Step by Step Guide to Sorting Out Visas

Sorting out Visas

The process of getting a visa can be relatively stressful. It largely depends on where you’re from, where you’re going and for how long. Here we’ll try and simplify the whole process for you as it can be quite daunting if you’ve not done much travelling.

visa for egypt


STEP 1: Check if you need a Visa

You can use our visa check tool to quickly check if you need a visa for any country. You can also book there in many cases and it’s good if you are in a rush to get it sorted but may be a little more expensive. Alternatively you can do it through the embassy of the country you wish to visit (in your own country). It depends where you’re from and how long you’re planning to stay but for UK/EU citizens it’s amazing how many countries you can visit without any need for a visa.

Contact details for embassies in UK

Contact details for embassies in Germany

Contact details for embassies in USA


Contact details for embassies in Australia


Contact details for embassies in Canada

Your country’s foreign office website (UK Foreign Office page) should also be of some use although you may be left with the distinct impression they don’t want you going anywhere such is the excessive nature of the travel warnings.

A Few Other things to Consider:

1) Make sure you’re passport isn’t in danger of expiring before you leave home (they normally last 10 years). You don’t want to end up like Tom Hanks in The Terminal or living in a desolate part of Russia like Edward Snowden. (Okay this is unlikely but lost passports and especially expired ones are a huge pain to sort out when you’re abroad.)

2) Also if you’re extremely well travelled you may find out you’re running out of blank pages in your passport. If you run out then you will also need a brand spanking new one!

3) Make sure you have several recent passport-sizes photos and take them on your trip with you. These are almost necessary when applying for visas.


STEP 2: Getting Visas

visa on arrival nonsense

A few pointers:

1) Some countries only grant visas through their official embassies or consulates. Others outsource to private companies to issue visas. Make sure these companies are reputable before handing any money over. Check travel forums and contact reliable sources in the travel industry if you’re at all in doubt.

2) Nowadays you can often get visas on arrival (i.e. when you land or reach the border). Sometimes you need to fill in some kind of online form beforehand while other times you can just turn up and fill out forms and pay fees at the entrance to the country. Queues can sometimes be long (see above!).

3) If you’re doing a backpacking trip across multiple countries it is also almost always possible to get a visa in neighbouring countries (e.g. you can get Myanmar visas at the Myanmar Embassy in Thailand). It’s normally cheaper to do it this way and allows more flexibility so if you’re planning being away for a while you probably don’t need to get all required visas before you leave home.

4) Visa applications for some countries can take a long time to process. For example Russian visas take several weeks to come through. Therefore make sure you allow yourself enough time to do this. If you want to visit China then apply at least a week before you wish to visit. You can get Chinese visas in neighbouring countries (including Hong Kong which most nationalities can visit visa free).

5) Before your trip, research not only the visa requirements but also the granted length of stay for each of the countries you think you might visit. This will help you plan more effectively. Typically travellers are granted anything from 30 to 180 days on arrival in a country.


STEP 3: Once You’ve Made it In

cambodia border crossin

Whether or not you required a visa to enter a country there are several fairly simple things you need to remember once you are there:

1) You can potentially get in trouble (and will at least be fined) if you stay longer than your allotted allowed time so be careful not to overstay. Whenever you arrive in a new country find out how long you have. This info should be clearly written on the stamp in your passport.

2) If you intend to spend several months in one country which only grants shorter stays then consider doing a border run. Even if you only spend ten minutes in the neighbouring country you will be granted a fresh amount of time on your return.

3) Hold onto to your immigration and emigration forms or any other paperwork you’re issued with on arrival. Losing them in some places can result in a lot of hassle when you eventually want to leave the country and potentially result in you missing transfers or getting fined.

4) Having a tourist visa doesn’t give you the right to work in a country. That said it is often very easy to find cash-in-hand jobs or ones that reward you with food or accommodation instead of money.


That’s the end. God that was dull!

 


This article was published in October 2013.


Should you take a Guidebook on a Backpacking Trip?

Should you take a Guidebook on a Backpacking Trip?

This is actually a more important question than many people realise and your answer is likely to have a huge impact on the type of trip you end up having. For probably 90% of backpackers the answer is Yes. Not only do they take them, many travellers turn their guidebook into some kind of mythical piece of literature (their Bible) and basically their whole trip is formed by the contents of it. For the other 10% (the hardcore lot), the sheer mention of the words ‘Lonely Planet’ instigates peculiar feelings of anger and contempt for anyone who thought it necessary to bring a guidebook.

lonely planet shoestring guide

The truth is there are many different types of traveller and many different approaches you can take when you head off travelling. Your decision on whether to take a guidebook depends on what kind of trip you want to have.


Think about taking a guidebook if…

You are travelling on a really tight budget.

A good shoestring guide provides you with plenty of suggestions for places to eat, drink and sleep that won’t break your budget.

You are visiting countries that aren’t typical backpacking destinations

In places popular with tourists there’s generally lots of information in English about things to do, places to see and getting around. On typical backpacker trails like the one in South East Asia, you’ll meet lots of travellers, share ideas and chances are most of them will have a guidebook you can borrow if you’re desperate. If you’re going to Kazakhstan that won’t be the case so a guidebook might be useful.

It’s your first-time travelling and you’re a bit nervous

A guidebook is a bit like a safety net that will help you out if things go tits up. First-time backpackers almost always take one, just try not to fall into the trap of using it at every mundane opportunity as you’ll miss out on many of the unexpected thrills of travel.


Which Travel Guidebooks are best?

girl reading on beach

Lonely Planet Shoestring Guides

These are handy for anyone travelling on a really tight budget and by far the most popular amongst backpackers. Lonely Planet offer regional shoestring guides for four regions which are very handy if you’re looking to get by on a tight budget. The only unfortunate irony is that although they are ‘budget guides’ they are often very expensive to buy.

