For the past week or so, I’ve been doing something really, really dumb. Instead of going to sleep at night, I’ve been laying in bed wondering where I’m going to live for this season in Goa. I’ve been mentally going through all the places I looked at last time (and there were a LOT) and putting them into piles of ‘definitely maybe’, ‘maybe’ and ‘heck no’. The reason why it’s pointless? There’s no point in me worrying about it until I get there. Absolutely none. Even if I looked online, the reality probably wouldn’t match up and anyway, room hunting is all part of the fun. So, not that I’m an expert or anything, but here are my tips:

1. Don’t plan ahead
If you’re used to going on a standard holiday and pre-booking your hotel, your instinct will be to try and find somewhere to stay for when you arrive. One of the things my friends and family said when I told them I didn’t have a clue where I’d be staying was ‘OMG, I could never do that’. Everything in you will want to pre-book a room but my advice is: don’t. The reasons are:

– As I mentioned already, things look a lot better on photos. Even with the likes of Trip Advisor, you still just don’t know and how many people end up booking into a place they have to stay in for ages that ends up being crap? I bet it’s more than a few. It’s always better to see the place and its location first.

– You might miss out on something great. Getting tips from fellow travellers is always a good hit. They’ll tell you where to avoid and where to go.

The only time I’d say this doesn’t apply is if you’re getting into a location in the dead of night.

2. Adjust your expectations
This definitely applied to me. Having only ever stayed in hotel rooms and one empty dorm beforehand, I was a bit miffed at the ‘state’ of the rooms I first looked at in India. But after a while, I just came to realise that I had to change my expectations, and so will you. You’re not staying at the Ritz, you’re backpacking. If you can find a room with your own bathroom, hell if you can find a place with hot water, you’re ahead of the game. As long as it’s clean, has a bed and is secure, then your bases are covered. That being said, it does depend where in the world your going. You might have to make do with a sleeping bag on the floor but, hey, whateves, it’s all part of the experience!

3. Location, location, location
There’s a reason this phrase is so well known. That’s because it’s true!! Your own personal preferences will come into play here, but for me personally, I can’t do dorms and I don’t like to be right in the middle of things. I like to be close enough to walk into the hustle and bustle but far away enough to be able to chill without constant noise. I moved A LOT in Goa, and I went from being right on the main road and being kept up at night by rumbling motorbikes outside my door to a room in a house backing out onto a field with cows roaming around. I way preferred the latter. On the subject of location, it goes without saying that you want to be safe. Finding somewhere that isn’t isolated and well lit is always a good bet, however hard that may be. This is the house I ended up living in – The Purple House.

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It was accessible via an alleyway (for want of a better word). What made this okay was that on the corner of the alleyway was The German Bakery, a place that’s open til all hours and where people usually stop off for a pizza or cake on the way home from a night out. Plus, there were plenty of other houses around and about where the people staying there would hang out on the balconies playing music so I always felt safe on the way home.

4. Take your time
If, like me, you’re going to be staying in one place for a while instead of hopping around, it makes sense to find somewhere you can stay long term. It usually works out cheaper and it’s nice to have somewhere that can feel a bit homely away from home. But that doesn’t mean you should take the first place you see. Shop around and haggle, and take something that feels right. On the flipside, don’t take too long. Finding a great place for a great price is like looking for gold-dust and if you dither too long, someone else will come and take it in your place.

5. Haggle
This is something I still struggle to get to grips with but accommodation can add up quickly. You might not want to barter down the price of a pair of trousers but you absolutely should when it comes to a place to stay. If you’re looking at somewhere to stay upwards of a month then you absolutely need to. Chances are you can negotiate a better rate for staying in longer – owners would rather have you there than have it empty.

6. Basic checks
Of course you’re going to want to check that the room is clean, but it’s a bonus if it’s clean to yours or your mum’s standards. I had to clean a place from top to bottom before I felt comfortable enough to stay in it (and then moved out two days later. Ho hum). So, check under the bed, the bed itself, toilet etc etc but don’t be afraid to put a bit of elbow grease in if needed. The simple fact is, some owners just don’t care about it being five star clean, as long as it will do. Other checks you should do are to look at security. How does the door lock? Is it with a key or do you need a padlock? Are windows lockable? Are there easy entry points for would-be burglars? If you’re sharing a house, how many keys will you get and is there a safe hiding place for the main door key?

