13 bad-ass South East Asia backpacking tips for ladies

13 bad-ass South East Asia backpacking tips for ladies

backpacking tips for ladies

Have you ever wanted to go on a challenging trip into the wilderness or to test yourself on a long adventure to remote lands? I know that limited access to western comforts (such as a hot shower or –just saying- a room with a window) might seem scary if you never backpacked before. But with the right clues, even a long trip through dirt cheap hostels and sketchy bungalows can be comfortable.

Today I share my backpacking tips for ladies and my must-bring items for all the wannabe bad-ass female travellers out there. Some of the points might also be useful for men, but most of them are for dha cool ladies out there. If you are really clueless on what to bring on your trip, check out my South East Asia packing list.

backpacking tips for ladies

1. Always carry a toilet paper roll with you

Yes, yes. More than half of the world actually survives without using toilet paper (say what?!) In rural Asia you will never find it in public restrooms, toilet paper being a rare sight even in restaurants or stations. So better be safe than sorry and always carry one roll in your backpack. Watch out: toilet paper is actually considered a luxury item in developing countries. Only tourists use it, therefore it is pretty expensive compared to the rest of the toiletries.

2. Embrace the bum gun

If you’re new to the notion, please go google it and come back. The bum gun is basically a weird hose hanging behind the toilet seat. If used properly it can be of great help, considering the shortage of toilet paper. Sometimes you’ll also find the cheaper version of the bum gun, aka the bucket + the plastic pan. This might seem even scarier but gurl, there will be times that you will need it. But that’s also why you should always carry wet wipes as well.

3. Bring a padlock and a bike locker for trains

Almost every hostel has some sort of personal safe or drawer that you can use to store your valuables or even your full backpack. This is more than great, but the bad news is that it never comes with a padlock. That’s why you need to bring your own from home. Just don’t bring a massive one: it probably won’t fit. If you’re travelling on a night train, like in India, consider bringing a bike lock to secure your backpack to your bench.

backpacking tips for ladies

4. Give shampoo bars a try – unless you have curly long hair

I’ve tried to like shampoo bars. I actually really wanted to like them! I turned to shampoo bars because no matter how few liquids I carry, one will always spill and make a mess in my beauty case. The thing is that no matter how fancy they might be (I used to buy the Lush ones) they won’t be creamy enough for curly hairs. Leave alone if you have long hair and you’re constantly in a tropical humid climate and/or in and out the ocean surfing. Big no for me, unfortunately. BUT! If you’re one of those lucky girls with naturally silky air, go for it! A shampoo bar (Lush also sell “conditioners”) can last up to a month!

5. Mini flat iron + mini hairdryer

This is my guilty pleasure. But in my defence I can say that I’ve tried to live without those for a year and a half, while I was a long-term traveller and man, it didn’t work. I have quite messy hair and, unless I want to constantly have them up in a bun, I really need some trusted styling tools. Imetec does these beautiful tiny versions that are carry-on friendly.

6. Bring a clothesline with a few pegs

On a normal basis, I will gladly benefit from the lovely ladies that take care of your laundry for a few dollars in Asia. I personally think it’s a nice way to contribute to the local women’s small business. Thus said, your laundry will usually take at least 24h to be ready. Sometimes you just don’t have that time. Because you’re staying only one night in a place or because you honestly run out of panties completely. I’ve been there many times and that’s when a clothesline comes in handy. You can quickly wash a few t-shirts and undies and hang them on the roof of your hostel or on a balcony. Or even inside of your room in desperate situations.

backpacking tips for ladies

7. Ditch the common flip-flops and invest in a pair of Birkenstock

Constantly walking in flip flops will seriously hurt your back sooner or later. On the other hand, Birkenstock will always feel comfortable, even on mild hiking trails. My first pair followed me for a year and a half of jungle hikes, desert crossing, city walks and even nights out. The fact that they have a decent sole will actually take your feet out of the mud (or worse) in many situations.

8. Buy a local sim card if you’re staying 3+ weeks

Having an internet connection to be able to find your bearings on a map, to use online translators or to call the hostel can be vital when travelling. Especially as a solo woman. And even when it’s not vital, it so damn practical. We use google maps and our telephones for everything at home, why shouldn’t we when in a foreign country. Sim cards in Asia are usually super cheap and easy to get on side-road technology shops.

