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 Post subject: Travel Suggestions
PostPosted: Thu Aug 02, 2012 10:11 pm 
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Tofu Pup
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Hi!
I recently graduated from college and I am hoping to go on a sort of independence/reinvention trip/adventure. College was not a good experience for me and I felt very pressured into going by my family, with whom I do not have a good relationship and with whom I do not plan to maintain contact after I leave. I have never really done any traveling (especially alone) and I have lived in Northern California all of my life including for college.
I really want to have a good experience and to be spontaneous and fun about the trip. A big concern of mine is that I have a lot of anxiety issues and so I tend to get very worried about saving money and getting the best deals and I am worried it would make things very negative if I do too much planning (I literally used to spend hours walking between stores when I would go grocery shopping in college to make sure I bought my tofu at the place it was 50 cents cheaper or bananas where the were 10 cents less a pound) and so while I definitely need to be on a tight budget for the trip I don't want to get so bogged down about costs and trying to find the best deals that it would make the experience negative. I know the prudent thing would probably be for me to use the money I have saved up towards rent and work on finding a job right away, but I just know that would be miserable and so I really want to try to use the money I have saved up in a positive way and do something fun because I feel like I have had such a narrow experience of the world so far in life.
I have about $10,000 saved up. There are a lots of places around the U.S. I want to visit (like New York City and also Hawaii, where I have always wanted to go to) but I mainly want to try to go to Europe (especially Great Britain and France) and Japan. I was thinking of maybe trying to sign up for airbnb instead of trying to stay in hotels to save money but I was worried if that really works out for people? I thought about maybe trying couchsurfing but I just don't think I would feel safe. Is there anything like airbnb or couchsurfing that doesn't include possibly staying with a serial killer? Also I take my veganism very seriously so I worry a lot about what I would do for food, but I would hope that as long as I could at least find a grocery store I would be okay.
I guess I was just wondering if anyone had tips for how to undertake this trip in a positive way and suggestions for places to go or how to get around or where to stay. I have heard a lot about the whole buy a ticket and go approach but I am worried that I will end up stranded in an airport in a foreign country with everything I have in suitcases and no where to go, and then eventually run out of money with no where to go. I just don't really have a plan and while I am wary of getting bogged down in the details, I just want to make sure my trip of a lifetime won't be a disaster. I would really appreciate any tips!
Thank you very much and sorry that this post is so long!


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 Post subject: Re: Travel Suggestions
PostPosted: Fri Aug 03, 2012 4:51 am 
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I think that if you have the opportunity to travel you should always go for it! If you're the kind of person who likes a plan then I think the just 'buy a ticket & go' approach might not work for you & that's totally okay. I know I wouldn't like to travel somewhere without at least a place to stay for the first few nights organised.

As for the where to stay on the cheap thing, have you thought about backpackers hostels? They can be great places to meet people and you'd have access to a kitchen to make cheap vegan food. As for your worries about Couchsurfing not being safe have you had a look around the site yet? The chances of ending up staying with a serial killer are pretty much nil especially when you look at the traveller review system they have in place. You could make sure to pick someone with a lot of positive reviews from other travellers. Perhaps you'd feel safer & happier giving Couchsurfing a try after spending some time in hostels to get used to travelling?

If you're thinking of Europe an InterRail Pass might be a great option.

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 Post subject: Re: Travel Suggestions
PostPosted: Fri Aug 03, 2012 5:04 am 
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You're welcome on my couch. That is, as long as YOU aren't a serial killer.


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 Post subject: Re: Travel Suggestions
PostPosted: Fri Aug 03, 2012 6:30 am 
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Yay for coming to Europe! Finding food will not be a huge problem, as long as you don't mind eating a lot of fruit, vegetables and canned beans. Most cities have some kind of health food store or vegan dining shack where you can get a wider variety of foods.

Backpackers hostels are def. the place to go if you want cheap accomodation. I've never done couch surfing myself, but I guess it's not really dangerous if you go about it sensibly and go to people who have good reviews.

I personally wouldn't bring my stuff in a suitcase, since they are very annoying to lug around for long distances on surfaces that are not perfectly smooth (streets etc.). Instead buy or borrow a big backpack. This will also prevent you from bringing too much stuff, since you'll have to carry it on your back. This may seem like a nuisance, but I think the extra freedom of movement that comes with a backpack more than makes up for the weight.

