Looking for a quick
travel tip or two? You've come to the right place.
- In Europe, it is not uncommon for small
cafes and restaurants to use a two-tier pricing system for
food and drinks, depending on where you sit in the establishment.
Sitting at the bar or deep inside the restaurant will often
come with cheaper prices. On the other hand, enjoying a
scenic table out on the patio or sidewalk may include a
higher price. To find out, either ask a waiter/waitress,
check out a menu, or keep your eyes open for a small sign
in the restaurant informing you about their pricing system.
We think that a great view makes the food taste better,
but when you're on a budget...
- Traveler's diarrhea.
The name alone instills fear in travelers. With the ability
to knock you off your feet for possibly days, travelers
with this malady should take precautions to make sure that
it doesn't lead to more serious problems like dehydration.
There are a few things you can do to make the symptoms more
tolerable and get back on the road to recovery: drink plenty
of fluids to stay hydrated, eat salted crackers to compensate
for salt loss and avoid milk products. But remember, it
is very important to make sure the water that you are drinking
to hydrate yourself has been properly purified. Boil the
water first. That 'sealed' bottle of water that you drank
this morning may be the reason you have diarrhea in the
- If you are traveling
alone and plan to be away for a long period of time, maintain
contact with at least one person back home. With the availability
of internet cafes, as well as affordable long distance calling,
there really is no excuse for not 'checking in' now and
then to let someone know that you are all right. It is a
good idea to let that person know where you are and where
you are going. Establishing a regular 'check in' period
of every three days or so will help to ensure that, if something
does happen to you, someone will know where you are (or
where you were supposed to be). But try not to let your
check-in routine take away from your trip. Keep it simple
and not so often that it becomes too much of a hassle.
- Modern bathrooms
as we know them do exist around the world, but not everywhere.
As a traveler, you'll come across everything from outhouses
to simple holes in the ground where squatting is a necessity.
In developing countries, cubicles may be enclosed, but as
you venture further into the countryside, you may have to
make do with little or no privacy. But no matter where you
travel, take a roll of toilet paper with. In some parts
of the world, it is either non-existent (you're expected
to use your hand), very scarce or too coarse to be usable.
is a very inexpensive way to move from city to city. Besides
the occasional dollar or two that you pay to help out with
gas, it is virtually free. But getting someone to pull over
and actually pick you up can be challenging, what with the
number of people looking to thumb their way around these
days. One of our faithful readers offered the following
strategy: Use an empty (and clean) gas can to carry your
clothes and other belongings in. As you stand on the side
of the road with your gas can, drivers will think that you
are trying to get to a gas station. Although a little bit
underhanded, this trick will help you to snag that elusive
passing car. Continue with the deception as you are driving,
or come clean and divulge your secret, depending on the
mood of your driver.
- Take some time
to think about what type of shoes you will want to take
with you. Choose your footwear
carefully as you will be spending plenty of time on your
feet. Your choice of shoes will most likely depend on what
part of the world you are traveling in (particularly weather
and terrain) and what activities you intend to partake in.
Generally speaking, a pair of high-quality approach shoes
(light hiking boots) and a pair of sandals will suffice
for almost any destination.
- Theft from your
backpack doesn't just happen when you let your pack out
of your sight. You can have items removed from your backpack
while it is still on your back. Small external pockets can
easily be unzipped without you even noticing as you stand
in a line-up or on a crowded bus. For this reason, it is
a good idea to use a luggage lock to secure your zippers.
If you find these to be inconvenient, twist-ties, zip-ties,
a paper clip or even string can suffice in making it more
difficult for thieves to get your zippers opened. Remember
though that a thief can just as easily cut your bag to gain
access. Simply securing the zippers does not make your bag
- The importance
of up-to-date and reliable travel information cannot be
stressed enough. Relying on an old (also known as "out
of date") travel guide will cause you much grief as
you sooner or later discover that hostels close down, phone
numbers change, and transportation schedules never stay
the same. And even though your uncle Bob has told you everything
about his backpacking experience through Europe 20 years
ago, today's Europe is not like it used to be. Buy a new
travel guide, visit web sites like the CIA World Fact Book, and take everyone's travel opinions
as just that...opinions. A little extra time and money spent
on proper information gathering will save you from plenty
of hassles later.
- In preparing
for your trip abroad, try not to let everything wait until
the last minute. It may seem like forever until you leave,
but time has an uncanny way of passing by very fast. Things
to do well in advance include obtaining a passport, beginning
malaria treatment (if necessary), getting a full medical
check-up, planning your itinerary and purchasing the necessary
tickets. Then you can begin to prepare for the rest of your
trip and assemble your gear. If you procrastinate, you will
undoubtedly find yourself running around frantically the
day before you leave, causing unnecessary stress and increasing
your chances of forgetting important items or details.
