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 www.TravelComedy.com - Jeremy Sonnenburg's Official Travel Comedy Dispatch Center


I wrote this section to help my fellow American travelers prepare for their first backpacking adventure.  Seasoned travelers will probably find most of this information quite basic.  I invite you trail veterans to send your additional suggestions to sonnenburg@travelcomedy.com .  Additionally, you first-time travelers should read the sample chapters from my new book to get a feel for the sort of hilarious misadventures you can get into along the way. 



Table of Contents


Planning Your Trip

            Create a Budget and Start Saving

                        Pre-Trip Expenses

                        Daily Travel Budget

                        Landing Money

                        Saving Strategies

Get Your Passport

Reserve Your Airline Ticket

Get Vaccinations

Get any Required Visas

Get Your International Student Identity Card

Get Your Hostelling International Card

Organize Your Gear

                        What to Pack

                        Product Reviews

                        Travel Stores with High Quality Backpacking Gear

            Purchase Travel Insurance

Life on the Road




            Money Management



Backpacking Publications

            Websites & Organizations

Magazines & eZines




Planning Your Trip


Create a Budget and Start Saving


Traveling abroad is expensive but achievable with the right financial planning.  Dorothy and I financed our entire trip with money saved over three years.  In this section, I explain the expenses of an around-the-world trip which I divide into three categories: pre-trip expenses, a daily travel budget, and landing money.  I also suggest a savings strategy based on what worked well (and not so well) for us.


Pre-Trip Expenses


There are several expenses you can expect before you ever strap on your backpack:

·        Passport

·        Airline Tickets

·        Visas

·        Gear

·        Vaccinations

·        International Student Identity Card

·        Hostelling International Card

·        Travel/Medical Insurance


I will discuss each of these in more detail in later sections.  For now, I will just explain the amount you should budget for each.




If you do not already have a passport, it will cost you $85.  Take care of this early.  You will have to pay an additional $60 to have it expedited if you procrastinate.  Check out the Get Your Passport section for more information about obtaining your passport. 


Airline Tickets


One of the best-kept secrets from the American public is the around-the-world airline ticket.  There are several different versions, but generally the ticket allows multiple one-way flights, eventually concluding in the airport of original departure.  Our around-the-world ticket allowed us a flight into each continent, four flights within the continent, and a flight out of the continent.  We went to 5 continents and spent just under $4000 per ticket (not bad considering a flight to Australia alone was running about $2200.)  For budgeting purposes, I would suggest estimating $800 - $1000 per continent (include North America as one of the continents).  You can reference the Reserve Your Airline Ticket section for more information about booking multi-stop international flights.




This is a big expense that we forgot to include in our budget.  Most of the time, vaccinations required for traveling abroad are not covered under standard medical insurance.  This means you can expect to pay $150 for a physician consultation and $100 per required vaccination.  We ended up spending about $800 each (there went the extra emergency reserves).  You probably will not need any vaccinations if you are only visiting Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.  For trips which trek through Central or South America, Africa, or Asia, I would recommend budgeting $500 - $800.  Students might be able to get vaccinations for cheaper at your student health center.  You can reference the Get Vaccinations section for more information.


International Student Identity Card


Students are eligible for the International Student Identity Card offered by the International Student Travel Confederation.  The card cost $16 and provides you discounts on just about everything – flights, hostels, tours, admission, food, etc.  It is well worth the investment and will pay for itself many times over.  For more information, refer to the Get Your International Student Identity Card section. 


            Hostelling International Card


A Hostelling International Card is a must for anyone who plans to stay in many hostels.  A one year membership will cost you $28.  The card is required to stay in most of the thousands of hostel which are associated with International Youth Hostel Federation.  The card also provides you discounts on many travel related services and products.  For more information, refer to the Get Your Hostelling International Card.





As a US citizen, you can go to a lot of countries for a short time without applying for a visa.  If you haven’t planned a rough itinerary yet, I would suggest budgeting a $100 to cover your visas.  Once you have an idea of where you want to travel, you can check the Get Any Required Visas section to determine the specific visas you will need.




