Here it is. The end of a chapter. Six months flew away in a breeze. My initial intention was to be away for 4-5 months to escape The Great Canadian Winter. In the end I clocked-in a full six months spanning over eight countries. Eight? That’s a lot to do in six months!
I’m going to get straight to the reality of the Mighty – Solo – Female – Travel Adventure. The idea behind *my* backpacking journey was to get out of depression, learn about other cultures and other people. I was at a point where I said if traveling won’t help bringing me out of the depths of my mind, then I’ll start paying a psychologist.At the end of the road I’ve learned so much about myself I’m pretty sure I just need a psychologist license with my name on it and i’ll be good to go. That’s how much backpacking changed me (for the better).
One thing a lot of non – travelers get wrong is that backpacking is a vacation.
It’s honestly a full time job full of insecurities, doubts, planning, budgeting, logistics, and unexpected situations. It’s truly not that easy. Vacation is a holiday where everything is ready and waiting for you. Backpacking is throwing yourself in the middle of a road and deciding everything on the spot. Of course, it also depends on what kind of traveler are you. If you’re like me, you usually hear that *that spot* is amazing because there’s not too many people and there’s a beautiful beach you should DEFINITELY check out. In the next moment you have a ticket in your hand for that destination and show up like an uninvited guest that has to figure out what to do now. One of my favourite moments was when i stepped foot on Koh Tao (Thailand) after a boat ride from hell during a very stormy week, because people said that’s the best spot for diving. After checking in my hostel i finally decided to google the place only to find countless articles on “Why Koh Tao is called The Murder Island of Thailand”. Needless to say, i started to question my travel arrangements. Won’t lie, the diving wasn’t great either because of the weather conditions but at least i overcompensated with eating a lot (a lot!) of Sweet Thai roties- and developed a heavy addiction to them too.
Titanic – The Silence before the Storm
Mandatory Asian roti show-off that saved my sweet tooth repeatedly. I’m addicted!!
Remember – always prepare for the unexpected. Things will happen and you’ll have to deal with them as they go. The “unexpected” things I’ve had to deal with while traveling:
—Bed Bugs – Twice – yayks. Dodged it luckily 2 more times after that. I’m quite an expert in dealing with the little annoying creatures by now but it wasn’t fun times. First time it was during one of my volunteering projects in Langkawi, Malaysia. I didn’t even know why i was itching so much for the first two days until a friend pointed out that those were not mosquito bites but bed bug bites. Was also very surprised to find other volunteers who were heavily eaten but thought nothing of it. Needless to say, I packed my bags and went on my way fairly quick – the team did do a thorough clean-up afterwards but it’s very hard to get rid of them.
The second time it happened I was fresh of the bus in Laos and after my first night (in a questionable hostel) I woke up entirely eaten – an even worse reaction than the first time as you grow more sensitive the more times you get them. I looked like I had an adverse reaction to some heavy drugs. Topped with the fact that Laos doesn’t have coin laundry ( you kill the bugs by drying them at high temperatures ). No dryers. Nada. I escaped easily that time as i quarantined my pyjama but i also got out of there first thing in the morning.
— Thailand. Thailand was truly something. I’m not going to lie I’ve grown a certain apathy towards Thai people (who deal with tourists) after a couple of bad experiences. My very first night in Krabi, the driver (whom I paid generously) to take me to my hostel, put me on a random public bus and sent me on my way to who knows where. These other guys, dropped me in the middle of the city, leaving me do deal with it on my own. Did you think this story was over? Heck no. As upset as I was I started walking in the dark denying “help” from all the tuk tuk drivers as I’ve had enough of them. What do you know it starts pouring rain AND the lights go off in the entire street. Gone. Kaput. Now the tuk tuk drivers where nowhere to be seen and the couple whom I asked for directions on their phone (as I haven’t downloaded the maps for the area yet) pointed in a direction telling me that I’m definitely going to find something on the way. “Faith in humanity restored”. I made “a little” wet when some guys were throwing light on the name of the hostel with a phone lantern. Can’t believe that worked out.
Welcome to Thailand. Prepare to be scammed.
— Mae Hong Son Loop (MHS). While driving and singing loudly (very Cristina style) I entered a sharp curb in the other lane and knocked this man and his passenger of his bike. What resulted was he got a hand surgery and i got multiple visits to the “tourist police” station- mind you, their English is quite poor, and a couple of more visits to the hospital where the conditions are quite terrifying. I was lucky to have an impatient travel buddy who moved everyone off their chairs and got the things going as we probably would’ve stayed there for days at the speed they were moving. Those two days definitely taught me a few things.
“Hmmm…There’s a minor situation”. I either did a very poor job at protecting these guys’s privacy or i’m surrounded by a couple of Aliens from “Mars Attacks”.
— Dealing with the sense of “it’s too much” when you travel for a long time and change hostel/places often. I’ve met a lot of travelers , including myself who booked a day or two out of the public eye to recharge. Constant travel takes a lot of energy. You do so many new things, you stop doing everything else you’ve done before. Sometimes you need to remind yourself who you were before. So two days before New Year i was tucked away in a studio apartment in the most random place in Chiang Mai (Thailand), getting rid of the bed bugs i got in Langkawi followed by watching black & white movies with yummy dinner in bed.
My cozy getaway
— Dealing with the sense “It’s too little”. Loneliness. Nobody likes the extremes: too lonely or too over-crowded. A lot of the times i’d bump into groups of people that through some miracle found themselves traveling the same route. Safe to say, I didn’t have too many similar encounters. At times it felt like it was only me who was traveling alone all the time (with some minor exceptions). Don’t get me wrong- Solo-travel is great but it’s nice to have a travel group once in a while and not have people check in and check out of your life every morning.