If you are physically strong and can carry a heavy bag, you might consider bringing a small tent and/or some cooking gear since it will make you a lot more independent, especially if you plan to go into the countryside/nature. Camping is even cheaper than staying at hostels. In some countries you are allowed to camp in the wild for free and in most others, farmers and other countryside dwellers will let you camp on their land if you ask politely. Tents can be expensive, especially if they are light, but maybe you could borrow one. If you camp often, you'll easily earn the money back though, since a campsite is often at least $10 cheaper than a hostel. A lot of cities have camping sites too.

Have fun on your trip!

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 Post subject: Re: Travel Suggestions
PostPosted: Fri Aug 03, 2012 6:42 am 
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I went through Europe many, many moons ago with a backpack and stayed at youth hostels. It was magical and I had so many more cool experiences doing that than I did at the beginning of the trip, when I was in Paris in hotels.

To be the practical mother, I must add that if it were me, I would look at the trip not just as my independence day, but as a way to explore whatever work i'm interested in doing. So maybe, talk to people online and find out where stuff you're interested in takes place, and go meet folks! In Europe my trip was guided by art history. Some of my travels in Japan were based on ceramics, food, and translators. Here in Brazil I've done traveling based on organic farming and coops. The connections you make can really be helpful later, and you can get an idea about whether you're really, really in love with what you think you want to do.

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 Post subject: Re: Travel Suggestions
PostPosted: Fri Aug 03, 2012 2:15 pm 
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torque wrote:
To be the practical mother, I must add that if it were me, I would look at the trip not just as my independence day, but as a way to explore whatever work i'm interested in doing. So maybe, talk to people online and find out where stuff you're interested in takes place, and go meet folks! In Europe my trip was guided by art history. Some of my travels in Japan were based on ceramics, food, and translators. Here in Brazil I've done traveling based on organic farming and coops. The connections you make can really be helpful later, and you can get an idea about whether you're really, really in love with what you think you want to do.

This. I would think about what you want to get out of your trip before getting stuck on the details of how to be able to afford it.


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 Post subject: Re: Travel Suggestions
PostPosted: Tue Aug 07, 2012 11:50 pm 
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Tofu Pup
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Thank you all so much for the suggestions!

I had not thought of backpackers hostels. Are those safe? Is hostels.com a good resource for finding hostels or is there any better less obvious resource you might be able to suggest? I have really never done any real sort of traveling besides family vacations as a kid so this is all a little out of my depth. Are hostels the sort of place you need to make reservations in advance? Another thing I forgot to mention that I have anxiety about aside from trying to save money compulsively is that I am pretty neurotic about cleanliness. I'm hoping I will be able to loosen up while I am traveling, but is there any form of accommodations you all think would be better suited with cheapness and safety and also cleanliness as my main factors of consideration?

I did look around the CouchSurfing website a bit but a lot of the people seemed to be squatters (at least when I searched in London and with vegan as a keyword) which I thought was illegal so I was even more wary (and this was after I had read on Wikipedia about the murder). But I am probably just being overly anxious and I will try to scope it out some more. Is that a method of traveling that anyone here has had positive experiences with? Is it awkward to stay with a total stranger? Should I bring along hostess gifts or thank you cards or something along those lines? The stranger angle was also a concern of mine with airbnb, which I was worried would be like more expensive CouchSurfing. I'm sorry if these questions seem silly.
And to dragonssister, thank you very much for the offer, and I promise I am not a serial killer!

Thank you for the tip about suitcases versus backpacks. I was planning to try to take a big rolling suitcase since I'm not very strong but now I don't know. Is there anything experienced travelers would recommend not bringing along (like something you thought was necessary to pack and turned out to just be a waste of valuable luggage space)?
Also, how do people do laundry when they travel? Do hostels have laundry mats or do you have to find ones separately? And how would you recommend getting around places while traveling (I am especially worried about getting from airports to wherever I would be staying)? My understanding is that taxis would be supr expensive, and I have almost no experience with public transportation and basically just walk everywhere so I don't know how people do it. Thank you for the tip about InterRail! I went to their website though and it seems like it might just be for European residents (unless I went to the wrong kind of pass) so is there anything along the same lines for foreign visitors?

