23. Have your Viber and WhatsApp accounts already created

If you’re a solo traveler on a short trip like me, or going on a longer adventure, you should sign up for Viber and WhatsApp before you leave.

A lot of the people you meet, both locals and travelers, are going to be using one or the other for communication. Remember, you switched at SIM cards at the airport and there’s no more texting from your US phone number, for the duration of your trip.

That’s where Viber and WhatsApp come in, especially when you want to text your new-found friend what time you’re going to catch the bus, or if they want to go to dinner, or anything else.

You can always email, but that’s so much clunkier.

I personally learned the lesson the hard way (in 2016) when I had to sign up for both types of accounts with my Vietnam phone number, and then try to switch everything back over to my US number.

As an aside, I was still able to text people from my phone, and computer, with my normal phone number. That’s because I use Google Voice instead of my phone on-board number. Because Google Voice is an application that sends text over the internet, I could still send and receive texts like normal.

However, that is a choice I made many years ago, when I changed numbers.

22. Be prepared to haggle

For the most part, in Southeast Asia, you’re going to have to haggle.

Not so in restaurants (fixed prices) or convenience stores (the same) but for the most part, be prepared to haggle.

It often helps to either know what other people are charging for similar goods or what the price should be in general.

See a nice backpack? Ask one of the travelers you’ve met what they paid. Use that to gauge what you should be paying.

One of the main markets in Ho Chi Minh City on Dec. 5, 2016. When going to a market, be prepared to haggle!

In addition, you should be prepared to walk away.

A lot of the time, vendors will quote you prices that might as well be the full retail when you walk into any store in the United States. Totally unacceptable. That’s when you walk away.

The vendor should came back with a better price and begin negotiations again. If not, it’s time to move on.

Other things to consider when haggling is buying multiple items to bring the price down.

Since I’m a big fan of bringing back really nice scarfs, when I find a vendor who has the wares I want, I ask how much. We go through the haggling rigmarole. When I’ve finally got the price down, I’ll say, what if I buy five, or 10? That should bring the price down even more.

A boy smokes something, Dec. 8, 2016, on the streets of Hanoi, Vietnam.

Be prepared to have your calculator out (presumably your phone) and I also suggest having a currency converter app on your phone.

(When communication breaks down, use your calculator to quote prices.)

Other ways to politely talk a vendor out of an extreme price: I’m a student, I’m poor or, my favorite, I’m a poor journalist.

Sometimes, in especially tourist-filled areas, the vendor just doesn’t care, especially if you’re only buying something because you need it right now. In that case, just walk away.

It’s raining and you want to buy an umbrella, or a poncho? Sky high prices. It’s not raining? Reasonable price.

If you think it’s going to rain, or if it’s been rainy, then make sure to buy the umbrella when it’s nice out.

Did I mention an umbrella? If you’re in a rainy season, or area, or there’s a storm coming in, buy a nice umbrella. Spend a few extra dollars because, trust me, it’s worth it.

Just remember: you’re not made of money.

Find all of the travel lessons curated here.

A boy smokes something, Dec. 8, 2016, on the streets of Hanoi, Vietnam.

21. If using buses, protect your stuff if its raining

The first time it happened, I wasn’t angry. I was just sad. After a sleeper bus ride from Hoi An to Nha Trang, arriving at 6 a.m., I got my bag out of the bottom of the bus and found it was soaked. Not just soaked. Sopping wet. Still, I shouldered the bag, moved my smaller day pack to my chest, and trudged toward my hostel, soaking my shirt all the way through.

After getting a few more hours of sleep in one of the hostel’s empty dorm rooms, meant for travelers who don’t get to check in yet, I opened my backpack.

It was the worst possible scenario. All of my clothes in the bag were completely soaked. Not just a little. I could literally wring the water out of each piece of soaked clothing. Worse yet, two of my prime camera lenses had been wrapped in the same clothes. They appeared to be undamaged by the water, but I knew I was going to be staying in my dirty clothes until the following day, when I could pick up my cleaned and dried laundry.

Before I go any further, what should you do?

  1. Wrap your clothes up in plastic bags if you’re worried about the rains
  2. Buy rain covers for your bags.

(Read the rest of the story after the jump.)

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20. Take other travelers’awesome evaluations of tours with salt

Maybe this doesn’t apply if you’re not talking to backpackers, I don’t know. Staying in dorms, that’s who I always ran in to.

Here’s the thing: it seems like most travelers want to be positive, nay, they want to be having the time of their lives and they can’t be having that once-in-a-lifetime experience if they admit that anything they did was less than amazing.

That means when it comes to the tours, either set up through your hotel, hostel or done through a travel agent, people often want the tour to have been fantastic, even if it wasn’t, to keep up the idea that they had a great time. That means often, you can’t trust their evaluation.

