This is a guest post from the lovely Neil over at Backpacks and Bunk Beds.

Under any other circumstances, if a total stranger were to hold out his hand and offer me a little brown paper bag full of unmarked white pills, I would like to think I’d have the sense to decline such a generous and yet terrifying offer.  But when the stranger offering you said mysterious pills has the letter D and R before their name, an element of trust is already pre-established, and all of a sudden you can wait to slam the pills down the back of your throat.  Ok maybe a slight exaggeration, but you catch my drift.

This is a position I one day found myself in whilst in Sri Lanka. It was a one off, I would never touch pills normally, but the good Dr told me to take two a day for a week, so that’s what I took.  Brave? Stupid?  Risky?  He was a Dr, but still they were unmarked and in a brown paper bag.  They weren’t my lunch!  Shouldn’t they have been in a plastic container or something?  Ah well, bottoms up *glugs water and swallows whilst saying a small prayer.

The above probably makes little sense without a back-story so let me provide you with one.  In 2006 I spent 3 months of my year volunteering as a teacher and sports coach in both Sri Lanka and India.   As you can imagine, most of my work took place school with young kids, snotty nosed, whingey, ungrateful … I jest, the kids were great.  They were a world apart from kids who I’ve taught in the UK, these little wonders actually wanted to be in school, it made teaching a whole lot easier.  I loved both my placements but sadly had to cut my placement in India shot by a week and headed back to Sri Lanka before I’d move on to Thailand and the rest of my rtw trip.

Neil and his eye pimping it up with the ladies

Upon my return to Sri Lanka I made plans to meet up with Natalie (@girlandtheworld) and the some volunteers I already knew, but before I met them I had a couple of nights by myself in Colombo.  I took in a movie, went shopping, went to the pub and generally enjoyed myself.  On the second morning at my guesthouse, however, I had distinct difficulty in opening my eyes.  It wasn’t that I was tired, far from it; my eyelids were literally stuck together.  A film/gloop has formed during the nights a literally glued them together.  When I finally prised my eyes open I washed them out and knew I had an issue to deal with.

I travelled to the volunteer’s base in Sri Lanka and had a chat with my old volunteer liaison who wrote down in Sinhala an address and some instructions before putting me on the next tuk tuk out of there.  That is how I ended up in a Dr’s surgery being given unmarked white pills.  My eyes were a mess, I had caught conjunctivitis and I knew exactly where I’d got it from, my favourite School in India.

Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis (also known as Pink Eye) is swelling (inflammation) or infection of the membrane lining the eyelids known as the conjunctiva.

There are many causes of conjunctivitis. Viruses are the most common cause. Other causes include:

  • Allergies
  •  Bacteria
  •   Certain diseases
  •   Chemical exposure
  •   Fungi
  •  Parasites (rarely)
  •  Use of contact lenses (especially extended-wear lenses)

 

“Pink eye” refers to a viral infection of the conjunctiva. These infections are especially contagious among children.

 

Conjunctivitis in my Madurai based School

Conjunctivitis (also known as Pink Eye) is swelling (inflammation) or infection of the membrane lining the eyelids known as the conjunctiva.

 

There are many causes of conjunctivitis. The most common is looking into he eyes of another person who has Conjunctivitis.

 

“Pink eye” refers to a viral infection of the conjunctiva. These infections are especially contagious among children.

 

Can you spot the difference?  Did you see that little pearl wisdom about sight?  In case you missed it …

 

The most common (cause) is looking into he eyes of another person who has Conjunctivitis.

 

Yup, conjunctivitis is transferable by sight (apparently).  The kids who had the VIRAL infection were made to come to school with sunglasses on so that no one would be able to see their eyes, or they were sent home.  I sh*t you not.  Andrew (a medicine volunteer who also did a bit of teaching) and I tried to explain to the kids in a couple of classroom based lessons that the infection was VIRAL, and they should wash their hands lots and avoid touching around their eyes, and touching each other, but we think for the most part it fell on deaf ears.  The language barrier probably owed a lot to this, but we did try.

So I was in paradise but looked a state.  I went to sleep scared that in the morning I wouldn’t be able to open my eyes at all.  But to the good Doctors credit the pills did actually work and I made a full recovery.  What took me longer to recover from was his tedious lecture on the Blackburn housing marking, but as he made my eyes better I’ll let him off.

So the moral of this story, take unmarked white pills?  Trust people who know about the Blackburn housing market?  To be honest I’m not sure, maybe I should have more faith foreign medical services, they obviously do a very good job and had me patched up in no time.   Either way,  I just thought it was an interesting tale to tell.  No one wants to get ill on the road but there’s no guarantees that you’ll stay 100% healthy. But, to help you out, here are just a few things that you can do to give yourself a better chance at staying fitting fit …

  1. Wash your hands regularly, especially when coming into contact with kids and questionable toilet facilities.
  2. Check your water source, stick to bottled water if unsure if the tap water is safe.  That goes for ice too, avoid having ice in your drinks if you’re unsure of its source.
  3. If you have meds to take such as Malaria tablets, establish a routine for taking them.  Don’t slip and lose the habit.  You paid for them, take them!
  4. Carry things such as plasters, it sounds lame, but don’t let that tiny scratch get all pussy and infected.
  5. Brush you teeth, this sounds sill in some sense, but I along with a lot of people I met on the road all had some gum issues by the time we’d finished our travels because we’d so rarely brushed our teeth.  Naughty!
  6. Make sure you have all the recommended jabs for the area’s you are visiting.  I hate needles, but your jabs are a must!
  7. Don’t hop into bed without wrapping your tool.  If you have to get tested, clinic’s like to give you your results in person so you may have to stay somewhere longer than planned just to find out that your night(s) of pleasure mean you’ll be on meds for the next couple of days.

If you’re going to settle down in any area for any length of time, it may pay to look up medical facilities in advance.

You can find more from Neil over on his fabulous blog, Backpacks and Bunkbeds, on Twitter @packsandbunks and Facebook.

Has anyone else ever had conjunctivitis while travelling and have an equally sticky story to tell?

 

Last week we were nominated for Hostelbooker’s 7 Super Shots by our very own rtwbackpacker Chris and we were thrilled!  Not only because it’s the first time rtwbackpackers has been nominated to take part in anything like this but also because it gives us a chance to share some of our favourite photos with you.

So without further ado, here are our 7 Super Shots;

The picture that…..takes my breath away

Twelve Apostles - Great Ocean Road
I drove down the Great Ocean Road in Australia in May 2011 and I knew the highlight was going to be visiting the Twelve Apostles. I even stopped myself from looking at any photos of them, terrified that I'd ruin my experience by seeing other's people's pictures! Needless to say when we arrived at the Twelve Apostles, with the sun low in the sky and the rocks standing like silhouettes against waves, it was as spectacular as I had imagined and the picture still takes my breath away - Beverley

The picture that….makes me laugh or smile

Backpacking Thailand
With my friends from home who visited us in Thailand for two weeks on Koh Phi Phi - Poi

The picture that….makes me dream

Diving in Malapascua, Philippines
Our diving boat on Malapascua Island, Philippines. I dream of swimming in this clear water everyday - Kirsty

The picture that….makes me think

Hamburg Zoo, Dan Collins
What's he dreaming of? Hamburg Zoo - Dan

The picture that….makes my mouth water

Fish Fillet Philippines
Fresh fish fillet in the Philippines - I was tired and starving and this did the trick. Poi.

The picture that….tells a story

These children followed me along the beach by Lake Malawi for hours. While her friends were all jumping around and trying to use my camera, she waited patiently until I told her she could have a go - Gemma

The picture that….I’m most proud of

Sunset on Stradbrooke Island
Drying off after a day of scuba diving on Stradbroke Island - Dan

We hope you enjoyed looking at our pictures and now it’s your turn…….

Our nominees

We nominate…….no-one!

If you want to show off your 7 Super Shots with Hostelbookers on your own blog, go ahead and say we nominated you then hit us up on Facebook or Twitter so we can see your pictures!

 

Whether it’s the delicate splash of water on your forehead from a stranger or a full bucket of ice water down your back, you’re going to get wet.

For those of you who aren’t in Thailand, quite simply, you should be!

What is Songkran?

Songkran is the celebration of the Thai new year; a three day festival that takes place between the 13-15th April each year and also just so happens to be around the hottest time of the year as well.

It’s mainly known now to tourists for the water fights that take place almost nationwide however the biggest celebrations are still found in the north of Thailand.  Chiang Mai is known as the place to be with Bangkok being a close second.

Last year I experienced my first Songkran and had so much fun that I made sure to still be here this year to get in on the action again. So once again I’ll be filling up my supersoaker and heading out onto the streets en route to Khao San Road.  Although every night is a party on Khao San Road, nothing comes close to the buzz it has during Songkran.

The festival is like nothing I have experienced before, everyone gets involved and everything is fair game. Thai’s and tourists enjoy a good old fashioned water fight. What are you waiting for?

A few pictures from Songkran in Bangkok last year.

Songkran Thailand
Khao San Road - Before the mayhem
Songkran on Khao San Road
The streets are full all day, water flying everywhere
Songkran in Bangkok
I love it 🙂
Thailand water festival
You can barely move but it's so much fun.
Songkran Khao San Road
No idea? but you see lots of interesting sights during Songkran
Khao San Road Songkran
It's not just water, the Thai's loved covering tourists in clay paste as well.

