No longer secrets

I think the secrets will be safe with you guys!

Travel Secrets You Need To Know

1. Forget your charger?

Ask at a hostel or hotel desk, they may have chargers that guests left behind.

2. When is the right time to book your flight?

The cheapest time depends on where you’re going;

Domestic: 3-7 weeks out

Europe: 8-10 months out

Asia: 9-10 months out

Africa: 3-5 weeks out

3. Need foreign currency?

Always use the ATM. They usually have the best conversion rates and lowest fees.

4. Visiting tourist attractions

If you are going to popular attractions, go at noon. There’ll be fewer people, the rest will be at lunch.

5. Hidden city ticketing

If flying from City A to City B is expensive, try booking a cheaper flight from City A to City C with a layover in City B. Then just get off in City B!

6. Eat like locals

Wake up early in the morning, go to local morning markets. You’ll see so many new things, therefore you can get to try so many new things too, especially what locals eat for breakfast!

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March 2014

I have never owned a fancy camera. I traveled with my phone with just 3mp camera, and when I am with JF or friends, they will take pictures for me with their better camera phones. My point is, you don’t need fancy cameras to make memories.

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Viewpoint, Koh Chang, Thailand

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However this would make you feel.

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I came up with this photo idea, my friend took it with his phone camera.

You can always make money but not memories. Go out and sail, be away from the safe harbor.

Why not the macaques?

ImageNot amused.

I grew up with macaques and orang-utans being just in the jungle near my childhood’s little house. The macaques are never amusing to me because I know that they are diseased and should be avoided at any cost. But to most of you out there, you are still very delighted to get to see the macaques in the wild. I saw this macaque after my breakfast on day 3 in Koh Chang, Thailand. My friend immediately took out his phone to take this photo. I was dead sick seeing it walking through the cables looking for pieces of food. I wasn’t sure whether I should feel bad or happy. Koh Chang is beautiful but it is too populated on one side thus the environment gets dirtier and very welcoming especially for the macaques. When I was there for 5 days, I tried to look on the beautiful side, just. I managed to forget how disturbing to see monkeys all the way.

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This looks like Argentinian coastline. 

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I was jumping waves, I swear that was the greatest wave jumping.

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At the end of the stay, I thought I’ll never want to leave.

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 It was a perfect sunset at White Sand Beach.

A mini bus trip from Bangkok to Koh Chang will cost you around B300 ( USD 10 as in March 2014) and it will get you there in 5-6 hours. Bear in mind that the ride will be thrilling. Thai mini bus drivers are among the most reckless and notorious drivers in the world(I am not joking), ones who actually traveled Thailand this way knew exactly how it feels.

When I was on the island, I went on a quad trip with my friends through lush greens of Koh Chang. The trip was incredible, though I paid B2500(USD80) for supposedly 1 1/2 hour trip, we were on the wheels for 2 hours. That was to me, the greatest way to see Koh Chang on the quieter side.

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The ATV Salakphet Adventure team, they rock! That’s my German friend, Torsten.

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No mosquitoes nor malaria for me.

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Quite a happy ending, an isolated beach at Salak Phet.

It was a great escape. I’ve seen all of Thailand for more than 5 times.

Alone?

When I am not traveling wit JF, I will usually continue traveling alone. I had lived alone in Bangkok for 3 months and now I am back here alone too. Traveling alone is always a concern to some. I’ve talked to so many people who have dreams to travel but most of them prefer to travel with their partners. Safety-wise, I’ve been asked about how I survived being alone in Bangkok alone while Bangkok is dubbed as a dangerous city to be at on your own. It is true, it takes time to gather courage to travel alone.

Traveling solo has its pros and cons. After some time, it always more pros than cons to me. There are so many people you can meet while traveling alone, and yes you can also enjoy the fun of having temporary traveling partner while you are alone. You can always travel at your own pace, do whatever you want to do, eat wherever you want to eat and choose to stay wherever you want to stay. You don’t have to wait for your partner to get ready, you don’t have to wait for your partner to finish packing, and you never need to argue of which way to take when both of you are lost in the city. When you are on your own, you are so much more independent and in control.

Among reasons why many refused to travel alone is because they cannot take it having to eat alone. Yes, it is a sad imagination but it is not bad as it you think it would be. Single traveler is easier to be approached by other single traveler and the next thing you know is the two of you sitting at the same table, laughing for hours, beer after beer. But then, if you must eat alone, bring a book. Read, and maybe this is a good time to learn foreign language. Keep yourself busy. Own a journal and write.

