How To Travel In Australia For Cheap

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Travelling in Australia needn’t be expensive. Before I got here, I was lead to believe that travelling in Australia was going to bankrupt me but that’s just not the case. Granted, it doesn’t match the ridiculously cheap prices of other popular backpacking areas such as South East Asia, however, with a few top tips, a trip down under doesn’t have to cost the earth either. Here’s how to travel in Australia on a budget.

1.Work and Travel

The best way to save loads of money when travelling in Australia is to come here on a working holiday visa. A working holiday visa (subclass 417) is something that’s available to 18 to 30-year-olds from these eligible countries and it entitles you to stay and work in Australia for up to one year. Doing a working holiday means that you are able to make up the money that you spend travelling in the country, while getting to stay for a longer period of time. What’s more, the wages in Australia are so crazily good, you might even come back home with some extra money in the bank.

A 20-Something's Travel Guide To Australia's East Coast

2.Prioritise your tours

Australia is packed full of places and experiences to tick off your bucket list. From sailing through the Whitsundays to Camping on Fraser Island, Diving in The Great Barrier Reef and visiting the Sydney Opera House, there’s no end of things to do- however, my advice to save money? Priorities your tours. As fun as they are, it’s the tours like Fraser Island that are going to eat into your savings so, have a think about which ones are most important to you. You could always do, say, your skydive, after you’ve worked and have a bit more cash.

3. Get Your Coffee at Seven Eleven

Of course, you have to treat yourself to a nice coffee every so often but that daily Flat White can easily set you back $5 a day. For anyone on a budget, Seven Eleven Coffee’s are a life saver. These are just $1 for a small and while it’s obviously not the best coffee on the market, it’s fresh bean and it does the job.

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4. Buy your booze from the bottle shop

Drinks in bars and clubs in Australia is expensive, particularly in the bigger cities like Melbourne and Sydney. If you want to seriously save some money then my advice is to buy your drinks from the bottle shop. Whereas a glass of wine from a bar can easily set you back $12, you can find plenty of (surprisingly good) bottles of wine from the liquor shop for just $5- if that’s not an excuse to say yes to that night out then I don’t know what is.

5. Make it to happy hour

The exception to not buying drinks in bars is happy hour. Happy hours are a big thing in Australia and there are loads of great deals to be found for cheap food and drinks. The best way to find these is online through the app, The Happiest Hour, which lists all the times, dates and places of the happy hours nearby.

Australia Working Holiday: Expectations Vs Reality

6. Get a car

If you’re planning on visiting a few places in Australia and there are a few of you, then it probably makes sense to get a car. In terms of the East Coast, the other population option to get about is by Greyhound bus however if you can drive, buying a car and splitting the costs with some friends will give you more flexibility and save you some money as you can stay in campsites.

7.Rent a room

Staying in hostels in Australia can work out to be to quite expensive in the long run so, if you’re planning on staying in one place for a while then it’s probably worth looking for a room. When I started working in Melbourne, I originally was going to stay in a hostel the whole time. That is, until I found out just how much cheaper staying in a flat would be, more than half the price actually. Finding a room or a flat share is pretty easy for backpackers and the best places to look are either the Fairy Floss Facebook page or the Flatmates site.

8.Cook your own food

Australian hostels all have kitchens for a reason, eating out is expensive. Unless you’re only stopping by Australia for a few days, you’re going to want to go to the shop and cook your own food or you’ll run out of money pretty quickly. In terms of supermarkets,  if you are really after good value then it has to be Aldi.

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9. Make it a Dominos

If you really feel that you’re in need of comfort food but don’t want to part with the cash then Dominos pizza is the answer. In Australia, Dominoes’s selection of value range pizzas are just a mere $5- bargain.

10. Eat out Asian

Although you have to treat yourself to a proper Aussie brunch out at least once, when it comes to food out, brunch is by far the most expensive dining option. If you want to eat out but don’t want to spend too much then Asian food is your best bet with loads of cheap dumpling, Thai, Vietnamese and Japenese places to choose from.

