Everything I Wish I Knew Before I Traveled

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Everything I Wish I Knew Before I Traveled

This is the text version of Lois' talk about Traveling during the Belle de Jour Fair at Eastwood City, Manila for empowered girls who want to take flight. Most of this is stuff we learned from our travels. Remember that all advice is autobiographical. Your mileage may vary.

Belle de Jour Fair 9

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If you were given the opportunity to travel to 9 countries for 6 months under 100,000PHP would you take on the challenge? (the girls all answered with a resounding YES!!!)

To top it off,  you've never traveled long term, never traveled alone and didn't even own a backpack! Do you think it's doable?
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We did exactly that! Sole Sisters is the story of 2 girls who quit their job to travel the world. Chichi and I met when we worked at the same company and we shared a passion for travel. We had no prior travel and blogging savvy but together we planned and went on a 6 month trip around India and Southeast Asia. After our journey, we went back home to share our story and reinvent our lives.
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At the beginning of our trip, Chichi and I were glampackers. All we thought about was luxury travel, looking great on the travel photos and still being fashionable while on the road.
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Halfway through our backpacking adventures, we were completely transformed. We started caring less about how we looked and focused more on the whole travel experience. We learned to budget our depleting funds and tracked our expenses. We talked to travelers and locals alike and embraced the poorpacker's life!

How did we do it? I'm sharing with you everything I wish I knew before I traveled:

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What's the first thing you need in order to start traveling? Money of course. Here's how we were able to save enough money to go traveling for 6 months.

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Minimize your spending by skipping the inessentials. Your daily Starbucks coffee, monthly shopping sprees and weekly mani and pedi are inessentials. Have a No Bills Policy. Cut off your post-paid plan, cable and internet bill and credit card spending. I even moved closer to the office in order to save money on transportation costs. All the money you save should be deposited to a separate savings account that you can't easily withdraw from.

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When it comes to everything you've accumulated, you can Keep, Give or Sell. Keep the things you absolutely can't live without and give or sell the rest. And remember 3-month rule: If you haven’t worn or used that item in the past 3 months, then you won’t be using them in the future. Before our trip, Chichi launched the Every Dress Counts campaign where she sold most of her clothes, shoes and bags. She sold them online and through friends and colleagues. Through that campaign, she raised 54,600PHP- that's more than half of her travel fund! I recently organized a Traveler's Garage Sale where 6 travelers who were about to go on Epic Journeys raised funds to jumpstart their adventures.

Come up with your own ideas on how to raise funds in order to travel. Start small like freelancing or earning online.

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Once you've started to save up for your escape fund, you can plan for your trip.

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I seriously hate this part. I don't enjoy researching the itinerary or route. I don't like pencil-pushing and logistics. So I left the pre-trip planning to my boyfriend Hutch and my Sole Sister Chichi. For lazy travelers like myself, here's the simple version: Start with listing all the places you want to visit. Plot them on the map. Do the research on how you can get from one place to the other. See if can travel overland or need to take flights.

One important thing is: Don’t backtrack. It's a waste of time and money. And lastly, Be flexible. On our itinerary, we had initially planned on going from our 7th country, Thailand, to Malaysia. But while in Chiang Mai, we met a lot of crazy couchsurfers who were going to Myanmar. We changed our minds and went to Myanmar with them and that became one of the highlights of our journey.

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Get online support. Sign up for airline newsletters to know ahead when they're having low fares and seat sales. When we planned our trip, we learned a lot from travel bloggers like Dave of The Longest Way Home, Nina of Just Wandering and Flip of Flipnomad, among others. Connect with travelers who have been to the places you want to go to and ask them questions. One great decision we've made was to start our own travel blog. We weren't experts. We were just 2 girls who were about to start a big adventure. And we needed all the help we could get. It's the best way to connect to a huge online community of travelers who are helpful in assisting you with your plans.

