One of the problems with short-term travel is the time required to fly to many places. I live in Southern California and if I want to fly to Europe I’m looking at a 10-hour flight at least. If I only have 7 days of vacation, this will quickly eat up a good chunk of my free time away from the ol’ 9-5. I can’t tell you how many times I hear people say they just don’t have the time to travel such far distances.
It never ceases to amaze me how much fear people have about traveling. I’m tempted to just roll my eyes and think, “silly ignorant Americans,” but then I realize I too once shared that fear of traveling. We fear the unknown and for most Americans, the unknown is the rest of the world.
This is the first in a series of posts about what to pack for specific destinations. I noticed an unbelievable amount of Google traffic searching for information on what to pack for Morocco, one of my favorite previous trips. Since I never touched on what I packed for Morocco, I decided to write a post about it. Occasionally I’ll revisit this topic for other destinations that require certain types of clothing or gear.
Morocco is a very unique destination. Located in North Africa but still carrying the vibe of the Middle East. Morocco is full of culture, languages, sights, great food, amazing landscapes, and best of all, relatively safe. This makes it a popular destination for independent travelers and backpackers flock to the various areas around the country.
Morocco is not your every day tourist destination though. Being a conservative Islamic republic, you should be mindful of Moroccan’s customs and be respectful in your dress. This means that, despite the often warm temperatures, you should not plan on walking around in shorts and short-sleeved t-shirts. This goes for both men and women.
For men, jeans, khaki’s and cargo pants are acceptable and long sleeved t-shirts, thin jackets, or lightweight casual button-down shirts are recommended.
Women can generally follow the above recommendations but just be mindful to not wear tops that expose cleavage or have short sleeves. It may not be considered risque in western culture, but these items are generally unacceptable in Moroccan culture.
Recommended Packing List:
4-5 shirts (or blouses) – preferably long sleeved
1 jacket or sweater
2 pairs of comfortable pants
swim suit – if you’re visiting the beach
hat – especially if you’re visiting the desert
enough socks and underwear
comfortable sneakers or hiking shoes
toiletries – don’t go overboard, but shopping for your typical toiletries in Morocco might be difficult
digital camera – smaller is better
Morocco isn’t particularly dangerous, but places like Tangiers do suffer from slightly more than normal amounts of petty theft. If you are spending time in any medina areas and want to take photographs, a small camera is a better idea. Remember, this is where Moroccan’s live and work and aren’t necessarily tourist areas, despite the popularity of them.
The other day a friend of mine wrote to me and said he has been reading the site but was curious as to where I would recommend he and his wife go for their first adventure.
That question inspired me to write this post. Here are five destinations that I would highly recommend to first-time travelers:
Probably the first thing that comes to mind when people think of visiting Italy is the food. And it should be, because eating out in Italy is a treat and worth the trip even if it’s all you manage to do.
Of course Italy has a lot more to offer. You can spend weeks enjoying the wonderful ocean villages of Cinque Terre, the canals and neighboring islands of Venice, the great art in Florence, or the amazing history of Rome. Italy has so much going on that you’ll quickly realize there is not enough time to enjoy it all.
Italy is certainly well visited by tourists and Italians are very welcoming. When I went in 2004 I was prepared to use my poor Italian that I had learned but everybody I met was happy to speak English and would chat me up for hours on end if time allowed. The train system goes everywhere you’ll need to go and is easy to use. And best of all, the major cities are all wonderful walking towns. Rome has a metro system, but you’re better off walking to where you need to go and seeing the great sights around town.
You’ll also be able to find hostels and budget hotels everywhere you go. I rarely recommend booking in advance, but Italy has a lot of visitors and it’s not cheap either. It’s best to book things in advance if possible.
Who hasn’t dreamt of the city of lights? Whether you’re a hopeless romantic, wine connoisseur, or art buff, Paris is a place that everybody can enjoy.
Spend a day (a week is easily doable) in the Louvre and see the Mona Lisa. Check out the Van Gogh paintings in Musee D’Orsay. Walk around the Latin Quarter and practice your French by chatting up a Parisian student. Head up the steep cobblestone walkways of Montmartre and enjoy the views of the city from the Sacre Coeur. Buy some bread, cheese, and a cheap bottle of wine and enjoy a picnic lunch on the banks of the Seine. Don’t forget the obligatory trip up the Eiffel tower!