11. Do the Free Walking Tours 

Sydney and Melbourne have lots of free walking tours on offer and these are a great way to get a feel for the city. Run by knowledgeable local guides, these tours will show you the best of what the cities have to offer and best of all they are completely free, although it’s nice to make a small donation. I did one of these tours on my first day in Melbourne and it was the best way to orientate myself and learn all about the city.

How To Travel In Australia For Cheap

If you’re going to be travelling in Australia, don’t stress, it’s really not as expensive as people make out and like I said, if you come here on a working holiday, you might even leave with more money than you came with.

Do you have any more questions about budget travel or 20-Something travel in Australia in general? Feel free to ask any questions and I’ll do my best to help.

Australia: Far away but a little too close to home

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An honest account of backpacking down Australia’s East Coast

Me and my friend have been travelling down Australia’s East Coast for the last few weeks now and I thought it was time for some reflection. Australia is probably one of the most stunning and picturesque countries that I’ve ever been too and I feel so grateful to be able to travel in this beautiful country on the other side of the world: It’s expensive to get here, expensive to travel and to travel properly here, it takes time. Not everyone is able to do this. 

I’ve had a lot of once in a lifetime experiences, adventures and a fair few stories already from this trip: Camper van road trips, sailing through the Whitsundays on a yacht and driving on the beach in Fraser Island however despite all this, I still feel like I haven’t got the same connection to the country that I’ve had in other regions like Asia.

Australia is a western country. Sure there are differences to life back home in the UK, but it’s an english speaking country and it’s lacking in chaos, craziness and spirituality that I crave from travel. Don’t get me wrong, I am really enjoying it but for a county so far away, it sometimes feels so close to home. 

Not being able to go with the flow 

One of the biggest problems that I’ve got about travelling down the East Coast is that you aren’t able to just go with the flow. This is due to a number of factors, primarily: You have to be organised as trips, hostels and buses get booked up, it’s expensive and you’ll probably have to work and because everyone has pre booked tours on certain days, they already have their schedule, meaning it a lot harder to meet people who you can travel  long-term with. 

It can feel like you’re just ticking things off 

Whenever I meet people or eavesdrop on other traveller’s conversation, the thing that I find so funny is that we are all doing the same things: Whitsundays yacht trip, Fraser then Brisbane and Byron Bay, you get the picture. On one hand this is great because it makes Australia so easy to travel in, however for those of us who have travelled before and as someone looking for unique travel experiences, it makes it a bit less exciting. I quite like the unknown.

A great place to work 

In terms of working, Australia is fantastic. There are loads of opportunities, the climate is a billion times better than that in the UK and Canada where most the working holidayers come from and on top of that, the wages are fantastic. This means that it’s so much easier to save up money quickly here and it makes an exciting change from working back home. For a working holiday there could be no better place, but as a country simply to travel in: There are better,  more culturally different countries to visit. 

I am so excited to explore the rest of what Australia has to offer and to actually start working in a new country. When I work here, wherever and doing whatever that may be, I’ll have a whole new perspective, but at the moment Australia has been really nice: Not life changing, not spiritual, not challenging, but just plain and simply nice, and I’m totally ok with that too. 

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10 Things That Worry Me About My Australian Working Holiday (and why I’m going anyway)

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‘But why Melbourne?’ 

That’s the question most people ask me when I tell them I’m going to start my Australian Working holiday in the Southern Australian city this week. The truth is I don’t have an answer. Deciding to (hopefully) work in Melbourne is as totally random a decision as it was to go to Australia in the first place.

This summer I was in a slump when it came to deciding what I wanted to do next. I decided that I really wanted to avoid the cold weather during winter in the UK this year but I wanted to do something a little different from just travelling.

