We got invited over to some friends house the other day to help give some advice on backpacking Southeast Asia. I guess we’ve become the local experts at that sort of thing. We’ve noticed that while a lot of the stuff people are looking for is of the “where did you go?” or “what did you see?” variety there’s a lot of interest in the “how do you do that?” sort of questions. The logistics of traveling into an unknown location can be daunting at first, but do it a few times and it becomes second nature. In our attempt to help everyone interested in this sort of thing, here’s Twenty-Seven Rules for Backpackers . . .
Pack your backpack with everything you think you’re going to need before you leave. Put it on and walk for a mile. Repack your backpack with everything you think you’re going to need.
Make a plan of everywhere you want to go. Throw it away. Repeat as desired.
Do not book places in advance . . . except in very exceptional circumstances such as a festival or a really popular hostel. You may find yourself outside a better guest house only to have to figure out how to get to a place that’s further away, not as nice and more expensive.
Get yourself a guidebook. Make sure it has decent maps of likely destinations. We like Lonely Planet.
If there are no locals eating at a restaurant, do not eat there.
Talk to other backpackers. The best advice and information will come from people who have recently been in the city you are going to. Get hostel recommends.
Be aware of the political situation. Other backpackers are your best source of info, but Google News will work in a pinch.
“Beware of Wily Strangers” says the sign on Thailand’s Grand Palace. If you find someone trying to sell you something ask yourself, “Did I approach them or did they approach me?” If they approached you then be careful, especially if they are trying to get you onto some form of transportation. Beware the Tuk-Tuk Mafia. You have been warned.
Watch how the locals walk about the city. What may look like a sidewalk to you may in fact be a bike lane. Do not assume your customs apply.
Learn the language. You don’t need everything, but “hello”, “thank you” and “sorry I stepped on your foot” will go a long ways.
Watch clothing norms. What we wear in the West can be quite offensive to some parts of the world.
Layers, layers, layers. Bring stuff that can be mixed and matched to provide more or lest warmth. Flexibility is key.
Some places require close-toed shoes.
The really cool places are harder to get to.
Keep your eyes open for the necessities. Laundry service, where to buy bottled water, where to get cash, etc.
7/11 has air-conditioning.
Use bags inside your backpack like drawers. One for clean clothes, one for dirty-clothes, one for “other” and a smaller backpack that contains valuables and things you want to carry around for when you leave the main-backpack in the room.
Most of the world is not kid-proof. In the USA, if you put your hand into an unknown hole and stab yourself on a piece of rusty metal the establishment can be held responsible. In much of the world, people will ask you why you did that and look at you like you are an idiot.
Sunscreen can be very expensive in places where the locals do not wear it.
Don’t pet wild dogs.
Don’t smile at monkeys. Baring your teeth is a sign of aggression.
Most of your money should not be accessible through the ATM.
Tell your bank you’re going.
You can buy stuff where you are going.
If someone does not speak English, they do not speak loud, slow English.
Don’t buy things from children. Odds are there is an adult outside who is keeping that kid from going to school and pocketing the money. If you want to donate to charity, donate to charity. Don’t financially encourage child-labor.