Here's what you need to give consideration to before you go backpacking and suggestions of how to deal with it - listed in this order:


Bon Voyage!


»   Travel Insurance

It goes without saying that you'll need insurance, but it's not something you should be sorting at the last minute as policies vary significantly and you need to spend a while reading all the small print. There are hundreds of travel insurance companies. Just Google the words and you'll find thousands of results. However, not all are equal in price nor policy. For example, check if cash and indeed any of your valuables are covered - which they are often not on cheap policies - and how much the excess is that you may need to pay. Cheaper policies are fine for the important health aspect, but don't expect to have your US$500 camera, a dive or any previous medical condition covered. Conversely even on more expensive policies, don't expect your US$1000 camera to be fully covered unless you have made special measures for it. If you are interested the key features you should be looking for in a policy, they are listed in a separate insurance page for one recommended company here, but all the following examples provide an excellent level of cover.

CoupleOne recommended and well-known insurance company is Columbus (sorry no USA), but new companies are always coming onto the scene (e.g. the excellent Globe Link) and the market is very competitive. One such newer start-up that comes well recommended from several e-mailed comments and personal experience is World Nomads. They claim to be set up with backpackers in mind. You can do things like extend policies indefinitely and/or make claims online whilst still on the road. They offer a money back guarantee, cover the likes of surfing, diving, trekking and bikes (which many don't as standard) and you can buy from any country in the world. All this is useful and makes them worth checking out. It can be said (after years of comparison) that their terms and rates are also favourable. However, as with all policies make sure you read the small print and compare a few providers. No company is perfect and competitive terms often come with loop-holes and coverage black-spots. As with car or household insurance any provider will try their hardest not to payout or limit the amount in the event of a claim.

With all policies, geographic regions may vary the price and terms; with most policies that excludes North America or cover just Europe (inc. Israel, the Caucasus, and North Africa) being cheaper. More details on World Nomads, variations in regional coverage and small print on the insurance page.

Be warned that starting a new policy for another geographic region is often not possible during your trip (i.e. having a cheap European policy and then travelling into Africa/Asia). Only a few companies can give you cover on-line while you are away (i.e. allow you to insure yourself for extra lengths of time if you don't know how long your trip will be when you first take out the policy). Multi-trip year long policies limit the length of your trip to 30 or 60 days (although 90 days can be found), making them fairly useless for many longer term trips.

Good insurance with loads of coverage is normally quite expensive: again the cheaper policies will not cover personal possessions, only medical costs (and with plenty of exceptions). If you do have one or a number of valuable items, such as a top-of-the-line DSLR and lens(es), it can make more sense to not even try to have them covered on normal travel insurance and instead go for a specialist (camera) insurer, often with better terms and prices. The same can be said for a specialist car-hire insurance policy (should you be using rental car(s)), that will normally work out cheaper than the one offered by the car hire firm and cover you for the excess.

Making a claim

The most important thing is to take your policy details away with you. If anything goes wrong on your trip do everything by the book, including contacting the company immediately (they will give you a hotline number). In addition make a list of anything you buy for your trip and keep the receipts. The same goes for ATM slips and currency conversion receipts while you are away. In most cases no receipt means no claim. Remember there is no substitution for suitable precautions against petty crime. Read them here.

Never assume all costs (replacement/medical) will be covered. Reclaiming 100% of costs/lost these days is more and more likely, especially on cheaper policies. As the industry became more competitive, insurance companies have really tightened up over the past years and a claim is now almost impossible unless you have followed their guidelines to the letter which normally means dealing with serious red tape in the country of any incident. Check what you can claim for on your household insurance and don't do anything silly like travelling against medical advice. Also don't forget extensions for expensive items and dangerous activities such as diving, rafting and climbing.

As for making wholly spurious claims, insurance companies will probably pay up, but the local police in most popular destinations are very wise to this sort of thing and it can end you in serious trouble, as it is fair to say it really pisses them off for wasting their time.

World Nomads ? If you would like a quote directly through this site and for details of the key features you should be looking for in a policy, then see the insurance resources section.

MP3 PlayerOn a separate note, even if you have no interest in their insurance, World Nomads have a selection of language guides which are free to download in MP3 format. It's not just Spanish and French, you can find Lao, Thai, Hindi, Vietnamese and the like. There are free to all and a helpful introduction.


Lost credit/bank cards

For those who worry or just want a little bit of extra peace of mind, a credit card protection policy such as the one provided by CPP (and loads of other companies), is a good idea. For about US$30 a year you register all your credit and bank card details with them. Then if lost, you can make one free call (they pay reverse charges) to cancel all your cards or whichever ones you have lost and automatically order replacements. If you are the victim of theft it is vital that you cancel the cards you have lost immediately and have all the relevant numbers at hand to do so.





» AirplaneBuying a ticket - cheap flights and round the world options

Most travellers set off on a round the world trip (RTW) with just that ticket. What round the world really means is Australia/Europe (depending on where you start) and back with stop-offs and if you break this mould, you pay for it. (If you aren't interested in making such a trip, skip to this section for advice on the many other options available.)

Here are the most popular types of tickets you can get (there are others) based around the major airline alliances - see respective websites to plan where you can stop:

The first is Star Alliance ( Air Canada, Air New Zealand, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Austrian Airlines, BMI, Ethiopian, LOT, Lufthansa, Mexicana, SAS Scandinavian Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, Swiss, TAP, Thai Airways International, Tyrolean Airways, United Airlines, US and VARIG) whose members have really increased over the years, is based on miles and handy if you are heading for SE Asia as Thai Air is a members so you can get some good little hops (although budget flights in SEA aren't a problem any more). Other recent members South African and Ethiopian really open Africa to round the worlders.

The other is One World (Aer Lingus, American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, JAL, Iberia, LAN Chile and Qantas), Global explorer and oneworld explorer (better) based on continents with varying conditions. This is often the ticket to get for a trip including South America, since LAN Chile has an excellent South American network and can get you to Easter Island as a stop off.

A third option is the SkyTeam Alliance RTW (Aeromexico, Air France, Alitalia, CSA Czech Airlines, KLM, Delta and Korean Air).

And finally The Great Escapade (Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines and Virgin Atlantic).

The Great Escapade is mileage based (29,000 miles, one Atlantic crossing, one Pacific crossing allowed) with unlimited stopovers (except in New Zealand). South America is not included and South Africa is the only African stop. But if that's not a problem for you and you want a basic ticketing flying from/to London/Manchester, then this option has been recommended.

! Please confirm all of this with a travel agent. Things change quickly in this industry.

All of the above RTW options are valued for one year and date changes are free or with a small charge. Changing destinations en route (if possible) will incur a larger charge - believe if you do this with One World it can actually extend your ticket from that point (but policy seems to vary office to office). All of these tickets are excellent value for money if you utilise them properly. Cheap or not, such tickets are not the only way to go. Many setting off on a RTW trip are increasingly shunning RTW tickets so as to have more flexibility and not be limited to a year trip. It is hotly debated as to whether buying tickets as you go, or buying one RTW ticket is best.

» Round The World (RTW) ticket -

» Do It Yourself (DIY) ticket -

Pros:

  • Date changes are normally free or pretty cheap.

  • Many feel secure in planning a grand route and knowing a schedule in advance.

  • They normally work out cheaper and from London are bargains especially if on a simple Oz and back route in the low season.

Pros:

  • Not being limited to 12 months.

  • No need to plan in advance without the information you'll discover while on the road.

  • Gain a huge sense of freedom - the major growth in regional budget airlines opens so many doors.

  • Better if doing more interesting routes with lots of over-landing (recommended).

Cons:

  • In most cases you are limited to 12 months to complete your travels.

  • You are going to have to plan your route and lock yourself into it before you go. Route changes on the road will cost you.

  • Best to have Australia as a focus of your trip.

  • You will need to take some one-way local flights anyway and often back track for your next leg.

  • Limited to major hubs, you will have to take internal flights to get to the likes of Nepal, Vietnam (without back-tracking) and notably across the Darien Gap (South to Central America).

Cons:

  • The main disadvantage is not having an onward ticket - which can pick you up a little steam by not being able to prove onward travel, see below. In practice, it's more an annoyance than a hindrance.

  • The cost of this type of DIY ticket will be more than RTW deals you can find.

  • Requires more time and greater flexibility.

  • It's fairly hard to price your ticket sitting at home as current ticket prices can only really be gauged accurately when you are in the region travelling.

  • You can sometimes have a nasty surprise on the price of a flight if you hit a peak season or a route not being discounted.

* Example of a RTW ticket from London using One World: (all prices are approximate and depend on season)

London - Tel Aviv or Dubai - Mumbai - Bangkok (surface) Singapore - Sydney - Auckland - Santiago (surface) Rio - London. See how it is necessary to on the whole stick to major hubs. Say you want to see Nepal from India, that means you have to head all the way back to Mumbai (Bombay) for your next leg - when in fact it would be easier just to fly yourself to Bangkok from Kathmandu. The same goes with exploring the Middle East from Tel Aviv (you have to back track and miss out Syria/Lebanon due to your Israeli passport stamp).

Total cost: £1400 (€1550/US$2300). This ticket would be much cheaper if you just focused on Asia, Australia and the USA (skipping S.America/Africa) and is when it becomes too good a deal to miss - sometimes less than £800 (originating in Europe in low season). In this case the price is greatly increased by including South America; the same is true when including Africa.

Remember One World price by continent and many example fares are shown on their website.



* Example of a RTW ticket from London using singles: (all prices are approximate and depend greatly on seasons)

Destinations are suggestions, huge scope exists. London - Athens £80 (easy on the internet, could also fly to Rome); (surface) Cairo - Mumbai £180 (easy); (surface) Kathmandu/Calcutta - Bangkok £100-200 (very easy, but cheap flights fill up at the end of the trekking season, this flight would be cheaper out from India or Bangladesh); Bangkok/Hong Kong - Los Angeles £300 (or overland to Bali where you can pick up a budget flight to Australia and fly to LA from Sydney - however many RTWers would like to travel on to NZ and then Chile.

