I’m back in the Netherlands! After an extraordinary 3 months of travelling, I’m here again! A while ago, I asked you if you have any questions for me related to my travel. Let’s start of with answering some of those.
Is there something in your luggage that is absolutely useless now, but is normally worth having at home?
I packed highly efficient, because I really didn’t want to carry any more weight than absolutely necessary. So any item I carried has a designated purpose. That being said, I didn’t wear any make-up during my whole trip. I used the mini mascara I carried (which is smaller than my pink) only once.
Where do you keep your passport, money, credit cards, id, tickets, etc.? I’ve always kept everything on my person 24/7 which is challenging if you have the opportunity to swim.
When I started travelling, I always wore my most important items on me. I used a travel wallet, which has a cord for around your neck and is large enough to fit in your passport. I wore loose fitting clothes, so I could easily wear them underneath my shirt or dress. After a while the wallet started to annoy me, because it is quite bulky. I started to be more comfortable with keeping my documents elsewhere occasionally. Sometimes I kept them in my small backpack that I carried with me, sometimes in a vault back in the hostel. For long bus rides or places with a lot of bag snatching I always kept my valuables on me. I usually used my gut feeling and common sense to judge where to keep them.
As for swimming, I was lucky enough to find some travel companions who joined me on moments when I had the opportunity to swim. In that case one of us would stay with the bags. But when you’re in the middle of nowhere and you trust the people around you in the swimming area I think you could also just leave your bag for a little while (while keeping it in sight). It really depends on the situation.
I kept one extra credit card and my identity card on a different location in my big bag. If one got stolen, I still had the other.
Did you ever go somewhere that really changed your perceptions (e.g. made you see the world in a different way)?
In a way travelling will always do that to you, although it’s not always obvious how exactly it changes you. I think your perceptions often change in subtle ways. For example living in India many years back changed my perception of what is a problem. You meet so many people who face real struggles, that you start to understand better that most of what you’re going through are simply ‘first world problems’. This solo travel has also changed my perceptions. For example, I feel much more empowered that I can make my dreams come true if I set my mind to it. Also it has awakened me to this idea that there is no excuse for not going on more adventures back home. Life doesn’t have to be boring and the same every day. Generally I also think that a lot of things are so core to your beliefs that they don’t suddenly change. I still can’t get used to Cambodian youngsters throwing trash on the street, to Chinese old ladies pushing you away when they hurry to be the first on the bus, to Lao officers expecting a bribe.
I have found that when I travel, which is always alone, I do not wish to do the hostel scene and I also am not comfortable just showing up and expecting to locate clean, western style accommodation. At my age I need clean and modern conveniences. which ensure good sleep, which is imperative at this stage of life. I found hotels that were comfy yet too pricey, even for Asia. How do you deal with accommodation?
I slept in hostels most of the time and an occasional guesthouse or hotel. I think you can’t have it all. Either you travel on a low budget and grow flexible to the inconveniences (of snoring, drunk, or loud roommates coming in in the middle of the night and switching on the light, locks that don’t work, slow Wi-Fi and the need to bring your own toilet paper) or you pay more to have your own clean, personal space. I found that most of the time in Asia you pay for what you get. The cheapest dorms I slept in were 3 dollar a night in Cambodia, but they were really crappy. They were super noisy, the toilet was broken, the shower flooded and the rooms were so hot you could barely sleep. Usually I would pay a little more (5 to 7 dollars) to get at least some of the basics working and to have a fan. Some of my best accomodations were when I shared a private room with some girls I met along the way. Usually private rooms are as expensive as two single dorm beds, so I spent some more luxurious nights with a proper air-conditioning and clean private shower for a similar price when sharing it.
As a huge introvert, being around people 24/7 without any place to come to my senses was something I found challenging at times. So when I really needed some alone time and a good night sleep, I paid a couple of dollars more to get a private room to recharge. I only did this like two or three times I think. I did avoid the very large dorms with 18 beds; my maximum would be around 8. And I tend to avoid the really big party hostels, to minimize disturbances at night. Also, my earplugs turned out to be quite useful. China was relatively the most convenient and luxurious part of my travel; I only had to share my room with one other girl and slept in proper hotels instead of dorms. But then again, the cost of China took about half of my budget, almost as much as 3 other countries combined. This was a conscious choice, but it proves that you can’t have it all. You need to set priorities. Do you find it more important to sleep well or to see more countries?
How do you manage where you’ll be sleeping, knowing you’ll be in several countries for several weeks at a time? How much research do you do before you depart or before you arrive in the next country? What research tools do you use?
