Each time I travel, I learn a little more about what I should and shouldn’t bring in my backpack. And yes, a backpack is much easier to carry on bumpy dirty roads, gives you a bit of cushioning while being pushed about while waiting in line for a bus, acts as a good pillow while sitting in the back of a truck, and in general is easier to fling around than something on wheels.
Things to do before you leave:
- Make sure your immunizations are current. Some countries require proof of of vaccinations, such as yellow fever. Before you travel, check http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/
- Travel insurance. Get something basic with good emergency medical coverage. You can compare packages at http://www.squaremouth.com/travel-insurance/index.pl
- Call your banks and credit cards and let them know where you plan on traveling and for how long
- Buy a money belt. I know they feel cheesy, but they’re worth wearing if you want to keep your money safe. Guys should keep their wallets in a front pocket.
- Finding a good price for a plane ticket can take some time, but it’s well worth the search it if you can save a few hundred dollars. www.kayak.com and www.bing.com/travel are good for starters.
- If you plan on leaving for a few weeks, consider subletting your room. Depending on where you live (like NY) it can be quite easy. I use www.airbnb.com. You may as well cover some or all of your cost for rent while away right?!
- Get a Skype account (www.skype.com) so you can talk with family and friends while away. These days it’s so easy to be connected–I use WhatsApp, Line, Facebook and Instagram to connect with old and new friends alike.
- Sign up for www.couchsurfing.com and make friends before you even arrive at your destination.
- Passport of course, credit and debit cards. A Capital One credit card is great for traveling because there is no charge for an international purchase (unlike most banks which charge 3% on every transaction). A Charles Schwab account lets you pull out cash internationally free of charge and reimburses all ATM fees.
- A small backpacking backpack. My backpack is 30 liters and I wouldn’t recommend going larger than 50 liters. I usually pack it half full and then am able to buy things along the way.
- A pocket knife!
- A spoon
- A head lamp. Very very useful whether you’re dying to read the next chapter of that murder mystery on the train that just turned out all the lights, or you’re fumbling in the dark to set up your tent. Head lamps are key!
- A small medical kit with bandaids, hydrating salts, cortizone, immodium
- Malaria pills, if needed, and mosquito spray
- Mosquito net (if traveling in mosquitoed lands)
- A camera of course!
- A travel towel takes up little room in the sac and dries quickly
- Ziplocs- you will find many uses for them!
- Sunscreen. If visiting islands, deserts or just sunny climates, it is usually exorbitantly priced or non existent.
- A pair of good walking shoes
- Bathing suit
- Small backpack for day trips
- A sweatshirt- in Asia, it could be sweltering outside, but you will freeze to death on a bus by means of overzealous air conditioning, if not well prepared.
Things to do while visiting faraway lands
- Learn a few local words, most importantly ‘thank you’, ‘hello’, a few numbers, ‘this’ and ‘that’ (it helps when pointing to something you want, like food on someone else’s table!) and definitely learn how to say ‘delicious’! That elicits the most smiles 🙂
- Don’t get too caught up in knocking tourist attractions off the list. Remember that some of the best experiences you’ll have are with the people you meet along the way.
- ATMs give the best currency conversion. I never use travel cheques. In some countries, you’ll need to trade money on the black market (I had to in Myanmar and Zimbabwe). You can get a good deal, but just make sure to count their money before you hand over yours.
- Before bargaining, and yes, bargaining is usually necessary, try to find out what locals pay. Don’t be a sissy. Bargaining is part of many cultures’ business transactions, ranging from purchasing an apple to securing a room in a guest house. Bargain away in a pleasant way. Don’t get aggressive and keep smiling through the process.
- Take local transport because it’s way more exciting than a taxi. If you have time, take trains. They’re a good way to see a country. Hitchhike too, but use common sense and intuition. In many countries it’s totally normal to hitch a ride ( if not free, then a hitchhike usually only costs a few dollars, but agree on the amount before you get in).
- Find the local markets and explore grocery stores. The products you will see will inspire you (if you’re a cook) or simply intrigue your taste buds.
- It’s not uncommon to be invited into people’s homes for a meal. Take them up on the offer, and bring something to the meal as well.
- Do not be scared of street food!!!!! It’s some of the yummiest food you will encounter on your travels. Train your tummy and you shall be rewarded with so many delicious options to put in your mouth. I know we are always warned to not eat street food because it’s scary, but just make sure it’s hot, the cooker looks kinda clean, and it doesn’t involve tap water. Sample your way through countries by supporting food vendors and hole-in-the-walls.
- Seek out new fruits. It’s crazy what exists outside of America! Why don’t we get sapote, mamey, hallabongs or chompoo?
- Make friends with other travelers. You can share the cost of transport, rooms, guides, and food, and you’ll make friends all over the world…which in turn makes traveling to other countries more fun because you’ll know more people