Maren & Kirk

Travel Tips

Just a few things we learned along the way that might help others in planning their travels and which things one should look out for on the road.


- If going to Syria try not to get your Visa for Syria in Istanbul.  It cost 100 $ for Americans and Germans 60 $.  At the borders the Syrians are issuing visa's for much less.  The problem is that you never know which price is correct.  When w reentered Syria from Lebanon to Damascus,  I paid 16 $ and Maren 8 dollars for a a transit Visa.  So We ended up paying almost 180 dollars just for entering Syria.  They make you pay!


- If you are traveling in Lebanon and want to get from Tripoli to Baalbek, and the mountain passages are closed,  try taking the northern route.  It is a beautiful scenic route that you will enjoy.  There is no bus service between Qoubayet and Hermel, but it is easy to hitch.  We got a ride within 5 minutes.  It is a little longer than the route via Beirut,  but it is something a little different.

- In Tripoli stay at the Pension Haddad.  A great place to relax where the Haddad family will make you feel at home.  

Traveling from Jordan to Israel via the King Hussein Bridge

- After you cross the border to Israel  you have two options to get to Jerusalem,  the first is the easy way, you can take a service taxi for around 6 JD or you can take a Bus via Jericho.  The later is the wrong choice if you are on your own.  In Jericho you will have to find a taxi you will bring you to the border of Jerusalem,  where you will have to get a service taxi or minibus to your next destination.  It is a lot hassle and you only safe a dollar or so if you bargain well.  For the two of us it saved us 5 dollars together.

Common Sense in all countries

- If you want to save money,  make sure you ask around bit to find out the right price for food, hotel, transport, and services.  You find that the prices will differ dramatically for the same thing.  Even a bottle of water will differ in price from over 100% from the actual price. Little things will save you a lot of money in the long run. 


- When reading about traveling, one always reads that one should keep their gear to a minimum.  Well that is true and we can not emphasis this enough.  Our main mistake was to buy a backpack that was to large.  When you have so much space, one naturally has a tendency to use it even if you thought you are packing sparingly.  We were sure we had packed the minimum required for our trip,  but as you can see from our packing list,  we have already sent quite a lot back home already (ca. 13 Kilos),  and we are not done yet.  We also going to ruin our budget and buy new backpacks which are lighter,  but most important smaller and easier to handle.  A major problem with us is that we have a lot of electronic equipment with us and that has to definitely has stay with us.  We are are just going to send back the extra batteries.  The rule of thumb when traveling is "pack your backpack and then take only one half of it with you".  Check out our packing list page to see what we have packed and sent home.

Cairo Egypt - Taking the bus to the Pyramids

 - When traveling to the Pyramids we recommend taking the local bus number 997 to Giza.  It leaves from the bus station behind the Egyptian Museum all day long.  It also costs about 25 piasters per person.  Much cheaper than a taxi or the bigger A/C buses.

Felucca Tour on the Nile

- We recommend you try to take along your own food and water.  They wash their dishes in the Nile and use tap water even if they say or promise otherwise.   Everything is very dirty and you have a good chance of getting sick.  Secondly.  watch your belongings,  and make sure all your money is close to you.  Two guys on our trip had money missing in the morning.

Travel in Eritrea and to Djibouti

- First thing,  as of 07.06.01 the borders with Ethiopia are closed.  There is no way to get over them.  We talked with the UN Command Post here in Asmara and they said there was no possibility to go overland to Ethiopia.  The cheapest option is to fly to Djibouti and take a train from there to Ethiopia.  The Visas will set you back 40 US$ and for a one way ticket 145 US$.  There might be a possibility to go over land to Djibouti,  but there is no border crossing,  and you will not get a entry stamp in your passport,  which will give you problems later.  It is also very questionable if you will make it that far.  The best option is to fly.  However you will have some problems getting a one way ticket.  The travel agencies will only sell you a round trip ticket.  We went back to the extremely helpful Djibouti Embassy.  They were really nice and helpful and were very willing to help you get around this red tape.  You can ask for either Ellen or Lidya (Tel: 125990) and they will help you.  They actually called around to explain to different travel agencies that it was no problem for the Embassy to issue one way tickets to non residents to Djibouti.  Most travel agencies just were inflexible,  mostly because they were working with Eritrean Airlines who are completely inflexible and the manager quite rude and fake.  Lidya finally found the Adulis Shipping Marine Cargo Company (across the Sunshine Hotel) which issued us a ticket.  We recommend strongly that you do not even try to go to the Eritrean Airlines office on Liberation Avenue,  they are not helpful at all and very arrogant.  The most pleasant surprise for us  was how helpful the Djibouti Embassy was.  This was a great pleasure,  since considering our experiences with other Embassies.

