Backpacking Abroad Solo

+ The Best Places to Shop in the World...

Here are some of the best places to shop in the world... according to me and my explorations of the globe!

 

Luang Prabang Night Market, Laos


Kalabird

As the sun sets over the Mekong river, Luang Prabang's main road transforms. Pedestrianised and lined with small tentlike structures, the nightmarket overtakes the city. By browsing the stalls you can pick up anything from handpainted bookmarks, snake wine, paper parasols, silk scarves to sculptures. You will need to bring a bargaining frame of mind with you, as prices charged can drop dramatically within seconds! I managed to buy a handmade skirt for the equivalent of £3, and a beautiful silk scarf for about the same price. What is more magical and exotic than answering the question "Where did you buy that?" than Luang Prabang?


 

Chatachak Weekend Market, Bangkok


ginger massey

Get relief from the tiresome heat in Bangkok by seeking refuge under the roof of Chatachak weekend market. With over 9,000 individual stalls to browse, you will see everything from pedrigree-bred puppies, pencils, flip-flops (see pic above!), clothes and silk cushions. There are smoothie vendors awaiting you on your much-needed break, and you can also taste some satisfying Pad Thai while there. All in all, a great pit-stop before your flight home!


 

San Telmo Market, Buenos Aires

San Telmo, Buenos Aires

Overpriced but not overhyped, San Telmo market is the Argentinian hub of all that's stylish, hip and must-have. Expect immaculately designed boutiques with expertly-composed window displays.

The market itself is a melting pot of vintage accessories, fruit, jewellery, fur coats, and old bric-a-brac. Prices might be high but the goods on offer are hard to find, so make sure you have enough space in your backpack!


 

Vintage shopping, Santiago

Santiago Vintage Map

I didn't do much else in Santiago apart from looking around this little ghetto of vintage stores built up along calle Bandera. Get excited just at the thought of buying some generously discounted retro dresses, jumpers and platform shoes? Then take the metro to Puente Cal y Canto. You will see a large highway, avoid that and go back on yourself, walking along Bandera towards Agustina. Basically, if you wander around Rosas, Bandera or Agustinas, you WILL find plenty of dirt-cheap stores filled to the brim with some really cool items. I unfortunately didn't take any photos of the area, but above is a map for reference!


 

Dongtai Lu Antiques Market, Shanghai


Ever wanted to pick up your own authentic Chinese bird cage or mini Buddha ornament?! Hell, why not go one step further and spend your hard-earned yuan on red crochet lanterns, or perhaps military-wear fresh from China's past? Whether you buy anything or not, you'll find some great photo opportunities and enjoy the stroll.


 

Hoi An, Vietnam


Nikolieau

The odds are that at least one item in your wardrobe was made in Vietnam, so why not come to Hoi An yourself and get your clothes tailored and made to fit you perfectly? Not content with providing designer-style dresses, silk gowns and other evening wear, you can even get a fake pair of Nike's made for you! If you are travelling in the area it makes sense to ship a large batch back to your home country, and most local guesthouses offer great shipping rates. Expect to pay around £15 for an expertly made outfit. I paid about $25 for a pair of specially designed 'Nike' trainers, although the only problem was the woman used a shade of fabric completely unlike what I asked for... Most places will create your item without 24 hours. Have fun!
*TOP TIP - Bring your favourite dress or item of clothing, and they will recreate it for you in the colour and fabric you desire.*


If you're planning on travelling anytime soon, leave as much space in your backpack as physically possible to fill up on all those exoticly eccentric items!


+ Backpacking Tips: Common Misconceptions

 

Misconception #1 -It's difficult.

Obviously the strain of travelling is subjective, but it really is possible to make your way around the world without researching and planning every movement in advance. While it can be demanding to book a bus ticket in Brazil due to knowing zero Brazilian-Portuguese, you CAN communicate what you want in other ways. Tried-and-tested ways include writing the bare bones of the information, such as destination, time and date and then handing it over to the ticket officer. When that fails, you'll be surprised how often another traveller or English-speaking local come to your rescue!

