Tag Archives: backpacking

Hostelling for Adults

It is rare to hear hostels referred to as youth hostels anymore as they’ve evolved and most tend to cater to a wide age range of budget travellers.  There are days I think I am too old to stay in a hostel and then I find one filled with community, good food, and good people and am reminded that they’re more than just a cheap place to crash.

Most hostels focus on bringing travellers together and have a variety of activities, events or amenities to accomplish this. They can have everything from karaoke to food tours to community meals. For the solo traveller, hostels are a fantastic way to meet other people and to get suggestions and tips on the area you’re travelling in, and in some cases to make lifelong friends from around the world. They’re typically in some of the best locations, central to many tourist activities where some of the most expensive hotels are located. For the person travelling for a longer period of time, hostels also typically include kitchen facilities which allow you to cook and store your own food, and their bars often offer amazing drink specials saving you even more money.

Tips:

– Do not book the cheapest hostel you see available. Read the reviews before deciding on a place to place to stay!

– I do not suggest anything larger than a 6 bed dorm, but preferably 4. Pay the extra money for the quiet and cleanliness. Trust me on this. I’d say 12 bed dorms should be reserved for prisons, but I think even prisoners deserve more quiet and privacy than these overcrowded dorms allow.

– Consider a private room in the hostel if your budget permits. You can take advantage of the facilities while maintaining your privacy, quiet, and cleanliness.

– If travelling with friends, a hostel may not be your cheapest option. In Amsterdam I was able to get a beautiful 4 star central hotel on Hotwire for less than the cost of 2 dorm beds. Barcelona had similar results. Don’t assume hostels are always cheap, especially in Europe.

– Make sure to inquire on things that are important to you before booking (hot showers, drinking water, wifi, clean washrooms absence of bed bugs are a few that I prefer)

– If any review reports bed bugs, no matter how outdated, avoid that hostel! The management may respond to the review stating the bed bugs have been eradicated but when you wake up covered in bites with a full bed bug waddling across your chest as occurred in Bocas Del Toro, Panama, you’ll wish you’d have trusted the reviews.

– Participate in the activities, beyond the drinking at the bar (but that is fun too). We had a lot more fun in the free salsa class than the trio of girls watching us with judgmental faces sitting st the bar in Holbox, Mexico.

free yoga at Poc-Na hostel in Isla Mujere

– Many hostels offer free accommodation in exchange for volunteering around the hostel. There is nothing that could have me clean hostel bathrooms on my holiday, but especially not for a $15/night dorm bed. Do the math on the value of this arrangement before signing up. As mentioned, hostels are great for community, but you may be better off meeting friends at the bar than cleaning their post bar vomit off the hostel toilet seats.

– And on that note… hostel bathrooms are the one main reason I don’t exclusively stay in hostels. I’m all for community, great locations, and saving money but shared bathrooms can get pretty disgusting, pretty fast which is why following my earlier tips (read reviews, as few beds as possible) will minimize the likelihood of contracting a new strain of Hepatitis or whatever else these places grow.

– Some hostels offer an ensuite option. Sharing a washroom with the 3 people in your dorm is a lot nicer than every person in the hallway. Take this option if it is available.

Hostel etiquette:

– Sex in the hostel dorm is a no no. This is why most offer a private room option.

– If you need to get up early, you get one chance with the alarm, no snoozing. Setting an alarm for 4:30 am and snoozing until 6 am is absolutely inappropriate

– If you are waking up early, have everything laid out and ready to go for a quiet and quick exit from the room. Do not turn on the lights while others are sleeping.

– Likewise if you are planning to come back from a late night. Have everything ready to go to bed and do not turn on the lights while others are sleeping.

– Clean up after yourself and be kind to the volunteers and staff who run the hostel. They do not get paid enough to be treated like service staff.

– Don’t steal food from others’ in the kitchen. Unless your phone gets wet and you need some rice for a quick dry out or if it is left in the free bin.

Backpacking Packing List – Essential Items for Your Travels

You can literally get away with travelling with just a passport and some cash in most cases, however if you’re looking to get off the beaten path, you may want to be a little more prepared in your packing.

