Today marks our 200th day globetrotting and while we were planning to spend the day Island hopping, the weather unfortunately had other ideas. Instead I am sitting here on our little porch watching the thunder and lightning (I love watching storms, especially in Asia, the sky puts on a spectacular performance!) reflecting on everything we have achieved over the last few months. We have visited 11 amazing countries to date and have picked up a few useful travel tricks along the way. From budgeting tips to general, everyday discoveries, here are my top backpacking travel tips that we have learnt this year!
The price of a flight can vary an unbelievable amount in such a short space of time, we learnt the hard way. Please plan your route in advance and don’t leave it to the last minute to book your flights, I cannot stress this enough! We use the Skyscanner app to find the cheapest flights. It has never let us down and is so easy to use. You can enter specific dates or month long ranges depending on your requirements and it will always pull the cheapest possible flights. The Skyscanner price alert feature is UH-amazing if you are flexible with your dates. It basically sends an alert to your phone if the price changes on a certain flight you’ve been looking at. Meaning you can grab yourself a bargain, or at least the best possible price. We also signed up for the AirAsia loyalty scheme app. It sends live alerts to your phone when they have a flash sale or discount on flights which is so handy because we fly with them A LOT.
*TOP TIP*: Sometimes picking the cheapest flight isn’t always the best idea. The flight times are usually at some ridiculous hour of the morning, meaning your beauty sleep is well and truly ruined. You arrive at your destination tired, hungry and cranky…spending most of your first day catching up on yourself. Take it from us, the extra 10 euro or so is worth it. Arrive fresh and ready to explore!
From our experience we found that booking ahead has actually worked out cheaper than just turning up and looking for somewhere to stay. Now I’m not saying that this is 100% the case everywhere, but for the majority of our trips it has. We use booking.com or hostelworld to book all our accommodation. Not only does it work out cheaper than some of the rates the hotels offer directly, but it also offers brilliant comparison rates against different hotels and locations with no booking fees.
If we are staying somewhere for five nights then we usually just book two and then go from there. You can always add more or else leave if the place is falling apart or something (it’s happened to us once! not literally but because it was rank!) It’s also handy to know the exact address of where you are going when you jump in a taxi or get off bus. It just takes the stress away of looking for somewhere to stay when you arrive homeless off a bus at 6am.
Let’s face it, we cannot be stranded without the internet when in a new country. I mean how would we update our snaps or upload that all important insta? But seriously, not all countries have WiFi readily available and this can be a problem when you are on a moped in the middle of nowhere trying to find your way home. Being connected is so helpful when trying to find out the best places to eat, see and things to do when on the move.
The first thing to remember before you leave is to make sure your phone is unlocked. The rest is easy. You can pick up local Sim cards in every airport and there are SO many plans to choose from. These are usually really good value and are easily topped up at local shops. We tend to opt for the internet only or high Gigabyte plans as calls are rarely needed. Thank god for Whatsapp! My parents would think I have vanished off the face of the planet otherwise!
*TOP TIP*: When you arrive at a new place download the offline version of your Google Maps. Even if you don’t have the internet you can still find your way around without the stress of getting lost. We swear by this! Couldn’t live without our Google maps. To learn how to do this click here.
Location is Key
Location is everything! Make sure you research the best areas to stay within your destination carefully. For example many people let the hotel description make the decision for them…”A five minute walk to the beach” but this can be mistake. Make sure you look up the exact location of the hotel on Google maps to see exactly how close it is to the beach before you make the decision. The same goes for how close it is to the main town, nightlife etc.
I know so many people who have made this mistake. For example when we went to Krabi in Thailand, I knew I wanted to stay in Ao Nang as this is the main tourist spot where the beach, island boats and action is. We met a lovely couple who ended up staying in Krabi town (30-40 minutes from Ao Nang) simply because they just presumed that’s where everyone goes and never researched it. So basically, do your homework. For a more realistic view of your travel costs, you’ll need to consider your transportation costs. Walking distance is always something we look for when picking a location. Mopeds are then useful when we want to explore further.