I really just want the trip to be a positive life experience and to try to experience more of the world. I especially want to visit lots of museums and also tourist sites and vegan restaurants. As I mentioned before, college was not a good experience for me (and I hated high school) and I don't have a good relationship with my family, so I really just want to try to make some positive memories that I will be able to cherish afterwards. At least that was the plan I had so far. Thank you all again for your responses!


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 Post subject: Re: Travel Suggestions
PostPosted: Wed Aug 08, 2012 12:23 am 
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Go to Japan! Best trip of my life, and I've lived/travelled in Europe as well as Canada and the US. Laundry (for a charge) is common in Japanese hostels, but if not there will always be someone to send you in the right direction. I travelled around Japan for a month using hostels and B&Bs, and it was certainly never a problem, and never very expensive. People say Japan is expensive but I honestly don't agree, though perhaps that's because I come from a pricey area of Canada. But I mean, not pricier than areas such as NYC.


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 Post subject: Re: Travel Suggestions
PostPosted: Wed Aug 08, 2012 3:34 am 
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Yay for travel! Do it!
I've traveled a lot, including in Europe and in Japan (I lived in Japan in 2007-2008 actually) so based on that, here's some advice:

1. Budget: you picked rather expensive countries (and their exchange rate are currently not helping). Traveling on a budget in an expensive place is doable, but it's not necessarily conducive to relaxing and winging it. It will become easier as you gain travel experience (you'll develop skills to find cheap deals, and also develop a gut feeling for what you can do safely and what you can't) and can speak some of the language. Be generous in your budget planning so you don't end up stuck in a tricky situation due to lack of funds. And if you become more comfortable with cost saving solutions like couchsurfing or hitching rides you'll be able to splurge at the end of your stay!

2. Accommodation: I've done a little bit of couchsurfing, and I have friends who are very active in the couchsurfing community as hosts. They love it. For them, the benefit is to connect with someone from a different culture and help them discover things the hosts love about their home town. They'll cook for you, help you find groceries, take you to their favorite bar or their favorite parks, give you recommendations based on your interests... it's like visiting the city with friends. Bringing small gifts for the hosts would be nice! I am sure bad experiences happen like anywhere else, but I haven't heard any personally. If you feel iffy about the results when you search for vegans, I would recommend choosing hosts with many positive reviews first, then mention veganism once you are in direct contact with them and see if it can work out.

Hostels in Europe and Japan are safe. There is a risk of theft like in all places with a concentration of tourists, so keep your money and passport on you at all times, but otherwise it's mostly safe. If you are worried, you can pack a wedge doorstop to block your door from the inside at night. Go through a Lonely Planet to get a feel for the prices, but I think you can expect to pay 20 to 50 euros a night in hostels in large European cities, and 5,000 to 10,000 yen for hostels or business hotels in Japan. There are cheaper places, but difficult to access if you don't speak or read Japanese. One of the upsides of doing a bit of couchsurfing is that you'll be with a native speaker and they can help you book the next leg of your trip.

If you're going to be staying at youth hostels a lot, getting a membership card with Hostelling International can cut costs nicely.

If you're traveling in the summer or around big holidays, it's better to call the hostel in advance (a couple of days is fine) to check if they still have room.

3. Veganism: speaking the language will make it easier, being with native speakers will make it easier. So... when I travel to place where I have neither, my policy is to try my best but not be hard on myself if mishaps happen (and they will). Luckily, with Happy Cow and vegan blogs you can find good local options. Another thing you can do is attend veg*n meetups (through meetup.com for example) and get shopping and restaurant advice from the locals.

4. Packing: these days I try to only take a carry on, if I'm not taking restricted items. The stupid stuff that never gets used is fancy clothes (like, I always think I should take at least one little dress and pretty shoes in case I go to a nice place, but I never go! And if I did, I'd look just fine in clean jeans and Converse!), too many similar clothes, too many toiletries (you can buy that stuff locally), too many books (many hostels have shelves full of abandoned books that you can read there or take if you leave one behind), too many kinds of medications "just in case". Limit your electronics and don't even think about packing a hairdryer or something like that. Remember that you will likely want to bring back souvenirs or local delicacies, so definitely don't overpack!

