Here are a few back packing tips we’ve learned along the way. We hope you can benefit from our trial and error!
1. ALWAYS have water or a drink with you. If you think you will get drink when you plane lands or you bus arrives, Murphy’s Law will have you running for your next mode of transportation and no time to stop to fill your water bottle.
2. Many guide books suggest purchasing a pack without a day pack attached to it, but our packs have a removable day bag on and it has been a great addition that we find very useful.
3. If you are booking two or more modes of transportation in one day, give yourself more than enough time in between them. This will assure you enough time to grab some lunch, get a drink of water, check out the town you are in, and even make it in time to your next flight or bus. For example, we had three hours in between a flight landing, clearing customs, and taking a 45 minute bus ride to our next bus terminal. Everything was on time and we BARELY made it to our second bus. There was a later bus we should have purchased tickets for, however, we thought 3 hours in between was enough time.
4. We highly recommend an ¨airporter¨ for backpacks, it’s worth the $30. It protects your pack from damage when you´re checking it, as well as ensuring that if the pack is lost, the airline is responsible for replacing the pack, not just the contents. Airline’s are only responsible for the contents of a bag, not the bag itself. Therefore, if your backpack is inside another bag, it is covered by the airline. Osprey sells a great one.
5. Write down the name, address, and phone number of your hotel for the taxi driver. It helps when they say they know the place but they really don’t, and you’re driving around a strange city where you don’t speak the language!
6. Always check your room, cab, bus, plane, etc for your belongings before you depart or leave, especially on longer trips. This may seem like common sense, but we guarantee you may leave something behind.
7. Zip Lock bags have come in handy more than we could have ever thought! From keeping valuables dry when it is raining, using them as compression packs, to storing coffee, creamer, sugar, and laundry detergent, they are a must-have to your supply list.
8. Traveling during the low/wet season has its challenges- the weather may not be ideal and many businesses are closed- but rates are often very good during the low season for hotels, some transportation, and some food. And just because a hotel advertises a specific low-season rate, this doesn’t mean you can’t bargain for an even lower one.
9. Remember to ask for directions there and back. Don’t assume the way there is the same way back! For example, we asked how to take the bus from our hostel to the mall, but didn’t ask how to get back. Turns out it is not the same way, and we wasted an hour at the bus stop before we figured it out. We had to take a taxi and spend more $$.
10. If you are traveling internationally in Latin America, it is advisable to arrive more than 2 hours early or check in online ahead of time (recommended method). Latinos like to travel with a lot (seriously, A LOT) of luggage which jams up the check in process. We waited 1.5 hrs to check in, with 30 mins to go through security and get to our int’l flight. The anxiety was not fun!
11. Check to see if your international flight has meals or snacks. We find they often do, even for short trips. This saves you from spending the extra $$ for food or snacks at the airport if you don’t need to.
12. Some hostels/hotels listed in your guide-book are not the same as the description says. In certain countries, once a hostel/hotel is listed in a guide books such as Lonely Planet and Rough Guides their service and amenities tend to go downhill. It is best to check on tripadvisor.com to get more up to date details. Also, we have found prices to be about 25% higher than the guidebook says.
13. Always have US dollars. Some countries will only accept visa fees in dollars, and you cannot get dollars in every country so make sure to always have some with you. Also, exchanging US dollars on the street gives you a better exchange rate most of the time. For example, in Malawi the bank exchange rate was 164 per $1. The street was 275 per $1.
14. Check the visa and border requirements. Sometimes crossing overland will have different requirements than arriving by air. For example, the overland border posts will issue you a free 15 visa-on-arrival when crossing into Thailand. If you arrive by air it is a free 30 day visa. You can also pay for a visa in advance at an embassy. Sometimes you also need a visa in advance, such as India, which takes about a week to obtain the visa. Also, some borders require proof off onward travel. A little trick I did a few times was I went onto American Airlines website and put a ticket “on hold”. You do not need to actually enter any credit card information. Then I would print the “on hold” confirmation. This was my proof of onward travel. I can not garrantee it will work for anyone else however.
15. You are allowed to have two passports. It’s called a Limited Passport and it can be obtained in the US in a few weeks, and is valid for 2 years. A second is helpful when traveling within the Middle East, if you need to leave one passport at an embassy for a few days while waiting for a visa, or if you are going to more countries than pages in your passport. If you do run out of pages however, you can also have more added at a US embassy and takes about a day.
Travel Tip for Couples
1. Every so often stay at a “nice” hotel. Sleeping in hostels every night can burn you out. So on an extended journey, staying at a nice hotel every once in awhile can make all the difference. We try to stay at a Hilton one night every 2 months or so. This makes us feel very refreshed, recharged, helps us feel “normal” again, and lets us take advantage of a hot shower, comfortable bed, and all the other hotel amenities. Trust us. It will make you very happy. (Note: Save you hotel or credit card points to use towards a free night stay. Also, some airline miles can be redeemed for hotels, rental cars, etc for less than you think. You may even be able to pay half of the cost with miles and the rest with cash.)
2. Remember there are TWO of you. This might go without saying, but can not be over emphasized. When one person wants to do an activity or see a sight, then the other gets to choose one they want to do. This is only fair. And be kind and considerate towards the other person if they are stressed, tired, sick, upset, no matter what the circumstance. The last thing you need is a blow out in the middle of you trip. Remember, you’re on this trip to share the experience, be open minded, and enjoy the moment. This also means not sweating the small stuff!
3. Each carry a personal document of the other. You are allowed to have 2 passports, mainly due to Israel. If you obtain an additional passport, remember to enter and exit a country with that particular one. For protection from theft, each person carry the addition passport of the other. That way if you get robbed, you still have a passport.
4. It is fine to spend some time apart. Since you will be with someone for 24-7, it is perfectly acceptable to spend a few hours or a day apart. How frequently you do this depends on you- it can be every few days or every few weeks. But this will keep you grounded, and from getting tired of each other. For us personally, doing this depends on where you are. There are some areas we don’t want to be wandering around alone, but there are times for example, when one of us has to do school work or is in bed sick, when the other can take opportunity of this to walk around a city or go to a museum. And when you are apart, you will wish the other person was there. Trust me.
Helpful Travel Links
1. Seat61.com - This is one of the best transportation websites. It has information regarding transportation by train, bus, and ferry in countries over Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Australia, and the Americas.
3. Kayak.com – The best site to find airfare.
4. Volunteersouthamerica.net – If you are traveling to Central and/or South America, this site has many volunteer projects listed. It was from this site that we found our project in Costa Rica.
5. Travelfish.org – This is a very helpful site for Southeast Asia. It has information on visas, border crossings, transportation, weather, and getting around.