222 Days of Asia – backpacking & culture shock in 13 countries

Cherry blossom trees in a king's palace in Korea

In 222 days I travelled to 13 different countries. It all started with my exchange semester in Seoul at the end of August 2016. Afterwards, I went from Beijing to Bali and ended with a stop-over in the United Arab Emirates. During my travels I learned a lot about backpacking, other cultures, living on a budget, and finding new friends.

Young woman sitting infront of a gate of a Korean palace

It all started in January 2016, when I applied to study abroad in South Korea and already half a year later, I was sitting on a plane to Seoul. I remember how I chose the country of the exchange programme: I wanted it to be one which would be completely different from every country I have ever been to. I basically wanted to get a culture shock – another language, language script, food, culture, architecture, and history. And when I arrived in Seoul it came with a lot of challenges but also with a lot of excitement. For example, at first, the food was way too spicy for me. I upset my stomach so much that I could only eat soft bread for a week. I also remember how my friend and I got kicked out (or actually we weren’t even allowed to enter) of a restaurant by an Ajumma (it is a Korean word to describe middle-aged women) because we couldn’t speak Korean fluently – but no worries I am pretty sure this was a unique experience. But still, it was love at first sight. I loved Korea from the first moment on. You can read more about my first impressions in my blog post University, Hangul & Samul Nori – My first week in Seoul.

The fear of travelling alone

But Korea was only the first part of my travels to Asia. Back in Berlin, I met a German couple at a party, Anni and Alex who were in Seoul themselves. They told me about their semester abroad and how they travelled Asia afterwards. The winter semester in Korea ends in mid of December, the summer semester in Germany starts in mid of April – this makes almost four months of free time in between. I was really hooked from this chance but also a bit worried. I felt a bit jealous that they had each other to explore all these adventures together. Would I really be brave enough to travel for four months on my own? – far from home, far from anyone I know, and without the language skills? Also travelling alone as a woman was part of my (self-)doubts. This was for sure a step outside of my comfort zone. But it didn’t take long until I realised that this was my chance to see a bit more of the world and that the excitement about this possibility was way bigger than any fear I ever felt.

Travelling is not a race

On New Year’s Eve 2016, I started the second part of my journey. I took a flight to Beijing, from there I continued to Hong Kong, did a day trip to Macau and flew to Vietnam. In the beginning, I felt I had to see as much as possible. I had only two weeks in Vietnam. My days were packed with activities; I only stayed for one or two nights in each place and travelled on night buses to save the days (and the money). After Vietnam I realised, this is not how backpacking works and how you travel long-term. Being all day outside and exploring is great for a two weeks vacation but for another three months, this would be way too exhausting. This was the time I decided to slow down. This beginner’s mistake was also the main reason why I travelled to so many countries in such a short period of time. It was a combination of naivety, a lack of knowledge, and also the easiest reason: I just couldn’t decide which countries I should head to first. In the end, I had to learn on the road to pick a few destinations and rather take more time to explore them than to miss half of it in the rush.

On a budget – 10 $ a day

Besides that fast travelling is exhausting, it is also more expensive. First of all, you have a smaller time frame to find a suiting mode of transport and secondly, obviously, you spend more money on entrance fees if you want to squeeze everything into one day.  
I had a limited budget of 10 $ a day, including accommodation and food. It was (and is) definitely possible to travel on a budget through South East Asia. I always chose the cheapest dormitory rooms in hostels or did Couchsurfing, I ate a lot of street food, travelled by public transport, and asked the hostel staff for insider tips. But I also allowed myself to have one more expensive activity or trip in every country. I did kayaking between the 4,000 islands of Laos, went snorkelling and visited a Full Moon party in Thailand, went to the Forbidden City in Beijing, as well as the famous Angkor Wat temples in Cambodia, and the Gardens by the Bay in Singapore. My travels ended after three months at Bali. From there I went back to Seoul and with a short stop-over in the United Arab Emirates, back to Berlin.   