RTW tickets can be bought in Bangkok for okay prices and are an excellent way of continuing your trip. Regional South East Asian flights are however cheap and easy (see links) and connecting from Singapore or Bali to Darwin is great value. Oz to NZ is easy enough, but getting on to South America is pricey and a flight via LA or heading south on an epic overland is the most effective means.

If heading for the USA buying a return ticket might be wise and you will probably be able to have a third of the price refunded to your credit card for not using the return bit.); LA/ Las Vegas - Lima £200-300 (like most countries Peru makes noises about requiring a return ticket, but here as in most developing countries there is rarely a problem on a one way ticket, especially if you have a credit card.); (surface) Rio - London £400-£750! (getting home from somewhere like South America will always be expensive and you would be better to finish your trip in North America. Buenos Aires or Sao Paulo to Madrid/Milan or similar will be a bit cheaper. Much cheaper will be a flight from Quito or Bogotá (£250) to Spain. With this flight and all of them you might need to book a few weeks in advance and not during European summer and avoid all travel during peak holiday periods.

Total: around £1500 (€1650/US$2450 - this prices about the same starting and finishing in New York) to as little as £1200. See RTW alternatives below.

Worth noting is you'll probably pick up a little steam from not having return tickets which can be quite frustrating. It may even be that you do have a return ticket, but not from the immediate country you wish to fly into. If you are having problems buying a single ticket try the airline office direct or better still use their website to book online. It's generally travel agencies and check-in staff that give you grief about booking returns (see example). Don't let them panic you. It is extremely uncommon to have onward travel checked and if you do, fabricating a story, showing your funds and a credit card will smooth your passage. The one major exception is the Caribbean, where if you don't have a way to prove a means to exit most countries you enter, you run a real chance of having to buy a exiting plane ticket on the spot (even if you plan to leave by ferry/cruise). In this case forge a flight confirmation or letter showing you are meeting a yacht/cruise.

Remember no one important (immigration) cares if you have an onward ticket - only that you don't overstay a visa. You'll need patience at times particularly when crossing borders via airports (land crossing never a problem).



» Away from Round the Word (RTW) travel and tickets:

Remember not all trips have to be RTW trips. Regional or bi-regional trips for a few months are much more practical, cheaper and just as good (if not better). It's the feelings of more than a few, that a year is too long to travel for unless working en route, and that a few weeks or one, two, three, four month individual trips are more profitable and practical.

Getting a good deal and the cheapest flight possible normally means picking up a promotional fair or special offer - this means booking early. While it's lovely to believe you can leave it to the last moment and snap up a bargain hours/days/weeks before you leave, this is just not the reality. Generally speaking there are two basic types of fares: published/standard fares which are an airlines 'list price' for set numbers of seats at each price tier and unpublished and/or promotional fares.

Young person's discounts

If you are a full time student or under 26 , you may not realise it but you are already getting a great deal as these tickets are heavily discounted. Not only is the price reduced, but so are restrictions on tickets. At age 25 and 11 months you could fly London - México City - OVERLAND - Panama - London with American Airlines off-season for £425 with a $25 date change charge.

At age 26 the same ticket would cost £550 with a date change four times inflated. STA and other agencies specialise in these discounted fares. Under 26 is also the magic age for many discounted rail (particularly European) and flight passes. So what better reason have you to travel before you turn 26?

Tucan

Unpublished fares are sold by consolidators (travel agents) rather than airlines and are often lower priced. Promotional fares are normally the best deal, but you need to book very early and get in quick. This means signing on airlines websites to get e-mail notifications of offers when they are released. The cheapest seat normally equates to planning far ahead, being flexible on dates/routes and getting in there early before all the cheap tickets are snapped up!

Timing your journey carefully is essential, especially on long flights. Fares will probably go up sharply on July 1st and cheap Christmas flights just don't happen (although travelling a little earlier or just after Christmas gives considerable savings: you can find okay prices in the window between Christmas day and New Year's Eve if you book far ahead). Likewise going anywhere in August will be expensive. Be as flexible as possible with your dates. Flying on the wrong day of the week can put an extra hundred bucks on the ticket price. Weekend travel is normally more expensive for long flights. The fare tariff applies to the date of the outbound flight and the tariffs change on the first day of the month or in the peak season in the middle of the month. If you were planning to depart in the last few days of the month, check to see if the fares drop the following month. In the peak season the reverse applies - going a week earlier may save you a good deal. Most flights are generally cheaper Monday to Thursday.

Remember a cheaper priced ticket is often endorsed non-refundable and non-transferable. Most cut price tickets can have the return date changed for a fee but only after the outward journey has been completed. Not all cheap price tickets have the same restrictions so it is important to read the terms and conditions of the ticket and understand what you are buying. You could spend your life waiting for the ultra wonderful deals you hear about, which are normally a few special offer seats or charter flight seats which depend on you being incredibly flexible, (flexible like coming back the very next week or going to package holiday type destinations). More about charter flights later.

The cheapest flights are also normally the least convenient - non-direct (e.g. Europe to Asia routed through Gulf States), long connection times, out of or to major hubs and with less well-known airlines. A third option for travel to some destinations is low cost, no frill airlines (aka. budget airlines). As a general rule, tickets are only available from the airline in question and you won't get too far from your home country unless making a few precarious connections, but can be useful to get to or from a major hub to make cheaper long-haul flight. For example, say want to visit somewhere like the Philippines. In most cases, there will be no cheap direct flights and a ticket is going to be pretty expensive. However, picking up a good deal from a major hub, to say Hong Kong/Singapore (which is a regular and competitive route) and adding a low cost carrier flight at one (or both) end(s), could save you hundreds of Euros/Francs/Dollars/etc.. You have to be willing to spend more time travelling, but sometimes (not always) the savings can be too great to ignore, especially if you want to get to a less visited country and are flying to or from a region with a good cheap budget airline network. More about budget flights later.

If you do have the time and flexibility, buying a one way ticket and then travelling as far as you like (taking cheap regional flights when you can't use or have had enough of buses/trains) is an excellent idea (as discussed above). If you do this make sure you will end up in a good place to fly home from, e.g. Hong Kong, Tel Aviv or Bangkok and not somewhere like Latin America where it will cost you a fortune to get anywhere but America - the same goes with most of Africa. Good value one-way tickets are a difficult thing to arrange away from budget airlines. They can often be the same price as a full fair and rarely 50%. Charter flights (with the exception of to The Gambia), are very rarely one-way. When you can find well priced one-way tickets this opens up the most useful type of ticket... the open jaw.

Airplane An open-jaw ticket as you probably know is flying into one destination and out of another. This of course has huge advantages in saving back-tracking and allowing you to see more. These type of tickets work in two ways. The first, most common is with the same airline, i.e. Delta for Central America, BA/Qatar for Asia or KLM for Africa. The second way is when one-way tickets are available at the right price and you simply just strap two good fares (different airlines - normally code sharing) together.

Locating these flights (the one-way type and 50% of return) is tricky as internet searches are generally not geared up for finding them. A knowledgeable travel agent is the biggest help (normally they will try and sell you a package with the same airline or alliance airlines - since they know they cover that route and it's easiest for them to look up). Return flights are almost always better value. The best tip is to find a cheap airline (i.e. Gulf state carrier or developing nation's national carrier) and find which destinations they serve within the region you are looking at, then search sites like Expedia or Opodo on the multi-stop search option for these destinations - trying as many combinations of dates as you can.

It's not really appropriate to recommend places to buy tickets, only to say that the general feeling is some bad experiences with the call centre type agencies and good experiences/advice with student agencies like STA and web only based discounters like Opodo. STA (walk-in) and Opodo (web) rated highly. You might experience phoning around for flights and been quoted say US$1000 and told 'you must fly with American..' etc. Then upon phoning an agency back the following day, spoken to a different operator and had he/she work out a totally different ticket at a totally different price. It all depends who you get on the end of the phone or in the agency and how rushed/knowledgeable they are. Either way shop around!

Better still, do the work yourself on the web. Take an established discounting agent (e.g. Expedia or Opodo). Such web agents can send you out news of promotions on routes you are interested in. Don't be put off if the first prices you get back are high. Book early (take advantage of limited promotional fares) and be very flexible with your dates (avoid Friday/Saturday/Sunday, stay over weekend and keep trying different options) and try searching destinations/dates served by cheaper airlines such as Qatar Air and routes that perhaps aren't direct but you can make the connection easily yourself (see budget flights, right). Kayak Buzz (UK, US, DE) comes recommended for finding the cheapest way to any given region.

All this takes time, but is your best for finding low prices. Promotional fares, flights originating in London (or other major hubs) or non-direct flights on lesser known airlines or new low-cost start-ups, individually or in a combination, will normally give the best deal. Remember away from the big international carriers there are many airlines that operate regional that these guys can't sell tickets for. Equally always bear in mind that logic generally doesn't apply to ticket pricing and a route from say London to Entebbe via Amsterdam can come out cheaper than direct Amsterdam - Entebbe (even those the distance is less and there is no connection).

Charter flights

Charter flights are almost always return, returning normally 7 or 14 days after arrival and always from the same place. Charter flights generally fly from destinations in Europe to other European destinations. Long haul charter destinations are: Kenya, Cancún, The Gambia (good value and unusually on offer one-way), Israel, Turkey, Egypt, Greece, Thailand (Islands), Sri Lanka, Goa, the Caribbean (sometimes Cuba) and sometimes Brazil, UAE and Canada.

