#TRAVEL – Indonesia: Peace in Ubud

I’ve never read the book Eat, Pray, Love, nor have I watched the movie. But, nonetheless, I heard Ubud, Bali was an interesting place to visit for reasons other than “It’s where that really good book/ film is set”.

I was right.

Ubud is located about an hour north of Bali’s main airport and is easily accessed by bus, van, car, and bike. If you are visiting after spending a few days in Kuta, the tranquil and relaxing atmosphere will be a welcome breath of fresh air. Many visitors go there to practice yoga, meditation and detox. Ubud boasts many health-orientated stores and calming areas, making it the perfect place to unwind and get back in touch with yourself.

That said, despite being a peaceful and chilled setting, there are actually quite a few things to do:

Monkey Forest

The most popular tourist attraction in Ubud is the monkey forest. For a small price, you can enter a reasonably large area of temples, trees and wilderness to observe wild macaque monkeys run around and interact with each other and their paying visitors (hold onto your camera with a strong grip).

Rice Fields

Turn left, turn right, go north, go south…Ubud has no shortage of rice paddies! I would definitely recommend renting a scooter and driving out of the town center to check out some of these beauties. They are oddly fascinating and undeniably beautiful.

Pools

Just because you’re away from the coast, don’t think that you’re going to miss out on some great waters (you are in Bali after all). The majority of hotels and homestays in Ubud boast spectacular swimming pools, many with infinity pools looking out into stunning green scenery.

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The Streets

Ubud’s streets are full of quirky cafes, homestays and old buildings. Hours can be spent walking around marveling at the various types of architecture and having a browse at what interesting products are for sale.

Chill Nights

The nightlife in Ubud is a world apart from Kuta. I love to party, but visiting Ubud allowed me to experience a more relaxed and cultural vibe. Whether you see a puppet show, walk the beautiful streets or have a cold beer at the jazz bar, you’ll always be wearing a smile across your face.

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If you’re in Bali, don’t skip over Ubud.

.. and don’t forget your guide!

#TRAVEL – Vietnam: Habitable Hoi An

If you only have the chance to visit one place in Vietnam, make it Hoi An!

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Hoi An is an ancient town, located on the coast in central Vietnam.

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It’s one of those places where you stay longer than initially intended. I think I ended up staying 3 days longer than planned. If it wasn’t for a flight booked to Singapore, I could have easily made it 30.

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Hoi An is a well-known hotspot on the Vietnam backpacker’s route that doesn’t shove the tourism down your throat like so many other places. However, it does have the perks of a popular place; a lot of things to do!

You can a bike (push or motor, depending on how lazy you feel) and ride around for hours absorbing the European style architecture and picturesque sights.

Bursting with nice restaurants and quirky bars, the streets are alive night and day!

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If you want a fun night and good music, don’t miss Why Not? bar

It also possesses a beach, which is a pretty nice place to lay with Mrs.Sunshine and drink a few beers in between cooling off in the blue ocean.

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Hoi An would be considered the ‘whole package’ to many backpackers. It has a lot of history, many activities to do and things to see, good nightlife and a beach!

It’s a winner!

Discover more of Vietnam, with this …

#TRAVEL – Thailand: Koh Samet – A Convenient Paradise

Koh Samet

Thailand is world-famous for stunning islands. Whether it’s Koh Phangan for the full moon party, Maya Bay aka “The Beach”, the diver’s paradise; Koh Tao, or the tourist hotspot; Phuket.

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Unfortunately, many travelers don’t have the time or money to make their way down to southern Thailand to experience these great places, but MAI PEN RAI (Thai for “no worries”) – Koh Samet is a worthy alternative in a more opportune location.

Koh Samet is easily and inexpensively accessible, as it is just a 2-hour bus journey and 30-minute ferry from Bangkok.

Koh Samet is the perfect beach getaway for expats living in central Thailand, or for those staying in Bangkok a few days and seeking to escape the concrete chaos. Naturally, it gets quite busy during the long weekends throughout the year.

