very comfortable travelling there and feel that the media reports are generally exaggerated. The trek in the Karakoram encompasses some of the highest mountains in the world: K2, G1, G2, and Broad Peak. It is remote in terms of been an area where there is not any human habitation, however it is not off the beaten track tourist wise. If you are more interested in a trek which passes through villages (and perhaps has less tourists) then it is advisable to Trek in an area which is less of a tourist attraction. Specifically a trek from Hunza to the Hindukuish was highly recommended to us. I however found that the number of tourists was not a drawback at all, but it's a great opportunity to meet some really interesting groups of people.

The people in Pakistan were very kind. It is a place I definitely would like to return to. Don't be put off by the media, be wary and smart about where you decide to go. It's a great country, fascinating and I definitely recommend travelling there.

Re: New Zealand - west coast - I would like to convey to you though, my horror at finding the West Coast of New Zealand hurtfully placed in low points. I refer here to the South Island only. I've haven't been up the West Coast of the North Island enough to comment.

I MUST patriotically point out that the wild West Coast has some incredible scenery. There are two glaciers, the Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers, both of which you can walk right up to the base of and touch the ice (you can even lick it if you feel so inclined) not to mention take scenic helicopter flights over or climb with experienced guides. There are amazing hikes in the native forest, whitebating in season, fishing safaris, gorgeous totally empty beaches, the Blue Pools (take bug repellent for that one), tea stained rivers, Christal clear snow melt rivers and gorges, the Punch Bowl Falls (ok the falls are inland but highly recommended), the Fox River Caves, the Pancake Rocks and blowholes of Punakaiki, black sand beaches, you can pan for your own real gold, buy a real possum fur (shhh possums are pests and their fur is so soft), you can whitewater raft, jet boat, kayak, go on quad bikes, walk over the Bulla swing bridge, go adventure caving, canoe on gorgeous rivers, go horse trekking, plus there are cafes, boutique museums and art galleries and you can buy amazing Jade carvings and jewellery.

Not to mention the all important famous Monteiths Brewery with tours available including tasting all the different kinds of beer. So you see you would have to agree the West Coast should definitely be on your highs list! I live in Christchurch and the West Coast is where I head to get away from the city. We always go camping in a tent too :) We do take a tarpaulin though, for when it rains, usually the weather blows through though and the days break out into brilliant sunshine.

Come and see it! - Nicola Leith

Re: Middle East Hello! I absolutely love your website. I am an avid backpacker, and this is the best site I've seen. Much better than Lonely Planet's World guide. However, a few comments for you, on the Middle East:

1) There is more to Israel than just Jerusalem. You need to focus more on Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv is one of the most laid-back, best beach culture cities I've ever seen. Totally SECULAR, great parties and bars, hot women, great set of hostels, etc. Tel Aviv rivals Rio and Sydney in terms of beach culture. Please highlight Tel Aviv, as there really is more to Israel than just Jerusalem.
2) You sell Beirut short as well. Lebanon is incredible, it's not just a side-trip off of Syria. Beirut truly is the Paris of the Middle East: it's the most liberal, sophisticated, open-minded place in all of the Middle East (only place in MENA region with gay bars, that says a lot), with beautiful architecture, beautiful beaches, beautiful people, and great restaurants. Please speak a little more to that. And Byblos is an excellent, very cool side-trip from Beirut. You are correct that Ba'albeck is great (and Jerash is not, in comparison). Also some great vineyards in the Bakaa Valley, on the way to/from Ba'albeck.
3) Jordan: say something about Wadi Rum, it's outstanding.
4) Syria: the Old City of Damascus should be a highlight. I have been to 50+ countries, and it is by far the coolest, most untouched old city I've ever seen. It is stepping back into time. You should highlight that.

