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The Backpacking & Hostel Guide for Dummies: Part II

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

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  • Journalist Katelyn Gilmore on top of Nordkette mountain, Innsbruck Austria

    Journalist Katelyn Gilmore on top of Nordkette mountain, Innsbruck Austria

  • A canal shot of Amsterdam Netherlands. Photo by Katelyn Gilmore

    A canal shot of Amsterdam Netherlands. Photo by Katelyn Gilmore

  • The Hungarian Parliament building, Budapest Hungary. Photo by Katelyn Gilmore

    The Hungarian Parliament building, Budapest Hungary. Photo by Katelyn Gilmore

  • Journalist Katelyn Gilmore in front of the John Lennon Wall, Prague Czech Republic

    Journalist Katelyn Gilmore in front of the John Lennon Wall, Prague Czech Republic

  • Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Spain. Photo by Katelyn Gilmore

    Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Spain. Photo by Katelyn Gilmore

  • Sending postcards back home from the Vatican, Rome Italy. Photo by Katelyn Gilmore

    Sending postcards back home from the Vatican, Rome Italy. Photo by Katelyn Gilmore

  • Matthias Church, Budapest Hungary. Photo by Katelyn Gilmore

    Matthias Church, Budapest Hungary. Photo by Katelyn Gilmore

Written by Katelyn Gilmore

Upon Arrival

1. If possible, try to arrive in a new place during the day

This one might seem self-explanatory, but it’s still important to note. Arriving during the day makes inner-city transportation easier, and is generally safer. It’s better to be lost in the day than night, which can happen to the best of us.

2. Arrive prepared

On the note of arriving somewhere new, be prepared with maps including the address of your hostel marked, a transportation plan from airport/bus/train station to hostel, and money already exchanged.

  • Material maps are essential, but the Google Maps app is also an excellent tool for general transportation within a city. When connected to internet, first download an area for offline use and bookmark key destinations (hostel/airport/attractions). By doing so, the map will be downloaded for use without needing data or internet access when travelling throughout the city. It will even show your current location, and by using the compass, you can easily determine which direction you need to go in. However, keep in mind that walking around with a smartphone in plain view may not always be the smartest move depending on the area. For instructions on downloading offline areas for Android users, click here and for iPhone users, click here.
  • Taxis are not a cost-effective or even reliable transportation plan, and neither is trying to butcher the address of your hostel to locals when asking for help. It is key to have the address written out and visually marked prior to arrival.
  • In terms of exchanging money, airports will typically have an expensive exchange rate. Ask your hostel receptionist for the cheapest currency exchange place before heading to the next spot. If not, withdrawing money from a Budapest ATM after a long train ride by picking a random withdrawal option listed could mean accidentally taking out $600.00 CAD. May or may not be speaking from personal experience.

Along The Way

3. Remain calm, cool, collected as it’s all part of the fun

As best as I or any traveller can offer tips, navigating foreign countries is not an easy task, especially for beginners and/or if you go solo. Some might have their belongings stolen by pick pocketers, (RIP camera stolen in Rome - July 2015), others will miss flights. I have even seen a friend’s debit card eaten by an ATM machine in Vienna before leaving for the next spot. Things happen, but they happen to everyone and make for some pretty funny stories once you’re back. It’s important to remember that there is always a solution, and there is always someone around who can help you.

4. $ Tips -

  • Always keep 1-2 credit cards, a debit card, and cash in separate areas of your belongings
  • Hidden money belts are a great tool for added security
  • Store your cards in a RFID wallet to prevent theft
  • Ask for (free) table/tap water at restaurants if you don’t want to pay for an expensive bottle
  • Starting with a site like Hostelworld is great for general info, but booking directly with a hostel is generally cheaper
  • Some public restrooms charge, so go at your hostel before you go anywhere
  • For budget-conscious travellers, utilize hostel kitchens as much as possible; sometimes there is even a ‘free food’ cupboard full of left behind goodies from other travellers that you can score a meal from.

5. Put yourself out there!

Half the fun truly is from the interesting people you meet along the way.

  • Utilize whatever social activities the hostel arranges. If pub crawls aren’t your scene, walking tours are phenomenal. They typically run off tips, but remain an inexpensive and fun way to spend an afternoon. You’ll be surprised at how much more you will learn from the local perspective.
  • Hangout in the common areas of the hostel – the kitchen is usually where everyone ends up.
  • Physical activity can go a long way to attract others, so bring along a Frisbee, slack-lines, etc.

6. Avoiding Travel Scams -

  • Learn the currency asap and count your change
  • Secure possessions – both at the hostel, and on your person. Wearing backpacks on the front of you is a good strategy for added comfort.
  • Stay alert – Crowded areas are a goldmine for pick-pocketers; try to tie wallets and bags to you, or at the least, only use your front pockets.
  • Don’t show your worth – Leave jewellery at home, put electronics away when not in use, and avoid bringing any brand-name products (shoes/hats/clothes/bags/etc.)
  • Exude Confidence – This may sound silly, but try to walk like a local and blend in. If you do need help, ask a salesperson instead of a random person.
  • Use bank-affiliated ATMS instead of ATMS off the street
  • Do not use your credit card in a foreign payphone, unless you’re willing to risk racking up a huge bill
  • If you do use a Taxi service, ensure the meter is turned on and working or ask how much it will approximately be to your destination as soon as you get in. Keep bags in the backseat with you instead of the trunk.
  • Ask your hostel receptionist how much a ball-park figure should be for common purchases like taxis, meals out, drinks, etc.
  • Be aware of the ‘friendship bracelet scam’ – A friendly local ties a bracelet on your wrist, and then demands payment.
  • The ‘pretty girl(s) scam’ is also a classic. A naïve tourist meets a pretty local girl, she insists on going to a bar, tourist pays for the drinks, she leaves, and then an astronomical bill comes with intimidating bouncers in tow.
  • Try to use your own personal computer for sites that require your passwords. If you don’t bring your own laptop along, hostel computers might overcharge, but they can generally be safer than a sketchy internet café in a touristy area

I hope that these tips have been of some help to you. For more tips, make sure to have read part I found here. At times, backpacking can be stressful or difficult in ways that you did not anticipate. However, I promise that it is one of the most rewarding things I have experienced, and it’s safe to say that most who have done so feel similarly. You will meet interesting people, see awe-inspiring things, and gain a sense of fulfillment. Just remember to call your Mom from time to time.

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