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Bemused Backpacker by Bemused Backpacker - 2d ago

Why You Should Travel Slowly. - YouTube

There is always the temptation on any gap year or backpacking trip to ty and fit as much in as humanely possible, but that isn’t always the best thing to do. Here’s why you should slow down, take your time and really soak in the culture, the atmosphere and the experience of the places you are visiting.

And if you like what I am doing here then please feel free to head over to the channel on YouTube and hit those subscribe and thumbs up buttons, and as always you can still come and join in the conversation on social media too!

New videos will be up every Friday! So make sure you come by and let me know what you think!

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For many travellers India is often seen as a difficult place to travel through, and heading there on a gap year often comes with a strict set of rules to keep you safe and away from harm, but sometimes those expectations can become a self fulfilling prophecy and keep a traveller away from experiencing the real India, and often to get to the heart of the country and the culture you have to break away from those rules.

India is often seen as a true test of the travellers mettle, a cultural baseball bat to the face for the unwary and a baptism of fire for so many inexperienced backpackers. It is probably fair to say that India is a country that is often loved and hated in equal measure.

But how much of that shared experience is down to India herself and the reality of how difficult it actually is to travel through the country on a practical level, and how much is down to stereotypes of what India is like and the mindset of the individual traveller and the self fulfilling prophecy that travellers impose on themselves when visiting?

It is important to remember that it is almost impossible to stereotype a country of 1.3 billion people!

But those stereotypes do exist.

To be fair it isn’t just the individual traveller’s fault, the media, endless stories from worried parents, other inexperienced backpackers or even local Indians themselves all help shape a negative stereotype of India. But how much do the expectations of what travellers think may happen colour their experience in a negative way?

I recently spoke to a young backpacker who had visited India on a relatively short snap year. She had heard all the stories about solo female travel in India; she had heard about how dangerous it is for a woman to travel there and had been lauded and berated alike for being ‘brave’ enough to dare to do it solo. She had heard all about the leering gazes of the men, about the obvious fact that all men are potential rapists because, you know, they are men, and how you should ignore any and every vendor who wants to sell you something because everyone is out to con you.

She proudly told me of the time she very publicly and loudly yelled at and berated a man for daring to try and block her way when walking through a market, only realising after the fact he was trying to stop her from walking directly into the path of one of those impossibly stacked carts that was hurtling through the crowded streets. She walked away of course and considered it a funny story of how she was so brave and ’empowered’ for being solo and what a silly mistake she made, but you know, you have to be careful ‘as a woman’ right? So that extreme response toward that poor guy was totally justified.

It’s probably a good thing you can’t see my eyes rolling so far back up into my head right now.

It was safe to say she didn’t enjoy her experience of India all that much, aside from the posed Instagram photo’s of the typical hotspots of course, and I just felt like that was a huge shame.

She missed out on so much because of preconceived notions of what she thought India is like and other people’s ‘rules’ of what she should and shouldn’t do.

She went in with a fixed set of preconceived ideas that instantly set her on high alert and stopped her from truly opening up to what an amazing country India is.

When travelling to India backpackers are always inundated with a very long list of do’s and don’ts from loved ones and sometimes even other travellers too. A set of rules that already puts them in a negative mindset about the places they are visiting. And although there is some merit to taking a reasonable level of precaution and keeping your wits about you, you have to remember that the key word there is reasonable. You have to use your common sense too.

The safety issue. 

The safety issue is perhaps the biggest ‘rule’ out there. Women in particular here are warned endlessly about how they will be viewed as nothing but a target for sexual harassment or worse, and that puts a level of fear onto any trip that is largely unfounded. So they are told don’t engage in conversation with strangers, don’t follow a man into his shop, be careful when getting public transport because you will be trapped with a bunch of men who will obviously rape you, the list of don’ts is endless.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am a huge advocate for personal security and safety, I have taught it to civilians and professionals for long enough and believe that in most cases and with few exceptions – the obvious exceptions of conflict or disaster zones aside – there is no such thing as a dangerous place provided that the individual has the right knowledge, instincts, awareness, training and attitude to keep themselves safe.

I also know that no matter where you go there are some risks out there, to pretend otherwise would be foolish. In India just like anywhere else in the world there are risks to your own safety and security and that goes for men just as much as it does for women.

But these risks are not risks just because you are in India. Risk factors or danger is never solely attributed to one place or even the act of travel itself. Someone who has never travelled and stays in their own home town their entire lives can till have terrible things happen to them. Bad things can and do happen to anyone, anywhere at any time, and you should take the right precautions to reduce that risk as much as humanly possible.

But that doesn’t mean that you should be so paranoid it stops you from opening yourself up to having some truly amazing experiences in the world you are exploring.

Yes there are people in India who will want to do you harm or at best don’t have your best interests at heart, just like there is anywhere, but there are also millions of people who don’t want to harm or hurt you. Millions of people who are open, friendly and willing to help you if you need it.

Bad things may happen to you, but you cannot ever take this as a given or as the norm.

There is a truly delicate line between being wary of scams and potential threats and not being so closed off and afraid that you miss out, or even worse put yourself in a constant defensive mode which causes you to act like that backpacker who berated a man for simply trying to help.

I mean sometimes, just sometimes, that vendor may actually just be trying to sell you something. And what happens if you miss out on a truly awesome souvenir because you were too busy saying no? What happens if instead of a warm and fun experience of Indian hospitality and a  bit of friendly haggling over a cup of chai you run away screaming and miss out, not to mention leaving the man insulted and offended.

If at any point your gut is genuinely telling you something isn’t right you still have the right and opportunity to say no and walk away, but you have to develop those instincts which will allow you to be on your guard if and when necessary, but stay open and friendly too.

Sometimes people really are just saying hello.

