I used to find it pretty unbearable when I had to say goodbye to these kinds of friends, and sometimes I still do. Nowadays I reframe my thinking to help cope with it. Firstly I always believe that I will meet the people that matter to me again, even if the truth is I never might. And secondly I try to concentrate on being grateful for having met them at all. How lucky am I to have had people in my life that I miss so much? Yes, if I stayed at home I would never have to say goodbye to my friends. They’d always be a short commute away. But then I never would have met all the amazing people I have.
What’s better, to have loved and lost or never to have loved at all? Maybe the jury is still out on that. Maybe at times it feels like you’d rather a life full of average people if it meant they’d never leave. I choose to believe life should be lived at the extremes. For me that extends to people and relationships as well as every other aspect of life.
Protect your time and energy
After a while on the road, particularly if you’re staying in a lot of hostels, you will probably get really good at making connections with people. You might even become somewhat of a social ninja.
I found that there was a point where my outlook on making friends shifted. It changed from “how am I going to go about finding new friends?”, to “How do I make sure I make friends with people I actually enjoy being around and make my life better?”
I found that I could make friends with almost anyone if I made the effort to. And that might sound great to some people, but having so many people pulling you in so many different directions and wanting your energy is exhausting. I started being very selective about who I would even introduce myself to. I stopped asking peoples names until I actually thought this was a person I was interested in knowing. Initial conversations I had with people were about interesting and thought provoking topics, and the more mundane questions that most people start with such as where are you from, how long have you been travelling, and what do you do came as an afterthought, and sometimes never at all!
I think you should be very deliberate about who you allow into your life, not just because your time and energy are finite, but because some people might make your life significantly worse once they’re in it. And they might be hard to remove.
Lockable bags = Portable safes
Most hotel safes can be overridden, which kind of defeats the purpose as the staff at the hotel probably know how to do this. This, along with many hotels and hostels not having safes big enough to fit all my valuables in (or not having safes full stop) is a problem.
I discovered these bags. They’re expensive, but the peace of mind they give you are priceless. I can lock these bags to an immovable object and leave them completely unattended in the knowledge that nobody will be able to steal them or anything inside them. Beyond just securing valuables in my accommodation this allows me to sleep soundly on public transport or generally in public without the worry that my bags are going to get stolen.
Smile and Laugh
This keeps you out of trouble and can also get you out of it. Inevitably you will have reason at some time or another to be upset or angry. But putting this energy out into the world almost never serves you. If you want help, you’re much more likely to get it with a smile on your face and a happy disposition than with a scowl.
And plus smiling is contagious! And how do you feel about people that make you smile?
The secret to negotiating
Recognise where you have negotiating power. It’s all about supply and demand. Is every shop on this street selling the exact same thing? Then the power is in your hands. See something you love that you haven’t seen anywhere else? Most likely you’ll be paying the sticker price or going without.
Where I have the negotiating power, I always employ the same strategy.
The merchant will probably ask you what price you’re willing to pay. I usually ignore this and continue walking. They’ll then start shouting prices at you down the road. I keep walking until they stop shouting. Once I know the lowest price they were offering I’ll go into the next shop and actually negotiate with that price as my upper limit. I think that a good starting point is 50% of that upper limit. If I can’t get a better price than I heard at the first shop I’ll go back to that first shop and buy it there.
This goes with purchasing physical goods (typically at markets) but also other services that are negotiable like transport and tours. This is especially important at airports, train stations, and bus depots. The crucial aspect of this strategy is keep walking. At transport hubs I will usually walk all the way out of the building before I even consider accepting a price, all the while listening for the prices that people are offering to get a good reference point.
For 3 reasons:
So you can actually get to know the people you meet.
So you can understand the world around you, rather than just take pictures of it.
So you can do something other than travel alongside travelling! Moving to a new place every few days makes it very hard to have any semblance of routine. And with no routine it’s very hard to be productive.
Ask the right people for help
I usually only ask for directions or general assistance from two types of locals. Both for the same reason that they aren’t actively trying to give me the assistance I’m seeking and therefore probably don’t have a motivation to lead me astray.
Unassuming bystanders: rather than those that approach you and are actively trying to help you. Maybe this is a sad way to look at people but I am always suspicious of people that go out of their way to help when it is not obvious I need it. Why would someone inconvenience themselves on the off chance that you need help? Much better to ask someone who is not trying to help you as they probably have nothing to sell you or overcharge you for, otherwise they too would be offering their assistance.
People I have already given money to: Either by buying something, or consuming their service (ie. taxi drivers, surf instructors). As they’ve already made their money from you they’re usually in good spirits and are happy to give impartial advice. Especially if there is a chance you’ll buy from them / use their service again.
