Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Guide to travelling / backpacking

Why a guide to travelling in a philosophy blog?
I consider travelling one of the best things you can do in life. It will teach you a lot about yourself, other cultures, will be a true test for spirit, character and open mindedness, and you will learn a lot from other people and fellow travellers. A nice example is the question "How to eat an orange". You think you know the answer? Leave a comment and explain. Simply as it sounds, it seems every country has its own habit to eat an orange while everyone thinks his way is the only way.
Travelling is a real character building and hence philosophic experience.

Why Backpacking?

You think you can experience other countries and cultures from a resort with completely organized tours?
Well think again. You might be physically located in another country but in fact you know nothing about the place you are. Egypt is not just pyramids, Peru not just Machu Picchu, and Germany not just beer and Lederhosen.
As Backpacker you can free flow through the world, you will meet the most amazing people, you can make friends all over the world, you are in close touch with people, you experience other cultures and mentalities first hand.

I would like to travel but I don't like to do it alone!
Don't wait for anyone to travel. Once you start the first time on your own you will soon find out, that as backpacker you are never alone. There are so much other backpackers on the road, you will meet so many amazing people, you will make so many friends all over the world that you soon feel and see that you are basically part of a big family.
Just on my last travel I ended up travelling with Andrew the Kiwi for 3,5 weeks because we had the same way and got along very well with each other. This is quite common.

Take Time!

Travelling starts for me at a duration of 4 weeks and more. I helps a lot when you do not have to focus on your return and with it on your common life for a while.

Where Do I go?
That's simple. Whether you travel to Italy or Mongolia, it does not matter. Every country has something special. Either it is something famous or you be on of the few to go off the beaten track.

How do I plan a trip this long?
That's simple as well. Don't. If you try to plan 2 or 3 month of travels you just waste your time as your plan will become obsolete with 100% chance within the first 2 weeks. I never plan more than 5 days ahead. Backpacking in fact is the art of travelling without much planning. It is freedom to travel where you like and to change your plan anytime.
Like I planed my last trip was the following:
1.) I knew I wanted to go to South America so I bought a guide to the continent "South America on a Shoestring" in this case.
2.) Than I asked myself "What do you know and would you like to see in South America" "Machu Picchu" came into my mind. "This is Peru then" I found out.
3.) Looking for the capital of Peru I then booked a one-way flight to Lima in the Internet.
4.) Just because you are very tired after 24 hours on planes and buses I booked a hostel ahead on
5.) I read the chapter about Peru and Lima on the plane to Peru to find out that I was arriving in rainy season (means it can't harm to read the chapter before you book a flight, but even then I had a great time and much free rooms in the hostels)

Where do I stay?
In hostels of course. Most of them offer a bed for a decent price. I personally prefer dormitories with 4-6 people which offer contact with interesting persons from all over the world while keeping some personal atmosphere. Also your stuff is safer once everybody knows everybody and there is not too much coming and going.

Travellers are your friends

I promise you travellers are the most open minded people you will ever find on this planet. You need help, someone to watch your stuff while going to the toilet, or you just seek some company or conversation? Simply start talking to anyone with a big backpack on his back and probably a small one on his front. The common traveller talk starts with
1. Where are you from?
2. How long are you travelling?
3. Where have you been?
4. Where are you going?
After that you will probably end up in a nice conversation and perhaps make some good friends.
Occasions where traveller steal from travellers are quite rare and usually include travellers from poorer countries that finance their travels with selling other travellers stuff or backpacks. But paranoia won't save you from this so simply trust your fate or have a luggage insurance.

The golden rules of travelling.
As a backpacker you are widely visible and most preferred target to pickpockets and many locals are already expecting you and see you just as a walking cash machine. To avoid to much struggle with fate if somethings going wrong, simply prepare you and your mind to the following.

1. Don't Panic
What I learned in more than 1 year of travels: Somehow things will always work out. No matter when and where I arrived I never found no place to sleep, got so sick I could not care for myself, got stuck for long time, or really got lost. There is always and everywhere someone you can ask and that helps you out.

2. Once you will get sick

Travelling other countries means you are getting in touch with a lot of things your body is not used to. Carry some antibiotics and have a health insurance for foreign countries.

3. Once you will be frustrated
If you are travelling longer time, you might get stuck, lost, left behind or sick and there will be the moment where you ask yourself:
"What the fuck am I doing here? I just want my a nice shower, my bed, my privacy and that's it"
Well I told you that it happens, deal with it. Consider this is the character sharpening part.

4. Every 4-6 weeks you might become tired of travelling
Whats starts exiting can become tiring every 4-6 weeks. Packing your stuff, unpacking your stuff, every 2-3 days a different bed, longs hours on the bus, the 25th church or the 30th museum... If it happens just find a nice place to hang out for a while. Travelling does not mean rushing through countries as fast as you can, it means to enjoy yourself as good as you can. And if this means to hang out in a nice place to do nothing but to sleep, read or party for while, go for it.

5. Once you will get ripped off

Ask for the proper fare and always fix the price before you take a tour or taxi.
But no matter how bright or experienced you think you are, be prepared to find your master once in while. It is a game you can't always win.

6. You will loose some gear or something will be stolen

If you are travelling for more than 6 weeks the chances are as good as 0 that you will come back with all your gear you started with. If you are travelling poorer countries you should consider some luggage insurance, that covers these possibilities.

7. While moving carry everything valuable or important on your body!

Most things get stolen from a bag or backpack while sitting in a bus or walking through a city. Or you might be left behind somewhere while your backpack starts travelling on his own.
Make you can not loose anything important with your bags. Keep your passport, papers, credit cards, most of our money either in a deposit or in special purse hidden on your body. While moving I have all valuable electronics in zipped pockets or safely attached to my belt.
Keep only little money and no documents or credit cards at all in your regular purse.
If you keep valuables in your bags while travelling it is your own fault if you loose it!

8. Keep copies of your documents in at least 2 different places!
Before you start make copies of all documents and credit cards. Keep them at at least 2 different places. I usually have a set in my big and one in my small backpack.

9. Have your money at at least 2 different places!

I have always enough emergency money in my money belt, that I can get safely to any next major city and to find a place to sleep if things go really wrong.
Additionally you might consider a purse attached to your lower leg, which seams to be found almost never.

10. Have some trekking trousers with lots of pockets and zippers
To carry all important stuff on your body while travelling a descent trouser makes this task a lot easier. All pocket should have zippers. For travellers money and purses never belong in the back pockets.

11. Do not show fear
From a pickpockets perspective... Whom would you prefer? The unconfident or the confident looking guy?

What are the most important items on travels?

1.) A pair of earplugs
2.) A guidebook to the continent
3.) A towel as it is about the most massively useful thing an traveller can have (to sleep under, use as a sail, wet it for use in hand-to- hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal or to dry yourself)

Besides from that I find the following things useful:
* A Swiss army knife sort of thing
* A small first aid kit
* Hiking socks (there is simply no end on the stink scale for cotton socks! Also the friction of drying woolen or cotton socks can become real torment and directly responsible for up numerous blisters. 11 on one day is the most I have ever seen. Fortunately it happened on the last day of a trek as the guy walked like an astronaut the next day)
* A torch
* some Antibiotics (unless you speak good Mongolian or really want to trust the local shamans)
* All country specific vaccinations (plan at least 4 weeks ahead for this)
* An eye cover. (Together with the earplugs it makes you sleep everywhere)
* Good shoes. (you will walk a lot, so better make your feet comfortable)

And now? What are you waiting for? Always safe travels.

No comments: