On the road... sounds pretty cool. Well this is the essence of travel.
If you have done it before, all this will sound pretty boring and obvious,
like someone telling you how to get up and go to college or work.
But if you are heading out for the first time, it is not easy to understand exactly the factors you may deal with.
Once you understand them better you can stop worrying about your trip and where you are going,
safe in the knowledge there is nothing [or little] to be worried about!
The art of travel is about the most pretentious way of saying this. It is about the simple things you may deal with on a day to day basis (especially if you are heading to poorer or developing countries). These are lessons you will learn quickly yourself and start to learn to get the best from and optimise to your advantage.
That's what we have covered here: it is nothing difficult or complicated. Nonetheless if you are new to travel, independent travel or travel in more challenging parts of the world (undeveloped) knowing it in advance should make your trip less daunting.
Here are some of the factors you need to give consideration to how to deal with them.
revenge, the Delhi belly, worship to the porcelain god... call it what you like,
food poisoning and similar [vomiting] viral infections are an unfortunate
caveat of travel and can strike at any time and in any place. You will probably
be at a loss as to what has caused it and you just have to wait it out. Its
effects are horrible, but it doesn't last long in most cases. There seems to
be two types: one that will come on suddenly (often in the middle of the night)
and see you throwing up all night, feeling pretty shit the next day and that's
it, and the other, much worse, will come on slower and last several days. The
difference is probably the strength of the poison, how well formed it was when
ingested it and if viral or bacterial. The latter is more serious and could
be something much nastier. There are literary dozens of different strains of
both and it's pointless to cover them here, but most encountered (normally bacterial)
aren't too serious.
Best advice: don't get paranoid about food poisoning otherwise it can cloud a trip and your experiences of some great food. Just allow time for it, wash - or sanitise your hands regularly and take the rough with the smooth, as it were - there is very little you can do about it once the poison is inside you apart from avoiding dehydration (Gatorade type sports drinks are much easier to drink than water and will replace a little energy/salt), get plenty of rest and let it come out of you (in whatever form - NB severe and continual vomiting that is preventing you from keeping water down and/or retching for long periods can be treated by tablets or an injection; either way consult a doctor if symptoms are persisting. Staff in your hotel will normally help you find medical help or bring you water et cetera if on your own). See diarrhoea and dehydration below as it is normally a symptom of food poisoning, for more advice. And remember keep your own hands clean before you eat.
Some of the easiest places to get ill are where there are large numbers of tourists and the locals have adapted by offering western type food and/or a lot of food is saved, stored and re-heated. Nepal, Bali and Ecuador are good examples. You might never have a problem in India, eating Indian food, but suffer in Nepal eating western style food. To quote from a book about climbing Mount Everest, the author stated that the hardest challenge with mountaineering in Nepal is not getting sick in Kathmandu! But that doesn't mean that every trip to Nepal, India or the like will see you with the runs or throwing up; a normal healthy experience is quite possible with a bit of common sense and a fair size chunk of luck. It goes without saying that the longer you are away the higher your chances of picking something up becomes although equally you will build up resistance over time.
The 'boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it!' adage is well documented. So are all the cold salads, ice cubes in drinks, fruit juices, hand-made ice creams, raw food and buffet warnings. Bacteria and injected water can be inside melons, so many say it's best to avoid melons. In reality you can never know. Paranoia, for example about ice on hot days in popular tourist hot-spots really is unnecessary. Many have eaten all of the above which are risky, and been fine. Eating a carnivorous diet you do however run a much higher chance of getting ill (chicken is often reheated). Just remember, you may go a year and not have a problem or get ill on your first day in somewhere like Crete or Las Vegas. It's something of a lottery with food preparation, storage and hygiene (including yours) the key factors.
Chances are you will probably get some form of
diarrhoea at some time during a long trip. A distinction should
be drawn between general travellers' diarrhoea, and severe diarrhoea.
The former which is more of an annoyance than a major problem, can normally
be clocked up to changes in diet, time-zone, irregular eating and general
stress. The latter, the more severe form can be totally incapacitating
and is normally coupled with vomiting. Such may have you go through hell
and back for at least 6-24 hours and will be a case of something more
sinister such as the
Norovirus. So many things can be responsible for a case
of the squits, many point the finger at water, poor hygiene in cooking
and general. Quite often it can be the result of getting other people's
faeces in your mouth. The dirty culprits are normally cooks not washing
their hands after a trip to the toilet, but even if the restaurant cook
does not understand basic hygiene you will be safe if your food has
been properly cooked and arrives piping hot. A Norovirus is only one of them (but one of the nastier and very contagious). Whatever causes it or wherever
it came from doesn't really matter - try to let diarrhoea pass through
you with plenty of water, a basic diet and maybe try apple sliced very
thin then left to turn brown.
The bacteria responsible for diarrhoea and related symptoms normally die after 36 hours. If it lasts longer than this, chances are you have nothing serious, but something treatable, for instance giardia (indicated by severe flatulence, stomach cramps and sulphurous belching) which is cured by Flagyl (Metronidazole) - see a pharmacist. By taking precautions against travellers' diarrhoea you will also avoid typhoid, cholera, hepatitis, dysentery, worms and a whole load of other rare but thoroughly unappetising diseases. It's only when you have to ask whether farts have nuts, that you know you've joined the backpackers' fraternity!
Dehydration is the reason you feel awful during a bout of diarrhoea. Dehydration (ORT - see below) salts sachets can be taken, but a four-finger scoop of sugar with a three-finger pinch of salt in a glass, with a squeeze of lemon or orange juice will do okay in minor cases (use flat Coke with just [a little] salt if drinking water is not available). Try to avoid diarrhoea blockers like Imodium (unless you have no access to sanitation) as these are not cures and although they sometimes (in mild cases) can seem to knock it on the head, they often make your screamers last longer. If you're hungry stick to dry biscuits, boiled potatoes or rice.
During illness (diarrhoea/vomiting), dehydration is a risk that cannot be overstated and ORT (oral re-hydration therapy) in the form of sachets of salts you add to water are cheap, widely available even in the remotest of locations and save thousands, of lives every year when serious illnesses (e.g. Cholera) strike in the developing world. If you have severe stomach cramps, are retching and cannot keep water down, Domperidone (Motilium) will help, but getting to a pharmacy is best.
With many travellers expecting diarrhoea, it comes
as a surprise that constipation can occur. Drink plenty of
water, eat fruit and have some natural laxatives at hand in need be. Drinking
coffee or (herbal) tea can also help.
Bottled water is almost always available, unless when trekking or in very remote areas, in which case use Iodine pills or boil the water (chlorine can be used, but just doesn't cut it when it comes to killing some nasty bugs). Some travellers get sold on bulky water purification systems for their travels. These are on the whole unnecessary apart from a few instances where bottled water prices are quite high (we are still talking less than a dollar) and/or unavailable, but, opinions do vary and some swear by water purification systems. Most will stick to bottled or mineral water and try to seek out places that will re-fill plastic bottles for the savings and that green feeling.
With iodine purification which you might use if trekking, remember two things. One, it tastes pretty awful so make sure you have taste removing pills plus if necessary powdered drink like 'Tang' to remove even their taste and two, don't drink Iodine purified water for long periods. Never drink direct from streams, no matter how clear they look. If boiling water, allow longer times at altitude and don't trust someone else to do it properly.
They may not be exotic and you may be somewhere wonderfully tropical, but colds, flu and sore throats are common and can often knock you down, especially in damp climates or after long haul flights.
Mild skin irritations or fungal infections can be dealt with Hydrocortisone/Clotrimazole or similar cream. Insect bites that can be painful and annoying, including mosquito bites, can also be treated with Hydrocortisone cream (or other travel size remedies). If very bad try anti-histamine pills - just don't scratch.
All of the above medications can be found with complete ease whilst away.
HIV and other STDs are widespread across less developed nations (especially Africa and SE Asia) to a degree unimaginable in Western countries. The risk involved with having unprotected sex whilst away with anyone apart from a regular partner is prohibitively high. Likewise having tattoo done when in less developed countries is also not such a bright thing to do. Meningitis is a particularly nasty disease and can kill within hours. The tell-tale symptom is a blinding headache and high fever. Make sure you are vaccinated (however this will only protect you from common and bacterial forms). Be aware of localised outbreaks and see a doctor immediately.
See Malaria prophylactic and treatment in the before you go section.
equatorial and Australian sun is vicious and although
you can't really avoid some exposure, there is no point in incurring it needlessly.
Basically, build up your exposure gradually and cover up in the middle of the
day. Be particularly careful when swimming or snorkelling, at altitude, when
on open transport or any other activity that prolongs your exposure to midday
sun such as hiking. Common sense really, but getting burnt really isn't fun
as most will be able to testify, however a paranoid approach during day to day
activities and zero exposure is unnecessary.
Rabies can be carried by any mammal, normally monkeys, dogs or any wild animal behaving in an unusually tame manner (just give them a wide berth). Any suspect bite should be scrubbed under running water for five minutes and flooded with diluted iodine or other disinfectant. A post-bite injection is needed as soon as possible, even if you have paid out and suffered the immunization jabs. The further from the brain the bite is the longer the incubation period (which can be quite long). Do make sure you get an injection within a day or three (unless the bite is to the face) no matter how far from civilisation you are. Once symptoms appear, death from rabies is probably the worst way to go. Tetanus is caught from deep, dirty wounds including animal bites. Make sure wounds are thoroughly cleaned and that you have had the immunisation that gives good protection for ten years. If not, get a booster as quickly as possible.
Covid, Covid... bloody Covid! As much as we may dislike how it has affected our lives, Coronavirus and Coronavirus restrictions are going to be a fact for many years to come. If there is Covid anywhere there can be Covid everywhere, so restrictions and testing requirements are going to remain. Obviously the simplest bit of advice is to get vaccinated as soon as you can. After that remember that issues and restrictions are not universally the same around the world. One part of the world may have a major issue, while another part is fine. Countries where tourism is a big part of the economy, have been spared high death tolls due to a young demographic or those with leaders who chose to deny the problem are going to offer greater ability to travel. A major issue is that it is simply very hard to socially distance when travelling and while your age and vaccination may prevent you from being a victim, you can still be a vector to those unable to get vaccinated. Equally we just don't know now what the end game is, how the virus will mutate and how much we will all need to get repeatedly tested as we travel. Or even if travel pre-2020 will return to the same way ever again. Getting tested (either at a lab or with a lateral flow / antigen test you can carry around with you) upon any symptoms is obviously a smart move for all you may come in contact with and just an inconvenience you need to live with. As is remembering the world has changed. That said Covid is not a reason to no explore the world.
Sorry to keep beating the same drum, but the easiest step to saying healthy and preventing a whole host of common aliments (food poisoning, typhoid, conjunctivitis, colds) is to wash your paws! - especially if food, a toilet or animals are involved. It is amazing that many consider it essential to carry huge first aid kits and health paranoia when they travel (most commonly refusing to drink tap water where perfectly safe), but frequently skip a chance to use a bit of soap and water on their hands!
There are several books dedicated to staying
healthy abroad, the majority of which are complete overkill and
play on people's fears to sell copies. The health sections in Lonely
Planet's titles are on the whole, nothing but recycled crap with no
real advice. Some of the better info on travel health can be found in
It's important to be aware that this section is only a quick low-down on common problems: there are thousands of other considerations and as stated before, no doctors have contributed to this site. It's also worth knowing that if you get ill and can't or don't want to see a doctor, that in most developing countries you can buy almost any medicine cheaply, over the counter in numerous pharmacies without a prescription (and conversely in developed countries (especially the USA) getting hold of the same medicine is an expensive difficult job).
Just to put things in proportion, the following
guide was taken from
tips and was compiled by R. Steffen from the WHO. He has published
a nice series on medical problems encountered by travellers going to
Here's his list of problem frequencies for travellers staying over one month in a developing part of the world:
At high altitude (above
2,500m/8,000ft) take it easy until you have acclimatised. Altitude
sickness often gives you no more than a killer headache, breathlessness
and a slow brain feeling above 3,000m. It will often give you a sleepless, breathless
night. Anyone can get it bad even if they have been at high altitude
before, but acute altitude sickness is a lot less likely than
stories you hear and read make out. If you do get it, the only cure
is to come down from altitude. Coca tea can help, but the side effects
of pills (tingling hands) sold in Kathmandu, can for some, be worse
than any mild case. The power of the sun at altitude is a danger much
more worthy of your concern.
Climbing a volcano in Ecuador or Kilimanjaro, the road to Leh in India, the Karakoram highway, the pass in the middle of the Annapurna circuit or Everest base camp both in Nepal and the altiplano in Bolivia and Tibet are the most common places travellers will get those killer headaches spoken of. Lay off alcohol and drink plenty of water (although it goes straight through you). For more information see The High Altitude Medicine Guide. If you want to feel better, stronger and more comfortable on any climb over 4,500m (for example Kilimanjaro), take a route/tour that takes longer and lets you acclimatise. Everyone will feel a bit spaced out landing from sea-level somewhere like La Paz and it is quickly ascending to high altitudes (rushed climbing tours) that give most, the most frequently discussed (vomiting, feeling like shit) problems.
|Visited a doctor||8%|
|Had to stay in bed||6%|
|Could not go to work afterwards||2%|
|Malaria in W-Africa while NOT taking prophylaxis||2.4%|
|Malaria in E-Africa while NOT taking prophylaxis||1.5%|
|Other places: see footnote*||-|
|Hepatitis A: see footnote**||0.3 to 2%|
As a final note, take a look at the
what to pack
first aid kit list, but don't go mad - you can always buy medication
when travelling (cheaper and more compact) and this is the one thing
that gets everyone extra paranoid, so most go over the top when packing.
In addition, never forget that what you eat and drink is crucial: a poor diet lowers your resistance. Ensure you try to eat a balance of protein and carbohydrates as well as getting enough vitamins and minerals. If you're sweating loads make sure you get enough salt (put extra on your food if you want) and drink enough water. Make sure you eat enough, as an unfamiliar diet will probably reduce the amount you eat and get enough sleep and rest. It's easy to get run down in a hot climate - splash out on a nice hotel room if you are sleeping poorly - it's worth it in the long run.
* The incidence of malaria may seem low, but these are average numbers: in some areas the risk may be a lot higher (up to 10% per day).
** The risk of hepatitis A depends on your way of travelling. 2% is for the backpacker, 0.3% is for the Sheraton traveller.
** * The risk of hepatitis B is almost non-existent if you don't get involved in sexual activities or don't get transfusions of blood products or injections with unsterilised needles.
Moving around.. that's why they call it travelling! You end
up doing a lot of it: sitting on buses, trains and taxis - at best; at worst,
night buses, the back of pick-up trucks or below-par boats.
Travelling, it's a great leveller - everyone needs to spend time getting places. It's something you will have to get used to and the fact is it's not always very comfortable. You'll also probably not be prepared for how long distances are (for example Chile top to bottom is the same as Lagos to London!) and how bad roads can be. Paul Theroux hit the nail on the head when he wrote 'travel is glamorous only in retrospect'.
You really need to look at the country summaries for exact details, since transport and options vary dramatically from country to country. Some countries will have fantastic train systems (India, China) in others, rollerskates would be more useful. Developed countries will normally have good roads, but bus/train prices are generally pretty expensive and hiring/buying a car may be a much better option. The roads and distances in less developed countries, especially crossing mountains or high areas can mean even though buses are cheap, every now and again an air ticket makes sense. And then there are the loved and loathed night buses, all of which are mentioned below:
Trains: These are often be slower,
colder, more expensive and more impractical than buses. However, in
the right places (India, China, Egypt, Tanzania and Europe
to name a few) they're great. They have the benefit that you can normally
get a good night's sleep. Make sure you don't end up for a prolonged
period in third class on a Chinese or Indian train, just for the sake
of a few Rupees or Yuan - it won't be much fun after the third or fourth
hour. Be extra mindful of your things at night, as theft does happen
on popular routes in some countries (i.e. Agra to Varanasi) - chain possessions up and
keep them near. Also be aware that trains can get cold at night
with AC left on full blast or at high altitudes (many South American
trains). (See image
- Indian Train)
Buses: Its buses that you will end up on more than often. You may well feel you are spending most of your trip on a bus. They vary significantly, normally in less developed countries being cheap, mainly efficient (okay, you sometimes get a break-down) and with frequent departures. In more developed countries like Oz or Europe it's the opposite. In some places such as Thailand, Chile and Turkey, buses - comparatively speaking - are a joy. Many countries have a cheap state run bus-line and private (faster, bit more expensive) options to complement it. You soon get used to picking the right types, times, companies and seats - there is more most travellers could say about those considerations than anything else on this site. It's what they and you will have the most experience of!
