Solo Traveling Asia for 75 Days
I'm back from traveling around Asia. Instead of starting off every sentence with "this one time in Siem Reap ..." and other attempts at bragging about how worldly I now am I have just decided to put it all on this page.
Answers to Questions
Why I Decided to Travel:
I've always told people I wanted to travel the world. Usually when people say they want to travel they end it with a but… I would like to travel ... but I can’t get the time off work. I would like to travel ... but I don’t have the money, et cetera. As a person with no responsibilities and an online business that pays the bills each month I had no such excuses. But still I did not travel. Sure I bought the travel books and highlighted the places I thought would be really cool to see, but I never took that last plunge. So what changed? As with any good adventure it started with the opportunity to say screw you to the IRS.
Through a friend I heard about the IRS's Foreign Earned Income Exclusion. A tax exclusion that - if I used correctly - would mean I wouldn't have to pay hardly any federal taxes IF I live outside the country for a year. And what would you know! I had always told people that I wanted to travel the world for a year. It all seemed too good to be true. And of course it was. I later found out the tax exclusion would not work for my business. But by this time I had already told people that I was going and, you know I didn’t want to disappoint them, so I went anyway.
Why I Decided to Travel Solo:
I decided to travel solo for this trip. Partly because I have no friends but also because I wanted this trip to be one of those character building trips. I wanted to have some scars by the end of this trip. And I think that is a lot harder to do with a friend. With a friend you always have a safety net. Someone to tell you “hey that train carriage says it is for pregnant women only,” or “hey you know it’s forecasted to rain halfway through your motorcycling trip,” or “hey maybe that nice Chinese couple who started talking to you is a little bit too nice?” Sure at that moment it would have been easier to have a friend to tell me those things, but I learned so much more when traveling solo.
Why Asia? Honestly, I've always wanted to travel to Europe ... The plan was to start in Asia and slowly move west into Europe. I think the idea was to save the best for last. I just never made it that far in my trip to make it to Europe. Next time though.
Where I went: Shanghai, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Koh Tao, Georgetown, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Taipei, Hulian, Yuli, Macau, Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Ho Chi Mihn City, Hoi An, Da Nang, Hue, Dong Ha, Dong Hoi, Vinh, Ninh Binh, Hanoi, Beijing, Pyongyang, Nampoo, Kaesong. I traveled from city to city by way of plane, taxi, overnight train, bullet train, highspeed shuttle, bus, watertaxi, water ferry, and motorcycle.
My Favorite Place: Bangkok, Thailand
My Least Favorite Place: Guangzhou, China
What I learned About Myself: I learned that I really like climbing things. Ancient temples in Cambodia or Great Walls in China – I just really enjoy climbing them. If there were a career path that was just climbing things, I think I would definitely consider it.
Something You Learned About Traveling: Time moves slower when traveling. I don’t mean slow like in a watching paint dry kind of slow. I mean like in a Wow, I can’t believe breakfast was only eight hours ago cuz it feels like it was two days ago. You pack so much into a day – and so much of it is new – that you never get into the habit of things like you would at home. The past 2.5 months of traveling actually felt more like a year.
Most Memorable Moments:
- Getting scammed on my first day in Asia @ Shanghai, China
- Realizing that scuba diving is the creation of the devil @ Koh Tao, Thailand
- Buying a shit motorcycle and driving it across Vietnam in the rain @ Vietnam
- Using the only money I had to buy tokens for the arcade because I thought that the machine was actually a change machine @ Shenzhen, China
- Winning $500 at the slot machines and then gambling it all on one game of roulette (I lost) @ Singapore
- Having a $500 hospital bill the next day and having all my credit cards decline and discovering that my mom thinks that Singapore is actually in China so when I have her wire me money via Western Union it ends up in China and not Singapore @ Singapore
- Getting lost with a friend and enjoying the moment as she unawaringly stands next to a dude who is deficating on the ground next to her. I waited like 10 seconds before I told her. @ Somewhere by the Sha Tin Racecourse, Hong Kong
- Being in North Korea and realizing that the weirdest thing there was actually the westerner you were traveling with who was a self-proclaimed picky eater and only ate bread and pizza @ North Korea
- Spending two hours skillfully bartering with t-shirt venders, eventually creating a price war thus saving me an entire dollar @ Chiang Mai, Thailand
- Deciding to begin traveling off the maxim of finding places with "no whiteys" aka tourists and subsequently finding myself getting off a taxi boat next to an abandoned temple and some pretty sketchy looking people @ Bangkok, Thailand
My Tips for Solo Travelers:
- Pack light. For 75 days I lived out of one backpack. For some reason people think that the longer you plan to travel the more stuff you will need. That’s just not true. If you can live out of a backpack for 5 days then you can live out of it for 500. The biggest hurdle is laundry, fortunately pretty much everywhere in Asia you can find a laundry service that will wash and dry your clothes for only a few bucks. Also, don't be one of the idiots who buys a ukulele or bongos like some people did.
- You don't need friends when you have the internet. Buy a SIM Card at every airport. I have huge respect for anyone who can solo travel in a foreign country without a data SIM card. In Southeast Asia SIM cards are cheap, and surprisingly reliable. Use them for Google Maps, Google Translate, TripAdvisor, and most importantly SnapChat.
- Tips for Making Friends. Making friends can be tough sometimes. The easiest way is to just go up to a stranger at a hostel and talk to them - but that is really scary. Thus I have come up with some solutions for the socially awkward:
- Find the right hostel -The correct hostel can make or break how enjoyable your time is in a city. Use Hostel World's rating system to find the best hostel to fit for what you are looking for. Some hostels are definitely more oriented towards parties and getting drunk than others. Also, don't be a loser and spend all your time in your dorm room - at least venture out to the lobby.
- Have something to talk about- This is weird, but one of my biggest regrets is not bringing University of Iowa t-shirts or some other shirt that gave reference to my background or interests. If someone is wearing something that you recognize or are familiar with it makes it a million times easier to start a conversation. Also it solves the problem that I ran into a lot in SE Asia of "Are they Russians" because 95% of the Russians I ran into did not speak English. Along the same vein every single time I was in a hostel lobby reading a Travel Guide about a particular country someone would come up to me and start talking to me about how they had been there and give me advice on the place. Fun Fact: I ran into two people in Asia wearing University of Iowa clothes. One was a wrestler from New Jersey, the other was a Chinese man who, while having traveled to the US, had never been to Iowa.
- Use CouchSurfing.com - I never used CouchSurfing to find a place to sleep, but I had a great amount of success in using it as a platform to meet locals and get a free insider’s view of the city.
- Have a challenge to get you going. It's sad, but sometimes traveling gets boring. Seeing the seventh tallest building in the world isn't as cool when you just saw the fifth tallest building last week. I think it’s important to mix things up and find a challenge. Photography and Snapchat became my challenge. Trying to get interesting pictures and taking unique snapchats forces you to find the interesting things in what has now become mundane.
- Don't be so serious. You've got to play it cool if you want to survive living in a foreign country that has a different culture and a different language. Sometimes things just aren't going to work and that sucks but you just have to go with it. Find the humor in every event. If you can't laugh at yourself you probably shouldn't travel.