My example is Halong Bay, during my 2016 Vietnam trip, which I will write up in a later post. It’s supposed to be amazing! One of the best things in Vietnam, with the limestone islands and whatnot, dotting the sea.

Two guys I met in Hanoi had just been there, and done their tour through the hostel. Another couple had done the same. Get the tour! they said. That couple, two Americans, were doing the 6-month honeymoon through Southeast Asia. They wanted for experience to be amazing, reality be damned.

Later on, I talked to a French couple who have been traveling for a long time. They told me, instead, go to Cat Ba Island (slightly different name, basically the same place), rent a scooter, hang out for a day, scope out day tours, and do that the next day.

I decided the risk of the pair being right was outweighed by the ease of the tour through the hostel, as well as my limited time in country.

A German (right) cheers on an Argentine woman about to jump off of the top of the boat, Dec. 9, 2016, in Halong Bay, Vietnam. The limestone cliffs and palisades and the like can be seen in the background. The tour was described by others as being the best thing during their entire vacations. Taken on Dec. 9, 2016.

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19. Your feet are going to swell

Maybe it doesn’t happen to you. Maybe it doesn’t happen to everybody and maybe it depends on where you go and the time of year but, me? My feet swell. Pretty bad, usually.

Other travelers I met, I’d mention it, and they had no idea what I was talking about. When I researched the topic, I found that I am not alone which means you may very well join my ranks.

The problem is we sweat. A lot. If I’m wearing my small backpack (which I cart around my camera and lenses in; I may reevaluate my camera options for a future trip), in Ho Chi Minh City in south Vietnam, pretty much as soon as I walk outside, I start sweating profusely. Within 20 minutes, the back of my shirt (cotton, which is the wrong choice) is soaked through. Completely. Wring it out and there will be lots of water on the ground wet. Hard to get dry again wet.

That’s a lot of water. Moreover, that’s a lot of salt water.

Depending on the time of year, where you go and if there’s a storm, humidity could be through the roof, further adding to your sweating problems.

To the north in Hanoi, in December, it’s not nearly as bad (a balmy 80 degrees) but it’s still a problem.

What to do about it? Drink lots of water or sports drinks (buy the 1.5 litter bottles) and eat lots of salty foods/snack foods. You need to replenish the salt your body is losing through sweat. When your body loses that salt, and it doesn’t get replaced, your feet swell.

Here’s where the real problem is: you drink 1.5 liter after 1.5 liter of water, and you never have to pee, because you’re sweating it all out. And you think that everything’s just fine, right? No headache. No other signs of dehydration.

Except your feet. They’re swollen. They’re giant. Problem is all that salt you lost that was not replenished by that purified water.

That’s where the salty snacks come in.

Sounds easy, right? Well, it doesn’t always work at that way, so be prepared if they do swell, and don’t be too horrified.

Find all of the travel lessons curated here.

18. Wear a watch

Phones are great, except when you’re traveling and they’re confused as to where you are, or which time zone, etc. Or when they are low on battery life and all the electric outlets are taken. Or when you’re in the airport, for your layover, and you have no idea where they put the clock, you don’t have a SIM card for Taiwan, because you’re just traveling through to Ho Chi Minh City.

Sometimes, you want to make sure your phone is charged enough so when you do get in country, you an easily navigate so you can get to your hostel.

What’s better is to bring a watch that you can easily set for whatever the local time is, both while dealing with layovers on the way there and back as well as moving between countries.

This also means you don’t have to deal with either bringing your phone everywhere or making sure it’s always fully charged.

So, just bring a watch.

Find all of the travel lessons curated here.

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This little guy broke the bench! Go gasoline!

17. Have open travel plans

As a solo traveler, having open travel plans was the entire intention I have when I go so Southeast Asia. I usually land in the big city, stay there for a few days, talk to or make friends with some fellow travelers and figure it out from there.

Sometimes that means making travel buddies and sometimes that means I’ll use the advice from other travelers (taken with a grain of salt) to plan the next leg of my trip.

Whenever people ask me about my travels overseas, this question somehow comes up. When I say that I went without a definite plan, usually, people are thunderstruck, an entirely unfathomable concept, especially without having friends or family in country.

Going without travel plans is totally worth it, though. Things changes. People change. New people come into your life. Sometimes, a whole part of the country will be stuck in a monsoon during the dry season and you decide to flee to where it’s not.

I did not come up with this advice myself. I actually read it on a travel blog that was focusing on Southeast Asia. It was so right.

Maybe you want to go to Chang Mai in the north, or Phuket in the south or maybe you want to join some people on a trip to Cambodia. Maybe in Cambodia, you want to travel with someone. Whatever it is, keep your options open.

Having open travel plans only goes so far. After I landed in Thailand in December, 2015, I was a little lost. It was my first time in Southeast Asia and I hadn’t traveled anywhere outside of work for quite a few years at that point. A few years before, I lived and worked as an au pair in Germany, and backpacked across Eastern Europe, so traveling wasn’t entirely foreign.