If you are there for a few days, take the train to Versailles. Enjoying dinner there is expensive, but viewing a castle like that is certainly an awe-inspiring sight.
Costa Rica is a little more challenging for first time travelers but there is a lot of upside. Many hardcore travelers would consider Costa Rica “touristy” but it is far less visited than any of the other countries listed so far.
On the negative side, Costa Rica’s capital city of San Jose can be dangerous and offers very little other than a large airport. If you do some research though, you’ll find you only need to go into the city for specific buses and staying in neighboring Alajuela is a much better option for overnight stops. Stay away from the Coca-Cola bus terminal at night and you’ll be safe.
On the positive side, Costa Rica offers some of the most beautiful nature in the world. While the bus system may not be the smoothest in the world, it does exist and can take you around the entire country. It’s also very cheap!
The influx of tourism to Costa Rica over the past few years has increased prices, but it still will only cost a fraction of what a trip to nearly any city in Europe will cost. Hostel beds for less than $10 are common and eating a good meal at the local sodas (cafes) can cost as little as $2-3.
Whether you want to enjoy surfing on the Pacific or Caribbean, explore a rain forest with monkeys swinging overhead, go white water rafting, kayak mangroves, or peer into a Volcano, you can can do it all in Costa Rica. Spend as little as a week or as long as a year, and you can still manage to not go to the same place twice. This tiny country is a real gem in Central America.
Many people dream of visiting ancient Inca and Mayan ruins in Central America and Peru offers one of the most amazing opportunities to do so.
Machu Picchu is one of the most impressive sights in the world to visit ancient ruins despite it being 8,000 ft above sea level. While this elevation might make it a little more difficult to get to than other places, it still manages to be an extremely popular destination for travelers.
The common practice is to stay in nearby Cuzco for a couple of days to acclimate to the elevation. From there, you can book a multi-day hike and camping trek and enjoy the Inca Trail.
There are many providers for this tour and most provide the supplies you need. You should be aware that the number of visitors to the trail is limited so you should book in advance. I’ve heard as few as three weeks is required, and as long as nine months. Your experience may vary, but definitely plan ahead of time!
Canada is one of my favorite countries in the world. I have been all over the country and enjoy every little bit of it. It may not be as cheap for Americans as it once was, but there are still budget places to stay.
Vancouver is a wonderful city surrounded by the beautiful nature that is British Columbia. Enjoy the city for a couple of days, be sure to check out Stanley Park (Think Central Park but better!), then head up route 99, the Sea to Sky Highway, and stop in Squamish. The self described “Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada,” Squamish offers a great place for backpackers to call home for a while. Enjoy the outdoor activities like kayaking, mountain biking and hiking, or use it as an affordable base for Whistler. Located about one hour up the highway, Whistler is one of the best ski resorts in the world and its village provides great shopping and eating choices year round. Hitchiking is safe and popular from Squamish and you won’t be waiting for long before a fellow snowboarder or mountain biker picks you up and gives you a free ride to the mountain. Canadians are so darn friendly!
If you fancy the eastern side of Canada, Quebec is a wonderful place to visit as well. Although a bit pricier, there are several hostels in the Montreal area and English is spoke everywhere. In fact, I dare you to use your high school French and see what happens. They’ll automatically respond in English and you’ll feel a little stupid, but hey, that’s Montreal!
Hop on the train for a lovely three-hour ride to Quebec city and enjoy the more traditional French-Canadian culture. Quebec is a lovely city to simply walk around and go sightseeing. From statues to architecture, Quebec city will easily fill a couple of days and put a few miles on your feet.
There you have it. In no particular order, five great destinations of varying costs and level of adventure.
Do you have a recommendation for a good place beginner travelers should check out? Please share them, or your experiences in the comments below!
One of the first things people assume when they find out I travel frequently is that it must cost a fortune. This certainly isn’t the case and over the years I have learned many ways to stay frugal but still enjoy myself while traveling.
More importantly than little tips that can save money here and there, you should learn how to decide when to spend and when to save. This way, you aren’t constantly looking for the cheapest option, but you also aren’t spending too much money.
Where you sleep is important, but when you look at all the various options in most areas, there are a lot of amenities that you may not need, but can greatly increase the price of your hotel or hostel.
This is where doing research can really help. If you know where you’ll be staying for a couple of days, check HostelWorld for hostels in the area. You may be surprised how many smaller independently run hostels there are compared to what your guidebook lists. The reviews on HostelWorld can be very informative as well.
