Essential Backpacking Gear: The Stuff They Forgot to Tell You About

I know, I know. You’ve read a million articles on the essential gear to bring with you backpacking. So I’ll spare you the list of things like head lamps, a tent, hiking boots, maybe you even want to throw a compass in there for good measure. But you know all of this. So what about the little things we forget? Those comfort items, or things that just add a little bit of a back home feeling while wandering the world – they’re needed too. If I could count the number of Australians missing their Vegemite or English craving their Marmite, well, it would take quite some time to count. Clearly there are some essentials the travel guides aren’t telling us. So here’s my list of the other essential items for backpacking.

Hot Sauce, Salt, and Pepper

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How painful the feeling to stumble upon a new land with foods devoid of taste. Well, I should correct myself here; most places I’ve visited have amazing cuisine I love to try. That being said, us backpackers are often broke as can be, creating makeshift meals with what little we can afford. We can’t exactly carry a lot of food with us, so we have to buy what we can. That leaves no room for big things, and food – and life (because life is food) – becomes pretty bland. Grab your favourite hot sauce, some salt and pepper (and if you’re truly that broke, snag some packets from the local café, they won’t mind), and you’ve got yourself a way more exciting meal.

Picnic Blanket

This is my secret weapon. I was freezing cold sleeping in an airport in the States one day, and just could not sleep. So I went searching and managed to find one open store, and they had blankets. I purchased one for myself, and one for my friend (who remained asleep despite me leaving, and then proceeding to get lost trying to find her sleeping body again). I thought it would be something I’d just get rid of as soon as possible, as who needs something extra that’s bulky? Well, I was so, so wrong. For one, I could strap it to the outside of my pack without a problem. And it has been used for everything. My “quick dry” towel left something to be desired: picnic blanket to the rescue. Too much sun in my face while lazing the day away in a hammock? Picnic blanket pinned up to block the sun. It can also be used, you know, for picnics. Lately I’ve been sedentary, and my cats tore a hole in the box spring of my bed, which they proceeded to enter. Blocked off with – you guessed it – my picnic blanket.  

Extra Charging Cords

Have you ever been in the middle of absolutely nowhere and had your charger cord break? Oh my god, if I could count the times! Bring extras. Bring so, so many extras. You’ll also be the best friend of anyone in your hostel whose charger cord has broken!

Headphones – And Many of Them

On that note, don’t forget extra headphones as well. Oh the horror of a long bus ride with only one functioning ear bud! The sadness of being alone without music to fit the mood. Don’t let it happen to you in the middle of nowhere! And, again, you’ll be best friends with that poor sucker on the bus who has no headphones (or had them robbed along with their iPhone, as happened to me in the Amazon at one point).

Stuffed Animal

Maybe this one is just for me, but I loved having a little stuffed animal to travel with. For one, you can take pictures of it around the world, and that’s pretty neat. But I got lonely a lot – I did travel constantly as a total nomad for five years straight, alone. Sometimes it’s nice to have something to curl up with and cuddle.

 Think I’ve missed an essential you haven’t read about in every other backpacking article? Throw it in the comments!

Guest Post by Dani from Like Riding a Bicycle  

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Travelling with Diabetes

Editors Note:

I’m lucky enough to meet some of the most incredible, inspiring, interesting and downright crazy people as I travel the globe. You learn that everyone has their own story to tell, and some just amaze me with how tenuous they are in their pursuit of adventure. Travelling with diabetes is something I cannot imagine to be easy at all, so when I met Amanda Quill in the Balkans last summer I absolutely loved her spirit and her inability to allow anything to stop her doing what she wanted.


Hey, I’m Amanda, a keen Kiwi traveller and a Type 1 Diabetic (T1D); I am blessed to have ticked off 34 countries across four continents, a mixture of travel with friends and solo. My longest stint abroad was for four and a half months; I spent four months in Europe visiting 24 countries and two weeks in Asia visiting three countries.

Having wanderlust and being a spontaneous traveller don’t always go hand in hand with being a T1D (type one diabetic for those not in the know). The thought of being carefree doesn’t really work when you’re a pack mule of needles and medication. The blood sugar effects of temperature changes, time differences, different foods and day-to-day activities can seem daunting, but it’s way more fun battling diabetes in a tapas bar in Barcelona than it is at home. Knowing your tell tale symptoms, listening to your body and testing are the key to smooth sailing; or more accurately a pretty bumpy ride but not a full blown diabetes tsunami.

Amanda Quill

Amanda Quill

The first time I set off overseas was one week after being diagnosed and later released from hospital. My parents had an adage that my diagnosis wouldn’t stop me from doing anything and so went ahead to take my siblings and I to the Gold Coast. Honestly, they just didn’t want to tell seven year-old me I didn’t get to go to theme parks! The packing for that trip was anything but logical. For a two-week trip, the entirety of my three-month prescription of needles, insulin, test strips and emergency supplies came away. Thankfully, from more experience as a T1D and a few more adventures under my belt, I have learnt the appropriate supply levels to take to avoid looking like a drug mule.

Overall, I have had many highs and lows (excuse the pun) that are part and parcel to being a T1D traveller. I share the good, the bad and the ugly stories below to bring some comedic relief to the travel stresses and to hopefully help you on your own adventures.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

The Good (Wholesome Diabetes Experiences)

Meeting Other Diabetics

Sitting at a wee café in Vienna, Austria, the waiter asked me what the sensor on my arm was. I sheepishly explained to him I was a T1D and that the sensor meant I had up to date monitoring of my blood glucose. After our conversation the guy at a table over from me asked if he could join me for coffee. He then revealed his insulin pump and told me about how he was a General Practice Doctor. I sat with this GP discussing diabetes and travel for two hours, drinking coffee and connecting over our shared and differing experiences of living with diabetes. Although I have no idea what his name was, the experience of connecting with another diabetic abroad helped me build confidence in being a T1D and a T1D traveller.

Packing Assistance

For my four and a half month trip that saw me in 8°C up to 44°C, I had one suitcase. To see me through my trip my 18kg suitcase was half-filled with diabetes supplies. As each week passed my supplies depleted, creating more and more room for me to shop for trinkets and clothes. Also, there is no better excuse for stocking up on foreign sweets than the fact that it will be medicine for you at some point.

The Bad (Unfortunate Side-Effects)

Climate Effects

Amanda Quill

Amanda Quill

I visited Dubai, United Arab Emirates in July and during Ramadan. The temperatures exceeded 40°C and you aren’t allowed to eat in public between sunrise and sunset. My levels are particularly sensitive to high heat and I was armed with glucose to sneak in the bathrooms if need be. What I was not prepared for was the number of pump sites I would need in this time. The sweatiness from being in 40C and constant jumping in water made the glue on my pump sites absolutely useless and so my sites continuously fell out. I managed to use a week and a half’s worth of supplies in three days as I battled against the melting sites!

Hygiene

Spending a week on a Turkish Gullet sailing the southwestern coast of Turkey is one of my travel highlights so far; I was in awe of the beauty, culture and cuisine that Turkey has to offer (I cannot recommend a visit enough). The sanitation on the boat however was not designed for a T1D and by the end of the week I had the nastiest infection I have ever had, with a massive abscess under my site spot. On the plus side, it’s way easier to get random (and effective) medications over the counter in Turkey than it is in New Zealand. Overall, sanitation is something we need to be mindful of and relying on alcohol wipes isn’t always enough.

The Ugly (Near Death Experiences That Are Funny To Look At Now!?)

