25 practical long term travel tips for first-time RTW travelers
When I started pursuing long-term travel, I didn’t have anyone to teach me how to do it. I learned everything on the way and made a lot of mistakes while I was at it. Luckily, you don’t have to experience what I experienced. From worrying about what to pack to deciding where you’re heading next, here are some practical tips for long-term travel, all based on my experiences and misfortunes on the road.
25 practical long term travel tips for first-time backpackers
1. Heavy backpacks will damage your spine (or your womb) — so pack in 2s
A lot of you asked how I was able to fit everything in a backpack and the whole time I was traveling Latin America, I was pretending I was a cool backpacker that can carry everything around. In my second year of traveling long term, I felt my back punishing me from all the carrying.
My mother was so angry. She kept repeating it will be hard for me to conceive when the time comes. So I believed her — while traveling, I sold some stuff or donated them to charity.
Before you leave for long-term travel, please pack in 2s so you don’t have to go through what I did. Bring 2 pairs of pants, shorts, shirts, dresses, jumpsuits — whatever it is, bring 2 of everything.
2. Your base set of clothes should be expensive
Timeless. Blacks, grays, and whites. Something that will last for years. Before I left, I did shopping in Zara and Top Shop because I was after the quality. These basics lasted years and I still can wear them up to now! I even washed them numerous times on the washing machine and they did not shrink.
I know these things are quite expensive but think about it – they will last for as long as you need them to!
3. You can buy stuff along the way
And I didn’t realize this. I brought everything when I left home to travel for an indefinite time. I kept thinking about the ‘budget’ but when faced with a smooth alpaca sweater in Peru or a souvenir shirt in Mexico, I still gave in and bought it. Then I ended up getting rid of the old stuff.
The cycle went on. As long as I am maintaining the ‘2s,’ I am entitled to change anything from my backpack.
4. You can trade clothes with the travelers you meet
In a Couchsurfing gathering in Medellin, I met one girl and became really good friends with her. We dress alike and one day, she told me, “I really like your black cropped top. Mind if we trade? You can pick anything from my closet!” I realized I didn’t like that top so much.
I only wore it when all my frequently used clothes are in the laundry basket. So I agreed to trade… and I used her line to all the travelers I met who has the potential to trade with me. As long as it fits my size and style, I was good with it! You will get tired of wearing the same stuff for years (believe me) and this is a good (and cheap) way of having new sets of clothes.[
5. Walk — every time you can
Don’t worry, you will learn it. When my ex-boyfriend-slash-world-traveler-for-10-years visited me in the Philippines, he gets really pissed when asking for directions. A lot of people on the streets (especially in Manila) keep saying “far” or “it will take ages” when in fact, it’s only a 20-30 minute walk.
Okay, a 20-30 minute walk is really far for us Filipinos because of the pollution (noise, smoke, and even humans). We can’t even walk five minutes but when I started traveling, I learned it the hard way. I learned how to walk far distances because a taxi is really expensive. However, walking gave me the chance to discover things on my own and it also served as a regular workout since I didn’t have one.
6. Taxi sharing can be cool. But not all the time
It’s one way of being close to other travelers you meet and I did it a lot of times, most especially when I was paving my way to Brasil for the World Cup. It was a 4-day ride from La Paz to Sao Paulo and with all the people flocked everywhere, I did not have any choice but to share. But then, I heard this story of a backpacker who shared a taxi with some strangers.
They were stopped at the border only to find out that these people he shared taxis with are drug smugglers. They got busted and even if he told the police he was only sharing the ride, he was with the group so he also went to prison. From then on, I only took public transport, a taxi when I can afford it and walked (if possible).
7. I never want to go to prison in another country
Especially if it involves drugs. The taxi sharing incident scared the sh*t out of me so I told myself, even if I am under peer pressure, I will never ever take/bring drugs while traveling. I can never imagine myself be in a foreign prison!
