I decided I wanted to do a RTW (Round-the-World) trip while I was in fourth year University. I was lucky to graduate without any debt and I wanted to go on an adventure. I was graduating into the financial crises (2009) so there weren’t a whole lot of opportunities at my disposal.
Originally I wanted to go to South America, but over the summer I began doing Muay Thai kickboxing and eventually decided that the place for me was South East Asia. It was cheap and cheerful and I’d be able to travel there longer with less money. My itinerary came together as a mixture of opportunities. I had several friends overseas offering places to stay, and the more research that I did I added more must dos to my list. Oh, and I wanted to avoid winter at all costs.
Next step was to start saving. I was living at home for a full year, working two jobs to save up. One of my jobs was serving so I lived off of cash while leaving everything else in the bank. It took me a full year and I saved $16,000 CAD to pay for my trip, and off I went.
What was the trip Itinerary
I started in London staying with a friend who was doing a masters before heading to Dublin to see another friend going to school there. Next, I met up with one of my cousins and my grandparents and went on a ten day Baltic cruise. Then I headed over to Brussels, Belgium to stay with my uncle who lives there. Next was Rome meeting up with other family (see what I meant when I said I planned around opportunities?).
After Rome I headed to St. Petersburg, one of the must do things I’d decided on for my trip was riding the Trans-Mongolian railway. In St. Petersburg I met up with my friend Sam who decided part way through my travel planning that she’d rather like to come along. We organized the tour with a company called VodkaTrain (apt name I think) that specialized in less expensive tours for younger people. This was still by far the most expensive part of my trip, if I remember correctly about $4000 for three weeks. We travelled to Moscow, Lake Baikal, Ulaanbaatar, the Mongolian Steppe, and ended in Beijing.
From Beijing we took the high speed train to Hong Kong, spent a few days there before heading to South East Asia. We started in Cambodia before looping through Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. Sam was set to head home from Phuket and then I would do a Muay Thai camp for one month before heading to Malaysia and Indonesia.
Did I stick with the Itinerary?
Somewhat. The first part of the itinerary was set in stone since I was visiting and staying with people, as was the tour. The South East Asia travel was a bit more flexible since we were travelling in the low season and we didn’t really need to pre-book anything. Sam did have a flight home booked from Phuket and we needed to be there by that date.
What ended up happening was that Sam came down with some food/stomach issues and went home early since she wasn’t feeling great. Up to that point I’d stuck with the itinerary pretty closely, after she went home I slowed down a little staying a few extra days in places I really liked such as Chiang Mai, Thailand. Once I was in Phuket, I met my current partner. I decided to stay in Thailand longer and didn’t end up going to Malaysia.
What would I change if I did it again?
Don’t try to go to too many places. The reality is, no matter how much research you do there will be places you really like and places you aren’t so fond of. The more flexibility you have the better. Especially in a place like SEA where you can show up anywhere and get a decently cheap guest house, you really don’t have to book that much in advance. Inevitably you’ll hear amazing tips from other travellers of great places to go or meet great people and want to keep travelling with them for a while. Even though I had a lot of flexibility I still had this idea that I had to stay to my plan. I did add in the Gibbon Experience in Laos though at the recommendation of another traveller and it was amazing!
What sort of accommodation did you stay in?
Mostly guest houses, they’re so cheap in SEA that they don’t really have hostels like they do in Europe. I did stay in some shared rooms a few times though and they are a great way to meet people to travel with.
What did you bring?
Way to much stuff. I started off on the wrong foot by buying the biggest backpack on the market and then of course I filled it up. It really is hard, no matter how much you research you don’t really know what you will need and what you won’t. Some people say no jeans, others say yes, some people say no travel clothes others say yes. I guess you really need to be honest with yourself and what you will likely wear. There’s no point bringing hiking boots if you’re not doing any real trekking, just bring some good walking/running shoes.
What did you get rid of?
There was a bunch of things I ended up sending home/throwing out after the first part of the trip. Since I started in Spring in Europe I needed warmer clothes that I didn’t need in SEA. I convinced myself that I needed trekking pants but they looked terrible on me and didn’t fit properly so I ended up throwing them out. There were also a few pieces of clothing that could only be worn one way so some of them got thrown out to.
I also was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to find certain toiletries that I like so I brought double of some things, can you say heavy!
What do you wish you brought?
A computer. I actually ended up buying one partway through. I got a little mini one almost the size of a tablet. There’s wifi pretty much anywhere now and relying on internet cafes sucks. Also If you do use internet cafes make sure that you’re actually signed out of your accounts before you leave…. I had some random guy call one of my friends from my skype account.
Also clothes wise, I was concerned that South East Asia would be relatively conservative so I brought a lot of long sleeve shirts and it was just way too hot for that. I’m all for adhering to social customs but I think covered shoulders, limited cleavage, and no short shorts should serve you fine.
Another item I wished I invested in, packing cubes. They always get rave reviews and I think they’d be totally worth it. I’m not a very organized person to begin with so my bag turned into a total free for all after a few weeks. My travel buddy Sam got so frustrated with me at one point that she re-organized my whole bag.
I always hate when people ask me what my favourite part of my trip was because I can never pick just one thing but here are a few highlights:
Playing with elephants in Northern Thailand, we didn’t ride them but visited them in a nature reserve.
Training Muay Thai in Thailand, super fun, I’ve never sweat so much in my life.
Gibbon Experience, three days of living in a tree house and zipping around the jungle on a zip-line, can’t get much more fun than that.
Hoi An, I’m not sure exactly why I liked Hoi An so much, but I have really fond memories of it.
Looking up at the stars in the Mongolian Steppe on a clear night, never seen anything like it.
Getting sick while by myself in Northern Laos. And I was violently sick for three days. I had just arrived to a trekking town in Laos and didn’t know anyone. At one point I walked out to the little store at the front of my guest house to buy some crackers and water and had to sit down on the walk back because I thought I was going to pass out. Luckily I got better after a few days and I did have a general anti-biotic with me, but I was a bit worried at that point.
Getting scammed for money in Vietnam. I was taking a bus ride from the train station to Sapa in North Vietnam when the bus pulled over on the side of the road and demanded that we all pay such amount of money. We had all paid an agreed price up front but the driver obviously wanted more, and none of us wanted to be left on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere so we paid up.
Phnom Penh Cambodia. This one is a little unfair, but I just was not feeling the city at all. It was the first place we went to in SEA and it was rather overwhelming. We stayed in the really cheap backpacker part of the city and it was dirty with rats running around, children everywhere trying to sell you various things and was just overall not pleasant. Combined with the fact that we went to see the killing fields and Tuol Sleng museum it was overall not the most positive experience. Obviously Cambodia has quite a dark recent history and I’m not trying to discount that or what people must have gone through, but it was just not my favourite place. I’ve read lots of blogs of people going there and loving it though so I think it’s just me.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to do a similar trip?
Just go for it! Yes it’ll be scary and uncomfortable at times, especially if you’re travelling alone, but it’s totally worth it. All of those things you think you’ll be missing out on will be waiting for you when you get home.
My next trip is to Hawaii and Australia in January. I’ve never been to Hawaii before and I’m heading to Sydney for the first time. I’m probably the only person who’s gone on a vacation to Australia and not gone to Sydney. Bondi here I come.