If those pictures aren’t enough to convince you that Songkran should be on your must do list for next year then you’re beyond help.

Happy Songkran Festival!

Well it definitely beats an office
Well it sure beats an office...

 

This week’s questions to the backpackers come from Simon Petersen at Man vs World, a new travel blog featuring weird and wonderful travel adventures backpacking primarily through Europe and South East Asia as well as useful travel advice – more often than not – learned the hard way.

His questions are all centered on travel blogging, so read on for some top tips and advice from the experts.

Web: www.manversusworld.com

Twitter: @Themanvsworld

Facebook: Man vs. World

 

Let’s start with an easy one. What’s the secret to creating a successful travel blog?

Beverley: I don’t think there’s any big secret but one absolute must is to be yourself; be who you are online who you are offline and vice versa.  People follow people!

Poi: Having a good back story would help, as much as people want to follow travel adventures they also want an interesting lead character. Someone asked a while ago what would you do differently if you could start over? Being a recovered heroin addict turned travel addict would be a pretty interesting back story haha (if you ignore the years of hell before of course but you get the idea)

Dan: I agree with Beverley, don’t be somebody else, just be yourself…. and try not to annoy people.

Chris: There is no secret – apart from hard work, heaps of time and a lot of networking… along with a good dose of luck too I guess!

 

What’s the best single piece of advice you would give a fledgling travel blogger?

Beverley : Jusy keep going, it gets better!

 

Poi: Don’t start something you don’t enjoy, if you hate writing informational posts don’t promise them, if you don’t enjoy writing them then I guarantee no one will enjoy reading them

Dan: Keep it simple. Doing too much too soon will probably wear you out and you’ll get fed up of blogging before you know it.

 Chris: Be prepared to lose A LOT of free time!

 

There’s a lot of great travel blogs out there. How do I get mine noticed?

Beverley: Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing with their travel blog, concentrate on yours and be unique.

 

Poi: Write a post slagging one of the big boys off, be prepared for a fight though (this is terrible advice).

Dan: If you’re writing genuine stories and enjoying it then people will like your blog and start sharing it naturally. Failing that, create another blog with 6 other people and hope for the best.

Gemma: I don’t have my own travel blog but because of my work I regularly read other blogs. I’d say the best ones out there are those that incorporate an element of humour- mention both the good and the bad experiences and really show the person behind the blog. Also, reading itineraries (then we did this, then we did that) is pretty boring for a reader- make sure you bring the palce alive.

 Chris: Network, network, network – guest post, tweet, go to meet ups…pretty much do everything I’m too lazy to sort out for myself! hahaha!

 

The word on the street is that most bloggers give up in the first six months. Did you ever feel like giving up? 

Beverley: I’ve never wanted to give up, the reason I blog is because I love writing & I’d never want to not have a platform where I can get my writing out there and show people that you can travel the world if you really want to.

Poi: Did I? Don’t you mean do I? I always feel like giving up haha. I just like sharing things from our travels and unlike many bloggers I have no desire to be a writer or make blogging a full time job so while I’m enjoying it that’s great and I’ll probably always do it but it frustrates me often.

Dan: So many times I thought “yeah, I’m getting nowhere, I’m going to close this mother fcuker down tomorrow” but then a few minutes later I’ll find some reason to start enjoying it again. I just remind myself I’m not in it for the money, page rank or any of that crap people stress so much over – I enjoy it.

 Chris: Nah – to start off I blogged because I wanted to keep my friends and family in touch with my travels. Don’t expect to start living off it straight away so simply make sure you’re enjoying it – else you might as well work in an office!

 

What do you get from blogging – besides fame and fortune? Have you ever gotten any free perks?

Beverley: If your aim is to get fame, fortune and free perks from travel blogging then you might be a little disappointed!  It takes a long time and hard work to get to where the top travel bloggers are now.  I’ve gotten a few free perks in the past (and some coming up in the future hopefully!) but it’s not the main reason I got into blogging 🙂

Poi: we’ve had a few things 😉 you’re gonna have to be patient though or have a very good pitch.

Dan: You mean we can get free stuff?! Ah man I’m missing out!

 

 Chris: I’ve managed to blag quite a few things – festival passes, accommodation, free tours, discounts, travel kit… and even a pimping new travel hammock… sometimes you’ve just gotta be cheeky enough to ask.

 

How do you guys find the time to blog while travelling? It mustn’t be easy!

Beverley: It can be hard when you’re constantly moving about!  I’ve been travelling really slowly, working a little bit along the way, and that definitely makes it easier 🙂

Poi: Not really an easy answer to this one but if you enjoy it and want it to work then you will make time.

Dan: I agree with Poi here. It’s a lot easier if you have your own laptop or something similar with you while travelling.

 Chris: You have to make the time. Plane journeys, train rides and hangovers are my most productive periods though!

 

Any other advice you’d give? or any questions you’d like to ask?

Sure beats Leicester Square
Sure beats Leicester Square

 

Incomprehensible station names, crazy interchanges and around 7 million passengers a day; taking the Moscow metro can prove pretty daunting for a first-time visitor to the Russian capital. But let’s be frank, this underground system is the mother of all metros. Its beautiful chandeliers, mosaics, sculptures and statues make it an attraction in itself. And it’s not all about its looks. The metro is also cheap (60 Rubles will buy you a ticket valid for 5 trips city-wide) impeccably clean and trains surprisingly run on time. Spanning almost the entire Russian capital it’s by far the best way to get around so here’s how to do it…

Get through the door

It may seem a little obvious but making it through the incredibly heavy doors without getting a broken nose is the first challenge. The constant piston action of trains pushing air through the tunnels creates some sort of vacuum meaning the doors swing shut so you’ll need to use all your force to push them open.

Learn the lingo

If you’re not familiar with the Cyrillic alphabet, its crazy shapes and symbols make reading the station stops pretty impossible, as they don’t tally with the English names on your map. Learning the language is obviously the best way around this but getting your hostel/hotel to write down the name of your destination in Russian should help you to identify where you need to go.

Erm?
Erm, which way was it again?

Use your hands

If you haven’t succeeded to learn the language (see above point) then you’ll need to revert to age-old sign language to buy a ticket from the kiosk. Tickets are either sold individually or in groups of 5, 10, 20 or 60 so use your fingers to signal how many you want. The price is usually shown on the kiosk window (thank god numbers are universal) so you’ll know how much to hand to the woman. Smile is not included.

Ignore the sleeping woman

At the bottom of each escalator there is a glass cabin and inside sits a woman. Her job is to sit there all day looking up at the escalator, monitor the comings and goings of commuters and make loud speaker announcements to anyone who does not obey the escalator rules.  She is usually fast asleep but even so, don’t look her in the eye.

Ask younger people for advice

Do not expect Muscovites to speak anything other than Russian so swatting up on a few key phrases  (such as “how do I get to Red Square?”) is invaluable for getting around. As in most European countries, the younger generation is more likely to have studied English at school so if you need help, try approaching someone who looks fairly youthful.

Keep your passport on you

Don’t be surprised if you’re stopped by the police and asked to show your identification. It is standard practice so don’t start blubbing as soon as they appear but you will need to produce your documents. If you don’t feel comfortable carrying your passport with you, a photocopy should suffice.

And finally… Take your time

With stained glass windows, Swarovski-dripping chandeliers and mosaics expounding the benefits of a healthy communist life, the metro stations are architectural marvels in themselves. Make sure you book in some time to simply go from stop to stop and gawp at the grand designs. You wouldn’t do that in London and New York now would you?

 

Have you been to Moscow? How did you find using the metro? Any tips you’d add to the above?

Backpacker Tattoo

With tattoo’s becoming more and more popular it was inevitable that tattoo shops would start appearing in major tourist hot spots and reaping the rewards from over excited travellers.

But will you regret a spur of the moment tattoo from your rtw adventure?

From what I’ve seen it all comes down to one question. Have you been drinking?

That’s right, impulse decisions often lead to regrets and when do we all make those epic mistakes? When we’re hammered.

I have nothing against tattoo’s, much the opposite I have plenty and want more but that doesn’t mean I’m going to be rushing into the nearest shop and getting whatever jumps out at me. Each tattoo I have has been on my mind and often the wall of my bedroom for at least six months before making the transfer to my skin.

Perhaps I spend longer than most debating my tattoo’s but a night on Khao San Road with a group of English lads is enough to convince me I’m doing the right thing. Throughout the evening one or two would disappear for half an hour or so before returning and showing off a new tattoo. You know the usual type of thing, a dodgy girlfriend’s name from home, random phrase’s all thought up under the influence of 5 or 6 beers.

It’s not so bad for the guys already sporting a few tattoo’s, although there will undoubtedly be some regrets in the morning at least they knew what they were getting themselves in for. What’s worrying is when their pissed up mate jumps up and declares he’s going to get his first.

One of the RTW Backpackers team getting a cheeky Tattoo

As each guy returned the tattoo’s were becoming ever more disappointing but there was no stopping them, your name on the side of your neck? Or Boys on Tour on your forehead? Really?

This is not the way to go about it, even if you do have some great idea pop into your head, take at least a few days to think about it, remember, this is on you for life.

Some tips for getting tattoo’s while travelling:

Know what you want – Don’t rush into getting something because you want a tattoo there and then. Take time and consider what design you want

Research – If you can try and read some reviews online, practically everywhere has an online presence these days. Someone is bound to have mentioned their experience in the shop your considering.

