A Travellerspoint blog

Useful French Phrases for Travelers

Un peu is better than poo

Beerman Hiding in Front of the Arc d' Triomphe by Beerman

Beerman Hiding in Front of the Arc d' Triomphe by Beerman

You're going to take the plunge and visit a French speaking country....you've wanted to for years. The wine, the food, the romance, all have an allure that need to be seen and appreciated. Unfortunately, you don't know the difference between "un peu" (a little), and "a poo" (kind of self explanatory). Well fellow explorer, you've come to the right place, because it is here that you will learn how to get around, order a meal, quaff beer (though I've noticed most people don't really need help quaffing beer), and generally be able to make your travels through French speaking countries considerably more enjoyable. Having a little knowledge of local customs will help you as well, but at least with this blog you will be able to understand where and what certain things mean, and that can make all the difference between being helplessly confused and having the confidence to order poutine (fried potatoes with gravy and cheese, more or less) in that little cafe' along the waterfront in Marseille without the waiter thinking you want a hearty dish of jellied ox testicles.

I have only had the pleasure of traveling to three French speaking countries, France, where I hear it is the native language, Switzerland, where it is one of 37 native languages (well, one of three really), and Montreal, though not a country, it could be if the Quebecoise get their way and secede from Greater Canada. When I was at University in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that bastion of French culture, I took an intensive course in French language and culture. It was a one semester course that packed five semesters into one (generally, two semesters made up one year of study). We had five final exams in five months. What did I get myself into???? But, as I had always been interested in French culture, due mainly to watching all the Peter Sellers "Pink Panther" movies, I took the plunge. Plus I needed a language to get my Liberal Arts degree. Spanish was an option.....after all, I was in New Mexico, but French called to me. It helped that there were more pretty girls in the class than in my Biology classes, but still. Peter Sellers taught me the all-important accents that I needed to succeed. In fact, I had the best accent in my class from the beginning, and I could I could always get the class to laugh with the old "Does your dog bite" joke. Our professor was a classically trained French master from Louisiana, who spoke with a rather peculiar southern accent, reminiscent of a Cajun who had waaaaaay too much wine to drink. Still, five months flew by, and at the end, I was ready to take on even the most veteran French speakers. Unfortunately, it would be another four years before I actually traveled to France, and by that time I could barely order a beer without sounding like a complete idiot. Practice is key here - you must practice a language to be proficient. I had not, but I still had my accent, so I was undeterred from my goals. I was ready to be mocked by that pretentious waiter in Marseille (I think I may have ordered a plate of wallpaper paste with a side of tree bark, which could have led to the mocking......I don't remember that clearly - though my accent was impeccable).

Marseille Fish Market by Sydney324

Marseille Fish Market by Sydney324

So below you will find a list of phrases that may come in handy if you find yourself in France, Switzerland, Montreal (or Quebec in general), Martinique, Tahiti, several countries in South-East Asia, and even more countries in Africa. Not all the phrases are accented (bad keyboard), but you'll get the gist....this is for pronunciation, not spelling.

What did I get myself into????


Where is... – Où est – (oo ay)
How much is it – Combien ça coûte – (cohm-bee-en sa coot)
What is your name? - Quel est votre nom – (kell ay vote-reh no)
Where are my shoes (France)? – Où sont mes chaussures – (ooh sohnt may show-soor)
Where are my shoes (Quebec)? – Où sont mes souliers – (ooh sohnt may soo-leeyay)
Who's the blonde stranger (female)? - Qui est l'inconnue blonde – (key ay lay-cuh-nu blohnd)
Who's the blonde stranger (male)? - Qui est l'inconnu blond - (key ay lay-cuh-nu blohn)

Hey, you never know.....


Here – ici – (ee-see)
There – là-bas – (lah-bah)
Everywhere – partout – (pahr-too)
On The Corner – sur le coin – (sur luh kwahn)
Straight – droite – (dro-wat)
Right- droit – (dro-wa)
Left – gauche – (goshe)
Ahead – en avant – (ahn av-ahn)
Behind – en arrière – (ahn ar-yehr)
In(inside) – à l'intérieur – (ah l'ahn-tare-ee-air)
Out(outside) – à l'extérieur – (ah l'ex-tare-ee-air)
Railroad - chemin de fer – (shem-ahn duh fair)
Train – train – (trehn)
Bus – l'autobus – (l'ow-toe-boos)
Car – auto, or voiture – (oh-toe, vwah-tour)
Taxi – taxi – pretty universal, this one
Plane – l'avion – (l'ah-vee-own)
Airport - l'aéroport – (l'uh-air-o-pohr)
Station – gare – (gahr)
Hotel – hôtel – (oh-tell)
Hostel – auberge – (oh-bear-jzh)
City – ville – (veel)
Country – pays – (pay-ee)
Store – magasin – (mah-gah-zahn)
Market – marché – (marsh-ay)
Restaurant – restaurant – (ray-stow-rahn)
Bus stop- l'arrêt d'autobus – (l'are-eh d'oh-toe-boos)

Beerman vs. the Coast Guard by Beerman

Beerman vs. the Coast Guard by Beerman


The Museum - le musée – (luh mooz-ay)
The Park - le parc – (luh pahrk)
The Church - l'église – (lay-gleez)
The Library - la bibliothèque – (lah beeb-lee-oh-tek)
A Monument - un monument – (uhn mohn-oo-mohnt)
The Aquarium - l'aquarium – (lah-kwahr-ee-um)

I was ready to be mocked by that pretentious waiter in Marseille


Beer – bière – (bee-air)
Wine – vin – (vahn)
Water - eau – (oh)
Juice - jus de... – (zhu deh)
Rum – rhum – (rhom)
Milk – lait – (lay)
Beef – boeuf – (boof)
Pork – porc – (pohrk)
Chicken – poulet – (poo-lay)
Duck – canard – (cah-nahrd)
Veal – veau – (voh)
Guinea Pig – porcs Guinée – (pohrk gee-nay)
Ham – jambon – (zhahm-bow)
Bacon – bacon - (bay-cun)
Vegetables – legumes – (lay-goom)
Carrot – carotte – (care-oat)
Onion - oignon – (ahn-yoh)
Potato - pommes de terre – (pohm duh tare)
Beans – haricots – (are-ee-co)
Cabbage – chou – (shew)
Tomato – tomate – (toe-maht)
Fruit – fruits – (frew-ee)
Apple – pomme – (pohm)
Banana – banane – (bahn-ahn)
Grapes – raisins – (ray-zahn)
Lemon – citron – (see-trohn)
Lime – lime – (leem) (Or “citron vert” (see-trohn vair) in France)
Melon – melon – (may-loan)
Nut – noix – (nwa)
Ice Cream - crème glacée – (crame glah-say)
Chocolate – chocolat – (show-co-lah)
Candy – bonbons – (bohn-bohn) (Also, friandise (free-ahn-deez))


Hello – bonjour – (bohn-zhoor)
Please - s'il vous plaît – (seel voo play)
Thank you – merci – (mare-see)
You're Welcome (Quebec)- bienvenue – (bee-on-vehn-oo) )
You're Welcome (France) - de rien (du ree-en) or je vous en prie (zhu vooz on pree)
Excuse Me - excusez-moi – (ayk-skoo-zay mwa) (Also “pardon” (par-dohn) in France)
Of Course! - bien sûr – (bee-ehn soor)
Kiss – un baiser – (uhn bay-zay) (Have to put the “un” before or else it means to have sexy time!)
Hug – étreinte – (ay-traynt)
Yes - oui - (wee)
No - non - (nohn)


Police – police – (poh-lees)
Hospital - l'hôpital – (loh-pee-tahl)
Fire Department – les pompiers – (lay pohm-pee-air)
Embassy – ambassade – (em-bah-sahd)


Where is the hotel (name) - où est l'hôtel – (oo ay loh-tell)
My name is... - mon nom est... – (mohn nohm ay...)
This is a beautiful country – c'est un beau pays – (sayt ahn bo pay)
Where is the bathroom - où est la salle de bains – (ooh ay luh sahl deh bahn)
My dog has no nose - mon chien n'a pas de nez – (moan shee-en nah pah deh nay)
How does he smell – Comment est-ce qu'il sent? – (com-ohnt ess-se-kill-sahn)
Terrible – terrible – (tare-ee-bluh)

My dog has no nose - mon chien n'a pas de nez – (moan shee-en nah pah deh nay)
How does he smell – Comment est-ce qu'il sent? – (com-ohnt ess-se-kill-sahn)
Terrible – terrible – (tare-ee-bluh)

This is my stop - Ceci est mon arrêt – (seh-see ay moan are-ett)
Help Me! - aidez-moi – (aye-aid-ay mwa)
May I have a large plate of poutine with extra gravy - puis-je avoir une grosse assiete de poutine avec extra sauce – (pwee-zhu ah-vwahre ahn gross ass-eeyet duh poo-teen ah-vek ek-strah sose)

This list is by no means complete, but it will be helpful to you in your travels, if for no other reason than to avoid the mocking of a haughty waiter who has never dined on wallpaper paste with a side of tree bark. A hearty smile and a few choice phrases will go a long way toward making your adventure one to remember. Never be afraid to try, people will appreciate your efforts.

