How Not Looking Like a Backpacker Gets You Through Customs and Immigration Faster

Profiling by immigration and custom officials is a fact of our travelling lives – and its more pervasive than you think. You’re not just being profiled based on race, ethnicity and nationality, but also by class – class of travel that is. Who do you think gets fussed over more by customs and immigration: a business class traveller with a few grands worth of Samsonite luggage in tow, or a budget traveller getting off a “no-frills” flight taking strain under a 65 litre backpack?

Recently I caught a Jetstar flight from Darwin, Australia to Singapore. While waiting at the luggage carousel at Singapore’s Changi Airport I watched as every traveller sporting a backpack was singled out for closer scrutiny by customs officials. In Singapore you get fined for chewing gum, and put to death if you traffick drugs. Authorities at Changi Airport appear to equate backpacker with drug mule, and suspect that all backpackers are carrying a lot more than just two weeks of dirty laundry on their backs.

So, if you’re a backpacker, what can you do when you arrive in a new country, to avoid having to play “20 Questions” with immigration, and having to air your underwear in public at customs? Understand that this post does not offer you advice on how to smuggle “your shady self”, narcotics, hard currency, or pirated porn DVDs, into another country. Rather this post is for the law abiding budget traveller who would rather not be treated like a “dirty backpacker” at the airport and enjoy a hassle-free run of customs and immigration. Here’s how:

Dress it up a bit – Immigration officers are not hired for their “fashion forwardness”, but rather their conservative outlook and their willingness to tow the line. Men, keep “boardies” and the “flip-flops” for the beach and opt for collared buttoned-up shirts, pants and fully enclosed laced-up shoes. Ladies, immigration is not the place to show off that “bangin’ bod” of yours. If your ensemble reveals your shoulders, cleavage and thighs – rethink it! Less is not more in this case.

Shave off that travel beard – Or at the very least give it a trim. A bushy beard can really change the shape of your face. Expect a few pointed questions and some hard “eye-balling” from officials if you don’t quite look like you did when your passport photo was taken. You’re also less likely to be asked to prove you can support yourself financially in their country if you look all bright and shiny.

Get your story straight – Make sure you have completed all your arrival paperwork fully and correctly. Most importantly you need to be able to put down an address of where you will be staying your first night in their country. Before arriving, book at least one night at a local hostel on Hostelworld.com and print off the email confirmation. Research how you are going to get there from the airport. An officer might quiz you on this. Don’t volunteer any more information than you have to. Stick to answering only what is being asked. You’re less likely to be asked to provide proof of onward travel if you can recite some semblance of an itinerary.

Carry your backpack – If you are walking from the luggage carousel to the exit and you’ve got your pack on your back, expect an customs official to want to look inside it. If you have anything to declare – declare it! If you know you’re not carrying anything declarable and want to get through customs a lot faster, carry your pack. My current pack is an Osprey Waypoint 60. I can tuck all the straps away and carry it like a duffel bag.

Uncomplicated travel begins and ends with respecting a country’s laws, and your first encounter with its laws are its immigration and customs officials. You want to get out of the airport without too much hassle, and officials just want to get through their shift without too much drama. Help them out by researching visa requirements and customs rules before you arrive. Score some points right off the bat by taking a little effort with your appearance and your arrival in a new country will be downright breezy.

Travel Tips for the Backpacker on a Limited Budget in India

You don’t have to travel to India in luxury. In fact, many times the best way to see India is by attending free events, staying at hostels and eating at inexpensive restaurants the locals recommend. When traveling through India, there are endless cheap and free options when planning your itinerary. Here, we’ve laid out our top travel tips and cheap ideas for backpackers traveling throughout India.

While there are many budget hotels in India, hostels may still be the cheapest route. Hostels are safe, clean and although you usually have to share a bedroom with up to six others, they are like minded travelers like yourself. In exchange, you stay in a comfortable bed for a very cheap rate at roughly Rs 100 (2 USD). Some hostels can even work out an arrangement with you, for example, a free week’s stay in exchange for housekeeping or dish washing help. Whether you’re staying in Bombay, Goa or New Delhi, there are a number of cheap accommodations for you that are available year round.

