Category Archives: A single step…

How safe is Rio?

It may just be an impression us Brits have obtained of Rio de Janeiro but we were led to believe that our visit would undoubtedly be tainted by crime. It seemed impossible to us that, during our 9 days there, we would escape unhindered by pickpockets or some sort of corruption.

Truth be told we experienced nothing to substantiate Rio’s terrible reputation for crime. Any new city is intimidating when you first arrive…you have no idea what is social acceptable, where’s safe at night or even how to cross the road – in Rio most people just seemed to make a dash for it in a gap in traffic! I would never advise any backpacker to loose their initial sense of caution when arriving in a new city…its saved us from a few scams before now…but certainly Rio its not as intimidating as people might fear. I honestly think if you use the same caution and common sense you would in any major city across the world you’d be very unlucky to experience crime in Rio.

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Keep your belongings in sight, do as others do, wear your backpack on your front on busy transport, don’t flash your cash, or walk around with your Digital SLR swinging from your neck. When you get to a place of interest get your camera out and put it away after. At all the major tourist spots in Rio there will be plenty of others with the latest technologies on show to make it unlikely that you’ll be the victim of a crime.

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So how safe is Rio at night? About as safe as any other major city…everywhere has crime and areas that are best avoided. If you are off on a night out, leave your valuables at home and carry as little as possible. Ladies avoid handbags and invest in a “Cash Stash” which allows you to keep a few rolled up notes secure somewhere – I find attaching it to my bra strap works quite well.

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We travelled after dark quite a few times and escaped unscathed using the above advice. Ok…so there was one time when we felt a bit intimidated late at night. Having been to the Sambadrome, backpacks and DSLRs in tow, we travelled back at 4am on public transport. As the roads close around the Sambadrome when the Carnival is in full swing, the Metro was the quickest way to make an exit. Once off the Metro we decided a bus/taxi would be safer than the 15min walk to our apartment. No taxis in sight…surprise surprise…we stood at the bus stop and waited patiently.

After a few minutes a group of young guys turned up, obviously on their way home from a night out. Anyone who has stood waiting for a night bus in London in the early hours of the morning will have experienced similar and I think our feeling intimidated was purely down to the language barrier. True to form the boys were larking about, chattering away and standing just a little bit too close…one guy was so close, I was sure he was either trying to pickpocket Iain or fall asleep on his shoulder. Turns out said guy had just had a few too many like his friends and was absentmindedly waiting for the bus like any other. When the next bus arrived (not ours inevitably) he asked us (twice so we understood) very politely in his best Portuguese if this was our bus or if he could go ahead and get on in front of us…

Moral of the story…don’t believe the worst, don’t judge a book by its cover, use common sense and always form an orderly queue for the bus…

Christ The Redeemer or Sugar Loaf?

It occurred to us that despite being on a strict budget we were fortunate enough to be able to afford to visit both Christ The Redeemer and Sugar Loaf Mountain during our stay in Rio.

Being budget conscious we almost skipped visiting one in favour of having an extra bit of cash. If you find yourself thinking similar during your visit we would highly recommend choosing to visit the Sugar Loaf if forced to only visit one.

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The Sugar Loaf is best visited a few hours before sunset when you can see the city in all its glory. Like us, grab yourself a few (yes slightly overpriced) beers, relax and settle in to watch the sun set over the city. The city slowly begins to twinkle as the lights are switched on…yes we realise it’s the pollution that creates this effect but it is nevertheless rather pretty!

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Best of all, we think standing on Sugar Loaf Mountain gives you the best view of Christ poised high above the city, and at night lit up he is even more striking. We enjoyed a few more beers once the sun had set, and then when ready; we enjoyed another trip on the cable car. The cable car itself is worth the ticket up and gives you equally impressive views!

