Here are a few tips, tricks, & traps that I have learnt during my travels so far.
WHAT TO TAKE:
For more detail, read my Travel Money Review.
GRANDPAckers are unlikely to benefit from Travel Money Cards.
I suggest that you take a Credit Card and a Debit Card (that also acts as an ATM Card) in your name and exactly the same in your spouse’s name (as a back up).
Keep one set of cards in a different and safe place so that, if any cards are lost or stolen, you have a back up with you whilst you await your replacement(s).
There is, usually, not enough difference between providers to warrant opening up a new relationship with a new bank.
You are, usually, best staying with your existing bank and developing that relationship.
THE CHANGE EATING MONSTER:
The ATMs usually dish out big bills. The every day person in these poor countries usually earns less in 1 day that the smallest bill that you get out of an ATM.
Getting change can be a problem … the every day person either does not have change or they pretend not to have the change in the hope that you will give it to them as a tip.
You must have small change on you all the time.
But, there seems to be a ‘change eating monster’ in these countries that comes out at night … there never seems to be any change anywhere in the morning … no matter how much change you seem to have dished out the night before.
So, here’s another rule of thumb:
- If your bill is, say, 200 widgets … give them a 500 widget note … they’ll find the change!
- If you bill is, say, 300-400 widgets … give them a 1,000 widget note … they’ll find the change!
For more detail, read What To Pack.
Most hot climates are also humid. Anything metal will corrode very quickly.
Make sure that all of your luggage (and items within it) have no metal components e.g. no metal zips, no metal buckles, etc.
You are likely to catch a lot of Minivans and/or use Budget Airlines.
Most of the local Minivans have little or no luggage space.
Most Budget Airlines charge extra for your suitcase or charge extra if it weighs more than 20Kg (sometimes as low as 15Kg).
Do not travel with a suitcase bigger than 40L (45cm). Anything up to this size is likely to fit behind the back seat, under the back seat in an aisle of a Minivan. Anything bigger than this will not fit … and you will have to pay full fare for it to sit in its own Minivan seat.
Plan to travel with 20Kg in the suitcase when flying. But, get a case that can hold 25Kg when travelling by land.
Get a light-weigh suitcase with 4 wheels and 2 main internal compartments.
The wheels are the most important thing – make sure that they are strong and durable. The wheels on your suitcase will wear out long before the rest of the suitcase does.
When the wheels go, you will need a new suitcase. Always take care of the wheels and don’t abuse them. When using the wheels always us all 4 (not just 2) this distributes the weight across all wheels and makes them last longer.
Even better … get some separate aluminium, collapsible luggage wheels. They are stronger and they will last you longer than the wheels built into your suitcase. Make sure that, when you collapse them, they fit into your small backpack (see below).
Make sure that it has a ‘customs compatible’ digital lock and, preferably, a ‘thief proof’ zip.
Sew a ‘secret pocket’ into the lining somewhere. You will hide your backup Credit & Debit Cards in there.
You will find that you lock up your valuables in your suitcase in your hotel … it is much more difficult for a thief to run off with a heavy suitcase than it is with something small.
Take a small backpack. It should be small enough to take on a plane as hand-luggage.
It needs to be lightweight (so that it doesn’t burn into your valuable 7Kgs of hand-luggage allowance when you fly) but big enough to take several more Kgs when you are travelling by land.
When on a plane, it is mostly about weight limitations…
Backpacks are not safe places to secure valuables. But take a digital ‘loop’ padlock so that you can secure the zips and put off ‘opportunists’.
You will tend to use the small backpack for everyday convenience. It is good for carrying snacks, water, swimwear, watershoes, etc when you are out for the day. It can also be a useful ‘pillow’.
WHAT TO PACK:
WASHING LINE & COAT-HANGERS:
In many cheap hotels, there is no wardrobe.
Many of the hotter climates can also be very humid. If you leave your clothes in a suitcase / backpack (and don’t air them), it won’t be long before they go mouldy.
Pack a strong ‘nylon washing line rope’ so that you can rig it up to air your clothes.
Carry a light-weight plastic clothes hanger for each item of clothing.
TRAVEL & TRANSPORT:
If you plan to travel in a country for longer than your free entry visa (and do not organise your Extended Visa in advance), you must have a flight ticket out of that country – if not, they may not allow you onto your flight.