I would like to give a huge two cheek un baiser to fellow TP member Tway, without whose assistance I would have led you readers astray. Merci beaucoup, mon cher ami, vous êtes un ange. I hope I didn't just call you a turnip. Let the good times roll - Laissez les bontemps roulez - (layzay lay bohn-tomp roo-lay).

If you have other tips and tricks for your fellow travellers, then join us in educating travellers worldwide. To get started, send our editors an email at unravelled [at] travellerspoint [dot] com. Let them know a bit about yourself, and maybe include some writing samples and ideas for entries. They will review your submission and, if you fit the bill, they will welcome you to the team.

Posted by beerman 09:18 Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (5)

Travel Unravelled Q&A Sessions Unleashed

(All the "W" Things In One Place (You know - the who, what, why, etc. stuff...)

Wishes Fireworks at Magic Kingdom. Photo by jengelman

Wishes Fireworks at Magic Kingdom. Photo by jengelman

*The guidelines for the Travel Unravelled Q&A Series have been updated. Please read them so you are aware of these alterations. Thank you.

Yes, There Is Magic In The World

Hello Happy Travellerspoint Members!

We have just launched a new Travel Unravelled Blog Project - aptly named Travel Unravelled's Q&A. (Catchy, no?! The blog entries will have better titles. Promise.) Anyway, this is where you, the members, voice your personal opinions on a particular topic. A question will be asked. Everyone will have an opportunity to answer. After we have received an adequate number of replies, those responses will then be complied, edited for grammar/spelling and published as a Travel Unravelled (TU) blog article. (That would be here.)


  • A Q&A thread will be posted (and stickied) in the General Talk Forum. (It will be obvious.)
  • A question on a single topic will be asked.
  • There is no time limit in receiving responses.
  • Answers can be posted in the thread or be sent as a PM to Foundation.
  • All non-relevant comments will just be deleted from the thread.
  • Once an adequate number of replies have been posted to create an informative blog entry, the thread will be 'unsticked' but remain open to comment.

As each Q&A thread is 'unstickied' it will move down the forum list and onto the back pages. Because of this, once a blog entry has been created, a link to the blog entry (with short description) will be place in the (stickied) Travel Unravelled Q&A Sessions Unleashed thread in General Talk. You'll be able to click the links, see yours and everyone else's responses. As time goes, we may add links to other pertinent blogs and threads.

Thank you in advance for your participation!


  • By responding to any Q&A question, you are giving Foundation (aka Isadora) and Travel Unravelled permission to reproduce your reply in the TU Blog area.
  • All participants will have their contributions linked back to their TP Profile or personal blog (if hosted by TP).
  • Each published Q&A blog entry will create a $5.00 donation for the Travellerspoint Foundation and used to make loans at Kiva.org.
  • For more information about the TP Foundation, please visit: OUR TWO CENTS WORTH... (Give Us Your Money Good Will Around The World Project).

Posted by Isadora 12:00 Comments (0)

Useful Spanish Phrases for Travelers

A little bit is better than nada

Chichicastenango market by SChandler

Chichicastenango market by SChandler

So you've decided to add some flair to your travels and visit a Latin country. The sights, the sounds, the food, the local color....these are the things you're looking for. Unfortunately, you don't speak Spanish. This can be a major handicap when you need to use the bathroom, for example. Though holding your crotch with a pained look on your face and hopping up and down often conveys this message, wouldn't it be better to be able to "ask" where the facilities are located? I have been in many situations while traveling in Mexico and Panama that required the use of a few key words and phrases to get my point across to one of the locals, and that is why this blog can be helpful to you. Knowing how to order a meal, or a cold beer, or getting directions to the bus stop, train station, museum, or the hospital if necessary can make your trip more rewarding and enjoyable than you can imagine. And I have always found that locals tend to appreciate my meager efforts at trying to speak their language - that I cared enough about their country and their language to make the effort to communicate not in English.

Granted, I have taken years of Spanish classes, I have lived in Mexico, but if you don't continually practice speaking Spanish, the nuances of the tongue can be evasive. Today, my Spanish is very poor, because I haven't used it for so long. I tend to speak only in the present tense, because I can't remember the past tense or the pluperfect tense (c'mon, who ever remembers the pluperfect tense?) Nonetheless, I am able to make myself understood sufficiently that I get what I need. And do not, under any set of circumstances, EVER be afraid to try. No one cares that you can't recite Cervantes in the original. Pronunciation is over-rated, people KNOW that you don't speak their language. The key is that you are TRYING, and that's what counts. Just remember to speak clearly and with sincerity, and in a normal tone of voice. No one likes some tourist shouting at them. And if you get something wrong, so what? Try again. I once took a class with my father and sister in Mexico taught by a Jesuit priest. My father was trying to conjugate the verb caer, to fall. He was extremely proud that he knew the answer, so much so that he shouted out "Yo cago". The priest began blushing and giggling, because rather than saying "I fall", my father managed to say "I shit". This was quite amusing, though hardly correct. Generally, when you mispronounce something, people will smile and be amused, so don't be nervous about getting everything right the first time. It's alright to order in a restaurant "dos jueves y jabon" (2 Thursdays and soap), rather than "dos huevos y jamon" (2 eggs and ham). People will usually get a giggle and be more apt to help you.

So below is a short list of words and phrases that might just come in handy if you find yourself in Spain,Mexico, Central America or South America (except Brazil, where Portuguese is spoken - and I still can't figure that one out!!), or the Philippines, even Italy, because Spanish and Italian are very close. I must leave out accents on words because I haven't learned how to do that on my keyboard.
The Family Nuñez by kermibensharbs

The Family Nuñez by kermibensharbs


Where is... - Donde esta (doan-day eh-stah)
How much is it - Cuanto cuesta (kwan-toe kway-stah)
What is your name? - Como se llama (coh-moh say yah-mah)
Where are my shoes? - Donde estan mis zapatos (dohn-day eh-stahn mees sah-pah-tose)
Who's the blonde stranger (female)? - Quien es la estranjera rubia (key-en es la ehs-trahn-hair-ah roo-bee-ah) -
Who's the blonde stranger (male)? - Quien es la estranjero rubio (key-en es la ehs-trahn-hair-oh roo-bee-oh)
Hey, you never know.....

Generally, when you mispronounce something, people will smile and be amused, so don't be nervous about getting everything right the first time.