See some work – Many shops have many artists, be sure to find out who will be working on you and ask to see some of their previous work.

Hygiene and procedures – This isn’t someone colouring in your skin, we’re talking needles and bleeding. Do they use new needles for every customer? Is everything disposed of in a suitable manner and have they got a license for what they are offering?

It seems a common practice to get a tattoo and why not, like I said before it’s a great way to remember your trip but if you’re not careful it can also be something to spend a lifetime regretting. Take some time to come up with the perfect tattoo and find the perfect artist for you.

Have any of you had any tattoos done while travelling? And more importantly…Had you been drinking?

This week’s questions to the backpackers come from Renata Wiles, an Australian politics graduate looking to come to the UK to work and travel. Her questions are all work related so if you’re thinking of working abroad, read on for some top tips and advice. You can find more from Renata on Twitter: @roamingrenata

What kind of jobs have you guys/girls been able to get while travelling, and were you able to get short term work (i.e. just 3 or 4 months)?

Monica – I’ve had a few. I started off working for a hospitality company in Sydney where I was basically a waitress for posh parties. I then worked for a company that did magazine subscriptions over the phone. I then worked in a coffee shop in Melbourne. I then worked on an island off the west coast of Australia. My title was ‘general island hand’ which meant I did everything from taking people fishing or scuba diving, driving people on tours around the island, cleaning, bar work or even making sandwiches. After that I worked for a courier company as an assistant manager. I organised the drivers and made sure everything was delivered on time. After that I worked as a copywriter writing content for newspapers and websites that included Compare the Market or even Fosters.com. I did this while I was travelling through Asia  and as you can see, if you’re in the right place at the right time, you can literally do anything!

Beverley – I’ve worked in Event Sales in Sydney, as a Barista/Sandwich hand at a cafe in Melbourne and as a Grape Picker when I did my farm work to get my 2nd Year Visa in Australia.  I’ve found that generally companies will hire you on a short term basis and then extend that if they like you and you’re doing a good job!

Dan – I managed to get a job as the SEO manager for some pretty big firms on the Gold Coast in Australia. They were cool enough with me to let me leave as and when I liked but I got to work at home when I needed too. Also tried my hand at working on a farm before I had to come home. I’d say be up front with the people if they are taking you on and tell them you only need something short term… most of the time this is a benefit to the company as it means they don’t have to pay you a full years worth of wages etc.

Gemma – Mine have all involved teaching or tutoring from two weeks up to two years. My year in France was organised by the British Council but other jobs were a result of applying to language schools or adverts in each country.

Chris – I’ve been going with the fun options! I Oz I turned down  job as a photographer on the Whitsundays in favour for working for Aquarius Hostel in Byron Bay and as the party bus driver for the infamous Cheeky Monkeys Club! Working for accommodation was the best decision I’ve ever made – you don’t necessarily have to make money, it’s more about saving it, and if you pick your hostel wisely you can get some great kick backs like cheap booze and free meals! Lately though I’ve opted to live the dream and work as a surf instructor in Ecuador!

 

Do any of you have degrees and do you think it helped you get jobs? (/if you don’t have a degree do you think it made it harder?)

Monica – I have a degree in English Language and Literature and this probably did help. Obviously I didn’t need it to serve cocktails but people are a bit more likely to spend a few extra seconds reading your CV when they see you have a degree.

Beverley – I have a degree in Media and Marketing and, although I don’t think it’s essential to have a degree to find a job, I agree with Monica; it definitely makes your C.V stand out against a bunch of others applying for the same job.

That being said, I wouldn’t worry if you don’t have a degree and it’s not essential!

Dan – No degree… no problem! I say that because the type of work I do you can’t really get a degree in. Most of my friends here in the UK have degrees and are now working in Supermarkets. I personally don’t feel degrees are necessary in this day for mid-level jobs. I don’t have one and I’m doing just fine.

Gemma – My degree is in French. Pretty obviously it helped me get a job in France but doesn’t help for much else… for the kind of jobs you might go for while away I doubt a degree is that useful; it’s probably more about your personality.

Chris – Unless you have a specific career path in mind whilst travelling I’d say you don’t have to worry…you’re a backpacker and you can’t really be too choosey about what work you take!

 

How do you find a job while your traveling? Do you ever try and get a job arranged before you arrive or do you just rock up and try find one once you are there? And if you are only planning on staying a few months are you up front about that when you get the job?

Monica – I found my jobs through websites like seek.com. Some of them were specifically backpacker jobs so they were aware I’d only be there for a few months. If it seems like a full time position I’d say that I planned to stay for 6 months and if I really enjoyed it there is a chance I’d stay longer. I did try to get jobs arranged before I arrived in Australia but it didn’t work. People would phone me and ask me to go for interviews or ask for my address and without this kind of information it’s unlikely your application will go any further. I’d definitely wait until you’re settled in a country before applying.

Beverley – I also tried to arrange jobs before I arrived in Australia but it was just impossible but I managed to find something within two weeks of being there.  I’d always advise giving the companies you apply for jobs with a follow-up call so that you stand out and they remember you.

Dan – I found my job in Oz after I arrived. I googled for companies in the area, sent them an email asking if they had work for me and then had a few interviews. I was upfront about being a traveller and they were fine about it.

Gemma – I always found asking staff in hostels a good way to find jobs – they recommended local recruitment agencies or companies that were employing at that time.

Chris – I agree with the others, you can try and prepare but you’ll probably end up winging it. Although on this trip I managed to sort my job, accommodation and such like before flying out which took a lot of stress off my shoulders! Never hurst to try and be as

 

If you are on a working holiday visa and decide you want to stay longer is it hard to get it extended?

Monica – I’m not sure about when you’re working in the UK but I know a lot of people who have done it. Australia has a different system where you have to work somewhere rural for 3 months. Lots of people think you have to work on a farm but I got my 2nd year visa through working on the island.

Dan – I’m with Monica on this one… not too sure about the UK but I did live with a girl who said she got her visa extended very easily while working here.

 

Have you worked in a country where you don’t speak the language?

 Monica – No. Only as a copywriter and the company I worked for was based in the UK.

Beverley – No not yet, but I’m definitely hoping to!  If you’re looking at doing this you can always look at doing a TEFL course to break you into the language.

Gemma – When I first went to France I could speak it a bit but realised I was nowhere near the level I should be. I soon picked it up & was pretty much fluent by the time I left. If you do want  to learn a language, throw yourself in at the deep end, get a job (i.e. one that doesn’t require you to speak it that well) and you’ll pick it up in next to no time!

Chris – Yup! But I’ve stuck to a place where its very much a backpacker hotspot so I can get along ok. The Spanish School I’m working for gives me free lessons too…but I’m picking more up by just mingling with the locals – which basically translates as I can ask for beer, flirt and talk about surf!

Kirsty – Yes! We’re living in Thailand at the moment. I’ve learnt a little bit of Thai but I really really struggle with the tones! It’s really easy to live here though, most people speak a little bit of English and sign language is a great help!

 

I’ve heard that with a degree you can often get jobs teaching English, even if you have no teaching experience. Have any of you done this and if so, how did you find it? Would you recommend doing some kind of TEFL course to do this?

Gemma – For most countries (particularly those in Asia) you’ll need a TEFL and if you’ve the time it’s definitely advisable to get it. There are however some places e.g. in China and South Korea where the demand for learning English is so great you can teach without one- as a native English speak they’ll snap you up!

Chris – I’m currently working through an online TEFL course. I don’t really have any plans to teach but I figured it would be a good string to my bow so to speak and it might come in handy down the line. I know in the UK though you can do a one year bolt on course to any degree and use it to teach.

Kirsty – you don’t need either a TEFL or a degree but you it will definitely help. Without a degree in Thailand you cannot get a work permit which means you will have to work here illegally and do visa runs every 3/6 months. Without a TEFL means that anyone with a TEFL would be picked over you. Plus a TEFL really does help to prepare you to teach, especially ones with a few classroom hours!

 

If you’re just staying/working in a country for a short time (i.e. 3 or 4 months) what do you do for accommodation?

Monica – Usually houseshares or the type of hostels where people stay for a long time. You’ll find these on Gumtree or HouseShare.com.

Beverley – Houseshares are definitely cheaper than hostels or renting an entire apartment by yourself and you’ll also get to meet new people at the same time!

Dan – I agree with the others; houseshares are the best choice. There was a company in New Zealand I was in talks with who tried to arrange something for me before I got out there.

Gemma – Definitely agree with the above- a houseshare is the only way to go.
Chris – Nah get yourself into a hostel – it will cost more but it’s heaps more fun and you’ll meet tons of backpackers! If you can’t afford to pay for it you can always ask around and work for your bed – couple hours a day cleaning in exchange for a place to kip….the perfect trade off!

 

If you can answer any of Renata’s questions or you have any you’d like to ask us, just let us know in the comments below.

This week’s #FriFoto theme is ‘wild’ so we’ve put together some of our favourite wild photos from around the world.

