So You Want To Travel Forever: Be Adaptable

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

This series is for those who are thinking of going away for a while, if not forever. It covers not just the financial and physical aspect of travel, it also deals with the the human side of it all.

So far, these are the topics we've covered on the series:

Live on Less
Go Light

We all agree that travel is not always going to be fun. Especially if you plan to do it for a very long time. Travel will throw you into the unknown and unfamiliar. It will put you in situations that no guidebook has warned you about. Worse, your friends and family may not be there to give you the help or advice you need. You will have to rely on yourself and most especially on one important capability: To adapt.

Be Adaptable2

What to Expect: Easy Level

I was walking around with a map in my hand, sweating profusely. I had been trudging a few blocks in the summer sun on what seemed to be the hottest day of the year in Thailand. All the signs were in a bunch of worm like lettering that I could not make anything of. I was lost. I had come from a floating market and was looking for a bus to take me back to the city. 

A storekeeper looked at me with a pitiful gaze and approached. "Where you go?", he asked. "I'm looking for the bus back to Bangkok." He offered an uncertain smile and paused. He was definitely struggling for words. He gestured with a hand. "Trong pai..." Go straight. Then he gestured to the left. "liao sai."

I think I got it. Go straight, then on the first block, turn left. Let's see where it leads...

This is one of my experiences while traveling solo in Thailand. It wasn't just the language barrier that I found challenging. It was the first country I'd visited where they didn't use the English Alphabet which made things more complicated. When I first realized that hardly anyone spoke good English in Thailand, I felt very frustrated. I couldn't understand how a country that attracts over 22 million tourists a year could have a low English fluency rate.

I've even seen many irate tourists raise their voices while talking to a travel agent or a ticket officer. Speaking louder doesn't always help, I realized. What does, is to keep calm, use hand gestures or ask for help when necessary. 

Another mild annoyance when traveling to foreign country is getting used to the local food. I've been to countries where they eat a lot of strange food. Roquefort cheese from France, for instance. If you've never tried it, this cheese is tangy, crumbly and moist, with distinctive veins of green errr mold. I've also tried crickets in Laos. And who dares to sample boiled duck fetus called balut from the Philippines?

Be Adaptable3

Let's admit it. Every country has some kind of quirky cuisine. Sure it may not seem weird to the locals, but it's enough to make others faint in disgust. The trick is to try everything that's offered to you, once. And when possible, don't try to find out what it is before you have a mouthful. You never know what exotic tastes you will discover.

If all else fails, run to the nearest Mcdonalds and get yourself a burger.

“But that's the glory of foreign travel, as far as I am concerned. I don't want to know what people are talking about. I can't think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can't read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can't even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.”― Bill Bryson
Be Adaptable1

What to Expect: Pull Your Hair Out Level

We had 5 hours to kill before our flight. So we decided to take the slow, scenic route. Take a boat, board the train, then get on the connecting tram to the airport. We figured we would enjoy the ride and save money on the cost of a direct van. Smaaart!

Fast forward to 5 hours later: We watched our flight take off in the horizon. Without us. 

Travel can throw a bunch of missed flights, wrong turns and slow buses your way. There is no way you can prepare for everything. Even the most experienced traveler finds himself with a swallowed ATM card in the middle of nowhere or doing an emergency visa run every once in a while. 

You can cope with the situation by not panicking and hope that some kind stranger will rescue you, which is often the case.

"Most travel, and certainly the rewarding kind, involves depending on the kindness of strangers, putting yourself into the hands of people you don't know and trusting them with your life.” ― Paul Theroux

Travel Blogger Money

What to Expect: Get Me Outta Here Level

I tried to pay for my paratha and tea. I looked into the pouch I carried for small bills. It was empty. I checked my bag and wallet 3 more times.. We looked at each other with the same look of horror. 

We had officially run out of money in Myanmar, the land of no ATM's or Western Unions.

This scary worst case scenario really happened to us while traveling in Myanmar in 2011. We had limited cash in crisp US dollars, the only accepted currency in the country. But we decided to go anyway. With only 300 USD in our pocket for 30 days for 2 people! You can imagine how difficult it was. Our lowest point was stealing food from the hotel buffet.  Mercifully, our Indonesian friend Harry loaned us some money so we can go back to Thailand.

Running out of funds in a foreign country is one of the most frightening reality that all long term travelers face. Being denied access to your cash, getting robbed or simply spending your last dollar can happen, whether you're prepared or not.

The best way to go is to prevent it from happening. Here are some ideas:

- Beef up your escape fund
- Live and travel on the absolute minimum cost
- Work while on the go
- Sell your stuff
- Secure at least 2 ATMs or credit/debit cards

Always have some emergency fund in the form of traveler's checks or in a separate bank account if possible. If you find yourself broke on the road, make sure you have some trusted friends and family members' contact info so you can ask for help. And don't forget to purchase travel insurance!

Another extreme situation you can find yourself in while traveling is facing authorities. Do the necessary research before traveling so you know the laws and dangers to avoid in your chosen destination. You don't want to be caught carrying any liquor in Saudi Arabia or damaging any image of the king in Thailand. Common sense and the universal laws of respect come in handy.

"When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable." ― Clifton Fadiman


This is the dreaded part, where you actually need to do something besides read this article. Now is the time to intentionally put yourself in a situation that's far from your comfort zone!

Easy Level

Try a new place to eat. Get a haircut from a new hairdresser. Change your routine. Stop planning your weekend and say yes to the first person who invites you somewhere.

Pull Your Hair Out Level

Travel to somewhere you've never been. Or if you've never traveled solo, plan your first trip on your own. Move to a new address. Travel with a stranger.

Get Me Outta Here Level

Experience poverty on a firsthand level like my friend Janet who lived in the slums for 2 years. Go on a trip with no plan or clear destination. Move abroad on a whim. 

To sum it up, the best and worst thing about travel is constantly being tossed into the unfamiliar. And the only way to deal is to change, learn and adapt. But that's exactly why we travel, don't we? We were not born to stay in the same place forever, or else we would be trees.

The effort we make to adapt to a new culture is a small price to pay for the wealth of experiences we will gain from the process. Whenever I'm faced with a new challenge while abroad like finding a new apartment or the burden of hefty bank charges every time I make an overseas withdrawal, I tell myself this:

"This is your life. You chose to be here. Every decision you have made in your past has brought you here. This is the tax you have to pay for being able to work under an open sky and watch as many sunsets as your little heart desires. It's not always going to be easy. But you can always choose to live free."

Be Adaptable5

“To travel is worth any cost or sacrifice.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert

So that’s the 3rd part of the series! It goes until 10 so I’m going to feed you nibbles every few weeks. If you have similar experiences, feel free to share them or add more tips in the comments below.

Next week, I’ll be sharing some tips on the Art of Negotiation so watch out for that!

Main Photo Credit: Tommy Schultz Photography 

Learning and Adapting,
Sole Sister Lois

Lois has traveled extensively and has called the USA, Germany, Switzerland and the Philippines home in various stages of her life. When she's not having adventures around the globe, she can be found surfing, surfing someone's couch or giving talks, workshops and retreats. She is a certified Passion Test facilitator who believes that people can find what they love and make a living from their passions. She is the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of

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