Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Backpacking, Part 1

Today, we are going to follow another Travel Trend:


You heard right.

And it’s not just for the young!

As we want to give you the best possible insight, we will not only talk about this Travel Trend over several articles, but in this case, we're also going to do something a bit different, and break cover!  This is a personal experience so your Global Great Hotels Blogger is going to reveal herself slightly and write it as it happened:

Your esteemed writer did indeed go backpacking…back in the day…when she was a bit younger and less picky.  So, in the following articles, she is going to share her very own experiences, warts and all (and worse) because really, there’s nothing like first-hand experience to make a good story.

But the question is, apart from reviewing the trend of backpacking itself, when are you too old?  If ever?  Or does it depend on the person?

So, in this part of our article, we’re going to review the important things around backpacking, remaining more analytical, and of course the importance of the “7 Ps”. For the uninitiated this means:  Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.

You’ve decided, in your infinite wisdom, that you want to go backpacking, and as we’ve said, it’s not just for posh gap-year students, it is for everyone. So, in this blog we’re going to try and set the net as wide as possible and the first thing any potential backpacker needs to look at is flights. 

Flights:  Round the World or Country by Country?

These are perfect for the first-time backpacker, young or old.  A “round the world ticket” actually means a multi-stop long haul ticket.  Basically you need to decide 2 things:

  1. Your destinations
  1. How long you want to stop there

That’s it.  It’s just a series of pre-booked tickets over a period of time.

A bit of advice from your hapless (or that helpless) author is to make sure that you are not restricted to the AMOUNT of time you can spend in a certain destination, for example, as you will learn later in this blog, for reasons yet to be disclosed, I decided to cut short my time in Fiji in favour of the Cook Islands, where indeed I decided to stay longer.  So, bear this in mind when booking.

Do you want to go clockwise?  Or Anticlockwise?  USA first or last?

How much do you want to spend on your ticket and how long have you got?

When do you want to go?

Most people depart in January or February for either 6 months or 12 months.  Tickets tend to be cheaper January to March, with January 19th being the optimum time to book.

Interestingly, and perhaps obviously, one of the rules is:  no backtracking.  You can only go in one direction and you must book all your flights before departure.

Don’t forget you can travel into and out of different airports e.g. fly into Cairns and fly out of Sydney.  These are known as “open jaw” tickets.

Some of the most common and popular trips are:

UK – Argentina – Chile – NZ – OZ – Thailand – Vietnam – Dubai – UK

UK – Thailand – Singapore – OZ – NZ – Fiji – LA – NY – UK

If you want something different, here are some suggestions for destinations to stop you from getting travel weary (and believe me, “travel weary” becomes a thing after a while):

1- London – Brisbane, then Sydney – Bangkok to Tokyo then Tokyo to London (travel down the East Coast to Sydney, get to Bangkok then go through Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos or through the Islands).

2- London – Buenos Aires, Lima – San Jose, San Jose to LA, LA to Nadi (Fiji), then to Hong Kong, and then to London (Rio carnival then Amazon rainforests.  Get to Peru and Ecuador and so to Hollywood.  Pass to Fiji for a bit of paradise then head to Hong Kong before home).

3- London – Cape Town, Cape Town to Perth, Sydney to Singapore. Bangkok to London (Go on safari then get to Adelaide.  Take the Great Ocean Route to Sydney, then hit Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand).

4- London – Moscow, Shanghai – Melbourne, Melbourne – Christchurch, Christchurch to Buenos Aires, Lima to London (Take the Trans-Siberian Railway through Russia via Mongolia to Beijing.  Visit the Terracotta Warriors and the Great Wall before flying to Melbourne.  Enjoy NZ then go to one of the best cities in the World, Buenos Aires.  Do Chile then the Bolivian Salt Flats, then the Inca Trail of Peru).