Sometimes it really is simply a shopkeeper trying to sell his wares.

Sometimes people are just being friendly.

And sometimes they aren’t.

It is essential that you learn to be aware of your surroundings and your situation, learn to spot the signs of a scam or listen to your gut when something just isn’t right. It is important that you learn to spot , reduce or avoid potential risk factors. Personal safety and security is important. But it is just important that you don’t let fear and paranoia dictate your actions.

What happens if instead of enjoying your time exploring a market or walking through a village, you listen to those rules that tell you to react angrily if a man gets too close to you, or feel threatened if a lot of people are looking at you?

Yes there is a lot of staring in India and almost no consideration for personal space. That is strange for Westerners visiting that culture but that isn’t necessarily a risk factor for you either. It may make you feel uncomfortable if you aren’t used to it but more often than not it is simply what happens when there is such a large population and a cultural paradigm of shared community.

Westerners may find that concept a little alien, but isn’t that what you are travelling for? To experience new cultures and ways of thinking?

The rules around food.

Food is another area that seems to constantly crop up in the lists of unsolicited advice about India. So many backpackers are told that they shouldn’t eat street food or accept food from strangers when in India too, and this again makes so many travellers miss out on some great experiences.

First of all street food is awesome, and the majority of the time it is absolutely safe too. You do of course have to use your common sense, and you really should avoid that roadside ‘stall’ with the cardboard sign and the three day old meat rotting in the midday sun, but most street food stalls are as clean and hygienic as any restaurant (and you can see exactly what the facilities are like unlike when the kitchen is hidden in the back), the food is safe and fully cooked, and is absolutely delicious to boot.

The one exception here is the tap water, I genuinely wouldn’t recommend it to travellers and always advise drinking bottled water instead (making sure the cap is properly sealed of course, or even better, using a refillable water filter bottle.

Now if you get any of the lower class, long distance or overnight trains in India, chances are you will get very close to a large number of people very quickly, and this means that you will very likely be invited to experience Indian hospitality when it comes to sharing their meals. Women especially I think, as I have noted female travellers, especially when solo, are often more likely to be invited over to other large groups of women and taken under their wing or given hospitality.

Given that one of the major rules about personal safety we are all taught from childhood is never accept food from strangers, this can lead to a lot of travellers refusing and closing themselves off out of fear, but they really shouldn’t. Not all of the time anyway.

One of my most memorable experiences of public transport in India involves sharing a meal and watching a bootleg copy of Spiderman (the first one with Toby Maguire) on a family laptop whilst on a crowded train down to Goa.

Again of course use your common sense and judge the situation, but forget those rules about not accepting food from strangers, about turning down invitations and remaining apart. India is a culture where hospitality and community is everything, and it is almost offensive to turn it down.

Break the rules and don’t miss out.

There are genuinely so many expectations, some true, many not so much, about travelling through India that many backpackers have a negative mindset about the country and what to expect in it before they even step off the plane.

By all means use your common sense, but don’t fall into the trap of listening too much to those pre expectations and following the self imposed rules that are based on them.

Sometimes you have to break the ‘rules’ to see the real heart of India, and if you do, if you open yourself up to the country and her people, you will have a much more fulfilling experience.

Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

Drinking Water In India. Is It Safe?

India.

Is India Really So Difficult For Backpackers?

Kajuraho; Conservative India’s Sexual Paradox.

Three Days In Delhi.

Three Days In Mumbai.

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Saving and budgeting for your gap year takes a lot of time and planning, so every single penny counts when you are getting your round the world adventure together. Fortunately there are a ton of tricks and hacks to help you travel further for less, and here are 10 of the best.

Budgeting for your gap year is one thing, once you have paid for your flights and pre trip expenses you have to make sure that you have enough to last for your entire trip, portion it out into average monthly budgets and daily budgets for food and drink, transport, accommodation and everything else, and then you have to make sure you have a back up emergency fund too.

It’s not easy. But knowing a few tricks and hacks to ease your travel expenses makes it a lot less difficult.

Mix up your flights.

Buying one single round the world ticket is one of the easiest options, and it is certainly the one that any gap year provider will try and push on you, but it isn’t always the cheapest option. Shop around a little and see if you can get a cheap return flight into a major hub, say Singapore or London for example, and then combine that major flight with a bunch of local, budget airlines. It may be more hassle but you can save a fortune too.

Break your flights up.

Before you book that long haul ticket just do a check and see if it is any cheaper to get a longer flight with extra stops is cheaper,or whether it is cheaper breaking up your flight completely and buying two or more cheaper flights to end up in the same destination. for Example, instead of flying from Manchester to Singapore, is it cheaper to get a budget flight from Manchester to Paris, a flight from Paris to Dubai and then a flight from Dubai to Singapore? Again this may be more hassle initially and you will have to time everything right, but there is a chance you can save a lot of money. It doesn’t always work of course, and sometimes just getting the single long haul is cheaper, but it is worth checking. And you may even get to explore a few extra cities on your major trip in the process!

Use local currency exchange booths. 

Let’s face it, you will always have to have a little cash on you when you arrive in any given country, so you can grab a taxi from the airport and a bite to eat when you get there, so you are never going to completely escape having to use foreign exchange services before you leave or at the airport, but these are always far more expensive than in country options. So just give yourself enough to last a couple of days and then exchange most of your currency when you get there. You’ll save a fortune in the long run.

Work as you go.

Provided that you have the right visa there are a lot of options for you to exchange a few hours work at a hostel or behind a bar for a nights accommodation and a few meals. And regardless of what a lot of people think no, this is not in any way ‘volunteering’, so stop romanticising it and thinking you are saving a small third world nation by manning the desk at the local hostel. This is a basic service to service exchange. You won’t want to do this all the time of course but a few short stints here and there can really help you stretch out your budget and your travels too.

