A Traveller’s Guide to Travelling on a Budget

Inspired by: Chris on Tour
Original article: How to Keep Travel Costs Low

Chances are that if you’re travelling for more than a month or two (and you’re not already loaded) then money is going to be an issue. And while you’re on the road, the last thing you’re going to want to do is have to think about money all the time – let alone worry about it. To help you out, we’ve written up 10 tips for keeping those costs down while you’re off exploring. Hopefully these will help you stretch your trip out to the max.

1. Keep a budget

Firstly, set a daily budget and stick to it. Sure, this will mean keeping an eye on what you’ve been spending all day and recording it (perhaps in an excel spreadsheet), but do this and you’ll know exactly what you’re spending. The easiest way to do this is to put a day’s amount in cash in your hand and count what’s left at the end. Record what’s saved, and after a few days of saving you never know, you may have enough money in the green to go on that tour you’ve been wanting or enjoy a nice meal out. Being in the green feels good too.

2. Be selective

It’s important to recognise that it’s not possible to travel cheaply everywhere, and prices are rising all the time. Regions such as South Asia and Southeast Asia tend to be the cheapest, but there’s good value-for-money to be had in other regions too. And don’t just be selective with where you travel, but be selective with what you do while you’re travelling too. Work out which experiences are meaningful to you and worth the cost, and make sure you budget for those experiences accordingly. You may have to miss out on doing some awesome things this time round, but you can always return to that country again in the future, can’t you?

3. Lower your standards

If you’re going to be travelling on a budget (and a small one at that), then you’re going to have to lower your standards – especially if you’re coming from a comfortable, modern and efficient country. Expect cheaper restaurants to be a little dirty and for the service to be poor, for your bed to have broken springs or stains, for the hotel to be noisy and rough around the edges, or for your bus to break down numerous times along the way. Lower prices almost always mean lower quality – although there’s still some excellent value for money to be had in many parts of the world. Just don’t expect such value to be the majority. 

 

4. Base yourself

Generally, the less you move about, the less you’ll spend. If you base yourself in a location for five days to a week and take day trips from there, you’ll usually save money. Finding a cheap accommodation option that allows you to cook and wash your own clothes will really help too, as will selecting a location that has many cheap (or free) activities. Going off season can also dramatically reduce costs, and it’s not always a complete wash out travelling at these times either. It can in fact be quiet and very rewarding!

5. Travel carefully

Sleight of hand, outright robbery, a casual con, losing your stuff, missing a flight or bus, accidentally overpaying – all of these things cost, and in the long run they can add up to quite a bit. The more careful you are around dodgy people or with your schedule, money and belongings in general, the more you’ll save for doing those amazing bucket-list experiences you’ve always dreamed of. It’s also generally cheaper to create a logical route. If you end up madly zipping backwards and forwards across the country because you didn’t do your research, that’s going to cost you.

6. Share with friends

Travel alone and on a budget and you may be forced to hitchhike, sleep in dorms and only eat the cheapest of things. Travel with a partner or with friends however and suddenly a taxi split four ways doesn’t cost so much, and neither might a private apartment shared between newly made amigos. What’s more, there’s a lot of food on offer around the world that’s just designed to be shared, from Korean BBQs to Turkish meze. Travel on your own with little money and you may very well miss out on some delicious experiences.

7. Prepare your own food

While it’s always pleasurable (and part of the experience) to eat out when you’re travelling – and must be done from time to time at least, if you’re on a tight budget and are moving about for a number of months you’re going to want to prepare your own food as much as possible. Breakfasts are almost always a rip off, especially seeing as local fruit, some oats and a little yoghurt are universally cheap. Of course, some countries just don’t offer up kitchens to guests very often, and in these cases you’ll want to look for where the workers are eating or try do make do with supermarkets. Lunch specials for labourers are quite common (especially in Latin America), and can often be very filling and extremely affordable.   

8. Haggle and research

Do some research beforehand and you’ll be guaranteed to save yourself money while you’re on the road. If you know how much something should cost before you buy it – a bus ticket, taxi or tour for instance, you’ll be in a much better position to haggle down the price. And haggle you should, almost always… unless it’s culturally impolite. But of course be friendly and generous about it; don’t rip the locals off. There are even times where you can offer a ‘tip’ to a member of staff, such as “if you let me and my wife enter for the price of one ticket, I will pay you a tip of X”. Of course, you’ll need a bit of the local language to do this, and will probably also need to be travelling in a country that has high levels of poverty or corruption.  

9. Kick your addictions

OK, so most of us like to drink or smoke or both, but if you can then try to limit this as much as possible. Especially limit store-purchased alcohol and cigarettes, as these can take up a good deal of your daily budget. One beer at a restaurant can cost as much as your meal in some countries. And anyway, there’s usually some local smoke or tipple for much cheaper than the international brands, so keep an eye out for those if you really need to get buzzed. You’re also more likely to spend money without thinking if you’re high or drunk all the time, and like we said earlier – keeping safe will keep your money safe too.

10. Get a good bank

Banks can charge extortionate fees, sometimes at both ends: your home country and abroad. Do some research before you set off about which banks offer the best packages. It’s often possible to find a bank with excellent exchange rates and no withdrawal fees from most ATMs (although this is often country dependant). Of course, such an account may ask you for a minimal monthly fee, but this can often be easily offset by the money you’ll save. If you’re travelling for a year say, ATM withdrawal fees can add up to many hundreds of dollars.

