Post-Trip: Traveling Lessons Learned

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From December 12th, 2011 to Janaury 12th, 2012 — I traveled from San Francisco to Vietnam, to Thailand, to Cambodia, to Laos, and then back to Vietnam and back home again. I have to say that no words can really describe how much I fcking loved traveling and enjoyed this trip. It wasn’t like I was doing it big and living it up all the time…but being out there…exploring the hectic cities and the gorgeous towns that I visited, meeting new people (both locals and other tourists), eating hella bomb-ass food, making some dope personal realizations…I can see why people get addicted to traveling.

However, If I were to do it again…here’s what I’d do on my next trip: 

1) If I had an infinite amount of time and hella scrill, I’d spend a month or two in each country. OR, at least 5 days or a week in each city. I wish I could stay in a place long enough to get to know my way around town, get a better understanding of the history and culture of the area, and learn the language. The language part is key! I wish I knew basics of every language so that i could have basic conversations with people…the talks I had with folks from the areas I visited were dooope.

Having more time also prevents you from feeling rushed every where you go. While I didn’t stress out much during my trip, it would have been nice to spend the first day just planning your events for the next few days, and getting to know the city slowly. The last day would be wrapping up your stay and planning your move to the next location. So if you stay 5 days, your first day is just to feel things out, and your last day is to prep for your next adventure – leaving you three whole days to do whatever you want there. In Luang Prabang (I only visited one city in both Laos and Cambodia), I stuffed in as many activities as I could out of every single day I was there. In reality, I wish I could have just spent one relaxing day in Luang Prabang reading a book and sitting by the rivers, or biking around town. That woulda been lovely. Traveling is supposed to be fun and relaxing after all, no? Staying in one place also helps you get to know people better…whether it’s fellow travelers or local folks.

2) I would have saved money by taking buses and trains, instead of so many plane trips. Flying, while fast and efficient (and usually safer), is extremely expensive in comparison. It also gets pretty hectic.

3) I would have made a budget – and stuck to it. It adds up faster than you think because stuff is so cheap out there! I spent about $1,200 on the RT plane ticket and about $2,000 to 3,000 on my other expenses. DAMN! That’s A LOT. But then again, I planned to do it big (since it was my first trip!) and splurged on tours and buying presents (for my family…and myself) near the end of my trip.

4) I would have…shit I don’t know. I really liked my trip! While it sucks to bounce from one place to another, I loved every moment of my trip. It’s hard to say that I wouldn’t do it over again the same way. Yeah, if you have a month they say to only visit one or two countries at the most, but shit! I got to see a lot of…a lot.

I’m definitely going to try and go back. If I did…

– I’d spend a lot more time in Laos. Loved LP – there’s so much to do there! And I wish I went to Vientiane, Vang Veng, and explored the more rural areas.

– I’d spend a lot more time in Cambodia. While I did see a lot of Siem Reap, I would have liked to have eaten more of the local food (BBQ!)  and see more museums. I also wanted to go to Battambang,   Phnom Penh, the beaches of Sihanoukville, and other spots for longer periods of time.

– I’d go to central Vietnam! Hoi An, Hue…and see the epic caves from National Geographic! I’d take from Saigon to Hanoi, stopping off at all the towns and cities along the way. I’d prefer to take the train (slower but sometimes cheaper), but I’ve heard bad things about trains in Vietnam. And I would not want to take another sleeper bus, thank you very much.

– I’d def go back to Thailand. I looooooved Thailand!! I loved the language, I loved the people, I loved the culture…and the adorable, polite kids that bow to you when they want to thank you or show you respect…and I hella loved the food. The best, in my opinion, of all the countries I traveled to. You can beat their spices or flavors. I saw a lot of Thailand on my trip, but I would have liked to have spent more time in Kanchanaburi, spent more time hanging out with people in Bangkok (enjoying the nightlife a little more), and spent time in the northern smaller towns near the Laos border. OH. And I would have gone down to Koh Phi Phi and the beaches when it’s sunny and beautiful weather.

…In other words, I’d go everywhere again – just for longer periods of time, and see new towns and cities.

Besides those four countries, I also wanted to go to: Malaysia (I’ve heard nothing but great things about it, plus they supposedly have amazing food. I also met some older guys from Malaysia when I went to the Full Moon party in Koh Samui — they offered to take me around town if I ever went out there.), Indonesia, Singapore, and maybe Burma…? (everyone raves about how beautiful and amazing Burma is, but I know that there’s a “boycott” on traveling to the country for a reason…dunno if it’s a wise idea.).

My other lessons learned from traveling…THINGS TO BRING: (The Essentials!)

* A bed liner or a folded bed sheet sewn on some of the sides like a thin sleeping bag. (Thanks Darrel!) My life saver. Sometimes you get beds with little to no bedding. Sometimes the beds are kinda nasty. Sometimes they smell like mildew. Have your own bedsheet that you carry with you and it will be a life saver. I got a silk “sleeping bag” that’s pretty much just a sewn silk sheet in Hanoi; I’m pretty excited to try it out next time I travel!