Use your skills. 

If you get a job, even a temporary one like in the above example, then you will need a very specific visa to avoid getting yourself in hot water, and these aren’t always possible, or cheap, to get. So what do you do? You look to your innate skills and passions.

We all have something we are good at or trained at, and it doesn’t matter what it is, you can use it to help your fellow backpackers out, and in turn they can very kindly offer to buy you a meal or a bus ticket somewhere.

I’ve known many qualified hairdressers who have cut other backpackers hair or artists who have sketched caricatures of travellers for example in exchange for a meal or two. I myself have given one to one martial arts or self defence lessons from time to time.

This isn’t work, it doesn’t require a visa, it is just travellers helping other travellers out, right?

Slow down and spend longer in cheaper accommodation than you have budgeted for.

This should go without saying but the cheaper your nights stay, the longer you’ll be able to travel. So if you budget well and account for say £10 – 15 a night for accommodation, you don’t always have to spend that. Odds are at some point you will come across an amazing hostel or a perfect beach hut for a lot less than you budgeted for, grab that bed at that price and stretch out your time there, you can use the money you have saved on your daily budget to add extra nights in that destination and explore it more thoroughly. This works best if you are travelling long term without any fixed return date of course.

If you do have limited time you can still save on your daily budget, those few extra pounds a night will all add up and you can splurge on an activity or a room upgrade from time to time.

Get the perks without paying the full price.

If you need a little luxury for a day or two or need to swim and you aren’t near a beach, but can’t afford the room price for that swanky hotel with the lush pool, then stay in the cheap hostel down the road and just pay for the day rate to use the pool and facilities. There are plenty of hotels that do this, and often (depending on where you are of course) the price is just a few pounds, a bargain compared to the hundreds they charge for the room itself.

Look for the free activities. 

Every destination has a ton of free activities and sites to do and see, and yes of course you will want to go and pay for the tourist sites that you travelled to that destination to go and see, but you can stretch out your budget by looking out for the freebie options too. Check out if the museums are free on any particular day, such as the Louvre on the first Sunday of every month, or head to the parks or events that won’t cost you anything at all.

Haggle, haggle, haggle!

Learning to haggle when you are travelling is absolutely essential, not only will it save you a lot of money over the course of your travels but it is expected in a lot of places too and if you do it right, can be a great cultural experience!

Go Local.

Slowing down and exploring a place more thoroughly will really pay off when you find that small local restaurant that gives amazing food at a fraction of the touristy places around the corner, or you climb the mountain next to the one all the tour groups hike up in the middle of the night for the sunrise tour. The touristy places are great and should be experienced, but get off the beaten track a little bit too, use the services and go to the places the locals frequent, you’ll avoid that ever present tourist tax and save a fortune!

Did you enjoy this article? Did you find it useful? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

Haggle Hard, But Don’t Be A Cheapskate!

How To Completely Blow Your Budget When Backpacking. (Or Ways To Avoid Blowing It).

How To Manage Your Money On Your Gap Year.

Top 10 Ways To Save Money On Your Flight.

Top 10 Smartest Money Tips For Your Gap Year.

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Bemused Backpacker by Bemused Backpacker - 2w ago

Top Tips For Travelling Solo. - YouTube

Solo travel is genuinely one of the best ways to see and travel the world, but many people do get nervous or apprehensive about it, often worrying how they can actually do it themselves. These expert tips will take the worry out of taking a solo gap year and give you all the tools and information you need to travel the world solo and on your own terms.

And if you like what I am doing here then please feel free to head over to the channel on YouTube and hit those subscribe and thumbs up buttons, and as always you can still come and join in the conversation on social media too!

New videos will be up every Friday! So make sure you come by and let me know what you think!

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Bemused Backpacker by Bemused Backpacker - 2w ago

Is Ethiopia safe to travel to? When people think of travelling to Ethiopia the question of safety and security always comes up thanks to outdated stereotypes of civil war, poverty and famine. Is it too dangerous to travel in Ethiopia? Are travellers in danger if they go? The truth of the matter is the reality is very different to what people assume.

Ethiopia has had its fair share of turbelence and violence over the years, like most countries around the world, and would be the first to admit that this has led to a blanket warning for travellers to stay away from some government advisories and the mass media generally portraying Ethiopia as unsafe, dangerous and to be avoided at all costs.

But is this fair?

Yes on one hand Ethiopia has been the victim of domestic terrorism, especially at political gatherings such as the recent explosion at a political rally, and has declared states of emergency in the past due to political demonstrations.

However it is basic travel safety advice to avoid political demonstrations wherever possible and move away from them as safely and quickly as you can if you find yourself caught up in one, and it is important to remember that these are worrying and horrible incidents, but they are still just singular one off incidents, and incidents like the explosion can happen anywhere at any time.

Most of the rest of the country is very safe.

Fuelled by tales of a war with Eritrea, a war incidentally that may be finally coming to a peaceful end, and recent stories of civil unrest and declared states of emergency in Ethiopia from the mass media, travellers to Ethiopia are often bombarded with questions from concerned loved ones about their safety, or succumb to those worries themselves and decide not to go.

They let fear of the unknown dictate their decisions.

But my own journey through Ethiopia was a world away from what the media would have you believe, and although I automatically took the same reasonable and common sense safety precautions that I would anywhere in the world, including at home, I never once felt unsafe, threatened or in any danger whatsoever.

Ethiopia is not an active conflict zone. It is not a country hit with famine or civil war or civil unrest. It is in general terms no more dangerous than any major Western country.

In fact I encountered a country where I felt extremely welcomed as a visitor, people who were friendly and open, and even an old lady who tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘be careful’ as she pointed to my pocket with my wallet inside where I had left the zip undone. She thought I could lose it if it fell out when I sat down.

