Had someone asked me a year ago, or even a few months ago, if I ever wanted to visit Montenegro, I would have said no. Europe had never interested me much; it was always too close, too ordinary, just like my backyard. I always thought that Asia was my one and only destination, probably because that’s where I discovered (and got hooked on) traveling. And as funny as this sounds, I always understood Asia better. I had studied local languages and cultures, so traveling there was a wholesome experience for me. And the food, it’s everywhere, at all times, it’s beautiful and delicious – I love food. And boring Europe… I had visited Britain, Germany, and Sweden before, nothing special in my books, back then. It was only recently that I actually got interested in really traveling Europe. I discovered Tallinn, the northern hipster mecca with cozy neighborhoods, excellent restaurants, interesting events, and vibrant underground culture. A few years ago, I went to Lisboa, God bless the seafood there. If you are interested in doing street photography and smoking weed this is your destination. Paris was another story; I hated and loved it at the same time, mesmerizing. But Slovenia was the country that finally opened my eyes. Majestic mountains, beautiful valleys, cute villages, busy seaside, delicious food and excellent art museums. I realized that there are things to see in Europe and I have come to appreciate short traveling times. Continue reading “Traveling Montenegro”
Dazu Buddhist Caves
These caves are UNESCO World Heritage. This doesn’t make them into a breath taking absolutely must see place but it’s a nice and relatively easy day trip from Chongqing. I’m not sure why these are called caves because they are mostly carvings on the cliff side, some are pretty big and some over 900 hundred years old. The themes are Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. We definitely did not see any caves, one small grotto that’s all. There is also a temple and a little garden, nothing too special but quiet and peaceful. (Take your student card along and you get 50% off from the entrance fee. They only accept Chinese, Taiwanese, Hong Kong or Macao student cards but it doesn’t kill to try with your western one! Lie that yours is from Macao or something.)
It takes only about an hour or so to go around, then you can explore the shopping streets and million little stalls with about the same items each and get annoyed at the bunch of old women trying to sell you Buddhist figures for 10 yuan no matter where you go. Before catching a bus back to Dazu sample dumplings and spicy noodles, local delicates.
When I read about these carvings on Internet I discovered something, or then I didn’t. It seems complicated since no one says anything clearly enough. But I think I finally understood after some research. There are many sights around Dazu city where you can go and see these carvings, but the main site and the one mentioned in Lonely Planet (and the one where we went) is called Baoding, about 25 km from the city. There are more of these carvings around the city and you can hire a taxi for a day to see them all, we didn’t have time for that.
There are a few trekking paths available. You could get lost into the Chinese countryside with your camera, imagine how fun that would be. Especially if you are interested in photography and can speak/want get better with your Chinese. And even if you can’t speak Chinese it might be wonderful, anyway. But if you want to see some real real countryside I don’t think Dazu is authentic enough. As a city it was pretty new, boring, colorless, and lifeless. We spent some hour and a half wandering around but didn’t experience anything special. I guess this is one of those cities which got build in 4 or 5 years out of the blue. There were some countryside houses near Baoding but it just wasn’t anything special.
It took us about 3 hours to get to this place from Chongqing. We almost got off on a wrong bus stop, in a wrong city, because the street food stalls had some delicious looking local snacks to offer. But no, there was still 1 hour left and I continued eating my roasted sunflower seeds like a true Chinese. This is typical snack option in China.
As random as it sounds at Dazu bus station some man approached us asking where were we going and offered to take us to Baoding for 50 yuan. I bargained off 10 and regretted for the rest of the trip for not bargaining more. Damn it! Anyway, the price seemed reasonable as the trip was about 20 minutes (half an hour in Chinese taxi costs about 50-70 yuan) We could have taken a bus but didn’t because we arrived at the old bus station and we should have gone to the new one but we didn’t know where it was, later we found out it was just a few minutes walk away, on the other side of the bridge. Well, fat, lazy, imperialist, bastard tourists… I have nothing else to add here. When we came back by bus it cost 3 yuan but it dropped us in the middle of nowhere, I mean in the middle of the city.
It took us about an hour and a half to find the bus station because we just walked to a random direction and followed a man we thought might go there but then we lost him (just don’t ask). I kept asking random people for directions and everyone said it wasn’t far away even though it took us over an hour to walk. This one rickshaw man rode past us and we were wondering whether or not to stop him and ask him to take us to the bus station. I got an eye contact with him and we stared at each other, both hesitating. He almost stopped and I almost stopped him but in the end no one did anything and we continued walking while he drove past us. How poetic…
As we walked trough a small market we saw a mouse and my friend took pictures of it, then an old man tried to kill it with his bags … I tried to ask a woman for directions but she didn’t understand me so I had to ask someone else. Then finally we ended up at the new bus station and saw a very long line to the ticket window. After asking some people (who all tried to ignore me) it turned out we were at the wrong bus station, because we had mixed them up. No worries, we just took a rickshaw to the other side of the bridge… we didn’t know it would be such a short trip. But it’s always good to pay for local services, anyway.
It was already late evening when we arrived back to Chongqing, alive and healthy. The bust arrived to a strange bus station and we took a taxi back to hostel just because we were feeling dead tired, there was no subway and taxis are so freaking cheap in China (what happened to the budget trip?) Truthfully speaking I tried to find a bus stop but didn’t see one anywhere, then I saw it from the taxi’s window. Too late.
The taxi drivers were being difficult bastards and refused to use the meter, one demanding more money than the other. And one of the drivers had his meter on in advance, that old stupid trick. Then one of the taxi drivers agreed to use the meter at the end. 3 dollars.
