Planning Your Travel Budget
Your pre-departure costs will include flights, visas, immunisations, a medical kit, travel insurance and equipment. Estimating what you'll need while you're away depends on many factors. Will you be working? Will you be travelling on your own or with company to share the costs? Are you intending to flit around or hunker down for a while? One rule of thumb is that every day on the road can cost twice as much as a day in one place.
Parts of the world where your bucks can be stretched include southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, China, Mexico and Latin America. Parts where they can't include Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific, Europe, Russia, Japan, North America and much of the Caribbean. Africa can be cheap but some countries, such as those using the West African CFA currency (eg Senegal and Mali), are surprisingly costly. Write down where you're going and how long you're going to spend there and use Lonely Planet's Destinations section to work out your average daily spend. Don't forget to budget for emergencies and the occasional splurge - you don't want to spend your whole time wearing sackcloth and eating lentils.
Travel Discount & Membership Cards
There are three main student or under-26 cards on the market: the International Student Identity Card (ISIC), the International Youth Travel Card (IYTC) and the Euro<26 youth card.
These days there are good deals to be had on international flights regardless of your age; however, these cards can often secure you better ones. All the cards will also get you discounts at museums, restaurants and hostels. A YHA Membership card entitles you to stay at any of their 4500 youth hostels around the world.
Carrying Money While Travelling
The best approach is to take a good mixture of credit and debit cards, travellers cheques (if your destination is short on ATMs) and old-fashioned bank notes.
Do remember to keep your exchange receipts in case they're needed as proof of legal exchanges either within a country or when leaving. Also, if you're travelling with a mate or a group of friends, divide your money up: if one of you is robbed, the other can step in with the cash.
- Need money badly and none of the ATMs are accepting your credit card? Go to the local casino. They'll make sure you can get to your money.
- Bear in mind that most travellers are robbed on the day they get money out. This is no coincidence, so be wary of being tailed when you've just made a transaction.
- Familiarise yourself with the appearance of your destination's bank notes as soon as you get into the country. It'll make it harder for someone to rip you off.
- If you're taking a taxi without a meter, write down the agreed fare on a piece of paper and get the driver to acknowledge it. That way, if there's a dispute about the cost of the journey, you can simply point to the paper.
- *Thanks to travellers David Boyes, Brendan Tarrant and Colette Quinn for their tips.
So, now you're standing in front of that empty suitcase. What to pack? Sure, you don't want to strip yourself of every home pleasure - but neither do you want to groan beneath the weight of luggage crammed with stuff you could easily pick up on the road. So, with an umbrella in one hand and a passport in the other, try to strike a balance between essential and albatross.
What to pack
Less is more. And it's not hard - every traveller is carrying too much. If you're going somewhere tropical, a few tops, shorts, smalls and socks will do. An ultra-small raincoat and hat will top off the outfit. Shoes are bulky, so drop that extra pair. Halve your stuff. Halve it again. Add books, washbag and medical kit. Zip up the bag and don't look back.
After all, you can normally buy things you need when you get to your destination, from the classic items - tents and sleeping bags - to cosmetics, clothes and basic medical gear. In short: if in doubt, leave it out.
Be aware, especially on a longer trip, that some countries are very fussy about what they will and won't allow in. Just been volunteering on a farm somewhere? New Zealand will want to scrape the mud off your shoes and confiscate your honey. Many places don't like letting any food in and you can expect a rigorous search at customs. In some countries your bag will be searched for expensive electronics or designer goods, for which you may be required to pay a duty if they were purchased in a tax-free zone. Check these regulations out in advance and leave prohibited items behind.
It's best not to get too bogged down in the packing process. Unless you're planning on diving, climbing or camping, let it take care of itself. Packing is most beautiful when you don't think about it and most miserable when it enslaves you. Trust us on this one and travel light.
For those about to pack, we salute you.
- Activities & Gear Thorn Tree branch - got a question about a bag, footwear or gizmo? Let the real experts help you out.
- Travelite - more tips to help you shed that excess baggage.
- Half a squash ball - less a sporting item, more a universal plug. You may not find stoppers for your sink or bath. This one will always work.
- Plastic mug - will never break, and isn't just for drinking from. Bails out boats, is a receptacle for that large frightening insect and best of all makes you feel like the ultimate camper.
- Sarong - a classic. From wrap to picnic blanket to sleep sheet, they're quick-drying, light and available everywhere.
- Toilet paper - no explanation necessary.
- Duct tape - for quick repairs to bags, clothes, tyres. Never wears out.
- Packing squares - sort of like zippered envelopes for your clothes. Keeps clean and dirty clothes separate and makes things easy to find.
- Insurance - if you can't afford it, you can't afford to travel.
Worth their weight in gold
- There's a little bit of Packing List Geoff in all of us. A figure of legend on the Thorn Tree Forum, Geoff is the author of a vast packing checklist of items he'd never travel without. His list poetically demonstrates the highs and lows of packing. The highs - you'll never want for anything on the road. The lows - to adopt Geoff's notion of what to pack would cause even the world's hardiest porters to go on strike.
- Loofah - 'It weighs nothing and will scrape away backpacker dirt.'
- Telephone extension cord - 'more for business travel - sometimes it's great to have a nice long phone cord in the hotel room.'
- Songbook - presumably for those Jack Johnson moments. May or may not include 'Kumbaya'.
- Particle mask - 'for walking in Bangkok!'
- Old stamps - 'a cheap bagful from a collector's shop - light, cheap educational gift for kids!'
Packing List Geoff's Best Packing Tips
- We're sorry to be your mum, but take a jacket. Then you'll be covered whatever the conditions. Our recommended partner has some great styles.
- There's nothing like the journal you take with you on the road, but train thieves, stray goats and sheer skank can turn your memories into so much grubby trash. How about an online journal?
- How do you roll, luggage-wise? Do you rough it with a duffel bag or swan it with a speedy wheeled number? We've got a great range in the bag.
- Travel accessories maketh the traveller. Need a security wallet? A converter? Check out these handy travel accessories.