I was laying on my bed before, thinking about my upcoming summer adventures and how different traveling is for me now, as someone who’s been to twenty four countries, almost always alone. Not many people on this blog know this, but I always wanted to travel. When I was nineteen and in my second year of University I had saved almost enough money to go on my big overseas experience (that’s what we call a gap year in New Zealand). While family commitments made it more difficult for me to go, it was probably fear that held me back. Fear of the unknown: What if I made no friends? What if it all cost way more than I thought? What if something terrible happened?
I had enough “what ifs” in my head to paralyse myself from doing anything.
Three years later, I went through a breakup and I was so upset with life that all the “what ifs” seemed to matter much less. And finally:
I got to a point in my life where I realised that regret was scarier than trying [Tweet This]
When I first boarded that flight to Phuket, Thailand, booked only a few days prior, I was nervous and anxious with worry. But there was a little part of me that was excited, a twinge of “I can’t believe I’m doing this” and a spoonful of “fuckyeah!” (excuse the language, but it’s fitting). Walking out of the airport gates I was bombarded by local Thais trying to offer me inflated prices and lies. “No no, the bus to Patong will not be here for 2 hours, only 60 baht more and you can take private van”. I breathed a deep sigh and soaked in all of the difference of my surroundings. Suddenly, an Australian couple who had been traveling Thailand for a few weeks, took me under their wing “Don’t worry, the bus will be here soon” and within minutes of walking out of the airport, I learned my first travel lesson:
You will hardly be alone - of course if you take yourself to some remote island, enter a vow of silence and glare at anyone who tries to make conversation, then you will wind up alone. But for the most part, on my travels, throughout South East Asia especially, I had to make a solid effort to be alone. Here and there I would take a day out, just to watch my favourite tv shows, eat ice cream in bed and have a little mental space. It can be intense hanging out with someone all waking hours and then sharing a room with them at night. But the cool thing is, you will make tons of friends and meet new people. Still anxious about being alone? Read my post on how to travel alone.
It’s good to be alone, sometimes - if you are like me you will be eager to have interactions with local people. Almost all of the special memories I have with people who aren’t tourists overseas has been when I was alone. You’re more approachable, than compared to a big pack of foreigners speaking in packs. The flip side of this is you’re also more aware of your surroundings. Ever been shown directions to somewhere, but been so lost in conversation you hardly noticed? This happens when you’re traveling, too. I notice that usually my photography is much more interesting when I’m alone because I keep myself entertained by taking more photos.
Don’t take pictures of everything - living in the social media generation there’s this need to have everything online. “How will anyone know I was kayaking around Ha Long bay at sunset if I haven’t uploaded 15 pictures and updated my location?” – well, does it really matter? Some of my favourite memories I have no photos of, which in some ways is a little sad, but it just means that I was too busy enjoying the moment to stop, grab out my camera and start snapping away. Pick your battles; actively think about what moments you want to document with your camera and which you want to savor just for yourself.
You should pack less than you think - when I first arrived I had all my nice, normal, expensive clothing filled to the brim of my backpack. After a few days in Asia my whites were no longer white and my clothes were no longer nice. I could have easily bought a few items and purchased all my clothes in Asia and they would have been much more weather appropriate, and cheaper. On the same line of thoughts, you don’t need a money belt or silk sleeping bag, most people never end up using theirs. I would say that for me personally a microfibre towel has been essential.
Most travel insurance does not cover riding scooters or motorbikes - when I was in Chiang Mai, Thailand, a friend and I went to a motorbike rental place that was suggested in the Lonely Planet as a good, honest place. We both tried to rent a scooter, but both were rejected because we’d never ridden one before, the owner said “he didn’t want to feel responsible if we ended up ruining our holidays”. Never mind the fact that we didn’t have Thai drivers licenses. Originally we were a bit frustrated, because surely we’d be awesome at riding one, but then we thought about it – if he was prepared to turn away business and fresh Baht, he must have been concerned for our safety. Recently I read about a New Zealander who had insurance and had an accident (not his fault) while on a motorbike and wound up in hospital with a big bunch of bills – an easy way to ruin your holiday. Read your policy properly.
Expect something bad to happen - I don’t mean you should freak yourself out over something terrible happening, but chances are something annoying, bad, or frustrating will happen at some stage. Maybe you’ll miss a bus/train or flight, maybe your camera will get broken when you are drunk and accidentally run into the ocean, or maybe you’ll be like me (I hope not) and be stabbed while someone tries to rob you. Either way,
shit life happens. The biggest thing to remember? It could happen anywhere, I bet it could happen in your home town. In a way I’m almost glad I was attacked because it was awful (almost my worst-case-scenario) and you know what? I’m fine. I dealt with it, it was a bit scary and intimidating but now I’m past it and I feel that I’m better prepared to deal with things in the future.
Too cheap is a rip off - the only scam that I believe I fell victim to, was a very common one in Thailand. Usually for a tuk tuk you should expect to pay around 80-150 baht for a ride, depending on the distance, time of day and how many people are in the tuk tuk. On my first day in Bangkok, clouded by a smile only a Thai could offer, a friend and I took got into a tuk tuk with a driver who had offered us a ride for only 20 baht. I laughed to myself, finally I had cracked into the “real” traveling and no longer was I paying inflated tourist prices – screw you Lonely Planet, I’ve found a new level of shoestring travel. It was early in the morning, we were hungry and all we wanted was a cheap restaurant. After a few minutes drive, the tuk tuk stopped – we were expecting some cafe or a bakery, but were greeted with the doors to a silk shop “please please, just look five minutes, if you go in I get a voucher from the Thai Government for my fuel”… I was not in the mood, especially not at this hour! After some conversation, we stormed off – refusing to pay our fare. We were quite lucky, I’ve read countless stories about experienced travelers who have been scammed by tuk tuks. If it’s too good to be true, well, it’s a scam.
Be GRATEFUL when the locals speak your language, or try to - numerous times I’ve heard other travelers complain about how poor the English of some hotel/hostel staff in some developing country is. I’ve let out my fair share of frustrated sighs when my questions are being met with confusion and time is not on my side. But whenever this happens, I pause and think about how well far this person would get trying to speak Thai/Khmer/Vietnamese etc in New Zealand. They wouldn’t even try, because they would be met with frustration or anger and would probably be ignored. How privileged am I, as an English speaker, to travel the world and more often than not be met with at least someone who speaks a little English in their country.
I’ve said it before, but I’m going to say it again: my only real travel regret, after almost two years of travel, is that I didn’t start traveling earlier.
What have you learned traveling that you wish someone had told you before you first letf? I’m sure there’s plenty of things I haven’t thought to include here. Share in the comments below, I’d love to read some.