A few weeks ago I published a Q&A post with my dear friend, Amber, who spends a large portion of her life living abroad, learning about the world and experiencing different cultures. Because she has such great stories to tell and her responses were jam-packed full of advice, I decided to split the article into two parts. Today I am sharing with you part two, where she shares a lot of practical advice. To read part one, click here.
How often are you typically gone for, when you go travelling somewhere?
Until recently, when I went away for a week for the first time ever, the shortest time I’ve been gone is a month. I don’t see travelling as a vacation or a holiday, it is my life, so usually I’m ‘on the road’ anywhere from 3 months to a year or more.
Do you have any tips for packing light so that you don't have to carry around too much with you?
This probably won’t help the girls (and some guys) I’ve seen who can’t travel with less than two huge suitcases stuffed with every outfit and makeup option in the world, and basically the people who pack everything except (or sometimes including) the kitchen sink. For me it’s about, again, prioritizing. I’m not travelling so I can live the life I live if I’m ‘at home’. I’m traveling to be somewhere new and different. My mindset is this, less is more. If I can have one jacket that is lightweight and I can multitask three or four things, ie. a ‘headband’ that is also a hat, a facemask, and two or three other things, that helps a LOT. It makes it easier that I don’t have to worry about so much stuff, or if I have packed everything. It also helps because a lot of the best price airlines and even buses have weight limits that are around 7kg.
I also find it easier to not check my luggage when dealing with tons of travelling and complicated connections or countries that are ‘sketchy,’ because having my stuff with me keeps me safer and makes things smoother most of the time. NEVER skip on underwear though, because depending what part of the world you’re travelling in you may NOT be able to wash it in a sink, because there may not BE a sink! Everything else though, I have a 40 ltr backpack that is my main thing. Most people feel that’s small for a year or more on the road, but living out of it, I have found that I STILL always pack it probably with 25% of stuff that I won’t use, so question and re question everything before you put it in. Do you REALLLY need it? Is it possible where you are going you can borrow one or even buy one cheap? And keep in mind when packing, if you’re having cool experiences like the markets of India or Morocco, maybe you want to buy those beautiful fabrics and carvings, so leave some empty space.
Know the type of weather you think you’ll be facing, so if you’re going to Asia in the summer, be aware of if you’re in a mountain area where it could still be very cold at night or even snow, or if you’re in an area where it will flood, pack sandals, verse if you’re in a place where it will ALWAYS be hot and wearing boots wouldn’t make sense. Try to always bring (if you are a girl) something like a scarf or pashmina shawl that can multitask, keep your hair out of your way, cover shoulders when you're in countries that require a certain level of modesty to be in certain places, and keep you warmer on a cool night in a hot country. Know the type of things that you are planning to do, if you plan on hiking, you don’t need the fancy outfit you’ll probably need if you plan on seeing the ballet, but if you will probably need that great pair of hiking boots.
Most of the time, if you have two or three outfits, that will last you a LOT longer than you think it will when travelling, especially if you’re moving around. Keep in mind, travelers don’t care, other cultures (except certain European places) CERTAINLY don’t care, and when you’re moving people don’t even KNOW if you’re wearing the same outfit you’ve been wearing for a month or two (washing it of course). Also just try to pack things that are lighter, I’m a reader and love books, but an e-reader is a LOT lighter than four books. There are even really cool chargers that are solar powered and don’t weigh much. And for ‘making weight’ for airlines put heavier stuff in your ‘purse’ or ‘personal item’ and then have the lighter stuff in your ‘carry on’.
If you’re checking bags it’s easier, as you don’t have to worry AS much as the weight limits are much higher, but it can be WAY more expensive, especially on the budget airlines and buses. I do always try to have an airline size acceptable hand sanitizer, or wet wipes, because even in Paris you’ll run into washrooms with no soap. And sometimes when you’ve been travelling for 30+ hours you just want to feel ‘clean(ish)’.