I’d been playing around with the idea of doing an Australian Working Holiday for a while so when my friend that I’d met travelling in Vietnam said she was doing just that,  I didn’t think twice about booking my flight.

What an Australian working holiday visa?

An Australian Working Holiday (subclass 417) visa is something that 18-30 year olds from eligible countries like the UK are able to get. It doesn’t come cheap, costing around £350 but once granted the holder is able to work anywhere in Australia for one year. It can then also be extended for a further year in certain cases.

Australia appeals to me for a lot of reasons, the main one being that when we enter the cold and bitter months of winter, they enter summer which strategically seems a very good way to maintain a year round tan. Secondly Australia is known for its coffee shops and you know how much I love my Flat Whites. Coffee and sunshine coupled with insane beaches and cool Australians pretty much ticks all the boxes for me.

Of course, moving to a city on the other side of the world with no job secured, no idea of where I’ll stay, how long I’ll be there, with no concept of if I’ve got enough money, if I’ll  like it or what I’m actually going to do when you get there is a little unsettling: Bloody exciting though.

As I start to prepare for my next adventure, my overwhelming feeling is excitement but sure there is some uncertainty regarding the unknown.  So here are 10 things I’m worried about for my working holiday and more importantly here’s why I’m going anyway.

  1. The Long flight

Now I don’t mind long haul flights however spending an entire day on a plane is definitely going to pose its challenges. Because of the distance, I’m not able to fly direct and will be changing in Abu Dhabi which just adds to the stress with multiple takeoffs, possible delays and baggage mishaps. On the plus side it’s a great excuse to watch some movies, eat and nap for 24 hours.

2. The wildlife

I’m not a fan of the tiny house spiders we have here in the UK so I’m not sure how I’m going to deal with the potentially life threatening spiders, snakes, sharks and all other kind of animals that they have in Australia.

3.Missing people at home

Going from seeing my friends and family almost every day this summer to not seeing them at all is going to be a HUGE adjustment. For all you guys, FaceTime attendance is mandatory.

4.Not finding a job

I have invested quite a lot of money in buying my Australian Working holiday visa so I’m anxious to make sure that I put it to good use. Unlike my previous trips in Asia and Central America, in Australia a nights accommodation cannot be bought for the price of a Tesco meal deal. It’s more expensive there than at home and unless I want to cut my trip considerably short, I’m going to need to get some sort of income.

5. The prospect of living in a hostel long-term

I have no idea where I’m going to stay in Melbourne. While me and my friend have booked a hostel in Melbourne for the first few days so that we can meet people and get things sorted out, the prospect of living in a hostel in the long-term is not something I’m too keen on.

I know some people rent apartments or rooms for their working holidays so I’ll keep you updated on what I’m doing on here.

6. Not knowing what clothes to pack

I know it’s a bit naive, but it didn’t really occur to me that an Australian winter could actually be cold: I just thought it meant that it was a bit less hot. It seems that my decision to pick  Melbourne has inadvertently meant I’ll be arriving in the city while temperatures are around 15’C which now means I have to cram bulky warm clothing into my rucksack alongside everything else.

7. A hot christmas 

I was always one of those people who said I could never go somewhere warm for christmas. As much as I dislike winter, I make an exception for the whole of December because I love the whole huddling inside with hot mulled wine, spending hours indoors baking gingerbread and freezing my hands off walking home with the christmas tree. I’m really intrigued to see what an Australian Christmas will be like where crisp cool walks are replaced with BBQs on the beach but I’m also a little worried that it just won’t feel right.

8.Not being able to drive

Australia is one HUGE country and I want to see as much of it as possible while I’m there. One impression that I’ve got from reading forums online is that it’s so much easier and fun to see it with a car. As I’m unable to drive this is something I won’t be able to do. The driving situation is a problem that I’ve encountered on may trips before but I’ve usually been able to get around it with other forms of transport or hitching up with someone else who can drive so I’m hoping that this trip won’t be any different. I’ll be posting about how I got around the country without a driving license on this blog.