Change of Environment

For the 4-day EDM festival Tomorrowland I packed six tubes of glucose, two packs of glucose jellybeans and a ten pack of glucose gel; enough to treat 37 lows! And I used it all, before the end of the festival. At Tomorrowland, I was walking approx. 40kms a day, dancing and in mid 30°C temperatures. As the confetti fell to close off the end of Tomorrowland I could feel the adrenaline and excitement pumping through me was intensifying. While everyone around me was also having fun, I had a light bulb moment that I was super low and barely able to see/stand.  Unfortunately, when I got to the drinks vendor, they had stopped serving. In one of the few times (in my adult life) I played the good ol’ diabetic card. The first server had absolutely no idea what I was talking to but thankfully another did. I was quickly handed a pack of glucose and they even opened a can of soda for me. I still have no idea how low I was at that time, but when I finally managed to get back to my tent my blood glucose was still a meagre 2.6mmol/L. 

Damaged Insulin

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At the end of my four-month European adventure I stopped in Asia. My insulin had travelled all the way from New Zealand with me and had been in and out of Frio packs and fridges along the way. After two days in Chiang Mai I came back to my room and discovered my water bottle had frozen in the fridges. As only the water was placed by the freezer compartment I checked over my insulin and it all seemed good, turned the fridge temperature up and continued on. A week later, after a night out in Bali I awoke early to catch the ferry to Nusa Lembongan for a day trip. In my hung-over state I managed to leave almost every diabetic supply I had behind. I was not feeling my best self and vomited a number of times before making it across the rough sea. My friends were also hung-over, so we all thought I had a case of alcohol poisoning. The day continued on with me looking very worse for wear and vomiting off balconies, on the beach, off the boat and moving vehicles (shout out to good friends pulling my head in to the back of the caddy when other vehicles were going past).  

Nearly ten hours later, I was only getting sicker, I had another light bulb moment of ways that I could get sick that others might not. When we got back to our villa my tester read HI and my blood ketones level was 5.8. This was my first ever case of diabetic ketoacidosis (0/10 do not recommend). I started chugging water (and vomiting it back up) to flush my system and injected a ludicrously large amount of insulin. Once feeling slightly less zombie-like I went to bed, knackered, with a blood glucose reading of 14.5mmol/L and a blood ketone level of 4.2mmol/L. I assumed that during the night the ketones would fall. When I woke the next morning my blood glucose had risen to 15.4mmol/L, however the ketones had also risen to 5.5mmol/L. I gave myself an hour and as my levels continued to rise I got a taxi to the local hospital. It took about 20 minutes to get the doctors to understand what I needed and they then administered three bags of IV fluids and kept me on a heart monitor. My heart rate had been at above 160bpm for over 24 hours. My blood ketones reduced to a reading of 1mmol/L, my blood glucose was 9.5mmol/L and my heart rate was back to normal! As my organ function was returned to normal it dawned on me how out of it I was the day before in making the decision to go to sleep instead of to the hospital.

What to Pack

·      Frio cooling wallets – these nifty wee packs are activated by water and keep insulin cool for up to 30 days. Refrigerating your insulin whenever possible assists in the longevity of the insulin and can be transferred to the reactivated Frio packs the next time you’re on the move;

·      Glucose tablets, glucose sachets and glucogen jellybeans are super easy to stuff into a bag or jacket at any point. Having a pile in your suitcase allows you to stock up your day pack;

·      A letter from your doctor listing out ALL your diabetic supplies. I take a copy in my wallet, a copy in my carry-on and a couple of spare copies in my suitcase;

·      Alcohol wipes to prep your skin, best way to try and minimise infections;

·      And of course, always wear your medic alert.

How to Prepare

·        See your doctor prior to leaving, make sure your blood work is up to date and your diabetes is in control;

·      A back up insulin plan – I am on an insulin pump and always travel with long acting insulin as my back up plan (this has been discussed with my diabetes doctor);

·      Always get travel insurance and make sure to include diabetes as a pre-existing condition. Most insurance providers do not cover diabetes related instances if you do not declare it prior to taking out your insurance!

Tips and Tricks

·        Travel with some supplies in your hand luggage. Personally, I keep approximately one third of my supplies in my carry on in case my suitcase were to go missing;

·        Learn the word for diabetes and insulin in the mother tongue of the countries you are visiting (or have these written down; a literal lifesaver for me in Bali);

·        Don’t place insulin next to the freezer compartment of fridges you don’t know. Try testing how cold the fridge settings are with a water bottle before putting your insulin in;

·        When travelling most people pack an absurd amount of underwear. Instead do this with your diabetes supplies – I tend to do 1.5x what I would use for the same time period at home.

 

And by All Means, Travel

Millie (Left), Amanda (Centre), and the third Queen in our trio Sophie (Right)

Millie (Left), Amanda (Centre), and the third Queen in our trio Sophie (Right)

Being a T1D has its own set of headaches, particularly when it comes to the additional requirements for travelling. There will be times you misplace items in customs because you’re getting the full pat down (RIP my kindle) or your skirt will be lifted in the middle of an airport to check out your insulin pump (dear customs officers please just ask) or you will go low 23 times in one day and feel like death. However, sleeping under the stars in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, watching your favourite artist perform, or trying pizza where it was first made, will unanimously outweigh these ill experiences! The challenges of travel with T1D are nothing compared to the excitement and fulfilment that travel brings.

Although I have had my fair share of disasters while abroad, it has also helped me learn to be in better tune with my body. Finding myself in the stickiest of situations on the other side of the world helped me to build a confidence I didn’t realise I have..

Travel, in spite of your diabetes. Travelling helps you to learn so much about yourself, and you get to see beauty in so many new and exciting ways. There is no reason to let diabetes hold you back, sure it may be hard – but that’s life in general. You may as well get out there and see all the beauty that the world has to offer!


Disclaimer: all of the above is based on personal experiences and does not in anyway replace the recommendations of your healthcare or insurance providers. Always seek professional advice with regards to your diabetes management and travel plans.

Article by Amanda Quill, New Zealand

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13 Easy Meals To Cook In A Hostel

Cooking in hostels - it’s not very glamorous but a great way to save your money for things that really count. You’ll find it’s cost effective in most countries, but keep in mind that you’ll have to make a judgement based on the country you’re in. For example, eating out in Australia will set you back whereas in Thailand it’s super cheap to dine out each meal so you may as well enjoy the luxury while you can.

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In destinations that you do decide to cook in, keep in mind it’ll be cheaper to buy in bulk. If you’re moving around a lot, it may not be the most practical however I found that you can buy a cool bag pretty cheap in most places. While not too helpful if travelling via plane everywhere, if driving or taking a bus you can store your food for a number of hours between destinations safely. As hostel kitchens have fridges, just dump it in there as soon as you arrive.

HOT TIP - Make sure you padlock your cool bag. It sucks that you have to 99% of people you can trust, unfortunately there are sometimes people wanting to take advantage and take your food. Also, label your bag too as lots of people will have the same idea.

Remember not all hostels will have kitchens, but most in destinations that it’s cost effective will. You can check online if they do, so keep an eye on this when you’re booking your next few nights if you want to dump your cool bag or be your own chef. If the hostel doesn’t have a kitchen, don’t stress though - you can treat yourself every now & again!

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Another thing to keep in mind, hostel kitchens aren’t always the most clean places in the world. Generally run by backpackers who clean for room & board, there is not always the best quality control in terms of hygiene levels. Now don’t let this put you off by any means, just remember to clean the dishes before you use them, along with any pots & pans. I do have to say the kitchens are generally pretty well equipped with all the crockery that you need which is helpful, so at least you’ll still have space for all those extra outfits in your backpack. When you finish cooking though, please can you wash up after yourself? Just because some people don’t doesn’t mean you can be a slob. Respect your surroundings and it helps everyone out.

HOT TIP - Cooking for one is a little annoying on a daily basis, so if you can join others it’ll save you money & make it easier. Nervous about joining people? Just remember everyone is in the same boat.