Elbows at the ready we had tackled Corcovado earlier that day. Christ the Redeemer itself can be appreciated from all over the city. Whilst it was impressive standing at his feet and appreciating him close up…we have to admit the thought did cross our minds that he was a lot smaller than we thought he’d be. Once at the top of Corcovado most feel obliged to elbow their way through the throngs of tourists, to try and get into a prime spot to take that all important classic tourist photo. We found a quick selfie sufficed.

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Like us you might instead amuse yourself by watching the families and couples straining on tiptoes to pull the classic pose, whilst perhaps the dad or perfect stranger photographer lies on the ground to try and get everyone in the shot. Photo obtained back on the train they go.

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It’s impressive and worth a visit if you have cash to burn but honestly for us Sugar Loaf stole the show and the view was breath taking…

The Ultimate Packing List

Like many we spent days, no probably months, deciding what to pack for our year long trip. In South America there will be multiple climates so here is the final list of what we packed. We will amend as we go, in case there is anything we realise we have forgotten, but hopefully this should help a few of you get on your way…

Electronics

  • 2 Digital SLRs – Canon 700D + 450D
  • Spare batteries for both cameras
  • Lens cleaner brush
  • Tamron 80-300m Lens
  • Canon 50m Lens
  • Gorilla Pod tripod
  • 2 laptops – Macbook Air 11inch + Acer C720 Chromebook
  • 2 Western Digital Passport Drives 2GB + 1GB
  • 2 eReaders – Amazon Kindle Paperwhites
  • Travel speaker – Veho Bluetooth Speaker
  • External batteries – Muvi Pebble + Jelly Bean
  • 2 mobile phones – Iphone 5 and Nexus 4

Chargers + Cables

  • Both chargers for the laptops
  • Kindles and Nexus 4 use the same charger so you only need one!
  • IPhone 5 charger
  • Muji World Travel Adapter with USB charger – allowed us to leave most of the 3-pin UK plugs at home i.e. for iPhone 5, Kindle etc.
  • 2 Canon battery chargers – unfortunately those models do not use the same charger!
  • Headphone splitter
  • 2 sets of headphones

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Other Essentials

  • 2 Osprey Farpoint 55 Rucksacks
  • 2 Ebag packing cubes – great for all the small things, cables or underwear etc.
  • Head torch
  • Pocket torch
  • Extendable padlock – great for securing your bag to things
  • 2 additional padlocks each – one for the day bag and one for the main rucksack
  • 2 cash stashes – put a large denomination note in it and clip somewhere to clothing just in case (Lauren recommends your bra strap!)
  • Small notebook
  • 2 pens
  • 2 pencils
  • Pencil Sharper
  • Rubber
  • 1 copy of Rough Guide South America on a Budget – we have it on the Kindle too but wanted a hard copy to thumb
  • Inflatable neck cushion
  • Money belt or even better try Clever Travel Companion underwear
  • 2 dirty laundry bags (one each of course!)
  • Pack Mate compression bags (a vital space saver!)
  • 2 cotton sleeping bag liners
  • Roll of Gaffa Tape

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Toiletries

  • 3 Lush Shampoo Bars – should be enough for a year
  • 2 bars of Neutrogena Facial Soap – Lauren cant live without!
  • Small bottle of body wash – hotels tend to give you more little bottles so you shouldn’t run out!
  • L’Oreal Extraordinary Hair Oil – you only need a tiny amount so it meant we could leave the conditioner at home!
  • Face Moisturizer
  • 3 Muji 100ml Travel Containers – most products come in ridiculous packing so decant products into these to loose the bulk!
  • Tooth Paste
  • 2 toothbrushes
  • 2 toothbrush covers – great for sticking your toothbrush in your bag on flights etc.
  • 2 roll-on deodorants
  • 1 comb
  • 1 hairbrush
  • 2 bottles of Nivea sun cream
  • Mini bottle of antibacterial gel
  • 4 small zip seal sandwich bags – so many uses!
  • 2 wash bags – so we can split items between the 2 of us
  • 2 face towels
  • Mini pack of cotton buds
  • Hair bands and hair clips
  • Muji travel sewing kit (so tiny!)
  • Insect repellent – we went for 100% DEET
  • LifeVenture Bite Click Relief
  • Small medical kit – we choose to make our own as was cheaper and easier.
  • Anti-malarials
  • Mooncup – essential for the ladies! Google for more info.
  • 2 travel towels – not all hotels and hostels supply them.
  • 1 bottle of multi purpose wash – useful when you need to hand wash things!
  • Face wipes/wipes for long coach journeys