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Do your research well when it comes to visas. Know how much it costs (if any), for how long is the duration and what documents you need to secure. If you don't do your research, you'll pay for this mistake dearly (like we did). I had flown to Thailand before and was given a 30 day visa at the airport immigration. So I assumed we would be given the same duration upon crossing the border from Cambodia to Thailand. Wrong. If you cross the border overland into Thailand, you're only given 15 days. So we had to do an emergency visa run before our visa ran out. That was an unexpected expense.

If you travel for more than a month, do get travel insurance. You never know what's going to happen on the road so it's best to get covered.

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Guys never have this problem. But girls always have a hard time packing, don't you agree? You can still backpack and be chic at the same time!

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Make sure you only bring the necessities. If you can buy it at your destination, don’t pack it. One good trick is to pack and the take only half. Yes, just HALF. Believe me, you wouldn't need more than that. We learned this the hard way. We started out with 15kgs in our backpacks. But towards the end of our trip, I forgot to purchase luggage allowance and we had to downgrade to the 7kgs hand carried luggage allowance. We left more than half of our stuff along the way! 

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Do we need to bring makeup while traveling? Sure, you don't need to look grungy even when backpacking! But just bring what you need. Tinted moisturizer with SPF, cream blush, lip balm, loose powder and you're all set! Bring basic tops but don't forget to accessorize. You don't need to bring loads of accessories. Just buy them as you go along. Chichi brought bracelets from every country we visited which made nice souvenirs. Bring colorful scarves and headbands to liven up your outfit.
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How do you make sure you don't end up stranded and penniless on the road? Budget your travel funds and keep track of your spending.

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Whenever you can, skip flights and travel overland. Imagine yourself getting on a motorbike and going through breathtaking landscapes. Or biking around the majestic temples of Angkor Wat. How about taking trains, trying delicacies and talking to locals and fellow travelers? Sure, it's not always comfortable. But it's the best way to experience a country.

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Instead of always staying at hotels, try alternatives like hostels. You won't be staying  in the room most of the time anyway. You can try Roomarama for short-term rentals. You still get the privacy for less the cost. You may want to try Couchsurfing. It's a traveler's community where you can stay at a local's place for free. You may also host a traveler in your country. It's a great venue for cultural exchange and we've met so many wonderful people all over the world through this community.

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Food is going to take up a lot of your budget. So how can you eat well without running broke? Try streetfood. Go where the locals eat. Usually, if a place is packed, the food is good and cheap. Ask fellow travelers you meet for their recommendations.

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Be open to trying new food. It's a major part of the travel experience. We've had some crunchy bugs in Laos. We ate curry with our bare hands in India. We tasted raw shellfish with spices and peanuts in Vietnam. They were so delicious! I can attest that Filipinos have an iron stomach. Thankfully, we never got sick in the entire 6-months we've been traveling.

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How do you have the Ultimate Travel Experience? I have only one advice for you: Don't be a tourist. Don't just go to a country, take a lot of pictures then leave. Talk to the locals. Ask about their lives. Tell them about yours. For many parts of the world, you are their walking newspaper and living TV set. In places like Myanmar, you are their only access to the outside world. Make sure they get a good impression.

Go off the beaten path. Leave the guidebook every once in a while. We made a big decision while we were in Thailand and just decided to sell off our Lonely Planet guidebook. It wasn't only heavy and bulky, we also needed the extra cash. But it was a wise (though scary) move. It forced us to ask locals for directions, ask travelers for recommendations and rely on our own instincts.

At this point, I just made the photos do the talking:

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If there's anything you can take away from my talk, it's this: Start traveling and start traveling now. It's the best learning experience you can ever give yourself.

What about you? What are things you wish you knew before you started traveling?

Thanks to Belle de Jour for inviting us to speak at their fabulous Fair and Power Planner Launch. We loved the opportunity to talk to young girls and encourage them to start their own adventures. 

We're giving away some Belle de Jour planners on the next post so stay tuned for that.

Still learning and itching to travel again,
Sole Sister Lois
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Southeast Asia

Khao San Road: The Backpacker's Purgatory

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Khao San Road.