Here - Aqui (ah-key)
There - Alli (ah-yee)
Everywhere - Por Dondequiera (pour dohn-day key-air-ah)
The Corner - Rincon (reen-cone)(corner of the room)
The Corner- Esquina (es-key-nah) (corner of the block)
Straight - Derecho (deh-ray-cho)
Right- Derecha (deh-ray-chah)
Left - Izquierda (ees-key-air-dah)
Ahead - Adelante (ah-day-lahn-tay)
Behind - Detras de (day-trahs day)
In(inside) - Adentro (ah-dent-row)
Out(outside) Afuera (ah-fwhere-ah)
Railroad - Ferrocarril (fair-oh-car-rill)
Train - Tren (Trehn)
Bus - Autobus (Ow-tow-boos)
Car - Coche (koh-chay)
Taxi - Taxi (this one is pretty universal)
Plane - Avion (ah-vee-own)
Airport - Aeropuerto (ay-air-oh-pwer-toe)
Station - Estacion (eh-stah-see-own)
Hotel - Hotel (oh-tell)
Hostel - Hostel (oh-stahl)
City - Cuidad (see-ooh-dahd)
Country - Pais (pahy-ees)
Store - Tienda (tee-en-dah)
Market - Mercado (mair-cah-doe)
Restaurant - Restaurante (res-tau-rahn-tay)
Bus stop- Parada (pah-rah-dah)


The Museum - El Museo (el-moo-say-oh)
The Park - El Parque (el par-kay)
The Church - La Iglesia (lah ee-glay-see-ah)
The Library - La Bibliotheca (lah beeb-lee-oh-tay-kah)
A Monument - El Momunento (el mon-ooh-meant-oh)
The Aquarium - El Acuario (el ah-kwar-ee-oh)

all dressed up in Peru by Mavr8k

all dressed up in Peru by Mavr8k


Beer - Cerveza (sair-vay-sah)
Wine - Vino (vee-no)
Water - Agua (ah-gwa)
Juice - Jugo (who-go)
Rum - Ron (rohn)
Milk - Leche (lay-chay)

Beef - Carne (sort of generalized for meat) - (car-nay)
Pork - Puerco (pwair-co)
Chicken - Pollo (poy-oh)
Duck - Pato (pah-toe)
Veal - Ternera (tair-nair-ah)
Guinea Pig - Conejillo de Indias (or Cuy in SA) (cone-ay-heel-yo day een-dee-ahs) (coo-ee)
Ham - Jamon (hah-moan)
Bacon - Tocino (toe-see-no)

Vegetables - Vegetales (veh-hay-tahl-ehs)
Carrot - Zanahoria (sahn-ah-ore-ee-ah)
Onion - Cebolla (say-boy-ah)
Potato - Patata (pah-tah-tah)
Beans (legumes) - Frijoles (free-hole-ehs)
Cabbage - Repollo (ray-poy-yo)
Tomato - Tomate (toe-mah-tay)

Fruit - Fruta (froo-tah)
Apple - Manzana (mahn-zah-nah)
Banana - Banana (you can get this one)
Large banana used for weapons or frying - Platano (plah-tah-no)
Grapes - Uva (ooh-vah)
Lemon - Limon (lee-moan)
Lime - Lima (lee-mah)
Melon - Melone (meh-loan-ay)
Nut - Nuez (noo-ezz)

Ice Cream - Helados (ay-lah-dose)
Chocolate - Chocolate (choak-oh-lah-tay)
Candy - Dulce (also means "sweet") ( Dool-say)

My dog has no nose - Mi perro no tiene nariz (mee pair-oh no tee-en-ay nahr-ees)
How does he smell? - Como huele? (koh-moh way-lay)
Terrible! - Terrible (tear-ee-blay)


Hello - Halo (ah-low)
Hello - Hola (Oh-lah)
Please - Por Favor (pour fah-vore)
Thank you - Gracias (grah-see-ahs)
You're Welcome - Por Nada (pour nah-dah)
Excuse Me - Disculpa Me (dis-cool-pah may)
Of Course! - Por Supuesto! (pore Soo-pweh-stow!)
Kiss - Beso (beh-so)
Hug - Abrazo (Ah-bratz-oh)

oaxaca signs by kreglicka

oaxaca signs by kreglicka


Police - Policia (poh-lis-see-ah)
Hospital - Hospital (ose-pee-tahl)
Fire Department - Servicio de Bomberos (sair-vee-see-oh day bom-bear-ohs)
Embassy - Embajada (ehm-bah-hah-dah)


Where is the hotel (name) - Donde esta el hotel (doan-day eh-stah el oh-tell...)
My name is... - Me llamo (may yah-mo)(Literally "I'm called...")
This is a beautiful country - Este es un pais hermoso (eh-sta es oonah pie-ees air-moh-sah)
Where is the bathroom - Donde esta el baño (doan-day eh-stah el bahn-yo)
My dog has no nose - Mi perro no tiene nariz (mee pair-oh no tee-en-ay nahr-ees)
How does he smell - Como heule (koh-moh way-lay)
Terrible - Terrible (tear-ee-blay)
This is my stop - Esto es mi parada (Es-toe es me pah-rah-dah)
Help Me! - Socorro! (So-core -oh!) Ayudame! (Ay ooda may!)

A hearty smile and an effort to speak to someone in their own language without feeling foolish can make memories to cherish for a lifetime

las hot spring chicas by ggithens

las hot spring chicas by ggithens

This list is by no means complete, but it should give you a fair idea of really the most basic words and phrases that can make your travels so much easier and friendlier. A hearty smile and an effort to speak to someone in their own language without feeling foolish can make memories to cherish for a lifetime....or, if nothing else, some pretty good stories for your friends about how you asked the old woman in Santiago about your oral hygiene when you wanted to know if she had bananas for sale.

If you have other tips and tricks for your fellow travellers, then join us in educating travellers worldwide. To get started, send our editors an email at unravelled [at] travellerspoint [dot] com. Let them know a bit about yourself, and maybe include some writing samples and ideas for entries. They will review your submission and, if you fit the bill, they will welcome you to the team.

Posted by beerman 09:52 Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (8)

In Search of the Muse

A Bedtime Story

Call Me, by broden

Call Me, by broden

Disclaimer: Not every person who goes out seeking an adventure decides to "blog" about it. Okay, maybe they do with the number of travel bloggers out there these days. Regardless, this blog is design to help (traveling) bloggers be better (traveling) bloggers. Can't promise it will work, but giving it a shot just the same. I've got the time. I'm not traveling.

Once Upon A Time

Recently, my husband (the illustrious beerman) and I spent two days at a conference dedicated to blogging about travel. (Make that 3 days if you include the before, during and after parties - but that's another story for another day. Did I mention it was in New York City? That was cool! but I digress) .... The main thrust was on "making money from your travel blog". Some of it even pertained to "monetarily supporting your travels from your travel blog". Grand ideas. And they do work well for quite a few, but that's not why I'm writing this piece (as stated above). Instead, and for good reason, I'll be sharing the information that falls under the "one size fits all" category. Those tidbits that can be used by everyone. Hey, my mother taught me how to share equally so no one felt left out. So you only got 1/10th of a stick of gum - nine other kids got a piece too. Everybody was happy - mostly.

Hanging on the Telephone

It's good to hear your voice, you know it's been so long.
If I don't get your call then everything goes wrong.
I want to tell you something you've known all along.
Don't leave me hanging on the telephone.

I relate blogs to telephone conversations. Doesn't matter the genre or topic or what's said in them. They are a written phone call - pure and simple. So, whether you agree or disagree with that analogy, take a minute to think about the content of your own blog or someone else's - who's still hanging on the telephone?

I now read blogs for a living. I read a lot of them and most are travel-related in some form or another. (I think I know the best places to get drunk in Colombia. Maybe it was Panama. But, that's beside the point.) Those who begin a blog usually do so to inform everyone they know about what they (the traveler) have been up to over a certain period of time. It's "I woke up, went to breakfast, caught a cab, went here or there, etc". Or, it's "I woke up, crawled out of my tent, met with all of my hiking mates and we climbed Mount Kilimanjaro". That's not a bad thing. It's the phone call back home. But...
Public phone?, by beerman

Public phone?, by beerman

Trouble Ahead, Trouble Behind

No matter what, use your blog to tell your story. One that has a true beginning, middle and end to it.

The only people who will keep reading a blog dedicated to the 'me' aspect are your parents, sisters, brothers, best friends- and even they will stop reading after a certain period of time. Sorry, but it's true. They will still love you. They just won't read your entries. They will quickly check your blog site to view the latest one if you have a real phone call pre-arranged. Why? Because they don't want to sound 'uninformed' about the bad sushi and 10 trips to the toilet.

You may think I'm kidding about the 'they'll stop reading' thing, but I'm not. I Iove my family and friends enormously, but even I tune out when I haven't gotten a...

Bedtime Story

A blog, like the call, needs to keep one interested. The phone conversation may have two authors but there is still story-telling happening. If there isn't, you ultimately hang up. (Unless you talk to my best friend. Then there are endless hours - well, seconds into minutes - of dead air space. I just set the phone down.) No matter what, use your blog to tell your story. One that has a true beginning, middle and end to it.--Keep them hanging on the telephone by:

Discovering the Muse

Taken from Greek mythology, the word "muse" refers to a guiding spirit or source of inspiration. It also means to ponder or reflect on a situation, thought, object - any number of other things. In this instance, the sources of inspiration will be you (as author), your travels (the subject matter) and the blog itself. You have become the muse. Your blog entries the instruments from which your discoveries will be conveyed to others.