The stuff I didn't know to pack when I was a beginner traveler: a plug adapter if you're taking electronics, a separate wallet for your local currency (you don't want to have to sort through yens, pounds, euros and dollars when trying to pay at the supermarket), a small umbrella (it sounds ridiculous to backpack with an umbrella, but really, if you're walking around a city at all it will be so much better), at least one really really warm item of clothing. A small towel in case you stay in cheap hostels that don't provide them. Condoms and a morning-after pill (that got useful in Japan, where condom size standards are different...) A sarong is a good multipurpose travel item: you can wrap yourself in before bed / after showering, use it as a light blanket / scarf in overly air-conditioned transports or at night, makeshift sheet/pillow case if your hostel's hygiene is dodgy, stuff it with clothes to make a pillow, use it as a picnic blanket or beach blanket, if you visit places of worship where a certain modesty is expected, you can use it as a shawl to cover your arms and cleavage...

Also, I always seem to forget my pajamas.

Pack anything that could leak in ziplocks. Check the local rules for taking liquids in your carry-on. Always take at least one change of clothes in your carry on, in case your checked-in luggage gets lost / delayed.

Some hostels have coin laundries; if they don't the hostel personnel will be able to tell you where to find a laundromat.

5. Transportation: ha! I never even wondered about how to get from the airport to the city before I traveled to the US (and had to spend the night in SFO due to lack of planning on my part). Everywhere else in the world, airports are connected to the city center by public transportation (trains, subways and/or buses) and it's all very easy to figure out. After all, you're supposed to be able to figure it out as a jetlagged tourist who doesn't speak the language! When you decide what your first city will be, let me know and chances are I've been there and can walk you through the process.

For getting around in a city, public transportation really is the way to go. Depending on the city and on what you will do, it may be cheaper to get a day pass/ week pass if they exist. What I like to do if I have a day pass is, when I'm really tired of walking around so much, I hop into a random bus and just ride bus lines for a while. It's a new way of seeing a city. Some cities have walking or biking guided tours, which can be a nice thing to do if the weather is good.

For going from city to city, the budget options in Europe are car-sharing (for example, in France) or Eurolines. Trains are more expensive, but more comfortable and reliable (mostly). In Japan, the budget option is highway buses; you can walk into most travel agencies to have them book the ticket for you. Similarly to InterRail, Japan has the Japan Rail Pass which can be cost effective if you're planning to ride the Shinkansen (bullet train) (which is a great experience in itself).

6. Planning: I am increasingly of the winging it persuasion, but I wasn't always like that. I would say that the things you need to get down for sure are: valid travel documents, a hotel/hostel booking for the first few days, a printout of a map / directions for how to get there, cash (actual cash, not a credit card or travelers' checks or dollars that you will change there - get some local currency before you leave. You can buy it at your local bank. If you buy a lot, you may need to place an order a few days in advance) and a guide book (Lonely Planet is a safe choice). The rest you can just figure out once you're there. I feel that the best way to proceed is to ask around for advice or recommendations. The staff of your hostel probably work there in part because they love to help foreigners discover their city and their country. The other travelers staying at your hostel have probably been to interesting places too. It's really easy to strike a conversation and meet travel partners in backpacking communities. Just go sit in the hostel lounge with a guidebook (or a six pack) and start talking to folks.


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 Post subject: Re: Travel Suggestions
PostPosted: Wed Aug 08, 2012 6:37 am 
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Everyone's given really great advice so far!

I'll second what Cornelie said about a backpack vs. suitcase. I'm really glad I heeded this advice before I did any extensive travel. And don't worry about not being that strong. I'm a small (5'0") not particularly athletic woman and my backpack was the best travel investment I ever made. Just make sure you try out lots of different models and find one that works with your frame. A lot of companies make backpacks for women which seems like a gimmick, but it makes a difference to your center of gravity, especially if you're small like me. (Don't know if this advice applies to you, but just thought I'd throw it out there in case it does.)

