As early as the pre-highschool era, my main ambition in life was to “get out of this city”. At 15, I picked up a retail job that I held all throughout my teenage years in a valiant effort to save enough dough to book the next plane out. Throughout the years, I considered all the different countries and put in considerable research for each one; to this day I can name all of the online organizations that will send you to Tanzania or the Congo, I can show you the travel plan pamphlet for Canadians seeking a working visa in Ireland or Australia, and most importantly, I know a little about every travel oriented organization available to me. That knowledge is essentially what allowed me to travel sans probleme as a freshly graduated 17 year old. That being said, the information I’ve gathered certainly isn’t a secret nor is it rocket-science, so here I am ready to share it with other eager travellers. Over time, I’ve gathered a lot of websites… I mean, a lot. Here’s your one-stop-shop for research information.
The safety issue.
The first response you’re going to hear when you admit that you’re travelling solo is undoubtedly going to be: “Oh, I could never do that.” The second thing they’ll say is “You’d better be careful”, as if this thought had never crossed your mind. Duh. 90% of travel safety is common sense. 10% is research. Every country has its own dangers, but patterns are the same. “Don’t trust anyone”: True, BUT… Travel is not going to be fun if you never take risks. Locals may offer to show you secret beaches and lagoons, travellers may offer to watch your stuff; things can go 1 of 2 ways, and you know what? For the most part, they work out.
- 1st stop: http://travel.state.gov/content/travel/english.html
2nd: Some safety articles for things you may have never thought of:
*Every country and even provinces have their own tricks and gimmicks. Being aware is essential. Common ones are beggars with “sick” babies, stunt-men who are actually pickpockets, dishonest money-exchangers, the list goes on. Here’s a heads-up:
What kind of traveller are you?
Where do you want to go? What do you want to see? How to you want to spend your time? Let me break it down…
- The All-in-let’s-Winner: Spending $1000+ on a plane ticket is actually a contract into seeing and doing EVERY POSSIBLE THING found in the guidebook. Let’s wake up at 7:00 a.m and sight-see until 6:00, then hit the restaurant recommended by Lonely Planet before walking up the hill to catch the sunset. Sound good? Sleep, rinse, repeat! Let’s GO!
If this is you, the information I have is not necessarily helpful. You’re the kind of person who doesn’t want to stay in one place longer than a few days for fear of missing something else.
So, here’s what you do: skip buying the guidebooks, unless you’re 150% bent on highlighting and dog-earring. Start researching a month before you leave by going to the library and watching documentaries about your country of choice. The internet has absolutely all the information you need and more. Here are the essentials, which you’ll use for idea-mapping:
After you’ve got a basic reign of what you want to do, here are the websites that you’ll use to confirm reviews and book accommodation;
And finally, here are the apps you’ll want to use to keep yourself on track;
Your best bet if you’re a solo LET’S GO traveller is to book tours, which essentially eliminates you from the backpacking lifestyle – but that’s a sacrifice you’ll end up happy to make. Tours are a great way of travelling solo (but not really). This is a list of GENERAL tours, as there are literally dozens for each country. As an idea, here’s what to look for:
- Bicycle tours; ex) International; http://www.biketours.com/
- Bus tours; ex) Peru: http://www.peruhop.com/
- Ferry tours ; ex) Canada; http://www.bcferries.com/schedules/discovery/
- Museum tours; ex) http://www.fodors.com/news/story_3698.html
- Treks and nature tours; ex) http://adventure.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/trips/best-trails/worlds-best-hikes-dream-trails/* Keep in mind: If you’re wanting to do tours and don’t mind a little chaos to get a better price, consider not booking in advance. Often, tourist desks will have offers for the exact same thing for half the price (the quality can easily be determined with a tripadvisor search). This is especially true for treks and hikes which you have to book months in advance; sometimes you’ll be able to get in if you camp a few days in advance at the trailhead, or consider alternate treks.
- The shoestring traveller. “How long can I feasibly live on a diet of coffee and cigarettes?”
