When you’re 18, and the only time you’ve ever traveled solo was on a 24-hour trip to a relative’s house in an island one hour away from home, then going abroad on a budget is going to be a thrilling, exciting, scary, and an entirely new feeling. I went to China for a conference last year, and between booking my flight to packing my luggage, I was cramming the whole time. My Visa was approved less than a week before my flight, and I couldn’t sleep the night before my trip in fear that I would forget something. The trips I took following that, however, took an entirely different tune. After experiencing the struggle of international traveling, I learned how to comprehensively plan ahead and skip the stressful days. Of course, there’s not enough preparation in the world to make you feel safe and confident, but there are things that can help appease your nerves.
1. BOOK YOUR HOTEL AHEAD. Looking for a place to stay that’s decent and affordable? Websites like Booking.com and Agoda have a long list of hotels, hostels, and inns that may fit your search criteria. For me, an en suite bathroom is a must, so all my searches have that specific requirement. TripAdvisor also has a list of reviews made by other travelers, so read up on them to get a feel of the hotel you’re considering. When you find a hotel you like, the next step is to book a room. Making room reservations ensures you have a place to sleep in when you arrive, especially when the hotel of your choice has limited rooms. Booking.com offers reservations without the use of a credit card, so if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t own a credit card (like me), then this site is an excellent way to find hotels and book them without additional hassle.
2. GET YOUR MAPS READY. Whether you’re in the middle of a busy city, or wandering around the streets of a rusty town, sightseeing is a great way to get to know the place you’re in. Google Maps is a handy partner to prepare for the trips you want to take. It shows step-by-step instructions in getting to your destination (whether by private/public transit or walking), and makes itineraries more complete. When I went to Kuala Lumpur, I brought with me printed screencaps of Google Maps. I didn’t want to risk holding my iPad while walking, so I printed out the steps and the roads on scratchpapers that I sorted by day based on my itinerary.
3. BRING ENOUGH MONEY. When I went to China and later to Singapore, I was unable to use my ATM card, and had to rely on the money I brought with me to survive. Upon my return to the Philippines, I found out that my card’s International Services was not pre-activated and I had to go to the bank myself before my scheduled trip(s) to have it activated. Nearing the end of October, I decided to get a prepaid MasterCard card to make online purchases easier, and instead of having the bank activate my debit card before I left for Kuala Lumpur, I took my prepaid “credit” card instead.
Not all cities have money changer stalls, and banks typically open as late as 9 am and close as early as 5 pm, so bring enough pocket money in the country’s currency to give you a stress-free journey. I usually bring dollars and the local currency with me, so the money changing process won’t be too taxing.
4. PACK THE RIGHT CLOTHES. Running shoes may not be as useful in the beach than it is in cities you plan to discover on foot, and shorts are only appropriate in parks and not temples. So before you pack your clothes, research the dress codes of places you plan to visit so you won’t end up uncomfortable or unable to enter. The weather is also a function of what you have to wear, and AccuWeather helps in foretelling the kind of day you’ll be having during your trip. If the forecast is cold, bring sweaters. If it’s hot, pack light shirts, light shorts, and maybe one pair of jeans. Having both slippers and running shoes or sneakers work as well, but if you’re scheduled to attend something formal, then bring along a pair of dress shoes, heels or sandals. Same goes with the rest of your clothes.
5. NEVER BE SCARED TO ASK QUESTIONS. My grandpa emailed me advice when he learned I was finally seeing the world on my own, and he told me never to be scared to ask questions. Maps are only as good as your map-reading skills, so if you’re in doubt, ask. Buildings and other establishments are also not covered by Google Maps, and they seldom have their own maps to help tourists out. However, there are security guards and other employees that are more than willing to point you to the direction you want to take. Police officers and traffic enforcers are also ideal people to approach. As much as possible, I avoid asking locals to point me to my destination in order to avoid the experiences of many solo travelers of being misled, but there are also those who really help out.