Night Buses: Loved and hated. Basically you get on a bus in the evening and the theory is you wake up refreshed in a new place, saving a day and a night's accommodation. What really happens - especially in less developed parts of the world - is you don't get much sleep, increase your risk of an accident, feel shit the next day, save little on your accommodation, lose a day because you sleep the next and/or possibly freeze if AC is left on all night or worse still a TV/ loud conversation. Even with all this in mind you will still use them despite being much more unsafe and allowing you to see less than in the day, because distances can be so great and time so precious. Make your own choices (although sometimes there's not much of one). (See image - Chinese sleeper bus, although this type with beds on the bus are not typical outside China.) Please also note that in Chile/Argentina high standards of overnight buses operate with airline business class like seats and sleep is much easier.
Mini Buses: Many countries have privately owned small mini-buses running certain routes faster, a little bit more expensively and more frequently than big buses. The norm is the drivers of these buses think they are in a grand prix and there's always room for one more. Despite their lack of comfort, room for a big bag (you can always buy two seats) and dangers you may well end up taking these buses, as they are practical and quick for short to medium distance trips. These normally leave when full, stop anywhere and are similar and larger versions of 'shared taxis' - see below.
Buying, hiring or thumbing a car: In developed countries and especially in New Zealand, Australia, USA, South Africa (Namibia & Botswana) and Western Europe, buying/hiring is a great idea, and will give you rewards never expected. Be sure to shop around. If buying, know what you are buying and make sure you have time to sell it. If hiring read the contract carefully, get your own excess (CDW) insurance policy rather than taking out the one offered (such as this one or this good one from Globelink (EU only), or similar) and be careful of short-term deals that limit kilometres/miles per day or make you buy the fuel in the tank if you don't indent to use it all. In New Zealand and everywhere else for that matter, in the peak season the cheapest rentals are for the longer periods and go fast - surf the net and book ahead. The best deals are pretty much always found on the Internet and not always with the major brand providers.
Hire car relocations are also something worth considering. Although they often don't give you much time, but if the timings are right they are a very cost effective way of getting around in Oz, NZ and the USA.
Hitchhiking is possible in developed countries, especially NZ, Chile, North America, Europe and Israel, but can be a pain in the arse in poor weather or if in a hurry. Hitchhiking in less developed countries is less advisable - aside from the safety risk you will probably be expected to pay for your ride. Some travellers brag they hitchhike everywhere - and good on them, you can have some great experiences - but circumstances in difference countries can be very different. In countries like the USA, the police strongly advise against it (especially for women), but in rural Jamaica or Cuba it is the most normal thing in the world if the buses are not running. If they are, you will probably just be seen as a cheapskate and asked to pay something (as in: how did you afford a plane ticket and not a bus ticket?)
In destinations like Australia, NZ, South America and
South Africa, backpacker hop-on/hop-off type buses run. We'd recommend you do not commit
yourself to these at home (even with small discounts offered) - they
sound a good idea, but for many aren't and they are not recommended
here unless possibly if you are travelling alone (with little tolerance of being alone) and/or have very limited time. These
buses are nowhere near as wild/insightful as some of their operators like to make out and
can be full of idiots or negative personalities that you have no choice but to travel/socialise with.
In essence you are buying into a tour and paying more for something
you could do yourself with greater satisfaction/interest. Really these sorts
of buses only become a good option in destinations where public transport
is very limited/expensive/difficult, if you need to be guaranteed social interaction
and if getting hold of a car is not an option for you (too expensive,
can't drive or share costs with anyone).
You will sometimes hear positive
feedback on 'hop-on/hop-off backpacker' buses and they do make life easier for the nervous and
have the convenience of dropping you off directly at your accommodation (from a limited range).
The Baz Bus in South Africa is one such example, but having your own wheels in SA (if you can) can't be beat.
The African tour buses that ply between Nairobi and Victoria Falls or Cape Town are perhaps most debated when it comes to independent travel and backpacker buses. They generally transport twenty or so 17-30 somethings (normally British, Australian or Kiwi) through areas of Africa where public transport is sometimes slim and distances are vast, but most importantly take you through national parks (which can sometimes cost the same price as a tour and be difficult to gain access to if visited independently). Everyone in the bus works as a team and cooks, eats, cleans and sleeps together (in tents). Tours are normally purchased through the South African or British companies that run them. Therefore your money rarely stays in Africa and you give little back to the countries you're visiting.
Overland buses are a contentious issue most notably in Africa.
Travel in Africa is something most travellers
are concerned about and the tours give you the best (sights wise) of
a large continent in a short period and their patrons (who are
normally lone travellers) generally have had a good time with their
peers. So those are the pluses: the converse argument is that these
trips can be done independently (Nairobi to Vic Falls/Cape Town is a
huge tourist trail and small tours can be taken up in order to get you
into game parks), the groups on the buses are sometimes more into drinking
beers and playing music on the stereo than being interested in where
they are and finally, as touched on earlier, you give little back
to the nations you rapidly traverse. However, there are two sides to
any argument, heard many times, always defended furiously.
The short of it is: You can do it independently even by yourself as a female and if you have the slightest inclination towards independence, think you would feel confined travelling with the same group of people or require spontaneity, then think twice before booking something like this. The fact is that if you have the time, independent travel will be much more rewarding (Africa and travel in general is about people more than anything else) and when travelling independently you will meet loads of other travellers anyway.
Whether in Zambia or Peru, Costa Rica or Australia, the people you meet on the road, locals or other travellers can be fascinating, as is putting yourself into the daily rhythm of life in these countries by taking local buses/trains, eating at restaurants/stalls, etc. Being fixed into a tour and a group for the whole period of your trip destroys this.
If you are sitting at home/work now having never travelled before or having to travel alone it is normal to feel nervous and view a pre-booked tour as an easy/only option, but you will find things very different when you arrive with many in your shoes and a myriad of locally arranged tour possibilities available to be booked to help make your trip as easy or as hard as you like it.
Moreover you get to choose your company, duration and can surround yourself with fun, positive and interesting people (to whatever measure you like).
Bicycle: Getting around under your own stream on a bike is a great way to travel (if you are not in a part of the world with extreme weather / traffic accidents). Sorry we can't give it as much attention as it deserves here. The practicalities could fill a whole site alone.
Shared taxis/jeeps and bush
taxis: There are many routes worldwide where onward transport is both harsh
and impractical. In these cases taxi drivers or car owners can be approached
for a price (they normally offer). This price is going to be high so you really
need to split it between three/four. These taxis generally leave from a set
point (when full) and although are generally used for short legs where there
is no or limited public transport, but the route is fairly standard, (for example
from a border town to the border), in many cases they do make longer trips.
For longer trips they are perhaps the fastest and most comfortable of all four
wheeled transport options if not too crowded. The front seat, if you can bag
it - being the most comfortable and sometimes with the added luxury of (stop-press)
Negotiating a fair price for the trip can be tricky since there is unlikely to be any 'standard' fare (or certainly not one you will know about) and the driver might want money for the return leg. Rates in guidebooks are always out-of-date when published and seasonal variations can have an effect. If you are travelling by this means regularly the best method is to find out how far the destination is so you can work it back to a price per km for comparison to other trips and make it seem like you are not in any hurry or urgency to leave.
A bush taxi or taxi brousse is a West African phenomenon (particularly French West Africa) and in no way comfortable. Bush taxis are always private, but rarely does the driver own the vehicle, and they are effectively a small bus. Almost without exception a bush taxi will leave when full (or when all seats are sold) not by a timetable. Depending on the popularity of the route this can take half an hour or even several days. If you are early you can choose where you sit: late comers have no choice - sitting in the front is the best and worst is the back (the side with no shade is also pretty bad). If a bush/private taxi looks like it is going to get uncomfortably full or take ages to fill, you can buy extra seats at the same price as your one or even charter the whole thing. In some cases you are going to be asked for more money for a big bag. On some occasions when the taxi is taking ages to fill up some passengers will club together to buy remaining seats and get going. If this happens or you personally buy an extra seat, don't expect a discount - time is not money in the third world. Best get a bush taxi early in the morning or on a market day. There are a few different types of bush taxi in West Africa, most a moving form of torture. To find out more see the West African country summaries.
Uber, increasing the service does not work due to concerns over lack of control, and it is mainly a developed world phenomena, but where present, as especially for airport use and longer trips, it a great way to get around towns without the need to handle cash or risk getting ripped off in a regular taxi. Some countries even have uberEnglish where your driver will speak English. If you don't have an account set one up (please use the code GILES872349 to help me out) before you leave and try to see if you get service when you arrive.
sometimes the case that internal flights
are great value for money, a godsend and commonly overlooked by budget
travellers. Certainly in the developed world, flying can be cheaper
than the overland option, but more often than not it's a more expensive
luxury option, but you save a hell of a lot of time and more importantly
sanity, especially when crossing difficult terrain such as mountains
or water. Not to mention as so many times is the case, where overland
travel just simply isn't possible or physical/visa barriers create major
Many budget travellers think they can't afford flights, but if you are lucky, do your homework and try and book early, costs aren't prohibitive and if you allow for a few in your budget you will feel a lot happier especially if doing a big trip over long distances. Tickets - unless at peak periods - are just as easy to pick up while away and please remember that many flights are cheapest in their originating country (where at times further options are available/discoverable) or on the budget carrier's website.
A quick note... On buses, other public transport and bus stations, especially at night, keep any small bags you have very close. Neither overhead storage nor under your seat can be guaranteed 100% safe in many places - especially if you are dozing. There's no need to be paranoid, but a strap around your leg or a simple and quick wire-lock [around a fixed object] will give you peace of mind and possibly save your trip from being seriously tarnished. Liken this to putting a seat belt on. If you have never been in an accident, it seems pretty pointless. However, with hindsight it seems more than sensible even when you don't feel like it or feel the situation fits. In regions like Latin America and Africa, it is more than good sense. The same goes with walking at night with your bag or if it can be at all avoided.
The huge growth in budget airlines, aka. low-cost carriers and technology mean that many carriers now operate good websites and issue e-tickets. Take a look at the budget airline list in the links section and make a few searches (try Air Asia for example) to see just how easy and cheap flying has now become. It's worth noting that this explosion has happened in Asia and Europe of course with North America (inc. México) not far behind, but South America and Africa are practically miles behind - see regional low-down below. The only warning to offer is that this is no secret and on notoriously painful routes in peak seasons (say Christmas), popular legs like Bombay to Goa or México City to the Yucatán booked pretty solid and prices go through the roof. Not all of these airlines will show on search engines like Skyscanner or Kayak - you may need to go the carriers site directly or a local agency in rare cases.
Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific: Prior to 2000 cheap-fare alternatives to Qantas and Ansett had failed, but then came Virgin Australia, Tigerair and Jetstar, all of which have excellent domestic coverage (Jetstar now being the budget arm of Qantas). Virgin Australia also flies to the Pacific Islands (getting to Fiji, Tongo or Samoa, will cost about 400AUD return) and worldwide and Jetstar into Asia - Bali and Bangkok among others. Also worth a mention are Rex (Regional Express) on the East coast and Air North for the northern half. Between Australia and New Zealand, Jetstar has cheap flights from about 150-200USD and competition is fierce with Virgin Australia and some traditional carriers such as Air China or Air NZ. Between Oz and NZ routes such as Brisbane to Christchurch and Melbourne to Dunedin make exploring much more effective than the standard Sydney to Auckland route.
South East Asia: The main players are
Airways which has a great network and Jetstar Asia Airways,
both are based in Singapore which was home to the regions first
budget airline. Across the border in Malaysia Air Asia
is useful for Borneo and getting to the islands of Penang and Langkawi
as well as all over the region at
sometimes (promotional) silly cheap prices.
Cebu Pacific based out of the
Philippines connects the main Philippines islands and Clark, Manila and Cebu to the rest of the region.
Thailand's Nok Air has a burgeoning network from Bangkok
with Orient Thai a main competitor. Indonesia's big 3 are
Sriwijaya Air and the national carrier
Garuda, although these are not
all strictly budget airlines.
Air Asia and other regional giants do run routes in the country alongside dozens of smaller carriers that don't show up on international booking sites
(normally only Garuda does and not all Indonesian airlines operate to high
North America: Southwest Airlines started the whole no-frills budget airline revolution back-in 1971 and was the model that Ryan Air copied which snowballed cheap flights in Europe and around the world. Southwest now have plenty of competition, flying to all parts of the US of A, south of the border to Mexico and into the Caribbean - carriers are too numerous to list here and normally specialise in a particular region or route, but easily revealed by a few web searches. Southwest in particular have great midweek specials and don't charge for many extras (hold baggage) were virtually all US airlines do for internal flights! In Canada several low cost carriers have folded, but WestJet serves many cities and the States too. After the sell-off of state-owned Mexicana, Mexico got its own budget carrier and many followed suit, the cheapest of which is Vivaerobus (which has an English language website). Most prefer Interjet or Volaris. The other bigger players are TAR Aerolinease and Aeromar.
Indian and Sri Lanka: 2003 saw the launch
of the first Indian low-cost: Air Deccan which had great prices, but
some bizarre fare rules and since has inspired many imitators (Air Deccan
became Kingfisher who are now dead!). Routes are numerous so best
to check the carriers websites or the India section of this site for
a better overview. Remember also this is India and what can go wrong
(delays, cancellations, etc) probably will. Good carriers include,
and IndiGo Airlines.
With Jet Airlines
included you have coverage of about 50 domestic destinations and many
international including London. Many of these airlines offer 'air-passes'
if you really want to see a lot in short time, but considering distances
in India you might find some fares not inline with the average Indian
travel budget. Both Sri Lankan Airways and Mihin Air can get you to
South America: Really the low-costs airlines have only taken root in Brazil, but still they have some useful links with some flying internationally to the big hubs across the continent. Gol is the most famous and connected. Other options include BRA and Ocean Air (effectively Avianca). In both Chile (www.skyairline.cl) and Argentina you will find several options and elsewhere flights on state and private carriers (if you book right) can be found at okay prices, but these aren't set up for self-booking on the net. In fact self-booking and using the budget airline or state network in South America just isn't as easy or as practical as in Europe or Asia with some site being Spanish or Portuguese only, not accepting foreign cards or just not offering online booking, but things are sure to change.
Africa: As with much in Africa, things are patchy
at best with, as you might expect, few low-cost set up airlines. In South Africa, Kulula
has an expanding network in Southern Africa and Mango
is South African Airlines response. Also worth a mention is Precision Air
domestic in Tanzania and Fly540
in Kenya. Two new start-ups in East Africa are Jambo Jet (off-shoot of Air Kenya)
and Fastjet - owned by
former EasyJet boss Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou. Hopefully these should mark the
start of a new era in low cost travel in the region where getting from North,
South, East, West by air can be stupidly expensive.
Middle East: Air Arabia is the Middle East's first low cost airline and has some great value flights around Gulf states and further airfield to India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, among others. It's based in Sharjah which is a little bit of a pricey taxi ride north of Dubai. While hops around the Gulf won't be of much interest to most travellers, the potential to use cheap flights from Europe and particular London to Dubai as a stepping-stone to other more interesting destinations might be. On to India is great value and there are some interesting routes into Central Asia, Nepal and Yemen. Another airline worth mentioning is Jazeera Airways, which has flights from Kuwait and Dubai to India, Egypt, etc, with plans for more routes.
Europe: As European travel is somewhat neglected on this site and European budget air carriers are so plentiful, we will only mentioned the major players here, covering about 70% of the market. Air Berlin, Easyjet, Germanwings, Vueling, Pegasus, Norwegian Air Shuttle and Ryan air - who dominate the market with almost a 25% market share. There are many others and the major carriers in many instances compete on price.
