Brucini started seriously travelling after attempting to move to Queenstown, New Zealand, in 1996.Inspired by drunkenly meeting a world of travelers on a Kiwi Experience bus, he changed his plans and roamed the world for a year. ...Find out more!
Staying on an island when you are backpacking might seem like an expensive luxury but it needn’t be. There are islands all over the world that cater for all backpacker budgets and tastes. Popular island destinations include the Gulf of Thailand region (Thailand), Queensland Coast (Australia), and the old favourite Yasawa and Mamanuca Islands (Fiji).
There are, however, often big differences between island resorts/accommodation, what they offer and the experience they deliver. Even within a geographically close group of islands different conditions on each island may give you very different holiday memories.
Here is a check-list to think about and ask about before committing your hard-earned cash on a confirmed booking.
Getting There and Away
If an island has difficult or expensive access (flight) it’s going to have to score very highly in the other basic conditions.
Look for included transfers, if they want your business they’ll make the effort or have an offer.
If there is boat access only ensure you know the schedule in case it isn’t daily. This is important if you need to move on or connect to your next destination on a certain day or time.
Meals - Inclusive, Cook Your Own or Pay As You Go
Islands necessarily mean an isolated form of living, sometimes with limited meal options. Some islands only have one resort on them so they include all meals and have set meal times. At first this might seem like you are paying extra but usually this set up provides excellent value for money buffet-style meals.
The alternative might be an ala carte restaurant so you get choice but you may well pay for it depending on which country you are visiting.
To maximise their financial return and limit inconvenience of stocking food for purchase some islands may not offer independent cooking facilities.
Depending on the resort and location you choose, double check whether there are hot water showers. In a tropical environment it’s not the end of the world if they only offer cold water!
Similarly shared showers and toilets can be common even for twin/double share accommodation options.
If you intend staying in a dorm check the the maximum number of people the room will take. You may well be surprised how many are packed in.
Checking the fine print on your room for fans vs air-conditioning might also remove an unexpected annoyance. Don’t forget anti-malarials or mosquito netting of your own when you sleep in some tropical island regions.
The cultural interaction you have with staff at resorts is perhaps the one thing you will remember more than any other. If the staff are having a good time so will you. Working on an island must take on ground hog day-like dimensions and staff boredom and low morale follows.
Friendly staff are not something you can check for in a brochure but you can search and ask other people who have blogged about the place you intend going to.
Islands in Fiji often have relationships with local villages who they support or lease the land for the resort from and the islanders in turn work at the resort. For the most part, this ensures the staff care about where they work. The alternative is turning up and meeting someone who doesn’t care. Or the place is simply staffed by other backpackers from your home country.
If you take the time you can get closer to the cultures of the people who are working on the island you are visiting.
Check to see if there are cultural exchanges in the form of village visits or performances. They needn’t be as corny as you might think. In fact they are often vital in keeping cultures strong and traditions passed on and practised through the generations.
As inviting as lying around in the sun and swimming all day is, chances are a day of this will be enough no matter where you are. The better islands have a range of activities to choose from including diving, snorkelling gear (free or for hire), canoe hire, sailing, fishing trips, guided walks and traditional craft options.
Often these are presented as a daily schedule dependant on tides and conditions which is great so you can pack as much in during your limited time.
Where there is a group of islands, some islands will specialise or promote themselves to appeal to different parts of the backpacker market. This way all the party-heads can go to one place, the divers can go to bed early on another, and those looking to keep things basic and get close to nature can go somewhere else.
Equally, and importantly, some islands are dedicated to the singles market and others focus on couples. I think we all will want to stay away from those islands looking after families and kids.
Naturally this categorisation will cross over at each island but you’ll find and can ask about an island in these terms if it is important to you.
At the end of the day if you’re the type of person who likes to go out and have a drink with mates and party on it’s worth checking if bar facilities exist.
Equally important is knowing the alcohol bar prices. Islands can be notorious for jacking up prices for short term gain.
Check as well if the bar runs a bar tab and you can charge all drinks to your room since this makes for a much more relaxed holiday although when you come to pay the bill can be alarming.
Some islands in the interest of maximising their own liquor sales won’t let you bring your own alcohol to the island.
Wildlife / National Parks
Over fishing and lax regulation has decimated fish stocks world wide. This has often occurred locally to supplement incomes and feed tourists desire to eat fish on holiday.
If you have an expectation of abundant fish and coral in the water when you stay on an island check if there’s a marine national park near where you will stay. A marine national park will hopefully guarantee you see what you came to see.
Check what the weather will be like when you are going to be on the island. I don’t know about you, but having an island holiday during the wet or monsoon season is not my idea of fun. Similarly islands in equatorial regions often have a cyclone season that runs hand in hand with their monsoon season.
Travelling in the off season may well get you big savings although you may well come home with few if any sunbathing photos.
Travelling with a conscience doesn’t just mean putting your rubbish in the bin. It means thinking about where that bin gets emptied. Thinking about this issue on an island is even more important. Is your rubbish composted, burnt, dumped on the island or removed to a mainland refuse site?
Many islands run their own desalination plants so limit your water use and help reduce the amount of diesel burnt in generators to create your drinking water.
What is important to you and your enjoyment on an island holiday?