A few other essential items:

  1. Bring 2 credit cards and 2 debit cards from different banks, keeping them in separate places. When your bank automatically freezes your account because of suspicious activity in Honduras, you’ll be glad you have another card and can pay the dive shop for your Open Water Course. This is also in case you are robbed – a sad reality of many backpacking adventures.
  2. Have a photo of your passport and flight information saved in your phone and backed up on Google Photos or the iCloud. It is also helpful to have a printed copy so you aren’t held up at the Panama/Costa Rica border when your phone dies and you don’t have proof of onward travel in order to enter Costa Rica because you were relying on keeping all your flight information in your phone.
  3. Local currency and a little bit of your own currency from home. Having a small amount of your own currency allows you to do a small exchange on that final day if you run out of money without paying the withdrawal fees on a bank withdrawal (the last thing you want to do is pay $5 in bank fees for a $5 final meal) but doesn’t require you to change money back and forth multiple times. There are a few (very few) places where travelling with US cash is helpful. If you are on the tourist trail, there should be plenty of currency exchange places happy to exchange your Canadian dollars for local currency in any amount.
  4. Drivers license. I like to empty my wallet and only bring the essential cards. Your drivers license should be considered an essential card to bring with you. Keep this separate from your passport (with your back up debit and credit card) as a back up form of ID should your passport end up travelling without you.
  5. Clean ziplock bags. You don’t know what you will need them for until you need them and are happy you brought them.
  6. A pen. It seems so simple! This is probably the number one thing I forget every single trip and am left bothering my neighbour on the plane to borrow theirs to complete my customs forms.
  7. Hand sanitizer, wipes, toilet paper. Not every country has a fully equipped bathroom like at home. You may find yourself squatting behind a Guatemalan bus station and grateful you brought your necessary items for this from home. Likewise, not every country sells the tampons you might be used to at home.
  8. Extra pair of shoes. I have learned this
    Walking back to Akbol Yoga Retreat in San Pedro, Belize

    lesson too many times while travelling and have left behind many broken soles. Thankfully a kind woman at a yoga retreat gave me her shoes (how yoga of her!) so I no longer had to walk around with a rope tying my flip flop together after a 2 mile walk back to the retreat centre. True story.

  9. Pills. pills. pills. I don’t recommend playing pharmacist when you travel, except when you have to. Due to some of the situations mentioned below, I literally travel with every single one of these pills, every single trip. I have only been hassled once for having them all in one massive pill bottle (Lithuania of all places) but if you have space, you should probably keep them in their labelled containers, especially any prescription medication.
      1. Melatonin. To help with sleep and jet lag
      2. An anti-histamine such as Benadryl. I didn’t know I had any food allergies and I didn’t know Benadryl isn’t an over the counter medication in every country until my throat was swelling up in Thailand and I wasn’t able to get Benadryl at any of the 3 pharmacies we tried. You also never know when you will wake up in a bush of poison ivy in the Amazon, 5 hours travel from the nearest pharmacy or doctor. True story.
      3. Antibiotics. This one is dicey, not all physicians will give you a prescription of antibiotics just in case but when you get a case of Bali belly, you’ll be happy you have them. Make sure to understand proper dosing for the specific conditions or ailments before just randomly popping pills.
      4. Probiotics. After not having a bowel
        If you are going to eat like this, pack probiotics. Carb loading before a night of drinking for New Years eve in Costa Rica.

        movement for over a week while sailing from Panama to Colombia, these are now essential. Because of the change in diet when travelling, you should just take these preventatively rather than waiting until you actually have an issue.

      5. Pain killers (Naproxen, Acetaminophen, Advil, whatever you like) – whatever you use at home, bring it with you for headaches and minor ailments.
      6. Pepto-Bismol Pills. Because the liquid would be messy to backpack around and when you’re lying on the floor of your AirBnB in Hollywood, the last thing you want to do is run out to the nearest CVS to buy some.
      7. Gravol or another anti-nausea pill. I learned why the boat from La Ceiba to Roatan is nicknamed “the vomit comet” and wish I had taken the Gravol at least 30 minutes prior to departure (there is no point taking it after you start barfing as I did).
      8. Anti diarrhea medicine. No explanation needed. We have all been there.
      9. Cold & Flu medicine – day time and night time. Because when you are kayaking with seals in New Zealand, it confuses the other kayakers when you sound like a barking seal due to the bronchitis you are fighting.
      10. Vitamins. Because there isn’t a lot of nutrition in beer and the other things we tend to consume on vacation.

If you are going to be travelling or backpacking around, it is important to keep things compact. I’ve seen people with oversize suitcases trying to navigate cobblestone pedestrian only s   treets or water taxis while I walk by with ease with my organized pack. It is painful to watch, and with some simple packing tips, you can avoid being that person.