A Traveller’s Guide to Travelling on a Budget Forum

An Expatriate’s Guide to Renting a Property

Unless you’re moving abroad to live with family, or your new job provides you with accommodation (as can be common in certain fields such as education), you’re going to want to find a new apartment pretty swiftly after you arrive to your new home. Exactly what type of apartment you’re looking for, where you want it to be, and how much you expect it to cost all depends on personal preferences, but there is some advice that can be useful no matter what you have in mind. The following guide should hopefully make that settling in period a little clearer and easier to deal with.

1. Research before you arrive

Whether you’re eager to move in quickly or are in no particular rush, researching in advance can still have its benefits. A few searches and questions posed in forums, on social media and across letting agencies should give you a rough idea of what kind of price range you can expect upon landing, and which districts of the city or town you’re moving to are the best to live in. It’s also a good idea to ask around about what paperwork you might need to prepare in advance to rent a property. In some countries, moving in is as relaxed as paying some rent in advance, while in others you may be required to obtain residency permits, large deposits and willing local guarantors.

2. Ask for help

If you don’t speak the local language, then chances are you’re going to find it difficult to rent an apartment on your own – especially if you’ve never lived in that country before. Start off by asking your new employer whether they offer any support in finding accommodation for new employees, as quite often they do. It might not be much more than an estate agent recommendation, but it’s not unheard of to be assigned a translator to help you in signing your documents and agreeing on a price. And you’ll probably also be informed of which local complexes or agents are worth looking into too.

Don’t forget though to consider also asking the locals, especially other expats and new colleagues. First-hand advice is usually the most reliable at determining which districts are worth living in, where offers good value for money, and which letting agents are worth your time of day. You’ll also no doubt be given advice about any documentation you’ll have to gather, any pit falls to avoid, and perhaps also ways of saving yourself a bit of cash here and there – which is always a good thing. Letting agents are salesman at the end of the day, and they can be negotiated with as much as they can offer up a good con.

3. Arrange a number of viewings

If you’re in a hurry, you’ll want to arrange viewings as soon as you land – if not before you’ve even arrived. It pays to be a little patient though, and to make sure you’ve seen a variety of apartments so that you’ve got a good idea of the range in price and quality on offer. If you can, you might also want to take a peek into an existing employee’s home, as seeing what such an apartment looks like fully-furnished is often more evocative (and encouraging) than seeing that apartment either completely empty, full of junk, or clearly in need of work! It can also be a good idea to book viewings with a number of letting agents, although do be prepared for some pushy sales tactics should you suddenly confess your disinterest!

4. Meet the landlord

Although it’s not always possible, do try to meet the landlord before signing any kind of lease or contract. Any work that needs to be done on the apartment in the future will usually have to be signed off by that landlord, and if you’re planning on staying for the long term it might be worth seeing if your they are likely to do so too. A landlord on death’s door for instance may mean that a sale in the next few years is likely, and you wouldn’t want to be kicked out of your lovely new apartment before you’re ready, would you?

Landlords will also be able to fill you in a little on who’s currently living in the neighbouring apartments. From experience, middle-aged couples with children who have recently moved out of home tend to offer the most stable and honest situations. Most new tenants prefer to find a landlord that is professional and friendly, but that also keeps themselves to themselves. Being surprised in your new apartment at random hours with gifts (or general curiosity) can make settling in that little bit more… exciting/stressful(?).     

5. Negotiate a package

A year’s rent can be quite pricey in certain parts of the world, so you could be saving yourself quite an amount if you’re simply willing to engage in a bit of healthy haggling. Convincing the landlord to be around on the day of signing should make you much more likely to negotiate a better deal, and enquiring with your estate agent as to what the personal situation is with your new potential landlord can help too. If they’re looking for a quick sale, you’ll certainly have more wiggle room – especially if you can deliver the cash quickly up front and in full.

Your agent should be able to negotiate a good price on your behalf, particularly if you don’t have the confidence or language ability to do so yourself. Although it’s not just the monthly rent that you’ll want to negotiate. It can pay off to look into any additional fees that you might incur, such as building maintenance, parking, or local government taxes, as these can really add up. How long your contract will stay at the same price for, how furnished your new home will be, and whether any utilities such as gas or water are included are also things that can be discussed on the day. Of course, you’ll want to offer your new (quite human and hopefully personable) landlord a fair price too, so do keep that in mind when in the process of haggling. And don’t get too aggressive; they can back out as easily as you before anything is signed.   

6. Keep an eye on things

Find out if there’s a time-frame for when (and if) any white or brown goods are replaced, and enquire as to whether you’ll be responsible for things like the plumbing, or lighting and general fittings. Some countries will cover small items for the first month only, and then you’re on your own after that if you’ve got a blocked toilet or something similar. A good idea can be to photograph all of the little things that are wrong with the apartment and send them to your agent or landlord with a brief description, letting them know that you’re not too bothered about getting them fixed yet but that you want to raise them to their attention. That way, further down the line, these small issues once grown shouldn’t become your responsibility.

An Expatriate’s Guide to Renting a Property Forum

A Traveller’s Guide to Hitchhiking

By: Chris on Tour
Original article: How to Hitchike

Chris has written a great article about how to better hitchhike about the globe. Click here to read the original article and learn about the 100+ countries he’s travelled, or  keep reading below for a summary of his top 10 hitchhiking tips:

1. Learn the correct signals

More often than not, if you’re in western continents such as Europe, North America or Australia then you’ll flag a car down by holding up a thumb and pointing it backwards in the direction you want to go. For other parts of the world, especially in  Asia then a flat hand held out low and wagged at the ground usually does the trick. 

2. Be cautious if you’re alone

It pays to be extra cautious if you’re travelling alone when hitchhiking. Unfortunately, this is especially true if you’re female. If you don’t have a good feeling about the person offering you a ride, then perhaps politely refuse and be prepared to wait a little while longer.

