Last week marked three months since I landed in Yangon and began this trip. In an odd moment of symmetry I arrived at Singapore Changi airport almost exactly three months to the day since I was first there, waiting for my connecting flight to Myanmar. I remember my jitteriness, how I had to force myself to think just one small step ahead, as thoughts of what I was attempting to do in its entirety would send a wave of panic rushing through me. I’ve spent quite a bit of time this last week thinking about how much this trip has already changed me and how much I’ve already learnt. While most of these are deep, abstract things that I’ll try to put into words at a later date, I have also learnt some concrete lessons: silly things, like always making sure my toilet door is locked, no matter how desperate I am, and some more serious ones too. While most of the latter are things you can only really learn for yourself, there are a few bits of travel advice that I think are worth passing on. So here are three of them, one for each month I’ve been on the road so far.
For Travellers on a Budget. Any Budget.
Get Trail Wallet. This little app has made it so, so much easier to keep track of my spending while travelling. On previous trips I’ve kept a rough track by scribbling figures on the back page of a notebook, something which quickly becomes a mess of different currencies and estimations, and I’ve had very little idea how much I’ve actually been spending, and what I’ve been spending it on. Trail Wallet has changed that.
It’s designed by a couple of travel bloggers (Never Ending Voyage) so they know exactly what you need to keep track of your expenses. You set yourself a budget for your trip, or section of trip (I do it by country), and it breaks it down into a daily budget. You then add in everything you spend, and you can do this in multiple different currencies (a life-saver, especially in South East Asia where big things are in dollars, small things in the local currency, and Airbnb stays come out in pounds!), and it converts it all into your ‘home’ currency. It pulls its conversion rate from the internet, or you can adjust it yourself, and you can categorise each expenditure so you can see exactly where your money is going.
I should state here that I am actually incredibly bad with money, and you probably shouldn’t take any advice on the matter from me. But this app has at least helped me to understand where my money is going, which is the first step to getting on top of things. It also plays to my competitive, and teacher suck-up, tendencies! I feel like I am winning when I come in under budget at the end of the day, and if I don’t, then the little lady at the side tells me off and I don’t like that! It also works well with how I travel – if I do treat myself to a nice hotel and go over budget for a few days, then I know I need to rein it in until my daily average goes back under budget. Just make sure you put EVERYTHING in. Don’t kid yourself that something “doesn’t count” – it does.
For Female Solo Travellers
There is a lot of safety advice for female solo travellers out there, most of which falls under one of two headings: “use your common sense” and “trust your instincts”. Both of which I completely agree with, however there is one other thing that doesn’t come under either of these that I did before leaving to hopefully help myself stay safe: I took a 14 week Krav Maga course.
Krav Maga is a form of self-defence practised by the Israeli military. It’s widely recognised as the most effective and best one out there. I’ve done a few self-defence classes before, but have to admit to never finding them particularly useful. Krav Maga is different. It basically teaches you how to end a fight as quickly as possible so you can get away, and works with your natural instincts rather than against them. But more than the specific skills and moves that I learnt (some of which made me feel like Buffy!), the most useful thing I gained from the course was confidence. I’m not strong, I’m actually pathetically weak, but I learnt that I can be feisty, even aggressive, and I can fight back if I have to. This doesn’t mean that I now walk down dark streets alone at night, or that I wouldn’t chuck my bag at a mugger and run away, it just means that I know that if something bad does happen, I’ve got a chance. On the last day of the course I asked the biggest guy in the class (he was seriously massive – think Stringer Bell in The Wire) to attack me from behind, and I managed to shake him off. That felt pretty damn good.
I did my course with London Krav Maga at the Jewish Centre, JW3, in Swiss Cottage.
For Female Travellers (actually just all females)
Get a mooncup. Seriously. Do it, do it now.
On my gap year in Chile I had to ask the pharmacists for tampons, as they were kept behind the counter rather than on display (it’s a strongly Catholic country, and very conservative). When I lived in a village in Kenya, I had to carry my period rubbish around with me in a plastic bag, as the kids at the orphanage we were staying at would go through the garbage to find stuff to play with. Neither of these things would have happened had I got on the mooncup train earlier!
So why are they so good? To start with you don’t have to carry vast amounts of tampons and towels around with you, just the small cup in its little cloth bag. It’s clean and hygienic, being made of silicone which discourages bacteria growth, I just clean it by soaking it in water with a baby sterilising tablet at the end of each month. You can leave it in for much longer than a tampon, a lifesaver on long day treks. And best of all, you can pop it in before you actually start, which is especially great given my love of white shorts!
If you can, get one a few months before setting off as it can take a while to get used to, and practising getting it in and out is best done when you’re not short of time, and in your own bathroom. It can get a bit messy, especially at first, and there is no getting around it, you do have to get a lot more, shall we say ‘intimate’ with yourself than with tampons. I was however rather shocked when I shared my excitement at using it with a group of girlfriends before leaving, and almost all of them squirmed intensely. It’s your own vagina for Christ’s sake! Get over it.
And for its worth it, I can’t see myself ever using tampons again. At least, until the UK government follows Canada’s example and scraps tax on the damn things. Luxury good? Seriously?
Keen to know more? This little video explains everything!
So there you go, do you agree with this advice? What would you advise travellers to do?