Quitting your job, packing up your belongings and booking a one-way plane ticket to the other side of the world is a luxury. There’s no doubt about that. For many of us though, including myself, it can also be one of the scariest things a person can do.
I recently did just that, booking a ticket to Vietnam, Bali and Australia with no return in sight. Before I left the UK, I was somewhere between mental breakdown and new beginnings. I’d had a pretty rough time, and travelling was the one thing keeping me afloat. Now that I’m here, I LOVE it. But it’s not without its drawbacks, however minimal they might be. Here’s a list of 6 things I wish I knew before I went travelling:
Sounds like an obvious one – and one many of my friends warned me about before I left – but overpacking because you just can’t possibly live with 3 pairs of shoes for 6 months will come back to bite you. If you’re bringing a rucksack, remember your luggage allowance may change depending on the airlines, and internal flights are often 10kg less than international. Also, it’s a complete bloody ballache carting around a massive suitcase with a broken zip because you packed it fuller than the tube at 9am.
Don’t expect to look your best
You know those holiday Instagrams? The ones with supermodel-esque girls splayed out on the sand or looking amazing leaning against a coconut tree? Get that out of your mind ASAP. Exploring in heat hotter than the devil’s house will leave you sweaty, frizzy and covered in cuts, bruises and bite marks (from insects, minds out of the gutter gals). Accepting that you’re not going to look tip top will take the pressure off so much if you’re a beauty conscious being. At least you’ll be happy.
Friendships are easily made
Making friends abroad is much more intense than making friends at home, but in the best possible way. Living in close quarters with someone who has a case of traveller’s tummy or gossiping over whose hooked up with who at the pool party will bond you faster than you ever imagined. One major good thing about travelling is meeting people from all corners of the world, with different advice to give and different stories to tell. Embrace it!
Food is a whole other ball game
The above may seem like an obvious statement, but what I really mean is don’t order a club sandwich in Vietnam and actually expect it to arrive at the table as a club sandwich. So far on my travels, I’ve had ‘French fries’ that taste like pastry and baguettes that taste like a croissant. Everything’s a little bit jumbled, but what do you expect when you’ve gone to a completely different country? Indulge in the local delicacies instead, but be wary of the usuals – NO tap water, fruit without a hard skin or shellfish if you’re in a very rural area. I saw a man fishing from a stagnant river beside a restaurant once, which put me right off the fish dishes. Other than that, I’ve tasted a range of amazing dishes I would’ve paid 3x the price for at home.
You will be confused. A lot.
But so is everyone! Navigating your way around a country where public transport isn’t incredibly developed can be really, really tough. Even if there are lots of well-trodden routes for travellers, booking overnight buses and turning up at the pickup point only to realise you’re at the wrong station at 3am will happen, but you’ll be fine. Ring your last hostel for help, ask fellow travellers and make sure you use reputable taxi companies recommended by other travellers. In Vietnam, Grab is my go to – it’s like Uber, but you can pay in cash. Lifesaver.
Get a currency converter app on your phone
Ohhh now I wish I’d done this from the get-go. Vietnam dong is very, very different from GBP and you’ll end up carrying a couple million at a time. Being asked for 30,000 VND for a meal may be a shock to the system, but if you can quickly whip out an offline currency converter and check the price (£1!) it makes transactions so much smoother. I use Currency XE, and it’s especially useful when you’re trying to haggle at markets and can’t remember if you’re paying £15 for a top or £1.50.
Those are just a few of many, many things I’ve learned when travelling so far. I’m currently in Vietnam and off to Bali soon – keep up with my travelling shenanigans over on Instagram @saramacauley and tweet me if you have any questions or recommendations! If you’re worried about taking the plunge, don’t be, travelling is the most enriching thing you can do.