The best people to use are the Flight Centre or STA Travel, as they are well-established in the industry. I used the Flight Centre for my round-the-world trip, so I can recommend them 100%.  You will notice from their websites that you will need to actually speak to someone.  How old fashioned, you might think, but it is necessary, and they are so good at booking the right itinerary for you, that you’re best off speaking to them or popping into one of their high street outlets.  I had thought that I would go all boho chic in India and chill on the Inca Trail, but after a short conversation with the assistant at the Flight Centre, I was convinced otherwise…also a good thing to know is that they have branches all over the world, so for example, if you’re in New Zealand and you have a question about your ticket or you want to change your flights, you can actually go and speak to someone in a branch there.  Ok, so perhaps your esteemed Blogger is, erm, slightly older now, and perhaps I went before we had internet on our phones…or even cameras on them for that matter…or even digital cameras (shhhhh), and it is true, we had to use ACTUAL HARD COPIES of the Lonely Planet and the Rough Guide (more on them later) to book accommodation etc., so there would have been no way to change flights or ask questions online, however, speaking to someone with local knowledge goes a long way.

Let’s get back en piste:  PRICE.

A basic route such as UK – Kuala Lumpur – Melbourne (get to) Sydney – LA (get to) NY – UK you’re looking in the region of £1049.

If you’re under 26 or a student and you want to do every continent:  UK – Delhi – Kuala Lumpur – Hong Kong – Fiji – Sydney (get to) Melbourne – Christchurch (get to) Auckland – Vancouver (get to) LA – Miami – Bogota – Buenos Aries (get to) Sao Paulo – Jo’Burg (get to) Nairobi – UK all for £2,699!

To put it into perspective, when I did UK – Singapore - Melbourne (get to Sydney) – Christchurch (get to) Auckland – Fiji – Cook Islands – Tahiti – LA – UK it cost about £900 quite a few years ago, so the prices are fair.

Remember, all this “getting to” business usually means internal flights which are usually relatively cheap.  It could also mean hiring a campervan, RV or car (more on that later).

However, there are a few things to bear in mind:  COST.  One of the things the Flight Centre people told me, is bearing in mind how long you are going away for, how much money have you got to survive on?  Do you intend to find work whilst you are travelling?  If so, what sort of work?  Are you going to suitable countries to find work?  For example, Australia is easy if you don’t mind manual labour or bar work…but not so easy somewhere like India.

Don’t forget you’ll get travel-weary from time to time, so bear that in mind.  Plus, like one of the routes listed, if you have somewhere like New York as your last stop, you will most likely be pretty skint by then, so one could argue, you probably won’t get the best out of it…

You can also arrange an additional itinerary once you are in a country.  For example, when your hapless author landed in LA, I went to the Flight Centre in Melrose and booked an additional itinerary to San Francisco and Vegas.  Such things are entirely possible, and often cheaper once you are over there.  If you are going to take any advice from this blog at all regards travelling, it is this:  GO WITH THE FLOW.  You don’t know how you’re going to take to a place.  How much you’ll want to see of it.  You may get ill as happens to most, and not feel like doing too much for a few days, or you may fall in love with a place so much you never want to leave.  So, don’t be too rigid with your itineraries and stay as flexible as possible.


The biggest tip I can give you is:  roll, don’t fold.  If you roll everything up like sausages, you can fit way more clothes in.  Now, we are not doing a “Grand Tour” of Monte Carlo and Lake Garda here, we are backpacking.  Everyone who knows me, knows what a princess I am, but even princesses need to leave their crowns at the door when backpacking.

Think about where you’re going:  is it hot or cold?  What time of year will you get there?

For example, I went straight from the UK to Singapore in January.  Singapore in January was (to a pale Brit) incredibly hot and the humidity was unbelievable.  So, you need light t-shirts, shorts, light skirts, none of which are expensive as they will get pretty the worst for wear.  You need to be able to layer them up, and sausage them up without ruining them.  Combat trousers with the legs that you can zip off and make into shorts are pretty useful too.  Anything light.  Not silk, as I learnt to my cost.  Plus stuff you feel comfortable in.  I warn you now, no matter what age you are and with whom you are mixing, you will encounter what I call “serial travelers” who are the only people who look cool in harem pants.  And headscarves.  I resembled some sort of washer-woman from turn of the century rural America… The same goes for dungarees…

Again, it depends on the sort of experience you are wanting.  I DO NOT CAMP for example (more on that later).  So I had no need to take a plastic sheet which you put under your sleeping bag, or a sleeping bag itself for that matter.  But if you are, then you should take one, apparently, they are invaluable.