9.Balancing travel with work

The ‘work’ part is usually the bit that gets forgotten when you talk about a working holiday.  I’ve worked flat-out this summer to be able to afford this trip in the first place and something that I’m really worried about is doing exactly the same over there.

I’m anxious to make sure I strike some balance between getting money and exploring the country. It’s also really important for me that I find some kind of work or work experience that gives me something beneficial for my CV because making sure I continue to be appealing to future employers is important to me.

10. Not being able to get good tea

OBVIOUSLY I will be bringing a few packs of English breakfast tea with me but do you guys have good tea out there too?

So that’s a lot of worries for one small blog post right? I just wanted to write a few of these down in anticipation of my travels because I think these are all quite common concerns for a trip like this.

Since going on my first solo backpacking trip this time last year one thing that I’ve learnt is that it’s important to tackle these things one step at a time. Looking at a trip overall is scary but breaking it down into stages like: Get to the airport, find my hostel, get this train, makes it so much more manageable.

For anyone else like me going on a working holiday in Australia it can seem so overwhelming but its important to remember that while you will undoubtedly come across challenges and have your concerns, a trip like this is no different from any other. So as I prepare to leave for my adventure, I’m ready to tackle each one of my concerns a step at the time in the knowledge that for every worry and  ‘why not’ I might have, there’s a thousand more ‘reasons why’ for each one of them.

Looking forward to sharing my next adventure with you guys.

 

Atlanta To New York City EastWest Bus: All You Need To Know

 

‘Shall I get the bus or fly from Atlanta to New York?’ That was the question I asked my friends in Costa Rica as I tried to arrange all the logistics from timings to my ESTA visa for a last-minute detour to the US, before flying back home from my backpacking trip. The verdict was unanimous, fly of course. Why would you voluntarily decide to take a seventeen-hour overnight bus ride through six states on a run-down, cramped bus when you could just get a two-hour flight for a few dollars more? Obviously, I picked the bus option.

The US is a country known for its road trips but it seems that taking the bus isn’t really the norm with backpackers. However for me, a person with tons of time but not a lot of cash, I couldn’t see a reason why not to get the bus. For just $30 I could go with EastWest buses from near my aunt’s house in Atlanta right into the centre of Manhattan. Although flights were only $70 more expensive once I’d calculated in hold baggage cost, the price of getting from the airport to the city and an extra night’s accommodation,  it was looking like it would cost closer to $200: That extra cash was my spending money and I wasn’t willing to give it up.

What’s it like to take the bus from Atlanta to New York? 

One thing I was worried about was not being able to find the place that I had to pick up the bus from. Anyone that’s ever gone on a long bus journey before will probably know that it’s usually just a case of turning up at your designated stop fifteen minutes before departure: This always unnerves me because it just seems too easy. In this case, I put the postcode into Google maps which took me 3240 Shallowford road, Chamblee, Atlanta to a little building located in what looked like just a small car park where I got my paper tickets.

The journey between the two cities takes 17 hours with buses leaving at various times throughout the day. I decided to book the bus that left at 5pm in Atlanta and got to New York at 9am the next morning.

A road trip through six states

Driving from Atlanta to New York is one heck of a drive to do in one go. The journey took me through six states and even through the centre of Washington D.C.

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What you see

I loved the bus journey because it felt like a proper US road trip and I’m not embarrassed to say I  got a thrill every time we passed a ‘welcome to’ state sign. If like me you decide to book the overnight journey then you’ll be in darkness for most of the trip, however I loved looking out of the window at the start of the journey as we drove through North and South Carolina down big open roads and past gorgeous lakes: How fantastic is the scenery is the US?!

Where you stop

I didn’t have to change buses and apart from picking people up, the only stops we made were at huge service stations in the middle of nowhere where I spent way too much money: I’m such a sucker for buying all the snacks in foreign countries, I mean who can resist splurging when there’s a whole aisle dedicated to pretzels?