I read the travel book (Lonely Planet) and re-read it after arrived in Bangkok. Finally, I got a taxi to take me to the backpacker district, which, in the evening, is one giant party.

I took this advice so seriously that I did not have any hostel reservations. Because I was so smart and decided not to get my SIM card immediately switched over, I was wandering around, paper map in hand, trying to figure out where to spend the night. The first few hostels I found were full up.

Finally, I found an empty hostel that was cheap, super cheap, with some dude sleeping downstairs, acting, I guess, as the hostel guard. Fortunately, they had AC. They were so cheapskate that I was their only customer that night. I passed right out.

Really, I should have already had a hostel reservation, at least for the first night. I later on went to stay at a highly rated hostel (and suggested in Lonely Planet) where I met a bunch of great travelers.

One of those travelers is the reason I was not entirely screwed when I lost my only debit card, yet another lesson.

Find all of the travel lessons curated here.

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Christmas decorations in Downtown Bangkok. Make sure your travel plans are open enough.

16. Pay (and plan) for laundry service

Regardless if your trip is two weeks or six months, you should be traveling pretty light. That means you are probably going to have to get laundry done while in country. But, that’s OK! It’s cheap and your clothes will often come back folded tighter than you thought possible.

Do not bring enough clothes to last you the whole trip. This does require a little bit of planning. You figure, it will probably take a day before its ready so you should plan it out a little bit.

It’s cheap, it’s easy. In the meantime, go buy a cool beer shirt, or a soccer polo for the local team.

The other thing to consider is bringing fewer clothes with the intention of buying along the way. For me, that usually means synthetic soccer or polo shirts.

Find all of the travel lessons curated here.

As much as I love this photo, it shows the limits of shooting in JPEG. (See the sky?) Often, down this kind of alley, you will find laundry shops. Taken in Bangkok on Dec. 4, 2015.

As much as I love this photo, it shows the limits of shooting in JPEG. (See the sky?) Often, down this kind of alley, you will find laundry shops. Taken in Bangkok on Dec. 4, 2015.

15. When you find good clothes, buy them

It’s going to happen. There’s going to be a vendor on the street and he’s going to have the perfect piece of clothing. (T-shirt, button up, dress, scarf, shorts, etc.) You’re going to buy one, just one, and think, at the end of my trip, I’ll come back here, and I’ll pick up a bunch more.

Except you’ll never be able to find him again. It will be like he disappeared into a side alley, down the gutter or was picked up by the trashmen. He will no longer exist and your chance to get more of those shirts will be gone, forever.

I should point out that my favorite button up shirts were all bought (cheaply) from a street vendor when I was traveling through Paris, France, during my time as an au pair.

There are a couple other things that should be noted when buying things from vendors, at least in Thailand. The first is, haggle them down (assuming no price tags). If you’re buying in bulk, use that as a bargaining chip and if they’re asking too much, and won’t budge, just walk away.

The next is, don’t be afraid to just buy shirts, pants, shorts, whatever it is, there. I realized far too far into my trip that a synthetic Bangkok soccer team polo was probably one piece of clothing I should have been wearing much of the time, rather than a cotton T-shirt.

Find all of the travel lessons curated here.

You got to have some fun, right? Taken in Angkor Wat, Cambodia, on Dec. 17, 2016

You got to have some fun, right? This is the synthetic soccer polo I should have first bought when I got in country. Taken in Angkor Wat, Cambodia, on Dec. 17, 2016

This is a French girl (some kind of physical education teacher) whom I was supposed to send pictures to. I forgot her name and have no idea where I put her email address. Woops! Taken in Angkor Wat, Cambodia, on Dec. 17, 2016.

This is a French girl (some kind of physical education teacher) whom I was supposed to send pictures to. I forgot her name and have no idea where I put her email address. Woops! Taken in Angkor Wat, Cambodia, on Dec. 17, 2016.

14. Consider bringing a duffel bag for the return trip

I don’t know how much shopping you plan on doing but you should really consider bringing a duffel bag (that is very small and lightweight when empty) on your trip or buying one in country.

The simple reasoning for bringing it is: it saves you from having to find one on those last days before you leave, when you’re trying to get all your shopping done.

I write a duffel bag because they’re just so much smaller and easier to deal with than a suitcase.

When it comes to the main travel bag, I’m a big fan of a big backpack. Mine has a sub-backpack that attaches to the front or, for shorter trips, detaches, making it perfect for backpacking.

I ended up using one of the bags I bought (shopping bag sized) as my second piece of checked luggage to store many of the scarves and shirts I bought over there. Fortunately for international travel, depending on the airline, you get two bags free, which is why I suggest the duffel bag.

Find all of the travel lessons curated here.