Of course, traveling with your partner will benefits in terms of sharing the cost of hotel/hostel room, taxi ride, everything will become cheaper when you split the costs. This is definitely the downside of traveling alone.

It is so much easier to experience stranger’s kindness when you are alone. You are definitely more approachable. There is nothing scary about this too. See? You eventually are not really alone. How not to become lonely? Stop feeling alone. Think that you’ll always stumble upon other travelers, because you’ll always be. Choose to travel during peak season so you won’t feel as empty. Some of my friends use Couchsurfing and they know with that they’ll always have some company. Be bold and confident and ask if someone wants to go out and have dinner with you. Chances are they will always say yes. Meeting new people is always fun and this often happens when you are alone. I cannot help you if you are very shy but don’t complain!

I have made so many temporary traveling partners while I was alone in Bangkok for 3 months. It was all great and I’ve made wonderful memories with them. Even though it was just temporary fun, fun is always going to be FUN. Single travelers that I met while I travel alone were all very independent, sounded and acted very educated and they are the most fun partners that you could ever enjoy being with.

So go ahead, don’t be afraid. Alone? It won’t suck that much.

You have got the money, haven’t you?

You had been working your ass very hard, you work multiple jobs to make your dream trips come true. You booked the flight ticket probably a year before the trip and you have got everything planned. Now you got shitload of money and you think you can be on spending spree abroad and that you’ll be fine because everything else in Indonesia or Romania is cheap, that’s fine if you have a job waiting for you when you get back to home country or you plan to work wherever you are traveling to. I’m talking about how to save money while traveling. In my earlier post I’ve stated that I struggled — even having shitload of money can cause you troubles. Shopping is compulsive. Partying every night is equally compulsive. You don’t want to end up begging for money abroad or worse, ending up sleeping on the street. I’ve seen those, so many times, in every country that I’ve traveled to. Maybe this will help you.

1. Make a budget, write down your spending money and how much you’ve spent in a day

You may have started with loads on the first few days of the trip. Without writing it down, on 5th day you are wondering where have all your money gone. You overspent and freak out. This is why this is so important, especially if you are traveling for the first time. I overspent when I was in Paris with my boyfriend. We could’ve been seeing so many places but I was procrastinating while in Paris and because I was lazy. The thought of having so much money and you’ll be fine is not a good idea. Divide your money into days you planned to spend abroad and into categories; food+tips, transportation, souvenirs, accommodation, monuments/museum entrance passes and unexpected expenses (like getting fined or tickets). This will make you feel so much better, and by doing this, I did have the chances to be on spending spree and we ended up going to 3 other countries+skiing trip while it wasn’t planned in the beginning because I thought we are going to be short of money.

2. Be selective when it come to food and drinks

Unless you are in Asia, alcohol will cost you more than water. Unfortunately, I don’t drink but I’m very concern about alcohol consumers. Beer is addictive, you want to go drinking every day and night and at the end of the day you realized that you have spent way too much on alcohol that you have to also do rationing on food, meaning, eating ramen or unhealthy fast food throughout your trip. I’m not saying you cannot do that, but alcohol is always the biggest part of the spending. Being in foreign countries makes you want to try so new food too. It is okay to have 2 days or 2 night in a week dining in fancy restaurant on your trip, but rest of the days in the week you could save more money by embarking on gastronomical adventure by eating street food or you can simply cook in your apartment/hostel.

3. Carry your own prescribed medication 

It is very wise to carry your own medical supplies, also your own first aid kit. Food poisoning and flu can be easily treated with Imodium and Teraflu. This will cost you less than having to consult doctor, paying for the service and extra unnecessary medications and of course paying for a taxi to get you the hospital because you are cannot take the train or walk when you’re sick. This happened to me when I was in Trieste, Italy. My sinusitis was very severe and I should’ve brought my own medication from Malaysia, which I know was a lot cheaper and though the hospital service is free in Italy, we ended up paying loads for my sinusitis medication over the counter at the pharmacy in Trieste.

4. Take overnight sleeper train or bus

This will save you lots of money while you are actually traveling from one place to another, or from one country to another! Transportation nowadays are so much better. JF and I took the sleeper train from Budapest, Hungary to skiing town, Brasov, Romania. It was €320 for 2 return sleeper double couchette, across the countries for 14 hours. We saved a lot on hotel stay already, and also compensating on flying cost. But don’t fully take my words because it is different from country to country. In 2011, I suffered from high fever and severe back pain after an overnight bus trip from Phuket, Thailand to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia but the overnight bus that I took from Melaka, Malaysia to the border of Malaysia and Thailand was really comfortable and cheap. The biggest part of spending while traveling is always the transportation part. If you can combine it with accommodation, you’ll be surprised of how much you actually can save.

