With the departure date of my 1st ever Around The World (RTW) Trip just a mere months away, I wanted to tap into the collective hive mind of some my most traveled friends to get some key insights and wisdom on life, sanity and survival on the road. For the complete series of interviews, please click here.
Everyone, meet Renzo. Renzo, meet everyone.
Renzo is a Dutch national I met whilst visiting São Paulo in 2015. Bitten by the wanderlust bug a couple of years ago, he went from quitting his job and giving up his apartment to his first extended trip, a 7 month excursion to South East Asia, in a mere 8 days. Now, he is on his second extended trip in South America, putting him on the road for 12 months out of the past 24. As a self confessed "lazy backpacker", I really enjoyed picking his brain and discuss paranoia, safety and mental fortitude on the road.
I'm curious how your packing has changed from when you started traveling to now. What things do you carry now that you didn't at first and vice versa?
"...the trick is to go with stuff that takes as little space as possible and is as versatile as possible, with the goal being take as little as you can."
Not much really. I put a quite a bit of thought into it the first time around. There are many ways to pack but I just chose the one that fitted the best for me, and that turned out to be right. I did consider getting a slightly bigger bag for the trip I'm currently on, but the one I got initially is a very good one so I stuck with it. I did have some things, like a camelbak, which I found useless and dropped, and I also picked up some new things, like a bluetooth speaker, along the way.
I pack to ensure that I am able to dress as a normal person and carry technology around despite going on long, extended trips. Still, the trick is to go with stuff that takes as little space as possible and is as versatile as possible, with the goal being take as little as you can.
In terms of essentials, for me are warmer, comfortable clothes for cold long bus journeys, a smartphone and power pack to charge the smartphone while you're on the go. Come to think of it, I'd like to have 2 smartphones, with a cheaper one to take on night time outings that I'm not too afraid of losing.
How heavy is your backpack?
My main backpack is 55 liters + 10 liters (day pack). I try to keep the main pack to 55 liters amounting to 19 to 20kg. The attached backpack is about 6-8kg, 1.3kg of which is my laptop. The weight of one's backpack will vary with each traveler but if you aren't able to carry what you deem are essentials because of weight, then it will be important to do some squats and deadlifts before leaving. Ideally, a good body workout routine whether you are traveling or not is a good idea anyway!
Your thoughts on bringing a laptop with no specific purpose?
"I've even heard of people purposely ruining their laptop slightly to make it look less desirable and decrease the chances of it getting stolen."
It is a big thumbs up for me but I'm the lazy backpacker type. Half of my days are not full and a lot of times I end up doing things on my laptop to fill the time. Then again, being a software engineer by trade, I'm not exactly an average user. I specifically selected a laptop for long term travel. It is light with 13-inch screen (not too big) that has a bright matte screen (important in bright locations), medium specifications, but still relatively cheap. The last part is very important as laptops are the biggest targets for theft. I've even heard of people purposely ruining their laptop slightly to make it look less desirable and decrease the chances of it getting stolen.
What precautions do you take with your things to ensure they don't get stolen?
"TSA approved locks are locks that can be opened at the airport with generic keys. Most good thieves will have such keys."
Right off the bat, packing needs to include a bag you can lock. My daypack has 1 big compartment that I can lock. I dislike locks with keys because I need to carry around a key that I can easily lose. Ideally, the lock needs to be a number combination lock that is NOT TSA approved. TSA approved locks are locks that can be opened at the airport with generic keys. Most good thieves will have such keys.
There is always something to grab, but most thieves try to specifically take stuff of value. It takes a really special kind of asshole to take all your essentials that are useless to them. The most common thing that is taken is a big portion of your money, but not all so you don't notice it right away.
Theft seems to be coming up a lot. In your opinion, how big of an issue is it?
Theft unfortunately is a very real thing, especially in 3rd world countries for obvious reasons so it deserves a lot of thought. For any good traveler, it is important to have a good routine with securing your things. For me, this routine includes being very careful, not leaving things of value lying around carelessly and locking it up when not in use. A good application of the latter is to charge your phone with a power pack in your locker while you are asleep.
With all of that that said, being paranoid can ruin your trip. The best way is to be appropriately careful given the situation you're in. If something does get nabbed after all your precautions then that is just the way it is unfortunately. Honestly, the best preventative measure is not to bring expensive things in the first place, but that isn't really feasible for me. I need and want things of value for my trip and accept the responsibility, and consequences, for having them.
