Saturday, 15 June 2013

Wise Words from a World Wanderer, Part 4: Now It's Your Turn!

So now you want to be a traveller, huh?

This may surprise you, but the hardest thing about long term backpacking is not deciding what to bring or how to prepare for it; it's simply overcoming your fear and deciding to do it. So if you've decided to go, congratulations! The hardest part is really over, and it only gets easier from here.

There are many considerations and loose ends to wrap up at home before leaving on such a journey. Get travel insurance (I paid about $400), get your vaccinations at a travel clinic, and pack. So what do you want to pack? I packed (including on my person) about 7 pairs of underwear, two t-shirts, one pair of jeans, one pair of flip-flops, and one pair of sturdy shoes on my feet (barefoot trail running shoes, not for everyone). My most sturdy and reliable garment was my soft-shell Marmot jacket that packs light and small.
Me in my lovely orange Marmot jacket and only pair of jeans.
If you plan on doing lots of shopping on your travels, I would suggest packing with the ultimate bare necessities. My sister made the mistake of overpacking, and could barely buy anything during the trip.

For my security and peace of mind, I found it really handy to bring locks of many kinds: small zipper locks for the backpacks, one combo lock, for hostel lockers, and one extendable wire lock, for tying your main backpack to bedposts in hostels or luggage racks on trains. My favourite stealth item was my slim pouch that fit on a shoulder and tummy strap to the side of my torso, under my shirt. Uncomfortable at first, eventually it became a part of my body and I no longer noticed it was there. This pouch held my passport, cash and cards away from the prying hands of thieves, or even would-be credit card phone scanners. A few more recommended items include a universal charger and a pocket flashlight. All this equipment is available at MEC.

All of the above packed easily into a 65 litre backpack, along with a lot of other things I brought as just-in-case items which were later deemed useless. But because I decided to be an electronics junkie, bringing my Nikon D90 with 3 lenses and a laptop, I had to carry a pretty big packpack on my chest to fit everything. While I do recommend bringing a daypack I would not bring one as big as mine. And a laptop isn't all that necessary either. Many hostels have computers with internet, though the keyboards may have a foreign configuration. I'm not a smartphone advocate, but in this case, I will be. A smartphone is the perfect travelling companion, a substitute for camera and laptop in a small package.

Once on the road, your urban survival skills will kick into action. No matter what kind of advice I give you, you may forget it all when you become lost and panic starts taking over. Have a notebook for writing notes for finding places. Print out maps when leaving one city for the next. Most hostels have printers and, if not, internet shops will be close by. The first place you should visit in a new city is the tourist information office to grab a tourist map and transit map.
I've met some of the most interesting people and made good friends through Couchsurfing
While it's nice to have a Lonely Planet for every place you visit, it starts to weigh down your pack. I stuck with Tripadvisor (I'm a Top Contributor by the way, 104 reviews), hostel advice, and free walking tours (tips afterward). For accommodation I use, which has the most comprehensive hostel reviews of any other website, although it charges a small fee for booking. I still use it because I am loyal, but can book for free, and has access to most of the same hostels. And of course, there is Couchsurfing, which I recommend if you are truly into cultural exchange and are interested in meeting local people wherever you travel.

Getting around within cities, walking is best when possible. It is the most human way to get to know a city. Metros are best for public transport, and buses are okay, but take time to get used to.
Hitchhiking rocks!
Travelling from city to city can be a bit tricky because of the range of comfort and costs can be great. I think the method you choose here really defines you as a traveller. I trade in comfort for cost, opting for buses and hitchhiking, which makes me a bit of a hobo. But there's absolutely nothing wrong with trains and planes. In fact, plane travel can be super cheap if you can deal with barebones airlines such as Ryanair, Easyjet, AirBerlin and more. Be warned that these airlines charge for all extras, including check-in luggage. And if you don't bring your printed boarding pass, they can print you one off for 70 euros! For travel from Canada to the UK, I recommend booking through It's super cheap, if you don't mind booking your flight only a few weeks in advance.

For shorter distances, trains are comfortable, and night trains can offer beds. My sister and I began our trip with a Eurail pass covering 5 preselected countries in 2 months. I soon found out this was not at all worth it unless you are covering long distances and on the move frequently, in other words, you are on a whirlwind fast-paced Eurotrip. Pretty soon, I discovered a much cheaper, though slightly less comfortable, alternative - the bus. Buses connect almost every major city in Europe and are flexible, offering almost daily departures. Bus companies with the most widespread coverage are Eurolines and the Megabus (very cheap).

So I guess you have the basic knowledge now to get started. Really sorry for this quick and dirty advice column. I really do recommend you talk to me or an experienced traveller and soak in as much advice and wisdom as you can. But I also do stress that travelling is learning on the go, and that even if you go into the scary world unprepared, as long as you don't make any fatal mistakes, and give yourself plenty of time to overcome obstacles, and bring patience and a positive attitude, you will always get where you want to go safely and grow into a more confident, resourceful person.
Dream big - shoot for the moon - the brightest moon I have seen, Morocco desert
Thank you so much for reading my blog "11 Months To Do Nothing and Everything." This blog has grown as my heart and my mind has grown. As I saw the beauty of the world unfold before me, I felt compelled to share, and you were compelled to listen. As I began to realize its potential, it transformed into a vehicle for ideas and inspiration.

And although this adventure is over, I feel another one is just beginning. My travels have unleashed in me a spirit of unlimited potential, which cannot be trapped by the temptations of a normal life in a gilded cage.

So stay tuned. My original blog will be back, but under a new title. Thanks again for reading, and happy travels to you!

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