Wednesday, September 14, 2011

22 Ways to Make Your Backpacking Trip More Interesting

It's amazing about how much I can experience each time when I get out of my own country traveling to some parts of the world, I remember most of the details and highlights of each trip.

Friends are often fascinated about my traveling stories, I speak fondly about the climates, the amazing cultures, the great beaches and some fantastic people whom I met as if they happened just a day before, and I can continue to speak on and on for hours.

Some friends think it's difficult to travel like how I've traveled, look, it's easy. I figure to get more out of my vacation, I have done something extra without knowing it. 

Practically, I learnt a few tricks each time I travel and I adapt, change, and adapt through out the journey and they are literally becoming parts of my personality and characteristic. 

Here's a few tricks to get more out of your trip.

22 Ways to Get More Out of Your Trip

1. Learn more about the destination

It's good to learn the cultures to get more out of your trip

First homework is to learn as much about your imminent destination, conduct some online searches or ask your friends who have previously visited those places, get yourself familiarized with some literature knowledge about a country's cultures, historical backgrounds, and places to visit.

It makes your easier to settle down at foreign land and adapt to the local common practices when you know what to expect. It also helps you to avoid the dont's and do the do.

Sometimes, when a random detour happens, use services like Twitter to search about what people talking about your next random stops, there are a lot of Internet voices out there about the weather, political happenings, and etc.

2. Plan your trip but never afraid to make changes

A plan is good, never afraid to make last minute changes

My trip itinerary might be seemingly complete and full of details, but I amend it whenever necessary, that's why I have a lot of scribblings and corrections on my travel note.

It's not a project planning that requires you to stick to every single damn items on the sheet, and in reality everyone knows the execution is not always as perfect as we wanted, some places might not be as interesting as you thought it would be, if you screw up, learn to adapt and make it better.

I recommend you to have a plan, know where you going after, but never be afraid to make last minute changes to plan an excursion, plan is just a plan, be spontaneous! 

3. Motivate yourself 

Don't get defeated so easily by some unexpected events happen during your trip, you are the best person to bring yourself back up.

If you are traveling during the raining season, change your plan to indoor visits instead of outdoor.

The point is to enjoy as much out of your trip, don't waste your time whining about the things you can't change.

I remember I was disappointed with the weather in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, the constant heavy rain screwed up my plan. Instead of complaining, I quickly booked a bus ticket the same morning to Vang Vieng, 250km away from the capital where I got lesser rain and enjoyed most of the day with the Sun.

4. Talk to locals 

Pleasing morning tea time with random people

Use your newly learnt phrases with your newly met local friends, it's a friendlier approach and you get better treatment in return.

I remember having morning tea with a few uncles at the road side after walking tirelessly searching for new guest house to move, it's good time we spent in the morning even though we do not understand each other's languages.

We had fun time speaking to each other, with little help of hand signs and simple gestures to get our messages delivered.

Communicating with the locals leads to opportunity of finding hidden treasures, good bargained guest houses, good food, exotic shopping items, great dance club with fantastic music.

Then another day I started helping an old aunty selling her home made pancakes to travelers, it was awesome experience.

5. Make friends with other travelers

At times, it's fun to be in pubs with your travel buddies

Take the initiative to move into a group or single travelers and speak to them, get to know them and exchange your travel experience.

Many times, it makes it easy to greet them with a simple smile and say "Hey", then follows up with a friendly gesture for hand shake and says "I'm Bla bla, what's your name?".

Choose the travelers you feel most comfortable to go up and say "Hi", here are some tips for easy topic and breaking the ice.

  • Where do you come from, how is it like in your country?
  • Where have you been in this country and how long you going to stay?
  • What are you up to tonight or tomorrow, can I join?
  • How do you know each other?
  • What do you do for living?
  • How do you find this place, what's the most exciting thing you have done here?
  • How much did you pay for your guest house, where is your guest house?
Learn to illustrate your answers or stories, you will find most European travelers are very very good at telling their stories, that makes their stories more action-packed and overwhelming.

