Practical Tips from Years of Traveling The World

As promised in my post about homesickness and long-term travel, I wanted to publish a follow-up about the more practical side of my time on the road. I started out having no idea if I had packed the right things in my bag, worried about losing my passport (I tend to be slightly scatterbrained on the best of days) and curious if I’d last the full year around the world. 4 years later, I’m still moving – though I’m doing so quite a bit differently than when I first started out. I’m travelling much more slowly, opting to spend more time learning and eating. Where possible, I rent an apartment for a few months to really get a feel for the place and to get work done. Over the years, I’ve found myself disagreeing with my initial packing strategy and also learning a bunch of tips that I keep using as I go. I wanted to share those tips for world travel here.

For those who are just starting out or reading from home or mulling over what they too have picked up along the way, some practical tips from years of travelling around the world.

My world travel tips: I made mistakes so you don’t have to!

I revisit this post every year to see if I ought to modify but even in 2016, many months after the original was written, I agree with everything I’ve posted here. The biggest lesson is to remember that travel doesn’t fix your problems, but it does expose you to new solutions, to interesting challenges, and to so much more.

1. Being a solo traveler does not mean that you are lonely.

One of the most frequent questions I receive is “are you lonely travelling alone?” This is a natural assumption; before they visited, even my parents envisioned my sitting alone and singing myself to sleep. But when they met me in Bangkok, they quickly realized there was a vibrant community of journalists and writers and photographers and almost instantly, I had a group of friends. The nature of travel is that it intensifies human experiences, transcending social rules that would apply at home. So when I meet a great group of people we end up spending days talking, sharing meals and exploring – despite the fact that if this was New York and I said “hey, let’s share lunch, dinner and drinks for the next seven days straight I’d be deemed a stalker. Those rules don’t apply. Most people are open to meeting others and learning from them as they travel. With the exception of #12, below, I don’t ever feel lonely.

2. Be a travel parasite.

No, this does not mean mooching off friends or family. What it means is learning how to use guidebooks to your advantage. While they are useful to have for the history of a place or the basics in itinerary planning, I rarely look to guidebooks for the name of a hostel or restaurant. Instead, I look at their recommendations as things to piggyback on. Lonely Planet recommends a place as “Our Pick”? Great, I go there, and walk two doors down to stay nearby. Rough Guides says “this is the best restaurant in town”? Perfect! Almost every one of those recommendations will spawn another restaurant within walking distance, especially in less developed countries. Industrious entrepreneurs quickly learn that when these books recommend a place, they quickly get overcrowded and prices go up. The solution: they open a place right next door or nearby to handle the spillover. Without fail, those are the places that are cheaper, more delicious and not jaded. Being a parasite isn’t always a bad thing. (Having parasites? Not so much.)

3. There are things you should not leave home without.

Regardless of what climate I pack for, I’ve always got these five things in my bag: safety whistle, doorstopheadlamp, sleep sheet and sarong. I’ve got many other mainstays as well, but these four are there, for shorter trips or longer trips or anything in between.

Additional notes (Apr 6):

  • Someone submitted this to MeFi (I’m a longtime reader, so that was exciting to see – *waves back*) with the question “I guess I must be inexperienced at travel but I don’t think I’ve ever found myself wishing I had a doorstop. Can someone tell me what this is about?”. The answer is that I’ve found it a comfort to have if I’m in a hostel room alone because it means you’ll usually hear the door fidgeting if someone is trying to open it while you are asleep. It’s not a failsafe prevention, of course, but it has come in handy and it gives me extra peace of mind when I go to bed.
  • Another note to the MeFi thread asked about items like antibacterial gel or earplugs. Yes, of course I have those with me. I wanted to list some items that were less conventional but take up very little room. And yes, I probably am an overpacker, but at 5ft with a 54L pack, that can only mean so much :)
  • To those curious about why I recommend a safety whistle, it isn’t to draw attention in uncomfortable situations (I’ve yet to use it in that way), but because it has come in handy while being chased by a group of monkeys or stranded in a boat in Myanmar. I devoted a post to it because I do think it’s great to have for general safety reasons (especially if you are hiking) but I thought it would be best illustrated with some of the ridiculous times I’ve had to use it on my trip.