3. Look approachable

If you want the drivers to stop and pick you up, it pays to look as tidy as possible. Stay positive, trim that shaggy beard and wear clothing that doesn’t look as though you’ve been living in it for the last few days – even if you have!

4. Pick a good location

If you choose a spot where a car can’t stop or see you, then it’s going to make nabbing that lift all the more difficult. It’s always a good idea to stand somewhere where there’s an obvious and well-checked speed limit. Oh, and Chris recommends never trying on highways where hitchhiking is usually quite illegal! 

5. Start early

Traffic is almost always heavier during the first half of the day, and especially during that morning rush-hour period. And if you’re somewhere rural, then expect things to get tricky as of the late afternoon.

“I often walk up to 5km to get a decent spot trying to get out of bigger cities,” Chris on Tour.

6. Switch up your locations

Chris also recommends changing location to try your luck when hitchhiking. Not only does this give you more chance of being seen, but you’ll be slowly making your way out of town (hopefully in the direction you want to go!), and no driver should really be concerned about others in ambush. 

7. Expect multiple rides

Depending on where and how far you’re going, you’re probably going to need multiple rides to get there. Sometimes it’s easier just to say the name of the next main town, especially if there’s a decent language barrier between you and the driver. You never know, you may find after a little conversation that they’re heading your way anyway. 

8. Prepare to get stranded

It happens to every hitchhiker at least once in a while. Make sure you’ve got a tent, water and supplies with you at all times, particularly if you’re heading into a remote location. 

9. Communicate

You’ve now probably been picked up because the driver wouldn’t mind a little company, so do make sure to be friendly and talkative during the trip. It’s always a good idea to politely answer any questions the driver has about you, even if you’ve heard them a million times before.  And bring snacks for sharing, because who doesn’t like those?

10. Have a map

A phone with GPS works a treat, especially with Google Maps . For similar maps offline, don’t forget to download the excellent Maps.Me

A Traveller’s Guide to Hitchhiking Forum

A Traveller’s Guide to Motorcycle Touring – On the Road

By Owen Sleigh

So you’re interested in motorbike touring? Great. Riding a bike is one of life’s big thrills – even more so when it’s in a new country with amazing scenery, food and people. I’ve written up two guides that might help you if you’re after advice. Click here if you’re still at the Preparation stage, or continue reading if you’re ready to hit the road. Happy Riding!

1. Be safe on the roads

If you’re a competent rider, ride sensibly and know the rules of the road, you should be fine. As a general rule, don’t ride beyond your ability or go faster than you’re comfortable with; most biker deaths are caused by excess speed. Keep your eyes open, be aware of other vehicles, and don’t overtake when you can’t see a long way ahead. It’s also always a good idea to keep to the side of your lane due to overtaking cars coming the other way – especially on blind corners. This is probably the number one safety tip of riding a motorcycle in places like Southeast Asia. Might is right. Cars and trucks will expect you to move for them!

Continuously scanning the road for potholes, stones, animals and slippery diesel spillages is another good idea, taking care to not lean too far over should you encounter the latter on a bend. I saw two guys slide off their bike for this reason, although they were thankfully unharmed. Also use your horn when overtaking, and any other time you want to alert someone to your presence. 

2. Set reasonable expectations

As a general rule, 200km a day is good going. Average speeds can be surprisingly low, especially on twisty or busy roads where 20kmh is not unheard of. Not that it’s a bad thing – there’s no point rushing, and the journey itself is probably why you’re reading this. Plus, a low speed allows you more time to observe the scenery.

You’ll want a short break every 90 minutes or so without doubt, to stop and stretch your legs. And after about 5-6 hours of riding, most people will have had enough for the day. It’s also almost always a good idea to ride in the day rather than at night, as you will see more – and it’s a hell of a lot safer. You will inevitably end up riding at night sometimes though, so do be sure to have your lights checked and properly working!

3. Find somewhere to rest

When you’re tired of riding for the day, look out for a hotel. If you want a quiet night, try and avoid rooms next to a busy road, the hotel reception or a mosque! Ask for a discount, you will often get one. Most hotel staff are honest but beware of a trick – they charge you for the standard or luxury room but put you in a dingy economy room and hope you won’t notice. For this reason you should see the room first to decide if it’s worth the price.

Lock your bike up at night, preferably out of sight and to a solid object like a railing, using your combination lock. Alternatively many hotels will park your bike in to the lobby or gated area and keep it secure overnight.

4. Prepare for the police

It’s quite rare to be pulled over; I didn’t even see any road police in Vietnam and Laos, and only encountered one road check the whole length of Indonesia. Nevertheless, ride long enough and far enough and you will be stopped eventually. So when you do get pulled over, if you’re fully legal then you have nothing to worry about, but if you’re found to not have a license or something about your bike is breaking the law, then don’t panic… and be prepared to smile. It’s time for a bit of sweet talking and bribery – and as low as USD5-10 usually does the trick. If caught in this situation, always start by saying you don’t have much cash on you, and never show a wallet full of money or you will find the fine to be greatly inflated.

5. Sell your bike

Finish your journey with ample time to sell your bike, and I would recommend at least a week. Write an ad and post it on the local Facebook sellers groups, expat websites and the local buy & sell sites, or post paper adverts on doors and walls, in hotel receptions, and on street walls and lampposts, etc.

Word of mouth is also a great way to sell things quickly, and it’s often overlooked, so mention your bike to people in bars, your hotel, and in the street too. Alternatively, you can sell the bike back to the shop you bought it from, as I did in Mumbai, but you’ll probably need to agree this with the owner beforehand. This is a good option as long as you are happy to return to the same place you started from. One word about selling though – never let potential buyers know you are desperate, and never tell them when you need to leave by. If it’s known that you are desperate to sell, then it’s known also that you will accept a very low price!

