Oct 12 2010
So you’ve decided that you want to go overseas but your not really sure when, where, how or with whom. In this section my aim is to let you know of all the options, along with their pros and cons, which will hopefully help you make the first major decisions about your upcoming adventure.
TRAVELER vs TOURIST
Yes, this is an incredibly wanky argument that goes back and forth mostly in backpacker discussions, the crux of it being a “I’m more hardcore than you” bragging contest. But I also think in its simplest form it has merit in working out what type of travel you would prefer.
Your stereo-typical “tourist” is looked at as someone who gets off the plane, collects their suitcase and is greeted by a “Mr. Smith” sign before being whisked off to their resort, where they have meals and cocktails bought to them for a week or so. If this sounds like a great vacation to you then you are a “tourist”. Although some people will try and convince you otherwise, there is nothing wrong with this at all. Taking a relaxing break from the stresses of life is awesome and if you have limited vacation time due to work or other real world restraints, chilling out with some cocktails by a pool might be exactly what you need.
Other types of “toursit” holidays include going on a cruise, an all inclusive style tour, or even just taking a break in a hotel in a different city for a few days. I love to try and fit in a “tourist” type of holiday at the end of travelling before getting back home, nothing beats a week of swimming and cocktails to wind down.
On the other hand the loose definition of a “traveler” is basically a backpacker. Not afraid to do it a bit rough, usually stays in hostels, and will probably try to drink where the beer is cheapest. Backpackers come under a wide variety of guises, from those trying to get by on less than $10/day, to the souvenier hoarding busloads of contiki/topdeck/busabout/etc groups being carted around the major city sites. While the latter blurs the lines between tourist and traveller, you can be sure that a traveler is someone who is up for some action, meeting new people and hoping to experience as much as possible of what the world has to offer along the way.
Hotels: With hotels you’ll almost always get what you pay for, they should for the most part be clean, comfy and hospitable. You wont have to put up with noisy people in your room at all hours and you can rest assured that you’ll wake up to a nice warm shower. The downsides besides the obvious price issue are; they are harder to meet people in, you’ll almost always have to pay for extras like internet and the reception is never as helpful as in hostels.
Hostels: The best thing about hostels in my opinion is the people. When you are travelling around, meeting new people on the way is always one of the highlights and where most of your memories come from. The other upsides are; the prices which are stomach-able if you are travelling for a long time, the helpfulness of staff, and free stuff. The worst things about hostels are the noise, lack of cleanliness and limited privacy. Later in this series I will devote an entire article to hostels, dorm room etiquette and how to avoid their downsides.
Camping: Mostly reserved for long trips during summer, camping is a great way to cut accommodation costs. The downsides include rare hot water, long rides into town, and probably needing better multilingual skills. Quite often camping goes with having a car/van and travelling with some friends.
Couch Surfing: Once a relativly small community, couchsurfing.org has grown to over 2million members covering pretty much anywhere in the world you would want to go. The crux of the idea is that you offer your couch up for people to sleep on and in return others do the same for you. Its based on a peer review system and its pretty easy to make sure that you will get along with your host, quite often emails are exchanged for weeks before the stay. By couch surfing you cut your accommodation costs to nil and have a unique opportunity to get an insight into local life that is quite difficult to gain otherwise. Downsides include setting up places to stay usually well in advance, plans falling though, and not getting along with your host/guests, though with a little effort couch surfing can be an incredibly rewarding experience.
GROUP vs PAIR vs ALONE
Group: Travelling in a group is a great way to never get bored, you will always have someone to party with and don’t have to worry about making friends. The downsides are that groups often become insular and many backpackers steer clear of groups when looking to make friends. Also in a group you may find that you miss seeing alot of things you wanted to because of timing and some not being as enthused as others. Traveling in groups I would advise only for short amounts of time, through easy to navigate countries, where you’re looking more to party than anything else.
In a Pair: Travelling in a pair seems to be the most common form of travel. Its always nice to have someone to talk to while wandering around a new city, and if you want to do different things its very easy to organise a meeting spot for later. Being in a pair is also a great idea while visiting countries less frequented by tourists and for females, those countries whose cultures view equal rights differently. The downside of traveling in a pair is that you are pretty likely to annoy the shit out of each other after an extended period of time. If your thinking about getting married traveling through countries where neither of you can speak the language and no-one speaks yours for a few months will definitely test the strength of your relationship.
Alone: Traveling alone can be very rewarding, you get to go wherever you want, whenever you want and it becomes very easy to make your own itinerary. You will rely on meeting other travelers for your social fix and will probably meet a weird and wonderful mix of people. The worst thing about traveling on your own is getting caught in an area where not many people travel or finding yourself in a down season. Going 4-5 days without meeting anyone interesting isn’t that uncommon and makes home sickness come on pretty strong.
TOUR or ROAM FREE
Tour: Here I am talking about tours that take up all or most of your trip, the contiki/topdeck/busabout style tours. They are great if you want to see alot of stuff very quickly and make friends really easily. If you have never been overseas before and are a little shy or feel a bit out of your depth working out how to get around by yourself going on a tour is probably a good idea to get your feet wet. The downside of going on these type of tours is the expense, you pay far far too much for what you get. Your tour guides are paid commissions on everywhere they take you to, to drink, eat or buy souvenirs, they are not there to get the best deal for you but for themselves. Another downside is you never really get to see a city properly or feel its vibe, everything is done so quickly.
Roaming Free: Choose where you go and when you want to. The downside of this compared to the tours is having to worry about getting to and from places, organizing your accommodation and working out where you want to drink, friends are slightly harder to come by but if you put yourself out there you should never have a problem if your staying in hostels. Choosing to steer clear of tours is far more rewarding and hopefully through reading the tips throughout this series, even the beginner traveler will feel confident enough to venture out into the world unguided.
SEASONS & FESTIVALS
Most countries are best to travel to in Summer unless you are specifically going for skiing or snowboarding though there are a few that are better to go to in Spring/Autumn to avoid severe heat and humidity, easiest way to find out is to just do a little bit of reading before hand.
Before planning a trip always look at whats on in that part of the world at that time of year. It really sucks to be just a few hundred kilometers away from a major festival like Oktoberfest and not being able to go because you would be backtracking or missing something that you had pre-booked. Try to book your holiday to fit around these major festivals and you will have some amazing experiences.
Note: I am trying to keep this guide non-continent/country specific. If you need any advice on a certain country, or deciding on a destination please feel free to contact me.
Inspired by a recent link to these suggestive gifs, heres Katy Perry.