These are not the interactions from a dangerous country where travellers should fear to tread.

I experienced a world where people were genuinely helpful and friendly to me as a traveller, eager to learn more about me and encourage more travellers to follow in my wake.

This Ethiopia, the Ethiopia I encountered was hardly the den of iniquity or the war torn, riot filled danger zone that had been portrayed by the media or the official government warnings. This wasn’t the dangerous country that so many people who have never even been assume it is.

But then it isn’t always a logical or rational thought process that leads to this conclusion, it is one fuelled by media depictions of civil unrest, of stereotypes of famine still left over from almost 40 years ago. These are often the thought processes of people who view Africa as a country, not a continent, and cannot differentiate the stereotypes from each distinct and individual country.

The official advice. 

Of course the official advice does not help matters and barely reflects what the reality of the situation is actually like in Ethiopia.

The Smart Traveller site from the Australian government of course takes an extreme stance and advises all travellers to avoid completely certain sections of the country and seriously reconsider travelling everywhere else. The US Embassy in Ethiopia is less panicked about the situation but still advises extreme caution due to a high risk of terrorism or civil unrest, and the UK Foreign Commonwealth Office takes a similar but at least slightly more reasonable and detailed response.

If anyone listened to any of the official advice, no one would ever travel to Ethiopia at all.

These warnings are due apparently to supposed high threat levels of terrorism, civil unrest and high levels of crime committed against travellers, as well as tensions on the border regions between Ethiopia and other countries.

But what is the reality of the situation? Well let’s just look at these warnings in a logical manner and think them through.

The reality.

So, is Ethiopia safe to travel to? Yes, absolutely.

Of course there are small parts of the country around the border regions which are relatively more risky than the majority of the country because of political tensions with neighbouring countries and do have travel advisories against them, but that really is only a small part of the country and the absolute majority of it, including Addis Ababa and the majority of areas with major tourist attractions or national parks that most people will want to visit are absolutely safe with no travel restrictions from the UK government.

It may be advisable – and general common sense to use caution, keep your ear to the ground and use your own reasonable judgement if you want to head to these border regions that have advisories against them, that does not make it specifically dangerous to travel in these regions, it just means you should be more cautious. But then again most travellers will have no need to head to the border regions at all, and for tourists just visiting the rest of the country this is likely to have no impact on them at all.

For travelers heading into the Danakil Depression it is advised that they go along with an armed escort, that is fair enough. That is just an ultra cautious reaction to a potential threat of banditry or trouble with neighbouring states because any trips there are venturing near the border region. That’s it.

There have been reports in the past of very specific incidents occuring where tourists have been killed, but again it is important to remember that these incidents are noteable because of their rarity. Singular incidents, in many years of many travellers visiting the region.

In most cases these really are cases of terrible things just happening to good people for no good reason.

There is a slightly increased risk of becoming a victim of some form of crime in these very specific, small and isolated regions but steps have been taken to reduce that risk significantly such as armed escorts, and there really is no need to look into it any deeper than that.

Armed escorts are also there for your protection, and more importantly the protection of natural wildlife in national parks such as the Simien National Park. Again, this is nothing to be concerned about and is at worst a precaution.

There are often advisories against potential political protests and demonstrations and advice to avoid them wherever possible, but it is so important to remember that this is basic prudent advice for something that can happen anywhere in the world – including the UK and Europe for example – and staying away from potential flashpoints is just common sense!

And like anywhere there is also a potential for further states of emergency to be declared just as there has been in the past, again, just as there is in any country in the world, but in general terms that has not restricted travel for backpackers or travellers or made travel any more risky for them. It is an internal political matter between the authorities and demonstrators and at worst has caused travellers an inconvenience with warnings to avoid certain areas at certain times.

There is no reason to allow a potential risk to become a problem, just keep your eye on local news and government warnings and act accordingly.

And the constant warnings about terrorism from official government advisories should never be a reason not to travel somewhere. Almost everywhere is a target for terrorist attacks and almost everywhere has severe warnings. The whole point of terrorism is that it can happen anywhere at any time, including your home countries and the West, and refusing to travel somewhere due to the potential of it happening is ridiculous, it is giving those terrorist cowards exactly what they want and allowing them to win. They want you to be afraid, so don’t be.

If the worst does happen when you are travelling, and this is good advice for anywhere in the world, then make sure you are informed and have the right knowledge and information to keep yourself safe, stay calm and rational and get out of the vicinity as soon as possible, but no matter what, never be afraid and remember that any attack like this is extremely statistically rare, and really can happen anywhere.

Is Ethiopia really dangerous?

But all of this does not make Ethiopia an unsafe place to visit. Quite the opposite in fact. Most – or in fact any – incidents are notable because of their relative rarity and shock value. A little known sentence in the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth Office Guidance, hidden under all the dire warnings of doom and gloom, is this:

Around 20,000 British nationals visit Ethiopia every year. Most visits are trouble free.

And it is the last part of that important little fact that most people tend to forget.

This is the problem with official advisories, they err on the extreme side of caution which does not reflect a true state of how safe any given country is and usually just adds to the scaremongering instead of delivering non impartial advice, which is what they are meant to do.

People tend to concentrate on the headline of mass panic, instead of using official advice as a benchmark to delve deeper and do their own research, which is what they are meant to do.

Ethiopia currently has a score of 79 on the Law and Order index score results according to the Gallup Global Law and Order Report. That is only very slightly less than the UK, more than some parts of Europe and significantly higher than average. What does that mean? Well it means that in terms of safety Ethiopia is very close to UK levels of safety. That isn’t perfect of course but it is still provably and demonstrably safe with a relatively low risk of becoming the victim of any type of crime.