4. Everything else you can buy.*

I didn’t believe it at first – “what if I forget to pack something!” But I’ve learned that most things can be bought abroad, from t-shirts to bras to new flip flops when a monkey throws yours over a cliff. Toiletries are a learning experience in and of themselves (trying to find non-whitening deodorant in Thailand? Not as easy as you might think) and often teach you a lot about a country in the process. I’ve posted a few packing lists from other bloggers on my world travel resources page and they are great at outlining what you need. But if you forget something, you can usually finagle a suitable replacement on the road.

*If you have prescription meds from home, these are something you might want to plan for during your travels. Also, your passport. Please don’t forget to pack your passport.

5. Food makes the world go round.

You may not be a chef or foodie or spice-obsessed individual, but you cannot deny that in most of the world, the nexus of culture, tradition and family is food. If you don’t want to learn about the history of how spices got there or spend your days stuffing your face with everything you can like I do, take a cooking class. See if you can learn how to cook with a local family. Go to the markets and watch how people eat, how they handle their foods or when their primary mealtimes occur. These rhythms are relevant to your travels because most places are so much more than a list of sights to see; most places tie their food to their communities, to their history. You’d be doing yourself a disservice if you missed out on it.

 For those worried about travelling with allergies or getting sick along the way, my Food Traveler’s Handbook, now published (yay!) has chapters dedicated to each of these concerns, as well as a long ode to why it is rewarding to see a country through its food options.

If you want a shorter cheat sheet, check out my “How to Eat Street Food Without Getting Sick” post. 

world travel tips after 4 years of travelling
Penang curry at Pun Pun, Thailand

6. Your taxi driver knows where to eat breakfast more than you do.

Swap this out for tuk-tuk driver, songthaew driver or rickshaw driver, where appropriate. When I go to a new place, I find the eldest cab driver possible and ask him where he ate breakfast. Once he gets over his shock that this is what I want to know, he tends to break into a huge grin and start talking about food. Eventually, he takes me there. And the food is almost always delicious, fresh and somewhere I’d have never found without his help. Taxi drivers: more than just getting from A to B.

Update: There has been some pushback here, noting that taxis will often take you to a place where they receive commission. I have found this to be extremely untrue, relying throughout my travels on these taxi-sourced recommendations for eats, usually delivered with a big smile. If this fails, consider taxi drivers, then, to be an excellent marker of quick and delicious food. Example: a trip to Mui Ne revealed one of the best soups I’ve had in Vietnam, populated almost exclusively by taxi drivers.

7. Stop listening to people who tell you not to pack jeans.

Do you love your jeans? Great, put them in your backpack. I don’t care whether people tell you they won’t dry fast enough (this is a non-starter in warm climates) or that they take up too much room (oh HAI Lycra, how wonderfully compact you make my jeans!) or that they’re not malleable enough. I made the mistake of not packing jeans when I left in 2008 and they were the first thing I bought in South America. I’ve had a pair with me ever since. While my  quick-dry pants are terrific for hiking, I personally don’t feel fashionable in them, and when I join expats or others for dinner somewhere, I want to feel like I fit in. I also want to feel like myself, and I do wear jeans quite a lot when I am back in North America. If you’re someone who hates jeans to begin with, this isn’t for you. But if you do enjoy wearing them, bring them along. You’ll be happier for it.

8. Oranges are the perfect public transportation snack.

I started bringing a bag of oranges with me for long bus rides, primarily because they quench thirst and smell delicious. I quickly learned that many Thai and Burmese busgoers sniff the peels to stave off nausea, and that kids love oranges. Really: kids LOVE oranges. So for those who want to bring something for the bus ride but rightfully worry about giving sweets to kids, oranges are your friend. You will win over the parents, make the kids happy, occupy your hours and eventually get fed by everyone on the bus. Trust me. You should always have a bag of oranges on hand, the smaller the orange the better.

If oranges aren’t present where you are, substitute a similar peelable fruit. In China, this was longan or lychees, in the Philippines it was lanzones. You get the idea.

Oranges Morocco
These small fruits can go a long way.

