Every great experience comes to an end one day and I wanted to use the today’s blog post as a summary and reflection. First five months in China for an exchange semester with diverse trips in China, to Indonesia and Japan in between the semester and afterwards two and a half months traveling through Southeast Asia. I started in the Philippines, then Myanmar, from there I traveled to northern Thailand, through Laos and Cambodia and then spend my last few days in Singapore.
Packed with my backpack and only a few souvenirs, mostly summer clothes, I landed in Berlin. I am back home since the End of March in 2017. But more importantly I arrived with loads of new experiences and lovely memories. Still up too today I think of this experience at least once a week, maybe even every day. Afterwards so much input needs to be processed mentally and changed me internally. This is my reflection.
Would I do it again?
Sure! I would absolutely go again and recommend everyone to do something similar and at least spend a longer period out of your county! If Asia seems to far away or is culturally to different to you, then choose a country that is not as far but still different.
Did I experience scary moments?
Not at all! Except for some annoying salesmen no one ever bothered me. Nor local nor tourist. Most people where kind or minded their own business. Sure, I wouldn’t go out alone in a sketchy area at night but I was out a lot of times after sunset and everything was all fine! I haven’t even heard that much creepy stories. If you feel insecure as a woman or also a men, ask the staff at your hostel or hotel if the area is safe. In Manila for example we did take a taxi even if normaly I wouldn’t because it was recommented just to stay save. Alternatively go out with fellow travelers, mostly you find people who would love to join you. Coming to the next question.
Have I felt lonely?
Absolutely not! On the contrary I made a lot of friends on the journey, some I still have contact with and others I just shared a couple of nice hours or even days, but that is beautiful as well. I even met some of them back in Europe. Sometimes I even wanted to be on my own like on Koh Rong Samloem even if others asked me to spend time with them. I needed some privacy during the day every now and then being in a hostel all the time. But that is mostly fine for the people as well. But often I shared a tuk-tuk with diverse people going to a place, joined for some excursions and went out with others for day or night activities. Mostly you just ask in the common room at a hostel and a few people will have the same destination or change their mind if they hear your plan or you yourself will. So, don’t be afraid to travel on your own, you will get to know more people than you would have when not traveling solo.
What have I learned?
- Pack less – Always pack less than you thing! Yes, all the backpackers recommend it, still most people pack too much and I did the same. I left something in most places I stayed at.
- Plan less – It was a long journey with diverse steps which I planned to far in advance. That way you have less time for unexpected thinks or you are not as flexible if you want to shorten or extend a stay because the next thing is already booked. Plan buffer days or just go with the flow, keep flexible. You won’t regret it.
- Travel slow – Closely related to the point on top. Travel slow, take your time, there are plenty of things you can’t plan in advance and you want to have time for. Nowadays I prefer to sink into a culture and explore without time pressure. If you travel too quickly you might miss the best and the experiences you have can’t even be enjoyed well enough.
- Rest – Also related, take you time to rest, plan buffer days where you do nothing big. Your brain gets so much input that its needs some time to process in between.
- Be your own boss – Decide what and when to do. No one can give rules how you should travel. Maybe the only exceptions are cultural or legal norms like covering up at temples and taking your shoes off or not taking drugs or in Singapore no gum allowed at all. But except from that it is your choice if you want to travel in groups or solo, on the country sides or big cites, if you enjoy the day or party all night etc. You can also change your mind all the time and combine all of the above. It is all up to you!
I did all those things wrong or well, maybe not wrong, I needed to learn from them. I planed a tight time schedule. Maybe not from the activities I wanted to do but according to the days I would spend at each place and already booked the next bus, train or flight mostly even before I got to a place if that was possible. That gave me more stress than needed. In Luang Prabang for example I wish I would have stayed more, but the bus was booked and on the contrary Vang Vieng was not my kind of city and I would have liked to move on after a day. More flexibility makes it possible to include these changes. Also, the time was scheduled so tight that I mostly only had time for the most important sightseeing spots and then would need to move on. There was no time to rest or just stroll without missing out something I wanted to see. But sometimes your head needs a relaxed day and your feet as well. My goal back then was to make the best out of this month and I wanted to squeeze in as much as possible. Now my mind changed and I consider the best out of a time by the depth of an experience and the enjoyment. I prefer quality over quantity. If I would do it again I would do half the amount of countries in the same time, maybe even less.
At least my days itself where more spontaneous. Mostly the night before arriving at a place, sometimes a bit in advance, I marked all the spots I wanted to see including some optional spots in my offline map maps.me (see screenshot above) and then have an overview over what spots are near to each other to make out the best routes and trips. That way a wouldn’t miss something nearby I wanted to see anyway and save time with longer distances in a city. As already mentioned before, I prefer to walk as the first way of getting from a to be. Second would be riding a bicycle, then official transportation like bus, train, metro and similar. I almost never take a taxi. This makes me see other spots on the way to a place and sometimes end somewhere else also really beautiful I end up bumping in on my way and at the same time save money. I love this way of exploring. Going from city to city in Asia was always the bus. From country to country sometimes a plane because my route not only included land and sometimes it is easier to immigrate at an airport.