9. Bring your snorkelling mask from home

I always, always forget my mask home just to be pissed when I’m on a beautiful beach with no snorkelling rent operation in sight. If you like snorkelling it’s a must. With your own mask, you will actually be able to snorkel everywhere (for free) and not only went booking a snorkelling trip. Also, the quality of rented masks can be pretty poor, and having your own won’t take up too much space in your backpack.

backpacking tips for ladies

10. Scan your passport and ID card, then email it to yourself and print it

I always suggest to carry photocopies of your passport and important documents with you, but also to email it to yourself. The email is actually the safest option, but you might need a copy of your passport handy in places where’s there not a copy shop in sight for kilometres.

11. Travel pillow + earplugs + sleeping mask

This is the sacred trinity for sleeping in hostels or on planes/public transports. After a long day of travelling, the last thing you want is to stay awake because of someone else snoring or the complete lack of curtains. Always bring your sleeping kit with you and you will sleep like a baby.

12. Bring condoms

One of the most important backpacking tips for ladies is: Bring condoms. Condoms are not so easy to find in out-of-the-beaten-track destinations in Asia. Which -funny story- is EXACTLY where handsome backpackers end up to! That’s why you should bring your little reserve from home and restock when possible. Still in doubt? Picture this: do you really want to explain to a shy rural pharmacist that only speaks Burmese what you mean by “condom?!”

13. Try the moon cup

This is tricky. I know that moon cups are a bit scary for many women, but many others (myself included) find it revolutionary. It personally took me a while to get comfortable with it, but in the long run, taking the time to get used to it was a great choice. First of all, they are made of silicone which is way less irritating than tampons and pads. Secondly, you will never again run out of pads when in far-out locations or on Sunday mornings when every damn shop is closed. Third, it’s the most environmentally friendly choice you can made period-wise. Now. Sterilising can be tricky when travelling, as you may not be able to use a clean pot and a stove to boil your cup in. But FEAR NOT, I got you covered. Milton sterilizing pills (the ones that are used for baby’s pacifiers) can be used in a regular plastic container and will sterilize your cup in 15 minutes.

Ninja Packing: how to travel with a 6kg carry on

Ninja Packing: how to travel with a 6kg carry on

south east asia packing list

Ninja Packing is a fine art that you can master with time and experience. As a former long-term traveller, I learned the hard way that the less the better, even if travelling for shorter trips. Travelling with a carry on can be more than sufficient for most destinations and will allow you freedom of movement while sparing you a lot of stress.

The priciple of ninja packing is that the less you carry the less you’ll stress. Carrying around plenty of clothes means struggling with the weight when travelling and stressing out when trying to figure out the right outfit. On the other hand, carrying less allows you to have a few stress-free, preplanned outfits that you just have to wash more frequently. Laundry is usually cheap and easy worldwide and, trust me, an extra laundry is better than carrying around plenty of smelly clothes just because you have enough.

Ninja packing is not an exact science though. Wheater conditions, planned activities, sports and the lenght of the trip can make a huge difference. Thus said, over the years I fine-tuned my basic South East Asia packing list (or for warm Countries in general) and I’m pretty happy with my less than 6kg carry on 50L backpack.

south east asia packing list
south east asia packing list

How to choose the right backpack

I travel with a Decathlon 50L backpack with front zipper and rain cover (bought separately). The front zipper is key, because it allows you see the full content of your backpack if you pack it properly. I find the 50L size super flexible. In its full capacity it can be used as a hold luggage for long trips or for journeys that need both light and warm clothes. When used for warmer climates though, it can be filled partially (all external pockets must be empty) and actually fits as a carry on.

I also carry a daypack that can be folded and put away when on planes. This one varies depending on the trip. If I have to hike a lot, I will take a proper outdoor backpack and if I have to carry my laptop I will have a properly padded one. In this case I’m stayng two weeks in Portugal and I wanted something sturdy enough to go hiking and at the beach, but also nice enough to be weared with dress and sandals at night.

Being sure that all your clothes,
shoes and accessories match
is a key point of ninja packing

My South East Asia packing list

Clothes

4 panties + 2 pairs of socks + 2 bras

2 t-shirts

2 shorts

2 beach robes

1 sleeping T-shirt

1 dress

1 long trousers

1 light sweater

1 rain jacket

1 comfy shoes + Birkenstock + plastic flip flops

Personal Care

Travel toothbrush + toothpaste

Bar of soap + mini shampoo and conditioner

Mascara + concealer + pencil eyeliner + lipstick

Mini deodorant

Disposable razor

Brush

Mini SPF + Mini aloe cream for burns + SPF lipbalm

Mosquito repellent (with +50% DEET)

Mini hair straightener

Condoms (they're not so easy to find in SEA)