Does this really sound like somewhere you should avoid visiting out of concerns for your safety?

The truth.

The truth is, Ethiopia is very safe.

I travelled throughout the country and did not feel in danger once. The welcome I received from most people were friendly and gregarious, and I saw no evidence that Ethiopia was any more dangerous than anywhere at home or in the West.

Yes of the risk of petty crime such as pickpocketing or opportunistic theft is always there just as it is anywhere else in the world, but use your common sense, take reasonable precautions for your own safety and security and you can reduce that risk to almost zero. More serious or violent crime is actually very rare, even more so when against Western travellers.

The more you take control of your own fate, the more you take steps to reduce the (already low) personal risk to yourself with the right knowledge and preparation, the safer you will be.

The biggest problems travellers are likely to face are being overcharged by a Bajaj (the Ethiopian word for the auto rickshaw or tuk tuk) driver or mobbed by touts and beggars, especially young children, and especially nearer touristy spots or in more rural, out of the way areas.

Is this annoying? Yes, sometimes, they can be very persistent.

Is it dangerous? No.

A lot of travellers are put off by this behaviour and can be extremely intimidated by it, I get it, I do, but it is all about perception. Just because it is intimidating it doesn’t make it dangerous.

The best way to deal with this, as always, is to ignore it if you can or treat it with patience and good humour if you can’t. Whatever you do don’t give in to any calls for money or gifts, it will just encourage the cycle of begging to tourists who will be seen as walking ATMs. You get this behaviour anywhere in the world, especially in developing nations, and it is nothing new, and whilst it can grate from time to time it is certainly not dangerous.

Ethiopia is safe.

Let me be very clear on this, Ethiopia in general is not a dangerous country to travel to. In fact as long as you take reasonable personal precautions just like you would at home it is a very safe country to travel in by any standards.

So by all means listen to to official advice and take heed of it, that is the sensible thing to do, but look a little bit deeper as well and use your own judgement. Decide for yourself what the personal level of risk is to you as an individual and takes steps to reduce it.

But whatever you do, don’t ever dismiss Ethiopia as a dangerous destination because of what the mass media says or any preconceived misconceptions, you will be doing it a great disservice and missing out on what is one of the most fascinating and beautiful countries in Africa.

What do you think? Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or please join in the discussion on my Facebook or Twitter pages on this important topic, and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons and spread the word.

If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

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Bemused Backpacker by Bemused Backpacker - 3w ago

Am I A Bad Backpacker? - YouTube

After 15 plus years of travelling the world I have probably made every travel mistake you can think of and then some at one point or another. But does that make me a bad traveller? What do you think?

And if you like what I am doing here then please feel free to head over to the channel on YouTube and hit those subscribe and thumbs up buttons, and as always you can still come and join in the conversation on social media too!

New videos will be up every Friday! (I know I replaced last weeks video with a personal article, but I hope you enjoyed that?) So make sure you come by and let me know what you think!

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Ethiopia is an independent backpackers dream. Cheap, fascinating and full of adventure, it is a perfect backpacking destination for any gap year traveller. But so few backpackers visit this amazing country despite an embarrassment of cultural, historical, geological and natural riches for them to explore. Here is why all travellers should be adding Ethiopia to their bucket lists. 

No longer held back by the past it is so often defined by, Ethiopia is growing fast. It is a country opening itself up to the world like never before and is ready to welcome intrepid and open minded backpackers to experience the beauty and diversity held within its borders.

Ethiopia is one of the world’s most unique, yet most overlooked destinations, and one that by all rights should be right up at the top of every gap year bucket list.

A completely landlocked country split in two by the Great Rift valley, it holds some of Africa’s most diverse and beautifully raw landscapes. Vast forests give way to unending Savannah’s and deserts. Churches have been carved into the top of mountains over 4000 metres above sea level overlooking starkly beautiful landscapes, whilst vast salt plains and volcanoes are sunken deep into the earth, ready to greet the traveller who dares to step down into the lowest point on the African continent in the Danakil Depression, giving intrepid adventurers the chance to gaze at both heaven and hell in one fell swoop!

With over a dozen national parks containing a staggering array of wildlife and with a history dating back over 3 million years , Ethiopia even has a legitimate claim to be one of the great birthplaces of civilisation, a fact recognized with one of the greatest collections of sites of historical, religious and cultural significance on the continent outside of Egypt, from the remains of Lucy, the oldest known human ancestor, to the ruined palace of the Queen of Sheba and even the supposed resting place of the Ark of the Covenant itself!

A grand total of 9 UNESCO World Heritage Sites are ready to greet travellers, from the famous rock hewn churches of Lalibella to the staggeringly picturesque Simien National Park, and a host of adventure travel opportunities to more sedate cultural experiences such as partaking in the hour long coffee ceremony are all part of the intricate DNA of the burgeoning tourism industry in Ethiopia that is only now starting to become truly established.

Shattering stereotypes.

Yet despite all of this Ethiopia is still not on the radar of most backpackers. Even many of those who consider themselves well travelled through Africa know very little of the country beyond out of date stereotypes fed by black and white, slow motion images of starving children every Christmas.

Thanks to paternalistic efforts by self serving musicians to combat famine in the early 80’s and enduring images in the media of poverty and civil unrest, Ethiopia often does not have a favourable stereotype in the West, and for those few who are actually aware of the country as a destination it is that stereotype that often strikes the country off many travellers must see lists.

And that is a terrible shame.

Ethiopia is far more than what you just see in the news. Overhyped stereotypes of civil war and political unrest barely have an actual reality for any traveller on the ground. It is an extremely proud nation that is quickly moving away from the problems of the past and is embracing a global future that has left the culture of paternal aid far behind, one that reflects the diverse, multicultural and fast moving developed world around it.