8. Ditch the guidebooks
Bring a blank notebook and create a guidebook yourself! You’re not in a hurry, you have the time. Why not write your own? Okay, don’t get me wrong. Guidebooks are fantastic but if you look into it closely, buying guidebooks can be really expensive and heavy on your load.
You don’t want to bring all those books while traveling, right? While these guidebooks can be really helpful, you are limiting yourself by believing this is the only place to eat, thing to do, etc. in the city you are in. Like what I said, walk. Discover. And you will find something that is never written in the guidebooks.
9. Fruits are the perfect long bus ride snack(s)
Junk food will slow you down. Oh yes.. I’ve been on a 72-hour bus ride from the coast of Colombia to Quito, Ecuador and I ate a lot of junk. Oreos and Doritos to be exact. These are my favorite junk and it makes me believe I can eat ‘delicious’ food even if I am sitting on a filthy bus for days.
But then… it’s really… gross. I did not even finish the whole bag of Doritos but I always felt oily inside. You know that feeling? And I was always f*cking sleepy and tired. I couldn’t even go down the border when it’s time to have my passport stamped at the Immigration gate.
Take it from me: bring bananas and oranges. It makes you feel energized, they are cheap and will give you the boost you need when traveling for days. Remember to hydrate too! Bring liters of water before boarding the bus.
10. Tampons are expensive (or not available) in other countries
Well, in Latin America, it is. Not that they are only expensive but they are also hard to find! I mean, come on! Women need tampons. Before trekking Tayrona National Park in Colombia, I searched all the stores in Santa Marta and found only one — for $20.00 USD. Forget it. I will just use the normal overnight pads.
After the 2 hour trek, there was this beautiful secret beach facing the Caribbean and I ended up reading a book by the shore while my friends enjoy the clear waters. F*ck that.
11. Packing gets easier
It really doesn’t. I still suck at this but have been improving through time and one thing I know is for sure: I had the same things for 3 years (well, ‘almost’ the same, not counting the trading) and it’s impossible if I didn’t know how to pack that. They go to the same bag, same pockets, same mini pockets, and so on. That is every time I move between 15 to 90 days.
12. Always inform a family member (or the Embassy) every time you move to another place
When I was traveling in Africa, I had this habit of contacting all Philippine consulates in every country I enter giving them the following:
- My itinerary (including dates, places, hotels, contact persons, etc)
- A copy of my passport
- My emergency contact persons (number of my parents and sister)
It doesn’t matter if they don’t reply. The important thing is they get the message. With this, they can easily trace me in case of an emergency. In the body of my message, I write this:
Hi, Consulate of the Philippines in _______. I am Trisha Velarmino, a Filipina traveling around Africa at the moment. With the recent terror attacks within Africa, I realized I should be more vigilant. This is also to assure my safety to my family. I am I frequently change locations and I know you don’t care. But just in case something happens in the area I am visiting, please shoot me an e-mail. Don’t worry, I do not rush my traveling. I stay in each country for 3 months and I move really slow. However, I can move fast if civil unrest occurs. Thank you!
There is no shame in sending this type of e-mails. If you love your friends and family, you should do this because even if you care less about your safety, they are the ones who worry the most.
13. Internet is really important, most especially if you are maintaining a blog or an online job. Plus Skype makes mom happy.”
Not all countries have the same internet speed and this was one of my major problems when I was backpacking Latin America. When I moved on to Bolivia, I had to go to coffee shops because my hostel wifi is not meeting my required internet speed. It was an additional expense but there’s nothing I could’ve done because I needed to meet deadlines for my online job.
I didn’t have a regular Skype-ing session with my parents, too. Aside from the lack of reliable internet connection, it was just so difficult to have a ‘strict’ schedule because I had heaps of activities every day. However, when the connection is fast, I take advantage and call home right away.
One time I even called my mom at 2:00 am and she got really pissed with the timezone difference. She answered the call anyway. You see, calling your parents every once in a while to say you’re alive can make them really happy.
