Solo travel by flashpacking:
cheap travel with a few perks.
I am pleased to introduce David Jedeikin as this week’s guest blogger. David Jedeikin is the author of Wander the Rainbow, an upcoming chronicle of a gay solo traveler on a seven month flashpacking trip around the world. You can follow him on Twitter where he is @wanderrainbow.
If there’s one thing backpackers love to hate, it’s “flashpacking,” loosely defined as backpacking with a few frills. “It’s not a real experience,” “you won’t meet people,” “You won’t see the true [fill in the destination of your choice].” All untrue: It’s eminently possible to travel more comfortably than the backpacker norm and still garner incredible adventures. Here’s how:
1. Travel solo and hang with friends (and family)
This applies to everyone, not just flashpackers: if you have contacts or kin anywhere you’re going, make a point to look them up. In much of the world hospitality is highly prized, and friends and relatives may be eager to put you up. Assuming these folks have the space and the inclination, you can be assured of a decent place to sleep and possibly a great tour guide in an unfamiliar locale.
2. Travel Solo and Stay local
What if you don’t have cousins in Cape Town or buddies in Beijing? Staying at a Westin or Marriott isn’t the best-value alternative: international chains charge a hefty premium for predictability. But comfort can be had for a lot less at smaller midrange accommodations geared at local travelers. In expensive cities like Rome or Tokyo, sweet private rooms can be had for under $100 a night; in Bangkok, Bali, or smaller Indian centers $30 to $50 is the norm. Plus many hostels in Europe, Australia, and especially New Zealand offer private rooms for about $50 a night.
3. Scour the web before you travel solo
The days of leafing through guidebooks or traipsing from guesthouse to hotel are mostly behind us; guidebook recommendations can date quickly, but online resources offer current reviews from fellow travelers. The best-known of these are TripAdvisor (hotels and guesthouses), and Hostelworld (hostels and other budget digs).
4. Gear up – but not too much
Portable electronics have never been cheaper: in addition to digital cameras are iPods (perfect for that just-right playlist atop Macchu Pichu), unlocked cellphones, and especially netbook computers. Internet cafés can be handy – and they are everywhere – but there’s nothing like having a basic machine of your own for privacy and convenience.
5. Socialize as you travel solo.
Private accommodations mean you’ll have to work a little harder to meet people – but not too much harder. If you’re staying in a hostel room you can still take advantage of group activities – beer-tasting nights in Belgium or a downstairs bar or dining room. If you identify with any subgroup – gay, Jewish, Rastafarian, role-playing gamer, whatever – by all means make the effort to connect with that crowd.
6. Mix it up
Vary your accommodations choices; the best part about having a little extra cash is flexibility: try a hostel room in one place, a guesthouse in another, a bed & breakfast somewhere else, even a fancier hotel if you snag a deal (hint: off season is best).
7. Flex your points
If you’re flashpacking you’ve probably traveled some already. This is a great time to use those frequent flyer miles: alliances such as Star Alliance and OneWorld offer great value-for-miles awards on long-haul, multi-destination trips; for the equivalent of a simple round-trip to Europe you can fly a half-dozen or more (non round-trip) segments. The rules can be a bit involved and there’s some advance planning required – but most of these awards allow date changes with no extra charge. Some award categories even offer business class for not a whole lot extra.
Comfort on a budget – now that’s what flashpacking’s *really* about.