The answer is: a fairly long time, actually, if you know where to look.The main thing is finding cheap methods of transportation. I like to think of this as a game where you unlock different levels. Every country will have their own secretive BUDGET airlines that only the locals know about. Be careful, don’t confuse these with domestic flights! (If you purchase an exclusively cheap domestic flight to Colombia as an American, for example, they will charge you exorbitantly once they check your American passport.)
For example: When I travelled South America, I needed to get from Bolivia to Columbia. This costs $1000.00+ on RedTag, versus literally $104.00 on VivaColombia.
- Here’s your one stop-shop for REAL cheap flights (forget RedTag and Expedia.)
- Couch surfing and WOOFING are a huge craze in the travel community. Here’s how you can get accommodation for FREE:
- Next tip: IF you’re travelling to South America, South East Asia, India, or The Middle East, consider buying your phone once you get there. They’re around $30.00 in major cities, all you have to do is buy credit.
- Next tip: IF you’re travelling to the places mentioned above, consider buying most of your clothes once you get there. Sure, you’ll look like “The Hippie Travel Guy”… but there’s a reason those guys have been on the road for months. Clothes are dirt cheap in tourist stalls.
- Final Tip: Your splurges should be made in effort to MEET PEOPLE. If there’s a popular hostel for $15 versus a lonely hostel for $10 (you can tell via tripadvisor or a quick peek inside), splurge. Meeting a travel buddy will reduce your future accommodation costs by half!
- The Voluntourist VS the Voluntraveler: “I feel like if I travel to a less fortunate country, I should at least contribute to their well-being.”
There is a very fine line between Volunteering andVoluntouring. The latter is a sneaky, deceptive, destructive result of the former gone corrupt. Understanding the difference between Volunteering andVoluntouring will ultimately change your perception of HOW exactly you can help underdeveloped countries.
Are you going to travel with a company?
- Safety (pick up from airport, guided, ect)
- Assurance of meeting people
- Short OR long-term
- Usually all-inclusive (except flights)
- Not individualized
Here is a LIST of the most common Tourist Companies that are reliable, fun, tried-and-true, and expensive.
What you NEED to understand about using a company is that they work with other companies to get you where you want to be. You can contact ANYONE from their company at ANYTIME via phone or e-mail. You can subscribe to their mailing list and they’ll update you about new/cheap expeditions. They will pick you up from the airport. This costs a lot of fees. Some will actually be very destructive in their “volunteering”; there have been accounts of children in Tibet and Nepal pretending to be orphans in an orphanage, then going back home to their families and pocketing your cash once your two weeks are over. If it’s too good to be true, accept the sad fact that it is. Playing with lion cubs sounds great, but these lions are being reared for voluntourism instead of being responsibly conserved and protected. Consider the logistics of your volunteer organization before taking the leap.
As much as we all love NatGeo, advertising for “Snowboarding with Penguins” is realistically only benefiting by providing the company with $$$, which you could easily do by donating instead.
Are you going to volunteer Locally or with an NGO?
- Real contribution
- Self fulfilment
- Cheap and/or free
- Basically everythingCons:
- Safety not guaranteed (no airport pickup, ect)
- Individual research
- Individual planning (flights, transport, ect)
- Long term
There are two things you’re going to have to accept if you decide to volunteer locally. One: Your experience level determines what you can do. Be REALISTIC. If you want to play with lions, the only real contribution you can make is if you are a veterinarian or conversationalist pursuing/graduated with your degree. Otherwise, the actual crew is going to be feeding and lodging an inexperienced nincompoop – your presence is an expense. Two: To make a real impact, you’re going to have to stay long-term. It’s not a week vacation.
For Experienced, Graduated individuals:
For Non-Experienced or Student individuals:
I want to end this on what I feel is the most important note: here are some articles discouraging + denouncing voluntourism.
When I was 15, naive, and idealistic, I spent ages roaming the sites listed under “companies”. Heck, I’m still subscribed to earthwatch. But realistically, I have realized the importance of experience and how to ultimately make a contribution. My last two trips have used workaway and they’ve been fantastic.
1) Is your only real offer/qualification MONEY ? You’re not volunteering. Donate instead.
2) Do you have the necessary skills they’re seeking? Good! Go right ahead and make a difference.