It is true that Ethiopia is still very much a developing nation, and yes poverty still does exist – to deny that would be foolish – but the focus should absolutely be on the suffix part of the word developing. Let me repeat that word and put it into the right context, developing, because that is exactly what the country is doing, and on a grand scale.

Ethiopia is growing fast, the Capital Addis Ababa is littered with huge construction projects, transport and infrastructure is growing on a grand scale and new internal air routes are opening up with the national carrier all the time making life much easier for travellers to get around. You can almost see the possibilities of what Ethiopia can become opening up in front of you.

The stereotypical images of poverty and famine in the past are changing to ones of hope and optimism.

The essence of adventure.

The truth is however that despite this huge growth Ethiopia is still not always the easiest place to travel. The infrastructure for travel is still not always perfect and the sheer size of the country makes getting around a time consuming and often backside numbing experience, the transport options – whilst improving rapidly thanks to quickly expanding internal air routes – are still not as extensive as they could be and can be hard on the spine when a bus is forced to turn into an all terrain vehicle, accommodation options are sometimes limited and rolling blackouts mean that travellers may have to rely on good old fashioned paperbacks and a head torch instead of the now ubiquitous wifi if they want to entertain themselves.

And the truth is, coupled with negative stereotypes this does put some travellers and a lot of tourists off, but it is so important to remember that all of these are not necessarily bad things.

Travel shouldn’t always be easy and given to you on a plate.

The very things that put so many travellers and tourists off coming to Ethiopia is for me at least one of the biggest reasons to come!

Travelling through Ethiopia harkens back to a more adventurous time in the backpacker world, when smartphones weren’t a thing and Lonely Planet was still relevant and considered ‘the bible’. A time when you could throw your pack on your back and just see what the world threw at you. A time when you could just turn up to a town that wasn’t in the guidebooks without a plan or a pre booked hotel and a safe and pre planned ‘adventure tour’.

And this is a good thing! This is travel that pushes you out of your comfort zone, challenges your perceptions and turns you into a damn travel superhero!

Ethiopia rewards the backpacker intrepid enough to cross into its borders with a renewed spirit of real adventure, a taste of a time long thought to be lost when the reason for travel was travel itself, not to get that exact same Instagram shot as everyone else.

Travel in Ethiopia is more than just travel, it is a salve for the soul filled with often unrequited and never fulfilled love for eternal wanderlust.

The fact that relatively few backpackers and travellers still don’t visit this amazing country is truly mind boggling, but it is also a huge bonus too. There are still a lot of tourist hotspots of course but it is very easy to get away from the crowds and the few travellers you do come across will be few and far between compared to countries with heavily established tourist industries.

Ethiopia is the definition of the road less travelled, and that alone is the very reason backpackers should be going! The stories you will gain from Ethiopia will be earned, they will mean something precisely because you will have had to leave your comfort zone to achieve them, and when you do, you can discover some of the most fascinating and diverse cultures, climates, landscapes and attractions on the planet.

And believe me there is so much to be discovered. There are archaeological and historical wonders in Aksum that rival anything in Egypt or Peru. Travellers like myself who are drawn to the past can spend days exploring the Northern Stelae field, a vast graveyard marked with huge monolithic structures and underground mausoleums, visit the Queen of Sheba herself in her now ruined palace or head to the church of St Mary of Zion, the home of the guardian of the Ark and the supposed last resting place of the famed Ark of the Covenant. A site that was for me the culmination of a childhood dream.

This connection to ancient history alone for me was reason enough to come to Ethiopia because to me the history of any given place, the connection to it’s past, is not only a way to satiate a passion for history and archaeology, but it can give a deeper connection to the culture of that place too.  I had travelled to Egypt specifically to see the Pyramids of Giza and every other archaeological wonder and treasure. I had visited Jerusalem and got lost in the past as I wandered through some of the most iconic sites in biblical Archaeology. I had gone in search of a lost ancient wonder in Greece and walked in the footsteps of the Incans, the Mayans and Aztecs in central and south America. I have wandered the world searching for the past, and Ethiopia gave me everything I had been looking for and then some.

There are even more recent historical masterpieces in Ethiopia that no traveller should miss. The iconic Bete Giyorgis, or the church of St. George, is the jewel in the crown of the famous churches of Lalibela. Carved fifteen metres deep into the rock itself, it is the seminal masterpiece of the rock hewn church tradition in the region and is the subject of much historical, spiritual and scholarly debate.

But Ethiopia is not just a museum filled tonic for the mind, there is more than enough adventure and excitement to keep even the most ardent adventure lover entertained too.

Want to go rock climbing? No problem. Hiking? You have your pick of vast national parks. Trekking into one of the deepest, volcano filled and most alien landscapes in the whole of Africa? Ethiopia has you covered!

A visit to the rock hewn churches of Tigray sounds exciting enough, until you find out that one of the most impressive, Abuna Yamata Guh, is spectacularly situated in a sheer cliff face at the top of a mountain, and getting there requires a challenging hike and finally climbing up that sheer mountain with ropes. Barefoot.

A feat that is more than worth it to find the famous rock hewn church at the top, and talk to the priest that still presides over it, handing down centuries of religious tradition and oral tales, passed down from generation to generation.

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A decade long quest across three countries on the trail of one of archaeology’s greatest treasures finally came to a conclusion in a small town in Ethiopia, where the search for the lost Ark of the Covenant led to an adventure of self discovery far greater than anything ever found by Indiana Jones himself. 

I have held a fascination with history and archaeology ever since my dad sat me in front of an Indiana Jones film when I was a child and was probably glad that for the first time in forever I finally shut up and gave him some peace! The explosions, gunplay and wild adventure through exotic locations stamped an indelible imprint on me so strong that it has guided everything I have done since.