9. Cough drops are to cab drivers what oranges are to kids on buses.

I stock up on cough drops before I need to get a cab because cabbies love cough drops. I have no scientific backing for my theory, but I can attest to the fact that in every cab I’ve taken, the driver is thrilled to take one from me. After the initial grumpiness, a cough drop is offered, a smile follows and suddenly we’re singing Journey at the top of our voices and playing air guitar. My cough drop offerings have resulted not just in impromptu karaoke but also a detour tour of the Corniche (Casablanca, where cabs are fixed fair), food (Thailand, of course, where everyone wants to feed you) and attending a wedding (Myanmar and Bali). Even when you don’t receive anything as grandiose as a wedding invite, it lightens the mood considerably and often surprises the cab driver; you’ll be guaranteed interesting conversation if the cabbie speaks English, a great icebreaker to learn the story of his life. Cough drops: making your taxi experiences better, one cabbie at a time.

10. Opening your eyes and mind to connecting with others matters more than getting “off the beaten path.”

I devoted a whole post to this but I want to reiterate it here because I think it’s one of the most important lessons I learned. Remaining open to meeting new people and learning from them goes farther than you think. You can get off the beaten path and have little visceral connection to the land or the people because you’ve insulated yourself in your thoughts to fixating on being different. Conversely, you can remain in one of the busiest places in town and still forge relationships with others and walk away with incredible stories and experiences. This is not a black and white issue: for those who do keep their minds open, getting off the beaten path is usually meaningful and wonderful because they’re piling on additional experiences to an already-open spirit. However the bottom line remains: it isn’t enough to go somewhere secret or dangerous or exciting. It’s important also to look beyond that and focus on the beauty of what you can learn from others as you go.

11. People are more alike than you think.

My preferred way of connecting to people is via food but regardless of your passions or interests, travelling will also open your eyes to the fact that we are all more alike than we think. Yes, there are cultural differences and traditions that differ – vastly – but the basics of human emotions and the kindness in a smile are omnipresent, and a beautiful reminder of our shared humanity. Be it the Laotian woman on my bus to Vientiane who only wanted to talk about how men in Thailand thought they were better than men in Laos, to the soldiers in the Philippines who wanted to know how we in Canada survived without growing our own rice, to the family in Bolivia who asked why tourists didn’t swaddle their babies on their back, Bolivian-style. Threads of common human queries – love, food, parenting, and many more – resurface again and again. Ask questions, encourage people to ask them of you. In the end, these knots of human connection are what makes the world go round.

My long term travel tip: be sure to drink a smoothie from Mrs Pa in Chiang Mai
Me and Mrs. Pa, the best smoothie lady in Chiang Mai

12. The times when you are sick are the loneliest.

While I said above that I’m almost never lonely, the times when I am sick are the times when I would do anything to click my heels and be at my parents’ place, in bed. I might be 32 but when I’m somewhere foreign and in a cloud of lethargy and illness, I still want  my step-father’s famous chicken soup. It’s tough to be hurt and far away from everything that is familiar. But it has made me more able to handle things that go wrong, and technology has enabled me to stay in contact with people (and/or get the “HOLY CRAP help what is this on my arm?” diagnoses from my stepsister, who is a doctor) even when I’m down.

13. Technology helps you meet people and connect others as you go, and keeps parents happy.

When I was in the Kuwait Airport, I tweeted that I had the hiccups during my 7-hour layover, resulting in some strange looks from other passengers. I had seen one, perhaps two, tourists in the prior hours and I thus stood out already. A few minutes after the tweet, a guy from Oregon came up and said “Hi, are you legalnomads?” He had searched Twitter for the airport code to see whether other travellers were tweeting nearby, saw me hiccuping compulsively in the corner and came over to introduce himself. I spent the remaining hours of my layover drinking coffee with his family and talking about social media. (In later years, this same guy popped up once again)

Technology makes it easy to meet people ahead of time, get suggestions and generally forge a dialogue before crossing paths. I’ve gotten restaurant tips, weather warnings and more via Twitter, and made some great friends in the process. When I first arrived to Bangkok in 2010 after my time in Myanmar, there were tweetups galore on the heels of TEDxBKK. In just a few days, I had a wonderful group of newfound friends who could tell me where to eat and what they loved about the city. Of course, in the absence of technology, the tried and true “talking to someone else in your hostel at breakfast” works just as fine as it always did.