A Komodo Dragon on Rinca Island in Indonesia - Monica
Monkeys Thailand
The Monkey that stole my water in Thailand - Dan
New York in 'wild' weather - Gemma
New York in 'wild' weather - Gemma
Wild Joey
Wild Joey resting in its Mums pouch, Australia - Dan
Wild Lioness
Getting close to a Lioness - Dan
Wild gallah
Wild Galah in Australia - Dan
Storm Australia
Wild weather I caught on camera in Australia - Dan
Wild weather Vietnam
Wild weather in Vietnam - Monica

Certain things change when you start travelling, particularly in the backpacker world. You suddenly have the desire to do things out of the ordinary and act in different ways than what ‘normal’ society dictates. It can be simple things or down right stupid things so You Know You’re a Backpacker When

  • You have the sudden urge to wear anklets/foot jewellery/random bits of string
  • Drinking excessively on a weekday is completely normal
  • …and being sober is an odd sensation and kinda painful!
  • Beard growing, dreadlocks and general hairiness are actively encouraged (sometimes referring to both sexes!)
  • When you won’t spend $4 on a meal, but will blow $20 on booze without a second thought
  • You’ll haggle over 10baht with complete stubbornness – despite it only being 30p
  • Suntan cream and bug spray are your biggest expenses
  • Trying to sleep in a room where people are having sex is something you just deal with
  • The swimming pool DOES count as a shower (failing that public beach showers are the way forward)
  • Wifi is the deal breaker when looking for a bed for the night
  • Sleeping in a van at the side of the road is living the dream

    Parked up for the night
    Parked up for the night

  • Shoes are no longer part of your day to day dress code
  • …and wearing a tshirt is “getting dressed up”
  • …you also genuinely can’t remember the last time you wore socks!
  • Jumping out of a plane is a standard day out
  • You post status updates on Facebook for no other reason that to annoy your friends at home
  • You have no idea how much money you actually have – but you’re sure it’s enough
  • Smelling your clothes is how you pick what to wear (aka “sniff and see!”)
  • This rule also applies to food!
  • The free food shelf is a gold mine
  • You have 800+ Facebook friends but can only really remember a handful of them
  • You’ve perfected the squat toilet technique
  • Tiger balm cures EVERYTHING
  • Your iPod is your most treasured possession
  • If its free, you’ll take – regardless of whether you like/want/need it!
  • You save money by putting apples through as onions on self serve supermarket tils!
  • You can tell anyone the price of booze and where happy hour is…but have non clue about what the time is

    Forget the Amazon tour, let's drink!
    Forget the Amazon tour, let's drink!

  • …or what day of the week it is (see airport transfer concerns!)
  • The only local language you know is how to swear, order a beer and chat up girls/guys at the bar
  • You have a massive craving for things like PG Tips, Heinz Baked Beans, Peanut Butter….
  • You steal toilet paper from places simply so you don’t have to buy it
  • Being able to juggle, dread hair or play with fire suddenly seems like a good career path
  • “I’ll do that tomorrow” actually translates as “I’ll leave it to the last minute or forget”
  • You can name every possession you own
  • …and where in your bag you need to locate it at 3am in a dark hostel dorm
  • Which also means airline baggage handlers are your arch nemesis
  • A 31 hour bus/ferry/train combo is preferential over the extra $40 it’ll cost to fly there in 3 hours

So how many have you guys ticked off – or is that list simply making you wary about hitting the road?!

The lust capital
Amsterdam's red light district

 

Lust – Amsterdam, Holland

Amsterdam is as notorious for its red light district as it is for its for its quirky, artistic and ultra laid-back attitude. Hordes of scantily clad women (and men) line the streets of the Wallen acting as a huge draw for punters and window shoppers across the globe to ogle or indulge their fantasies.

 

Pride – Los Angeles, USA

The city of angels; where fake boobs, big hair and compact noses are more commonplace than hot meals. From the glitz and glamour of Hollywood to the uber-chic boutiques of Beverley Hills, LA is the place where people spare no expense to look their very best.

 

Greed – Las Vegas, USA

The ultimate sin city
The ultimate sin city

From all-you-can-eat buffets to never-ending drink re-fills and all-night gambling, the Nevada desert town is the ultimate Sin City. With everything in abundance and no check on time it’s hard to stop.

 

Envy – Dubai, UAE

A city of superlatives, Dubai boasts the most expensive, the biggest, the grandest, the tallest… of just about everything. From its super-sleek mall boutiques to its decadent hotels, be prepared for the green-eyed monster to rear its ugly head.

 

Gluttony – Paris, France

Where else can you indulge your food fetish than in the capital of haute cuisine: Paris. With secret street markets, bistros, cafes and restaurants aplenty, eating and drinking in Paris takes on a very new dimension.

 

London
You don't want to be caught in the middle of this in rush hour...

Wrath – London, UK

Stand on the wrong side of the escalator during rush hour or walk slowly down the street and you’ll see a cloud of red mist rise above commuters’ heads. What’s more during the north London derby be prepared for friendly football rivalry to turn somewhat sour.

 

 

 

Sloth – Barbados, Caribbean

The locals pride themselves on their relaxed and laid-back lifestyle so you’d be excused for taking things a little slower here. From catching some rays on the beach to wiling away the afternoon in a hammock the most you’ll have to move is to flag down the waiter for another rum cocktail.

If like me you can’t help but take football a little more serious than you should then you might be worried about how you’re going to keep up with the beautiful game while travelling.

Before we continue I have to be clear. This is aimed at the English folk out there. Not that weird in no way similar but similarly named game they play in the US or OZ.

So here is the thing, you need not worry – At least if you’re backpacking SE Asia.

It turns out despite the game being played in our own country, we have some of the worst TV coverage of the sport you could ask for.

It’s true living in Bangkok I don’t have the luxury of Soccer AM to soothe my hangover on a Saturday morning but that I can (just about) live with.  What I do get is every single premier league game, live on my television.  Not just the lunch time and late games like in the UK but every single game played across a number of channels.

It gets better still.  Despite meaning getting up in the middle of the night I also get all of the Europa and Champions league games as well.

Meaning since March this year I have not missed a single game of my beloved Tottenham Hotspur (Apart from a few friendly games, most of which were also shown live.)

But how was it when I was travelling?

SE Asia has been brilliant for the backpacking football fan. Often the first thing I’m asked after “Where are you from?” is “What team do you support?”. Football is huge over here it’s just a shame they all support Man U, Chelsea or Liverpool.

The big games are always easy to find, bars are always advertising the next games to try and draw the crowds in and many games are shown on channels available in hostels or hotels.

I remember once in a Cambodian hotel, after talking about football to the night staff he instructed me to wake him up at 3am to let me in the lounge for a game, can you imagine that back home?

The people in SE Asia have a real love of the game and makes keeping up to date with your team very easy.  Unfortunately it’s not going to be quite this easy all around the world. I found games a lot harder to come by in China despite the presence of shops selling merchandise of that horrible other team in north London. Luckily Internet access was often good enough to stream the games from the Internet.

That horrible moment is always inevitable with the internet though, your team is about to kick off and you can’t get a stream or find anywhere showing the game.  My best tip for this scenario? Throw stuff at the wall and blame your girlfriend while praying when you check the scored in the morning your team won.

 

Have you been able to keep up with your favourite sports teams while travelling? 

 

Mopeds are a lot of fun and SE Asia is a great place to take one for a spin, especially because they are so cheap to rent.

So no matter what your experience level, even a first timer, follow these rules and hopefully you won’t be battling  broken leg for the rest of your trip.

Always wear a helmet.
I’ll admit to not always following this rule especially on quiet island roads but I’m no role model and in towns it’s a definite must.  Not only because of the sometimes crazy accident rates around this part of the world but also because it’s the law.

Go with the flow.
Most traffic has a sort of flow to it. Judge how fast you should be travelling and how best to overtake from those around you. I don’t mean the guy going the fastest on the hard shoulder either, go with the majority.

Practice makes perfect.
Don’t get your new girlfriend from the dorm room last night on the back straight away.  Take the bike for a spin first and get used to the controls. Become one with the bike? Or something like that…

You’re on a moped.
Not in a scene from The Fast and the Furious.  Remember mopeds aren’t always the easiest to spot for car drivers so think first before flying round that blind downhill corner at top speed, it won’t be the car that comes out worse…

Check, check & check again.
Before you head off onto those wild jungle roads, make sure everything with the bike is working beforehand.  You don’t want to be stranded in the middle of nowhere and ending up as the modern day Tarzan.

Don’t play Evil Kenevil.
No matter what anyone tells you no one has ever cleared a canyon or valley, or anything worth note in fact, on a moped.  Don’t try to be the first…  You will fail.

…And now you’re safe. Safe from major injuries, safe from hefty repair bills and annoying insurance claims.

Do you have any more tips for riding a moped in other parts of the world? Or maybe a concern about your first time?

 

“You’re going on an around the world adventure? Who are you going with?”

Nobody. I’m going solo

“…Wait, what? Are you mental?!”

Well no, actually, you’re not mental. Thousands of people embark on around the world trips every year and 99% of them are looking to meet new friends and acquaintances along the way. Some of the best friends I have these days are people I’ve met on the road and even though I’m living in another country to them now I still talk to them almost every week.

One of the biggest myths about travelling solo is that it’s a very lonely task. If anything, I think travelling solo is one of the most social things you can do. I’ve generally found other travellers to be some of the most genuine, friendly people that I’ve ever met. No matter who the traveller is, you always have one thing in common with them – you like to travel!

Bearing this in mind it’s very easy to make friends with people in hostels and on the road. Most travellers like to share their experiences with each other and talk about where they are going to next, places that could be recommended by others, places others have been… we’re like younger, more sane versions of that crazy grandma we all have that wants to know every little detail and any little story. If you’re happy enough to share then we’re happy enough to listen.

