The wait is over and departure day has arrived! All that anticipation has now given way to the excitement of finally being able to live your dream. It’s a great feeling getting those last minute things done and saying farewell to everyone. Your mother may have a few tears, friends may be jealous and you may have a few nerves. No-one knows exactly what lies ahead of you but everyone’s happy.
The journey has begun and there’s so much to look forward to. So let’s look at how we can have the best possible travel experience:
Unfortunately for some, flying isn’t a great experience but there are some basic things everyone can do to make it more pleasant or even enjoyable. It all starts with ensuring you get to the airport in good time and ensuring there is nothing prohibited in your carry-on luggage. On a long haul flight, be aware of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) and how you can prevent it. Coffee and alcohol has a dehydrating effect so limit your intake and chewing gum can help if you feel pain in your ears.
This occurs when you travel a long distance across the earth’s lines of longitude. Symptoms may include feeling disorientated, restless and hazy thinking. A few weeks before departure, try preparing for your destination time zone by adjusting your daily routine and sleep patterns. On arrival, try to adapt quickly to the local time by eating accordingly and staying awake until evening. If you simply can’t stay awake, then only nap for a few hours so your body clock can more easily adjust.
For many, this comes as a real surprise and the feeling of suddenly having to adapt to another culture can be difficult. To lessen feelings of discomfort, homesickness or even panic, research your destination ahead of time so you know what to expect. Be open-minded and try to embrace the new culture even if you feel it’s strange. Learning a few words of the local language will help you interact and it’s always reassuring to share your experiences with other travellers.
Although many travellers are daunted by this fear, it really isn’t as big as its reputation. English is the global language and you’ll find at least a smattering of it spoken in most areas of the world. If not, just relax and give the local lingo a go! It’s fun and you’ll often have a funny story to tell later. If that doesn’t work, using hand signals and body language is a crucial way of bridging the communication gap. Look around you also because there may be someone who is able to translate for you.
My amusing travel story Hasta Manana is about overcoming the language barrier to buy a bus ticket in South America.
When travelling from one country to the next the first logistical challenge is changing money. My advice is to wait until you arrive but remember airports or overland borders will not offer the best rates. Change a minimal amount that will pay for whatever you need before finding a money exchange office or bank in the city. Be careful not to get caught out by odd business hours, holidays or weekends! Always ensure that you count your money carefully before leaving the exchange counter.
Your choice will be largely dependent on where in the world you are. In cheaper countries you can comfortably get your own room but sharing a dorm room is sometimes the only realistic option for budget travellers. Use your travel guide to help identify the best choices before you arrive. Similar accommodation is often clustered together so at the very least it will point you in the right direction. When choosing a place to stay, make location, cleanliness and security your primary considerations.
It is vital to make your health a top priority when you are backpacking. You can use basic common sense rules to avoid many problems. Maintain good hygiene, especially when it comes to cleaning your hands before eating. Carry a hand cleanser or antibacterial wipes. Ensure that the water is safe to drink and if in doubt buy bottled water. In undeveloped countries avoid ice in your drink, peel fruit and try to ensure that hot food hasn’t been sitting around at room temperature and then reheated. Refer to the Travel Health page for more details.
Certain parts of the world will always have elements of uncertainty or even danger. Keeping yourself and your possessions safe becomes a priority. Be aware of unsafe areas of a city that should be avoided, especially at night. Stay alert to your surroundings and don’t get too distracted by your activities. Try to blend into your environment and not obviously look like a tourist. In busy city areas and markets carry valuable things in front pockets and wear your daypack on your chest. Refer to the Travel Safety page for more details.
Once again, your guidebook becomes invaluable in choosing the best mode of transport to your next destination. Bus and sometimes train are the cheapest and most common overland options. Don’t forget that bus or rail passes can save you a lot of money but usually need to be purchased before you arrive. If a major river or lake links your destinations, always consider boat travel. It takes longer but the experience is a refreshing change from the dust of the road. If you’re short of time or the overland connections are difficult, a flight may be your best option.
Trying unique and varied cuisine is a great part of the travel experience. Be adventurous and try some new things, including specialty dishes from the local area. Don’t be afraid to eat on the street or at a market. You’ll probably find the food will be just as tasty and much cheaper. Remember you can self-cater from supermarkets in more expensive countries. Good nutrition is a vital part of travelling well so try to maintain a balanced diet and taking supplements can be a good idea.
Travel photos will help tell your story and be your enduring memories for years to come. Digital technology has made photography relatively easy but there are still some basic rules for taking good photos. Knowing your camera and its various functions is the first step. Don’t take photos directly into a strong light source. Keep the horizon level and work on the ‘rule of thirds’ which places a subject slightly off centre, immediately giving a more interesting and visually pleasing result.
The key advice here is to research and plan your days. Use your guidebook to identify places of interest and the best way to link them up. If you’re in a city for a few days, take note of days that entry to attractions such as galleries and museums may be free. Use student and youth cards wherever possible. If you are shopping for souvenirs, places like markets outside the main tourist area will often be much cheaper but remember that you have to carry whatever you buy!
Around the world, toilets vary greatly and there’s never any guarantee of privacy or cleanliness. Sometimes you’ll be able to sit on it but in undeveloped countries you’ll probably find yourself squatting over it. The golden rule wherever you are is always carry toilet paper! Never again will you take for granted the shiny porcelain bowl, comfortable plastic seat, roll of paper within easy reach and flush button that guarantees to remove whatever you’ve left in it.
It is one of the most tiresome problems for a backpacker but needs to be done. Being prepared and washing a few clothing items often is the key. Carry a small bag of soap powder, nail brush and some nylon twine or fishing line. A universal plug is handy also but a plastic bag can suffice. Ensure that you’ll be able to get clothing dry (synthetic fabrics are best; heavy cotton and denim are worst) before you need to pack up and depart. Unpacking damp smelly clothes when you arrive isn’t fun!
In many places handling unwanted attention from beggars, touts and street vendors is part of daily life. You have two broad choices here: either respond or simply ignore them. Depending on the particular situation, both of these options can work and go a long way toward escaping further harassment. If you do respond, be polite but firm and don’t send mixed messages. Don’t feel bullied into anything and if you think it is appropriate then humour them to lighten the mood.
The world is a much smaller place than it used to be. With the spread of mobile communication and global improvement in internet connections, keeping in touch with friends and family is much easier. It’s a personal choice but many travellers carry a laptop or tablet with them and take advantage of Wi-Fi networks. Apart from communication, your phone can act as an alarm clock, calendar, calculator, notepad and currency converter. It’s a great value item and should never be left at home.
Displaying good etiquette is the moral obligation of travellers to ensure that a respect for culture, history and traditions is maintained. Ignorance is regarded as a poor excuse because often you only have to follow what others are doing. Etiquette is especially important at sacred places of worship where there are certain expectations relating to dress and behaviour. A simple rule to follow is act conservatively and if you are unsure about anything such as taking photos find someone to ask.
Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and so it is with adventure holidays. Reverse culture shock can be most unexpected but does happen to some who have been living in other cultures for an extended period of time. Keeping in touch with friends, family and local news means you won’t have major surprises when you arrive home. If you still find things difficult then acknowledge it positively, be patient and accept than change while you’ve been away was inevitable.