Much to my parents dismay I have chosen to live a life with no real structure, which has lead me to travel a lot to try and learn more about the world around us. Friends often ask me
How do you afford it though? When are you going to get a real job? Are you going overseas AGAIN? Are you like, always on Holiday? Do you have any travel advice? So here it is:
1. Pack the essentials.
Try not to pack too much. This is a common mistake, you take a huge 20kgs of luggage for a two week trip and end up wearing bathers, shorts and t-shirt the whole time. Obviously the essentials change from destination to destination. Pack light-weight, comfortable clothes that you actually like wearing and learn how to hand-wash. For a two-week to three week break, try not to take more than 7 kilos (just carry on). Right now we’re travelling for a year and I have 15kgs, 2kgs is water, 4kgs is tent and another 2kgs is laptop, the rest is the basics. But don’t be afraid to take some creature comforts, it’s an adventure, you’re not a CIA operative. My go-to must haves:
- 3 x Jocks
- 2 x Socks
- 2 x Durable Drink bottle. This will save you so much money, and also stop your untimely death from dehydration. Make sure they are empty when you are entering the airport, and fill up just before you get on the plane. Don’t be an idiot like me in the above photo and use plastic water bottles (the gentleman taking the photo had just stopped to give me water, it was hard to refuse – I don’t know how to say I don’t want plastic in Thai). Try to purify water when you can, the easiest way is to boil it (make sure the water is clear first), right now we are using SteriPENs which use a UV light to kill the nasties.
- Sarong (multi-purpose)
- Layers (leggings/long sleeves instead of numerous thick coats – Unless it’s Antarctica, then take a doona suit)
- Good walking shoes (you’re going to do a whole lot more exploring and getting lost and when you are crying over the blood filling your cute new sandals, you’ll be cursing yourself for not borrowing Grandma’s crocs)
- Sunscreen (quite expensive in Asia/Africa/South America, so plan in advance)
- Mozzie repellant (again expensive overseas and usually not very potent)
- Smart Phone? This is debatable – I think that you should try as much as possible to “unplug” whilst away, but these devices will help you with Maps, Translations and also to capture your adventure. I also love downloading a good podcast, listening to music or reading on long trips. But try to step away from the tech, embrace your surroundings and all that. They ARE great in case of an emergency.
2. Don’t over-plan (but plan enough so you have a backup when everything goes to crap).
Make sure you tell your bank you are going overseas, you don’t want to be trapped in Mexico with a blocked bank card and no money. Try and be free enough so that when something comes up you can just say “Yes, I’ll do that.” You’ll be surprised where you end up. But when it’s 3am and your host isn’t home from the salsa party in the street, a skinny boy is offering you cocaine and your belongings are locked inside, it’s best to find somewhere else to
hide stay and rest until you can work it out the next day. You’ll realise that most disasters are salvageable, you just need to navigate them with logic. Except for the time you miss you flight home to Australia from South Africa and your wallet has been stolen, then you can feel free to freak out (but even that worked out in the end, thanks mum for being a ninja).
3. Choose your travel buddy wisely and don’t be afraid of going solo.
If you want to go on an amazing wellness retreat to India and partake in a cleansing ashram, don’t invite your mate who spends most days hounding booze and listening to loud bangers (sorry about that). I drive most of my friends crazy with my travel habits. In fact Megan and I drive each other absolutely INSANE, but we are super open and honest with each other and try our best to make compromises. Make sure you aren’t just settling for a travel partner because you’re afraid of being alone. Solo travel is seriously empowering and yes you will be lonely, and yes you will be afraid, but it’s so worth it. Also if you’re planning on going travelling with your significant other, make sure you’ve had a chat about what you actually want to get out of the trip, make compromises but don’t miss out on something you really want to do because they don’t want too, I know they’re your bae, but they can be super dumb and you don’t want to resent them.
4. Leave the Cities.
Cities are great. But also, they tend to have a similar structure. If you want to get a better feel for a country and its people, go to the countryside. Go to the far-flung places and stay with the locals, try their cuisine, visit their natural wonders. Instead of seeing another bloody China town in another city, visit an actual town in China. Instead of visiting another bloody Irish pub in another city, go to an actual rural pub in Ireland. Instead of seeing another bloody Zoo with an African Safari, go on an actual Safari in Tanzania. You get the point.
5. Learn some of the language, or at least try.
Seriously this is a no-brainer, it will help you no end. At the bare minimum learn “Hello”, “Thank-You” and “Sorry, I don’t understand”, people really appreciate the effort. It helps show that you are actually interested in communicating with the locals and that you’re not just there to use their country for your own interests.
6. Respect other cultures. Seriously I shouldn’t even have to write this one.
Cover up at temples, mosques and churches, pretty much any religious sites. Don’t assume it’s okay to touch strangers (i.e shake hands, hug, kiss on the cheek). Dress conservatively in most countries (unless it is obvious that they have a liberal mindset). You basically need to do your research with this one depending on where you go because each country has its own set of cultural norms. In China it can be acceptable to tell someone they are fat, in America it is definitely not. Make sure you respect indigenous people and ethnic minorities, they may be discriminated against in their own countries, but that doesn’t mean that you have to as well. If you are visiting small indigenous communities, don’t treat them like a human zoo, ask if you can take photos, talk to them first!
7. Don’t damage the places you visit.
Don’t pollute, don’t take from cultural/historical sites, don’t take a dump on The Great Wall of China.
