In the midst of my trip in South East Asia, I just quickly did the math to see how many countries I have been to so far: 28 countries! Out of 250! In other words, only 12% of what is awaiting to be discovered and I have the burning desire to see everything in this lifetime!
Looking at the map below, it is clear that Africa and Central America need more love from me in the next couple of years 😉
Here is how I start a solo trip:
First, I trust my instincts (and the universe). I start my trip with the belief that the world is a good place and nothing bad will happen to me. I don’t want to sound like Pollyanna but I trust that “Good things happen to good people” and my past experience is the indicator of my future experience.
What is also super helpful is the vision boards I make every year and see everything in them manifest in my life one by one.
How do I plan my trips? Where do I start?
When I decide to go on an adventure, my primary goal is to travel without spending a fortune and see the most amazing places that I don’t see on everyone’s social media feed.
For instance instead of visiting Taj Mahal shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of tourists, I make an effort to discover an ancient monastery hidden in the Himalayas.
While preparing for my next trip, I read a lot of blogs, message boards and of course Lonely Planet, my bible! Even better the “shoestring” version, so I can find the most on budget accommodations and activities that fellow travelers have recommended. I can’t preach enough about Lonely Planet’s South East Asia and South America on a shoestring editions!
Flights: I usually do a thorough research to see if I can use any of my credit card miles (I have traveled to Hawaii and Colombia for free with my American Airlines miles through AAdvantage card). I often use Skyscanner for international and local flights or go directly to the local airlines of the respective countries I will be visiting (for instance Air Asia or Lion Air are pretty cheap in Indonesia and Thailand so it’s best to book on their original websites).
In the less developed countries, you become creative in searching for ways to go from point A to point B.
In some places, biking, ferry, train, bus, boating, or elephants might all become viable options.. You get used to going with the flow without sticking to any timetables and this was the biggest stretch for me coming from the modern world where everything is set in stone and presented to us as an app or website.
When I land in a foreign country, I wear my detective hat and try to find how and where to avoid the tourist trail. I usually:
- prefer to stay in hostels and guesthouses to socialize with other backpackers who are either coming from or going to somewhere I’d like to explore
- look for flyers, boards in the guesthouses, coffeeshops, restaurants, and popular stores that give hints about local events that might be interesting
- make turns to unknown narrow streets to discover hidden beauties
- choose public transportation over taxis
- find yoga studios and study their boards to get clues on related places/events or chat with the people who work there for their recommendations
I haven’t had a single bad experience as a solo traveler so far, moreover following my gut and taking a few calculated risks just added more to the experience.
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of getting a travel insurance before starting an international travel. From minor accidents to big hospitalization or even evacuation cases, or just for the sake of your mind, this is a MUST and it’s easy as a cake.
I have used InsureMyTrip several times to purchase a basic Allianz Atlas Insurance Plan ($30-$100 depending on what you want to be covered for). So far I used the insurance for two hospital visits for a minor motorcycle accident and a bladder infection case. I took a picture of my hospital bill and submitted an online claim. Boom! I had the reimbursement in my bank account in 2 weeks! Awesome service, no headache!
Credit cards/ATM cards
Most of the American banks charge a fee for using an ATM outside of the country. I have a Chase Bank debit card and as a gift of being a great customer, I am charged $5 per transaction (in addition to the ATM fee charged on the spot by that specific foreign bank).
So after a thorough search, I opened a Capital One 360 free checking account that also came with no additional transaction fees.
I decided to take my Chase Bank ATM card with me just as a back up, which became very handy when I lost my Capital One card in Thailand. Capital One was super quick to Fedex me a new card within a week!
As for credit cards, I stay away from using my AAdvantage Citicard other than flight bookings to earn American Airline miles. In South East Asia cash is still the primary way of payment. If you are lucky to find a credit card machine, it usually comes with 5-10% additional fee.