The first thing I realized when I started my self-care sabbatical?
This is not a vacation.
This was a bit of a wake-up call after my first few days in Amsterdam, but I really started to feel it after about 3 weeks of travel. In Amsterdam, my first stop, I was still operating in my old ways of traveling. I was spending a lot of money on my hotel room, my meals, and drinks (including the night I spent $60 on cocktails and skipped dinner). I was pushing myself to see as much as I could of this city and was out and about most of the day into the evening (it helped that the sun didn’t set until nearly 10pm). I reined in the spending after these first few days, choosing to stay in some cheaper hostels and being a bit more frugal about my meals, but I had still spent way too much money in those first few days. I had to remember that I had a looooonnnnggg way to go before my trip would be over and I couldn’t keep acting like I was on vacation (with a salary) if I was going to make it through February (which turned into June…).
Track your budget. Maybe some of you are already good at budgeting and this is a no brainer. Admittedly, I learned this too late. Upon meeting some fellow travelers in Chiang Rai, they told me about Travel Spend, an app they were using to track their expenses. As soon as I got on WiFi, I downloaded the app and began tracking every expense. As someone who has never been good about budgeting, I was at once hooked by how easy it was. I was also terrified at what I was seeing. Even though things were cheap in Asia, I was spending much more than I realized. These little things added up! I also realized that I had spent WAY too much money in Europe and wished I’d been more aware of my expenses/budget during that part of my trip.
I will definitely keep using this app when I travel. Not only can you watch your spending, but it’s also a helpful way to keep track of average costs city by city or how much a certain attraction or meal cost should you want to share a recommendation with someone later.
Get travel insurance. Duh. There are plenty of options out there – I used Allianz for my trip while I know many people used World Nomads on similar trips. Get a few quotes and see what coverage will work best for you.
If you’re going to buy stuff, make sure it’s immediately useful. I tried not to buy a lot since I didn’t have space to carry it all. But I did allow exceptions for items that would be useful right away (or that could replace something else I already had). A sweatshirt in France as it was starting to turn cool, a pair of earrings from Madrid, some of those elephant pants in Thailand (great for cool nights or temple visits), a custom silk robe in Vietnam (that one was not quite as useful as I’d hoped but I still got to wear it a bit in hotels and hostels!). And by the time I left Asia, those elephant pants were long gone…
Pack smart (more tips) and bring a good first aid kit. In terms of first aid, make sure you amp up what you would typically bring on a trip because you are going to (possibly) need a lot more. If you are on your own, it’s even better to have a good stash of stuff. The worst feeling when you are ill is having to go find medicine somewhere when you don’t know where to go or what to ask for. Having some first aid relief in your bag means you can stay put and not have to worry about finding what you need. Some countries will allow you to buy meds over the counter that are not typically available without a prescription (ahem, Thailand), but in many places, you won’t have access to antibiotics or more serious medications without a prescription.
- Must-haves: band-aids, alcohol wipes, Neosporin, pain medication, Benadryl, Pepto Bismol/Tums, safety pins
- Important add-ins: condoms/birth control, medications (Cipro is great to have on hand – get it before you leave), rehydration salts/electrolytes (good for hangovers or post-food-poisoning), eye drops (I had so many weird eye issues in Asia), Immodium, and anti-constipation meds
- Depending on your destination you may also need mosquito repellent or other medication (ie malaria pills).