Global Explorer

Here are our responses to some frequently asked travel questions. Ask us a question here.


Is it expensive to go travelling? Can I afford to go?
There are trips abroad to suit all budgets, it depends where you go, how long for, and what standard of comfort you need. Like all holidays you will likely have to save up for it and maybe make sacrifices, but don't rule anything out. Plan out what you intend to do and work out how much you think it'll cost. Keep costs down by booking flights early, opting for simpler accommodation, and choosing to visit cheaper countries. In Thailand, for example, a meal in a local restaurant might only cost a pound or two. In fact, you can get by in many third world countries on just 10-15 pounds a day once you're out there. If you can't afford the long-haul flight, consider sticking to Europe using low-cost airlines. Eastern Europe is increasingly accessible, still very cheap and well worth exploring.

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How do I find the time for a decent length trip?
If you are working, you may be restricted to 2 weeks, but that is still enough time for a little adventure! Some employers will allow 3 or even 4 weeks away - it's always worth asking. However, if you're keen on a 3-month overland tour, for example, then you'll have to consider either taking unpaid leave if this is allowed, or quitting your job. Often people wait for a good time to go for an extended break, such as being made redundant (this can be a blessing in disguise by giving you a convenient gap between jobs in which to undertake some travelling). These days, employers are increasingly allowing permanent staff with a few years service to take a 'sabbatical' or year out (unpaid) for a round-the-world trip with their job still open when they return. Of course, a natural break between education and full-time employment, or between A-levels and University makes an ideal time to go travelling too.

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What could I do if I have no-one to go with? What's it like to travel alone?
Firstly, consider joining a tour group if you don't mind paying extra. It may well be worth paying more for a set of like-minded travellers to share the experiences with, and of course you'd have a guide and a well-structured itinerary with little organising necessary - read more. Secondly, consider voluntary work with an organisation that will most likely have many other people doing the same thing that you may end up working and/or living with. Thirdly, don't rule out going alone. Independent travel by yourself is a daunting prospect but can have great advantages. It really depends on who you are, but weigh up the pros and cons in our article on going solo.

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Is independent travel worth the hassle of all the planning and organising?
It really depends on who you are - some people really enjoy the planning because it is exciting thinking about the things you can do, but some people simply can't be bothered. There's no harm in taking a tour, in fact overlanding is a whole new experience that cannot easily be done independently. However, as mentioned above, it does cost more to have a guide do all the organising for you and you won't have much freedom with your itinerary once on the road. If you have the time and desire, planning and organising every part of your trip gives you total control at lower cost. The information provided by global explorer should cut down on a great deal of time when investigating what can be done, when, how and at what price. See the 'Trip Planning' and 'Destinations' sections.

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Am I more likely to get ill travelling in third world countries?
Not necessarily. It depends how well prepared you are, and remember that common sense when you're out there can go a long way. Make sure you have been vaccinated against diseases as necessary, and be aware of other dangers and how to avoid them, such as malaria and dodgy food and water (upset stomachs are very common amongst travellers). Even if you are on a very tight budget, be aware of poor quality accommodation that may be exposing you to unnecessary risks. Just a few pounds more could put you in far more habitable place that is still dirt cheap compared with the UK cost of living. Refer to our section on travel health for more on this. Bear in mind that visiting any unfamiliar environment carries a risk, not just third world countries. Be prepared and be sensible.

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Are third world countries more dangerous?
This is another common perception, often fuelled by unfortunate stories in the news that stay in the mind. Certainly, there are places that you shouldn't go to and you should be aware of the dangers and don't take unnecessary risks. But don't let occasional bad press give you a broad opinion that 'less developed countries are unsafe'. New York can be just as dangerous as Bogota, and bear in mind that some places like Singapore have particularly low levels of crime. Use common sense as you would do at home - keep valuables safe from potential pickpockets and don't leap into a 'taxi' without checking it is legitimate. Tourists stand out like a sore thumb in poor countries, making them an obvious target, so don't flaunt your wealth and be on your guard. The vast majority of countries are very welcoming and the locals are warm and friendly. But as for areas to avoid, check the latest country-specific advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but don't let their cautious approach scare you!

