BACKPACKING Q&A: YOU ASKED AND I ANSWERED
Thanks so much for sending in questions. I love being able to share my experiences and maybe guide your next adventure. If you are interested in checking out the two previous Q&A posts I’ve published you can view them here:
The first Q&A I did all about me, my life of travel and how I got started: YOU ASKED AND I ANSWERED Q&A
A Q&A all about blogging, social media and being a digital nomad: MY LIFE AS A TRAVEL BLOGGER Q&A
I’ve been backpacking for over a year now and lived away from home for more than five years. My travels have taken me to over 25 countries across the world and my journey isn’t stopping anytime soon. I have made some huge mistakes and had some big successes while backpacking. So, I asked you guys on Instagram to ask me anything about backpacking and the response was overwhelming. It seems there are a lot of you already backpacking and even more itching to get adventuring. These are your questions:
How do you stay in shape while backpacking?
I do a ton of outdoor activities. I just finished a 12-day trek in the Himalayas, I love cliff jumping, swimming, hiking, and walking miles and miles around new cities. However, these activities keep me from putting on weight but they don’t necessarily build muscle and improve strength. So, I normally look for a gym if I’m in a location for more than a few days. Most places have a local gym. Usually, the poorer the quality the better because it will be cheaper. If there is no gym or you can’t find one nearby it’s time for option two. Playgrounds or parks. If you can find a playground with a horizontal bar you can do pullups, chin ups, leg raises, core work and then do your pushups and other ground work while you are there. If you can’t find a gym or a park it’s option three, which sucks a bit but that’s the grind. It’s the hotel room floor. This really sucks if you are in a dorm haha! If I have to workout in a hotel room I find it so boring I usually only do a few hundred pushups and a few hundred core exercises. The main factor is motivation. If you are too lazy (sometimes me) or can’t ‘find the time’, you ain’t gonna keep in shape. I try never to go two days in a row without some kind of workout.
Are you traveling alone? Do you ever feel out of place in a strange land? Have you ever faced danger?
I am traveling alone although sometimes I meet up with a friend who joins me for a week or a month. I do sometimes feel incredibly out of place. Often I am stared at by every single person in the street. I’m currently in Varanasi, India, wasand people yell things out at me and stare at me but they also go out of their way to talk to me because I am different. Most people are friendly and are interested in who this guy with long hair, a beard, tattoos and a vlogging camera tripod walking down the street is. I think because of my size compared to most Asians and my appearance I deter a lot of danger. In one year I haven’t had any run-ins with people. I’ve had plenty of arguments with people trying to rip me off but I’ve never felt physically endangered, mostly because I am a foot taller than everyone and 40 pounds heavier.
Is solo backpacking safe?
It definitely depends on where you go and how you travel. I don’t drink very often and I don’t do drugs, not even smoking weed. I have nothing against people who do but here’s why it is in this answer. If you smoke, drink or do drugs you are ten times more likely to get into trouble. It’s at night when you are drunk or high you make odd decisions which put yourself in slightly more dangerous positions around shady people. If you are just walking around in the day minding your own business being a tourist you are unlikely to find trouble. In Asia, I have felt very, very safe but I didn’t feel quite as secure in Guatemala City.
How much should I save before going backpacking? What is the best way to make money while traveling?
It definitely depends on how long you plan to backpack for and what countries you will visit. Also, we all have different accommodation and food preferences. I don’t really give a damn as long as it has a bathroom and a bed… and wifi. When I left I had saved up about $6000 combined with my girlfriend at the time. Throughout all of Southeast Asia, you can survive comfortably on $800 per month. That doesn’t mean you can’t do awesome activities either. Here is an article I wrote about backpacking in the Philippines with $800 for a month.
I’ve never been backpacking alone and I’m somewhat scared because I’m a female. What’s one thing I should look out for?