Here's an example, if you are asked about how it is like about your country back home, don't just reply where you from and stop there... Tell them how beautiful it is about your country, it's Malaysia, it's like a little Asia, we have the Malay, Chinese, Indians and other smaller ethnic groups living in peace and harmony that makes Malaysia the truly wonder of Asia.

We have the greens and one of the highest mountains in Borneo and big cities in KL, our capital, shopping is as good as Singapore. Navigating around the town is not a problem because everyone speaks English and the LRT systems gets you to where you want to go. But watch out for non-metered taxi and thieves, but this is quite commonly seen everywhere in the region. And the current ruling politicians suck!

6. Get lost 

Try to walk the streets, or you can rent a bicycle and roam the town making some pit stops for food and drinks, get as far as possible, and get lost. I bet you will find a lot of interesting encounters along the way, getting lost is a part of our traveling package, make it memorable and make it an interesting one.

My personal advise, get lost in safe town at right hours, it's probably not a good idea to be lost at midnight when there's little people to offer help. I've personally experienced that, it's not funny... Only fun to remember...

7. Travel differently

On the coach to Koh Samui from Bangkok

Try to change your travel behaviors, travel alone on a single day, and go out with a few new friends you just met the next two days. Feel the difference of having companies and solo.

When having travel mates, I'm happy about the companionship but I have to compromise on some decisions, but extra voices sometimes help too.

As you get along with each other, they are people whom you can trust and count on, at least for while, but there's no stable friends. They could come together and part, that's quite normal.

When traveling alone, I can use the quietness and peace of being only with myself, decision can be made easily but I bear on some inconvenience being on solo.

8. Negotiate for more 

Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate, learn to cut a good deal! Ask for more discounts, walk away and come back, survey a few more before taking on a deal.

Try to save every penny to maximize your purchasing power but don't squeeze to hard.

9. Change guest house 

I got this room for a reasonable USD12, it's an amazing guest house with terrific view over the mountains and river

I usually checks at least a few guest houses before making decision on which one to take on, negotiating for lower rate is a must.

No matter how comfortable are you with your guest house after staying in, always remember to ask travelers around and walk in to check any guest house you feel good about.

You never know you will find a better one at better rate, never let it be a hassle that hinders you from moving for better room.

8. Try local food

The most delicious Laos curry noodle 

I usually find good food from the street stalls from the morning and night markets, and I pick a local restaurant with reasonable number of customers, it makes every sense to think that restaurant with many customers serves better meals.

We all have different taste and appetite, another trick to remember, check out the customers if they are locals or travelers, I usually end up at a restaurant with many locals, it can never go wrong, and price is fairly cheaper.

9. Stay longer at a place 

Variety is good, but regular contacts gets you deeper

Try to go back to some restaurants or bars that you find good with its quality and get to know the people who help run the businesses.

You will find better service or discount, and they can be very informative on tips of non-commercial places to visit.

10. Keep a travel book 

I usually keep at least one travel book in my small backpack wherever I go, find out what's the most exciting things to do.

It's wise to have one for yourself to constantly look for more information about a destination. It's going to be handy, trust me.

11. Take good pictures with other travelers and locals

Do not forget to invite your new friends for photos, keep a piece of the history of yourselves, ask for their contacts to stay in touch with each other on Facebook, it's the warmest thing to do!

12. Be alert

Always stay alert not to lose a thing due to careless or theft, don't leave any valuable items in the guest house, I suggest not to bring them when you are on vacation.

If you do bring some valuable stuffs with you, carry them with you in a small backpack.

I've heard a lot of my travel mates who lost their wallet, iPod, laptop, and even passport due to theft and  negligence.

You don't want such incident to spoil your mood, some can be avoided if you are being more attentive in taking care of your own belongings.

13. Carry lesser and travel light

Every traveler has the tendency of bringing more than enough clothes on a trip, try to travel light by keeping a few sets of clothes that sufficient to last for several days, I think four days is good enough.