Weather it is a bike or car you hire, a taxi for the day or flight you splash out on, in terms of what you spend on your trip compared to what you get out of it, the greatest correlation is with transport. The cheapest, easiest transport gets you to the cheapest, easiest, most crowded places. Difficult transport is often uncomfortable, long and time consuming (and thus quite often a false economy). Spending a little extra on transport gets you to parts of a country few see, with the most authentic beauty and puts you in touch with locals who are keen to meet you rather than make a buck off you. In an era of mass travel simply getting away from the masses - and the effect they have on the most popular destinations - is a must and doing so takes time and ultimately money in the form of spend on transport. Even in extremely well visited cities and countries it does not take much to find something special few others do. Where public transport thins out often brings the most interest, but when switching to private transport or planes comes the greatest costs. Everything in balance and everyone finds the right balance between what they are able to spend compared to that of simply extending a trip or enjoying a few more nights out.
In developing countries... on the whole it is
never really a problem finding a guesthouse room (the word
hotel is used for the most part in this section) for the night or
another place to stay (read on for info on developed
countries and hostels) outside of the odd peak
period (e.g. national holidays or traveller peak season in
smaller towns). In general, certainly within the developing world, where
there is a demand it will be met in some form.
At the budget end rooms vary dramatically in quality and value. Finding a good room or a good deal is more of an art than a science. The normal approach for most travellers is to go through their guidebooks, or Trip Advisor (which covered anything between 20 to 10% of places) scanning for any hidden hints. Some guides give a preference or work on readers' recommendations, but other than that, guidebooks leave you in the dark; many good places to stay made popular by guidebooks become crowded, noisy, full of themselves and non flexible on price. Likewise one or two bad internet reviews [often from those not understanding cheap places won't be four star quality] can put many off great places.
The rise and rise of 'crowd reviewing' and booking engines - Part 1.
Hostel and hotel booking engines have changed the face of travel, easily accessible from a PC or mobile app. While their place is largely in the developed [first] world, it should be noted that if the developing country you are visiting is well on the backpacker trail you will find plenty of hostels featured, many which won't be in guidebooks and with user reviews, finding, evaluating and booking is easy. Obviously the smallest, (often cheapest) 'mum and papa' or family outfits won't be represented on these sites and it is worth remembering that a hostel/hotel booking site is not the be all and end all of options to stay. The excluded places are often the smaller unsophisticated businesses it is nice/good to support.
At a push we prefer [and the apps of] hostel booker, hostelz (searches all hostels/budget sites at once) and Booking.com and have a link to the former from the where to stay page, that if you use will support the site. Although the perfect solution is to simply get in touch yourself.
is a great guide
when you first arrive, but don't think you have to stay in a hotel listed within
its pages; there are many choices and hey, guidebooks openly state they don't
stay in the hotels, yet give recommendations on them! Go figure. It's also nice
to give an unlisted little guy a shot at some tourist dollars. The most important
factors are cleanliness, quiet, safety and price - you can rank these as you
see fit. You get a pretty good feeling from a place just popping in and seeing
a room - remember, if you think it has potential, but don't like the room you
saw (often the nearest and noisiest) ask to see another. Also it is often worth
asking for a little discount, especially for multiple nights. If you have the
energy, try to look at a few hotels to compare - normally just by saying 'well
thanks, but we normally check out a few places' the price might drop.
You can have a lot of success finding the main noisy traveller hotel area, then heading back a few streets to some random hotels that have never been in any guidebooks or internet booking site, and getting some fantastic, quiet and great priced rooms. Many travellers also have a lot of success with slightly more mid-range hotels (just above the 'budget' price range and sometimes aimed at domestic business travellers) and slightly smarter looking places (particularly in low seasons). Always ask for a discount. On occasions you find yourself in really nice room with cable TV and fluffy white towels, for only a few dollars more (and sometimes no more) than the standard budget option. Although with looking for a slightly nicer rooms in poorer countries you can run into the law of diminishing returns pretty quickly, where paying a lot more gets you little extra after a certain point.
If you are well on tourist/traveller circuit at major South East Asian or Latin American attractions or hubs you will find hostels aimed at travellers, normally run by expats. The line does sometimes blur between a just a guesthouse converted to have dorms, a few English signs plus a bar and something really resembling the hostels you find in Australia or Europe, which are normally a larger expat run business with significant investment. These are normally aimed at younger, more out-going travellers at a cost similar to other options, but often better facilities, service and information. Jumping from one foreign run party hostel to another, of course won't be the most authentic experience, but it does make life easier, especially if you are alone or new to travel.
Noise can be a big problem.
Traffic, incessant horns and people are often very loud, plus rooms
set up for hot weather may have thin poorly fitting window glass walls. This can be very frustrating
if you need to get an early start next morning.
In main backpacking areas, try to avoid crowded hotels/hostels (and (sorry) especially when crowded with young Israelis or other typically raucous groups), rooms that overlook a road or centre courtyard where people may be partying until the early hours, TVs that may be set loud to overcome the noise of a fan running, thin walls and hotels with echoey corridors.
The real bummer is that you normally have no idea your room is next to a mosque, nightclub, temple or noisy bastard until it's time to go to sleep (sure you could look out of the window but you get the drift). If concerned, ask the person who shows you the room if it's quiet, so if it's not you can always checkout and find somewhere else with fewer hassles.
Worth noting... Noise is a big problem in Asia, not so much elsewhere. More often than not excess noise is caused by motor vehicles (particularly motor-bikes) and their horns. Often, the cheaper the hotel, the thinner the walls. It's not always true, but generally noise levels are directly linked to: a) the price and/or b) the 'type' of travelers that frequent the destination. Particularly you may find portable travel speaker used without consideration by a new generation of traveller. The cheaper places tend to be the noisiest and/or attracting the most offending parties (those with little concern of others sleep). It is both curious and depressing that manners and consideration for others seems to correlate to the budget available for accommodation.
Since supply normally outstrips demand in Asia
and North Africa especially, you might find yourself besieged by
touts, often working on commission. The hassle these guys give you
normally makes you wary of them, but they can be useful if you are having
problems finding a room. In addition they can get you to some nice out
of the way places you would of have never discovered otherwise, with
killer prices since they don't have a guidebook listing or internet presence. Not all touts
are working for commission. Sometimes a family-owned guesthouse sends
out a family member, getting you an invite to a nice honest, homely
establishment. And just because you go with a tout doesn't mean you
have to stay where they recommend. It also pays to find out how far
they are taking you before you march off. To find a really good room
you need patience, for sure, but more importantly, a good measure of
luck. With the rise of online booking you find this less and less,
but it is still is prevalent in places like India and anywhere local run
competition is high.
You might like to.... If travelling in a pair or a group: leave someone with the bags in a cafe or bus/train station while you quickly scope out all the hotel options. You can move quickly without luggage and perhaps sometimes giving the impression you are moving hotels, not looking for one, and thus getting the best possible deal. Additionally when paying for a room in advance, getting and saving a receipt until check out is good practice as confusion when calculating final bills does happen, particularly with frequently changing staff shifts and lack-lustre admin.
Remember, if you are paying extra for anything in a room like a bathroom, TV or AC, make sure it works when you see the room. Cheaper rooms in developing countries very rarely have sprung mattresses (low quality foam is most common) and sometimes have protective plastic covers over them under the sheets. Coupled with noise levels, heat (see below) and the standard, single often hard pillow when using cheaper accommodation, this can take a little getting used to (particularly when coming directly from home) and will generally result in a few restless nights. In hot climates you may also find no top sheet. Asking the staff normally gets you one, but here's where a sleeping sac comes in pretty useful.
Heat is the other major factor that in many situations
prevents you from getting a good night's sleep. Expect most days you are away
in tropical countries to be pretty hot depending on the time of year.
The temperature outside pretty much always drops at night, but in many
rooms it doesn't. This is normally because rooms really heat up in the
day, especially small ones, and even with a fan on the hot air has nowhere
to go. If you are on a budget, don't expect AC. When it's really hot, in some of the ovens that pass as rooms,
it is not unknown to wake up on wet sheets (from
during the night, have to drink a litre of water, take a cold shower
and even sit outside your room (much cooler). As awful as this sounds
there is not much you can do about it apart from paying extra (sometimes
a lot more) for a room with AC (electricity is often much more expensive in the developing world).
You are urged to think long and hard
about travelling at the hottest times of year especially in India, Africa
and Central America, and especially if on a rock bottom budget which
won't allow you the luxury of air conditioning.
The problem with hot rooms normally comes from lack of ventilation and direct sunlight pouring in. Foam mattresses that are standard in cheap rooms in most of the developing world, don't help either. Look for rooms that have good ventilation (but where you can still sleep in private and not have too many bugs flying in), that does not have direct sunlight pouring in (at least curtains) and where breezes can easily get in (i.e. top floor, unobstructed). This is all easier said than done. The problem is never normally an issue in developed countries that in many cases fit AC units into dorm rooms. Nothing beats air conditioning to keep you cool (although it does dry you out and won't work in a blackout) and as a white noise drowns out all but the loudest background noise. Some love it, some hate it.
A recommended tip is: if you are unable to sleep during the night because of extreme heat combined with humidity, wet a towel with the coolest water you can find, ring it out and cover yourself with it.
developed countries, noise and heat are rarely a problems, but accommodation
is more limited and on the whole not cheap (a basic budget double room (dorms beds
will of course be cheaper) in a Sydney, London or New York hostel will cost around US$75-150,
if not more). In Europe and some other places you can find a few little cheap
hotels, motels, guesthouses or B&Bs, but for the rest and certainly in big cities,
hostels will be a staple if you are looking to stretch you
funds. In developed countries (for example: Western
Europe, Australia, Japan and the USA (New Zealand & South Africa, both less
of a problem)), accommodation and finding it is an entirely different ball game
compared to the second and third world and if on a budget you will certainly
have to make use of hostels at some point which get very crowded during
peak seasons. Those wanting to spend a little bit more will find many other
The term hostel is used in this section, but a distinction should be made between a 'hostel' in the traditional mould and a 'backpackers'. They are essentially the same, somewhere cheap to stay with limited space. However the latter is far more common in that it is geared towards travellers, generally providing among other things: a common area, internet, local/tourist information, a homely feel and young English-speaking staff - with a constant fixture being 20 or 30somethings hanging out on laptops, self-catering or chatting away. Some love this culture and stay for weeks, others loath it. It is likely the younger and more sociable you are, the more you will like it. This is compared to the traditional 'hostel' such as the YMCA/YWCA or YHA networks which have their origins from far before global travel was common (YHA dates back to 1909 Germany, the YMCA to 1844 London) and were there to provide for a generally different type of person looking for somewhere to stay. To that end many of these hostels (although some are excellent) are more strict, sterile, are much larger in size (catering to larger groups) and lack the fun plus communal feeling of many 'backpackers'. Equally you'll find the odd hotel that converts part of their building to a hostel, which normally has a similar (or worse) style.
When picking the smaller establishments, which are referred to from here on as hostels, that are indeed to a great extent 'backpackers' - a name often used in Australia and South Africa that is perhaps unfitting as everyone is welcome. However the term does well to make the distinction between a 'hostel' and throw off the dull/poor reputation some big urban crash-pad 'hostels' had. You will also find that many are getting more upmarket, with private rooms aimed at those who don't mind spending bit more - and are thus hotel like in places. Once you've stayed in a few, you can term them as you like.
The number of hostels and more notably 'backpackers' around the world over the past few years has increased dramatically and they are finding their way, in ever increasing quality, into more and more destinations (for example the numbers in the likes of Rio, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Buenos Aires have increased many fold over the last few years). However, they vary dramatically from excellent (Lisbon, New Zealand and South Africa) to good, bad and just awful. They are generally at their worst during peak seasons/times when full. During these times (European/US Summer and most weekends), in any big city, it is wise to book ahead or at least check availability online.
With accommodation, as in life, you normally get what you pay for. When a hotel room in, say, Dublin/London centre runs at €100 and a hostel bed goes for €25-30 in the same location you do have to take things with a pinch of salt, generally sharing a room with others, dealing with noise and crowded bathrooms. But please remove any ideas from your head that hostels have to be 20 bunk beds full of snorers in a small room with lights off at eleven-thirty! Hostels simply vary too much to generalise.
What's important to make clear, is that although there are loads of terrible hostels (normally in Western Europe and the USA big cities) there are tonnes of great ones out there, and quite a few absolutely brilliant ones. In addition, staying in a hostel is not usually limited by age (unless sometimes if you are an unaccompanied minor or the location is in high demand) and doesn't necessarily mean that you have to stay in dorms. Double or twin rooms are normally only a little more than the price of two dorm beds, but are more limited and since they are the preference for most couples, do generally need booking in advance.
What really makes hostels/backpackers so
popular/great (in the same way a good B&Bs) is where in the best you
have access to local information from friendly staff and
other travellers plus access to a kitchen and a social area which can more
than often make up for the obvious short-falls hostels have (such as
peace and personal space) versus hotel accommodation.
The true 'backpacker' style hostels you might come across are a great place to meet people and are wonderful if travelling alone. Although endless clichéd conversations and seemingly permanent inhabitants whom head out on drinking sessions every night (ensuring those who don't want to or can't join will be kept up late, woken up mid-night and feel guilty waking up early) can wear thin if your objectives in travelling are not to hang-out, party and sleep late everyday (great as this might be every now and again).
Try to time any visit to a big city, particularly within Western Europe and North America, during mid-week when hostels are half full and not during major sporting or other events. Also if it's near the top of the guidebook list it's going to be packed. Look out for newly opened hostels and talk to others who have stayed in these places.
In Europe primarily, University accommodation converts to hostels accommodation during summer months - these are a good bet for a room, but you won't find them in any internet searches or guidebooks. In New Zealand, Australia and many other regions, such Southern African and Southern South America (with the excellent Coast to Coast and growing clone - Get South) there are fantastic hostel guides with ratings compiled from yearly surveys, distances from town centres and facilities. These are free to pick up and mean you never need to use your guidebook. The BBH in New Zealand is the best and really shows up guidebook and internet listings. A YHA card can get you some discount, but you won't use it that often; the same goes for Hosteling International - but both are good networks. VIP is another similar network mainly in Australia/NZ, where you pay upfront for a discount card. Some find great value, others dislike the style of hostel and don't use the card enough to recover the initial cost.
Lastly be aware of the more traditional style of hostels that have lock-outs from say 1000-1600 when everyone has to get out for cleaning. These are normally the larger properties and common in some parts of Europe and especially in Japan - the bathroom goes mad at 0930!
In countries where established well-run hostels (and/or tourist
trail) along with formal hotels exist, you can bet your bottom dollar you will find them on an
internet booking engine (all of which take a healthy cut of your
accommodation charge as a fee) like hostelbooker.com, hostelworld
(both the same company) or (hotel
hotel.com - and the list goes on. Equally you have
the ever popular and useful Trip Advisor. These sites and reviews (to take with a pinch of salt
along with the understanding not every
place is covered) are extremely useful travel tools.
Where would you like to stay, the Lonely Planet 'Our Pick' or the top rated
hostel on hostel booker? We'd previously suggested the
latter, now we are not so sure.
Especially when in the developed world with a limitation of cheap beds and good coverage from these booking sites they are indispensable tools to today's traveller. On a long trip having flexibility by not booking every night in advance is important, however, it is a good idea to book accommodation for your first night or two if arriving late in the day or a little low on travel confidence. If you are hitting an expensive tourist mecca like London, New York, Paris or similar in high season, and on a budget, you would be nuts not to have used a booking engine in advance.
On these booking sites - if you don't already know - you can view all listed available budget accommodation in a destination, view available dates and see customer ratings. Booking is simple online and your room is guaranteed. Generally you are also expected to pay a 10% deposit which is taken off your bill when you arrive. Rates quoted are the same as walk-in rates, but the booking sites are not handling the service for free and charges to the hostel will get passed over to you somewhere along the line.
Bookings can be made directly though either company's homepage, but if you are using a bookings website, are better made through this site. Certainly so if you have found this site a useful resource and want to assist its continuation by helping with hosting/bandwidth charges, then please do book through this site by clicking the logo on the right - any repeat use is appreciated. To be up front, a few percent of your accommodation charge will be gained in commission rather than going to the hostel - you incur no extra charge: it's a big thank you for using the site. The cookie lasts for 30 days.
All this has a costs you don't see. Although booking engines have changed the face of travel and provide a great 'free' service, there is a flip side. Firstly as we all know they are open to manipulation by way of faux or unrepresentative reviews, along with profession photos from specific angles. Reviews and photos often lead to high expectations, not always met. The second core issue is the domination of a few and the costs for the property. On any booking between 10-20% of your nights accommodation goes to the booking website. It is 12% with some hostel sites. Sites like Expedia or booking.com charge a whopping 15-30% commission and require that properties block off a guaranteed section of rooms just for them. Although most establishments can't avoid not being listed and paying, this cost will inevitably get passed to the consumer.