These are useful to look into especially if you want a cheap short independent break, although prices are never that wonderful unless you are leaving at very short notice (cheap last minute fights to Goa or Cancun are particularly famous) and in low season. If travelling from the UK, take a look at www.charterflights.co.uk for some ideas about prices and destinations. If you are looking to head to West Africa, charter flights will probably be one of your cheapest options. See the excellent www.point-afrique.com for schedules (all flights fly in and out of Paris to Francophile West African nations; site en Français).

Internal, regional and budget flights

Don't think for a second that your initial ticket need be the main focus of your trip: with a boom in budget airline networks flying regionally, making a big round trip is really quite easy. Just remember that flights are always cheapest in their originating country. Most agents and internet search engines can't sell tickets for smaller cheap regional carriers and only offer tickets from (expensive) larger carriers. This can make planning quite frustrating, but unless on a really tight schedule, visiting during a national holiday period (e.g. Christmas, Easter, New Year), don't feel pressured into booking before you go via an agency in your home country if you can't do so on the airlines site or haven't time when travelling to 'play it by ear'.

A cheap return flight to say India could let you take in Sri Lanka, Thailand and Malaysia in a big easy to book (see Sri Lanka summary) loop, for a much better price that if booked in one block with major carriers and with all the flexibility of booking 'as you go'. For full details on which airlines fly which region see the links section and for more information on getting around by air including a budget airline low-down by region see 'moving around' in the 'On the Road' section.

Equally it is worth noting that there are some start-up low cost carriers flying international routes (generally out of London) with Hong Kong and North America being a focus - pricing is per flight, not return (perfect) and using these and their best promotional fairs, you could probably piece together a very basic RTW flight for very little compared to conventional means (although it should be noted many of these new - low cost- start ups (Zoom/Oasis) did not last long and few are left of their nature). Air Ninja is quite useful for hunting some of these budget airline flights out.





»    How much is it going to cost?

How much will it cost?

How much money do I need? Well that really depends on where you go, what standards you are use to, where you stay, how you get around, what you eat/drink, what you buy/see and current exchange rate factors. The answer given here is based on pretty much a shoestring budget, but far from back-breaking or really roughing it (a little bit extra makes a lot of difference). You can probably greatly reduce these figures if you don't drink, travel long distances or do tours/expensive activities. Used to a great measure are mine and other common experiences, which may not match yours.

Apologies to non Americans, reference is mainly made in USD$. Despite widespread stories of its demise, the USD$ is still however the de facto currency abroad - in fact at last count 66 countries have currencies linked to the US$ (either by a fixed or semi-fixed peg or direct use of the US$ - by-the-way it's ~26 for the Euro. Anywhere on this site you see a $ symbol please assume it is a US$. Roughly at present the USD trades at around 1.5 per GBP and 1.4 per EUR, but these are floating rates and change all the time. If you are using GB£, travelling just got much more expensive. If you are luck enough to have AUD, JYP or CHF... happy days!

You can see real time exchange rates by clicking here, but the - very rough - rules of thumb are easy to convert USD costs given: to GBP/EUR, knock off a third; to Swiss Franc knock off 10-20%; to CAD/AUD roughly knock off 10%.

Average costs per day including everything you are likely to do (transport, food, accommodation, important trips, etc):

  • Asia

    general - (Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, China) US$30-50,

    cheap - (India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Indochina) US$25-40,

    expensive - HK, Eastern China, South Korea, Singapore) US$40-70,

    (v. expensive - Japan) US$50-100 (inc. rail pass)

  • Australia and New Zealand

    US$50-80 (NZ little cheaper)

  • Americas

    Central America (cheap - Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras) US$30-50,

    Central America (general - México (expensive transportation), Belize (most expensive), Costa Rica) US$35-55,

    South America (general - Brazil (most expensive), Peru, Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela) US$35-50,

    South America (cheap - Bolivia, Ecuador) US$30-40,

    North America (hard to generalise) US$50-70

    Caribbean US$50-100 (no island hopping, varies dramatically)

  • Europe

    Western Europe (capitals expensive, more with transportation) US$50-80,

    Eastern Europe US$40-60

  • Africa

    West Africa (costs vary enormously between countries like Ghana (very cheap), and CFA (ex-French) countries) US$30-60,

    East Africa (general - Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda) US$25-40 (excluding tours and safaris - allow US$100-200 per day for safaris),

    Southern Africa (cheap - Malawi, Mozambique (Northern areas more expensive), Zimbabwe) US$25-40,

    Southern Africa (general - South Africa, Namibia) US$40-50 (excluding tours and safaris)

  • Middle East

    US$30-50 (Israel US$50-80, Iran US$35), Gulf States US$50-100 (lack of budget accommodation)

Author's note:

The 'how much will it cost?' question is a bit like 'how long is a piece of string?' So assumptions are made based on typical backpacker experiences in a wide range of destinations. If anything, costs are over-estimated. Very few travellers really watch every cent to a pedantic degree - especially with prices in less developed countries being such a bargain.

In reality it is better to over-estimate since some 'must-do' activities will set you back quite considerably. Saving a bit longer at home rather than having to forfeit treats like a fan in your room, a beer at sunset or more/other amazing experiences makes a lot of sense. It's important to remember that while you can live for next to nothing, you probably won't, and when undertaking a long trip even in a destination that's cheap to live and travel in, you'll probably find that backpacking is not as cheap as is commonly believed.

Just to keep things in perspective: after you have looked at this section and probably moaned after finding a calculator - take a look at 'the value of your money' bit in the on the road section.

? A rough guide (click for actual):

US$25 = €19/ £16/ AU$23;

US$35 = €26/ £22/ AU$33;

US$45 = €34/ £28/ AU$40;

US$50 = €38/ £32/ AU$47;

These rates are updated often, but change daily.

! Please note that exchange rate factors can and do make a significant difference in how 'affordable' a trip can be. Traveling on a strong currency somewhere with a weak one is bliss, the converse is often very painful. So the strength of your home (spending) currency will have a considerable effect on how cheap you can travel.


? So what's the bottom line? Check out the Travel Budget Calculator - which this site has updated with many of the above costs as a guideline (although note, with loss in value of GBP, figures needs some updating). Another great resource to get an idea of daily costs and record your own is: budgetyourtrip.com

In short and on average, bank on at least US$40/GB£25/EU€30 (plus or minus 20%) per day. This averages itself out and will allow for activities and long distance travel (i.e. the odd internal flight, entry fees, trains tickets, etc.). However, in more developed countries and big/capital cities, the reality is often you need more like US$50 to $70 per day if you are actively traveling/sightseeing. It depends on so many things. For example trekking in Nepal, or lying on a beach in Goa or Thailand, you can probably spend as little as US$15-25 (€10-17) a day, but you need to add (for trekking for example): the hire of equipment/guide, the park entry and maybe a flight to get there/away. For Goa a breakdown might look like this: 500Rps for a beach hut/room, 500Rps for three good meals, 100Rps for water and another 100Rps for a couple of beers or other. Total - 1200INR about $20/€15, but where does this allow for transport or anything else? It's worth remembering that India, like many other Asian (think China)/Eastern Europe countries are rapidly developing with an emerging middle class pushing inflation and general living cost to new highs. Bill Fold

Remember it is of course extremely cheap to 'live' in the developing world (at its typical standard of living quality), however it might not be at a level of quality near to what you might be used to or able to accept - of course travel should not be an endurance test. Travel (as in getting around and to places) on the other hand is not necessarily cheap if not 'typical travel', that is travelling like locals where locals would commonly travel. Just like raising your living standard (e.g. having AC in your room), getting to places off the beaten track (like national parks) where locals would not frequent and where you find very limited or no public transport can get very expensive even in the most tin-pot, cheap country (unless of course there are enough travellers to support a 'local cheap tour industry'). Take Africa for example, much of the continent lives on less than US$600 per year and as a traveller you can live on next to nothing too, however if you want a bed in the middle of the bush or to get to wildlife in its natural habitat your US$600 would last less than a week if not a day or two at worst. The same goes crossing remote mountain areas by land, (such as the Pamir highway) where hiring a 4x4 for +US$100s becomes the only option.

More to the point, in most developing countries where it is possible to spend very little, cumulatively you won't be doing yourself any favours if you don't make sure you keep yourself well rested and properly fed. Unfortunately it's true that to an extent the cheaper you travel the more hassle your trip will be and the longer you will spend getting around. If you do have the option to save a bit longer or shorten your trip in order to add 33-50% to the above average per day amounts you will not only be joining a greatly increasing group of slightly more wealthy (by that it's meant not slumming it) independent travellers, but will likely have a more pleasant and enjoyable trip getting to see much more, while still benefiting from the many fantastic experiences travelling on the cheap offers. And if you don't spend it all, bonus you have cash for another trip!

A further and frequently overlooked variable of how much someone will spend whilst travelling relates to what 'standards' they are use to at home and thus what they can readily accept while on the road. For example, someone with a regular middle income and use to living in a comfortable place of their own will be far more adverse to the low quality/standards and - occasional hardship - you'll come across on a lower budget and particularly in developing countries, compared to a student living in shared accommodation and on noodles. Habits such as a coffee-shop coffee in the morning or taking a taxi rather than struggling with a map plus a walk/bus-ride are hard to break. What comes naturally to someone at one stage of their life seems very tough at another. Therefore if you are someone [often older] who is use to a middle-class [disposable money in the bank] way-of-life, please allow yourself slightly more than the above guidelines as you'll probably find it impossible to skip those sunset cocktails and air-conditioned refuses!

It is also worth noting that as a foreigner you will often find yourself penalised by double-tier prices (such as museum entry, non-local currency priced air tickets and generally higher asked day-to-day prices). In addition it is unlikely that on a long or round-the-world trip, you will spend all your time in ultra-cheap countries and will want to visit treasures in more expensive nations: western Europe, Australia or North America being the perfect examples.