While in Southeast Asia, we've made the trip to Bangkok a total of 4 times. The first one was for the Thai New Year festival or Songkran. The second was a stop-over coming from Siem Reap, Cambodia en route to Chiang Mai in the Northern part of Thailand. We had to make another stop on our way to the island of Koh Tao. And then a final stop when we flew out to Myanmar.

4 stops in Bangkok. This story is not an uncommon one. For as they say, all backpacker roads all end up in Bangkok, specifically Khao San Road. Some backpackers are leaving for Thailand's neighboring countries like Laos and Cambodia. Some are processing their visas for Myanmar or India. Khao San Road always has a backpacker either coming, going or...waiting. It is indeed the backpacker's purgatory.

Belle du Jour

Bellas, Let's Take Flight!

Friday, October 07, 2011

Belle du Jour Launch 2012

We have always been big fans of the Belle de Jour Power Planner. We love the pretty art, the helpful tips and of course, discount coupons! Imagine our excitement when we got an email from them last month asking us to SPEAK at their launch! And the best part was that we could talk our hearts out about our favorite topic- TRAVEL!

This year, Belle de Jour launches the 2012 Power Planner with travel-themed festivities, exciting games and talks from coaching experts, bloggers and celebrities that will surely bring out that magical feeling of wanderlust within all of us. If you missed the Sole Sisters talks, then you're in luck! We're doing it all again- in Belle du Jour style.

Here are the details to make sure you don't miss out on another TRAVELIFIC event:

Date: October 16, 2011 (Sunday)

Time: 2pm – 9pm

Venue: Eastwood Mall Open Park

Entrance: Php 50 (100% of Entrance Proceeds will go to the students of Scuolla dela Guioia (Tondo children) and SKR Program (Romblon scholars)

There will be Free Fortune-Telling, Bungee-Jumping, Glitter Tattoo, Photo booth, drinks and food, prizes and give-aways and the best part- FOR THIS DAY ONLY! You can get 20% off on your BDJ Planner! All BDJ Fair attendees can buy the 2012 BDJ Power Planner for only Php480!

PLUS GET A CHANCE TO WIN Free BDJ 2012 Power Planners and many more special prizes from our lifestyle brands! TO WIN! --- Play an active role in the fair’s festivities. Pre-register in any of the following activities below. Please note each activity is limited to certain number of slots =) First come first served.


SHOP AROUND THE WORLD - by Alyanna Martinez (SLOTS = 200 PAX)

Feel on top of the world and shop in any currency for a bargain! Find out where to buy the most sought after “imported” fashion and beauty finds anywhere in the world. Stylist to the stars and savvy shopper, Alyanna Martinez spills her shopping secrets and destinations. Think global in terms of finding the best deal for your travel mementos.

Belle du Jour Launch 2012


TRIPPIN’ - by Sole Sisters (SLOTS = 200 PAX)

The lessons we learn through experience come with a price. Know how to budget, plan and still make the most out of your trips through ingenious planning, knowing what websites to bookmark, hotel accommodations to crash in, backpackin’ and food-trippin’ tips to maximize whatever destination you choose to go to from the stylish Asian-backpacker bloggers, Sole Sisters Lois and Chichi.


KILOMETER ZERO - by Carelle Mangaliag (SLOTS = 200 PAX)

In life, we seek to go through the road less travelled and find our way through the labyrinth of love, career and friendships with hardly a manual or GPS to guide us through treacherous tracks. Listen and be amazed by neuro-linguistic program certified trainor, Carelle Mangaliag on how she has taken U-turns, made the most out of her pit stops and what tools she used to race through her passion for the journey called life!


GET LOST IN STYLE - by Divine Lee (SLOTS = 200 PAX)

Traveling is stressful. But shopping while traveling makes it all worth it except that your baggage limit might just skyrocket! Know what to pack, wear and how to plan mixing and matching pieces to wear for a 3, 5 or a month-long trip to the beach, the mountains or low-temperature continents! Get tips from the guru of travel, style and practicality, Ms. Divine Lee, as she breezes you through her own hoorays and hooplas and how she conquers the world in style.

wanderBelle du Jour Launch 2012lust12

Not convinced? Here's five more reasons to go:

More details on the pages of the BDJ 2012 Planner will be revealed next week! Keep checking their website and facebook account.