Eating cheaply in India is easy to do. India has plenty of affordable alternatives to the high end restaurants such street food snacks. Eating cheap in India has become a trend on the rise, when backpackers living on a budget for extended stays in and around Asia became popular. If you come to India during the off peak travel season, you will find hotel and restaurants prices to be lower. A dollar can be stretched quite a ways in India, if you’re OK with eating rice and dhal quite often. South India is known for its thali – aka – all you can eat meal – for as little as Rs 25-30 (50 cents USD). North India’s meals tend to be a bit more expensive, but by sticking to vegetarian meals you can save a bit of money as opposed to meat dishes which will always run a little higher.

India is a great country to explore, especially when it comes to seeing historical sites and cultural districts. There is an unlimited assortment of fascinating things to do, and whether you’re a solo backpacker or traveling with your family, India is full of free activities to keep your budget in check. First, take advantage of the many annual festivals throughout the year. Watch in amazement at the men forming themselves into a human pyramid on Krishna Janmashtami or see 50,000 camels come together at the town of Pushcar for the annual camel fair. Temples are a big part of Indian culture and also bring about plenty of cheap entertainment and discussion for travelers. There are many to see, including the Haji Ali mosque in Mumbai or the Galta Monkey Temple in Jaipur. If you need a day to relax from the sightseeing and people watching, spend the day at one of India’s many beaches. It’s free, it’s relaxing and it’s beautiful. What’s better than that?

Top Backpacker Travel Risks

One great way to experience the world with little money is to go on a backpacking trip. Most people who have gone backpacking testify that it is a life-changing experience and the knowledge that they have gained is simply irreplaceable. If you’re taking a backpacking trip anytime soon, it is wise to consider the risks and dangers that you may face. There are always travel risks anywhere you go in the world. It is highly recommended that you get backpacker travel insurance to protect you from unexpected travel incidents that might occur during your trip.

Here are the top backpacker travel risks and how to avoid them:

  1. Thefts and Scams

Many backpackers fall prey to thefts and scams. Destinations that are often frequented by tourists have their share of petty thieves and pickpockets lurking about. When you’re walking on the city streets, make sure that your cash and credit card is securely hidden and that you don’t wear flashy items that attract a lot of attention. Some backpackers pack a doorstop, a fairly inexpensive safety device that prevents someone from breaking into your room at night. If you’re staying in a hostel, you can use a cable lock to secure your valuables. Scams range from harmless to altogether dangerous. With promises of huge savings, many scammers dupe backpackers into purchasing cheap tour packages that don’t deliver as expected. You need to be aware of the most common travel scams and you should know what to do in these situations.

  1. Sickness or Injury

Backpackers who get sick or injured while on a trip need to pay medical bills at a local hospital. Most often than not, medical bills for foreigners without insurance can be costly. Inexpensive local clinics and hospitals is an option, but they often don’t have the best facilities. Before going on a trip, you should research on the health conditions of your destination and bring medical supplies that you might need. It is also wise to only drink bottled water. It pays to choose the best travel insurance with good medical coverage so that you have peace of mind in case you get sick or injured while on the road. You should also make sure that it covers both medical treatment and emergency evacuation.

  1. Baggage Loss

As a backpacker, nothing is more aggravating and stressful than losing your baggage. Whether it’s an airline issue or it’s been stolen, remember to get travel insurance that provides good coverage for both lost baggage and other add-ons. Add-ons are usually valuables such as laptops, cameras, smartphones, and jewelry items. Better yet, leave your expensive electronics at home and use an older cell phone while on the road. You can also leave your laptop at home and go to internet cafes to catch up on email.

Generally, backpacking is a great way to see the world. However, it is essential to get backpacker travel insurance to cover for medical expenses, baggage loss, theft, or other unforeseen events.