Travel essentials

Sleeping mask + Ear plugs

Sunglasses

Locker for hostels

Head lamp

Inflatable travel pillow

Moneybelt

Camera / Iphone / Kindle + chargers

Medicines

Maalox (antacid)

Dissenten (anti-diarrheal)

Buscopan (antispasmodic for angry bellies)

Ciproxin (broad-spectrum antibiotics)

Cortisone cream (for insects sting or burns)

Antihistaminic (for allergic reactions)

Paracetamol + Ibuprofen (painkillers / fever treatment)

Disinfectant + Plasters

Life-saving tips to travel in South East Asia by motorbike

Life-saving tips to travel in South East Asia by motorbike

South East Asia by motorbike

This is not a post for people that have never driven a scooter in their lives and decide to give it a try in Ko Phangan to reach the Full Moon Party. Which, by the way, it’s something that I don’t recommend considering that Ko Phangan has probably the steepest roads of Thailand, usually followed by sharp turns. You’ll see plenty of bandaged backpackers there; they call it “the Thai kiss”. Anyway, this post is for the experienced drivers, the ones that are comfortable with bike riding at home and want to travel independently and adventurously. Long distance travel by motorbike in South East Asia is for motorbike lovers, those who do not fear dust, misadventures and a fair amount of super-fast and life-challenging decision making.

If you fit this description, check out my guide for travelling around South East Asia by motorbike!

Getting the bike:

  • Get an international driving licence before you leave home. Not that it’s really needed, but this is just one of the trillions of excuses that a local policeman will find to fine you.
  • Make sure that your travel insurance covers motorbike accidents.
  • If possible, rent (or buy) from a local place that has been suggested to you by fellow travellers (either online or live). This way you will probably find a seller / renter that speaks English and is kinda trustable. Otherwise, if you feel rich, rent from a foreigner business. You will find them in major cities. They are definitely twice or trice more expensive than local business but you will actually get insurance and a customer service.
  • Choose the most common model on the market. In Asia it’s Hondas. Choosing a common model is fundamental to be able to find spare parts easily along the journey (yes, the bike will break down, it’s a matter of fact).
South East Asia by motorbike
  • If your bike breaks down, you will have to pay for the mechanic even if it’s not your fault and you just rented it 2 days ago. Don’t be afraid, it’s usually minor fixies that will cost you a few dollars. Anyway, it’s always a good idea to have the mechanic to call the renter. This way they can agree on the solution to the bike problem and you’ll probably get a better deal.
  • If the bike gets stolen, you’ll have to pay for it. Same for accidents. This is always true, road insurance is almost never included (it never was in my experience)
  • It is normal to leave your passport to the renter as an insurance that you won’t stole the bike. It’s a common practice that everyone requests. Just take a big breath and trust the renter (but carry photocopies on you). If you’re pulled over, the police will ask for your licence but is well aware that the renter has probably kept your passport as a guarantee.
  • Renting from locals is cheap, but you won’t have a big choice of bikes. Usually they rent only 100cc or, when you’re lucky, 250cc up to 600cc (that only happens in the most tourist destinations like Bali). If you’re planning a long trip, rent one bike per person. Please don’t assume that you can travel with your girlfriend behind you just because you do it back home. Even if you rent the biggest and “comfiest” bike, you will still have to secure some luggage behind the passenger. The restricted space, the dust, corrugated or semi paved roads and the hectic traffic will be a little too much if you’re travelling on the same bike of your partner. I tell you this from experience.
  • Always ask for a helmet. I know that wind in your hair is the best feeling ever and that locals almost never wear helmets, but please, do. First, because driving in South East Asia is crazy dangerous most of the time. Secondly, because not wearing a helmet is a popular excuse for police to fine you (even if no one else wears it).
  • On police: avoid them. If you see a patrol on the right side of the road, drive as left as you can. Do not stop unless you really have to (like there’s a bunch of cops on both sides of the road).
South East Asia by motorbike
South East Asia by motorbike

What to do if the police stop you

In South East Asia you will notice that locals travel on motorbikes in a very creative way. You will cross entire families of six on the same scooter, people carrying animals (dead or alive) or transporting massive loads of goods. Sometimes I even crossed people driving with a sick relative behind them, who was carrying a medical drip along. Despite this street anarchy, you will notice that policemen tend to stop only pale foreigners. They will then fine them for whatever tiniest problem they may or may not have (no helmet, no local licence, lights not working, speeding, running a red light, you name it). This happens because fines are a big part of their wages. That’s exactly why you should avoid them as much as possible, but if the police stop you, remember to:

South East Asia by motorbike
South East Asia by motorbike
  • Take the keys out of the bike and put it in your pocket. This is the first and most important thing to do straight away. If a policeman gets hold of your keys he will be able to ask you whatever amount of money to give them back to you.
  • Have a close look on where your documents go if you hand them out to the police (for the same reason of above).
  • Don’t be scared by the random menaces (“you will have to come to the police station with me” / “we will take your bike”). Try to play it cool and negotiate your way out.
  • Start haggling the “fine”. Propose at least half of what they ask and keep on bargaining. Police “bribes” standards vary a lot from Country to Country. In Cambodia, 1 to 5 dollars is considered ok for minor issues, while in Bali they asked us 30$. Just keep it cool and work it out like it was just another market negotiation.
South East Asia by motorbike
South East Asia by motorbike

Unwritten rules of the road

In Asia they honk a lot. But fear not, there’s always a good reason. With so many vehicles doing whatever on the road, honking means “watch out I’m moving close to you”. So it is usually a life-saver used to signal overtaking, turning, sudden U turns or simply that someone close to you is going to do something risky.

South East Asia by motorbike
South East Asia by motorbike
  • Before overtaking, always check that no one is overtaking you already and then honk while you accelerate. While you do this, you may notice that someone else is doing the same manoeuvre in the opposite direction. Try to stay cool, zig zag the least possible and move quickly.
  • Cover yourself up with long sleeved T-shirts and long trousers if you do not want to be beaten up by the strong sun and the dust. For the same reason remember sunglasses and a scarf to put on your mouth when the dust / smog situation becomes too much. Put heavy sunscreen on your hands and knuckles. If you burn them, you will have to buy gloves (not the easiest task in rural Asia) to be able to drive again.
  • Secure your backpack behind you with hooked elastic bands. Don’t carry it over your shoulders or you’ll suffer from back pain for the rest of your life.
  • Always carry a rain cover for your backpack and a plastic poncho that is large enough to cover your legs as well. Tropical rain is sudden and strong.

A SUV that overtakes a bus in the opposite direction
while you’re overtaking a massive truck full of rocks
which is exhaling black exhaust gas will soon become familiar.

  • It’s cool to have a local sim card to be able to use data and google maps while driving, but bringing a good old paper map is a good idea. If you’re lost, ask the locals. In the most faraway places they may not be able to read a map but they will be more than happy to point out the direction of your destination.
  • If you can, refill in gas stations, but don’t be afraid to stop along the road to the local mamas that sell gas in old coca cola glass bottles. It’s a bit more expensive but a life-saver in most cases.
  • Never underestimate distances. What looks like a major state road on a map can turn out to be a super busy, one-lane road used by oxcart, scooters, huge trucks, SUVs, local bus, etc. In Sumatra it took us a good 12h a day to cover 350km.
  • When you park in crowded areas, along with many other scooters, it’s normal to find your bike somewhere else. People will move it in order to get theirs out. Before panicking, have a look around. Top tip: if you just rented the average black scooter, try to personalize it with a ribbon or something that will help you spot it easily.
South East Asia by motorbike
South East Asia by motorbike

In general, keep it cool, travel at slow pace and enjoy the journey. Sometimes you will be driving through horrendously polluted and busy cities. Other times you’ll peacefully ride along jungle roads or close to the ocean. You will end up in places that are impossible to reach with any other mean of transport. You will really eat and sleep with the local communities and you will find yourself laughing together even if they don’t speak a word of English. You’ll break the bike, repair it, and then break it again. You may get sick. Or very sick. And convince yourself that you’re gonna die that night, in the middle of nowhere.

Well, It may not be for the faint-hearted but it’s very, very rewarding. So good luck and enjoy travelling South East Asia by motorbike!

Want more?
Browse my Cambodia photo gallery:

CAMBODIA ON TWO WHEELS

Are you ready for India?  Most common fears and how to overcome them

Are you ready for India? Most common fears and how to overcome them

“I would love to go to India, but I think I’m not ready yet”. I heard this from many fellow travellers over the years. Some of them were quite experienced travellers as well, who may have crossed all South America on their own, but for some reason, India seems always a step up on the backpacking game and not all of us are ready to take it.

I totally respect the choice, knowing one’s limits is fundamental. I also understand that India may not be for everyone. Many people prefer relaxing places where the less people they meet the better they feel. But for those who are intrigued by the magic of this very special Country but still haven’t booked the ticket because they’re scared, well, knowing what to expect is key. A trip to India will surely include many challenges and some frustrations, it’s part of the game, but I can assure you that none of them will cloud the value of a trip to India.

