Can you believe it’s been over a month since we’ve started our slow travel? At times, it still feels surreal to us. We’re so very appreciative and know that this is definitely not the “norm”. We do feel that we are “lucky” in that things have worked out for us, however as we’ve mentioned previously, we believe that what we’ve done financially have brought us to where we are today. To read more about our financial independence, check out Steps To Early Retirement where Ernest blogs about this.
Slow travel is something new to us and we had no idea it would be such a learning curve. For anyone thinking of doing the same, here are things we’ve learned in our first month of slow travel.
In our first stop of slow travel, we decided that we would stay in Chiang Mai for a couple of months (without even knowing if we’d like it here). We immediately found a short term rental and committed to it for 2 months.
In the process, we found out that they required 2 months deposit (in cash) as well as the first months rent. Also, at month end we’re required to pay for utilities (in cash) for water and electric. Although each amount isn’t that much when comparing costs to North American prices, together as a lump sum, it’s a lot.
It’s a lot of cash upfront and with the security deposit, we’d be converting cash from USD to Thai Baht and then back from Baht to USD (additional currency conversion costs to keep in mind) when we leave.
In hindsight, total costs spent may be more doing it this way than if we rented a place via Airbnb (get $34 off your first trip) or stayed in hotels for 2 months; keeping in mind that we had to purchase home essentials such as kleenex, paper towels, toilet paper, etc.) while in a hotel it’s included. Also, we are Hilton gold members and at this status we receive room upgrades and breakfast included in our stays. (Upcoming post on how to get this status for free without having to stay one night.)
We’ve also been told that at the end of the lease, they will deduct cleaning costs from our deposit (similar to AirBnb fees) — to be confirmed.
2. Vacation vs Slow Travel
Initially, shifting the mindset from vacation mode to slow travel or ‘retiree’ was difficult. This is our life now and we need to be mindful of our spending when traveling. When you’re on vacation, it’s for a set number of days and you tend to spend an infinite amount since it’s ‘temporary’ (at least, that was us when we were on vacay). I often think about how a new retiree feels in their first few months as a retiree.
Once we figured out a system or routine, we felt more comfortable being where we were and doing what we were doing.
This brings us to budgeting. We’ve never really given ourselves a budget before. However, in order to separate being on vacation and slow travel, we knew we had to figure out some sort of monthly budget and have been trying to stick to it … even though it’s a very ‘flexible’ budget.
We figured that our first year of travel will be more exploratory since this is totally new to us and we really don’t know what things costs in these parts of the world and/or how much is required for us to to live comfortably while traveling.
4. Currency Exchange
Have crisp, perfect US bills with no markings on them. In Asia, the currency exchange places will not take your bill if there is a mark on it (pen mark) or if the corners are bent/folded. They want perfect bills!
Also, eventually we will run out of US cash (since we didn’t want to carry with us a large amount of cash) and will have to figure out the most cost efficient way to get local currency whether it be via ATMs or money transfers. It doesn’t make it any easier that we’re from Canada and all our accounts that are attached to a debit/ATM card are in Canadian currency. The banks in Canada cannot attach/link a USD account to a debit card. Really!
If anyone has any tips on this, please comment below.
5. Online Access
We have online access for all our banking in Canada along with our trading accounts. However, with traveling and current online security measures in place, we had issues accessing our accounts. Each time we tried to log in, they would need to send us a security code via SMS or direct call which is linked to our Canadian phone number. Well, we’re not using our Canadian numbers overseas and as such, cannot receive the security code in order to log in.
We figured out that we can use a Fongo number. Obtaining a Fongo number is free of charge. It uses Voice-Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to place and receive calls using a wifi connection. So, whenever we need to call our bank or anyone with a North American number, we would use Fongo free of charge.
6. Healthy Eating
Eating healthy has been somewhat of a challenge for us. Contrary to what you may believe, Thai food isn’t the healthiest; they use a lot of sugar, salt and MSG in their foods. Finding healthy eats hasn’t been as easy as back home.
The first few weeks we were here, we ate out pretty much every single meal. During those weeks, I wasn’t able to sleep (don’t ask about Ernest – with a full stomach, he slept like a baby); I’d be wide awake at 2AM in the morning. This is what MSG and salt does to me.
However, eating out was so inexpensive that it was cheaper to do so than to buy groceries and cook. For the sake of #health, we splurged (so instead of a $2 meal pp, it came out to a $4 meal) and bought groceries to prepare some of our meals.
Another thing with Thailand (we’ll have to check out other SE Asian countries), it’s expensive to purchase supplements and vitamins (like 1.5 to 2 times North American prices). Most of these products are brought in from other countries such as North America or Australia. Therefore, it’s best to bring your own vitamins and/or supplements from back home.
7. Living Without The Comforts Of Home
This is something which we spoke about in a previous post. It’s something that I thought would be my biggest challenge especially traveling outside of North America. It’s definitely still a work in progress, but we’ve found comfort in not having the same level of comforts from back home (if that makes sense). We definitely still have our days, but we’ve been able to find a good balance.
Being able to adjust to the different surroundings is key. We need to be flexible and as nomads, in order for us to enjoy the nomadic life we must be able to adapt to the changing ‘homes’.
8. Visa Requirements
Thailand permits 30 days visa exemption on landing. Since we planned and committed to 2 months lease, we needed to figure out how to extend or add another 30 days to our current visa (exemption).
As a slow traveler with no ties to a particular place (our first mistake was making ties by entering into a lease), there isn’t just one option to getting an extension. I was worried about having to go to the visa office to get an extension since we’ve read a lot about the long waits and the (possible) complexity of the whole process (ie. paper work required).
Once we realized that getting an extension wasn’t our only option, we booked ourselves a ticket to see Malaysia. An extension wasn’t required, we’re able to obtain another 30 days visa exemption by leaving the country and returning. This way we were able to visit another country and enjoy ourselves rather than stressing over the lineups to extend our visas.
9. Language Barrier
This was by far one of our biggest challenges! Being in a foreign country, trying to settle in and not being able to communicate was definitely difficult at times. (Read about our first “adventures” in Chiang Mai here.) However, we are now able to laugh about it and brush it off.
We’re in someone else’s country and realize that they have their own ways of doing things. They’re accommodating us by even dealing with us. How can we be upset at that?!?! It definitely was a struggle at first, but we’ve learned that it’s something that happens and we just need to get over it.
10. Budget Airlines
Budget airlines can be cost efficient or costly! We thought we were getting a great fare for our flight from Tokyo to Thailand, however it ended up being quite costly. With budget airlines, they’re a stickler for luggage, as well as, carryon weight limits. I was under the impression that we were able to have up to 30 kg (or 66 lbs) each for checked luggage. However, I was right in that we were able to each have up to 30 kgs, BUT you have to prepay for this option when booking your ticket.
Once at the airline’s counter, we were told that we were only allowed 22 kgs (or 48 lbs) per passenger. When we left Toronto, we had a limit of 50 lbs and both our luggages were at that limit. Flying the budget airline, we were over the 22 kgs limit by 2 lbs each and we didn’t prepay (which would have probably cost under $20 CAD together for the extra weight) at time of booking. We ended up paying just under $200 USD for the overage at the counter. 😮
We continue to fly budget airlines, but always made sure to prepay for the extra luggage weight.
Things are never easy and seamless, especially when you’re in a foreign country. However, as we move along, we hope to become better at adjusting and at figuring things out. In the meantime, we get to experience life in a different world and that alone is something to be so grateful for. Thank you for letting us share our experiences with you!
Leave a comment below on any other tips that you may have. One of the best things in life is learning and we have each other to learn from.