7. Make it a home
Okay, so you’re backpacking. You’re away from home and experiencing crazy shit. But chances are you will still get a pang of homesickness at some point. So, do something to make it feel homely. I bought a couple of wall sheets and used them for bedsheets. Not only did it make me feel more comfortable than sleeping on the dubious sheets they’d provided, they brightened the place up. Ditto with some candles and other little nick nacks. They don’t cost much and while you might not want to take them home or would ever buy them usually, they can make you feel better on a down day.

Good luck (for me too!).

IMG_2248Most people who know me will probably fall about laughing that I’m about to give advice on packing. I am a typical girl – I always take way, way more than I need. Always. And with Goa coming up in less than 7 weeks time (yay) my thoughts are turning to the things I need to buy beforehand. When I went to France last year, I took a suitcase. A humungous one. Never again. It was an absolute nightmare lugging it around and I used about a quarter of what I took. When it came to India, I took half of what I took to France and it was STILL too much. This time, I will do much better!

So, here are my tips on packing. Tips I shall refer to myself in a few weeks:

Get a decent bag
If you’re travelling, a backpack has to be the way to go. It’s so much easier having to move around with one than a suitcase. So, get a decent one. It will be your world for the duration of your travelling life. I was a bit unprepared for the cost – a decent one will set you back at least £100. I got mine over the Christmas break in the sales and it was £99. Do some research online and set aside a good amount of time to go around and try some on. Don’t just borrow one from someone else (without trying it at least). You want something that’ll fit your body correctly. I got an Osprey Talon 44L. Looks tiny but holds a lot. Excuse the dodgy pic.

Size matters
The natural inclination will be to get a big one. It makes sense, right? You’re going to be travelling for months, maybe country hopping, who knows what climate you might be in? Or what you’ll be doing? You need to be PREPARED.

Wait a second.

That was me telling you to have a massive word with yourself. Unless you’re going to be going from tropical to subzero in the same trip, you can assume you won’t need clothes for all seasons. We all see people travelling around with a bag the size of a house on their backs, but you don’t need to be one of them. You WILL be encouraged to buy a big bag when you’re shopping – they cost more. The guy who served me tried to get me to get a 65L bag. No way, Jose. You’re the one who’ll have to carry it, and believe me, having a big bag just means you’ll have a tendency to fill it. Do yourself a favour and get a smaller one. Your body will thank you for it.

Rock and roll
Roll your clothes. Rolling vs folding is not even an argument. Rolling saves space and reduces creasing. Plus, you can squidge stuff down into the sides. Unbuckle all the straps on your backpack, pull all the strings, get as much space as you can. And then, when it’s packed, pull them all back in.

Separate
Separate your stuff. I did this on the way out. Trousers in one plastic bag, tops in another, undies in a third (by the way, having plastic bags come in very handy. Just don’t go overboard and kill the planet). The advantage to this was, it was easy to find things. The disadvantage was it took up more space and started to get annoying. It depends on your preference.

On separation, it’s a good idea to take some bare minimum stuff in your hand luggage. Bags get lost, even though we don’t want them to. This happened to me on the return from Kuala Lumpur. Have your charger, toothbrush, a spare top and maybe some undies, just in case.

Pack light
Try to take enough clothes to last you a week. Sounds unlikely I know, but you’ll end up wearing the same things anyway and you will want to buy things to bring back. One of the things I didn’t factor in was that I wanted to blend in with everyone else. The clothes I’d bought were perfectly travel suited, but I felt like a unicorn most of the time. Get to a market stall and buy a few things when you get there. Oh, and don’t pack anything you care about. Your favourite top/trousers? Don’t bother. It’ll more than likely get ruined/stained/faded/lost. On the subject of clothes, here’s a few tips:

  • Leggings. Absolute godsends. They double up as skinny jeans (kinda) if you want to dress up, as PJ’s, or just for lounging around in.
  • Shoes. Leave your heels at home. Get a pair of flip flops and a pair of shoes/boots you can travel around in. For me, this is Converse or Vans, something inexpensive that I don’t mind getting ruined. Think about the long walks, journeys on dirty trains etc. That said, I have just bought a beautiful pair of entirely practical desert boots that I’m taking with me this time round.