This post will be about Cambodian tuk tuk drivers since that’s the only place where I have encountered any tuk tuk drivers during my life. My experience remains short (4 days) but during this time I met many of them and implied a few different tactics of bargaining. I also made some research about Cambodian tuk tuk drivers and read other blogs/ forum posts about this topic just to make this post more truthful, objective and to make more sense in general.
What I figured out during my trip was that the “get a ride” business is one hell of a business. Our moto drivers at the border, they had a deal with the taxi driver and got paid when they delivered customers to him. I didn’t know I should have bargained for the taxi price with them already. Another thing is that the drivers who hang out in front of hostels/hotels have to pay for it, they get more customers but have to share with the hostel owner. Every driver has to pay certain extra fee to the government on yearly basis for their “tuk tuk license”.
I read that used motorbikes usually sell for 200-250 dollars and usual yearly income for Cambodian is about 150-540 dollars so buying a moto, it’s a big deal. The drivers can get 0-200 dollars per month, sometimes they get nothing. Usually the tuk tuk is rented so when you are paying for your ride you are also helping with the rent fees. There will be advertisements on the tuk tuks, of hostels, cafes, clubs and restaurants. Know, if you take such a tuk tuk and the driver recommends what’s mentioned on the advertisement he will get extra profit for bringing you there. They also get extra profit if they manage to sell you a girl in a nice brothel. This is not a hint how to get best sex deals during your sex tourist trip, this just the sad truth and dam you if you are a sex tourist. See how connected these people are?
By no means are the tuk tuk drivers rich, they are poor no matter how many extra dollars they cheat from you (except if they have websites and own a business). Maybe the street vendors are rich but not the drivers. They are dirt poor and that’s why they make those sad faces when you offer too little money, probably most of the sob stories they pull on you are true too. But I don’t get it though. If a trip to the airport costs 5 dollars then ten trips would be 50 dollars already, 30 trips (1/day/month) ? 150$? This is considered a really good monthly salary in Cambodia. Beats me, really.
Bargain the best deal
You know, at first it was just a bunch of shabby looking men and their tuk tuks, all trying to get us ride with them for xx price, not that high but at least a bit higher than for locals. If you are not mentally prepared enough and take it all too lightly you will end up paying extra, might be just insignificant 1 or 2 dollars per ride but suddenly miraculously over 10 dollars a day. So if you stay for a week… Mamma mia!
When I arrived to Cambodia I was prepared to never trust anyone there, ever. Not even if I get friendly with some drivers, nothing will change the fact that I am just a walking wallet in these people’s eyes. Maybe this is not the best tactic because it will make you feel extremely anxious and suspicious about everything and everyone, eventually you will grow unbearably angry and start hating all tuk tuk drivers in whole world just because (that innocent looking smiling face and those “but it’s so far away”
comments lies). It’s better to come prepared, with your guns loaded and your heart hardened.
1. Ask how much before getting on vs don’t ask, just get on and pay when you get off.
I tried these both tactics and came to a conclusion that there is no much difference. If you negotiate the price beforehand it will make you feel better because if you think about 2 dollars, arrive, pay up and the driver is left unsatisfied, asking for more… it’s just sad. You negotiate the price and pay exact amount, no wavering or extra pity because they will/might ask you for more once you have arrived.
If you have decided to get on and pay later, you must know about basic local fares, which is not a problem anyway, you will learn fast. The problem lies in unsatisfied drivers and your own mental health. You know the basic fare and give just so much money but the driver stars protesting “What you give me? 2 dollars more.” Of course, there is always an option of nonchalantly walking away and
maybe probably getting yelled at by a driver who has nothing good to say to your sensitive, privileged, western, 1st world ears. But at least you have saved those few extra dollars you might have lost while negotiation the price beforehand.
2. Know the price.
The answer is simple, google. There are travel blogs, forums and all kind of sites from where you can read latest information about tuk tuk fares. Know how much others paid and pay the same or a bit lower.
Another method is to pay a visit to a local gas station see how high is the price for gas and calculate the answer in your head or with a help of an additional electronic devise. If you don’t know, ask the driver how many kilometers to the destination (a high possibility he will lie), you can even ask him how much does his moto use liters/km. I asked and the answer seemed pretty legit. If you know the price of gas it gives you a good advantage while bargaining.
One more thing, I did try asking people about the prices but especially locals refused to give any answers. They always had this “What? Are you stupid? Do you think I will really tell?” smiles on their faces. I’m telling you, it’s one huge plot of the whole society to rip off foreigners. Other travelers? They pay either more than you (and they will give you this moral crap for not sparing some 3 dollars) or less (and it’s just gonna piss you off). Just find out about the price before you come.
There is a high possibility for you to get lower prices if you ask one driver to work for you for several days. If he doesn’t show up the next morning it will be his loss, not yours (he won’t show up if someone else offers a better deal). And anyway, there are enough tuk tuk drivers just everywhere so you will never face the problem of not getting a ride. If one tuk tuk driver won’t budge from his “super high fares” just walk away, but know that he might follow you for several blocks while continuing his bargaining and he might make a scene in front of other drivers just to prevent you from getting other rides (but this is a case of extreme asshole drivers, most of them are decent people). What you should be aware of is that the tuk tuk drivers have this bad habit of grabbing your luggage and carrying it to the vehicle so you won’t have other options but to ride with them. Just exclaim:”Wait a minute!” and coolly stop them.
4. Know where to catch your ride.
Definitely not in front of a nice hotel or even a hostel, not in front of restaurants, bus stations or even at the airport entrance. Just think about it, why are there only “fancy” looking tuk tuks in front of fancy hotels? Or will a driver who can speak English be more expensive than the one who can’t and would there be an English peaking driver in front of your hostel rather than a non English speaking one? It’s all a game like in Hollywood movies where fancy gentleman thieves go to Las Vegas to rob banks and Casinos, you have to think smart and be one step ahead, at all times. (Will this make you into a fat tourist without morals who is out there to cheat poor tuk tuk drivers while your pockets are full of money? If you want to put it so.)