Re: packing, my advice would be to try to focus on lightweight synthetic clothes. Think synthetic cargo pants vs. jeans, or lightweight fleece vs. a bulky woven sweater. They take up less room, don't wrinkle as easily, and dry quickly. Depending on where you're going and what time of year it will be, a pair of thin, polyester thermals can save you a lot of space compared to thick layers of "woolens". Laundromats should be pretty easy to find (most hostels have laundry facilities, and if you're not staying in hostels, people should be able to point you in the right direction) but even if they're not, and you have to do a sink wash, most synthetics should dry pretty quickly. Resist the urge to overpack, "just in case". When I was planning my trip to Australia I found a lot of the advice on this website to be invaluable.

I've never done couchsurfing, because I'm not the most social person (or rather, I want to be social when I want to be social, and I want to be unsocial when I want to be unsocial, if that makes sense). But I've done my share of hostelling. I always book my hostels in advance, especially for the first few days. I just know for myself that I don't want to arrive somewhere jetlagged and exhausted and then have to tramp around trying to find accommodation. This is a good website for hostelling reviews. I'll also second aelle's advice to get a Hostelling International membership card. HI hostels can sometimes be a bit more pricey than independent places (although they're still a good budget option) but they're also almost universally well-run, clean, and reliable. Don't be afraid to try out independent hostels though. You can sometimes find a real gem by going off the beaten track! That said, HI hostels have saved my sanity when I'd booked myself into a filthy, party hostel (which in my 40s I don't have patience for anymore) and I could check out and check into a place where I knew I'd be able to get a good night's sleep.

Most of all, have fun! I know it can all seem daunting when you're still in the planning stages, but once you're out there doing it, travel can be one of the most amazing experiences you can have.

ETA: This may sound weird, but if you're travelling solo for a longer period (which it sounds like you are) don't be surprised if weird emotions pop up from time to time. And if they do, give yourself the space to feel them. If you're relying on yourself completely in an unfamiliar environment, it can be both exhilerating and overwhelming. I remember feeling like I should feel ectactic the whole time and cram my travels with amazing experiences 24/7. When I had down days (which inevitably happen) and didn't feel like "making the most of my time" it took me by surprise and I felt guilty (at first). Give yourself permission to have those down days and take it easy.

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 Post subject: Re: Travel Suggestions
PostPosted: Wed Aug 08, 2012 6:53 am 
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i found all the hostels i stayed in in Europe to be amazingly clean and decent (i went through France, to Switzerland and Germany). The one in Geneva was much nicer than many hotels I've stayed in. The only crummy hostel I've ever seen was in Washington DC, but the folks were nice at least.

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 Post subject: Re: Travel Suggestions
PostPosted: Wed Aug 08, 2012 7:55 am 
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I ended up in a crappy one in Barcelona, but it was no big deal, because there were some pensions there that weren't any more expensive than the hostels, so I just switched the next day. I've also heard of really run down/dirty/noisy hostels in Amsterdam, but I know there are also some really really nice ones in town.

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 Post subject: Re: Travel Suggestions
PostPosted: Wed Aug 08, 2012 10:10 am 
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it's probably worth checking out your options for travel insurance. I never travel without it, and it's been super handy a few times now - in case your passport (or other things) are stolen, or you need medical care, it's great.

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 Post subject: Re: Travel Suggestions
PostPosted: Wed Aug 08, 2012 1:25 pm 
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In Europe, take trains everywhere. If you use an Interrail or Eurail pass, you normally have to pay a ~€20 supplement for a couchette/bunk which is infinitely more comfortable than sitting up all night and you get the unique experience of going to sleep in one country and waking up in another.

Aelle's advice was so good that there is little I can think of adding other than to bring earplugs. Every now and again, you'll share a hostel dorm with a group of people who will just not shut up. 99% of people are nice and considerate, but you get the 1% who come in drunk and then proceed to turn on their hair-dryer/play the bongos/milk a cow etc.

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 Post subject: Re: Travel Suggestions
PostPosted: Wed Aug 29, 2012 4:03 am 
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I've been using couchsurfing a lot (in Denmark, Faroe Islands, Iceland, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Netherlands, Slovakia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey and the US). Some countries are "better" than others, meaning it's either more people to choose from, or the ones there is are more diverse making it easier to choose someone that you have something in common with. I would never travel not using couchsurfing, but I know it's not for everyone. I think it's worth considering though, even if it wouldn't be for every single night of your trip.