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There are several tropical beaches scattered around the island, ranging from secluded and uncrowded, to the popular and packed.  Regardless of whether you’re looking for peaceful relaxation or water activities, music, and plentiful beer  – this place has it all.

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I highly recommend renting a scooter or ATV to explore the more remote parts of the island, as they are stunningly beautiful.

Like many other Thai islands, Koh Samet has no shortage of bars, restaurants, and places to stay. I’ve visited Koh Samet a few times and I would recommend a night or two on the main beach, Hat Sai Keaw, as well as a night or two on the southern beaches of Ao Wai and Ao Kiu Nok.

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Have you been to Koh Samet?  What did you think?

DK Eyewitness Thailand (Travel Guide) Paperback

#TRAVEL – SOUTH KOREA: GLISTENING GEOJE

When thinking of countries that boast tropical islands, Korea isn’t exactly the first place that comes to mind. I didn’t think the R.O.K would have much to offer in terms of island beauty, but how I was wrong…

#TRAVEL - SOUTH KOREA:  GLISTENING GEOJE
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Geoje Island is a small landmass located in the southeast of Korea. It’s so close to mainland, it’s connected via a road bridge.


I visited in May 2015, and it was hot. Perfect timing!

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Green. The first thing I noticed, whilst driving along the coast to our pension was the colour of the ocean. It was majestic. It is easily comparable to that of an ocean view in South East Asia. Later, I did find out that the water is a lot colder than those famous oceans, but when the suns out, who cares?

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Geoje island is not just a pretty face—in fact, there is plenty to do. You can participate in many activities from sea kayaking (beware of the armies of jellyfish) to quad biking, where you can drive an ATV through the sun-dappled forest and find some extraordinary views.

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A handful of tour groups offer a selection of trips to Geoje that depart from various cities across the country. I used a company called ‘Waegook Travel’; they were decent, but a bit overpriced.

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I would recommend a few days on this island to both travelers who are in Korea, and the many people that call Korea their home.

#TRAVEL – JAPAN: 3 Attractions of Arashiyama

Kyoto is well known in Japan for being an historical and picturesque part of the country, as many travel articles you read to encourage you to visit.

#TRAVEL - JAPAN: 3 Attractions of Arashiyama


Arashiyama is located in western Kyoto, and it is everything you want from Japan: it’s breathtakingly beautiful and the tranquility is gladly welcomed if you have just spent a few days in bustling Tokyo, or Osaka

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嵐山モンキーパーク


Probably the main attraction of Arashiyama is Iwatayama Monkey Park, which is located on Mt. Arashiyama. The climb to the park itself isn’t the easiest, especially when the powerful Japanese summer heat is suffocating you, but the view and the experience at the top are worth the slog. Random electric fans are strategically placed along the inclining pathway to provide some relief—just don’t forget to take water.
The park itself is a quirky little place, inhabited by hundreds of macaque monkeys who are on a mission to eat. Snacks for the monkeys can be purchased from an attendant, but feeding them is only allowed through a metal fence.
Even if adorable little monkeys aren’t your thing, then the gorgeous scenery and the panoramic view is still worth the mini-hike!

右京区嵐山


The second biggest attraction in Arashiyama is the bamboo forest. A google search will bring up unspoiled images of gorgeous greenery and thousands of shooting stalks—unfortunately, that isn’t the reality. Like most tourist attractions, I personally found the bamboo forest overrun with people and I didn’t find the whole experience that interesting. But, as I was already in the area, I don’t regret checking it out.

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保津川下り


Whilst strolling around Arashiyama it is impossible not to notice the winding banks of the Hozugawa Kudari river. A trip down the river by boat looks quite appealing, but expensive. Due to the fact I am a poor backpacker, I didn’t splash the cash, however, If I returned I would make sure I had enough money to experience the entrancing opportunity. I did find walking along the river banks enjoyable and relaxing!


I think it is worth noting that aside from these 3 main attractions, Arashiyama is crammed with local shops, restaurants and coffee shops, that are worth checking out!

