Sunday, January 6, 2008

How to plan a backpacking trip #3: reading advice and seeking advice

You've spent the last half hour staring at the map and you're ready to pack your bags and go! Unfortunately a backpacking trip requires a little bit more pre-trip planning than that. In this article you will learn how to find and get advice specially tailored to your needs.

As you are about to embark on extensive research of your destinations and your trip in general, you're going to need a ton of help. I have done a lot of travel research—it happens to be one of my most favorite forms of procrastination. Most likely you are going to be using a ton of resources to help plan out your trip. Thankfully, there is a lot of information of there for travelers. Of course, some of it is better than others.

Below are some of the websites and other resources I find most useful. Hopefully they help you as well!

Rick Steves is the ultimate Europe travel guru. It's so interesting to read his perceptions about what he sees and where he goes. There are tons of useful articles on everything from ways to save money to packing. You'll find a lot of answers there. There's also the "grafitti wall" where other travelers post their own advice.

Crawl on over to the Lonely Planet website. You can order guidebooks online, read articles, but make sure you check out the forums, the thorntree. Here you have great advice on every part of the globe and more general travel issues such as safety and eco-friendly travel. Search the country forum for your destination and see what's been said already. If you have a question that hasn't been answered just ask! Tons of experienced travelers are reading the forums right now, ready tell you about the best hostel they stayed at in Amsterdam or that vegan restaurant in Milan. We'll get really heavily into packing later… it's almost a fetish for me and I LOVE this site. Read the entire thing. You'll be hard pressed to find better packing advice anywhere.

STA Travel is a great website, if you are a student. You can order your ISIC card and check out student deals on flights as well as booking hostels and buying travel insurance. (Your ISIC card comes with some travel insurance coverage so think about if you really want to pay extra for more.) Student universe is another student travel website, but in my experience STA has the better deals. I almost always get transatlantic tickets from STA.

Skyskanner. EasyJet, Ryanair, Wizz Air, Sky Europe… is your head aching just at the thought of comparing prices and flights on all these different airlines? This site does the hard part for you and finds the cheapest flight available for almost any destination (the focus is on within Europe). You can search entire countries and for entire months, too.

You can join websites such as Couchsurfing or the Hospitality Club. This is a great way to save money and meet new people. Even if you're not comfortable with the idea of staying with a stranger, you can still meet up with someone for a meal or a drink, or get local advice on what to see and do in a particular city.

Hostelworld: You can book online and read reviews for hostels before you decide to stay there. There are tons of hostelling sites and this is just one of them. It's not a bad idea to google the name of a hostel you are thinking of staying at, just to see what else comes up! The more reviews you read the better idea you have of what a hostel is really like.

Bootsnall is another travel networking sites. You can read blogs and ask for advice on the forums.

In your pocket guides

Let's go isn't my favorite travel publisher, but you can still get plenty of good information on their website and their guidebooks for western Europe are not bad.

If you're planning on traveling by rail you can get lots of information from the man in seat 61. If it's just straight train schedule you're looking for, the ever-efficient Germans have put the entire schedules for Europe on their website: die bahn. Find out more about Eurail passes at the Eurail website.

If you're planning on traveling by bus, Eurolines have a lot of routes. Busabout is like an independent bus tour: you can hop on and off as you like, but there is a specified route.

Are you a member of an online networking site like Facebook or LiveJournal? Probably there are groups for travelers already established. You can join and then your research doesn’t have to be anything outside of your normal daily routine. You can join groups for travelers on online networking site like Facebook or LiveJournal

Whatever you do, do NOT go onto a forum board (or other advice-seeking arena) and ask a questions like:

I want to go to Europe. How much will it cost?


I want to go to Europe. What should I see?

You will look like an idiot. And you will either be ignored or made fun of. Probably if you make such a post it's only because you didn't know any better, but people really need more information than that if you want advice from them. Try to include as much information as possible, such as things you are interested in doing (museums, beaches, clubbing, etc), and what kind of traveler you think you'll be (ie, you don't mind sleeping in train stations— or you plan on going shopping everyday). If you're not sure about something, say so! This will help people know what kind of advice to give you.

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