5. Find alternative ways to avoid disappointment

I was so upset when I cannot get on the gondola ride in Venice, Italy. JF made it up to me by saying I can get to see snow and experience winter and so we did.  However, not all of this you can experience cheaply but certainly there are so many alternatives you can choose to avoid disappointment. My skiing trip in Romania was way cheaper than that 1/2 hour gondola ride. That was so much better and I never thought sacrificing some unnecessary expenses would feel that good and now I didn’t feel bad or missing out anymore for not having that kind of experience in Venice. Doesn’t mean that if you are on budget trip, you cannot travel well and do expensive thing, this is why step #1 is the most important.

ImageMy fancy escargot experience in Paris: Try new food, but don’t splurge on them everyday!

Break on break-ation

How artsy the horse is in Margit Island, Budapest

How artsy the horse is in Margit Island, Budapest

I was really amused by this one. I asked the pet store owner to flip him back, she did. Great success!

I was really amused by this one. I asked the pet store owner to flip him back, she did. Great success!

Yes, a break on your break-ation. At some point, you’ll get tired of scaling the cities by visiting all the monuments they have to offer. Some would take a break by doing some shopping, but you can always do that when you got home. I took breaks on break-ation by simply going to the river, see some swans, going to the park, see some ducks, going to pet stores, or going to the zoo. No, if you think all zoos are the same, they are not because you have to understand why there are zoos and why there should be zoos.

Never forget, human and animal interactions is proven to help you cope with stress. Have you taken your break on your break-ation? Go pat some sloths or feed some swans!

Peeking Lemur at Budapest Zoo

Peeking Lemur at Budapest Zoo

Snoozy sloth at Budapest Zoo

Snoozy sloth at Budapest Zoo

I adopted a huge swan in Prague, Czech Republic

I adopted a huge swan in Prague, Czech Republic

Yes, you can pat the sloth at Budapest Zoo

Yes, you can pat the sloth at Budapest Zoo

Grand Circus, Budapest

Grand Circus, Budapest

Very adorable red oanda at Paris Zoo

Very adorable red panda at Paris Zoo

A polar bear's butt at Prague Zoo, Czech Republic

A polar bear’s butt at Prague Zoo, Czech Republic

The funny pigeon interruption at Notre-dame, Paris

The funny pigeon interruption at Notre-dame, Paris

I was busy feeding these 3 hungry birds in Vltava, Prague, Czech Republic

I was busy feeding these 3 hungry birds in Vltava, Prague, Czech Republic

Wall Cat in Brasov, Romania

Wall Cat in Brasov, Romania

Ditch your guide book, make and be your own guide

Before I started traveling, I always imagined myself walking around a city, searching for a place to stay, with a guide book in my hand. But in reality, after my first trip to Thailand in 2011, I found out that guide is such a hassle. I thought I’d look cool, I looked stupid instead. Hidden agendas of a guide book : to make you feel like you are not doing enough as suggested, or to make you feel that you are restricted to only those suggestions. A guide book is heavy, hard to read and actually very confusing, because if you ever held a guide book and actually read it (from first page to last page,you’ll fall asleep at page 5), you’ll know. The writings are too small (I am already with 4 eyes, be 6 if I have to de dependent on guide book). When you travel, you’ll have your personal preferences of what you really will like. Write them down, take some pictures and write some notes about them. A guide book is based on, at least, the writer’s preferences. There are so many people in this world and simply there are too many suggestions to be followed. So, why do you travel anyways? It is for you to discover one place and all the things about that place by any kind of method you can think of, like asking locals for their suggestions instead. That is more fun, and that is the time when you can actually learn some foreign language. I always think that the writer of a guide book may have not done some of the things he or she had written. Many asked : But how do we know about things we must see, do and eat? Make your own research, like highlighting the major attraction, make a big circle and start from there.

The fact that I too, hate being told what to do makes me feel like I shouldn’t follow a guide book. It’s like that. Quoting my another favorite travel writer, Robert : “By balancing a travel schedule that incorporates sightseeing, cultural experiences and relaxation, you’ll return from your trip enriched, educated and rejuvenated. You’ll be ready to face whatever challenges come your way – but you’ll also be eager to travel again!” 

