I first traveled alone at the age of 14 to study abroad, however, this was my first completely solo and solo planned adventure on the opposite side of the world. I have so many major takeaways but here are 5 of them:
- Don’t overpack! – I see this on so many travel blogs and it is true. Pack as little as you can, then go back and pack half of that! There is a reason its called “backpacking”. I was unable to go to some places that I wanted to because I had a large suitcase with me. This was not my choice due to a change in plans. Instead of going back to the States from India, I was going back to the States from Vietnam, and this was a hassle. Thankfully, my hostels were kind enough to store my luggage when I left for another part of the country for a short time (use luggage locks!). Also, because I had souvenirs for people, and 2 months’ worth of clothes, my bags were overweight when leaving India, which was one of the worst traveling experiences. I almost missed my flight trying to adjust the weight, and I resorted to layering on a ton of clothes (Because I definitely wasn’t paying that ridiculous baggage fee). It was hectic and very annoying.
- Hostels are AMAZING (if you stay in the right ones)! – I had never stayed in a hostel abroad, but I regret not doing so sooner. Hostels are great! You meet so many different people from all walks of life. The friendships I have gained in my little time during my trip are ones that I will cherish forever. I now have people to visit and new countries to go to. I know you’re probably asking, “Are they clean?”, “It’s weird sleeping in a room with strangers.”,” Is it safe?”. These are all valid concerns. But yes, I have found the hostels I’ve stayed in to be clean, safe, and not weird. Also if bed bugs are a big concern of yours ( they are my worst fear!), just remember that five-star hotels can have them too. They do not discriminate.
Due to it being my first time in hostels abroad and having so much luggage, I was keen to find a place that was clean and secure. I stayed in a newly opened all-girls dorm in Penang, Sogor. It was very clean, with FREE laundry, and great security measures (cameras, a locker that needed a key card, front door that needed key card, etc). In Langkawai, I stayed in a mixed dorm, Indiana Cafe and Dorm. The security of it wasn’t all that great, but it was clean and I met the most amazing people. The locals felt like family. Lastly, I stayed in another hostel in Vietnam (called the LaLa House, lovely name!) it was more like a house and I stayed in the all-girls dorm. Again, very clean, security was good and met great people. If you’re interested in checking out some hostels for your next trip, you can always search and read reviews on HostelBookers, HostelWorld, and Trip Advisor. Reviews are very useful sometimes, and you can cross-check platforms. Some places will have the most amazing reviews on one website and really bad ones on another. You can find the links to all the great places I stayed by clicking on the hyperlinks! Oh and my fav place by far was Winter Spring Homestay in Cần Thơ, Vietnam! I was only charged $5 for a gorgeous room and $30 for an all-day tour of the floating markets. And they have homemade yogurt!!
- You will take risks!– Traveling alone is a risk in general, but to survive and have a great trip, small risks are sometimes necessary. It can be hard to trust people you only met for a few hours or trying food from a questionable street vendor. My advice is to stay vigilant and alert at all times, but let the walls down a little when you can. I am not saying you should put yourself in a dangerous situation, but I have learned that as travelers we take a lot of risks, and sometimes those risks turn out to be the best experiences. However, I have also learned to trust my intuition and not minimize that “gut feeling” as being paranoid. Better safe than sorry in some circumstances, but you will know that situation and that “feeling”. Understand your limits, but challenge your comfort zone. Trust me it will be worth it. For example, I was in a rural part of Vietnam for my second to last night. I loved the area and really wanted an authentic experience. However, I did not feel that the community took to me well and I had a gut feeling to leave. I woke up at 7 am (on my 23rd birthday might I add) to explore the community and I was on the next bus back to Ho Chi Minh at 9 am.
- One week in a country is not enough!- I spent 6 days in Malaysia, and about 5 days in Vietnam. Needless to say, that was nowhere near enough. I spoke to many travelers that had traveled the entire coastal line of Vietnam from the North to the South. Many had been in the country for about a month or more. There is so much to see and do and travel time can take up a large portion of your trip (something I certainly forgot about). Also, when visiting for a week, you are trying to cram in as much as possible, which can cause you to burn out very quickly. My mom used to tell me, “The country isn’t going anywhere. You can come back. It will be there.” She is right (kinda, cuz the way climate change is looking ….). When time (and yes, money) permits, you can return. Now that I have gotten my feet wet with traveling in Asia, there is so much more I want to see and explore.
- LIFE is truly a wonderful gift!- On my trip, I met so many people that had saved up what they could, quit their jobs, and now are traveling. Of course, this is not a possibility for many of us, but the one thing many seasoned travelers did teach me was that we are meant to enjoy life. Tomorrow is not guaranteed, but yet many of us live life like it is. You are waiting to travel because you want to be “stable” or “settled”, but where is the guarantee that will happen? If you are traveling for luxury, then certainly, you should have the finances to do so, but there is pleasure in traveling for the experience of culture and a curiosity of the world, even if it means taking that uncomfortable local bus, or staying the night in a $5 hostel bed with 8 other people in the room. We stress due to work and work with the hopes of relieving the stress. I find myself consumed by the anxieties of life, the thought of doing things the “right way” or living up to the expectations of others. I have been reminded to live life to the fullest and take the leap when I feel the most hesitant.
During my trip, I began reading the popular autobiography, “Becoming Michelle Obama”. In it, Michelle Obama talks about her best friend, Suzanne, an energetic Caribbean girl with a desire to live a life of adventure and happiness. Suzanne never did anything she thought wouldn’t be fun or enjoyable and in the beginning, Michelle felt that this thought was a bit irresponsible. Suzanne had such a free soul and love for life, but she passed away due to cancer at the age of 26. When reading this, I couldn’t help but think of all the friends and family I see stressed about what they don’t have. Yet, we have life. Every day we open our eyes is not only a blessing but surviving each day is a challenge in and of itself. The blessing of life was something that Suzanne appreciated and made the most out of, and it was taken from her all too soon. At 23 years old, I have the energy and time now. I don’t think there is ever a “perfect time” for anything, so I just enjoy the ride.