Compared to my friends, I was a late bloomer basically in everything — including travel.
Two years ago, I was 25 and probably the only person in my circle who had never set foot on foreign soil. I have to admit, this being the age of #travelgoals, I was certainly feeling out of the loop.
But problems with the surname I carry and its legality on paper didn’t allow me to apply for a passport until after college when the whole mix-up was finally sorted out. And even when I already had a passport, I felt like I had more important things to tend to, like finding a job and figuring out what I really wanted to do in life.
So at 25 years old, with permission from my parents and a little prodding from close friends, I agreed to book a ten-day trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. Finally, I said to myself, my first out-of-country adventure. I would now have my fair share of travel goals. It was like old skin that was itching to be shed was finally ready to come off.
Little did I know that I knew very little — about travel, about booking and creating an itinerary, about credit cards and debit cards, about exchange rates and immigration. Heck, my parents even had to help me pack for my ten-day excursion because I had trouble fitting everything inside my suitcase. Suddenly, I was back to being a grade schooler; I was reminded to look left and right before crossing the street. My medicine kit was also inspected prior to leaving to make sure I had all my essentials. This was me at 25. So much for #travelgoals.
Also read: Suitcase Packing: 8 Ways To Do It Better
Now that you have a picture of what preparing for this trip was like for me, I can move on to why I decided to write this piece in the first place. I’d like to share what I picked up from this experience, to help (and mostly entertain) those who might be in the same position as I was two years ago. That said, I hope you learn something, too.
On Saving Up
I thought I couldn’t afford to travel
Early on I decided that I would solely fund my first trip abroad even if my parents had offered to pitch in. It was a very brave decision, they thought, especially because I relied on the modest salary of an editor-writer working for a local publishing house. I only had roughly six months to save up because the trip was in June but was booked in December right after the Christmas rush. Bye-bye, Christmas bonus.
Budgeting = Discipline
Luckily, my officemates (who made it a point to leave the country once a year), were more than happy to share their saving tips. There are many methods of saving money, but it all boils down to discipline. Understand where your money should go and what it can afford you in the coming months. After all, saving up for a trip that’s eons away is all about delayed gratification.
Also read: 10 Practical Ways to Start a Life of Travel
Saving up was a daily battle that entailed sacrifice
There were a lot of things I had to give up to be able to afford my vacation abroad, like snacks and specialty coffee. I avoided eating out and going out altogether. I even ate the previous night’s leftovers for lunch the next day.
For six whole months, I bought only what was essential. The best part is you’ll realize that it’s totally doable — that you really can live with less. Plus, if you become more frugal in the long run, your future self will endlessly thank you for the extra cash.
Don’t let life get in the way of living
I realised later on that I consciously chose not to spend on travel because little luxuries had made their way into my daily routine, and I thought I couldn’t do without them. At the end of the day, I’d be asking myself, “Where’d all my money go?”
Sometimes, we have to reassess where our money REALLY goes. Is it feeding an unhealthy habit of spending thoughtlessly? If you know you can save extra money, consider placing it in an adventure jar. Who knows where it’ll take you in the future?
When you’re on the road
This time, I was the adult
I wouldn’t consider myself too sheltered, but my parents were very strict up until I started working. This time, though, I was the adult. I decided what to do and where to go, and how much to spend in every place. I set the limit for myself for everything, and I think for a first-timer, I did pretty well.
Sometimes social media just doesn’t get it right
What hit me like a ton of bricks was how social media somehow gave me unrealistic expectations about travel. I realised all those breathtaking shots of pretty girls in travel chic outfits, and the scenery to match, take a lot of effort.
Travelling sometimes makes you a sweaty mess in the middle of nowhere, and still, you feel like you’re on top of the world. That’s where the beauty of it lies. But if you can still manage to get that cute snapshot, all the better.
You should know what kind of traveller you are
I didn’t know what exactly my travel preferences were, except that I required at least a decent washroom to clean up in and do my business. Knowing what kind of traveller you are helps you narrow down your choices, from where you stay to who you travel with.
Not all friends are good travel buddies
Okay, that came off harsher than it sounded in my head. What I mean is you won’t get along with everybody 100% of the time. My friends will laugh at me for telling you this, but it’s true. The same could be said for family and loved ones. The important thing is you kiss and make up with no grudges held.
Waking up early is the only way to milk your trip
Bad news for night owls, but an early call-time is a must for those who want to make the most out of a trip filled with adventure and new experiences. If you’re taking a leisurely vacation in just one destination, though, you can afford to sleep in on some days.
You’re going to feel bad on the way home, and that’s okay
Heck, you’re going to feel bad the first day you find yourself waking up to go back to work. It’s separation anxiety, I guess, from the laidback lifestyle you had for the entirety of your trip. No more wanderlust, pasalubong shopping, sightseeing, and food tripping. But hey, don’t let it drag you down. Use it as motivation. Start saving up for your next vacation instead!
Travelling brings out the best in people
I now honestly believe that being in an unfamiliar place does wonders to the soul. No doubt patience is tested when out and about, but you’ll see acts of kindness, too. A friend lent his credit card so that booking our flights would be a seamless transaction. Another volunteered to craft our entire itinerary from scratch. We all took turns watching our luggage and footing the bill when someone’s supply of the required currency needed replenishing. Snacks were shared and heartfelt conversations were enjoyed over cups of coffee.
It may sound cheesy, but it was just refreshing to witness a general culture of caring from start to end.
I didn’t “love local” as much as I should
On the fifth day, there were fries. And a latte. By then I was craving for more familiar flavours, but I still made it a point to try local fare. I found myself mildly homesick, too. Another aspect was how much I fell in love with the culture of Vietnam and Cambodia that I thought, if I could love a foreign country as much as this, then I should be able to love my own more.
That I learned a lot from this experience is an understatement. It took a lot of effort, from convincing myself to go on the trip, to saving up for it, to actually getting there and going home — especially for someone who hasn’t travelled that far.
I was sure I came back a different person, but of course, I was entirely still me. Now I can somehow relate to what those touristy shirts in Siem Reap read, “Same same but different.” One thing’s for sure: I came back loving life and the world I live in a little more. And with every trip, I’m certain it’ll get even better.