(solltest du Englisch nicht verstehen findest du eine maschinelle Übersetzung hier)
During the travels in the last two and a half years I have met a lot of other longterm travelers, but most of them were kind of bored of traveling after a year or a year and a half, telling me every place looks the same after a while, only the people are a little different and they are not happy to move on anymore, so they will go home. This is not true for all of them I met of course, but most I would say.
Also a lot of people asked me why I still like to be on the road. So I was asking myself the same and in short, I think I do traveling a little different than others. In this post I try to give you an overview on the things I value during traveling, my basic rules, so to speak. I hope many people will read and follow in my footsteps.
Learn the Language to get a better/deeper experience
Speaking one of the major languages spoken in the area opens a lot of doors, also makes your trip smoother, cheaper and you will more likely go to much more places off the beaten track. Here is what I recommend to get you started.
Have a focus what you are learning the language for. You are three weeks in the country your effort for learning the language should be there but not as intense if you will be staying half a year or even plan to have a longterm relation with the area. So far I used the language for traveling only and I used around 15% of the time I spent in an area to have a strong focus on the language.
First thing when starting to learn, check if you can do the pronunciation of the language well (not super perfect but in order to be understood). If not, try to focus on making the new sounds first before learning vocabulary and sentences. The reason is, if you learn a word in the wrong pronunciation it sticks in your mind for long time and it’s 9 times harder to later correct it to the right pronunciation. A tool I love for doing that is the App Nemo, but I also speak face to face a lot and record conversations where I participate and later speak with locals about it.
My next step after the pronunciation is learning some basic vocabulary and small sentences. There are many tools available. I like using Anki Flashcards and Languagecourse.net for example. If there are no tools available just make friends with a local and create your own sentences in written and recording for the things you mostly need as a traveler.
After that it is really helpful to move from the study environment to the street, a market, a restaurant, a bus station, you name it. There I try to make full conversation with a couple of phrases I learned before. In the beginning I bring my cheat sheet, later no need for that anymore. Here it will be difficult to understand what is coming back, just record the whole conversation and reflect it later with a local friend or even a language teacher.
I usually try to learn a language by myself. If there are too many open questions I can’t clarify by myself I get professional help. Don’t fall in the trap if you got a teacher you will learn the language, just keep pushing yourself and use the teacher only to clarify with things you can’t do on your own. Usually 1-2h per day 3 days a week should give you enough feedback/input from your teacher to keep on going.
What was also useful in practicing the language, make friends with locals that only speak the language you want to learn and try to communicate. I am aware that this can only be done after being in a new language environment for already some weeks. In the beginning instead of that I tried to memorize two new phrases per day and then try to use them all the time until they go stuck in my head.
Go less places but stay longer
A lot of people I meet (calling themselves travelers) spent most of their travel time on transportation. For me it makes no sense to rush around too much, it’s exhausting, it’s expensive and you will not be able to get a deeper connection to the place, the culture and the people. Think about accommodation, if you ask for a weekly or monthly rent you can cut down on your budget. If you know a place well you also know where to eat good and cheap. Also if you want to make local friends you need to stay in a place for longer, nobody wants to say hi and bye all the time. I have a basic rule for myself that made me comfortable during this trip. Try to stay minimum a week in a place, maximum a month. If I have a bad experience I try to move a little and give it a second change. Sometimes I also stayed longer than a month in a place but then I always was doing some kind of job or similar, otherwise I could just feel it after a while, ah I was here long enough, time to hit the road again.
Get real info from other travelers
Forget about lonely planet, rough guide and all the other books. The best information you get is from other travelers. When I come into a new area or country I usually find a spot where a lot of travellers come through, talk to them and write the information down in my travel diary. I like doing it that way because you meet some people that travel like you, so they tell you which place is nice and which not. Also the other way around works, if you feel that is not the way I want to travel you also know where not to go. The benefit is that the information is fresh also considering recent changes. For example, I had the best time on a small island in Malaysia because the monsoon season was late and only 4 tourists were on the whole island. I would have never gone there if not other travelers had told me. Another thing I do, ask the local friends that you have, or make them first and ask later. Sometimes you meet travelers from interesting countries during the trip, keep in touch and when you get to their home country you can ask. Of course I understand that some kind of information is helpful on a trip, especially when you are stuck in the night in the middle of nowhere, don’t speak the language kind of thing. Instead of carrying a big book with you I would recommend en.wikivoyage.org. There is an 80Mb download version you can view with the App Kiwix on your phone.
Traveling with a buddy
In general I like to travel by myself to be more flexible, but it turned out, that I am mostly with other people either in a small group or just the two of us. There are some regions where it also has multiple benefits to travel with a buddy, especially if there is no big infrastructure around and you can share the room and transportation in order to save costs and also to have someone around.