Medical Kit

  • Painkillers
  • Anti-diarrhea tabs
  • Plasters
  • Tape bandage
  • Dressings
  • Safety pins
  • Anti-septic cream

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Clothes (Lauren)

  • Walking boots
  • Walking sandals
  • Flip-flops
  • 6 pairs of socks + one thick pair
  • 10 pairs of pants
  • 2 bras + 1 travel bra (essential for sleeping on buses etc, Iain cant live without his!)
  • Swimming Costumes – 2 Bikinis
  • Sarong – useful when you don’t have a beach towel and can be used as picnic blanket, scarf etc
  • 4 vest tops
  • 4 t-shirt tops/tops with shoulders
  • 2 long sleeved shirts
  • 1 pair of shorts
  • 2 pairs of chino trousers
  • 2 dresses – one short, one maxi
  • Skirt
  • Leggings
  • Light jumper
  • Cashmere mix black V-neck – can be layered under my fleece
  • Hooded micro fleece
  • Woolen hat and gloves
  • Fleece buff (neck scarf thing)
  • Light scarf, pashmina – lots of uses, especially handy if your shoulders burn easily!
  • Merino Thermals (Lauren gets cold easily so lots of layers is a must!)
  • Waterproof
  • Clever travel companion underwear – has pockets sewn in for valuables, highly recommend!)
  • Sunglasses!!!

Clothes (Iain)

  • 3 T-shirts
  • Polo shirt
  • 3 shirts long sleeved
  • Pair of chinos
  • 2 pairs of convertible trousers
  • ¾ length shorts
  • Swimming trunks
  • Thermals
  • Micro Fleece
  • Soft shell jacket
  • 9 pairs of socks
  • 9 boxers
  • Waterproof
  • Gloves and Hat
  • Buff
  • Walking Boots
  • Walking Sandals
  • Flip-flops

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Make-up

Lets face it ladies, most of the time it will be too hot to wear it so just bring the basics!

  • Light powder (probably could of left this at home)
  • Concealer
  • Mini bronzer/blush
  • Waterproof mascara
  • 3 eye pencils, black, bronze and gold – bronze and gold double up as eye shadow
  • 2 lip balms – Vaseline Aloe Vera (lots of uses), and small roll on one for my pocket

*As we travel we will be reviewing some of the above mentioned products so look out on our product reviews page.

Things we packed last time that we left at home this time…

  • 2 sleeping bags – we used them for 2 weeks in New Zealand but could have easily done without them. Not regretting leaving them behind yet…
  • 2 mosquito nets – used them once last time. They fell down half way through the night and we didn’t bother again. If we need them this time I’m sure we can acquire them.
  • Books – invest in a Kindle!!! Books in English are expensive abroad and you can only carry so many!

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Long Term Backpacker Travel Insurance

If any of you have started looking at your options for long term travel insurance, you will have found that it’s a little trickier than you first think.

First of all its worth pointing out that annual travel insurance policies will not cover you for long term travel – most have a stipulation that any single trip can only be up to 90 days in length.

Secondly the insurance companies that you would usually turn to for your two-week holidays, in our experience will quote ridiculous figures for any trips over a few months in length. For example when budgeting for a year long trip we were quoted figures of £1000+ each! Needless to say this was not an option.

An additional problem some of you might also relate to is that we needed a policy we could extend. When purchasing insurance most companies need to know you start and end date for travel. Most also require you to begin and end your journey in your home country. If like us you do not know when or where you will finish your journey, or might perhaps have already started travelling then you might want to consider some of the options below.