Bus Rides in Ethiopia

- First of all make sure you buy your tickets the day before departure.  If not you have a good chance not to get on the bus.  Second is that you will have to pay extra for your luggage if it is put on the roof + a tip for the baggage handler.  The fee varies from town to town and they will probably charge you more if you are a foreigner. Third is to try to get a seat not in the back and not in the way front of the bus.  In the back you will go flying on every bump,  and there are a lot of them on the mostly unpaved roads up north. Up front you will get the exhaust and heat from the motor.  Fourth is to make sure you are ready for long long bus rides.  They will do travel a maximum of 400 KM in 10 hours and that is the best time.   Fifth,  expect to pay double than what the locals pay for your overnight stay in the hotels.  Sixth,  all bus leave between 5:00 am and 6:00 am in the morning,  so get your alarm clock at 4:30 am for the whole time you are in Ethiopia!   If you do not have much time and you are not on a strict budget you might want to fly,  though you will miss some fantastic scenery along the way. (Flights start at around 50 US$)

Finally the Ethiopian have this weird idea that if you open the windows during the bus ride,  it will make you sick.  So when someone reaches over and shuts your window,  you have to live with it.  It does not matter how much it stinks,  how much carbon dioxide has built up,  if people are throwing up around you,  even if it stinks worse than an outhouse,  they will not open the windows.    


- Moyale to Isiolo:  If you are coming from Ethiopia overland you have to jump onto a truck convoy from Moyale to Isiolo.  The trucks leave everyday from the Kenyan side of the border at 9:00 am.  You can get your exit  stamps from the Ethiopian customs the day before and sleep in Ethiopian Moyale the night before.  At 8:00 am the Kenyan customs open where you can get your 50 US$ visa.  The price for the truck ride is around  1000 KSh depending on where you sit.  We sat up top on the truck.  We recommend however that you try and get a cabin seat inside unless you are really tough.  The ride is long and dusty.  We traveled on a cattle transport which was most uncomfortable ride around.  The first night you stop in Marsabit.  There you can should pay from 100 KSh to 400 KSh depending on the cleanliness and number beds in the room.

- Malaria Pills:  You have to start taking Malaria pills a week before you come to Kenya.  So you have to get the pills before you leave.  However in Kenya we paid 90 % less than in Germany for Lariam Malaria Pills.  They were extremely inexpensive. 

-  Bargain hard for everything.  Starting with hotels to safaris, to climbing Mt. Kenya. The price is most of the time more than you should pay.  They want your business and will probably drop their price when you say you will look around first. 

-  Climbing Mt. Kenya:  Your guide makes all the difference so choose carefully. It is often better to ask other travelers you have met on the way.   A full package contains a guide, porters, a cook  (the guide often serves as the cook too), and three meals a day.  The usual route from Nanyuki is the Sirimon Route up and the Chogoria Route down. The Chogoria Route is the more Scenic Route.  At the time of writing the prices start at around 30 to 35 US$ a day per person,  depending on how hard you bargain.  You also should pay between 3 and 5 US$ a day to each porter and guide as a tip.  Of course only if you think they deserved it.  This is expected and is a major part of the porter and guides earnings for the trip.  We were disgusted when we met some girls you said they just will not pay a tip no matter how good the service is.  You should calculate the tip into the price of the trip!

Namibia/South Africa

- In Namibia and South Africa it is almost impossible to see everything in a short amount of time unless you have your own transportation.  The public transport system is not very good.  We rented a car, just because it would be the cheapest and easiest way to see the sights we wanted to see in a short amount of time.  One could also go on organized tours.  However it will probably be cheaper for two people to rent a car.  Also you are more flexible.   If you have plenty of unlimited time,  you could probably get around eventually.

South Africa

- In South Africa watch out  when using the ATM Machines.  You might suddenly find yourself surrounded by young guys telling you they work for the Bank and are there to help you.  They will also start giving you tips on how to use the machine and how to press the buttons.  They are trying to confuse you to rob you.  It is quite a scary situation.  It happened to Kirk 4 times in a row when he tried to use 4 different ATM machines in different towns.   We finally found one that had a real security guard watching the ATM with a machine gun.  Kirk was lucky he did not get mugged!


- A small tip: India has a huge selection of used guide books from around the world.  They are much cheaper, and do the job for the most part.

- Scams: Just watch out for scams, they are all over the place and constant.  In India it is hard to keep your patients once and a while. The touts are very persistent and will not leave you alone. So just watch out, you will find that most of the people coming up to are trying to somehow get to you money, no matter how nice they seem.

Nepal -Tibet

- The tour operators have a monopoly on getting to Tibet from Nepal and they work together. Officially there are only 4 operators in Kathmandu Nepal and the rest filter the people to one of these four tour operators.  First of all, they all lie through there teeth.  The going rates change, how long one is allowed to stay, if one uses jeeps or buses and where one sleeps for the night.  Also they promise to hand out the bus or plane ticket before the tour leaves but hardly give a voucher before you leave.  Try and get your return ticket before you leave.  That will save a lot off trouble later on trying to get your Tibetan guide to get your ticket for you. The tour operator in Tibet does not think he is responsible for anything.  We went with Green Hill in Kathmandu. They were recommended by a few people. However they too lied and did not tell us the truth.  So you can not trust anybody their either.  However it is worth traveling to Tibet. The sights and the people make up for the hassles. Just make sure you get in writing what you were offered.  It is important that you know what you are getting yourself into!