The journey was quite bumpy but against all odds, I managed to sleep and just happened to wake up in time to see us go through the centre of Washington D.C- No, I didn’t get to see the White House.

EastWest bus Atlanta to New York City, USA

Arriving by bus into NYC

There’s nothing quite like the thrill that I get from arriving in a new place overland and driving into New York City the next morning, I could barely contain my excitement as I looked out of the window. First I saw the skyline in the distance then everything became so unmistakably ‘New York’.

What’s so great about this bus service is that unlike arriving into one of the cities airports, the bus drops you off right in Manhattan by Chinatown which meant that I could walk straight off the bus and find my caffeine fix before even having to negotiate the subway.

Overall opinion

For the price, it will come as no surprise that East-West is a ‘no thrills’ bus Company.  The bus wasn’t the cleanest and it packed full however you do get a designated seat so that’s not really an issue.  I was happy to see that the buses had phone chargers, a toilet on board and AC so it’s fairly comfortable.  I was the only backpacker or tourist on it as it seemed to mainly be used by families

The bus journey is long and it’s tiring. However, in my opinion, to have gone from Atlanta one evening and to step off in the centre of Manhattan at nine in the morning,  all for the price of a nice meal out:  it’s totally, totally worth it.

Is it safe? 

Overall I felt safe on the bus journey and I didn’t feel uncomfortable despite being the only backpacker. The only worrying thing about the journey was we didn’t seem to switch drivers which seemed like a long time for them to drive without taking a break, particularly overnight.

How to book it

I booked my journey online on a comparison website called gotobus.com. Here they list all of the options per day between the cities, listing about ten departures each day comparing either EastWest Buses or the Greyhound bus which is a more expensive service with prices averaging $80. You can also book your tickets through 12Go Asia via this link. They offer affordable bus prices and operate all across the US, Asia and Australia.

Surprising Things I Learnt From Solo Travelling This Year

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This time last year the idea of going solo travelling seemed like a nothing more than an unrealistic dream. It was something that I’d been talking about for years but I’d never built up the courage to travel alone before and the idea of just turning up in another country with nothing but myself and my backpack seemed crazy.

I wasn’t a particularly confident person, I didn’t think of myself as really sociable and I definitely wasn’t well organised. When it came to trip planning, I was happy to let other people take charge and I was known amongst my friends as a fairly unobservant person. All in all I didn’t fit the stereotype of a solo traveller.

However, the idea of a solo backpacking trip was so appealing to me. I loved adventures and I was really keen on challenging myself and proving that I could do it.  I loved the idea of having the flexibility and the freedom to travel where I wanted, stay where I wanted, meet new people and just go with the flow.

The hardest thing was finding the confidence to book my flights. For a few weeks I was in a constant mental battle between that voice saying ‘this is stupid’ and everything I knew about how amazing the trip would be. Eventually, it came down to knowing that I couldn’t not book this trip while I had the chance so, one day I just went ahead and booked my flight to Bangkok and once I was committed I didn’t think twice.

I mean I literally DIDN’T think twice (I don’t know if this was some weird self-protective strategy because I was really stressed) but I didn’t plan anymore for my six-week South East Asia backpacking trip apart from my first nights accommodation in Bangkok and I didn’t knowingly feel that scared about it anymore, even when I left home to go to the airport.

In fact it was only when I turned up in Bangkok, after getting totally ripped off by a taxi driver and sitting in my quiet hotel room all alone (always book yourself into a sociable hostel ladies and gentlemen) and that’s when it hit me, ‘what the hell am I doing here all alone?’

Little did I know as I sat in the room building up the courage to venture outside, my life had already been revolutionised from the very moment I’d stepped on that plane.

