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By Peter Blenkharn
Whilst some Oxford students will spend their student monies on endless quantities of lash and bantz in Park End, coupled with a healthy dose of decanal fines for soiling mattresses, some choose to blow their load on post-gap-yah travels fuelled both by becoming a “bursary whore” and subjecting themselves to everyday value. Here are some handy tips for when you decide you might want to go dabble in some overseas travel.
The first question is, naturally, what to pack. The answer? Bugger all. Lugging a 50 kilo rucksack of doom around with you won’t only piss off every single person on whichever train, plane or automobile you decide to board by thwacking them with superfluous bedroll, but you will end up a few inches shorter by the end of your “cultural experience”.
Essential items include compass, socks and a full first aid kit for when you decide to try drowning in the Pacific Ocean and end up with a huge piece of rock sticking out of your foot.
“I’ve been dropped into the Kalahari desert, carrying nothing more than a toothbrush and a pack of Sherbet Lemons, and I still found my way to Bulawayo before Ramadan.” – Johnny English.
Then there’s the question of destination. Wherever you planned to go, don’t go there. It will probably be boring and full of tourists and we all know that “authentic travel” is just a giant game of tourist slalom. Lonely Planet guides should be the holy text of any traveller as they offer maps, insider insights and handy notes on where to avoid.
Do check that there is a map for your next destination though, as if you end up in the middle of Columbus, Ohio, with no way of knowing where your hostel is… well you would be pretty fucked.
Do an adequate level of research to make sure you don’t end up somewhere completely dull or full of gun toting natives, although this can be entertaining…(just try not to get initiated into a Mexican drug cartel).
As for company, this is as much about personal, ahem, taste as it is about being sensible (or not). Find yourself a shirtless toplad on some sort of infinitely long bout of unemployment and you will almost certainly find yourself having a lash-tastic time on a Caribbean beach while drugs are being dispensed like proverbial Pez.
If this is not your style, tag along with a bouffant Aussie consultant and his hipster friend from Phoenix and you’ll probably end up in the back of a morgue wagon sipping homebrew and singing kumbaya.
If you happen to stumble across California you’ll be greeted by a hazy fog of Mary Jane with characteristically chilled residents who will induct you into their circle in a second, adorned with a squiffy smile. California is also a great example of the variety of people you may come across, from hippy she-wolves to guys with rims “packing heat”. Whoever you are, you will want to come back here.
A warning to those travelling through hostels: most of them are shit. Battle through the awkward exchange of where you’ve just been and where you are about to go and which completely non-descript Cumbrian town you hail from and you may find yourself some people who make your travels that touch more exciting. Otherwise you will be subjected to dial up internet and a $20 ticket to see Batman.
Once you’ve finished the film, the temptation may exist to eat authentic local cuisine from medium to high end restaurants. For those on a budget good ‘ole Maccies is still your first base when it comes to a (dis)satisfying meal. In the US you can get a Big Mac and infinite soda for £2. Suck on that Subway.
Despite the convenience and cost-effectiveness of your friendly neighbourhood greasehole, you may feel that migrating somewhere that won’t cause you to contract heart failure or type 3 diabetes would be a good idea. In this case put on your skiis and slalom out of tourist-town to somewhere more “local” and feast upon some native delights. (Hungarian Goulash and REAL Mission burritos are incredible.)
Depending on where you are in the world you may also find that the locals foist upon you large quantities of their national beverage, be it Weissbier, Tequila or Slivovitz, with a pride only shared with wars won against the French. In such situations it is customary to defer to the natives’ ability to consume huge quantities of their drink of choice with no effect and make endless comments to that effect. Just remember that in some countries straight Tequila looks like Red Bull. It’s not. Don’t consume the entire glass. You will feel like you are about to die.
There are plenty of other things you’d do well to avoid on your travels. The general rule of society is doubly-important: beware of anyone who shows an unnatural interest in you. On the one hand, they might be super-friendly, a potential soul mate. On the other hand, they might want to put your right kidney on eBay. Will you take the chance?
Tourists are prime targets for anyone from Eiffel Tower key-ring vendors to thieves and kidnappers. A hungover Briton clattering about in flip-flops, waving their iPhone in the air to get signal, is just asking to be relieved of their property. Be sensible, travel in groups. If you’re with lots of hungover Britons waving lots of iPhones, it might not be yours that gets nicked.
Then, of course, there are animals. Once again, a small fact worth remembering should serve you well – if it’s brightly-coloured, or found in Australia, don’t touch it. You probably won’t even get a dignified death. A bite from an eastern brown snake will cause you to relieve yourself. And then die.
And don’t think that you can escape nature’s death squads in the water. Sharks, blue-ringed octopuses, jelly-fish, crocodiles, hippopotamuses… But there are also cute baby dolphins too, so it balances it out.
Finally, how do you plan to reach your dream destination? You will probably be presented with a number of options when it comes to travelling between destinations on your travels, from coach to plane to train to moist quadrupeds.
If you are in Europe, the likelihood is that you will go for the oh-so-original Interrail Pass which will take you anywhere you need to go, run off of German efficiency and Parisian class. So it says on the website. If you end up going for a jolly around the Balkan states you will feel like the subject of Soviet-era torture with a complete lack of ventilation or personal space. The advantage to the trains over flying is the incredible views you get whilst bumbling along through the Alps.
If you are across the Atlantic, the chances are you will choose between flying about city to city, road tripping or using the Greyhound. Flying is quick, Greyhound is cheap, road trip is fun. Greyhound buses possibly have the most dense concentration of filth of any vehicle, ever. But by Jove they are cheap. They also provide incredibly bizarre entertainment for the 15 hours or so you spend on the coach. The other passengers. They may sing, they may be doomsayers about the end of the world or they might simply pass wind uncontrollably. It’s all character building.
Elsewhere you may require a motorcycle-driven rickshaw or maybe the trusty dromedary will transport you along your route or perhaps a donkey-traintrack-cart-thing. If this is the case, wear flip flops. They poop.
So there are some hints and tips for general travelling around and about on your hard-scrounged cash. Just remember what I’ve told you, and it should be a trip to remember.