China to Hong Kong

- If you come from the Peoples Republic of China to Hong Kong and want to go back to the Peoples Republic you will have to get a new Visa for China if you do not have a multiple entry visa.  Our guide book did not mention this, so it was a surprise to us.


- Before you come to Vietnam, make sure you get your bargaining gloves on.  One has to bargain for everything and anything one wants to buy. They seem to never give you the real price the first time. They often seem to start at 3 times the actual amount for some things.  Even if a Vietnamese person buys something right before you and you see what that person pays, they will quote a different price to you. So watch out.

Indonesia Bali

- Watch out for money changers. The first thing to do is to shop around. The second is, make sure you count your money.  We were almost ripped off.  The guy exchanging the money counted the money in front of us and we even counted the money he gave us, but he managed in the end to make 200000 Indonesian Rupees from our money disappear. Thank god that Kirk counted the money again before we left the office and noticed the mistake. The guy somehow was able to take the money from the pile without us seeing. Even though Kirk held his eye on the money the whole time he thought.   When the guy realized we noticed he put another number in the calculator and pretended dumb, but did not argue with us when Kirk yelled a few obscenities at him.  He knew he was caught.  What was weird to begin with was at his place he had an exchange rate higher than the official exchange rate.  So with the money changers like this one that post great exchange rates, beware and count your money before you leave!


- If you are going to Australia for over 6 weeks and will be traveling around, buy a car or van.  The bus tickets are very expensive and one will have to pay for expensive tours to go to national parks.  One is also much more flexible and if one has a van one can sleep for free in the outback, which also saves a lot of money. We also recommend buying or bringing a tent.  Backpacker hostels are quite expensive and one will save money camping.  Of course buying a vehicle is a risky proposition,  since one normally buys an old vehicle that has traveled around Australia a few times.  Get a RAC inspection before you buy.  We did not and 5000 km later our engine blew.  In all major cities the Backpacker hostels have bulletin boards with adds from travelers trying to sell their car.  One can get the best deals from people who are desperate to sell because they are leaving Australia. So look around and try and find out when they are leaving.  The best license plates and registration to have are from Western Australia.   One can renew everything through the mail and the internet. One does not have to be in WA to do that. 


- Lima Peru: Watch out for yourself and your stuff. Especially around the bus area. Maren had her watch ripped off her wrist right outside the bus station. Take a taxi to your destination.  We actually got the watch back, but immediately going after the perpetrators, but that was the adrenaline speaking not Kirk's head.  Basically be on the lookout. We have heard many horror stories about Lima Peru and Quito Ecuador.  Be always on the lookout and do not carry anything of value with you if possible.

- Machu Pichu / Inca Trail:  There is now a new rule stating that one can only trek the Inca Trail with a tour group.  There is no possibility of doing it on your own again.  After asking about 20 tour operators we finally got on that allowed us to carry our own tent and food for a reduced price. We paid 95 US$ each, not including the train fair back to Cusco.  The cheapest fairs start at 160 US$ going up to around 240 US$.   IT seemed the more one paid the better the guide was.  Students under 25 with ISIC card get a 25 US$ discount.   The 160 US$ to 240 US$ price includes entrance fee of 30 US$ for the Inca Trail, 20 US$ admission price to Machu Pichu Ruins, Train back to Cusco, Guide, Porters that carry your tent and food and 3 meals a day.  The 95 US$ for us included the guide, entrance fees, and nothing else.  Our Tour operator was called:

Flamenco Travel

Plaza de Armas

Cusco Peru

Tel: 084 224176

email: flamencotravel@latinmail.com


They are not the best, but they will allow you to carry your own gear.  Make sure you bargain with them. We heard and saw that SAS travel does a really good j, but they are fairly expensive.  The cheaper priced tours also start much later than the more expensive tours. The more expensive tours get entry to the trail early in the morning, while the cheap tours get access to the trail in the afternoon. Also all the rumors about the the Inca Trail being overcrowded are true.  There are a lot of people going on these tours. 

Bolivia (Salar de Uyuni and Laguna Colorada. )

- Here is a fact: You get what you pay for. We picked the cheapest as possible.  One realizes the difference right away.   First the food is much better on the more expensive tours and they will not run out of food and tea. Second you will probably have heating in your vehicle, which is much needed over 4000 meters above sea level.  Otherwise the tour of Salar de Uyuni and Laguna Colorada are well worth it and the scenery is spectacular. We paid around 60 US$ per person, while the more expensive tours were around 75 US$ to 85 US$.  These prices include entrance to the national park.


- It is real easy to obtain student cards in Santiago Chile, all one has to show is your tourist card and passport to the student and youth hostel travel office there and pay 7000 Pesos (10.7 US$).  Just make sure you when filling out the tourist card when entering the country, you put student as your occupation.   This will enable you to get a real ISIC International student card which will save you a lot of money if you are flying out of Chile on airfares.  The prices for flights are around 40 % cheaper for students.





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