So, now you think you have tapped into your own guiding spirit and are ready to starting writing. Great! However, before you just start clanking away at the keyboard or putting real pen to paper, there are a few additional inspirational items to consider. A well-written bedtime story is also well thought out before being told. Take a few minutes to ponder the suggestions I have included below:

  • You've decided to start a blog. Consider your audience first: A) Will it be just family and friends? Or, B) will you be trying to reach a larger audience - one that encompasses complete strangers too? (Trust me, it's an important decision.)

Build your entry as an author would build their short story, essay or novel. Use humor, intrigue, mystery, whatever to build the story line

  • Whether you choose option A (family/friends) or B (larger audience), the 'Bedtime Story' is an essential component. In every good read, character development is essential. You may be the only character in a given entry but you need to make yourself interesting. If others are involved in your adventure, describe them. Here is where "the more the merrier" works well. Don't just say, "Jorge from Madrid joined us". Who the hell is Jorge? Why the hell did he join you? What's his problem, anyway? Tell us more.
  • Build a Story!- Build your entry as an author would build their short story, essay or novel. Use humor, intrigue, mystery, whatever to build the story line. Lead the reader up to the plot of your tale. Though not everyone's taste, one of my favorite examples is The Scams of David Viner, Part 1 The Encounter on Gibbering Madness. (I happen to love mysteries.) But, it's still a great example of keeping a reader involved.
  • Bring the story to a close. If your blog entry will not be a continuing saga then finish it. Let the reader know what has happened at the end but not by saying, "End of Day One". Either allude to the next entry or finish it completely. Think about how your favorite book ends and do the same with your blog entries.
  • Oh, the use of video - what a wonderful thing! Or some may think... Video is great filler but please realize that your audience is not necessarily equipped to handle a blog saturated with steaming vids. I know because I'm not. I may have the latest MacBook Pro but it's still crud if my internet connection is lousy. Video is not always the best option for portraying your activities. Nothing turns a viewer away faster than staring at a screen for 5 minutes while a single page loads.
  • Photographs: Part 1 - another wonderful thing! I love photographs! And, they work well when internet connections are shit. (See above comment.) Photos speak a thousand words. Use 'em! Again, as an editor, I'd prefer reading something loaded with photographs rather than videos. (And, again, it depends on your chosen audience.)
  • Photographs: Part 2 - USE YOUR OWN! Your worst photo will speak more about your travels than the best photo you find anywhere else. One must keep in mind that photos taken from flickr, picasa or any other storage area are not there free for the taking. (Same holds true for photos posted on Travellerspoint.) IF you choose to use someone else's work - ask for permission. Also, give credit where credit is due. (See the photo credits in this blog.)

Working a story by fnurgen

Working a story by fnurgen

Happily Ever After

I could pontificate all day, but I won't. I've covered the bare necessities of a good blog and will leave it at that. The keys to blogging come done to the same things in life. Think, look, listen and learn... Think about what you like and who your audience is first. Look at what you enjoy reading yourself. Listen to what others have to say about what they prefer. Learn from those things and you're blog will be a success.

Thank you to Blondie for the use of the lyrics to "Hanging On The Telephone"


If you have other tips and tricks for your fellow travellers, then join us in educating travellers worldwide. To get started, send our editors an email at unravelled [at] travellerspoint [dot] com. Let them know a bit about yourself, and maybe include some writing samples and ideas for entries. They will review your submission and, if you fit the bill, they will welcome you to the team.

Posted by Isadora 11:37 Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (4)

Returning Home

or Unraveling Travel

Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

We have all heard about culture shock, and of course that works in both directions, especially if you have been away for months or years, rather than weeks.

This may seem like the easiest part of travel, but in my own experience it is not. For example, I got sick for the better part of a month the day AFTER I stepped off the plane from a recent trip to Burma (Myanmar), Indonesia, and Laos. We have all heard about culture shock, and of course that works in both directions, especially if you have been away for months or years, rather than weeks.

Then there are the usual problem of what do you do now if you don't have a job? In my case I am semi-retired so I don't have this particular issue, although there is an intensity to travel, a freshness, that is absent when I return to my lovely home.

Comfort, and the Hardest Part

The hardest part to get used to when I return is that many of my friends, not all, but many, don't really give a damn about my experience.

It is nice to have all the creature comforts since I usually travel to Third World countries. The extra space is also good. I can always go to a separate bedroom if I have a fight with my wife, an option that is missing when the two of us travel together, as is usually the case.

The hardest part to get used to when I return is that many of my friends, not all, but many, don't really give a damn about my experience. They act happy to see me and all, but they go on with their busy lives, and sometimes I feel as though I have been out of sight, and therefore out of mind. Perhaps they feel abandoned? Sometimes it seems that they see me more like this, as an outsider.

Laotian Hill Tribe Villager

Laotian Hill Tribe Villager

Yes I'm Interested, Honest, Sort Of

Everyone asks about the trip of course, but often in a short time their eyes glaze over, and I can see that they're really not interested. I come back thinking my life is changed forever, and this happens with almost every trip, but how do I communicate this? I often get asked what was my favorite place? What did I like to do the most? Didn't I miss home? I don't really know how to answer these questions, as they seem like such over simplifications. And my photographs. Same thing. Everyone looks for 15 minutes, maybe a 1/2 hour, as I try and explain them, and then once again, I can see that they are bored.

The Author in Mandalay with Relatives of his Burmese English Students

The Author in Mandalay with Relatives of his Burmese English Students

The Idea of Travel

At first, I thought that this was just my own experience, perhaps partly due to my age, 61. Most of my friends are not exactly kids anymore, but when I talk to other travelers I find that this is not the case. Many of them, much younger than I, have the same experience. Then it hit me. Many people like the IDEA of travel, but if they really wanted to do it, they would. I'm not talking here about going on a tour for a week or two. This is more about longer term, independent travel. And so in the end, even some of my good friends can't really relate to my experience. The people who can relate are other like minded travelers, probably some of the people who are reading this right now. This is one of the great things about travel. You meet lots of people to talk with about what you are going through, where you have been, how it affected you, etc. Of course, as a psychologist I probably analyze things more than most, but other road warriors can understand, young and old, and they WANT to hear about it.


As I say to many of my patients when they go home for a family visit, KEEP YOUR EXPECTATIONS LOW. I know this is easier said than done. I have to remind myself to do it whenever I return, and even then it is a struggle. In some ways the experience of reentry helps to propel me back out. Unfortunately travel is like a drug. The more you get, the more you want. Okay, calm down I tell myself. I just returned and I'd better get used to the idea, at least for a little while.




In my case that means start teaching English with the Burmese refugee community, getting back into the woods, hiking and skiing.




Above all, HAVE PATIENCE. Gradually you will find ways to reconnect with people even if they don't really understand your experience. You might lose some friends, but gain others.

Thank you, Jonshapiro, Vagabonding at 60

All photos courtesy of Jon Shapiro

If you have other tips and tricks for your fellow travellers, then join us in educating travellers worldwide. To get started, send our editors an email at unravelled [at] travellerspoint [dot] com. Let them know a bit about yourself, and maybe include some writing samples and ideas for entries. They will review your submission and, if you fit the bill, they will welcome you to the team.

Posted by jonshapiro 12:10 Comments (19)

The Art of Shared Sleeping

".......they're more like guidelines than rules......"

Accents on the park hostel in Nelson, by lulywong

Accents on the park hostel in Nelson, by lulywong

Imagine this: You’re in a nice, comfy hostel in a brand new city. You’ve snuggled up in your surprisingly comfortable bed in the dormitory, tired after a day of travelling, being alert and hauling your over-sized bag across an unknown city. Even the sheets smell fresh and you’re just drifting off to sleep.

Then an alarm goes off, at 2am, somewhere in the room.

You grunt, turn to your side, and are just about to nod off when...the alarm goes off again. And again. And again. After the fifth snooze, the bloke in the bunk bed below up gets up, yawns loudly, and starts shifting through his worldly possessions. He opens the door to go to the bathroom, letting in the hallway light, throws his backpack on the bed and swears because the ticket for his 5am flight’s missing.

And then he starts with the plastic bags. He’s obviously wrapped each of his clothes in a separate plastic bag, one crunchier than the next. You toss and turn, trying to block out the harsh halogen light of the room, since he’s now flicked on the lights to look for his missing shoe. When he finally leaves, he bangs the door, leaving the light still on.