Traveling alone as a female is definitely different than being a male. I obviously haven’t experienced personally but I hang out with a lot of solo, female backpackers. It depends on the location of course but as a general rule of thumb if you don’t feel 100% safe during the day then stay with company or inside at night when it’s dark. Be careful of giving away your details. This might seem easy but I suck at this. Each day people ask me where I am staying. They are friendly and I trust pretty much everyone. However, some people have ill-intentions and are finding out where you are staying and will follow you, stalk you or try and do who knows what. The tip is to learn a hotel near yours and say you stay there or just say the area and you forgot the hotel name. Having said all that, I know a ton of female travelers who are awesome and have a great time. Don’t be deterred!
What is your preparation before you travel?
When I head to a new country there are a few things I need make sure I have covered. Do I need a visa? Do I need a transit visa if I am going to transit through an airport (USA)?, do I need proof of onward travel? After that the rest you can usually figure out when you get there although I usually book at least one or two nights of accommodation as sometimes you will be asked for proof of accommodation at the airport and it’s nice to have somewhere to head when you land. If you picked a bad location or you are on the wrong side of the city you are only there for a night or two and can relocate. If you picked the best hostel with the sickest vibes, just extend your stay and you are golden.
@frasman000 @flornavatta.ph @danzan18
Do you get lonely? Do you use any apps to meet people?
The honest answer is yes. I am incredibly detached from my hometown, Adelaide, after five years away. I am also not the most social person in my accommodations. I usually adventure then return to the accommodation and work out, and then work on social media, blog, content, video etc. It’s not all lonely times though. I meet plenty of cool people, enjoy my own space and the freedom of being solo. I have used tinder a couple of times but always give up on that. The best way is to head to the chill area of your hostel if you are looking for mates.
Where can you book cheap flights?
The best place to book flights, in my opinion, is Skyscanner. I like the feature of being able to search from my current location to ‘anywhere’ and also you can search for flights in an entire month. That way, I can find the cheapest flights for any time during the month because usually, my schedule isn’t too strict. My mate Jorden Tually made this guide to Skyscanner that shows how we both use it to get the cheapest flights. He is a huge tight-ass, possibly the cheapest guy I know so you can be sure this is the best way to find the lowest prices haha!
How do you travel as much as you do and still enjoy it?
Every day is different. Some are full of adventures, some are spent working in a cafe.. rinsing the wifi. I visit new countries, find new experiences and my work and content also continue to evolve. Last week I jumped off a 160m bridge. Yesterday I took a boat trip on the Ganges, the holiest river in the world, during sunrise. It isn’t all highlights like those of course! (Don’t believe Instagram!) But it’s those highlights that keep me wanting more!
How many times have you been mugged?
A big fat zero. In fact, I’m still a little bitter about my time in the U.S.A. In four years of college, I had three bicycles stolen. Yet, when I go to ‘dangerous’ countries carrying thousands of dollars of electronics in my backpack I have no issues. Maybe I am just lucky I’m not sure but I hope my streak continues.
What is your preferred size liter bag?
I have an 80L and sometimes feel it is too big. But thenI bought a drone and I can fit the entire drone bag in the backpack. I think for me, I am strong enough for the 80L so it is nice to have the extra space. But if you get a 45L you are going to spend your whole time cramming things in unless you are a super-light traveler. My recommendation would be 60L if you are a regular traveler. If you are a content creator or have a lot of electronics for whatever reason maybe an 80L. I also have a decent sized bag I carry on my front with a computer, cameras, and lenses.
What do you pack I am finding it difficult deciding what to bring with me?
I go with 5 t-shirts, 2 tank tops, 4 shorts, flip flops, shoes, micro-fiber towel, toiletries, 7 underwear/socks, universal charger, 1 flannel shirt, 1 pair of jeans. The rest is up to you. I have lots of electronics and chargers but that is dependent on the person.
As a possible first-time backpacker do you have any immediate advice?
Ease yourself in. Pick a country like Thailand where life is easy-going, not too expensive, relatively safe and shouldn’t be too stressful. Be mentally prepared to be uncomfortable in many situations but embrace it. Embrace the crappy 10hr bus ride with no a/c, embrace the cold salt water showers in your Island hostel, embrace the fact some opportunistic locals are trying to feed their family and they will show little mercy in ripping you off. It will be worth it!
How did you start traveling? Did you save a lot of money or just learn to live off the land?