How do you find the resources to travel?
I save money. I work hard. It’s as simple as that. Travel is my drug, my caffeine, my school, my phone bill, my internet bill, my new shoes, my new outfits, it’s all of the things I would rather NOT do in order to DO what I want (travel). I would rather walk and save gas money so I can travel. It’s hard to explain, and probably not everybody could do it, but for me it matters enough to experience what I have, to sacrifice a lot of things people in western society think are necessities or even rights. Also, when budgeting, it’s important to keep in mind what your goals are. If your goal is to visit Switzerland, awesome, but keep in mind the Euro is worth more than the Canadian dollar, and that it is a very expensive place in general, on top of that, so you’ll save longer to be there for a shorter time, or make it work for you and work hard to figure out how you could be there in a way that would work for you. HOWEVER, if you take your ‘worthless’ Canadian dollar to South East Asia or South America or Africa, your one month pay check you saved, will go for months (unless you’re like some people who I’ve experienced who blew thousands in a week in S.E.A. on drugs and alcohol…that isn’t me, but hey, apparently it’s possible).
I guess that is a good place to bring up quality over quantity, or quantity over quality. I want quality of life over quantity of stuff, and I want quantity of travel, over quality of sheets and gourmet meals. In other words, if you want to go to a thousand dollar a night resort in Thailand you can find it, and if you want to go to a 10 Euro a night hostel in Switzerland (well no that’s a stretch but you get the picture) you can find it. It’s what you’re looking for, and I’m looking for the deal that will keep me traveling but also happy.
It’s a balance you have to find for yourself, and it is part of the trial by fire I was talking about, you can only learn by experiencing what you are capable of - and you might surprise yourself!
When you go someplace, how do you spend your time there and what type of things do you hope to see or experience?
I just live. That sounds like a trite response, but it’s true. I take what each day has for me. Sometimes it’s high adventure on ancient sailing ships, or eating street food in 40+ degrees heat, or swimming in a hidden lake after a long trek and hitchhiking in, and sometimes it’s waking up, making tea, going to work, eating on a park bench, and going home for dinner, sleeping and repeating.
I would say one thing I always try to see or experience would be something unique - something that nobody talks about or that I haven’t seen in a guidebook. This usually this stems from conversations with locals, or with other travelers who are passionate about wherever I am or wherever I’m going. I like to be as ‘off the beaten path’ as possible. One of my least favourite moments while travelling was in Notre Dame in Paris, it was jam-packed with tourists and I couldn’t enjoy or appreciate the quiet or architecture or anything because it was too loud and distracting. I recommend jumping off a train at a stop you’ve never heard of and seeing what happens (or something similar to that). Take chances, within reason, and see where the wind blows you. Getting lost - that is what my goal is in each place that I go. Because all of the best moments of my life happen when I’m ‘lost.’
A couple of other things that will always make me happy are, seeing some awesome nature, and doing something adrenaline pumping. What this means differs from place to place, like crossing the street in India or riding tuktuks…LOVE it!!!!
Where do you normally stay while you are away and what is that like?
It varies as much as the places. I sleep on overnight trains, on strangers couches, with friends that are my best friends, and friends that I met while travelling, I DEFINITELY stay in hostels, sometimes Air BNB, the Couchsurfing app is a new thing that is DEFINITELY a helpful tool to consider (while being safe and smart about it). I think I’ve sprung for a hotel maybe MAYBE twice, once was because I literally missed a train and was stuck stuck, and another time I was just too tired after a really long flight and decided it was worth it. If you travel a lot, you’ll have tons of those moments of finding out what really matters most in any given circumstance or situation.