Have you ever gotten sick or injured on the road? What did you to take care of yourself?
I make sure I carry a little emergency kit and a little tupperware with over the counter medications and condoms. The two things I'm always prepared for are little cuts and food poisoning. Knock on wood, I haven't gotten seriously sick on my current trip, and on my trip to South East Asia before this one, I got sick only once. Cover as many bases as you can without stuffing your bag full of medicines, etc. Most metro areas have hospitals and pharmacies that can handle most emergencies. Lastly, insurance is important, specifically medical, for peace of mind.
How did you prepare mentally for your trip?
"A good balance between being paranoid and being relaxed is key!"
There is something to be said for being prepared and being aware that something can happen. Paranoia is a good thing but you can definitely overdo it. If you are traveling to developing countries, staying in very lively hostels and moving all the time, then things are bound to happen and it is important to be relaxed about it when they do. A good balance between being paranoid and being relaxed is key! If something happens then just handle it. Most of the time, it's not the end of the world, or your trip for that matter.
How do you go about deciding what to do or see in the country you're in?
I move from location to location and go by travelers' advice. Every place you go, you meet people coming from all directions and I get the scoop from them. I plan the bare minimum for an optimal route, but not a step further because I want to stay as flexible as possible. In addition, to get a broad grasp of a place, a guide like Lonely Planet is a good resource. Even hostels always have a little speech prepared for new people. Finally, the internet is where I get the rest of the information I need. TripAdvisor is really good in this regard! I definitely prefer internet resources over a static guide made by an underpaid traveler who gives good reviews based on how much free stuff he/she gets.
How often do you check in with friends and family back home?
Here, technology comes in again. I'm not the kind of person that is on Skype every week, but I'm always able to be reached through many platforms to check in with friends and family now and then. Most often, I reach out to people while I'm on the road for information or to meet up. After I get back home, I will usually visit everyone and tell them all about it.
How do you handle money in the country you're in and do you have any tips to prevent getting ripped off?
Few things are important here. I have a debit card and credit card. I never carry them unless I need to get cash from an ATM. When I do withdraw, I usually get the maximum amount allowed and try to drop it off right afterwards, along with the cards, where I am staying. The cards are then locked up with one in the main bag and the other in my day pack. I also have 2 wallets, one to carry around with enough cash for the day and a little extra. The other I lock up and has the rest of the cash I withdrew and emergency money (US$100 ideally). A good trick I heard was putting a US$20 bill in your shoe, but I don't do this personally.
How do you handle the language barrier in a country?
Badly. I get by with many hand gestures and accepting whatever happens due to my inability to communicate with someone. This happens a lot at restaurants and it helps that I eat and drink anything. I would recommend learning the basics of local language if that is a possibility along with getting something like Google Translate (iOS, Android). On Android, you can even download a language and use it offline.
What unexpected ways have you found saves you a lot of money on the road?
"Being social helps a lot. Doing things together saves a lot of money."
Being social helps a lot. Doing things together saves a lot of money. That's why it is important to connect with your fellow travelers. The same thing applies even more with locals. They know how to do things cheap and have connections, or they could give you a good deal on a room or tour. If you travel slow, renting accommodation for a weekly / monthly rate can save you a lot of money.
What's your per day budget? How do you go about budgeting for an extended trip?
I don't have a per day budget. To me that doesn't make any sense as the days are so different along with prices in different regions and countries. I have a rough monthly budget that I don't track because I heavily over budget in the first place. During my first extended trip, I tracked my budget every few weeks and saw that I was always right on track. Now, I trust my intuition more than evaluating the numbers. My goal is always to do what I want as cheap as I can within a €1,500 monthly budget.
Has there ever been a time where you went way over budget?
"I didn't want to touch my other savings but the trip was important to me. I could always get more money after I got back home."
Truth be told, it did happen when I was traveling in the Philippines. I spent way too much on private rooms and expensive meals. What I did was pull some money out of my "non-travel savings" to bail myself out. I didn't want to touch my other savings but the trip was important to me. I could always get more money after I got back home.
If you have to skimp a lot then you are probably traveling for too long of a period. I won't have many opportunities to this again later on in life and I want every moment to count, even if it costs a little extra now and then. Fortunately for me, I can easily cover the costs of the remainder of this trip. I know what I want to do and I'm comfortable with spending the money to do so.