When traveling together sometimes I had the situation, that things got out of hand, different expectations etc. So what I do to solve this, I make clear from the beginning, that if we travel together both of us should be ready to spit up anytime in case we just want to travel different ways. That said, makes things more light and easy.
Other things I do, keep activities in the beginning easy. For example you were doing diving for a couple of years now and your travel buddy just started, so it would be quite selfish to push him to go diving for the next two weeks with you. Same goes for trekking and other stuff, start with easy things and if it works out well you can go on further. Talking about money, I always talk about it before we travel together and usually keep record of the payments and split it up in the end.
Use available tools/apps
The reason I bought a new phone and didn’t learn Chinese characters in the beginning was a special app. It’s called Hanping Camera, works offline and is used to read the Chinese characters on a Chinese menu. Combine this knowledge with two Chinese sentences (我要, 不要辣椒) you have the basic toolset to order food in local Chinese places. This example shows how significant my experience changed with or without the tool. Of course you should always think of it in a way, if my phone is out of battery I must be able to do basic stuff by myself, especially find back to the place where I live.
The first area where I found apps useful was language learning. From learning pronunciation on apps that forced you to speak and listen to your crap to space repetition vocabulary and sentence learning apps, to sleep mode on vocabulary training to character recognition to offline dictionary to offline sentence translation with native keyboard to fully communicate for hours on a train ride with no basic knowledge of the language.
The next thing I found out was that if I go to the ATM sometimes I lose up to 10% on bad exchange rate and transaction fee. A good way to get around this is to open a bank account (or trust a friend with money) and send directly from account to account with the use of several p2p currency services. I used TransferWise, CurrencyFair and WorldRemit so far without any problems. Another thing I started doing, watch the exchange rate go up and down and get more money on a “good” day.
Of course what would be traveling without offline maps and travel information and all the known booking apps and websites, here a few that I use regularly: Maps.Me, Couchsurfing, Booking.com, Wikivoyage, Skyscanner, TripAdvisor, Hostelworld.com, FlightAware, AirBnb, GoEuro.
Finally and most important: do as the locals do. That means: make local friends, ask them how they do things and try to do it yourself. Especial in China it made my live much easier to use the local apps for doing stuff. Of course they are in Chinese but you can easily master them. Two things that helped mastering them: the function “Screen Reader” of Pleco and Screenshot + Google OCR. Here the apps that you should give a try: Xiaomi Market for installing apps in China, Amap for finding the way and the right local bus number, Wechat for payment and local communication, Didi for cheap taxi, Alipay for payment, Taobao for online shopping, 12306 for train, and so on. Right now I try to do the same for apps in Spanish.
How to afford longterm traveling
A lot of people asked me how I can afford longtime traveling. The answer is quite easy, try to save before and during traveling as much as make sense in your personal situation. Here some tools and tips that may help you to achieve this goal.
I see a lot of people spent a lot of money on stuff they don’t really need (they make themself happy by buying stuff), keep a list with stuff you need to buy, keep it there for two months and if, after two months, you still have the feeling you need it, buy it. Cut down on your running costs, the stuff that you spent every month. A good mechanism here is to have a monthly spending limit. Don’t cut down on food to much, keep yourself fit and healthy, good food plays an important role on that.
Have a good ratio on time vs. money and value your time, it’s the most important thing you have got. For example I saw a lot of people working during their travels. If you do it for the experience, great but if you do it for the money and you do a small calculation you will find out that you will make much more money in another places even including the flight ticket and running costs there.
For traveling go to cheap countries and there even to none touristic places and there try to live like a local, not the lowest category but maybe one above and you will easily spent 10USD per day or below. It makes sense to plan at least one month ahead on major transportation (usually plane tickets) and visa arrangements. After I stay in a country for a week or two I set myself a maximum daily budget for local transportation, food, accommodation and activities. After that I try to find out the local price about things. Then it gets easier to find out which place is cheap and which just ripping you off. Something I found about accommodations, places that have an online presence are usually more expensive, just stay there for one night, explore the neighborhood and normally the guy next door is giving you half price. Also I was quite surprised to find out that you got really good exchange rates in countries where the currency was not so stable when paying in USD or Euro.
Make local friends and try to behave like a local
One of the most important things during traveling for me is to get in contact with the locals. This has various reasons, for example to get a deeper understanding what is going in a place or to find the nice spots that you would have probably missed otherwise or after a while when you established some trust to ask questions.