Haha! I am definitely not living off the land. I saved a few thousand dollars but was also beginning my content creation career before I began traveling. I had been blogging and Instagramming for three months before I left. So my hope was that I would be able to make money as I traveled from that. Luckily it worked out.
What’s the worst thing that’s happened to you while backpacking?
I’ve honestly been so lucky. Nothing terrible has happened to me. I mean I broke up with my girlfriend of three years only a couple of months into my first year of backpacking and had solo-travel thrust upon me. However, these things happen and you just keep keeping on. Food poisoning and altitude sickness were rough in the Himalayas recently:
Do you think as a girl I can travel alone?
Yes most definitely! As I wrote above you might just have to play some situations slightly differently to a 6ft male.
@ted.im @junukc @adamyap94
What’s your main source of income?
You’re on it. This blog is my main source of income. The ads you have probably noticed within this article and around the blog are my bread and butter. Each month the website is viewed over 100,000 times. It’s not common for a travel blog just over a year old to have so many visitors. I have worked tirelessly to learn the blogging world while producing unique and helpful guides and content. I also do some sponsored gigs from time to time on Instagram and sell Lightroom presets right here on the blog: Journey Era Lightroom Presets
What are your tips for eating healthy on the road and where do you cook?
Haha, the last time I cooked was in college… if you can call it cooking. I eat every single meal at a cafe, street vendor or restaurant. In Southeast Asia and Asia, in general, this has proven very cheap. In terms of being healthy, I don’t eat candy and rarely drink soda. I don’t necessarily eat incredibly healthy but I also do a ton of exercise throughout the day. I try and get my fruit in through smoothies and then vegetables might come in a fried noodle dish or a lettuce leaf in a burger… I can eat a plate of noodles with egg and vegetables from a street vendor here in Varanasi, India for 50 cents. It’s filling, relatively healthy and cheap.
How do you find affordable last minute accommodation?
I use booking.com for 99% of my bookings. I search the city, then order from price lowest to highest. After that, I try and look for the cheapest accommodation with the best rating. The ratings are usually pretty spot on. If a private room is similar to a dorm room I might go for that. If it is a place renowned for getting booked out like El Nido, you may want to book ahead but usually, I book the night before. Hostels and guest houses are rarely booked out.
Don’t you feel homesick at times?
Yeah sure. I miss my family a lot. I often also feel guilty for leaving. I try and skype my family once a week and visit Australia at Christmas time, the best time.
Is it easy to get a small job on the way? In which countries is it easiest?
I’ve never done it to be honest. The one job I have seen the most isn’t paid. It is working at a hostel. For example, I stayed at a hostel in Cambodia where most of the staff were travelers. They worked 8 hours for five days a week and in exchange received free accommodation ($5) and 3 meals a day (Keep in mind a plate of noodles costs $1-2). I think I’d rather work back home at a proper job then enjoy my holiday rather than working 8 hrs a day for essentially less than $10 a day. But if you need a break from traveling and want to stick in one spot and like the vibe and people it can work. In terms of a paying job, it can get a little trickier because you will likely be wanting to get paid under the table. Teaching English is the most popular choice. You can teach in many countries in Southeast Asia, get to hang out with the kids, immerse yourself into the community more than when you are a plain old tourist. I’ve never done it but it was my backup plan if my life as a blogger was an epic fail.
How did you get your life to be able to travel and visit a lot of countries?
I studied for six years in college. I changed major four times, changed school four times and even changed the country I was living. I finally graduated with a degree in journalism and interned at two magazines as a writer and then one non-profit as a social media consultant. I started shooting photos two years ago, began working hard on Instagram two years ago and blogging 15 months ago. I took huge risks and worked my ass off over the last 15 months to build my way to earning my way to a sustainable travel lifestyle. I stumbled into my current life, I never even knew what a blog was two years ago.
What kind of backpack would you recommend for a beginner traveler? Also, do you have a method for keeping things organized?