For me, I prefer being WITH people, PARTICULARLY with people who are actually a part of the culture, not just being isolated in a travel bubble. Hostels, often in my travels, have been ‘splurges’ for me to have nice pampering time with a comfortable bed, wifi and food, but it also depends what sort of travelling I am doing. I love being a nomad, so constantly on the move, but also I’ll go somewhere and immediately make myself at home. I’m also not against camping or sleeping in vehicles (carefully - depending on the country and the time of year). I loooove being a part of nature and sleeping under the northern lights - this isn’t something anybody should pass up! Every different type of accommodation I’ve ever had has been awesome in it’s own right. They have all been ‘home.’ Every new experience is a great adventure, and these are the things that only get better with time, the stories I’m left with.
Do you have any tips that you could share for people who are interested in traveling similarly to what you have been doing?
1. DO IT! Taking the first step to purchase that first ticket is the biggest hurdle you will ever face. Just getting going, once you have momentum, at least in my case, it is more addictive than anything.
2. Save money. Save it before, save it during, and save it after. Don’t go crazy, just try to save a bit here and there. You’d be surprised how much it is the littlest stuff that you don’t even realize you’re spending money on that add up. I would recommend before going, save enough to pay for the trip, and keep enough set aside for an emergency ticket home - that way you have an exit strategy in place, if anything goes wrong.
3. Prioritize your goals. Know what is driving you to travel; is it beaches, hiking, clubbing, culture, history, architecture, art, language, food, music, dance, adventure, exploration, what are you looking for? What is it that you hope you find, and what do you hope finds you?
4. Kill your expectations. Expectations are different from goals and dreams, this is more like putting boundaries around reality, and what you will find more than anything else through travel, is that life can NOT be fenced in! There are no boundaries we can place on life. So you WILL run into things that are unpredictable, like much of the world shuts down on Sundays, most countries in Europe have an ‘extra’ day that you won’t see coming, like things will all be closed on Monday’s or Tuesdays for no reason, siesta time is a real thing. In Africa add hours to ANY short amount of time, if you’re near a surf culture just realize priorities are going to be way more chill, rain will shut things down that you only had that ONE chance to see (like fog or more likely smog engulfing Mount Fuji), protests can cancel all sorts of things, traffic always sucks no matter where you are, and sometimes you forget that the country is in has a different time change for daylight savings on top of the time change because of going east or west and you miss your ride and almost miss your flight. It just happens. So let GO of the control and you’ll not be disappointed, because the stuff that happens INSTEAD of what you THOUGHT, is often as good, and usually better than the original plan anyways.
5. Pretend you’re packing a bag in the middle of a fire, ESSENTIALS only (and remember that what REAL essentials are differ greatly from what perceived essentials are-that being said everybody’s essential list will be different)
6. Remember that there is no failure in travel, it’s all a learning curve. Travel for some might be a weekend, a week, a month, a year, or a 15 year odyssey, but once you’ve gone…you’ll never be the same, and the change is the best souvenir of all.
7. Be RESPECTFUL!!!! I can NOT stress this enough, YOU are the guest in THEIR country, THEY do NOT have to speak English, they choose to. YOU are a stranger and foreigner to THEIR culture and religion, dress appropriately, speak appropriately. Be AWARE of your surroundings - in some countries, the ok sign is an insult, in some, the thumbs up sign is an insult, in others if you hold your hand up like a wave it is an insult, in some places men holding hands as friends is just affectionate (and I think so cool). Things will CONSTANTLY be surprising you. And one thing you may not be expecting is how much energy you burn, maybe it’s the 13 hour days of walking around exploring without realizing it…but I believe it’s even just the intense brain activity that you will be expending interpreting signs, trying to understand accents or ‘speak’ a foreign language that you don’t speak. Even figuring out which side of the road to look at when crossing so you don’t get hit, or which side of the car to get in, or how to navigate transit that is different almost everywhere, sometimes even regionally. For me, it’s toilets and electrical outlets, and light switches! They fascinate me. Things you never realized could be different will be, and things you never expected to be the same will make your day.
Life is an adventure, and the more you travel (in my opinion at least), the more life you taste.
Thanks for reading! Be sure to check out Part One here.