What I Have Learned After Traveling for a Year
I have spent the last year traveling the world, from Central America to Southeast Asia.
While I don’t consider myself to be your standard backpacker (I travel with far too much stuff to stay in a hostel all the time! Besides, when you’re in your 30’s, hostels are not always fun…), I have learned how to travel on a budget, prepare for cultural differences, and maintain good health while my environment is often in a state of flux. If you are looking for out-of-the-box ways to save money or space in your suitcase while planning your next adventure, then continue on…
Prepare for Your Trip – The Planning Stages
Tip #1: Use Couchsurfing
Couchsurfing.com is an amazing resource to meet people and save money (and you may even get a private room for free!). However, you definitely have to be scrupulous in how you use it and who you decide to stay with or meet. When I put in my public trips to Lima and Cusco, Peru, I had over 30 men message me, offering me to stay with them or go out for drinks, etc. Needless to say, I didn’t respond to all of them, and as a woman, I opted to stay with women my first few times I did it. I also used it to find someone to take me surfing in Lima.
When looking at hosts, consider things that are important to you- do you need wifi and hot water? Are you going to be sharing a room with anyone? Also, where are they located? If they are located far away from town, are you really going to be saving money if you have to then pay for more transportation to get to where you want to go?
I also successfully used Couchsurfing in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Thailand, too!
Tip #2: Travel Insurance
Always get travel insurance!
And make sure it covers the cost of your flights. You really never know what is going to happen, and if you are planning on doing anything semi-dangerous or being active on your vacation, I highly recommend it.
I have used travel insurance multiple times for reimbursements on changed/canceled flights due to medical reasons and was in a surfing accident in Nicaragua for which I was reimbursed all my medical expenses. I use Allianz Global Assistance, but there are several other options as well.
This is pretty much how I am able to continue living overseas as an American without health insurance in my own country and/or having to pay astronomical healthcare costs (and getting much of it reimbursed).
Tip #3: Can you say hello in their language?
Learn the basics of the language before you go: Hello, goodbye, please, how to ask for directions, and how to order food, comes in handy. So does knowing right and left.
Packing For Your Adventure
Tip #1: Pack Expensive and Hard to Find Items
If you are going somewhere you will need bug spray and sunscreen, bring as much as you can (especially if you are going to be abroad for a while). It is hellllaaaaa expensive outside of the United States (in Central/South America at least), and if you like the aerosol spray kinds – good luck. Even aerosol bug sprays can be hard to find. Also, make sure you have enough contact solution before going anywhere remote! Luckily I never had a real problem finding it, but it was rather expensive in Nicaragua.
And ladies – bring plenty of tampons if you use them and ALWAYS stock up before going to a remote area. I had someone try to charge me $11 for a box of tampons in Aguas Calientes (the base town below Machu Picchu). No thank you! Luckily I had enough to get me by. Better yet, use a menstrual cup (I use the Diva Cup).
Tip #2: Be Smart with your Passport
Take a picture of your passport and either keep it on your phone or upload it somewhere. This can be convenient if you not only you lose it, but some places need your passport # (like the ferry to Ometepe and some bus lines in Peru). Instead of digging through my stuff for it, I could just easily whip out my phone which was more easily accessible.
Or, if you’re based somewhere for a while, just put your passport in your safe and leave it there while you take side trips. I’ve never had any problems showing a photo of my passport for check-in at hotels or hostels. This came in handy when the Indian Embassy in Hanoi had to hold onto my passport for a week to process my visa for India! I was still able to travel through the country, but I couldn’t leave, obviously.
And password protect your phone and all of your electronics!
I actually now have my passport number memorized from the amount of traveling I’ve done over the last year. I never even memorized my driver’s license number!
Tip #3: Go Light on the Books
Instead of carrying books around, download them onto your Kindle, iPad, or smartphone. There are a ton of free e-books you can download online (many of them are available on Kindle).
Get a portable charging device. Power outages happen! They were much more frequent in Nicaragua, but I did experience some in Peru and Sri Lanka, too. Plus they’re awesome for long site-seeing days where you may not have access to power (i.e. Angkor Wat, etc.).
Tip #4: Bring Less Sh*t!
As in bring less clothing. This is advice I am terrible at. You will buy clothes as you travel. When I got to Nicaragua, I had prepared for teaching yoga and circus by packing lots of the tight fitting clothing that I normally wear – spandex and yoga pants all day. That is great for some things, but I found I really needed less body-hugging clothing and more shorts, so I bought a bunch of tanks and shorts within my first week.