Technology also helps keep my family updated. I use a Google Voice number, Skype and email to keep them all in the loop. I’ll send photos of the smaller things, the tidbits of quotidian life they’re missing out on. “This soup was amazing!” or “here’s my new room!” They are mostly appreciative but sometimes less so – the time I sent a photo of the squat toilet in Mongolia was the first time my mother emailed to say “we want you to share, but please not the toilets.” SPOILSPORT.

14. The anxiety and nervousness of newness never goes away.

I want to stress this point because understandably people think that when you do something enough it becomes second nature, an instinctive machination. This might be true for general skills but for travel, I’ve found the rule does not apply. When I go somewhere new, I still get anxious. Before I left for Morocco, I was worried about whether I would enjoy it, and whether I’d find it daunting. Having gotten very used to Asia, North Africa was as foreign to me as it would be to anyone else. It’s a fallacy that longer term travellers breeze through the world, comfortable anywhere. Part of what makes something like travel special is that it does push your comfort levels every time you step outside the familiar. In my case, even after 4 years, this hasn’t dissipated at all.

15. Packing does not get easier.

I wrote a piece on long term travel and the things it doesn’t fix. In it, I talked about how, 2.5 years into my travels, I still hated packing. It’s now 4 years into my travels. Guess what? I still hate packing.

16. Not planning too far ahead leaves you the flexibility to need to take the wonderful opportunities that come your way.

I get quite a few emails asking if I opted for a round-the-world ticket or whether I plan as I go. I’ve addressed this in the resources page but I want to reiterate it here because I think it’s important: don’t plan too far ahead. Over and above the undeniable fact that I thought I’d be back in North America by now (and not still travelling), so many of the places I loved beyond belief are the ones that weren’t even on my initial, vague itinerary. There’s nothing wrong with planning, or doing research, or even booking longer-haul flights if you have a set schedule to follow. But leave as much as you can to as-you-go travel. You’ll meet people who wax poetic about a specific destination and want to go there; you’ll decide you need – NEED! – to go to the Philippines with your brother because you’ve become fascinated by a small primate that you need to see in person; you will find yourself and your mind expanded by the sheer impossibility of everything being available to you, if only you could choose where to go first.

It is a scary thing, to leave it open to the whims of your brain as you travel, but a worthwhile one.

17. Portable chopsticks are your friend.

Two options, among many: with wood tips or without. These are great for camping, for eating on the go and for the times that you’re at a street stall and while the food is fresh and turnover great, the cutlery less so. A great fix is to carry your own portable utensils, clean and tiny enough to fit in your bag.

18. Never skimp on your underwear. You do not want them falling apart as you travel.

This is one of the more practical on this list, but really, people please – do not be skimping on the underwear. Let alone the trials of finding underwear that fits when sizing might differ from home (and/or materials might be less … comfortable), this is a basic you don’t want to regret – you’ll be wearing them every day, and they’d better be enjoyable. It’s worth spending a little more so that they don’t fall apart in a laundry machine 3 months down the road.

19. Cockroaches are, in fact, as universal as you feared.

I don’t mind them very much – as I said in my WDS speech, my friend Shannon was on spider-killing duty, whereas I had the cockroaches all to my own. But they’re not endearing either, and they are everywhere. You get used to the scuttling, scurrying, clickety sounds of cockroaches roaming around because you have no real choice. The good news is that they rarely, if ever, bite.*

Tip from years of traveling the world: avoid cockroaches. Ew.
Chiang Mai cockroaches make NY cockroaches look tiny.

*Ok, sometimes in the Philippines they bite but you can just pretend I didn’t say anything…

20. It doesn’t feel like work when you are doing what you love.

There is so much talk about finding your passion and doing what you love in life. It’s a tough discussion to have, in part because for many parents and grandparents, it seems an incredibly narcissistic thing to do. For prior generations, doing what made you ‘happy’ wasn’t as mainstream of an option because you were too busy doing what you had to do in life, and supporting families or communities. Those obligations still exist, but within the framework of how we live now, the ability to shift toward happiness has become a more accepted path. I’ve been fortunate enough to have quit my job to travel thinking I’d be returning to the practice of law, only to find that I loved the travel more than I thought possible. And so I’ve tried to build a business and a brand around doing what I love. My worst case scenario? Going back to being a lawyer. As ‘worst cases’ go, it’s not the end of the world.

