Posted by: StonehengeNews | November 5, 2011

The A-Z of backpacking tips

Gap year or snap year, you don’t want to waste a minute of your precious time out, says our Lonely Planet expert

Surfing in Australia

A is for … Australia, many backpackers’ destination. Photograph: Juzant/Getty Images

P is for … (university) place

Why are we starting at P? Because there are few would-be travellers who won’t abandon their plans if they get a university place this year, 12 months before the cost of getting a degree skyrockets. But a gap year is hardly the booby prize. In fact, taking some time out is a passport to what might be the greatest adventure of your life. Planning one is fun, but it’s also quite challenging, so here are 25 other things you may not have thought of when planning your great escape.

A is for … Australia

Australia remains the prime destination of many gappers, with its winning combination of cities, surf, scenery and fantastic facilities for budget travellers. But budget you will need to: when I went there for the first time in 1999, the pound bought nearly three Australian dollars. Today the rate is A$1.57, meaning this is somewhere to watch what you spend carefully.

The trick is to use Australia, and the strength of its dollar, to your advantage. Get there, get a job and save up for the remainder of your trip in other countries. Last year applications for working holiday visas to Australia went up by 5.4%. To help with your planning, have a look at Tourism Australia’s series of one-minute videos, called 30 Days in Oz, showcasing affordable adventures in Australia. holiday; for information on working holiday visas, go to

B is for … bus

When is a bus not a bus? When it’s a truck. For many gappers, an overland truck makes a wonderful introduction to budget travel, and can be a great bargaining trick when you’re trying to convince parents of the merits – and safety – of travelling.

UK-based Dragoman (01728 861133, offers overland tours lasting from 13 days to six months. Its Brazilian heartland trip, for example, costs £635 (plus £260 for a kitty), for a 17-day trip from Rio de Janeiro to Salvador da Bahia, mostly camping, and taking in Brasilia, the caves of Terra Ronca and several national parks.

Oasis Overland (01963 363400, has a 23-week Trans Africa trip from the UK to Cape Town, leaving on 20 November, for £2,650 plus a local payment of around £720.

C is for … CV

Don’t leave home without one, but be smart about it. “Prepare and email to yourself a generic CV that you can print out once you’re in the country,” says Joe Bindloss, author of Lonely Planet’s Gap Year Book and Career Break Book. “Make it skills-based and write it to make you stand out from the crowd.” Don’t overlook the value of going door to door looking for work. Employers like initiative and you’ll get the chance to run the ruler over them if you’re on the spot rather than arranging something from home.

D is for … drinking

The biggest unforeseen gap year expense is nightlife. While £10 doesn’t sound like much for a night out at home, over six months you’ll have poured nearly £2,000 down your throat – more than you’ll spend on your plane ticket, insurance and accommodation. As boring as it sounds, there are better uses for your hard-earned cash.

E is for … etiquette

A-Z Etiquette: Western woman wearing a headscarfRespect local etiquette. Photograph: AlamyWhile you shouldn’t spend every moment worrying about the offence you may be causing, there’s no denying that a little preparation goes a long way when it comes to etiquette on the road. First up, if in doubt, ask: no one’s going to mind you taking a photo or entering a temple if you’ve asked first. Second, modesty is the best policy. Even close to home you can be refused entry to monasteries and churches if you’re wearing shorts and a vest top. Lastly, and most importantly, follow the lead of local people on everything from eating to handshakes and small talk.

F is for … flashpackers

Who are this elusive breed of people, and are you one of them? The easiest way to describe them is as backpackers prepared to spend a bit more. For traveller and writer Russ Thorne, it is “not being ashamed to get a tour guide in a museum, having some slightly more upmarket meals, and generally not forcing poverty on yourself like it’s a badge of honour”. This might mean a dive camp in Fiji with meals included, upgrading to a sleeper on a train rather than sleeping in your seat, or simply checking into a hotel rather than putting up the tent. Flashpacking may be bad for your budget, but every once in a while it’ll be good for your sanity. recommends six upmarket hostels, from Stockholm and Berlin to Cape Town

G is for … gadgets

Gadgets and gap years don’t tend to go together. You’ll find internet cafes everywhere, and a bashed-up old mobile phone you can stick a local sim card in is all you need to keep in touch. Plus, nothing’s going to ruin your big adventure more than losing your iPad off the side of a canoe in Madagascar. The one must-have gadget? The Powermonkey Classic (, £29.95), which will keep your electronic devices working when you’re miles from the nearest socket.