Know Your Visas
It’s so important to be organised when it comes to visas. Make sure you research the exact requirements you need to complete the process. Some countries issue on arrival while others are needed weeks in advance. For example Cambodia issue on arrival, while a China visa is more complicated. You can only get a China visa from the Chinese Embassy and this takes two days for the express option. It’s important to give yourself enough time in the major cities to get the visa.
Some visas like the China visa require A LOT of information. You need proof of flights in and out of the country, a list of every place you are visiting, dates of stay in each place and every hotel booking. It is a NIGHTMARE when you just want to plan as you go like we do. So we came up with a little work around. Instead of listing everywhere we want to go we just picked two. Beijing and Shanghai. We then booked two random hotels on booking.com that have free cancellation. After we got our visas approved, we cancelled the bookings and made our own plans. It saved us SO much hassle!
If you are interested in me doing a full blog post on all the Visa requirements we needed for each country throughout the year, please let me know in the comments below 🙂
Stock up on passport photos before you go. You will be so surprised how many times you will need them. Whether it is for Visas or Diving Licenses you will need them. It just saves the hassle of looking for somewhere to get them done which can be hard, especially in Asia.
Also make sure that your shoulders are covered in the photos. I got some done when we were in Borneo and was wearing a sleeveless top in them. When I handed them in to the Chinese Embassy in Bangkok they nearly fell on the ground with shock. They said there was no way they could accept this as my shoulders weren’t covered. So I went into panic mode trying to find somewhere to get new ones done before the office closed! For official documents it is necessary to be aware of their culture.
Stock Up on Cosmetics
If you forget to bring something to Asia, you are screwed. Unless you are in the big cities you simply won’t find it. I’m talking tan (for those who need it), makeup and most importantly insect repellent containing high DEET. Most pharmacies haven’t got a clue what DEET even is and if you do manage to find some it will have a very low percentage. A high DEET percentage is SO important for protection against mosquitos and Dengue Fever… which FYI is now widespread in Asia at the moment, so scary! I get eaten alive so we got Darragh’s mam to bring us over enough to last us the rest of the year when she met us in Hong Kong. I poison Darragh daily covering myself in it haha.
When it comes to moisturisers, body lotions or any cosmetic products make sure you check the labels. “Whitening” products are HUGE in Asia and almost every product contains it, even some deodorants. Obviously I want to maintain my tan for as long as I possibly can so whitening is something I defiantly want to avoid! Sunscream can also be overpriced in Asia so it’s best to get it cheaper at home and bring it with you to save some dollah bills.
So just make sure you pack all your “Can’t live without” products before you go. You can of course find the majority of these things in the big cities, I’m talking the likes of Laos, Cambodia, small Thailand islands, Philippines etc. So hard to find anything!
Discount Apps & Websites
Discount Apps are AMAZING when it comes to saving money on activities. One of our favourites is the ‘Klook’ App. You can get really good discounts on loads of tours, activities and transport costs. We booked our island hopping tour in Krabi though the app and it was 20% cheaper than what the travel companies offered in the town. Every little counts when backpacking!
Another amazing website we found when we were in New Zealand was ‘bookme’. Basically it offers RIDICULOUS discounts on major activities such as bungee jumping, skydiving, water rafting etc. You can sometimes get these for half price if you are flexible with your time and prepared to go last minute. Honestly it is SO GOOD and well worth a browse for those absolute bargains! It also works for Fiji and Australia too.
Get a Revolut Card
I briefly mentioned this in my ‘How to plan a backpacking trip’ blog post and if you don’t already have one, order one now!! This is simply a must have when travelling. Revolut is a prepaid Mastercard that works using its app, charges the lowest exchange rate for any currency and offers free ATM withdrawals.
The best thing about this card when travelling is its security. Every time you use the card a notification pops up on your phone which tells you exactly how much you have spent in your local currency. So you will notice straight away if there is any suspicious behaviour on your card. It also makes budgeting so much easier as you can top it up as you go, straight from your bank account.
And that is everything! My top tricks to make backpacking a whole lot easier. I love sharing lessons learned and really hope it helps you too. Please let me know if you have any tips for me in the comments below or on my Instagram or snapchat @ciara_brady. I’d really love to hear from you, we need all the advice we can get!
As always, thank you SO MUCH for reading.