* Comfortable sandals. I got crazy blisters because my flip flops were wack. Get good, reliable ones that are comfortabel to walk in. You can also bring some breathable, closed toe shoes too, for those days when you don’t want dirty -street water all over your feet.

* A tablet or a netbook. Theres’ free wi-fi everywhere!! I wish I had brought mine. Plus it helps when you’re trying to contact someone or look something up on the world wide interweb.

* A warm jacket (that can be compacted into a stuff sack). Essential for cold flights/trains, and your winter stay in Hanoi. When in a stuff sack, it also doubles as a pillow.

* Wicking underwear. Gotta have your quick-dry panties. It’s muggy as hell out here. And while you’re at it, a couple of pairs of wicking socks. They keep your feet drier and they eat odors too.

* A cell phone. Get one there. It’s cheap. It helps you contact people – or your bank – in a pinch.

* A Lonely Planet Guidebook. A must-have to find a good hotel or to  translate your needs to the locals – like asking for a bathroom in Thailand (know how to say the words “bathroom” and “thank you” in every country you visit!!). The vocab can be inaccurate though, so def check with local folks to see if the words make sense.

* Two bank accounts. I know most progressive folks have credit unions, but some ATM’s don’t take credit union cards. I had a BofA account. You have to get two bank accounts because if you lose one ATM card, you can still pull money from your other bank (you can pull money from credit cards, but you’ll have to pay interest). Keep the cards separate from each other.

* A good, small day bag backpack. My REI one was perfect! Plus it just had one strap, so I could carry it comfortably on my shoulder/chest while I was also wearing my main pack.

* Bug spray. Find natural ones that work. You will get eaten alive by mosquitos. DEET is too toxic to wear on a daily basis.

* A large quick-dry towel (I got mine at REI). The best thing ever! It’s super light, it’s portable, and it dries quickly. I had a towel to use when I hiked to waterfalls, and I had a bath towel of my own when my hostel didn’t offer me any or charged guests for towel rentals.

* A light, quick-dry hoodie or thin jacket/long-sleeve top. Great for going on trips or for those gray overcast days. In most parts of SEA, gray days are still pretty warm, but the long sleeve is nice for when there’s a little chill to the air – or a light rain.

* Pairs of shorts. I wore shorts almost every day. Yeah, you need them. Get some that dry fast and hold their shape well. And are cute to boot.

* Yoga pants. Great for wearing to bed, especially when your train’s AC is a little too cold or you don’t have enough sheets on your bed.

* A small bag that you can use to carry anything – Laundry, gifts, whatever. very useful. Or stuff sacks too.

* Hand Sanitizer – You need it wherever you go! Especially since a lot of bathrooms don’t have toilet paper, let alone sinks.

* Floss picks – you can take them in your pocket and they’re lighter than a spool of dental floss.

* One good book. In my opinion you only need one. At other times, you should be socializing or relaxing and not doing shit!

* Playing cards. Instant conversation starters / entertainment. I did tarot cards with them on the train to Chiang Mai, and learned how to play Vietnamese games during my trip to Ha Long Bay.

* A large flash drive – At least 16GB – to store all your photos and have back up copies! And a large 16GB SansDisk for your camera.

* A light travel journal and lots of pens. Take notes so you can save your memories and thoughts. Get good inky pens that don’t run out of ink fast.

* A little “To Do” moleskine book. I used it to record all my notes and help me plan out my trip. I took this thing everywhere, it’s essential for writing things down!

* An ipod for those long bus rides and train trips…and to drown out other annoying tourists.

* A cable and a combo lock so you can lock up your bag – at your hostel, at the bus station so you can go to the bathroom, whatever. Hella useful.

* Carabiners. Small ones for your zippers (to avoid pick pocketers). Bigger ones to lock your bag to your chair to avoid drive by bag snatchers…and to hang your wet clothes on your bag while traveling to a new spot. You can also use them to hang your sandals on your backpack, or to secure items in your backpack’s external pockets if your bag’s being checked onto a plane. ESSENTIAL.

* Mini bags. I bought a ton…for my flash drives, for my coins, for my whatever. Then I had a couple of bigger bags (a large rectangular pen bag, to be exact) to hold all the little small bags. Sounds crazy and OCD, but it was a good way for me to organize everything that I had and allowed me to find things quickly. I had one bag for all my important shit (passport, money, some jewelry, etc.) and one for all my electronics shit (camera cord, charger, flash drives, memory cards, etc.)

* Copies of your itinerary with space on the paper to make changes to your plans. I went through like 10 different itinerary changes before I settled on my final one. Have scratch paper. You’ll need it to plan out where you’ll be staying when.