- On occasion,
it may be necessary to leave your passport with a business
or organization as collateral, such as if you decide to
rent a motorbike or sporting gear. This is not a good idea
as you should always have your passport with you. Instead,
if possible, take an old, expired passport with you on your
trip and keep it stashed away in your backpack. They will
probably not notice (or care) that it has expired and will
accept it as a valid passport for collateral.
- When traveling
in warmer climates, or if you are more active than usual,
make an extra effort to stay hydrated by drinking lots of
water and other non-caffeinated beverages often. Don't just
wait until you are thirsty, a sign that you are already
dehydrated. Dry chapped lips, unnecessary fatigue, and dark-yellow
urine are all signs that you need more fluids. Staying properly
hydrated will help you stay healthy and improve your mental
state of mind.
- Find out as
much as you can about the major health risks of the area
you are traveling to. Are there insect-born diseases that
you need to be protected from? How can you protect yourself
from these diseases? Is the country you are going to politically
unstable or at war with another country or even with its
own people? Read what you can about your destination ahead
of time to help prepare for your trip and even help you
decide whether the country is worth visiting.
- Most budget
travelers know about the relaxed attitude towards buying
and smoking marijuana in Amsterdam and some other cities.
But just because it is tolerated does not mean it is legal.
Try to be at least a little bit discreet about your drug
use. Contain your pot smoking to the cafes or relatively
private locations. Smoking pot openly in public could get
you arrested or fined. And when you leave a city where drugs
are tolerated, make sure you get rid of all of it before
you move on. The neighboring country may not have the same
relaxed attitude towards drug use.
- Before making
a relatively expensive purchase, look the product over very
carefully to make sure that it is authentic. Egyptian vases
of basalt may be made of plastic, Norwegian pewter bowls
could be made in America, and that brand name watch that
you found in Beijing that is unbelievably cheaper than back
home is most likely a fake (besides low quality parts and
fabrication, mis-spelled words or brand names are a good
indication). Follow the rule of caveat emptor -
'buyer beware'. If you don't mind getting a fake for a cheaper
price, don't be surprised if it falls apart or stops working
some time soon.
- If you are thinking
about renting a scooter or motorbike, take some time to
think about the consequences if you happen to have an accident.
Besides watching out for crazy local drivers and tourists,
you will probably have to adapt to very different driving
laws. Some things to think about: When was the last time
that scooter was maintenanced? What sort of medical facilities
does the area offer? Legally, how will you be treated by
the local police? At the very least, make sure that you
wear a helmet (now the law in Italy), eye protection and
have something on your feet more substantial than sandals.
- Most of the
bulk in your backpack will be clothing. This means that
the easiest way to reduce the weight and size of your load
is to take less clothes with you. It just means that you
have to wash what you do take more often. If you spend a
little time each night doing a little wash, you can keep
your clothes in constant rotation. Some travelers even take
their oldest clothes with them and then throw them out when
they are done using them.
- Contact your
credit card company in advance to let it know which countries
you will be using your card in. Your credit card company,
suspecting something is amiss when you're overseas, may
cancel or put a hold on your card when charges from some
distant country show up on a card that previously had been
used only locally.
- When buying
a backpack, spend a little more money to get a well-built
product. It should be light and comfortable, but also very
durable because it will take a lot of abuse. You will be
dependent on your pack. Any problems with it -- and there
will be more if you buy a low-quality pack -- will directly
impact your traveling experience. Spend good money on a
good pack and feel confident that it will perform for you
when you most need it to.
- Although it
has been said many times before, this week's tip is well
worth saying again: Make sure that your passport is not
going to be expiring within 6 months while you are away.
The '6 month rule' is commonly accepted by most countries
in the world. You will not be allowed to enter a country
if your passport expires within this time period, even if
you have a pre-paid airline ticket or train pass. Renew
your passport ahead of time and save yourself the hassles.
- If you really
think that everything you are taking with you is essential
to your trip, try this: A few days before you leave, load
up your pack with all the items you plan to take with you
and go for some test walks. Get on the bus with your pack
and just head out somewhere. Go for a 1-2 hour walk and
see how your pack feels. Even though it may seem silly,
chances are, you'll get back home and cut your pack's contents
in half. A few hours of practice will save you at least
a few months of frustration.
- Be sure and
make duplicate copies of all of your important documents.