At Phnom Penh, if you bother walking some 5 insignificant minutes away from the airport and to the roadside you will save several dollars. The same story when you negotiate for a tuk tuk ride to Angkor Wat yourself instead of asking the hotel reception.
5. The destination
The drivers are usually from the countryside, probably sold their lands in order to buy a vehicle, so they don’t really know the street names too well. When taking a tuk tuk it’s more convenient to tell the driver the name of the place you are going to instead of the address. They know most of the guest houses and all the important sights and markets (if they don’t know they will still attempt to take you there and might get lost, then they might demand more money upon arrival because “Sir, the gas is so expensive.”) When I showed the address, I had written down, to a moto drivers in Siem Reap (I forgot they use different alphabet) the only thing they understood was “Cambodia”. No shit Sherlock!
What I learned in December 2012 in Cambodia:
My friend said that in Thailand it’s better to just get on a tuk tuk without asking the price and then pay upon arrival, but if you don’t know the price it’s a bit hard. Anyway, I prefer bargaining in advance to avoid unpleasant surprises, at least in Cambodia. If you smile and are very friendly it’s easier to get the price down, Cambodians don’t like angry bargainers The price ranges between 1 to 3 dollars per person. Usually they settle for 1 $/person (a short trip) but 6000 riels (1,5$) is possible too (if you bargain well). From Phnom Penh airport you can get a cheaper tuk tuk outside the gates, 4-6$. And from the city to the airport it’s cheaper to get a tuk tuk not trough hostel/hotel but by yourself, same 4-6$. A taxi for a day might be cheaper option than a tuk tuk but way more boring. Ankgor Wat should be possible for 12 dollars a day, we idiots paid 17 per day because we didn’t check the prices beforehand. Some paid over 20 dollars but the cheapest should be 10-12 dollars.
Plan your days well so you can include many destinations in on ride and save money. The tuk tuk drivers usually have a map with destinations and most probably will suggest you several routes which make a lot of sense. Just tell them what you want to see, they tell you a plan, you accept, then they tell you a price and you bargain it lower. Simple and easy. In Siem Reap you can walk everywhere, it’s a short distance, and get a bike for a day to visit Angkor Wat, so if you want just forget about these tuk tuks.
I guess, the hardest thing will be the sudden jump from middle class to the riches. Once you arrive to Cambodia (or any other poor country) you will suddenly become rich but your mentality will stay the same old middle class. Suddenly you are facing all these poor people, who look at you with their greedy sparkling eyes because for them you are nothing but a stack of dollars yet to be spent, on them. But in your own heart, you are nothing but a poor student who could barely afford this trip. It’s a confusing situation.
I am just a student, worked hard to get enough money for my trip and can’t really spend extra. It pisses me off when people cheat me, no matter how poor. I come from a country where cheating is considered bad or even illegal. Yet I know all these people are so poor, can barely earn enough for a meal and my responsibility is to share because I can. But then again, they are cheating me because they think I am rich. I am not rich but in their country I actually am. But if I always pay extra I will exceed my budget and have no money when I come back to my own country. How will I live? But anyway, it will still be a better situation than for people in this country. Fuck. Stupid roller coaster, there is no end to this and thinking like this will just turn me into a cynical asshole, which I actually am but anyway…
Morals will just make you vulnerable, that’s all.
Forget about them?
And what? Become a monkey?
“In my country I am not rich” that’s what I said to one tuk tuk driver. His answer was: “At least you can work and save for traveling while I just work to earn a
decent living.” Don’t pretend to be innocent and play the wrong cards. They know all those million ways how to make you feel guilty and they are not afraid of using them against you. Don’t let yourself feel guilty. For what should you? Why would you pay extra? Probably because that will make you feel temporarily at ease, like you are a good person and shit. You are buying that good feeling for 3 dollars so you can go back home like a Messiah, waste water and electricity and throw away food you didn’t finish eating? Ha ha ha…. Double standards, throw those away and we are all nothing but monkeys.
I recently read in a blog something along “[…] but don’t bargain too much because…” Why not? As long as you pay like locals it should be okay? What’s the use of over paying? Letting these people live off scam (pisses me off)? Truthfully speaking, I did feel guilty until I read from this one book about Asian sex slaves “Tuk tuk drivers are the majority (of men) who use services of brothels in Cambodia” (Excluding all those pathetic disgusting sex tourists) Excuse me? I thought if I don’t pay that extra dollar people will die because they won’t have enough money to buy medicine or food. Turns out I saved a man from getting HIV.
My point is, you never know how that money will be spent. Of course, not all tuk tuk drivers buy sex (I presume) but still, what about alcohol, cigarettes, drugs etc? So feeling guilty is just… stupid? It’s inevitable but unnecessary. You can’t help it. But even if you pay extra, what will change? Absolutely nothing. Let’s not romanticize poverty. Are you imagining something about girls going to school, mother recovering from an illness or father bringing home meat or sweets, all this because you paid extra? The possibility of this happening is what, 10%? Get real, the girl gets sent off to a brothel, mother dies and there will be no meat. That’s it. The sad truth of the world.
If you think I am being heartless check out this blog post or this one and think about tuk tuk drivers asking western men “How about a girl?” and then think about those human trafficked poor girls in brothels. Feeling any pity for the tuk tuk drivers anymore? When we arrived to Siem Reap in the middle of the night to a bus station which was located nowhere, there was this tuk tuk driver we tried to bargain with but he just got angry “We are not in Vietnam!” he exclaimed. Then we tried to bargain with another driver but this angry tuk tuk driver started yelling at him in khmer (most probably something about us being bitches) so I told him: “You are a bad man.” It felt like getting overboard then but afterwards when getting yelled at by the street vendors how we were bad people for not buying anything… I knew what I did was right. Anyway, we ended up taking motos, it felt less like a rip off since both got their own rides.
