Thursday, July 12, 2012

Preparations for going Solo

I am nervous! Counting down until my solo trip. I am nervous because believe it or not, I am a total acting-on-a-whim kind of person. I just saw some good ticket prices to/from Singapore and bought them, without having really thought through all the logistics. Once I started researching and planning my trip out in more details, it turned out to be a big black hole of logistics, what-ifs, and money! Geoff has been very helpful, but he has also helped me realize that in order to do the things that I want to do in the budget that I want, this has to be a backpacking trip.

So far, I've done these things, in no particular order:
  • Gotten a Vietnamese tourist visa (Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia do not require visas from U.S. citizens if the trips are short, like under 30 days. I decided to fly from Thailand to Hanoi, and then from Ho Chi Minh City to Kuala Lampur in order to bypass Laos and to skip another visa process). Incidentally, if you wish to get a Vietnamese tourist visa in Berlin, it costs something like 65 Euros for regular processing or 88 Euros for rush processing. If you do some research on the web you'll see that the fees are not published for some reason. Some say that it's because the Vietnamese government is embarrassed by them and there is a bit of shadiness going on as well. I didn't look too much into it, but you can research it if you are curious.
  • Gotten a thorough review of my immunization records. Berlin has a travel clinic actually ( ), and they were immensely helpful. They went through my entire immunization record with me (I brought pieces of paper from Taiwan, U.S., and Peru), and recommended HepA and Typhoid shots specifically for the trip I am taking, since those are food-borne illnesses related to unsanitary food-handling. That was pretty much what I had already decided prior to going to the clinic, so I went ahead with it and the shots together costed about 80 Euros. On top of that, I also got a cocktail shot that included Polio and Tetanus, among other things, because my Polio shot was from when I was a kid and it's long expired. (Polio shots are recommended every 10 years, apparently. There are new polio outbreaks in the world, so I thought it wise to update my immunization to help prevent the spread of the once-almost-eliminated disease.) The shots are not immediately covered by the German health insurance, however, so I've submitted a reimbursement and will hope for the best.
  • I talked to the doc at the travel clinic about malaria pills, and she showed me some graphs and we agreed that if I get sick from mosquitoes, more likely than not it will be Dengue Fever, and I should seek medical attention immediately as Dengue has no vaccine or pills to take. I still bought a pack of emergency malaria pills just in case (they cost about 50 Euros), but the idea is certainly to prevent mosquito bites instead of working on preventing illness. So, I got some Autun (an insect-repellent I've used in El Salvador before) and also a small net to cover my face and neck when I sleep.
  •  I bought a 30-liter backpack! We went to a store called Globe Trotter for this. It's something like the R.E.I. from Seattle and it was a huge store of camping and traveling gear. Geoff and I looked for a good while and picked out finally a lightweight bag that is bigger than your normal day pack but smaller than a camping backpack. It will let me keep about a week's worth of clothes and all my toiletries in it, since I'm a small person and Asia is hot. Geoff basically forced me into this, because he thinks it would be an atrocity for me to walk around Asia with a wheelable carryon suitcase, especially if I might have to walk a couple of miles to find a hotel. Anyway, the bag from Globe Trotter is 60 Euros, and it's less expensive than their standard 32-liter bags which are 100 Euros, in case you're looking at this and thinking of heading over to the store for something similar.
  • Besides that, I also went to my German bank and asked them to allow my card to be used in Asia. I'm still not sure about this; the whole transaction was sehr Deutsch, because the lady just trusted that I was the account-owner without collecting a photo ID, and she never gave me a written confirmation that it worked. She just said, "Alles klar!" and that was it. On the other hand, I activated my ATM card from the States (and tested it by withdrawing some money here in Berlin), and also called my American credit card company to allow its use in Asia. Again, this transaction did not instill much faith, as I had to call them 3 times to get them to approve my purchase of an intra-Asia flight and to override automatic fraud detection. But, I will hope for the best and straighten it out in Singapore if I have to.
  • I have made a rough itinerary. Because my trip is so jam-packed, I had to research train schedules in advance and to book a couple of local flights (Bangkok --> Hanoi, then later Ho Chi Minh City --> Kuala Lampur) in order to fit everything in. I will still have some wiggle room to drop things here and there to make sure I get to make those flights in case I get delayed, but I am hopeful that I'll get to see a lot of stuff on this trip!
  • I've printed out and made copies of everything. Since I'll be by myself, the worst-case scenario is if I get pick-pocketed and lose my cards, or if my passport gets stolen. I still need to read up on precautionary measures, but I already know that I cannot be too careful! 
  • Along the same lines, I have been reading copiously on safety issues, particularly surrounding women traveling solo in SE Asia. It seems as though the things they are recommending against are mostly things that I wouldn't do anyway (it's hard to convince me to go out alone at night after living in El Salvador, and hanging out on dark beaches by myself is really a "Thanks, but no thanks!" type of thing). Still, it's always good to know things like I need to chain-lock my bag when I sleep, my skirt/shorts should be a certain length, and Thailand has had recent incidents of rape on beaches and the Thai/Malaysian border-crossing isn't the safest.
Things I still might do tomorrow (Friday... the last weekday before I head off!):
  • Buy a doorstop and a safety whistle (can never be too safe about being a solo female traveler; that's a recommendation from another solo female traveler)
  • Possibly going to see a doc to get my inhaler prescription (I'm semi-worried about an asthma attack, even though I haven't had issues in recent months and tend to be OK in the warmer months)
So, wish me luck! I'll keep all my wits about me. See you on the flip side.


  1. Good luck! This is going to be SUCH an adventure!

    And it looks as if I will get to be a traveler as well (at last); ich hoffe dass ich Ihnen in Berlin in November treffen werde.

  2. Seems you're well prepared for the adventure, Mimi. At first it looked like you're packing to go to war! :) (Vietnamese government and "shadiness"? Noooooooo...)