The amount people spend on traveling gear, clothes, and accessories varies significantly.  I suggest taking a close look at my recommended packing list and determine how many items you think you will need to buy.  If you already have many of the required items, you might only spend $100.  If you don’t have any travel supplies and want to purchase some top-end equipment, you could easily spend a couple of thousand dollars (pack, camera, hiking boots, rain jacket, quick-dry clothing – it all adds up fast).  For budget conscious travelers who will need to buy most of their supplies, I would recommend budgeting $350 for gear.  You can reference the Organize Your Gear section for more information about what to pack, product reviews, and stores that sell backing equipment.


Travel/Medical Insurance


Since you will not be employed or in school while traveling, you will likely need some type of medical or travel insurance.  You can plan to spend between $100 -$250 per month depending on the quality of coverage you are looking for.  For more information about Travel/Medical Insurance, refer to the Purchase Travel Insurance section.


Daily Travel Budget


Whatever daily budget I suggest, there will be die hard budget travelers out there who swear they could travel on a fraction of that.  On the flip side, I am sure I will hear from luxury travelers telling me how they just returned from a trip where they spent thrice my budget.  Therefore, I will provide you a couple of traveler profiles and let you decide for yourself.


Hard Core Budget Traveler - I plan to limit my travels to very inexpensive countries in Latin America, Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa.  I plan to sleep in my own tent or crash with friends most of the time.  When necessary, I will pay for a bed in a dorm style youth hostel.  I plan to cook all my own meals and will mainly entertain myself with activities that are free.  For transportation, I will either plan to hitchhike or catch rides with other travelers.  I don’t plan to call home very often or use the Internet much.  How much should I budget per day?


Daily Budget: $5-$10


Budget Conscious Traveler – I am interested in traveling in inexpensive and moderately priced countries – maybe hit Europe for the summer or head down to Australia for a couple of months.  I plan to mainly stay in dorm style youth hostels or share a cheap hotel room with another traveler.  I will probably make my own lunch everyday, but I want enough money to eat out a couple of nights a week.  For transportation, I want to buy a bus or train pass.  I also want to make sure I budget enough money to pay the entrance fees to museums, churches, sporting events, etc. and have a little extra money to go out on the weekends.  Occasionally, I will splurge on a big adventure like sky-diving, white-water rafting, etc.   How much should I budget per day?


Daily Budget: $25-$50



Yuppie Traveler – I’ll mainly travel in inexpensive and moderately-priced countries, but I plan to swing through a couple of very expensive places like Japan, England, and Hong Kong.  I’ll stay in hostels, but I want a private room with bath.  Otherwise, I’ll take the 3 star hotel thanks, unless it sucks, then I’ll upgrade.  I haven’t eaten a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich in 5 years and sure don’t plan to start while on vacation.  I want to fully appreciate the local cuisines; in fact, I’ve already booked dinner reservations at this place in Rome that a colleague was telling me about.  I will take buses or trains when they’re easy, but occasionally I want to rent a car so I can get off the beaten path.  Sure, I’ll hangout with other backpackers on the traveler’s scene, but I also want to have enough money to slip away for an evening in a fashionable nightclub if it strikes my fancy.  I plan to sample all the extreme adventures on offer.  How much should I budget per day?


Daily Budget: $100-$150 



            Landing Money


Depending on your situation, you probably do not want to return from travel having completely exhausted your savings account.  Each person’s situation is different, so I listed some costs to consider when planning a landing budget:

·        Rent (1st month + deposit)

·        Living money while looking for a job (enough for at least 30 days)

·        Furniture

·        Moving

·        Down payment for car

·        Credit card payments

·        Next semester's tuition

·        Textbooks

·        Film Development


            Saving Strategies


You can calculate the total cost of your trip using the following equation:

Pre-Trip Expense + (Daily Travel Budget X Length of Trip in Days) + Landing Money


Now, determine how much you can put away per month.  Pick a number that is aggressive, but realistic.  Divide your total trip cost by your monthly savings and you will know how long you need to save.  I know this does not take into account interest you will make on your money while it is in savings.  Plan to use any interest income as an emergency cash reserve.  Trust me, you will need it.