Sound familiar? It does to me; it’s happened more times than I care to remember. If you’re thinking about staying in a dorm, remember that plastic bags make a lot more noise than you’d think.

If you’re thinking about staying in a dorm, remember that plastic bags make a lot more noise than you’d think.

Well, I’ve never travelled before; how are hotels and hostels different?

Hostels are shared accommodation, hotels private, to put it simply. Hostels being budget options, you pay a lot less, but share your living space, such as the kitchen (if the hostel indeed has a kitchen for the guests to use), the lounge area, bathrooms and sometimes the bedrooms. Hostels frequently have a bar and a restaurant, or at least offer the option of buying food and beer. Generally, hostels have dormitories, usually with bunk beds, and private rooms, with either a shared or private bathroom. The size of a dorm can vary from simple two beds to massive ones with over a hundred beds.

Right, I’m on a budget, so I think hostels are the way to go.

Just take a step back before you decide. Shared space means less privacy, security and space, and more time waiting for toilets and showers. Are you sure you can cope with that? I’ve had to skip showering on many a morning because the queues to get into one would’ve meant missing a half a day in a new town. Or buying a packet of pasta and then realising there’s not a single cooking pot in the communal kitchen. I’ve had people walk in on me while I was getting changed in a previously empty dormitory, and I’ve been flooded in a shower when the drain’s been stuffed with the hair of the dozens of backpackers before me. I’ve had someone take off with my favourite black t-shirt which I’d left drying on the headboard of the bed. If you don’t like the idea of smelling a stranger’s flatulence in the dorm, then think again.

No, I can cope with all that. And I guess hostels are great for meeting new people, right?

They certainly are, especially if you’re travelling alone. Not being cooped up in a hotel room with a TV means you actually have to get up and talk to people, possibly over a beer in the hostel bar whilst swapping life stories. I’ve met some of the most fantastic characters ever in hostel lounges.

So if I’m a girl, does that mean I might potentially end up sharing a room with a bunch of smelly boys?

Potentially, yes. But chances are that as a backpacker, you’re just as smelly as they are. Some hostels (also depending on the cultural setting of the country you’re in) have unisex rooms; some have segregated rooms. Some have unisex dorms, and one or two female-only dorms. Discrimination? Possibly. However, most men do not seem to have a huge problem sharing their space with three nineteen year-old Norwegian nursing students.

So if I would stay in a hostel, what is the proper etiquette for communal living?

Be considerate. If everyone leaves their tea cup unwashed, it’ll be a pain for the last person who comes in to find no more clean mugs. I’ve been that last person enough times to know it’s not the best start to a day.
Everyone staying in a hostel is in the same boat - far away from home, in a foreign culture, with minimal personal belongings and potentially no friends. Little bit of thoughtfulness goes a long way, such as sharing your leftover pizza or swapping a paperback you’ve finished reading. And as long as you follow a few basic rules, you’ll be fine.

hostel, by muhuhaha

hostel, by muhuhaha


Rule of the thumb- if it’s not yours, do not eat it. I don’t care if the Swedish couple in the private room have so much milk it would feed a baby for a year; it’s not yours to pinch. I once stayed in a hostel in Quito, and witnessed a few guys take about half a litre of milk belonging to an Icelandic girl, justifying it by claiming to buy more the next day, and that she’d never drink that much anyway. The girl came back, disappointed, because she’d planned on making pancakes for everyone in the hostel. Respect people’s food and drinks. Always write your name on yours, or keep it in a plastic bag with your name and room number so it won’t get chucked out in a weekly (or annual, in the case of some hostels) clean.

But I can’t start the day without any milk in my coffee!

Then ask for it nicely- I can’t remember a single time I’ve been told I can’t borrow a bit of something. It also opens a whole new conversation with a new person, and you can swap leftover peanut butters and bread rolls.

Why do I have to wash my own dishes - isn’t that the job of the staff?

Ever worked in a hostel? It’s a busy life. They already get to do all the fun stuff like unblocking toilets and changing soiled sheets, so washing your plate after using it is hardly too much to ask, right? Most hostel kitchens are fairly small considering the number of guests, and there simply aren’t enough pots and pans to go around. If you’ve finished with your cooking, and you know there’s someone waiting for that frying pan, then give it a quick wash before sitting down to eat. It won’t take long, and the person waiting will appreciate it. The few times I’ve not had a chance to wash something after using it, and I’ve had to hand it to the next person dirty, I’ve always told them to leave it for me to wash after they’ve used it.

Hostel, by Peacocks

Hostel, by Peacocks


The living room/ lounge/ sitting room/whatever you want to call it, is a place for socialising and relaxing, reading books, watching TV or simply staring into the space with a cold beer after a day of sightseeing. If you’re not feeling even remotely chatty or sociable, then steer clear. This is the one place in the world where it’s socially acceptable to start a conversation with a stranger without an ulterior motive. Remember that if someone else was there first, then you must put up with their choice of music or TV channel. Alternatively, if you were there first, it’s good manners to offer the remote around, unless you are watching the most amazing, life-changing film ever.

I really want to make friends and meet people, but I don’t really know how to approach people in hostels.

Don’t worry, most of the time they’ll approach you, especially if you’re alone. Guidebooks are a great icebreaker, by the way. Ask to have a look at theirs, and before you know you’re off on that whole long “where did you come from and where are you going next” conversation. Smiling and saying hello whilst sitting down in the same table works just as well.

But what if everyone else is a couple or a group of friends - they might not appreciate me joining in?

Trust me, they will. As someone who’s travelled alone, with a friend and with a partner, I always welcome new people. Sometimes my boyfriend and I would spend weeks without talking to anybody but each other, and that can get a bit claustrophobic - and a lot of the time no-one would approach us, thinking we wanted to be by ourselves, when really we were ready to talk to a tree at that stage. And if you do encounter a particularly tight group of people, not willing to make new friends, then they’re probably not going to be that interesting anyway.


Oh, the joys of a shared bathroom - if you can make it through the queues of people waiting then rest assured the hot water will run out just as you’re rinsing the shampoo off your hair.

Why does the hot water always run out when it’s your turn?

Why does the hot water always run out when it’s your turn?

Because there is always someone who takes over an hour to shower. I once timed how long it took an American girl called Ashley to shower in a hostel in Budapest - an hour and 40 minutes. The steam was coming out from underneath the door whilst the rest of us sat around in our grime, plotting to kill her. Keep it short. Do your makeup or comb your hair in the room afterwards, and keep the time in the bathroom to a minimum. Accept that if you leave your soap and shampoo in the shower, it will get used, and boys, please clean the sink after shaving. I never want to find another facial hair in my toothpaste again.


Dorms are for sleeping, and for solitary time. Although I’d always say a quick hello to the guy scribbling frantically in his journal with his headphones on, it’s pretty clear he wants to be alone - otherwise he’d be in the lounge. If you spend the night partying, then be considerate of the people sleeping when you stumble in at 4am. This is not the time to rummage through your toiletries bag for a toothbrush - leave it till the morning. Similarly, if you’re sleeping off a hangover or simply recovering from an overnight bus journey, you cannot get mad at people coming and going at midday - the dorm lives according to an average person’s day - if you have a problem with this, consider a private room.

'The Rock' Hostel, by jamesw

'The Rock' Hostel, by jamesw

Is it ok to make myself at home and spread my stuff around?

Sure. Just understand that if it’s left out in the open, it’s more likely to disappear. Fellow travellers can be pickpockets too - I’ve lost a few items of clothing and a fairly expensive facial cream. I’ve also seen other backpackers carelessly leave their phones, mp3’s and even cash lying around. Use the lockers in the dorms or leave valuables in the reception. If you do make yourself at home, make sure you don’t take up the whole space or block the door with your bag. Also, smelly towels or shoes don’t often get the warmest of welcomes.

What if I arrive really late or have to leave really early?

If I arrive late, expecting everyone else to be asleep, I usually pull out my pyjamas and toothbrush in the hallway and get changed in the bathroom, so when I actually get to the dorm, it’s a matter of putting my bag down and crawling to bed. Alternatively, if I’m leaving early, I pack my bag the night before, leaving out only the clothes and shoes I’m going to wear. There’s no excuse for not getting your stuff ready the night before if you know you have an early start. There’s nothing more inconsiderate than turning the lights on to pack your things in the middle of the night, rustling one plastic bag after another. I also tend to tell people I share a room with that I might have an alarm going off at five in the morning, and apologise beforehand. It doesn’t really keep anyone from waking up, but your fellow travellers will be a lot more sympathetic towards you.