If you're after western quality, you pretty much always (apart from a few exceptions, normally due to undervalued currencies) you pay western prices, or more - even in the cheapest of destinations. It's also often the case, that big cities of normally very affordable countries (such as Mumbai, aka Bombay) can be quite expensive, particularly when it comes to accommodation and that the increases in energy/fuel costs over the past few years will eat into a budget.

Thumbs UpJust don't cut yourself short - that's why everything above is kind of rounded up and hey it is always nice to have money left for another trip or to do the things you really want, like $600 Kathmandu to Lhasa and back or $1000 Galapagos islands or $150 Nile cruise or $100+ a day for an East African Safari.

Those travelling alone and not able/willing to take advantage of shared accommodation (unless able to use hostel dorm beds) and (some) transport costs will spend roughly 25% more than the costs quoted here unless making other sacrifices to compensate ....and remember the above per day costs are on top of all the other considerations mentioned on this pages such as jabs, visas, flights, & insurance - which make a big dent in your funds before you even leave.

Clearly a 'per day' idea of how much money you might need is important in planning a trip, particularly a long one, but ultimately it is a difficult (read pointless) exercise. Perhaps it is better to state you can get by on US$1500-2000 per month anywhere, but how much you have left will very much depend on how you apply (or want to apply) the best travel money saving tip out there: when in Rome! That is: ...when in Europe: buy food at the supermarket, and cook it yourself or eat in a park; ...when in South East Asia: don't worry and try some street food; ...when in Japan: discover cheap fast foods and izakayas; ...when getting around: use public transport and so on. So many costs can be directly related to how much time/effort you spend in tracking down the best deals or adopting to local circumstances. Laziness is expensive!

But I need to travel cheaper!

If you look for long enough on the net you'll likely find plenty of testament from those who claim they travel or travelled on around half the above suggested average budget. When and for how long they maintain it or how much they got to see/do it's hard to know, but of course it is possible to get by on a really tight budget. So here in a nutshell (without recommending any) are 7 secrets (realities is a better description) of travel on the really cheap:

1) You'll need to forget about Australia, Japan, Europe, North America or any other developed country - equally it's advisable to steer clear of capitals/big cities and keep more in the wild away from major urban centres.
2)
Covering long distances is a major expenses, so you'll need to limit your sphere and forget about travelling in comfort, that's not to say even on an okay budget you'll be in much comfort, but you'll have to get use to sometimes extremely uncomfortable, long, slow, bumpy journeys.
3)
It does really depend on where you are, and sure sometimes it's dirt cheap, but a heavy night out in bars rarely is - alcohol is something you need to cut out or at least minimise.
4)
Learn some lingo, you'll need to get the hang of services locals use like short-hop public transport.
5)
Like walking and the outdoors - it's free and will fill your time, other main tourist sight are unlikely to be free. Taj Mahal, Inca Trail, Forbidden City and the like you'll need to admire from a distance or skip.
6)
Forget about private rooms and private bathrooms, you'll be looking for shared dormitory style rooms in hostels or doss houses patronised by locals. These are generally fine if you are male, but in more extreme case not for women; good security, a shower or much sleep are not always included in the price. If you move up a level to very basic private rooms then no bathroom or hot water are a must to keep the price down.
7)
and finally: a basic diet, it's easy to eat cheap, only you'll need to stick with it long term and stay away from restaurants catering to tourist and all your favourite foods back home. You'll need to eat from street stalls, basic restaurants and produce bought from market vendors. The order of the day will be rice, noodles, basic breads, bananas, or potatoes; all of which will fill you up very cheaply, but needs discipline to stick with.

Of course to a severe degree, none of the above is actually recommended and if you travel it is important to make sure you have enough money to ensure your safety and well-being (at whatever level you feel comfortable with).

» For more detailed daily average costs please refer to the country summary section on this site, where suggested basic daily budgets are listed for over 75 nations. Or for the most detailed information, a country guidebook or planning guide is recommended.





»    How do I take all these funds?

Money

As you have no doubt established you are going to need a fair supply of money to cover your trip. In which form and how to take these funds can pose something of a dilemma. Cash is, of course, king all over the world, but do you really want to take all your funds in cash or even travellers cheques?

Obviously taking large amounts of cash is a risky strategy and it's best that the cash you set off with from home be - give or take - no more than enough for your first week. Whatever cash you do take, in whatever form it should be well hidden including, not to be overlooked, an emergency back-up cash stash. Find out what you are insured for and remember it's probably at your own risk.

The best way to get money almost anywhere is through an ATM, either with a MasterCard Cirrus or Visa Plus card - that is using your bank or credit card from home to draw out of your home account. This offers numerous pros such as getting favourable daily exchange rates, running no risk of being ripped off, having the security of a PIN code, keeping track of your rates and balance on-line and having the option to specify exactly how much money you want to change. There are even occasions where you can pull dual currencies out of machines (local and US$/EU€).

ATM and credit cardsOkay in some countries outside of big towns you're not going to find plentiful ATMs, but you will almost certainly in larger cities that you will use as transport hubs and always in capital cities. There are very few exceptions to this, with every country covered on this site (Iran and Burma aside) and practically every country in the world having at least one international ATM, with new sites coming into use everyday. Worth noting is that much of the information posted on the internet about where has an ATM and where does not, is out-dated and false. You can check exactly where you can get money from on either Visa, Amex or Mastercard's website.

Generally you will be charged a fee by your bank for making withdrawals abroad: about 2% (normally set within a minimum and maximum) or with a credit card around 3% (+ about a $3 access charge). If you have and use a Citibank account, and find a branch abroad, there is no commission. This is not the case with HSBC, Barclays or ABN AMRO. Nationwide in the UK once upon a time did not charge any commission for overseas withdrawals, but now like many other banks do so only on a 'premier' account available at a fee. It can be worth paying for such a service and it is certainly worth comparing a few commission rates and/or service fees for overseas withdrawals - it pays to shop around and check before heading off. You could also use a credit card to withdraw money, although the fees are going to be much higher.

In Australia Wizard Clear Advantage offered a credit card with fee free overseas ATM use and NAB Gold Banking offers the same in a debit card for a small monthly banking fee. Any recommendations of American and European banks that don't charge commission or have good rates are very welcome. This link has details for USA users.

If you don't have such a bank card or fees are too high for your liking then a new option to surface in the past few years is Visa Travel Money which works pretty much in the same way as a bank card only you don't need a bank account. You can have up to 3 cards, preloading them with cash before use. American Express also have their own version.

Visa PlusATMs really are everywhere in major cities and always have an English language option. Not all ATMs you find abroad can access international networks, but this varies widely from country to country. For example, in Pakistan you will find tonnes of ATMs, but only a few international ones in each big city, as opposed to India or Sri Lanka where you can't walk 500metres in many a town centre without finding one. CirrusSimply look for the Visa Plus symbol (pictured) you see on your card. Generally speaking ATMs work on both networks, but this is not always the case and every now and then you find Cirrus or Visa Plus only machines. Therefore, if on a long trip it is handy to have (say your partner's card or credit card) on an alternative network as a back-up. If you had to pick only one, go with Visa Plus which is more common in Latin America and West Africa. And remember when somewhere exotic never panic if your chosen ATM does not work, simply find another [bank/provider] and try again.

Money on arrival

You will normally find an ATM at the airport if arriving at a major international one, but just in case you don't or the ATM is empty, always carry some hard currency cash. The same goes for borders where there are rarely ATMs, but nearly always change places or money changers for some 'see-you-over' cash until you reach a bigger city with better rates.

It's a good idea to make sure you know what the exchange rate is before you reach a country, preventing you getting ripped off and generally letting you know how much the room you are checking into or taxi you hail is costing. This exchange rate can be found on the Internet with ease and noted before you leave. The FX Cheat Sheet is a great tool. It's wise to calculate costs with plus a few % to reflect normal tourist rates.

When changing money always re-count and check your money carefully. Small private exchange booths, that are common in most cities, will normally give better rates than banks. Changing on the street is only worthwhile in a few situations: see the guidebook of the country you are in and/or talk to locals. In the event of a black market exchange rate, changing where you are staying, at a travel agent or other established business is the best bet.



Traveller's Cheques

Traveller's cheques are, as you will no doubt know, a safer option compared to cash, but with a number of drawbacks. Firstly the commission required to buy and sell them and secondly that in some places they can be somewhat of a pain to change restricting you to bank opening times and long drawn out procedures. This is not always the case, but can often be when you need the cash the most and are in a hurry. Nevertheless, if on a long trip in countries you aren't familiar with, it's wise to have a few travellers cheques as back up to your ATM card. The irony is where it's easy to cash cheques you are going to find numerous international ATMs (and vice verse). Any international brand of travellers cheques will be fine (Visa or American Express). It's worth knowing that commission can be minimised if buying from an Amex centre (1%) and selling at one, if you can find it, abroad (0%). Don't forget to carry your purchase record/receipt with you - you may need it to cash your cheques and very importantly keep it in a safe place away from your cheques and make a note of the claim phone number(s) and cheque number(s) in case of theft. Travellers cheques do have a place where ATMs can't be found and as a good backup, but can also be costly and a pain - a pain in less developed countries not so much in developed ones - ATM use - if possible - is generally much more practical and the way to go.



Emergency Funds

Of course keep your cash, debit and credit cards separate to reduce the risk of losing access to all funds, but disasters do happen or you just run out of money. Money wires, such as those from Western Union then save the day. There are many ways to send cash - best to check online and give the details to a friend or family back home. They charge fees, but paying $20 to get an emergency $200 to the middle of nowhere within minutes is bargain. You'll normally find offices in remote locations, even where there is no bank.

