In finishing my first month abroad, it goes without saying that the experiences I’ve encountered will live within my heart forever. From the various types of delicious foods I’ve eaten, to the incredibly beautiful structures I’ve seen, to the wonderful people I’ve met (both local and fellow travelers). That said, with all the good that has been happening throughout this adventure, there have also been quite a few experiences that I could have done without. From dealing with people trying to scam you, to walking kilometers in the blistering heat and humidity with a 14kg backpack, to the occasional hangover, all of my experiences good and bad, have shaped me to be a bit more savvy in my travels. Here are the top five things I’ve learned from my first month abroad:
I have met several new people all over the world and have made many new friends, but I am more alone than ever.
It goes without saying that when you travel, you’re bound to meet people. As a backpacker, it’s even more common to meet people with a common bond, as you already have one to start. Part of experiencing new cultures is meeting others who are doing the same. In that, you are learning about one another, thus adding another element to culture. During my time in Asia, I’ve met others from all over the world, from different age groups, families, solo travelers, and couples. It’s been incredibly fun and exciting to not only get to know them, but to tell them a little bit of my story. It is also pretty rewarding and fun to go out and explore a foreign land with people who also don’t know where they are going! I had recently signed up for a walking tour that had been unexpectedly cancelled last minute. So, standing around with a bunch of other travelers, not knowing what to do, we decided to do our own walking tour. This basically consisted of us conversing while getting lost in the city, but it ended up being tons of fun and in a way, I hope it can happen again!
However, there is still the lone element that exists. Meeting all these new people and sharing their lives made me miss the lives and loved ones that I have left at home. While there are many instances when I went on a day trip with a group of new friends, the majority of the time I spend is indeed alone. Nine times out of ten it is actually a good thing, because I am a person who definitely needs his “Me-time”. Sometimes, though I get these feelings of loneliness. I miss the comfort of my family, the warmth and support of my girlfriend, and the all-around stability of daily life. Fortunately, with tools such as Skype or Facetime, I am able to alleviate some of those feelings and I get a chance to catch up with everyone back home.
No matter how many kilometers/miles you walk throughout the day, eating noodles 3 times a day and drinking beer every night will start to add up.
With the incredibly cheap prices of both beer and the various street foods that are offered around Southeast Asia, it is incredibly difficult not to indulge on multiple occasions. When I first started my trip, particularly in Malaysia, I treated myself constantly to incredibly delicious noodle and rice dishes, and washed them down with an icy cold beer or three in order to beat the heat and humidity. The best part is that that a tall beer can get as cheap as 50 cents depending on the area you see. With that and the 10-15 mile walks I’ve been doing daily, I dismissed the extra calories and carbs quite often. And with that, it had caught up to me. I found myself a little more sluggish throughout the day and found my body to be a little softer. Granted, I probably lost a bit of weight, but the lack of consistent exercise and clean eating that I used to do before this trip took its toll. I have learned now to slow down a bit and to limit myself on the fried carbs. In addition, I had made a better effort to hit up some of the local gyms again to at least get some strength back. I chalked everything up to treating myself for holiday, but I must remember, that this is a long trip, which should teach me more about moderation. It’s tougher to be health conscious when you’re not in your typical element. But I’m up to the challenge, and have set some new fitness goals to try from abroad. Hopefully in a few months, I’ll be back in tip top shape. (Or I’ll be 400 pounds.)
Too many of these will pack on the pounds quickly if you're not too careful!
There will be a situation where you will be put in a position to possibly end up spending either more of your time or money than you wanted.
Everyone is pretty much aware that when you visit a new country, particularly in a large city such as Paris or Rome, there are plenty of scammers out just waiting to get their hands on some unexpecting tourist’s cash. I did my best to be careful of most of the obvious occurrences, but I do admit that there was an instance when I let my guard down to a “friendly” local in Bangkok.