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  • It’s far better to layer up than take a massive coat (depends on your destination of course). I got a decent North Face waterproof but I never wore it. This time, I’ll take a little denim jacket and a couple of cardigans. Not only can they layer me up, but they can change an outfit individually. Ace.
  • Scarves. Cannot praise these enough. They can be used to mark your bag at the airport, cover your hair/shoulders if you need to, wear as a sarong, over your leggings if you’re like me and you don’t like to have your bum out, or as a beach towel. They’re pretty inexpensive abroad too.

Essentials
Last year (or, technically, this year since it was January), I took everything I could ever possibly need when it came to essentials. Shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, tampons, etc etc etc. Here’s some advice. Unless you’re going somewhere completely inhabitable, you’ll be able to buy stuff there, and it’ll probably be cheaper too. It might not be the exact brand you use at home, but you’ll find something. Of course, if you have some kind of skin condition or something that requires you to use special soaps etc that’s different, but most of us can get by with anything. So, I’d say:

  • Use soap instead of shower gels. They’re cheaper, last longer, take less space and can also be used to wash clothes if needed
  • If you’re going to need sanitary products, take enough to last you for a few months. This depends on what you use, but finding tampons was an absolute nightmare for me. I was lucky my friend came to visit with a care package. Alternatively, try a mooncup. The concept might make you feel a bit icky but it’s tiny and you’ll never need to buy a sanitary product ever again. The downside is it can be tricky if you’re somewhere that doesn’t have clean water
  • Most of us (me excluded) use body cream, face cream, hand cream, night cream – blah blah blah. This advice depends on where you’re going, but I found that buying a litre of coconut oil was the way forward. It’s completely natural, ridiculously cheap and lasted forever. And, it smelled beaut too.
  • I wouldn’t skip on them if I were you. Buy a multipack before you leave and enjoy yourself to your hearts content.
  • Malaria pills, check. Probiotics, check. Vitamins, check. Paracetomol, check. Antihistamines, check. You don’t need a whole medicine cabinet, but some of this stuff will be hard to find, or the average dosage might not agree with you, so take a small amount with you.
  • Make up. If you’re going somewhere hot, I wouldn’t bother, especially when it comes to foundation etc. Try going au naturel, or, if you really, really can’t, limit it to lip gloss, mascara and eyeliner. The sun will do your skin wonders anyway, trust me, you won’t need a face full of slap.
  • Hairdryer/Straighteners. Again, I’d say au naturel is the way forward. That said, not everyone has manageable hair. If it’s a necessity then take them. If it’s just something that you’ve got used to doing out of habit, leave them behind. They’ll take up valuable room in your backpack. See my advice about skincare for hair care if you have afro hair. Natural oil will work way better than a heap of product.

Common sense/practical stuff

  • Locks. I took about five. Wholly unnecessary. Most backpacks can’t be padlocked and even if they could, they could be slashed open. If you really feel you need to lock it up, try using cable ties. They’re super secure, barely noticeable and cheap. That said, do get a good, heavy duty padlock for your room door, and if you can, get a chain too. Comes in handy for long journeys etc.
  • You will want to freshen up on/after the plane, or on long journeys, or if the water supply cuts out and you can’t have a shower. So, get a pack of wet-wipes. By the hundred, if you can. It will take a bit of space but man alive, they are life-savers. You can use them to clean yourself in lieu of a shower, disinfect surfaces/items and they’re much better than antibacterial hand gel.
  • Gaffer tape. This is probably the single-most best thing I took. A tiny roll has lasted to this day and I used it a lot – taping the rip at the top of my backpack (thanks Mumbai airport), taping holes in the mosquito net, using it to attach the strings of my net to the wall when there was no way else to erect it. Brilliant stuff.
  • Water filter bottle. It does cost a bit, but mine came in really handy for long journeys. Water is so cheap over there but it’s nice to have a bottle you can fill from a tap and drink, knowing it’ll be safe. It also keeps the water cool.
  • Washing line/sink blocker. I took these with me, but I don’t know if I will again. The washing line is handy, but I was lucky I lived in a house that had some strung up already. I also used it to string my mozzie net up. As for the sink blocker, I found that using a bucket was much better for washing clothes in, and it served as an alternative way to wash when I really had to.
  • Money belt. I didn’t take one of these. Personally, I think they draw more attention to yourself, but it depends on your temperament. Spread your money out if you have to travel with a bulk of it, or, do what I did and get yourself a currency card. That way, you only ever need to take out the money you need and if you lose it or it’s stolen, you haven’t lost all your money in one go.

Think that’s it. Have I missed anything? Sharing is caring!