You buy your exit ticket with the intention of never using it – you are going to throw it away.
Search for flights from anywhere in that country to anywhere else.
Search for the cheapest flight that you can find that exits within the period of your free visa. It doesn’t matter if it leaves the next day … you will not be on it.
A good tactic is to look for budget airlines who charge extra for luggage. Book the cheapest ticket that you can find without luggage. Why pay for luggage? … you are not going to be on it!
When I flew into The Philippines, I found a US$45 one way ticket on Cebu Pacific from Cebu City to Taipei, Taiwan.
You will, usually, find that this method works out cheaper than buying a return ticket and incurring charges to change your return flight date.
AIRPORT / FERRYPORT TRANSPORT:
Never accept transport from touts inside an Airline or Ferry Terminal.
Always walk out of the Terminal to get better prices.
Often, you will find a Bus Terminal, or Minivan Terminal, etc within walking distance.
When arriving on an International Flight and the Domestic Terminal is nearby, walk (or free shuttle) to the Domestic Terminal.
You will get better prices.
You are likely to catch quite a few Minivans (especially in countries like The Philippines).
The Tourist Minivans tend to be bigger and more comfortable (and you will pay a premium price accordingly). But, when you get off of the ‘beaten track’ you will be using Local Minivans which tend to have smaller seats.
Solo Travellers: Pre-book Seat #3 if you can, seat #4 if you can’t. If neither of these are available, book seat #1 (but be prepared to rub shoulders and legs with a stranger for the entire journey). If all else fails, book any window seat on the driver’s side.
Couples: Pre-book seats #3 & #4 if you can, seats #1 & #2 if you can’t. Pre-book seats #4 and #5 if all else fails.
Try and avoid the aisle seats, back seat, and single window seats on the curb side. On many occasions, they will place a temporary seat in the aisle and they will cram in one more person than the actual number of seats available.
GETTING THE BEST PRICE:
When you first arrive in a new location, you don’t want to be trudging the streets looking for accommodation with all of your luggage in tow.
If you are arriving in a new location in the morning, book a cheap hotel for your first night. This allows you to leave your luggage in a safe location whilst you look for better and cheaper longer term options that afternoon / evening.
If you are arriving in a new location late in the day, book a cheap hotel for the first 2 nights. This allows you to just relax that first evening and gives you the whole of the next day to look around.
Whether it be 1 night or 2, both options allow you to leave your luggage with the hotel after check out – should you need longer to finish your search.
This is much better than arriving without a booking and being rushed into making bad decisions.
But always BEWARE … many hotels set their Standard Rate higher than it should be so that they can attract you with deep discounts.
Always read the reviews on the booking site and TRIPADVISOR before you book.
I was struggling to find a hotel in Uxmal, Mexico so I got inventive. Hotels are very expensive in Uxmal. I used HOTELSCOMBINED.COM to compare hotel costs across different sites. I saw that VENERE.COM were offering the best rate on one of the hotels that I was considering.
I went directly to VENERE.COM (to avoid the HOTELCOMBINED commission). I did not have a VENERE.COM account. I saw them advertising an additional 15% discount if you downloaded their Smartphone App and booked using the app. The discount code was MOBVAO9. I downloaded the app, created an account, and booked successfully with the extra discount. I ended up paying MXP765 / night … the cheapest rate on any other site was nearly MXP900 / night.
I had the same problem booking accommodation in Xpujil, Mexico. So I used the VENERE.COM app again and signed in. I tried to use the MOBVAO9 code again. It worked again! I ended up paying MXP414 / night … the cheapest rate on any other site was over MXP550 / night.
AVOID COMPARISON SITES:
There are many Hotel comparison sites (such as HOTELSCOMBINED.COM) that compare the accommodation prices across many suppliers.
These sites work on a commission basis. If you follow their link to the other site and make a booking, the referrer gets a commission.
This means that you do not get the best rate.
Many booking sites hide their ‘secret’ prices from such comparison sites and only display them if you (1) go to their site directly and/or (2) sign in to their site.
Always go directly to the provider’s site to make a booking (see the VENERE.COM example, above).
Now that you are physically at your location you can negotiate better prices.
Always make sure that you thoroughly check out the room that you want, the hotel, and the location.
