Anyone freshly bitten by the wanderlust bug often develops certain preconceived notions before setting off to exotic places on a shoestring budget. Research will definitely equip you with a lot of data on how to go about it. However, while some of that information may be accurate, much of it could be quite misleading. Backpacking not just helps in rediscovering your soul and realizing what really matters to you at the end of the day, it also opens doors to history, culture and an opportunity to get to know and befriend people wherever you go. It is, therefore, so important to shed some of those myths and do it the right way.
#1 Touristy places are overrated and expensive
There is a reason why certain places are teeming with tourists while others are not. Imagine going to Paris and giving the iconic Eiffel Tower a miss or visiting Rome and not exploring the colosseum! It will be like raising a toast to your lips and not really sipping and savouring it. You will most likely regret later if you give such places a miss altogether. While overrated places do exist – thanks to misguided marketing efforts by overzealous locals and tour agents – the frenzy around such spots usually dies down soon enough. Research will definitely make such a fact clear to you.
So, next time you cringe seeing photos of overcrowded tourist spots that are actually worth visiting, try to broaden the scope of your research and find out schedules and seasons that are least busy and affordable to visit such places. Every destination has peak, shoulder and off-season for tourists and it is not so difficult to check that out on the internet. What’s more, nowadays the ‘best time’ to visit a place mentioned by seasoned travellers and local bloggers is NOT the tourist season, but actually the shoulder season when things are much quieter.
For instance, for many, the Jungfraujoch in Switzerland might actually feel like a tourist trap, considering how crowded it can get during peak season and how expensive the experience may seem like. However, a visit to this country is incomplete without making it to the top of this spectacular summit. You could probably head there in late October after the peak season ends, and try to take the first train in the morning to beat the crowd.
There are many ways to reach a tourist spot – some of them could be more direct and less time-consuming, but expensive, while others may be a bit more winding, but could help you save a few precious bucks. If you keep time in hand, you will be able to visit the place without blowing a hole in your pockets. I have found this to be true in places where public transport is dodgy, like Sri Lanka, Spanish and Italian countryside, Turkey, and Laos, to name a few. In such places, I did manage to find roundabout bus routes and hitchhiking did the rest. To continue with the example of Jungfraujoch, consider getting the Swiss Travel Pass, a popular rail pass for Switzerland that gives you unlimited access on the network of Swiss Travel System. This will come in handy if you wish to make use of the rail network extensively during your stay in the country.
If you have an adventure spirit and an open mind, you can cover any tourist place with smart thinking. Here are some tips on how to explore exotic Maldives on a budget.
#2 Backpackers can’t afford taxi rides
Taking a taxi ride, while travelling, is a matter of common sense. You should not hesitate to book a taxi if you want to capture a particularly remote location where it is difficult to even hitchhike, rather than miss out on the experience. Needless to say, you can always split the cost with like-minded souls you may come across in your place of stay (hostel, guesthouse, homestay, couchsurfing place, etc.). Being social helps in more ways than you can imagine!
What if you find an early flight out of a place that is really cheap, but there is no affordable accommodation to book near the airport? You need to weigh the flight cost vis-a-vis catching an early morning cab to get to the airport on time, and, if this option turns out to be cheaper than taking a later, but more expensive, flight, opting for the cab ride is a no-brainer!
While taxi rides in certain cities can be obscenely expensive, this is, thankfully, not the case in many other parts of the world. You will be surprised how affordable cabs are in Cambodia, Vietnam, parts of India and Greece, Sri Lanka, Serbia, Romania, and Indonesia, to name a few travel-worthy destinations. Currency exchange, too, plays a role in inflating cab fares. So, if the value of your currency is higher than that of your destination country, taxi can turn out to be a really affordable means of transportation in the absence of viable public transport. It can also help save a lot of your time since you can cover more spots in a cab and then move on to your next destination, thereby avoiding an overnight stay.
Therefore, be prudent in deciding on hailing a taxi instead of dismissing the thought altogether.
#3 If you want cheap accommodation, you better forget hygiene!