Some things to think about:
- Safety. It's safe, as long as you are careful. Read the persons profile, if it's well filled out and they have good references and/or have been vouched for, you can probably trust them. Also, exchange some messages before meeting, to get a feel of the person. After all, you are not dangerous so why would they be?
- All couchsurfers are different. Although some people will cook for you, guide you around town and introduce you to their parents, not everyone will and that is the point about the community. Some people will offer you a place to sleep, a conversation and some advice about the place you are visiting. Don't take anything for granted.
- About gifts, it's not at all necessary and I wouldn't even say it's common. However, it is very appreciated so do it if you want to! It could be a simple postcard or whatever.
- Find someone who is similar to you, or someone who's not! I prefer staying with couchsurfers that differs a lot, all from the soccer family with lots of kids, the cranberry farmer way out in the countryside in Washington or a young girl who just moved to the city.

My other advice for travelling in general is to not hurry to much. I guess it's just my personal preference, but I'd rather visit 5 countries for a longer period each than 15 for just one night.

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 Post subject: Re: Travel Suggestions
PostPosted: Wed Aug 29, 2012 7:54 am 
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Lots of good advice here. Here are something things I'd second or add:

- Backpacks. YES. Highly recommended over anything with wheels (including backpacks with wheels) because they easily fit into luggage space on trains and airplanes, you can walk anywhere with them and they pretty much guarantee you don't overpack. Try on a couple to see what fits best. My dad bought me an amazing backpack, but I had to give it back to him because it wasn't a woman's fit and did funny things to my back, e.g. Also, buy a water-proof sleeve thing for it, to protect your items from the rain. REI sells them for cheap.

- Personal preferences/freedoms. Like Pannpakan, I'd rather stay someplace for longer and get a sense for it/figure it out than see a new place every day (tried that twice; it was exhausting!). Give yourself time to figure out what works for you. Especially at the beginning, give yourself extra time to be in one place since you don't know what, if any, reaction to the crazy long travel you'll have. I've been on long haul red-eyes without jetlag, and comparatively shorter ones followed by weeks of jetlag. Especially if you're new to travel, you want to have your wits with you as much as possible, and being safe and settled somewhere helps!

- PPK meetups! If you're going someplace where we are, let us know. :D

- Luggage. I set out what I think I need, and then cut it half. Always. I never need as much as I think I do. I liked lepelaar's advice about synthetics, and aelle's advice about the sarong. To it, I'd add waterproof pants and coat, so that weather doesn't (necessarily) get in the way of you + adventures. (REI and other sports stores sell the waterproof pants. You wear them like a "jacket" over normal clothes.)

- Cards, etc. Be sure to call all of your cards and banks to let them know you'll be abroad + for how long, otherwise they might block your cards because of unusual behavior. If you want to get foreign currency in advance, I think you can only do that at the most major of branches anymore, e.g. BofA in SF.

- Passports. Each time I get a new passport, I take a picture and email it to myself, just in case. I also photocopy it multiple times, and leave a copy at my place, my mom's place (or in your case, a close friend's place) and another copy in each of my backpacks, etc. while traveling. (If you don't have that, and your passport is stolen, you have to find another fellow citizen who can vouch for you at the Embassy when you go to report it.) When I lived in India, I had a belt pouch that I used for my passport and emergency cash, but here (EU) I just keep my passport in whichever backpack I'm using.

- Hotels. If you're going to hostels, bring a small lock. Some of them provide locked lockers, others have spaces for your own lock. And bring giant zip lock bags for keeping maps and other important documents (like your passport photocopies) waterproof.