It’s safe to say before I started travelling I wasn’t very social at all. I didn’t join any groups at home in fear of having to talk to strangers and making a fool out of myself and I didn’t mix with other people because I was ‘happy with the friends I’ve got’ – going travelling and being on my own made me sick to the stomach with the thought of being thrown in to a room full of strangers but take it from me, you have nothing to fear AT ALL.

The fact of the matter is there’s only one thing you need to remember when trying to make friends while on the road – be yourself. Don’t act a fool, don’t try and be somebody that you’re not and don’t annoy the others in the room you’ll find yourself making friends left right and centre. Obviously it’s going to take a little effort on your side. You may find yourself in a room with people as new to this as you – try striking up a conversation first “Hey, I’m Dan, what’s your name?” If the encounter doesn’t go as well as you’d hoped then it doesn’t matter as it’s highly likely you will be moving on to a new hostel in a few days or they will. I can guarantee you that if you’re open to making new friends then you’ll find them and it’s highly likely they will be friends for life.

If you’re still not sure then try using a traveller’s social networking site. One site that I’ve used myself (and am in no means affiliated with) is travbuddy. Basically you sign yourself up, bang in a few destinations you plan on visiting and on what dates… the magical mechanisms in the website do all of the work for you and find other people who will be in that destination and on those dates. Hey presto!

If you have any tips on ways that you’ve made friends on the road we’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!

Friends
These are just some of the friends I've met along the way...

Main image supplied by Photostock

Don't forget the fake Ray Ban's and the cut off shorts that get shorter (and shorter) with every wash.

 

It’s Fashion Week which means that models from across the world will be strutting their stuff on the catwalk, showcasing the latest designer trends and inspiring high street designers to turning them into every day items we can all wear.

Will we be wearing any of these new trends though?  Probably not.  As backpackers we don’t have the room in our luggage or room in our budget to keep up with the latest in fashion.

So what do we do?

Well, we come up with our own. The RTW Backpackers team don’t claim to know a lot about fashion but if you’re confused about what you should wear if you want to rock the Backpacker Look this season then just follow these simple steps*:

Excessively Colourful Boardshorts - it's the future!

1. Girls you absolutely must wear a bikini top every day even if you’re not going to the beach.  Even if it’s raining.  Even if it would probably be more appropriate to wear a bra.

In fact, don’t even bother packing a bra.  You’re living life untethered now and if that goes for your body as well as your travels then you sure as hell don’t need the restrictive feeling of two curved pieces of wire digging into your ribs every time you move.

2. Boys the same goes for wearing anything but board shorts on your bottom half even if you’re not going anywhere near a beach.  Even if it’s cold.  Even if it would more appropriate to wear jeans or, shock horror, actual shorts.  Nothing screams Backpacker Fashion like a brightly coloured pair of board shorts on a rainy day

Even in miserable weather the flip flops remain...
Even in miserable weather the flip flops remain...

3. Don’t even think about wearing anything on your feet except flip flops.  Any brand except Havianas is unacceptable.  Yes we know they’re more expensive than your average family car but there are times when you have to make sacrifices in the name of fashion.  And this is one of them. Failing that you could follow in Chris’s (lack of) shoes and ditch footwear altogether – just watch out for the glass!

New hair
Dan decided not to cut his hair for a while...

4. Don’t cut your hair.  Ever.

5. Don’t style your hair.  Ever.  If you don’t look like you’ve just been for a dip in the sea, rolled around in the sand and dragged through a hedge backwards, you’re not doing it right.

6. Make sure that 90% of the time you’re wearing a singlet or vest top with a beer logo on it.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve never been to Bali or Thailand, buy one off eBay and do everything you can to make it look like you’ve had it forever

7. Girls if you do feel like you have to do something to your hair you can’t go better than flipping your head upside down, twisting your hair around and securing with a bobby pin.  Proceed with caution though; pull it too tight and you run the risk of looking like you’ve tried to give yourself some kind of DIY facelift.

8. Buy an anklet, making sure it’s one that actually ties on so you have no choice but to wear it at all times.  Don’t cut it off when it starts rotting from getting wet in the sea or the shower.  Buy a new one and hope no-one notices.

Backpacker Fashion; short shorts!
Who wears short shorts? We wear short shorts!

9. Girls you definitely need to arm yourself with the shortest pair of short denim shorts possible.  Remember to wash them on a hot wash so that by the time you’ve worn them for the millionth time they’re so small that it’s practical illegal.

10. Wear as many hippy-looking bracelets as possible

11. Buy some Aladdin pants in the colour of your choice.  It doesn’t matter if they make your bum look huge or that they’re really unflattering, they’re comfortable and that’s all that matters for you now that you’re travelling, right?!

*None of the following advice should be taken seriously or, indeed, literally.

abakedcreation

For any of the non-Brits among us, Pancake Day is another of our weird and wonderful traditions that basically involves being able to gorge ourselves on tasty treats. But if you think there’s nothing more to the day than just flipping a few pancakes, you can think again.

This brilliant day, also known as Shrove Tuesday, is always the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of lent. And lent is that weird time of year when Christians (or people who need a good excuse for a diet) give up something they love (think all your favourite things like biscuits, sweets, chocolate and crisps) during the run-up to Easter. This symbolises deprivation and sacrifice and is meant to make us sympathise with Jesus – although I’m not really sure how giving up Ben & Jerry’s for a month can make anyone feel a bit more holy but that’s a completely different topic.

Before lent, people would use up everything in their cupboards and get rid of any tempting treats and what better way to do this that with a good old pancake.

Making the perfect pancake

I’m going to make this simple for you:

The ingredients

100g of plain flour

2 large eggs

300ml of milk

1 tbsp of oil

A pinch of salt

What to do:

  • Whisk all your ingredients together, preferably with a hand held whisk, put a nob of butter in your frying pan and wait until it’s really hot.
  • Ladle a spoon full of the batter in your pan and swirl it around really quickly so it forms a nice thin layer across the pan.
  • After about 2-3 mins give it a flip and hey presto, you have yourself a pancake. Simples.

 There are a couple of rules for making the perfect pancake:

  • You must make your own batter and you can’t get that stuff from a packet – that’s just cheating.
  • Your frying pan needs to be super duper hot.
  • The first pancake you make will look like crap and you’ll probably feed it to your dog but don’t worry, they get better.
  • The best pancakes are fried in butter.
  • Don’t flip your pancake until it comes away from the pan really easily.
  • There are recipes out there on how to make ‘healthy pancakes’ – ignore them all. Make the most out of Pancake Day and make every one as buttery and sweet as you can.
  • No matter how much ice cream and melted chocolate you have, you can’t beat the traditional lemon juice and sugar pancakes.
juanelos

And now all you need to decide on is the topping, so tell us, what’s your favourite pancake topping?

The courtyard of San Pedro
The courtyard of San Pedro

Ever since the plane landed on South American soil, I’d heard nothing but talk of the notorious San Pedro prison in the heart of La Paz, Bolivia. The backpacker circuit was buzzing with tales of the jail, largely due to Rusty Young’s 2003 book, Marching Powder, the must-read it seemed for every traveller in Latin America.

The book, a gripping exposé of life inside the prison, tells the story of a young British drug smuggler who, banged up for four years, came up with the idea of giving tours, thus creating one of the world’s strangest tourist attractions.

And after finding out the film version of the book is due to be released by Brad Pitt’s production company, Plan B, I was desperate to see the prison for myself but looking through guidebooks it seemed that the tours had stopped. A crackdown by the Bolivian government after the release of the book I assumed.

On arrival in La Paz, however, I found a different situation. The tours were still happening.

I was given Kenny’s number by a pair of Australians, who assured me I’d have no trouble getting into the prison. And they were right. After speaking briefly over the phone, and mentioning their names, a friend and I arranged to meet Kenny the next day in the square outside San Pedro’s main entrance.

When he finally turned up, I was surprised to see how smartly dressed he was- donning an expensive looking suit and shining loafers, utterly out of place with the usual Bolivian attire. After handing over 200 bolivianos (roughly £20), we joined an apprehensive looking group of tourists and a further £5 later (a bribe to the guard on the gates) we were introduced to our guide Miguel.

Like most of the residents in San Pedro, Miguel was in on drug charges but had recently taken over the running of the tours. He explained he ran them to “raise a little extra for my children”.

And this is where San Pedro differs from every other prison in the world; whole families live inside (although wives and children are free to leave the prison during daylight hours) and the jail resembles a small town. Flanked by cells, there are restaurants, hairdressers and even a hotel.

“Many people live a better life here than out on the streets,” pointed out Miguel.

“We all have a roof over our heads and many of us have small jobs.”

Easy then to see why prison poses a better option for some in Bolivia where, according to Unicef, 59% of the population live in conditions of extreme poverty.

The tour lasted for a couple of hours and took us through the different sections of the prison. As prisoners are expected to pay for their own cells, sleeping quarters range from damp, rodent-infested holes to almost penthouse apartments equipped with en-suite facilities and televisions- usually frequented by rich businessmen in for fraud.

“Normally, people stick to their section, they don’t leave” said Miguel.

“If you go into another section especially late night you could get badly hurt or worse killed. The authorities always report this as death from natural causes.”

