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The Indie Traveler's Handbook
It's a big world out there, and traveling it right, light, and on a tight budget is a rare art. You can learn it the hard way, or you can take along these life lessons from the global highway. By Doug Lansky
Illustration: buying food at the market
It's the ultimate gypsy fantasy: Start heading east—or west—and then just keep on going. For some, the global tour is a rite of passage, for others a needed sabbatical from an overstructured life. But whether they make it all the way around the world or just tackle a country or two at a time, these independent travelers form a loose network, sharing hostels, rides, and, most of all, vital information. Here, Doug Lansky, author of First-Time Around the World (Rough Guides) and a 12-year veteran of the global circuit, offers up the hard-learned lessons of the international road.

Ten years ago it would have been unthinkable to travel without traveler's checks. Today checks are optional for most travelers. ATMs are almost ubiquitous (and usually offer excellent exchange rates), and U.S. currency is widely accepted around the world. All you really need is a debit card, a couple of credit cards, and good old U.S. dollars. In a pinch, Western Union (www.westernunion.com) or MoneyGram (www.moneygram.com) can shoot you that cash infusion from home.

Since you'll be a long way from Mom's chicken soup, the key to healthy travel is advance planning. Schedule medical and dental check-ups, and fill any prescriptions you might need for the road. Find out what vaccinations you'll need at www.cdc.gov/travel, but also check in with a travel-medicine doctor (www.astmh.org/scripts/clinindex.asp), especially if you plan to hit particularly exotic spots. (Remember that some vaccines may take as long as a month to be fully effective.) And don't forget to check your health insurance to make sure you'll be covered abroad.

We know, we know: Statistically you're a lot less likely to be killed by terrorism than by, well, just about anything. Still, after attacks on tourists in Bali and elsewhere, you can't blame people for wanting to avoid the hot spots. Before you book your trip, do your homework. Start with the U.S. State Department's Web site (www.travel.state.gov) and check the comparable sites operated by Australia (www.dfat.gov.au/travel/) and the U.K. (www.fco.gov.uk), which generally offer more helpful details than the U.S. site does. But don't stop there. Read up in the local papers (dir.yahoo.com/regional/ includes many links), and touch base with the local Red Cross (www.ifrc.org/where/) to get a better sense of regional issues.

Staying alert to scams and rip-offs is important, but don't keep your guard up so high that you miss out on positive encounters. Most foreigners are not out to con you—and even their oddest gestures are usually acts of hospitality. People you meet on a train might invite you home for dinner, or a couple at the next table might buy you drinks. Be gracious.

In the world's hiking epicenters, you'll likely find excellent secondhand equipment markets, with incredible prices. In Kathmandu, Nepal, for example, you can get a lightly used sleeping bag for less than $75. You can find insulation layers for less than $15. Pots and stoves are easily found as well. You might not want to count on secondhand gear for a major expedition, but it will certainly get you through a week or two of trekking.

There are dozens of great U.S. outfitters who offer complete adventure-travel itineraries all over the globe. But that doesn't mean independent travelers can't also turn to the local outdoors pros. Virtually every nation with an enticing countryside has locally based outfitters who can be hired on fairly short notice. Want to raft Panama's white water? Kayak Vietnam's Ha Long Bay? Climb Mont Blanc? In each region you'll find guides (www.panama-rafting.com, www.handspan.com, and www.chamonix-guides.com, in the above cases) with the expertise and equipment to make adventure whims realities. (Check with local tourist offices for suggestions; www.towd.com lists those offices around the world.)

For all 79 tips for better indie trips, pick up the April issue.

Illustration courtesy of mckibillo

From the print edition, April 2004

The American Icons
The Indie Traveler's Handbook

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Related Web Sites

Photo: ''First-Time: Around the World'' book cover

First-Time: Around the World
Find writer Doug Lansky's unabridged indie travel tips in his Rough Guide to planning your first around-the-world trip. Stick around the Rough Guide site for up-to-date info on travel destinations, cool new products, and to swap stories with fellow indie travelers.

Doug Lansky's World Travel Show
Every spring and fall, writer Doug Lansky inspires the next generation of indie travelers by imparting his travel wisdom at college campuses from coast to coast. For a schedule of events or to arrange an appearance near you, check out www.douglansky.com.

The Great Adventure Circuits
For 33 ways to explore the world on your own, start exploring with these veteran-tested adventure circuits.

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April 2004

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