Use the laundry services at the hotel or guest houses, they are usually cheap.

Other equipments are very subjectives, depending on individual, I'd only bring an iPad or netbook and not a laptop. I bring only short pants and light t-shirts, and only a pair of jeans, sports shoes. I buy flip-flop and polo-t during travel, I don't bring.

14. Smile 

Smile is the easiest friendly gesture to earn respect of each other
A gentle node and a smile to whoever has their eyes contact with you shows a lot of respect, it's a universal key to unlock the door of friendship.

I node and smile whenever I have the eye contact with any strangers, and it's easier to approach them to make friends or for help of direction.

15. Get up early

Early bird gets to eat the worm

Try to get up early so you won't miss a thing throughout the day, you will also find it quieter and less tourists at traveling hot spots where usually are packed with people.

Occasionally, I'd head back to guest house for a power nap to get rid of the tiredness or go for massage to recharge for the rest of the day.

16. Pick up a few phrases 

Learning to speak other's language has a significant advantage and prove handy especially when you are traveling to places where the locals don't share the common language as you. 

Phrases like one to ten, expensive, where is the bus station, what time is it, how much, and hello are some common must-learn words.

17. Use public transport 

At odd time, the travel mini bus took on a few locals with all sorts of things

Travel with public transport, take the local train and bus, light transit or boat, don't always take the best and most comfortable transports to navigate from one place to another, experience the life of the locals and with the locals.

Sometimes, I will be transported along with all sorts of exotic things such as ducks, chickens, bicycle, stocks of grains and beans and etc.

18. Take your hobbies

I won two Chinese chess sets and lost one with the morning crowd, Malaysian power!
I played basketball on a completely random night with an entirely random group of basketball players, it happened after I got lost in a small town and bumped into the court having a game on.

I danced with a group of grooving hiphop dancers at one of the public recreation area.

It's fun to take your hobbies on to a trip, it gets you sweat and rare excitement interacting with locals who have similar interests.

19. Try Couch Surf is an online community for travelers to host and meet each other

Stay with local family run accommodation or volunteer host, use Couch surf to find one before you head to a new city or town, I've written about my first couchsurfing experience sometime ago.

These people are very friendly and willing to take you on extra mile, they will make you breakfast they don't have to, and take you for the nicest dinner and meet some of their brilliant local friends.

It gives you the cultural learning experience like you never did before, you will never find anywhere else if you are on a luxury vacation.

Bring them some good local food and souvenirs from your country if you are staying over at your host's as token of appreciation.

20. Rest more and recharge

It's a big group for home stay, we had a lot of fun exchanging our stories

Traveling requires tremendous energy and stamina, it's gets you fatigue easily due to the walking, exploration of new places, learning and adapting to others' cultures, meeting new friends and the talking that is more tiring than work. A good rest is very important to recharge the energy to keep you going.

I'd bring a towel and keep new clean clothes in my small backpack to shower at random guest house's bathroom or public bathroom at the cost of less than USD1 to keep myself fresh if I'm traveling far away from my guest house.

21. Vary your budget

Some days you might find spending less and some days you will be spending more than you supposed to, it's completely fine.

Use some of the money to treat yourself on things that relaxes you, I use some budget to go for massage and red wines if I have been consistently spending less on previous days.

However, there must be a budget cap to spend a day, I normally set a cap of average USD25-30 a day to spend on food and beverages, rentals and etc.

A good financial management can alleviate your overall experience, plus getting your further. A good habit is to mark down how much you spend each day and what you have spent with.

22. Focus on details

Sometimes, things can get very detail

Be an observant, spend more time on the details everywhere you go.

Register every faces and behaviors of people, the architectures, the surrounding environments, the lightings from the window, the wet floors, the passing cars, the shiny outfits that people put on, and etc.

Make sure you don't miss a thing that makes your trip more meaningful.

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