In Cambodia en Laos, I travelled with a Lonely Planet guidebook. I usually used this as a base for knowing in what part of the city most hostels were located. Sometimes I would use the Lonely Planet for hostel recommendations. However, you need to be aware that there are many more accommodations than those listed in there. So for additional information I would consult Hostelworld quite a lot. They also make it possible to book in advance. It’s easy to get an overview of price, but also to view the rating of other travellers. I normally wouldn’t stay in a hostel with a rating lower than 80%. It also lets you view a rating per category, for example cleanliness or atmosphere, which I found quite useful. When I found a hostel that seemed to be a good price, at a good location with a good rating, I usually glance at a couple of reviews before finally booking. The comments often reveal relevant information that you cannot find elsewhere, like that a hostel is above a very loud bar or that they have bedbugs in a certain room.
When I started out I would book my hostels in advance and rely heavily on the Lonely Planet. As I got more confident travelling, I mingled that with going on the fly. Sometimes I would just walk around town to see what’s out there. The advantage of that is that you get to check and judge the rooms in person instead of based on Internet information. Occasionally you get to bargain on the price as well. Disadvantage is that you don’t necessarily get the best price for money deals, because you tend to stick to a certain area and don’t want to walk too far or check more than a handful of hostels.
I would switch up female dorms with mixed dorms (not all hostels have female dorms and sometimes they cost more). Usually I would prefer the atmosphere in the female dorms though, because it makes you feel a little less self conscious about what you’re wearing inside and where to change for example.
I wouldn’t plan more than 2 or 3 days ahead. Whenever I did book a hostel online in advance, I would normally book maximum 1 or 2 days. That way, if the hostel would be terrible, I could still move the next day. When I knew that I would be arriving late in a city, I always made sure to book a place in advance. I didn’t want to be wandering around town in dark alleys looking for a place to sleep.
Also, prior to departure, do you research where you’d like to go in each country and map out your travel route? Or do you leave things up in the air? How loosely do you travel?
I didn’t know a lot of the countries I was travelling to on forehand. I was so busy with finishing up my 1001 ideas, that I got my packing done, gathered some useful tips, ordered a guide and booked my first hostel, but that was about it. Basically I started reading up on the country in the plane on my way there (I just realized what a reoccurring pattern this is; I was still listening to a Spanish audio course on my way to Chile in the plane).
I would usually have a rough idea when entering a country of my travel route. For example in Laos I knew I would go from south to north, and end in Vientiane, because I would fly from there to Beijing (I did book all my flights in advance). Or for Cambodia I decided I wanted to see Ankor Wat in Siem Reap, the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh and the beaches in the south. Also I had a rough time-set of three weeks per country. But I usually didn’t know exactly where I would be going until 3 days in advance. If I liked a place I would stay longer. If I didn’t love the vibe of a place too much I would move on quicker.
You also meet a lot of people on the way who will share their experiences and recommendations with you. This was a really helpful source of information and made me change routes, visit some temple nobody knew of, rent a scooter to eat fresh crab or choose to go to the beaches on the islands instead of on the mainland.
I was open to suggestions of people, but also had my own thoughts on if that would fit my plans and me. For example, I might actually avoid a certain bar that people raved about because of their stories, or stick with my plan to go to Laos against the pressing opinion that I should better go to Vietnam. You’ll meet so many people with so many different ideas on what you should and shouldn’t do. You learn to trust your own opinions and desires more.
China was all preplanned because I did a tour there. Indonesia I left up to Joran to decide. Basically I felt like I made every single travel decision for the last two and a half months, so he could pick my last 2 weeks for me and I would be happy to just be with him and go wherever. Of course we did discuss the mayor decisions like what islands we would be going (Bali and Lombok) and I did feel more confident about letting go because I knew we would roughly want similar things. Because we changed plans last minute (to go to Indonesia instead of Nepal) it also made it a lot easier for me, considering my limited Internet connection to research stuff on forehand.
I once booked a flight to go travel for a while by myself and cancelled it the day before I would leave, because it was just too scary. Weren’t you scared to go travel by yourself?
Yes, I was terrified. Between you and me, I definitely had my moment of crying on the night before I left because this might have been the scariest and stupidest thing I had done in a very long time. That being said, I truly believe you shouldn’t let your fears limit you. Whenever you’re scared of doing something, and you do it anyway and it turns out good, it builds your confidence level. You look back on an experience, and what once looked terrifying now doesn’t look that scary anymore. From your new point, you get to tackle something that’s even scarier. That’s how you grow as a person. The trick is to not make the steps too large. I don’t think I would have attempted this 3 month solo travel if I hadn’t before: grew up on different continents, lived half a year in India within a group, did a three month internship in Santiago de Chile by myself, etc. You need to seriously challenge yourself, but also fit the next challenge to your personal growth curve.
If you still have questions left, you can ask me in the comments.