— Dealing with overpriced things, annoying drivers and vendors who see you as an ATM. I snapped at a drive in Chiang Mai as his antics were too much for me to handle. You only need to seriously be scammed once before growing some back-bone to stand up for yourself. Luckily, that moment was my first day in Thailand as mentioned before and after that it was an easy ride. You won’t believe how locals increase the price up to 5 times for foreigners. I realized months in that they see Bargaining as an Art. You don’t have to get the lowest price, you have to get the fair price for both parties. Locals will literally think you’re not smart at all and laugh behind your back if you buy everything at the advertised price. Bargain. Bargain.Bargain. You’ll develop some new skills too.
Care for some fresh tobacco?
— Motorbike falling down 3 times, breaking the same mirror twice, leaving me with a scratched knee – twice. Let’s say my relationship with Purple Isa (my MHS bike) was….complicated. She wasn’t really a fan of mine no matter how hard i tried to build a relationship with her – You have to feel the bike, BE the bike. Yeah…that didn’t really happen. Luckily i got away only with minor scratches (subsequently treated by the ladies from the Karen Tribe so can’t complain:)
In good hands
— Stopped by Thai police after the MHS incident and asked to pay a 1000baht fine (about 30$ which is a high price for Thailand) for driving without an international drivers license just 1min away from our bike drop off location. 1 MINUTE AWAY!! You must be kidding us, my travel buddy and I thought to ourselves. I was ready to leave the bike right there and let him drop it off himself. Honestly, after nine days of driving one of the craziest routes in the world topped with a bike incident in between, you do get extra energy for talking your way out of some dire situations. Luckily we managed to do that. Also, more than half of the travelers are without an international license. The sense of adventure is strong in all of us.
— Night bus broke down in the middle of the night after the tire blew off while making my way down South in Laos. Literally exploded on the road sending this awful smell inside the compartment. I was the only foreigner – sharing a bed with a lady and her baby – gotta love night buses in Asia. We were delayed for about 4h as they couldn’t find a proper way to fix it. Missed my morning connection, had to stop in Pakse for the night in a questionable hostel as the “acceptable” one was full. In fact, the owner of the “acceptable hostel” felt so bad for me when he saw my state on arrival that even contemplated to add an extra bed to accommodate me. That didn’t happen but his intention really made my day.
They look like this- all you have to do is pray for a Nick Jonas to share it with you (and it’s not going to happen)
— Exhaustion, sickness, weakness and tiredness first 3 days in Cambodia. Traveling from North of Laos to the middle of Cambodia in One Go is a really, really, really bad bad bad idea! I finally managed to life myself up in my second day to visit Angkor Wat along with some amazing guys (met on Couchsurfing because I didn’t have the energy to interact with the people in my huge hostel). Took me some time to recover. Also, the arctic temperatures people like to live in throughout Asia. I get it – it’s hot and humid. But That AC doesn’t have to be set at freezing temperatures and for the love of all that’s good in this world, get that fan out of my face. Yes – I hate Fans because they make me sick. Yes – I live in Canada – We have heaters and warm socks, i don’t have immunity to Antarctica weather.
How I deal with hard times
— Mosquitos and other types of bug bites. I got bitten by some weird bug on my 2nd day in Asia (Yogyakarta, Indonesia) right on my wrist. The outcome was a red, itchy and painful line, that when I showed it to the pharmacist to come to my rescue she thought I cut my veins. I still have a faint line on that spot six months in.
See that red line? Wasn’t pretty (or not-painful)
“May all living beings be happy & free” etc etc, i would hear often while walking on the mindfulness road. When i did my 10 day Vipassana Retreat one of the requirements was to give mosquitos a right to live too. Some of them didn’t make it, some of them were spared. One baby step at a time i guess. I had a funny conversation with one traveler about that if i don’t kill mosquitos they might prove to carry diseases. His response was that if it’s meant to be then it’s going to happen. Looks like it comes down to a game of russian-roulette. The Big Secret with dealing with bites is Tiger Balm. Did you copy that? TIGER BALM saves lives guys!! And holidays and itchy spots. Don’t even dare to leave on a backpacking trip without it!
Mosquito repellant, Tiger Balm and Sun Screen are in an open relationship while you’re in a scorching heat country which brings up the painful memory of being heavily sun-burnt in Lombok, Indonesia in my first month of travel after i stubbornly decided to not use sun-scream because i hated the feel of greasy cream on my skin. I don’t really hate it that much anymore.
“Do you know you’re sunburnt? Yes, Captain Obvious – I CAN FEEL IT!”
— “I SWEAR I DRIVE SAFE” a lot of times when I was a passenger on a bike – especially when the driver was a guy. Most of the times no one drives safe (Including me- based on my bike mis-adventures). Just close your eyes at the curves and hope you’re time hasn’t arrived yet. At least that’s what i did while wanting to jump of in the middle of a busy road and contemplating my life choices.
I’m sure i covered the most part of my mis-adventures and you won’t be surprised to hear that i wouldn’t change a thing. They were there to teach me skills, to make me stronger, to make me understand how the world works from a different perspective. I am so lucky to have been healthy throughout my journey and without the need of using my travel insurance even though i’ve had a handful of very, very, VERY close calls. I am also grateful to have a tight group of friends and all my travel friends who followed my journey and kept me going with words of encouragement while I was pushing my walls down, coming to *that* life-changing moment where I could share my vulnerable self. Grateful for all the people who reached out to me, to support and help me when i needed the most.
Thank you for being a part of my adventure ❤
Cristina (The Explorer)