Despite spending more time at a computer than I anticipated, it doesn’t feel like work the way that lawyering felt like work. It’s great to build something where the foundation remains what you love to do.

If you’re interested in moving toward a more flexible work life, please see my 7k word resources page for location independent entrepreneurs and work abroad.

21.  Reverse culture shock doesn’t hit you less, you just get used to the feeling.

In my post about homesickness and long-term travel, I noted that the first time I went back to North America during this round-the-world-trip, I really felt the weight of the changes in me and the correlative dissociation with the place I used to call home. On later visits, I was able to see the reverse culture shock from a more objective place, knowing I would feel this way but being able to digest it more easily. However the underlying feeling – the shock to your system – doesn’t go away. It’s been comforting for me to know that other travellers feel this way too.

 

* * *

I know April 1 is April Fool’s Day for man, but for me the day has become a time for me to reflect on my travels. Though my family initially thought it might be a joke when I said I was leaving 1 April, they quickly realized I was actually just doing what I said I would do all along: see as much of the world as I could by living it. While my initial inspiration was a PBS documentary on the Trans-Siberian trains, what followed was a mixture of learning, fascinating connections with far-flung places (and the people in them) and of course, food.

So many years of travel! I feel grateful, and I am excited to see what comes next. For other annual roundups, see here.

Hard to believe.

-Jodi

 

219 thoughts on “Practical Tips from Years of Traveling The World”

  1. Wonderful and very useful article. But I don’t agree with you and the jeans. Well, it depends where you travel, I spent more than a year in South East Asia, it’s most of the time so hot, I don’t even wanna think of wearing a jeans there. When I reached South America, the first thing I bought was indeed some jeans. But that was ok. They were cheap, it was less than $20 and I was happy I didn’t had to carry one around before. If I can add one item, which was for me one of the most useful things I brought, I would say a 4 digit padlock. Almost everywhere I was able to lock my room with my own locker, and I didn’t need a key. By the way, why would you bring a doorstop?? I never needed that one…
    Cheers from Istanbul.

    1. Thank you Sab! To each their own on the jeans, right? I’m currently in Vietnam and have worn mine quite a lot since I arrived here. The doorstop is to help prevent someone from entering your room at night, or at least to hear them if they try to do so, so you are awake and alert if they manage to get in. Unfortunately, it has been helpful – meaning it came in handy. A new doorstop developed by a Canadian company looks interesting too: http://www.leevalley.com/en/gifts/page.aspx?p=40812&cat=4,53210

      1. Ooooh right, now I get it with the doorstop. This is indeed a very good idea. Sometimes I used to push furniture in front of the door… hahaha. I’ll get one of those. Thx. By the way, I’m heading to Philippines in March and April, any plans of going back there?

  2. Great comment about the social media as well. I should have thought of this when I got stuck at London-Heathrow. I flew in mid-day and had an early AM flight. I figured that I’d just stay at the airport, as I’ve done in Dubai and countless other “international airports.” Wrong. Spent $300 on something not much better than a Motel 6 back home (but only 20 minutes from Heathrow). I could have tweeted or used social media to find a better place.

  3. Deborah Wohlschlegel

    Loved your article and could relate having a spouse whose job has taken us to many parts of the world…….would not trade our experiences for anything…….the more cultures one interacts with, the more one finds we have so much in common……..I totally agree with the food end of it……we love to travel just for that reason alone and have discovered so many wonderful dishes in “hole in the walls”……we find taxi drivers a great source of info, and not just on food recommendations……As for tips, totally agree 100%!!! If I was to add anything, which you might have in other articles, it would be to include 2 clothespins (have yet to find curtains that close all the way), washcloth,earplugs, passport holder that hangs around your neck so it’s ready to present, along with ticke and saves peace of mind knowing it’s safe, and most important: have copies of your passport in all luggage, including backpack…..it’s a lifesaver if ever lost or stolen!!!! And it has happened!! Thanks again for a lovely article!