Take one copy with you in case your originals are lost or
stolen and leave a copy of your documents at home with a
family member or friend. This will provide you with a back-up
system until you can obtain new ones. Having copies on hand
will often speed up the process of issuing your new documents
to you as well.
- Credit cards
are a safe and convenient form of currency when traveling
abroad. Not only can you use them to make purchases, but
you can also get cash advances with them (provided you know
your PIN number). The problem with cash advances is that
you begin paying interest on the "loan" immediately.
To avoid the 18% (or more) interest charges, over-pay your
credit card before you leave if you intend on using your
card for cash advances.
- If you are having
problems with the local language, there are a couple of
tricks that you can use to help communicate with your taxi
driver to help you get around in the city. Ask an employee
at your hostel (who speaks the local language) to write
down the name of your intended destination and directions
to get there (if necessary), which you can then show to
your taxi driver. If you have a business card, letterhead
or brochure from your hostel, you can show it to your taxi
driver to help you get back. For more information about
communication in other languages, check out our Language
and Gestures article.
- As tempting
as it may be, avoid going barefoot when in a developing
(or just plain dirty) country. Lack of decent foot protection
leaves you more susceptible to many problems, including
injury, insect bites, cuts or punctures (which could give
you tetanus, requiring a shot which leads to a whole new
batch of risks) and acquiring bacteria and infections from
direct skin contact with contaminated sand and soils. Keep
your shoes or sandals on and save your soles.
- Packing light
is always a big issue with budget travelers. Ask any backpacker
who has had to carry all of his belongings on his back for
a month or more and you will no doubt be given some good
(and not so good) advice. Deciding on what to pack and what
to leave behind is definitely a personal issue, depending
on the importance of comfort, style, etc. ( and of course,
depending on where you are going). But one piece of advice
always seems to hold true -- when in doubt, leave it out.
The world really is a small place. You will be able to buy
almost anything you want where ever you are going. If not,
then just do without.
- Traveling in
the peak travel season of any region can be a frustrating
experience as you vie for access to the local attractions.
If you must travel in peak season, there are a few things
you can do to avoid the crowds -- head out early in the
day and hit the most popular attractions first, get off
the beaten path and experience the local affairs, avoid
museums on their free days, visit attractions late in the
day when most people have retreated to their hotels -- all
strategies that should help keep your sanity in the midst
of the tour groups and hoards of other backpackers.
- Looking for
a restroom but don't want to pay for it? Muster up some
courage and walk into any cafe or restaurant and head toward
the back to find the restroom. You may find that it is easiest
in places with outdoor seating because waiters will think
you're a customer. American-type fast-food restaurants,
parks, train stations, museums and hotel lobbies are also
great places to find a free WC (that's 'water closet' for
- Before you leave,
prepare yourself to use internet services abroad. Set up
an internet-based e-mail account (such as Hotmail), become
familiar with the log-in process, make sure you remember
your password and give your new e-mail address out to friends
and family. You will also want to save your friends' e-mail
addresses on a floppy disk (or better yet, email them to
your own address for easy access). E-mail copies of important
documents to your email address as well.
- Consider flying
into one city and out of another to avoid wasting time and
money. For example, if you are going to Europe, you could
fly into London, travel through Europe heading south, then
catch a flight out of Rome without having to loop back to
London for an added cost and waste of time. Remember that
this strategy will be cheaper if you can use the same airline
for both your incoming and outgoing flight.
- A travel guidebook
is a very useful 'tool' to take with you while traveling
abroad. These books can provide you with plenty of useful
information and tips about the area you are traveling in.
But you will find that the information you are interested
in is spread out over many pages within the guide. For this
reason, it is a good idea to take a small pad of Post-It
notes with you to flag the most useful pages in your guide
(such as maps, currencies or hostel listings).
- When taking
pictures of anything that is behind a piece of glass (for
example, a painting or a suit of armor), do not stand directly
in front of the glass. Instead, stand at a slight angle
to the glass. This way you will avoid the reflection of
the flash as you take the picture. If you stand directly
in front of the glass, you will simply get a picture of
your flash and the picture will not turn out.
- Your airline
ticket will most likely be one of the largest purchases
you make for your trip, so this is obviously where you have
the greatest opportunity to save some money. It is essential
that you do your homework and use all of the available options
to trim this cost down as much as possible. Inquire at several
travel agencies (both local and online) and peruse the newspapers
for deals. Planning early for this purchase will certainly
save you money by allowing you time to shop around and compare
- Your traveling
experience will be far more enjoyable if you stay healthy.