Other Options

Most travellers seem to consider Lonely Planet to have the best guidebooks for backpacking. However others find their guides a bit bland and predictable. Some others to consider include:

Rough Guides

Frommer’s

Moon

E-Books

Most of the above guidebooks are available in electronic format if you prefer. Other E-travel guides that you may like include:

Funky Guides – That’s Us!

Lets Go – Student Travel guides for various world destinations.

In your Pocket – Excellent pdf city guides for Europe.

Problems to consider with getting e-books as opposed to paperback ones include the possibility of your chosen electronic device getting damaged, stolen or lost which isn’t at all uncommon when you’re travelling.

Secondly the time you need your guide most is arriving in a new town and looking for somewhere to stay. Batteries have a nasty habit of dying just as you arrive somewhere new especially if you have been listening to music or reading throughout the journey in.


Don’t take a guidebook if…

You want to interact more with locals than other travellers.

It is bizarre how many backpackers travel half-way across the world to visit countries with vastly different cultures only to spend 99% of their time with people who basically come from a very similar background to their own. Not bringing a guidebook will help stop you falling into this trap and you will end up inevitably interacting more with locals.

You want a truly unique experience.

Backpackers in South East Asia and Latin America typically visit the same places, stay in the same hostels, get drunk in the same bars and have sex with each other. Why? Because that’s what their guidebook advised them too (okay maybe not the last one but it’s an inevitable result of the first three). Sure all of this can be great fun but it’s not really much of a personal adventure when everyone else is doing the same thing. Ditch the guidebook and the trip becomes yours.


This article was published in October 2013.


What to Pack for a Backpacking Trip

What to Pack for a Backpacking Trip

What to Pack for backpackingHeading off travelling or backpacking for the first time? Unsure of what to pack? Well as a rule of thumb most people pack way too much. While it is tempting to pile in everything you think you might need and all your favourite items, you will soon regret it once you’re rushing around in the sweltering heat of some far-off destination trying to find somewhere to stay, not to mention crowded train and bus journeys with luggage racks that aren’t quite big enough for your beast of a backpack.

This backpacking checklist should help you decide what to pack and what to leave at home.

Points to Remember When Packing for your Trip

1) There are shops in every town in every country in the world. They sell pretty much the same stuff as shops back home, often much cheaper. If you forget something you can always buy it when you’re abroad and if you’re unsure as to whether you’re going to need it then it’s probably best to leave it at home. It’s better to pack too little than too much.

2) Leave a bit of space in your backpack as you will no doubt find some exciting gifts or other delights that you want to buy while you’re travelling and you don’t want to be throwing stuff away just because you packed too much.

3) Obvious but consider the weather of the places you’re going. Even if you’re just visiting hot sunny countries, it’s a good idea to pack at least one set of warm clothes. Nights can be chilly in many hot countries and even if you have a planned itinerary it will almost certainly change.

4) There are laundry facilities everywhere, sometimes for free in your hostel.

5) US Dollars are accepted in many countries, so even if you’re not from the states having $40 or so stashed away somewhere is useful for emergencies and you are often charged a small fee in US dollars at border points. ATM’s aren’t as easy to find abroad but all major towns should have at least one.

6) You will almost certainly lose things while you are travelling and if you are unlucky you may have some belongings stolen. Don’t bring anything you really couldn’t bear to lose and try to keep valuables to a minimum otherwise you are increasing your chances of being the victim of theft (remember that other travellers can steal too). Bring a padlock and use lockers in hostels whenever possible.

Read our Hostels Guide if you’re not sure what to expect.

Backpacking Checklist

Essentials

backpack– a decent backpack is important. Shop around and choose one that is comfortable, strong but not too heavy. One with a waterproof cover that you can pull out if needs be is a major bonus as rains can be torrential in many places.

money– always helps, a debit card plus some cash is a good starting point. You can get some local currency before you go or when you arrive at your destination.

documents– passport, photocopy of passport, record of any vaccinations you’ve had, few passport sized photos, any visas you need in advance, any ISIC/youth cards you may have.

daytime wear– pack for maybe a week’s worth of clothes, you can always do laundry and you’ll get used to wearing dirty clothes very quickly.

evening wear– one slightly smarter outfit isn’t a bad idea but most popular backpacker nightspots are fairly casual affairs. T-shirts, shorts, dresses etc that can double up as daytime/evening come in handy and save room in your backpack.

location-specific wear– well if you’re planning on spending most of your time on the beach then pack a couple of items of swimwear. Going somewhere wet?? waterproofs…Going to cold places then take a warm coat and warm clothes (use your common sense people!) If you’re going to hot countries first and then considering somewhere cooler then you may as well wait till you get there and buy what you need otherwise you’ll be shipping around unnecessary clothes for several months.

underwear– doesn’t take up much room in your backpack, ankle length socks are good, and socks do seem to go missing very quickly so pack plenty. Clean underwear may be of little or great importance to you so pack with this in mind. (guys you can always turn underpants inside out if they start to smell bad :-))

shoes– lightweight flip-flops, one pair for evening and pair of trainers/hiking boots if you intend to do anything remotely active.

towel– some places will give you a towel but not all so it’s useful to have one for your showering needs and another that you don’t mind getting messy.

toiletries– take bare essentials, don’t pack for a year of travelling, you can buy replacements easy enough.

first aid– plasters, diarrhea pills, paracetamol, malaria tablets (if needed)

contraception– seriously trying to find condoms in a country where you don’t speak the lingo isn’t much fun.