Misconception #2 - The whole world is a paradise

Maybe I'm wrong but when I ponder upon the nature of paradise I don't visualise myself sleeping in a manky, rickety bunkbed in a room full of mosquitoes, let alone sleeping in a room with other questionables! Of course, there are moments when life on the road is pure freedom, but that's not to say that just because you are on the trip of a lifetime every moment will count.

Misconception #3 - You'll stick to your budget

Uh-uh. Just you wait until you hit the weekend markets for 'cultural reasons', only to return to your hostel laden with swathes of silk, souvenirs and questionable wooly legwarmers for the coming summer (oops!). Just be aware that money repels a traveller's purse.

Misconception #4 - Foreign countries are scary!

Particularly when I tell people I once lived in Shanghai, China, their first expression is one of shock, followed by horror. "Oh my God, how did you cope?!" I'm often asked. But to be honest, although countries vary immensely around the world, they are all pretty much comprised of the same elements. Like your hometown or home country, there'll be people there to look out for you, people who want to take advantage of you, and places you shouldn't go in the dark. While travelling I tried to make sure I was as cautious as possible, but it's actually more likely that bad things will happen to you in your home environment because your guard is down!

Finally, travelling is all about getting out there and experiencing it first-hand. It doesn't matter how much of your Lonely Planet you've read, backpacking tips you've memorized or how many questions you've posted in forums. What does matter is that you're open-minded and ready to spend your next few months doing something memorable. Just don't feel too sad when you get home, are skint and desperately want to hit the road again!


+ Don't Let a Tight Budget Ruin Your Trip

Keiichi Iwasaki
Keiichi Iwasaki proved that low funds are no barrier to seeing the world when his story was featured in the media last week. Iwasaki left his native Japan for a worldwide voyage with the equivalent of just £1 in his pocket, facilitated by a humble bicycle to cover the huge distances. Earning money through street performances such as magic tricks, he has been able to climb Mount Everest, row across the Caspian sea, and generally live a life quite literally worlds apart from his old air-conditioning job.

All power to you if you're brave enough to attempt something similar (please do!), but however low your budget is, there are ways to make sure your journey doesn't come to an end before you want it to. I went travelling with minimal funds and the comfort of an interest-free overdraft. Here are some tips to survive on a pittance, and NOT at the expense of having a good time (see the pun I did there?!).

- Keep in mind cheaper hostels are often unpopular and have less opportunities to meet fellow travellers, and so if you’re travelling solo you won’t be getting quality for money. I never realised it until I started backpacking but it often serves well to pay more to meet people.

- Stand your ground with scheming taxi drivers etc, but don’t let it take over your everyday experiences abroad. Many travellers become so weary of being stitched up by opportunists that you end up haggling over a silly amount of small change... let it go over your head and you’ll enjoy your trip so much more.

- LISTEN to advice from all sources, i.e. locals as well as your guidebook. Often restaurants/cafes listed in guidebooks put up their prices as a result of their ensuing popularity.

- Shop around when you get to the bus depot. In many foreign countries there are several companies all trying to compete with each other, and inevitably prices vary. Just by spending a couple of extra minutes doing your research can save you enough for tomorrow's lunch! Also, when booking bus tickets with your hostel you should ask if that is a 'VIP' or 'local' bus. To really save money you should stipulate you want the cheapest bus possible, because they will automatically place you on the more expensive bus. Obviously you need to ask fellow travellers about the safety of such loca buses.

- Being on a budget doesn't mean ruling out eating in restaurants. In fact, it's often cheaper to eat out rather than cooking your own meal, particularly if you are by yourself. What I used to do was try and save some of my dinner, take it home with me and eat it the next day!


+ Favourite Moments From My Time Away - Part 2



Here is the second and last installment of my most memorable moments from my recent trip travelling around the world.

Hmong village children with their free bananas! Luang Prabang, Laos

We visited three different hill tribes near Luang Prabang, Laos, and we had the chance to interact with the local children. They were curious of us and didn't know how to react when we gave them our bananas for free; the photo shows they seemed to appreciate them however!

