Reality Check: Top 5 Things To Look Out For When You’re Travelling

Travelling, backpacking and inter-railing are no longer just the right of passage for those on their ‘Gap Yah’. Every year more and more adventurous people are packing up their meagre belongings, hitting the open road and trying to see as much of the world as they can. Backpacking is one of the best ways to see the world – it can be very affordable, you get the opportunity to meet some amazing people and most importantly of all, you’ll have loads of great stories to tell the Grandkids.

However, before you head off on the trip of a lifetime, make sure you know just what you’re letting yourself in for. As the saying goes; fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Here are my top 5 things you should know before you go – including things to watch out and prepare yourself for. In no particular order:

  • Read hostel reviews very carefully Hostels are one of the best options when you are travelling on a budget – as most backpackers are – but sometimes you have to pick carefully and know where to look. Firstly, find a hostel booking site that will let you browse lots of options at once, if you don’t have a specific hostel in mind or a recommendation from a friend. There are loads of hostel booking sites, but make sure to choose one which doesn’t have a booking fee. It’s usually only a couple of pounds, but hey that’s two drinks in some of the countries you’ll be visiting.

Most (if not all) hostel booking sites will have reviews from previous travellers, which you can use to guide you. Start by looking at those with good ratings and then work back down in price. Whenever I was travelling I would also start by looking at the map and judging the distance from the city centre – it’s all well and good getting a cheap room rate, but it might not work out as a very good deal if you have to spend a fortune on trams, buses or undergrounds to get there.

There are a few simple ways to judge the character of a hostel. I usually found that if there were lots of reviews stating, “Very clean bathrooms, good sheets and quiet surroundings”, the hostel was likely to be a bit boring. While that may be what some are looking for, a lot of backpackers are looking to meet new people, have fun and get to know the area better. Very few are looking for an early night with a cup of tea. Other hostels that people review as lively and fun, as well as clean, are a good choice. Just remember: the ratings are the key. Otherwise you might end up like I did - in an Amsterdam hostel that made Bates’ Motel seem friendly.

  • Look after your valuables While on your travels you will probably meet some wonderful, funny, helpful and out-going people. However, inevitably, you will also come across some questionable characters; let’s face it, sometimes people can be a little shit. That’s why it’s so important to look after your valuables when you’re travelling abroad. I would recommend getting one those horrifically uncool, but incredibly handy ‘safety pouches’. Basically you put your money, passport, bankcards etc. in to the pouch, which then sits under your jeans or shorts. This will keep pick pockets from getting at your money and put your mind at ease. You can then store the pouch at the bottom of your sleeping bag, when you turn in for the night.

It is also a good idea to keep your bank cards and money in a separate place. If you have everything in your backpack or satchel and it then gets stolen, you will be one very unhappy camper. A couple of people I met in Croatia kept small amounts of money in their shoes for emergencies, which I thought was pretty clever.

  • Prepare for rain Perhaps I was naïve, but when I first went backpacking I was imagining blue skies, sunny days at the beach and coming home with an enviable tan. While I did get this for the most part, quite a lot of the time I spent in central Europe included days filled with torrential rain. Take a waterproof jacket , waterproof backpack cover and some practical(ish) shoes.
  • Look for free walking tours One of the best ways to see a city is to take a wander through the streets, on a long sunny afternoon. Most of Europe’s capitals and bigger cities will have free walking tours that you can join. The tour guides are always well informed and knowledgeable about the local area and it’s a great way to get some exercise and meet fellow travellers. The tour guides are often better than the paid-for guides as they work for tips – everyone is nicer when they work for tips and if they were rubbish at their job, they wouldn’t be able to fund their bohemian, perpetual gap year lift style. Sandeman’s New Europe walking tours are particularly good and they run in 18 different cities.
  • Ration your money It’s an inevitability that every traveller will have to face: running out of money. Most of us don’t have the luxury of being able to phone home for an injection of cash, so it is vitally important to make a budget for your money before you leave. You could either make individual budgets for different expenses (for example food, accommodation, tourist attractions and night-life) or break your money up into weeks. Look at what you have to spend, how long you are away for and then divide the money up accordingly. No one wants to be left with a pitiful budget only three weeks into their two month trip – you will end up staying in a hostel with an outhouse. Keep the majority of your money in one bank account and then transfer it over to another for spending. This is where internet banking will be a life saver.

Travelling for most is a liberating and exciting experience that will leave you with friends all over the world, understanding of different cultures and wild stories to tell at dinner parties when you’re middle aged. Make the most of your trip and experience as much as you can. But heed this advice – I wish I had it before I left.