I would get a 60l backpack. You may want to get one that also has wheels. My sister got one of those hybrids you can wear on your back or wheel it. I wish I had that sometimes in airports. The reality is you probably won’t wear it that often. From the airport, you get a taxi, rickshaw or tuk-tuk and then go straight to the hostel where you dump your bag. That’s a maximum 10-15 minutes carrying the bag, possibly less. I have walked from airports to accommodation before because I didn’t like the price of a train like in Malaysia, I walked an hour because the train was $6, the same price as my hotel. To keep organized I have a few drawstring bags, like the ones you get when you buy a new pair of Nike shoes. If you have your cords and accessories in a bag, socks and underwear in a bag etc. etc. all you will be left with out in the open of your main compartment is t-shirts and big clothing items so it’s easy to sort out. You can get packing cubes, which are pretty much the same thing as my drawstring bag method, just helps to separate gear.
Where do you charge your things?
I charge everything at the hotel/hostel. I have a universal adapter and a plug that has two usb slots.
What are tips for making sure you have everything but also packing light?
You have to be a bit ruthless with your decisions if you want to pack light. You might end up overdoing and leave something out but there isn’t much you can’t buy at your destination if you messed it up. Start a little heavier and then after a month if you haven’t worn a t-shirt or pair of shorts just give it away and lighten the load. I don’t know how fashionable you are but if you aren’t too interested in looking ‘on point’ every day you will save a lot of room. I make life easy by only wearing plain clothes so pretty much everything matches.
What is the hardest part about backpacking?
There are so many aspects about backpacking I find hard. Getting hassled by people trying to rip me off, hot transport with no a/c and the constant wifi struggle. However, I personally get quite affected when I witness extreme poverty and seeing the struggle in people’s faces. Travel isn’t hard, riding a bicycle-rickshaw in 43-degree heat in Varanasi, India, when you are 60 years old, is hard.
How do you find transportation?
I take all types of transport from regular taxis to rickshaws to moped rentals. How I decide what is the best option is by asking around about the different prices. If you can find a local or a vendor you trust they will usually give you some solid advice. For example, I need to get to Agra from Varanasi via train in two days. I asked first at the smoothie stand what the price is and the details. This is because they aren’t trying to sell it to me so they have no reason to tell me the wrong price. Then I went to the owner of my hotel and his price was the same as I had been told by smoothie making friends on the street. I told him I’d book. He called his uncle, brother or son I have no idea. But someone is bringing the train ticket tomorrow. People want your business so if you ask someone on the street they might not be the guy, but they will know the guy.
What do you recommend for first-time travelers do regarding managing their money while traveling?
It’s pretty tough I still haven’t figured it out. There is really no way around paying the ATM fees and international exchange fee. I usually take out about US 500 equivalent. Keep most of it in my suitcase and top up my wallet when it runs low. You can get a travel card but in Southeast Asia, they are more or less useless only saving you the ATM fee in Thailand. You may find a better deal than me but in the end, I just said stuff it and use my US bank card and withdraw a big amount. It might cost me $10 USD each withdrawal in fees. I always try and keep $100-200 USD on me. It is the most powerful and wanted currency. So if you ever run out of money, the ATM ate your card or you have an emergency you want USD.
When backpacking how do you manage to carry all of your equipment?
Sometimes with extreme difficulty. I just bought a drone and haven’t consolidated the drone and the gear into my two bags. So I have been carrying three. I’m not the hulk but I am strong enough to carry three bags for an hour through the streets of Kathmandu to change hotels. I will have to cram it into two bags because three is just too hard to manage.
How do you avoid getting things stolen when you are doing activities like swimming?
Good question. You trust no-one in a situation like swimming. If I know I’m going swimming I don’t take anything and leave my key in the lobby. If I’m with someone we would take it turns in the water. I don’t let me gear out of my sight unless I’m 100%. I’ve probably offended people before who have offered to watch my stuff. I’ve looked them up and down and said nah I’ll keep it!
How often do you do laundry? Do you bring your own soap so you can wash your clothes whenever you want?
Usually every 7-10 days depending on the weather and what activities I’ve been doing. If it’s a beach area, I will just wash my boardshorts in the shower so there’s less to wash. Here in Varanasi, India I sweat like crazy so it will be once a week. I outsource my laundry! The usual rate for a laundry in Asia is $1 per kilogram with my max load usually being 3 kilograms. They usually clean it really well and it comes back folded and in a nice little package. I love it haha!
