A Backpackers Guide for Packing

With 25 countries under our belts, we’ve definitely had some problems when packing. For the majority of our short-haul travels, where we were inexperienced in the art of travelling, we just used a 20l bag. This worked well for us as we didn’t want to pay for checked baggage. However, when we travelled to Asia our mind shift changed and we decided to pay for checked baggage and take 60L bags. We quickly learned in our first place in Hong Kong, that not only did we overpack, but we brought too big a bag.

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I find that when you have a bigger back you pack more things as there are more spaces to fill. As silly as this sounds it was true for the three of us. Our bags ranged from 13-16kg, which travelling around for 3.5months was way too much. Since coming back, I have travelled back to Thailand and Bali with a new 30L bag and it worked perfectly for me. So, what are the essentials for travelling?

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Firstly, try to pack as lightly as possible. We have read many blogs that suggest pack once, then re-pack with half the things you did the first time. This advice should not be so easily dismissed. The things that we would recommend taking are:

  • 1 week’s supply of underwear
  • 1 week’s supply of socks
  • 5-7 T-shirts
  • Flip Flops – travel in trainers
  • One travel towel – Usually a good travel towel is light, takes up little room and dry’s quickly.
  • One waterproof travel coat
  • Swimming trunks
  • 2/3 Shorts

These were the bare essential things that we needed whilst travelling Europe or Asia. The key is not to pack too much because you’ll find you don’t use half of the things anyway. Other things that I would recommend bringing are a lock for your bag and a lock for the locker in your hostel. Most hostels offer lockers to put your valuables in, and if not, then don’t stay there. When you’re staying in a dorm that can cost as little as £2 a night, anybody could be staying there (although in general travellers are awesome folk) and it’s worth locking up your valuables.

One thing that you really do want to spend the time to get is a way to access money free of charge, and don’t charge you fees for using your card abroad. Some credit cards offer this, but we found it easier to use a debit card from a company called Monzo. Our article on “How we Travel” talks more about a Monzo card and why this is a useful card to travel with.

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Having an unlocked phone makes your trip so much easier and enjoyable. Most international airports have kiosks where you can buy temporary SIM cards. It is possible to get SIMs with international calls, but we just got data-only packages. Use of the internet comes in very handy for finding your way around, looking up the location of your next activity, as well as contacting people at home occasionally.

Something that most people usually forget until the last minute is travel insurance! If you are travelling for months on end and know you’re going to be doing a lot of adventurous activities, such as diving, climbing mountains or even just driving a motorbike (the roads are mad!) then make sure you have travel insurance. We usually use compare the market as it allows you to set different filters and compare prices with ease. For our small trips, we don’t usually take out travel insurance. But we did for the Asia trip, and it paid off when one of us lost a phone! A thing to remember is ‘gadgets’ such as mobile phones, tablets, and laptops are not covered under most basic policies and require an additional cover plan.

Something I wish I had listened to before I left is that you can buy a lot of the things you need abroad, and for much cheaper. One thing that I think is essential for a lot of countries is insect repellent. The mosquitoes are a nightmare, and the bites in Asia were a lot worse than those I’ve had in the UK. Bug spray makes your life so much easier. I took 4 cans of bug spray and only got through 2 cans. Taking 1 can and then buying it out there not only saves you space in your bag but also money.

During our time in Asia, we bought so many clothes, whether that be tank tops, shorts or flipflops. Basically, we bought a whole new ‘Asia wardrobe’. You’ll soon find out that the clothes you brought are too thick, so you chafe and sweat. Another thing is that if your clothes are too thick then they won’t dry when you have to cram them into an overly small tumble drier, so you find yourself wasting more of your time abroad waiting for laundry. Most clothes in Asia cost a few pounds if that, and it’s better to buy out there than take your good clothes. A lot of countries aren’t the cleanest, and clothes often get dirty beyond reuse.

Again, don’t worry about bringing loads of toiletries beforehand as you can buy these in Asia for a fraction of the price that you would pay back home. Ladies, (or fellas if you’re so inclined!), we found that a lot of long-term female travellers had given up on daily makeup as the heat just makes your face melt. You might want some for the odd special night out or fancy dinner, but packing everything you use at home will only weigh you down.

The number one thing that we would recommend leaving at home is jeans. In a nutshell, they’re just the wrong clothes for the Asian climate. Not only do they never dry, but you will no doubt chafe in the humidity. Besides, you want to carry as little weight as possible, and jeans are relatively heavy when it comes to trousers.

Like jeans, you don’t really need to bring any smart shirts unless you really want to look smart at a restaurant or bar. However, most of the time we visited clubs in tank top, swim shorts and flip-flops. One of the best things about dressing like this is that this was the norm! Also, irons in hostels are a rarity so if you’re washing your own shirts be prepared to wear them creased. Save yourself the time and effort and leave jeans and shirts at home.

How we Travel – The Travel Guide for Students

Many people ask us on a regular basis, how do you travel so much? Being university students, we know that it can be hard to see how you can travel so much. Many people get put off travelling for many reasons. Usually, a lack of time or money means that people cannot travel, or so they think. In 2017 we travelled for 40% of the year and visited numerous places. Since we finished 6th form we have regularly planned trips, whether that be on a large or small scale and always made it work.  In the last two years alone, although we have been students at university during this time, we have travelled to 25 different countries spanning two continents. And now we will share our secrets with you.

