Light, Cheap & Flexible [The Sensible Way to Travel]

Introduction

Traveling is amazing, and the opportunity to see the world isn’t one to be taken for granted. There are plenty of sites out there that will tell you all about the most beautiful locations, hidden gems, best gadgets, and most instagrammable views. This isn’t that. This is a short guide to tell you how to make all that happen. I combined some of my top blog posts so people could find everything on one place.

  1. Get Through Airports and Passport Control
  2. Start Your Travels Right
  3. Review Different Transportation Options
  4. Stay Healthy Overseas

How to Travel the World With Only a Carry-on Bag

Not checking any baggage is the greatest travel-hack out there. Not only will you save money, but time at baggage claim as well. I don’t know about you, but when I arrive in a foreign city, the very last thing I want is to find out the airline lost my bag. That’s inconvenient on a short vacation, but catastrophic if that bag holds everything you own.

How to Cut Weight

Lose the laptop

  • You can keep your bag with you on a motorcycle, tuk-tuk, taxi, or bus
  • You can leave your belongings at the foot of your hostel bed, rather than spread across the hallway to trip people
  • You won’t stand out as an obvious tourist
  • It makes transit easier, which opens up more destinations, especially off the beaten path
  • Universal outlet adapter: if you want to plug in anything while bouncing around the world, you’ll need one. Find one that serves as a voltage adapter too to avoid frying your devices.
  • Day pack: one of those compressible ones that don’t take up more space than a tennis ball. Helpful for day trips and splitting your luggage at the airport if you go that way.
  • Hoodies and sweatshirts: I love hoodies, but they take up way too much space in the little backpack. Compressible insulated jackets are a better bet, or skip it.
  • Second pair of shoes: one pair of walking/running shoes and one pair of flip flops is all you need. Some people say you just need the flip flops! Unless you want a nicer pair of shoes for all the dancing and clubbing you’ll do in Eastern Europe, leave them out.

How to Deal With Airports [And Passport Control]

How to buy your ticket

There are plenty of discounted flights out there. You can choose between aggregator sites, “last minute” deals, or booking through the airline itself. Each strategy has its own benefits, and some travelers maximize credit card miles too. That’s another article, but whatever you choose, pick a site to use, and stick with it. This isn’t strictly necessary, but it makes travel days easier if you login once and get your ticket, no drama. It’s usually not productive to spend hours trying to save $3.50 on your flight.

Connecting flights

Assuming you couldn’t get a direct flight, or if you wanted to stop somewhere, you’ll have a layover to figure out. You don’t want a layover to be too short or too long.

Visa requirements

Citizens of countries with strong passports don’t have to worry about this much, but you should double check before you buy your ticket. Make sure you don’t need a visa (or e-visa) for any country you’ll set foot in. Not just your final destination, but every stop-over country as well. It’s a nasty surprise when the check-in counter won’t let you on the plane because it turns out you need a visa for Vietnam even if you aren’t leaving the airport.

  • Visas can be tricky. Depending on the country, you may have to visit an embassy or consulate in person and convince them to let you into their country.

Additional requirements

Even if you don’t need a visa, some countries won’t let you in without proof that you’ll leave. They’ll want to see confirmation of a Return or Onward flight, which suggests you won’t overstay your welcome. Some travelers buy the cheapest next flight they can find, get past the guards, and immediately cancel their next flight and get their money back. As with anything, there are several ways to solve this problem.

  • Will you sleep through the flight, read, work on your laptop, scream and cry? There’s options for everyone. Longer (and nicer) flights offer in-flight movies, which can help break up a long haul.

First, get off the plane

Stand up as soon as you can, get your backpack out of the overhead bin, and get down to the tarmac. The tunnels that let you walk directly from the plane to the airport aren’t too common outside the US. You’ll most likely end up on a shuttle bus that will take you from the plane to the international arrivals hall. Do what you can to get on the first bus. Once you’re on, stand right next to the door. Doesn’t matter if there are plenty of seats available, stand right there for a faster exit.