If time is running out and you still haven’t sold up, then get your bike and documents ready for sale and ride around looking for used bike dealers. Drop in and tell them you can sell your bike there and then for a good price and you should hopefully get lucky. This is how I sold my Honda Verza in Bali with only two days left on my Indonesian visa. That way you’ll have most of your money back, epic photos, awesome memories, and hopefully no injuries.

6. Prepare for the cost

Is it expensive? Motorcycle touring in third world countries is much more affordable than you might think. Your main expense is buying a bike. A decent bike of 100-150 cc can be found anywhere from USD400–1000,  and you should get most of that back when you sell it (as long as you don’t crash it along the way!). Fuel is usually inexpensive in many backpacker places, and you should get at least 100 miles per gallon (my Honda Verza 150 averaged 133!). Your main expenses after that are food and board, but budget hotels and motels are often inexpensive and street food can be extremely cheap – sometimes just pennies for a meal. Overall, two months of riding the length of Indonesia cost me just over GBP1,000, and I’m sure you can do it for at least that too. Happy riding! 

A Traveller’s Guide to Motorcycle Touring – On the Road Forum

A Traveller’s Guide to Travel for Women

By Kimberly Kosta

I headed down to the lobby of the Hotel Unico in Bangkok wearing a bikini which I’d covered with a sarong, excited to be finally making use of their pool out back in the sticky Thai weather. It was February and I perpetually felt like I was wrapped in a hot, wet comforter when outside. The pool was modest but had one of those trees with the sweet-smelling tropical flowers that plop into the water as if to find relief from the heat like me. My dad would be joining me in a few minutes for some relaxation in the sun.

Suddenly a man (a large man) blocks my path and has his hand thrust out to shake mine. He is very forward and very friendly, and being taken by surprise in the safety of the hotel, I’m unprepared. So I indulge him by saying hi back and engaging in friendly chit-chat. It’s okay for a minute, but then I realize he’s not going to let me leave. I don’t remember the actual conversation itself except he started telling me I was pretty and sexy and yadda yadda (STILL BLOCKING MY WAY) and yadda yadda (WON’T ACCEPT MY TRYING TO END THE COVERSATION) and I’m starting to back up and he closes the distance I’ve just instinctively put between us, ignoring my now curt answers and nervous glances around the room (where is my Dad?) and yadda yadda. Many of you know how this goes.

Being courteous can be dangerous.

Fortunately, my dad showed up right as I was starting to calculate what it was I’d need to say to politely get out of there, because unfortunately, I can’t flip the bitch switch very well. What starts as polite must end polite at all costs. I don’t know why. They say during times of alarm a person has a few choices in fear responses: flight, fight, or freeze. I’m a combo of flight and freeze, opting for fight at random times and only if anger was triggered enough. This hardly happens if I’m caught unawares, though. 

My Dad extricated me from the “conversation” and we moved on. The man didn’t follow.

Normally I’m more prepared. When I exit the hotel, I put myself on guard. I’m still polite but much more reserved. I’m READY TO BE RUDE. It’s not my natural default, you see. There’s less eye contact and less smiling. I walk with purpose. I sling my purse around my torso so drive-by thieves on scooters can’t steal it from me staying clear of the street. I leave the phone behind so I can pay attention to where I am, what’s going on and who’s around me. Lots of phones get snatched out of hands, too. It’s impossible to pay attention to both your phone and the people who are being very stealthy and wanting to steal it or your stuff.

As my dad and I went on our tour of the market he was being, shall we say, very Canadian. He was so friendly and so chatty with all the vendors, wanting to make a good impression and be the perfect diplomat. I never smiled until a transaction was ending and I’d actually made a purchase. I was never outwardly rude or impolite, but I didn’t engage anyone unnecessarily. I’d travelled there alone once and had a great time. I attribute some of that success to being a little more guarded in my body language.

At lunch we discussed it, but even after the incident in the lobby he didn’t quite understand what it was like to be vulnerable 24-7. He never has to think about it. In contrast, it’s all I think about. He was worried I wasn’t being polite enough, and I was worried he was being too polite. So I explained to him what it’s like to be seen as the “vulnerable sex.” Everybody wants to take advantage of whatever edge they can get, and being seen as weak and less intelligent gives the wrong kind of people instant confidence they can take what they want from you. How I’m regarded depends a lot on where I am. I might be taken as naive, taken as a bubble-head, taken as an easy-sale, taken as, well, easy. I tried to explain that it would be simple for someone to overpower me, to drug me, to exploit me. I don’t think it totally translated to my dad that being stand-offish was that helpful  BUT IT IS.

In the West, in general, we have a certain level of safety we can expect as women. Not perfect, but we know our boundaries. Abroad we have to think of those boundaries differently. Travelling, and especially travelling alone, has been one of the most rewarding experiences in the world for me. I would never tell someone not to leave their home country because of fear. Travelling tests everyone. But I’ve learned some things from being out there as a woman that I’d like to share:

Never look lost.

NEVER put your bag down. I did that once. It didn’t end well. And I now figure I was being watched and followed because I looked like a lost tourist (I was) and I was also very tired.

Be reserved in your demeanor. Be polite with wait staff but don’t be too bubbly with anyone else.

Assert yourself when appropriate. Taxi drivers are a perfect example. If I insist on meter fare before I even get into the cab, I’m setting the tone that I have confidence to speak up for myself and I’ve generally had good experiences as a result.

Separate your ID, cards and money. I mean, duh.

Get comfortable saying “No”.

