This last winter / spring I embarked on my first multi-month trip through Southeast Asia. While these tips are specifically for SEAsia, they can be applied to most long-term adventures.
» Almost Any Price Can Be Negotiated. This is something I learned late as a backpacker, although I still have some reservations. I definitely bartered in markets, negotiated prices on transportation & asked for extra stuff like free breakfast at hostels, and even talked down some tour prices. However, I feel like when I had a good thing, I didn’t need to nickel and dime everyone. When I felt my private room in city center with breakfast delivered to my door was a fair price, I smiled and happily paid that. Just remember that bartering is part of the culture and brush up on what’s typically the percentage of asking price that you should pay.
» Travel Slowly. As tempting as it can be to try to squeeze in as many cities (and especially countries) in as possible, it ends up causing you to miss out on sites and experiences. If you travel quickly it makes two aspects of your budget spike: transportation & visas. Although the visa price technically is the same, if you pay $100 for a 30-day visa it averages to a little over $3 per day, but if you stay only 10 days that spikes up to $10 per day. Not to mention that if you stay the full amount of that visa, you get to take the time to get to know a country even more. Also, the more you move, the more you have to pay and even though transportation is cheaper than it is in the U.S. paying $15 for that bus ticket for 5 days is better than just for one day and then buying the next ticket.
» It’s Okay to Rest. Typically when I travel I’m constantly a go, go, go person, but traveling for an extended period of time leaves you feeling exhausted. You know what? It happens to every traveler and when those days happen it is totally okay to do absolutely nothing, even if you’re in Siem Reap or Luang Prabang. You have to take care of you.
» Let Yourself Feel Your Frustrations. This is along the same note of taking care of yourself. The key is after you feel them, let them go. If you bottle up your emotions, especially feelings of frustrations, you will drive yourself crazy or snap. Traveling has its share of difficult moments, it’s good to acknowledge them, address them (if needed), and then let it go. Don’t let frustrations ruin or day, or even more, your trip.
» But Remember You Have Sanity Limits. The two things that consistently challenged my sanity were night buses (especially in Laos) and mini-bus rides. We decided pretty early on that if there was a night train or a full-sized bus, that it wasn’t worth the stress, the discomfort, the frustration and inevitably bad experience just to save $1-2. If our budget was SUPER tight, sure, but that was worth my spare money.
» Be As Open As Possible to All Sorts of New Experiences. This is something that I’m constantly trying to improve on. My apprehensions came out more on this trip than ever before. I was leery of most of the forms of water, riding on small, wobbly boats with lots of people, the big cats at the zoo, etc. But the worst was that my western mind had preconceived notions that foods were “gross” and because of this during most of the trip I ate on the safe side, which I really regret. Yes, I ate a few “crazy” things, but I missed out on a lot of things too.
» Pick Your Highlights for a Country Ahead of Time, Then Fill in the Gaps. We had our first three countries roughly planned out and then listened to the advice of other travelers. However, our last few countries were less structured and I feel like we spent a lot more time planning and we made a couple of bigger “mistakes” that we wouldn’t have made if we had a bit more planned. Not to mention that planning is the first fun that you have of a trip, so live it up!
» Be Flexible. Remember that those plans can and, more than likely, will change. The great part is that that’s all part of the adventure. Sure, you’ll perhaps miss things you wanted to originally see, but you also gain a whole new set of experiences.
» WAYS I COULD’VE CUT BACK ON MONEY:
» Travel Slower: Since I covered this in detail above I’ll sum it up – your visa cost averages out much lower and you don’t over do it on your transportation costs.
» Cheaper Transportation: I sort-of covered this, as well. If I wanted to make my money last a lot longer I would’ve taken the night buses in Thailand instead of the night train, I would’ve taken more cost-effective mini-van rides and bartered more on these costs. I could’ve chosen no A/C on the night trains and where it’s available you can use ride-share or some even hitchhike.
» Eat More Street Food: Not only does eating street food give you more authentic food-culture experiences, it is really food on your wallet as well. You can get massive meals for between $1-3 depending on what you drink or if you have dessert (I’m a big fan of dessert).
» Choose Cheaper Accommodation: We opted for private rooms A LOT. Traveling in a pair meant that a private room was sometimes cheaper and often only $1-2 more per night, so we chose this luxury to ensure good sleep and to get our own bathroom. However, the nights in dorms weren’t ever awful, but this was just a little luxury we gave ourselves. I could’ve saved AT LEAST $100 on this trip by choosing more budget-friendly options.
» Open a Charles Schwab Account: I waited around until it was too late to do this, but this was the last time I leave the country without one. Charles Schwab accounts refund any and all ATM fees and foreign transaction fees! If I had done this I would’ve saved myself $114.42 that I managed to add up by using my local bank’s debit card.
» Cut Back on Souvenirs: I’m not usually a massive souvenir-buyer, but I went CRAZY in Asia. Everywhere I went I found myself picking up things like jewelry, elephant pants, a purse, buddha figures, ganesh prints, incense, lanterns… so much stuff! That $241.95 (yes, that number is very hard to swallow) could’ve been spent much more effectively!
These are just some helpful tips that I would have liked to know before I embarked on my first multi-month trip. If you have any questions or any tips you think are helpful please comment!
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