We really like the idea of hostelz, which shows a price comparison of all the major booking websites for each hostel (including Hostelworld, HostelBookers, Booking.com, and others), so you can see where to get the lowest price, but also list the many other hostels that don't use the booking websites. They also provide direct contact info for all hostels for free. The goal of Hostelz.com is to provide all the hostel information anyone could ever want, all in one place. Recommended, as is always not taking just one booking site price as the 'only' price'.
Not all, but some (individual, family owned) place will appreciate a call/e-mail to book directly and for long-stays will likely provide a discount ('Hey, can you give me a price break/discount for booking direct?'). This also goes to explain why you will never find all accommodation options on bookings websites (especially not in the less sophisticated places) and why many places add two+ nights minimum stay requirements to bookings via an engine. Believe it or not you need to pay just to have your link and phone number listed on Trip Advisor. For a tiny property this can be over $1,000. Surf the web, read guidebooks and if you find somewhere you like that is not a big corporation, Google them and get in touch directly if you can. We are happy to plug certain booking engines and recognise they are amazingly useful services - but it worth getting both sides of the story. Further reading.
a few countries/places, paid accommodation in private homes
an option and traditionally the main choice in ex-Soviet countries where
[typically] pensioners wait at bus and train stations to offer rooms
to supplement their pensions. Such still exists in mainly the
off the beaten track Eastern Europe and CIS, but is becoming less and
less common (although it is the staple of cheap accommodation in
Cuba in the form of
casas particulares). These are fine options and sometimes include meals, but
make sure you know how far from the town centre they are before heading
off. Also see free private home accommodation (Couch Surfing) to the
Camping is always an option, but not a recommended one, unless in a relatively non-touristy developed country and with your own transport. Getting to camping grounds without your own wheels is a pain as they will be odds-on located far from cities and attractions in rural areas. Equally, where camping in a hostel ground is possible in say in NZ or South Africa, costs are likely to be about the same as a dorm bed. The same is true for European camp sites that many offer dorms or fixed private huts at equivalent to camping rates. In short, camping is only worthwhile if you have a place to pitch your tent. So before you even consider taking a tent to lower accommodation costs, pick up a guidebook and do a couple of web searches on camping sites in a few of your planned destinations - you'll likely find they don't exist.
If you do have your own transport, getting to camping grounds and staying in fixed huts or caravans can be a cheap way to get a double room in developed countries and a good option if hostels are full - you just don't get the 'social scene' (which might be a bonus to you!). Sleeping in your van in hostel car parks in Oz and NZ is also an option. In the USA you can even find quite a social scene in Wall-Mart parking lots!
Couch Surfing is another relatively new and frequently
raved about option. The concept is based around a free project to exchange
hospitality. The simple idea is you host others and they host you. The
net result is not just a free nights accommodation, but a changed perspective
on travel and an authentic experience by meeting and staying with locals.
Your experiences are going to depend greatly on luck and the part of the world you are in. Issues such as whether or not the person is likely to be an axe murderer, how it works, feedback, positives, negatives etc., can all be found on the CouchSurfing website. Couch surfing is truly a neat idea, but too many now look for something for nothing (i.e. free accommodation) rather than the exchange of hospitality and friendship it was designed to be.
Other 'free' accommodation options raved by many for putting you in touch with locals and reducing the cost of travel are volunteer networks where lodgings are provided free. The WWOOF network being the most frequently recommended. WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) or WWOFFing is where volunteers help out on organic farms in return for food and somewhere to sleep. Such makes travelling seriously cheap, since you're essentially removing two of the costliest expenses, but you do have to physical labour!
The hours vary, 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. As with a Kibbutz, it definitely won't suit everyone.
is one of the most difficult things to write about in context in this guide.
Dwelling on the subject must inevitably fuel paranoia in first-time travellers,
yet glossing over it can only place inexperienced travellers at greater risk
of being robbed. Simplistically, you need to recognise three things.
The first is that Asian and Africa (and to a lesser extent Latin American) society is inherently far more law-abiding than our own (to the extent that criminals are stoned in some countries). The second is that thieves will be present on your trip, as they are everywhere, and they often target westerners, who are not only reliably wealthy relative to locals, but who also are easy to spot. And thirdly, a little bit of paranoia never hurt anyone - take care and you will have a great trip. Ignore this advice and you might end up with nothing and part of your trip in ruins - we've seen it happen at close quarters too many times.
A degree of discrimination and caution is appropriate when you travel, but only a degree. Bear in mind that people with a criminal intent make up a tiny fraction of less than 1% of the population, so that an attitude of indiscriminate paranoia, wherever you are, can only divert your attention away from genuinely suspicious characters. Experience suggests that the vast majority of crimes against tourists occur in one of a few specific places and/or reasonably predictable circumstances. Imagine those that will cause you trouble (minor or major) are like four leaf clovers. We all know they exist, but few have actually come across one. Nevertheless the longer you spend in the grass the higher your chances become of finding one.
When they cannot be stored safely elsewhere (such as you are
on a bus with your main bag on the roof), keep all your important documents and most of
your money, in a money-belt or similar that can be worn beneath your
clothing in a manner that makes it invisible to casual observers. Some travellers
seem to carry all their money and documents with them at all times (not just
when on the move). Normally in a money belt sometimes not even under their clothing
- this is always good for a laugh. Not only did they not splash out on reasonable
clothing with secure pockets or make any effort to secure pockets/money, but
keeping your money belt on the outside of your clothing is like displaying your
family jewels on your front door step. Under or over clothing, it's uncomfortable
in hot weather and it will almost certainly be removed if you are actually mugged.
Do however keep your money belt on or at close hand when travelling on a bus/train
and separated from your main bag unless it is at very close hand and 100% secure.
You should avoid disclosing the presence of this belt in public, so keep spending money in a pocket or elsewhere (better to lose a few bucks once in a while than everything along with your passport). It is also advisable to keep a reasonable amount of currency well hidden in your luggage (US$/€100 bill) as something to fall back on. One of the best places to carry money is in the top pocket of a shirt (some put a handkerchief or tissue on top of it as an extra measure). Or inside a pocket (zipped) that's inside a pocket, or in a pouch/purse/wallet attached to your clothing. Don't carry your money around in a big wallet: take out just what you need for the day and maybe your student and ATM/credit card (don't carry these around unnecessarily). A big paper clip works well as a money clip and is a good way to deal with the large amounts of notes you end up with. See comment for some more advice and testament that there are loads of ways to keep your money safe - it's what works for you.
Very few of the dozens of thefts you'll hear about first or second hand will have happened from a locked bag in a locked room. Your things will be fine locked and hidden in your bag in your hotel room or even better in a hotel safe box, if available and you can be bothered to put your things in them every time you change hotels.
If you are really sensible... keep
an emergency spare stash of cash in your back/watch pocket or other zipped up and/or secure
Keep a record of what funds you have, so if anything does go missing you'll know instantly.
Personally I'd would leave
my money belt almost anywhere in preference to walking with it through downtown
Johannesburg, Cusco, Delhi, Accra or Nairobi (to name a few) after dark!
An important measure to take is to lock your bag up and keep cash out of sight. When not in the room with it or when someone else is in the room, just a simple padlock through any zips that access anything important. It's a simple deterrent. If necessary (i.e. when windows don't lock or in a dodgy place) physically lock/chain it to something. Normally you should have far greater reservations regarding the security of serviced mid-range hotels than the flimsiest of security at rural family run establishments. You are asking for trouble if you leave cash within sight in any room. You'll be surprise at how travellers apply unnecessary zeal to safe guarding possession in cheaper places whilst totally dropped their guard when moving into a room of comfort. The same rules apply - especially at the better places where [in the developing world] inhabitants can be assumed reliably wealthy.
Back in basic [often Asian] accommodation, it's a good idea to bring your own padlock, preferably a combination lock, to put on the door if possible (but then again if you don't trust the place that much, why are you staying there?). When out and about and travelling (i.e. on a bus), always know where your bag is and if you can keep an eye on it, making sure it is stored securely or locked to something if in doubt. Your passport/money should be on your person. This is very important with a small bag and on overnight trains where theft can be an issue on certain routes.
The best place to keep any jewellery or the likes of anything with high financial or sentimental value is at home.
This is relatively rare and only really occurs in Latin America and Africa and then normally at night in large cities. If you are going to get robbed/attacked then there's little you can do about it and you are very unlucky, but that's why we have insurance. There are plenty of fools about and you hear only a few stories of something bad happening to someone without them doing something a little stupid or naïve, like walking around randomly at night, being drunk or trying to buy drugs. That said you can go a long way to avoid being mugged by applying the same sort of judgement you might in any large city. Don't flaunt your wealth - this means don't wear any jewellery and avoid tourist trappings such as a daypack, camera bag and external money-belt. Use a taxi to get around obvious trouble spots and at night. If you do walk at night (especially when alone) avoid unlit roads, parks and quiet alleys.
It's pretty sensible to take a taxi to your hotel
when you first arrive in any developing world city outside of the centre
and daylight hours - wearing a large backpack is like saying 'hey, I
have got loads of valuables on me: rob me' and in somewhere like Nairobi
or Delhi it's likely somebody might take up the challenge. And it is
really asking for trouble if you arrive in a big city after dark,
particularly one where the budget accommodation is dispersed and
then you go walkabouts in search of a room around bus/train stations.
Likewise if you decide to go off trekking anywhere (particularly in Latin America) find out at length whether there is any risk in the area you are planning to walk and think carefully about what you take. This is cited in particular reference to Guatemala where hikers even in large groups are frequently robbed walking around Lago Atitlán and climbing volcanoes without guides. It always makes sense to ask locals of any recent problems. Remember criminal activity is normally always focused around tourist hot spots or the poor suburbs of developing world large cities. One would imagine in the northern hills of Guatemala you could leave a tent for weeks without anyone even touching it.
As recommended in virtually every guidebook, when
in major cities such as Cape Town or Rio, ditch as much luggage as possible
(how about all?), especially day sacs and handbags. This advice applies
particularly to parts of sub-Sahara Africa and
South America where daylight muggings do occur. Don't wear any jewellery
and certainly not a nice watch. All you need is enough money for that
day and an ID [or photocopy of] - nothing else, better not even your ATM card. Don't walk around
at leisure with your pack when you don't know the area even in the day
- a taxi or bus is well worth it.
This sort of lawlessness is pretty much restricted only to certain parts of Africa and South America so don't get overly concerned - it is obvious bad stories are over weighted as they are the ones that get told the most. The most dangerous areas most travellers encounter are not the remote villages, the big African cities or Islamic Republics, rather the sprawling boundaries of many of the developing worlds cities. Not only are the poorest of the citizens located here, but moreover the young and unemployed whom are neither part of the countryside or the city. These are the areas to avoid.
Generally speaking when your bag is on a bus, stored in the hold or even on the
roof, it is pretty safe but keeping it close is always nice, particularly
if you are sleeping. Do keep an eye out for theft out of windows, chiefly
on trains (normally at night).
Sometimes you hear about a backpacker being drugged on public transport and awakening without his valuables. This is not a big problem or something you should really be concerned about but, especially if you are alone, be aware of accepting food, drink or cigarettes from over friendly strangers. In fact it is worth always being aware of overly friendly strangers - whatever the situation.
The reality is this is a particularly hard problem to prevent if you are targeted and can lead to paranoia. It's only principally important to be on real guard in Colombia and to a lesser extent Thailand, Cuba and the Kenyan coast. However, it is the case that any small bag you take onto a bus or into a bus station is a prime target - especially in Latin America.
The following is written above in the 'moving around' section, but is important enough to repeat here: on buses and other transport, especially at night, keep any small bags you have very close. Neither overhead racks nor under your seat can be 100% guaranteed safe especially if you are dozing.
If your bag does not have your full attention a strap around your leg or a simple and quick wire-lock will give you peace of mind and possibly save your trip from being seriously tarnished.
Liken this to putting a seat belt on at slow speeds. If you have never been in an accident, it seems pretty pointless. Nonetheless, with hindsight it seems more than sensible even when you don't feel like it or feel the situation fits. In regions like Latin America and Africa it is more than good sense. The same goes (as stated above) with walking at night with your bag - avoid it if at all possible.
Always remember a daypack (and especially a handbag) is a prime target almost everywhere. Especially in Latin America, be super aware in bus stations.
Confidence tricks - alongside small bags going missing - are perhaps the biggest annoyance and danger to any traveller to a less developed country. These type of tricks which, it has to be said, are a mainly urban phenomenon, range from the downright predictable and harmless 'Do you remember me?', 'I am going to university in your home town' or 'Would you like to have a drink with my family or see a traditional tea/coffee ceremony' (turns out you are visiting the family's shop or get a US$10 bill for a cup of tea). These sorts of lines you get wise to very quickly. If you fall for them - which is not that difficult - you lose you only a few dollars and you gain a ton of experience. The other (more limited) side is far more sinister, often involving bogus policemen and sometimes drugs.
If you are unsure or in 'one of those areas',
the sensible approach is to never go off somewhere with anybody
who approaches you in the street, on the assumption that they are after something.
Make up a bullshit excuse or if you have a companion, simply start up
a conversation with the other completely blocking the stranger out or
if alone cross over the street. It is advisable to avoid, in many cases,
getting into conversations - as the longer you spend talking the harder
these characters are to shake off. If you do see the situation becoming
serious, i.e. the stranger has lit a joint and now the 'police' are
here, simply keep your head, make your presence known and be clear that
you will make no concessions, not even answering questions, certainly
not handing anything over or going anywhere (apart from the police station
by your own means).
These sorts of tricks work on fear, bullying and often guilt (since the other party will always be very friendly and will build up a relationship before hitting you for money). Keep your head and don't be sucked in. Walk away or say no at any stage. Don't feel uncomfortable to do so. Really the best advice when it comes to money is trust no-one. Don't leaving it lying around in sight or display it unduly. Be wary of paying in advance when there are no business premises or guarantees and finally be as clear as you can on agreements of prices for goods or services when you are paying after the event (i.e. taxi ride). It is worth noting that if on your own the above will be a far greater issue for you.
Most casual thieves and pickpockets operate in busy markets
and bus/train stations, so keep a close watch on your possessions in such places.
Bus stations in Latin America see a fair few bags go missing from those who
idly watch them or are easily distracted (it doesn't take much to lock or clip
a bag to a fixed object). When catching a bus, having a (as in only one) compact
bag makes life much easier. Simply aim to get out of bus stations quickly, pay
attention during any crush getting on and off town buses and follow the advice
given above regarding how to carry your money.
Quite frankly there is no reason to carry around anything near to a large sum of money or important documents in your pockets. If you have been to the ATM or bank, drop it off or secure it first. If you don't, you only have yourself to blame (..okay and the thieves).
The raise of smart phones and tablets which almost all travellers seem to take away with them has resulted in an equally matched rise in the number of these items disappearing. Whereas the vast, vast majority of the world has in general low levels of violent crime and a low threat of terrorism or other dangerous activities, petty theft, however, is becoming increasingly common, and travellers should take precautions, especially with small expensive electronics which are easily "misplaced."
'Just like there are two different types of gender (M -for male, F - for female), there are
two different types of days travelling: M and F. Well F stands for fine, now
most people think M stands for miserable - wrong, memorable. Many travellers
like to remind themselves that a bad day travelling is better than a good day
On the once excellent (now over commercial) Lonely Planet website there is a section called postcards, which mainly consists of notes written by those who have been unlucky enough to fall victim to crime to warn others of it. On the whole this is completely unrepresentative and tends to make you quite nervous, but is always worth a read as it's a good reference for the latest scams and will make sure you keep your guard up with a measure of caution in the best possible way. Remember, better a little paranoid than naïve and the victim of crime.
Most incidences of theft abroad are of the opportune 'sticky finger' variety, compared to something more sinister: make sure bags and side pockets are locked at all times and anything you carry on your person is also secure. Never carry with you more than you need, hide your PIN number from view when using an ATM and think twice when walking anywhere you don't know [alone] after dark - there isn't a city in the world, be it Zürich or Nairobi where at the wrong place and wrong time, given an easy opportunity you'll end up with something pinched.