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Don’t forget your TRAVEL GUIDE –

Top 5 Things To Do In Hong Kong

Top 5 Things To Do In Hong Kong


Hong Kong is one of the most famous places in the world. In February 2016, I was lucky enough to visit for a few days, and experience some of what ‘Asia’s World City’ had to offer.

Here is a list of my TOP 5 Things to do in Hong Kong –

The Peak

The Hong Kong Peak is normally described as “Hong Kong’s #1 Thing To Do”. I can see why. The Peak provides visitors with a panoramic viewing point looking down at Hong Kong City and the ocean. I don’t think I’ve drunk a coffee with a view like it before!
The best way to get to The Peak is by using the infamous ‘tram’ service. At some points during the journey, you will fear for your life – I am not exaggerating when I say that the tram will travel almost vertically, but just hold on tight & you’ll be fine!

The Cable Car & The Tian Tan Buddha

The cable car ride to the top of the mountains is optional, but really, unless you are down to your last dollar or have an extreme fear of heights – there is no option. This was my favorite part of my trip to Hong Kong and I would recommend anyone visiting to do it. The price is HK$130 for standard & HK$180 glass bottom (roughly $16/$23 USD).
The cable car to the Tian Tan Buddha is a steady, but fantastic experience. The higher you get, the more of the unusual landscape of ocean, buildings, and mountains will be revealed.
Soon enough, the outline of a giant Buddha will begin appearing and the buildings in the background will fade away.
At the Tian Tan Buddha itself, you can explore the immediate area of historical monuments, temples, and stores… just be careful of the cows. You could also choose to walk the 268 steps up to the Buddha itself.
The photos really speak for themselves…

Markets

I’m not a “shopper”, but damn, the street markets in Hong Kong made me want to buy a lot of shit I didn’t need. “Temple Street” and “Ladies Market” (not just for ladies) are just two of the night market areas in Hong Kong that boast everything from food to clothes to even wild stock.
It is easy to spend hours meandering around the bright colorful stalls, browsing the wide (and I mean wide) variety of products on sale. The hunger-creating smells of nearby street food and restaurants are the only thing strong enough to entice you away.

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Not just a city

The most surprising element of Hong Kong to me was it’s natural beauty. It really is more than just a city. Hong Kong has no shortage of mountains, islands, and beaches. Most of these can be accessed by public transport for little cost. If you’re in Hong Kong for more than a couple of days, I’d highly recommend venturing out of the city and seeing some of this spectacular terrain. It’s worth mentioning that 2 of the most popular islands to visit in HK are Lantau and Lamma.

Promenade

The most stereotypical selfie taken in Hong Kong is taken at the promenade. The promenade is a spectacular area at both night and day. I can see why many joggers choose to run along the waterfront and I can see why tourists flock to get a photo of the stunning electronic landscape across the water. It’s completely free, so it’s worth walking along it if you get the chance!

I hope this gave you some ideas of what to do in Hong Kong or provided you with some nice flashbacks of your time there. Is there anything you think should have made my list?


Feel free to comment below!

If you’re going to Hong Kong, buy your travel guide below. It has everything you need and more!

Top 5 Struggles of Long-Term Backpacking (and how to beat them!)

5 Struggles of Long-Term Backpacking (and how to beat them!)

Any backpacker will tell you that their life isn’t just one never-ending vacation. Yeah, you’ll have some amazing experiences, meet fascinating people, and gain a deeper understanding of foreign cultures one could never garner from books and movies. But backpacking isn’t easy—it takes dedication, flexibility, and resilience. However, knowing what struggles to expect and understanding that every traveler has highs and lows can be a great way to prepare yourself when hard times crop up.

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When traveling solo, loneliness can be a real struggle. There will be times when you’re completely alone, sometimes for a day or sometimes for a week. The people you do meet come in & out of your life rapid-fire and these friendships, no matter how short-lived, can be very intense. You spend a week hitchhiking with someone and doing everything together, and suddenly you know everything about one another—the quirks and habits only a roommate would ever pick up on, the vulnerabilities you may drunkenly spew at 4am, and all while sharing an experience full of “you-had-to-be-there” moments no one else will ever really relate to. Then a day later they’re gone and chances are you’ll never hear from them again.

how to beat it:

You’ll eventually get used to all the hello’s and goodbye’s, but these realizations often hit rookie backpackers pretty hard. Many think they’ve made friends for life only to find that they’re feeling forgotten only a few weeks later. Enjoy your time with the people you meet and make the best memories you can. Don’t let missing people deter you from getting to know others. You’ll learn so much from the great discussions you’re bound to have and these fleeting relationships will be full of eye-opening experiences.

