But you don’t want to spend hours figuring out how to do it on forums? Understandable.
Here is a little crash-course in traveling designed to help backpackers. It’s not exhaustive – you’ll figure most of it being out there, don’t worry. It’s all based on my own experiences. I hope you find something useful in there (just click the arrow to see the tip you’re interested in).
Think positive. It’s all going to be alright and you have to believe it.
Get a good one and learn how to adjust it so that all the weight is on your hips, not your shoulders.
Merino is your friend (as long as you’re not vegan of course). It’s the best investment you can make (it is expensive), along with good shoes and a good backpack. It doesn’t smell (or way less than a normal t-shirt for the thinner version) and doesn’t need to be washed every other day.
Works as a deodorant, helps with smelly shoes and apparently also good for urinary tract infections; luckily I haven’t had to test that yet.
Decide what’s your daily budget and stick to it. Write down everything you spend, it helps keeping track. Make weekly totals and see if you’re on track or not.
Try to negotiate a deal with your bank so that you pay less for your card and account while you’re traveling. Usually people are quite supportive or big travel projects. You’ll be surprised what you can get by just asking (nicely).
This tip I learned from Jo from A Girl and Her Thumb.
Bicarb soda makes a great light cheap and environment friendly deodorant. It’s available in a lot of countries, also it’s sometimes hard to find the translation. A little bit goes a long way anyway. Carry it in a ziplock bag or any small sealed container. Tip your slightly wet finger in the powder and apply on humid skin after a shower or a wash.
Carry one. It’s cheap, light and you might need it one day. I did.
A great thing to carry. Get all-rounder ones. Use with caution. If it were only four, I’d say tea-tree oil, ravintsare, eucalyptus radiatia and a super strong anti-viral one like oregano, thyme or thujanol marjoram (translated from French). If it were only one, tea-tree oil. Essential oils are the one thing that could be really hard to find once you’ve started travelling, so choose wisely and think ahead.
First aid kit
Learn how to use a menstruation cup. Carry a few tampons and/or pads anyway for times when it won’t be possible/hygienic to use change your cup (example: overnight Indian train)
The first rule is double : be positive and trust your instinct. And learn to say no. Do read tips online (about the specificity of the country where you want to hitchhike) but don’t get scared. Go out there and try it, it’s one of the most thrilling and rewarding ways of traveling.
Be ready to feel humbled by other people’s generosity. Don’t go around like you’re the King of Earth. You’re another human, like every one else, so be humble.
Don’t worry, it’s everywhere. If it’s not where you are, don’t worry either, withdrawal is good for you. Have a device than can go online. There are more places with wifi than internet cafés nowadays. But be careful, free connexions are often not safe. Don’t do online banking on a Starbucks connexion, for example.
“I used to be schizophrenic. But now we’re ok now.” (I didn’t have much for J).
Sounds cheesy but what you give comes back to you. So be good and kind .
The absolute minimum, out of respect, is learning how to say yes, no and thank you, and “do you speak English?” in the local language. It makes a HUGE difference. Try it. Ask “do you speak English?” in English and in the local language and see how people react.
Then, if you want a waaaaay richer experience, throw in
- What’s your name?/My name is
- I come from + name of your country
- I am a traveler
- (it’s) beautiful
- (it’s) delicious
- big / small
- I like
- counting to 10 or a 100
Combine them all, and point at stuff while exclaiming. If possible, learn an innocent joke or a line of a song. Or else learn how to say “crazy”, it can be useful too, with the right intonation it can mean “incredible! We don’t do that in my country!” (real example: Turkish driving). You wouldn’t believe how many friendly doors an obvious interest in the local language can open.
There are plenty of tricks as to where to hide it. My personal favourite is a normal-looking belt with a secret pocket where you can stash cash and a copy of your passport. It also actually holds up your pants.
Take notes on real paper. It makes you friendly and more accessible than if you’re bent on your mobile phone all the time.
Stay open-minded. It’s more easily said than done, so it’s worth mentioning here.
Print a few photos from your home town and your family. It will help you establish a connection especially when you don’t share a language.
Learn how not to take too many pictures. It’s more to sort afterwards and it takes up more space.
Don’t bother carrying a universal one. You’ll be able to buy an adapter in the country where it’s needed (unless you land directly in the middle of nowhere without stopping in a big city). Give it to another traveler when you don’t need it anymore. You’ll be surprised how far you can go with a European plug.
Leave them at home.
The quality of the time you spend in a country or a city is more valuable than the number of touristy items you can cross off a list. If you leave without having seen every thing, be ok with it: it gives you a good excuse to come back later, and it makes your experience more unique.
Have respect for everyone and everything, for other cultures, at all times. Don’t judge based on your own system of thought, try to understand the new approach you’re faced with. Once you’ve tried that and analysed a bit more, it is of course ok to disagree.
Lush, the shop you can smell miles away, makes brilliant everything-friendly solid shampoos. They last long and smell gorgeous. Get the little tin for the first one. The trick is to remember to let the bar dry every time it’s possible.
Get good ones. You’re very likely to walk a lot.
Pour sodium bicarbonate inside and if possible a few drops of antibacterial essential oil like lavander or tee-trea. Leave overnight, throw bicarb soda out in the morning and enjoy.
Don’t carry too many. You’re going to wear them several days each, aren’t you? (doesn’t have to be several days in a row though – air them in between)
Don’t get obsessed with the microfiber expensive thingy. They smell after a while. If you’re heading towards India or Iran, or Burma or South-East Asia, get the local thin cotton towel. Dries almost as fast, is almost as light (although I could never check) and doesn’t smell.
Do try new food, it’s part of the experience. Don’t go “Ugh!” before you’ve tried it. Remember that some of the best tasting French cheese actually smell horrendous (and I know what I’m talking about…). So don’t judge a book by its cover, new food by its smell or a traveler by the size of its backpack.
The art of packing is one of versatility. Do carry items that can have more than one usage. Be creative. Examples: use your bathing suit as underwear; a light scarf or shawl can be: a turban/emergency towel/extra sheet on a dirty bed/pareo on the beach/skirt over your jeans in Iran until you get a longer top/an actual shawl if you’re cold/a light blanket in an Indian train/a cushion for your electronic things in your backpack etc etc.
Don’t forget to be amazed, and curious at all times. If the unusual starts to feel normal, maybe it’s time for a change (of place or country), if it starts to be boring, maybe it’s time for a break.
Carry condoms. You never know!
Good example of something were you need to stay open-minded. It’s actually pretty cool, but you can only know that if you arrive to Austria or Bavaria devoid of prejudice, humble and respectful of other people’s culture. Also, I didn’t have anything for the letter Y.
Sometimes you will feel like a zebra in the middle of a herd of horses. You won’t be able to hide for a second that you’re not a local, especially if, let’s say you’re a blondish 5ft10 girl. You’ll stand out, a lot. But that’s ok. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re a super awesome zebra anyway. So go with it, and embrace zebraism!
Oh and I’ve made a zebra for you, too.