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What standard of living and level of comfort can I expect when travelling in third world countries?
It can be surprising how civilised some less developed countries are, particularly in the cities. But generally poor countries don't have the same quality of basic infrastructure that we do, so you have to be prepared to tolerate worse conditions. There may be bad smells, a lack of hot water and heavily pot-holed roads, but as a consolation if they had our quality of amenities they'd probably have the prices to match. Most of these things you just have to accept or otherwise stay in the western world and miss out on all the good things the country has to offer. You should accept that conditions in developing countries are not as good as you would wish, but don't let that put you off going to them. Just be prepared, have an open mind and sense of humour and low expectations! If you are really bothered about it then consider staying in more expensive hotels and take taxis and internal flights, but bear in mind that it's not really experiencing the country as it really is.

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Is it difficult to travel independently when you can't speak the language?
Obviously this depends on how much English is spoken where you are going, and that is very much dependent on how touristy the place is. These days, pretty much every major tourist attraction around the world will have some English speaking staff and signs in English. Major cities in the more touristy countries such as Bangkok (Thailand) should have plenty of English speakers eager to cash in on the wealthy visitors! Western Europe isn't a problem and Eastern Europe is quickly attracting tourism leading to an increase in English-speaking. However, many parts of the world do not yet cater for tourism and bear in mind that if the quality of education is poor then most of the population probably don't even get the chance to learn foreign languages, which is why native speakers who teach English abroad are so sought after. So, when English isn't spoken you'll need to improvise and put a bit of effort in. Don't be put off going to such places - even in rural China it's possible to make yourself understood and it can be fun and rewarding in doing so. Firstly, try speaking the local language using a phrase book that gives you the phonetic pronunciation of words (e.g. gra-syas for gracias, 'thank you' in Spanish). If your attempt to speak the phrase isn't understood then show the person the phrase written in the book. Some good guide books such as Lonely Planet now provide words and place names written in the local language for you to point to, particularly useful when telling (or showing) a taxi driver where you want to go to. Remember to pick up cards and leaflets with your hotel address and directions on too. When buying tickets at train stations, sometimes there's a window where an English speaker is present, but despite the signs it doesn't always turn out to be true! In any case, make sure you have all the details written down like destination, class, time and service number (if you know them) using your phrase book to help. When shopping, prices can always be written down to avoid confusion. If you really get stuck and need assistance with booking transport you can always try the concierge at a 5-star hotel who may have a travel service, but their English-speaking staff will charge you an admin fee.

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I'm thinking about taking a gap year but how do I decide and how would I convince my parents?
School and university leavers are increasingly taking gap years to go travelling, making use of a natural break in their careers. Of course, it's not only young people - career breaks are becoming more common these days. But it isn't always an easy decision whether or not to take a year out. It's a significant financial decision to forgo a years salary, and you will most likely spend more on your travels than you would at home, depending on the cost of living in your destination countries. Plan out what you intend to do and how much you think it will all cost - how will you pay for it? Also, you have to consider whether a year out might hinder your job prospects on your return, having not been studying or working for some time. However, many employers look favourably on gap years now, as the focus on 'soft skills' demands good examples of where you have worked in a team, influenced decisions, solved problems, resolved conflicts and so on. Your gap year doesn't guarantee you these experiences but it does provide a very good opportunity for you to add substance to your CV. It's an opportunity to do something different and stand out from everyone else applying for that job. It is therefore important that you make good use of your time. You want to be able to talk about significant achievements and things you've learnt, not how good the sunbathing was. If you can afford the time and money, gap years can be great experiences that parents and employers are increasingly valuing too.

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Note: Any of the above comments may be views of the author and not necessarily fact. Acting upon any of this advice is solely the responsibility of the reader.