I had been on my way to Wat Pho, wherein lies the famous Reclining Buddha. As I did my best to avoid taxis, because they have been known to rip you off, I decided to walk on my own when I encountered a man on the street. He was very friendly and was curious about my travels. He had informed me that Wat Pho was closed for the morning due to a Buddhist holiday. (There should have been my first clue as these temples do not close). But I was naïve and wondered what I’d do for my day. He informed me that he knew three other temples that were just as nice and that the Tuk Tuk drivers (small motorized rickshaws) could take me around for cheap. Low and behold, one driver just happened to stop by. So I figured, why not? I did notice that before I got in, the friendly gentleman recommended a place called Thai Fashion, where I could buy a nice suit. I shrugged it off and went on my way.
The first temple, although quite small, was still very beautiful. I actually had a great experience and said a prayer for good fortune. When I completed, my Tuk Tuk driver was waiting to take me to the next area. He mentioned he had to use the restroom and would be back in a few minutes. Not 20 seconds after he left, another nice gentleman walked by. He had mentioned he went to UCLA and was a teacher. He then mentioned the exact same store where I could get a good suit. That’s when I started to put two and two together. The driver arrives back and we head off. But on the way, we happen to stop by that exact store. That was when I knew I was in a ploy. I told him I wasn’t interested but he had told me that If I went in, he would receive 5 free liters of gasoline. So I went in, and listened to the salesman talk to me for 20 minutes before telling him I wasn’t interested.
After the second temple, he took me a travel agency since I told him I was interested in going to Sukhothai in middle Thailand. He took me there, and when I went inside, the driver zooms off. I’m thinking oh well, it is what it is and I go into an agency that included an incredibly pushy saleswoman with incredibly inflated prices for trips I could easily find on my own. After much headache and more wasted time, I leave the center in the middle of an area I don’t know with my driver gone. I knew I had been swindled and found out that Wat Pho was indeed open. Fortunately, I didn’t spend any extra cash, but I had pretty much lost half my day. The moral of this story, is that if a local (with a very good knack for English) acts incredibly helpful to you, you may want to be weary.
Phuket - An absolutely beautiful place with a wonderful night life. But watch your pocketbook as you can end up spending a fortune1
You must realize that there is a huge difference between being a traveler and a tourist. If you don’t then you may burn out very quickly.
This is actually a lesson that I am still trying to learn, as I always feel like I need to be up and going. When I had first started, I was going out for full days every single day, and trying to soak up anything and everything I could during my stays. Because of that, I burned out quite quickly. It gets incredibly tough when you’re out and about everyday without resting. Plus, I got to the mind frame that I was so obsessed with finding everything, that I was not able to fully appreciate the sights and sounds around me. I am traveling for a complete year, not a two week stay. I need to take it easy and not feel like I need to go everywhere right away. I received the best advice from a friend: “Treat each city/country as if you were going back again soon.” This was an excellent piece of information from me. I could take a day or half day at a café and not have to worry about wasting time. Because of that advice, I am able to write in my blog today.
Sometimes you just wanna waste a day bathing in a waterfall.
In the end, this is your trip, not anyone else’s.
“You need to go here!” “You can’t leave ______ without doing this!” “I can’t believe you didn’t do _______ while you were in _______!” While I appreciate every suggestion given to me, I must realize that I need to do the things I want to do. Not because someone suggested them. This hasn’t caused too much of a problem because most of the suggestions I had received, had sparked a good amount of interest in me anyway. I do know that there will be many activities that I will not have done or will not have wanted to do in a particular country. And that’s okay. If I don’t want to visit the Louvre or the Great Wall of China, it doesn’t make me a strange person, nor does it give an indication of me missing out on anything. I love the freedom of doing anything I want. I’m not the biggest museum fan, so I don’t anticipate visiting them very much, no matter how famous they may be. I factor my plans based on my particular interests, whether that be long term or short term. But please, continue to give me your suggestions as I love options!
People were concerned about getting a tattoo abroad. It's what I wanted to do, so I did it!
It’s still a long way to go before I conclude my trip and I know I have so much more to learn. However, I already feel much richer in spirit and in mind during this short time and it makes me more exciting to see more sights, meet new people, miss my family even more, and the most important thing, to live life the way I see fit.