In the end for me it doesn’t matter how I met another nice person who is willing to share some time and aspects of their life with me. Places where I was successful meeting new people were: talk to strangers on the street, talk to the person next to you on the bus, train or restaurant, make friends with people who are working in or around the place you live, talk to travelers that travel in their own country and also use electronic communication that is used by locals or travelers to meet local people in this area.
It is important to get a feeling what the intentions of the other person are. For example, if you meet another traveler that is living in the place you travel at the moment, most likely the interest will be in your travels. If you meet a local business person that has interest in you maybe it could be more about the business than in you as person. Another annoying thing, if people use you to show off to their friends. All in all be careful to find out what the intension is. To me, the truly nice people that I met so far are much more than the few annoying ones so don’t give up and keep going. It also depends in which place you are trying which way may bring you success and which not, if your results are not good just change and try again.
Beside that I try to imitate the local behavior as often as I can, even before I understand why they are doing that. For example, you come to a train station, waiting for a train and suddenly all the people are moving to a different track, just follow them and see. Most likely the train is just coming on the wrong track, nobody announced it but if you stick with the locals and you are fine. If you are stuck in a place don’t know where is the main road, just follow the stream of people that is the biggest, the motorbikes etc. and wolla, you will be back to the main road. If you have no idea where is a good eating place, go to the place that has the most people there, lock at the clothing of the people to get a feeling for the price, even watch them pay and try to pay the same.
I also had very nice experiences imitating local gestures or wearing piece of local fabric. When I do this, most of the people are very responsive to me, an easy way to make a connection. Also the same is important if you really want to get a good price at a shop. First sit there with the owner, talk to him or her, exchange some values and then five customers later you have achieved three things: the owner recognizes you, hopefully he or she likes you a little and you know the local prices from the five customers before. That means as soon you buy there as well it should be easy and cheap.
Another thing that is definitely worth it, find a place where local people freak out, I mean the good freak out, show emotions kind of. Usually this could be sport event in some countries, a KTV party with friends in another, just ask your local friends.
Check for potential problems before
Sometimes during traveling you get stuck. So far I was pretty lucky because I always came out of the situation safely but I started to do basic preparation before I go somewhere. First of all before I go into an area I check for the basic situation, earthquake, flooding and warlike situations. This can be done by the information of the embassies and also by the local news. Better of course is, when you meet travelers that just have been there or local friends who have relatives in the area. Before I switch country I also search for common scams. Even if you think you know some of them, there are always new ones, not to be afraid of but to be informed. It is really great if you are there, the scam is happening to you, and you know it and can make a reverse scam. If stuff gets too bad it is always good to have an alternative at hand. No place is worth it that you “have to” go there.
Reduce your luggage as much as possible
As a lot of travelers have written before me, you travel better with less, but what to bring. I read all the recommendations and brought some stuff, removed and bought other stuff later, here my basic rules.
Everything that I haven’t used within one month in a certain area like beach/mountain/city I will leave, give away or send home (except emergency gear). That makes my luggage constantly changing but also keeps it handy with around 14kg. Furthermore I removed all my “nice” cloth from the beginning. (If you really want to have a night out in the best clubs just borrow the cloths for that). Also if your cloth look not that nice you will be more unlikely be target of someone stealing your things. I also started using functional clothing which are a little bit more expensive but easier to handle. For example, it’s nice when your trousers get dry within 30 minutes during a motorbike ride after rain. Or if you get in a country where you sweat a lot, you just have two pairs of Merino shirt and underwear and just switch them every day and wash them in the shower. Also I have two pieces of the major cloth, for example I started with one pullover but then I had to wash it and to dry it took three days, but it was cold so I had to buy another one. I also can wear most of my cloth on top of each other, so I can use less special cloth when it’s cold (the onion principle). Another help to make your luggage small are sealable plastic bags with valve. They not even keep your cloths nice and dry, they also compress all the air in the cloths, so you save volume in the backpack.
Go to places that are not (that) famous
The more people that come to a place the more the place is destroyed usually, there are some exception to that but most of the time this is the case. What you will find is, that locals more likely what your money than be nice to you and also even if you go for the budget options you will spend a lot. I usually use the infrastructure of the touristic place, to get a cheap flight for example, and then local transport to get two places further. If you are new in a country and don’t know where to go try to meet other travelers, talk to them, try to make local friends and ask them. If both doesn’t work (because no travelers around and you are stuck in touristic mess) try to find the local means of transportation. Then try to go from one touristic place to another but make some stops in the middle. Usually you will find some information about a place beforehand (try also search in the local language). Sometime the best experience I had was because the information I found said don’t go there, so nobody went there, so the locals were very nice to me.
There is still more to tell but I think this is enough for a first impression. If you have questions or feedback feel free to contact me (use “Kontakt” in the menu bar) or invite me for a talk in person (if I am in the area).