Here are some of the most common fears about India and my tips on how to overcome them.

first time in India

Surviving the culture shock

On your first time in India, be prepared for a significant culture shock.

All Asia is renowned for provoking this type of reaction in western first timers, but India takes it to the next level. The usual Asian mess made of huge crowds, hectic traffic, funny smells, open sewage, questionable hygienic standards and poverty, in India is ten times bolder.

TIP: The difference with your own Country will be extreme (which is also the reason why you’re there in the first place) and the secret to cope is taking it easy. You can’t handle the street chaos anymore? Treat yourself to an accommodation that is fancier than your standard. It will be pretty cheap anyway and It will work as your detoxing secrete escape.

Adapting to different public hygiene standards

India is extremely real and human in every possible sense. You will notice that most of human activities like cooking, eating, going to the toilet, being sick can be carried out in the streets. In Varanasi, the holy city on Ganges shores, you can even witness funeral processions, open air cremations and bodies floating on the river. On top of that, you have all sorts of farm animals living –and pooping- in the streets, a consistent amount of rubbish and the odd open sewage.

TIP: Wear closed shoes or sturdy sandals like Birkenstock. Street-level flip-flops are a big no. Don’t put your backpack on the ground (or at least check the floor before you do it – this one I learned it the hard way). A light scarf can be of great use to create a barrier between you and the funniest smells.

first time in India

Witnessing social injustice and poverty

Most of the time, travelling to India feels like time travel. And in some ways it is so! Some traditions have stayed the same for thousands of years. Unfortunately, one of those is the infamous cast system, which is still thriving in India. Believing in casts and karma means that if someone is in a shitty condition it means that A- they deserved it because of what they did in their past lives and B-there’s nothing they can do to change the situation in this life. This creates a fatalist and hierarchical society, where you will sometimes witness graphic scenes of poverty, sickness, child begging or violence that will be completely overlooked by thousands of other people passing by.

TIP: Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about it (at least not in short exploring trip). Take your time to adjust to the new environment. If it takes you two days to find the courage to exit your hostel in Delhi, let it be. Then donate if you feel like it, but always avoid giving money to begging children, not to encourage the practice.

first time in India

Making your way through the crowds

Because of the huge number of inhabitants, in the streets the mantra is “every man for himself” everywhere, all the time. It’s the law of the jungle, even when trying to get a seat on the train, queuing for the toilet, buying bus tickets. You will have to fight your way through a sweaty and solid crowd many, many times.

TIP: Do not overload your days with activities. Visiting a popular site in India can be overwhelming, don’t ask yourself too much. Try not to be in a tight schedule, moving around India is already stressing enough. Leave yourself generous margins to reschedule things due to fatigue, unexpected glitches, sickness or just changes of plan.

Avoiding scams and dangers

Scams happen (and not just in India), that’s a matter of fact. Research online before you go so you can try to avoid the most obvious ones, like the one of the closed hotel (so that the tuk tuk driver can take you to his cousin’s guest house).

TIP: Be ready to hustle: bargaining is key to avoid paying double or triple the price of things. Be prepared to insist if you suffer an injustice (cancelled flights, wrong hotel).

Staying safe as a woman travelling solo

You will notice that Indians stare A LOT. Which, most of the time, is out of curiosity. Thus said, when a horde of men stares at you, maybe even pressing closer, it can be quite intimidating. If you don’t like a situation, just walk away asap (this applies to Planet Earth in general). Guys will ask to take photos with you (they probably just want to show off with family and friends). In this case you can politely decline and walk away or propose a “group photo” this will: A- saves you time, otherwise everybody else will want a picture with you and B- gives you the chance to include other women in the picture. On night trains choose the upper classes, where you will mostly share your trip with families. In stations team up with other local women, that generally are super curious and have a protective attitude toward you crazy gal who’s wandering around alone!

TIP: make sure to dress in a humble and respectful way. If you don’t want to be stared more than necessary, wear long trousers or a Sari, avoid sporting a décolleté and always take a scarf with you. This will help you stand out less in the crowds.

Delhi Belly

Well, just embrace the risk. Even if you drink and brush your teeth with bottled water, you keep your mouth shut while showering, you repeat “no-water-no-ice-please” as a mantra all day long, you eat at the best looking eateries… You might get sick. I get sick on every single trip. May it be an easy two weeks’ getaway to Bali or a three months long South East Asia experience, I will get sick. It’s a matter of fact. It happens every time and India was no exception. It was actually one of the worst (probably water) intoxication I ever gone through. But for me it’s part of the game now, I’ve been through so many embarrassing situations that Delhi Belly does not scare me anymore.

