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Ten Things I Learned While Travelling in SE Asia – Part One

Now that I’m back from my trip and planning to take the leap again and do a big solo trip this year again, I wanted to reflect on how my trip changed my life and what the benefits are of throwing caution to the wind, letting your hair grow long and experiencing the world.

10. We are all the same

I met so many fantastic people when I was on the road: my Thai friends, my new Canadian friends, and all the other international travellers I had the pleasure of getting to know on the road.  They all had some things in common, though.  All of us just want a few simple things: to have the love of others, to find a place that feels like home, to be in the midst of community and camaraderie, and to care for our families in peace and safety.  As I conversed with all these new people, I was struck by how similar our wants and needs are, and that made me think about how often our surface differences get in the way of really understanding each other.

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9. Real Confidence is Earned

When I stepped off the plane in Bangkok at the beginning of my journey, I was – scared. It was fun and refreshing and exciting, but also I was totally nervous about being on my own in a new country without anyone else to rely on.  As the trip went on and I learned the ropes of backpacking in a foreign country, I learned to love that scared feeling every time I went somewhere new. It became exciting to come to a new place and find my bearings, find a place to stay and a few friends to share stories with.  Every crazy new adventure made me even more brave, and as I scuba dove, jumped off cliffs, killed cockroaches and spun fire, all the apprehension I had in my normal life slipped away.  I came back with something truly priceless – a deep and lasting confidence in myself that I am capable of a lot more than I think I am.

Me spinning fire in Railay

8. Culture is an Experience

When I was taking Cultural Studies at school, it was all theories and book learning, discussing this or that dead white guy and what he thought about culture.  This is total crap compared to what you can learn about culture by immersing yourself in a completely new reality.  I had huge culture shock in Thailand, and again in Cambodia, then an EVEN BIGGER culture shock when I came back to Canada with a new perspective of how people live their lives in other places.  I loved the blending of old and new, of ancient traditions that we are missing in Canada and the hurdles I would sometimes have to cross when learning about a new country’s rules and customs.  I remember losing it on a ferryboat ticket guy because the boat had left early one day, and all the Thai  people recoiled in shock as I yelled (give me a break I’d been travelling for about twelve hours at that point!).  In Thailand, outward displays of anger are almost unheard of, and if you lose your temper you “lose face” and respect.  I learned that lesson the hard way.

My advice – if you want to get cultured, go eat a cricket off a bug cart in Khao San road then wash it down with a big mac at the Mcdonalds on the same street.  Culture in our globalized world is a crazy mind bending mashup, and experiencing it firsthand is truly priceless.

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7. Pack LIGHT FOR THE LOVE OF GOD

Pack light. I mean it!  I was constantly re-evaluating my load of stuff, looking for ways to cut down on what I was carrying to make room for more interesting things I picked up along the way.  Most of the clothes I brought  were useless in the tropical climate and the clothes are so dirt cheap in Asia, you are better off just bringing more money and buying some sweet Thai fisherman pants to live in.  Also, if it’s a vacation then most of your time will be spent in a bikini/swim shorts and a sarong, so don’t worry too much about what else to bring.  You will look like a dirty hippie tourist no matter what you bring, cause in a few days it will all be dusty and dirty from travelling anyhoo.

Anything you put in your pack you will have to haul around on your back for the next few months so be very wise and very ruthless while packing.  Dont take any stuff that is your absolute favorite item of clothing, because it could very easily get lost/stolen/left on a train

Some things I couldn’t live without: my silk sleep sheet (a cocoon of safety from questionable sheets), my jean shorts (buy them in Canada cause Asians have teeny hips), my travel towel (saved me from grody towels all over Asia) and my sexy hiking sandals made trekking a dream.  Spend money on these items and don’t bring your damn hairdryer!

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6. Bring Money. More than you think you need.

Back half the stuff, bring twice the money. This is a good rule of thumb I will use while travelling from this point on.  Often activities and extra outings cost an additional amount, beyond what you are expecting to spend for the day.  Theses types of trips will MAKE your journey, so save $$ to take a long tail down the River Kwai, to spend three days exploring Angkor Wat, or to go on a major end-of-trip shopping spree.  There were days when I would have to budget wisely to be able to make these things happen, so make sure to keep in mind that although Asia is cheap, there are things that wont be.  Food and accommodations can often be very cheap, so don’t be afraid to hunt around for a bit for the best deal or to eat lunch from a street cart.

Tip: if you are going to eat street food, look for the busiest cart as the ingredients are more likely to be fresh and the locals know best!!

Best Street Food EVER

5. Haggle, Haggle, Haggle

I love bartering.  I am damn good at it.  Often my friends would want to take me shopping because my training as an actor allows me to give the shopkeepers the performance they want.  The locals are used to bartering with their neighbors, it’s just the way of the world over there, and they are also used to fleecing tourists for goods at three times the price of the actual cost.  The trick to bartering is not losing your cool, and not caring that much about the item (unless you reeeeeeeallllly want it, in that case act like you care even less).  Ask how much an item is, offer them half the quoted price, then meet them somewhere in the middle. It’s a game!  Make it fun, joke with them and make them feel comfortable with you.  Offer to buy other items, or to do a combo deal with your friends who are buying items.  If you don’t get the price you want, just walk away.  They will call u back and say “ok” or you can walk down to the next shop and probably find the same item and try your luck again.  See?  It’s much more fun to haggle than to buy things in Canada at full price!!

How Much? Too much!!

Last Minute Shopping

Tomorrow, the top 5 things I learned while travelling solo in SE Asia!

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