In many destinations worldwide, dealing with the day-to-day
hassle of touts, street vendors and the constant need to bargain is just something
you will have to get used to, especially in North Africa and the Asian Sub-Continent.
Beggars are a more universal problem: hell, there are quite a few even in the richest countries. Nevertheless, beggars differ quite substantially in the less developed world. With a large proportion of its population living in poverty, even those with homes and jobs, those who do beg can be considered in dire straits: they are often women, children and the ill or disabled. Heart strings are easily tugged by child beggars and the very poor or unfortunate: landmine victims, those with multiple sclerosis or polio, victims of earthquakes or other recent disasters. Those are just a few examples - the point is guilt can over ride you (see more about guilt later). You live in comfort and have everything, compared to their nothing. But such feelings of benevolence cannot be sustained, such is the volume of human misery around the world and you soon, in many cases, become impervious to it. Those who set off on a third world trip with notions of philanthropy will soon be overwhelmed and cut short.
In developing countries you will, whether you like it or not, be perceived as far wealthier than you probably are and most beggars, street sellers or whoever will have difficulty in distinguishing the different budgets and aims of different travellers - which is maybe a nice way of saying everyone will want a piece of you. This is tough, since when travelling in poorer countries you will feel guilty and would have to be pretty cold not to recognise the gulf of wealth between you and a beggar or someone flogging items on the street. However, it is tiring, dehumanising and a major pain to be constantly treated like a walking bank. Likewise your compassion is tested when your trip is compromised by sometimes constant hassle and when you consider that begging can be big business.
Children are often begging because they have been sent out to do so, often in gangs and some beggars directly target tourists. Reiterating what you'll find below under responsible tourism: do not give to beggars that are specifically targeting tourists and especially not to children (not pens, sweets or anything) something most travellers flaunt. Of course compassion is required, but it can more effectively delivered through some of the ethical considerations below and also by giving in small quantities where locals give (make a point of giving if you have not been asked) and/or to schools plus recognised charities. In the long run however you can (and probably will) just get very worn down by beggars - read on how to deal with hassle.
in the way of pugnacious touts, salesmen, rickshaw drivers and beggars
in most less developed countries, starts the moment you step off the
plane and only stops when you go to sleep or step back on the plane.
It is at its worst where there are high concentrations of tourists.
The most unpleasant thing about hassle is that it makes you jaded to locals and compromises your appreciation of some beautiful places/people. Try enjoying a walk down the Nile in Luxor at sunset or appreciating the splendours of Agra/Delhi in India, the latter being places where all travellers seems to be permanently on edge! Some of the worst places in the world are the tourist hotspots of Egypt, Morocco, India (particularity the state of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan) and Indonesia (notably Kuta beach in Bali). However it is worth noting that the following text and advice does really relate to these kind of hotspots and is not reflective of the vast majority of the world including the Americas where hassle is limited.
Humour goes a long way and keeps you and everyone in a good mood. Street seller approach you selling an item that even they, for sure, know you won't want. A guy offers a huge bar of laundry soap - smile and say 'no thanks, no water'! Rickshaw driver insists you visit a shop, let him know you are desperate for the toilet and if you don't get to your destination fast you'll soil his vehicle! Taxi driver repeatedly offers his services, tell him you're on trip to walk across the country (in India suggesting you're on a Salt March is a good one). You get the picture. One suggestion is to ask 'is it free?' in the local language, which works a treat. After this for the more persistent breed who may still be bothering you, be firm, make eye contact and let them know your answer clearly and politely, and then ignore. If you keep saying no, looking at what is on offer or didn't make it clear the first-time, it sends the message you are not sure.
Simply ignoring is often the best policy as it can be difficult to respond to everyone particular when you are greeted with a volley of hassle you might find around major monuments. Just keep taking to a companion and/or walking. Often responding in anyway can and does encourage hassle, likewise asking for a price of an item you are not serious about buying will give you increased hassle - you'll often see touts/salesmen/beggars following tourists for great lengths of time, because they smell a commission/sale/donation in their actions. It's not pleasant being followed, but it's one of many psychological tactics you'll find employed, all of which bully you to giving in to what in real terms isn't a huge amount, but quite simply the golden rule is don't get bullied. If a driver or other asks for a tip or a greater than agree price for his service and you feel he doesn't deserve it - don't give it. If someone offers to help you out of kindness and then asks for payment or someone takes payment and keeps standing with his hand out looking disrespecting at the agree amount you gave, don't fold - chances are it will only be over a small amount, but by giving in you increase hassle for the next traveller and that small amount would be better given to a needy beggar who isn't targeting tourists. Don't be made to feel bad about it, if you are clear at the onset you are not in the wrong.
The same goes for operators (be they hotel or tour)
and especially rickshaw drivers who hack up a price or maintain they
misunderstood your agreement. Again be firm and don't get bullied. If
necessary leave the agreed money on the rickshaw seat (they often will
not take it by hand) and just walk off. You soon learn to be firm and
very clear in agreeing prices/services. Make sure you are understood
and do not give into any, 'yes, yes' or 'as you like' agreements or
acknowledgements. In places like India, with the right (smiley, not
ultra-serious) attitude and use of eye contact, you will get a lot less
hassle after a few weeks.
Equally drivers, salesmen and strangers will often bombard you with question like 'where are you staying?', 'have you visited this or that?', 'where are you from?', or anything that gets you saying yes. On the whole once they get talking, on friendly terms and have enough information, services offered are much harder to turn down. Once again it's just another tactic and as always there is rarely a need to be rude, but if you don't want something say no and if at the first question motives are clear, don't enter into the conversation. A variance of this and probably the most jading and invidious instances are when you meet a nice guy who after taking the time to talk to you and often helping you, turns out to have alternative motives and is selling something (see confidence tricks in the above section).
To summarise, you will soon develop your own techniques - be firm, polite and accompany your firm 'no thank you' (in the local dialect if you can) with a smile. After that don't make eye contact, don't keep repeatedly saying 'no' or get angry. With salesmen, if you show any more interest this is when touts are particularly determined and most frustrating.
On some occasions, beggars, especially children, will make body contact, tugging on your clothing. In this case remove their hand and looking them directly in the eye, make your 'no' clear. When a beggar or salesman sees you have no interest, they soon move on to their next target. Remember constantly turning around to say no over and over again shows you are obviously not sure and worthy of further hassle.
'I think something you should add to your section on begging is that if any backpacker is really feeling like doling out some cash, he/she should give it to someone who deserves it. In many countries around the heavily touristed areas people beg because by doing so, they know they can make much more than a hard-working local will on a daily basis (and are often resented by the locals in such cases). If feeling generous, one should give a couple of extra bucks to the woman that works nine or ten hour days at your guesthouse scrubbing your floors.' - Brian Hnatiak
My favourite tactic in the worst cases, in the worst parts of the world are headphones with loud music and wrap-around sunglasses. Stops all but the most persistent salesmen, touts, etc. - PJ
bargaining is something else you will probably have to deal with if traveling outside of the
developed world and really is (in 8/10 cases, but which ones?) a they win, you lose situation.
The smart seller's way is normally to inflate the price for ignorant
tourists massively. The actual price quoted can be up to ten times less than the starting price
and it is when you hear these quotations (knowing the correct/fair price) and
have to spend much time and effort to achieve something close to it, is when
it gets frustrating. If this is you, count to ten and move onto the next vendor and
make it clear why you are doing so. This almost always happens in locations
that have a large tourist footfall. Many traders are honest and getting a little
ripped-off is just a fact of travelling - after all, you can afford it, so don't
get too enthusiastic or disillusioned.
The subject still needs a little more explanation as it's often misrepresented in guide books and by other travellers, who sometimes assert that every price is negotiable. This is a half-truth, almost always applicable to souvenir sellers, taxi, rickshaw etc. drivers and a few others that become clear when on the road, but not always in other situations depending in large measure on the nature of the country you are in.
Prices are always going to be higher in a seller's market than a buyer's one, so if you need something like a long distance ride in a taxi or a souvenir where there is much competition don't get too enthusiastic and waiting to be approached rather than approaching works wonders. Equally the western mentality of asking a price and retreating if not interested can be considered as an insult. Bottom line is if you don't have serious intentions of buying - don't ask the price and certainly don't start negotiating, doing so will only invite hassle.
It goes without saying that the problem facing the traveller going from town to town and country to country is knowing when they are being asked a fair price, and thus hitting the right balance between politely paying up and aggressive posturing to establish if they are being ripped off. To complicate the matter further is the notion of a fixed price, as locals will bargain as well. The best approach is to visit a few stalls and get a feel for a price (walking away will always lower a very high price) and if a stall owner is reluctant to negotiate, you can assume you have a fair price. Likewise quotations that start with the word 'around' or 'something like' are certainly far off realistic.
Conversely, if buying a 'daily item' like a bottle
of water, ice cream, bus ticket or similar, and you find yourself in
a bargaining situation, where maybe the seller has dropped the price
after your hesitation, don't bargain. These are not items anyone bargains
for and you are simply being ripped-off. In the event tell the vendor
to get knotted and walk to another seller. However let's keep things
in perspective, in experience it is only in areas with a high tourist
volume that absurd prices are asked and everyone seems keen to add
their own 'little commission'.
Tourist souvenir sellers (especially African curio sellers and mass tourism areas of Asia) in particular always ask an inflated price. These are often so whimsical that you can't really have a rule of thumb. But even when buying curio (African wooden carvings) and similar, you can bargain too far.
A case in point was watching a couple from an overland truck in Malawi buy a wooden carving which the seller wanted the equivalent of US$15 for. It was a nice piece and probably took about two to three days to make. Generally the going price for an item like this would be around US$10 which the seller soon dropped to (he seemed pretty desperate for business). However the couple then spent the next 5 minutes getting him down to US$8. There are plenty of other examples and this sort of behaviour is disgraceful and goes on all the time (see the 'value of your money' write up in the following section). Rather than giving to beggars, perhaps consider being a little generous when dealing with individual souvenir and fruit sellers (not large stalls).
Overcharging on transport, private or otherwise, is common place in many countries and there is little you can do about it except be philosophical. Nobody likes being ripped off but if that's the price, you have to pay it and if it is a little inflated then why should a few dollars extra ruin your day/trip? That said, always arrange a price before you get into a taxi or any other mode of transport: ask a local if unsure. Some drivers are very good with 'as you like' or 'cheap' type sayings, mimicking bad English. Be firm - don't get bullied. If there is no meter, agree a fair price before you set off.
And finally... One argument often heard is that travellers have an ethical duty to bargain prices as low as possible, otherwise they risk triggering inflation that will eventually put goods out of the reach of locals. If you think hard about this, apart from a few extreme cases, you'll only see this sort of statement to be obnoxiously self-serving.
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 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. Living in China it took me at least a few months to finally figure out just how much to bargain. 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 paid too little. 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 realise everyone had different answers. My point is it is hard to put pricing into perspective without a lot of experience. I want to emphasise 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 realised I had paid less than I should the first time I felt bad and I can honestly say I simply 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 realised I couldn't survive 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. 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 me 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 the problem, it's bullying on either end. - Chante
Also see another interesting comments regarding how the practicality of bargaining as a tourist 'passing through' is not easy.
Note this section is of most relevance for travel outside the developed world.
is perhaps a little boring to say, but in the West [developed world] we take a lot for
granted and are shielded from destitution, hunger, poor sanitation and lack
of basic resources. For someone raised in a developed country the first exposure
with the developing world will always be something of shock. However
familiar or concerned
and well-read an individual might be about 'global wealth distribution' or other similar
issues, being confronted with the reality is totally
different from dealing with it in the abstract - and the first reaction will
always be guilt.
For most of us guilt is pretty unfashionable and we are taught it is a useless emotion, nevertheless, depending where in the world you land, it is pretty real. When travelling in the poorer regions of the world you'd have to be pretty self-righteous not to admit that guilt will influence your actions to some degree.
Some would say that enjoying ourselves and tourism in a poor country is wrong and totally out of place amid suffering and poverty, and that by exploiting such we get a cheaper trip - but lets recognise right here that tourism is not responsible for the inequalities of the world. Being somewhere poor does not increase local suffering and ninety-nine percent of the time can help to relieve it. If you want to do something for a country, spend your money responsibly and act likewise, without having your head in the sand.
The benefits of travel are self-evident for both host and traveller. However, there is a big downside, with tourism far from being the smokeless industry it is self-promoted as. Impacts can seem remote, like pollution caused by travel, but individual choices and awareness can make a difference and collectively, travellers can effectively shape a more responsible and sustainable industry. The following considerations are solely a few ideas, but please always keep them in mind:
Be considerate - you are a guest in someone else's home [country]. The two biggest sins are: pointing a camera in someone's face - always ask, and forgetting local norms and behaviour, especially dressing inappropriately for local cultures and situations.
Giving - avoid giving to beggars whom you can see are specifically targeting tourists. Do not hand out gifts indiscriminately (see below) especially to children. It creates more hassle for future tourists and a non-sustainable dependence - it is the worst manifestation of guilt there is.
Don't waste - use water and electricity carefully these are scarcer resources than you might imagine in many places - travellers may receive preferential supply while locals are overlooked.
Don't be stupid - and buy souvenirs or goods made from wildlife, no matter how cool-looking, unless they are clearly sustainable. The same goes with removing antiquities. Obviously, respect the laws of the country you are in.
Think - about the consequences of getting involved in illegal activities such as purchasing drugs or prostitution, you are supporting an industry that ends in misery for suppliers (and sometimes buyers).
Support - Local businesses and traditional skills. Spend money on locally produced (rather than imported) goods and use common sense when bargaining - your few bucks saved may be a day's income or more. Always consider staying in local accommodation rather than foreign-owned hotels, and give less popular guest-houses without a guidebook/internet listing a chance.
Be kind - to wildlife, people and your environment. If you are a smoker, please take your butts with you when you leave a beautiful place.
And lastly... Humour - try to deal with minor irritations with humour rather than being too assertive or worse, aggressive.
Within the context of a site like this it is important
that responsible travel is stressed, but such concerns prompted in the mass
media are less helpful, move with fashion and unfortunately often can give the
impression all travel is damaging (especially those to more exotic destinations)
which is so very wrong.
Given that about eleven percent of global jobs are tourism based (the world's biggest industry - about 9% of GDP) and of those, the jobs that are most needed (those in the developing world and more 'exotic' destinations) are the smallest share. The developing world desperately needs your money - go spend it (wisely)!
You should have very little time or love for those
travellers who carry around sweets or trinkets which they then hand
out indiscriminately to children. The motivation for this sort of thing
is entirely selfish, in that it makes the giver feel good about him
or herself, not to mention, there is something nauseatingly paternalistic
about dewy-eyed tourists adopting a beatific smile at the sight of 'adorable'
children scrambling in the dirt for small change or a sweet.
A last concern (admittedly a selfish one) is whether we really want to encourage children to beg from the next traveller who passes through. There are towns and villages all over the world where even right now children will ask travellers for money or sweets ('bon-bon' is a favourite) or a pen (another favourite implying education - the child is just more sussed than one asking for a shilling, a rupee or a dollar) perhaps a hundred times a hour. Then there are other places where children are genuinely friendly and never ask you for a thing and all it will take is only one naïve tourist and a big bag of sweets to transform the latter into the former.
It is amazing to see wild animals in the wild, but not always easy or cheap. If you do take short cuts and have your photo taken with an animal in captivity or take a ride on one - be wise as to how it got there and is treated.
Above all else, never forget the value
of your money, how lucky you are to have it and what it means
Lets take Africa: from a Word Bank statistic, excluding South Africa and the Seychelles, average annual per capita income is US$550. This is the same in many parts of Asia and Latin America. In the developing world there is little 'middle-class' so average annual per capita income stats mean very little. More than likely your shoestring budget of US$35 per day is more than many earn in a week - or even month; your week's budget could be up to a year's worth of secondary education and it goes on.
Even somewhere as semi-developed as Thailand, someone with a decent (high-school) education - which few can obtain (often held back by cost rather than capability) - would earn ~US$150-200/month (say as hotel receptionist), much, much less for a more menial job if they can find one. With just $3,650 to your name you are actually more wealth than the half the worlds populations and those with more than $77k are in the top 10%. Ref.