Finally, I KNOW it’s just a few dollars but this is not about the money it’s the matter of principle. Getting cheated all the time is not a nice feeling and when you are treated like garbage on the top of that. No matter how fucking poor anyone is you pay for service which is worth xx amount of money, paying extra just feels shitty. A little bargaining is always good and I am sure if you offer a fair price the tuk tuk drivers will accept. Too little is too little. Overall they are nice people, don’t pity them or give them too much but also don’t mistreat them by being angry if your offered price is not accepted.
Be a good tourist
1. Don’t get your ride in front of hostels/hotels so your driver gets to keep the whole profit. Get a random ride at a random place.
2. If a driver comes to sell you his service accept it (if bargaining bears good fruits), reward hardworking.
3. Recommend online (forums etc check this out!) if you get good service, take the driver’s cell phone number and let other travelers know. This will give an extra boost to a driver who really deserves it by being honest (more or less) and a good businessman.
4. If a driver suggest you a cafe or restaurant agree to go if you don’t really care much where you eat. He will get a few extra pennies for bringing you there.
5. Tip good service (after bargaining a good price) but only if it’s a good service.
6. Talk with drivers so they get to practice English, priceless.
It’s HATE both ways
Finally I left Cambodia with “I fucking hate tuk tuk drivers” and I’m sure they sent me off with “I fucking hate that rich bitch”. Put yourself into their shoes. They are meeting all these fat ugly people every day for the past, what, 10 years. These foreigners have their wallets full of dollars yet they refuse to pay 1 dollar extra? If I was a tuk tuk driver I would detest all white trash, no matter if a man or a woman, drunk or sober, pretty or ugly, fat or skinny, I would hate everyone equally. Just because they have enough money to travel, they have enough money to dress and eat well, to stay in hotels but not fucking enough to pay 1 dollar extra. Those arrogant and stingy bitches, the double standard us. We think we are Messiahs. In truth we are bastards. All of us. Feeling guilty? How ridiculous.
First of all, if you didn’t know what cultural shock is, now you will find out. To explain it in a short and clear way cultural shock is like this: You pack your bags and go to an exotic country to travel with a happy go lucky attitude. You arrive, spend there some time and then ¤/¤&%¤#%#%#”&”)”&#&#&#GDFD, you get angry! After this you either accept the situation, that the country you went to wasn’t as romantic and awesome as you imagined it to be and it makes you go nuts, or then you go home with sullen mood and never return to that hellish piece of &¤%#&”&¤.
If you try to avoid culture shock that will make your travels more pleasant, unless you go to China because preparation or not, you will have a bad China day one day or every day and there is no helping that. For further details you might want to check Wikipedia – Culture Shock (Wikipedia? Yes very creative).
Without further explanations, because no one cares and it’s boring, here are my personal unique tips. Dare to be a pessimist before you arrive and be nothing but an optimist after your arrival.
1. First of all lower you standards and expectations. I know when you are excited about a trip you usually go and read all kind of awesome travel blogs, guides and other books (watch pretty pictures, God forbid) which make everything sound even more super duper orgasm for all senses rainbows 24/7 and sweet caramel rain. But seriously, think twice. If there was such a place on earth why would anyone live anywhere else, like your country? Be excited but do not lose your brains.
2. Find out what is the SHIT in your destination. What I mean with the SHIT is not the awesome things you are waiting for, but the worst of all! Smelly, awful, disgusting, brown thing you usually wash down the toilet bowl. Find out about that. Google something like: the worst things abut the country xxx and things I hate about xxx.
3. Be so darn open minded like never before. Try out local foods (everything from the streets to fancy restaurants to supermarkets), get some new friends, hang out in the lounge and common spaces of your hostels (maybe not the bathrooms unless you want to be creepy), go to pubs or sit on the terraces of restaurants, if you are desperate try to chat with your waiter/waitress maybe they will have some time to hang out with you after their shift is over (this is fucking desperate but why not?), get to know your travel guide and visit their home etc etc etc there are hundred different possibilities, use your imagination.
4. Activate your sense of humor. Otherwise how will you survive all the following disasters: hotel rooms will be crappy, buses will be dirty, little thieves will steal your money, you will lose your passport, you will have to buy a 38 hours standing ticket in Chinese train, you won’t have an opportunity to take daily shower, you will see poverty everywhere you go, or then you will feel poor everywhere you go, no opportunities to do laundry, food sucks, diarrhea, diarrhea, diarrhea and diarrhea.
5. Gather information. No one likes this word but STUDY! If you have a Lonely Planet of your destination read the information part, it can be interesting. Or then read a book which deals with the culture you are about to experience. Find out facts and bits about the history, basic culture and follow current news. If you do this you will also have some topics to talk about with the locals and it might be easier to understand their jokes. Table manners are important to know! When the locals realize you know so much about their country they will respect you.
The most important thing is the history about the culture because it will help you understand why people act like they act, think like they think and do what they do. And anyway, you will have time to read something during your flight.
If you are a picky eater or skeptic when it comes to food try out some dishes before you go to your destination, find out restaurants or products from ethnic shops. You could even try to cooks something and then try at the destination if you did it right. It’s fun if you like cooking.
When I prepared for my exchange study year in South Korea I watched Korean dramas, followed celebrity news, read novels, studied about the history, listened to K-pop and made some kimchi. After arriving to the country I felt as if I had been there before, it wasn’t that alien to me. When I traveled in Iran I read a bit of Koran and when having a discussion with the locals I asked them questions. It was quite interesting.