So you’re all set and ready to be your own head chef, but what do you cook? You want quick, cheap & easy. A hostel kitchen is no place to be creating a Michelin star tasting menu, partially because they rarely have ovens so you may struggle a little with your 7 bird roast. Luckily, you should always find a hob, a toaster and maybe even a microwave so do have some options. It obviously does come down to taste, but I’ve popped a few of my suggestions below for you to had a read over to get you started.

1 - Pasta

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Such a versatile dish and super cheap, no wonder uni students around the world flock to buy their spaghetti and penne pasta in bulk. While the main ingredient is the same, you can chop & change the toppings to make enough dishes that you won’t get too bored. I’ve had pesto pasta, tomato pasta, carbonara pasta, pasta salad, cheesy pasta - the opportunities are endless.

I’m hoping you all know how to make pasta or at least in it’s basic form. If not, good luck surviving hostel cooking… Perhaps asking someone will be a good conversation starter?

2 - Beans on Toast

Maybe it’s because I’m English, but what better meal to start OR end a day with than beans on toast? Beautiful in it’s simplicity, this classic dish can be completed in minutes and can cost less than £1 / serving. The number of travellers I met that I had to introduce to this is painful, so if you’re not from England & are slightly confused from a Brit and ask - usually we’re delighted to share this piece of national heritage with fellow explorers. If you’re feeling bold, you can grate cheese on top for the ultimate dish or throw in a little paprika to add a cheeky kick.

3 - Eggs

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Once again, like pasta, eggs are an item that can create such a variety of dishes. You can have them fried, scrambled, poached, hard boiled, baked, turned into an omelette - isn’t it so exciting? Being fairly cheap & fast too cook, if your hostel kitchen is a little bit gross it’s an awesome ‘in and out’ dish. Bulk up with some toast if you have a big appetite too or throw on some bacon if you’re looking to treat yourself. Just think, you could be as happy as this little egg chappy!

Side note - if travelling with a cool bag, be sure to wrap your eggs up well. As we know, they break easily & that is a fast way to ruin your day.

HOT TIP - Need a little seasoning that you’ve forgotten? Hostels generally have an area in the kitchen for you to leave items you don’t need / want anymore for other travellers to use. Always have a quick check in there before asking someone else, and leave anything non perishable that you don’t want in there are well before you leave as it’s really appreciated.

4 - Salads

A lot of backpackers tell me they rarely get enough fruit and veg when travelling so having a delicious salad is a great way to tackle this. An iceburg lettuce is always half the price as bagged salad, and normally contains the same amount, if not more. Throw in some tomatoes, onions, sweetcorn, a little cheese, maybe a boiled egg or shaved carrot and you have a cheap, delicious and healthy meal.

Worried about your super fresh ingredients in your cool bag here? Not to worry you can make salads from long lasting items. Switch your tomatoes for sun-dried tomatoes in a jar, or your lettuce for some cous-cous (delicious but does defeat the idea of having greens). You can do a lot here to keep it healthy & interesting.

5 - Wraps

Generally, you’ll be doing a fair amount of moving around during the day so are unlikely to make it back to the hostel for lunch. However, making meals in advance to take with you is a great way to keep your money safe & still eat on the cheap. Grab your favourite few items and throw it in a wrap for a delicious & easy meal on the go. If you’re going down this route, it’s a good idea to bring some tupperware with you. I find it’s easy to buy a tub or two on the cheap when you arrive to a new country (along with your cool bag), and they’re great for storing things that may leak in your cool bag too.

6 - Sandwiches

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I mean it’s pretty much the same idea as a wrap, however it’s more acceptable to pop marmite or chocolate spread on bread than on a tortilla wrap. Aussies have Vegemite instead of marmite, not as delicious but if you’re desperate it’ll do the job. If you find an Aussie, they’ll probably have packed some in their backpack and will be happy to lend you some - and no, I’m not joking. The amount of Aussies I’ve met with the stuff while abroad will never cease to amaze me.

Obviously the normal contenders are great between your bread as well, so ham, cheese etc will be good to take around with you. You may even find your hostel does a free breakfast, so you can nab some of the items to throw in your lunchtime sarnie too. You can also turn your cold bread into hot bread by opting to have a toasted sandwich instead - melted cheese= YUM.

7 - Pancakes

Want to make some friends? Make pancakes. You will always make too many and if you say no to a pancake when someone offers one to you, you’re a little bit odd. They’re another easy & cheap dish to master as well when you’re feeling like something sweet instead of savoury. Easily topped with nutella, lemon & sugar or even syrup you can’t go wrong.

8 - Coffee to Go

Much to many travellers disappointment, despite being unbelievably English I am not an avid tea drinker when I travel. Partly because coffee is life, but mainly because I don’t care for tea when it’s made badly which it so often is anywhere other than England (or India in my experience who can also make a great cup of brew). Due to this, when I’m on abroad I’ll stick with coffee. While it can also be made offensively bad, it can be covered up by a little milk and sugar. Alternatively, if you just need the caffeine boost, you can close your eyes & think of England while you down it.

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As all hostel kitchens will have kettles, the best thing to do is to get a travel cup and make your own daily to go. Yes, instant coffee isn’t the greatest but you’re backpacking instead of going on the luxury tour so you sadly just have to be a grown up & deal with it. Also, a cute travel cup will stop you using all the disposable ones meaning you’ll be doing a little bit for the environment - winning!

9 - Hot Dogs

Ah the humble barbecue dish, made good with a splash of ketchup. If you’re feeling like treating yourself, you can fry up a few onions or throw some cheese into the bun. You may even find that your hostel has some BBQs set up on the premises if you’re travelling through Australia or New Zealand. If so, go out, make some friends, fry up those sausages and enjoy. Bored of hot dogs? Switch it up for burgers instead - too easy.

10 - Fajitas

Definitely a meal for a group, fajitas are delicious and will be an ideal change for all your new friends who have been living off pasta for the last month just like you. Add some veggies and a little chicken with some spices, grab your leftover wraps and get munching. If there’s more than 4 of you, grab some nachos as well. Simple to make (heat up nachos, add cheese, sour cream & tomato salsa and tuck in). You’ll feel like you’re in Mexico in no time, and with the money you saved cooking in you can spend on your tequila to keep the vibes alive.

11 - Super Noodles

We don’t really need a whole paragraph on these, but they’re worth mentioning. They last forever so can just be thrown in your bag, and can be purchased super cheap from nearly all supermarkets or corner shops. Not the healthiest option, but you can eat these even in a hostel without a kitchen. Reception will have a kettle so just ask them to boil you a little water and eat away.

12 - Rice Dishes

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Really not a fan of rice personally, but I do accept I can’t exclude it as many travellers actually do like due to it’s ability to be done on the cheap. Throw in some veggies and a little soy sauce (which I’m told is a must) and you have a little meal for one ready made in a flash. Sorry I can’t give you more here, it’s just really not my thing. Give me noodles any day please.

13 - Granola

Easy to carry around in small quantities and perfect for breakfast or afternoon snack, granola is one of my all time favourites. I’ll normally add some yogurt and fruit for a perfect start to my day. It also requires no heated preparations which is great in a super busy kitchen.

Do you have anything to add to the list? Throw it in the comments and I can pop it on. Keep in mind, just because you’re backpacking does not mean you can’t treat yourself every now and again and eat out, or grab a takeaway pizza. You absolutely should. However, as a general rule of thumb if you’re backpacking it’s because you’re on a budget, so save money where you can so you can spend it on what really counts - more travel (or beer - you decide).

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'Owning' The Dorm Room

When you’re in a hostel, you will find that sometimes people seem to ‘own’ a dorm room. They seem to always become the more dominant person in there, have somehow managed to snag the best bed and locker. To be honest, more times than not they are a complete asshole. They’re the kind of people who will literally move all your stuff to a different bed if you’ve already grabbed the best one, or will steal your complimentary towel at the hostel forcing you to use the beach towel you lug around at the bottom of your backpack, last used in Brazil 4 months prior. They’re also the ones who seem to control the lights and are never in sync with you, either wanting them off at 9pm when you're getting ready to go out or on until 4am before your 6am flight.