Familiarize yourself with the country/area your visiting ahead of time to know what to expect (customs, expected garb, and basic dos and don’ts are a given) but even knowing simple things like taxi fares from Point A to Point B are good to know. Once you feel your confidence drop from being taken advantage of, it can show and you always want to look like you’re in control.

– A really well-travelled friend of mine once told me to know where the McDonald’s is/are (or some other popular franchise restaurant if there’s one around). There, you can find water, bathrooms, a phone, and information. It’s also well-lit, and they don’t care if you loiter while you sort yourself out.

TRUST YOUR GUTS. I’m absolutely positive my husband and I were being stalked by a pair of thieves on a subway to the Seoul airport once, and although the conversation started really friendly with one of them, things didn’t add up. And it just felt wrong. We managed to awkwardly ditch him at the airport, but my alarm bells were going off.

– As a woman, you don’t owe anyone the time of day or a sweet smile. It’s hard if that’s your natural disposition, but people see it as a big ‘ol welcome mat into ripping you off/possibly assaulting you. I still struggle with this one.

Check out other articles on safety for basics. 

– By all means have a good time and enjoy the fascinating world we live in, but just accept that at some point a theft will happen, a taxi driver will rip you off, and someone will come on to you. You get heartier about the bad times as they happen to you, and you realize that you can overcome them. But as they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

A Traveller’s Guide to Travel for Women Forum

A Traveller’s Guide to Motorcycle Touring – Preparation

By Owen Sleigh

So you’re interested in motorbike touring? Great. Riding a bike is one of life’s big thrills – even more so when it’s in a new country with amazing scenery, food and people. I’ve written up two guides that might help you if you’re after advice. Click here to find out about being On the Road, or continue reading if you’re still in the preparation stage. Happy Riding!

1. Getting some experience

Ideally have a license and some riding experience already. If you don’t, you’re obviously at increased risk compared to a licensed and experienced rider. Hire a bike for a day or two and complete a smaller journey first, perhaps somewhere near to where you live. You could also watch some YouTube videos about rider safety and road hazards. Accidents do happen regardless, so any journey is undertaken entirely at your own risk.

2. Choosing a motorbike

What most motorcycle tourists want is a reliable, comfortable and fuel efficient bike with good handling. A great bike that ticked all these boxes in Indonesia for me was the Honda Verza 150 fuel injection. Either way, I recommend:

– A manual bike (not automatic). Not only is it more authentic, but you will need manual gear selection on uneven uphill roads and, if you’re doing a little off-road, sand or mud.

– A reliable Japanese brand: Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha, or Kawasaki.

– A small capacity 100-150cc bike, as this will offer great fuel economy and have enough power for general touring.

– A standard or cruiser bike, rather than a sports-bike. An upright riding position is much more comfortable for long rides than a position leaning forwards.

– Fuel injection (as a bonus).

As we all know, you get what you pay for. Good things are not cheap, and cheap things are not good – and bikes are no exception. It is worth paying more for a quality machine that won’t let you down in the middle of nowhere. What would you do if your bike failed up some remote mountain road when it’s getting dark and there are no workshops in sight? I learned this lesson the hard way whilst riding through Vietnam and Laos on a bike that I had only paid USD200 for. It had many irksome minor problems, and in hindsight I really wish I’d spent more money on a better bike…

3. Buying a motorbike

Once on the ground, you should allow yourself a week or so to find and buy a motorbike. Locate some bike shops or private sellers selling your desired bike. For both options it’s helpful to befriend someone who speaks the local language as well as English so that they can translate for you.

When you’ve found a suitable bike for sale, research what is a good price for it. Don’t necessarily believe the price the seller tells you. They know you are a fresh foreigner who doesn’t know the local value of things, so inflation is to be expected. Look at similar models for sale online and take into account condition, service history and age.

In terms of the servicing and history of the bike, don’t rely on what the seller tells you unless they have the documents to prove it. And it’s essential that they have the registration documents of the bike as you’ll need to show these if stopped by the police, and especially if you cross any borders.

Finally, engage in a good old bit of haggling with help from your translator (or your own language ability) before you agree on a final price. Once you have a bike, congratulations! You will now also need to buy a quality full face helmet, some motorbike gloves, and a combination lock you can depend on. All of these items are relatively inexpensive in many cheap countries, although when you pay do be very vigilant when withdrawing large sums of cash from the ATM.

4. Getting insurance

Third party motorcycle insurance is definitely desirable. Buy it if you can find it, although it seems non-existent in some regions such as in Southeast Asia. In an accident in places such as these, it is common for the police and involved parties to simply decide who is guilty and how much they will have to pay in reparations.

As a foreigner (especially one with no license), it will surely be you found to blame, so make sure you have some money spare to prepare for if this happens. It’s a risk you must accept if you are going to undertake a motorcycle journey in a foreign country with no insurance, and with no motorcycle license either your travel insurance will not cover you for personal injury in a road accident. And those medical expenses can definitely rack up!

5. Servicing your motorbike

Once you’ve bought your bike, make sure everything is working properly. Ideally get it serviced at an official garage such as Honda/Yamaha if you can find one. The official manufacturer service shops should have higher standards of service than smaller independent garages, and they will do an honest job too. Still, whenever you have work done to your bike, try to observe it being applied. It’s always a good idea to come back later unexpectedly and check the staff are actually doing the work as agreed. 

A general service with no major work needed will be inexpensive. In Indonesia, for example, my Honda Verza had a new spark plug, oil change, air filter clean and brake tightening which cost about GBP12. Be sure to retain the service receipts as they prove you’ve taken care of the bike and will help you get a good price when you sell it at the end.