6. Prepare well, check that you have all of your travel documents, credit cards, local currency, maps, address of your hostel, photocopies of everything, clean underwear etc. So you won’t have any unpleasant surprises when you arrive.
7. If you go to a destination where people don’t usually speak English then learn some of their language, just a few words should be enough already like ‘thank you’, ‘excuse me’, and ‘sorry’. Food words and how to order at the restaurants are the best because you need food, so simple. You could even write down simple phrases like “I’d like to order xx” or “how to get to a destination xx” and show them to locals when you get into trouble, ignore the fact that this seems really lame but hey, step three: activate your sense of humor.
8. Don’t make too tight schedule or then burn out and rot in your misery (unless you like to be constantly on the run). It would be cool to see EVERYTHING but seriously, is everything worth your sanity? Your choice.
9. In the end, when you are so fucking pissed off you want to die and fed up with the “new amazing” culture which turned to be as shit as your own if not sicker, then think back and go trough the reasons why did you pick out this destination. Remember your childhood dreams and aspirations, remember your grandmother’s foods and pickles, your grandfather’s self made vodka and… well maybe not so far but anyway, seriously. If you ended up in the middle of nowhere there must have been a good reason for that.
10. Relax. When everything goes bad then buy a glass of beer or whatever you like to drink, sit down, eat some good food and read (the bible?) the days newspaper or just the comics instead of news. Just give a moment for yourself to calm down and think about the mess you have gotten yourself into.
11. Keep your cool, because that’s cooler than heating up. Don’t be proud and angry. Even if locals piss you off don’t take it out on them that might get you into bigger problems. Don’t think that you are better than them, or you can think about it but don’t let it show. No one likes self centered assholes, not even you. If you ask help from some local and he/she acts indifferent or even ignorant, ask someone else. Just don’t be an asshole no matter how bad your day has been, it will make you feel bad as well as people around you.
Don’t be too hard on yourself and remember that nothing is perfect, nowhere is good and all cultures are equally shit at some level. Enjoy what you can and when you get angry just let it out in a peaceful manner, do sports or tweet your frustration away.
The bag is always too small.
I know the Internet is full of blog posts with lists and lists of stuff you have to pack on your trip, so I am not gonna write another post about that. I’ll just write a post about stuff I take on my trips, because I like to talk about myself, lol. No seriously, I have found the following items useful and would like to share my findings with you. Check out my list before you go, it might help you pack your bag.
Also, there are tips like “Don’t pack things you could easily buy at the destination such as shampoo.” Well, good luck finding deodorant in South Korea, cheap tooth brushes in Montenegro or tampons in China. When I was studying in Asia a lot of guys complained about condoms, they were hard to get and too small. So keep that in mind as well. And when it comes to small, travel sized shampoo bottles, not all shops have them. I like to bring my personal hygiene items with me from home. Who knows if you will be able to buy it cheaper at the destination country and the quality might be worse. When I have everything I need, I can relax at the hostel instead of stressing about hygiene items. Minimizing stress is my goal when I pack for a trip.
Some people wonder why I don’t just save some of the things, mentioned below, on my phone. The problem is that I use my phone for many things, and the more I use it the faster the battery will die. Not all countries have nice, air conditioned cafes where you could recharge your phone/power bank, and what if your phone breaks or gets stolen? If you have everything stored in one place and suddenly lose it, that’s pretty stressful if you ask me.
Travel insurance that also covers luggage: You never know what might happen. I haven’t been sick during my travels, but I have had my stuff stolen, got them moneyz back from insurance.
100 dollars kept in a hidden pocket of my bag: No matter where you go or what you do, dollars will be dollars. If your wallet gets stolen or your credit card blocked, at least, you will have a small amount of money to cover you until you come up with a way to get more money. Be it union pay transfer or opening a local bank account, your stress levels will be lower if you know you have at least few bucks for a meal.
Credit card: even if you don’t use it, it’s good to have as a back up plan. Nothing is worse or more stressful than getting stranded somewhere without money. Now then, I’d recommend MasterCard or Visa, depending on where you go the other one is going to work better than the other. It’s always good to check the plans and special offers. Ïf you are from Finland I have bad news regarding bonus points/travel rewards, we practically have no good plans. Opt for a free card or the one that gets you the most rewards.
Long trip: Backpack, always a backpack.
A long trip is the one on which you will spend weeks or months, you will need stuff, you will move a lot, there will be walking up steps, a lot of steps. When on the move, backpack leaves your hands empty, it’s convenient. I prefer middle sized backpacks, something along 60L+10. Do not save money when looking for a backpack for travels, buy one that’s light, durable and preferably waterproof. Buying one that can be adjusted into smaller size when needed is preferable. It’s gonna cost you a lot of moneyz but it will last for years to come, and you will travel comfortably. When going on a long trip there will be many things that will make you uncomfortable, things that will not depend on you, so when it comes to things that depend on you try to make them as comfortable as possible.
Short trip: Always a suitcase on wheels (hand luggage size).
When going on a weekend or a week-long trip you won’t need much stuff. It’s convenient to travel lightly nowadays, most of the times cheaper too. You can check in online and skip waiting in line for baggage drop, that can save you an hour or two of lingering at the airport. Carrying a duffel bag is not too comfortable for me and a normal backpack is too small, so I prefer a small sized suitcase. Packing a suitcase is easier, clothes won’t wrinkle easily, and usually suitcases are waterproof as well. But if you bought that perfect backpack that can be adjusted into a smaller size, say into a hand luggage size, then that’s all you need.