So how can you overcome this? How can you make sure they definitely won’t want your bed or, in the rare case of an exceptional asshole, stop them stealing your phone charger!

Roll Around in That Bed Like Woman of Questionable Morals

One sure way to stop them stealing your bed is to make it look highly used. Roll around on it, scrunch up the sheets and then lay them back over the bed again like it’s been slept on a few nights. If you’ve got thick hair like me, get really gross and pull a few out then leave them on the pillow - trust me not many people will want to steal your bed now!

Get A Combination Padlock

A combo padlock is your best option to hold a locker! If you shove your valuables in and lock it as soon as you get in, there’s no way that someone else can move all your stuff to another one. I’ve also found that in the past, if I’ve bought a key lock padlock from the hostel a lot of the keys work multiple padlocks so you can open someone else’s locker with your key. A combination is the best for someone who loses things easily, the keys are really tiny and I’ve had to have hostel staff break into my locker before by breaking the padlock which is really embarrassing at 5am when you’ve got to grab a bus and everyone is trying to sleep...

Become ‘BFFs’ with Everyone in the Room

Generally, the person who is a dick won’t have many friends and tends to back down a little if you’re suddenly the most popular gal or guy in the room. Power in numbers does work but, at the same time, you don’t want to become the asshole by being intimidating so play nice in the playground kids. Sometimes you just have to say something, and I know there are many backpackers out there who won’t take any shit from others! It sounds hilarious but there really is a backpackers etiquette / unwritten rules to keep in mind. It’s pretty chilled out, but there are just some things you don’t do even though pretty much anything goes! If you’re a little shy and aren’t always sure on how to start the conversation, maybe check out my post about making friends on the road!

Positioning of Your Bed

Choose your bed wisely! It’s not always that the best things in a room are all next to bed one though so don't be fooled. If you’re a fan of sleeping away from the door as the noise of it opening and shutting all night keeps you up, obviously pick one far away. However, generally the aircon controlls are near the door so if you like it cool when you sleep, maybe pick the bed where you can turn the temperature up or down. Don’t be a complete dick with this though and check with the rest of the room first. The list could go on, but you get the idea - pick a bed with the best amenity to suit your needs. Unfortunately, not all hostels have this free for all ideal, and with some they will assign you a bed - tough luck!

If All Else Fails, Don’t Spend Too Long in Your Dorm


If everything fails, and somehow this particular person just isn’t giving up, back out gracefully. You’re never going to get on with everyone in life, and this is the same when backpacking. The way hostels are designed means that there are loads of common areas to meet new people and there is a whole world out there for you to go and see. If you’re staying in a certain destination and have travelled hours to get there, it obviously means you want to see something here so go, explore it, live it and don’t spend too long in your room.

Making Friends on The Road

You may be surprised if you haven’t been away before, but this is the easiest thing to when you’re travelling! Easier than packing you backpacking, hopping on that plane and definitely wayyyyy easier than saying goodbye to your family (accept your weird uncle Harry, that’s the easiest thing in the world),  before running away with the fairies. So many people can really nervous about it, but if you were the one in school who was dubbed a ‘different’ you probably will be the most popular one in in the dorm - you’re different and will have the best stories in the room.

Common Interest

To put it simply, if you’re willing to sleep in a hostel to travel, you and every other person in that dorm room have a common interest. Now I’m not saying hostels aren’t nice, I’ve stayed in some pretty cracking places all over the world but you still have to be willing to give up some of your personal boundaries to do it. So when you first arrive and there are a few people hanging around the dorm just ask them any of the following:

  1. Where have you been?

  2. What brought you here?

  3. Where are you from?

  4. How long have you been away?

  5. What’s the best thing about the last place you’ve been?

I almost guarantee that you won’t get to the end of the list because you will literally segway into talking about how you’ve also been to XX and loved it, and did they also try eating that curry because man was it spicy. Then it’ll turn into 'oh my goodness', they’re catching the same bus as you to the next place (and since there’s only one bus a week out of this place it’s not really a surprise, but you’ll act like it is), so how about grabbing a pint in 5 minutes and so on. Before you know it, you’ll both be connected on facebook making this friendship ‘official’. If all else fails and none of those questions get you anywhere, if they’re British just comment on the weather and you’ll be friends for life.

Tour Groups

For the more nervous traveller, joining a tour group of is the best way to meet your new best friend or travel buddy. Please don’t think of it as a school trip, where you are herded like cattle from A to B follow someone holding up an umbrella speaking into a megaphone. If you like this style of tour I’m sure you can find one, but if not there are so many companies that will cater for everyone. From small trips for 12 all the way to hop on / hop off bus tours where there is a constant stream of new people, you can have the flexibility and laid back style you require. There are loads of options for you, get in touch if you want some ideas for a destination you want to head to - I’ve done a fair number of independent and tour run travel so can easily help you out!

Look for Another Backpack

Even if you’re not in a hostel full of other travellers, you can still keep an eye out for the obvious signs of a new friend by looking out for another backpack. The clue is in the name ‘travelling’, you’re going to be moving about quite a lot so it’s nice to have a friendly face during those 15 hour bus/train/ferry journeys. If nothing else, it’s a great way to keep safe as a solo traveller on the move as making a friend means you have another pair of eyes to look after all your stuff. I find most of the time one of the two of you (or ten by the end of the journey) don’t have accommodation booked and so can head towards a hostel together at the other end!

Head Out

If someone else looks lonely and a little homesick, just ask them if they want to grab a drink of an explore. If you’re travelling alone, it’s the best feeling when you get invited out to check out the local sites or bars! If they don’t want to come, if your dorm or common area has other people around I find that they’ll usually chime in suggesting they come alone instead. This is great if you’re easier at talking about what’s around you as they’ll be so many distractions you can just discuss the destination you’re currently in. Unless the other person has also just arrived, they will have met some other people who want to come along too - you’ll have your own ‘gang’ in no time.

Common Disinterest

Just as much as discussing a common interest can bond people, I almost feel like a common disinterest can bond you just as much! From jumping onto the top bunk with a complete stranger to get away from the snake that suddenly wriggled out from under your bed to sharing each other's pain when two other bunk mates decide to get a little too friendly in an ‘unsubtle’ manner at 3am, you can bond fast over the less enjoyable events of the day. The list of things that can go wrong while travelling is endless, so the list of things you can talk about together is also endless - enjoy!

The number one MUST do to make friends though? Just give them a smile - backpackers and travellers are the most open minded and friendly people in the world. You’ll hear the saying, the ‘travelling community’ all the time and that’s because it really is one. We’re all in it together, even you and I, so crack a grin, open your mouth and make a new best friend.



Booking Accommodation While on the Road

When on a long trip, you’d be an idiot if you book all your onward travel and accommodation before you left! Sure, set yourself up for the first week or so if you’re a little nervous but you have no idea where you’re going to go and who you’re going to meet. It’d suck to have it all sorted, only to meet 3 of your new best friends but be unable to continue on with them! Flexible travel is key on a long trip, but if you’re a first time traveller the idea of just rocking up in a new town with no place confirmed to stay is a little daunting. What can you do to allow you the ability to change your mind constantly but still know you have somewhere to sleep? Why not read on and see what I do.

Mobile Apps

There are an unbelievable number of accommodation booking mobile applications available to you now! From Booking.com, Hostelworld, WeHotel - even STA Travel now have a mobile app that you can use to book hostels and hotels with while on the road. This is great as you can hop into a cafe, shop, bus station etc and log into the wifi then within 5 minutes have a bed or room booked for your next destination. You’ll also be able to see all the reviews for these places and pick accordingly. I would suggest though to only book a few nights at the accommodation, even if your plan is to stay for a week or more just in case it’s not your cup of tea / you land in the worst room possible. It’s an easy get out of jail free card but you can always add on additional nights if required!