Okay, one word of warning regarding ATM withdrawals. 98% of the time the above is absolutely true, but for the other 2% there are situations out of your control such as empty or out of order machines or many other eventualities. So commonsense says don't rely totally on your ATM card. If you take a look at the country summaries section you will be able to get a good gauge, country by country, of the best way to handle your money. There are also rare cases when due to artificial exchange controls (e.g. Venezuela, Argentina or Zimbabwe pre-dollarisation) using an ATM will get you a terrible (official rate) and you need case to change [on the black market].

Overall, the best general strategy to get at your money is always a combination of methods and back ups (i.e. have a debit (ATM) card, credit card, some cash and some travellers cheques - with the latter being for emergencies). And finally on the subject of cards - it's recommended that you do not carry your card (ATM or credit) around with you at all times if you can help it. For various reasons, it's best kept in your main bag unless you are using it.

Credit cards are useful, but much more so in developed countries. In less developed countries they can be used for larger purchases (e.g. a flight or Scuba course), but will normally have commission added to the total. However, they can be used to obtain cash advances in most banks world-wide (always with a commission - not the best value way to obtain funds, but extremely useful to fall back on when having ATM problems) and from ATMs. For all uses MasterCard or Visa are your best bet. Remember to consider your bills piling up at home with interest being charged and the fact if you are using them to draw money, it make sense to be in credit. Paying more money onto your card before leaving home, setting up a standing order or asking your folks to pay your bill or doing it yourself online whilst away is prudent.

With both traveller's cheques and cash don't get hung up on taking all US$ if your home currency is 'hard' (€uro, ¥en, GB£, CHF, AU$ etc.) except in Latin America where the dollar rules and in other very less developed or untouristy countries and outside big cities or right off the beaten track. Although when not carrying US$/€uro or a regional 'hard' currency, remember that you may be resisted to changing in business centres. Certainly when buying a lot of traveller's cheques or taking cash to start off, if you can help it there is little point changing your money twice paying commission each time.

Euros have very quickly become a fine currency to take to any major city worldwide. If heading anywhere in Europe (including the far eastern Europe and the Balkans) or West Africa, forget US$ and go with Euros. Everywhere else 'undeveloped' US$ are the currency of choice. Green backs are always accepted with open arms even in places like Iran.

Changing money from a hard currency rarely is a problem and Euro or US$ can often be used to pay for larger value items which are commonly priced in dollars and sometimes Euros. Don't forget to keep an emergency stash (say a $100 or €100 bill) which you should keep separate from your main money supply. It's also worth taking a few lower value - US$10/20 bills (make sure all clean and crisp and not the old style) for unforeseen situations.

Money changing tricks

Be warned about old style dollar bills which won't be welcomed and other money changing tricks you might come across when changing in shady circumstances. Money changing tricks are the easiest way to get burnt whilst abroad. Two things to be aware of:

Firstly, your original money being returned to you as a fake or lower domination note when the deal is voided by the changer. If you are worried you could make a note of serial numbers of larger bills before you pass them over to make sure you get back the original. When you are handed back your money, do not return theirs until (no matter how much they try to fluster you) you establish that the carefully folded $100 bill is not a $1 bill - it's easily done (and normally when changing on the black market).

The second thing to be wary of is a successful change when the money you receive is no longer bank recognised or carefully folded to deceive. Only change money on the street where you can see it is day-to-day practice of locals and not in large amounts. Private exchange booths are your best bet to change money and always easy enough to find along with banks. Changing cash is on the whole the easiest thing to do whilst away.

! Do make sure dollar/euro notes are in a brand newish condition (no tears). It does happen that less than mint condition or old style high value notes will be unwanted. Always fully cover your PIN number when using an ATM - card skimming is a possiblity anywhere.





»    Immunisations and malaria prophylaxis

If you are heading somewhere exotic and developing you will of course need to head down to a clinic and get a variety of jabs before disappearing. Most of the important ones will be boosters of shots you probably had as a child. There are several others, but it is worth thinking twice about being sold on having the 'whole package' - it all depends on where you are going and how you feel about the risk.

Many a traveller goes to a clinic and says they're going to somewhere like Brazil or Thailand (or equally mainstream), the nurse types 'Thailand' into a computer (experience suggests not all health professionals have first-hand experience or knowledge of travel health or pragmatism) and next thing they know they have a bill for $100s, a very painful arm, 10s of very expensive pills and coverage for some very bizarre diseases of which the risk of are small compared to other risks.

Nevertheless, it is important to warn against the foolhardy approach and 'I'll take the risk' attitude you might find travellers on the road with (normally regarding Malaria). You'll also note things have tried to be kept as simple and concise as possible tackling a very big subject.

!  A word to the wise... the following information is taken from various sources, some medical, some not, most third party. No one connected with this site is a doctor and therefore the information in this section should be taken with that consideration in mind. SyringeHowever, this is a good place to start and is evidence of how we have slowly unraveled the mystery of travel health and especially Malaria medication.

So what jabs do I need? You typically need for developing world travel regardless of what country you are visiting the following shots: Typhoid (3 years - also available as a pill), Meningitis (A+C), Diphtheria (10 years), Hepatitis A (two doses, 10 years - or immunoglobulin that will last for 3-6 months)), Polio (10 years), Tetanus (10 years) and if you are heading to parts of South America or Africa then Yellow fever (10 years). It's only fair to warn you, you're going to feel a little groggy after some of these shots.

» Within the UK and other EU countries with a national/socialised health service, for the immunizations listed above, you will typically be charged for Yellow Fever and Hepatitis A only, at a cost of about €90 (£85), with Hep A/Typhoid and Diphtheria/Tetanus/Polio being typically free - this will of course vary from country to country (in places like Ireland or Switzerland, it is unlikely you will get anything free!). Walk in clinics are good for those in a hurry, but will charge considerably more.

» Within the USA and other countries without a government funded health service the cost of your shots will be quite substantial in some cases and are rarely covered on medical insurance (you might find Tetanus included). The following charges are typical for the United States: Typhoid - $75, Polio Booster - $50, Hep A & B - $200 (per shot 2/3 needed), Yellow Fever - $100, Meno Meningitis -$130 & Rabies - $200 (per shot, 3 needed). In the States you usually have to go to special travel doctors to get the shots, as most doctors and clinic's don't carry them.

Rabies, Hepatitis B and Japanese B Encephalitis are in many opinions (all non-medical) not 100% necessary considering the cost/number of injections and rarity. The rabies jab for instance may not give full protection and thus you would always need boosters (two) after a possible exposure, so the vaccine extends the time you have to get the boosters and makes post possible exposure treatments much easier (without the vaccine you would need five shots of Human rabies immunoglobulin (HRIG) around the wound; note HRIG is not cheap or easily found if off the beaten track). So whereas it is technically not essential, there is an argument for not totally disregarding it if you feel you might be in danger during a trip. Hep B is perhaps only advisable if you plan to be sexually active (especially male gay sex), as it is an STI (but, for the record, can be contracted in other instances such as passed on during medical or dental treatment with inadequately sterilisation).

Whereas it would be nice to be vaccinated against 'everything', some vaccinations provide protection from infections that have a diminishing risk depending on where you are going and what you are doing. Plus in many cases can be quite costly. However you'd be foolish to discount anything by reading this alone and professional advice can make sure you make 100% informed choices, although medical professionals will of course almost always advise total protection in the same way they would always advise alcohol in moderation and wearing sun block.

As for malaria

MosquitoAs for malaria, there's little point getting too into the subject as it's a minefield. The thing is, you ask a doctor and no matter where you are going you seem to get prescribed Larium or similar at great cost. Most of the time, in hindsight, it seems and is unnecessary.

Chloroquine and Proguanil combined are fine for many common destinations and anti-malarial drugs such as Doxycycline are available at low cost in larger Asia and African cities (obviously buy from a reputable looking pharmacy - Boots in Bangkok price Doxycycline (6months worth) at about US$60).

Both Mefloquine (Larium) and Doxycycline (Vibramycin) are good medicines to protect against malaria (and especially Chloroquine-resistant malaria). Both have good and bad points. A third option to protect against Quinine-resistant malaria (most malaria) is Malarone - more on that newer drug further down.

No Malaria medication protects you 100%, and the best thing you can and should always do is not get bitten, which is a different topic.

Remember of the 3500 types of mosquito (20 more are discovered every year) only a few carry killer diseases such as Malaria. The female (it would have to be!) Anopheles malarial mosquito bites mainly between 2300 and 0400 at night. This is when it is particularly important not to get bitten. Also worth mentioning is the Aedes mosquito (spreading dengue and yellow fever) bites during the day. Both feed at ground level so cover up your ankles with a little repellent.

? It is really worth mentioning that there is a ton of misinformation floating around on the net and among backpackers on the road.

It needs to be emphasised that any medication listed in this section is vastly superior to not taking anything, and hoping for the best. Some Malaria strains are deadly and kill fast (90% of malaria deaths are children under the age of five, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa) - especially when you haven't been exposed to malaria since birth.

So in what areas am I at risk from Malaria? The blanket answer is that a 'risk' exists in almost all countries in Asia (below Mongolia/Kazakhstan), Africa and Latin America with the notable exceptions of Libya, Chile, Tunisia and Uruguay. If you want to see 'the map' take a look at the somewhat paranoid CDC Malaria page. However, this 'risk' really does vary and to colour an entire country red due to a sometimes localised and seasonal risk is kind of missing the mark. Whereas a serious risk may exist in a pocket of a country (say Thailand), there are many, many other regions where very little or no risk exists. So research carefully.

Take for example Nepal; Kathmandu and a normal trekking circuit poses no risk from malaria, but due to a risk in the lower lying parts of the country the whole country often gets a warning. The same can be said for Latin America outside of the Amazon basin, which is often bypassed by travellers or visited for only a few days.