I do this a lot not just for directions but also to find out the price of things. I might ask the waiter how much a taxi to x place should be, which is a far more reliable way of getting a reasonable price estimate than asking a taxi driver. Unless of course the waiter is also a taxi driver.
Perfect your bag game
A huge concern that I had when first going away was how to secure my valuables. I knew that a lot of budget accommodation didn’t have lockers or safes, and had heard many stories of peoples rooms being robbed and also having their valuables taken on public transport either while they were sleeping or by some agile opportunist. I think these things happen much less frequently than it seems like on social media but neverless I wanted to stay safe. I also wanted to keep mobile and pack light.
I honestly think you can’t do much better than the set-up I have with my bags. I will walk you through it now.
Daypack: I discovered pacsafe, a company that makes lockable bags. Their bags are supposed to be theft-proof, which of course they’re not but they make it extremely difficult to be robbed. The daypack I bought from them fits all my electronics and other valuables in with not a lot of space left over so I can just about use it as a carry-on for flights, but it’s perfect for carrying everything I need on a normal day on the road. The lockable aspect of this means that somebody cannot sneakily open it without me noticing it, and in combination with a small lock could not get into at all. Not even if they cut the bag open as it is lined with a steel “exomesh”. If I add a bike lock to the mix, I can attach the bag to any immovable object and leave it unattended safe in the knowledge that nobody would be able to run away with it without cutting through the locks.
Additional lockable bag: This may be unnecessary for most people, but once I started Edumadic, I knew that the amount of valuables I travelled with would increase. And if I wanted to leave some valuables at home and take my daypack out with me then I would have no way to secure them.
So I bought a big “portable safe”. It has a very loose structure (almost like a reinforced shopping bag with a steel exomesh) so can be smooshed down if I’m not using it, and also fits the dimensions required for carry-on luggage. What I often do now is bring both this and my daypack as carry-on for flights, putting the daypack inside the safe. The safe also has rudimentary backpack straps so it can be used as such. This safe has the bike lock aspect that I mentioned before already built in so like with my daypack, can be attached to an immovable object. I usually attach it to my bed.
Actual Backpack: This is a really old 60 litre Backpack I found at my parents place. It’s probably 20 years old and is falling apart in a lot of ways, but having an old bag is deliberate. It looks like you’ve been doing this travelling thing for a while, and might indicate that you’re not the richest backpacker out there. Any potential thieves may just let you pass and wait for the next victim with that shiny new osprey bag.
Importantly, both the bags above fit into this bag, along with all my other stuff. So I can condense down to a single bag should I have a long way to walk with my luggage.
Other bags: I also have 3 other bags that I use to compartmentalise clothes and other stuff. These are basically shopping style bags (that can double as actual shopping bags!) and take the place of packing cubes that a lot of people seem to use. These in my opinion are a complete waste of money when you could literally get the same outcome with a plastic shopping bag.
I also have a drawstring bag that I take to the beach and also take for flights. Once through security I transfer everything that I actually want with me into this bag so I can put the rest in the overhead bins.
Perfect your packing game
Being able to pack in <15 minutes is really useful. This requires a few things:
Not totally unpacking everything and sprawling it across your room.
Having bags big enough that don’t require you to squeeze every last inch out of their capacity. This means that if you’re really in a rush you can indiscriminately chuck everything in your bag rather than folding neatly and systematically to make it fit.
Get a local sim card!
I can’t believe the amount of people I meet that don’t do this, it’s a complete game changer. Having access to Google Maps, and online messaging like whatsapp that you can also call through makes navigating a foreign country infinitely easier. It’s extremely cheap. In most of Asia you can buy a sim card with huge amounts (or sometimes unlimited) data for around $10. Even if you’re only in a country for a week it’s well worth it.
You will need a phone unlocked for international use to do this.
Don’t buy one at the airport if you can avoid it. They’re often over double the standard price found in a phone shop.
Use Facebook groups
I’ve found that for almost every location where there is some form of expat community, whether it’s a digital nomad hub or a more traditional expat hot spot, there’s always a facebook group for that place full of information about it. As well being able to have your questions answered by people that live there that were once in your shoes, you can also search the group for previously asked questions and answers.
Get Tinder Plus
Yes, maybe for that…. But also because being able to change the location your swiping in to your next destination is a great way to find out local info from your matches!
Always post on social media when you’re in a new location
It’s quite unbelievable the amount of times I’ve done this and there’s been someone I know in that location, or coming in the near future.
Even if you don’t know somebody there at the same time as you, you may have friends that can give you tips about the place or know people that are there that they can introduce you to.
Cultivate a functional style
Aka minimise your wardrobe and make it inexpensive to replace.