Now that you have a general financial plan, you just need to put it into action.  I highly recommend a conservative investment strategy.  Put your money in a savings account, CD, or money market.  Stocks, mutual funds, and other more volatile investments are simply too risky for a short-term savings strategy.


Most financial institutions offer saving products known as “asset builders”.  Usually, the initial investment requirement is waived if the participant agrees to invest a monthly sum.  Have a direct withdrawal set up to hit your account the day after payday.  This way, you never see the money in your account and you are less tempted to spend it. 


I haven’t extensively researched the savings products at most the financial institutions, but Dorothy and I placed our monthly savings into a T Rowe Price money market account.  On the whole, we had a positive experience. 


Get Your Passport


The US Department of State: Passport Services and Information website fully explains how to get a passport.


Reserve Your Airline Ticket


Several different airline alliances and travel brokers offer multi-stop international tickets. If you plan to visit more than one continent, then this is almost always the cheapest way to go.   Some are priced by number of miles.  Others are priced by number of continents.  Yet others are priced according to the specific cities you want to fly to.  The rules and prices change all the time so you will have to check around to find the best deal for your desired itinerary.


Oneworld and Star are the two largest global alliances of international airlines.  Both offer several different multi-stop ticket options.  However, neither of their websites provide much information about these tickets.  To find out, more you have to give them a ring:

  • Oneworld Alliance – America’s Around-The-World Desk – 1-800-247-3247

  • Star Alliance – United Airline’s International Desk – 1-800-538-2929.


The following agents and brokers also specialize in multi-stop international tickets


Get Vaccinations       


When you get your vaccinations, you will receive an International Certificate of Vaccinations as approved by The World Health Organization.  You should clip this to your passport and have it with you at all time.    Several countries require that you show this document when you enter the country.  It is a good idea to take care of this early.  Most vaccinations should be taken at least a month prior to travel.  Some of your shots required up to 6 moths lead time.  You can check the Center for Disease Control website to determine which shots you will need.  You should also consult your physician.


Get any Required Visas


You can check visa requirements at the US Department of States’ Foreign Entry Requirements website.  It is a good idea to click through to the provided link of the country’s embassy to make sure the requirements have not recently changed.  The destination country’s embassy website will also explain the process and cost for obtaining a tourist visa.


Get Your International Student Identity Card


The International Student Travel Confederation website explains how to obtain your student identity card.


Get Your Hostelling International Card


You can get your Hostelling International membership card by joining on the Hostelling International website.


Organize Your Gear


            What to Pack


First-time travelers have a tendency to pack tons of gear anticipating it will provide them the extra comforts of home.  The opposite is true.  A heavy backpack and several extra bags will add to your travel stress.  This holds especially true for the clothes you pack.  Remember, it is very easy to do laundry while traveling.  Whether you are traveling for 2 weeks or 2 years, I recommend the following packing list. 



(1)   large backpack – all the recommended gear should easily fit inside

(1)  small day pack – should preferably attach to the larger pack

Clothes & Accessories

(3) t-shirts

(1) pair of travel pants with zip off legs

(1) rain jacket - waterproof and breathable

(1) travel dress – female

(1) button down shirt – male

(1) bathing suit

(7) underwear

(4) hiking socks

(2) hiking liners – maybe an extra 2 pairs if you plan to do a lot of hiking

(1) bra - female

(2) sports bras - female

(1) extra pair of jeans, shorts, or track bottoms - you will need these for when you do laundry

(1) sunglasses

(1) sunglass neck-strap

(1) inexpensive travel watch (leave all other jewelry at home)