Plan for the unexpected before you leave and be prepared
so you can ward off many health problems and hopefully minimize
the severity of those that do occur. Incase you do come
down with an unavoidable sickness or injury of some sort,
it is important that you are at least somewhat prepared
by having medical insurance, a small first-aid kit and knowledge
of the health dangers that may be present in your region
- When you buy
bottled water, make sure that the safety-seal isn't broken.
We've seen vendors in Egypt selling water in bottles that
have already been used. They were just filling them up with
local tap water. If particulates are visible in the water
when you shake the bottle, do not drink the water. It's
generally safe to drink carbonated water and sodas, but
again, make sure that the safety-seal is not broken.
- Take a few passport
photos with you. If you require a visa to get into another
country, you may need to have one of these pictures to attach
to it. But rather than hunting all over the city looking
for a photo booth or photography store (or paying lots of
money), you will already have the photos. We know of one
group of travelers who spent half a day in Tel Aviv, Israel
trying to get passport photos taken for Egyptian entrance
visas when it could have taken half an hour.
- Don't leave
your credit cards in the small safes offered by some hostels
and hotels. Staff have keys to these so-called security
devices and could 'borrow' your card to either make purchases
(which you probably wouldn't find out about until you got
home) or make a copy of your card which could then be used
over and over. When you do make credit card purchases, don't
let your card out of your site for more than a couple of
minutes. It takes very little time for someone to make an
extra charge or two while you are waiting for your card.
- Near some attractions
you may be approached by locals who are keen to offer you
their personal "tour services" and escort you
around. Sure, they may offer you some valuable information
about an attraction as seen through their eyes. But consider
whether you can obtain decent information from your travel
guide or nearby signs instead - all for free. Paying for
local "tour guides" can be tricky. Be sure and
barter for, and agree on, a price before the "tour"
begins but don't pay until you believe that it is finished
(and even at this point you may find yourself in an argument
over the thoroughness of the tour).
- If you are visiting
a tropical region of the word where insects and bugs are
a problem (especially in malaria-infested areas), use bug
netting to keep the critters off of you while you sleep.
But rather than just letting the net hang down around your
bed, tuck it into your mattress. This will eliminate any
bugs from crawling or flying up underneath the netting.
A net impregnated with permethrin will also increase your
- One of the best
sources of information about things to see and places to
go is other travelers. While you are away, ask people you
meet about the places and sites they have been to and visited
and what they thought of them. You don't have to always
take their opinions as fact. Everyone has different tastes
- even if they didn't like something, maybe you will. But
generally speaking, other travelers often make for useful
- If your travel
itinerary includes several different countries, try to begin
your trip with the country that is most familiar to you
(language, customs or just similar to your own). This way,
you will hopefully get off to a good start and begin to
establish the many travel habits that should become instinctive
after a bit of experience. Travelers arriving in an extremely
unfamiliar country may be overwhelmed by the many differences
in culture, etiquette, etc.
- Use a mini tripod
(about 10 cm. tall) to take self or group photos. Made with
thick, formable wire legs, this handy tool screws into the
bottom of your camera and presto, instant studio. If you
don't have a mini tripod, you can use anything to prop a
camera up to take your picture, from a rock to a box of
crackers. Of course, you will need a photo timer on your
camera to do any of the above, which is definitely a worthy
option to consider when buying a camera.
- We recommend
using a money belt to conceal your wealth and keep your
passport and other ID safe from thieves. BUT ...carry around
some money in your front pocket too! If you do get approached
by a mugger, give him your pocket money to ease his needs
and then plead poverty. This also helps when ever you buy
something because you won't have to keep pulling your money
- If your travel
pack has a zip-on daypack, take it off and put it inside
your main pack if you carry any valuables in it (while wearing
your full-size backpack). Or, just don't keep anything valuable
in your daypack if it is zipped onto the back. While standing
in line or in crowds, thieves can quickly and easily un-zip
your daypack without you even noticing. Look for a daypack
that not only zips on but also uses compression straps to
help keep it securely attached.
- Consider traveling
with a partner rather than going on your own to help save
money. Car rentals are cheaper when the costs are shared,
and two-for-one deals abound in many travel hotspots. And
besides security and companionship, having a travel partner
will allow you to lighten your load by sharing some items
(ie. laundry soap and travel guides). Some people also find
it much more enjoyable to be able to share experiences with
- When booking
a seat on an airplane, try to get one next to the isle or
by an exit. This will provide you with plenty of leg room
to stretch out for the long haul. If you will be flying
with another person, take one isle seat and one window seat,
leaving the center seat open. The odds are that no-one will
be seated between you, giving you a little extra room. If
somebody does end up between you, just ask them to trade
seats so you can sit beside your partner.