The deal is, we all get into haggling, want to keep the price of our trip down and hate foreigner pricing, but a vendor's profits for a day could be as low as few bucks and he/she needs to get the bus home! Be realistic, read, talk to locals and develop your own understanding.
We are like many others, quite particular about this issue
(not giving to children and acting responsibly) and consider all the effort
put into this site worthy if only to put this point across and get future travellers
on board to making their feelings known out on the road.
This practice of handing out gifts is presumably a response to the guilt instilled by the visible gulf in wealth that separates most Westerners from Africans, Latin Americans and Asians. It is a perfectly understandable response, but don't think it is in anyway the right one. Consider why this gulf exists, and you will recognise that the most constructive role tourism can play in a depressed economy is not random handouts but to encourage legitimate and sustainable local business.
Considering that a high proportion of money earned by package tours stays in the hands of foreign investors, independent (albeit mainly budget) travellers have a particularly high level of control over where their money goes. Collectively backpackers, even just the visitors to this site, can make a difference by not salving their consciences with a few ultimately meaningless donations to beggars or children, but by thinking about how and where they spend their money and whenever possible lending their support to locally owned businesses and community projects.
You are not expected to be a saint, but the above is of particular importance for backpackers as they often get to far more remote destinations than the average tourist. You may well find on your travels some wonderfully isolated places and think - this is not a place for tourists/backpackers. Conversely, you will almost certainly go to some remote places, completely changed by the number of visitors - the hill tribes of Thailand, for example.
E-mailed comments: 'On my first trips to undeveloped countries I found it quite hard to deal with begging children, especially if you even happen to see their parents (or any grown-ups "in charge") pressurizing them to hassle (white) travellers in order get money out of them (see, for example, Angkor Wat, where you can hardly walk a few meters without this happening). I personally can't support this and don't give the kids any money but it is in fact breaking my heart. Everyone needs to find their own way of dealing with it but if you like children, even only in the slightest, I found the best way to deal with it is to actually chat with the kids, talk to them and play with them - most of them don't get this kind of attention very often and they really do appreciate it. Of course that's only useful if you like children but it'd be a pity if people only walked around regarding them as a dirty trouble while they are often made to begging or hassling, or do it because they have no other choice.' - Laura (UK/Germany)
'Arghhhh! Please, please, please try and put costs into perspective. Nobody likes to feel that they are being ripped off - but there is a difference between paying a fair price and haggling over pennies on the cost of a bottle of coke that someone has carried on their backs into the Himalayas for a week. I think we have all seen this behaviour and very often been totally appalled by the way some people act. I really wish that if they can't pay an extra 10-15 pence/cents for a bottle of coke they would really consider that it's time to go home. I've seen people get into such a state over things like this and cause nothing but misery to the locals. If you find yourself in that situation do yourself and everyone else a favour ... and go home! I could go on and on about this point - hopefully your readers do not fall into this category but a gentle reminder might help! Likewise I've seen some people be so rude to people in the service industry that they really should be sent on the first plane home - in the hold.' - Jason (UK)
Nowhere is the phrase 'you can't live with them and you
can't live without them' so appropriate. The often invidious guidebook is very
much a travel essential, increasingly dictating to whole generations where to
go, how to get there and what to do. As touted by their publishers they are
becoming modern day Bibles, some already assuming titles like 'The Book'.
All over the world you can see twenty somethings - and increasingly older - often desperate for succour, with their heads stuck in guidebooks. Reading, re-reading, desperately trying to find the best possible routes and the best possible places as if encoded somewhere in the pages. Often pens are at hand to underline or highlight anything that reads even slightly as an opinion or solid recommendation. The problem is everyone is doing the same and generally reading from the same text - let's not beat around the bush, it's Lonely Planet, with its appealing glossy colour pictures, familiar layout and youthful feel. At well-trodden sights worldwide you will see individual after individual (in the loosest possible way) strolling around guidebook in hand with their finger in the relevant page.
Throughout this site you will see off-the-beaten-track possibilities mentioned and by simply looking at a map of any given country you will see thousands more. Upon first travelling guidebooks often become a limitation - literally, if it is not in "the book"' it is [perceived to be] not worth visiting or simply can't be. Obviously this is nonsense and all you need is time, inclination and knowledge that there is transport there and somewhere to stay when you arrive. Hopping on a bus into the 'unknown' once in a while is a great kick. Even in a country a heavily touristed as somewhere like Thailand, there are thousands of great place to get away from the masses, step back in time and see a part of life few of the millions of backpackers to the region ever see. A guidebook is necessary for most travellers and very useful, but should be seen as a 'springboard' and not a 'bible'. If it sounds interesting and is safe - then go for it.
On which guidebook to pick, there are recommendations of field tested guides, per country in the country summary section and in the recommended reading section (a big thank you if you choose to shop through here), but here's a quick low down of the most popular and useful brands:
Lonely Planet (aka. LP)
: The most ubiquitous of all guides with pdf versions
Normally with solid information, but not always up-to-date. Often patronizing,
boring with a recycled first 100 or so pages and recommendations generally
over subscribed. They do cover some interesting locations (the Caucasus
Iran for example) and sometimes are the only choice. Their
region-in-one, or shoestring titles are appallingly lacking in depth
and information. LP's vary from very good to awful. It all depends on
the edition and author. However, their maps are probably the best of
all guides. Newer titles are in a jazzy format (with questionable
'authors choice' recommendations), but can be better than older versions.
The major change for those who remember the original format is very much a result of the original founders and authors (the Wheelers) no longer being in control of the operation (US group NC2 Media are). The new formats do look more professional and as a result are less aimed at typical backpackers, losing their youthful, independent, adventurous spirit. The increasing professionalism of the management (some would say bottom line focused, milk the cash cow business acumen) is likely an attempt to break into the massive United States market (which is relatively conservative and prone to litigation) and increase revenue, all of which has meant that the quirky, amateurish (in the best sense) tone of the early books has diminished.
For example, an early edition of Africa on a shoestring has the heading 'Drugs', which includes information on purchasing drugs (mainly marijuana), while the 1980 edition of South-East Asia on a Shoestring includes information on how to purchase fake student ID cards - all of which you would now never find. Other quirks included some hand-drawn maps and the occasional strong/radical opinion. Some strong opinions remain, but they are party lines and for the best part closed minded. In 2013 - due to UK regulations - the BBC sold the Lonely Planet (at a £80m loss) after several years at the helm (the Wheelers still keep 25%) to NC2 Media, owned by a US cigarette billionaires, so we can see where this takes the business.
Lonely Planet's initial strength has caused some problems. With many equating Lonely Planet with backpackers. The series now tries to make a clearer split between the backpacker-only products and those (now the majority) aimed at more affluent travellers and tourists. These are by far the best selling and most popular guides whose a recommendations can make or break a hotel or restaurant in some parts of the world. (see image)
Bradt: Were you find them [and when up-to-date editions] are for many - aside from Rough Guides - the best of the bunch. Acclaimed African and off-the-beaten track guidebooks. Perhaps the best and most down-to-earth written and detailed filled out guides there are. Bradt guides normally avoid the most popular destinations and going head-to-head with the big-boys of the industry. They can suffer from being out-of-date, having fewer updates (but a few years out-of-date should not worry you), and have a somewhat amateur look to them compared to say LPs. Highly recommended.
Non-English language: There are also good German (Stefan Loose) and French language (Routard) guidebooks available. The German 'Reise Know-How' and other non-English guides are often direct translations of Lonely Planet, but some editions aren't and have greater detail and accuracy.
Maybe the most in-depth and informative of guides available. Their structure
can need getting used to if you have only previously used other guides.
Sometimes seemingly aimed at older travellers and those with their own
transportation, these books are a good read as well as a good guide.
However, titles don't cover as wide a range of countries as LPs and
older titles are nowhere near as good as newer ones, which are first
rate in most cases. As with Lonely Planet, multi-region guides are far
from perfect. European guides are excellent and their alternatives to
over popular titles (i.e. LP's India/Thailand) are a
great alternative to get away from the crowds. If you are planning a
trip an excellent first stop in the planning process is
Rough Guide's First Time
Let's Go: Pitched as 'student travel' and Europe only, once you get past their dog-eared look and the fact that they are highly American, with sometimes not always great humour, they're okay. The fact that they do contain humour is actually a real plus, so is the fact that they are one of the only guides focuses on budget travel if that's useful to you.
They are also one of the more accurate, being updated yearly. Accommodation listings are however slim and normally include only a few backpackery choices - which may not be what you're after. These guides are perhaps best avoided in regions with many young American travellers. Let's Go guides are written and updated by Harvard students every year. In recent years more exotic locations, i.e. Middle East have been left un-updated and the focus is on 'safer' destinations in Europe.
Footprint: An excellent series, intelligently put together, sometimes on fine paper (really condensing content) and perhaps the only multi-country guides worth having. Annoyingly many editions are hardback (heavy) only, but PDF versions for many are now available. The South or Central America Handbook is a serious project and puts the Lonely Planet and other versions to shame - the former over ninety years in publication and annually updated. As a business model, aside from the core Latin American and Asia titles they publish many region guides to specific [regions] areas within large countries (for example India). Footprint authors do on occasion rave about places off-the-beaten track that when you arrive can be less than inspiring. Equally poor town maps and readability are their only other let downs.
The Internet and Others: A phone and a data connection gets you plenty of information these days and many are starting to take this route in the parts of the world when it can be done. From Trip Advisor for where/what to eat, Bookings.com or hostelbooker for a place to stay, Goggle maps to get there - to Wikipedia for the history and Wikitravel (and many similar resources) for how to get there. There are great apps (or features on many mobile browsers) that let you save web pages for reading offline and pdf copies of guides available to download. If you just need pointing in the right direction and not all the detail/history, this will surely be the way of the future. In a fast changing world/place you might also find the information is more accurate that a guidebook, although it probably won't be as balanced or well researched.
You will also sometimes find excellent -
normally free - regional/city guides such as 'BUG'
Australia, NZ and UK/Ireland, or the excellent 'In
your pocket' free city guides in Eastern Europe, which for our
money have the best accommodation/restaurant listings. It's
available to download in pdf for no cost.
are necessary (as a sort of safety net) in most destinations, and you will have
to excuse the contempt that stems from travellers' over dependence on them and
their failure to see past the blue spines of the Lonely Planet guides. Contrary
to popular belief it is possible to travel without a guidebook: you'll find
plenty of information available from locals, guesthouses, tourist information
and other sources. Not to mention the numerous opportunities you'll have to
peruse the guidebooks of others.
It is hard to gauge if flicking through one in a book store or if using a very recently updated copy in the most popular destinations of well-travelled countries, but many a guidebook is full of rubbish. Many companies bang out guides for as many countries as they can, whereas others employ authors who really know the region and know what travel is like in order to present the most relevant information. Considering the budget many travel writers are given and the range they must cover (often as quickly as possible), it is hardly surprising that some will be happy to recommend restaurants and hotels after only spending ten mins checking them out or maybe not even visiting at all. Thomas Kohnstamm a former Lonely Planet writer in an interview promoting his book in the (Oz) Sunday Telegraph spoke freely of fallible methods used. Best of all was his claim that despite a contribution to the LP Colombia he had never been to the country, "They didn't pay me enough to go to Colombia. I wrote the book in San Francisco. I got the information from a chick I was dating". More amusing were claims such as noting "the table service is friendly" in a restaurant he says he had sex with a waitress on a table after hours - probably one of the free services he said he would often accept. Such claims are nothing new and if you keep an eye out they creep up in the press every once in a while.
Even the best title is far from perfect, and
series vary dramatically as authors and publication dates vary.
The best tip to offer is don't be afraid to try something new. Pick
a guide that is not the normal choice. How can you say Lonely Planet
is the best guide when you haven't tried another?
One of the best tips you'll get from this site is (if you can, i.e. a good alternative is available) at least try to travel with a non-LP guide especially if you are heading to a popular destination. Along with the launch of a new format (which is better in some ways, but much more opinionated (a dangerous thing for such a widely used guide)) and many new 'packaged' products, LP has certainly taken a more corporate turn now that the Wheelers (original founders) have sold a large share of it. This coincides with the company taking yet another step up their own arse, so proud and confident they are of their travel empire. The emphasis is now very much on selling rather than creating original guides and independent advice.
Nevertheless, for the most part there is nothing wrong with Lonely Planet guides and the fact they now sell chapters in pdf format you can download and print is useful (see here). All guides have their faults and LPs are no different - only you will be another LP sheep, walking around with the same bland guide as thousands (make that hundreds of thousands) of others.
E-mailed suggestion 'With large regional guide books (you don't need to do this for single country guides), that you have no chance of reselling, a friend suggested tearing pages out as needed. Not only reducing the weight of the book while travelling, but meaning you need only carry a few pages (e.g. map) around when sightseeing or in town. Was appalled initially at the idea, but when tried realised it made sense and made you feel a lot better since most of the information was so bad!
'If you do decide to rip them apart so that you can only carry the pieces that are/will be useful to you the best way to do this [for the LP among others] is to put them in the microwave. Usually about 30 seconds will do. It melts the glue in the spine allowing the pages to come out effortless and more importantly without any loss of information' - Nicholas Shirley
It's a great idea. Give it a go if you have a huge guide, you'll never look back. Of course a little photocopying (this cost pennies and is easy to do abroad) or buying the guide as pdf/Kindle (if available) are other options. It's well worth making a copy of maps and other relevant info to take out with you when looking around. Who wants to carry a great guidebook with them everywhere?
A good indication of a guidebook series is to consider the title that launched them. For Lonely Planet - South East Asia on a Shoestring; Let's Go - Europe (one of the world's best-selling guidebook titles); Rough Guide - Greece (a relative newcomer originally mainly focused around Europe, now global); Footprint - South America Handbook (the world's longest running guidebook and the essential series for the whole Latin America region).
Remember: It is worth investing in a tour guide every now and again or at least buying the mini guide books for really special places. You'll be astonished to see people turn down local guides at places like Angkor Wat and wave their South East Asia Lonely Planet saying they had all the information they need. Worth recognising when you really are somewhere special and it's worth splashing out. Much more rewarding than 2 pages from a second rate guide book.
You may have notions that exotic travel will take
you far away from the modern world and all means of staying in touch. This is
never the case for any more than a short spell as the Internet and data connections [via mobile] is virtually everywhere (at least in any settlement of any size across the world).
High speed connections
have found there way across the developing world along with plenty of cafés,
bars hotels/hostels and other businesses offering Wi-Fi (at least in any town
of any significant size or with a regular tourist traffic).
The spread of mobile communications, the Internet, wireless connections and the recent rise of faster and better connections in the poorest and most remote parts of the world has been phenomenal. Making the world much smaller and staying in touch with others and the world at large a breeze. Prices for internet access if you are not carrying a device of your own or can't find Wi-Fi are normally quite reasonable and you never normally have to search too hard for a connection on the tourist trail. On the tourist trail of Europe, North/Central/South America, Oz/NZ, South Africa and most of Asia the hostel or place you will stay at (or nearby cafe) will have a Wi-Fi connection and you too can sit around with the rest of the guests surfing the net rather than talking to each other! Typically most countries that see a reasonable number of tourists will have free Wi-Fi connection (of varying speeds - get up early if you need to use Skype or download something), although you will find a frustrating requirement of having to pay to get on-line in some of the most developed countries at the budget end (hostel/camping) of accommodation (Australia for example). In this case it is normally worth buying a local SIM card and using or sharing the data connection if you just want to pick up some e-mails or looking something up quickly.
Do note however if you are in a developing country and/or well off the tourist trail you can still find frustratingly slow connections and lack of Wi-Fi - so don't take it for granted world-wide - especially in Africa (outside of South Africa) and large national parks. It's internet access, but maybe more rustic than you are used to (this one in East Africa taken recently).
Phoning home (making calls)
can either be super simple/cheap or an expensive pain depending on
where you are in the world.
If you find good internet speeds then Skype, FaceTime or
similar is the answer
or, if not, buy calling cards locally and use on pay/private phones.
Such calling cards are available pretty much all over the world, but in much less developed
countries you will have to really hunt for them and finding a local 'call centre' (often near or part of internet cafés)
is a better bet.
Being phoned (receiving calls) the best solution if you don't have good internet and are using Skype is your own mobile fitted with a local SIM. With this you can collect calls for free and with a Skype-in number you can even set a local number (in your home country) to automatically divert as you change SIMs/countries.