14. If you plan too far ahead, you’ll end up not doing it
I did extensive planning a lot of times because I don’t want to be blinded by the future. Until one day, I realized, “why do I keep planning when I am not in a hurry?” The stress and so much thinking strained me so I just stopped planning ahead. I formulated a new rule: whenever I feel like leaving, I will leave.
And it worked! Believe me, when you are traveling long term, there are places that you will not feel comfortable about while there will be others that will make you feel like you belong.
For example, I volunteered in a restaurant in Cusco, Peru. I promised a one-month stay to the host but I ended up staying only for 2 weeks because I didn’t feel like staying that long. I told the host and was really honest about it. I just think they needed to work on making the place a ‘homey’ environment for volunteers.
But there are places that I overstayed, too. I did a 4-month volunteering spree in Paracas, Peru and the following year, I went back and stayed for 6 months. That’s almost a year in total just in one city and I didn’t even plan that route! I was just crisscrossing the whole continent not thinking where I was headed.
Just let yourself go. Leave it to your feet to take you wherever you are meant to go.
15. You will get used to traveling by yourself
One of the best things I learned was being alone was not so bad at all. I was in charge of my time and needed not to seek approval whenever I want to do something. I moved freely because the only approval I needed was from myself. Sometimes, it gets really lonely but when I stop and realize how good of a gift traveling alone is, the loneliness goes away.
I became comfortable being with myself and I think that is the most important (and the most difficult) lesson of traveling solo. I swear, it gets better in time.
16. Travel with the people you meet along the way
One of the things that I still find difficult up to now is traveling with other people. I did it a lot of times and it was a combination of funny and pissing experiences. I traveled with my co-volunteers from Peru to Bolivia because they all got fired at the same time and I didn’t so I had no choice but to go with them.
I didn’t want to stay there by myself and work with new volunteers! It was really chaotic to travel as a group because no matter how many months we lived in one dorm together, we are all different when traveling. There were 7 of us and only 2 of us were driving the wheel. It was like being the headteacher of a class field trip. I felt like I needed to tie them in ropes and make them form a straight line!
The good thing about this is I was able to understand what it feels like to travel with different people who are all traveling long-term. We are not looking at it the same way. It was so nice to see how other people approach certain road problems. I learned that there are things that I need to improve on my ways and vice-versa.
But I will never be the babysitter again. Ever.
17. The friends you will meet while traveling will also be your best friends.. forever.”
This, up to now is still so hard to fathom. Traveling long term doesn’t mean you are free from problems. They will still haunt you and there are times that you need to turn to someone. I met mine when I was going through an ugly break up — the one that made me really miserable on the road so much that every time I remember what I did, I cringe.
Luckily, I had these friends who were there for me all the way. I cannot believe how possible it is to meet your best friends while traveling. This idea still amazes me.
Let me tell you a secret: I only had travel insurance for the first 6 months of my travel. Uh oh, my mom will kill me. It was so expensive and I just didn’t think of allotting the budget for it. I kept thinking I can use the money for more important stuff like bus tickets, a tour, and food. I wasn’t just feeling it.
I broke a tooth in Colombia (like a whole tooth) and I needed to undergo a transplant. I paid $500.00 USD just for the materials + $200.00 USD doctor’s fee. That’s $700.00 USD and went toothless for days because I didn’t have insurance and I couldn’t come up with the money right that instant.
At the time, I was a receptionist in a hostel in Medellin and that made it horrible than it already is: I had to work in front of the house, toothless. Luckily, that’s the only misfortune I experienced but what if something worse than that happened? How the hell am I going to pay for those bills?
19. The moment you lose your wallet, you are doomed
I’m not sure how banks work in your country but in mine, they will punish you to the best of your abilities. I lost my wallet during the World Cup in 2014. I then called my bank for card replacement and they said I have to be physically present in my bank branch for them to grant the request.
Are you kidding me? I need to go home, get the new bank card then go back and continue traveling again? There is no way I am going to do that! After exchanging e-mails with my bank branch manager for weeks, I gave up. I accepted that I will not have my bank cards back. I had to think of ways on how to live without it.