lock– important, take a small lock for lockers in dorms as they aren’t always provided and thefts do happen in hostels.

mp3 player (& charger)– lifesaver on long journeys.

camera– chances are you’ll want some record of these travelling times so take a camera but take good care of it.

adaptor– worldwide adaptors are a sound investment. There is about 4 or 5 different major socket types in the world.

common sense & an open mind– most important of all. The world is nowhere near as dangerous as your parents, your government or the media would like to make out. That said if you leave your basic common sense at home, then you could run into problems. Trust your instincts and don’t take unnecessary risks. Some places can be dangerous so do your research but there are many so called ‘third world’ countries that are actually considerably safer than their first world counterparts. Violent crimes against foreigners are extremely rare in most popular backpacking countries. Petty theft is more common especially at night in bigger cities in South America for example, so only have on you what you need. Bring an open mind and you’ll most likely have a fantastic time!

Optional

guidebook– a guidebook can be very useful but also takes something away from the randomness and excitement of travel. Almost everyone seems to have a shoestring guide which does come in handy if you’re on a tight budget but believe it or not it is possible to travel without a copy of the latest Lonely Planet.

laptop/netbook– don’t take anything heavier than a lightweight netbook. There are internet cafes everywhere and most hostels have internet/wifi so it’s easy enough to keep in touch with people back home.

mobile phone– not really necessary, especially now in the internet age of facebook, skype etc.. if you do take your phone then an international or local sim will help avoid a nasty phonebill.

Where to Shop?

It is worth shopping around a bit untill you find a good backpack. It is important it is the right size for your needs, not so heavy that you can’t carry it but sturdy enough so it’s not going to fall to pieces a week into your trip. You can find good quality backpacks and a huge variety of travel items on the web but it’s useful to see how it feels first before buying it. If it’s not comfortable empty then chances are it won’t be when it is full!

Read more tips for first-time travellers.


This page was last updated in February 2015.


Vaccinations for a Backpacking Trip

Vaccinations for a Backpacking Trip

NOTE – This page hasn’t been updated since 2013. Some changes may have taken place since it was written.

The issue of what vaccinations you need before a backpacking trip is something that seems to divide opinion even amongst medical professionals.

yellow feverObviously what vaccinations you need are dependent on where you are going and it’s worth going to your local doctor surgery at least a month before you travel to enquire about which vaccinations they think you need. It is certainly worth taking the strongly recommended ones as there are many serious diseases out there that you don’t want to catch.

They may also try and encourage you to have several other vaccinations which are often not totally necessary so this is where you are in a bit of a grey area and it comes more down to personal judgement. We are not medical professionals so we cannot say you should or shouldn’t get this but we can give you a fair indication as to what vaccinations travellers tend to opt for.

These are some of the most common diseases travellers get vaccinated or take precautions against ahead of a backpacking trip: (You may well find you are already protected against some of them from vaccinations you had when you were younger)

For visits to developing countries, backpackers tend to always get vaccinated against the following two diseases:

Hepatitis A-
This is a liver infection that can occur by eating food or drinking water that has become contaminated by infected people. It is pretty common in countries where hygiene is not all it should be. You normally receive one injection and then a booster dose 6 or 12 months later and you will be protected for 10 years.

Typhoid- You can take pills for this instead but if you’re going on a long trip and aren’t freaked out by needles you may as well get the single jab which protects you for 3 years. The disease is potentially life threatening and most common in Southern Asia. It is also normally passed on through food/water supply so is a major risk in many developing countries.

(Visit your doctors surgery at least 2 weeks before travelling to get your Typhoid and Hep A vaccinations.)

Other diseases to contend with that you may require jabs for depend on the countries you plan to visit, the total length of your trip and the nature of the it (e.g. if you’re planning multi-day treks into the jungle where you’ll be more than 24 hours from a medical facility you are likely to need more vaccinations).

Hepatitis B- This one is similar to Hep A but requires 3 doses and is caught in different ways such as through infected needles, by having sex or coming into contact with the blood of an infected person. It is sometimes recommended if you are planning a long trip (over 3 months) in an area where Hep B is prevalent. It is worth visiting your doctor over a month before your trip to see if they reckon you’ll be needing it. This is because the course of jabs is spread over 3 weeks.

Yellow Fever- This is a viral infection that is passed onto humans via certain types of mosquitoes. The only infected countries are in South America and Africa. If you are planning to visit a country with a yellow fever problem you should get vaccinated. You may even be required to show a certificate of vaccination if you are arriving in a new country from an infected area. One jab will provide you with 10 years of cover but you will almost certainly have to pay for it.

Map of Yellow Fever infected area

Diphtheria- This is an often fatal respiratory infection and is common in Western Europe as well as less developed regions. You would probably have been vaccinated against this as an infant but may require another jab because they only cover you for 10 years.

Rabies-
People catch rabies normally by being bitten by an infected dog or bat and it is still a deadly disease even occasionally in the United States. You may well be encouraged to have this course of jabs, but most travellers tend not to bother. What is crucially important ( whether you have or haven’t had the jab) is that if you are bitten by an animal on your travels you seek immediate first aid. Having the vaccination will mean if you are bitten, you will have slightly more time to seek first aid and the post-bite treatment should be quicker. If you envisage yourself ever being over 24 hours travel from a doctor/hospital then you may want to consider this but most backpackers don’t get the rabies jab.

Japanese Encephalitis- A viral disease that is also the result of those blooming mosquitoes. It normally results in nothing more than mild flu-like problems however very occasionally it can lead to serious brain damage. The disease is only really prevalent during certain times of the year in parts of Asia. You may be advised to have the vaccination if you are travelling for more than a month in a badly affected area.