During my semester abroad in Seoul, I travelled for four days to Tokyo, and also visited different places in South Korea as the borderline to North Korea, the island Jeju, the second biggest city Busan and an island in a river – Nami Island. On New Year’s Eve, I took a flight to Beijing and from there I started my travels through South East Asia – to Hong Kong, Macau, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and on my way back from Korea to the United Arab Emirates.                  

Alone but never lonely

In the beginning, one of my fears was that I would be alone and maybe even lonely on my travels. But anyone who already backpacked and stayed in dormitories knows you are never alone, especially if you do not want to. The backpacker community is huge. In every hostel, you meet new inspiring people from all over the world. I spent hours listing to travel stories, visited sights together, I even took a motorcycle ride with other backpackers, went to parties together, and learned a lot about different cultures. But not only the backpackers were open, but also all the local people I met during the time. I talked to the staff from my hostels and homestays, used hangouts to get in contact with locals who were interested in meeting, and Couchsurfing to get another chance to meet new people and learn more about other cultures. One of my favourite memories is, when I stayed with Ratha and his family in Siem Reap (read more here: Couchsurfing in Cambodia) or with Stella in Macau – she is like the sweetest even if she forced me to try my first chicken feet (I am not a fan, so sorry). Also how I met Lan in Hoi An, she worked in the homestay I slept for two nights. She was super lovely. One day, when I was still figuring out what to do, she brought me some of the food she had cooked for the staff. She had made rice with meat and vegetables. Especially the sauce was really tasty.
It was very inspiring to meet all these people during my travels, listen to their stories, their lives, their cultures, and their goals in life. Some of them were already since a few years on the move. Travelling is the opposite of being lonely; you will rather have a few more friends after your trip. 

For now, this is all I want to tell you about Asia. Everything else will come later – piece by piece. So hang on and read about all my crazy, funny and adventurous stories from Asia.

First written on Monday, May 22th, 2017, you have read the blog post 222 Days of Asia – backpacking & culture shock in 13 countries on My Travel Journal-Blog.

11 ways to satisfy your wanderlust

In German, we have the term Fernweh (literally translated as “distance pain”) which describes the yen of seeing distant places. It is basically the opposite of homesickness and a feeling probably every travel addicted person knows – especially in these special times.

Last year I had all these plans in my mind: I wanted to travel to Latinamerica after I graduated from university. Well, one week after I handed over my thesis, Germany went into its first lockdown because of the Corona pandemic. My travel plans are on hold but this does not stop me from dreaming about my next journeys.

➔ Create a photo book (1)

Dig your photo books out. Nothing supports nostalgia better than photos. Or if you do not have photo books maybe it is time to create one. Way too often all these pretty photos we take are ending up on any of our hard disks and will be forgotten. I am one of the persons who loves developing her favourite photos and decorates the pages by using all kinds of stationeries. And In case you already have a photo book you finally have the chance to catch up cluing in all the photos (at least I am always some years behind). Or are you also someone who loves filming? Watch the last recordings you filmed on vacation and maybe even edit a little travel video out of it.

❗️ Tips for editing programmes
In case you just started editing videos: I would recommend the editing programmes DaVinci Resolve (Blackmagic Design) and Lightworks (EditShare). They can be both downloaded as free-version. No matter if you are a beginner or already have some previous knowledge it will offer you a really good base and even some extended functions (they also have some additional features if you buy the full version). If you feel like you need a little help with editing you should take a look at YouTube tutorials. There are plenty of them that will help you to use the software optimally. I am also watching them from time to time when I am looking for special features.

➔ What’s on your watch list? (2)
My favourite K-drama “W – Two Worlds” starring Lee Jong-suk and Han Hyo-joo.

Staying at home finally gives us the excuse to binge-watch all the series and movies on our watch lists. Whether you prefer to watch travel documentaries or follow Vloggers to find inspiration for your next trip. Or maybe you are more of the fictional stories-type. There are so many series and movies from all over the world – it has not always to be Hollywood. Maybe you want to give Bollywood a try, watch a K-drama, Anime, or a Nollywood movie. This is also a great opportunity to listen to some new languages or improve the one you are already learning.

