Backpacking Essentials

Report By Zeb
Feburary 2005

Santa Clara: A lecture on 'Backpacking Essentials' attracted hard-core travelers and the tidbits shared by the participants helped educate everyone. The lecture given by local writer Cemendtaur, author of several travelogues in Urdu and English, at Kabab and Curry Restaurant in Santa Clara was arranged by the Koshish Foundation, a non-profit organization working on education-related projects in the developing world. The event was organized under Koshish's Knowledge Exchange program ( The prospect of travel greatly excites us. Travel is in our blood because not too long ago we were all nomads. Just as incarceration and confinement to a building or area is one of the most severe punishments devised by man, because a jailed person has the urge to move around c and is deprived of the freedom of movement, travel is the fulfillment of the ingrained urge. In his lecture on 'Backpacking Essentials' Cemendtaur gave advice to people willing to rough it in their travels.

Cemendtaur's advice was based on his travel experiences in over forty countries around the world and especially many overland trips from Karachi to Bangkok via China and Laos; from Swaziland to Kenya along the East Coast of Africa; from the Gulf of Aqaba to Istanbul; from Athens to Helsinki via Eastern Europe; and from San Francisco to Rio De Janeiro via Central America. In response to his own question about 'where to go?' Cemendtaur asked the participants to go anywhere they really wanted to go. "Globetrotters are frequently asked about the best places they have been to and find it very hard to answer this question. How can you possibly compare Mali with Norway? Each place has its own charm, its own sites to see, its own great food to eat, and its own very different people to meet. So go wherever you really want to go." Cemendtaur warned his audience against the much-hyped tourist destinations promoted by glossy travel brochures. "Serious backpackers avoid those places. And they avoid them for two reasons; first because of their popularity these places lose their originality, they don't give you the real taste of a country or show you what it is really about. For example, Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco are not the real Mexico. Secondly, the tourist traps should be avoided because they are generally much more expensive than the real country.

So instead of going to England or Germany or the Bahamas, backpackers go to Papua New Guinea, Laos, Uruguay, etc. You will definitely have more fun off the beaten track." Answering the question 'When to travel?' Cemendtaur said there were two answers to the two variances of this question. "When you ask yourself when should you travel in your lifetime consider the fact that in most cases as you grow older you tend to have more money, and with money comes the latitude to travel. So you can either travel when you are old and frail, or you can travel young and poor. All of us have seen tourist buses pouring out senior citizens, popping pills, taken from one tourist attraction to another. When you travel in your younger years you don't have a lot of money but you are in good health and can travel rough. And if you are afraid that in traveling young you will miss on career opportunities you should tell yourself that travel enriches you. And hopefully the travel experiences will more than make up for what corporate ladder-climbing opportunities you miss. "There is an excellent piece of advice given to people who have long-term goals.

Ali Hasan Cemendtaur

The advice is to mark the calendar for two years from now. Tell yourself that is the day when you are going to die. Now set up your priorities. What do you think your purpose in life is? What do you really want to do in this short time that is left? Do not put it off. "When to travel in terms of weather: Backpackers study a lot before embarking on their travel. They study everything about the places and countries they are going to visit. Because backpackers travel light, they don't travel in very cold or very hot weather. They travel in pleasant weather. "If you are traveling through a number of countries then you basically need to look at the weather and decide which way and in what succession of countries you will like to go. For example if you are traveling in Europe and you start your travel in January, then it will be good to start from Southern Europe, say Spain or Portugal and then work your way up so that around summer time you are in Scandinavia. Similar considerations are made when traveling north or south in Africa. In response to the 'What to carry?' question Cemendtaur said that backpackers travel very light. He then showed the audience his backpack, as he had prepared it for an extended trip.

"The idea is to have just one pair of outer-skin clothes, the clothes that you wear. And then you have three or four pairs of underclothes: socks, underwear, and T-shirts. You change the underclothes every day or every other day. The outer layer is washed once in 2 to 3 weeks and that too at nighttime, so that you get up in the morning and put the same clothes on again. Cemendtaur said that traveling is easy but expensive in the developed countries and hard but cheap in the developing world. "In western countries you find all the information about a place, on the Internet. That's not the case in the developing countries. In some places the best information you get is from the tourists coming back from the place that you are going to. "In Western countries the cheapest places to stay at are the youth hostels. Contrary to what their name suggests, youth hostels are open to people of all ages. In North America you can stay at a youth hostel for $15 to $25 per night. "In the developing countries there are hardly any youth hostels and especially none outside the big cities. In the developing world you stay at cheap hotels.

You get your recommendations from a guidebook that wasn't published too long ago. Because the hotels you stay at are cheap and often dirty you carry two bed sheets in your backpack. The bed sheets are used to insulate yourself from the bed. Answering his own question about travel costs Cemendtaur said that travel can cost as much as the traveler is willing to spend. "Backpacking or budget travel requires making a realistic budget and then traveling within that budget. That requires a lot of self-control and discipline, but you just would have to do this. Otherwise you will be coming home sooner than your actual plan. For most of Europe I will put $50 per person per day. For Scandinavia I'd raise it to $75/day. For most of the developing world you can comfortably travel for $30/day." Cemendtaur then gave advice on how to keep travel costs low. He said that transportation, meals, accommodation, and sight-seeing being the four components of travel, the backpacker works on cutting down the costs of each one of them. "You cut down the cost of transportation by traveling the way the local people are traveling. Backpackers seldom take a taxi. Never go unprepared. Never reach somewhere at night when you can't get your orientation right. "You can eat cheap and still be healthy. In the western countries: One way to save money on meals is to limit the number of hot meals per day; for example you can gather things for the breakfast and have it in your room in the morning; you can then have a sandwich for lunch, and then a hot meal at night. In the developing world you don't want to worry about such extreme measures because it doesn't cost a whole lot to eat out. In the developing world it is more of a challenge to eat healthy when eating outside.

And the way to do is to eat from places that seem to be popular and full of people; and eat things that are hot. "Saving in accommodation: Your guidebook will be your best friend. You basically look for the hotels that are within your budget in the guidebook that you are using. "There is not much you can do about cutting costs in sight seeing. You will have to buy museum tickets. But you have to decide for yourself if you really want to visit every single museum in the city you are visiting. Of course there are places you can't afford to miss-you won't like to miss Uffizi or the Louvre." Answering a question about 'How to manage money while traveling?'Cemendtaur said: "With travelers checks and different currencies in your money belt, and the changing exchange rates it gets a little confusing. You can lose to control the money you are spending. The way to handle finances is to count your money every night and see if that day you remained within you budget. "Not too long ago world travelers used to travel with travelers checks and some cash in hard currency (US dollars or Pound sterling). Now people prefer using ATMs. These come very handy because you draw out the exact amount of money that you need and you get a good rate too. ATMs are available in big cities in most countries, but you may not find them in smaller places. Plan your travel and money accordingly." In response to the question about how to keep in touch with family and friends while traveling, Cemendtaur said that email is the communication mode of choice in today's world - here are Internet cafes in cities big and small all over the world. "But it won't hurt to send back a few post cards. The post cards and the postage stamps become your souvenirs. Occasionally call your folks so that people know about your whereabouts and where are you planning to go. Pretty soon world travelers will be traveling with cell phones that could be operated from anywhere in the world. But let's just wait till that becomes affordable for the budget traveler."


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