5. Preparing your luggage

You will need a good backpack or panniers, as you can’t fit a suitcase on a motorbike (as with the bike, pay extra for a quality backpack!). Pack light – only the essentials. My bag consisted of basic clothes, toiletries, laptop and a kindle. You will also need a smart phone for Google Maps or Maps Me. When your road map and road signs are inadequate (as they often will be) and you don’t know where you are, you can use the My Location function and you are instantly pinpointed. This saved me many times from going the wrong way, and it will probably save you too.

6. Planning your route

Plan your route the day before. The golden rule of bike touring is to avoid the main and busy straight roads and go for the twisty, scenic minor roads. Main roads, especially two lane highways, are often (but not always) busy and full of trucks. Trucks are the eternal bane of the biker. They are slow, belch out diesel fumes in your face, block the view of the road ahead, and are generally dangerous. 

7. Choosing your clothes

Wear jeans, a shirt and a long sleeved sweater, as well as a helmet and gloves, and you should be fine. These will protect you in an accident and will also keep the sun off. Don’t worry if it’s too hot initially – the wind will cool you down. You can get the worst sunburn of your life riding a bike, because with all that cooling wind you won’t feel yourself burning. So slap that sunblock onto any exposed skin such as your neck and upper chest, and don’t forget your forearms too if the wind blows back your sleeves.

A Traveller’s Guide to Motorcycle Touring – Preparation Forum

A Traveller’s Guide to Travelling Safely

If one of your lifelong ambitions is to travel extensively, then you’re going to want to keep you, your finances and your belongings as safe as possible for as long possible. Most people who travel extensively rarely come across anything more serious than a cheeky con or light roberry, but travel often enough and far enough and you will eventually come unstuck – everyone does. However, if you follow these guidelines, you might be able to minimise how expensive or risky that situation becomes.

1. Be confident

Regardless of whether you really feel so, it’s important to look confident about where you are and where you’re going. The more lost you look getting off that public bus or train, the more likely you are to be approached by touts and hawkers. And the same is true when for you’re walking about in public. If you need to stop to check a map, do it inside a shop or a shop doorway and you should draw less attention to yourself. Try to take a mind map of where you are before you head out and that might help you stop to check the map less frequently too.  

It’s also a good idea to be confident about who you are and why you’re there. If you’ve decided to change your politically-charged nationality for a more innocuous one, you might want to make sure you’ve got your story straight before you start lying openly about your background to the locals. You’ll also no doubt be asked pretty quickly by inquisitive folk as to what you’re doing in their homeland – and you may want to hide or advertise that motivation depending on who you are and what you’re there for.  

2. Be quietly suspicious

As sad as it sounds, it pays to be suspicious of pretty much everyone you meet. This is especially true in the poorer and more entrepreneurial countries such as India where many people will try to sell you something or take you back to their shop if given half the chance. Of course, don’t let such suspicion put you off meeting the locals, just have an expectation for where the conversation is headed and you’ll do better at avoiding a potentially awkward situation. Most of these people are just friendly opportunists, and seemingly wealthy travellers may not pass them by all that often.

Of course, it’s not just the locals that you should be suspicious of. Reportedly, much of the theft among travellers comes from other people on the move who are eager to extend their own travels that little bit longer. It’s a good idea not to trust another backpacker too quickly with the keys to your room for example or to leave expensive equipment lying around to be scooped up. Most people you’ll meet aren’t thieves by any means, but some people most definitely don’t have much of a problem with the concept – and they may have misconceptions about exactly how wealthy you really are.

3. Look like you belong

This can be seemingly impossible to do if you’re travelling in a part of the world where people look nothing like you, but it’s not a matter of blending in with the natives – you just need to look like you’ve been in that location for some time. Carrying a backpack or a camera everywhere and wearing minimal or beachy clothing will most certainly make you stand out in 95% of places, and those that do stand out tend to get targeted more by hawkers who can spot fresh meat from a mile off. Wear simple and plain clothes that cover you well such as trousers and shirts, and try not to look too clean or wealthy. A few scuffs on your backpack, a tan and somewhat dishevelled hair can go a long way to making you look less moneyed and therefore less approachable.

4. Do your research

One of the best ways to stay safe is to be as prepared as possible. Research where you’re going beforehand, know how to get from a-to-b efficiently, and perhaps consider booking that first night’s accommodation in advance. If you know roughly where you’re headed, you’ll probably appear less bewildered on arrival and will likely be better prepared for those occasions when you’re mobbed by touts. Without a good dose of research, it’s not uncommon to find yourself overpaying, making illogical (and expensive) routes across the country, or at worse becoming more open to robbery and cons. Research where is safe enough to travel at night and where isn’t and you should be able to dodge most of the more dangerous situations.   

5. Take advice

The locals are pretty much the best source of on-the-ground information about where is currently safe for a foreigner to go exploring, and travellers will be able to help you out along the way too. If you’re heading out on a hike or a bike ride or are disappearing into the forest for a while to pick mushrooms, try to find other travellers in the area that have done something similar shortly before you. A quick “I wouldn’t do that if I were you because…” may save you a good deal of money, time, nerves and stress. Of course, knowing when locals are scaremongering for whatever reason is also important too. Sometimes, if you listened solely to the advice of the locals, you’d probably never go anywhere or do anything!

6. Avoid being alone

This goes without saying, but try to travel with a friend or partner wherever possible – especially if you’re a smaller, more vulnerable or less confident person. This is especially true with outdoor or remote activities such as hiking where you could find yourself injured or lost without anyone around to help out. What’s more, being with others should mean that you’ll be approached less by scammers in public as you’ll have another pair of eyes or ears to listen out for those half truths or to spot the odd slight of hand.