Ask for at least:
- 20%-30% discount if you are staying 1 week
- 30%-40% if staying 2
- 40%-50% if staying 3
- 50% if staying 4 weeks / 1 month
Always negotiate with the owner out-of-earshot of other guests.
Put the cash on the table up front to swing the deal. In many cases, the owner will find this irresistible.
FOOLING HOTEL SECURITY CARDS:
Many hotels provide Security Cards that are needed to provide power in your room. They come in 2 forms:
- A card that, effectively, just switches a manual switch. You can fool these systems with a wire coat hanger. Just bend it into shape and slot it in the socket where your card should be … it will switch the switch
- A magnetic credit card sized card. You can fool this system with any magnetic swipe card (such as the Beep cards that you use on a metro system). A normal credit card or paper card does not do it … it must me a magnetic card.
Pack both the wire hanger and the magnetic card as part of your standard luggage … and you can have power (such as aircon) on in your room whilst you are out.
HEALTH & SAFETY:
For more information, read my Travel Insurance Review.
I recommend World Nomads because they allow you to renew your insurance whilst still overseas without penalty.
Focus on the Medical & Indemnity Insurance clauses, coverage, and components.
Don’t worry to much about all of the other travel ‘extras’ that come with the policy … if you are GRANDPAcking most of them are of little importance (such as flight delays) and you aren’t carrying anything that’s worth much should it get stolen.
In poor countries there are sanitation problems with the water that they draw from underground.
This is, especially, true of small islands that have too many tourists … they do not have the regulations required to ensure that Septic Tanks (if they have many at all) are constructed to the right standard nor to handle the volumes.
The result is that you get contamination in the underground water supply.
After suffering tonsil / throat infections 4 times in 9 months in S.E.Asia, I resolved this by:
- Brushing my teeth in bottled water (not tap water); and / or
- Carrying antiseptic mouthwash and gargling afterwards
I preferred the latter. I haven’t had any problems in the 12 months since.
Always travel with a (small) medical kit.
Where there are water sanitation problems, Sandfly bites can be nasty; much nastier than Mosquito bites (assuming, of course, that the aren’t carrying something like Malaria).
Within 1 day, the Sandfly bite can get infected and develop a whitehead. Bad bites can grow to 1-2cms in diameter. The whitehead gets easily knocked off and you are left with an open wound. The open wound can easily turn nastier. In some cases you can end up with a hole, blood poisoning and red streaks emanating from the bite.
Always carry a Sandfly remedy. If you get a Sandfly bite, start treating it immediately.
I use 1/3rd Betadine (an iodine based antiseptic) and 2/3rds Baby Lotion. It works well for me.
Dogs in 3rd World Countries are used to being maltreated. Children from a very young age teach them who’s boss by throwing stones at them.
If you find yourself being harassed by a barking dog, bend down and pretend to pick up a stone … then pretend that you are getting ready to throw it.
More often than not, the dog will run away.
WIFI / OTHER:
PROTECTING YOUR MOBILE DATA:
If you are travelling with a laptop, you will find that (on many occasions) you will be using your Mobile as a Wifi Hotspot. This allows you to connect your laptop through your smartphone to the internet.
The problem with doing this is that if Microsoft want to send you an update, it will do so through your mobile (in the background and, often, unknown to you) and burn up you Mobile Data.
To avoid this, switch on your mobile hotspot and get onto your laptop:
- Go into ‘Settings’
- Select ‘Network & Internet’
- Highlight you Mobile Hotspot connection
- Go into ‘Advanced Options’
- Select ‘Metered Connection’
This tells Microsoft not to use this wifi connection for downloading updates.
If you have an Android Smartphone, make sure that you have Google Maps on it before you travel.
You can use Google Maps on Android anywhere in the world without needing a local SIMcard.
This will allow you to find your way around free of charge.
3G vs HPSA SMARTPHONE SETTINGS:
Many 3rd World countries have 3G networks but they are very ‘patchy’ … the signal can come and go like a yoyo. This makes your internet connection very unstable.
If you are having problems getting a decent and reliable internet connection, go into your phone’s Mobile Network settings and change your Network Mode from GSM/HPSA Auto to HPSA Only. You should get a much more stable service (albeit slower).