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Backpacking Survival Part II: Respect, Immersion and Those Stupid Wheely Luggage Things

Guest post by Tamara Pearson

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The following is a response to Backpacking Survival Tips, and offers a different view on how to travel. Along with some important pointers you wont find in Part I, it also emphasizes the need to be aware of the historic context of the country you’re visiting.

First of all, its important to remember that everyone has different needs and travels differently – some people are full time workers with just short vacation time, other people have illnesses and disabilities, or specific needs. Some people travel for a break, others to learn. The most important thing when travelling, I think, is to be respectful of the country you’re in. That means trying to learn at least some of the language, and it means seeing the real country and talking to people. Doing a George Bush and flying over Iraq, talking to US soldiers, then claiming he has been to Iraq – ie staying in a hotel most locals would only ever enter by working there, taking a snap shot of the tourist attraction, then leaving – does not count as visiting a country. Such claims are disrespectful. If your country had a role in invading the country you are visiting it, colonising it, looting it, dominating it, abusing it – at the very least read about that before you go.

Be as safe and cautious as it would make sense to be anywhere, including your home country. Don’t be paranoid and mistrusting, because human relationships and discussions are part of what travelling is about, and paranoid makes that hard. This means: don’t wear expensive jewellery, don’t wave your camera around, but also don’t assume that every time the bus driver takes more than five seconds to hand you your change that he’s trying to rob you.

Travel on buses, because that’s where the fun happens. Save cabs for 2am airport trips. Speaking of which, when you arrive in a country, either at an airport, a border crossing, or a bus terminal: know what to expect and how you are getting out of that airport or terminal. This is the stressful bit of travelling, and you need to make sure you have local currency, a hostel to go to (rarely will the people at the airport recommend you the most affordable place), and a safe way to get there. Once in your hostel, have a snooze, recover from your trip, then you can chill and have fun exploring this new bit of world.

Don’t take photos of yourself much, rather use photography as a way to actively search for the world’s beauty.

Pack as light as you can. If you don’t have back problems or anything, use a backpack, because those wheely luggage things are only practical at smooth airport floors, not in the real world of rickety streets, buses, stairs, and crowds.

Photocopy all your documents, so if something gets stolen its easier to get the passport replaced or have the info ready when you call the bank.

I don’t use those waist travel pouch things, I think they are really obvious, they scream tourist. I use a small purse thing for small change, and have a secret pocket in a bag for the bank card.

Ask locals to recommend places, look up cultural events and political in newspapers, and leave the beaten track (which includes anything lonely planet recommends), because that’s the money path. It destroys learning, it destroys your relationship with the country you are meant to be respectful visiting.

Souvenirs, as Ryan said, are factory made money making gimmicks, usually. They are not memories. Memories are the real conversations you manage to have, and the things you learn.

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