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Tips for Backpackers

As this is written by us, it won’t contain information on where to find the best cheap hotel or the best meal in town, we’ll leave that to Lonely Planet! What we will do though is share some tips with you we’ve picked up on our travels, and also some lessons some of our clients have learned when they’ve been travelling, and had to claim!

Travel Insurance obviously is an item when you’re travelling that no-one really wants to buy, but put into perspective, generally it costs you less than a cup of coffee a day. But if you lose all your belongings, become ill or have an accident, no one is going to offer you any financial assistance whatsoever aside from your travel insurance or your friends and family.

What to do before you leave

No one ever wants to go to the dentist, but if you’re away for more than a few weeks, you probably won’t want to see a dentist in a far flung area of the world. You’d be wishing you’d just gone to see your dentist before you left!

If you do lose your passport abroad, getting the local Embassy to issue you with an Emergency Travel Document (ETD) is made an awful lot easier if you can print out copies of your documentation for them! Note for British Passport holders, you only get an ETD which is very restrictive on what it allows you to do, and is not the same thing as a new full British Passport. Getting a full new British Passport when you’re abroad takes many weeks to process, so, if you’re going through lots of different countries on your journey you may want to consider getting a second passport before you leave and get a family member to FedEx it to you should your original passport be lost or stolen.

Getting one of these is very useful, as usually you get free withdrawals from cash machines throughout the world, rather than the 2% or more your bank will probably charge you. You can do all the transfers to it from the internet, and usually you get a secondary card just in case you lose your first one! The ones which are popular choices amongst travellers are CaxtonFx and Ice.

If you do lose your money and cards, you have to phone up all the card issuers to cancel your cards before you get scammed by the thieves. Remember you’re usually responsible for losses before you inform the financial institutions that your cards have gone, and it will save you an enormous amount of time if you have all the numbers you have to call tucked in an e-mail you sent yourself before you left home!

Your travel insurance covers you for cancellation from the time you’ve bought it, and everything else comes into effect on the day you want your cover to start. So if you have an accident before your trip and you have to postpone it or even cancel, your insurance should pay out all those cancellation charges your travel agent will no doubt charge you.

You can get True Traveller Insurance once you’re already travelling, but we’re one of the very few who allows you to do this. Most travel policies are only available for you to buy before you start travelling.

Check your insurance will cover the activities you’re going to be doing on your trip. If you’re going to be doing some manual work like farming for example, most standard policies won’t cover that. So, check the small print!

How to look after your belongings

Pretty obvious really, but thieves won’t steal anything if they can’t get any money for it! If you do take your laptop with you and a very expensive camera, when you’re on the road really keep a very close eye on it, and be especially circumspect when getting on an off busses and trains, as that’s when the thieves strike!

When you’re actually travelling on trains, busses etc., put your passport, cash and cards in your money belt. No one will be able to steal them without you knowing.

There is no point in carrying more than $200 or so of cash at any one time. Just use your card and get more cash out of a cash machine.

If there’s no safe in your room, there will be one in reception. Use it, and put your cash, cards and passport inside it, and your camera and laptop as well if you’re not using them. Then just go out in the day with a small amount of cash and one credit card.

Use a day sack for your camera, laptop etc., and wear it on your front when travelling with your main rucksack.

If you are robbed or lose your money belt, there is nothing worse than not having any money! Sure you can claim your loss to your insurance company, but they won’t repay you today! So, keep one credit card (maybe your extra pre-paid card) and a $50 note hidden and separate from your main stash. Sellotaping a credit card between two pages in a guide book is an idea. Local thieves never steal guide books!

How to look after your well-being

If you’re in a malaria zone, use mosquito spray (buy it locally) but most important of all, use a mosquito net when sleeping. It’s a good idea to buy one before you travel from Amazon, as more often than not, mosquito nets in hostels have seen better days. Malaria is rarely fatal, but no drug is 100% effective against all the different strains. Also Dengue Fever is on the increase, and there’s no immunisation against that yet! Prevention is better than cure!

Always buy water from regular stores and check the seal! Buying bottled water off the street can leave you feeling very ill, as sometimes it’s just re-sealed by enterprising children looking to boost their income! Apart from fancy hotels and restaurants, avoid ice in drinks as well.

Remember refrigeration overseas in some areas just isn't up to our standards, so rather than eat meat which may be spoiled, go vegetarian for a few days!

You can buy these on the web in handy small bags, and they have plasters, antiseptic wipes, Paracetamol and bandages in them. If you do have a mishap, you’ll be pleased you bought it! And, if you do use something from it, don’t forget to replace it when you get the opportunity!

Sounds strange, but when we go away we suddenly think we’re invincible! It may be due to the euphoria of travelling, maybe a few too many beers or peer pressure. Sure, if you go to Queenstown you’ll have a go at Bungee Jumping, but don’t jump into a river from a great height thinking it’ll be fun when you’re in Vietnam. The water may only be a few inches deep! Also, if you’re feeling ill, don’t start a big trek like the Inca Trail. The altitude will make you feel much worse very quickly, and may result in you being helicoptered off the Inca Trail, airlifted to Lima and then all the way back home. Your trip is then over!

OK, you can’t avoid them totally, but the accident levels in Asia and South America are eye-wateringly high. Our travel insurance covers you if you ride a motorcycle up to 125cc and you wear a crash helmet, but do be careful, and be especially careful of motorcycle taxis. If you ride a motorcycle at home, you probably already know that if you fall off, you’re always the loser. In parts of Asia, especially Vietnam and Cambodia, deaths due to scooter accidents are estimated to be many hundreds per month!

If you've been ill for a few days and have been taking lots of fluids but still feel ill, go to a Doctor. It’s better to do this than not go and then get admitted to hospital a week later. Ask your hotel/hostel for the name of a local Doctor or go to a medical clinic. True Traveller Insurance will pay for the costs if you have your insurance with us, as to be honest it’s cheaper for the insurance to pay $200 for your Doctor, than maybe $5000 or more to a hospital a week later!


If you have any hints or advice we can share, just let us know and we’ll add it to this list. These hints won’t help to avoid the big claim which affects a very small percentage of travellers; in those cases they’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time! But it may help you avoid those minor claims which just bring about misery for a few weeks, like having all your stuff stolen and having to fill out all those forms, police reports etc., or sitting in a dentist’s chair in Vientiane, when you’re not entirely confident of the dentists’ qualifications!