Of course, nowadays we have all these phones which need charging the whole time.  Not something I had to worry about, but now, I would suggest, you pack some sort of solar charging device in case of lack of plug sockets (big problem on the Inca Trail and remote islands off the main island of Fiji for instance).  Also nowadays we have such things as Kindles.  Take one of those.  They’re way lighter than books (more on that later).

A massive thing, which I believe still applies today, is a really good camera.  Knick-able? Yes, but that’s your problem.  Invaluable one would say.  You’ve gone to all this bother to book and go on this trip, you need to record it in the best way you can.

Something I personally overlooked until I needed it was a small bag:  you have this ENORMOUS rucksack but once it’s locked in your motel/hotel/hostel/campervan you need to carry the small things, so either a bum bag (quelle horreur!) or a small cross-body bag is advisable.

So you’ve sausaged up your clothes.  You have even packed your sleeping bag, you crazy cats.  Now it’s time to try your backpack on.  This is NO WORD OF A LIE:  I was helped on with mine, and then very, very slowly I retreated backwards (a backwards version of the famous Del Boy sketch from Only Fools and Horses when he falls through the bar), ending up pinned the floor a bit like an upside-down woodlouse…

Stay aware of the size of your backpack…and don’t forget, with the bits and bobs you pick up on the way, it’s only going to get heavier…

Back to the book situation at this juncture. They are very heavy, and alongside general fiction, which one did swap frequently with fellow travelers, you also need at least one of the following:  the Lonely Planet or the Rough Guide.  Now, this is only my experience, so take from it what you will.  As referenced, we didn’t have internet phones, so we had to rely on a hard copy of the Lonely Planet and the Rough Guide.  I was fortunate enough to swap these with other travelers along the way, because of course, the Rough Guide to Australia is no good to you in San Francisco…But now you have the choice.  You can either not use either of them at all, as you can just look everything up on your phone as you go, or you can download all countries and versions onto your phone or Kindle or whatever device you wish as you go. 

From my own experience, the Lonely Planet is VASTLY superior to the Rough Guide.  At the time, the Lonely Planet was aimed more at younger travelers, so that was probably why.  But I found the Rough Guide unreliable and didn’t have as much choice.  This was how it worked back then:  you decided which place you were headed to next, then you looked up the relevant pages of motels/hostels/hotels/campsites and gave them a ring.  No looking online, certainly no booking online.  Further credence was given to my theory some years later, I was in Corsica, speaking to a chap who worked for the Rough Guide.  He was extolling the virtues of Porto-Vecchio to my mother, who lived there at the time.  We were astonished as it’s not the best of places, especially in Corsica where there are a plethora of superior destinations.  My mother enquired, politely:  “have you ever actually been to Porto-Vecchio?” to which the chap replied:  “no”.  Hapless Blogger rests case.

Whichever you choose to use, or perhaps a combination of both, then you can’t really go wrong.

Returning to our question of young or old, I really do think it comes back to the 7 Ps.
  In either case.

We come now to the end of the first part.  We certainly hope you’re enjoying it.  ​I'll let you all into a teeny tiny secret here:  because some of the stories I'm going to tell you are so hilarious and so utterly true, I was going to write a book about my travels and call it "Traveling Without Your Straighteners".  Seriously, nobody could believe I was going to do this.  So my point is this, young or old, rich or poor, if this Princess could manage it and have the time of her life, then you can do it, too.  Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the following articles, where we discuss the perils of campervans for the uninitiated and the excitement of riding a moped…topless…



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