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  5. Connecting with people and experiencing the culture and food is definitely the reason I love to travel solo, you’re so much more aware of what’s around you that way. Great post! 4 years of travelling, wow!

  6. Oh, my goodness. What a fabulous list. I think this is one of the best travel posts I’ve ever read– not only are the bits of wisdom you’ve accumulated on the road true, but you’ve written them in such an authentic way. I have to say what caused me to respond (I’m not a huge commenter) was #11. This is EXACTLY my reaction when traveling. People are people, and we all have some similar life experiences to connect us. It is really wonderful to meet people and be able to make a true connection with them after a few hours, or maybe even less. It’s one of the best things about traveling :)

  7. What a great informative post. There is some fantastic advice in this article, I’ve already sent the link to two of my friends whom are traveling later this month. I think one of the key themes running through the post is trying to tap into the local knowledge. Many new travellers have the tendency to follow the guide books to the letter and often don’t see outside of whats been recommend in their pages. I think one of the best pieces of advice is number two and I wouldn’t have thought about that. Also tip 5’s picture of the curry…Oh my god!

  8. While all your tips are awesome, I want to reach the point where I travel with a towel and a bottle of water.

    Inspired by Douglas Adams of course! :D

    “A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.”

  9. Great article. I have slowed down on travel in the last few years but this makes me want to speed up again. Thanks !!

  10. Damned cockroaches follow wherever you go! Never seen them bite, though…that sounds gnarly!

    I didn’t know anyone else did the cough-drop thing :) I use that method a lot when I’m in immigration working on getting visas…offer the clerk a cough drop and they are always 10x more friendly!

  11. Could I just ask something? Do you return home to re-pack after every country? Or do you just proceed on to the next destination from your last destination?

    1. Hi Phoebe, there’s no set routine so it depends on what I’m doing. I was in NYC, LA, London, Vietnam, Belgium and Portgual w/out repacking. Then back to Montreal. Going to Toronto, India and Bangkok then back to Montreal, then to Costa Rica for a friend’s wedding so I’ll repack then. Normally it’s about layers and simple pieces with scarves and necklaces if I need to look more presentable :) Were I trekking vs. traveling, I’d have more of an issue!

    1. Hi Adel, depending on the type of travel I do different things. For shorter trips I book a guesthouse if it’s high season. If it’s low season I’ll just take a bus or cab to the area of town where they are clustered and wander till I find something I like. For longer stays (eg. a few months), I’ll get a guesthouse for a few days then I’ll wander around and pick an area where I want to rent an apartment and stop in to ask for availability.

  12. Yeh…Great article…What can I add just 22’d point: Never stop! This is an excellent idea to travel all around the world. By the centuries, people, who traveled the world, was to the one step forward upon the other ones. I chose the same way in my life and all the people like you could be my teachers on this way :-) Thanks for your post.

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  14. Hi Jodi,
    I love your blog. It’s real cool the way you share your experiences and make one feel like being there with you!!
    awesome!
    if you ever come to austria, let me know ;-)

    karo

  15. I loved your article, but the thought of cockroaches everywhere is a major put off. I grew up in the coastal southeast of the U.S. and they were everwhere, but I have never gotten over my discuss. Giant hissing cockroaches kept me from visiting Madagascar at the invitation of a friend. But I may yet get over it enough to go.
    Isabel,

  16. Terrific article. I myself have just started to consider myself something of a nomad. I have an online business and have found far more joy in living simple and traveling the world. Not just traveling, but living and immersing myself. I now live 6 months in and 6 months out of the country throughout the year. It’s a wonderful life, and far easier to maintain than living with a mortage, rent, etc. if you ask me.

    No car, no gas, no wear and tear on the car, no cable bill, no electric bill, no frivolous spending on US foods and restaurants (which are far more expensive than most of europe).