Here are some surprising things that I’ve learnt from solo travelling

1.I Became 10 billion times more confident 

One thing that really surprised me about solo travelling was how much more confident it made me from the get go. Travelling by myself really forced me to take control, make decisions and be brave because I had to be. Knowing that I can spend a day walking around Bangkok’s Chinatown, hitching a Tuk Tuk ride around Angkor Wat and spending an evening alone in Times Square makes me feel like I can do anything.

2. I’m so much more aware of what’s around me

One of my biggest flaws before travelling alone was not really paying that much attention to what was going on around me. If you’re travelling with family or friends then it’s easy to bounce off each other or let someone else take control. Travelling alone has forced me to take note of everything from big things like the address of my hostel and the route that I took to get from there to town to smaller things like noticing a pretty building or a great looking restaurant that I might want to check out later.

3.I learnt to make friends with perfect strangers

One thing I really feared when I first boarded that plane by myself was the idea of being alone for my entire trip. However, the world is full of solo backpackers and we’re all in the same boat. One thing that really surprised me about solo travel was not just HOW EASY it is to meet other travellers but also that I’m actually quite good at striking up a conversation with a complete stranger.

Meeting people travelling is a really strange concept. It requires you to do day trips, share rooms, have dinner and even travel with people who you’ve just met, however, it’s important to remember that meeting people travelling is a little bit like starting uni: You’re all in the same situation and you will make friends very quickly. Sure you won’t get on with everyone that you meet travelling but it’s important to remember that you’re all there because you’ve had the same idea so you must have something in common.  I still keep in touch with people I’ve met travelling so you might find friends for life too.

4. I’ve learnt about myself 

When you travel with other people it’s often hard to work out exactly what it is that you want because everything is a compromise. Travelling alone lets you work our exactly what’s important to you from the type of things that you enjoy doing when you travel to how much alone time you need or how much of a party person you are, plus having the time alone to think really helps you to get to know yourself.

5.How to eat alone in restaurants 

It may sound like a funny one but before I went travelling the idea of dining alone in a restaurant really stressed me out. Travelling alone taught me to not only be ok with dining by myself but also to actually quite enjoy it. While I spent lots of my meals out eating with people I’d met, I found that when I did dine alone I focused and enjoyed my food so much more when I didn’t have anyone to distract me.

6.I’ve learnt not to rely on others

This is probably one of the most liberating things that I’ve got out of solo travel: Being entirely self-dependent. It is so liberating to know that I don’t need to rely on anyone else to do the things that I want to do. So many of us are guilty of blackmailing friends into trips because we really want a holiday, solo travelling teaches you to just go regardless. In the past at home if none of my friends were free I wouldn’t go for coffee or lunch if I fancied it, now treating myself to a day out is something I do regularly.

7.I’ve learnt to ask for help

Knowing when and how to ask for help is something most of us struggle with. There’s a preconception that solo backpackers are really tough and confident people but it’s virtually impossible to travel alone without asking for help. Solo travel taught me to be ok with asking for directions, asking for advice and help with things that I physically couldn’t do ( Because sometimes when you’re tiny like me, you need help getting your rucksack in the overhead section on a bus).

8.To be tough

On the whole solo travelling was so much easier than I had excepted but of course, there are times when it feels like everything is going against you and travelling alone teaches you to be tough. Whether it’s standing up for yourself when someone is trying to rip you off, dealing with unpleasant travellers or even just when it feels like nothing is working out and no one is helping you, solo travel teaches you to make the most of it and just keep going regardless.

9.To ask people to take photos of me

I used to find asking strangers to take photos of me so embarrassing. However, I’ve learnt that just overcoming the embarrassment of asking someone to take a photo of me is so much worse than the tragedy of not having any pictures from an amazing trip would be. If you feel anxious about asking then try to find someone who’s also travelling alone. They’ll totally get where you’re coming from and they’ll probably ask you to do the same for them. You might even make a new friend.

