Category Archives: Five Things

Five Things: I Learned While Backpacking

Three months straight is a long time to do anything. Some days it seems like a lifetime ago that I left Melbourne Tullamarine, sometimes it seems like yesterday. But in that time, there are some serious lessons to be learned about travelling, especially travelling on a budget.

Always Read The Fine Print

When you’re booking your hostel, or hotel, or whatever, always check your inclusions. I cannot stress how important included breakfast is, or even if it’s a paid extra. A few dollars extra a day will save you a lot in the long run. Because if you’re going out for breakfast, it certainly starts to add up.

Alternatively, book into a place with a kitchen. Occasionally, you’ll find a place that classes having a kettle and microwave as a kitchen, but for the most part it’s solid. But you can’t just assume that every hostel has the same facilities.

It doesn’t just apply to food either. Free wifi, lockers, laundry facilities, 24 hour reception, credit card facilities. None of these things are a guarantee.

Always read reviews. Seeing David almost wasn’t worth it, because the place I was staying in Florence was so bad.

Budget
Keep track of your finances. Don’t just do a basic count in your head. You will screw it up. I thought I had a reasonable handle on it. I overspent in Paris and Amsterdam, but if I just spend so much per day from here on, I’ll be fine… It did not happen like that. I should have set a daily budget and tracked my spending. And, to be honest, I probably should have saved a little more money before I left.

Be Open Minded

Obviously, use your common sense when dealing with strangers. But especially if you’re travelling alone, you should be ready to do things with people you’ve never met, and are never going to meet again.

A night out in Paris with my hostel dormmates? An early highlight. A day at the beach in Palermo with a German girl I met at breakfast? Perfectly relaxing. Ending up on a Stag Do with a bunch of English blokes in Munich? Priceless.

Some of the best parts of my trip have been completely unplanned, and just going with the flow. Things I never would have done otherwise. 

Munich. Not pictured: Anywhere I went on that Stag Do.

Suitcases

You know what’s the worst? Carrying about 20 kilos around on your back. Sure, the idea of backpacking is romantic. And ‘backpack’ is right there in the name. But if you’re carrying as much as I am, get proper luggage. A small backpack, with a few changes of clothes, basic toiletries. Sure. That makes sense. If I only had that much, I’d be fine. Which brings us to the final lesson…

You Can Always Pack Lighter

If you hesitate to put it in your bag, you probably don’t need it.

I carried a sleeping bag around Europe for three months. It’s still there. It has never been taken out of its bag. Because I was operating under the assumption that, like in Australia, hostels wouldn’t provide anything more than basic linens. I was wrong. That sleeping bag is huge, and is taking up about a quarter of my bag..

Sleeping bag saved me a total of three Euros in Zurich. There were already linens on the bed, but the guy at reception didn’t charge me because i didn’t ask for them. I used the linens.

I packed a first aid kit, more for piece of mind than anything else. Not that it would have done me much good, since it just sat in my bag at the hostel whenever I went anywhere. I did open it however, to use the bandaids on my blisters in Paris.
I have multiple notebooks. Nice notebooks. Gifts from people that wanted to give me a travel-appropriate gift, back when I first started talking about making my trip. As you can probably guess, with me blogging weekly about my travels, they have seen exactly zero use.

I probably should have packed an extra pillow though
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Five Reasons I’m Worried About Traveling

Everyone is always quick to tell you the reasonsĀ  you should travel, and trust me, I’ll get to that. But right now I’m in the pre-planning stages of my “big trip”, and I’ve got a lot of doubts, and I know a lot of you do too. So I’m going to list the five biggest things I’m worried about, and then tell you why it’s not that big a deal.

Swanston Street
Should I just stick to Melbourne?
1. Missing Out

My best friend is married, my old housemates are engaged and I’ve got a lot of family members who are turning into grown-ups. And I plan to leave it all behind. The people who are most important to me are finding who they are and getting their lives on track. I’m not going to be with my friends when they have kids, or when my brother starts his career. I’m not even going to be in the same hemisphere.

But, fact is, either way, I’m going to be missing out on something. Thanks to the wonders of technology, you’re never too far away from your loved ones. Facebook, Skype and Instagram keep you together, even when you can’t really be there. Not to mention, they’re finding themselves, and I’ll be doing the same.

2. Failing

So I figure out two weeks into Europe that I can’t hack it. I miss home. I can’t speak the language. I get lost all the time. My money dries up before I find work. Whatever the reason, I just want to give up. And so I fly home, and I have to face everything I left behind. I’m stuck back in the rut that I was escaping in the first place.

So what? Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Even a short trip will recharge my batteries, and give me a new viewpoint on life. Either way, I’ll discover something new about myself, and I’ll know I’ve tried.

3. Something Awful Happening

I get robbed. I get lost. I get injured. And all of this happening a world away from my support network. It would be bad enough at home, but in a country where I don’t speak the language? Where I can’t crash at dad’s house while I recover, where I can’t borrow some cash from my brother until the bank sorts out my cards? That would be a disaster.

There's a whole lot of ocean between home and the rest of the world.
There’s a whole lot of ocean between home and the rest of the world.

It’s only slightly more likely for these things to happen abroad than it is for them to happen at home. Decent travel insurance includes hospital cover and covers lost and stolen items and money. Being well prepared minimizes the problems caused when bad things happen.

4. Is It Worth It?

I get to the Eiffel Tower and yawn. I see the Northern Lights and shrug. The Mediterranean? We have beaches at home. What happens if I spend thousands of dollars and fly to the other side of the world, only to be completely underwhelmed by it all? What if I built it all up in my head and it can’t match?

We build these things up for a reason. France is the most popular tourist destination in the world because it really is special (politics aside). London is one of the world’s great cities. Photos and descriptions never do justice to the real thing in my experience.

5. What Next?

Ok, the plan goes off without a hitch. I get to Europe, I love it, nothing bad happens, I find work, and can stay for the extent of my visa. Or this travel blog takes off and between this and my savings, I can sustain myself. Either way, eventually my visa will run out, and I’ll be faced with a decision: go home, or go somewhere new? You hear the stories about people who come home, and all they want to do is go on the next trip. Their lives consist of saving up and disappearing for months at a time. All they can talk about is their trip. On the other hand, to start over again means I get to face these doubts again. I have to find time to plan, save money and organize all I need to take on a new journey.

It isn’t as easy a decision as it sounds. I go home, I miss out on the rest of the world. But I don’t have to worry about visas or work permits, I’m lucky enough to live in Australia, so I’m covered by unemployment benefits and we have nationalised healthcare, while I look for work. I find a job, get my money together, buy a house, save for retirement. It’s safe. Not to mention it’s one of the most beautiful countries in the world, I can still travel and keep blogging here.

There is still plenty to see at home.
There is still plenty to see at home.

On the other hand, I keep traveling until it isn’t viable anymore. Until I run out of money, or until my body breaks down from old age. Then, not only do I get to deal with all the problems I’ve already mentioned about traveling, I still have to go home anyway. The difference is, depending on how long I’m on the road, I’ll have lost valuable years that I would otherwise have spent earning money and saving for retirement. I could come home in ten years, and be in my mid-thirties, with a Bachelor of Arts and having next to no useful job skills. Or by some miracle I sustain it for twenty years or more, and it won’t matter what qualifications I have, I’ll be over forty, and unable to get a decent job because nobody wants to hire a middle-aged person when they can have someone in their twenties.

Is seeing the whole world worth that?

I certainly hope so.