      (1) hiking books

      (1) hiking strap-on sandals

      (1) flip flops


      (1) flashlight

      (1) fire source – waterproof matches or lighter

      (1) playing cards

      (1) suntan lotion

      (1) insect repellent

      (1) pocket knife

      (1) sleeping sheets

      (1) travel towel

      (1) camera

      (1) protective camera bag or case

      (3) travel locks for your backpack

      (15 feet) thin rope or twine

      (10) gallon-size zip lock bags

      (10) plastic grocery bags

      (2) extra nylon backpack straps

      (1) travel guide

      (1) novel


      (1) toiletry bag (shaving kit or cosmetic bag)

(1)   small travel toothbrush

(1)   toothpaste

      (1) deodorant

      (1) shampoo + conditioner combo

      (1) bath gel – doubles as shaving cream

      (1) razor (unless you are going for that mountain man/woman look)

      (1) moisturizing lotion – serves as aftershave and sunburn relief treatment

      (1) brush (only females – men- just let it dry naturally, Bud)

      (1) hair scrunchy – female

      (1) roll of toilet paper

      (??) feminine hygiene products – uh a little out of my area of expertise

Financial and Administrative


      copy of passport

      yellow medical history card

      required visas

      driver’s license

      student ID card (if applicable)

      cash-withdrawal ATM card

      2 credit cards

      $100 emergency cash (5 X $20-bills)

      $100 worth of travelers check (5 X $20-bills)

      wallet or money clip

      airline tickets

      medical/travel insurance card

fact & contact sheet – print out 1 sheet of paper containing all your reservation codes and vital contact information

      any required proof of payment vouchers

 * Do not buy an international calling card in the US.  They always prove very difficult to use and are more expensive than ones you can buy when you get to your travel destination.

Medical Considerations (consult your physician)

      hiking first aid kit (sold in most outdoor stores)

      any regular prescription medicine

      general antibiotic


      pain killers

      condoms or other birth control – can be hard to find in some countries

      *Depending on your specific itinerary, I would also consider:

      altitude sickness pills

      malaria pills

doctor prescribed surgical kit - sterile syringe, needles, and surgical gloves

Cool Weather Gear (optional depending on itinerary)

      (1) fleece

      (1) thermal bottom

      (1) thermal top

      (1) ski cap

      (1) gloves

         * On most trips, I would avoid packing a coat as they take up a lot of space.  Unless it is very cold, you will be plenty warm if you layer your thermals, t-shirts, fleece and rain jacket. If you plan to explore arctic regions, you will need technical cold weather expedition gear.  This will require additional research about your specific destination and planned activities.

Camping Gear (optional depending on the nature of your trip)

* Unless you plan to do a lot of independent camping, I would not pack a bunch of camping gear as it is bulky and heavy.  Most guided camping trips, which are popular on the backpacking circuit, provide all your gear.  Also, if you only plan to camp on a specific leg of the trip, you will be better off buying this gear 2nd hand from another traveler once you get there.  However, if you plan to spend most your time in a tent, these items are essential.

      (1) sleeping bag

      (1) sleeping mat

      (1) tent

      (1) plastic tarp

      (1) cooking stove

      (1) fuel canister

      (1) travel pots and pans

      (1) travel utensils

      (1) water purifying tablets or filter

      (1) 1 liter water bottle

      (1) compass

      (1) local maps


      (1) hat to block the sun

(1) journal or notebook

(1) loafers (male) or dressy sandals (female) – nice if you need to dress up, but take up a lot of room

(1) money belt – some people swear by them.  I strongly prefer a pair of traveling pants with a secure front pocket (zip, Velcro, button, snap, etc)

(1) PacSafe – this is a metal-mesh theft-deterrent cover which you can put over your backpack.     

