The “Leaving on a Jet Plane” Edition

In Advice, Travel on November 1, 2007 at 10:37 pm

This week, in a special combination effort which will eclipse the adding of chocolate to milk, I will be addressing TWO questions – two for the price of one!! So Sit back, relax, and maybe call your travel agent, as we explore the doubly-nice side of Ask Ally.

Rebecca from Guelph queries:

Not really what you are looking for

Dear Ally,

Having traveled a great deal with my parents, I have only really stayed in 3/4-star-hotel accommodations for lengthy trips. How the hell am I’m going to travel around Australia with only a backpack and living in hostels? I’m very excited, but worried I will buy the largest backpack ever because my suitcases are normally huge. I have a weak back. This would be bad.



Emily from Ottawa puzzles:

Ok. Serious question, Ally.

I’m going to Europe, and I know that I’m going to spend a lot of money. And I don’t have a lot of money. How do I a stick to a budget and still have fun?

I know that you could help me as you are a traveling expert!


All my bags are packed… with the help of Ask Ally!

* * * * *

Dear Rebecca and Emily,

Since both your questions involved the logistics of travel, I am going to look at them together in one, super great, answer! HURRAH!

Travel: the next frontier. That world beyond worlds finally at your grasp. For some people, a lucky few, travel consists mainly of jet-setting off to a series of high-class all-inclusive resorts.
However, for the new generation of travel-loving young people, travel needs to be addressed in a much cooler, more unique, and – KEYWORD – less expensive way. The advent of backpacking and hostels and cheap trips across continents is far from new, but what is new is the generation doing it – a generation of laptops and iPods, not necessarily familiar with the ancient traditions of budget traveling.

Stick to the essentials.

The easy part is the planning. You shop around and find the cheapest ticket possible, decline all offers of meals or seat choice to save those $10 additional costs, and, if you’re really prepared like me, you do some quick internet searching of hostels. Even if you don’t book ahead it is always prudent to be aware of important things like prices (which is the cheapest hostel?), ratings (which hostel has a mattress?), and location (which hostel is actually within the city limits?)

The infinitely harder things to do are packing and budgeting (hence your questions). We will address packing first.
First rule: if it’s not a change of underpants or a toothbrush, you don’t need it. Start with survival mode: what do you need in an “I am going to die or suffer a really unhealthy lack of hygiene if I don’t have this” kind of way.
This should essentially give you some underpants, a toothbrush, any medication, antiperspirant, a towel (look for smallish towels), some soap, and any feminine hygiene products you might require (if you’re a girly and going to be away during that time).

The next step beyond survivalist is essentialist.
Essentialist looks at something like clothes and says: how long can I wear a pair of pants before they rot away? (Jeans can be worn for over a week with no problems, just make sure to air them out the night before you put them on and you’re good to go)
If you’re going away for a month it can be tempting to bring clothes for a month. This will end badly, so bring clothes for a week, wear them for two, and learn how to handwash effectively.

"Oh Don, come on" - cinematic genius. Not a travel essential.

Bring a bunch of not-so-nice tank-tops and wife-beaters to wear during active traveling, when you’re carrying the heavy bag and running about in the heat. Then bring some other shirts that you can throw on when you’re (hopefully) less sweaty. The less sweaty you can keep your clothes, the less smelly they will be, which means the longer you can wear them. Follow me?

The following are not coming with you: hair styling products, any accessories that you cannot wear all at once, personal or decorative knick-knacks, your old coin collection, that guy who played Keno in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze.

Most hostels have lockers that you can use to put your stuff in. Also, most train/bus stations have similar lockers. These are another motivation to keep the bag small – if you can fit it into these lockers, your back will thank you for not sightseeing with an extra 20 pounds on.
Really, though, if you pack smart there should be no need to fear your items getting stolen. Don’t pack anything that you would miss absolutely – leave the lappy at home, if you bring an iPod always carry it on your person, and buy one of those secret ninja money pouches to stash your money and id’s in. This way if you are robbed, it’s an inconvenience and a bit expensive, but you’re not out thousands of dollars.