7. Travel by daylight

Express kidnappings, bus hold ups, banditry – most of these scary but very real (and rare) situations occur at night. And while it might save you on a little accommodation money by taking a sleeper bus, most roads – especially mountainous ones – are most certainly more dangerous after the sun has set. The same goes for exploring the city, town or village you’ve just arrived in. If you haven’t yet scoped out the situation by daylight, you might be putting yourself at risk by finding out for the first time at night. As a general rule, the smaller the place the safer it tends to be. Many cities for example might seem perfectly OK in the day but become altogether different places under the cover of darkness. Such a scenario can be especially true in certain parts of the world, such as in Latin America. 

8. Know the laws

While it might be tempting to act like none of the local laws apply to you, they very much do. And sometimes more so. Certainly, enjoy the more relaxed attitudes that many places around the world might offer, but try to find out pretty quickly which laws can be flouted or bent and which just really can’t. Marijuana, for example, is almost socially acceptable in certain parts of the world – even if the local law claims it isn’t. This can be especially true on equatorial islands where the police force is minimal, non-existent, or simply paid off. It is not uncommon, however, for people to get stung by undercover police for even a small bit of marijuana (especially in bars at night), and then fined or committed to some jail time. So do be particularly cautious of where you buy black market goods, who you buy they from, and how you advertise them. What’s more, make sure your identification and visas are in perfect order at all times. If you are by chance stopped by the police, you might not want those kind officers to have any reason to search your person… because they might just find something you didn’t know was there.   

9. Have some respect

Respect the culture, respect the situation, and respect the nature. Approaching the locals with the correct honorific, attempting to emulate cultural verbal and body language, or providing your new hosts with an appropriate gift can go a long way in making you immediately more accepted. And should you decide to wander off into the oh-so-alluring wilderness, definitely stock up on supplies and pay careful attention to the weather. The most likely wanderers to never return are those who don’t respect the volatility of nature and the remoteness of where they’re headed. Of course, such concerns should never put you off completely from experiencing the world, but they might help you to reconsider whether that day is a good day for this particular adventure. Don’t rush your travels and you’ll have plenty of to time to make room for these sorts of considerations.

10. Stay in touch

While it might not keep you any safer in the short term, letting your folks back home know where you are, where you’ve been and where you’re headed next will certainly at least promote the illusion of safety. Not only does such communication keep you connected to the life you will most likely eventually return to, but should you disappear or anything drastic actually happen to you it will make it so much easier for your friends and family to try to track you (or your body) down. Sometimes being safer is basically the same as telling people you’re alright.  

A Traveller’s Guide to Travelling Safely Forum

A Traveller’s Guide to Arriving to a New Location

It can be a daunting thing moving from place to place – travelling through countless towns, cities and villages in which you have no friends or family for the first time. But there are steps that a traveller can take to make these transitions more fluid, and things that can be done to make acclimatising that little bit easier too:

1. Base yourself somewhere

Firstly, consider choosing somewhere that you’re happy to spend a good few days in. While you might be tempted to move about as much as possible spending two nights here and three nights there, most experienced travellers usually end up spending longer in places the more they travel. Find somewhere that has good enough facilities to support you for a few days and where there are plenty of sights and attractions within a two-to-three hour bus ride. You might find you enjoy the location that bit more if there are plenty of things to keep you busy in the surrounding area – although this means you’ll definitely have to do some research first!

2. Book the first night

When travelling on a budget, it’s not uncommon for backpackers to arrive somewhere after a long journey and then hunt around either by foot, tuk-tuk or taxi for somewhere reasonable to stay. While this type of room-hunting is often the cheapest way of doing things, it can be tiring, frustrating and occasionally fruitless – especially in the wrong town or district. But if you book somewhere online the first night, you’ll then know exactly where you have to go, you’ll be expected by the staff there, and you’ll have the option of organising a pickup should you need one. Plus, if you happen to quickly like the accommodation and can afford to splurge, then you’re basically already there. And if you don’t, you can always spend the first day looking at other accommodation options first-hand. 

3. Find accommodation that suits you

If you are happy to drop your bags off somewhere pricier that first night and then have a look around, you’ll usually be able to find somewhere that’s not only amenable but that best suits your needs as a traveller. Not only will this experience help your language skills (if you’re keen to practice the local lingo), but you’ll have plenty of time to negotiate the price face to face, to scope out whether there’s a relaxed or party atmosphere going on, to check out the internet situation, and to see whether you can cook there and wash your clothes if needs be. It might take a little time, but most places around the world have a variety of accommodation options within walking distance and you’ll soon work out what type of establishment and scene best suits you.

4. Go for a walk

Spending your first day finding accommodation on foot should mean that you’ve already explored a little, and going for a walk is probably one of the best things you can do to acclimatise yourself. Drop off your rucksack, grab a map, mark a few places of interest on it, pack a daypack with water and snacks, and then head out into the streets. Are there restaurants and shops near to where you’re staying? Are the roads easy to navigate? Is there much hassle? Do you feel safe wandering around? An hour or two’s walking about should answer most of these questions and give you a much better idea of where you are in relation to landmarks, geographical features, and areas of interest.  

5. Sit for a while

While exploring the area around your accommodation on foot, it’s always a good idea to spend some time just sitting and people watching. Many people do it. Find a bench in a park, public square, plaza or waterfront, and just sit for a while. Perhaps enjoy an ice cream or a cold drink; soak in the atmosphere and the rhythm of the place; notice how many other travellers are passing through; maybe even strike up a conversation with a local. You might find that when sitting still in the thick of things, you don’t stand out quite so much.  