(1) water proof bag – very useful if traveling in the tropics

(2) compartment packing bags – Eagle Creek makes some nice ones

(1) steel security cable for locking up your bags

(1) running shoes if you like to jog – you might just consider swapping your hiking boots for a pair of trail runners to save some room


            Product Reviews


Purchasing gear for your backpacking trip can be an overwhelming experience, especially if you don’t have much experience traveling, hiking, or camping.  The following sites provide reviews and good advice about the latest travel essentials:



                        Outdoor Equipment Guide Magazine


            Travel Stores with High Quality Backpacking Gear


It can be hard to find good backpacking gear if you don't live in an area which caters to outdoor enthusiasts.  The following stores have a good selection of high-quality equipment available for purchase via their online stores:

            Recreational Equipment Incorporated (REI)

            Eastern Mountain Sport (EMS)


            Sonoma Outfitters

            Paragon Sport 



If you are trying to save cash, I am sure you could find some great used backpacking gear on eBay.


Buy Travel Insurance


Dorothy and I both took out medical insurance through our former employer.  If this is not an option for you, below are several companies which offer travel insurance:

Travel Insurance Services

Travel Guard


Global Travel Insurance

Access America

World Travel Center


I recommend you are at least covered for medical insurance when you go on your trip.  You will probably try many new, exciting, and, dare I say slightly dangerous adventures.  Plus, simple accidents happen.  I met a guy who broke his ankle stepping off a bus in Peru.  Hopefully, you will never have to use it, but if the worst case happens, you will be glad you bought it.  Make sure to read the fine print closely as many policies will not cover you for certain “dangerous” activities: riding a motorcycle, skydiving, SCUBA diving, etc.


Life on the Road




Hitchhiking is the cheapest way to travel across land; however, this can be quite dangerous.  The best way to hitch rides is to hook up with another traveler who has a car.  Hostels are the best place to find people.  Either post a note on the message board or just ask around in the sitting room.  It is common courtesy to offer to split the cost of gas.


You will also see travelers thumbing down rides on the side of the road.  I never spoke to any travelers who experienced any trouble with this approach, yet I would definitely urge you to be cautious if this is the way you decide to go. 


Buses and trains are probably the most popular option for traveling across land.  They provide a reasonably-priced means of travel without some of the risks of hitchhiking.  Any guidebook will tell you everything you need to know about local train and bus services.   There are also several bus and rail packages that are very popular with backpackers.  In Europe, backpackers usually opt for an Eurail pass.  In Australia and New Zealand, The Oz Express and Kiwi Express are quite popular if you are looking for a partying late-teens, early-twenties crowd.  In Japan, travelers can buy a Japanese Rail Pass.  This is a great value, but must be purchased before entering the country. 


Train and bus travel can be a double-edged sword.  Public transport is nice because it is relatively inexpensive and provides you a great opportunity to meet other travelers.  However, it is tough to get away from other travelers and venture off the beaten path.  A car provides such flexibility.  Renting a car can be quite expensive, but sometimes it is worth the extra money.  This is especially true for areas which are famed for their remote natural beauty (New Zealand comes to mind).  The experience of stepping out onto a deserted beach is somewhat marginalized if 50 fellow bus travelers pile out right beside you.  We rented a camper van in New Zealand and while it was expensive, we look back on it as one of the highlights of the trip.


If time is of the essence, you can always fly.  The pro/cons of flying are pretty obvious.  It is a fast means of transportation, but you only get a “high level view” of the area you are traveling over.  Plus it is expensive. 


That said, flying can sometimes be the right answer.  With the fierce competition in the airline industry, you can often find some very good deals on flights.  I have included links below to some discount reservation systems and regional low-fare airlines.


Discount Reservations Systems

Several discount online reservation systems offer users cheap rates on flights, hotels, and rental cars.  Most companies now offer international reservations; however, you can sometimes find better deals on sites whose core business is to serve your specific travel destination.  Here are some of the popular online reservation sites:

            Orbitz - USA

            Expedia - USA

            Travelocity -USA

            Priceline - USA

            Trip.com – USA

            Yahoo! Travel – USA

            Hotwire – USA

            Cheapflights –UK/Europe

            Lastminute – UK/Europe

            ebookers - Europe

            Rates To Go – Australia

            Asia Travel Mart – Asia

            ZUJI - Asia


Regional Low-Fare Airlines

You can often find a good deal on the Internet offered by a regional low-fare airline.  When traveling great distances, these can be cheaper than taking a bus or a train.  I provided links below to ones that allow you to book reservations online in English.  Please note - this is not a complete list of all airlines. 