Malaria- This disease which starts with fever like symptoms is one of the leading causes of death in the world causing around 2 million fatalities (mostly Africans who cannot afford treatment) each year. You can catch malaria by being bitten by certain types of mosquitoes in tropical areas. There are several different pills you can take to help lower the risk of catching the disease. It is important to speak to a health professional before making your choice as not all malaria tablets work in all parts of the world (resistance has built up in some areas making certain pills ineffective). You can also use mosquito nets and repellents to help protect you and they are still advisable even if you’re taking pills. It can take up to a year before you start getting symptoms so if you get ill once you return home, it is important to mention to your doctors that you have recently visited malaria infected regions. There is no vaccination against Malaria.

malaria map of the world

Remember– Although most vaccinations are very effective, few guarantee you total immunity from the diseases. Common sense precautions you should bear in mind on your travels include:

Avoid touching stray animals.

Always practice safe sex, use condoms.

Don’t drink tap water unless you know for sure it’s okay to drink.

Take precautions against mosquito bites.

Seek medical advice if you are worried you may have become infected with any of these diseases.

We should also point out that although the list of dangerous tropical diseases may seem endless, very few travellers get seriously ill and they shouldn’t put you off visiting poor undeveloped countries.

Other useful resources on Travel Health/Vaccinations include:

netdoctor.co.uk


This page was last updated in June 2013.


Why you need Travel Insurance for Backpacking Trips

Getting Travel Insurance for your Backpacking Trip

guy jumps off cliff


Why you need Travel Insurance

There a lots of things that people tell you to get that you don’t really need for a backpacking trip. However travel insurance is something that you need to sort out before you even think about stepping on an aeroplane out of your homeland. Most of you probably are well aware of the reasons why but the foolhardy hardcore adventuring traveller who believes they can handle any conceivable situation that could occur while travelling may wish to read on.

There are many many things that can go wrong on a backpacking trip. You’ve probably heard numerous horror stories and if you haven’t your parents or grandparents sure have and will be quick to let you know about them once they hear you’re off gallivanting around some jungle on the other side the world. You shouldn’t let these stories put you off travelling as most problematic situations are avoidable with good common sense. That said you can just be unlucky and the peace of mind of having travel insurance means you don’t need to worry about things going wrong as help will be there if you need it.

Theft is one of the most common problems that travel insurance can help with. Clearly in many countries, foreigners are a symbol of wealth and an attractive target for thieves. In addition budget hostels are often not the safest places to leave your belongings lying around and in our experience other travellers can be the thieves as well as the victims. Imagine waking up to discover someone has legged it off with your backpack. It’s not a pleasant thought and is very unlikely but without travel insurance it would be a disaster of biblical proportions.

Illness is another factor that having good travel insurance can help with. You can fall ill at home, so obviously you can fall ill when you’re away and it’s often much more likely in unfamiliar countries and climates. This ridiculously obvious statement may be clear to you but what you might not realise is how much it costs to get decent healthcare in many countries. At home you might be able to stroll into the doctors or hospital and get free treatment. However in many undeveloped struggling third world countries (and the United States) you can actually be refused treatment if you don’t have the funds to pay for it. Clearly this isn’t a situation anyone would ever want to find themselves in and having an insurance company willing to foot the bill is a massive weight off your shoulders should you ever be unlucky enough to get ill on your travels.

On a similar theme independent travellers tend to have an appetite for adventurous and often dangerous sports and activities. ‘Health and Safety’ isn’t really a concept that seems to even exist in some countries so injuries are not uncommon if you’re into that sort of thing. Although most are relatively minor, the risk of infection is quite high so proper treatment is important. Backpackers also tend to have a thirst for alcohol which needless to say often doesn’t end so well and drunken injuries are common place.

In conclusion get some travel insurance, use basic common sense and enjoy your trip. In the unlikely event of anything going wrong you’re covered.

girls in bikini tubing in laos

Drunken Tubing in Laos. Possibly the best advert for travel insurance!


Best Companies for Backpacker Travel Insurance

There are a huge number of travel insurance companies out there but very few who specialise in travel insurance for backpacking trips. If you dig deep enough you can find travel insurance that won’t cost the earth and will cover you for all kinds of travel mishaps in all four corners of the world. Booking travel insurance is actually a relatively simple process and in a few clicks you can rest easy knowing that you are covered if anything should go wrong. We recommend a couple of companies that provide excellent travel insurance for backpackers.


1. World Nomads

They understand independent travellers much better than a lot of the bigger companies out there and provide excellent assistance should you need it. Their policies cover you for medical assistance and evacuation if you have an accident or fall ill abroad and extend to a range of adventure activities that many travel insurance companies steer well clear of covering.


2. Columbus Direct

They have won lots of awards for providing great travel insurance and receive excellent reviews with 95% of customers happy with their service. Again because they offer deals targeted towards backpackers and more adventurous travellers you are covered for a lot more activities than your regular holiday insurance provider gives.



This page was last updated in May 2015.


Funky Travel Blogs!

Funky Travel Blogs!

Backpacking Travel BlogFollow the adventures of a couple with a passion for travel.

Backpacking Guide

Breakaway BackpackerTake a Chance, take a risk, make a change & break away!

Limbinos

Mabi Travel – Follow Matt & his partner as they head to Southeast Asia for the first time!

Nomadic SamuelTravel tales and advice from a culture vulture in search of food & adventure.

OlivNTheCity While living the urban life in San Francisco, Olivia is traveling the world, taking risks, embarking on adventures, immersing herself in the culture, learning new languages, and meeting friends along the way.