Re: Ecuador Comments

Thanks for making such a wonderful website! Having said that, however, I would like to offer another perspective to your commentary on Ecuador. Although I have far less experience travelling in Latin America (Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, and Puerto Rico), I feel like you did not do the country justice. I spent a month exclusively in the Oriente (Ecuadorian Amazon) and fell in love with the region and its culture. I will admit that the typical mainland tourist destinations are rather disappointing (Banos, Papallacta), but if you manage to find yourself off the beaten track, which is relatively easy and safe to do, you will not be sorry. Tena, a town that is about six hours from Quito by bus, is a good place to start. From there you can go on organised tours on the Rio Napo (whitewater rafting) or just head out on your own. Ask around town or try to find Peace Corps and other volunteers at internet cafes to get more travel advice. Pick a destination, grab a bus along with the local mestizo and indigenous population, and once outside town, ask the bus driver if you can ride on the roof. He will more than likely say yes, and you're in for a treat. Wander into a rural school if it looks inviting. They might ask you to come back and teach English. During breaks, children will ask you to play football and the bolder ones will run up to you, get a good luck, and run back to their friends. Wait for the bus or, if you know Spanish and it's daytime, hitch a ride in a truck bed. If you're really lucky you might be invited to spend the night in an indigenous community outside of town, only accessible by a long hike through the muddy rainforest, spotting squirrel monkeys and giant spiders along the way. Although I haven't done it, I know it's possible to hire a raft or outboard canoe and take the Rio Napo all the way to Peru, ending up in Iquitos. My experiences in this country affected me more than any others I have had. This is not the place for sightseers or travellers with a strict itinerary: give yourself time here, and maybe you'll love it as much as I do! Thanks - Caroline Bowker, Chicago, USA

Re: Taiwan

I just came back from Taiwan. And i noticed that i couldn't find anything about this country on your website. Taiwan is a great country to travel trough. I noticed that Taiwan is highly underrated in general. I think it's a great destination for backpackers. It's not overrun by tourists (in most places you'll be stared at because your foreign) and in the last few years public transportation has improved alot. You'll find MRT stations in te big cities and they have recently constructed a High speed rail from north to south. Travellers will most certainly find everything they are looking for. You'll find big cities, nightlife, mountainous areas with lots of hiking trails, nice beaches, cheap and nice accommodation, very good and cheap local food, cheap transportation.. Anyway i think you'll get my point. Check it out. I really recommend this beautiful country to everyone who loves to see a new part of the world.

Re: Ethiopia (South Omo)

Ethiopia - the jury may be out on the south  ... but I found it to be a an amazing trip. This is a unique region of the world which has been exposed to little in the way of tourism, but things are changing ... and for the worse. By Dec 2009 part of the road in the lower Omo valley was already sealed making travel much easier. Our loop of the south took 10 days and at times yes, it can seem like a human zoo, but only if you treat is as such. First of all - leave the camera in the jeep - at least when you first arrive in a village. You will astonish the locals and find a very different experience. We spent 1 hour sitting under a tree with the mursi - no hassle, no demands for money. We took photos before we left  but at least we had a good hour to enjoy the experience. Also, try and get a local guide who speaks the tribe's language and take your time. Ask your guides what the people might need as some items can be bought in Jinka - the mursi women were asking for salt to cure meat and soap to wash the children.  Unfortunately any actions we take as visitors will have an effect on these people - so for me the jury is out as to what to do in these situations. Some villages are trying to do something positive with the money e.g. setting aside a fund to pay for transport if people fall ill. However, much of the cash they receive goes on alcohol - one of the very destructive effects of tourism. Totally agree with using the Bradt guide - an excellent recommendation and one of the best guide books I've ever read! - Jason K, UK

C Other

Re: South American visa cost for US Citizens - My husband and I just finished up a 14 month RTW trip, and have some updates for your visa info in South America - as Americans, many countries are now adding a reciprocity tax - so Bolivia now charges $100US for US Citizens to get in- at land and air borders both. Chile (if you fly into Santiago) does the same with the $100 USD tax, but we did cross the land border 4 separate times into Chile, and were tax free. Brazil cost us $140 USD a piece, good only for 30 days and one entry - very different from 4 years ago when it was $60 for up to 90 days and multiple entries for 5 years... Bad deal for US Citizens now. Ecuador and Peru were easy, didn't need anything in advance, they processed it when we landed. - Laurel (www.dalama.net) There is no charge for American passport holders to enter Chile.

