Photo credit: r/backpacking
For most of us, travel is just out of reach unless we are willing to really rough it. Backpacking, train hopping, motorbiking, and camping in exotic places may be the only way any of us will see anything, ever. In the wrong hands, however, this kind of travel can be uncomfortable at best, and super dangerous at worst. My first introduction to adventure travel of this kind was through the happenstance of meeting a carpenter at a fundraising dinner.
“I saved my whole life to take my trips,” he said, “I was a carpenter for decades, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I saved every penny, and as soon as I retired, I started traveling. But I don’t take vacations – no, I live with the real people of Cambodia.”
He was a jolly, rough older man, and he put his arm around his ‘wife’, a lovely woman he had lived with for almost as long as his carpentry career. She was quiet, content to let him ramble on about his favorite places. He put his hands together in the posture of greeting, and bowed to us: “Susaday!” It was obvious to see that he was an adventurer, and proud of it. I was insanely jealous.
So here’s the top ten things you should know about traveling cheap around the world, gleaned from the experienced:
- Don’t keep all of your underwear and socks in your checked luggage. Keep a pair in your carry-on bag because your luggage can arrive the next day, or maybe never.
- Don’t get lost. Wandering away from your itinerary wastes your trip, and can be dangerous. Take pictures of the large maps displayed in towns. Keep all of your itinerary and emergency information on several small sheets of paper that are stored in your bag, your pocket, your socks, etc. Email your itinerary to yourself and everyone you know.
- Don’t get malaria. Bring stick-on wall hooks with you to hang up mosquito netting.
- Don’t spend too much money. Understand the prices in the region, and learn to haggle, which is standard practice in most places. Small items like pens, LED lights, and cigarettes are often worth a lot.
- Don’t eat tourist food. This may seem counterintuitive, but it’s probably safer and cheaper (and tastier) to eat where the locals eat rather than places that cater to tourists.
- Don’t get robbed. Pickpockets will be able to tell that you’re not local, and you’ll be a target. Travel light, bring few valuables, and keep your money very close, hopefully near your chest. Keep digital copies of all of your important documents so that you still have some kind of identification. Don’t put your bag near your feet when you sit down, keep it in your lap.
- Don’t be stupid. Don’t jump on or off of a moving train, don’t walk around at night alone, and don’t wander away from your itinerary, even if a local says you should.
- Don’t be unprepared. Arrive with travel insurance, vaccinations, and also a well-developed set of motorbike skills. In many places scooters and bikes are the only reliable transportation and it’s best to learn before you go.
- Don’t give things away. It’s ok to give to the monks who beg for a living, but don’t give anything to anyone else, even skinny little kids. You have to take out your money to do it, you don’t have enough, and you can easily get overwhelmed. Volunteer instead.
- Don’t let your travel buddy ruin it. Sometimes your travel companion will want to do things that compromise your common sense, or be arrogant enough to make things dangerous or uncomfortable. Don’t tolerate it.