TIP: be prepared and take the traveller’s Holy Trinity with you. And by that I mean:

  1. Antidiarrheal drug of choice
  2. Broad spectrum of antibiotic (I use Ciproxin)
  3. Probiotics to restore the flora

Just to be on the safe side, I also carry antacid and antispasmodic drugs to settle my stomach and tummy.

Don’t let your fears stop you!

While you are preparing for the worse, a ton other wonderful things will happen: you will witness incredible traditions, costumes, art, architecture and food. You will be amazed by the people: their genuine curiosity towards you and the country you come from (top tip: bring a family photo to pass around while telling –or gesturing- your story to locals, you’ll be amazed by the reactions) their kindness, their understanding despite the culture and language gap. You’ll found that connecting with Indians was way easier than with every other people in Asia (the fact that many of them speak English helps for sure).

My general suggestion here is, if you can, to travel to at least one other Asian country before travelling to India. Learning how to deal with Vietnamese street frenzy, Cambodian dizzying wealth gap or Indonesian no-sewage situation may prepare you for India. But not for the cows (and their poop) in the streets. That’s just in India!

So what are you waiting for? Book that ticket for your first time in India and don’t worry if you’re travelling alone, you will meet plenty of other likeminded travellers to share the road, a laugh and adventure with. And you will have the experience of your life enjoying this mystical, chaotic, colourful and magical Country.

Want more?
Browse my India photo gallery:

VARANASI

INCREDIBLE INDIA

Moving to Australia: 5 steps to nail your gap year in Kangarooland

Moving to Australia: 5 steps to nail your gap year in Kangarooland

Spending a gap year in Australia is something very popular for people in their twenties. But with an increasing horde of backpackers getting there every year, tasks like finding a job or finding farm work in order to apply for a second year Visa are getting trickier.

Moreover, compared to when I was there 4 years ago, government policies for immigrants are shifting dangerously to the right, which means a massive rise in Visa fees. But don’t get discouraged! Spending one year (or more) in the Land-where-everything-could-kill-you is a still a super good -and eventually affordable- idea.

So, how to move to Australia?

In my Australian series I will share with you my tips and tricks to get your shit organized and enjoy your Downunder experience without getting broke. I hope it will be helpful 🙂

Getting a (decent) vehicle in Australia

Getting a (decent) vehicle in Australia

This step of course depends on the type of experience you want to get. My personal suggestion is to get a car or -even better- a van as soon as you can if you’re planning to move around the country.

Having your own vehicle will allow you to look for jobs even in remote locations, or to move quickly if the farm job you were hoping to get isn’t available anymore. Some people land in Australia almost broke and spend the first months working in big cities to raise enough money to travel. In my opinion, this may not be the wisest way to spend your year there.

Living in big cities is WAY more expensive than living in provincial or rural Australia. For me, getting a van first and working in regional areas in the beginning of my trip meant saving a lot of money while travelling quite a lot. In the end it’s up to you. 🙂

buying a van in Australia

Where to buy a Van

The second hand market is pretty lively in Australia. Considering the the great number of backpackers that come and go, finding a van or a car should not be too difficult. Depending on your budget and your location you might have three options to find the vehicle that suits you.

Backpackers car markets

You will find backpackers car market in every major town in Australia, the biggest one in Kings Cross, Sydney. There, you will find hundreds of cars being bought and sold by backpackers. It’s easy to get nice bargains because people need to leave, but have a close look on the health status of the van, backpackers tend to have long journeys and not to take care of their vans properly.

Buy from a private

Like in every other buy-and-sell situation in Australia, Gumtree is your main reference. There you’ll find plenty of ads, no matter what your budget is. If you are lucky you may even buy a decent van from locals and not from backpackers.

Buy from a car seller

This is obviously the most expensive option, even if you’re buying second hand. On the other hand, you will be super sure that the van is a pretty good condition.

Our super equipped and super reliable Mitsubishi Delica 4WD

How to be sure that you’re buying a good van/car

Choosing the right registration

Buying a car might seem very easy, but if you don’t pay attention to some details you might find it very difficult to re-sell it later on. The most important thing is the state in which the car is registered. In most states you will be asked to produce a roadworthy certificate of the vehicle (done by a professional mechanic) in order to sell it. Spoiler: many, many cars and vans are far from roadworthy. This means that you will have to spend a lot of money to fix it in order to be able to get the certificate (requirements can be pretty strict, i.e. your vehicle has to have zero rust). The only way to get around the roadworthy certificate is to buy a vehicle that is registered in Western Australia. Don’t ask me why, but for some strange reason when a car comes from WA is automatically considered OK for roads. In the end, buying a WA plated car will make it a lot easier to sell it later on.