Clothes: Take your favourite clothes. I can’t stress this enough. There will be many things that will make you uncomfortable: long traveling times, no showers, nasty hostels. So if you can make yourself feel more comfortable by wearing clothes that make you feel at ease, do that. Socks and underwear: pack your worst so you can throw them away at the end of the trip. If you take the most comfortable old worn out clothes you can dispose of them one by one, perhaps buy something new on your trip. This way your luggage will get lighter as you travel and you will get rid of old stuff you wanted to get rid of but couldn’t, because feelings. Maybe, you will look a bit shabby, but that might save you extra bucks when haggling at a Chinese market. Remember to take at least one set of better clothes, you will never know where you will end up.
I don’t know why I always pack either too many pants or too many shirts. In fact, just three shirts and two pairs of pants should be enough. You don’t need to bring much, there will be laundry machines in every hostel you stay at. A cardigan or a thin sweater is a must, it could get cold at places, specially if you are headed to a mountainous region. It’s better to dress in layers than bring extra warm clothes along with summer clothes. A tee, a thin sweater, hooded shirt and waterproof jacket is my favourite combo. The rain stops you remove your jacket. It gets warmer you remove your sweater and unzip your hoodie. It gets windy you wear the hood.
On feet: comfortable and already worn sneakers would be the best but, for some strange reason, when traveling I usually wear All Stars or Converses. It’s a habit from years back. I guess my message is that you can wear whatever the heck is the most comfortable for you, traveling involves a lot of walking, so wear your favorite shoes. A pair of shoes that are easy to slip on and off are the most ideal, so in that way converses are not very practical. But even if your favorite shoes are not practical, I say you wear them. I mean, think about all the walking! Buying a pair of new shoes just for traveling is not the best idea, in my opinion. You won’t know what those motherfuckers will do to your feet.
Never forget to take flip flops with you because shared showers in hostels are gonna be quite disgusting.
On head: You are going to spend a lot of time outside, so bringing a hat and/or a cap won’t hurt. A cap will save you from a sunstroke and the hat will be handy when you ears start to freeze. Traveling for a long time, you will never know where the road will take you. Even if you have planned your trip you will probably make some last minute adjustments, and being prepared won’t hurt. It can get cold in the mountainous areas in the middle of the summer.
Netbook/tablet: Okay, maybe I am not an authentic traveler because I carry something like a netbook with me. Does anyone even use a netbook nowadays anymore? There will be computers in hostels, and you could always go to a local library or Internet cafe (depending on where you are). But I like to make things comfortable for myself, so after a long train ride I’d rather surf Internet comfortably in my bed than go somewhere. Okay, why a netbook/tablet you ask, a smartphone should be enough. Not for me. I empty my camera’s memory card to my netbook as well, I could just carry more memory cards, though. But I take a lot of photos, so I would have to carry bunch of them, like 20, something could happen and I could lose everything. I once met this guy who always sent memory cards back home by mail, it’s a good idea as well. But I like t work on my photos as I travel. It’s more convenient for me to empty the card on the netbook and then upload the photos to a cloud. I like to write, could write a new post to this blog while waiting somewhere. And why not a Macbook or some other normal laptop, you ask? A laptop is big, a hassle to carry around, a Macbook is expensive, if anything happened it would ruin my day.
Local sim-card or affordable data plan from my own country: In most of the places, it is easy to get a local sim-card with cheap data plan (at least in Europe and Russia). Having access to Internet makes traveling easier: you can check nearby restaurants wherever you are, you can look up local events, connect with people, and it’s just convenient. Of course, downloading Google maps of your destinations in advance is a good idea, but you will get more out of the maps if you have Internet connection.
Lonely Planet: Again, I am a totally fake traveler going around with a guide book, a total loser, I know. But it’s handy to have a plan B. If it happens so I end up somewhere and have no idea what to do, a guide book can save my day. Nowadays I prefer to buy Lonely Planets in pdf formats. I only print chapters of those destinations I go to, the rest I keep on my phone and netbook in electronic format, in case I need them.
A small language guide/dictionary: If you want to be a mindful traveler who is also interested in local culture, learn a few words of local language and don’t hesitate to speak. Some people will say this is racist, but don’t listen to them. Local people will always be happy to hear you speak their own language. In some countries people don’t speak English too well so knowing a few words of local language will make everything easier for you. For example, you go to Russia and want to buy an apple at the market, learning how to say 1 apple please and thank you can’t be that hard.
Goggles: just joking.
Camera: This is not essential item at all, but for me my camera is everything. I love taking photographs so traveling without camera would feel like something is missing. Of course, having a few extra batteries is a good idea.
Water bottle: Okay, this is an obsession. If you see me traveling you will notice I am always carrying a water bottle with me. Seriously though, remember to drink enough or you will be exhausted all the time.
Medicine pack: You could buy medicine at the spot, but having familiar medication on you when you really need it will save you from stressful situations. This is what I carry in my medicine pack: pain killers, sore throat medicine, band aids, c-vitamin, heart burn medicine, activated carbon (it’s a Russian thing), bepanthen lotion (can fix anything!). I used to carry diarrhea medicine as well, but later noticed that activated carbon works way better for me.
Warm socks: I have these awesome socks that I always take with me when I go traveling, they are hella old but incredibly warm. These have made some of my nights way better than it would have been without them.
A pack of tissues: Trust me, no matter what, you will need this.
Extra plastic bag: I don’t know if I am turning into a grandma or what, but I always have one extra plastic bag on me.
Earplugs: If someone snores I will never be able to sleep. If I have already fallen asleep the snoring will wake me up. Therefore, if I don’t to take earplugs I am doomed.
Inflatable headrest: Makes sleeping so much easier anywhere. A long train ride? No problem! An uncomfortable car ride? No problem. Need to sleep on a plane? No problem.
A book: I usually buy a book at the destination, usually something about the local culture or a novel written by a local writer. After finishing the book I leave it in a hostel’s book shelf and grab something else in exchange. Not all hostels have a book surf shelf, though.