Internet Cafes

Booking via computers in an internet cafe is similar to using your mobile apps except you’re using the website version and is a great option if you don’t have a wireless device with you on your travels. The only issue with this is that it can be risky paying via card when using internet cafes, there are endless tricks that people will play to get your details and before you know it all the money in your account is gone so try and book places that are happy with payment in full on arrival and not a card deposit.

Just Show Up

Just showing up always works well, in a hostel or guesthouse there will generally be beds available but I always like to have a few names and address stored away with options to try. Generally this is from recommendations of other travellers on the way, but you can do this from looking online at sites just like tripadvisor too. The only risk with this is that there may be no accommodation available left that fits within your budget, or even worse no beds available in any of the places! You won’t normally find this problem in off peak times or midweek, but you will find this over national holiday periods where the locals also want to join in the festivities or weekends. Friday / Saturday nights can be busy so call in advance just in case!

Travel Agents

If you’re a fan of using a travel agent, you’re local one from home is still only an email away! You can ask them to book your onward travel on a weekly basis and know that they’ll be only happy to help. Another option is to head to a travel agent in the country you’re staying in and book with them!

Couch Surf

It’s free, it’s easy, it’s generally safe and you get a local experience! Only suitable for travellers who are fairly confident and easygoing, it’ a great option to guarantee a bed but also learn more about where you’re staying. You can make friends for life with the people who put you up and money can’t buy the sort of experiences that these people can show you. This is the stuff that doesn’t make it into the guide books as they’re local secrets!

Phone Ahead

A simple phone call the morning before your arrival from a phone booth can prevent you knocking from door to door if beds are limited. I’ve found that locally owned hostels will generally honour their word if they say they will hold a room for you without requiring payment in advance if it’s the same day as you’re planning to arrive. This can be done with email instead but you’ll need to have access to emails after you send it to check out the reply!


With the internet at our fingertips now every step of the way, it’s so much easier than explorers before us to find safe places to stay and to find those places in foreign lands. Enjoy yourselves and most of all, enjoy the freedom of not knowing what’s coming next! There is very few other times in life where you can have absolutely no clue what the next day holds without it inciting fear.

What NOT to Pack

We always hear about what we should pack, nearly all of us travel bloggers have done a piece to help you all out with what belongs in that tortoise shell of a backpack you’re going to wear for months. But what we don’t regularly do is dedicate an entire list on what not to bring (probably because we’re not a negative bunch). However, this is for those of you who are easily confused or just first timers and I shall be your guide into the wilderness!

Hairdryer and Straighteners

You do not need these. When travelling it’s best to go ‘au natural’ with your hair – a simple up do, or if you’re really suave a bun will do perfectly. If you see a girl looking perfect while away, she’s a model doing a photoshoot about backpacking. In reality we wash with shampoo, conditioner is saved for a special occasion and our hair dryers are distant memories only spoken about in hushed, reverent tones around the hostel dorms.

My hair is so abandoned when travelling, I don't notice when animals decide to live in it...

My hair is so abandoned when travelling, I don't notice when animals decide to live in it...

Every form of ID known to man

You have your passport. You don’t need other forms of identification because, frankly, if you’re anything like me you’ll lose them and have hefty fees to pay to get them back (well, £20 but when you do it three times... WHOOPS). As the passport is my ticket to freedom I generally don’t misplace it which is a good thing, and it’s more widely accepted around the world as ID to buy drinks with anyway which is lucky! 

That Deal from your Phone Provider 

All the mobile phone providers have these swell deals now that basically say ‘Hey! Spend an extra £5 in advance, and get 5 seconds of Wi-Fi each day when you’re in France COMPLETELY FREE.’ Well it’s not free is it, because you’ve just paid for it!!!! But, unfortunately they capitalize on our idiocy and belief that we cannot survive without that hunk of plastic or metal we hold so dear to us knowing that 90% of 18-29 year olds SLEEP WITH THEIR SMART PHONES. Us young folk actually sleep more with our mobile technology than we do with partners - I hope you’re just as concerned as I am that our phones get more 'in bed' action that we do these days! Every single hotel, hostel, B&B, cafe, restaurant, park, bus and even most airplanes have wifi available on them these days with more offering it for free than ever before. Utilise it - don’t make a fool of your bank because Kevin Bacon and EE tell you just how smashing this deal really is - LIES. If you need more tips on using your phone abroad just check this out.

All you need is that little notebook, and maybe the delicious coffee too!

All you need is that little notebook, and maybe the delicious coffee too!

Your Laptop

No. Never, ever. Unless you are one of us travel bloggers you do not need it. Why would you want to lug around an item that simply screams out ‘STEAL ME, STEAL ME - I’LL MAKE YOU RICH’ to other hostel dwellers? These folks are 99.99% lovely and wouldn’t dream of touching it, but unfortunately as we all know, our world isn’t perfect unless you’re a dating Prince Harry or are able to smoke a joint with your boss each day on your lunch break. It’s not worth the hassle, take only the kit you need and try and not flash it about. I once asked a girl why she had her laptop with her and she replied to watch movies - you’re in Byron Bay sweetheart why the hell would you want to watch movies? You’ve spent years saving to get here, now go live the life you’ve worked so hard for. 

Any Bag that Carries More Than 20 Kilos

I don’t care how long you’re going for - you really don’t want to be that girl (or guy) with the biggest backpack and being unable to carry it for long periods of time. Half the fun of backpacking is getting completely lost from the bus station to the hostel, spending 3 hours circling around, stopping for a coffee and then finally realising it’s been quite literally right in front of you the whole time and that’s why people kept pointing you back to the square when trying to explain to them in your broken Hungarian where you need to go. In this situation you don’t want to feel like your back is about to snap in two. Also, a lot of Asian hostels consist of a thousand floors without a lift. It’s one way to get super fit sure, but it will still get you pretty toned doing it with a bag that weighs 5 kilos less. A lot of budget airlines won’t accept bags that heavy anyway so you have to face parting with extra dollar to keep all your stuff or get rid of it anyway.

If you can't do 50 squats with your backpack on, its too heavy

If you can't do 50 squats with your backpack on, its too heavy

Filling Your Bag With Items In Preparation For The Apocalypse

So I know it’s crazy, but here’s a little secret - they actually use shampoo in South America too. Now, take a moment I know it’s a shock; it’s probably knocked the breath right out of you. But, you can even buy some of your favourite brands all around the world! I’ve just saved you so much space and lost you all the weight you were trying to remove from your pack after reading the above. You don’t need to take all 12 bottles of conditioner with you for your 8 month trip, if you can’t find your usual brand the regular stuff they have there will do just as well too - you may even like it. This is the same principle for all items of a similar calibre like makeup, hair bands, sun cream etc. Apart from condoms - only buy condoms you trust; a bad hair day result from a new product doesn’t have quite the same ramifications as a badly made condom...

When this is your idea of travelling light, you may want to rethink your life a little

When this is your idea of travelling light, you may want to rethink your life a little

Travel Guides

I will allow you one Lonely Planet or Rough Guide. Choose wisely or take an eBook system. You can pick up the ones people have ditched in hostels along the way if you really can't live without them so you don't need to take a years worth with you. There’s another kilo or two I’ve saved you at least from the weight of your backpack - no need to thank me just send a virtual high five my way in appreciation. 

High Heels

No. Just no. You know why. If you don’t - YOU ARE BACKPACKING; TRY DOING THAT IN THE DESERT WITH YOUR BROKEN HEELS. Use the space for some nice, comfortable, dreamy hiking boots that feel like walking on air in comparison. 