H is for … health

Paul Goodyer from Nomad Travel ( suggests that health preparations “need to start from eight weeks before you go”. Going to a specialist clinic is a good idea but, that said, getting vaccinations and travel medication isn’t cheap. Don’t forget the basics, too: headaches and colds can wallop you on the road as much as at home, so plan accordingly.

I is for … insurance

Travel insurance now makes up a hefty chunk of pre-trip expenditure – the next biggest after your flight (more than £150 for a year). Claims arising from gap years went up 61% last year on policies booked through Essential Travel (, which the firm attributed to people travelling with high-cost items such as iPods and laptops (tsk, tsk, see G).

While the value of having travel insurance is not in doubt, do choose your policy carefully. Annette Fox, of Churchill Travel Insurance (, says: “Remember to take out an insurance policy that’s specifically designed for trips lasting more than 90 days. Gap years often involve travelling to more remote destinations, so make sure you’re covered for medical expenses, legal costs and loss of personal possessions or money, especially if you’re travelling outside Europe.”

J is for … Japan

Right now, Japan is a land of opportunity for anyone on a gap year. There are some excellent deals on travel and accommodation – Expedia ( is offering 50% off hotel rooms in Tokyo, for example – as the country seeks to woo back visitors after the earthquake last March. Japan remains one of the best places for a working gap year: applications for the summer 2012 JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) programme open in October (

K is for … knickers

A-Z knickersHow many pairs of knickers should you pack? Photograph: AlamyHow many pairs should you take? With packing, less is definitely more. Most gap years are spent in the tropics, which means you won’t be wearing much anyway, and anything you wash will dry quickly. Extreme light packers will be in a cycle of wearing one pair, washing another and drying a third, but this is a bit harsh for most of us. Double the number and you’re probably about right. If you’re struggling to fit it all in, a bigger bag is not necessarily the solution: the very helpful can help any heavy packer slim down their kit list.

L is for … luggage

Are we entering the twilight of the backpack? Possibly, says Paul Goodyer of Nomad Travel (, which equips hundreds of gappers each year. “We’re seeing a shift towards hybrid bags, which add a set of wheels to a rucksack or travel sack.”

The Berghaus Jalan 70+15, a 70-litre sack with a removable 15-litre daysack (, is one example. Don’t be deceived by talk of wheels: this is not a bag your parents would take trundling on a weekend in Bruges. However, thrifty travellers need not spend this much. “If you’re only going to use a bag for getting from A to B, and don’t feel the need for a matching daysack, you can save £40 to £80 by not buying a high-spec bag. This will keep you on the road in Asia for a week or two,” says Goodyer.

M is for … money

This is the year that pre-loaded currency cards are coming of age as the traveller’s friend. You pay a fee to get one but, once loaded with cash, they offer considerable security. In the event of theft or loss you can get it replaced, complete with the funds lost, for about £10. Not only that, but you also get keener exchange rates than exchange bureaux and lower withdrawal fees. The Caxton FX Global Traveller card ( is ideal if you’re travelling to lots of different countries and can be charged online, by phone or SMS.

N is for … new friends

There are lifelong friends to be made on the road. Many of them will be travelling, just like you. The best times you’ll have, though, will be when you rub shoulders with local people. How best to do this? Sally Broom, founder of Tripbod (, which connects visitors with local experts and guides, suggests it’s a case of remembering the basics. “Put the guidebook down,” she says, “and head somewhere with a local flavour. Whether you like music or mountain biking, there are probably local groups who share your passion that you can connect with.”

O is for … Orlando

A-Z OrlandoPhotograph: VMproductions & The Unexpected ItemsAh, Orlando, the chundering, public school buffoon who starred in the YouTube Gap Yah video ( You may as well watch it now so you’re in on the joke in bars and hostels around the world from Tanzan-yah to Purrah (that’s Peru), darling.