And if someone is important to you, make the effort—believe me, some travelers make great pen pals because we’re used to communication taking a little elbow grease.

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I’m hesitant to use the word “jaded”, but there definitely comes a time when your experience begins to work against you on the road. When you first start out, everything is new; you want to see everything and there never seem to be enough hours in the day. But down the road, you’ll find thoughts rife with apathy beginning to creep into your mind: “Another temple? I barely remember the last 30 anyway…” “There’s a waterfall? Eh, I’ve seen bigger.”

how to beat it:

This can be hard to overcome, but it’s all about living in the moment (cliché, I know). Think about it this way: Just because one time you had really fantastic pizza, does that mean you’ll never eat pizza again ’cause no other pie could compare? Hell no—pizza’s still awesome.

Treat each experience as its own and do your best not to compare. Why deprive yourself on the assumption that yesterday was better than the possibilities of today?

Any traveler knows that some of the best memories and experiences are the ones that were complete surprises—areas stumbled upon after a wrong turn or last minute excursions taken on a whim. You never know what’s around the corner, so don’t assume you do.

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Being on top of a mountain overlooking the valleys below or drifting down a river at sunset is one thing—getting there is another. It amazes me how often I hear people complain of the conditions they find themselves in, as they clearly didn’t expect their journey to be anything other than smooth-sailing.

There will be 18-hour bus rides with no pit-stops. You may travel in cramped quarters with both humans and livestock. You will stay in hostels with bedbugs. You may occasionally find yourself sleeping on the street. Air-conditioning is often a luxury you can’t afford and carrying that 60-liter rucksack will take its toll from time to time.

how to beat it:

Time for some tough love, kids: Get over it. This isn’t luxury travel and backpacking isn’t a glamorous lifestyle. While discomfort may range from slightly annoying to genuinely painful, these journeys will reward you in so many ways. You’ll find yourself growing in terms of patience, understanding, courage, independence, & trust, among others. The experiences you’ll have and the things you’ll see will make it all worth it.

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Homesickness hits different people different ways…for some it grows and builds over time, while for others it suddenly hits them at all once like a semi coming head-on. Some miss creature comforts while others long for their loved ones or for the familiarity of their old stomping grounds. There are times when you’ll fixate on what you’re missing out on—you’ll hear of old friends getting married, having kids, getting houses or accepting promotions and wind up thinking, “Whoa, am I falling behind somehow?”

how to beat it:

Remember that you can’t have it both ways: you may be missing out on things back home, but those back home are missing the journey you’re on. You need to figure out what’s important to you. If you settled into the 9-to-5, would you resent it down the line? Or are you yearning for the contentment that comes with setting down roots? Determine what your goals truly are and set your path toward what you want to achieve. For some that path will lead them home again while for others it will just keep going.

burnout_subheading

There’s definitely a myth out there that backpackers are lazy. Many short-term travelers will note how they’ve seen so many backpackers just sleep all day, rarely leave the hostel, or seem to have a perpetual hangover. But ya know what? Traveling is exhausting. You get tired…like, really really tired. Between stressing over the logistics of getting from point A to point B, constantly adapting to new cultures & climates, and trying to fit in as many new experiences as possible on a non-existent budget there are times when it can become overwhelming. Some days the idea of getting out of bed and dragging your rucksack onto another 18-hour bus seems like a gargantuan task that you physically and mentally just can’t handle.

how to beat it:

This may seriously be a “no duh” solution, but honestly: just take a break. Whether that means spending 5 straight days wallowing in your bunk at the hostel in a nest of soda bottles & Pringles cans, or it means taking a month off back home, it’s important to recharge both mentally and physically.