One Step 4 Ward– Johnny Ward is a twenty-something Irish guy who has been working, studying, volunteering and studying abroad for over 5 years now. 50 countries in and with work experience in 5 countries he’s trying to spread the word about long-term travel, lifestyle design and the awesome opportunities associated with it!

Smiling Faces Travel Photos Happy travel photos and videos from around the world courtesy of Nomadic Samuel.

Sophie’s World

That BackpackerAudrey blogs about life in Korea and her travels around the world.

The Travelling Squid

WandersugarFollow the wanderings of Cherylene, an adrenaline junkie with a thirst for thrill and adventure.

Your World Your HomeFollow Eric’s travels across frozen tundra, into deep jungles, to mega cities, and small villages you will never find on maps.

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A Backpackers Guide to Staying in Youth Hostels

A Guide to Staying in Youth Hostels

dorm in mexico hostelIf you’re going travelling for a decent length of time and you don’t happen to be obscenely rich then chances are you’re basically going to be living in hostels for a while. You’ll get to know these places pretty well on your travels and chances are any preconceptions about youth hostels will be smashed fairly quickly. Here are some basics to help you on your way.

Useful Hostel Lingo

Dorms- A room with numerous normally bunk-beds that anyone can book into. This can range from anything from 2 to 20+ single beds in one room and you will obviously be sharing with travellers you don’t know unless you happen to be the only person/group that has booked in. Some dormitories are mixed, while some are male/female only. If you want the cheapest price ask to stay in the largest dorm.

Privates- A private room obviously means you will have you own room. The only thing to bear in mind here is you will normally have to pay for the number of beds in the room, for example if you travelling as a group of 3 and there are 4 beds in the room you will have to pay for the price of 4 people.

Shared Bathroom- Your dorm or private room will either be en-suite or shared bathroom. If it is the latter there will be at least one bathroom somewhere in the corridor which is for communal use.

Self-catering Facilities- A hostel with a shared kitchen is a big plus for anyone travelling on a tight budget because it enables you to cook your own food. It can also be used to store alcohol and is often the centre of social life in the hostel if it doesn’t have a bar or common area such as a TV room.

mexico hostel poolCommon Area- A room or section of the hostel that anyone can use. It may close at a certain time but is a good place to hang out and meet other travellers. Some hostels arrange parties for their guests while during the day you can do stuff like watch TV/DVD’s, read books, play cards or just chill.

Party Hostel-
Some hostels sell themselves as party hostels. This isn’t a place to get much sleep but if you want somewhere lively with an active social scene then they’re worth heading to. Expect to encounter lots of drunk people pretty much every night. Others will insist that they are not party hostels, which is likely to mean lights out and quiet in dorms for 11pm or thereabouts so they are decent places to get some kip but don’t expect to have much fun. Most hostels fall in between the two categories and it tends to depend on the number and type of people who are staying as to what the vibe is.

Curfew- In some places you will need to be back in the hostel by a certain time e.g. Midnight. After the set curfew, they will lock the doors and not have anyone on reception to let you in. Not many hostels have a curfew but it is worth checking when you book/arrive especially if you intend on going out to bars/clubs etc.

Internet available-
Most hostels have a computer with internet access and normally will also have wifi you can use (ask for the password on arrival).

Luggage Storage- Most hostels will store your luggage after you check out. This is useful if you have a late bus or train to catch and want to spend the day exploring the town. Sometimes there will be a charge for this service.

 

FAQ’s about staying in hostels

Where can I wash my clothes?

Most hostels will have some form of laundry facilities. Normally you hand your clothes in at reception, they are weighed and you will get quoted a price and told when they will be ready. Occasionally you may be able to do it yourself but you will almost always have to pay and it is often more than the going rate. If you’re in a popular backpacking town, it may be worth finding a launderette elsewhere which will probably do it cheaper. Alternatively you can always wash your clothes by hand in a sink but some places don’t like you doing this.

Aren’t hostels a bit dirty?

Like hotels, you get good and bad ones but most hostels are pretty clean and if they’re not then their ratings will plummet on hostel review sites. Just because you are paying less, it isn’t an excuse for a lack of basic hygiene. Of course on your travels you are likely to hear a few horror stories and will at some point end up staying somewhere a bit grimy. Remember you can always ask to see the room before committing to book in.

Do people have sex in dorms?

The traveller scene can be a bit crazy at times but having sex in dorms is generally speaking still frowned upon. If you want to have sex, there should be a few more discreet spots you can do it or alternatively get a private room for Christ’s sake!

Are hostels safe?

Good hostels will have lockers where you can store any valuables. Non residents are normally not allowed in but rules like this are difficult to enforce. As in all walks of life, some people steal from others so normal common sense applies. Look after your belongings, invest in a padlock and be wary of anyone acting suspiciously. Thefts are pretty rare but do unfortunately happen.

What sort of facilities are there?

hammocks in youth hostelA basic hostel normally has a mixture of dorms/private rooms, bathroom facilities, a reception area and either a kitchen or common area. Better ones may have other areas such as a bar, TV room, swimming pool, games room, terrace, laundry room etc. Some hostels have surprisingly good facilities yet still charge rock bottom prices. Some also may double up as a tour company or should at least have contacts allowing you to book tours/visits of nearby sights and will at the be able to provide you with decent local knowledge.

Some hostels will have DVD’s or playstation games you can use while book exchanges are also popular in hostels in some parts of the world where you can take out a book from the collection provided you replace it with one of your own. Some particularly groovy hostels have hammocks (RIGHT).

How much should I expect to pay per night?

This varies greatly depending on what part of the world you are in. You can get your own basic en-suite room for as little as US$2/night in some countries (e.g. Bolivia, Cambodia), however you can end up paying over US$30 just for a bed in a dorm in wealthy parts of the world like Western Europe and North America. Generally speaking no matter where you are, weekends are normally a bit more expensive and there tends to be a high season and a low season with different prices.