Second, run for passport control

Ok, maybe don’t run, but walk as fast as possible. Running can get you in trouble, so avoid that. This might sound excessive, but passport control is no joke. The massive line can take hours to get through. If you can rush past 300 people on the very long walk to passport control, you can save an hour. This is a deciding factor if your layover time is a bit tight.

Third, take your quiz

Some countries require arrivals to complete a short form before passport control. Sometimes, the airline will pass these out on the flight, which is a time saver. Other times, you need to grab a form right before getting in line. Don’t stand at the counter filling it out, take it with you and hop in line, fill it out as you wait. We recommend bringing a pen with you for these situations; you never need a pen until you do.

Fourth, get past the officials

Once you limp your way to the front of the line, step up to the counter when asked. Don’t jump the gun and push your way forward, they don’t like that at all. Some people say you should greet the official and be friendly. We recommend keeping your mouth shut. Hand them your passport, visa information, and any other required forms. Then, continue to keep your mouth shut.

  • Look bored and don’t fidget. Keep your eyes slightly downcast, these are government officials after all, so they like a little deference. There will be cameras pointed at you, don’t look at them unless you have to for a retinal scan or something.
  • Guys should shave before a travel day, some officials have problems with beards and/or ideologies. We recommend pulling your hair back from your face as well.

Finally, don’t forget your eyes and hands

Some countries require retinal scans and fingerprints at the passport control desk. These are often digital, but sometimes involve ink. If you’re on an INTERPOL watch list or something, keep that in mind. If not, do as instructed and get clean scans on your first try. This is another time when complications aren’t good.

How to Get Started Abroad

Now that you’ve arrived at your final destination, there are a few things you need to take care of. I know you’re excited to get started after such a long trip, but trust me, this is important. Many people rush out of the airport, jump in a taxi, and get after it right away. If you use the next 30 minutes wisely, it will set you up for a better first day.

Minutes 0–10

So you made it through passport control, and you’re in the international arrivals area of the airport. Depending on the time of day (or night), don’t expect many amenities here. Most airports don’t have much for new arrivals, they just want you to get out. Fret not, you won’t see everything you want, but you’ll find everything you need.

Minutes 10–20

Now, get some money. If you have currency to exchange, you might find a money changer, but those are usually on the departure side of the airport. So, you’re looking for an ATM. In Western Europe, you might be able to use your card for everyday expenses abroad, but most of the world uses cash. Cash makes it much easier to budget during your trip as well. If you only have 10,000 HUF in your pocket in Budapest, you can’t spend more than that.

  • The ATM might have a max daily withdrawal limit lower than what you’re trying to pull.

Minutes 20–25

Now that you have a stack of cash, it’s time to get some smaller notes. ATMs insist on dispensing large bills. This makes it easy to carry enough money, but most local vendors won’t be able to make change for those bills. Even if they could, they don’t want to get stuck with that large bill either. You don’t want to end up trying to buy a $3 meal with the local equivalent of a $100 bill. It’s awkward for everyone, and they’ll get mad at you for trying. 2000 Indian Rupees is 27 USD, but NO ONE in India can make change for a 2000 Rupee note.

Minutes 25–30

We’re almost there! Make sure you still have everything (passport, cash, backpack) and that nothing was lost in the past few minutes. You should know where you’re going as well. If your lodgings are close to the airport, that makes arrival and departure easier.