I receive pays from my online job and blog earnings thru Paypal and I magically found a way for us to have a good relationship. Paypal served as my wallet. I had a deal with one of my best friends from San Francisco: I sent her money through Paypal every month and she transferred it to me via Western Union. Thank God for cool friends! It involved more process (and a lot of fees) but I didn’t have to go back home to get a card. Plus, it worked for a year!
Another tip is to get traveler cheques. These are usually sold by banks or travel agencies and can be exchanged anywhere in the world.
But please, never lose your wallet. It’s painful as f*ck.
20. Credit cards can be convenient in times of need
Because of the unjust banking system in my country, I hated having a credit card since day one. First, I do not have a track of my expenses because of my ‘unnecessary’ habits of buying stuff. It helps not to have it in sight. Second, there is no way I will be able to pay that (logistics-wise) if I am traveling long-term. The bills will definitely pile up and I will be doomed for life.
If you are a highly responsible person, there are a lot of benefits to having a credit card. You will earn rewards in exchange for eliminating the chance of incurring debt.
Booking a hotel or renting a car online will be easier and you will gain points from that, too. When summed, those points can be used for ’emergency’ purposes such as booking a flight. Mind you, the points can go really high when you are traveling long-term!
21. Don’t be cheap on food
I don’t understand why a lot of travelers would opt to stay in a 3-4 star hotel and eat instant noodles every day. I mean, come on! You’re in another country — eating is the best activity you can do! It is a good way to know about one’s culture and tradition. Sleep on floors if you have to but please, eat a very good meal three times a day.
I promise you this will be the best reward you can give yourself from giving up a ‘comfortable’ 4-star suite. You are traveling and hotels are no different from the ones back home — or anywhere in the world. But food, on the other hand, is distinct each time.
22. Send postcards
When I came home from backpacking Latin America, I had so much regret of not sending my mother at least one postcard from each country I’ve been to. Postcards tell stories and I wanted my mother to receive different stories from me from different places.
Let me tell you why I didn’t: the designs were so ugly so much that I thought of making my own and I didn’t because I was just lazy. I always thought I had all the time. “Tomorrow, next week, next month.” I kept saying. Then I ended up sending nothing. Though I did send one set because it was an obligation to my blog readers.
Sending postcards is really cheap and I highly encourage you to do this every time you move from one country to another!
23. Take loads of photos
You might think I already have a lot of pictures from my travels but in reality, I am a lazy as*. I only take photos when I feel like it. Looking back, if I took photos of every place I’ve been to, I would’ve made my own travel photography exhibit. I only have 300+ photos on Instagram and that is absurd.
I am no photographer though I can say I have ‘the eye.’ If you read this blog regularly, you will notice that my photos are repetitive. I also wish I knew about selfie pods before I traveled to Latin America. Technology wasn’t that evolved when I left and I promise to make it up on my next travel!
24. Wherever you are, there you are
Do you believe in your relationship with the Universe? You know by now that I really do. I believe I am meant to be in a certain place, at a very particular time. I learned how to live the moment and not think about tomorrow because tomorrow is another day.
It’s just so fulfilling to live a life one day at a time and not worry about anything else. You will get to experience this: every day feels like a Saturday and that you won’t feel obliged to have a routine. It is really powerful and fundamental!
25. “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” – Confucius
Sure, I got problems juggling my online and volunteering jobs but at the end of every day but I did like what I was doing. I loved it when I had to find the nearest coffee shop with wifi in Bolivia; I loved writing by the beach in Ipanema; I loved the pressure of publishing a blog post after cruising the Caribbean for weeks; I loved it when I felt that work can wait. I got out of it alive anyway.
I earned enough money for myself to continue traveling and did not feel pressured about it. This made me genuinely happy about my life.
Of course, it would be great if you can make mistakes and experience them yourselves but like what I said, you don’t have to! Travel longer, cheaper, and live the life you always imagined. Don’t make the same mistakes that I did.