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6 Things I Learned from 6 Weeks of Traveling Abroad

6 Things I Learned from 6 Weeks of Traveling Abroad

As I continue to settle into my new norm here in Saigon, I find myself reflecting more and more on the traveling I did before arriving, particularly the 6 weeks of travel I planned – and paid for – entirely by myself and my one travel companion. I had traveled enough prior to leaving in May to understand that when traveling, anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Even still, there were a few mistakes made that could have been avoided. I have taken them as learning experiences for myself, because I believe that’s what mistakes are for. Here are 6 things I learned in 6 weeks of travel:

1. To check, or not to check (your bag) – I knew from the moment I decided travel between programs, and realizing I would be gone for 7 months, I did not want to check my bags. I had done some 3-week long trips in the past without checking a bag and figured it couldn’t be much different. I’ve also almost always gotten through check-in with a bag over the normal 10 or 15kg weight limit since any airline I’ve flown has not taken the time to weigh carry-on luggage. I assumed Air Asia (my primary form of transportation), with their 7kg carry-on weight limit, would also not take the time to weigh my carry-on, especially since I had not paid to check my bag… silly me.

Without having our boarding passes printed ahead of time, and at a location without kiosks, we were forced to go through the check-in line for our first Air Asia flight. They weighed our bags – both were almost twice the limit (Oops!) – and charged us $175, nearly 3x what we paid for our flight, to check both for our few hour flight. Never again. We were determined to find a way out of it – and we did. With a printed boarding pass, or a code for the kiosk, all that was needed was a “Document Check” before heading to security. Quick and painless, but still extremely stressful.

Lesson Learned: Pay attention to rules and regulations, and plan ahead to pack less or print.

2. Overpacking – Even though I only packed a carry-on size backpack and a small over-the-shoulder bag, there are quite a few items I absolutely did not need to lug around for months.
• Notebooks: You can buy notebooks and school supplies anywhere – for cheaper usually, too. No idea why I brought 6 notebooks with me, but it was added weight and took up a lot of space that could have been used better.
• Clothes: Yes, clothes. I brought with me 5 dresses, two thin cardigans, 3 pairs of regular shorts, 3 pairs of comfortable shorts, two pairs of pants, 5 tank tops, 4 t-shirts, one belt, 3 pairs of socks, 3 bras, 5 pairs of underwear, one pair of shoes and one pair of flip flops. Holy moly. I haven’t had to do laundry more than a handful of times in the past 4 months, even though facilities have been available to me or easy to find. I could have easily cut down on at least a few articles of clothing (ie: dresses or shorts). Plus, there are malls and markets everywhere. I, myself, have picked up 3 shirts and a pair of shorts along the way from either small markets or conservation sites I have visited.
• Travel-size shampoo/conditioner: I brought two of each in the usual 3oz containers. It cost me more money and space to bring the doubles from the States as opposed to buying them along the way.

Lesson Learned: Pack less. If you need something, you can find it or wash it (don’t be afraid of laundry!)

3. Sharia abiding hotel – Depending on the country, and the country’s religious make-up, there may be hostels, guesthouses or hotels that are Sharia abiding., or have other specific policies you may not typically expect. For those that are Sharia abiding, it means, among other things, that only married couples or families can share a room. My travel buddy, and significant other, and I had originally booked a guesthouse in Jakarta, Indonesia that we did not realize was Sharia abiding. We only caught it when reviewing the reservation the day before. Not wanting to put the owners in an uncomfortable position or risk being turned away, we decided to look for another place to stay. Luckily, we were able to cancel with no additional charges and find another guesthouse for around the same price that turned out to be wonderful.

Lesson Learned: Read the fine print. Double check hotel policies.

4. Budgeting – Being very much a Type A person, I planned almost every detail of our trip, including budgeting for every country. I used the website to get a general idea of what it cost to live (cheaply) in all the cities we would be visiting and adjusted it slightly to our personal travel styles and needs. For example, the estimated cost per day listed on the website only includes one paid cultural attraction, such as a museum or historical site. Since we were only spending a few days in each city, I knew we would be visiting more than one paid cultural attraction per day and adjusted our budget accordingly. What I didn’t account for is that Asia, particularly Southeast Asia, is hot. To stay hydrated, we needed a lot of water, and nowhere we visited had drinkable tap water. In the end, we still came in under budget, but learned a lot about water resource issues along the way.

Lesson Learned: Pay attention to details. Stay hydrated.

5. Rest days – I am the type of travel who likes to Go! Go! Go! This is not sustainable. We had the first 3 weeks, almost 4 weeks of our trip planned with days packed full of activities. The first day we had planned to take a rest was not until week 5. There were many times where we had to move around our itinerary, or cut things out all together simply because we were exhausted. I do not regret our decision to rest instead of push sometimes, but I do wish I had planned better.

Lesson Learned: Be real with yourself and plan relaxation time, too.

6. Rigid Schedule – We booked every flight, every bus, and every ferry. Set in stone, paid in full, on the itinerary. Only, what if we wanted to stay longer somewhere? Or leave sooner? Too bad. Or too much money. Near the end of our trip, we took an Open Water Scuba Diving course in Koh Tao, Thailand. We had an amazing time and wanted more. The dive school we were at, Roctopus, offered us a 10% discount for their Advanced Adventurer Course, which would allow us to dive to a depth of 30m and give us 5 more dives under our belt. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity. In the end, it was worth the extra cost of buying another ferry ticket and for two more nights at our hotel on Koh Tao. Being that it was our first trip in Asia and of this length, I felt better going in with everything planned, but moving forward, leaving myself more breathing room will create space for new, and unexpected, experiences.

Lesson Learned: Allow, and be comfortable with, the unknown.

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