This Sunday will mark my first journey to Asia. I’m departing on the EF College Break Thailand & The Islands trip, and could not be more excited (although I’m missing Beyonce’s performance at the Super Bowl). I’ve been to Europe several times and found myself ready to try something new while escaping the Boston winter. Though I consider myself a relatively experienced traveler, I have the same jitters I had the first time I went abroad to Ireland. With that in mind, I figured I’d put together a guide of how I’m prepping for my first trip to the Far East over a big bowl of Thai food.
Step 1: Google everything
I’m a huge fan of just winging it when I get to a destination. I like to wander and stumble upon cool restaurants and bars or get suggestions for must-see sights from locals. This time around is a little different, as I know next to nothing about Thailand. One of the huge perks of this trip is that there’s SO much included that I don’t need to figure too much out on my own. But to put in my due diligence, I’ve been reading hundreds of blogs and talking with my friends who have recently been to Thailand about the culture, tips on haggling and customs to set my own expectations. It’s been helpful in tapering my nerves and getting me excited for what’s in store.
Step 2: Call your doctor
After hearing about some of my friends’ experiences and reading the Center for Disease Control’s recommendations, I booked an appointment with the Travel Medicine department of my doctor’s office, just to get a professional opinion. Don’t freak out. The CDC doesn’t require any vaccinations to enter the country, but my doctor gave me a few recommended vaccines and offered some suggestions for over-the-counter meds to pack in my suitcase. Peace of mind? Check!
Step 3: Ballin’ on a Budget – My Mantra for Thailand
When traveling internationally, you should always set up a travel alert with your bank, including the dates and destinations you’re visiting so they don’t put a hold on your account. It’s also wise to get a general idea of the exchange rate ahead of time. Whenever I travel, I put together a quick reference guide of easy conversions so I can quickly convert costs in my head when haggling in markets in attempt to not look like a total tourist. Fortunately, the exchange rate works in my favor on this trip!
100 baht = $3
500 baht = $14
750 baht = $21
1000 baht = $28
PS: Haggling is a way of life in Thailand, so don’t be afraid to put on your negotiation hat.
Step 4: Pack Accordingly
Packing for an exotic destination is a little trickier than packing for Europe. In Thailand and other destinations like it, conservative dress is a must, particularly in temples or other holy or historic sites. In addition, it’s SUPER hot and humid in Thailand, so the juxtaposition of being covered up while also being incredibly hot will be interesting and probably a little sweaty. On days we visit temples or other conservative sites, I’m planning to pack a light button-up shirt and maxi skirt to put on over whatever I’m wearing that day. It won’t be the most fashionable day of my life, but at least it’ll be easy to take on and off while keeping things appropriate.
I’ll keep face wipes in my purse for when my makeup starts melting and I start to look like I just watched The Ring. My doctor also recommended bringing plenty of bug spray and sunscreen to protect against pesky mosquitos and harmful sun rays.
Step 5: Prepare to go off the grid
Call me old-fashioned, but I’m just not that attached to my phone and am completely fine with the #latergram. This trip, I’m relying on (the probably scarce) Wi-Fi to let my parents know I’m alive and post the occasional Snapchat to make my followers jealous. Other than that, I’m preparing myself for the long flight with books, an adult coloring book, downloading the newest Serial episode and oh-so-many playlists. In the meantime, I’m keeping my fingers crossed all of Kanye’s Twitter fights wait until I get back.
Step 6: Plan for free time… or don’t
As much as I try to be a “go with the flow” traveler, it’s nice to have a few options in mind for when free time arises. On this trip, not much research is needed as there are a ton of activities and sightseeing opportunities already included, but we do have 3 full, free days on the islands. Currently, my plan is to lay on the beach, get a tan, catch up on some reading and maybe treat myself to a Thai massage or two (they’re about $5 *make it rain hand motion*). While I’m fine with just relaxing, other people on my trip are also looking into how to spend their free time. There are options for boat cruises around the islands and other water sport activities you can rent. While I don’t have a concrete plan yet, it’s nice to know there are options. If you’re a meticulous travel planner, be advised that you have total freedom on the islands. Embrace it; it’s a beautiful thing.
Other than that, my friends, I am just mentally preparing myself for long flights and an incredible trip. Stay tuned for when I come back for a trip recap and some (hopefully) envy-inspiring pictures.