- When buying
a backpack, spend plenty of time trying on a variety of
styles and brands. Because your pack is going to be your
'home away from home' for some time, you want to make sure
it fits right and feels comfortable. Fill it with weight
bags (which should be supplied at the store) and walk around
with it on your back. Adjust the support straps and make
the necessary adjustments to ensure that you are buying
the right pack for your back.
- Don't accept
packages from strangers (or even recent friends) and then
attempt to cross a major border if you don't know for sure
what is in the package. As well, even though theft from
your backpack is a concern, you should also look out for
anyone putting something into your bag too! Criminals may
try to slip drugs or other contraband into your pack and
let you take the risk of crossing the border. Then they
will get it back from you any way possible. Many large borders
ask you if you have recently received any packages from
- Fill small travel
containers and tubes only 3/4 full with fluids and then
squeeze the remaining air out before closing. That way they
won't burst during your flight, where the reduction in air-pressure
would normally make them explode. It's also a good idea
to place liquid-filled containers in sealed Ziploc-type
bags when packing just in case they do burst or end up leaking.
- Rental cars
are prime targets for thieves. They break into rentals knowing
that, more often than not, there will be valuable items
in the car. The key to avoid falling victim to an auto theft
is to make your car look less like a rental car and more
like one of the locals'. Take off the rental company stickers
(if possible) and place a local newspaper in the back window
and on the dash. As well, be sure to hide all valuables
in the trunk where they are out of site. Leaving your glove
box open and empty also helps convince thieves that there
is nothing of value in the car.
- Make a sleep-sheet
to take with you. You can make one easily by folding a sheet
in half and sewing it up one side. Keep about half a meter
un-sewn at the top so you can fold it back a little when
inside. Or better yet, check out Dreamsacks, makers
of silk sleep-sheets...very light and compact. A sleep-sheet
will keep the bed clean and more importantly, keep the bugs
off of you. Put your pillow under your sleep-sheet as well
so your head isn't directly on it.
- If you are going
on your first backpacking trip abroad, take one or two photographs
of friends and family with you while you travel to ease
the feelings of homesickness. Seeing a familiar face in
a strange land always seems to lighten your mood and make
you feel closer to home. Even if it isn't your first trip
abroad, you may want to share your photos with any new friends
that you meet while traveling.
- The durability
of coins means that they will last hundreds of years longer
than paper money. For this reason coins are often used by
many countries in the world, rather than paper currency.
Even in Canada, the one and two dollar bills have been replaced
by coins. You will find that you will have much of your
money in the form of coins. When choosing a neck wallet,
look for one with a small mesh change compartment in it.
You can also take a small pouch with you and carry it around
in your pocket.
- Take a cable
and padlock with you while traveling abroad. Use it to lock
your backpack to your hostel bed, a bench, a pole or any
other secure fixture. This will, at least, make it more
difficult for a thief to steal your bag (just enough so
that they pass your bag up for someone else's). If you're
traveling on your own, a cable and lock is even more important
-- you won't have a partner to watch your bag while you
do quick errands like run into a bakery or use the washroom.
- Take a small
first-aid kit with you. From tiny slivers to full-on cuts
or other maladies, your first-aid kit should have a little
bit of 'everything' to help you out. If you are traveling
with a partner, just carry one kit between the two of you.
Assemble it yourself so you have just what you need and
you know exactly what it contains.
- Take plenty
of film. Carrying around a couple rolls too many is not
that big of a deal. But paying up to $10 for one roll of
film when you need it is. Film can be very expensive in
developed and less-developed countries. Even in Japan you
can expect to pay a lot of money for film. If it's your
first trip and you like to take pictures, six rolls will
suffice for a two month travel adventure. If you have too
much, sell it to other travelers for what you paid for it
or be real popular by giving it away.
- Scan the main
page of your passport and e-mail it to your own web-based
e-mail address. That way, if you lose your passport,
you will have a copy that you can access and print out from
any computer with internet access. This works for health
insurance forms, credit card information, phone numbers
and addresses, and any other paperwork as well
- Beat jet-lag
by doing things on the airplane according to the time in
your destination city. This means that as soon as
you get on the plane, set your watch to your destination
city's time and act as though you are already there -- sleep
and eat according to this new time. Also, because the air
in airplanes tends to be extremely dry, drink plenty of
water and stay away from coffee and alcohol, two natural
diuretics (dehydrators). You'll feel more refreshed and
energetic upon arrival.