My travels across the globe over the last fifteen years have not only been as adventurous as I could make them, with the Indiana Jones theme tune humming with wild abandon in my head and visions of a Bullwhip and Fedora in my mind every time I have trekked through a jungle, climbed a mountain, peeked inside an active volcano or found myself staring at an ancient tomb or archaeological wonder; they have also been influenced by my love of history, with adventures to see iconic treasures of the past and discover ancient wonders of the world for myself, and my love of history has grown with each destination I have been to.

But there has been no historical relic, perhaps with the exception of the Dead Sea Scrolls, that has captured my attention more than the legendary lost Ark of the Covenant.

Yes, that ark. The Ark of the Covenant. The Ark that for centuries has been considered one of the Bible’s most sacred objects. The religious antiquity that has been sought by everyone from the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon (after the Queens son supposedly did a runner with it) to Hitler himself and even Indiana Jones. Not to mention the countless thousands of scholars, historians, archaeologists treasure hunters and conspiracy theorists since.

This legendary Biblical treasure is the ornate chest, built in the time of Noah by the Israelites to house the stone tablets the Ten Commandments themselves had been carved into. Legend describes it as a large chest, made of gold covered acacia wood and topped with two solid gold Cherubim on each side of a mercy seat, with two golden poles permanently fixed inside four golden rings on each side.

Mount Sinai, Egypt.

My story started on the top of Mount Sinai itself. I had spent most of the past week in Al Minya, the tiny little town at the foot of the mountain that had sprung up around St. Catherine’s monastery, the supposed home to the legendary Burning Bush.

I don’t know why I had been putting of climbing the mountain. I had watched the hoards of tourists arrive in their busloads every single night after midnight, ready to lift their overweight carcasses onto a poor camel’s back to get to the summit before the sunrise.  But night after night I kept putting it off.

I was spending my days hiking in the mountains around the small town. Telling only the long suffering owner of the guesthouse I was staying in which direction I was heading in and returning every afternoon for the small portion of chicken and rice that the one little restaurant in town served. I wasn’t being purposely monastic, I was actually dying for a Pizza but chicken and rice was usually all they had.

Truth be told I was enjoying the self imposed solitary confinement. It was peaceful knowing that there was no one else for miles around every day, a soothing balm for a soul that needed it at the time.

But I was doing a lot of reading too. Every evening when I came back I sat on the porch of my room and read. I had a few books with me at the time. Paperbacks. Those things people used to carry before eReaders and ubiquitous wifi. I was writing my novel at the time too, so occasionally I would sit and jot down half a chapter or so in a small notepad, but mostly I read.

I read about the pyramids, archaeology, ancient history and alternative theories to the academic text books and the bible. I read about the Holy Grail and the Knights Templar. And finally, I read about the Ark of the Covenant.

I didn’t go out hiking the day after I read that book. I slept in late, and didn’t wake until after dinner. I continued reading that book for the rest of the afternoon, allowing it to fill my head with stories of the Ark of the Covenant. That very same iconic treasure that I had watched melt the face off Nazi treasure hunters when I was a child, in the movies anyway. That same iconic treasure that I had grown up reading about in the library when I should have been in school (yes I know I was the only schoolchild in history to bunk off and go to the library!)

That night I decided to climb Mount Sinai. It was after all the original reason I had caught the bus from Cairo almost a week earlier. So after midnight I set off, torch strapped to my head and water and supplies in my small pack as always.

I didn’t set a particularly fast pace, I took my time climbing the signposted route and by the time I had reached a naturally flat rest stop almost two thirds of the way up where locals had set up a small business selling overpriced drinks and blankets to naive and under prepared tourists, the earliest of the tour groups from Sharm El Sheik had caught up with me.

I know, at some point I will hang my head in shame.

But given that I had spent the last week being antisocial I saw no reason to stop now and carried on as they were swamped with the touts who had been waiting for them, climbing the final 750 or so steps, those same steps that Moses was said to have walked, to the summit itself where I found myself a quiet spot in the darkness and waited for the sun to rise.

The sunrise was spectacular, ruined a bit by the crowds from the numerous sunrise tours and the noise they created, but still spectacular nonetheless. But it wasn’t the sunrise that my mind was occupied with. It was the fact that this was where Moses supposedly received the Ten Commandments. Those famed stone tablets that have a central part in the mythology of the three Abrahamic religions.

But I am far from being religious and I am not exactly a penitent man. It wasn’t the scripture that was holding my interest.

This was the spot where the legend of the Ark of the Covenant began.

The quest begins.

The story of how the Ark was made on Mount Sinai and the Israelite’s exodus from Egypt to the promised land has become one of the most famous tales in the Bible, it tells of how during their long voyage and bereft of any places to worship, they were bestowed with a gift from God. An Ark.

The Ark of the Covenant.

But this was more than just a repository for the stone tablets that Moses had carved the ten commandments into. This was a weapon of war. A weapon of God. In the words of Marcus Brody the Bible speaks of the Ark leveling mountains and laying waste to entire regions, and according to the Book of Exodus this was the earthly seat of God himself.

It is easy to see how such a powerful object became to be revered for those who believed, and how it in and of itself was held sacred by so many. But for an object so powerful, so holy, how could it just disappear of the face of the Earth?

The Ark’s Journey. 

According to the Book of Exodus, the Ark was carried by the Levi priests through what is now modern day Jordan. Every night the Ark was placed in a portable shrine known as the Tabernacle, most likely according to most historians a large tent with seperate sections inside, the innermost of which was the Holy of Holy’s where the Ark itself was placed.

Eventually after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, the Israelite’s found their way to Jerusalem, a place they could finally call home and where the Ark was hidden away.