America West – Nationwide, focus on western US

Song – Nationwide, hub in Atlanta

JetBlue – Focuses in New York, Florida, and California

Frontier – Nationwide, hub in Denver

AirTran – Nationwide, hub in Atlanta

Midwest – Nationwide, hub in Milwaukee

Spirit – Specializes in flights to Florida

Shuttle America – North East

Sun Country – Nationwide, based out of Minnesota

Southwest Airline – Nationwide, focus in the Southwest


America West – Western US, Canada, and Mexico

West Jet – Western Canada

CanJet – Eastern Canada

Jetsgo – Canada

Tango – Canada

Zip – Canada

South America

            Southern Winds – Argentina

            TAM – Brazil

VASP – Brazil

            Tame – Ecuador          


easyJet – UK/Europe

BMI Baby– UK/Europe

Air-Scotland – UK/Europe

Flyglobespan.com – UK/Europe

Jet2 – UK/Europe

Ryanair – Ireland/Europe

JetMagic – Ireland/Europe

Virgin Express – Belgium/Europe

FlyingFinn – Finland/UK

Sky Europe – Central Europe

GermanWings – Germany/Europe

HLX – Germany/Europe

Iceland Express – Iceland/Europe

Volareweb.com – Italy/Europe

Basiq Air – The Netherlands/Europe

Australia & New Zealand

Virgin Blue – Australia

Regional Express – South Eastern Australia

Freedom Air – New Zealand/Australia


                        Dragon Air – Based in Hong Kong, serves several Asia countries

                        Indian Airline – Based in India, serves much of Asia

Air Sahara – India

                        Jet Airways – India

                        Air Paradise – Bali/Australia

                        Awair – Indonesia

                        Citilink – Indonesia

                        Mandala Airlines – Indonesia

                        Berjaya Air – Malaysia

                        Air Asia – Malaysia

                        Asian Spirit – Philippines

                        Cebu Pacific – Philippines

                        Silkair – Singapore

                        Bangkok Airways – Thailand

Phuket Air – Thailand

Pacific Airlines – Vietnam


                        Kulula – South Africa


For an exhaustive list of all airlines, check out this world airline directory.  






Most of the time, you needn’t book a hostel in advance.  There are two exceptions:

  • If you are traveling to a popular destination during peak tourist season.

  • If you want a private room.


In these cases, you can use one of the online reservation providers below:

Hostelling International - You will need your  Hostelling International Card          




YHA Australia - Australia

Nomads World - Australia, Fiji New Zealand, Vietnam

If you are traveling with one or two other travelers, the group can often split the cost of a 2 star hotel for the same price as a hostel.  You won't get to meet as many other travelers, but it's just something to consider if you grow tired of dorm style accommodations.  Check out the various discount reservation systems to find a good deal.




On the road, email is by far the easiest and cheapest way to stay in touch with friends, family and other travelers.  I lost count of the number of times I heard a fellow traveler proclaim, “Man, could you imagine how people traveled before the Internet.”  It is true.  Anywhere you will find travelers, you will find an Internet café.  It was usually far easier to get on the Internet than to make a phone call.  Before you go traveling, sign up for a free email account with Yahoo or Hotmail.  You will be able to easily access it from any Internet café in the world.


International rates for calling the US vary by country.  Generally, I found calls from Latin America and Asia to be pretty expensive.  Calls from Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand were more reasonable.  I haven’t traveled much in the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe, or the former Soviet Union, but I imagine calls from these areas would be on the expensive side.


Do not buy an international calling card in the US before leaving on your trip.  These are always a pain to use and are usually more expensive than local international calling cards you can buy once you arrive.


Money Management


There is only one option for managing your money while traveling – online banking.  These days, it is possible to move every aspect of your banking online: transferring funds, reviewing and paying bills, writing checks, etc. 