Travel to rural areas always involves more potential exposure to malaria than in the larger cities. For example, the capital cities of the Manila, Bangkok and Colombo are essentially malaria-free. However, as noted, malaria is present in many other places (especially rural areas) of these countries. By contrast in West Africa, Ghana and Nigeria have malaria throughout the entire country. However, the risk will always be lower in the larger cities where independent travellers tend to focus their travels since these act as the main transport hubs.

On an African (where most of this information applies mainly to - don't take it as seriously if visiting South America (outside the Amazon interior), Southern Africa or Asia) trip you might meet several travellers who have contracted malaria even when taking prophylaxis such as Larium, which goes a long way to illustrate the importance of covering up. Individuals normally recovered with no problems (after some time out) and in a few cases, were not even aware that they were infected until taking a malaria test (prick on the finger blood test available cheaply in sub-Saharan Africa). Even taking malaria tablets meticulously and doing everything possible to avoid being bitten, it is possible to get a strain resistant to prophylactic drugs. Untreated malaria is very dangerous, but responds well to prompt treatment.

Once infected, malaria can 'live in your system for a while until it decides to attack' as one overland truck driver put it 'when my body is down - normally when I have a hangover!' It is not preferable to attempt self-diagnosis (as tests are easily and cheaply available in East/West Africa). While travelling in Africa perhaps the most sensible precaution you can take on top of avoiding bites is to purchase on your arrival 'Arinate' (Artesunate 100mg) or similar. This comes in a kit of six pills available from any pharmacy, priced at about US$5. At any sign of a fever (symptoms can take a week or more to show - unfortunately your weekly Larium can knock them continually on the head) and if medical advice is unavailable, you can start self treatment. Still aim to get tested as soon as possible: you may have typhoid. Having such treatment available not only allows for peace of mind, but is useful should you enter a risk area when it is not practical to take prophylactics, i.e. you are only there for a few days (Etosha NP, Kruger NP, jungle areas of South America being good examples).

Remember, it's always a little dangerous to assume that your choice of malaria prophylaxis is available in the country you'll be visiting, but most third-world countries stock at least chloroquine and normally doxycycline (certainly the major cities of Africa and Asia do), but Malarone can be harder to find. Quinine is normally available to, but is not recommended. For the record a spot check in Kampala in 2010 found with ease (over the counter) Mefloquine (x 4, priced US$11) and Doxycycline (x 10, priced US$1).

Both of the following prophylaxis regimes are recommended if entering a serious Malaria risk area with Chloroquine-resistant malaria, typically East/West Africa and jungle regions of Asia/L.America. Individuals respond differently: the vast majority have only very minor side effects. [You must seek medical advice before starting either programme as there are complications for certain people, such as children, those who are pregnant, or have the potential of becoming pregnant while on these meds.]

» Mefloquine (aka. Larium) - 1 tab (250mg) each week, starting one week before travel and continuing 4 weeks after exiting malarial zone.

» Doxycycline - 1 tab (100mg) each day, starting 2 days before travel and ending 4 weeks after leaving malarial zone.

Also keep an eye out for Malarone (aka, the mouthful: atovaquone proguanil hydrochloride) a fairly new drug with limited side effects. Dosage is 1 pill a day and then only 1 (not 4 as is common) week after. When it was originally licensed in the EU in 2001 the maximum prescription was only 28 days, however this has now been extended to 90 days - including the 1 week after.

Malarone has proven to be safe and lacks the nasty side-effects; although is much more expensive than alternatives. Also note in certain areas (Eastern Africa for one) there are now several locations where mozzies have become resistant to all forms of prophylaxis other than Malarone. Malarone would be the drug of choice (if suitable and affordable) for many.

The above medicines are easily absorbed provided you don't have any stomach problem like diarrhoea/vomiting. Since compliance is always an issue, Mefloquine is easier because it is only taken once a week and has a long half life. They should be taken with a full glass of water and with food. Additionally, Doxycycline is irritating so after taking it, one should maintain an upright position (don't go to sleep) for an hour to decrease the chance that it will reflux back up. Just to mention, Doxycycline is one of the drugs used to treat traveller's diarrhoea, so using it daily to protect against malaria will also help to prevent traveller's diarrhoea or so the theory goes. This is because it is an anti-biotic - this also means that if you are on the contraceptive pill then you will have to take extra precautions during sex. Lastly, taking the medications faithfully and not stopping until 4 weeks (1 in the case of Malarone) after exiting the malarial zone is incredibly important and cannot be over emphasised.

Keep in mind that many of the reported problems with Mefloquine occur at dosages used for the treatment of active malaria, and not the prevention of malaria. The treatment dosage is 1250mg once, which is 5 times the weekly prophylactic dosage! This is where a lot of the Mefloquine confusions and scary rumours originate.

The most common side effect of Mefloquine is vivid dreams. These tend to occur the night the tablet is taken, and are not necessarily nightmares, just vivid dreams. For Doxycycline it is photosensitivity (increased sensitivity of skin to sunlight) and an upset stomach. Make sure you are taking the right medication for the region you are travelling in. Again... you may not need either Mefloquine or Doxycycline - it is quite possible to visit a country with a malarial risk and never get anywhere near an that risk area (Cambodia, Bolivia, Thailand, South Africa, Iran, Namibia, China, Burma, Nepal - there are loads of them!).

Why bother going to all this hassle/cost?

Once in a while, you will meet travellers who refuse to take prophylactics, either because they want to acquire resistance to malaria or else because they believe there is a homeopathic cure for this killer disease. Unfortunately (especially in Africa), they think they are being very clever.

For the record, travellers can't acquire effective resistance to malaria and if anyone knows of a homeopathic cure, please let us [and the medical profession] know. It is personal choice what you do but, especially in East/West Africa not using a prophylactic drug when in a high risk areas for long periods is risking your life in a manner both unnecessarily (the drugs are cheap in Africa/Asia) and foolishly. Equally pills aside the most important thing is to always sleep under a treated net in very high risk regions.

Medical Kit

As a footnote, many feel the focus on Malaria is misdirected, Dengue fever is common in regions such as SE Asia (its geographic spread is similar to that of malaria). The carrying mosquitoes of Dengue live indoors and bite during the day, when most are least vigilant. Dengue can be every bit as dangerous as malaria. However there's no need for paranoia - a quick squirt of repellent on the ankles or covering up is a simple, easy and effective measure. In contrast to malaria, which is more common in rural areas, it is larger cities that present the greater risk from Dengue fever.

? See the 1000 travel tips malaria page for much more information (exact risk country) and please don't worry too much. Also see information on mosquitoes in the what to pack section and general travellers health problems in the on the road section. There are also many excellent traveller health sites in the links section.





»    Visas

Visas can be a pain - not only can their costs really add up (Indochina, Central Asia or Africa), but you can end up stranded for days waiting for them (normally over weekends) and even have to back-track for days if your planning is off or your visa is wrong/expired. Other times visas can be effortlessly hassle free, being not required or just a simple free stamp at the border (Latin America or Southern Africa).

Generally speaking, in countries that are most commonly visited by backpackers, visas are available on the border or on arrival at a main airport for free or a fee - no advance planning is needed. More and more countries (i.e. Laos and Cambodia) are taking measures to make visas easier in order to encourage tourism. In other cases visas are available in a neighbouring country's major cities with much less fuss and cost than in your home nation. Therefore visas - if you have the time - are best picked up en route as you travel with the exception of specific countries outlined later. As well as this method being easier, cheaper and more convenient, you run no danger of your visa(s) expiring before you get to use them. Also you may find that smaller nations are not represented in your home country. Of course, pick up the visa (if required) for the first country of your trip in your home nation.

Always try to obtain up-to-date visa information, which can be hard to come across unless on the ground in the area. Guidebooks and websites are often out of date (i.e. the requirement to state exit and entry points for a Vietnam visa changed in the early '00s, but is still commonly referenced) and other situations are always changing (e.g. Serbia only recently started issuing visas on the border and Bulgarian/Romania have relaxed tight and expensive visa requirements).

The most difficult visas to obtain are those for Russia, former members of the Soviet Republic (e.g. Belarus, Tajikistan), strict Islamic countries (e.g. Iran, Saudi Arabia) and countries isolated from the west (e.g. North Korea, Turkmenistan, Libya). To obtain these visas an invitation letter (LOI) or voucher of sorts is normally required (this can be provided by a hotel, friend in the country, travel agent or tour) as well as a whole load of red tape. If you have no means to get these, transit visas can normally be obtained for a fee and with a valid visa for a neighbouring country.

A word to the wise

Remember when picking up visas en route to be flexible - things don't always go the way you expect and you certainly can't go anywhere you want, when you want. Visas maybe available next day in many embassies, but if you apply on Friday, you won't be able to pick it up for three days. In addition be very wary of festivals that bring everything to a halt and unexplained rejections or transit/shorter visas being issued when a full one was requested.

Patience really is needed to deal with a lot of pointless bureaucracy in some places. Luckily this seems to be in decline (apart from the former Soviet Republics) as governments discover the potential of tourism and the world becomes more open. Lastly, do yourself a favour and don't put down 'photographer', 'journalist', 'author' or anything similar on a visa application.

Internet newsgroups and your national travel advisory website are both good resources to ask questions and get answers. The only major problem scenario that comes to mind when travelling and picking up visas en route, - as is normally possible - is heading into China through the Karakoram highway and then into Central Asia. These visas are only available in Beijing or Islamabad which is a long de-tour or double back.