Israel. 

Israel, and especially Jerusalem, like Egypt, was another bucket list destination for me because of its history and archaeology. Not just because it was once one of the resting places of the Ark of the Covenant of course, but this for me was the chance to walk in the footsteps of  Crusader knights, to see the famed Dead Sea Scrolls up close, and to connect on a personal level with the history and events that forged the beginnings of modern Western theology and society.

And this is why despite having a great time exploring the modern side of the city, eating and drinking at the Mehane Yahuda market, shopping at the First Station and generally discovering what a great city it is, I found my deepest connection with the Holy City to be in its past.

I felt like a kid in a sweet shop in Jerusalem, where the most modern site I visited was the 16th Century ramparts built by Suleiman the Magnificent. I walked the same streets that Jesus himself is said to have preached and eventually carried the cross to his own Crucifixion, I walked in the footsteps of the Crusader Knights and visited the Mount of Olives and the Dome of the Rock, and even though I am not religious, I even left a prayer in the Western Wall.

I even fulfilled another childhood dream and saw the world famous Dead Sea Scrolls up close in the Shrine of the Book at the Israel museum. My inner geek nearly exploded when I even managed to get a tour by Dr Adolfo Roitman, the curator of the museum and the scrolls.

But despite all this history, all this culture surrounding me, I was most excited to see one temple above all others. Or at the very least the place where it once stood.

According to most Biblical archaeologists the Ark of the Covenant arrived in Jerusalem around 1000 BCE, under the rule of King David, and unsurprisingly was the cause of a war between the Israelite’s and the Philistines, who at one point even gained control of it. Eventually it was returned to the Israelites and under the command of King Solomon, was housed in one of Israel’s first temples.

The Temple of Solomon.

Solomon’s Temple was said to have been built around the Ark itself to the same design as the Tabernacle that had housed it during all those years in the wilderness. It was in the central shrine, the Holy of Holy’s, where the Ark was kept.

But as always happens it wasn’t long before the shadow of war crept up on Israel again. This time it was the Babylonians who invaded Israel, and this is where the story of the Ark gets really complicated, and all official mention of it in the Bible or any other texts cease.

The Temple Mount.

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Culture shock is something most backpackers and travellers will deal with at some point, but if not recognized and dealt with properly it can really ruin your trip, or at the extreme even lead to some serious mental health problems. So how can backpackers deal with and beat culture shock on their gap year?

The trick to beating culture shock is recognising when you are experiencing it in the first place. Culture shock can present itself in a variety of emotional and psychological ways and isn’t always identified as such, especially when you are already dealing with the confusion and disorientation of new cultures, new norms and new everything. After that, the key is to have a variety of tools and ways to help you deal with it.

Stay connected.

As time goes on and you get used to your new surroundings you will probably need to call home less and less, but for the first couple of weeks of your gap year adventure there is absolutely nothing wrong with making a few extra skype calls back home.

Take it easy.

One of the biggest contributors to culture shock is trying to do too much too soon. When you are already feeling overwhelmed, confused and disorientate by new norms, customs and cultures, trying to cram a load of sightseeing and doing into that mix will just make it worse, so take it easy for a while. Take a few days at the start of your trip to rest up after your flight and acclimatize to your surroundings, take a day or two off from travelling to have a ‘you day’ from time to time.

Indulge in the familiar. 

When everything is new it can be really comforting to have something familiar to hand. This isn’t anything specific, it can be a favourite well thumbed novel, a photo of loved ones, a favourite playlist on your phone, whatever. It can even be searching out a restaurant with your favourite comfort food (local food is always awesome but there isn’t anything wrong with variety either). Remember that what you are feeling is absolutely normal and staying grounded with familiar things can help you feel more normal again.

Exercise.

Exercise is a well documented and long proven way to lift your mood and is always a great way to combat any stress and negative thoughts, all feelings that contribute to culture shock. Fortunately being out on a gap year is a great way to get fit and keep fit, with so many jungle and mountain treks on offer and so many beaches to run on and go for a swim at.

Remember that it is normal and it is a good thing.

Feeling a little culture shock is absolutely normal when you first start travelling, and everyone will experience it to some extent. It isn’t just you.

The best thing about culture shock is the fact that it is a good thing in the long run, it is a vital part of your personal development and growth. It can challenge your own perceptions, make you rethink and even change your paradigms as you are faced with norms and cultures very different from your own, and you will come out of the other side of it with a much broader world view than when you began.

As time goes on you will need these comfort tactics less and less as you will become increasingly comfortable in your new surroundings and get a lot better at adapting to your new backpacking lifestyle, but at the start of your trip when everything is new and culture shock is threatening to settle in, use these tools to help smooth the transition into the awesome, world travelling, professional adventuring backpacker that you will become.

What do you think? Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or please join in the discussion on my Facebook or Twitter pages on this important topic, and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons and spread the word.

If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

A Guide For Settling Into The Backpacking Lifestyle.

How To Deal With Homesickness On Your Gap Year.

How To Deal With Reverse Culture Shock After Your Gap Year.

How To Make Friends And Meet People When Travelling Solo.

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Why Everyone Should Travel Solo At Least Once - YouTube

Solo travel is one of the best ways to travel the world. I get that it can be intimidating for many first time backpackers but it really isn’t that bad, and the majority of travellers end up loving it! Watch the video to see exactly why everyone should travel solo at least once!

I would love to hear all your thoughts and comments so don’t be shy! Come over and join in the conversation!

And if you like what I am doing here then please feel free to head over to the channel on YouTubeand hit those subscribe and thumbs up buttons, and as always you can still come and join in the conversation on social media too!

New videos will be up every Friday! So make sure you come by and let me know what you think!

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