Coming to Peru I was semi-unprepared for the colder weather because I had packed for Central America and hadn’t originally planned on making that trip. The beauty of that was that I got to buy stuff as I went along, such as amazing hats and ponchos in Peru and somehow scored one of my favorite long sleeve shirts ever at a thrift store in Nicaragua in prep for Peru. And not to mention, I also got a super cute pink furry vest in Nica for $2 which I totally rocked on my birthday in Peru and at a psytrance party in the Andes Mountains!
And, just an aside, when you’re shopping, save your plastic bags for your toiletries. I can’t count how many times I had something explode and I had to keep replacing my toiletry bags as I would travel. But if you don’t need any plastic bags, then bring your own bag or politely say no when they offer you one because otherwise, they are wasteful!
Tip #5: How can you stay fit while traveling?
I bring a travel yoga mat and a resistance band with me everywhere. I have been traveling with the Jade Voyager travel mat. I fold it up and put it in my bag with my clothes, although I have seen some people just attach it to the outside of their bag. Therabands are also really lightweight and can be stuffed into bags easily – they are great for arm workouts on the go. I also look for free or donation-based yoga classes, and if I’m going to be somewhere for a few days (and not hiking like crazy), I may get a day pass to a gym if they have cardio machines and free weights.
For more ideas on how to stay fit, check out my article on How to Maintain a Creative Travel Fitness Routine.
Onto the Journey!
It’s Travel Time…But how much time do you have?
If you have the time, travel slowly. Spending 5 months in Nicaragua gave me the time to teach yoga and practice yoga in several places, make friends all over the country, and do/see everything I wanted to do in a not-rushed timeframe. When planning my month-long trip to Peru, I went over several possibilities that included me visiting 4 countries at one point. I realized I really did not want to rush around like that because I did not want to feel the constant pressure of unpacking/repacking when you are on the move so often.
Moving more slowly also gives you the opportunity to plan as you go along. I, of course, had an idea of things I wanted to do, but when I decided it was actually time to go to Machu Picchu, I made the decision a few days before and made the trek without even a ticket! (that story coming soon)
If you are traveling for an extended period of time, work online if you need (or want) to make money. Upwork.com is a great resource for this. In fact, pretty much anyone who has a laptop and some basic skills can make a living working online these days, all it takes is some dedication and diligence!
Tip #1: Take the Local Bus
Don’t be afraid to take cheap public transportation. I know, I know- it doesn’t look appealing. But it’s really not that bad and I think a lot of America could learn something from it. As long as you’re not a germ-a-phobe, you should be fine! Expect these buses to be hot and full of locals. You may be lucky to get a seat in some instances! The buses in Thailand have fans, and in Sri Lanka you may be able to sit right next to the driver if there’s nothing else open!
All over the world, this system is the same: board the bus and someone will come around through the aisle to collect your payment. Make sure you know what the price is beforehand so you don’t get overcharged, though! And keep an eye out on the time and remind them of your stop so they don’t forget about you if you’re going somewhere obscure. It’s also a lot of fun to see all the merchants who come on the bus trying to sell you anything from strange foods to juice in a bag, to lottery tickets, I even saw a woman with flashlights hanging all over her once trying to sell them! You never know what you will see.
You’ll definitely want a shower afterward, but your wallet will thank you. In most countries, you can go long distances for the cost of just a few dollars.
Tip #2: Don’t Be Afraid to Haggle
At the market and for taxis especially. If they aren’t having it, walk away. They will usually come around but not always! I managed to buy a suitcase this way in Chiang Mai, Thailand. However, I learned the hard way that Sri Lankans don’t like to haggle while trying to buy an umbrella at a market in Galle, Sri Lanka. If you have the chance, go shopping with a local to get the best deals. This came in handy for me a few times in Peru when I would run into a local friend while shopping who helped me talk the price down at the market.
Tip #3: Eat Local
When ordering food, remember that ingredients in foreign countries are often not the same as where you are from. For example, I have had 2 bad quesadilla experiences. The one I ordered in the Dominican Republic came with ketchup on it. The one I ordered in Nicaragua came out raw with unmelted sour cheese (Latin American cheese is very sour) and a salad inside of it (lettuce and tomato) with chicken even though I had asked for it sans pollo. Unfortunately, I had to send it back, which I felt really bad about, but instead, they ended up cooking me a traditional dish which was really tasty.
Another thing to remember is that if you are in a remote place with less tourists, probably sticking to the local cuisine is your best bet. Eat with the locals. You may not have wifi, but you will get a meal for $2 that often comes with an entrée and a soup. You can also save money on food by getting off the main square or touristed area (if there is one). Also, buy fruits and veggies from the market for snacks and light lunches. Take them with you on hikes. Great way to save money!
Are you ready for your next adventure now? Sign up for my aerial yoga retreat in Sri Lanka!
Comment below with any tips you’d like to share!
Remember – the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step! Don’t wait until everything is perfect. Just get started!