Here’s another straight-forward list that for the seasoned traveller will bring a “Duh” to mind, but for the road virgins, should prove helpful (as I catch myself repeating this time and time again to friends of friends planning their first backpacking trip).
Don’t wait until the last second for this. I have absolutely no clue what the process is for countries other than Canada (and we’re pretty lucky, it’s pretty fast) and Laos (tried to help my friend Ken but it was reaaaally complicated).
If you already have one, double-check the expiry date and how many pages you have remaining. Some countries like Cambodia, China, Laos and Vietnam have a huge visa sticker that takes a whole page, so plan accordingly. It’s always possible to get new pages or a whole new passport at an embassy while away, but it’s just simpler to do this from home.
For this trip, my passport was not expired but I had about 3 pages left (thanks to multiple visa runs between Cambodia and Laos) so I had to go to the office and make a special request to renew my passport early. Basically I had to beg during 2 pages worth of text. It worked.
Double-check what vaccines you need to get. They vary from regions. Your local “traveller clinic” can help you with that. For Montréal people, I went to La Clinique du Voyageur and I really liked the service. You need to make an appointment.
You don’t need all the vaccines they are trying to sell you. Ask for the essentials and hold your ground. I skipped the rabies shot – saving a couple hundreds – and other things like that.
Also, malaria pills are really hard on the body. Out of all the people I’ve met, only one person could stomach them. I bought $200 worth of them on my first trip and only used them for 3 days. Stomach cramps, wild dreams, sweats, and shitting a black mud for days (meaning there’s blood in my poop) convinced me to take my chances with mosquitos.
3- Plane ticket prices
You can save a lot just by booking during the rainy or off season. You’ll pay an exorbitant price during their holidays, as everyone living overseas is trying to get back home.
You also save quite a lot of money if you buy a few months in advance, so it’s a good idea to start looking into this right now.
If you’re going for the long run, I would suggest you book a ticket during the rainy season and wait out the bad weather in your arrival city, getting used to the food, culture and budget. It’s also easier to meet locals since it’s quieter and they’re not on a short fuse from dealing with demanding and arrogant travellers all day and night!
I don’t really have a budget, to be honest. I try to stay under $1000 a month, or under $20 a day for food and shelter (I spent a total of $600 in Cambodia by staying at certain spots for way too long). If I went crazy the night before, I’ll have a quiet day of walking around and reading books in coffee shops the day after. I’ve seen people with excel sheets to balance their budget and I know it’s a big advantage, especially if you’re aiming at being a nomad for 3 years like my friend Emily from Home Behind – The World Ahead.
Look at your total funds for your trip versus how long you plan on being gone. Call your credit card company and warn them that you’re going travelling – you don’t want your card to be blocked while away, it’s fucking annoying to get it unblocked with the time difference – and ask them if they’re willing to increase your limit if you want.
I already mentioned that you should look at price ranges for plane tickets. If you absolutely do not feel like spending time in a monsoon, I strongly suggest checking out weather patterns for your target countries. I got some of the wet season while I was in the Philippines where most islands’ airports landings and take-off work by sight, so a 3-hour flight was cancelled and my journey turned into a 3-day marathon of 8-hour buses and overnight ferry rides. I’m actually happy this happened, because it was very interesting.
A lot of the returning travellers of Don Det, Laos, prefer to go to that paradise island during the wet season as there are practically no tourists, so you’re free to mingle and get drunk with the locals all day.
6- Make your own “10 things” list
I’m a big advocate of under-preparing, but you should still prepare a list of 10 things you absolutely don’t want to miss, and how to get to these things. I loooove to get the biggest culture shock and a challenge so I always try to go travelling with little to no preparation, but I ended up missing out on some epic stuff because of that.
Don’t listen to your super laid back, blond dreadlocks sporting friend who never seems to have a shirt on. “Yeah dude, you’ll be fine, just go!”
You won’t “be fine”. You’ll be stuck at the airport for hours, in some cases even returned home at your own costs, or having to pay major “fees” (read, bribes) to the local officers so they can sort your lazy ass out. A lot of countries do not let you in for free and don’t offer visas on arrival. Do your homework, and check out which countries are more strict, or else you might end up spending a few more days in the country you were planning on leaving to deal with the next stop’s embassy – destroying your budget.
8- Pack your bag a few times
Yes, practice packing your bag in advance. Go for a walk with it. You’ll get a feel of the weight distribution and you’ll see if you really do need all that crap you plan on bringing with you. Don’t forget, you’ll be buying sweet tank tops and souvenirs on your journey, so you should leave with a good 1/3 of your bag free.
9- Seek advice from others
You probably know a few travellers. Get their advice. Ask them for tips, they’ll be happy to share! I think it’s much better than looking for hours on the internet (yes, I think it’s better than this list). Don’t, I repeat, do not send them a message like this: “Hey I’m eventually planning to go on a backpacking trip around the world, so tell me what I should do and where to go and what vaccines I need and how visas work”.
I’ve actually received this exact message. Not one please, not one thank you. I’m happy to offer advice on avoiding tourist traps or tell you which hostels to avoid, but I’m not your personal travel agent! Be respectful.
Do your homework. Read up on vaccines and visas because that may have changed since the last time your friend went on a trip. For the rest, they’ll be happy to help you – travellers love to talk about where they’ve been.
10- Get drunk with your friends
You might not see them or even talk to them for a very long time. Have a good send-off!
I hope this will help a few people!