    Its a nice life :-)

  17. Nice! I just went on a solo 17 day trip to Vietnam ( I am 63 yr old woman from India :) and I just loved it. Except for a couple of days in Portland, Oregon and in Paris i had never travelled solo before. The bigggest takeaway from solo travel is that it gives you time to stand and stare wherever and whenever you feel like. I chose local boutique hotels that served Vietnamese food for breakfast, and spoke to everyone, the receptionists, the guides, the taxi drivers, co-travellers. Yes, people are the same everywhere and in Vietnam in particular, they really respect older people :)

  18. Jodi, you are my biggest inspiration as most people think that travelling for long periods are not something a GIRL can do! I hate this mentality, and I can’t express my happiness on reading your blogs. I love this list and it is one of the most practical one!
    Thanks a lot! :)

  19. Hi Jodi, I totally know what you mean. I am travelling through South East Asia for the past months and I’ve never felt homesick, until I got ill. At the moment, I am in Hanoi, lying in bed with this mean cold and all I wish is to be home and eat my mom’s soup. Hope I feel better soon to explore this beautiful city. :-)

  20. Hi Jodi,

    I just discovered your website and love it! I just graduated from college and aspire to becoming a writer but right now am just working in a restaurant in a narional park (actually pretty cool). Anyway, I plan to use the money I’ve saved from work traveling and I’d like to start a successful travel blog. I’m sure you’re very busy, but if you have any time I would really appreciate an email with some pointers of how you got started.

    Thanks!
    Laney

    1. Hi Laney, I’ll reply here instead as others might have the same question. If you look at the About page, I go into more detail (especially see the video on taking risks/long-term travel on the about page). I got started because I wanted to travel for a year, and I kept posting the things I cared about, and people liked what I had to say, and it turned into a new career. It sounds easy, but of course it wasn’t — it took many long hours of work and thinking about how to share information well, as well as learning new platforms like WordPress and Instagram and Twitter.

      But I didn’t “do” anything in particular. I also am not a good case study for making money from a blog as I do not monetize this site the way many other travel blogs do (there are no ads).

  21. Such a great comprehensive post. I actually laughed out loud at, “to new flip flops when a monkey throws yours over a cliff.” I had my own run-in with a baboon in South Africa when I was just a teenager!

  22. Hi Jodi,

    It was a pleasure to read your about me section and to have discovered your blog! I am a final year law student and have decided to delay my career in order to travel and get to know the world around me. I just wanted to say, your blog has left me inspired and encouraged :)
    All the best on your travels!

  23. Great post Jodi :) (just found you via a twitter share) – needed those packing tips, I’d already mentally packed 4 pairs of footwear forgetting, i can buy some when I’m traveling if i really need to! And so cool to see what little things you consider packing essentials that not everyone would initially think of. Will definitely refer back to this post come March 2015 (our departure date).
    Hannah

  24. I recognize so many of these points, Jodi, especially #3 on safety! I recently went on my first solo trip and I felt much safer at night thanks to the doorstop. In my years of traveling I’ve experienced several times that someone has tried to open the door by accident or unknown reasons. The doorstop definitely ensures peace of mind and most importantly – it keeps uninvited people out.

  25. Jodi, Although much of the content in this blog is very useful with deep insights in little issues and “things” while traveling – which tells me that you did, what many others only dream of: travel the world. I was wondering if there is anything “gender base” issues for travelers you might want to add for a male daydreamer like me -a 26 yrs old planning to enter a PhD Entrepreneurship program next year- who dreams to travel to Europe, Americas, Southeast and east Asia – nearly whole world except the troublesome middle east and may be few African countries. In fact i visited Germany, France, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, in the past April; but i had very less time to get even a “breeze” of all these places: I spent 1 day in Paris, 3 hours in Amsterdam, 1 day in Switzerland, 1 hr in Belgium, 2 weeks in Germany. I am of the view that since i am a balding, short brown man, so people around the world would “naturally” choose you over me. By the way, your blog and post is very inspiring and every time i read something like this, it calms my fear of traveling for a while and i start thinking that if so many normal people can do it, why can’t I?

  26. I totally agree with asking the locals on where they like to eat. My girlfriend and I asked our TukTuk driver in Cambodia where he eats, and it was mouthwatering fantastic. I am a huge kimchi fan, and it was awesome. Some of the best parts of diving into a different culture, is exploring where the locals eat.