When asked why he could come and go as he pleased, Miguel said simply “respect”. His six-foot muscular frame was certainly an advantage and walking around the jail, his presence made me feel a little more at ease.

The tour ended at one of the restaurants. I ventured to buy a hamburger, more out of politeness than hunger, and it was quickly rustled up by one of the inmates’ wives.

Chatting while she made my meal, she told me: “I’m very happy here. I work, my family has a home and the children are happy. Outside there is nothing for us when my husband is in prison.”

As I tucked into my 50 pence hamburguesa, Miguel offered us all some cocaine, the ‘finest in the world’ he claimed and produced in San Pedro itself. Although ninety per cent of prisoners are locked up for drug-related crimes, a large percentage of the world’s white stuff is still produced from inside the wall’s of San Pedro, using makeshift ‘factories’ set up in prisoner’s cells.

I slipped Miguel an extra few notes and was genuinely relieved when the gates opened and the tour group was allowed to escape. After chatting to some of the other tourists, it seems you can simply turn up at the square at the beginning of the day and hop onto a prison tour.

At the moment, San Pedro welcomes through its iron gates around fifty to sixty travellers each day and the entry money paid is said to be used in the improvement of amenities for the inmates, however, the general corrupt nature of Bolivia makes me somewhat doubt this claim.

Anyone wanting to explore San Pedro should however act quickly. Once the film version of Marching Powder is released next year, exposing secrets of the La Paz jail, prison officials and government ministers will try harder than ever to stop the tours.

 

Have you managed to visit San Pedro? Was the ‘tour’ the same when you were there?

 

Guess it beats your average hostel
Guess it beats your average hostel

 

Seems like there is an upside to the economic global downturn after all.

Singapore Airlines, in a bid to attract more tourists to Singapore, is offering hotel rooms for just £1 a night.

If you choose to stopover at the minute Asian country en route elsewhere you can snap up the deal at a snazzy hotel such as the Grand Pacific and get a free transfer. All for less than a cheeseburger.

And any additional nights will be discounted by up to 56 per cent.

As the airline serves onward destinations across south east Asia and Australasia including Koh Samui (Thailand), Penang (Malaysia), Adelaide (Australia), Hanoi (Vietnam), Siem Riep and (Cambodia) it’s a pretty good deal. Plus flights to Singapore are currently only around the £400 mark.

Sean Tipton of the Association of British Travel Agents – The Travel Association said: “The travel industry sometimes offers amazing deals like this outside of peak periods when demand is low and many hotel rooms and airline seats are unoccupied.

“If you are lucky enough to be able to travel when these offers are around you can make some incredible savings.”

Fancy taking up the offer? Do you think Singapore is worth visiting as a backpacker? 

 

When it comes to visiting Ha Long Bay, a must-visit site for anyone travelling Vietnam, there are almost definitely too many options to choose from. One is to make the trip to Ha Long Town yourself and find a tour or private boat there willing to take you or, like most, arrange a trip from either a hostel or travel service in Hanoi.

Chances are if you’re part of the younger generation of backpackers you’re looking for more than just a good spot of sight seeing. If you are looking for a something more lively you should consider the Hanoi Backpackers Rock Long, Rock Hard, Ha Long Bay Tour.

As the name suggests the tour is arranged through the backpackers hostel in Hanoi and if you’ve stayed there for more than 30 minutes you’ll know exactly what it’s all about, having a damn good time.

At $120 per person this option is not cheap but you get what you pay for and you under no illusions what that is (a common problem with Ha Long Bay Tours). A three day, two night tour with everything but drinks included.

junk boat ha long bay tour vietnam
Poi jumping off the top deck

Day 1 starts with transport from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay. After arrival the boat sets off and you’re immediately treated to a good-sized quality lunch before the boat anchors down and the brave among you can leap from the top of the boat for a swim. Whilst you’re splashing about, kayaks are being prepared for you to head over to a small island where a short hike gives you great views of the limestone cliffs you (may) have come to see. Back in the kayaks it’s onto a small cave for a quick look before heading back to the boat.

After some time to freshen up, its time for some more food before the real action begins. Your host for the trip will lead a number of drinking games and in many cases the boat turns into more of a nightclub with your own iPod providing the perfect music.

The parties can get pretty rowdy and go all night. The lucky staff selling drinks will keep the bar open until the last of you has stumbled into bed sometime during the early hours.

the jolly roger hanoi backpackers ha long bay tour
The Jolly Roger

Unfortunately after a heavy night the next day starts early with a 7am breakfast and many tired faces. A smaller boat transports you to ‘Castaway Island’ where you will enjoy the rest of the day and second night of the tour. A private beach complete with wooden shelters for bedrooms, a bar, table tennis, volleyball makes for an amazing day in the stunning surroundings with your new friends. Even if you do use some of the time to sleep off the night before….

A BBQ lunch is provided before heading off for an activity of your choice; at last look either wake boarding, banana boating or rock climbing. As each group goes off you’re left to enjoy your surroundings and by the time everyone has had their turn the day has passed.

The evening begins with another good BBQ meal before guess what, another round of drinking games for all to enjoy. Much like the night before your host will get the action underway before the night heads in whatever direction you take it and with a private beach, that means pretty much anything goes.

private beach ha long bay
All This beach to yourself

Day 3 starts early again with transport back to the main boat. It’s just a case of a final meal on the boat before a long tired journey back to Hanoi.

It’s clear this tour is not for families or those of you looking to spend time seeing Ha Long Bay in detail but if you want to have the best of both worlds with magnificent scenery and one hell of a party this is as good as it gets.

CC Thanks to David Mckelvey for the title picture.

Because we’re super cool, awesome and generally nice people we wanted to make sure this blog wasn’t just about us. Taking this in to consideration we’re starting a regular feature where we’re going to pass on our knowledge to you on any questions you may want answering. We didn’t want to limit this to just travel bloggers and so we’re welcoming everybody to get in touch and to take part.

So without further ado, I hand you over to our first guest:

RTW Backpacker
Meet Dom

“Hey, I’m Dom Lovallo (@dlovallo1) 22 years old and from Peterborough, England. I’ve just finished studying business at Hull University and I’m now just working hard and saving towards the dream.

During University I decided that I cannot just get a job and work till I retire and needed to see and experience the world. Already fed up of the mundane life of work and routine, I want to travel the world to have one big adventure, try things i would never do at home, meet some amazing new people and cultures. This is also the first time I would have been away from England for longer than a couple of weeks. I’m planning on setting off around October 2012… looking to get RTW flights booked around April time.

I’m going to start off in India (Goa) to ease into the travelling concept then travel up-north. Then jump on a flight to china, travel down the east coast then through Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia and ending up in Singapore. After that I’ll be flying to east coast Australia. I’m thinking about a bit of S.America but budget means might have to leave it to another time. I’ll hopefully be travelling for approx 8-10months… Hopefully longer.”

My questions to the backpackers are:

What size backpack have you used and what would you recommend?

Chris – I’d say smaller is better (I did Thailand on a 25litre for 3 weeks!) but in reality I’d say 70+20 …it gives you plenty of space so you don’t need to worry about creating a tetras tile packing technique and you can buy stuff on the road

Dan – I’ve got to agree with Chris. When I was leaving Australia (bearing in mind I had everything I own on me) I had an 80-Litre backpack which was far, far too big. Dragging it around was uncomfortable and just attracted attention. I felt the need to constantly keep checking it and having to move it out of people’s way. Having a backpack with a detachable day pack would be a bonus.

Beverley – I actually don’t have a backpack, I have suitcase instead!  If I was always moving from place to place then I’d definitely have a backpack instead but because I’m travelling slowly and therefore more long-term it’s more feasible for me to live out of a suitcase than a backpack.

Monica – I had a 65litre backpack and found that this was just about right. Any bigger and I wouldn’t have been able to lift it onto my back and any smaller makes it tough to find anything. I’d recommend buying one that zips all the way open rather than a toploader. I had one that only opened at the top so anything that slipped to the bottom pretty much stayed there.

 

What travel essentials would you recommend to pack for a 12month RTW Trip?

Chris – travel adaptor (much needed), a hardcore pair of flip flops, some good tunes to entertain you on buses/beaches/planes and an iPad – I don’t know how I’d travel without one now!

Poi: I’d invest in a kindle, reading is a must to pass the time on long journeys and settling for books you don’t really enjoy from a crappy book shop gets frustrating.

Dan – Definitely an iPod of some sort to keep you entertained if you don’t like reading. A small first aid kit, mosquito spray, a backup way of accessing money. (How boring am I?!)

Beverley – Dan you’ve gone all grown up and practical on us, what happened?!  I actually don’t think I could travel without my iPod, my iPhone, a large pair of sunglasses and industrial strength mozzy spray. But you also can’t go wrong with a small first aid kit and a travel washing line.

Monica – I agree with Poi – definitely a Kindle. You can buy virtually everything you could possibly need or want on the road so I wouldn’t worry too much about what you pack.

 

I’ve heard whilst travelling that plans can change quick, would you recommend investing in an RTW flight ticket or just winging it and buying just your first one-way flight?

Chris – it’s a difficult one! My experience from working at STA Travel says full RTW ticket – but make sure it’s a flexible one. You can plan a full RTW ticket to key destinations (i.e. into Bangkok and out of Singapore) and then bounce around as much as you like within that place depending on time and budget.