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 Post subject: Re: Travel Suggestions
PostPosted: Wed Aug 29, 2012 8:03 am 
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AvocadoAddict wrote:
I thought about maybe trying couchsurfing but I just don't think I would feel safe. Is there anything like airbnb or couchsurfing that doesn't include possibly staying with a serial killer? Also I take my veganism very seriously so I worry a lot about what I would do for food, but I would hope that as long as I could at least find a grocery store I would be okay.

i am planning on having a similar section on my future (veganroadtrips.com) but that's a long way off. (we'll have a lot of different ways for people to confirm who they are, and they'll choose whether to offer their houses to everyone or only the communities they participate in.)

sorry it won't be ready by the time you're going on your trip. <3

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 Post subject: Re: Travel Suggestions
PostPosted: Wed Aug 29, 2012 8:06 am 
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Oh, yes, locks! I always had a combo lock like you'd use on your high-school locker for use in hostels. I'd also advise getting combo luggage locks for your luggage. They're so much less hassle than keyed locks, and there are ones now that you can get that are TSA approved. (TSA can open them with a key which means they don't have to break your lock if they decide to inspect your bag.)

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 Post subject: Re: Travel Suggestions
PostPosted: Fri Aug 31, 2012 10:18 am 
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Thank you all so much for the input and advice!
I've been working on gathering stuff and planning and preparing. I was accepted for a really great 1-month internship in September with an animal sanctuary, so I am going to be leaving in October and I'm very excited. I found this combo backpack/rolling suitcase at a luggage store (http://www.amazon.com/Eagle-Creek-2011- ... pd_sbs_a_1) on sale for $267 but I am not sure if it's right (it's not especially for women or anything and was not super comfortable, but I really like the fact that it rolls too) so I am planning to look at REI too. I'm a little worried how expensive suitcases are, but I figure since I will be using it every day that it is worth investing in a good one.
I'm planning to go an eastern route and start by hopefully going to New York for at least a week and then to London, and then I will try to take trains throughout Europe to visit the places I want to see most, and then hopefully fly to Japan and then to Hawaii and then back to California. I will have to see how my funds hold up, but I hope I will be able to see all the places I am most interested in, especially if I can get good last minute discounts on airfare and inexpensive accommodations. I have looked into more CouchSurfing and hostels and whatnot and I am pretty optimistic, I also got a very good vibe from airbnb, and so I am thinking I might try to set up a longer stay (like at least two weeks) in London when I first arrive to sort of get my bearings and soak in the city as much as possible before I set off my shorter stops at hostels while I travel around by train. I'm pretty introverted and so even though I am more reassured about the safety of CouchSurfing, I 'm a little worried that it has the sort of implicit expectation of being fun and interesting and a sort of cultural ambassador to make it worthwhile for the host, so I think I might be more comfortable with airbnb and hostels at least for the beginning steps of my trip.
I'm a little worried that it will be fall/winter since I have lived in California all my life and have only ever even seen snow twice in my life, but most of the things I am interested in are indoors activities like museums and restaurants, so I hope it will be okay (and hopefully I could find a vegan coat and cold-weather supplies on the road if I need them). My only other option would to try to put off my trip until spring so it would be warmer weather, but I don't think that would be worth it unless you all think bad weather could really make or break the overall experience (but I think it supposedly rains all the time in England anyways, so it probably won't be too much worse in the fall). I'm very excited and I really hope it will be a positive experience and that I can make some happy memories.
Thank you all again so much for all the wonderful advice and wisdom! It's been so helpful and I really appreciate it!


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 Post subject: Re: Travel Suggestions
PostPosted: Fri Aug 31, 2012 12:55 pm 
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Sounds complicated for packing! That's a lot of different climates!

For the ticket, definitely ask about open ended around the world tickets. Or, be prepared to set dates if you have to. But around the world will almost certainly be cheaper than booking individual tickets (and might save you the extra security hassels one way tickets incur). I've used bing.com/travel for all my travel since 2008; they've always had the cheapest deals (and link to other sites for comparison).

For winter, you'll need waterproof clothing (pants, jacket, also for to protect your backpack) and waterproof shoes that you're comfortable in. If you're going across northern Europe or Japan, I'd also recommend an underlayer of clothes to help keep you warm. REI and sportsbasement sell something synthetic which I use (like leggings and a tight long sleeved shirt).

So long as you stay dry and warm, it won't be a problem. If you prefer indoor activities, then it's probably easy to minimize outdoor time. Just note that wnter here is *not* like CA winter. The wind cuts in surprising ways. (I grew up near Berkeley.)

