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Monday, September 15, 2014

5 Tips for planning an overseas backpacking trip on a budget

Alisha McDarris

There’s a lot of planning that goes into any foreign vacation, but steel yourself for even more preparation if you’ll be backpacking (i.e. hopping from city to city).
See, if you’re going to Paris for a week or London for 10 days, there is usually only one hotel, one flight, and maybe a train or two that you’ll need to book. If you’re seeing as many sights as you can possibly take in in one trip, there’s so much more to consider.
Take our two-week jaunt across the UK and Ireland, for example: We took three coaches, seven planes (including the four that took us from the States and back), countless buses and rides on the Tube, and stayed in five host homes, two hostels and one grungy hotel. See what I mean? It takes far more planning and foresight to get a backpacking trip together than a relaxing vacay at a posh resort in Rome where the only advance planning required is to make sure the resort shuttle picks you up at the airport on time.

So here are a few tips to ensure your trip is a successful one:

1. Start planning early: The best thing to do when organizing a trip like ours is to start early. Earlier than you think. Do your research, scour guidebooks and the web, and map out each step of your journey well before you set foot in your destination country or you might end up like us, caught  in a downpour somewhere in London with no umbrella in the middle of the night when every hostel within walking distance is booked and you end up staying at the dumpiest hotel in the city for £65 a night. Not fun.
2. Book transportation: Once you have your itinerary down, nail down how you’re getting from city to city (train? plane? rental car? coach?) and purchase tickets in advance so you don’t have to worry about missing the only coach to Leeds for the next six hours.That way you won’t be burning the midnight oil comparing costs of various modes of transport, stressing about whether or not you’ll arrive a your destination in time for that Mariachi band you really want to see.

3. Book accommodations early: There’s nothing worse than sitting in a coffee shop minutes before they close just so you can use their WiFi to locate the nearest hostel or hotel. Yes, we’ve done that, too. Book before you arrive in your destination city so you’re guaranteed a place to sleep even on busy weekends. It’s tempting to want to wait until the last minute to see if a better option pops up, but it’ll hardly seem worth it at 3:00 am when you’re standing on a street corner hoping the fifth hostel on your list has at least one vacancy.
4. Have tickets in hand: For crying out loud don’t forget to have all your tickets for various modes of transportation and tours printed out before you arrive. You may not be able to find a computer and printer on the road and God forbid you lose access to the e-ticket on your phone because you used up the battery searching for the best bar in Amsterdam.
5. Be prepared: The famous Boy Scouts motto holds true when traveling the world. Research the area you’ll be visiting and know what kind of clothing you’ll need, whether or not you’ll have access to clean drinking water or food, and whether you’ll require tools for really roughing it (tent? camping stove? sleeping bag?). You may not want to carry the extra weight initially, but that multi-tool, protein bar, extra towel or windproof jacket may come in handier than you initially anticipated.
Having your trip mapped out and everything in place when you touch down or pull into the station will provide a much less stressful experience for you (unless you’re one of those people who thrive on never knowing what happens next) and you’ll be free to enjoy the world that much more (without being forced to pull out your smart phone every five minutes to figure out how to get from Dublin to Cork or praying there’s still one seat left in economy class.)

Alisha McDarris / Author & Editor

Alisha has been a writer and photographer forever. OK, maybe not forever, but at least for more of her 20-something years than she hasn’t been those things... [Read More]

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