Now I’m sure I’ve forgotten something, so please get in touch if you don’t know if you should take it or not. As you can see, I will be able to offer you a very easy answer and reason why this is a good or bad idea!

Nerves On The Road

I regularly get told by friends, family and readers that I’m brave for travelling -  I'll take any compliment I can get so thank you travel fans, but I have to say that I'm obviously a cracking actress and should be sweeping up those oscar awards because most of the time when crazy things happen on the road I freak out just as much as anyone else. I agree, I somehow get myself into some ‘interesting’ situations, however that doesn't mean that when someone is shooting at me I'm not screaming and running for the hills, and I think it's the same for a lot adventure travel bloggers. I’m also not the first to admit that I would be the first gazelle eaten at the watering hole, I am quite literally a ditzy English lass who somehow found a love of travel.

What I’m trying to say in a fairly roundabout way is that anyone can travel. If you knew me on a personal level, you would know that yes, I am insane, but I started somewhere too. So what do I do to stop the nerves?

Make Friends

The best way to dissipate any fears while on the road is to meet some new friends! It’s amazing how fast you can go from a few nerves when arriving in a new country, or the start of a huge new adventure to the most confident person in the room. We all know that when travelling it’s so easy to start talking to new people, so talk away. Even if you’ve decided not to stay in a hostel dorm but have opted for your own room, there are loads of common areas and bars for you to get talking to. You’ll also find that taking day trips such as cooking classes, hikes, cycling tours - the list could go on forever with something to suit every interest.

For me, I just always think that ‘if we’re all alone, we’re all together’. The people you meet and travel with while away are the people you’ll create the best stories with. I love that 90% of the time when things go wrong there’s always someone else with me to laugh about it the next day or to scream right beside me until we arrive on the other side of the waterfall safely.

Adrenaline Will See you Through

If, like me, you’ve actually been in situations that could be considered a little bit dangerous just trust that adrenaline will keep you safe. I’m not a scientist but apparently it starts the ‘fight or flight’ syndrome within us and helps to get us through the fear. This is for anything from your skydive adventure to the moment you’re running away from gunshots - know that it’ll be ready for you whenever the moment occurs. Some people dread that feeling but I honestly love feeling a little scared when trying something new, it’s good for you and makes you a little braver for next time!

Start Small & Work Up

If you’re a first time traveller, it’s going to be a little daunting! You’re going to be a little nervous no matter what so start small, you can still do a round the world trip but maybe spend your first week in one place to get used to hostel living, or start with a destination that speaks your home language so it’s slightly less intimidating. But don’t be fooled, a lot of the locals speak English in Thailand so you don’t have to hit somewhere like Australia first if you don’t want to! Even if you start with a tour and then head off alone, each step you take will be making you a more experienced traveller, and the nerves will continue to dance away. Saying this, with my old fear of heights, I found it easier to just jump out of a plane than stand on the edge of a cliff and work my way up…

Keep Calm & Carry On

Cheesy saying found on every coffee mug in England, but it’s the words couldn’t be more truthful. Keep calm, keep your head on straight and keep going. When you’re travelling there are good days and bad days, but if you keep travelling you’ll end up somewhere new and somewhere better - it’s pretty much a fact. I doubt even the most seasoned backpacker could ever go around the world enough to get to every awe inspiring place in the world.With time, fears subside so feel better knowing that and keep running towards that sunset.

You Can Always Go Home

This is definitely not something I would encourage you to do, but as a last resort if everything goes wrong it’s something to keep in mind! For my first trip when I wasn’t too confident, however knowing that whatever happened I could just hop on a plane back did push the nerves away and it wasn't long before I loved it. The idea was always super comforting though. When you book a year adventure it seems so daunting, a year is a long time so knowing that if someone goes majorly wrong, abroad or at home, I can hop back easily.  

I really am no different than an average gal, could do with losing a few pounds here and there, wishes she could have perhaps committed to learning the piano better when she was young and could have tried harder at school when it came to team sports. If I, and all the other adventure travel bloggers, can get up and run around the world so can you! Most of us get ourselves into crazy situations because of our love of life. We will say yes to any new experience, or to anyone willing to explore a new destination with us. Our stories are born from these moments of sheer insanity or just bad luck but I promise you every one is a cracking story from finding a beach paradise to being chased by a local tribe who think you stole their goat. So smash through those nerves and get going - you won’t regret it!

Saving Money to Hit the Road

Saving money is the only way you're going to be able to travel and it's hard, I'll give you that. Once your salary is chopped up by bills, rent/mortgage payments, food, insurance & tax, it comes out with a much smaller number than you'd like. Then you have to face the decision to cut that money down further by putting some away each month into a savings account limiting your ‘for fun’ spending further.

But you can do it. Those of us who travel regularly aren't just lucky, we work our asses off to do it. At one time I had 3 jobs at once AND attend night school to finish my higher qualifications while trying to get on the road. It's tough! You'll note that most of us travellers don't mind getting our hands dirty if it means saving to get away, and I'm not ashamed to say I've cleaned shit from toilets to get those extra pennies in the bank - if you have a goal you can do it!

And don't be fooled by the idea of working abroad, 'I only need enough for my flight and a few nights accommodation once I get there before I'll be earning'. NO - Wrong! You need the working visa which costs money, you need to be prepared that it may take you a month or so to find a job and you may have to move to a different city to get one which will also cost serious cash. You then need to keep in mind that, just like at home, most jobs pay per month so you won't get your pay until at least 30 days after you've started your new job. Below I've outlined the things I do to save my money away beforehand, so hopefully this’ll help you too!

Two Jobs

Now I don't expect you to be as extreme as me and have three jobs. I really had no social life for the 5 months I worked for my Oceania trip which was fine by me as I was getting over a broken heart and needed the distraction. However, by having two jobs you can save 100% of one of your paychecks which makes a huge difference. I was able to put back over £1000 a month when I had two jobs, and £1400 when I had three. But don't burn yourself out! Only one of these jobs were full time the others were zero hours contracts so I would generally get 30-35 hours a week extra and it adds up!

Get a Separate Savings Account

Saving big money is never going to work if you only have one account. You'll see it go up and up and think, 'ah that £100 here or there doesn't matter I have so much!' But it really does matter and it adds up to a lot in certain countries like South East Asia where £100 can equate to 50 nights of accommodation, well over 100 pints of beer or 7 long distance bus tickets to new destinations! By having a savings account you'll shove the spare cash aside and it will very quickly build up into a small fortune.

Live at Home

Yep - this one sucks. It means that you have to live with your parents and that means constant questioning about what you’re doing, respecting their rules etc but it does mean cheap rent and huge money savings. If you're working all the time too, it does end up just being a place to rest your head and that's not so bad. Just ignore all the comments about what you eat and what TV you watch and countdown the days to your travels!

Daily Starbucks

So I love my coffee very, very much. Especially a beautifully made skinny iced caramel macchiato with extra caramel drizzle and sugar free syrup. However, at a price tag of £3.85 a day from the store, by making it at home I save myself at least £20/week! Do the same and within a year you literally will be able to save up enough to  jet off for a 4 weeks in South East Asia including flights!

That Night Out

We all love that night out. It starts with just going out for a drink, just one, but ends with a £100 bill after and a stonking taxi charge too! Plus, don't forget that £5 kebab that you just 'had' to have which now is making you feel a little ill... That £100 or so spent on drinks and entry to clubs is a huge saving, and if you cut those nights out to once a month from a regular weekend occurrence (or more - you know who you are you party tigers), that's some serious tuppence put away each month!

That New Jumper

There is that dream jumper, the jumper that is oversized and unbelievably cosy. With any comfortable and perfect item of clothing, there will be a price tag to match. If you’re heading to tropical climates next month there is no point spending all that dollar! Put it away - you’ll see those perfect shorts in Australia and be able to afford them if you don’t buy the winter wear and those shorts will come to much better use! If you desperately need it though, just shop around and find the best deal, I am admittedly a jumper hoarder so can’t judge too critically on this one.

