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Now that it’s been a few months since I’ve left Asia, I’ve been able to take a step back and view my travels with a more objective eye.
Though I had some setbacks, I did well on this trip.
Here are the things I did RIGHT during my six months in Southeast Asia:
I was flexible enough to change my plans constantly.
By far, this was the smartest thing I did on the trip. My carefully crafted itinerary more or less went to hell within a week. For that reason, I was glad that I had nothing scheduled!
And every single time I changed plans, it was for the same reason — to spend more time with my friends.
As much as I enjoy traveling solo, the happiest moments of my trip were the ones that I spent with the close friends I made. And I’m so glad that I was able to spend more time with them.
I kept US dollars on me at all times.
It’s the official currency of bribery! Having US dollars on me saved me when I was stuck at the Laos-Vietnam border with a bad visa and they told me that $25 would make everything go away.
I can’t even imagine what would have happened if I had to go back to Vientiane, my bags going to Hanoi without me.
I brought a smaller backpack.
On suggestion from As We Travel, I decided to bring a 40 liter backpack. (Technically, it was 38 liters, since I got the extra small size.)
If it had been any bigger, I would have brought tons of stuff I didn’t need and/or killed my back. I also wouldn’t have been able to take it as hand luggage (!!) on all my flights (until I bought my dad ninja stars in Bangkok and had to check it on the flight to England, that is).
My 40l backpack, my small backpack, and my purse — that was just perfect.
I took penicillin when I needed it.
When I got sick in Hanoi, as soon as the malaria and dengue tests came back negative, I realized that my throat felt the way it did whenever I got strep.
But the doctor never did a throat culture, and at $373 per visit, there was no way I was going back. I decided to go get some penicillin at a pharmacy. My throat pain cleared up immediately.
Antibiotics should not be a first option for everyone. But if you’re 99% sure that you have an illness that can be cured with antibiotics, go for it.
I learned how to ride a motorbike in Pai.
I considered renting my first motorbike in Chiang Mai, but I was so glad I waited until I got to Pai. Pai is a great place for beginners: the rental rates are dirt-cheap, the roads are mostly empty, and there are so many sights, from waterfalls to canyons to hot springs, in the surrounding area.
And when I crashed, it wasn’t a big deal. If it had been Chiang Mai, I probably would have taken someone down.
I stayed cool when things went wrong.
When I lost my map on the Bolaven Plateau in Southern Laos and had no idea where I was going, I formulated a plan. There were few signs on the road, but most of them said Sala Den. I figured Sala Den would be a big enough town to at least have a guesthouse, and I could spend the night there.
Of course, it turned out that I had been going in the right direction the whole time. But I would have been okay.
During stressful times, like the shipwreck and when I was almost rejected at the Vietnam border, this is what saved me.
I was extra cautious in Vang Vieng.
Everyone made fun of me, but I refused to go on the rope swings in Vang Vieng. I was too afraid of getting hurt.
After watching someone nearly drown, seeing someone else get swept downriver while extremely drunk, and seeing my friend Ste return to Bangkok with a dislocated collarbone, I knew I made the right decision.
I traveled slowly.
It wasn’t so much about soaking in a community (with the exception of Bangkok) — it was just so I had enough time to get my work done!
And I still can’t believe I spent 15 days in Vang Vieng.
I edited my photos.
I’ve been editing my photos for years, and I’m still shocked at the number of people who don’t do anything.
I backed up my photos.
I kept my photos backed up on a USB drive and my computer. I had lower-quality shots backed up online. After the shipwreck, I was shocked — but ecstatic — when my USB drive survived despite hours in the ocean.
I traded the Philippines for a second round in Cambodia.
This is one of the times that I actually made a smart financial decision. I almost flew to Manila from Saigon. But while I wanted to (and still want to) visit the Philippines, I couldn’t justify the cost. The Philippines are expensive to get to, expensive to get around, and expensive on the ground.
Compare that to taking an $8 bus ride to Cambodia, the cheapest country on my trip. That was a smart decision.
I will make it to the Philippines someday — I promise you that.
I took a break when I needed one.
After deciding to come back to Cambodia, I began freaking out about my dwindling cash supply and a recent drought in advertising on my sites, not to mention my rapidly approaching departure date and places I still wanted to visit.
And so I went back to Sihanoukville — the beach town that I love so much, and one of the cheapest destinations on my trip. I holed up at Monkey Republic and lived on $15 a day, just working on my site.
By the time Monkey Republic kicked me out (seriously), I was refreshed, rejuvenated, and with a much fatter PayPal account.
I rarely said no to anything.
Come on, would I really be Adventurous Kate if I refused to drink snake blood, fight Muay Thai, motorbike Vietnamese highways or be an extra in a movie shot in Thailand? Of course not!
I followed my heart.
Sometimes, I crashed and burned in a spectacularly embarrassing fashion.
Sometimes, I did all right.
I don’t have a single regret about how things turned out, and that’s the truth. Especially considering how happy I am now.
Stay tuned for the things I did WRONG in Southeast Asia!