10.To be adaptable

This is a massive one for me. You cannot go travelling alone and not be adaptable. Firstly because one of the best things about solo travelling is having the freedom and flexibility to go with the flow and secondly because you can’t prepare for the unexpected. This year alone, I’ve been caught in the middle of a typhoon with flooded streets up to my knees, I couldn’t enter a country because of political disruption, I witnessed Bangkok go into shut down because of the death of the king, I arrived at what I thought was a Boeing 737 flight that ended up being a tiny propeller plane and I’ve completely rearranged entire itineraries to travel with people who I’d just met. It’s all just part of the fun.

11.To deal with loneliness

I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t feel lonely while I was travelling this year. Sometimes there will be points where you don’t meet people and you’re mainly by yourself for a few days. Sometimes you have to hang around with people who you don’t really relate to and you’ll miss people at home who share your values and really know you. However, loneliness is something that happens to all of us from time to time and solo travelling teaches you to recognise and deal with these feelings because you have to.

12.To value my friends and family

You will meet so many amazing and inspiring people when you travel but travelling also teaches you to value how fantastic your support network is back at home too. I’m really lucky to have funny and supportive family and friends in my life. Sometimes when I’m travelling and everything feels a little too different, just talking to the people I love is all I need to cheer up and get the confidence to keep going. My friends and family who leave me little comments when I post a picture, who deal with me answering their messages at strange hours, who are always there to talk and who even read this blog are the reasons that I not only have the confidence to keep on travelling alone but also why I look forward to coming home.

13. What it means to truly be free

To travel is to be free but heading out with nothing but yourself, what’s on your back and whats in the world, well that’s when you really understand what freedom means.

Travel changes you. Solo Travel makes you unrecognisable. I don’t think there’s a year in my life that I’ve learnt as much about myself and about life than this last year I’ve spent travelling. Travelling alone has taught me so much more than what I’ve written in this blog post and I guess overwhelmingly it has taught me that there is no type of person who makes a good solo traveller.

You don’t have to be the loudest, the smartest, the funniest or the bravest. Also please don’t think that you must have months and months to properly discover what it means to travel alone. All of the points I’ve mentioned in this post, you will learn from just a couple of days travelling alone, whether it be a quick city break or few days somewhere sunny, the destination isn’t important, it’s the act of just deciding to go in the first place that really matters.

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Useful Hacks You Need To Know Before Travelling In Central America

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Travel tips for backpacking in Central America

The little strip of countries in between the USA and South America is one of the most beautiful, diverse and fascinating parts of the world that I’ve ever travelled in. With some of the most beautiful landscape, towns, wildlife and beaches ever this tiny region of countries, stretching from Mexico to Panama really does have it all, and the fact that’s it’s so condensed means its more manageable and less overwhelming for travellers than South America.

Over the years some parts of Central America have got-bad reputation however if you stick to the backpacker route you’ll fall in love with a region that you’ll want to go back to time and time again. Here are my top travel tips to know before travelling to Central America.

1.Bring US dollars

Most of the countries in Central America have their own currency however US dollars are widely accepted so they are useful to have with you, especially if you have an issue withdrawing money from the ATM’s. In El Salvador USD is the official currency anyway and most other countries will accept them and then give you the change back in the local currency. In the bigger towns, there are usually ATMs that will let you take out dollars.

central america useful hacks

2. Proof of onward travel

For most nationalities like Brits you don’t need to pre-arrange visas for Central America. When you arrive in Belize or Mexico you are allowed to stay for thirty days, and thanks to the Centro America 4 agreement between Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador, you can stay for 90 days visa free, then Costa Rica 90 days and Panama 180. One of the most important things to note is that although you don’t need to pre-arrange your visas, you are still required to show proof of onward travel when entering Costa Rica or Panama only. This can be really annoying, especially if you aren’t sure of your travel plans.

what is proof of onward travel?