C Bargaining

I was reading your advice for bargaining and dealing with begging and hassling. While I can totally see the point you and other commentators are trying to make about foreigners being upset about being "ripped off" for a $1 or some petty amount, I would like to point out it can be incredibly difficult to know the relative relationship and cost when first beginning to bargain. When I was living in China it took me at least a few months to finally figure out just how much to bargain for ethically and financially.

Once I finally figured out the perspective and happy medium and I looked back on the many times I had been substantially ripped off and the rare times I reailsed I paid too low of a price I just had to reailse it was all a learning experience. I really like your emphasis on asking locals and more experienced travellers, and while I definitely did that as much as I could, I soon came to reailse everyone had different answers. My point is it is hard to put pricing into perspective without a lot of experience. I want to emphasize just how long it can take to build up that experience, particularly for people who don't like to bargain in the first place. Yes, we all want to get good deals, but people, in general, don't want to rip someone off who is much less blessed. When I reailsed I had paid less than I should the first time I felt bad and I can honestly say I simply didn't know what the price should be so I went with what seemed fair given the context (my logic was the vendor wouldn't sell me anything less than what was fair). Granted, this is still different than bullying a vendor. But, I quickly reailsed I couldn't survive there for long without driving somewhat of a hard bargain, and if I hadn't learned how to stand my ground I never would have figured out just what a fair price was because I would have been overcharged for everything on my trip. I think the key is to strike a balance between confidence and humour. Once I found that balance and vendors viewed me as non threatening, but not a push over, then I was able to get honest prices (fair for both of us). I remember arguing over 1 kuai simply because at that point the bargaining had become simply fun between be and the vendor. He knew I didn't care about the 1 kuai and I knew at that point he didn't either. That's when I figured out bargaining should be fun. Because in general you shouldn't have to bargain for necessary daily items, so when you are bargaining it's for something that shouldn't matter much any way. If the vendor is stressing you out, or you are clearly stressing them out, then you shouldn't be bargaining with them.

I don't think it's the money that should be what puts things in perspective initially, because I believe the correct pricing can take a long time to learn, but the experience and relationship is generally an easier guide to follow. Bargaining over a petty amount isn't he problem, it's bullying on either end.

Hi, I’m an avid traveller and very antique person! We lived in Saudi Arabia for 3 years and bargaining had to become a way of life just to survive!  

But when travelling, although I still love to bargain, I’ve become very conscious of the idea of real "worth".  One time in Thailand, I had to stop bargaining so that the stall holder could bring his grandmother out to enjoy what was going on!  We carried on quite theatrically and I got my silk (?) suit and camisole at a very fair price.  I got a warm handshake and found, when I checked later, a second camisole in with the other items.  It had been fun, we’d raised a fairly lively crowd and, apart from the enjoyment to his grandmother, the whole process had, I suspect,  been extremely good for trade.  In that case, we had clearly been very happy with my "bargain".  

But later that trip, I was bargaining for a really pretty bracelet made out of the metals from old batteries, when I realised just how little I was paying.  I solved the problem, by telling him that he’d struck an unbelievably  hard bargain and then told him to keep the change!  We’d had fun, I’d got a really different souvenir and I left without feeling guilty at the miserly sum we’d agreed on.

As "affluent" travellers in remote areas, I think we need to remember that often the seller is trying to feed their family on the proceeds of their sales and we are "disgustingly" wealthy in comparison to them.  However, in less remote areas, I often think we are seen as gullible tourists just asking to be ripped off!  And in those cases, I go back to the bargaining I learned day-to-day - and walking away is usually the best bet - preferably with a laugh and a suitably caustic exit line! - Chris

Thanking you in advance for your feedback / contribution - it's appreciated!

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"There are no foreign lands. It is the traveller only who is foreign.”

— Robert Louis Stevenson