Remember that every journey has it’s highs & lows, so try not to let the hard times defeat your adventurous side!

-Ashley

3 Ways to Keep in Touch With Your Parents While Backpacking

3 Ways to Keep in Touch With Your Parents While Backpacking

Traveling the world during our younger years is liberating, to say the least. It helps us expand our psyche and learn about our surrounding environment more thoroughly – although, it often comes at a price. We’ve previously written about  how difficult it can be telling your parents about moving abroad and the same goes for backpacking.So, what are the main things we should consider when we are traveling abroad to help ease the pain of being away from our loved ones?

#1 Constant communication

Operating on a different time zone shouldn’t be an excuse for not keeping in touch with your parents or family, in general. With innovations such as Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp and Viber it opens up endless opportunities to keep lines of communication open between both parties. The best part is that you don’t even need to take a laptop with you while traveling, many travelers run these apps through their mobile devices. The only thing you’ll need to rely on is a solid WiFi connection, which most hostels, hotels, coffee shops and restaurants will readily provide you as long as you purchase something from their establishment.

#2 Play online games with them

The beauty of mobile is that is provides a lot of mediums where people can connect. A fun way to engage with your parents is to play mobile games with them, while chatting with them along the way. Having fun with them while playing something that you’re both interested in can be very heartwarming and help both parties get over the fact that you aren’t seeing each other on a regular basis.

Although, this is a wonderful way to keep in contact with your family members it probably won’t be as unbelievable as a pair of sisters who were reunited after being separated at birth. The sisters were reunited after 60-years of being apart, after their 9-year love affair with an online bingo game helped them discover they were actually long lost sisters. This goes to show that playing games online can in fact bridge the gap between you and your family, even with the most incredible results.

#3 Update your social media accounts regularly

Updating your Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts regularly will give your parents the ability to see what you are experiencing on a daily basis. This will help them see what a life-changing experience you are having, and put their minds to rest. Giving them a first-hand account of the places you are visiting will also give them a medium to reply to and engage in conversations with you regarding the many wonderful landmarks you have experienced along your journey across the world.

If you have any tips for our readership of the best ways to keep in touch with your parents while traveling, please leave your comments below.

-Ashley

#TRAVEL – THAILAND: KOH WOW!

During my 18 months in Thailand, I naturally explored most of the country, but there were still some stones I’d left unturned—so in December 2015 I decided to take a short vacation to the Thai island Koh Tao and check out somewhere I had not been before.

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Koh Tao is located a short ferry ride north of the famous Koh Pha Ngan and about an 8-hour drive south of the capital, Bangkok. Koh Tao, or ‘The Divers Island’, boasts everything you expect of an island in Thailand: breathtaking beaches, turquoise waters, panoramic viewpoints and picture-postcard nature. My time there was full of fun activities, laughs and great food. Sadly, my journey there wasn’t.

How to get there

Ok, as far as night buses go, this one wasn’t the worst, but it probably was the most poorly planned. Foreigners usually travel to Koh Tao by taking either a night bus or a night train from Bangkok to the ferry port in Chumphon where they then continue to the island by ferry.

Stocked up on water and full on Pad Thai, my friends and I waited for departure just off Khoa San. The bus was one hour late, but the frustration from waiting quickly left us once we saw the huge Captain Jack Sparrow picture along with the Honda and the Ferrari logos painted across the bright green double-decker we were about to spend the night on. It was hilarious and definitely not legal.

The first hour of the journey went smoothly, then BANG – popped tire.

In most places, this would cause an immediate stop—but in Thailand, no. The driver continued the remaining 7-hour journey trying to keep the bus on the road as it swerved between lanes like a drunken old man stumbling home from the pub. I admired his effort just as much as I judged his stupidity.

Finally, we arrived at Chumphon 3 hours early and so the most vexing part of the journey began. It turned out we weren’t actually early, most bus companies drop their passengers off 3 hours before the ferry departs. Being stranded at 4am on a dark pier thriving with mosquitoes isn’t fun. Why do they do this? I’ll never know. But if you’re reading this and making that journey anytime in the future, be warned.