A small towel: This will get handy when you end up staying in a place that doesn’t have towels for guests or where you will have to pay extra for a towel. A big towel will take a lot of space, small one is enough.
Grab along the way: Every single shampoo, tea bags, sugar, napkins, toothbrush, soap and anything what can be found in a hotel room. A newspaper for sitting on the ground or using as an underly (or to make a fire if you get lost and have to spend a night in the open) Anything you can get for free, and remember to be greedy!
Before leaving on a trip, just as I step out of the apartment, I always ask myself the following question: Do I have passport, extra underwear, my phone and my credit card? If yes, then everything will be just fine.
How to enjoy?
Lonely backpacker will be lonely.
In my opinion you get the most out of South Korea when you go there with your friends or make some friends there and travel with them, you will be able to eat samgyopsal, go to noraebang and have more fun in all other ways. I traveled for two weeks alone and I think it was quite depressing (maybe because it was the winter?), many cities don’t have hostels where you could meet other foreigners and if they have there are not many westerners anyway, young Koreans can speak English but good or bad that varies greatly. I suggest you use CouchSurfing outside Seoul, Gyuongju and Pusan, this way you can get a precious chance to taste home made food and sneak a peak into Korean everyday life.
If you wonder what most of the foreigners do in South Korea the answer is they teach English or study. Most of the tourists and backpackers hang out within Seoul and mostly at Hongdae after sun sets. If you go to smaller cities you will feel everyone’s eyes on yourself, not many foreigners go there.
Korea is a pretty safe country and the people are honest. Though, in subways and on the street everyone will bump into you and it freaking hurts. During weekends drunk people will pee and throw up all over, sleep on the streets and just be drunk. See, it’s even safe to sleep on the streets, your wallet and phone won’t be stolen.
So what to bring?
The bad smell will be beaten.
And you ready to smell good again?
Coming soon to the backpacks.
DEODORANT, LOTS OF DEODORANT! I have heard about myths that they sell deodorant at some shops like Watsons but I have never seen it on the shelves. You can buy perfume anywhere. Maybe Koreans don’t sweat at all, must be that. DON’T FORGET DEODORANT!
If you are fat, I mean normal sized in the west bring clothes, mostly pants because in Korea normal is fat and skeleton is normal. Though, you can always find big sized clothes at Itaewon but I doubt you want to look like black rapper or alcoholic. If you are a skeleton congrats, you will be able to buy so many fancy clothes, yay! By the way, if you have boobs pack bras, if you don’t then there won’t be any problem.
Everything else can be bought in Korea.
But you need to pack something, right?
A trash bag because you know, there are no trash bins anywhere on the streets. Even if you go trough them with a loop, you won’t find even a shadow of a trash bin, not a trace, nothing. You know why? My friend had an answer, she said: “Koreans don’t create any trash so they don’t need trash bins.” Simple.
High heels, make up, designer bags, and your best clothes including all of your mini skirts. (guys too!) And of course, a mirror so you can look at yourself every 5 minutes.
Your smart phone. You can leave your old cellphone home, it won’t work there and even if it will you won’t be able to buy a sim card if you are just visiting, or you can but it might be way too difficult and annoying. Some foreign phones and sims work there though so if you are not scared of big bills then… If you have a smart phone it will be useful because you will be able to access Internet at least and use skype and kakao talk.
A big empty bag because you will end up buying too much and an empty stomach so you can eat as much as possible.
Money, hell yeah, you are gonna spend like crazy. It’s cheap but remember, you are gonna spend like crazy!
If you don’t want to use whitening creams you better bring all of what you need along.
What to buy?
Kimbab. The food of the poor.
I heart Korea t-shirt or other Korea related t-shirt, just because those are cheap and cool souvenirs. I brought one I heart Korea t shirt to all my Russian relatives and they love them. LoL
Hambok, a traditional Korean dress just because it’s so pretty. You will never use it for anything (maybe for rugs later) but still, it’s pretty. Go to Namdaemun and the big shopping center at the center, I think on the second (maybe third) floor you will be able to find a cheap little shop for a simple ordinary dresses.
Chocolates with seaweed fillings. Surprisingly good. They also sell delicious stone chocolates aka ugly m&m’s and choco pies (this is typical Korean snack, they also have with strawberry filling which is my personal favorite). Why you are at it buy some Gim, dried laver, it’s tasty.
Ginseng anything, should be very healthy!
Key chains, little silk purses, magnets, teddy bear key chains, wooden masks and fancy fans. + Every possible tourist shit there is.
SHOES! Especially some street at Gangnam (I’m such a good guide, just go there, some street, you will find it somehow) is full of shoe shops filled with branded shoes at cheap prices! At Dongdaemun you will be able to find a shoe market, maybe not the real stuff but very interesting and cheap.
An animal hoodie with ears, tails and other extras. Those are damn cute. I have one with wings sticking from the hood. If you wear one of those back at home they will think you are a crazy otaku or even weird larper, good luck.
Korean won boxers, got one pair for my dad and little brother. It’s funny, trust me.
Mountain climbing gear, there is a wast variety of products, anything you imagined about. Koreans love their mountains!
Make up and perfume, Korean stuff is famous around Asia. All sorts of facial masks and creams, shampoos and million things. Just remember that most of the masks and creams might have whitening effect.
Korean celebrity shits like little pillows, pencils, purses, posters, stickers, key chains, CDs, mugs, clocks, socks, t shirts, fans, umbrellas or anything made to please mad screaming fan girls and Japanese tourists. If you have a personal favorite always ask what they have to offer but if you are not familiar with Korean Showbiz just go for mugs with prints of boy band members hugging each other while dressed in pink and yellow.
Personal stamp because it seems cool while you are there but once you get home you will wonder why the heck did you buy it in the first place. Regrets, regrets. Still buy it.