Simply not true! I strongly believe that only lazy backpackers, who want to keep money aside for their daily quota of alcohol and other stronger ‘stuff’, prefer to simply crash out in the filthiest of places as long as they are cheap, or, sometimes free. If you do your homework before heading for your next destination, you will not have to compromise on hygiene.
Besides centrally located hostels, airbnbs, and affordable countryside homestays close to public transport systems, Couchsurfing has taken the backpacking community by storm. This is actually a service that helps tap into a network of global travellers who are willing to share their home and hometown with visitors for long stays. This is purely a social platform based on trust and bonhomie among fellow travellers. Once you register and complete your profile (be honest while filling your profile!), the platform unlocks a world of potential hosts. Look through profiles and references to find people you might want to stay with, and don’t forget to check up on the reviews. You will seldom be disappointed with the arrangement as your host will not just introduce you to the local couchsurfing community, but may also take you to interesting, offbeat places in the area. There is so much potential in this arrangement! Not just a neat place to crash out, but also meet new friends and get a deeper understanding of the local culture.
You can also opt for some volunteer work in well-reputed, international hostels in return for accommodation, if you plan to spend a fair amount time in a particular place. While a few hours of the day has to be spent on volunteer work, the rest of the time is yours to explore the area. This has hidden benefits too as such an arrangement boosts networking with the locals as well as other residents of the hostel.
Another cheap and safe option that has gained popularity is WWOOF-ing, which is nothing but volunteering to do some chores in people’s farmhouses or farms in exchange for accommodation, home-cooked food and a chance to pick up new skills from your host. For instance, if you wish to visit the Italian countryside during the olive harvesting season, you can volunteer to work on the farm in return for food and accommodation, and even learn about olive harvesting and processing of olives. Isn’t that amazing?
Of course, there are always unpleasant surprises even after one does extensive research and reads the reviews, but that’s just bad luck and not a rule of thumb.
#4 Luxury cruise? No way!
Yes, cruising may seem to be a fantasy or a pipeline dream for budget travellers, but if you want this once-in-a-lifetime experience, it is actually not so impossible anymore! All you need to do is plan in advance and follow a few simple tips given here.
Never say never 🙂
#5 Backpackers are not cut out for regular jobs
Well, every individual is different. Although backpackers are mostly free thinkers who want to spend every waking hour exploring each nook and corner of this beautiful earth, what with global inflation and entry restrictions imposed by most of the countries, it does help to have a regular job (even remote working is slowly becoming the new norm) or a steady income. While travellers of certain nations that have ‘powerful passports‘ are privileged to have unrestricted access to almost all countries in the globe compared to their less fortunate counterparts, having a steady source of income unlocks doors to many places for the latter. Hence, keeping a regular job or producing evidence of a tangible business back home can sometimes become a necessity and not just a matter of choice. More so, if you are aiming for, say, UK, US, Australia, New Zealand or a Schengen visa. These regions need proof that you are going to exit their country within a stipulated time and not settle as an illegal immigrant (sigh!). Declaring proof of a stable income from your home country can help you clear this hurdle.
However, if you are fortunate enough to be able to mix your profession with passion and have a sizeable appetite for risk, you can still escape from the daily grind of a regular job. Here’s a caveat though – nothing comes easy and a seemingly carefree lifestyle with a flexible profession is actually backed by solid planning and a lot of hard work. If you choose to become a globe-trotting yoga guru, travel photographer, documentary filmmaker, musician, travel blogger, or social media influencer, be prepared to work round-the-clock and keep networking wherever you land. Its the only way to manage free publicity that will help bag your next gig or promote your content online. Every blogger and social influencer keeps finding new ways to monetise through their social media channel or website to finance their travel dreams. Definitely no mean feat! Sometimes, a regular job seems much safer and easier to manage if you can maintain a work-life balance and not get too caught up in the corporate rat race.
While there are many more false notions about backpacking and budget travel, the top 5 mentioned above are significant ones that I wanted to address. Hope I’ve managed to bust those myths and put to rest all those lingering doubts.
Bon Voyage 🙂