But I really did lose my shoe and need to flick the lights on to find it!

Really, you should have a torch on you anyway - or use the light on your mobile. If you really, really need to turn the lights on, then do it quickly and don’t keep them on for any longer than you absolutely need to, and be prepared to receive a few murderous glances from the light sleepers.

What about the snorers?

Well, they’re people too. It might be worth carrying a pair of earplugs in case you do find yourself in a dorm with a snorer. However, if you know that you’re a loud snorer, please seriously consider a private room. I’m fairly used to snorers and sleep pretty soundly, and even I couldn’t sleep in a same room with an Italian guy in Namibia, who made the windows rattle. I ended up knocking on the door of a very nice Zimbabwean couple in the middle of the night, asking to sleep on their floor.

What if I find an attractive member of the opposite sex and want to take them to my dorm for an, um, nightcap?

No. No, no, no. Never. Similarly, couples in dorms should keep their hands off of each other. This is not your private space - everyone in the room has paid the same to have a decent sleep, and it’s unfair to make them uncomfortable or lose on sleep. I’ve been in too many such situations - once a couple actually used their towels and sarongs to create a little closed space on the bottom bunk - just a shame they forgot to soundproof it too. If you’re adult enough to have a passport, then you’re adult enough to wait till the next day to book a private room for you and your new-found love.

Ok, so I’ve booked my first hostel for two nights and I’m off! Any last words to prep me?

Yes. Be prepared to repeat yourself. The first thing people will ask you is where you’re from, followed by where are you heading next, and where did you just come from. How long have you been here? What have you done? How long are you travelling for? Occasionally, I feel like stapling a piece of paper to my forehead with my name, hometown, current length of my travels, total length of my travels, and next and previous destination, current bowel movements, expected bowel movements and past bowel movements. It’s amazing how much you find out about people before you even know their names.

If you have other tips and tricks for your fellow travellers, then join us in educating travellers worldwide. To get started, send our editors an email at unravelled [at] travellerspoint [dot] com. Let them know a bit about yourself, and maybe include some writing samples and ideas for entries. They will review your submission and, if you fit the bill, they will welcome you to the team.

Posted by Ofelia 05:35 Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (5)

Choosing the Right Pack

...and the art, science and panic of packing it

It's 3.27 am. You've packed and repacked. Your first flight of a 12-month Round-the-World trip leaves in barely 5 hours, and you glance from the backpack and daysack, both bursting at the seams, to the large pile of still unpacked items on your bed and start to despair: How the **** am I going to fit all of that in?

Bugs on the way to Cheb by Piecar

Bugs on the way to Cheb by Piecar

Your flatmate walks in, tiredly rubbing his eyes and asking what the problem is. You say in desperate tones "it doesn't all fit". He looks at your bags, the pile of stuff still left, and says "But are you sure you need all that? After all, I'm sure they do have rice in India. On your bed alone are more clothes than you own. Oh, and can we possibly convince you to leave that kitchen sink? I think we might have more need for it than you will...."

In a way, the old adage of 'lay out everything you think you will need, then take half the clothes and twice the money' still holds true, although in practical terms, it doesn't work: If you actually had double the money to spend, you would probably have planned a very different trip.

Despite what many people will try to tell you, there are no right or wrong ways to pack: only what works well for you. Some people can travel with a tiny daysack or just a briefcase, whilst others prefer a 100l rucksack with bits hanging off, plus a large daysack. It is a case of discovering what you are comfortable with, in the great trade off between weight/space and stuff.


The right bag can be a lifesaver. The wrong one can literally destroy your trip. Most people start by choosing a size, and then seeing what fits their budget. To me, a bag is a major investment. Everybody's body is different, and finding one that is comfortable for you is crucial. Does it fit nicely on the back? Do the straps adjust in a good way for you? When the bag is heavy (and thus hanging on you differently to when just full), will it rub somewhere? Does the waist strap fit snuggly, or dangle around your hips?

My Giant Pack by TheMaximus

My Giant Pack by TheMaximus

Then you have to consider the type of bag and its features: Do you want a top loading backpack, or a panel loader with a zip all the way around the front? (Editor's note: Panel loaders are the best for urban backpacking, no two ways about it) Do you want a bag with a frame (generally heavier but more comfortable), a coolmesh back (very comfortable, but bulkier and often with a curved interior which is awkward for packing) or a normal back? Or do you even need a rucksack– might a dufflebag, shoulder bag, carry on, or suitcase fit your needs better? Every option has it's own benefits, but also disadvantages.

And then there are pockets and straps. Lots of pockets can be a great idea, but only if they are the right size for what you personally want to put in them. And lots of pockets and straps also mean more opportunities for pickpockets.

Unless you are going to be doing some extreme trekking, camping, or wilderness work, and need to be carrying several days worth of provisions, I would generally suggest that you never use a bag larger than 65l, and ideally, a smaller one. 50-55l is a good size for the average traveler, allowing plenty of space and flexibility whilst not being overly large. If you are only traveling for a few weeks, or will mostly be in hot climates (a tour of South East Asia, for example), then a bag of 35-40l should be more than sufficient.

When I first started traveling, I used a 65l plus a 20l daysack. That rapidly changed. Now, my normal bag is a 26l pack, which is almost perfect for my needs and is a faithful friend, but I also have a 32l pack for when I need to carry a bit extra (i.e. sleeping bag and laptop). But, 15 years later, I am still searching for the perfect bag.


NEVER buy the first pack you see, and if at all possible, never buy a pack in a hurry. The chances are you will regret it later. Instead, try to visit several shops and try different bags. If you can get friendly with the staff, sometimes you will be allowed to return a bag and swap it for a different one if it doesn't quite fulfill your needs.

NEVER buy a pack without trying it on, and trying it on when it is (a) jammed full so you can see how the shape distorts/works with your body, and (b) without some good weight in it. Most good outdoor/camping stores are happy to oblige and help you with this. If they are not, go somewhere else.

Walk around the shop a bit with it full/heavy, trying to weave through the aisles in the store. Do you keep knocking things? Are you off balance? If possible, walk up and down stairs a couple of times. Lift the pack over your head and at an angle (simulating putting it onto an overhead rack on a bus or train). If you are able to try out a bag for longer and can return it, the best trial is at rush hour in your own city or town: Walk with a heavy/stuffed bag through the busiest business/shopping district to see how you cope. Walk up a long hill, and a downhill. Get on and off a few packed buses, trams or trains. Sit with the bag on your lap for 20 minutes to see how you feel. Climb 4 or 5 flights of stairs (hostels rarely have lifts). If any one of those fills you with dread, you either need to reconsider your choice of bag, or the amount of stuff you pack, or, most likely, both.

And when you have chosen and bought your pack, then comes the hardest part. What do you put in it?


I have a good friend who I have traveled with several times over the years. We have a running joke over the fact that his daysack is bigger than my bag, whilst in addition he carries an enormous 85l pack. But he has never once complained about it, and genuinely does not mind carrying so much.The funniest thing is, despite the fact he normally has about 100l more stuff than me, he still asks me to borrow things much more often than I ask him.

There is no such thing as a 'must pack' item, beyond the obvious passport/ticket/money and a change of clothing. There are obviously certain items that more people carry/recommend, and some which few take. But at the end of the day the choice comes down to you, your requirements, and your style of travel. And in general terms, you can only learn that by traveling and seeing what you are missing/need, or what you carry and don't ever use. As a vague point of reference, my packing list appears later on in this article.

There is no such thing as a 'must pack' item


There are very few things that you should NEVER pack. Radioactive material comes to mind, Illegal drugs as well, and baby animals another, although I can be persuaded on the latter in the right circumstances. Apart from that, it is pretty much down to you and the type of trip that you are taking.

I would never take jeans on any long term travel – however, if you are planning on being away for 12 months whilst living somewhere for 9 of them (for example, a WHV to Australia), then taking jeans may make a lot more sense. I would never take camping equipment unless I was fairly sure that I was going to be using it at least 50% of the time, as it is heavy and bulky to carry. Taking specialist gear such as ski suits or climbing harnesses are often only worth it if they will be used extensively: They can generally be hired/borrowed if you are just going to use them occasionally.