Also, I’m a social person. I love to spend time with people and sometimes I let them take the lead. Most of the time I decided on my own and did the things I wanted too but sometimes I followed the lead of others while I would have done it differently. Not that I did not enjoy it that way, but I know that I may have made to much compromises. Sometimes I stayed in a hotel room and shared it with a friend and not a cheaper hostel because they wanted privacy, but that made my money run away faster and I might have stayed longer without that nights. On the Philippines I did some excursions I wasn’t enthusiastic about and would have done something else preferably. For example, my friend wanted to explore the rainforest with some locals, for me it was a tourist scam and I would have either done it on my own or spend a day more diving. It was still nice and not a drama, but on my own I would have decided differently. As mentioned above, my Laos group was loving, but except for two of us they partied long and another guy and me we got up earlier, already explored a bit and went to see them for their breakfast and our lunch to continue together. It was a nice compromise, but bigger excursions where not possible with that. So, if you travel with friends come clear about your expectations beforehand and be okay with giving in sometimes. Still it was great but I enjoyed being on my own in Cambodia afterwards.
So as mentioned above, I traveled solo, with one ore more friends and in groups, I visited countryside’s and cities, I relaxed at a beach and did diverse activities, I slept in cheap hostels and nicer hotels, I went to restaurants or eat street food. None of that is wrong, it is up to you and by exploring I figured out my own best practice and that might change one day as well. So, try it yourself and you will figure out your preferences.
Was it expensive?
I have to admit, I don’t really know, it’s up to your standard and how much you normally spent back home. I never had a high standard living since my parents never really earned that much. I had to take loans for my studies and also for the exchange semester. Before my master studies I already payed back a private loan I took for my last semester in the bachelor program (took me two years). Luckily, we don’t have to pay much university fees but still you have to pay your rent and pay your bills so this is what I needed the loans for. At the same time, I knew that I will earn enough to pay back the loan I took for the exchange semester and the traveling afterwards when I’m done with university. In August this year I will actually pay back the last installment from that loan. So, two years paying back for almost eight months traveling while still having fixed costs back home was totally fine for me. As you have seen in other blog posts and you will see in following ones, I still traveled more while still paying back a fixed amount each month in the last two years. So, I wasn’t living a bad life afterwards. During the journey in average I spent around 1250€ each month. Including all the flights forth and back and in between, my rent back home, my rent in China, all excursions, food and many more. I think that is okay. Next time I would plan cleverer with less flights. I already took ten flights in the exchange period, related to the distance in China and to get to Japan and Indonesia and having a base in Shenzhen where I needed to come back to. I took another five flights till I got back home, that could have been less as well. Still I’m satisfied with my budget and the decision to value experience over money by taking the risk of getting a loan. I would always choose that again.
Was it hard to go back?
Absolutely! It was the hardest… I became sad each time I thought about it while still being on the road. When I started, I had a boyfriend back home but we decided to split after almost four month apart. The distance was not the cause, we already had our troubles before but it showed us that we each move into different directions. It wasn’t planned to make a backpacking trip afterwards but having no one waiting back home I changed my planes, talked to my boss and extended my stay. I would have stayed longer if it wasn’t for my studies I needed to finish and the money running out. But that meant that back home I needed to find a new apartment, I would be on my own again, buy a lot new and split everything we had between my ex and me, start working again and write my master thesis. That was way too much negative stuff waiting for me. Sure, I was looking forward to see friends and family but the negative things were to prominent. Still, I had no choice if I didn’t want to give up the last years of studies to fly back home and go back to my everyday life.
How was it back home?
Well… I was happy to have my friends and family to support me, cheer me up and they did not take it personally that I kept talking about the experiences I had and wasn’t really enjoying it to be back home. Without them I would have gone mad, especially with the time pressure of the thesis. It took me 1,5 months to find an apartment and arranged myself with my ex till then. Luckily, we got along okay and transitioned everything fair. I was okay being on my own and needed a lot of time for myself anyway. My coworkers welcomed me happy and even though the student job was boring I needed the money so it was okay. Writing my thesis wasn’t easy but I mastered it (bad joke, I know) and my life felt pretty normal quickly. Still, my wanderlust ruled me till then. I did diverse weekends trips, longer journeys as well as shorter ones. Believe me, I always have a new destination in mind even before I set my food back to my hometown.
Finishing my Master, I thought about moving away but the thesis kept me to busy to really focus on applying so I took the chance my former boss gave me to stay in my company I have been with the last three years. They offered me my first leadership position and I was happy to take that shot. I was and I’m still by now responsible for two little and since this year even three branches in the east of Germany. They are located in Dresden, Magdeburg and Leipzig. I started with a team of 17 employees and now I count 33 one and a half years after, so the business is growing and I grow with it. The job meant commuting between these cities and my hometown Berlin each week. I already have been commuting for two years before my master program so it wasn’t new to me to spend a lot of time in hotels and on the road. For one year I also got a second apartment in Dresden to have some private life during the week. It is taught but I like the challenge the job gives me.
New changes will follow soon, time is ticking, but I’m not allowed to make it official jet (I promised my boss and I do keep my promises), but you will not need to wait long to hear the exciting news! Till then I will repost some journeys I have left out from the last two years or even before that and at least three new countries this year are already planned! Hint two of them are in the north west of Germany and I haven’t been there jet 😉 So, stay tuned.
Thank you very much for your time and interest. I hope you are enjoying my blog. Feel free to follow and leave me feedback. I am thankful for every advice and happy to answer questions. You can also follow me on Instagram or Facebook for photography and stories or FindPenguins where I track my journey to get a general overview. I am happy to see you back soon.