  • Public Transport: I prefer metro trains to buses, but either could work. Most airports are accessible by metro line, and if your lodgings are near another stop, this is a good choice. Although, many train and bus lines don’t run 24/7. If you’re flying in at midnight, they’ll probably be closed.
  • Shuttle Van: Some airports, especially in Europe, will have a shuttle bus system. Buy a ticket at the desk, get in the van, and they’ll drop you off at your door. This takes longer than a taxi, but they’ll get you to the right place.
  • Taxi: This is the most expensive option, but also the smoothest. As such, it is my personal favorite. The only time I recommend taxis is for arriving in a new country after a long journey. When all you want in the world is to get where you’re going as easily as possible, they’re the only choice.
  • The Best Way: If your lodgings recommended the best way to get there from the airport, do that. I took the shuttle in Budapest because that’s what the hostel said. The metro was still open when I arrived in Tokyo, so that’s what I did. It’s good to adapt and listen to local advice whenever possible.
  • Other: Some countries offer options like rickshaws, moto-rickshaws, motorcycle taxis, and more. If this is your first time, stick with what you know for now, but these are all exciting options to try on your travels.

Getting to The Door

Well, you somehow made it to the vague area where you’re supposed to be staying. The next step is walking in the front door. This should be easy, but often isn’t. Many smaller hostels and AirBNBs don’t have a large, brightly-lit sign out front. In fact, there may be no indication that this is the place at all.

Checking In

You did it! You got to the right place, and you can almost feel the soft mattress underneath your weary body. Checking in is no issue. Most places will want to make a copy of your passport. They’ll also want payment in advance (usually in cash, which is why we got some earlier). Sometimes, you’ll have to take a quiz. They might have you fill out your name, home country, passport number, visa number, how long you’re staying there, where you came from, and where you’re going next.

  1. Can I drink the water here? Just because the locals can drink the water without getting sick doesn’t mean you can. There’s only a handful of countries in the world with clean tap water. The other 190 or so are trickier. If they say “Our water right here is good, but not outside of that” then it’s up to you if you’ll trust their filtration system. Otherwise, you’ll need to buy a lot of bottled water.

Transportation Options of the World

There are many other ways besides planes to get around the world. Some are best suited for local transportation, others could take you between countries. Your schedule and preferences will dictate which methods you take, but there’s always more than one way to get there. Trying new ways of doing things is one of the benefits of travel, so get out there and give it a shot!

Self-Contained Transport

These methods of travel are up to you. There’s no schedule or itinerary other than what you decide. They are often inexpensive, but require you to navigate and prepare to get to your destination.

Hired Transport

There are plenty of ways to pay someone to take you somewhere. These options cost a little more, but don’t demand anything from you than to sit down and hold on. Depending on the situation, some awareness of the route and generally “paying attention” would be a good idea.

  1. Negotiate the route once you get going. If you need to get there quickly, tell the driver to take you to your destination directly, with no stops. This will probably cost more, which is surprising, but I’ll talk you through it.
  2. In Thailand and other SE Asian countries, tuk-tuk drivers are more entrepreneurial than some others. It’s accepted practice to use tourist passengers to make more money. They might take you to a suit shop, have you meet with a salesperson and walk around for 10 minutes as if you’re a customer. In exchange for bringing someone to the shop, the tuk-tuk driver will get a cash payment or fuel voucher. If you have time and don’t mind playing the game, you’ll get a cheaper fare (sometimes even free).

Public Transport

Any means of transport that involves joining strangers on the way. Planes would fall under this category (unless you’re a NetJets member). This is more adventurous than hired transport, and is a good way to travel with locals.

  • Find and visit the departure point the day before you’re set to leave. When all the buses look the same and you can’t read the signs on any of the travel offices, it’s unlikely you’ll get on the right one. If you confirm the departure point in person ahead of time, getting back to it should be easy.
  • Pay whatever it costs for air conditioning.
  • Eat and drink very sparingly before and during your bus journey. 14 hours is a long time with only one bathroom break at a rural truck stop with squat toilets and no toilet paper or soap.
  • Don’t expect answers to any of your questions:
  • When are we leaving?
  • How long will it take?
  • Is this a rest stop or are we just picking up more passengers?
  • I paid for this seat, why is someone else here?
  • How long are we staying at this rest stop, and is there food?
  • What do you mean this is the end of the line? That’s not what my ticket says.