Cash & Your Checking Account


Dorothy and I opened a checking account with Netbank.  Anytime, we needed cash, we pulsed from a local ATM.  Netbank does not charge any fee for withdrawing cash from an international ATM.  Also, unlike American ATMs, foreign cash dispensers generally do not charge a service fee.  So, we literally were able to obtain cash-in-hand at the going international exchange rate.


Our ATM card was accepted all over the world.  Japan was the only country where we had any trouble using it (even there, international ATM cards are accepted at cash machines in Citibank and in the post office).  As a general rule, you should pulse money once you arrive in the foreign country versus exchanging currency at the money booths at the airport.  You will get a much better exchange rate and avoid the commission charges.


Paying Bills


Dorothy and I charge everything we could to a joint credit card.  The credit card bank allowed us to logon to our account via the Internet and view all transactions.  The site also allowed us to pay our bill online by entering our checking account information. 


For other bills (car payment, cable bill, rent, etc), Netbank offers a bill presentation and payment service.  Basically, you have your creditors send your bills to the bank’s physical address.  Netbank then scans these bills in for you to review over the Internet.  Then you can pay the bill online.  Netbank will either physically cut them a check or electronically wire the money into their account.  This also works for sending a check to friends, family, or anyone else you wish to send money to.


PayTrust is another bill presentation and payment service that I used while I was living and working in London a few years ago.  PayTrust charges a monthly fee for their services and works with your existing checking account.  If you don’t want to switch banks and don’t mind paying a monthly fee, this is probably the way to go.


I am sure there are lots of other companies out there that offer similar services.  Bottom line, you can pay all your bills via the Internet  from wherever you are in the world.


Transferring Money from Savings


Do not keep all your traveling money in your checking account.  While traveling, you will likely only check your account once every two or three weeks.  If someone got a hold of your check card, they could clean out your account during this time.  A better idea is to only keep about $500-$1000 in your checking account.  Keep the rest of the money in a savings account or money market.  When you get low on cash or need to pay off a big credit card bill, you can transfer the required funds into your checking account.  Once again, most financial institutions will allow you to transfer funds electronically.



Other Things to Consider


People always ask me about travelers’ checks.  Travelers’ checks are nice because they can be replaced easily if they are lost or stolen.  However, they can be a pain to use, especially if you are off in the middle of nowhere.  I recommend carrying $100 worth of travelers’ checks for use in the case of an emergency.  I wouldn’t plan to use them as your primary cash source.


Here’s one for you – airport-leaving tax.  Many foreign countries hit you up for a “leaving” tax when you arrive at the airport to fly out of the country.  Nice, huh?  Sometimes, this can be quite expensive ($30), and it always has to be paid in cash.  Check a guidebook or talk to other travelers to find out about each specific country, but make sure you don’t show up at the airport completely broke.  This is where the general rule of carrying $100 cash reserve can be real useful.




The media loves to dramatize the dangers of traveling.  Somebody gets mugged in any big American city, and it likely wouldn’t even be mentioned in the local paper.  A couple of backpackers get roughed up in Peru and CNN will run the story.  And it is not just American media.  I saw the same thing in the UK.  If you watch the BBC, American streets are teaming with gangs ready to pop a cap into any British tourist foolish enough to venture to such a godforsaken land.


The world can be a dangerous place.  However, Dorothy and I had no problems in our eight months of travel.  We had nothing stolen and were not harassed in any way.  We had only one negative experience - getting ripped off by a cab driver in Argentina (he over charged us by a whopping $2).  Sure, we talked to many travelers who were less fortunate, but none that were physically assaulted.  Every story I heard was a case of opportunistic theft.  This is not to say that more aggressive crimes will never happen – just that they are unlikely if you are being smart. 


Here are some useful safety precautions:

  • When riding on buses, don’t put your bags in the overhead compartments.  Keep them in your lap

  • If you fall asleep on a bus, lock you bags to your belt loop

  • Don’t store your bags underneath the bus unless the storage compartments are locked for the entire trip .

