Dear outbound exchange friends,
I am sure you are pretty excited for your big trip, like I was one year back, and are making grand, lofty plans about your travels. I remember looking forward to my first big trip out of Singapore very much, and also feeling a tinge of anxiety for the uncertainty that loomed ahead. It’s as if no matter how much I prepared, there was going to be something I would leave out. Fear not, though. I learned that everything will find its way eventually.
There are a lot of nitty gritty administrative details to clear, and I hope you’ve already got them out of your way, such as:
- Plane ticket
- A luggage large enough to bring all that you cannot live without (read: 5 Top Budget Airlines’ Cabin Baggage Size Limits)
- Appropriate clothing for the weather
I understand the pre-trip paranoia that comes with going away for a long time. As such, I’ve compiled a few handy tips that I hope will be useful to you and soothe those nerves as you prepare for your final days before scooting off:
- Keep the number of luggages you bring to a minimum. There are always roads too rocky and stairs too long when you are carrying so much load. Don’t take lifts and escalators for granted, because not every city has them. The last thing you want is to forget about your second luggage or put up with angry commuters at the metro when you block the passageway.
- All that saying about bringing your rice cooker is a MYTH. Don’t be ridiculous and take up one-fifth of your luggage space. That space can be put to better use. There is a way to cook rice, by boiling it. If you’re lucky, your neighbour might have a rice cooker that you can borrow.
- If you’re worried about not having a small luggage to carry on your inter-city travels, you have 2 options: 1. Buy a smaller luggage when you’ve settled down. A cabin-sized luggage costs approximately 25£ in London or 30€ at supermarkets. 2. Carry a backpack when you leave your home country, on top of your main luggage. Your backpack can then serve as a cabin baggage when making shorter travels.
- All the worries about pick pocketing, THEY ARE TRUE, no matter where you go. To guard against them, carry a small pouch bag with you to store important documents like your passport, boarding pass, wallet and phone. Keep it in your sight, in front of you, and ZIPPED. When you are carrying a big backpack and lugging a bulky luggage, all you want is somewhere easily reachable when you need to pull out your phone swiftly to check for directions. Don’t risk putting your belongings in a bag behind you.
- Have all your documents saved in Dropbox and synced to your phone, so that in the event of emergencies, you can retrieve it easily. Trust me, you don’t want to be detained at the airport when you fail to produce your visa.
- NEVER ever keep your room keys in the baggage that will be checked in when you board a plane. At the rare chance that my boyfriend decided to check in his backpack on our trip from Milos to Athens, the crew had to forget to load all the passengers’ baggage in the plane when they took off. We almost missed our connecting flight from Athens as a result of our missing baggage, and came close to being homeless that night. There, there. Lesson learned.
- Do not keep your wallet/ phones in your pockets, not even in the front pocket. Those pickpockets can be really skillful.
- Pickpockets work best in crowded places, based on my personal experience. They get their act done when everyone is in close proximity with each other. Their hot spots are at metro/ bus stations, in metros/ buses and crowded shopping squares (think La Rambla in Barcelona).
- While it is true that kindness in strangers exist, like in the case when I was Couchsurfing in Europe, don’t take dubious acts of kindness for granted. If someone offers you a drink (even if it’s tea), or offer to bring you around, they may be in it for your money. Once, a local boy from Cambodia put a snake around my neck and offered to take photo of me. He then conveniently stretched his hand out to ask for a fee. Local boy-1, Isabel-0.
- Portable chargers are a must, especially when you use your phone for travelling. For some of the travel apps I use, check this post out. Bring a spare phone if you have. It will save you lots of hassle should you misplace your phone.
- Monitor currency fluctuations. Weeks, or even months before your big trip, look at how your currency shifts. You can always choose to change some currency first and change again closer to your trip. Another option would be to set up a telegraphic transfer or bring a debit card that can be used internationally.
My last words of advice: BE BOLD.
Go with an open mind. Learn a new language. Get out of your comfort zone. Be around people of the wrong crowd. Don’t stick to the same people. Take pictures. Wander aimlessly. GO WITHOUT INTERNET. Sit at park benches. Do nothing. Enjoy your surroundings. Witness the different phases of the moon. Commit precious moments to memory. Smell the flowers of spring. Do something you never would have done back in your home country. Say hello to a stranger, hold the hand of someone you don’t know and dance like no one’s watching.
This is going to be a period of self-discovery for you. Indulge in time and uncover a different side of you. Take time to understand yourself and treat yourself right. This could be just another overseas stint to you, or it could be a life-changing one, depending on how you see it. Regardless, you will never experience a trip like this when you return. So, my friend, keep the end in mind, and remember to seize every moment.
Are there specific questions that you’d like answered? Feel free to drop me a message! I would also love to hear all about your adventures.
‘Til then, au revoir and bon voyage!