  27. My husband and I went on a cruise last March – we traveled on Carnival Cruise line (Valor) while on board I choked on a piece of plastic that was in the chocolate cake and cut my throat. I went to doctor spitting up blood and he did nothing but offer me to get off boat and go to hospital. Few days later my husband cut his forehead on a very sharp edge of a no smoking sign when getting up from lounge chair on serinty deck and received stitched – I called the cruise line when we got back and as of this day know one has gotten back to us to resolve this matter. I was warned by the people at the customer service department on board this would happen.
    BAD CRUISE LINE!!!!

    Russella H

    1. Hi Russella, I cannot speak to Carnival as I have never taken them — this was my first cruise on my travels. I am sorry you did not have a good trip and that you guys were injured, and I hope you have a better vacation next time.

  28. Jodi, your blog is fantastic and super helpful, and I have a serious case of You-escaped-practicing-law-and-survived envy!

    I am returning to S.E. Asia in January for the first time since 1975. My dad was with USAID, so we were all over the place (Laos, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Ghana, Liberia; then to Zaire on my own).

    My school from Vientiane is doing a reunion (about 70 people from around the world descending!), so I’m taking a month from my law practice (yes: ugh!) to visit friends in Manila, then on to Saigon (evacuated ten days before the fall in ’75), Chiang Mai, then all over Laos. I haven’t been back to the developing world since the Internet Age, so it’s going to be a whole different ball o’ wax. Your blog and guidance has been invaluable.

    Most obliged!

    1. Wow that sounds like it will be a fascinating and at times overwhelming trip. I’m very curious about your thoughts from each of these reasons, and I hope the trip is all you hope for. Please do feel free to drop me a note (jodi-at-legalnomads .com is the email address) and let me know how it went. Happy to provide any other advice I can if needed.

  29. Hi Jodi

    Wow! fantastic reading, my question is how can one afford to travel for 7years? Do you pick up work on the way?

    1. Hi Lee! Understandably this is a question I see often, so please check out the About Page where I go into this in more detail. I also go into it on the 7 year post that I just put up. Basically a mixture of the products I’ve created — the hand-drawn maps, my book about food — and other things like writing, long-term partnerships with companies I love, consulting work, and more.

  30. Thank you so much for reminding me what travel is really about – funny moments with taxi drivers, bus journeys where you share oranges with kids, and talking about the stuff that matters with locals. Phew!! So easy to get sidetracked with all the travel content out there. This actually got me more excited than reading any bucket list. Keep up the good work :)

  31. I’ve just discovered your blog…. THANK YOU for all the gluten-free travel tips! As for roaches… no, no, no. I also am a native of the Southeast in the USA. We have palmetto bugs… they bite. And they’re huge, territorial, and not afraid of anything or anybody.

  32. Will Stephenson

    Excellent post, you’re in my bookmarks.

    A sarong is the best thing to carry while travelling. I use it for everything including a curtain while I’m on the bottom bunk.

  33. I’m so happy to come across your blog, Jodi! Firstly, we’re the same height! 5ft! This petiteness causes me nervousness as I plan my extended solo trip, mainly because I’ve been told countless times that it’s so easy to abduct me off the road, gee. I can’t wait to read more of your entries and tips!

  34. Hey, aren’t you Canadian? Why do you keep referencing New York as your touchstone when you only spent a few years there? It seems disingenuous and is a put-off (for a fellow Canadian). Otherwise a great blog and I enjoy coming here and checking in on you every couple of years.

    1. Almost all of my adult life was spent working in New York before I left on this one year trip that turned into a new life. I left Canada right after law school. Sorry you find that offputting ;)

  35. I am so grateful to you that i got your travelling experience of 4 years. You pulled out the mistakes you did but you don’t want that we will be conscious about those mistakes. your points are catchy and detailed.

  36. Another very, but very cool post!!!!! Thank you for sharing! I never came to my mind that oranges would be a good replacement for sweets. I will definittely try it. :)

  37. Great tips as always. Even after 10+ years as an expat / nomad, I still HATE packing and being ‘in transit’.

    Oh, and regarding #18, I’ll add: when you find some great pairs that fit well, STOCK UP! Whether you’re larger than the average local or simply picky, this is perhaps the item that’s the most difficult to find…

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