Do I need to book in advance?

Booking in advance is rarely necessary but does give you one less thing to worry about when you arrive somewhere. If you are travelling in the high season and hostels seem to be pretty much full everywhere then you might want to consider it. Most seasoned travellers do not book hostels in advance but it is a good idea to have a few places in mind before arriving somewhere. Booking.com is a very useful hostel booking site for when you want something concrete booked before arriving. It is recommended to book in advance during peak periods like festivals or holidays. Prices should in theory be cheaper by booking on arrival but this isn’t always the case.

Do I need bed linen?

No, hostels should always provide this and beds are normally already made when you arrive. You may need to return sheets to reception when you check-out.

Do I need a towel?

Yes, towels are very rarely provided in hostels.

I’m a solo female traveller, is it safe to stay in a dorm?

Yes, many girls travel alone and very rarely encounter any problems. Dorms are great places to meet people and make friends and most hostels will have female only dorms if you’re at all worried about sharing a room with some perverted dude.

Are Youth Hostels just for young people?

No is the simple answer to this question. The idea that youth hostels are just going to be full of teenaged gap year students couldn’t be further from the truth. Of all the people who you meet in hostels, probably less than 10% are under the age of 20. While most travellers are likely to be in their 20’s or early 30’s, there are hardly any hostels that actually enforce age restrictions and plenty of older travellers choose to stay in them too.

Is it easy to meet other travellers?

It depends on the hostel and who is staying there at the time but generally hostels are pretty sociable places and although a bit daunting at first it’s quite easy to make friends. Staying in dorms, hanging around in common areas and getting involved with organised events like bar crawls are very good ways to make new travel buddies.

Check out The 8 types of people you meet in Hostels for an idea of the sort of crowd that tends to reside in these places.

If you’re looking for an alternative to hostels then consider Airbnb, a booking platform where you can rent rooms or beds in local people’s homes. Read our Airbnb review.


This page was last updated in June 2012.


 

Getting from A to B on a Backpacking Trip

Getting from A to B on a Backpacking Trip

Once you’re on the road, every few days or so you’re looking for that next bus, train or boat to your next destination. For anyone on a long backpacking trip it can seem like an endless cycle of misinformation and hassle. Some countries are better than others but in places where you don’t speak the local lingo getting from A to B can be a hassle.

high speed train

It’s All Part of the Fun!

On your first backpacking trip, you may find yourself stressing out about the constant challenge of finding bus stations, booking tickets and surviving long journeys to unknown destinations. The best advice is to chill, keep smiling and accept that things might not always run smoothly. Take those lengthy delays and missed connections as all part of the travelling experience. Chances are you will look back upon these moments with some peculiar fondness in years to come.

That said with a bit of background research you can increase the likelihood of things going smoothly and at the very latest save a some money. The best and cheapest ways of getting around varies greatly between regions of the world. We cover some general tips for travelling cheaply here.

On this page we will provide some links to useful links for cheap travel companies and other sites that will help you gather information on prices and timetables.


All Regions

Seat61 is the best site we’ve found for information on train travel with train times, prices and info on rail travel all over the world. It also has ferry times and some information on bus travel where there are no train lines.


Europe

Bahn.com has timetables for practically every train in Europe. It’s probably not much use for booking tickets but it is a reliable source for information. The Trainline is pretty good also if your travelling in Britain.

In Europe you can book train tickets and passes via Rail Europe. If you are under 26, you are classed as a youth and can get discounted fares. Instead of buying individual tickets, consider getting an Interrail pass. Country passes can be purchased or you can get a Global Pass for travel across all 28 countries in the interrail region.
Even if you’re only planning two or three journeys it is often much cheaper to buy a rail pass than it is for individual tickets.

For coaches see Eurolines.They also have Europe-wide passes similar to the rail ones. For domestic travel each country either has a national carrier or various different coach lines serving separate routes.


North America

greyhound coaches

In the USA and Canada, Greyhound is the place to go for coaches and Amtrak for trains. Because of the large distances involved you might want to book flights instead though. Generally speaking train travel isn’t as popular as it is in Europe. Most Americans get around by coach or car. Another option if you’re doing a big trip here is to rent a car or buy a cheap van/car and do a US road trip.


Latin America

Trains are almost non-existent in Latin America so the only real option is to get by by coaches and buses. There’s no real major international company that has a monopoly on things like Greyhound in the US. Even within countries there can often be dozens of different companies handling different routes. Your best option is just to chicken busturn up at the local bus station and buy a ticket to your destination. Check times with your hostel but bus departures are typically very regular and you hardly ever need to book in advance.

In much of South America coaches are often of a fairly high standard as they are used for very long journeys. The same can’t be said for the driving which is often fairly reckless!

In Central America things are a bit less organised and it’s a case of getting on a bus going in the right direction and telling them where you want to get to in the end. They will help you to get off at the right point for a transfer. There are some decent standard coaches but the ‘Chicken Buses’ (right) are ideal for anyone on a shoestring budget.


Other Regions

In most parts of Asia and Africa it’s better to book transport at the station/port itself either on the day or a few days before travel. Online Information isn’t always plentiful but by talking to other travellers and staff in your hostel you can normally find out what you need to now.

In Australia, coaches are also run by Greyhound and you can get special hop on, hop off backpacker passes.

In India, the train network is very extensive and getting around the country by rail is an incredible experience. Indian Railways provide timetables and an online booking service.

Indian train network

 


This article was published in October 2013.