Two Cambodian children, Koh Kong

I met a Cambodian girl who invited me back to her family home for dinner. I met the children and the neighbours, who all thought it was hilarious that a white girl was hanging around their area! What made it so memorable was that it gave me a chance to see a different side to travelling, where there are no other backpackers and you get to see a foreign country's way of life first-hand.

Last of New Zealand

Not so much a moment, but at some points travelling through New Zealand the scenery is enough to give you goosebumps. Above is an example of such scenery in the South Island, where the Matheson Lake reflects views of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman.

Me in front of Mao in Tianmen Square, China

OK, so this was a separate trip from my time backpacking, but it was still less than a year ago so the memory is relatively fresh! I was blessed during my short time in Beijing; the air was crisp and not polluted, the skies were clear blue and the sun was shining. What I remember is just feeling in awe of the beauty of this metropolis, be it the Summer Palace, Tianmen Square or one of the various parks. I love China!

Panoramic view of secluded tea farm near Anji,China

This is also from my time in China and NOT during my backpacking trip, but I think the photo speaks for itself. We were able to camp by a secluded lake with barely any other people around, and were allowed to wander around this tea farm valley thanks to the lovely middle-aged lady that ran it.

Tea farm lady writing in Chinese, trying to communicate with us

Again, while in China we went to camp in this rural, completely idyllic and secluded location, and we met a tea farmer who ran the tea valley pictured above. We only knew limited Mandarin, and she obviously knew no English, so actually wrote a message to us in Chinese! Shame we didn't translate it until later: "I am from China. Where are you from?"


+ Dream-Trip Dilemmas




This is an article I had featured on STA Travel Buzz, a blog specifically for travellers tales found across the web. Enjoy!

In an ideal world travelling would solely be made up of having those “oh my god life is beautiful” moments. But be prepared for times when life on the road is just that; being on the road and wondering why you put yourself there!

Dream-trip dilemma #1 - Your friends were supposed to come with you but have backed out.

A large percentage of people go away with their best friends, but if you are alone there is no doubt you will meet people in the same position. Yes, it can be hard when you have spent a day or two alone in a foreign country, and speaking only fragments of the local language to a bus driver doesn’t exactly count as social interaction. But staying in youth hostels, or even signing up for tours, be it for a day or a whole month, will help turn this trip into the once-in-a-lifetime experience you had hoped for.

Dream-trip dilemma #2 – Money seems to be disappearing quicker than you can say “just one more beer Chang!”

The biggest culprit for a backpacker’s draining bank balance is alcohol. Socialising and having a few drinks seem to go hand in hand with each other, but just by cutting back on the more expensive cocktails or attempting the odd sober night out will do wonders for your travel fund. What are you going to remember more, being hungover or the extra few weeks paid for by buying less alcohol?

Dream-trip dilemma#3 – you turned up in the wrong season and are greeted by rain, closed shops and hardly any travellers to meet.

Don’t be so quick to dismiss going somewhere in the low season; if you are on a budget this is what you have been waiting for! You are more likely to be able to find bargain room prices, and don’t have to spend hours trying to dodge other tourists in the main attractions.

Dream-trip dilemma #4 – Great, some of your belongings have been stolen.

Make things easier by heading to the tourist police straight away to report the theft. This makes it a lot easier to deal with your insurance company… you do have insurance don’t you?! And to look on the bright side, at least your backpack is a bit lighter! Lost your passport? Well that just means you can stay longer away from home!

Dream-trip dilemma #5 – You keep getting scammed everywhere you go!

While these negative experiences might make you question the culture you have visited, it helps to put things in perspective. Often you are visiting countries vastly poorer than your own and these people see you as an easy way to make money. The best thing you can do is to prevent these situations happening to YOU, by being more self-aware, asking authoritative sources for where to find a taxi, and to learn the art of ignoring someone. I used to spend my time trying to argue and negotiate with beggars and annoying people in general, but decided the best antidote to their behaviour is to simply pretend they are not there!