* BONUS – Security stuff: A money belt, pockets that you can sew into the inside of your shorts to discourage pick-pocketers, and an envelope or a wallet where you keep all your valuables in your room or bag (keep it separate from the wallet you use on a daily basis). This could also be a small travel safe.

Things you DON’T need to bring with you:

* CREDIT CARDS. The only time I used a credit card was to book plane tickets (and I memorized the card number, so I didn’t even need it). Except for (most) airports and a few tourist stores in Saigon, no one – and I mean NO ONE – takes credit cards! Not the electronics stores, not the hotels, not the trains, nowhere. Totally useless. If you do take a credit card, establish a pin number so you can pull money from your credit card account if you lose your ATM cards.

* Lots of socks (unless you’re in Hanoi)

* I would have brought a small safe instead of my lock bag. It was just too big and heavy, plus I didn’t need to lock anything up that was that big.

* Too many extras of anything. I had two of most things (sometimes three), and 3 pairs of underwear. Synthetic is better than cotton, as it dries faster and is less likely to get stretched outta shape. Bathing suits are great too because they can double as bras and panties. Don’t forget: you can also buy stuff out there. By the end of my trip, I had like 5 of everything!

* An SLR camera. I don’t need a telephoto prime lens when most the time I just want a wide angle shot. Get a good, inexpensive point and shoot camera from COSTCO instead, IMHO. You can return it later! Big SLR’s are too heavy to carry around everywhere; plus you have to worry about them getting stolen all the time.

* Water socks. Unless you plan to do a lot of snorkling, it’s not necessary. The only time I used mine was to loan them to the woman that didn’t have slippers on my kayaking trip in Laos.

* A water purifyer. Okay, well for me I didn’t go anywhere that didn’t serve bottled water (you might need one if you do a home-stay or go to a remote village for a long period of time). I just lugged my water-purifying water bottle around until it finally fell off my bag.

* Anything heavy, or something that you could possibly deem as non-essential or redundant. Trim the fat! You don’t need much shit when traveling. You will also pick up extra stuff on the way!



* Know what you want to do and where you want to go before you land in a new city. I wasted a lot of time (day time was scarce, after all) looking up things to do after I arrived.

* Always take a photo of your hostel and write down the address/phone number, so you know right away if you’re being taken to the wrong hostel. Plus writing down the address is great for your cab driver, who sometimes knows little to no English. If you’re in Thailand, get someone to write it in Thai!

* Find ATM’s with lower fees and take out LOTS of money at a time. I think I spent like $100 just on ATM service charges. WACK.

* Get local maps of the area. While not all streets have signs, if you really want to get to know an area and explore the streets (especially on bike!), get a good map. Many are free.

* Ask other travelers for travel advice – where to go, what to do, where to stay. What NOT to do. HOWEVER: they might have a different style of traveling than you. You just gotta gauge whether or not their advice would work for you too.

* I emphasize this again – ask your hostel manager for advice! They can show you how to do anything, from getting a bus reservation to knowing what good restaurants to eat at. They may get paid a commission to sell you tours though, so be aware of that.

* Be weary of scams. EVERYONE and anyone can scam you. Try to do your research ahead of time to know what companies are good, and which ones might sell you fake tours or visas. I’ve heard that pretty much everything in Bangkok is a scam.

* Meeting up with friends of friends is pretty fun. I had HELLA fun with people who know my friends in the states, who graciously hosted me and took me around the area.

* SMILE. That’s one thing that I forced myself to do more often so that I could seem more friendly and approachable.

* Be open to meeting new people, even if they seem very different than you. Oftentimes people can surprise you.

* Traveling alone is pretty fucking dope. The hard part about traveling with friends is that you sometimes have to negotiate and compromise on the things that you want to do. Sometimes you just have to do things that you don’t find that interesting. Traveling is also like finding a good roommate. Beware: like having a roommate, friends don’t always make good traveling partners.

* Trust yourself. Navigating and trying to get around a country helps you learn to make do with your situation and become more resourceful. Sometimes you don’t know if you’ll ever make it to your destination, but that’s just part of the experience. If you don’t end up there, you’ll just end up somewhere else. Be flexible and have some faith — things will work themselves out in the end.


*** Safe Travelin’! ***



Posted: January 31, 2012

Author: Tiffany

Category: Asia, Blog, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam

Tags: , ,

  1. Jon says:

    This site is pretty great with the photos/maps/journal all in one. You are braver than I to travel all alone with only two pairs of etc. I read to always bring a laundry line, which I brought and never used, but I think it’s just fun to have.

    • Tiffany says:

      Yeah, Joy did an awesome job on the blog. THANKS WIFEY!!! I did bring a clothesline, and didn’t use it either. Why use that when you have chairs in your room or other racks…i washed my clothes sometimes, but they take a while to dry – and if they don’t dry in a day they mildew fast! I did wash my quick dry underwear, and hung it off of my pack when it was still wet while i was traveling.

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