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Things to do

Diving & Snorkeling
Most people reference Koh Tao for its diving. The island has no shortage of dive schools that offer competitive prices for those looking to obtain their PADI. For those not wanting or having the time to complete a diving course, snorkeling is the second best option. There are many great snorkeling spots around the island—the vibrant fish are spectacular and you may even be lucky enough to spot a few sharks (shy ones of course!).

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Viewpoints
The viewpoints in Koh Tao are phenomenal. Some are difficult to climb, but the view at the top is always worth it.  I really enjoyed the view from Freedom Beach viewpoint.

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Koh Nang Yuan
Koh Nang Yuan is a beautiful small island very close to Koh Tao. Like Koh Tao it has great beaches, diving and snorkeling, and additionally boasts hiking and zip-lining.

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The average price of a meal, beer and accommodation on Koh Tao doesn’t vary much from the other Thai islands or the touristy areas in Bangkok.

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If you’re looking for more than just a ‘party’, go to Koh Tao.

-Liam

This Lonely Planet guide to the Thai islands & beaches has everything you need!

Top Packing Mistakes of Rookie Travellers

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Many rookie backpackers believe they need to invest in a whole new wardrobe before leaving home, but think again. That sweat-wicking insect-repelling ultra-lightweight quick-drying performance enhancing v-neck you got for *only* 55 bucks at REI? It’s still a $55 t-shirt. Remember that wherever you go chances are millions of people spend their entire lives there—local clothing will not only be cheaper, but culture- and climate-appropriate as well. Sure, if you’re traveling to the Antarctic invest in good gear, but wandering around a city *slightly* warmer than you’re used to? Forget it.

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This friggin’ thing:

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It’s called a travel belt and it was on every single packing list I saw when I first started traveling. The idea is simple: store your money & passport under your clothes close to your body to avoid being robbed/pickpocketed. The logistics? You practically have to undress to get your money, either lifting up your shirt or reaching into your pants to struggle with a zipper you can’t even see. Hot weather and it’s a giant sweat patch; Cold and it’s under 8 billion layers. Believe me, that merchant is going to feel a bit uneasy after watching you fiddle inside your pants for 6 minutes to pull out a sweaty wad of money for that $2 t-shirt.

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Know where you’re going—off grid in Burma take your antimalarial; rural Africa have your own sterile needles; plan on eating any time during your trip, HAVE IMODIUM. But there’s no need to lug around a sling, finger splints, and 500 tongue depressors. It’s great to feel prepared but you don’t need to be ready for every outlandish circumstance—it only weighs you down. It’s all about the essentials—you won’t need hypothermia blankets in a tropical summer nor an avalanche beacon in the big cities of Europe.

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It’s true that you’ll face a lot of unexpected downtime and reading can be a great way to entertain yourself & stay busy on that 30+ hour bus ride between destinations. However, unless you have a light-weight e-reader, leave the anthology at home. At most, bring one book you enjoy and be prepared to leave it behind—books are heavy, bulky, and easily ruined. Remember that you’re not the only one in the world who enjoys reading—many hostels and internet cafes have free book exchange featuring a plethora of interests and languages collected from travelers from around the globe. Take advantage of it.

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Take a second and google “Christmas gifts for backpackers”. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

What did you come up with? Chances are you saw list upon list of redundant gadgets for taking pictures, storing music & photos, and filtering water nine hundred different ways. While some of these gadgets may sound appealing, remember that they quickly add up. There is no need to be travelling with thousands of dollars’ worth of electronics. You may not be able to imagine life without your phone, camera, laptop, tablet, mp3, e-reader, translator, external hard drive, and backup batteries, but the hassle of keeping all of these things dry, safe & charged while on the road is a struggle you really don’t need. Learn to simplify and take the essentials.

While some gadgets are innovative and could be useful at some point, learning to survive without them has a greater payout in self-reliance and creativity. You’ll eventually learn to jerryrig nearly enough random things to fancy yourself an international MacGyver, and there’s no greater confidence than that.

-Ashley