(What I WILL Do Differently WHEN I Travel to Asia Again)
- Banking things: The next time I travel around Southeast Asia, I will be sure to carry U.S. currency. Not only can U.S. currency get you a lot more when you’re bargaining, but it is also the currency of choice for many country’s visas. If you bring U.S. currency, you don’t have to withdraw U.S. currency and deal with ATM fees, nor do you have to convert the currencies you have in to U.S. and deal with exchange fees. I truthfully spent close to $100 in just fees, at least. That’s a trip to Thailand and back!
- Other banking things: Have at least two ATM cards, and possibly even consider opening a second bank account. My ATM card was eaten by a machine in Singapore (most ATM machines overseas suck your card in to the machine’s body to read the information. This became a cause for anxiety for me the first time and all times I used an ATM after I received a new card) and it took five weeks for my bank to get me a new card. I had to do a Western Union transfer to obtain cash in the meantime as nearly nowhere in Singapore (except the fancy, tourist places) takes credit or debit.
- Another note on credit/debit: Everywhere else in the world (yes, even Canada – claimed my Canadian friends) has a “chip” on the back of their card for more easy reading and card protection. My card did not have a chip, but I received an email midway through my stay that stated that if I were in the U.S., I could have that “chip” installed. This was unhelpful. So, when I go abroad again, I will get a “chip” put on my card so that I am able to use it everywhere (and not make my Swedish roommate pay for several of my dinners because she was endowed with the chip and I was not).
- Don’t always trust lonely planet and trip advisor. They can be wrong, and you are not the general population: you are likely a college student seeking adventure and life-changing experiences. If you want advice, buy a guidebook. By the time I realized the huge usefulness of a guidebook, it was too late to really benefit from a guidebook. Instead, I wasted countless hours on Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet trying to gauge my interest in several things only to realize that planning every minute of even a three-day weekend of travel is absolutely useless. On that note: if you plan to climb Mt. Kinabalu, do a trek in Myanmar, hike to Everest base camp in Nepal, etc., then yes, do plan ahead.
- Sit down somewhere and just enjoy your time. Embrace the city and country you are in. My favorite of these scenarios was in Vietnam when my friend Mike and I simply biked for many, many kilometers in to the countryside. We stopped at a tiny corner store for a while and just conversed with the locals. It was clear that tourists essentially never made it out that far, and certainly was an unforgettable experience (for us and likely them, as well). This is one issue with study abroad: you can’t just go with the flow and you begin to envy the backpackers who can leave the beaches of Thailand, well, whenever.
- Additionally: talk to the locals. Why go to a beach in Thailand if you’re not going to learn a bit of Thai and talk to the people? You may as well save some money and go to Florida if the beach is your goal. You also might learn a cool story by talking to the locals, such as the story Sunny-the-Myanmar/Nepali-tour-guide told us about the long-neck tribes when we were trekking to Inle Lake in Myanmar, or even a cool skill, such as slack-lining.
- Note: it’s good to go where the locals go, but there is a reason the tourists go where the tourists go. See: food poisoning. Just put a little thought in to whom you might be following, what you might be ingesting, etc.
- KNOW THE EXCHANGE RATE FOR THE COUNTRY WHICH YOU ARE VISITING BEFORE YOU ARRIVE.
- Learn how to bargain and enjoy it. Trust me: if I could walk in to Nordstrom and negotiate a new pair of Hunter rain boots, I would. Bartering is something I will miss, as are the strong, independent female store proprietors and businesswomen I met and learned from in doing so. See: tailored dresses in Vietnam.
- Pack a backpack and a lock. Try to only fill your backpack on trips. I’m talking school-backpack size. If you are abroad, you likely will not do any trips longer than a week, and in scorching hot Southeast Asia, one backpack full of sweaty clothes is plenty. My sunscreen typically weighed exponentially more than the clothes I packed.
- Learn to travel and just do without expectations. If a random (Balinese) man on the beach in Bali asks you if you want to try surfing, you should probably do it. (Again, I wouldn’t recommend this sort of spontaneity in every situation, though). If the opportunity to go to Kuala Lumpur on Friday presents itself on Thursday, you should probably embrace the opportunity and just go. I’m speaking from mini-regrets I have, here.
Overall, my general advice to myself and to anyone who might be reading this is: if you are considering, stop considering and just do it. And also: go abroad. I can’t wait to re-read this list myself when I finally get to India, Nepal, China, The Philippines, Japan, Korea, Malaysian Borneo, Flores and Sumatra in Indonesia….
The list is unending.