As a general rule, I attempt to spend $20 US or less per night depending on the destination. Some places, like Paris, are more expensive, and others such as Costa Rica, hover around $10 per night. I need a bed, a bathroom (somewhere, I don’t mind if it’s outside of the room and shared), and a shower. A common area where travelers can converge is also a bonus.
Food is one of the things you might consider spending more money on. Many times I’ll be hanging out with other travelers and they insist on stopping by a market to buy some cheese and bread for lunch.
I prefer to enjoy a good meal at a local eatery. If there is one thing I can really take home with me it’s the experience of good, local cuisine. A good meal out is a nice treat when you’ve been traveling around all day with a heavy pack.
This doesn’t mean you have to spend a ton of money on every meal, sometimes a picnic lunch or a few snacks is all you need and easy on the wallet, but don’t be afraid to splurge a bit to enjoy some authentic cuisine.
While many independent travelers pride themselves in going off the beaten path and doing things that other tourists don’t do, let’s face it–you’re a still a tourist and sometimes you want to do those touristy things.
Strap on your walking shoes and get out and experience the highlights of your area. There are often free alternatives to the typical tours and entrance fees associated with popular tourist sites (aka tourist traps). Check your guidebook and see what they recommend.
While I can’t offer any advice on how to get up the Eiffel Tower for free, you might be able to enjoy it just as much from the ground or from a good lookout from the Siene river. Extra bonus if you’re afraid of heights!
What do you splurge or save money on? Share in the comments!
Being American (technically Canadian-American but who’s counting?) I am always surprised by how few of us speak a foreign language. Sure, in California many people speak Spanish, but not nearly as many as you would expect.
One of the things I always tell people is that they should learn at least a few conversational basics when traveling to a foreign country.
I did a lot to cram in some French and Italian before traveling to Europe for my first backpacking trip. I was in no way fluent, or even comfortable speaking either language, but what little I did know helped tremendously.
Many Americans expect that since they are paying tourists, they should be catered to. If you use Paris for an example, you’ll realize that Paris does not live off of tourism! It’s the cultural center of France and if no Americans visited, they would hardly miss us.
I saw this first hand when ordering lunch at a small cafe. I managed to ask for a particular sandwich and a glass of tea but I could not understand the price. I politely asked, “parlez-vous Anglais?”
“Yes, a little,” she responded and told me the price in English. I paid, thanked her in French, received a kind smile and enjoyed my food.
Shortly after another young backpacker came in and asked for something using only English and didn’t even bother to try French. The same lady who was so friendly to me responded, “je suis désolé monsieur. Je ne comprende pas Anglais.” He made a couple more requests in English but eventually left frustrated and hungry. The lady looked at me, shrugged her shoulders and smiled.
To her, a few Euros were less important than the cultural pride. This attitude is very common not only in Paris, but anywhere that does not rely solely on tourism.
But surely you don’t have the time to enroll in a class and practice for several months before traveling.
Never heard the name before? Well Dr. Pimsleur created a wonderful technique for learning language and has produced fantastic audio programs.
While the full versions with nearly 50 hours of training are quite expensive, there is a great alternative if you wish to get started and learn the basics, whether it be for fun or in preparation for a trip.
The insert Pimsleur Learn to Speak & Understand programs contain 16 lessons (each unit of the full program has 30, so you are getting about half of the free unit). The best part, they’re pretty cheap on Amazon.
Of course, they hope you enjoy them and decide to move on to the full course. If you do, I believe there is an upgrade program for purchasers of the intro versions.
Let me tell you first hand that these work very well and will prepare you for many common situations such as asking (and understanding) directions, ordering food, or exchanging money. Of course you’ll learn how to politely interact with people in that language and how to ask for help if you are unable to understand.
I tried several different French audio training tools before coming across the Pimsleur program. The other were ALL a waste of money.
Here’s the list of all the ones I have used and enjoyed success with:
Ask anybody who has backpacked for any amount of time what the highlight of their trip was and they’ll likely tell you about a place that you’ve never even heard of.
That’s right, I’ve never met anybody who said the Eiffel Tower was their favorite part of their trip to Europe. Nothing against the Eiffel tower, it’s wonderful, but often the small, out of the way places that you never planned on visiting are what really make your trip.