What to check?

  • How many kilometres has the engine? (vans can range up to 300k+, watch out!)
  • How many owners did it have? And how many of those where backpackers?
  • Did they ever change the transmission belt?
  • When was the vehicle serviced last time? Does it need frequent oil refills? (bad, bad sign)
  • Don’t be misled by cosy hippie interiors. Check if the van makes strange noises instead, if it leaks oil, if it has evident rust signs (don’t forget to check the roof, rust on the roof = rain in the van).
  • Do you want to explore the outback a little bit? Consider buying a 4WD. Even better if comes equipped with proper bullbars for close encounters with animals on the road (not even joking)

Which paperwork do you need?

A valid Rego: The vehicle will need to be re-registered under your name within 14 days of the purchase. You will also need to pay your registration-tax once a year. The rego works as a tax as well as a third part insurance. Which means that you won’t need any other insurance, but you won’t be covered for any damages to other vehicles/buildings or yourself if you’re injured. So my suggestion is to buy an extra cover like:

RAC – Road Assistance 24/7: buying this extra insurance will insure you that if broke down in the middle of nowhere, someone will come and tow you to the nearest mechanic at no further cost. Of course this only applies if you can get signal to call them 😀

buying a van in Australia

Top Tips for driving in Australia

  • When in the outback or in Western Australia, never, ever drive in dark. Farmland is often unfenced and the bush gets alive at night. Plenty of animals will come out with the chill. Which means that you will eventually have close encounters with cangaroos, giant cows, wallabies and every other sort of small to big sized mammals. Crashing with a small wallaby is very sad, crashing with a cow is terminal (for both).

 

  • Get a Camp Australia Wide Atlas (now there’s also an app available) and plan your stops at one of the several free rest areas that you’ll find on the road. Those areas are usually equipped with toilets, running water and in some cases even with barbecues or showers. Rest areas can vary from just a parking lot on the roadside in NT to a beautiful campgrounds under the trees in NSW. In most cases you will meet other travellers and share beers and stories (in some places you can even build a fire)

 

  • Try to avoid sleeping in your van when in the city. Rangers will eventually knock on your windows in the middle of the night and ask you to leave immediately (or fine you, in the worst case scenario).

Top 3 tasks to complete as soon as you land in Australia

Top 3 tasks to complete as soon as you land in Australia

tips for moving to australia

After landing Downunder and having exchanged your warm clothes with shorts, singlet and flip flops (this may be optional: many Aussies go barefoot), you’ll better fix a few things on day one. Here are my tips for moving to Australia with no worries.

 

 

Get a SIM card

You’ll need an Australian phone number for almost everything from banking to renting to job searching, so don’t hesitate. Telstra is said to have the best coverage, even in remote areas. In my experience though, when you’re really in the middle of the desert and a phone or GPS are most needed, even Telstra doesn’t work. So buy whatever.

 

Open an Australian bank account

Once you have an Australian mobile number, go to a bank and open a bank account. Do this ASAP, because transferring money from oversea takes at least 7 working days. Choose a big bank, one that has branches all over the country like Westpac or Commonwealth.

 

Apply for a Tax File Number

Once you have a working phone and a bank account, go to the nearest tax office and apply for a TAX FILE NUMBER. Without that magic number you won’t be even able to look for a job, let alone finding one. So do not delay this step. You will need it for everything work and tax related.

After having completed this three fundamental step, you’ll be good to go! Ready to look for a job or a van to explore further.

 

How to find a job or farm work in Australia

How to find a job or farm work in Australia

How to find farm work in Australia

How to find farm work in Australia? This is still the most asked question that I get even 4 years after I came back. The answer varies depending if you’re looking for a job in the city (say bartending or waitressing) or if you’re looking for regional work to be eligible for a second year Visa.