How to find Backpacker Accommodation

How to find Backpacker Accommodation

There are several strategies you can employ to find the best budget accommodation and there’s something to be said for each of them. In this section we look at the pros and cons of four of the best ways to go about your hunt for a cheap nights sleep.

dorm in hostel


1) Use a Hostel Booking Site

Booking a bed online is very simple and you often only pay a small deposit with the rest to be paid to the hostel on arrival/departure. There a few hostel booking sites out there and we use booking.com the most these days as they tend to be the cheapest and have a large selection of hostels and budget hotels in almost every country in the world. There are also may properties with a free cancellation policy, which you don’t get on other sites and that is really handy for backpackers whose plans and dates are always likely to change.

Even in medium sized towns and cities there can be hundreds of different options when it comes to finding accommodation. A good idea is to use trivago which compares prices across different booking sites. Hotels sometimes have special offers on allowing you to enjoy a little bit more luxury for a comparable price to that of a bed in a hostel. As with most things shopping around generally results in you getting the best deal to suit your needs and preferences.

If you’re looking for an alternative to hostels and hotels then consider Airbnb, a booking platform where you can rent rooms or beds in local people’s homes. Read our Airbnb review.

Advantages: Peace of mind that you have somewhere to stay when you arrive in a new place. It also gives you the chance to read reviews of other travellers and compare the competition before deciding where you stay. Often prices are actually cheaper booking online than they are arriving in-person at the hostel.

Disadvantages: It can be a pain to be constantly booking hostels if you’re moving to a new place every other day. In poorer countries most of the budget accommodation options don’t have an online booking facility.

Where does it work best? Europe, Oceania and in big cities all over the world. It’s a good idea to book in advance if it’s a large city and you know there isn’t a single area where most of the budget accommodation is located (like Khao San Road in Bangkok) that you can just head to. Also during peak and holiday periods this is your best bet.


2) Use a Budget Travel Guidebook

Most decent shoestring guides come with at least a few budget accommodation options for each town, brief descriptions and likely prices. That said good informative guidebooks targeted specifically at budget travellers aren’t plentiful and don’t extend much past the Lonely Planet Shoestring Guides. They are pretty reliable provided you buy the latest edition. Although fairly expensive, they represent a sound investment for anyone on a backpacking trip of a month or longer and will save you money in the long run.

If you’re not a fan of Lonely Planet then Rough Guides provide a decent alternative.

Advantages: There’s no hassle in terms of booking accommodation all the time and you can just rock up in a new town and select one of the the options in your book. Most guides also include maps so you can often get to your hostel on foot rather than paying for a taxi.

Disadvantages: Unless you have a very upto-date guide then you can hawl yourself and your backpack half-way across a city only to find the ‘best hostel in town’ no longer exists. You can also fall into the trap of blindly following your guidebook which isn’t really what travelling is about. Many travellers follow this strategy and will probably have the same guidebook so the recommended ones will fill up quickly.

Where does it work Best? Advisable in poorer countries (where internet-use isn’t as widespread) and those that don’t have a huge backpacking scene. In places like Southeast Asia, Africa and most of Latin America it’s certainly better to go down this route rather than booking online as most budget accommodation choices aren’t listed on booking sites.

See Should you take a Guidebook? for more Pro’s and Con’s.


3) Just go with the Flow

Those who view travel as an adventure prefer this approach! Where you stay will depend on the people you meet and your own judgments rather than the opinions of a poncy travel-guide writer who visited the town for 48 hours several years ago.

Advantages: You can suss out and get a feel for the town before making any decisions and can pick somewhere that takes your fancy rather than someone else’s.

Disadvantages: Rocking up without anything sorted or any plans can leave you searching the town for a cheap bed if you arrive at a busy time. Generally this is also the most expensive approach unless you’re very good at bargaining and have a good grasp of the local language.

Where does it work best? Areas very popular with travellers where accommodation is plentiful such as the Thai islands (except during Full Moon parties when advanced booking is sensible). You will also benefit from this approach in cities such as Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh City that have a well-known backpacker district and during the off-season you can sometimes secure special deals as they’re desperate for custom.

khao san road

Pic: Khao San Road in Bangkok is an example of a backpacker ghetto. Just turn up here and you’ll have no problem finding a cheap room.


4) Couchsurfing

Couchsurfing is an excellent way to save money on travel. Many travellers swear by it, many more are too scared to try it. Give it a go and you might just catch the bug!

Advantages: It’s free and you get to actually meet and spend time with a local person as opposed to sharing a dorm with the repetitive hordes of drunk backpackers. If you strike it lucky and get a nice host whose not only willing to let you stay but show you around their town then couchsurfing can be fantastic experience.

Disadvantages: It’s a bit hit-and-miss. Finding hosts at short-notice is often difficult and arrangements can fall through. You also need to build-up a positive reputation before hosts are likely to let you stay. Homes tend to be in residential areas (obviously!) so you’ll normally have to travel if you want to see the more interesting districts.

Where does it work best? Just about anywhere such is the size of the global couchsurfing community but it’s most effective in wealthier parts of the world. Big cities in Europe or North America have the most active couchsurfing scenes but there are plenty of potential hosts in the most unlikely of places these days. In regions like Scandinavia, Western Europe and North America where you can sometimes pay $30+ a night just for a bed in a sweaty dorm then you’d be a fool not to consider this.



In Conclusion….

There are times when you will benefit from each of the above strategies. Using them at the right moment will help cut down on the cost of accommodation.

If you’re a first-time backpacker then a combination of making online hostel bookings and carrying a guidebook (1 & 2) is the safest option and will ease you into the travelling lifestyle.

As you become more experienced and more confident on the road then chances are you’ll adopt more of a ‘go with the flow’ approach and once you’ve got sick of the hostel crowd then you might fancy doing a bit of couchsurfing (3 & 4).