Has traveling alone helped you find yourself?
I guess it’s a common saying about solo travel but I don’t even really know what that means. I wasn’t lost before I began but I have definitely learned things about myself and my limits. Being in tough, new situations brings out different sides of you so you do learn more than if you are in a comfortable state at home. Being solo you get a lot of time to reflect on everything whether you mean to or not.
How much money do you allow yourself per day?
I usually aim for $800 a month max so that’s about $27 per day. That figure is meant to include things like an island-hopping tour or a moped rental, not just food and accommodation. It’s also meant to include toiletries and random things that slowly add up. However, I usually go under that. Here in India, my accommodation is $5. My breakfast, lunch, and dinner today came to a total of $5 and I bought three 1L drinks of water, which totaled $1. I also went to a gym today which was $2 entry. So today my total was $13. I used to record it but now I just try and keep it cheap but will spend if I think it is worth it like the $35 entrance to the Mayan Ruins in Guatemala.
How do you decide where to go?
Sometimes a seed gets planted in my head and I can’t let it go. For example, I can’t even remember why but I want to go to Myanmar. I honestly can’t remember why but I will probably go this year. I usually try and visit the country next to the one I am currently in so I just pay for a train or bus or very cheap flight rather than hopping all over the globe. That is unless of course I am on a sponsored trip and then I use the free to and from flights to get me to a new continent.
Has backpacking changed the way you see things?
It’s changed how I feel about western countries like Australia and America, the two places I lived. Theres a lot I dislike about what goes on and how people act in both countries. Being a digital nomad has also made me notice how trapped some people in third-world countries are but also how trapped some people are in the west. Trapped in their job they don’t like that much but it pays the bills.
What attracts you the most to a destination?
I think I just usually have a vision of what type of adventure could I have there. And then my imagination usually goes wild. Travel videos and photos on social media are something I consume a lot so I often so cool places online before I visit too. Other than that Greek food could lure me back to Europe!
How exhausting is it to carry around a huge backpack for so many days?
I don’t have it on my back that much, to be honest. It’s usually on a plane, in my transport or in my hotel room.
How much money did you begin with when you set off for your adventure?
I had saved about $6000 I think but it was split between myself and my girlfriend at the time. We were expecting to earn through social media from Day 1 because we already had been while in Hawaii.
Where do you start?
Get your passport approved and look at countries you might like to visit. Then you could watch some vlogs about that country or read some blogs…. like mine.
What are your best budget travel tips?
I actually wrote a pretty extensive article about how to travel for cheap. I’ll drop the article below.
What was your mindset like when you started backpacking?
It was one of fear, to be honest. A fear of joining the 9-5 rat race. I didn’t want that. So this was my escape route.
Do you ever think about the possibility of sleeping with bed bugs while backpacking?
Haha, yea the best thing is to check the reviews on booking.com. People always let you know if they had bed bugs. You have to remember a hotel can’t afford even one bad review so they are going to be pretty diligent about making sure there aren’t any bed bugs otherwise they will be out of business pretty quick with how important online reviews are these days. Having said that budget accommodation can be pretty dirty sometimes and you just have to cross your fingers. I’m currently sharing my room with two geckos.
Do you carry games and books?
I don’t but I do listen to audiobooks when I’m on a long bus or train trip. It’s lighter!
What is something you pack that may surprise us?
My German passport. Yep, that’s right I have an Australian and German passport.
What kind of backpack do you use?
I have an 80L Gregory Backpack that is pretty solid.
Do you find accommodation when you arrive or is there a good site to book the backpacking accommodation before you arrive?
Yeah, I usually book the accommodation before I arrive unless it is a remote location where the guesthouses aren’t listed online. Hostelworld.com or booking.com are the two I use to make my bookings but 90% of them are with booking.com because you can book and then pay in the local currency when you arrive.
What’s the answer to a question no-one asked but you wished they did?
What was it like sharing a room in India with Jub the Kiwi who has a bigger beard than you?
To be honest it was a little intimidating. Despite being a foot taller, I definitely felt the smaller of the two men in the room.