We'll see you there,
Sole Sister Lois & Chichi


How to Kickstart Your Escape Fund

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

How the Idea Began

On the first run of Travel Talks with the Sole Sisters, we met 2 fearless travelers who were going on epic journeys. Paul of Walk Fly Pinoy and Angge of Angge Turns 26 are 20-something Pinoys who have decided to quit their jobs to travel the world. Familiar story isn't it? After meeting them, we thought about helping Pinoy travelers start funding their travels.

We remembered our pre-trip days and came up with a plan: Let's have a Travelers Garage Sale! We gathered a whole bunch of travelers to let go of some of their prized possessions clutter. Monette of Flip'ntravels even offered their garage for the venue!

Garage Sale 5
Books, magazines and printer ink
Garage Sale
Jona with her collection of totes and bags

Sale Day

The actual sale happened last Saturday, October 1st and we set up shop early in the morning. People started to arrive and we were surprised that most of them were from the village and others were from Couchsurfing. Around noon, the rains started to pour but people still poured in after hearing about the sale. Dong Ho of Escape Islands even dropped by to get a few things and ended up staying the whole afternoon just sharing travel stories and having a good chat.

Garage Sale 3
Paul 'rubbing luck' on his shirts
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A cute dog went to the Garage Sale
Garage Sale 4
Kuya haggled well to get these shoes down to 250PHP
Garage Sale 7
The guys sold a lot of clothes and shoes!
Garage Sale 9
Aileen scored these pretty heels and SATC collection
Great Way to Kickstart an Adventure

At the end of the day, we sold stuff and made new friends. The Travelers Garage Sale was not just a venue to raise funds, but we shared travel stories, met new travelers and enjoyed the whole haggling process!

Garage Sale 2
L-R Angge, Karen, Eddie, Lois, Ralf, Jona and Paul with our very first 'real' customer
Garage Sale 8
Angge, Lois and Eddie during the sale

Travelers Garage Sale

We may do a 2nd run for the Garage Sale. We still need to find a place where we don't need to quick step laminate. But in the meantime, check out our Facebook page for updates on which items are still up for grabs.

What are YOUR fundraising ideas to kickstart your adventure?

Can't wait to kickoff another trip,
Sole Sister Lois


BIG Travel Dreams

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Back when I was still living in Zurich, Switzerland I always fantasized about skiing. We had an Austrian neighbor who would tell stories about his skiing and snowboarding adventures. Austria sure is a long way from Southeast Asia. But it's nice to dream about places that are worlds away. And what could be more different from the steamy rivers of Laos, and the busy streets of Phnom Penh than ski holidays in Austria?

Austria is a lovely country in Europe nestled between Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic – yes it truly is at the centre of things. I never quite made it there but after watching Before Sunrise, I've always wanted to go. I wanted to be whisked away by a handsome stranger and get lost in the streets of Salzburg and Vienna and soak in the gorgeous scenery. I imagined everywhere I would go there will be mountains packed with ski slopes just begging to be visited.

I already did my research and narrowed down my choices of ski resorts. There's Alpbach which has a lovely Austrian village setting. If I wanted to stay close to Innsbruck, I could check out Igls. I was told some of the best skiing can be found at Kitzb├╝hel, where I might get to watch a professional downhill ski race.

It seemed like skiing in Austria wasn't the only fun thing to do. A lot of resort towns are crowded with bars and clubs that serve great European beer. There are resorts like Mayrhofen where they have bustling nightlife and have pubs and bars to suit any type of party goer.

Sadly, I didn't get to stay in Europe long enough to experience these awe-inspiring mountains, great skiing and fun nightlife. But it's another reason to go back. I guess that's the essence of travel: The more places you've seen, the more you places you realize you haven't been to- yet.

Don’t be afraid to dream BIG when you make your wanderlist. It's a small world after all!

What's on YOUR wanderlist?

Wishful Thinking,
Sole Sister Lois

*This is a sponsored post.



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