It’s April 30th, 2013 today (in Canada), and exactly one year ago I stepped on a plane at Sydney airport, Malaysia-bound.
This year has been a surreal experience to say the least. But, that was the point! I wanted to see wonderful new things, wander the back alleys in Saigon and find curious restaurants serving dog, cycle around the mysterious sun-baked Burmese monuments in Bagan that I never knew existed, drink Belgian beer almost as strong as wine from glass goblets, feed reindeer carrots whilst at the wheel of a car.
So, what did I learn?
1. Taking that first step is the hardest.
It is possible to quit your job and travel for a long time. If you’re willing to take that leap of faith out of financial and social security (and believe that you can land cat-like on your feet when you come home), I think almost anyone can do the same. Which leads me to point #2…
2. You don’t need a lot of money to travel long-term.
The plane ticket is obviously a big expense, but once you’re at the destination, you can linger for a very long time with the right budget-oriented mind. South East Asia is famously good value, especially if you eat at cheap local cafes and don’t mind dorm beds. Try couchsurfing too.
3. Wi-fi is everywhere!
It’s in$6 Cambodian hotel rooms that don’t even have hot water. We found wi-fi in our jungle lodge in Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica, even though the rooms didn’t have walls and the only light was the moon. You’re always connected (though the quality of the signal can be dodgy!)
4.Common sense can prevent stuff being stolen.
I had a pair of thongs stolen in week one in Malaysia at the front door of a hostel, but I suspect it was an accidental mixup. Besides that, I didn’t lose a thing. Keeping one eye on valuables or your bag on your lap instead of on the racks of the bus is enough to deter thieves.
5. People are friendly.
When I sank in knee-deep mud in Myanmar and lost one of my thongs (so deep I couldn’t even see it anymore), a pair of kids happily reached in to the slop to retrieve it.
6. The lighter you pack, the better.
If I were to do this again, I would halve the size of my backpack, trade my sleeping bag for a light blanket, and leave the video camera behind altogether (a simple digital camera can do everything!). In a heartbeat, I would trade a pile of heavy books for a Kindle!
7. Take your time. The journey along the way is why you’re travelling, so take it slow. There are rarely deadlines to meet when travelling.
8. Keeping a bottle of water handy is always a good idea. If trekking, you will need litres and litres of the stuff.
9. Equatorial countries are sweaty, all the time. You’re going to smell. Don’t fight it, just go with it.
10. Nobody really needs a TV, unless it’s for a community to rally together to watch the soccer.
11. Chicken dishes in South East Asia come with splintery bits of bone. Beware!
12. Learning at least ‘Hello’ and ‘Thank you’ in another language goes a long way.
13. Say yes to new experiences. I regret not eating that fried spider in Cambodia!
14. It’s nice not worrying about a phone.
15. Travel is ridiculously addictive. The world out there is massive, and there’s so much to see. I feel like I havn’t even scratched the surface.
16. Take photos of the little things. I wish I had a picture with Neil, the Northern Irishman who was drinking 20 cans of beer a day, and a source of great amusement for us. I’m happy I got a photo of our favourite hotel room, the monks surfing the internet, and lady riding a motorbike attached to a medical drip.
17. Lonely Planet is a guide, not a Bible. Take the practical information, but find your own experiences, your own sights, your own hotels.
18. Don’t be shy to haggle, depending where you are.
19. Doing your own laundry in the hotel room is perfectly fine.
20. There’s no reason to shave. Beard, no beard, who cares?
21. Playing cards are a good icebreaker.
22. If something costs a fraction of the normal price, it will break soon. I think I went through about 6 pairs of sunnies.
23. Everyone should own a hammock!
24. Ricky Gervais podcasts make a boring bus trip infinitely more entertaining.
25. Eat as much pho as you can in Vietnam. When you leave Vietnam, you will miss it.
26. Same for Vietnamese coffee!
27. And French baguettes…
28. Breakfast IS the most important meal of the day.
29. Street food is excellent.
30. There’s nothing like an ice cold coke after a trek.
31. If you’re Australian, always keep a tube of Vegemite handy to freak out non-Australians.
32. Keep sunscreen handy.
33. When multiple people warn you a country is cold, listen well. Canada’s winter was the first time in my life that I needed to wear two pairs of pants.
34. Mosquito coils are a very good idea.
35. Wearing an old pair of Vans in a river will not stop leeches from getting you.
36. Don’t worry if you don’t see everything. It will inspire you to come back again one day!
37. A postcard means so much more than a Facebook message.
38. The Paris Museum Pass is filled in by you, usually given a cursory look at museums, and therefore has no real expiry.
39. Beware of pickpockets on the Paris metro.
40. Assume you won’t get much sleep on an overnight bus. Unless you’re in Laos, where the overnight buses have double beds.
41. Belgian beer is far and away the best in the world.
42. Staying in touch with home is one of the most important things to do when you’re away.
43. Travelling taught me to be less wasteful. I would rather fix something than throw it away. A sewing kit is a lifesaver!
44. Think very carefully before deciding to sleep in an airport. Some are very comfortable (Wooo, Kuala Lumpur!), some definately aren’t (*cough* Miami).
45. There’s nothing wrong with not liking a place, and going somewhere else.
46. Watching movies in French can still be sort-of understood if you don’t speak French. (Just don’t watch ‘Lincoln’.)
47. Don’t get too obsessed with saving every last dollar in Asia. Saving one dollar on that bus ticket by buying at the bus station instead of the hotel suddenly seems completely pointless when you order a 7 dollar beer in Paris. In the end it makes you feel bad for the little Cambodian hotel you could have supported with your custom.
48. Monkeys are wild animals. I don’t care how many others are doing it at Batu caves, don’t feed them!
49. Don’t let a country’s past scare you or, prevent you from going. Despite war-torn pasts, most people seem happy, optimistic and eager to put the past behind them by working hard and earning their future.
50. Anything can happen when travelling. I left home looking for ‘something’, but I didn’t know what. I fell in love with Cindy along the way, and found what I was looking for!