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Backpacking Tips to Save you Money and Headaches!

While traveling, experience starts to save you both money and headaches abroad.  Looking back at our early months traveling we face-in-palm to think of the costly mistakes we made.   We share them here to help you avoid stupidity like ours.

book your first two nights -only-

Are you kidding this place looks amazing!! For $40/night?  Sign me up!  Wait.... this is the SHARED living space??! No one mentioned that...

Are you kidding this place looks amazing!! For $40/night?  Sign me up!  Wait.... this is the SHARED living space??! No one mentioned that...

You did it. You found the perfect AirBnb to spend the next four weeks.  The place looks spotless, modern, and it's even got free high speed wifi!  Hold up two seconds before you commit to 7+ days though.

What you don't know is that the neighboring property is a farm, roosters don't wait until morning to crow, and there is a pig pen built right up next to the wall of your bungalow.  Somehow all the reviews seemed to miss these details.  That's why, unless you’re dealing with peak season or an exceptional value on a spot, you might be better served by only booking a couple days.

Booking two days gives you two specific advantages:

  • A great “homebase” to start with that you can count on sleeping at while you see if there is better accommodation or locations nearby.
  • A cheap start.  Book somewhere SUPER cheap for the first 2 nights.  It's only 2 nights.  Then you can see where you want to be, and you might even stay!
  • If you do like the place you've booked, AirBnb owners and most small hotel owners are only too happy to deal in cash and cut out the middle man booking site.  You can save quite a bit going this route.

walk 100 meters to save 50%

Pad Thai is better in paper than on a plate anyways.

Pad Thai is better in paper than on a plate anyways.

Walking by the beach in Krabi today, I was reminded how true this specific piece of advice is.  Prices always seem to tumble after just a two block walk away from the central tourist area.  Beers that cost $2.50 fell to $1.  Sunscreen that one store was asking $19 for was only $10 a couple hundred feet away. 

The most obvious savings come out when its time to eat.   Almost without fail, when we find ourselves in a crowded attraction area, we hoof it two blocks away from the masses.  Prices on food drop drastically and you will still find locals who speak some English.

An additional bonus is that food tends to be better the further you are from main tourist attractions.  Restaurants, street carts and cafes can’t get by alone on tourist traffic so they have to serve up a product of decent quality. Always looks for the restaurant that locals are eating at!

buy expensive tours with caution

Most tour companies are COMPLETELY full of shit since they are working with people that they are never going to see again. The nicer someone selling tours is, the more full of shit they probably are.

To avoid disappointment, you need to be procurement when booking a tour.  What is procurement?  It’s a fancy word for how businesses buy from other businesses.  Procurement sets the business terms of transactions and decides who, how and what they’re buying. (The author of this article may have been a procurement manager at one time as well.) Procurement is as boring as it sounds.

You'll have more fun with a local anyways.  After chatting with our Tuk Tuk driver on the way back from Angkor Wat we invited him to the hotel where he taught us how to make local cocktails.  The next morning he gave us the best "tour" we had the whole trip: a sunrise view over local rice paddies then to the local market to pick up breakfast for his family.  

You'll have more fun with a local anyways.  After chatting with our Tuk Tuk driver on the way back from Angkor Wat we invited him to the hotel where he taught us how to make local cocktails.  The next morning he gave us the best "tour" we had the whole trip: a sunrise view over local rice paddies then to the local market to pick up breakfast for his family.  

How to buy a tour:

  1. What is the value of the tour?  If you’re doing a $30 booze cruise you probably don’t need to be as rigorous with the steps below.  If you’re doing a two person Halong Bay cruise that's going to set you back $600 USD, you might want to put more effort into it.
  2. What specifically are you buying? A cabin on the cruise?  Is it a shared bathroom or private?  Size of bed? Oh, no bed, just a hammock?  How big is the hammock? How many meals are included? Are drinks included? Are adult drinks included?
  3. What is specifically NOT included on the tour?
  4. Where does the tour start specifically, who is your contact, and what time should you be there.
  5. Negotiate: once you have all this information, be brave and negotiate.  Mention how you saw another tour for $X amount and are going to check them out. Watch the prices fall!
  6. On high priced packages, make sure to look up the tour company on Tripadvisor for reviews first as well. Once again, we’re talking about when you’re dropping some serious coin for something like a multiple night boat cruise or for a week long easy rider trip in Vietnam. Worse than wasting a little bit of money is wasting your time.