Proof of onward travel can be a bus ticket or flight, basically, anything that shows you are leaving that country, and unfortunately it has to be out of the exact country, so showing a return ticket home from Mexico when you’re trying to get into Panama doesn’t help. You could risk it and not get proof of onward travel but if they do ask they may not let you board your plane if you don’t have it. As I wasn’t sure what to do I just booked a refundable flight with LastMinute.com which I could cancel. Just be sure to put the leaving date near the end of the total period you’re allowed to stay, as they may only give you until this date.

central america useful hacks3.Bring a Visa and Mastercard

I found that Central America was really troublesome for withdrawing money, especially in the smaller towns. A lot of ATMs only accept one of either Visa or MasterCard so it’s a good idea to have one of both in case there is an issue. Try and withdraw money before you run out so that you’re not left without cash. Paying by card isn’t widely accepted.

4. Change your money at the border

If you have currency left over then the best place to exchange this is at the border. There will be unofficial money exchangers there who will take the local currency off you and exchange it for the currency of the next country. Just be sure to double-check the rate you should be getting to make sure you’re not getting ripped off.

5. Avoid the capital cities

It can seem a given that you should always visit the capital cities however in Central America this isn’t the case. Not only is most of the beauty and culture located outside of the capitals but the main cities are also the most dangerous places and are often the reason that an entire country gets a bad reputation. So if you’re travelling in the region then do yourself a favour and skip San Jose for Santa Theresa, Belize city for Caye Caulker and Guatemala city for Antigua instead.

6.Know the expensive countries

Central America is one of the most diverse regions on the planet and this diversity is mirrored in its prices. There is a massive difference between the cost of living between say Belize and Honduras so adjust your time in the countries according to your budget. The most expensive countries from highest to lowest are; Costa Rica, Belize, Mexico, Panama, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.central america useful hacks

7. Avoid the ‘Gringo’ food

Western food is becoming really popular in Central America but do your waistline and your budget a favour and stick to local food. When you’re travelling between destinations, the main eating options tend to be Pollo Campero (Central America’s version of KFC) or Subway, but there are usually independent local restaurants which are much better. Not only will the local food be tastier and better for you but it’s usually a quarter of the price and it’s nice to support independent local business rather than big chains. My favourite local dish was pupusas in El Salvador.

8. Learn Useful Spanish phrases’

It’s all well and good doing Duo Lingo before you go but it’s far more useful to learn some practical phrases than just the basics. Even in very touristy parts of Central America, communication can be an issue. The useful phrases I used a lot were; ‘Cuanto cuesta? (How much?), para llevar (Takeaway), bolso ( bag), numbers (otherwise you won’t understand how much things cost), regresar (I’ll be back) and sin azucar (without sugar).

9. Bring warm clothing

For such a small region, the weather in Central America can vary a lot. In the hot season, temperatures can easily reach 40’c and above although in the higher altitude areas like Monteverde, Costa Rica or Antigua, Guatemala, it can actually get quite chilly especially at night, so it’s a good idea to bring a couple of sweatshirts, long trousers and a rain jacket.central america useful hacks

10. Take the bus not flights

Travelling in Central America is not the same as travelling within Europe or Asia. Whereas in these places you can fly between countries for under £50, in Central America it can actually be cheaper to fly to the US than in between the countries. Save money and book yourself a bus or join a group tour that takes advantage of private transfers to travel between the countries instead.

11. Bring a refillable water bottle

I found that a lot of the countries in Central America offered very cheap (or free) water bottle refill services which is better for both your budget and the environment then continually buying new bottles. Also in Costa Rica you can actually drink the tap water so if you’re an environmentally conscious traveller then consider bringing your own lightweight bottle with you.

I hope you found this post helpful. There’s more advice I could give you for travelling in Central America however the best thing about this region is that it throws the unexpected, the unusual and the exciting at you no matter how much you plan or prepare. So really the best bit of advice I can give is just to go and experience the beauty and craziness of Central America for yourself.