Poi: Don’t listen to Chris and just wing it, I planned on being in Asia for maybe half a year originally and I’m still here over a year and a half later. Who knows what you’ll decide to do once you’re underway!

Dan – Agree with Poi on this one – wing it! I know a lot of people who have decided to wing it as you may find you don’t like some places so want to leave early or you may like them too much and decide to stay longer.

Beverley – Definitely wing it because once you start travelling your plans with constantly be changing.  Opportunities will come up, you’ll meet people along the way and all of a sudden the plan you’ve got set in stone doesn’t look so great anymore.

Monica – I think it depends what kind of travel experience you’re after. If you know for definite that you want to be back home after a year and there are 4-5 countries you definitely want to visit then go for a RTW ticket. If you aren’t 100% sure where you want to go or how long you want to go for just wing it. It might work out slightly more expensive but you aren’t restricted by a schedule.

 

I’ve heard that the general rule for budgeting is approx $1000 USA dollars a month. Would you say this sounds about right taking into consideration that majority of the months will be travelling in cheaper countries such as India, Thailand etc and maybe only 2-3 months in Australia, New Zealand etc.?

Chris – Yes, although I’d say £1000! Australia is increasingly expensive to travel and that $1000 will balance out in the long run. It’s always best to be pessimistic with money – worse comes to worse you come home with some cash in your pocket. Best case scenario….you simply travel for longer!

Beverley – – I have no idea about budgeting, nor have I ever budgeted per month for my travels so I’m probably not the best person to ask! 🙂

 

How do you budget your money whilst travelling?

Chris – I stick to the $1000 rule and break it down daily. I tend to take a week or so’s worth of cash out and stick to it if I can – especially for daily buying stuff. Things like tours and that need to be approached in advance though and if I know I’m intent on doing something before I leave I’ll factor it in.

Dan – Considering I lost my bank card and had no other access to money on my trip I’d say the best way to budget is live off the bare minimum unless you really want to do something. Towards the end of your trip you can go crazy with the money you have left 🙂

Beverley – I don’t.  I earn shit loads of money working abroad, travel a bit more and then realise after a few months that I’m going to have to starve until I find work again because I’ve spent all my money.  I realise this is hugely irresponsible and would not recommend taking this approach to your travels.

Monica – I’m the same as Beverley. I don’t have a budget I just try my best not to waste any money. When my bank balance starts to get low I stop travelling for a while and knuckle down and do some work for a few months until I have enough to start travelling again.

 

What advice would you give somebody thinking about and wanting to fund a RTW trip?

Chris – start saving ASAP! That way if you decide to go (which you should!) the moneys good to go. If not then you have some good savings – it’s win win! Kill you’re social life and look at things as if they were parts of your travel – that £10 meal out might not seem much but would I rather have that or a hostel bed, 2 meals and a beer in Thailand?!

Poi: Basically what Chris said, look at everything in terms of what it could get you somewhere else in the world. You don’t wanna avoid going out with friends because you’ll start to hate saving but just skip the expensive bits, don’t eat out but meet them after for beers 🙂

Dan – What those two said ^

 

Beverley – Sell everything you don’t need on eBay, do your research, book at least one flight or get a visa secured for somewhere so you’ve got something to aim towards and don’t let anyone tell you that what you’re doing isn’t a good idea.

Monica – Don’t bother saving in your home country – work abroad! Working around Europe, Australia and NZ is so much more fun and you can earn some decent money to fund your travels. I found it easier to save in Oz because I was surrounded by like-minded backpackers who were on a budget and you have more motivation to save your pennies.

Any advice on the best company to get travel insurance from?

Chris – Without sounding like a broken record it’s STA Travel again! I’ve worked for them and for what they cover they’re the best. I’ve dealt with people needing to be flown home or get treatment and the under writer is really good – I have complete faith that they’d be there if I needed them.

Poi: Our travel insurance ran out a while ago…oopps.

 

Dan – I use the price comparison websites. I think mine ended up being £20 for 12 months from Virgin Money Travel Insurance which included winter sports, baggage lost etc. I even got a nifty little credit card thing with all of the details on so I didn’t have to carry around heaps of paperwork.

What would you say is the biggest highlight and best place that youve been whilst travelling that you would recommend to others to put on their itinerary?

Chris – Anyone reading my blog will know that Byron Bay, Australia is going to be my answer! Although Montanita in Ecuador – where I’m currently based – is fast catching up!

Poi: Since diving on Koh Tao I can’t stop thinking about it, I’m desperate to go diving again, although I’d do it anywhere really.

Dan – Australia. Hands down Australia is the best place I’ve been. There’s no specific spot I’d recommend I just love that country! If I really had to choose I’d say the Gold Coast hinterland.

Beverley – The Great Ocean Road in Australia.  Don’t let a tour guide take you down it though.  Hire a campervan and do it yourself, it’s so much more fun that way!

Monica – The Gili Islands in Lombok. They’re easy to reach from Bali and absolutely stunning. The nightlife on Gili Trewangen is awesome and the other two islands give you a real Robinson Crusoe feeling.

Is it worth bringing a laptop/netbook with me whilst on my travels or would this be just extra baggage when internet cafes can be used?

Chris – I always carry my laptop and my iPad. If you don’t need the full capability of a laptop though just go with the iPad –   it’s so portable you won’t even notice the extra weight.

Dan – I had my laptop with me on my travels but I did tend to get very protective over it where security was concerned and I needed it being a blogger. I’d say take it with you if you’re not mega worried about it and it’s not too heavy.

Beverley – I didn’t have a laptop for ages until I started taking my Blog seriously and knew the investment would be worth it so I bought one on sale in Australia.  Honestly though if you think you’ll only use it to go on Facebook and email then it’s probably not worth it – every hostel I’ve been to have internet access and you don’t have to worry about losing or breaking your laptop.

Odds of having travelling flings in every hostel you visit?

Chris – In EVERY hostel!? Depends how determined you are!hahaha! Flings will happen though…don’t fret young hormone fuelled traveller!

Poi: Jesus man, you’re gonna have to sleep sometime you know haha. I praise your enthusiasm though 😉

Dan – I’m agreeing with the others… every?! Haha. I wouldn’t say every hostel but I know for a fact every hostel I’ve stayed in there’s been somebody having a romp in one of the opposite beds.

Beverley – I would say that  odds are hugely increased if you concentrate on being friends with people and generally getting involved with a group and having fun rather than being that creepy person in the hostel who’s trying to get it on with everything that walks 😉

Monica – If you’re a hottie, the odds are high 😉

If you’ve got any questions you’d like the backpackers to answer, give us a shout!

 

If you’re fed up of Valentine’s Day and don’t fancy smooching all over your candle lit dinner and cooing sopping nothings into the ear of your sweetheart then why not try some of these restaurants where romance will be the last thing on your mind.

Cannibalistic Sushi, Japan

Sushi isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and cannibalism is pretty much illegal so this restaurant is sure to create a bit of controversy.  You’ll find an open ‘body’ on each table so grab your chopsticks and dig out some sushi.

Modern Toilet, China

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been with your loved one, the sight of them sat on the crapper has to be the biggest turn-off imaginable and that’s exactly what you’ll see during your meal at Modern Toilet. These guys have got rid of good old fashioned chairs and replaced them with toilets. Why? We have no idea; we just hope they aren’t plumbed in.

Buns and Guns, Lebanon

This military themed restaurant with the slogan ‘Sandwiches Can Kill You’ is likely to kill the passion as well as any edible looking animal in sight. Try the Mortar Burger or the M16 Carbine Meat Sandwich.  Veggies shouldn’t be put off by the hung-go mentality; The Terrorist is a tasty vegetarian option.

Penis Restaurant, China

Guo Li Zhuang serves every type of penis imaginable and will either be your worst nightmare and put you off penis for life or, you never know, it may awaken your inner pervert and you might love eating a bit of donkey dick.

Cabbages and Condoms, Thailand

Nothing says romance like a handful of free condoms which is exactly what you get when you leave this safe sex restaurant. Designed to promote safe sex with the reassuring slogan, ‘Our food is guaranteed not to cause pregnancy’.

The Grave Yard Restaurant, India

No one likes sitting next to a dead body while they eat their dinner but unfortunately that’s part of the deal at this Indian restaurant. The graves are thought to bring good luck and plenty of customers for the owners. How romantic.

 Has anyone been to any of these restaurants of know anyone know of any other unromantic places?

Welcome to RTW Backpackers!

We’re 7 travel bloggers/backpackers from the UK, in fact you might know some of us already!

We’re all based in different countries right now but we’re coming together online to bring you our funniest, most scandelous, sexy, sometimes alcohol-fuelled, no-holds-barred stories from our travels so far as well as some fantastic guest posts from some other travellers who took up our offer of beer and internet-loving as bribery for writing for us!

Ok not really.

But at the same time we’ll also be sharing some helpful stuff too (because obviously we’re not just about beer and shagging) so that you can get all your backpacking questions answered by real travellers and get out there and see the world for yourself!

So if you like what you see, share this post on Facebook or Twitter and help us take over the world!!! Ahem…..we mean, keep writing this super amazing blog…..

“So who the hell are you then?!” I hear you cry.

Calm yourself.

We may have been a bit secretive lately but we’re now ready to come out of hiding (read: the pub) and reveal who we actually are!

So in no particular order…..