Eating Out Choices

We all like dining out, but when the average dinner and drinks sets you back £30 it does add it fast. Not worry though, you can still enjoy a night out with friends just pick your meal smart! Swap that steak for a burger or pasta dish, or skip the starter and share a pudding. I will usually just pick a tap water, but even by limiting yourself to one drink and then swapping to water will save you a bit more each time.

Mobile Phone Contracts

Before signing up to a new phone contract, think about when you’re heading off. So many contracts are now two years long and if you’re going away in 9 months, buy a phone outright and get a monthly contract SIM card to go in it, or just continue your old contract until you’re ready to leave. This gives you the opportunity to save money beforehand and when you’re away! You also should shop around on this one too as deals seriously vary from shop to shop, and if you plan to use your phone abroad with a different SIM card, you’ll want an unlocked phone. If you want to know more about using your phone abroad cheaply, check it out here

Brands

Food shops can cost £50 or £25, the simple way to spend less here is to stop buying brand names. Own brands are just as good and generally half the price, it doesn’t matter if you shop in Asda or Waitrose the essentials ranges will always save you money. Cheaper cosmetics aren’t the devil either, many of the expensive brands also own the cheaper brands too and wouldn’t risk their names by creating any poor quality products. Similar ingredients and £10 cheaper - nothing is better! (For example Estee Lauder own MAC & Clinque, Loreal own Lancome & The Body Shop)

Packed lunches

If you’re forward thinking you can plan a week’s worth of lunches on a Sunday. Packed lunches don’t have to be boring either as so many people think. While I agree a deli sandwich or gourmet salad will always beat my tupperware box version, with your average take away sandwich lunch in Bath costing £5 ($9 US for my American friends), you can see why it makes SO much sense to pack one up. With many office staff rooms having small kitchens it’s easier than ever to heat up leftover dinner or a soup on a winter’s day.


If you think I’ve missed any important money saving tactics, as usual please let me know in the comments or shoot me a message as I love to get your feedback! You may even teach me a new cost saving tactic in the process making me forever grateful!

Packing List for Backpackers

What to take and what to leave? It's always hard I know - despite the fact that your backpack is tiny and you have to live out of this thing for 5 months. I've written up a list for you of what you can't forget and what you might want to reconsider. As always - please let me know if I've missed anything you think is important and I'll pop it up!  Also, if you're a luxury styled traveller, check out my previous post on packing tips for you here.

Clothes

You need them. It’s pretty simple but I’ve seen backpackers take literally one top, one pair of trousers and then think it’s ok to wear them for months on end. One guy in Australia tried to convince me it’s the best move I could ever make, you don’t have to carry anything and you save money as you don’t have to go to the laundromat, you just have a shower in your clothes are air dry…  NO. Minimal is good, but that’s taking it too far. It’s true that washing your clothes can be a budget breaker in Australia, but you can hand wash your clothes in the sink or shower and hang them to dry off your hostel bed as long as you wring them out well.

I’m not going to dictate exactly what clothes you should bring, but you will need some clothes you can do adventure activities in as no matter where you go if you’re with a backpacker crowd you’ll be jumping off something, hiking somewhere or climbing a cliff. So essentially, climate depending you’re going to want things like shorts, tops, some cool light trousers, a jumper even if it’s a boiling place (these either always have aircon that’ll chill you to the bone somewhere or it get freezing in the evenings) and maybe a skirt for heading out in. But remember - minimal! You’re going to need space for all those superb souvenirs. If you’re heading somewhere cold, either specialised equipment will be required so look it up or just long sleeves and warm trousers.

Also - please PLEASE remember to take cool clothes that fully cover you if going to Asia. There are some fantastic temples, and while the locals won’t always make a fuss if you’re not fully covered it’s really rude not to cover up in these religious places. Respect the locals and their cultures. You’ll be hosteling too so take something to sleep in, while sleeping naked can be a great way to make friends they may not be the ones you want to make.

Underwear

Similar to clothes, I won't dictate to you how many pairs you should take. You can always have them washed and if you're on a beach trip remember that some days you can just survive in your bikini in case you've not packed enough.

Shoes

Do not pack all your heels. No-one backpacking has heels and if they do, they’re delusional; don’t be delusional. If you need them to get into THAT club, you can buy a pair on the cheap, wear them and pass them on to another backpacker. A hostel I heard about in Sydney would have a section where fellow backpackers could borrow heels that other travellers left so they could get into the dresscoded party places.

What you do need is a pair of good flats that you can walk in for daily use like converses or similar. I use Dude shoes as they’re machine washable, can be packed flat & are SO light for the backpack. I have danced on 5 continents in these shoes and so should you! You’re then going to want a hardy pair of trainers or walking boots for those adventure activities or hikes and finally, your shower flip flops. Shower flip flops will be your lifesaver when you go to wash off the day, and notice that the shower floor has not been cleaned in probably a week. They keep your feet clean and away from other people’s dirt and the scum layer that seems to develop in hostel showers. Shower flip flops are not an actual thing so don’t google them to buy some. They are just waterproof flip flops (or thongs for you Aussies out there) that are normally made of rubber or similar. You can wear them during the day too as regular flip flops and if you’re going for a paddle in a tropical ocean - wear them then too. There are many a fish that lay on the sandy seabed and are so venomous they can kill you if you stand on the so your shoes may save your life (or just prevent your foot from being amputated).

Toiletries

The typical toothpaste, toothbrush, hairbrush, shampoo/conditioner, moisturiser, antibacterial gel, basic make-up & remover, deodorant, sunscreen, after sun; this list could go on forever. Take whatever is relevant to you and your daily routine. Don't worry if you forget any of these though as you can buy all in duty free at the airport or when you arrive. One big one is tampons for the girls, this is something you want to take with you if you're going to need them and depending on where you are you may not want to buy the local version, a little like with condoms...

Accessories

Please remember you’re going backpacking and not to a ball. Accessories need to be minimal and cheap as when living out of a backpack your favourite earrings will get lost. You will always find cool jewellery in markets so can grab some along the way if you need them! You will however need some hair ties and hair pins to keep it all out the way when adventuring around the world.

First aid kit

See my recommended first aid list under the adventure tab

Chargers & adapters

If you're in the UK like me, no-one seems to have the same plugs as us so get an adapter. If you're hitting a lot of countries you can get a multi adapter that will look after you everywhere, but if not you can google the country and which style plug they use in advance to be prepared. Make sure you have your phone charger, and camera charger too - it would suck to miss out on those trip snaps because you have no way to boost your battery. You can always buy them there but they may not be using your countries normal plug style and could be at a different voltage which can damage your electricals.

Extras

I tend to take a mini sewing kit with me everywhere for those little disasters. Padlock for your bag while in transit or for you carry on bag if you're going somewhere known as a pick pocket hub. Headphones for your tunes on the road. A book or your eBook system. Your phone and iPad to go with those chargers you've packed. A money belt or bum bag if you're thinking of roaming the streets in a big city just to keep it safe - and anything else you can think of that you'll need!

Travel money

Good to get this sorted a week or so in advance. For a long trip organise yourself a travel money card. Depending on which country you’re going to you can get a different card per currency or just have one card to cover you. I would seriously recommend the post office card as they have a mobile app for easy top ups, and I’ve heard STA travel do a good one too.Take a little cash with you though, in the currency of the country you’re going to and if you’re hitting Asia take some US dollars with you, they are great to use to bribe yourself out of dodgy situations.

Passport

Can't really get far without it these days.

Visas

Depending on where you're going visas come into play. Look it up before you go and apply with plenty of time to get them sorted. They can take up to 8 weeks to to process but there are fast track options if you're desperate. Bare in mind that some places will give you a visa on arrival depending on which nationality you are so just look it up before spending money on a visa you don't need or can get half the price at the boarder.