For hospitality city jobs it works just like in any other city: you look upon the local ads online (in Australia they mostly use Gumtree ) or print a decent CV an you start the tour of the local bar/eateries with a gorgeous smile stamped on your face. By “decent CV” I mean that if you’re looking for a waitressing job try to stress on similar experiences you had in your Country, even if this means cheating a little bit 😉

 

 

For regional work or farming, things are a bit more difficult. Everyone that wants to extend their Visa needs to complete 88 days of regional work, which means farming, mining, pearling, fishing, working on roadhouses in the middle of nowhere, working in aboriginal lands, etc (full list here). Because of the increasing amount of backpackers who travel to Australia every year, decent farm work (or farm work at all) is starting to be scarce. Scams are also very common. Speaking of:

How to avoid scams

  • Never EVER send money to a possible employer to “pay the accommodation deposit” in a farm or to ensure yourself the job. Those are scams. Stay away from it.

 

  • Do not accept to work without a contract. First, farm work can be very tiring and also dangerous if you work with machinery or livestock. No contract means no insurance: BIG NO. Secondly, you’ll need the contract to have your employer to sign the documents to prove you’ve done your regional work.

 

  • Be aware of fake woofers that will tell you that volunteering in their farm will count for a second visa. This is not true anymore, exactly because the existence of these scammers that exploited backpackers promising to sign their regional paperwork in exchange for free work.

 

  • Beware of farmers that offer you to sign your regional paperwork in exchange of money. Those are scammers too and the Immigration Office will eventually find out. This is also true even if your employer is just trying to help you offering you to sign for extra weeks of work that you haven’t done there. Immigration CAN check your credit card movements to see if they match your permanence in the farm. I mean, have you ever seen Airport Security Australia? Those guys know their shit, don’t try them 🙂

Working hostels, a useful help or a scam?

Working hostels are expensive hostels located in rural Australia that offer to look for farming jobs for you and even to drive you there every morning if you stay at their hostel. The problem is that that you will spend way more time in their hostel than working (because of the great number of backpackers on the same hostel/area). Moreover, when you work, the hostel typically takes a share of your pay. I heard plenty of sad stories about people that are desperate for farm work (because they’re running out of time and they still haven’t completed their 88 days) and end up in these sketchy places.

That’s why when I was in Australia in 2013, me and my boyfriend decided to avoid working hostels completely. We started looking for regional work as soon as we got to Australia (that’s where buying a vehicle straight away comes in handy).

 

So how to find work in Australia?

First thing we made sure that at least one of our CVs (my boyfriend’s) was farm-friendly. Which meant that his dad backyard with chickens became an Italian agricultural business to which he had contributed since he was a child. Don’t be scared to “enhance” your story a little bit, farmers will take you for the least qualified job in their property anyway, but a resume with farm related skills will stand out.

We found our first farming job (Farm hands in Western Australia –  you can read about the experience here) scanning gumtree all day long and calling every farmer that put his number in there, until it worked.

The second one was a little bit trickier to find. We were in rural Queensland driving around farmland to look for mango picking jobs, without much luck. Discouraged by the mango fiasco we gave a try to the yellow pages online. And with “giving a try” I mean that in 3 days we called more than 200 numbers under the “farmers” label on the yellow pages website.

As boring as it can sound, we finally managed to talk to a farmer who had a neighbor that looked for workers in his cattle property. We got the job and we drove 400km (100 of which off road) overnight to get there. You can read about the experience, one of the craziest of my life, here.

 

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OUTBACK AUSTRALIA

Getting your paperwork together before you leave for Australia

Getting your paperwork together before you leave for Australia

paperwork you need before leaving for Australia

No one loves paperwork, but don’t worry, you wont need much in Australia. Compared to Europe (I’m thinking of you, Italy and France) Australia is super organized and digitalized when it comes to documents, permits and general paper work. Thus said, you’re still required to organize the paperwork you need before leaving for Australia.

 

Here are the most important things you have to take care off before moving to Cangarooland.

 

Prior to your departure make sure that:

 

  • Before buying a VISA, check if your passport is valid for the whole length of your stay (renewing a passport while abroad is always annoying, not to mention that your Visa will be attached to your old passport number, which means more paperwork and more annoyances). If it’s not, renew it and then buy the Visa.

 

  • Check if your Health Insurance is also valid abroad. I.e. Italian healthcare system provides 6 months of free insurance in Australia, just check with your local GP or with your insurance company.

 

  • Tell your bank (and your mum!) where you’re going. My experience tells me that when travelling on the other side of the world shit will eventually happen when using your credit cards, but it happens WAY LESS if you let your bank know that you will be using them oversea.

 

  • Apply for an International driving licence. Truth is, Australian police officers are usually ok with European or US driving licences. Thus said, the rule still stands. Anyway it’s not so expensive and it will turn out useful when you’ll be driving a shitty scooter in South East Asia on your way back from Oz and local policemen will find any excuse to fine you.

 

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