Other stuff: tableware, cups for alcohol, pan for samgyopsal because by then you are probably so much in love with it you want to try cooking it at your house.
The bag is always too small.
I doubt anyone is interested (I’m not gonna list here anything self-evident like toothbrush and passport, very funny…) but I decided to post an itinerary of the must have stuff I pack when I go traveling. Usually I try to take one big backpack and a small bag but somehow I end up carrying at least one plastic bag. While on the road I dress up in sporty clothes and look like a hobo, the plastic bag just perfects the picture. It’s not like I specially try to go for a hobo look, I just look like a hobo, always.
This is not an excuse, I am serious. I think it’s good to look a bit like a hobo (I must think positively since I always look like a hobo no matter what anyway) while traveling (no one knows you are a tourist and think you have a big bag just for the empty bottles and such) because it makes me look less like a tourist. I never wear sunglasses because I think they are uncomfortable and make people look like tourists, some Ray Bans will add an extra buck for whatever handcraft you are trying to buy. Anyway, in simple sweats and a tee it’s easier to blend in the local crowd, though depends where you are. Maybe not in South Korea… Anyway, usually I just pack neutral clothes, nothing too fancy, anything comfortable will do. If I go to Asia I must pack enough pants because to find my size there, impossible!!
On feet: usually all stars or converses. For some reason the fakes I have now are much more comfortable than the real ones I had previously, and cheaper! (no one will EVER make me wear sneakers, EVER. God I hate those.)
On the head: a towel (for a sweaty, sporty occasion and I don’t mean sex ) or a cap for everything else. A scarf is a must have too, but around my neck usually. (This reminds me I have to wash my Afghan scarf because it stinks like drool… don’t ask.)
My netbook: Okay, maybe I am not an authentic traveler because I carry something like a netbook with me but seriously speaking, I rather carry this to book hostels or surf for information on the net. Besides I love writing so if inspiration hits me I can always write it away. Now that I have a smart phone maybe I will reconsiders… no.) Besides, when the memory card in my camera gets full I can always empty it on the netbook.
Lonely Planet: This is the only guide book I will ever trust, book format or pdf format, a real or fake, I don’t care. I must have Lonely Planet with me. (again, I am a totally fake traveler, going around with a guide book, a total loser I know. But it’s damn handy and saves time while planning)
Local leaflets: NEVER miss a tourist information center, ask million questions and grab whatever you can take. Especially if you are at the Narita airport, those can be more useful than any guide book and then again… so useless you can wipe your ass with them. Unless you are in Russia, they will just yell at you and take your money. Just joking, worth trying out but probably everything will be in Russian only.
Goggles: just joking.
A small language guide/dictionary: In Japan this was so freaking useful, I even learned some basic Japanese. In my opinion this is the best way to learn the local language, just use it as much as you can. Probably I always end up sounding like a stupid idiot but oh well, who cares.
Camera: Well, I love taking pictures and feel depressed if I miss some nice photo opportunity. Actually my traveling is pretty much about taking photos nowadays. I need a better camera… but have no money. Typical problem.
A water bottle: Okay, this is an obsession. If you see me traveling you will notice I am always carrying a water bottle with me. Actually I have a water bottle at all times, except when I am home and drink from anything which can store liquids.
Medicine pack: pain killers, diarrhea medicine, pills for sore throat, band aids, c-vitamin, heart burn medicine, activated carbon (pretty Russian), bepanthen (can fix anything!!), sunscreen.
Warm socks: I have these awesome socks that I always take with me when I go traveling, they are hella old but incredibly warm. The problem is that this summer I lost one. I don’t know if I can ever travel without these socks ever again.
A toilet paper roll: Can be used anywhere at all times. And trust me, no matter what, you will always need this, always. Unless you never take a shit.
Extra plastic bag: I don’t know if I am turning into a grandma or what but I always have one on me.
Mp3 player: There is always someone doing some noise that drives me crazy and to block it I can always listen to some nice music.
Earplugs: If someone snores and I can hear it I will never be able to sleep. If I have already fallen asleep the snoring will wake me up. Therefore if I forget to take earplugs with me I am doomed.
Inflatable headrest: Makes sleeping so much easier. My neck hurts easily so I must have this.
During the winter in Asia: Fatty fat pants are the MUST! These are pants with super thick padding and they are super warm (usually only old people in Asia wear them and me, of course). Okay, those look extremely
sexy stupid but you will never be cold, ever again. Remind me to get one pair when I get back to China.
A book: It’s always good to read something while on the road (no shit…). Usually after finishing reading I leave it in the hostel on a bookshelf so I can take something in exchange, this way I don’t need to spend much money on books.
Small items: a pen, tape, a memory stick, teabags and coffee, a little spoon, chopsticks, post it notes, a small towel, local subway/bus card, lots of deodorant (this is an obsession)
Grab along the way: Every single shampoo, tea bags, sugar, napkins, toothbrush, soap and anything what can be found in a hotel room. A newspaper for sitting on the ground or using as an underly (or to make a fire if you get lost and have to spend a night in the open) Anything you can get for free (like cellphones on the streets and such lol), you might need it and remember to be greedy!
Along with these must have items I always pack a variety of stuff, mostly just clothes. I try to pack something old so I can just use it and then throw away along the way. I don’t know why I always pack either too many pants or too many shirts and I always pack all the underwear I own. At least one cardigan is a must, I threw my old one away before coming to Russia and now turns out I need it badly. So a cardigan, at all times, a must. Instead of pajama pants I pack my Homer Simpson boxers, they take so much less space (this is all you need to know about my boxers)
For God’s sake! I drank too much tea and had to go to the toilet every 30 min last 4 hours! It just won’t stop.