Travel insurance

This is really important especially for backpackers as you will be living life to the full, which sometimes equals a broken limb or other bodily ailments. You will also be spending nights in rooms full of other backpackers with minimal ventilation so the bacteria shall we shared and sometimes makes you sick, or just makes your immune system stronger!

Now please please PLEASE make sure you get good cover with a known company. That extra £30 for that slightly better policy will make your life a million times easier if something goes wrong and you need it sorted quickly or that cash payout. Then ensure it’s a backpacker policy, these generally cover all the adventure activities you may want to join in with such as skydiving and whitewater rafting!

Sorry that this wasn't a bullet point list - if you guys want one though let me know and I can do a proper numbered list with specific items depending on where you're going. 

Using Your Phone Abroad

This is a problem all of us in the modern world face - using our phone abroad without racking up a superbill that wastes away precious money and time. Nearly all our phones are smart now so there is always a way to stay in contact with your friends & family without using your normal contract. 

Start by turning your data roaming off. This is the classic mistake that many of us can easily make. We hop off our flight, turn our phone off airplane mode but with roaming still on your phone keeps downloading messages that builds up your bill. Who needs roaming when every other cafe and tourist centre has wifi these days anyway? We're addicted to our technologies these days but you don't have to be, you can last that 10 minutes from leaving the cafe wifi to getting back to your hotel or hostel. However, if you realllllly can't survive without there are a few low priced options for you. 

You can get a SIM card in the country you're staying in. They'll try to sell phone packages to your at the airport but walk straight on by as they're a rip off aimed at overcharging tourists like us for services we don't need. Wait until you get into town and head into one of the many shops that will sell SIM cards, or ask your accommodation as many give out the SIM card for free and you can top up credit while you're there. This is a really great option if you need to make some in country calls such as to a tour provider to book your next leg of the journey. 

You can also purchase a roaming package from your provider at home before you leave. Some of these I don't rate at all so do your research before you agree. I had a great one from EE before when backpacking through Europe. I could use a load of data for £1/day but if I didn't use data that day I wouldn't be charged. There a whole range of these sorts of deals from all the network providers so just do some research and ask around to find something that will suit your needs best. 

Also be aware that some of your tablets are using mobile data and are contract, if yours is on contract do the same and turn off data roaming or get a package to cover your use abroad. 

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How to Find a Travel Buddy

How I met my best friend on the backpacker equivalent of Tinder, took a leap of faith and hoped she wasn’t a male serial killer from ‘The Land of the Free’.

Aged 19, I was looking for an adventure. I had essentially been halfway around the world and back but as a tourist and not a backpacker. We all know the saying; tourists don’t know where they’ve been and travellers don’t know where they’re going. I would say that, for me, this was definitely the case.

My main problem was that I had watched ‘Taken’ and was not yet ready to venture to far off into distant lands on my lonesome. With all my friends being broke – on account of spending all their cash on dressing up and beer at university – it was hard to find anyone to go with at all. Everybody thought it was a great idea, jumping at the chance to travel the world but when it came down to booking the flights; people bailed. Frustrated and determined to hit the road (but not by myself!) I took to the inter-webs and the sometimes confusing land of ‘Travel Buddy’ forums.

Essentially, Travel buddy forums are well meaning yet disorganised little websites that are usually badly maintained. Often, when searching for a potential partner in crime, you will be matched with someone who hasn’t been active for years. These sites can be frustrating but are definitely one of the best places to find likeminded travellers. So, how does it work exactly?

You upload a swanky picture of yourself, fill in your bio, list where you want to go, cross your fingers (and possibly your toes) and hope for the best. If any of you have done online dating, it’s basically the same thing. I used Trav Buddies and Travel Buddy. The latter has a mobile app which is handy but I actually met Nicole (my eventual backpacking companion) on the former.  A really great new one is Penroads.com, these guys are the new up and comers in travel buddies and are less of a forum more of a connections page - give them a go a let me know what you think! 

You then search for people within an age group similar to yourself who have specified the same countries as you and send them a message. Never just send one message to the first person you meet. I had to message a good 50+ people to find Nicole. Some were psychos, a few were just incompatible, one girl lost her nerve but mainly people just didn’t message back or had already been away.

We chatted for a week or so before agreeing on a destination – it was a toss up between a US road trip or interrailing Europe. We skyped a few times and her parents popped up on screen to ensure I was not a man convincing their daughter to run away with him. They obviously were happy with the fact that I really was a vaguely presentable yet slightly clueless English lass and that their daughter could probably beat me up if necessary. With flights booked and a vague plan in place, we were ready to begin! Nicole landed in London just three weeks later and we hopped on a cheap bus to get out of the UK.

We’ll save the travel tales for another time (some are rather cracking), but know that if you invest a little time and go in with a little bit of faith it’s not that hard to find someone to hit the road with you. Two years on I know that I have a friend for life, someone who will never let me down.

If your planning on finding a travel buddy online, you need to stay safe. Here’s my scrambled thoughts on how to find a reliable buddy who will always have your back and how to make sure you dont end up landing a creep.

 

How to stay safe online

After talking for a couple days get a name and then check them out on Facebook. You can then do a healthy bit of stalking and check that they are indeed a real person.

Don’t give out your major personal details (address, mobile number etc) until you’ve had a good chat with them. You do not want ‘Marryanne from Hawaii’ showing up at your door as Karl from Ipswich. All they need to know is your name, where you’re from and where you want to go at first.

Always meet in a mutual location in daylight like a coffee shop, a train station, an airport etc. and make sure a friend or family member knows where you are. If they turn out to be weird you can always have them come and pick you up.

If they live near you, try and meet up a couple times before you travel. Unfortunately, you can’t always find someone nearby (especially if you live in Somerset, England where everyone is waiting to inherit their parent’s farm – what more is there to life than these rolling hills, cows and cider?!) You just have to hope so try to chat a few times a week before going to make sure you’re both on the same page about general destinations and budgets. Nothing more awkward then you planning on budget hostel and street food and they’re thinking the Ritz with a daily bout of champagne and afternoon tea.

It’s hard; but for the first week or so try to make sure friends and family know where you are. Takes the fun slightly out of it but then they at least know which country to head to if you send out an SOS smoke signal.

You can always come home or find someone else. If the person you’re with just isn’t the ketchup to your fries and your more like chalk and cheese, you can always come home or go it alone. Hostels are the best place to meet people so you’ll never truly be flying solo, you’re true buddy could be in bed 8 below the people who have been going at it for hours and is sharing your pain. I’ve gone alone a couple times now and have met friends for life, experiencing  moments of awe, fear, laughter and adventure with them in the most unexpected places.

 

Keep an eye out for….

Spam messages – you are going to get a lot of these from random companies trying to get your details so they can send you spam.

The ‘Creeps’ – there will ALWAYS be those men (or ladies!) who will try and convince you they are lovely and to meet them for a romantic road trip for two. They will sound perfect and be that dream guy who’ll protect you from all the real psychos out there. If it’s too good to be true –IT IS! (cliché I know…)

People saying they’ll do whatever you want to – some are just looking for an adventure and don’t care where they go as long as it’s not solo. However, just be a little wary of it as you’ll never know they’re intentions until you get to know them better by chatting a little and a Skype date.

First contact – Try to use Skype rather than Facetime or Google hangouts. While they all do the same thing, on Skype they don’t need your email address or phone number for you to chat – just a username…

Finally, trust your gut. I know sometimes you wonder if it’s just nerves holding you back but you really just need to just take a moment to go over what they’ve said. If you’ve followed the steps above and there is still something not quite right about them then just find someone else. It may take a few weeks (or months) but you will find those eggs to your bacon!