Nothing can really prepare you for leaving your home country and travelling to a place that is totally different. Especially if you’re a solo traveller. Even with somewhere as -travelled and – dare I say – mainstream, as South East Asia, it’s still hard to know what to expect on your first big trip.
I certainly had no idea what awaited me on my first trip to South East Asia, so to try and help you guys be a bit more prepared than I was, I’ve put together a list of 10 things I wish I knew before I travelled!
Lesson 1: Caffeine is good everywhere in the world – Cameron Highlands, Malaysia, July 2016.
1. You Will Never Be Alone
When I booked my first solo trip, I was terrified. I spent the day before on my mum’s bed, crying that I’d made a terrible mistake and that I was going to hate every second of it.
I ignored everyone who told me that I would make friends, thinking BUT I’M SHY! I’M AN INTROVERT! THERE’S NO WAY I’LL BE ABLE TO MEET PEOPLE!
But of course I did.
Even if you’re the most socially awkward person ever, hostels make it almost impossible not to make friends. Not only do most hostels employ fun, young staff members whose job it is to make sure you have a good time, but travellers are all sociable and open to meeting new people! All it takes is a quick smile and a ‘hello’ when you see someone, and before you know it, the ice is broken.
There is nobody friendlier than a backpacker – Gili Trawangan, September 2015
2. People Are Usually Good
So here’s the thing – you will get scammed when you travel. Make no mistake about it. Not everybody is your friend. HOWEVER. For the most part, people are decent and will go out of their way to help someone in need.
I’ve lost count of the times that friendly locals have helped me out whilst I’ve been travelling around South East Asia.
There was the teenage boy that let me and my friends take shelter in his beach hut in Phuket when a tropical storm hit and we had all our belongings with us (we were killing time on the beach before catching a flight to Chiang Mai); there was the hotel receptionist in Bali who drove me to the airport himself, free of charge when my taxi didn’t show up; not to mention the endless Khmer families that would invite me to eat rice with them when I was living in Cambodia, just because I happened to walk past their house as they were eating.
Not everyone is a crook or scam artist. Most people are genuine and honest, and your biggest mistake will be to treat everyone you meet with suspicion.
3. It’s YOUR Trip
You’re probably thinking ‘of course it’s my trip! Who else’s trip is it?!’ but it’s easier said than done to remember that all the time.
On your travels, you will meet people who invite you to do things that might not necessarily be up your street, but you’ll say yes because you feel obliged.
Now let me make this very clear: life is too short to do things you don’t want to do.
You came travelling to live life on your terms and do the things that you want.
Don’t feel the need to visit every museum, or viewpoint, or pagoda, just because you feel that you should. It’s your trip. Do what you want.
What’s an early morning? – Battambang, Cambodia, November 2015
4. Your Things Are Just Things
Chances are, you’ll lose something, or break something, or have something stolen while you’re travelling.
It’s going to happen.
And it sucks. Of course it does. When my tablet broke a month into my 12-month trip, I was gutted. I was equally gutted when I left my toiletry bag in a hostel, especially as it contained 100ml of Agent Provocateur perfume and a Tangle Teezer which was my LIFE. It also was pretty annoying when the damp in my room on Koh Rong turned all of my clothes mouldy.
But you get over it.
You soon find that what matters most are the memories you make with the people you meet.
Your things are just that – things.
(Sidenote: if I could offer one word of advice in regards to this, I would say just make sure you back-up your pictures and videos. Phones can be replaced but pictures can’t.)
All you need is love…and flip flops. Thailand, April 2015.
5. The World is Not as Dangerous as You Think
When I told my family (and some of my friends!) that I was travelling alone and – gasp – as a woman through South East Asia, people’s main concern was how dangerous it was.
Now I’m not saying that South East Asia is 100% safe – nowhere is – but what is important to realise is that you’re not in any more danger than you would be in most European cities. Of course, you should always be vigilant when it comes to taking care of your belongings and not walking home alone in the dark, but those are rules that can be applied anywhere in the world!
People seem to think that travelling is an excuse to act in ways that they never would at home: now I’m not trying to victim blame here, but if you’re a drunk girl alone and you hop on the back of a unregistered moto-taxi at 3am, your night probably isn’t going to end well.
Just use your common sense.
Don’t do anything that you wouldn’t do in your own city.
My bezzie Ratha. He makes the baddest BBQ in town.
6. Travel Won’t Fix Your Problems
People seem to think that travel is a magical cure for all of life’s problems. Well, I’m here to tell you that it isn’t. If you’re depressed, you’re still going to be depressed in Thailand. If you are prone to anxiety, then guess what? You’ll still suffer from anxiety!
It is easy to think that because travel is all you ever wanted, it will magically make you a happier, or less stressed, or more motivated individual. And for some, it can. But travel is no magic fix to all of life’s problems, and whatever plagues you at home is still going to be around when you’re halfway across the world.
7. WATER IS IMPORTANT!
Who knew eh?
Apparently not me. I got ill from dehydration so many times on Koh Rong that I had to give myself a rule: no alcohol before you’ve drank 4 litres of water.
It’s so easy to become dehydrated when you travel. You’re drinking a lot, it’s hot and sweaty, and it’s so much easier to just chuck back a can of Coke then something that’s actually good for you but trust me: you need water. Lots of it.
8. You Don’t Have to Plan Everything!
On my first trip to Thailand, my friends and I planned every single detail of our trip. We booked all our accommodation in advance, planned what activities we were going to do in each place, and even booked buses online!
Of course, on arriving in Thailand, we all realised that it hadn’t been necessary. We were forced to leave places that we wanted to stay at and skipped other places entirely, resulting in hotel cancellation fees.
When I was in Seminyak, Bali, I met a girl called Phoebe who invited me to come and see Uluwatu with her. Now Uluwatu wasn’t part of my plan. I’d never even heard of it! But I went along with her and ended up seeing some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen!
I wouldn’t have been able to do that had I been chained to a tight schedule.
My advice is to book your first night in a place in advance (the day before is fine), and then just see how it goes. Maybe you’ll want to leave after a day, maybe you won’t. The only way to find out is to go and see for yourself!
When 2 nights turned into 10…Mad Monkey Hostel, Siem Reap, Cambodia, October 2015
9. Travel Isn’t a Race
I wrote a post previously about why slow travel is awesome, but I’ll say it again here: travel is not a race. It is about more than ticking off the main tourist attractions and collecting stamps for your passport.
Speaking of passports, you no longer have to race back to your home country to have them renewed, especially if you are a UK citizen in the United States. Even better, there’s no longer the need to be physically present at the UK embassy in the US because everything can be done online. This service works with the help of specialists like U.K.ABROAD, who evaluate your submitted online documents and provide the needed guidance. After that, you’re good to go on your next adventure.
If you only have very limited time, I firmly believe that it is better to just see one place then pack in everything, resulting in you seeing everything, but experiencing nothing.
Life on the road – Phuket, Thailand, April 2015
10. It is Easier than You Think!
The final thing that I wish I knew before I travelled is that travel is so much easier than you imagine it to be!
Anywhere that has a lot of backpackers/tourists is going to be easy to navigate.
Tours and buses can almost always be booked at hostels, English is spoken almost everywhere, WiFi is widely available and there will be no shortage of bored tuk-tuk drivers and market-stall holders to answer any questions you may have about where something is or what there is to do in a place.
So there we have it!
Ten things that I wish I knew before I travelled! Did you find this helpful? What are some things that you wish you knew before you went travelling? Let me know in the comments section!