More expensive food is rarely better food

Eat where the locals are eating and you'll be finding some of the best food on the planet.

Eat where the locals are eating and you'll be finding some of the best food on the planet.

As a general rule of thumb, the $5 bowl of Pho Bo you’re buying in a sit down restaurant that caters to foreigners is going to be exactly the same as the $.75 cent bowl you would get from a street vendor (or worse because it sat in the kitchen overnight).

Here are the reasons people often cite for going to more traditional, expensive sit down places:

"Street food is dirty and I don't want to get sick."  -If you think that the restaurant kitchen is any cleaner than the street cart you'd be buying from, you're sorely mistaken. If you're worried about food prep, especially in SEA, there is only so much that you can do to limit your risk.  At least small restaurants and street food vendors have everything out in the open where you can get good eye at whats going into the sausage.
"I want more than a few choices in what to eat."  -Many overpriced restaurants that prey on tourists, especially in SEA,  seem to offer a Cheesecake Factory worth of menu options. What that means is that they typically have a lot of old food sitting around frozen or refrigerated in the back. While street food and small restaurants have very few options they also are more reliably serving up fresh food daily.  If you're looking for choice, just walk to the next food vendor.  It may not all be under the same roof but the same diversity of food choices are there.
"Local food is weird and I don't want to eat it." - Stay home and eat at Applebees.  

Start with Europe and work east

It's time to see the world one country at a time

You may have heard this tip before: avoid culture shock by starting with "easy" countries first.  Before you grab your pitchfork and scream "Lies!", let me tell you all the reasoning behind it:

A.) Things get more interesting the further East you travel.  London isn't nearly as interesting after Istanbul.  Bangkok will rewrite your definition of what normal can be.

B.) Things also get cheaper the further East you travel (for the most part).  If you don't do expensive Nordic/EU countries early on you may find your funds are a bit on the short toward the end of your trip.

C.) You're going to get travel fatigue on a long trip.  I would argue that it takes more effort to get the most out of Europe compared to Asia, the Americas, etc. You can always grab a beach-day to rejuvenate in SEA. 

Anything you need to buy, you can buy abroad

Half the fun is the shopping experience abroad anyways... even if you don't like shopping!

Half the fun is the shopping experience abroad anyways... even if you don't like shopping!

Believe it or not, outside of your home country there are literally billions of people who carry out their daily lives! When you plan long term or RTW travel, everything you pack into that backpack is not coming home with you, nor will you need it to.  Every shirt or pair of pants you bring with you doesn't need to be super fast dry, tactical, nano particle, 150 degrees- 40 rated apocalypse proof garment.  

You should have a moderate balance of travel mainstays, but otherwise, lighten up.  Your suitcase is going to full of beer brand tank tops from South East Asia soon enough.

Beyond just clothing, you'll be able to get anything else you need almost anywhere you are, even down to prescriptions and medical drugs.  You should talk to your doctor ahead of time if you some more complex prescription needs so that you are able to either order enough drugs for your trip or know the generic name of your prescription to ask for at pharmacy.

But there are some things you should buy on your home turf

Namely, expensive electronics should be purchased at home. Laptops, cameras, GoPros, even cheap tablets should all be purchased in your western home country. Why?

  1. You can purchase with your credit card easily and will have credit card protection.
  2. You can easily contact sellers whether they be online like Amazon or a retail chain like Best Buy in your native language.
  3. Won’t have to deal with problems like knock offs. You'd be surprised how close to the real thing knock off Macs and iPhones can be until you use them for a while. 

But wait there's more

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