Taking an Extended Trip: What I Did Right

I’ve been home for a couple of weeks now and I’ve had some time to reflect on this big giant trip that just happened. I have a feeling I won’t be able to fully wrap my head around it until I get a little more distance from it.

Now everywhere I go, excited old friends are asking where I went, what I saw, what my favorite place was. I won’t bore you with all that (plus, favorite place? Out of like a bajillion?). Instead I thought I’d help out everyone else who is considering a big trip by telling you the best (and later, the worst) decisions I made to make this trip a success.

I left my plans flexible

Just a couple of minutes ago I found the itinerary I mapped out for myself around this time last year. Apparently I’m supposed to be somewhere in Romania or Bulgaria right now. Oops.

My itinerary started changing before I even left the country, so I had to learn to roll with the punches and re-adjust my plans fast. If I’d bought a round-the-world ticket or committed myself more I would have had a lot of headaches to deal with. I’m really satisfied with where I ended up (and where I’m still going), even though I do want to make it to Romania someday.

I packed clothes I’d actually wear (yes, I mean jeans)

I’ve made this mistake in the past: bringing clothes that sounded good in theory, but in person just weren’t me. They end up shoved at the bottom of your pack, wasting space until one day you give up and shove them in a donation box somewhere.

When I posted about the hell that is deciding what to pack I got a ton of unsolicited advice from YOU GUYS. Including a lot of people telling me I was going to regret packing that pair of jeans. Those jeans ended up coming in really handy during the strangely damp and chilly Australian summer, in wintery Hanoi, and just any time I needed to look marginally dressed up.

I’m not saying everyone should pack some jeans, just that you should think about your own style and what you’re really going to wear.

I talked to lots of people

One of the BEST parts of backpacking is all of the interesting people you get to meet- as long as you are open to it. In addition to lots of cool travelers I made a special effort to talk to locals all around me and to get to know their stories. From architects/guest-house owners to beach based pedicurists to clumsy con-artists I met some fascinating people- and ended up with some good stories!

I tried to keep an open mind

A lot of people don’t like Vietnam. Before I went I heard that it would be crowded, frenetic and unfriendly. Well I freaking loved my time there– in fact it was probably my favorite country of the entire trip. It was so vibrant, the people were so interesting and the food, oh my god the food. Even just typing about it now I’m getting nostalgic for the place.

Will YOU like Vietnam? I don’t know, you’ll have to go find out for yourself.

I gave myself plenty of downtime

In the past I have found myself rushing around on trips, attempting to see everything. After one really stressful weekend in Tokyo I quickly realized I was not going to be able to sustain that kind of pace for very long. For the rest of my trip I tried to move at a more leisurely place, taking time off to relax and to get work done. When I found a city or beach I particularly liked I stayed that extra couple day to really enjoy it. Maybe I didn’t see as much but I also didn’t die- so good job me.

I didn’t play in the jump rope of fire

Or do any number of other things that were just too dumb to justify. Which isn’t to say I didn’t take risks; I just thought before I jumped. That spinning fire trap looked tempting, but travel is more fun without third degree burns.

I Didn’t Wait for Anyone

Okay maybe I didn’t end up traveling alone SO much, but I was willing to do it by myself. If I had waited for someone to come along with me… I might have waited forever. Instead I took the reins and decided I was going no matter what. I went ahead and made my plans and sure the universe laughed at them, but you never know if you never try.

I Brought My Laptop

Even if you aren’t running a business where you need to be connected everywhere, a $300 netbook is a handy little investment. Most of the guesthouses in Asia did not offer computers for guests but did have free wifi, so I could catch up with friends and family in comfort instead of running around trying to find an internet cafe full of boxy old machines. Being able to watch movies was also a godsend during those long rainy campervan nights in Oz.

I Actually Went!

I’ve long believed that the hardest part of taking an extended trip is actually making the decision to DO IT. People struggle long and hard with this, but the honest truth is I’ve never met anyone who has regretted their decision to get out into the world. Even on the worst night buses and most horrible food poisoned days I still had faith in what I was doing and I really can’t wait to keep doing it!

All in all, the biggest thing I did that made this trip a success was to listen to myself, and not all the swirling voices around me. Rich advice I know, coming from a travel blogger. You can read all the tips and opinions in the world, and take it all into account, but in the end you have to trust yourself to know what’s right for you.

Funnily enough, Kate over at Adventurous Kate just published a similar post on The Things I Did Right in South East Asia. Be sure to check it out for more tips!

 

What are some of the best travel decisions you’ve made?

Tuesday: What I did WRONG

 

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Kristin Amira
Kristin Amira

just say YES to traveling with your favorite pair of jeans! SO annoying to not have jeans.

erin
erin

Loved Vietnam – even better with jeans!

Lorna - the roamantics
Lorna - the roamantics

such an awesome post Stephanie! So many “yes!” moments, but think the very last is my biggest now…following my own intuition & taking my trip, not anyone elses. So amazing that you’ve already accomplished this. Fuck yeah! 🙂

Eurotrip Tips
Eurotrip Tips

What I conclude from this post is that you mostly listened to your instincts – and I think that’s the most important part of travel. As long as you feel right with your decisions, it’s all that matters, like you said in another post.

And yes, jeans and laptop are essentials 🙂

Joya
Joya

I completely agree that not waiting for others to travel with you is a good thing. I traveled solo for the first time last month to Sweden and Denmark and I loved it. I was planning to go with someone but it just didn’t work out but I bought my ticket anyway because I knew I would never go if I waited for someone. Good for you!

Leslie Forman
Leslie Forman

Yes! And I’m so happy our paths crossed in Beijing and I could bring you to the embassy Halloween party. Best holiday of the year. I agree with your tips here. Through talking to people (a monk in Laos, a girl in a dark hotel room in Vietnam who happened to go to my high school) I learned so much and it really added to my travel experience. I hope we can meet up again in South America. I’m headed to Chile to work on a big solar project.

cheers from san francisco!
leslie

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