Well worth doing is storing your important info [or scanned copies of] (reference numbers, important phone numbers, insurance details, etc.) on your internet mail account or dropbox. If you lose your originals and hard-copies you can always retrieve them from the net.
Always remember people worry (especially parents) and often have a poor concept of travel and the region you are in. Stay in touch regularly even if just a SMS. If there is any major news in the region - no matter how far or unrelated to your situation - let them know you are cool. They will appreciate it and so might you one day.
the biggest measure of a rapidly developing world over the last
decade aside from the proliferation
of fast internet and Wi-Fi is the use of cellular/mobile phones
even in some of the world's poorest countries. Most networks allow roaming
and will pick up a signal in
the vast majority of the populated world. Taking a cell phone has many
advantages and is recommended (see the 'What
to Pack' page), but several disadvantages, most notably the potential
cost of actually using it. If roaming on your home network, call costs
(made or received) will be significant, but SMS message costs are manageable,
normally being a fixed rate and free to receive.
If you intend to use your mobile a lot or for data, the best bet is to buy a local SIM card. This is much easier than you might think (although this can vary country to country). A local SIM is low cost or free, often available at airports on arrival (make sure your phone is 'unlocked' if you plan to do this). However this is only really practical if you are staying in one destination for some time and if moving around quickly from country to country impractical and sometimes uneconomical.
The second solution is to buy an 'international' SIM card, which can be great, but are far from an ideal solution simply because how useful they are in saving you money depends on where you are in the world. If you are travelling in Europe the savings with an international SIM are great. Take the same trip, but through Asia and making/receiving calls maybe almost as expensive - if not more - than roaming with your home network.
Old School - Snail-mail... Of course you can send postcards and letters as a means of staying in touch, which, although a little old school are still nice and allows for inclusion of a small tangible present for those at home. On a longer trip it is quite feasible and a good idea to post many of your purchases and unused equipment home. A great place to do this is Bangkok. Here is a sample of the costs to anywhere in the world (prices in Thai Baht - see on-line for exchange rates, about 35 to the USD) - see below.
A nice box is provided at a small cost and the air option will arrive in the Europe in about five days, sea will take considerably longer. Mailing things home from most of Asia is no problem. Burma is cheap, but higher risk, Vietnam expensive. India and Iran are good/cheap. With large parcels always get your stamps franked before you give the item in and pay extra for registration if possible. Costs are much higher in Australia & NZ, and especially Latin America.
A guide as to how reliable/fast the postal service is in
the country you're in can always be found in a guidebook. Remember, if you are
sending something home you have purchased on your trip which is news and highly valuable,
there is a chance that you or whoever picks it up can get hit for customs/import
duty at its destination.
You can also receive letters via the GPO's (General Post Offices) who will hold your mail, addressing in the following way will suffice: Poste Restante, Attn: First Name LAST NAME, GPO, Town, Country. Or if you have an American Express card (AmEx issue a booklet of all their addresses) you can receive mail at their offices.
For the most part, if sticking to a fairly standard and
well trodden route even in far flung destinations, getting a decent meal or
at least something okay is not a big problem and nothing to worry about - with
places catering to tourists plentiful. Being a veggie will limit your choices
in many regions, but will not be too great a problem - you will pretty much
always find something suitable to eat even if you are a vegan.
Within the developed world such as Western Europe the greater challenge is not what to eat, but how to do so on a budget. In such places cheaper restaurants and take-outs can be located with a little exploring and the help of a guidebook; and a fast food joints will never be far away, but for the most part a little self-catering makes better sense for those who are sick of burgers and won't want all their funds gone after a few weeks. Supermarkets and convenience stores are plentiful and having your own knife-fork-spoon kit plus a bottle, can and tin opener will allow you to take advantage of them to a greater extent. To go the whole hog you could pick up a plastic plate/bowl. All this is perfect for food on the go, a cheap snack (whipping up a sandwich, peeling fruit, a yogurt or spreading something on a cracker) and for trips when you don't have the time to always eat out and spend a good deal of time on trains/buses. When staying in hostels, most will have a basic kitchen you can use and supply something basic for breakfast. However, as you will find out these vary dramatically in quality, facilities and hygiene.
Away from the developed world in popular destinations in the developing world such as Thailand, India, Nepal, Peru and dozens of others on the beaten track (pretty much all the places you will want to go) good food can be found in both local and international forms in hotels and towns with no difficulty at all. If you want to use more local eating places, you'll see loads - just be brave and head in. A guidebook or locals will always point you in the right direction. Away from the tourist runs of South-East/Southern Asia and Central/South America in destinations like much of Africa/Central Asia and out of the way places in the aforementioned regions you can occasionally run into some problems where you need to be a little more adventurous since traveller friendly places are pretty rare. You'll no doubt find a fair few places without a menu (or at least one you can make any sense of - see image of menu in Iran)) or anyone who speaks English, so have an idea of what you want beforehand, point to someone else's food or learn the appropriate word for the type of food you want such as 'fish', 'omelette', 'chicken'. It goes without saying that if you really want to travel on the cheap it's these local places and street stalls where you can make your funds stretch seriously far compared to eating at the numerous places set up to cater for foreigners. (see image - resulting order from menu linked image above)
in these cheap local/street eateries away from the tourist runs where
veggies will find life a little more difficult, but items such as
veg fried rice or an omelette are perfect to fall back on. It's true
to say many cultures don't understand the concept of being a vegetarian.
It's really most difficult to keep to a vegetarian diet in Islamic countries
such as any Arab nation, Iran, Pakistan, Western China and especially
Central Asia (CIS).
In these extreme cases and others there are two main options. One, self-catering
if you find yourself in a bind. Fruit and bread will
always be easy to find, the same normally goes for tomatoes, cheese,
nuts etc. Or two, be relaxed enough to eat vegetarian food cooked with/beside meat and simply leave the meat on the plate. In places like Central Asia this will be the only option if you want to eat and interact with
locals. In general being a fishetarian (that is a
pescetarian i.e. eating fish/seafood) makes life much easier,
and if you're eating chicken life is easier still since this is the
staple of so many diets. In less developed places being a vegan can
make things very difficult.
In the country summary section you will find a note regarding the ease of eating and eating veggie in each country.
Concluding: 9/10 times being a veggie is not a problem (with a few compromises) and there are many places, like India, Israel or Jamaica where it's a joy.
'I've been a vegan for four years, I absolutely love to travel and I never really found it a big problem even in underdeveloped countries. What I found very handy is a little book called 'vegan passport'. It contains an explanation of all the things a vegan doesn't eat in 56 languages (93% of the world covered). It really does make travelling a lot easier for hard-core veggies.'
'My personal experience is that people in underdeveloped countries usually are very responsive to your personal wishes and it happened to me a lot of times that people (after I managed to make them understand what I don't want in my food) created new delicious vegan meals especially for me and I also never found it a problem to find fruit, vegetables, nuts, rice or legumes anywhere I travelled. In developed countries I never found it a problem at all, in underdeveloped countries being vegan does limit your choices I'll admit, but I never had a problem finding at least something and it's a very safe way of eating in some areas (salmonella, food poisoning etc.)'- Kathi
It's worth noting here, that when on the go and travelling hard/fast it can be difficult to take proper meals and get a balanced diet. Nuts are normally available to buy and are a great alternative to the omnipresent choice of candy/biscuits plus an excellent source of protein/fat). Many travellers use vitamin pills, buy fruit regularly and will keep a few snacks in their bag in case they get stuck in a jam (bus break-down, restaurants closed etc.) - good advice. It's a little patronising to say, but fairly obvious, that if you don't allow the time or budget and start skipping meals or eating irregularly/unhealthily, you're not doing yourself any favours and will feel run down and eventually probably get sick. The same deal goes with replacing fluids.
You don't need to be, but for those still worried just make sure you have a dictionary app on your phone and make it super clear what you are after. Show a picture from the internet if needs be.
Here you will find a big variation from country to country (see country summaries) and region to region,
but the world is a small place and you can normally find CNN, BBC World
or MTV and a copy of a news magazine like The Economist or Time anywhere. In big cities you'll
find no problem at all. Of course the easiest way to get hold of news or
entertainment in English, or in fact any language is via the Internet on your own device.
If you are staying in anything termed as a 'hostel' or geared towards travellers with a listing on internet booking engines you are going to find
Normally it is free (apart from in Australia), but often it is over-used and slow at peak times.
In Latin/North American, European and Asian countries, in cites with any middle-income
population or tourist traffic, you will also find Wi-Fi in bars and
If you are going to need a data connection most of the time - buy a local SIM card or buy/rent a portable
Wi-Fi device with a local SIM in it.
In the Asian sub-continent, Middle East and Latin America, many hotels and most hostels have satellite TV with all the channels you would need to waste the odd afternoon in a ACed room or TV lounge. In India, Nepal, Thailand and Central America (among others) you can watched Live Premiership football, NBA basketball or American sit-coms.
(movie theatres) are overlooked - pretty much always in English (apart
from Russia and the CIS, Italy, France and Ex-French Africa) - cheap way to
escape where you are, the heat and see some moving pictures. It is also a neat window into local culture at the lower end. Cinemas are particularly good and widespread in
Latin America and 9/10 times films are shown in their original language.
The point of all this: to fill your time, escape your surroundings, stave off any home sickness... - no matter where you are, especially if you have been going for a long time.
In major tourist areas such as Bali, Nepal, Cusco,
Goa, Guatemala, Greek islands and Thailand you will find cafes and restaurants
playing pirated new movie releases for free or a small charge.
Most countries do have their own cheap English language newspaper and similar are available in all big cities with ex-pat populations. Anything with local info/listings as will as versions of Time Out where available are great to get the inside track on a city if staying for a while.
If you are an avid reader, travel with an electronic reader like a kindle where you can download almost anything you like, almost anywhere. If you are looking for the odd real book every now and again or guidebook in paper form read on.
Outside of the developed world, India/Nepal, Dar es Salaam/Zanzibar,
South East Asia (cheap pirated novels and guidebooks), Costa Rica, Guatemala
and Ecuador, getting reasonable priced second hand or new/good English language
books can be difficult. Most major tourist destinations and capitals have the
odd shop with a few English-language books kicking around, but unless you're
into trashy novels or classics, finding something worth reading is challenging.
It's not easy to make a sweeping statement with regards to where you might come across a good selection of reading material and new guidebooks. Asia is by far the easiest place to find such titles with massive selections in Bangkok, India and Kathmandu aside very reasonable selections in most other country's capital cities. You'll find the majority written in English, but where there is a steady tourist stream (say India or Thai beach resorts) second hand German, French and Italian books float around. Where English isn't the first major European language spoken such as continental Europe, Latin America or West Africa where tourist aren't in steady supply, you'll find availability pretty poor, but will often come across at least something in certain destinations (for example Banos in Ecuador). For the most it's either feast or famine.
Buying books in the likes of Bangkok or Nepal, many stores state they will buy them back in good condition at 50% of purchase price. In practice they will do anything to avoid this, so get some evidence that you bought your book there and of the price. Generally, especially in Bangkok, book shops will give you such a pathetic trade-in amount for your much loved books, that you may well feel better just giving them to someone, and if lucky, exchanging them for something else worthwhile. Occasionally you'll find a not-for profit exchange place, although it's common to find either 'trade two, get one' policies or pathetic selections.
Travelling is a great time to read and picking
the right titles really helps you get under the skin of a culture and
to have a much better and more measured understanding of it. To cite
a few examples: Take the excellent 'Wild
Swans'. Anyone who has read this will know and understand China
perhaps better than someone who has visited. The same goes for 'It's
Our Turn to Eat' regarding Kenya; 'At
the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig' for Paraguay, and so on.
Not combining reading a book like these with a visit is only eating half the cake. Even if you are not a big reader, you are strongly encouraged to give it a try. If you're not sure what to go for then on this site are a number of pages recommending a few books that you can't go wrong with. None are too deeply written or boring, many talk through a backpacker's perspective, many are funny and a good number are probably unlike anything you might have read before. To see these pages click here and select the region you're interested in.
you are big into reading and not visiting any of the destinations mentioned
(see additional information per country in the country
summary section), then take a few books with you or pick them up in Oz,
NZ, South Africa, the USA, etc.
Then again in this modern age, you could just buy/take a Kindle or similar. Which makes all of the above largely academic.
Never a problem. With the right (fast drying) fabric clothes, a locally bought sachet
of washing powder and travel washing line, doing your own washing is
very easy and it will normally dry overnight. It's always possible
to buy little packets of washing powder and, if not, a bar of soap or
shampoo is always good for the job. Here's a good
However, in most countries, you can get laundry done easily and fairly cheaply through your hotel/hostel or local laundry outlet. Problems are rare, but be cautious especially about having technical fibres washed. Asking for a cold wash and no tumble-drying makes sense if you're worried. Considering this you can happily do most of your own washing (such as odd items) yourself and have a proper wash done every few weeks.
'Fantastic site, very helpful, and definitely not as dramatic as some others I've seen, e.g. take axe with which to build small fortress.... *sigh* ' - 'I've only travelled in SE Asia, and I'm going back next week. I only had one thing that seemed the highest priority for me to get for the return trip: hand sanitizer gel. I couldn't find it anywhere in Thailand, Cambodia or in HCMC (Saigon) last time, and good lord, did I want it!
The thing I'm leaving behind this time? Anything involved with clothes laundering: the laundries there are so cheap, save me the headache of packing damp clothes, and, frankly, I don't think my clothes have EVER been cleaner.' - Carrie Hart
'One thing I would add for ensuring overnight drying of clothes... after your clothes have been washed lay your hotel/hostel towel on the bed length-ways, place your semi-dry clothes length-ways, then roll the towel width-ways, step on one end, sit on the bed and twist the hell out of it...this takes away a lot of the water and, if you have synthetics, the clothes will be pretty much dry, hang them up and you are sorted for the next day.' - Aaron
While many like sending it out, there are some downsides. First, you must locate someone to do it and then wait a day or so-and it can come back damp. You also accumulate a big pile of dirty clothes before sending it off. In many places, water is in short supply - usually from a tank on the roof. In walking down back alleys, you can see that clothes are usually washed communally and wash water is often reused. Very little water is used for rinsing which leaves soap in clothes-one reason they smell good. The upside is that you're providing a livelihood for local women who desperately need it.
If you're fussier about your clothes, here are a few washing tips. Bring a 12" piece of nylon twisted twine (slightly thicker than string). It's strong, weighs nothing, takes up no space and is easy to tie and unknot. It can be tied between door and window hinges - often the only places you have - while still allowing them to close. Nylon (not polyester) twine is found in many local world markets. Small plastic hair clip claws keep clothes from sliding off the line. They also close holes in mosquito nets and solve the curtain gap problem.
A flat rubber drain stopper is best as most sinks have shallow screen stoppers and standard plugs don't work. In a pinch, use a plastic bag and sock. When clothes are really funky, like after safaris and camel trips, buy a plastic bucket (or ask where you stay for one) and soak your clothes in detergent. Leave the bucket for the cleaning lady. She'll appreciate it. Cotton is king for comfort but many cottons take too long to dry-like heavy t-shirts, socks and pants. I'm not a big fan of travel clothes, but fortunately they've come up with good cotton pants that wash easily and dry overnight. Synthetics are only good in colder weather - dry wicking material being the exception. Washing clothes by hand might be something you'd never do at home but, remember, with travel comes a lot of free time. It becomes part of the rhythm of the trip. [Many thanks to Ricia Jenkins]
Just a tip for the washing, when I shower I fling all my washing in the bottom of the shower and trampled it as I shower. The soap cleaning and then ensuring it is properly rinsed. Dried overnight and then packed. - Ann
Please note that the comments Carrie makes above are true for SE Asia and other similar places which have great traveller services, however the comments Ricia makes [above right] are far more reflective of developing world travel in general.
When it comes to any given
your definition from the hundreds - shared values and beliefs being the best
and simplest), the first and most important thing to remember is just how
impenetrable other cultures can be. Living somewhere like Europe or North America
where you can, in most capital cities at least, jump from a restaurant of one
national cuisine to another, hear music and languages from around the world,
visit galleries and museums with collections from around the globe - probably
gives the illusion that other cultures are more assessable and easily understood
than they really are.