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I found my own “Maldives”, Karimunjawa, Central Java, Indonesia in May 2012

For 3 years of constant traveling, this never happened to me before

I was already touring Europe in the summer of 2013, I’ve been in and out of European countries, crossing borders without any hassle or being questioned. But it happened to me in the day I was flying on December 31st 2013 from Bangkok to Paris, with a very short transit in Delhi, India. It never occurred to me before that such transit could be so terrifying. The flight to Paris CDG was already delayed for about 1/2 hour, and the security measurement at Delhi Airport was the worst that I’ve been through. It was a madhouse, according to JF. We were standing in line for ridiculous body and luggage check while on a very short transit, competing not just with the passengers bound for Paris, but also 3 or 4 more international flights around same time of departure on that day. After such hassle for over 45 minutes, I was in big relief, thinking that we are ready to board the plane. The walk to the boarding hall was very long. Then I saw another security check at the end of the travelator (the horizontal escalator) to the boarding hall and I said “Here we go again.” They went through my passport then I realized that I am in trouble when they called the lady, some sort of an airport security manager. They were questioning about my face on my passport, I simply looked different because I was wearing headscarf in the photo. They asked me to take out any physical evidence to show that I am the person in the photo in my passport. I took out my expired driving license (no longer driving in Malaysia), my Uni I.D, my My-Kad (Malaysian I.D) and a photo of me and JF from last summer trip. They were being ridiculous when they said “Your driving license is expired. This is not you.” How could one travels with other’s this many I.Ds anyways? For that , I was denied boarding. I was mad, sad and disappointed. I too, like other passengers on that flight, were dreaming of being in Paris for New Year’s day. I felt like I was being harassed. I started swearing upon my religion and God’s name that I am the person in the picture and that I am the bearer of the passport, and the passport is valid for another 1 1/2 year. When I shout “God Almighty, I am Muslim!” They gave back all my I.Ds and my passport, putting their hands down, and gave up harassing me. It was clear they have some sort of prejudice, almost bigots, because they understand very little about a young Muslim woman from a developing country who just wants to travel. That was the day when I felt, even with so much freedom of travel, you must expect the unexpected. Obstacles in traveling are inevitable. It took more than courage. You need not to panic or cause panic, but at the same time, staying rational without having to break down is difficult.

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From my Instagram account: The day I boarded the plane, apparently, some travelers must board with hassles.

The view from my seat window of a Dreamliner flight to Paris from Delhi, so much for a dream

The view from my seat window of a Dreamliner flight to Paris from Delhi, so much for a dream.

Traveling and its downsides

Quoting my favorite traveler’s blog, Nomadic Matt : “When I meet people and tell them about what I do or how long I have been traveling, their response is usually something like, “Wow! That is so awesome! You’re so lucky! I wish I could do something like that!…Finally, you get tired. Really tired. Of traveling. Of everything. After a while, everything becomes just another “one of.” That 100th church, 100th waterfall, 40th hostel, 800th bus ride, 600th bar… it’s not the same after a while. It loses its charm and luster. Travel becomes unexciting. Ask any traveler – at some point, they hit that point where they are sick of traveling. They just need a few days or weeks to recharge their batteries.”

This is from my personal experience:

Traveling is great, but I learned from my trip with JF that if you don’t want to get tired of traveling, do it slowly. Don’t go out and see 100 temples in one day, then go to another 100 cathedrals the next day. I still have to plan what I am going to do on the trips but not flooding a day with so many things to do. Some travelers tend to have this “race” on their schedule, thinking that they have to compete in “Who Went to 30 countries in One Month First”.

You want to be able to do things you want to do, to see things you want to see. If you do it slowly, you will be able to see everything. Trust me, traveling needs so much patience, flexibility and independence although I agree that you don’t have to be rich to travel well. Long term traveling also needs plans, if not, a draft of what you are going to do. Unless you are in a tour group, which usually, you just have to pay, sit down and relax. I am not sure if I can count that as being a traveler. I wrote once on my Facebook status — “Tourists see things they want to see, travelers see everything.” For 3 years of constant traveling, I am living with this.

I struggled on my first trip outside South East Asia which was to Europe, spending summer of 2013 in Turkey, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Germany and Holland. I am a bit lucky I got supports from my boyfriend, but still, I struggled, BIG time. We fought on the way, we fought about where to eat, simply because there are too many choices but very different individual taste. We fought about should we walk or take the train, and is it worth it to purchase weekly train passes for that you have to also decide if you should stay that long in one city. I never knew that traveling could be so hard. You have to separate expenses, you have to sacrifice something you are dying to do (in my case, sacrificing Gondola ride in Venice because it was TOO expensive) and have a backup plan, in case you have utter heartbreak when you get to your dream place, only to know that you cannot afford this and that (I found a very nice cave in Postojna, Slovenia, got there after long train ride, only to know that the place is a big tourist trap). This might not be applicable to travelers or tourists with thick pockets, they might not need advice anyways.