It may sound obvious, but having a job at university really helps with being able to plan your trips. Our motto is always ‘When you’re out there, you just have to do it, and worry about money later.’ Although this may seem irresponsible we rarely spend money that we do not have. A prime example of this is a recent trip to Thailand. (Thailand article here). We decided to do a fun dive and then loved it so much we decided to get our divers license. In Koh Tao, diving costs around £180, which is obviously a lot of money to spontaneously decide to spend. But that motto has always worked for us and is one of the reasons we have always enjoyed ourselves on our trips. Having a job at university has allowed us to be able to have this motto and stick by it. Many of you may wonder how you can balance work and university, and the key is time management. If you can manage your time for your Uni work, then you can work more hours. Working more hours means more trips. It’s that simple.

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A common question we get asked a lot is how much our trips cost. And of course, this varies depending on destination, activities and length of time travelling. But one way we can assure that you will save money is using travel-friendly websites.  Sky Scanner and Hostel World are your friend! Sky Scanner is a flight website that checks every airline that offers that flight and sends you the cheapest prices. We often have found ‘hot deals’ including £9.99 return flights! The key to Sky Scanner is to be as flexible as possible. As a Uni student I know this can be difficult. However, during reading week, Christmas holidays and Easter, you have a significant amount of time to choose a certain date for departure and your return, that you should instantly save a lot of money. Hostel World is also a brilliant website. Like Sky Scanner it shows you all the hostels in that area and rates them on price, security, location etc. You can choose yourself which one you think is the most important to you. For us, it’s s price and location. We usually pick the cheapest price with the best location. A lot of people who don’t travel on a regular basis ‘sneer’ at the thought of staying in a hostel. But depending on how much money you want to spend, you can get a nice hostel. A lot of the time we have had a good hostel that is clean, secure and much cheaper than a standard hotel. For us, a hostel is just a place to sleep at night, other than that we aren’t that fussed. Most travellers like to stay in hostels (especially solo-travellers) as this is one of the best ways to meet people! We really cannot recommend staying in hostels enough!

Research is essential when you have decided where you want to go. Many people do not realise just how much research we put into our trips, to allow us to do the best things in the time we have. Although after our recent 3.5-month trip to Asia taught us that ‘winging it’ can free your time up, researching what are the best places to do in that place prior departing is key. Although we recommend to not set a time limit to a certain place (if possible) we do highly recommend to research what there is to do in each country. For example, on our recent trip to Vietnam, (Vietnam article here) we researched into Ha Long Bay, Sapa and the Buffalo Run. All these activities made our Vietnam trip special and we might not have known about them unless we did our research. Additionally, wasting time in your hostel searching ‘What to do in x’ is not only a waste of your time but a waste of your money. You obviously wanted to go to this place for a reason, so research before you go what you can do! Another top tip,  if you want to plan a long trip where you will be visiting several countries, do not pre-book your flights from one country to another. We found that when we did this, we ran out of time in a certain place where we would have liked more. As we got better with this, we found that the trip was more enjoyable, relaxing and flexible which gave us the perfect chance to explore each country and city as much as we wanted.

When you have decided what activities have made you want to visit a certain place. You will probably look to pre-book most of your activities if not all of them. And although it is helpful to pre-book your activities as you get the payments out of the way and feel organised, nine times out of ten, you can book these activities during your stay for much cheaper. Finding a good hostel is key to booking your activities. Although we pre-booked our activities in Vietnam, our hostel that we stayed at (Vietnam Backpackers Hostel) offered all the trips we did for a slightly cheaper price. This is why researching your hostel and activities is key to saving money and saving time. Not pre-booking your activities also gives you the freedom to decide what you want to do whilst you’re out there. Sometimes making yourself stick to a schedule, takes the fun out of it and makes your trip less flexible.

Obviously figuring out how much spending money you should take is always difficult and depends on many factors. But remember, your trip will likely cost more than you first plan it to. Something most people seem to forget is factoring transport costs whilst you’re in a country! Try taking public transport as much as possible as taxis are very expensive and add up quickly. When you take off your tourist coat and became a true traveller, you will find that settling for the “lower standards” that locals use every day will not only save you money, but help you get a real feel for the place; more than the façade that most visitors to the country see. The first trip we ever did, although we enjoyed at the time, looking back now was nothing compared to what we have done ever since. Since we have learned so much from each trip, we just try and earn as much money as we possibly can whilst trying to save money on accommodation and flights. One thing that catches many people out is international banking charges on most debit cards. If you’re not lucky enough to have access to a credit card, then get a MONZO CARD. Although recently they have changed their policy where now you are allowed £200 a month free withdrawal before paying a 3% charge. Monzo used to allow you to withdraw £1000 a month for free before you were capped withdrawing anymore. However, during my recent trip to Bali where the changes had come into place. I never needed to use my Monzo card to withdraw as I just paid for everything on my card which is free. Seriously, if you like to go abroad, even once a year and you want to save money, apply for a Monzo card!

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Finally, it is important to state that there is no right way to travel. People should choose to travel how they most feel comfortable. Travelling allows you to meet people from all over the world whilst experiencing different cultures, people and seeing the best sights. Our number one tip is whilst you are out there, just go for it. Don’t have any regrets. Venture out of your comfort zone. Once we did, we never looked back!