Saturday, October 10, 2015

Travel Tips: 10 Travel Tips, Thoughts, & Takeaways

On a momentary hiatus post a pitstop in the States - I'll be back on my world adventure Monday, loyal readers!  But thought I'd take a minute to write a brief post on travel thoughts/tips/reflections/learnings, a.k.a. a random assortment of things floating around in my head at the moment.  So without further ado, here is my list of 10 Travel Tips, Takeaways, and Thoughts:

1. I love traveling alone.  
I feel like I used to meet people who traveled alone, and 95% of me thought it was amazing and totally bad-ass and super impressive.  And the other 5% of me (if I'm being totally honest) thought it was a little weird.  I thought it took some kind of special weirdly independent personality to be able to travel alone, or someone with more of a "lone wolf" mentality - maybe someone who didn't always like to be around people all the time or something.  

But now that I've done it, I can say with certainty that old-school Connie was wrong (typical).  I was initially a little hesitant because I love being around people and I didn't know if I would like being alone so much.  But I love traveling alone.  It's been the first time I've been able to do anything I wanted - with no one else's opinion, pressure, guilt, or structure. I can choose to pack a day full of as many nerdy museums as possible, or I can sleep in and drink an iced coffee by the pool all day.  And nobody cares. It's seriously the most freeing feeling in the world.

That time I was in Plitvice Lakes alone, so I took the opportunity to take a billion selfies
Not just that, but it's been very easy to meet people on the road.  You meet travelers everywhere (unavoidable, really) - it's a special community where people seem to be friendlier than usual, and you already share a basic love of travel with everyone you meet. Solo traveling is incredibly common overseas, and the beauty is that when you want to meet people and be social - you can. If you don't, and you want to spend the day all alone - you can as well.  I can only think of a handful of times over the past 4 months when I wished I was traveling with someone because yes, it does get a little lonely once in awhile and you sometimes just want a friend to appear so you don't have to try anymore, but those moments are not as common as I would have initially thought.

2. Most useful travel item = packing cubes. 
Given that I've been traveling at a fairly breakneck speed, I cannot tell you the amount of times I've had to unpack and re-pack my backpack (sometimes every day for an extended period of time).  It seriously is enough to drive one totally insane.  Packing cubes have saved my life - I know exactly what is in each one and what belongs in each, and it's just made the whole process of constantly unpacking/repacking my entire life just a tad bit easier.
Packing cubes, you are my hero(es)
Other incredibly useful travel items: my scarf (I have used this a million times to cover up my shoulders or legs at holy sites), selfie stick (see Exhibit EVERY BALLER SELFIE I'VE POSTED), and leggings. I wear leggings on all my travel days, and you cannot make me put on a pair of jeans to save my life.  Also, a lot of useful items are region-specific - for example, in SE Asia, I would have died without my mosquito spray, travel sheets, and anti-bac - but I didn't use a single one of these items in Eastern Europe.  

3. There are some not-so-great things about traveling the world (I swear). 
I know, you wouldn't believe it if you've been following the blog, given the overall theme seems to be "gushy."  But it isn't all sunshine and roses.  Living out of a backpack is exhausting - seriously. You don't know how much you appreciate being able to spread things out, or not having to constantly lock up your valuables, or not only owning things that fit into a backpack - until you live out of a backpack. It is also sometimes exhausting having to always be "on" - especially if you're meeting new people all the time and having to always be friendly - some days I just want to not talk to anyone, watch YouTube videos, and not get out of bed.  Which confession, I've done.  My wrists had constant heat rash almost the entire time I was in SE Asia.  A hostel roommate smelled so bad once that I couldn't fall asleep the whole night.  The bathroom situation in some parts of SE Asia can only be described as "horror movie."

I realize how bratty these problems sound compared to real working life, like I'm whining about being on perma-vacation. And obviously, the amazing, life-changing, breathtaking parts of seeing the world are exponentially greater than the bad.  But it's weird - it's like when you travel, your new set of problems have the same weight as your old set of problems. Yes, traveling is incredible, but that smelly roommate that prevents you from breathing consumes your new life just as much as getting passed over for a raise did in your old life. Just like meeting new fun traveling friends who become your besties and closer than family for the days you travel together, and then you move on and never speak to them ever again. It's just another weird part of the traveling world.

Despite this, I do feel the need to reiterate that overall, I am still completely in love with every second of what I'm doing.