6. Eat locally

If your accommodation has a restaurant of some sort, you’d be foolish not to give it a try at least once, especially when you first arrive. But it’s usually a good idea to quickly try out local eateries too – and that means the ones that are busy with locals and not just travellers! Not only will these restaurants help you to experience where the locals and workers eat, but you’ll become more accustomed to the cheaper and often tastier regional food more quickly. You’ll experience new flavours, and you may even find that excellent value-for-money place that keeps you returning back for more. Just expect to sample some pretty poor quality restaurants too, and don’t let those put you off.

7. Get into the countryside

If you’ve chosen to stay somewhere for a bit longer than usual to better acclimatise, you’ll probably now want to get out and explore the surrounding areas. It can be difficult to appreciate a city or town culturally, environmentally and geographically without first getting outside of the city limits. Doing so will give you a real opportunity to meet the rural folk, to experience the local plants and wildlife, and it better situates you with your surroundings. If you move too often from city to city on night transport, you’ll probably not get much of a feel for the very landscape you’ve been travelling through, and your journey could risk becoming a little vague and unconnected – especially if you plan on covering large distances.  

8. Find other travellers

Finally, as great as it is sleeping, eating and partying with the locals, you’ll eventually want company with those that best understand your culture and language. Most towns and cities on backpacking routes will have at least one hostel or restaurant that’s run by a foreigner and that draws in the backpacker and expatriate crowds. While these types of places might cost you a little more, with a few drinks, a willingness to share experiences and a humble attitude, you’ll soon make friends. You might even find yourself crossing paths with these people again in the months to come!

A Traveller’s Guide to Arriving to a New Location Forum

An Expatriate’s Guide to What to Take Abroad

One of the most pressing questions for expatriates – especially those that are moving to a new country for the first time – is what to take with you during that big move. Of course there’s no straight answer to this question as there are a number of factors and variables that may determine what you should be packing. Nevertheless, we’ve come up with a fairly short guide that might make your next big move a little easier to pack for.

1. Know your luggage allowance

This is probably one of the most important first things to consider. The country you’re travelling to, the type of transport you’ll be travelling on, and the company and carrier that you’ll be travelling with all affect how much luggage you’ll be able to take with you. People from the USA, for example, tend to be granted a larger travel allowance on flights than a lot of other world regions. As unfair as it may seem, an American might be allowed two 20kg+ bags in the hold, while you might only be afforded one. 

With this in mind, research how much luggage you can take, and then look for ways to push that boundary to the max. Many airlines for instance will also allow you carry-on luggage as well as other loose items such as a laptop bag, a small handbag, or some light reading material – but this varies from airline to airline so definitely look into this before heading to the airport. What’s more, as carry on luggage is rarely weighed, it’s often easy enough to get away with going over the weight limit here. Books are heavy items, so if you’re taking these then add them to your laptop bag or carry-on luggage, or even stash them in the pockets of the jacket you’ll be wearing on the day. In fact, there’s no real restriction to how much clothing you can wear on board, so it might be worth layering up with some of your heavier items if you’ve got a tight weight restriction ahead of you. 

2. Look into overseas shipping

If your new company doesn’t offer overseas shipping as part of your benefits package, it might be worth looking into it yourself anyway. Shipping luggage by sea is almost always cheaper (and obviously slower) than shipping it by air, and depending on where you were living before transporting luggage in this way can actually be surprisingly affordable as long as you’re willing to wait… and are happy to occasionally have your boxes rifled through! One option that you should rarely consider is  paying for excess luggage during your flight. Not only will it be difficult to get to your new accommodation from the airport with all that luggage in hand, but the premiums you’ll pay for such a service are usually ridiculously high!

3. Decide what’s necessary

Unless you’re going as someone else’s dependent, there’s a strong likelihood you’ll be moving abroad to start a new job. So one of the first considerations you’ll have to make before packing is exactly what you’ll need to be professional in your new position. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for a good deal of your checked luggage allowance to be taken up with the documentation you’ll need to process your residence permits, your work clothing (suits and shoes are particularly heavy), some casual clothes, and an array of laptops and other electronics. Any spare room after that will no doubt be taken up with the items that you then decide are most necessary, so finding out what’s on offer in your new locale should probably be high on your agenda when preparing too.  

4. Find out what’s available locally

Doing some online research as to what’s readily available where you’re headed and how much it costs there can really save you valuable packing space. Herbs and spices don’t weight much and can be difficult to come by in certain regions of the world, and luxury(?) bedding items such as sheets can actually be surprisingly expensive and are often  necessary to have pretty swiftly after arriving. Clothing can also be quite varied in fashion, and if you have large feet or are particularly tall or wide, you might want to bring some shoes or trousers with you as the culture you’re joining may not offer the sizes you’ll be needing in your day to day.

Other speciality items also warrant consideration, such as any medications you might require, or any gear that could help you to enjoy the surrounding environments such as sleeping bags and tents. Aside from asking questions about local availability in forums, it’s also worth looking at the goods on offer in online marketplaces. Although availability can often be quite poor especially in developing countries, many nations the world over are rapidly increasing their online access to globally in-demand products. You might in fact be surprised by exactly how much you can get hold of once you’ve settled in – so perhaps just consider packing only those items that you’ll need in the short term.  

5. Consider when you’ll be home next

Finally, it’s quite probable that you’re going to return home to visit your family and friends at some point, so there may be some items that you can wait to get hold of on your return. Especially if your company pays for a round-trip flight every year, it can be quite useful to journey home with a mostly empty suitcase and then fill it up for your return leg. This can be a particularly good way of doing things as it allows you the time and opportunity to determine exactly what items you can and cannot find in your new home.  Plus it will probably make you even more excited about returning to your home country and then taking all those wonderful things back with you.   

An Expatriate’s Guide to What to Take Abroad Forum