How to Stay Healthy Overseas

It’s a crazy world out there, but with a little preparation you’ll survive. There are some things you should do before you leave your home country and some to think about while on the road. Since we’re limited to a carry-on backpack, we don’t want to bring anything we won’t need. Luckily, if you think about your wellbeing before you lose it, you’ll stay healthier. None of this constitutes medical advice, and the upcoming COVID-19 vaccine may change some of this information.

Before You Leave — Shots

Find out what vaccinations you’ll need for your planned destination. If you know exactly which country (or countries) you’ll visit, this is easy. If you plan on bouncing around the world until you get tired of it, this is more difficult. There are ways to look up which diseases are prevalent in specific countries, but you need to know which countries you’re looking at.

  • Others will kill you without immediate diagnosis and medical attention. This is a problem if you aren’t staying in major cities near a hospital.
  • Still others will kill you no matter what you do after you contract them. Prevention is the only reasonable plan for these bugs. Otherwise, you’re playing the odds that it won’t happen to you.
  1. Stay away from animals

Before You Leave — Insurance

I don’t have any affiliate deals, so I can only tell you what I know. You should get health insurance made for nomads. Standard health insurance plans won’t cover you overseas, so you’ll need a new one. This is different from travel insurance for your trip.

  • Travel Insurance covers inconveniences. Lost baggage, lodging cancellations, rental car breakdowns, even inclement weather. All these can be insured against. Up to you, but I wouldn’t waste money on this.

Bring With You — Remedies

Don’t overpack here, figure out the best benefit per gram for your health needs, and put those in your bag. Don’t re-pack pills in smaller baggies to save space either. I know those mostly-empty bottles take up too much space, but use the correct labelled container. If airport security searches your bag and finds baggies of unlabelled pills, that wouldn’t be good.

  • If you only pack one of these, make it this one
  • Activated Charcoal is a lifesaver when you get an intestinal sickness. [Keep reading at your own risk… OK, I warned you.] Shortly after I got to India, I trusted the hotel’s filtered water and I shouldn’t have. I experienced severe intestinal distress and had to use the bathroom all the time for a few days. This was an inconvenience, but it turned into a problem because I had a 14 hour overnight bus ride to endure. There’s no bathroom on the bus, and only one rest stop. I was concerned this would go horribly wrong. I limited my food and water intake as a precaution. I then took activated charcoal tablets every few hours. It was a rough ride, but no problems.
  • Bring this one with you too
  • Vitamins and Minerals: If you’re stumbling through every nightclub in Eastern Europe, you aren’t worrying about your Potassium intake. Even if you are, it’s hard to find fresh produce or salads in most of the world. Much easier to take a pill once a day to keep some vitamins and minerals in your system.
  • It’s a good idea if you have space
  • Bandages, painkillers, hand sanitizer, etc
  • Buy it there if you absolutely need to

Stay Fit on the Road

It’s difficult to exercise while traveling long term. If you have deep pockets, you could join CrossFit, I hear they have locations around the world. If not, you’ll want to figure something out for yourself. If you’re following the carry-on only plan, you won’t have any space to bring workout equipment with you. Even if you did, do you really want to carry that around the world?

  • Stretching/Yoga: If you have your own hotel room, or can find enough space in the hostel, stay flexible. This is another good way to reduce injuries as well.
  • Bodyweight Exercises: Pushups, lunges, squats, and other contained exercises are good options. Explosive or loud ones, such as burpees, would annoy other people in the room.
  • Swim: If you’re staying near the water, swim a little bit!

Final Thoughts

The further someone is going, the less they tend to bring. We’ve all seen people pack three bags for a weekend away. I lapped the world with a 40 liter backpack. I heard about a guy who only traveled with the clothes he was wearing and a small satchel. The less you bring, the better and easier your travel experience will be.

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