Q is for … quitting

Homesickness hits most people on long journeys. If the thought of the hard work that went into making the trip a reality doesn’t keep you going, a few nights flashpacking (see F) might kick you back into loving the adventure. Your mates back home will be suffering the exact opposite of what you’re feeling: imagining you in an exotic locale and being as jealous as hell. Remember that in dark moments.

R is for … round the world

Round-the-world tickets remain excellent value and often offer a flexibility that has disappeared from the airline tickets most of us go on holiday with. You may not need one, though: cheap returns offering stops in Asia, New Zealand and Australia can be had for well under £1,000, and for only a few pounds more you can add on North America. South America, for several years the must-have stop on any RTW route, will nudge things up towards the £1,600 mark. If you’re looking to leave the crowds behind, head due south: only 3% of round the world tickets go via Africa. has a hugely addictive RTW builder to get you started.

S is for … snap year

Driven partly by a wish to save on everything from eating to travel insurance, and partly by a desire to fit a gap-style experience into a summer break before heading to university, the “snap year” is 2011’s hot trend. Gap-year organisations offer plenty of shorter trips for time-conscious travellers, many of which combine adventure with vocational work.

ABOUTAsia Schools ( is a non-profit organisation helping Cambodian children in the Siem Reap area, near Angkor’s world-famous temples. It provides volunteer teaching assistants and school workers and, unlike most volunteer outfits, doesn’t charge people to volunteer.

Contiki, the 18-35 specialist (, is starting trips to South America in November, with a 14-day Peru Uncovered tour (from £1,649, not including flights from UK) by coach.

T is for … toilet

You’ll probably come across some corkingly awful loos, many of which necessity will require you to use. Pack sanitising hand gel and use it often to stand the best chance of avoiding picking up a bug along the way.

U is for … umbrella group

There are a plethora of projects and gap year organisations out there. The Year Out Group ( collects more than 35 providers in one place and offers tips and planning advice. All providers adhere to a charter and a code of practice.

V is for … vilification

There’s a lot of ill-will directed at people on a gap year. The thinktank Demos described such trips earlier this year as “new colonialism”, while those daring to take a gap year are often stereotyped as white, middle-class kids enjoying a luxury not everyone can afford (see O). Joe Bindloss suggests “the best way to prove people wrong is by doing something significant”, and recommends starting your planning at, which offers an excellent downloadable guide to choosing the right organisation or project to give your time to. This won’t placate the nay-sayers, but it maximises your chances of having a positive impact.

W is for … work

You might conclude, not unreasonably, that it’s easier and better to spend longer working in the UK, and more time on the road once away. As well as enhancing your CV, you’ll probably save more if you work in Britain, and that will also free up your time on the road for a spot of volunteering. If earning isn’t your aim, but great experiences are, have a look at and, both of which list hosts who will provide food and lodging in return for labour. You can get involved in anything from teaching dance classes in Namibia to a Chilean ecotourism project.

X is for … ex

A-Z lovers

Should you finish with your boy or girlfriend before leaving? Whether to travel with your lady or laddie love or hit the road single and ready for adventure is one of the biggest dilemmas you’ll face. Many relationships do withstand the rigours of the road – and being together 24/7 – but just as many fall apart in such a radically altered context. Just as tough is trying to keep something going from thousands of miles away with emails and phonecalls. Whatever you do, the key thing is to focus on being where you are and making the most of it. How you work the rest of it out is up to you.

Y is for … youth hostels

You’ll spend a lot of time in hostels. Hostelling International ( – and YHA ( in the UK – places tend to be large, clean and attract travellers of all ages, while independent places vary from party-hearty icons to near-boutique low-key alternatives to hovels. Wherever you go, you’re exposed to wonderful, infuriating and always unpredictable fellow travellers. Which brings us to …

Z is for … zzzs

Yours will be disturbed by fellow travellers coming into your dorm at all hours or, if you’re especially unlucky, getting to know each other intimately in the bunk above you. Go easy on them. You can sleep all you like when you get home.

Article by:  Tom Hall

The Backpacker Tour

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