L'ambition est l'arme des pauvres

The world

A few hints for travelers...


This note was originally only a few advices based on personal experiences and observations that will reduce the risk of troubles when backpacking and increase your interaction with local folks. I end up by adding many more things that came to my mind about various subjects.

Table of content:

Preliminary remarks

Use your good sense & feelings!

Preparing your trip

Local people, logic and culture

Do you speak Swiss?

No, I speak neither Swedish nor Swiss. There are 4 official languages in Switzerland, depending on the location. German, French, Italian and Romansh. In the western part of the country, where I live, French is the spoken language and hence it's my mother tongue. If you’re fluent in French but have a very limited culture, avoid telling me (or one of my peer) “Waow, your French is really good”, you'll look ridiculous.

Your stuff

About travel guides and exploration

Going on an organized tour?



Make sure your passport is valid at least 6 months after your expected return date and have enough empty pages for stamps. Some custom officers enjoy stamping in the middle of the page and wasting it.

Your passport is the most important document you have and the most complex and expensive to get replaced, so make sure you take good care of it. I have my passport always with me in my wallet, and I refuse to give it to anyone as deposit for renting a car or other (I leave instead my insurance card (yes, it works) or my ID). If someone insists, tell him that you're not authorized to leave your passport as it doesn't belongs to you, it belongs to your government (it's written somewhere in it).


Tricky subject as every country has different rules depending on your nationality.

Beforehands, you might want to check on-line what you'll need for the whole journey. Even though the info might not be 100% up-to-date, it gives you a good idea.
Then, when buying a plane, boat or bus ticket crossing a border, always ask the seller what is the procedure for your specific passport.

In general in South-America, if you're from Western countries, you don't need to ask for a visa in advance, they'll stamp your passport at the border. Be aware though that some countries (such as Argentina, Brazil or Bolivia) have introduced "reciprocity fees", i.e. if you hold a passport from a country (such as US, Canada or Australia) that ask them money to get in, you will be asked money too, and that can go up to 150US$ (in cash only).

In Asia, most of the countries requires a visa, and it can take several days to get it, whether from your home country or on the road. Some visa are valid from the day you enter the country (within a certain timeframe), some other are valid from the date of the stamp. Sometime, multi-entries is the same price as single-entry, so ask for the first, you never know. Some countries (Iran or Pakistan) ask for a "recommendation letter" to apply for a visa. It's simply a paper from your embassy saying you're a good guy, but that might take time to be issued and cost up to 70US$ depending on your embassy.

To summarize, plan ahead to avoid paying much more then needed or be stuck waiting a week to get the right document. Note that in many large cities (notably Bangkok), you'll find tourist agents that organize all the stuff for you instead of going twice (or more) to the embassy and losing hours (and sometime your nerves).


You might end up in dorms if you're traveling for a long time and/or in expensive countries (see the World Tour budget). Don't be scared, it usually good fun and for sure a perfect place to meet other travelers and get hints. Sharing a room means also respecting other people (looks obvious, but you'll be surprised by the number of people you'll hate after sharing a dorm). So:


Right, we all have a digital camera now, and we can all do hundreds of pictures for free. But please, avoid posting them all without sorting them, no-one is interested by seeing 12 times this cathedral under various angles and the same number of pictures of those nice kids. Also, rotate and crop if necessary.
On average, I publish 2 pictures per day. That requires quite some work to sort and choose (and yes, I know, this means deleting sooo many beautiful pictures you're so proud of).

Drugs (the illegal ones)

This is not an endorsement by any mean, just some advices. Be aware that some countries have very tough laws and are extremely strict with their application. There's nothing worth taking the risk of spending 20 years in an Indonesian jail. Or being hanged in Singapore.

Don't trust anyone in that business, in many places dealers and police work together and there's many bad stories about foreigner being caught and treated as an example.

Couch Surfing

Not familiar with the concept? Check their website. I used it several times, and had good experiences and met nice and fun people. But that requires a lot of organization and planning (host understandably don't like the style "I might arrive in a few days, but in fact I've no real idea", and many people don't have daily access to email, so need to request 1 week ahead of time) and a lot of time on-line (the response rate is very low, so you need to ask a lot of people). So eventually, I didn't use it that much, but I love the concept, not for the "sleep for free" part, but really for the sharing experience and the way you discover a place with locals!

Altitude sickness

The stupidest quote on that subject came from a Belgium couple: "We're not subject to altitude sickness". Meaning you've no idea of what you're talking about. Altitude sickness is random and can affect any one even if you've been 20 times to the summit of the world. Of course, there are some hints to minimize the risk of being sick (Coca leaves and a catalyst, Diamox, a good and progressive acclimatization, ... you'll find a lot of info on Google). Just be aware that it might affect you, so learn how to recognize the symptoms and how to deal with it.


Go ahead, it's here.

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© (March 2012) Fabien Fetter

© 2011 Fabien Fetter
Dernière mise à jour : 22.2.16