Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Backpacking the World for Dummies

So I miss traveling so much that I decided to write a blog about how to successfully travel on the cheap and by-yourself in a foreign country. There are five rules to follow to be a successful traveler: be confident, ask questions, be spontaneous, be patient and be daring.

By following these rules I enjoyed traveling South America, India and Nepal. I met many wonderful people, learned about the local culture, tried new foods, and had the time of my life.


Being Confident

This is an important concept especially for women traveling alone. Confidence is key when you are making decisions or finding your way around confusing places. To be confident, research your destination and activities you can partake in at your destination. This means on the train or bus consult your Lonely Planet travel book. This will give you a rough idea of what you want to do and how much time you want to spend at your destination. This is beneficial if you want to book your tickets in advance. Plans always change, especially when you meet people staying in your hostel or it starts monsooning. 

Climbing on an elephant for a safari
Preparing ahead can also help you pick out a hotel at your destination. Knowing where you are going to stay will help you get past all the hustlers outside the train and bus stations trying to guide you to their hotel. If you show them that you have already made your decision they will not bug you as much, they will still bug you claiming that their hotel is better. My rule of thumb is that if its in Lonely Planet or any other travel book then its been checked by other travelers. You will also want to make sure that you know the generalized direction of your hotel, hostel or homestay. If its close enough to walk, it will save you some money and give you a nice tour of the city. Keep in mind its usually not wise to walk in the dark, whether you are a woman or man. 

Confidence is also key when you get lost. First off you don't want to act confused, always have your hotel or hostel address and phone number on hand. This way you can tell a taxi, rickshaw or bus driver where you are going. If you are walking around confused and scared people will take advantage of you. On many occasions I did not know where I was especially in India where the streets are rarely labeled and everyone has a different opinion on which way to go. That leads me into my next rule. 

Asking Questions

Asking a taxi for directions in Darjeeling.
Are you lost? Do you want to get some ideas of what to do? Do you want to know when the bus leaves? Do you want to know from the locals where the cheapest place to shop is? Well then you have to ask questions. Lonely Planet can't tell you everything, especially if you are trying to get a more local experience. If your lost, don't walk around for hours trying to find your way back, it will get dark and you will probably get more lost. My best suggestion is ask a taxi or rickshaw driver.  They know the roads, whether paved or dirt, better than anyone. They will often tell you its too far, this is just a ploy to make money. If you are certain you can walk then just say thank you and walk in the direction they told you. It might take several people to get to where you are going, just keep asking people which way to go. 

In India, asking directions, can be one of the most confusing parts of getting around. Since everyone is so nice in India and they all want to help you, this often results in people answering even though they have no idea what direction to go. You often get contradicting answers. My rule of thumb was ask an an odd number of people, and follow the most common answer. 
Studying the map on the"W" hike in Patagonia

Questions are also helpful if you are trying to figure out what to do. Hotels and hostels are great resources.
They will often want you to book tours through them. This is often very expensive, it better to organize the tours yourself. Riding a local bus and buying tickets at the door are typically the cheapest ways to go. 

Always take the opportunity to ask questions. If you meet someone on the bus or train who is from the place you are heading to, just bombard them with questions. I have found that people all around the world love to talk about where they are from. 

Being Spontaneous

The worst way to "backpack" is to make definitive plans and itineraries. These are only good if you are traveling for a short time and you want to get the most out of your trip. Backpacking is a more leisurely form of traveling. This means that you can take a rest day and hang out on the hammock with a good book and not feel bad about not doing anything. 

Being spontaneous requires a person to be able to change plans in an instant. Maybe you just made a new friend at the hostel and you want to join them in their adventure. Maybe you saw a cool market place on your way to a museum. 

The girl I met in Calcutta
When I was in Calcutta, I jumped on a local bus to the temple Belur Math. When I reached the temple it was closed, and would not reopen for a couple more hours. I decided to walk around. As I was walking a young high school girl approached me to ask if I was lost. I explained my situation. She then asked me if I wanted to come over to her house and join her friends and family to celebrate a local festival. At her house I received a free meal, her dad, a fortune teller, read my palm. She later accompanied me to Belur Math and another local temple across the river. If I had not met her and decided to follow my gut instinct then I would have missed out on all the fun activities that we did. 

In the end its important to be open to new opportunities, but also follow your instincts. 

Patience Young Grasshopper 

Climbing Volcano Villarrica,
Pucon, Chile
Traveling is hard work and it doesn't always work out the way you want. Unexpected illnesses, changes in weather and full buses can keep you from following your plans. By practicing patience you can keep yourself from getting angry or sad. Traveling is suppose to be fun and relaxing. You don't have to worry about work or school, be grateful about that. Just because you cant leave on the bus tomorrow doesn't mean that the trip is over, just take it day by day. 

Its the worst when you get sick in another country, you feel like you are wasting time throwing up in a bucket, rather than fulfilling your bucket list. Its important to be healthy so that you can enjoy the experiences rather than kneeling on the floor of the bus bathroom (true story) just so you can stay with your itinerary. 

In Pucon, Chile I want to climb Volcano Villarrica, but the weather was so unruly. Every night I would check with the tour agency about the possibility of sumiting the next day. It seems that I was never going to climb the volcano. As I waited I went ziplining, white water rafting, and took a tour of the area. Finally it looked like we would have a shot. We were fitted for mountaineering boots, we got all our gear together, I packed a lunch and we went to bed early ready to wake up at 5am. In the morning we were told that the weather was looking bad, it was my last day in Pucon, so my hopes for climbing the infamous volcano that had just killed two were low. But an hour later we were given the clear from another team that was already heading up the volcano. We jammed into the van and headed out. It was one of the most amazing, hard and scariest things that I have done in my life, but it required patience. 

Be Daring

Maze temple in Amritsar,
Punjab, India
This is probably one of the most important parts of traveling. It takes guts to bungee jump, or try a new food dish. Its important to get the most out of traveling, this means that you have to take some risks, put yourself in uncomfortable situations, hop on random buses, and try new food just because it looks interesting. 

If your always thinking about all that can go wrong then you might as well stay in your hotel. To really learn about a country its important to try new things. It might be awkward to be the only white person in a temple, but it takes courage to put yourself through the uncomfortable situations so that you can learn about a culture. As a matter of a fact most people are staring at you because they admire your courage and respect. 

You might see a food item on the street in South America that might be calling your name. If it looks popular among locals, go for it, be daring. Sometimes its the items on the menu that you can't read that are the best. 

Sometimes its not always about the destination but about the experience getting to the destination. Sometimes the adventure on a minibus in Peru can be more exciting than the end point. Its interesting sitting next to chickens and riding hanging off the side of a bus. Sometimes giving up luxury can give you a feel of the country and how locals live day to day. 

Trying Ceviche (raw seafood) in Lima, Peru
Just jump, don't look down, that's what the professional bungee jumper said when he brought me to the edge of the platform. That's my attitude toward traveling. Of course you wouldn't want to jump off a 272 foot tall platform without rope, therefore you have to take precautions, but don't get caught up in all the little details. Just close your eyes, lean forward, and jump.  

1 comment:

  1. It sounds like it was a very exciting and fulfilling experience, good tips and information.

    ReplyDelete