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 Post subject: Re: Travel Suggestions
PostPosted: Fri Aug 31, 2012 12:57 pm 
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re: the backpack and being comfortable. If it's not comfortable, forget it. It's a big investment and will be following you around for the whole trip. Especially if you end up going the backpack only route, don't compromise! Uncomfortable packs are the worst, especially after hours and hours of travel.

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 Post subject: Re: Travel Suggestions
PostPosted: Fri Aug 31, 2012 1:03 pm 
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I think you should check out some guidebooks at the bookstore, let's go or lonely planet both have tons of info on anywhere you might want to go with prices, recommendations, and instructions on the best way to get from point A to point B. I travel a lot and I find them really fun and helpful and I think for a first trip it will give you a bunch of ideas for things that you might not have been aware of.

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 Post subject: Re: Travel Suggestions
PostPosted: Fri Aug 31, 2012 5:21 pm 
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I've been meaning to pop into this thread for ages! A lot of good stuff has already been said (especially about buying a comfortable backpack! Even a short walk from a train station to your accommodation can be drawn-out torture with an uncomfortable pack), so I'll try not to be repetitive.

I've couchsurfed a couple of times (in the US) and had a generally really good experience. One guy we stayed with in Washington DC was awesome, we hung out a lot and still keep in touch. We also got to see a lot of the city that I doubt we would have known about if we hadn't stayed with a local. A friend from home was in New York City at the same time as us, and he was couchsurfing in Brooklyn while we stayed at a hostel. His hosts invited us around to their place for a vegan 4th of July barbecue and took us to Foodswings and a show the next day. They were awesome too. We also stayed with a couple in Boston, but had a less great time. We got there and it turned out that they were also hosting two other couchsurfers at the same time (and we were travelling in a group of three, ourselves) and they were super hands-off, like they kind of let us into the house and then left without showing us where anything was. They invited us out to their local pub that night (in a way that was kind of like 'we're going to the pub now... I guess you can come if you want') and then promptly left us there to hang out with their friends. It was more like a hostel experience than couchsurfing and I'm still not really sure why they even wanted to host us. But that's far from a horror story, so I'm overall really happy with my experiences.

I also wouldn't discount the idea of doing some kind of tour. I've done a couple of backpackers tours and they're a really great way to meet people. I was travelling alone in Southeast Asia, so joining a tour was a great way for me to make some travel buddies. I guess it goes without saying to choose the kind of tour that people like yourself would join, though- I would probably hate everyone on one of those 'drinking bus through Europe' tours, so the tours I've done were both through a budget/grassroots-style company.

With those, I've also found that there are usually a couple of people who don't have firm travel plans and might be looking for someone to travel further with. The same often goes for hostels. Boyfriend and I travelled through Europe (and Morocco) in December and January and stayed in a lot of hostels, so I've probably got recommendations (or warnings!) for at least a handful of the places you'll go, too. Same goes for New York and Japan.

Oh, and as for the cold- we're from Australia (Boyfriend had never seen snow before this trip) and went to Europe in mid-winter. We were fine. Just layer and wear thick socks (or more than one pair). I was only cold twice- on a mountain top in Germany, and in Prague when we got rained on and my hat flew away in the horrible wind. Neither was enough to make things unenjoyable.

That ended up being longer than I'd expected! I'm sure I'll come back once I think of more tidbits of advice to hand out.

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 Post subject: Re: Travel Suggestions
PostPosted: Sat Sep 01, 2012 3:42 pm 
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I feel like I should state something very obvious that people can overlook - Europe might seem like a small continent, but it still stretches from the Arctic circle to Mediterranean islands that are south of some parts of Africa, and from the volcanoes of Iceland to the steppes of Kazakhstan. Don't treat it as one place and only bother packing for the countries you'll be visiting. There's a lot of Europe in a small space; go to three or four countries and do a lot in each one, rather than bouncing from country to country without really seeing any of them.

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 Post subject: Re: Travel Suggestions
PostPosted: Sun Sep 02, 2012 2:50 am 
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My suggestion would be to avoid getting a backpack/wheeled combo. The wheel mechanism adds unnecessary weight, and takes up room that could be used for storage. You'd be seriously better of investing in a backpack you find comfortable that sits well on your back, and just making the effort to pack lightweight items to keep the weight down.

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