Monica from The Travel Hack

Chris from Backpacker Banter

Dan from Adventures With Dan

Beverley from Pack Your Passport

Kirsty and Poi from No Place To Be

Gemma from Gap Daemon

We’d love you all to become part of the RTW Backpackers community so if you’re not already, feel free to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks!

 

 

So many times I’ve been trawling through travel blogs and found “Top Travel Tips for Women” but never before have I found travel tips for men. Feeling a bit left out and dejected at this I’ve decided shine a little light on this often ignored topic and bring you the long-awaited and desperately needed travel tips for men. The following are what I deem to be some of the most important tips a man can follow while travelling:

Clown hair
The voices told me this would look good....

Never trust that inner voice

Where women can often rely on that little voice in their heads telling them that “this is probably a bad idea”, the little voice living inside a man’s head has been designed to do the complete opposite. Instead of telling us to walk away from a dangerous situation, the voice inside our heads would encourage us to face it head on and be the hero. Or if we found a sign saying “dangerous currents do not swim” the voice in our head takes it as a personal insult on our swimming skills and decides to make us take a dip anyway. That little voice in your head will be the undoing of your travels before you have even started. Ignore it at all costs.

Protect yourself from pick-pockets

Don’t wear pants with pockets. Or even better don’t wear pants at all.

They said they loved me
They said they loved me...

She’s really not that in to you

Going abroad you’re bound to be feeling like a god. You’ve left your cares and responsibilities at home and have nothing left to tie you down. You’re THE man. Knowing you’re ‘the man’ you’re going to be expecting foreign women to be head over heels in love with you. When these supermodels start throwing themselves at you, you start picturing your life married to the stunning-20 year-old who’s currently hanging off your arm. In reality that supermodel who has taken a sudden interest in you is most likely after a visa or all of your money. The 2 month fling with the new love in your life will turn in to the worst investment you ever make bringing with it divorce costs that go through the roof. Before you end up in a sticky situation (and not the one you were hoping for) stop and think what a stunning 20-year-old actually sees in a scruffy backpacker in the first place.

Avoid public humiliation.

Ignore the second point. Wear pants.

jump!
Jump! It's the only way...

You’re not Indiana Jones

Something I learned the hard way while travelling is that you don’t suddenly change into an action hero that’s able to take on any situation and come out of it with not so much as a bead of sweat on your forehead. You’re still the same old you and you haven’t learned overnight how to jump out of a moving car, do a few rolls and then stand up without a scratch on you. You’re bound to be placed in to a few situations while travelling when you think “yeah, I can do this” but deep down you know that 13ft jump across a swamp filled with very hungry alligators is way too ambitious for you yet you’ll still give it a damn good go. Do yourself a favour and walk away. Seriously… just walk.

And finally, possibly the most important advice your mother ever gave you reiterated by a random stranger;

Don’t be silly – wrap your willy!

This article isn’t intended as the most serious piece of advice. Check back for some real travel tips for men and women that are coming soon!

 

 

‘An empty backpack!? Are you crazy?’ I can hear you all crying this already. You’d be mad to leave without anything…right?

There are literally hundreds of websites and blogs out there offering advice on what to pack for your round-the-world trip but I have to disagree with every single one. You don’t need X-amount of pyjamas, a guide book to every single town in the world or a specialised waterproof coat that doubles up as a canoe, a Swiss army knife and a tent.

All you really need is your passport, the clothes on your back, a camera, your toothbrush and a debit card. Simples.

Still don’t believe me…? Here’s why I’ll be leaving home with an empty backpack on my next big trip:

My Top 10 reasons for leaving home with an empty backpack

1. There is no danger of over packing – possibly the biggest mistake that every backpacker makes.

2. You will have loads of fun exploring the markets, haggling for a bargain and picking up some unique clothes so much more fun than a regular trip to H&M.

3. You will honestly be able to pick up everything you need on the road – including a backpack if you decide to go all out and leave with nothing.

4. You will be able to confuse the hell out of the airport staff as you check in an empty bag.

5. You won’t need to lug around a load of stuff you will never need or won’t need for 6 months.

6. You may think you’re going to the Arse End of Nowhere but I can guarantee that even the Arse End of Nowhere has shops and they will be cheaper than at home.

7. What you wear at home won’t necessarily be what you’ll wear while travelling. The latest London fashions look completely out of place in Asia and you’ll want to be in baggy pants and a T-shirt displaying the local beer.

8. There is an amazing sense of freedom when you have barely any luggage and nothing to weigh you down.

9. It isn’t until you’ve travelled with nothing that you realise how little you need in life. This can really be a life changing experience.

10. You’ll have loads of space in your empty bag for gifts, souvenirs and all the great stuff you are bound to pick up along the way!

What do you think about leaving home with an empty backpack? Is there anything you couldn’t leave without?

 

 

I decided to review this hostel as I’ve seen a lot of talk lately following the usual argument of ‘Hostels vs Hotels’ and ‘what makes a good hostel’. When people get into this discussion I always bring up the Guilin Flowers Hostel in China as my example of exactly what a hostel should be.

I’ve stayed in many different styles of accommodation over the last year and a half across China and SE Asia and this is still one of my favourites. Not because it has great views over a beach or I have fond memories of friends made there but simply because when it comes to making a hostel they got everything right.

So what makes this hostel stand out?

The best thing about YHA flowers is it’s homely charm. The large lounge full of comfy sofa’s is a great hangout and place to meet other travellers, it’s the first room you come to entering the hostel and chances are where you’ll spend most of your time. The lounge also has a quieter area for reading or a quick snooze as well as a pool table, computers and a separate TV room with stacks of movie’s available. There’s also cheap eats available all day ranging from good Chinese food to simple western dishes and of course a fridge full of soft drinks and cheap beer, which of course is a must for any good establishment.

Guilin Flowers Youth Hostel

One of my favourite aspects of the flowers hostel is how it was designed with the backpacker in mind, something so obvious but that seems to be missed in a lot of hostels. One of the largest walls in the lounge has been painted to show timetables for all transport out of Guilin to just about everywhere, making planning your next journey so very simple. There are shelves full of books and leaflets giving you a guide to everything going on in the area built up over time from backpackers passing through.

The hostel is also home to some of the most helpful staff I have met whilst away. Not only are they friendly with a ‘help yourself’ sort of attitude but they actually know what they are talking about and seem happy to help with any questions you take to them. If you want to go somewhere just ask and they’ll set you on the way.

When it comes to sleeping you can chose between a bed in a four person dorm for only a few dollars a night or splash out on a private room for between $11-15. The one thing you might not like about this place? All bathrooms are home to those dreaded squat toilets, but hey, you’re in China right?

It’s also one of the cleanest places I have stayed, everywhere was spotless and no bugs in sight, including in the bed which is more than I can say for one of the hotels I used in China…

The final point is it’s location, not only is it in Guilin, a wonderful place to begin a journey along the River Li, but it’s practically just across the road from the train station so you won’t be lugging your bags around town for an hour after a long journey.

Before you ask this isn’t a sponsored post, just a request to anybody looking to open a hostel to take note, this is the example to follow.

If you’ve just graduated from uni chances are right now you’re at a cross-roads in your life where you’re not really sure where to go next.  I guess it’s kind of like one of those ridiculous quizzes found in women’s magazines; “You’ve just graduated from University, do you a) apply for a post-graduate course?  b) start applying for jobs?  or c) travel?

The trouble with those quizzes though is that sometimes they don’t even give you another option like d) All of the above.  I think I’m probably a bit biased, but before you start scouring the Seek website for the post-grad job you’ve always wanted, think again.

You’ve probably got people telling you that if you don’t do something with your degree now then it all will have been a massive waste; all that money blown, look at the debt it’s got you in, 3 years down the drain blah blah blah. 

At this point my advice to you would be to turn around to all of those people bringing you down and shout, extremely loudly; “My degree isn’t going to expire!!!” because the way some people talk it’s almost like if you don’t use your degree right NOW then somehow it’s going to lose it’s value.  I mean, have these people SEEN antiques roadshow?!  Things get better with age?!

You’ll always have your education.  You’ll always have that degree under your belt and even though that amazing post-grad job on Seek probably won’t be there for ever, there will be other jobs in the future.

And despite what other people would have you believe, travel can actually broaden your mind, educate you and prepare you for your chosen career in more ways than you could ever imagine.  Don’t worry that travel will look bad on your C.V because it wont:

When you travel you’re constantly planning your life, constantly dealing with changes in situation.  You’re constantly learning new things and experiencing different cultures.  You’re socialising with people you wouldn’t normally talk to and improving your communication skills.

You might not have been sitting at a desk for the best part of your twenties but that doesn’t make you unemployable.  In fact, I think it makes you even more of a catch.

Do you really want to be sat at your desk in twenty years time, only to suddenly be hit with the realisation that maybe you made the wrong decision?  I mean yes you have a gorgeous house, a great job, a nice car and maybe if you’ve been exceptionally silly you’ve gone and grown yourself a couple of babies.  These are all good things.  Great things!

But that’s what they are; things.

Things will be around forever, but your life experiences are something that you have to find for yourself.  That’s not to say you have to start backpack hunting, like NOW; I worked for 2 years after graduating not even realising that at aged 24 I would be jetting off to Australia and I’m really glad that I gained some experience in a working environment, but give yourself the option at least.

At least consider experiencing something out of your comfort zone.  At 26, I am still learning so much about the world and about myself, and I honestly don’t think that that would have been the case had I stayed at home.