Where you are going and what you are doing are also, obviously, critical: Suncream and several bikinis are pretty much required for a few weeks sitting on beaches in Thailand, but not nearly so useful if you are going to see the Northern Lights where you will probably be glad of thermal underwear. If your trip is encompassing such disparate conditions consider either donating/chucking stuff when you leave one area (e.g. the cold one) and then buying cheap local when you get to the next (the hot one) instead of carrying everything the whole way when it will only be used for a short period.

Basically, take stuff that you know you will need, and not stuff 'just in case'. Some people's bags are 80% full of just-in-case stuff. My general rule is that if I am not going to use something at least once every 2-3 weeks for the whole trip, then it is probably not worth taking: pretty much my only exceptions to this are a small first aid kit and an emergency bankcard or two.

Inside Bugs

Inside Bugs

Also, be wary of things with the word 'travel' attached to them. There is a whole industry based around selling 'travel' accessories and goodies, but whilst many are useful, the truth is many are just more expensive versions of normal items, or less useful than everyday items.

And finally, it also depends on your personality and style: I never – never – carry or wear a raincoat or waterproof of any description. But then, I grew up in a rainy area and am both used to and have no problem with getting wet. For me, this is an acceptable trade-off, but some other people look at me aghast for even considering such a thing.


The general consensus amongst travelers is that you need to take a daysack. And a good daysack can be excellent, though all too often people seem to end up using it as overspill for their main pack. But do you actually even need one? And really, how much stuff do you need to carry on a day-to-day basis or for day trips?

Generally, a camera, suncream, toilet paper or tissues (you only make the mistake of not carrying them once), water, and maybe some food is all that you will regularly need. You might want to take a guidebook, and in some places with greater temperature variations you may wish to take a rain jacket or poncho, or an extra layer, but even then you are not looking at much stuff.

To my mind, your daysack and all its contents should be able to fit into your main pack, so that when you don't need it, you only have to carry one bag. My two favoured options are a canvas sports bag and a very lightweight/foldable rucksack, which though not the cheapest is lightweight, durable and small enough to fit in a pocket when not in use.

Personally, my daysack generally gets used more when I am in transit – my main bag is on the roof of a bus, for example, where I can't access it. When wandering cities, I often carry it only in a pocket and use it to put shopping in. Other people always carry a daysack with lots of things in it – I used to as well - and, as with everything else, it is entirely your choice.


It might sound strange, but in many ways how you pack is even more crucial than what you pack. I generally travel with a fairly small pack in comparison to most, but I make sure that I maximise the space available. I have often found it odd: If I pack properly, all of my kit fits in nicely and even leaves a small amount of extra space. But if I don't pack it well, I can end up with a jammed full pack – and with half of my kit still on the floor.

In practical terms, that means that I basically end up repacking my bag every day. If I don't start and work bottom up, it won't all fit, and I accept that I will spend a couple of minutes a day repacking as part of my routine. All space needs to be filled. Over the years, I have probably spent hours rearranging the same kit different ways into my bag until I have discovered how it fits in the optimum way in terms of space, weight distribution and accessibility to things I am more likely to need: All small gaps, holes, nooks and crannies filled in one way or another.


Though it might sound a bit odd, don't try to be too organised: It might be great to have all your socks together, but separately they may fill lots of small gaps in your bag and thus save you space.

Packing cubes can be useful, but add weight, bulk and cost, and are harder to pack around.

Use Ziplock bags or small net bag to keep your stuff together. They need to be see through to work effectively.

Roll your clothes; don't fold them, and don't roll them all together. This prevents creasing, and smaller rolls and items are easier to maximise space with.


In all my years, I am not sure I have ever seen a single traveler who left with a bag that was not bursting at the seams. You think “I only need 50l of stuff, so if I buy a 60l bag, I will have plenty of space for souvenirs”. The idea is good, but, sadly, it just doesn't work like that. You will set off with a full bag regardless. To avoid that, I recommend putting an old pillow/blanket/jersey/plastic box or something in the bottom of your pack. Something with weight is even better (fill the box with sand). Then, pack as normal over the top of it and at your first stop (even at the airport before you fly), take out the filler and chuck it away or donate it. You then have a lighter bag (if you put in weight) plus spare space in your bag for souvenirs, last minute panic buys, or simply to make your bag easier to pack and carry.

Take it or leave it - luxuries?

Every traveler takes a few things that aren't really necessary or logical. But it is those items that tend to make a difference. The small luxuries or reminders of home that you permit yourself can make or break a trip, and so I would strongly suggest that you don't let your ruthless desire to save space and/or weight overrule sentimentality or comfort in every case.

If you are somebody that always wears jeans, it might be that you should take one pair. If you are a girl who loves going out and dressing up, a pair of heels may be essential. And if you are somebody from a close knit family or get homesick, you might want to take a small album of photos or messages with you.

Personally, I always carry a pair of speakers, a Welsh flag, and a small stuffed Elk named Clive, none of which would be in everybody's list.


I went through my kit and bag in detail the other day, and after counting realised that I had money and/or cards in no fewer than 15 different places across my person and bag. Whilst I admit that is a bit excessive, I would always suggest that you keep at least 2 stashes (both of cash, USD or Euro, and at least one card) hidden in your backpack. I am not going to tell you any of my secret places as you should work out your own and not tell anybody. Why? Because sooner or later word gets out and what was a clever idea becomes useless – witness all the people who go into their moneybelts for every little purchase, which has rendered them useless as a way to conceal money. Every thief, mugger, or pickpocket of any skill knows that a backpacker will have a moneybelt, and if I wear a moneybelt these days, it is as a decoy only.

if I wear a moneybelt these days, it is as a decoy only

My packing list

Finally, just to give some indication/suggestion of what you might like to pack, below is my packing list. It is not a definitive list as such; rather a list of stuff that I almost always carry. It evolves over time as I remove less useful items or replace them with newer multi-purpose or smaller/lighter alternatives. It also varies slightly for shorter or longer trips, and if I know I will be mostly in very hot/cold/windy places. This list has done me for 2 trips of over a year in varying seasons and numerous smaller trips. It includes what I am wearing and everything that will be on me, and all fits nicely into a 26l NorthFace pack.


Hiking/Trail shoes, sandals; 2 pairs of trousers (of the zip off variety, so they are also shorts), 1 pair extra shorts (optional, depending on where I'm going), 5 t-shirts (mostly quick drying ones), 1 long sleeved t-shirt, fleece, 4 pairs socks (less if I expect to be mostly in sandals), 5 pairs underwear, 3/4 handkerchiefs, pyjamas (which for me, is a pair of shorts), rope (which I have used as a belt for years), baseball cap, buff (recent replacement for my woolly head warmer). * NOTE – I can't swim, which is why I don't take any swim wear. I sometimes also have a large flag/chitenge/sarong, which can be used for many different things.

Toiletries/Medical etc:

Toothbrush/paste, razor and blades, shower gel (small bottle), deodorant (small), comb, nail-clippers, basic first aid kit including a few paracetamol and Imodium, lemsip (flu remedy), throat sweets, assorted plasters and a knee bandage (I have a very dodgy knee), suncream, mozzie repelant, hand sanitiser or wet-wipes, 2 packs of tissues, half – or less - roll of toilet paper.

Outdoor/camping-ish gear:

Silk sheet sleeping bag, enamel mug, durable plastic cutlery, Swiss Army knife (always on my person), 2 or 3 cigarette lighters, 1 box matches, travel towel (x2 – one is very small), blow up pillow, water bottle.


Camera, phone, MP3 player (and chargers), plug adapter, solar power charger, spare earphones (I have bad luck traveling with earphones), wind-up torch, battery/plug-less speakers for MP3 player, 2x USB stick, USB cable, 2-ish DVDs (either blank or with photo backups burned onto them – I also send a copy back home).


Passport, money belt (in bag), copies of passport/insurance et al., tickets, diary, keys (if needed), wallet, money (normally local currency in 2 or 3 places plus emergency/reserves of USD, Euro, GBP and sometimes another currency), and credit cards (kept in different places). Some leaflets/notes/printouts/photocopies from a guidebook.