ImageVenice: The gondola ride I dreamed about all my life, that I have to sacrifice, MYR 320 for 1/2 hour is not worth it.

Sometimes, in some cases or base on my experience (my winter trip, skiiing in Azuga, in the middle of nowhere in the Transylvanian Carpathians of Romania) the most depressing thing is there is not much information online about places you plan to go, and for this you just have to “gamble”, be there and see how it is going to be, while on the way you will think about yourself as being irresponsible and lack of a planner. But I compensated for everything that I sacrificed in my past trips with JF (example above) by planning and executing the most amazing ski trip in Romania, despite very little information can be gathered from online forums about this particular place.

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Azuga: Nice, but really in the middle of nowhere with very little information, even about how much the snow is falling.

Being constantly on the run could be sweetest escape, especially if you had been dreaming of doing so for long time. But you have to be mentally prepared, that should be on top of your bucket list.

Bangkok is not what you think it would be

September 2013.

Sawasdeeka.

Whenever I decided to take a break from traveling, I will park myself in Bangkok. My home country is Malaysia. Since I am no longer employed, I can no longer find good reasons to stay in Malaysia, but to go back once in a while to visit my family. People would say stuff about Bangkok; busy, crazy, notorious, and dangerous. Truth be told, it is none like the above. Contrary to popular belief or hearing from someone who only sees Bangkok for 3 days, serious cases almost mostly happened when you are TOO distracted or looking unconfident. Opportunists love taking advantages on travelers or tourist like this. I am sure we all have heard of tuk tuk drivers coming to tourists and ripping them off in this situation but this thing is totally avoidable. 

I had lived in Bangkok for good 5 months in autumn and after my winter trip to Europe. I feel safe and comfortable living among Thais. I am not a fan of big city, but Bangkok is exceptional. I’ve been to NYC and these cities share equal amount of excitements. 

While in Bangkok, one can actually afford to stay at a very nice, fully furnished apartment with just $300 a month, but I chose not to do that. I want to able to make friends and meet other travelers. Since I don’t like or not practicing going to clubs or even drinking, I stayed at a hostel that I think the best hostel in Bangkok, Boxpackers Hostel (should totally check this place out). Whether you are a shopping freak or not, this place is the best place to rest your head after a day out, venturing the busy streets of Bangkok. Also, I mentioned shopping freak because there is huge fashion mall across the street of this hostel that is ever alive and lively with people from all around Asia and the rest of the world! The hostel is also pretty close to train station, if you can count 10 minutes walking as close. In Bangkok, you don’t really have to worry about paying a lot for public transportation, I promise if you stay there for a week, you’ll get the hang of it, by all means, walking or riding tuk tuk or even the boat on Chao Phraya!

ImageThe dorm of 6 : That’s my backpack, and my Ripcurl lightpack

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 My pod or box, where I usually stay for months!

I have made so many incredible friends along my stay at this hostel. This is not like conventional hostels with bunk beds where people can see you even when you are picking your nose. There will no drunken people banging on the door at night. It is a place where you can actually feel “educated”. I love Khao San road too, but it is safe for me not to stay there. I had once stay there in year 2011, for 2 nights I cannot get to sleep and I heard stuff next door like an old man bargaining for a “company” and then ended up fighting and beating her. That and other things I am sure those who were also there know. The price of a hostel room at Khao San Road could be as low as 1 Euro, but I’d rather pay extra 10 Euro for extra extra comfort, and safety!

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 Rita from Taiwan: First friend I made the first time I stayed at Boxpackers Hostel, Bangkok. She is also traveling the world. Suddenly this place is not so strange anymore.

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 Roman & Jeremy from France and Germany: The last people at Boxpackers Hostel made bestfriends with before I left for Europe 2013 – 2014 winter trip

There are so many things you can do in Bangkok, not just visiting temples, in fact you’ll never run out things to do here as long as you are enjoying your time. I have no troubles being alone, I also have no troubles having great companies. I filled up my time learning Thai and making friends with locals. If you shall come to Bangkok, write to me, perhaps I can help with your itinerary. Songkran Festival for example, is a great time to be in Bangkok, the city has never been lovelier. And yes, while in Thailand, learn Muay Thai. It’s incredibly cheap and it’s incredibly great. After all, Thailand is the best place on Earth to learn this famous martial art.

ImageThis is me, doing muay thai (Thai boxing) in November 2013 at 13 Coins Gym. About USD 10 for a session of 5 rounds of intense punching and kicking, GREAT thing to do while in Bangkok.

Give it a chance. Bangkok is a great place to learn how to live a life by yourself. 

Till next time.