Do this… a well packed bag in Nusa Lembongan, Bali

 

The key to packing is to ensure everything you bring will be used, and is an essential item. When you’re travelling around for a month or two on trains, planes and automobiles, you are going to regret bringing those 12 different travel books stuffed between your damp, oversize, cotton, Costco beach towel when you could have just uploaded them onto your ereader nestled in your dry, compact travel towel.

Ciudad Perdida hike
Don’t do this… a stupidly packed plastic bag for a 4 day trek through the jungle to the lost city of Ciudad Perdida, Columbia

You can head out to Mountain Equipment Co-op and purchase the top of the line everything, but for the casual backpacker, Amazon is usually your best friend as it has great products (with reviews) for great prices.

    1. Battery pack. Since our phones are now also our cameras, music players, note pads, etc. a dying battery can cause stress. This is the battery pack I use. It is a bit bulky and heavy compared to some others, however the amount of charges I get out of it makes it worth it.

2. A compact quick dry towel. This can be used for showering if you stay places that don’t provide towels (hostels, campgrounds, etc) but can also be used as a beach towel, yoga mat, pillow, etc. Do not bring your fluffy large cotton towel from home. It will not dry when you pack up and will end up smelling moldy in your first day or two of travel. My favourite ones are from Amazon or Lululemon.

3. Tide Sink Laundry Packets. The inevitable will happen and before you are ready to do a full load of laundry, you will run out of clean socks or underwear. Or perhaps you will fall off a horse into a mud puddle in Ecuador on your first few days of a 3 week trip and will want to quickly wash the clothes you were wearing. These don’t take up much space and have saved me many times.

4. Dr. Bronner’s 18 in 1 pure castille soap. This can replace the tide sink packets and several other things as it has 18 uses. I can’t imagine travelling without this as I use it for a body wash, laundry soap and dish soap (I haven’t discovered the other 15 uses yet but I imagine they’re just as great!)


5. Ereader. I prefer reading books over an ereader however I do not prefer carrying books around so this is a compromise I make. I opted for the Kobo brand of ereader as it syncs with my local library. It is slow, has very few bells and whistles, but it allows me to store hundreds of books for those long plane and bus rides between destinations.

6. Earbuds. Not just for listening to music, but also for killing time on the plane as some airlines no longer provide headphones for the entertainment.

7. Lifeproof phone case. Drop proof, water proof, Dawn proof. I tried taking it snorkelling once without great results (difficult to  press button to take a photo when underwater) but I do feel safer about my phone getting tossed around in my bag when wrapped up in this case.

8. Travel Adapter. Not every country runs on the same voltage as we do and if you want to fry your brand new travel flat iron, you can try plugging it into a socket without an adapter, if the prongs seem to line up, but you’re better off using an adapter when you go somewhere outside of your home voltage.

I do get a super tiny (tiny) kickback from Amazon if you purchase these items through the links on this page but these are all products that I seriously recommend purchasing, and I have purchased myself through Amazon for my own travels. 

When Fernweh hits… choosing a destination.

You’ve probably stumbled on this site because you have a slight case of the travel bug, wanderlust, fernweh or simply the desire to explore and see somewhere new.

Hopefully this site gives you some ideas of cool places to go but this particular article may give you some specific thoughts on choosing a destination.

Some of my trips have been a result of impulsive booking when a seat sale drops on www.yvrdeals.com. Turkey had never been near the top of my list to visit until there was an awesome seat sale and next thing you know I was hiking around the caves of Cappadocia and dancing in a hookah bar with locals in Istanbul.

Because I tend to focus on budget travel, I like to remain fairly open to where I’ll end up. For example, some friends and I knew we wanted to head to a beach destination for spring break 2018 but were pretty open minded. We checked who had decent weather and beaches this time of year, then checked flight prices for Central America, South East Asia and the Carribean, and landed on booking the Philippines as it fit our criteria for price, beaches, weather, and somewhere we had never been before.

Since not all destinations are created equally, and sitting on a beach in New Zealand can cost you significantly more money than a beach in the Philippines, you may also want to factor in cost once you arrive. The flight is just the beginning.

Once you’ve determined if budget, the weather, and activities align with what you’re looking for, you may want to do a Google Images search or Instagram #hashtag search to get an idea of what to expect before booking.  By looking up #philippines we were able to get an idea of which islands we wanted to visit based on user photos.

I wish I had more interesting tips to share or an algorithm to help you figure out the perfect destination and when, but for me, scrolling through Instagram has been inspiration for a large number of my trips.

If you are looking for more guidance on how to choose a destination, and even an algorithm to follow, I recommend Lonely Planet’s Where To Go When book.