An Insider’s Guide To Travel: Things I Wish I Had Known
The Things I Wish I Had Known
As I beamed in virtually on my parent’s annual barbecue and caught up with old family friends, one asked me if I had any advice for his daughter who was planning a trip to South East Asia. I gave him a list of several travel blogs which in my opinion were much more qualified to give advice, yet he persisted in asking. He claimed after my rollercoaster of a trip last year, in contrast to my relatively calm trip this year *touches wood*, I must have learnt a few things I hadn’t initially read online. Here are some of the things I told him, the things I wish I had known before I went:
1. Decide what type of backpacker you are and pack effectively
It is essential before your trip to determine what type of backpacker you are, as most travellers fall on a scale between ‘what if’ and ‘survivor’. Travelling is largely subjective and different people have different needs; you need to identify these before you can determine the most efficient way to pack. Someone utilising Air BnB as their primary accommodation type across Europe has very different needs to someone planning to hike and camp across Asia. I’ve met people who operate a wear one wash one policy meaning they only have two of most things, and also people with 5/6 different footwear options alone. However, the general rule stands, take what you think you need and roughly halve it – and remember to leave room for trinkets and treasures along the way.
2. Learn a few basic words in the native language
After paying $5 for a round the corner trip in Cambodia, we decided we needed a better-negotiating skill set. We decided to learn the basics of Khmer as we knew we were travelling Cambodia for a substantial amount of time and our efforts paid off in full. The next week when grabbing a tuk tuk our driver initially quoted us $10, immediately we responded that we were only willing to pay ‘bay’, the equivalent of $3 and the amount we’d heard the locals would pay for this trip. Our driver immediately laughed and responded in English, ‘Khmer, I see, it’s ok, I take you’. This trick of learning the basic language has served us well over the countries we’ve visited, as a willingness to try and learn the basic language often earns the respect of the locals. In turn, knowledge of the core language will serve anyone well when travelling, as the increase in respect secures you both a better deal and a warm sense of achievement.
3. Use A Variety of Sources For Accommodation
There is a common misconception that hostels are always the cheapest option, meaning many students don’t shop around. Organisations such as Hostelworld have established a monopoly through simplifying the information search, as many backpackers use the app to find, book and organise accommodation. However, with the increasing commercialisation of backpacking, some hostels have become more than a basic bed. Instead, many hostels boast a plethora of facilities from rooftop bars with in house DJs to lavish themed decor to justify the price hike. On the other hand, homestays and guesthouses often offer the same safe resting place at a fraction of the cost, with some even boasting private rooms for the same price as an 8-bed hostel dorm. However, as they are not hostels backpackers must turn to other platforms to book, with the most popular being Booking.com. Booking.com boasts excellent value accommodation for budget backpackers, once you filter price low to high. For example, in Yogyakarta we stayed in Abrakadabra B and B for around £3 a night, including breakfast. In contrast, the average bed on Hostelworld was double the price. Furthermore, Abrakadabra has been our favourite accommodation so far, yet we might have missed this home away from home had we limited ourselves to hostels. When it comes to accommodation, listen to the recommendations of backpackers around you, as the best places to stay don’t need to boast with adverts.
4. Be Flexible
The best thing about travelling is going with the adventure; you never know where you’ll end up. We plan around three days in advance as, despite all our research, we are always meeting people with great suggestions on things to do and see. We choose to be flexible because it means we can adapt our trip as we travel. For example, we have just extended our stay on Gili Air for another four nights as we’ve fallen in love with the island. Flexibility allows you to see the best of the place you’re discovering, as often the places you fall in love with are not the places you’d expect to. While it’s good to have a rough general route planned, try not be too regimented in your thinking, or you might miss your slice of paradise.
My last one is South East Asia specific, but it has saved me so much time and effort so I had to include it. It is a collective grumble of many that when backpacking you pay a ‘tourist tax’ on anything from local street food to transport services. While the art of negotiation becomes a novel skill to save a penny, disparity in transport can often be costly. After learning the hard way last year that a verbal agreement in price is sometimes not enough, we try to use metred taxis wherever possible. However, this trip we learned about a ride hailing platform called Grab and it revolutionised our logistics in cities and towns. The app is mostly similar to Uber, allowing users to request transport in the form of a car or motorbike at any given time. The benefit of Grab is that the app gives the rider a fixed price, often cheap in comparison to other quotes. In turn, this means that if the driver gets lost or traffic suddenly worsens the price remains the same. Furthermore, Grab motorbikes allow you to escape quickly past traditional traffic without having to worry about navigating and locking up a rented bike at each place you visit.
The travel community has pages of content dedicated to improving and increasing the efficiency and value of one’s trip. Moreover, the constant cycle of experience and learning is often a topic of conversation amongst backpackers on their journey, as the travel sector consistently delivers new creative solutions to meet traveller needs. By many people’s standards, I am still a novice myself, but these were a few things I wish I had known before my first trip.