4. Believe it or not, I do have favorite countries I've visited.
The #1 question I get asked by friends and family is which country has been my favorite.  This may be because, as stated before, I have a tendency to looooove everything, and think everything is the cutest, best, most amazing ever.  (Is it really a problem to like too many things?? Ponder THAT.)  But I do. While I've legitimately thoroughly enjoyed every single country I've been to, and have amazing moments and memories of each, there are of course some that have stood out in my mind.  I can't choose one - but I have a couple I've narrowed down for specific reasons.

For overall experience, I loved Turkey. Turkey had it all: beach, mountains, city, coast, historic sites, etc. And they were all amazing. Not only that, the people were insanely kind and hospitable, and the bus system is one of the most convenient/easily-navigable systems ever, since they basically have buses that go anywhere you could ever dream of.

Cappadocia, Turkey <3
The most breathtaking site I loved was Petra.  I had only seen photos of the Treasury (the famous red sandstone building you always see in photos of Petra) - but I hadn't realized the scale of the entire thing. There are literally dozens of buildings you can visit - it's like a huge, vast labyrinth of buildings in different locations, and you can choose whatever path you want and explore wherever you want and feel like a total BA explorer - not to mention the sheer scale and detail, which are both insane.  Closely following are my experiences in Bagan (insane temple wonderland!) and Cappadocia (seriously crazy rock formations).
Petra, you are killing me with your amazingness
Most naturally beautiful was Laos. Seriously, that whole country is super jungle-y, super undeveloped, and super Jurassic Park-esque.  It is unbelievably wild feeling, which I loved.

My favorite city so far has been Budapest.  I guess it's because I had no idea what to expect, and the entire city was the cutest, hippest, coolest collection of cafes, restaurants, and bars ever. Add to the fact that it was cheap, and the riverfront (and Parliament building) are absolutely gorgeous.  Budapest = way too cool for school, and I loved it.

5. The people I've met have been some of the best parts of traveling.
There's something about being in your normal, everyday life where you're surrounded by your kind of people.  And trust me, no judgment here because there are a million things about "normal, everyday life" that I'm missing. Case in point: walking by my old office in NYC last week, I almost burst into tears. Because I missed work a little. *cue mind exploding*  But at home, you're surrounded by people like you - people in similar age ranges, or people with careers and similar responsibilities and upbringings and ways of thinking.

Traveling, however, you meet so many totally different people - people with completely different upbringings, life experiences, culture, and ways of thinking.  They all have their reasons for traveling and for being where they are in life - I've met students on summer holiday, people trying to mend broken hearts (much more common than you think), people in career crises or on work trips or starting up a business or taking a life hiatus. There's so, so many stories out there - and it's fascinating getting to see and experience them all.

That time I met the greatest, best group of fellow solo travelers ever in Hoi An, Vietnam

6. I didn't bring a single book or magazine on my trip.
It's not because I don't like reading. I love reading (ask my poor parents who had to banish my sister and I from reading books when we were young because we were reading too much. True story.)  But as silly as it sounds, I didn't want to miss a single moment of what was actually happening in life. Most times, I have a guidebook and my journal in my bag (guidebooks don't count, obviously) - these are usually what I pull out to read or write in if I'm sitting alone in a cafe or something and really need something to do.  The history section of the Lonely Planet is incredibly enlightening, on a side note.  You can thank it for a lot of the "Fun Facts of the Day".

Is it possible to be obsessed with guidebooks

7. Traveling is cheaper for me than living my normal NYC life.
A common misconception is the amount of money it takes to travel.  I realize my expenses living in NYC were probably slightly elevated compared to other locales, but I'm actually spending far, far less now than I was when I lived there.

My apartment rent in NYC alone ran about $60/night - not to mention the added cost of food ($15-30 a meal, not including those ridic b-day dinners people always had that always cost $100/person, even if the person next to you drank 5 more glasses of wine than you) and entertainment and transportation and shopping....and just life.

Southeast Asia isn't even fair to compare because my hostels averaged $5 a night, meals averaged $2-3, transportation $3-5, and even the most extravagant tour/activity would hardly exceed $30.  Beers in Vietnam were $0.25, for heaven's sake!  But even comparing Eastern Europe, where hostels were about $20 and meals were ~$8, it's been shocking how differently I've been spending. Even when you add in the long-haul international flights and buses and trains.  Also, as a side bonus, I haven't shopped at all because I can't stomach the thought of hauling it around in my backpack for months. Living out of a backpack is a great way to prevent yourself from buying things.

8. I've only lost 5 important things.
That is a good number. It is supposed to wow you.  These include: 1. My unworn Puma shoe, 2. Blackberry (oops), 3. waterproof phone cover, 4. tennis shoes (in my defense, they were wet so I had them in a separate bag that I left in a cab), 5. my favorite dress (and this doesn't even count because one of the laundry people lost it).  Pretty good, CW.