 


This page was last updated in August 2015.


Getting from A to B on a Budget

Getting from A to B on the Cheap

Intro | Sleeping | Eating/Drinking | Transport

Backpacking can seem like a never-ending journey at times and in many ways it is. However your voyage of self-discovery (or whatever you want to call it) is in reality only possible by making many different journeys over the course of your trip. How you get around is all part of the fun and will inevitably lead to some memorable moments.


Hitchhike- FREE minus the Cost of Making a Shabby Cardboard Sign

Hitchhiking is the most obvious way to get a free lift. Sometimes you may be expected to contribute to petrol fees, but often drivers will just be grateful for the company on long and boring journeys. It’s normally safe but there a few nutters around in every corner of the globe so do take care, especially if you’re a girl travelling alone. On the positive side, solo female travellers will get loads more people (men) stop so you won’t have to spend all day waiting for someone.

Hitchhiking is in fact probably best done alone, as not many people will want to collect a big group or even just two dudes. Common sense is a big factor here and just because you’re abroad it doesn’t mean you should leave your hopefully rational brain at home. If someone stops and they seem a bit dodgy don’t get in!

Good countries for hitchhiking include most areas in North and Central America. In South America, Chile and Ecuador are good bets, but in regions of Colombia for example it’s not really sensible to hitchhike given that kidnappers and armed gangs are still found.

Romania and Turkey are perhaps the best places in Europe to hitchhike, but generally speaking it’s not as common in Europe as in North America. In Australia and New Zealand you may have to wait a while for a lift but it’s definitely a great way to cover the huge distances.

The vastly different culture in parts of Asia, means different customs can apply when hitching a lift so check before you travel but certainly don’t let it put you off. Many Asians are fascinated by Western culture and will happily pick you up and go out of their way to ensure you reach your destination.


Any other ways to Travel for Free?

Boat in BangkokAside from hitchhiking it’s really hard to find free means of transport. One option is to get a job that involves travelling (e.g. cruiseship work) but that’s probably harder than it sounds and why work when you could be having fun.

Cycling is one possibility and is certainly growing in popularity amongst travellers. It’s a great way to travel for free, keep fit and see new places. Given the speed of public transport in some countries you stand a good chance of beating the bus anyway, just make sure the roads are remotely decent all the way before setting off. If you don’t want to take your own bike halfway across the world, renting or buying is normally cheap and easy.

You could also try some rich person to let you ride around on their yacht or maybe even become a pirate? (okay we’ve ran out of ideas for free transport)

Travel like a local NOT a tourist!

Fortunately public transport is very cheap in a lot of backpacking hotspots, if not always entirely comfortable but it’s all part of the experience. 1 hours travel often works out at less than $1 by bus or train, so unless you’re completely skint you can still travel great distances and see many different countries without being blessed with great riches.

With the exception of Europe which has plenty of very cheap airlines, travelling by bus, rail or even ferry is almost always cheaper than flying. You also get to see much more of the country this way as you watch locals go about their daily lives as you pass through random towns and villages. At times journeys can be long and boring in hot and cramped conditions (or ridiculously cold air conditioning) but there is a weird sense of satisfaction when looking at a map and seeing how far you’ve travelled overland.

Vietnam TrainTravelling by bus and rail is really cheap in South East Asia. Highly recommended is the reunification express train in Vietnam which runs from Hanoi in the north to Ho Chi Minh City in the south. There are many places to stop on the way and the whole trip will only come to around $30 even making several separate journeys.

You can travel across the whole of Cambodia for the cost of extra value meal at McDonalds. Thailand is equally cheap and the conditions on buses and trains are of a higher standard. Egypt is another country with fantastic cheap trains, travel the 200km from Cairo to Alexandria for under $2.

Buses are the way to go in Latin America. Ecuador is one of the cheapest with buses costing around $1 for every hour travelled. Quito to Guayaquil is $7 for an 8 hour bus ride. As mentioned earlier budget airlines such as Ryanair have ridiculously cheap flights from around £5 (plus ‘optional’ extras) across Europe if you book a couple of weeks in advance.

Europe rail passes are fun and useful for covering large distances but aren’t dirt cheap even for youths and students. Eurolines has affordable coach routes across much of the continent.

One piece of advice which applies world over is that it often cheapest to travel to an international border, cross by foot and then travel on from their rather than taking an international service all the way. Just be wary of getting scammed in bordertowns which are often quite unpleasant.


Long Distance Flights: Expensive but almost inevitable

By far your biggest transport cost is likely to be those long distance flights which you will almost inevitably have to take to reach your backpacking paradise wherever it may be. There are some tempting round the world deals, however these are often inflexible and restrictive.

Your plans will almost certainly change at some point on your venture and it’s impossible to know how long you will want to stay somewhere until you get there. You might have dreamt of visiting Thailand all your life only to find you hate the place within a week and want to be on the next plane, bus, train or whatever out of there. Only you’re stuck to the itinerary you meticulously planned at home a few months ago. On the contrary you may fall in love with the first place you visit and want to stay there and let forever be.

The airlines and travel companies who offer these deals are well aware that these things happen and will happily charge you to cancel flights, change dates and so on. That’s not to say it’s totally a bad idea to get one of these round the world deals but be totally aware of all the terms and conditions before opting for this.

Otherwise keep checking flight comparison sites like skyscanner for cheap deals on long-haul flights which airlines offer every now and then. STA Travel are a good starting place for reduced fares for students and under 26’s. An ISIC card will save you plenty of cash on your travels (even if it’s a fake one from Bangkok), not to mention enable you to take advantage of better flight deals.

 


This page was last updated in June 2013.