*Please note these are only suggestions and should be used as a guide only. We would recommend you do your own additional research and always read the full policy before purchasing to ensure its right for your circumstances.

World Wide Insure

  •  This is the company we chose in the end. We paid £620 (£310 each) for a 10 month policy that can be extended during the policy period. They also insure those who have already commenced travel.

World Nomads

Navigator Travel

 True Traveller

*Planning on doing activities and sports…always check what’s covered first!! Each company above varies so read up on each policy.

If like us you found the options above lacked the required amount of gadget cover then this policy might also be worth considering.

Photoguard

  • A £400 item limit on our policy failed to cover our cameras or laptops so we paid this company an additional £100 approx. to ensure we were covered.

We have (thankfully!) never had to claim on any of the policies above so unfortunately we are unable to comment on this aspect. However we hope you find the information above useful.

Why Do We Travel

Lets face it, the worst part of travelling is travelling. The expectation of going on a big trip, adrenaline, nerves, excitement, tears, it’s a complete emotional rollercoaster, it’s like being 13 again. Then comes the airport. Check in happens hours ahead of when you actually want to be there and then you have to tackle security. This wouldn’t be nearly so bad if it wasn’t for that person in front of you, you know the one I mean. “Have you emptied your pockets Sir?” The following affirmative answer is immediately shown to be an outright lie by that oh so revealing “BLEEP” from the metal detector. Lo and behold the empty pockets in fact contain: keys, phone, wallet and various pieces of change, some of which aren’t even in circulation any more. Finally, after the ignominy of walking around with no shoes for a bit, holding your trousers up with one hand because your belt has somehow become lost inside the scanning machine, you make it through to duty free.

Duty free is where you don’t really want to be. When you’re after some discounted booze it’s great, but when you’re about to head off on a multi-month holiday, a two litre bottle of Vodka isn’t exactly high on your list of priorities. And so you grab an overpriced coffee, a sandwich and go and find some seats. Next, the boarding process…now this is really quite fascinating. We all get to our gate way ahead of schedule and sit there staring as the minutes creep past. When boarding finally opens, everyone leaps to their feet and stands in a queue less than a meter from where they were just sitting. I do this as well, I even fail in stopping myself from doing it. I think that we’re all just eager to get on the plane because that will officially be the start of the holiday. Start of the holiday or not what we’ve actually done is leapt to our feet to board the plane and get started with the worlds most boring game of sardines. Theres only one person having a good time and it’s the guy sitting sloshed in one of the bars completely unaware of the announcements asking him to please board the plane.

For Lauren and I, we had a short flight to Rome followed by a not so short flight to Rio. Every time we long haul I convince myself it would all be so much better if next time we just pay for that extended leg room or maybe even upgrade. It never happens though, we book economy and sit down with our knees jammed into someone elses back. This is the worst bit of travelling. The first couple of hours are fine, movies, free food, free booze and all you have to do is sit there, it’s great. Then you have to try and sleep. I can nod off standing up, Lauren however, isn’t so lucky. Even if you can sleep, you don’t wake up refreshed at the other end with a broad smile shouting “Hello world!” You’ve just slept in your clothes in a cramped, not quite sitting position, knowing that when you get off the plane at your long awaited destination, you’ve got to face a whole new set of challenges.

Everything above is true except the first 10 words: lets face it, the worst part of travelling is travelling. I hate the travelling whilst i’m travelling, but once I reach a destination I suddenly see that 13 hour flight or that 2 day bus as the arc that carried me to paradise and then, I forgive it everything. I think the trouble stems from the fact that you’ve just left somewhere that you’ve come to love. You sit there on transport, usually cheap and dirty, wondering what the next place is going to be like. The bus gets us there and it’s amazing, somehow that bus journey is now “an experience.” Rather than 2 days of spine jarring pot holes and a weird smell coming from under one of the seats, it has become a fond memory. Then again maybe we just do this to ourselves so that we can bring ourselves to get on that next bus and just ramble on.