9. As a solo female, I've never felt unsafe.
Seriously, never.  When I'm alone, I am on higher alert - but thank goodness I've not yet had a situation that's made me feel unsafe.  There was a time I accidentally bought the wrong train ticket to Budapest, and I ended up at some rando train station at 10pm at night with no ATMs or info counters or people (and I had no money given I'd come from Vienna).  But I ended up finding some other random train that happened to be heading to the right station and got on, and it was fine.  Or the time an overly chatty local teenager approached me in an empty station and made me slightly nervous, but she just turned out to be a curious and chatty student (as I had a death grip on my backpack and purse the entire time, poor girl).  Or the time in Vietnam when I was in a taxi and the man had locked us in while demanding money 10x higher than the normal cab fare - luckily that time, I was with a friend and we argued our way out.

Honestly though, nothing has happened so far that has elevated my concern over a 3/10.  I'm incredibly thankful for that, and some of the best advice I've received so far is to trust my gut. If a situation even feels wrong (even with no reason or proof or anything other than a feeling), remove yourself out of it.  To be totally honest, I feel like people almost want to help me more because I'm a solo female, especially when they see me pathetically struggling with something.

10. No time is the right time. Except now. Now is the right time.
Another worry of mine initially was that I was too old to be backpacking. Yes, I am definitely typically the oldest person in a group of people, but I also have met a surprising number of people in my age range. SE Asia does skew younger because it is so freakishly cheap, and it's been summertime for most of my travels so I've probably met a greater share of students.

But I also appreciate everything so much more now, more than I would have 10, even 5 years ago.  I've worked, and I know how suffocating it can sometimes be to always be in a cubicle and have your Up band constantly vibrating to let you know that you haven't moved a muscle in an entire hour.  I know how it feels to not be able to take extensive time off from work to travel.  I appreciate the value of money, and not just money but also the time and freedom and what I was working for. I like to think that I've had enough life experiences to fully appreciate every single second that I'm not at work.  Maybe this is why I love everything.

On the same note, I often also see much older groups of tourists - and they just can't navigate the cobblestone streets as well, or climb that crazy mountain path that is a million lawsuits waiting to happen. They wouldn't be ok with staying in that hostel room with no A/C or locks, or riding that 12-hour bus because it's $50 cheaper than a flight, or kayaking down a river alone with no instructions. And at those moments, I know this is the perfect time for me to be doing this (disregard the local Vietnamese women who were appalled when they found out my age and that I was unmarried and childless. You seriously should have seen their horrified expressions).

Next stop on my travels is Malaysia - I'm sure I'll be gathering more useful gems of knowledge to pass along on this next leg, in case you were afraid I'd expounded all my wisdom in one go - see you all then!


    1. How do I 'Like' this over and over? I'm really happy that you're learning all this ans experiencing it all!

      1. Thanks, James! So appreciate it. Hope you're having such a great time in Nashville as well!

    2. HELL YEA TURKEY!! You forgot to mention that turkey is your favorite because you had the BEST TRAVEL PARTNER EVER!!!! (Obviously) I'm sure you just forgot to write that ;)

      Cannot WAIT to read about your next adventures. Love this post so much. So much perspective, so little time. Just think of all the amazing conversation topics you'll have at parties once you come back to the real world with the rest of us ;)

      Also, pretty sure I spent $100 at your last birthday dinner.....Hahah!!


      1. OBVI because of the travel partner!!! I did forget. So my bad.

        Thanks for the sweet words! (and on a side note, I never claimed to not be ridiculous....haha!)


    3. I absolutely adored this. Best post yet! Have the best time ever on leg 2 and can't wait to keep up with your adventures!! Love you!!

      1. Thanks, friend! So loved seeing you, demand we do it again soon. LOVE you!

    4. Awesome adventure and super jealous. Totally agree on the traveling alone part and that everyone should do it while they young. Will recommend your post to all my female friends that keep saying "I don't feel safe traveling by myself". All it take is one trip to dispel that myth.

      Have fun in Malaysia! I loved it when I backpacked along the west coast. Penang is a fun little town. Need to go back again for more of the nature tour along the east coast.

      1. Thank you thank you! Yes, I'm super excited to get to Penang and eat all the things.

        YES. I'm totally behind possibly inspiring solo traveling of any kind! You actually find how kind and helpful the world is, as a lovely side effect.

      2. You should repost this on medium.com next time you feel inspired!