Daysack (which fits in my main sack), small roll of duct tape (or duct tape rolled around a pen to save space), journal, small notebook, address book, 3 or 4 pens, highlighter, small post it notes, selotape, glue stick, elasticbands, safety pins, ziplock bags, 2x carrier bags, watch (though I never wear it), 2 or 3 books which get swapped whenever finished/possible (this occasionally includes a guidebook), small pocket atlas, small Welsh flag, Clive (my stuffed Elk), a few cycling toe straps (for tying things onto my backpack if required), 3x small numeric padlocks, chewing gum, mints, a few tea bags/instant coffee sachets.

- On my most recent trip (15 months, including 9 backpacking around Africa) I have used a 32l bag, which in addition to the above included my sleeping bag, an extra long-sleeved t-shirt and my Asus EEE laptop, plus charger and external HDD.

  • Except for one set of clothes/footwear that I will be wearing, whilst the other footwear and waterbottle go in the outside pockets of the bag, and the fleece in the front bungee if not being worn.

well travelled by scipio

well travelled by scipio

Yes, that sounds a lot. But remember that it all fits into a fairly average sized daysack.

Hmmm. Needs more rope.

Don't forget to check out another great source of information: Travellerspoint's Packing List.

If you have other tips and tricks for your fellow travellers, then join us in educating travellers worldwide. To get started, send our editors an email at unravelled [at] travellerspoint [dot] com. Let them know a bit about yourself, and maybe include some writing samples and ideas for entries. They will review your submission and, if you fit the bill, they will welcome you to the team.

Posted by Gelli 13:14 Comments (6)

Let The Milk of Human Kindness Flow

Or, How to Win the Personality Lottery

To kick off the New Year (Hello 2010), I’d like to give a few pointers (no, not the dogs) to the travelers and soon-to-be travelers among us (though if you want a dog, don’t let me stop you – they’ll do anything for you, including drooling). You can make the absolute most of your experiences around the world by following just a few simple suggestions from this fellow traveler. Even better, you can enrich your life and the lives of those around you. And who doesn’t want to be enriched? C’mon, you can tell me….I won’t tell anyone….

The Gift of a Smile is Priceless

The Drummer and the King, by beerman

The Drummer and the King, by beerman

How many times have you been traveling in a strange and foreign country and felt a little unease because everyone around you seems to be in a really bad mood? Sure, this tends to happen to people in larger cities because, quite honestly, they live there and have things to do, like commuting to work and trying to figure out how to take their 15 minute lunch hour in 10 minutes. In those larger cities, people tend to scowl so as to simply avoid contact with others and get on their merry way. They especially tend to dislike foreigners asking them how to get to the museum, the park, or the waterfront, because that distracts them from their “task at hand”, namely daily life. Now this is a generalization, but I have found it to be true in many large cities I have visited. I have also found that when I am in Chicago, a city I know well, or Montego Bay, or Guadalajara, or London, that if I am in need of some information, be it from a police officer, a bus driver, or a pedestrian, a simple smile works wonders in breaking the icy veneer the city dweller generally presents. People instinctively trust (or run away from!) someone who smiles. Rarely do muggers and pickpockets smile at you. Along with your smile, be aware of your body language. Try not to crowd people’s “personal space” because they then tend to back away and regard you as a threat. Stand at arm’s length, look the person in the eye, and smile. Look humble and in need of their assistance, because it is difficult to help someone looking aggressively at you. Speak softly. If you can unfold your trusty map without flailing your arms, all the better. People generally dislike some wild-looking foreign person accosting them for directions to the local hostel or bar.

Let me tell you more..., by Isadora

Let me tell you more..., by Isadora

Speak the Language

OK, you don’t have to be fluent in the local language, but a few choice words or phrases will get you a long, long way.

OK, you don’t have to be fluent in the local language, but a few choice words or phrases will get you a long, long way. You can easily get translations for the most basic of phrases for wherever you go. Even doing a pantomime of what you want works when asking people for help or food, or my personal favorite, a beer. Allow me to give you an example from one of my adventures abroad. My wife and I ventured to Panama (just after joining Travellerspoint, by the way) for a two week driving holiday. We wanted to see as much of the country as possible and had the means to rent a vehicle, although we had made no reservations anywhere and were “playing it by ear”. Now I studied Spanish for many years in school, but I was horribly out of practice and was reduced to barely speaking in the present tense. My wife spoke no Spanish at all. A challenge you ask? No, because I still remembered how to ask for food and beer and petrol.

An Example - So To Speak...

Fear At The River, by Isadora

Fear At The River, by Isadora

We found ourselves in the tiny town of Santa Fe, high in the mountains in the middle of the country. We managed to find a small hotel, and made some friends over a meal and a few beers at the hotel restaurant (3 tables, no waiting). We happened to be there at the time of the local town fair, which was a real treat (especially for the hand squeezed sugar cane and orange juice for USD$0.25). There was a large river nearby which we wanted to see, though the directions to get there were quite ambiguous. Plus, we were quite low on petrol, couldn’t afford to drive around aimlessly, and the nearest gas station was 75 km away. We stopped at the town square and found a small farmer’s market and started asking people where, or if, we could get some petrol. My weak Spanish and hearty smiles barely got responses, but there was one ancient-looking woman who understood and she insisted that her 12 year old nephew ride with us to the only local who had a supply of petrol. After 15 minutes of driving through the “suburbs” (and I use that term quite loosely), with a mildly bemused child, we came to “the petrol woman”. The nephew leapt from the car and began to explain to the woman that these two gringos needed to power their car. The woman asked me how much we needed. I smiled and replied that 5 gallons should do the trick. The woman furrowed her brow, but then raised her arm and signaled to the 8 children on the porch to retrieve some petrol. They came out with 5 one gallon cooking oil jugs (Mazola if I remember), but hey, it was a hire car, so what the hell. The petrol woman began siphoning, by mouth, until all 5 gallons were stored away in our car. I was a bit stunned by her kindness, especially the siphoning by mouth part. I asked her how much she would like for the petrol, and as it was USD$2.50 per gallon at the time, she said USD$12.50. I reached into my pocket and handed her a USD$20 bill. As she started to motion, brow furrowed again, to her eldest child for change, I stopped her and said “Senora, no es necessario. Es para tu y su familia, y muchas gracias para su felicidad” (Madam, it is not necessary. It is for you and your family, and thank you for your kindness) – at least I thought that’s what I said. And I smiled. It took, quite literally, 20 more minutes before we could escape the blessings of this petrol woman. I had absolutely no idea what she was saying, but I got the gist after 12 hugs and many “muchas gracias senor” and references to various saints. The rest of our voyage in Panama went without incident (as we had been blessed) including being stopped by a police commandante (with machine gun) on a very rural road who only wanted a ride to the police station, then proceeded to try to sell us real estate. Crazy trip. BUT, the point is, a little rudimentary language and a smile will get you to the river. And it did for us. And we could have purchased a nice finca from the commandante, who barely noticed the half empty bottle of Panamanian seco (vodka) on the back seat of the car……

Be Kind

The most important thing you can ever take with you on your travels is your personality, although a valid passport is a close second. Even money pales in comparison to a good personality. People have traveled the world on nothing more than a smile, a handshake, and good conversation. People you meet in your travels will not respect you for how much money you have, but they will respect you if you are a kind person who treats them with the respect any human deserves.

When you are abroad, you must always remember that you are an ambassador of your country, even if they don’t give you the ambassador’s limousine. Locals will always remember “that nice guy from England”, or “that nice woman from Boise, Idaho”, or “that nice couple from Guatemala City”. Images of entire countries are developed from a single encounter. It’s happened to you, hasn’t it? Some obnoxious tourist who insists on food from their country, or one of their own beers, or pushes past people to take a snapshot? We have all seen them, and those people have made a poor impression on us. Is everyone from (insert country name here) like that? DO NOT BE ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE!!!!!! It’s not difficult. A simple understanding that you are now in a different culture (or if in your own country, you’re not at home) will go a long way toward developing new relationships that can last a lifetime, or at least show people that not everyone from where you live is a complete ass. It has worked well for me, though it’s possible that some out there may still think I’m a complete ass. But I try. And that’s all you need to do……try.


If you have other tips and tricks for your fellow travellers, then join us in educating travellers worldwide. To get started, send our editors an email at unravelled [at] travellerspoint [dot] com. Let them know a bit about yourself, and maybe include some writing samples and ideas for entries. They will review your submission and, if you fit the bill, they will welcome you to the team.

Posted by beerman 13:13 Comments (2)

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