For me, it was Cinque Terre, Italy in 2004. It was my first backpacking trip and I was all by myself. Made my way from Paris to Venice and met three Americans who were studying in England. They were in my hostel and we decided to go out for dinner. We ended up spending the next day together exploring the neighboring islands before heading to Florence which so happened to be both of our plans.
After a couple of days in Florence they invited me to Cinque Terre. “Where?” I asked.
I looked it up in my Lonely Planet. At the time, there was just one paragraph that said that the olive farming villages of Cinque Terre had no hotels and you had to find a local to rent you a room.
It sounded interesting, but the last thing I wanted to do was be stuck in some place I didn’t know with nowhere to sleep. I was also convinced I needed five days to explore Rome.
Somehow they talked me into it, and after a brief obligatory stop in Pisa, we ended up in Vernazza, one of the villages of Cinque Terre. It was there that an old lady met us at the train station and offered us a room. Thanks to my Pimsleur Italian level I audio tracks and a lot of body language, we secured a room for the night.
The village was beautiful, located right on the water and offered the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen (keep in mind I live at the beach in Southern California and it’s hard to beat our sunsets). We had an amazing and affordable dinner at a restaurant up on a cliff that overlooked the ocean. The sky was lit with nothing but bright stars. No lights from any nearby metropolis polluted the sky.
The following day we hiked between the villages along a path that had previously been used by the olive and grape farmers. Some of the hillside had been carved specifically for the harvesting and that way of life hadn’t changed for many of the residents of Cinque Terre.
These days many Cinque Terre has become quite the hot spot. Located on the Italian Riveria, it’s surprising that it took this long for it to become such a great spot for tourism. Now, nearly every body I speak to who has backpacked Italy has told me they stopped in Cinque Terre. I haven’t looked at the latest Lonely Planet guidebook for Italy but I would bet that there is MUCH more than the same short paragraph that I took a leap on five years ago.
I had a similar experience in Morocco when I visited Chefchaouen. While I had read a bit about it in the guidebook, it certainly wasn’t the destination that bigger cities like Casablanca, Fez, and Tangiers were made out to be, but it ended up being the highlight of my trip for both its beauty, and the wonderful locals who invited me into their home for a great meal.
My point is that you never know what is out there when you are traveling. Your guidebook is a necessity but you can never expect that the author visited every square mile of the country.
There are still many of places that have yet to be bombarded with tourists and in the case of Cinque Terre, they soon might be, so go see them while you have the chance!
Talk to other backpackers at hostels or ask a local their opinion on places you can visit to get a real feel for the culture. You’ll be surprised with what you may find. Just because a guidebook doesn’t listen a place, or doesn’t provide you with a lot of information, doesn’t mean it won’t be the highlight of your trip!
Have you found a great off the beaten path destination in your travels? If so, post a comment and let us know where and how you came across it!
Here is a short article I wrote for Dig Magazine, CSULB’s monthly publication. My day-by-day travelogue is posted here on Have Pack, Will Travel.
“Where is all the sand?” I thought to myself when I landed at Mohammed V Airport in Casablanca, Morocco. It turns out that much of Morocco is actually very dense with forests and vegetation. The Mediterranean climate is much more comfortable than one would imagine when contemplating a visit to North Africa.
“Bienvenue en Maroc! Welcome in Maroc!” I frequently heard while walking down busy streets. Not knowing whether I was French, English, or American, they were sure to cover their bases and make sure I understood that I was welcome in their country.
Enjoy my travelogue about my week-long journey through Morocco. Such an amazing place full of life, language, and culture. Morocco ranks very high on my list of places I would recommend backpackers visit.
We all had to leave pretty early to reach our respective destinations so we had set the alarm for 4:00am. Perfect timing as the morning call to prayer was just sounding as we awoke.
It was freezing at that time of the morning but we started packing up and getting ready to leave as quietly as possible so we didn’t wake up any of the other visitors.
Unfortunately we had a last minute change of plans. One of the girls had become pretty ill and didn’t feel she could make the 6-8 hour bus ride. They already had ferry tickets booked from that port, but decided to take the taxi with me to Tangiers as it was only a 2 hour drive and they book a ferry from there.
Once we were dropped off at the main taxi terminal it was time to say goodbye. Our driver already grabbed another driver who would take me to the airport so the goodbyes were very short. In fact, once I hopped in the taxi and started driving away I realized there was so much I didn’t get a chance to say to my new friends. I am sure I would have enjoyed my trip just fine even if I did not meet them, but spending it with them was wonderful. It’s amazing how you can meet people from halfway around the world and become instant friends. We enjoyed several days together and shared moments that will last us all a lifetime. Then, before you know it, it’s all over and you might not ever see them again.
