If you are an unaccompanied or ‘grey’ traveller,
travel can be more stressful, problematic and
potentially less safe. From previous trips and
experiences I have garnered some tips which
are intended to make life easier on the trail.
This is a straightforward and common sense tip. Travel as light as possible. But how?
When I travelled by train from Stamford, UK to Saigon, Vietnam, (a trip that took over 30 days), I only took the 31 litre North Face Recon backpack with me. This enabled me to avoid the strain of carrying a bag in one hand and allowed me to have both hands free at all times.
This didn’t mean I went without essential travel equipment but I did have to buy new lightweight travel garments. All socks, underclothes, shirts and trousers were made of synthetic wicking materials that could be washed and dried overnight.
Here you can see my kit laid out prior to packing and a full list including weights and and additional details can be found here.
Besides cutting back on clothes the major piece of equipment was my smartphone which doubled as, camera, travel guide, translator, and entertainment.
Don’t exchange cash at a UK airport where the rates can be 10-15% higher than elsewhere
Don’t use a UK debit card to pay for items overseas or to get cash from overseas ATM’s as you will most likely be hit with transaction charges
Below are some general tips to get the most out of your exchange in the most secure way.
- If destination currency can be purchased in the UK, buy a small amount from an exchange with free buy back e.g. bank, Post Office, Thomas Cook. If currency can only be bought at the destination exchange some hard currency cash for local currency immediately on arrival.
- Obtain a prepaid card such as Caxton FX MasterCard and load with US dollars and Euros. This can be used to pay for bills and to draw cash from ATM’s without transaction charges. Some cards such as Caxton can provide a secondary card for the same account which is security against the loss of the primary card. It also has the advantage of being linked to your bank account so that the currency can be purchased and uploaded on the internet during your trip.
- For extended stays set up an account with a company like Azimo to enable funds to be transferred to your destination and be picked up as cash at places like Western Union offices.
- Research countries to be visited in order to establish if the currency is pegged to another and if a more advantageous parallel rate exists.
- Depending on countries to be visited take hardest currency that can easily be exchanged e.g. US dollars
- Take care of your cash by using a money belt or another method of concealment. Hide in different places i.e. do not put all eggs in one basket. If staying in room without a safe I use a tube of vitamin tablets or similar for concealment.Take out some of the tablets, insert roll of notes secured with arubber band and conceal by putting back some tablets then leave in plain sight.
En route you may want to secure your stowed baggage. Locks are the usual method but these can easily be undone by baggage handlers at less scrupulous destinations.
I prefer the added security of cable ties linked through the zip fasteners. They can of course be cut but you will know immediately if your bag has been tampered with. Best to cut off the extra cable once the cable tie is secure and remember to carry nail scissors or clippers so that you can undo your luggage.
At your destination common sense is the order of the day. Research the countries to be visited and establish which are the latest scams and at which tourist traps. Then plan accordingly.
Beware of unsolicited approaches for directions, to take your photo, or to try and get you to visit a tourist attraction. In Beijing you could be approached to invite you to a tea room only to find you are charged an extortionate amount. In Buenos Aires someone might spill some food on your back and try to clean it up while others pickpocket you.
I always carry an old wallet with expired credit cards and a small amount of cash which I keep in my back pocket. The real cards and cash are either in my money pouch or a sealed pocket to the front or side of me. Be careful not to look too much like a tourist unaware of your surroundings. Plan where you want to go and walk with a purpose as if you know the way. Don’t walk around with your head buried in a guide book and be careful with any cameras or smartphones.
Luxury always comes at a price and even in supposedly low cost countries top end hotels can command international prices. If travelling for a long period, and particularly if travelling alone, accommodation costs can quickly mount up e.g. if travelling for 30 days with an average room costing £75 per night accommodation costs will be in excess of £2000.
There are however a number of ways to significantly reduce that cost:-
If the country/countries you are visiting have good train networks try combining travel cost with overnight accommodation by taking a sleeper train. e.g.
Cologne to Warsaw over 1 night c.£50 sharing 4 berth sleeper
Beijing to Shanghai over 1 night c. £100 sharing 4 berth sleeper
Hanoi to Saigon over 2 nights c £50 sharing 4 berth sleeper
I have taken all of these and not had a problem with sharing with strangers, in fact it forced me to meet some interesting people, some of whom could only converse with sign language or a language app on my smartphone.
Whilst hostels maybe associated with young backpackers sleeping in dormitory rooms, many provide a surprising level of comfort, including ensuite double bedrooms at a fraction of the cost of a hotel. Security tends to be high and whilst some can look decidedly unattractive from the outside they are usually very clean and comfortable inside.
Moscow hostel, within walking distance of the Kremlin, with secure and anonymous entry, but clean and functional inside. £27 per night for twin room.
Saigon hostel down a forbidding alley but a clean double ensuite room for £15 per night awaits.
For hostels search Hostelworld where you can see review scores and filter for private ensuite rooms.
If more services are required than a hostel can provide then a hotel may be needed. Www.booking.com enables searches with multiple features including pricing brackets and review scores amongst many other options. In addition many hotels provide a price option with free cancellation so that flexibility with travel arrangements is maintained.
Whilst you may travel alone there is no reason to be without company along the way. In fact travelling alone presents far more opportunities to meet people than travelling with a partner or group.
As soon as you travel with someone else your decision making along the way will inevitably involve compromise; which hotels to stay in. where to eat, when to eat, which places to visit etc. In addition you will be more inclined to keep with your partner/group rather than seek different company.
If however you would like to meet a local or a fellow traveller along the way who may wish to share an excursion or provide local knowledge then there are some options. I have used an expat network (www.internations.org) in the past although to get the best features there is a membership fee. It was through this link that I found an American student in Guangzhou who was willing to meet me and witness the start of my attempt for a Guinness world record. Another option which is free is TravBuddy. Here you can search for fellow travellers going to the same place on the same date, by age and sex, as well as locals who are happy to meet travellers visiting their home towns.
Maintaining contact by internet is now essential for most people and can be more important when travelling in far distant places. Below is a list, not necessarily exhaustive, of how you may need to use your smartphone or tablet:
- to receive notification of flight changes
- to check-in online
- using maps to navigate
- translation apps
- ordering more foreign exchange to be transferred to location
- posting photos on social media
- calling family and friends on whatsapp or facetime
In order to communicate in these ways a broadband connection must be found. Obviously a wifi outlet is ideal and apps are available that can search for wifi hotspots in your area. However if on the move and wifi is not available a sim card which accesses local networks will be needed.
If travelling within the EU you may be able to use your existing sim card as roaming rates are now being reduced and are to be phased out by June 2017. However, travelling further afield may require a regional or global sim card in order to keep down the roaming cost. These can be obtained from companies such as Dataroam. I use a global data only sim card in my mobile wifi. This enables up to 10 phones or tablets to be connected at the same time so I am able to use my Ipad or smartphone on the move.