It’s up to you whether or not to keep your bag with you at all times or no. Trust your gut, but also your back. Having thrown out my back on vacation let me tell you: it sucks. Horribly. Especially when you’re the chubby, awkward 19 year old who already has a complex about spending Spring Break on vacation with her father/brother while other students party mere feet away…

… although somehow I think it highly unlikely that you’ll run into such a situation.

You are so paid, bitches.

Speaking, then, of money – listen up Emily!

First off: know the exchange rate. This is important. Here in the UK I find that things don’t necessarily look more expensive: the numbers are all the same – you see a 5 where you expect to see a 5 and think that’s quite reasonable, even cheap! But then those tricky little symbols pop up next to them, and that’s where you run into trouble. Things may look like they’re priced the same but they’re actually double.

Know how much you think is the bare minimum you will have to spend, how much you’d like to spend, and how much is the most you can afford to spend, in your own currency. Knowing these numbers will help. Converting them into your desired currency will also help.

Pick one of these three numbers to become your budget (the middle is usually the best choice – it means less guilt if you fail and more joy if you’re super thrifty!)
Now subtract from that budget any set cost: plane/travel fare (include local travel if necessary), accommodation and so forth, if this is not already accounted for.

Now, examine the meager, pitiful portion which remains: meet your new, improved budget! Great!

If you’re really concerned, planning is best, so do much of it from home before you leave, so that you know how much you can afford to indulge in splurges and pretty trinkets and male hookers.

When it comes to food, think about how much you would pay to eat out at home. Now double it.
Good. That’s a meal. Expensive, no? Have no fear, my little budget-monkey.

Just because you aren’t living in a place doesn’t mean you can’t make good use of the local supermarket. Some things can be carried around with you, other things can be eaten in the parking lot. There you are: lunch and breakfast taken care of, and for a much, much cheaper price.
Dinner might be harder, but take heart in the fact that here in Europe it seems to be common practice to post the menu outside the door (a helping hand which is patchy at best at home) so you can keep an eye out for pricey places.

Pick the most important people in your life and list them (No. 1: Ally; No. 2: Ally, etc). Keep your list to 10 and under. 10 is huge!
These are the people to buy gifts for. Make sure to rank them – the top three or four (Mum, Dad, and Ally) get decent gifts.
Everyone else gets something that is priced below $10 Cdn. “Sorry, boyfriend, no whiskey for you! But here’s a cheap shot glass with a picture of the Eiffel Tower on it!” If you feel guilty buy one of those bulk packages of crappy post-cards. You can throw them at people like they were bones to a whiny dog and it’ll shut them up pretty well.

Nothing like a genuinely authentic travel experience.

If you know where you want to sight-see, find out how much it costs to get in while at home – do you really want to pay $20 Cdn to see a church? You can pick which ones are worth it and which aren’t, so you can avoid surprise expensive tours etc.
If possible, always do your own tour. It’s much cheaper (and funner) that way – not only can you see what you like and spend the time where you want it, but you can openly mock ugly things or unattractive people without being obligated to stick around because you paid for it.

Also, it’s infinitely cooler to make up your own history for a place. For example, in my mind, the Cathedral in St Andrews was the site of many a violent, bloody, smooshy battle, and giants were used, and they smashed the walls which is why they’re all broken now, but humans won eventually, and all of the mutilated giant bodies were piled up against the walls or dumped into the sea.
And then aliens came and they were captured by Robert the Bruce and he locked them in a dungeon where they wasted away and that’s when the Scots crowned R the B King of the Universe which is why he’s so cool.

In conclusion: I should write history, as it’s better that way.

When it comes to going out, you can use your feminine wiles to charm beverages out of a guy. If you’re in a non-English speaking country, it’s even better. You can just look confused and cute in order to win alcohol, thus saving money!

Your crazy traveling lifestyle sure does sound exciting, ladies, but to be honest, I don’t envy you. I might be totally, outrageously, overwhelmingly, nauseatingly, violently jealous, but that’s not the same thing.

Which, in the end, is really what matters.


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