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"Day by day we are losing our daylight, and by late May it will be dark 24 hours a day. There is no leaving here during the winter, as the weather conditions and darkness make flying too dangerous. To stay the winter you must pass an extensive psychological examination to determine if you can handle the darkness and isolation."
- A stray travelogue of the Antarctic on an expatriate site called TalesMag.
Travelogues on the web are like that - you never know where you'll find a great recount. Where travel gradually dissolves cultural boundaries, backpacking sparks new bonds that find their way online in the form of travelogues, message boards, forums and chats. Here's where a foreigner to India will be warned about touts around the Taj Mahal, amateur trekkers will be advised on the right kind of water filter to carry, and intrepid travellers will tell you of better alternatives to sushi in Japan.
When you've thought of a destination, a good place to search for travelogues and travellers (who've been there) is BootsN'all. Apart from 'voices of experience', the site has human guides who direct you through a particular region. There is a trip planner section, and lots of useful articles.
Sorting travelogues country-wise is Travel Pod. Since the writer's email address is usually available here, he or she may be extremely happy to further discuss the region with you. You can also put up your own travelogue here, password-protect it, and decide whether you want just your friends, or everyone on the planet to read it. A high point here is a very active message board, with topics ranging from 'Teaching English in Asia' to 'Backpacking in Thailand in May.'
For travelogues spruced with practical regional tips like which side of the road to drive on, safety issues, internet café points, etc. try the Travel Library. It boasts personal accounts and trip reports of countries spanning Africa, Asia, Caribbean, Central America, Europe, Pacific and the Antarctic. It also has lots of official information like a Tourism Offices Worldwide Directory, contact information of official tourist boards, and more.
Though informal, the style of travel reports at Around The Worlds is also practical, with subheads such as places to eat at, main attractions and places to stay, at any place you're interested in. Another simple site focussing solely on travelogues is Travel Experiences. It's pretty easy to upload your travelogue here, so you can tell your friends and family to take a look.
At The Argonauts, the travelogues have an accent on adventure, and are often written by regular travel writers rather than mere travellers. Yahoo Travelogues is a storehouse of travelogues, organised by country and activity. Lots of travellers also congregate at sites like Culture Connect and ItchyFeet.
For professional travelogues, you could try Concierge, the Conde Nast Traveller magazine online. Expect well-written, well-researched articles spanning topics from 'The sexiest hotel pools in America' to 'Island hopping in Turkey and Greece'. Try your luck at the 'Where are you?' contest, where you need to identify the spot of a given photograph to win. Another unique resource is the 'Find your ideal destination' section, where you give the site a general choice of area, budget, activity preferences, pastime preferences, and weather, and it suggests an ideal spot for you to go. Fodors too makes for enjoyable reading with stories like 'The unthinkable: L.A. without a car' and 'Insider tricks for eight hot cities.'
Bringing hosts and guests, travellers and locals together is Hospitality Club. Before you start off for that faraway destination, maybe you can meet someone here. Members need to put up their own profile with name, travel interests and whatever other information they choose, so other members may look up and contact them when visiting their region - and vice versa. It's like talking to a local and, sometimes, means you stand a chance at being offered a room to stay for the night!
You can also meet a lot of travellers at the Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree. Besides the flurry of messages going back and forth, there are also interesting postcards, and titbits of information sent by travellers on almost anything from 'why you don't really need to register with the police in Mali, Africa', or 'why you should carry your passport with you while shopping in Finland.' The clubs, message boards and chats at Yahoo Travel also bring together travellers from all over.
The backpacking tribe
About.com has a backpacking page that provides insightful articles on basics, gear, food, and trails across the globe, amongst other topics. It also discusses basic things like what kind of backpack to carry, how much water to drink in order to avoid dehydration, what water filters to carry and how to use a backpacking stove.
Then, the Backpackers Ultimate Guide focuses particularly on Europe, Australia, and the Pacific, listing their essentials (packing, currency conversion, etc), transport info, destinations, festivals, hostels (budget accommodation, hostel reviews), etc. There are also 'Bug Forums' where you can contact other travellers.
While the feature section at The Backpacker covers diverse aspects of backpacking, its Beginner's Corner introduces novices to backpacking gear and how it is structured. There's a Backpacker Directory, as well as information on destinations and gear, a trails database, and more.
If you're visiting Europe in particular, take a look at Backpack Europe. People at the site think 'hostelling' is a far more apt term for 'backpacking' and have loads of budget-travel information on hostel accommodation through Europe, bus versus train travel, Eurail and BritRail price charts, and more. The site is especially useful for travelling students.
When in the US, do as Johnny Jet says. This massive portal covers everything from flight and hotel bookings, to airport information, weather, money matters, shopping, and restaurants.
You can also get an insight on 'How to See the World: The Art of European and World Travel Backpacking' at Art of Travel, written by John Gregory, an independent traveller through 35 countries over eight low-budget tours. This online book has some super tips on backpacking, hitchhiking, bargaining, pickpockets, thieves, self-defence, and even begging!
Michael Connick, a backpacker for over 25 years, also hosts a good site with lots of links and tips on backpacking.
Backpacking is a lot about the shoestring budget, and Budget Travel helps the low-budget, independent traveller find his or her way through over 74 countries. Apart from lots of general data, it also has loads of specifics related to a vast number of countries.
Lets Go has student-written, up-to-date travel guides for budget travellers, while those interested specifically in budget travelling in Europe can try UwireToday.
Lastly, Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel Magazine is a goldmine for small tips like this one: 'For air travellers who can't stand the crowded economy class conditions, you can enjoy the legroom of a first class seat, without paying first class prices, by simply asking to be seated in the exit row of the economy class section. At not a penny more.'
Part II - Tips for the independent traveller