8. Lose your inhibitions, but also don’t get arrested.
Stop caring what people think about you, no one cares if your going to be in the Forbes 500 or not, no one cares that you can skull a pint in 4 seconds. Be honest (but not cruel) and try new things that scare you. Make sure the new things that scare you aren’t illegal first. Or roll the dice, I don’t care, it’s your life. Ride that boogie board to Indonesia.
9. Don’t die.
It would devastate your parents. Before you do something stupid and dangerous, think about the people you’d affect if something did happen. You might choose to do it anyway, but maybe just do it in a safer way. The following are good rules to start with:
- Don’t drink water from a communal cup and get a parasite
- Don’t approach a Hippopotamus
- Don’t get too drunk in countries known for organ harvesting
10. Allow yourself to get homesick.
Most people think they should be having the time of their lives on their travels. You should be, but also, you’re allowed to have an absolute shocker. You’re going to miss food, you’re going to miss your bed, you’re going to miss having cupboards. That’s okay. You don’t have to be having a joyous, life-changing, totally ahhhh-mazing experience all the time. You are allowed to cry. Cry your little eyes out. It’s 2am, you’re alone on a train platform and a man just pissed on your bag a little, you cry my darling and dream of your mums fresh baked bread.
11. Humans on the LGBTIQA+ spectrum, make sure you aren’t in danger.
Unfortunately being LGBTIQA+ or anything classed as “other” (as opposed to hetero/cis gendered) can make you a target when travelling. Whilst you are already subject to heinous amounts of discrimination in your everyday lives, SURPRISE!, you get to encounter even more when you travel to certain countries! Relax at an exotic destination, only to receive triple the inequity! But seriously, please be aware of being openly fabulous and awesome about your sexuality, in many countries it is still illegal to be gay and you can even be imprisoned in some places. In Kenya, it is perfectly normal for people of the same gender to hold hands whilst talking/walking (huge sign of respect), however it is illegal to be homosexual. In other countries, they may refuse to recognise your trans-identity even if your chosen gender is reflected in your passport. Be prepared to be belittled and made to feel like crap. Alternatively, travel somewhere you can be your amazing self, free from worries from bigots and fascists. As for all you privileged cis folk, be a damn good brother/sister to your fellow humans and make sure you have your Queer friends back!
12. If you suspect human trafficking, REPORT IT.
Human trafficking is honestly I think the worst of all crimes. Child sex tourism is sadly getting bigger and increasingly hard to fight across international borders. If you see any suspicious activity; someone with a child that doesn’t look like theirs, a child that looks drugged or seems to be held against their will, exchanging of money/child, REPORT IT. You can go to thinkchildsafe.org to do so. Same goes for women/men who you have reason to believe are forced into slavery. You can find organisations online at www.globalmodernslavery.org and contact someone in the country directly. You could help save lives. Just because you’re not at home doesn’t mean that you can just turn a blind eye to injustice.
13. Don’t use your new YOLO lifestyle as an excuse to be an a**hole.
Don’t get lazy and start dropping rubbish on the street because you can’t find a bin. Just because the locals do it, doesn’t mean that you should too. In India it can be common for local men to harass women, and guys, it doesn’t mean that you should join in as well and you should try to stand up for the ladies instead. If the locals like getting drunk and gambling, make sure you see how it affects the younger generation first. This is particularly the case if you are white in a developed nation, some cultures are taught to respect caucasians and look up to them, so chances are, if a kid in China sees you behaving just like his drunk uncle, he’ll think that that’s something to aspire too. Congrats, you single-handedly continued the cycle of poverty and violence in your 5-day getaway.
14. Don’t partake in animal cruelty.
Ughhhh seriously, people are still riding Elephants? No. Just stop. Don’t take photo’s with drugged up tigers that are probably going to be smuggled into the animal trade. Don’t go watch dancing bears. C’mon people, enough is enough.
15. Become an Early riser.
This is the best tip I can give people going to popular destinations. The earlier the better, you get the streets to yourself, it feels like your own little secret. Then if you find somewhere to perch yourself to people watch you can literally watch places come alive.
16. Don’t buy unnecessary stuff.
People are always buying trinkets or gifts for people back home when they travel. If you/they don’t need it, don’t buy it. There’s already way too much waste in the world. Save yourself the hassle of lugging it around with you everywhere. Do something nice and write a damn postcard, I love a hand written note.
17. Remember your actions could have flow on affects.
Remember as a citizen of (insert country here) you will be representing people from that country. I so wish that this weren’t the case, believe me, but humans love categories, we love to generalise. If you act like an idiot, people are going to make linkages between your behaviour and the next tourist that comes along who looks and speaks like you. Sometimes when you try to do the “nice” thing and buy from children or give money to beggars, you could be doing more harm than good. Some children are taken out of school to beg, others are crippled intentionally to get more money from begging and the more you give, the more people are encouraged to keep up this horrific practice. Also, if you are well off, don’t flaunt your money around in developing countries, not only is it rude, it can make it hard for other people who are living/travelling there and may not have your privilege. Try not to pay bribes, always ask officials for a name and a receipt, if they can’t give you either don’t pay them.
18. Hanger and Zombie-brain are your biggest enemy.
If you are angry/upset but don’t know why, EAT something and have a SLEEP, I guarantee it will change everything.
19. Get travel insurance.
You’re not an invincible god.
20. Try Couchsurfing.
It’s free and it’s a great way to meet new people and see an entirely new side of a city. If it seems a bit daunting, try AirBnB instead, honestly such a better way to see places and force you to engage.