PassportIt's normally easier when en route to get an agency to deal with your visa for a small commission that saves you the taxi fares to and from the embassy. The use of these services can range from laziness to essential, when a recommendation or invitation letter is required. Whenever applying for a visa think about whether it is worth paying a little extra for the flexibility of a double entry visa , say for Syria (pop into Lebanon), Ghana (pop into Togo), India (pop into Nepal), or Nepal (pop into Tibet) to name a few popular examples. You'll save time and money in the long run. Upon getting your visa, check how many days you have (you may not get what you asked for), if there are any limitations, whether it can be extended (especially if transit) and whether all details are correct (all t's crossed and i's dotted) before you leave the agency or embassy - mistakes do happen. It is worth having a supply of passport photos to hand for visas and extensions (many need two or three photos). Below is a rough summary of major regions, but for a more detailed overview the Rough Guide: First-time series is recommended.

All information is based roughly on experiences of an EU passport holder. North Americans will have similar experiences. Australians, Kiwis, Israelis, Japanese and Koreans will run into more problems. South Africans and other nationalities will run into a load of problems. Here is a quick guide to regions (see country summaries for focused advice) - bracketed examples are not comprehensive lists and paragraphs are only rough guides for developed nation passport holders:

» Asia : Only more developed nations issue free visas on arrival (Japan, S. Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines and Singapore). Generally visas are best obtained in a major city in a neighbouring country, most effectively Bangkok, Delhi or Hong Kong for China. More and more nations (Nepal, Laos, Sri Lanka and Cambodia) have started offering visas for a fee when you arrive. This facility may however only exist if you fly in or enter at a major crossing. Almost everyone will need a visa before arrival for entry to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Independent travellers cannot visit North Korea or Bhutan. A tour must be booked - this is technically the same for travel in Tibet.

Central Asia, is always a pain and as with Russia, letters of invitation (LOI) are required for the most part (Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan (now visa free) notable exceptions, but many others falling fast). Without using an agency or other method get one, visas applications are tricky to impossible. With the LOI, sometimes you can collect on arrival (airport). At embassies, visas take a while to issue and are best in Turkey/Beijing or within the region. If on a tight schedule an embassy at home (or nearest to you, as some countries have few worldwide embassies) is the safest bet. From eastern China the nearest issuing embassies for those 'Stan' visas are Islamabad or Beijing (note some new consulates in Urumqi)- a hell of a backtrack.

» Australia and the Pacific : You do need a visa for Australia that is electronically stamped in your passport. This is generally free from the Australian embassy in your home country or about $US10 at a travel agent. If you wait until you are abroad, in say Bangkok, it will be more expensive. NZ and most of the rest of the Pacific is visa free in order to encourage tourism.

» Africa : (see North Africa left) Visa requirements vary dramatically for different passport holders. Generally visas are required for countries in East Africa , however these are normally obtained at the border (have $$ ready) with limited hassles (Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Zambia) or in a neighbouring country's embassy for more off-the-beaten-track destinations (Mozambique, Ethiopia).

West Africa is a difficult place for visas and visa fees are a little expensive. Unless you are French or African you'll need a visa for most countries. However, you can pick these up as you travel with relative ease. They go for about US$20-50 a pop. Some are issued on the border, many are not and take 24hours in a neighbouring country (note a Ghana visa in Côte d'Ivoire can be problematic).

Even a visa for Nigeria or Cameroon, both of which have a reputation for being difficult to obtain on the road is possible without too much fuss somewhere like Ghana. The real standout however is Angola, for which even a transit visa is real challenge and is currently one of Africa's most needlessly most painful.



MailComment: If you ever get frustrated by the delays and mounting costs of visas, take a look at how much a national of the country you are trying to visit would pay for his/her visa to your home country. According to a consultancy called Henley & Partners, Britons actually face the fewest visa restrictions of all being able to visit 166 countries without one, other rich countries like Germany, Japan, USA, Canada are not far behind. Only 38 countries will let a Chinese citizen in visa free and for those from war-torn countries it is much worse. So despite the costs many of us have it pretty good. Ref

» The Americas are visa hassle free for most (Australians and Kiwis have a few problems in South America). Visas are almost always free on the border and for a nice long period. Do check, there are some funny scenarios - for example: some EU countries may need a visa for Bolivia and US/Australian citizens will in some case have to pay a fee. For US citizens things are tightening up in Latin America with this reciprocity tax/fee causing visa costs to really mount up for USA citizens (see comment) not just in Brazil, but in many other of the regions countries (Bolivia/Chile), making country hopping expensive. Central America is free of most visa hassle.

» Europe is visa fee for most developed nations with the exceptions of a few ex-USSR countries.

Western Europe is visa hassle free for most and with Serbia finally dropping their visa requirement, most can crisscross Europe at leisure.

Eastern Europe is now visa free for most. Some like Albania require on the border fees. Moldavia and the Ukraine have recently dropped visa requirements for most (EU, Swiss, Japan, USA/Canada) and the EU has extended to include the likes of Romania and Bulgaria, but with some Eastern European countries Ozzies, Kiwis and Yanks will require a visa (Baltic's, Poland & Bulgaria now don't).

Azerbaijan, Belarus and Russia will require expensive and sometimes difficult visas (a letter of invitation will be required issued by an agency that makes you a real (or in the case of Russia, usually 'theoretical') hotel booking.

Desk» Middle East and North Africa : An Iranian visa is best achieved with an 'authorisation code' letter. For an easier ride, it's best to contact an agency such as Key2persia and get them to send a visa authorisation code to your embassy of choice. Many travellers settle for a transit visa (5 days), however they can no longer be extended. For more details see the Iran summary. Syria is another tricky one - when the country is safe to visit - the rule is unless you have no Syrian consulate or embassy in your home nation you'll technically need to get your visa in your home country or you may need an expensive letter of recommendation from your national embassy. See Syria country summary. At least Syria doesn't mind independent travellers which isn't the norm. Traditionally Libyan authorities will not granted a visa without a tour, but there are tour agencies who will get you a visa, having to meet you at the airport/border (forget the embassies or the lottery with the Tunis consulate). Despite widely reported information to the contrary, independent travel is possible in the country (at least along the coast). If you still run into red-tape some agencies can provide a guide rather than a tour. Still Libya is very tough to get a visa for (even with regime change) without a pre-booked tour.

Also worth mentioning here is that for all Middle Eastern and North African countries (except Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Qatar, Oman, Morocco, Mauritania, and Tunisia) you must have no evidence of a trip to Israel in your passport - see Israel country summary for details on avoiding that stamp you don't want. The rest, apart from Saudi Arabia and Iraq - which are almost impossible unless you are a Muslim or aid worker - are normally easy enough. However, visas can be complicated for nations like Sudan and Djibouti where tourists rarely stray.



? For more specific country by country information have a look at the excellent Project Visa.

! If you have heard differently or know different to any of the above then it may need up dating - please let us know.





»    General safety and crime

You can worry a lot about safety without it doing any good. Better spend your energies understanding what the real risks are and the dynamics of where you are going rather than getting paranoid, as many unfortunately do. All you really need to do is to check your government's advisory website - the UK foreign advisory is pretty sensible, with limited scare mongering (although its got quite a bit worse recently), unlike the USA equivalent. Find out the areas you really should stay away from or take special care in, what the latest scams and dangers are and generally stay in touch with the news in volatile areas like the Middle East.City Skyline

All good guidebooks have sections on staying safe, the latest scams and how to deal with them in their respective country. Going back on what was said in the beginning, maybe you should stay a little paranoid, since then you'll be on your guard and safer for it. However, put in perspective, there is nothing to generally worry about. The biggest risk you'll probably take whilst away is something you seem to do more often than anything else - getting on a bus or in a car. For this and many other reasons lip-services to terrorism won't be given here, since the reality behind the headlines and constant media focus is to most independent travellers in 99% of the world is there are much bigger issues to be concerned about. As an example, between road traffic accidents (six out of ten road deaths worldwide actually happen in just 12 countries*), malaria and smoking (responsible for one in ten adult deaths worldwide*) - terrorists, rebel guerrillas and other 'boogiemen' look like pussycats!

As for crime, this is one of the most difficult things to write about in context on this website. Dwelling on the subject must inevitably fuel paranoia in first-time travellers, yet glossing over it can only place inexperienced travellers at greater risk of being robbed. Simplistically, you need to recognise two things. The first is that Asian and African (and to a lesser extent Latin American) society is inherently far more law-abiding than our own. The second is that thieves will be present on your trip, as they are everywhere, and often target westerners, who are not only reliably wealthy relative to locals, but who also are very easy to spot.

A degree of discrimination and caution is appropriate when you travel, but only a degree. Bear in mind that people with a criminal intent make up a tiny fraction of 1% of the population, so that an attitude of indiscriminate paranoia, wherever you are, can only divert your attention away from genuinely suspicious characters. Experience suggests that the vast majority of crimes against tourists occur in one of a few specific places and/or in reasonably predictable circumstances.

i Also see avoiding theft in the on the road section.

To generalise, follow these three rules for general safety: 1) Make sure you have clothes with secure pockets or means carry your cash/docs and keep everything well organised - only take out what you need for the day. 2) Be extra aware in large cities, bus and train stations, especially those with a reputation: treat anyone who tries to talk to you or distract you as suspicious. 3) Remember the vast amount of crime happens at night. Don't stray too far, get too drunk/stoned and return via taxi if necessary.





»    Going solo - travelling alone

Notebook

Although the advice here is essentially 'don't worry and just do it', it's not fair to gloss over the subject in such a manner as it's enormously difficult to give an accurate picture of the experience of travelling alone, since it can vary enormously and is almost always filled with highs and lows. There are a number of factors to take into consideration, from luck to the time of year and most importantly destination and personality.

Nonetheless, honestly speaking the best advice to those who are worried about being alone abroad or feel not having anyone to go with is preventing them from travelling is to remember that travelling alone is far, far better than not travelling at all and that there are many lone travellers, both male and female, all over the world right now (certainly it is seemingly a much more popular option with Japanese and Korea travellers than with westerners). Pick an easy country to start with (say, Singapore or New Zealand) and go. It will be the best thing you ever do - consider it the advantage it can be and not the disadvantage many see it as. The thing is you won't be alone all the time as making friends and teaming up with people is often easy. You will, when alone, meet and talk to far more people than if with a partner and especially locals, who are much more likely to invite you into their lives.