When confronted by an unfamiliar country/culture it is natural that you attribute everything you see and hear to the culture. You will also find that of course a small proportion makes a stronger impression than the silent majority and that all people are just human. The guy that hassles you to be your guide does so not necessarily because of his nationality/culture, but because he needs a job. Likewise the children that shout and pester you for a pen or sweet do so because they are children, the guy at the station who helps you find your bus/train, does so because he is friendly - and so on.
With so many reference points that are so easily confused, everyone will form their own opinion on 'the culture', often expounding a county's culture based on what the guidebook says, their friend told them or simply some experiences they have had - and here we are all pretty guilty (this site probably the most). Thus this text is only to draw attention to the phenomenon - not to correct it.
In reality it is practically impossible really to understand a culture removed to a great degree from your own. Nevertheless you can learn a great deal about a culture by travelling, but it will always be assimilated within the framework of your own cultural background. What is really great about travel is immersing yourself in another culture and being able to place the narrow and 'strange' concerns of your own culture in a new perspective. This is really why travel and breaking far away from your 'cultural comfort zone' is so mentally liberating and refreshing!
Lack of real cultural understanding can and probably will taint your experiences, since it is always our most deeply seated cultural assumptions that we are most ignorant of and least able to overcome. For which is the very reason we should always be wary in making sweeping judgements.
Culture shock is often both over and understated,
and varies considerably as to where you first land. Above all, allow
a day to adapt and expect in less developed countries a much higher
level of dirt, pollution and noise than you have at home, being unable
to follow the language, feeling somewhat of a target for crime and putting
up with accommodation and transport that is not great at the best of
This is all perfectly normal and you adapt pretty quickly - in fact culture shock is the best part of travel and the reason why many do it - and there are always ways to recharge. Conversely, many travellers find culture shock on their return from a long trip a greater issue. For many it is much harder to get back into their normal life where everything all of a sudden seems very quiet and shockingly un-exotic.
Many people arrive in Africa, Asia, the Middle East or Latin America with what can only be described as wildly romantic expectations about its people and feel completely let down that everyone is dressed in Western clothing and in villages where people are in ethnic dress, they are only interested in selling you something. However, to complain as tourists do, that the world is too commercialised is a little absurd.
here's the good bit. By its very nature, independent travel allows for
a greater intermingling with ordinary citizens, the vast majority of
whom are not intertwined with tourism. An evening in a bar away from
a big city or a trip in a cheap bus/train will tell you more about a
country than any guidebook or photo ever could. Mainly backpackers are so very
fortunate that they will get to see rural Africa/Asia/Latin America,
where they discover that most natives, even the poorest, are disarmingly
open and hospitable and dare it be said, better people than you and
As the world modernises and globalisation keeps trucking on, to expect an entirely traditional society anywhere would be like taking a trip to Dallas and expecting to walk into a western movie! The sensible attitude to take is to accept how things have become, try to understand it on its own terms and spend some time getting off the beaten track a little.
Here is where many get
squeamish and not always without good cause.
Let start with the loo. In the developing world and Asia generally the majority of toilets are of the squat genre. This is pretty much always the case where facilities are geared for locals such as at bus stations or cheap hotels. This is however not so much the case in slightly more expensive (still well within budget travel pricing) hotels and restaurants as well as in Africa and Latin America. Apart from a sometimes pungent smell, you soon get use to the squat method and hey, at least you won't catch anything off a loo seat. Making sure your wallet and keys are secure in your pocket when you squat is advisable to avoid the unspeakable!
Western toilets are still fitted quite universally in main tourism countries (with Thailand as a notable exception), but can often be blocked or broken, keeping you up at night and being rather smelly. Both the sit down and squat variety often won't have a flush and for this purpose you'll notice a bucket or drum of water and a cup for you to do this manually.
Supply of toilet paper varies per country. Girls - always make sure you have a small supply with you. Remembering not to throw your toilet paper in behind you takes a little getting used to. The pipe systems are sometimes (frequently in Asia) too narrow and will get clogged up; throw it into the bin next to the toilet when necessary.
Ladies might also want to be conscious that on night and other buses in China, Vietnam and Burma for example, buses just pull over and expect you to get out and take a whiz in a field. No problem for men: girls (the locals don't seem to have a problem with it) may find wearing a long wrap-around skirt allows for more modesty. Equally a device called a 'Shewee' comes recommended by many. This little device will ensure a level playing field between men and women, allowing a standing wee for all! It is a moulded plastic funnel that allows women to urinate whilst standing or sitting and without removing clothes.
Without a doubt you'll come across some truly very smelly toilets and many a novelty. Enjoy!
few words on buying tailored/pirated/fake goods abroad. Many visitors overseas might
want to bring a few cheap DVDs, a cheap tailored suit or knock-off articles
home with them, here are the better places to find them. The best places
are probably Bangkok or Vietnam, especially for guidebooks, books and
music CDs. Counterfeit clothing, watches and luxury items are best in
Shanghai and Beijing (and large mainland cities around Hong Kong). Traveller
clothing, backpacks and outdoor gear/clothing are best in Bangkok, Kathmandu
and La Paz. Outside these hubs (apart from bootleg films) you won't
find much else and often the standard is poor if you want something
for more than basic use.
Newer releases of copy movies DVDs or VCDs are more commonly available off the street in every major city of almost every city in the developing world and are mainly bootleg quality (i.e. recorded by a camcorder in the theatre). Bangkok (on the Khao San Road) remains the best place in the world to buy a fake Student Card, Drivers License, University degree certificate, Press Pass or similar. You can judge the quality for yourself.
If you are looking for new suit, dress or custom item of clothing you will find plenty of offers in Bangkok, Vietnam (especially Hoi An) and Hong Kong. Quality really does vary and if you want something really nice, often the quality is not up to western par - but prices are fair. In mainland China, due to language difficulties finding the centres of customs tailoring can be tough, but in Beijing and Shanghai there are well established centres, such as the huge underground market by the Shanghai technology museum. Here choice is extreme and options limited only by your imagination. Quality is on the whole much better than the Indian tailors found in Bangkok or Hong Kong. However it is only possible to really gauge the quality and look of your item after it has been made!
Bugs! Everyone has their thing and for many it is bugs. While the chances of meeting a dangerous snake or monster poisonous spider are - on the whole - rare, bed bugs at the lower end of the accommodation range are not unheard of and if you are in the tropics you can't avoid every creepy crawly. When an insect is harmless, the real issue is in your head and you have most likely been conditioned to it by your upbringing in a country where insects are not common or have inherited a phobia from a parent. If you really have a problem, just pay more for your accommodation, but at the lower end of the budget scale, just remember that even in clean well run places, insects are just part of life and cleaning/hotel staff may not see them as the issue you do. Check out the sign from a place in Suva, Fiji. Understanding the local perception and their place in nature might help any fear. Then again if somewhere is full of bugs without net or control provided, you need to evaluate your accommodation choice!
In connection with several e-mailed questions and a desire
to provide real information in these pages that couldn't be found in guidebooks,
wanted to touch upon drugs and vice abroad - two things most independent travellers
With a few exceptions such as now increasing decriminalised for small amounts and countries where locally produced 'culturally significant' plants (such as Coca and Khat) are available, the vast majority of 'internationally banned drugs' are exactly that - illegal worldwide and typically carry strict penalties. The thing is, many of the drugs mentioned below are, or have been at sometime, part of a country's long standing culture and/or indeed grow wild. Despite historically recent strict rules, you will in your travels virtually always come across some form of internationally banned substance and considering that many 'drugs' (not all) in small quantities are no more harmful than a bottle of vodka or pack of cigarettes, will want to try some - perhaps at discount pricing. This is compounded by the fact that despite these strict rules (normally the death penalty for traffickers or laws (such as in Indonesia) where if you know someone has drugs and you do not inform the authorities, you are also liable for a penalty!), use is widespread, laws seem to be disregarded and police often 'seem' to turn a blind eye.
Commonly and generally safely (well easily at least) available in India/Nepal
especially in Goa, mountain regions (e.g. Simla) and tourist
hubs like Pushkar. Also in North Africa, especially Morocco/Egypt (Dahab),
Thailand's Islands, parts of Indochina, México, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Colombia,
Brazil, Southern Africa (especially Malawi) - to name a few. These are
just the most concentrated areas where a scene has sprung up, probably
due to lack of police interest and a past or present hippy scene.
Many of these places are not what they once were. Both Dahab and the Thai Islands have passed their heyday some years back. So has South East Asia, where some might recall guesthouses leaving bowls of grass out for guests to help themselves! You will come across marijuana in virtually every country worldwide. (images1 - image2 - Marijuana growing wild off the KKH, Northern Pakistan). Although not a big deal for many travellers, a wild plant and decimalised in around 25-30 countries, marijuana can carry strict penalties in some regions that far outweigh its potency. The very fact it is legal throughout most of the world is the perfect excuse for any corrupt low level police office to use it as an excuse for a bribe. Buy, smoke, enjoy, but avoid carrying on your person or being too liberal in where you consume. The same goes even where legal (Holland, Canada and parts of the USA). Bhang is an an edible form of cannabis typically prepared as a drink (Bhang-lassi), but also as a halva or in chewy little balls (goli) is readily and legally found in Nepal and India.
Amphetamines and other pills: Asian pharmacies have very different regulations than in the west and in places benzos are sold over the counter if you ask the right questions in the right places. Most 'street' pills are however stimulants that can be produced cheaply and locally - sold to devastating additive affects to the local population. The most common pills available and normally sold in Thailand at full moon parties (these now have a large police presence) are passed off as Ecstasy, but typically something else, including - outright or blends of - MDA or worse amphetamines or Ya ba. Realistically, it's not really a good idea to go popping Thai pills you know nothing about that at best give you a rushing around feeling and a few sleepless nights, since they are just basic amphetamine at best and more sinister versions of at worst.
Although it's uncommon to come across amphetamines or meta-amphetamines in their pure form on a traveller circuit, within Asian they are a common and cheap plague amongst sections of local youths. Easy to make, affordable, additive and highly profitable for criminal groups. Amphetamine-type stimulants (which include meths and [name varies on country] Ya ba, Shabú and Baba - a mixture of methamphetamine and caffeine - the madness drug or horse drug long overtook plant based drugs in Asia and are a real threat to those who use them and travellers whom can get caught up in crime related to them. These are sometimes offered in clubs and anywhere they are being taken is not somewhere you want to be.
is easy to obtain and quasi legal within hill tribes in the Golden Triangle.
In most treks from Chang Mai, Thailand you'll come across it. It is
most widespread and easy to obtain in Laos. Remember this is Opium not
Heroin, which anyone with any sense would avoid. Please also consider
issues, such as authorities trying to stop hill farmers growing poppies
and encourage them to take up other crops: here you are creating a demand.
Hallucinogenic: LSD and research chemical alternatives are something you will unlikely come across, however you may be offered magic mushroom on Indonesian and Thai Islands or Jamaica. Generally you will buy your mushrooms and have them made into an omelette. You'll going to have limited knowledge on how strong the effect will be and several people have died taking these mushrooms, normally from going on long swims whilst tripping. Although now technically banned from sale, magic-mushrooms (and weaker - legal - magic truffles) are easily bought over the counter in Dutch 'Smart Shops'. In South America there are plants and indeed frogs in the jungle that give psychotropic effects. Substances likes 'daime' or 'ayahuasca' are not illegal in much of South America. Both are two names for the same hallucinogenic that are used in rituals. The effect is similar to magic mushrooms, or peyote, or even LSD. Although technically 'safe', if you've had no previous hallucinogenic experiences or not in the right place/mind, you could be considered a little silly to get into this scene abroad especially where illegal. For legal hallucinogens there are many specific destinations for those who want to participate with support.
Cocaine: It's not that common to come across Cocaine in less developed countries off the travellers' circuit, except in Colombia, Brazil, Peru and Bolivia. Coca leaves and tea are widespread and legal in much of South America, great for altitude sickness and long treks, but with no real narcotic strength. Even in South America charley is not that easy to come across outside of the major traveller centres and may still be cut with nasties. It's most widespread on Colombia's Caribbean coast and La Paz (see Bolivia section). Getting involved with Cocaine in South America or anywhere is extremely risky. Although likely to still be cut, better South America cocaine locally sourced is something different to that you might of experienced elsewhere and where abundantly available in a higher purity cheaply, can be terrifyingly addictive even to those who 'just dabble'. Caveat emptor.
Kava: A major part of Polynesian and Melanesian culture, Kava is a - not particularly drinkable - ceremonial drink made from a root. It is suited to sunset and groups of friends sitting telling stories. Drunk in one draft from a bowl (traditionally coco-nut shell) taken from a big pot, Kava varies in strength and you are always advised to leave 10-15mins between bowls. You will feel more relaxed and sleepy. Conversation flows and generally you won't be very productive.
Anywhere in the world you find poverty, a wealthy expatriate population and/or
a foreign (normally American) military base (or historic connection to one),
you'll find prostitution. Certain regions and countries have somewhat
of a reputation for sex tourism. Take a walk through certain areas of any big
tourist town or stop for a drink in certain expat bars or hotel lobbies and
it's easy to see where and why. Whether you are aware of it or not, prostitution
is rife in many parts of Asia, Russia, Europe and Brazil/Central America, with
Manila/Angeles, Rio and
Bangkok/Pattaya the sex holiday destinations of choice.
However, in the Philippines, Thailand and many other places prostitution is illegal. Many backpackers in Bangkok may take in a show in Pat Pong or have offers of prostitution at some stage (normally from free-lancers hanging out in more up-market and hotel bars), that they shyly turn away and that's it. And how it should be. In reality (of course) some will end up touching rather than just looking.
Go-Go bars are much the same as any strip-club in the world (although with more activity available in back private rooms or 'take-away' options). Pop into any of these bars and what you will get is many gorgeous girls (some look and probably are under 18) sometimes in swimsuits asking for you to buy them a drink (that's how they make their money - or one of the ways). Girls will give you a lot of attention and continue asking for more drinks. It's obvious that many guys leave with girls (where a leaving fee or 'bar-fine' is normally paid) or head to back-rooms. The more popular the bar, the more 40plus Japanese/Australians/Americans and the more aggressive the girls will be. Don't expect a cheap night out or a clean conscience. Some KTV (karaoke) bars will operate in the same way, only will be more expensive and geared towards business clients. Massage parlours that offer a viewing gallery to pick your female massager or provide 'in hotel' massages are likely to offer 'extra-services', but where they exist, it's easy to see what these places are about a mile off.
Whereas narcotics were discussed in detail, there's nothing more really to say about this subject, considering its questionable ethics. It's not common, but you should also consider, you may end up with a transgendered individual (unless that is your intention, no judgement here!) or if you take a girl back to your room, end up with a rape/under-age charge when the police turn up the next morning with the crying (faking) girl. Equally, Aids/HIV is an issue in all the aforementioned places and so are other STDs - remember condoms are not 100% foolproof.
Getting involved with any of the above you cross a line where you are playing with different rules and have no recourse to the law. Over that line, you are open to lying, cheating and entrapment. When it comes to drugs, you may get ripped off when buying, you maybe robbed under the effects or be sold drugs by a dealer who heads straight to the police for a tip. All are possible; if you do get involved be very, very careful (no responsibility taken here), take drugs in your room, not in public, buy from guesthouse/bar owners never from the street, check out the scene, know what you are doing, don't carry contraband on your person and never, never, never carry anything across international boundaries. All common sense really. It is just backpackers get carried away since it is so cheap, seems almost legal and they are on holiday to enjoy themselves. If you can't be good at least be careful.
are loads of other tips that are spread widely, floating around guidebooks,
the web and travellers conversations.
Listed right are a few typical examples, if only to spell out that these sort of tips sound okay at home, if not making you a little unnecessarily apprehensive, but when you get to your destination of choice, are completely unnecessary, impractical and have you sticking out like a sore thumb.
Remember if you use your fingers you can always count on yourself!
Carrying all your money under an elastic knee or wrist support.
Buying a woven potato or fertilizer bag at a local market and putting your backpack in it when travelling to disguise it.
Wearing a small whistle around your neck at all times so that you can alarm others in case you're being attacked and perhaps scare away the attacker.
Taking a bottle of mace or stun gun with you for protection - you could land yourself in serious trouble for this one.
If there is anything else you would like details on, feel is omitted or would like to add yourself, then please get in touch.
"I should like to spend my whole life travelling, if only I could borrow another to spend at home"