  • Don’t ever set your bags down on a crowded street – even for a quick second to check a map.

  • If anyone approaches you while you are wearing your pack, immediately suspect a con.  They could be distracting your attention while their partner lifts your stuff.

  • If someone “accidentally” squirts something on you and then offers to help you clean it off, then their partner is likely making off with your things.  

  • Be forewarned about asking other travelers to watch your bags.  People are never as careful with your stuff as you would be with your own things.

  • Do not leave your bags on the beach while you go for a swim – even if you think you can keep an eye on them.

  • Keep your bags locked at all times while traveling.  In crowds, it is very easy for someone to slip up behind you and unzip a pocket.

  • Don’t keep any thing of great importance in your outside pockets.  You hear stories of people “knifing” backpacks and catching passports, money, and other valuables as they fall through the slash.

  • Travel light.  It is easier to manage and watch one medium size pack than three large ones.

  • Buy a PacSafe.  This innovative security product allows you to secure your bag to a stationary object (column or bed post) when you leave it in the hostel.  I travel under the rule that if my pack is not on my back, then it is under lock and key.

  • Carry emergency cash and an extra credit card in a different place than your wallet.  That way, if your wallet is stolen, you will at least have the means to buy a few things and pay for accommodations.

  • Avoid carrying your pack at night

  • Keep your money in a money belt or a secure pocket.  Do not keep your wallet in your back pocket.

  • Don’t wear any jewelry except for an inexpensive travel watch.  This includes wedding rings.  Dorothy and I bought inexpensive travel wedding rings once we were on the road.

  • Ask fellow travelers or hostel staff about the safety of an area before striking off on your own.

  • If you are in a shady area, only drink beverages served in a bottle or a can which you watch the server or bartender open.

  • Make 2 copies of your passport, flight itinerary, travelers’ checks, reservation confirmation numbers, international certificate of vaccinations, and credit cards (both sides).  Leave one set of copies at home with someone you trust.  Carry the other set of copies with you.  Store them in a different location than you store the actual documents.

  • Scan all the previously mentioned documents and store their digital images on the Internet in a secure location (Yahoo!Briefcase is free and perfect for this sort of thing.) 


For the “official” word on safety about various destinations, check with the US State Department.




The following web sites offer extensive advice about staying healthy while you travel:

World Health Organization

US Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Travel Health Online


The only original advice I can offer pertains to managing your prescription medicine.  If you are traveling for longer than a month, you will need a way to refill your prescription while traveling.


We consulted our physician and explained the situation.  Our doctor wrote us a 90-day prescription and one refill.  When we left on the trip, we took 90 days worth of medicine with us.  We then had the other prescription filled via a mail-in service and delivered to a relative.  The relative then mailed the medicine to our hostel.  Kind of complicated, but it worked out.


Backpacking Publications


Websites & Organizations





Lonely Planet

International Student Travel Confederation


Magazines & eZines


Backpacker Magazine


Backpacking Light


National Geographic Adventure

Student Traveler

World Hum





Once you get a feel for traveling, you really don’t need to buy a guidebook.  Hostels will almost always have one you can use for free and your best information will usually come from other travelers you meet.  Plus, you can find a lot of good information out on the internet.  However, it is probably a good idea to get a guidebook for your first destination.  This will give you a little time to get your feet wet.


By far and away the most popular backpacking guidebooks are the Lonely Planet series.    Let’s Go is another popular series with backpackers, especially in Europe.  The key thing is to make sure you select a guidebook which markets itself to budget travelers or backpackers.  I had bad experiences trying to use travel guides which claim to cater to “all budgets”.  They usually didn’t offer enough selections for cheap accommodations.


The most popular novel about backpacking is The Beach by Alex Garland.  I enjoyed the story and it will give you a good flavor for the backpacking scene, especial in Thailand and Southeast Asia.


Oh yeah, it is also a good idea to read A Funny Thing Happened on the Road Less Traveled by yours truly ;-)