The flip side is not every day is great: you will undoubtedly find yourself in a situation where things don't go so fantastically and not having someone to share those frustrations with or to lend a helping hand can be a little depressing. Getting sick whilst travelling is the perfect example. You will also have days when you won't have a conversation with anyone which can certainly get you down. Finally luck plays a big part of who you meet - you might meet some great people to travel with in a remote destination and then on hitting a backpacker hub like Thailand find yourself isolated despite hordes of other travellers (or the opposite can happen). Signing up for local day tours is a great way to meet people, as is approaching others to share taxis from airports, bus or train stations. Both are easy to do and in the case of the latter very handy since this is when you feel your most alone. In developed countries, staying in hostels and using shared transport aimed at backpackers puts you in touch with a lot of people. To many this advice is unnecessary as they may well be confident in themselves and well travelled, although that's not everyone. It does take courage to head off alone, but you won't be the only one and if you have doubt as to just how you will fare at least find out. Most of the world is yours to explore and not, as the media would have us believe, some big bad dangerous entity that will eat you alive the moment you step off the plane.

For single women the question of whether to go solo is of course, a much more of a difficult question. Certainly it's worth thinking carefully about travelling without previous experience alone in places like Northern India or Arab/Muslim countries, since men can give you somewhat more attention than you require. Lone females do sometimes attract such attention and it can be frustrating, annoying and at its worst, quite scary, although a lot of it is fairly harmlessly derived from the fact that a lot of males (South Asians in particular) have fairly warped ideas about women. It can't be totally prevented, any more than it can be in your home country, but it can be minimised with general common-sense such as dressing conservatively, having a more planned route with a few advanced bookings and being assertive when required. What is nice to know is that in many, many destinations women won't get any hassle and where such hassle can occur you will find women only queues and seating areas on trains and buses, and that you are generally looked after by locals who often take you under their wing. If heading off as a lone female you probably don't need to be told, but all the advice about staying safe on this site needs following to the tenth degree, particularly that about walking in secluded areas after dark. All this said, lone female travellers are not uncommon and such a venture is quite manageable and far, far from being unnecessarily dangerous given the correct attitude.

Updated Several readers have recommended an e-book titled The Art of Solo Travel - The guide for solo women travel. Published by indie travel media it is extremely well put together with a beautiful layout. The information presented is similar to what is on this site (although coming from a much smaller bases of reference countries), but the whole document is written by a women whom has travelled alone with such considerations in mind. It costs about US$13, if you are interested you can have a look at the site and all the promotional details here.

Travelling alone, whether male or female you are going to have to be generally more on your guard (read this). In less travelled countries (like Central Asia or West Africa) unless you are outgoing, travelling alone can be miserable with fewer creature comforts, possible language barriers and less travellers to meet. To summarise: your feelings regarding the outcome of your trip are probably going to be mixed. Guaranteed will be some great experiences and a sense of fulfilment and confidence, but you are probably going to also recall a day or two when you were down in the dumps... all in all you're going to remember the good bits.

For those contemplating travelling alone just remember the advice above... alone is always better than not at all. What's more, it beats the pants off taking a totally organised tour and more often than not it opens doors to the very best experiences travel has to offer. Let's not forget there can be many negative issues when travelling with friends, partners or relatives!

Easy talk:

On your bike!When travelling to a new country it's useful to learn who the country's leading football players, movie stars or cricketers are. It's a great way to start a conversation in any bar and if you have some knowledge of their sporting stars, it will endear you to the locals.


Comment: 'I did an 18 month world trip in 2006-2007 and, until now, had yet to find a site so in sync with my take on travel. Wish I had found you before I left. By the way, I turned 60 while on my trip, so anyone thinking this kind of travel is just for the young, should think again.'

» All the above advice also applies to older travellers. Don't be put off - again just like couples and single travellers there are many older travellers enjoying life in exotic places around the world. Age is no major hindrance to independent travel on a budget and it is easy to make friends and to pay a little bit extra for luxury when required.





»   Guidebooks in the planning stage

Rough Guide - First-time: Around the worldIf heading off on a long multi-country trip, it's worth knowing that you really don't need to take a guidebook from home for every country you intend to visit. The cost and weight is just unnecessary: guides (okay sometimes not the latest update or small print run editions for out-of-the-way countries) are normally readily available on the way if you look hard enough in regional and traveller centres.

As for using guidebooks in the planning stage of a trip, the standard 'do this - go there' country guides (such as Lonely Planet or Rough Guide) are little help with too much detail. The best book to read before heading to Asia is 'Asia Overland' from Trailfinders - this is one of the best (if a little out-of-date) travel resource around (see details of it here and of a newer South East Asia version). Rough Guide's First-Time series are practical, down to earth and well written with many anecdotes. They have one for every region and also a RTW version - these are the best planning books. The Lonely Planet: Read This First books are again good, but now out of print (due to be replaced?). Both series can be overviewed and seen in more detail by clicking here.

Check out the recommended books pages and country summaries pages for the best guidebooks recommended for each country and where/if you can pick them up on the way. Please also look at the in-depth guidebook exposé in the on the road section. You may want to make photocopies of city maps before you go: easier than taking the whole book out into town every time.

Another point is many are very surprised at the number of good guidebooks in their local library: these can be used for research or for photocopying sections.





»   Travel photography

»   Where to go and what to see - the planning stage

CameraWhere do you start? See camera details and advice in the what to pack section. In addition, there are many good links to sites dedicated to this subject in the links section. For that reason this huge area is being left somewhat empty, since it is worthy of a whole site itself. Recommended however is the great LP published book (pictured right) for literally everything you would need to know on the subject and some top advice.

See the where to go section for some tips and ideas, or any of the titles recommended in the 'planning books' section of the site.

Another very useful resource for answering specific questions in the planning stage are travel newsgroups such as rec.travel.asia or Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree.





»   Volunteering & 'Voluntourism'

It's not easy talking about volunteering and particularly to say anything bad about it. After all the notion of helping out and giving your time to those less fortunate than you is commendable. Nevertheless that's a romantic notion that does not reflect the majority of volunteering opportunities offered to gap year and other travellers by businesses in the developed world. 'Voluntourism' has grown exponentially in the past decade and is a booming business. Ten years back, companies offering volunteering opportunities abroad were few and far between. Today there are over 70 such companies in the UK alone, with the industry's estimated worth being over 800GBP million. From teaching to working with pigmy elephants there's a company that can sell you the opportunity to volunteer abroad.

For the most part the industry is focused around gap yearers between 18-24, new to travel wanting to go abroad, but unsure how to do so and a little apprehensive at the uncertainly and perceived danger of independent travel, and of course those who want to help out and 'give something to the world'. One such company and a major player is 'i-to-i', just to illustrate how much of a business this industry has become it's worth knowing that 'i-to-i' is owned by 'First Choice Holidays' one of the major package holiday operates in Europe (parent group is TUI and owns other brands such as Thomson). Take a look at their and other glossy sites (easily found through high-priced Google ads) with promise of 'learning a skill', 'life changing travel', 'meaningful train tours' and prices topping several thousand Euros/Dollars.

The industry has developed, driven by a demand from individuals to do volunteering work on various projects, be it working with children, building a well or rescuing turtles in whatever location. This demand has translated into supply by commercially driving companies to find/create these opportunities. What is so wrong with this picture is the reverse should be true. When a project has a need, it is matched to an individual, not the other way around. So competitive has this demand for projects become there are examples of companies (with reference to i-to-i in Sri Lanka) requesting projects to sign exclusivity contracts agreeing they will only take their volunteers.

The whole phenomena starts with a would be volunteer/traveller seeing things as: 'I want to help out, I want to make a contribution, I want to travel in a way that is worthwhile'. There are just too many 'I' there, when in fact the whole notion of volunteering is not about you at all. Many of these 'opportunities' are offered short term with even weekend volunteering being available. This is perhaps the most damaging, consider teaching for three weeks in Africa, when a school term is three months which would be a minimum - aside from the fact that although giving your time is an admirable thing, many of these schools would be in greater need of books and even desks compared to the time of someone with no teacher training when teacher shortages are never normally a problem. Unfortunately doing nothing is sometimes better than doing something (see good article).

MoonSo the word to the wise is tread with extreme care, what are your motivations? Why are you paying large sums to volunteer? Where is the money going? How come the company is spending a lot on advertising? Should I not take the money I would have spent on my flight and donate to a specific project or at least fund raise at home? The slicker the site, the more glossy the opportunity (collecting turtle eggs anyone?) the more you need to be aware. Let's be fair most of those volunteering do so for largely selfish reasons and unless you are careful you can find yourself in a situation doing more harm than good. Consider the fact their is no shortage of those desperate for work in the third world and in a worst case scenario you can find yourself substituting local jobs to a degree. Equally many opportunities alone can isolate you from the country you are visiting and do not allow the wider experience an independent traveller (conscious of his means of travel, making donations or helping at specific points) might experience.

As a final note, the above is only something for consideration. A backlash and a word of warning to how what is essential a good thing has been cynically exploited by a newly created industry. There are loads of worthwhile opportunities available and tonnes for free or non-profit making ones with you can contact directly - of which there are some links to on this site in the links section and can easily be found with some savvy web searching and questions. Aside from this lets not forget schemes such as VSO and Peace Corp of which function in a totally different manner.





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If there is anything else you would like details on, feel is omitted or would like to add yourself, then please get in touch.

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"The world is a book, and those who do not travel, read only a page"

Saint Augustine

 

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