Well thank goodness for the internet at least so we can all keep in touch occasionally.
The airport is about an hours drive from the center of Tangiers so I had a bit of time to chat with the driver. The only problem was the language barrier. Tangiers, being so close to the tip of Spain, has a heavy Spanish influence and many people from Tangiers speak Spanish. Of course, the driver spoke Arabic, but to my surprise he didn’t speak French! Nearly everybody speaks Arabic and French in Morocco. Being from Southern California, I understand Spanish pretty well, but I don’t speak it all that great. The same went for him with French. So for an hour we talked about all kinds of things, Morocco, food, my trip, where I was from, and even American politics. But the funny thing was that he continued speaking in Spanish, and I would respond in French. It was the best we could do and we both understood eachother fairly well. It was amusing to say the least.
The Tangiers airport was small but hectic. There were no assigned seats on the EasyJet flight and despite being in the first bording class, I was not able to get through the rush of people until the very end. The Spanish passengers who must have all been on holiday were quite rude and didn’t seem to care for the airport’s procedures.
The flight was only about an hour and I soon arrived in Madrid. I found a payphone and called Vicky, a girl from Lithuania who was now living in Madrid. I met her on CouchSurfing and she told me to call her when I arrived. She was unable to host me, but recommended an area where I could find a cheap and safe place to stay. I took the metro there and found a private room in a two-star hostel for 50 euros. It didn’t seem to pricey at the time but once I did the conversion I realized it was about $80!
Vicky and I planned on meeting up around 9:00pm to grab a drink and do some sight seeing. Until then, I enjoyed my nice clean room and took a HOT shower. It was nice to have a private room, bathroom, and hot shower for a change.
Since I had an early morning flight and was only in Madrid for the night, I ventured out to see the city. I was given a nice walking map at the airport and it came in very handy. I walked all over the area near Puerto del Sol just gazing at the beautiful buildings, cobble stone roads, and amazing statues. There was a food and music festival going on in one of the squares so I listened to a great jazz band and was tempted to try some fresh prosciutto (ham/bacon, a specialty of Madrid).
I was quite hungry and decided to get dinner before meeting up with Vicky. Madrid has more restaurants in such a small area than I have ever see before. The choices were virtually limitless and I had a hard time deciding on what to eat. Once I found a menu that looked good I grabbed a seat on the patio and did some people watching. I was disappointed to find out that they were already out of the paella dish I wanted to try. I was tempted to go somewhere else but I didn’t and regretted it. My meal wasn’t very good at all. A chicken and rice dish with a half-cooked egg yolk cracked over the top. It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great either. Unfortunately it upset my stomach later though so that was disappointing.
I did some more walking around and ran across Cervantes statue in one of the parks. Something about it really struck me. Maybe it was that I had just finished reading Don Quixote a couple of months prior. Or it could have been how my professor had told us about this exact statue that was erected for the great Spanish author. Whatever it was, I had completely forgotten that it was there and found it only by chance. Don Quixote was an amazing book and Cervantes a wonderful writer. My only wish was that I was profeccient enough in Spanish to read it in its native language.
It was time to meet up with Vicky so I headed to Puerta del Sol where all the young people hung out. I found Vicky and we decided to go grab a drink. We sat down in a bar that was playing some loud electro music and after one mojito for her, and one diet coke for me, we decided to leave.
Vicky was fairly new to the area. She moved there from Lithuania to study. I was impressed that she could speak Spanish and English fluently, not to mention her native language.
Madrid really is a wonderful city to just simply wander by foot. We did that for a while and she pointed out a few popular landmarks to me. Eventually we decided it was late and she asked where I was staying so she could take me there. I told her that I had my map and had already mastered the city, so I insisted on walking her home and then making my way back. Anyway, it offered me a bit more sightseeing before I had to leave. OK, I got a little lost on the way back when I put my map away, but that’s OK. Whenever I realized I didn’t know where I was, I just pulled the map out and figured out my location.
Finally I returned for the night and fell asleep quickly. In the morning it was time to pack my bag and take the metro back to the airport. The week had flown by and I had an amazing time. I wished I could have stayed longer but I had to get back to my job and school.