Try food from other countries (3)

Do you know that feeling? The more you travel the more you fall in love with different food you do not have in your home country (or you just did not know about). To me, this is Alfajores and Mate (Latin America), Matcha candies (Japan), Jajangmyeon (Korea), Scones (UK) as well as Sticky Rice with Mango (Thailand). If you feel the same it is maybe time to explore new restaurants around your place and eighter way take a look for dishes that remind you of your last vacations or try something new – the world cuisine has so much to offer. Or if fancy international restaurants in your neighbourhood are rare try to cook your own perfect meal at home. If you are also a foodie like me and love to try candies from other countries you can also order you some on the internet. I think I will do the same with Alfajores – like now…

Explore your own city (4)

Do you already know every street and corner of your city? Well, I don’t. Search on the internet for interesting spots in or around your home which you can easily reach by public transport or bike. You can even bring your camera to improve your camera skills. Try to find new angles, details, and perspectives to create special photos. Look for architecture, landscapes and nature, animals, urban art or just special streets in your neighbourhood. You can also ask friends to accompany you to explore new places together. I always feel a bit like on vacation when I plan day trips to get out of my flat and explore new places. But of course please have the current Covid 19-measures in mind and avoid places with crowds.

Read yourself into another world (5)

Everyone knows the feeling of getting lost in a book. Why not using this feeling against your wanderlust? Search for your old travel journals to beam yourself back to your best travel memories, buy or lend a travel novel or why not using the internet to browse through some travel blogs? I know a good one by chance ;). Did you already read about my visit to North Korea or how I got totally lost in Buenos Aires?

Prepare your next travel journal (6)

Do you also love bringing a travel journal to your trips? Usually, I always prepare them a little beforehand. In the beginning, I have pages for the packing list, addresses of friends I want to write a postcard to, some safety numbers, a little vocabulary list or a map of the country. Otherwise, I love decorating the following pages with some photos, putting postcards in between, using stamps and masking tape. It gives me pleasant anticipation about my next travel plans.

Hablas español? (7)

One of my goals on my bucket list is a road trip through Latin America. Therefore, I started learning Spanish a while ago. During my semester abroad, I even started studying some Korean and I would love to improve (or more relearn) my 한국어. Learning new languages or improving your skills is always a win whether we are talking about your next travel plans or your CV. Use language apps and videos, lend some books from the library, listen to music in your prefered language or change the audio of the next series you are streaming. Even better choose a series or movie which is originally from the country you want to travel to. Another way is to find a study buddy or tandem partner on the internet (or at your university) with whom you can not only practice your pronunciation but also talk about cultural differences and get to know more about your favoured country.

Music is the key (8)

I always have an extra page in my journal where I am collecting songs during my travels. Music easily brings you back to some precious moments like that one time you danced the whole night on the beach or the other time when you had a sunny drive through the city. Or search for new songs maybe even in languages you usually do not listen to.
‣ I created a little playlist for you with some of my favourite nostalgic travel songs. So get your headphones, lay back, close your eyes, and travel with me through the world.

Create a beautyday (9)

Use your day off for a bit of me-time. Since at the moment, we can not really travel we tend to forget about taking some time for ourselves. On vacation, we love to pamper and treat ourselves especially well since it is a special time. When was the last time you did not set an alarm but just stayed in bed as long as you wanted? Why not buy you one of these nice Korean face masks you loved using on vacation or a special deep conditioner. Maybe take a relaxing bath, get a massage from a friend, try a new Yoga workout or meditation on YouTube. Cuddle yourself in a blanket on the couch and listen to some relaxing music, sounds, or give ASMR a try.

💡 What is ASMR?
ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. These describe particular sounds, (sometimes also visuals) and whispering voices that trigger a feeling of tingle. This feeling is linked to positive emotions sometimes even euphoria. Most people describe it as relaxing. It helps them to get calmer, more focused or even to fall asleep faster. There are a lot of different themes used like (inaudible) whispering, eating, tapping, or even role-plays. You will need to find your own preferences (not every sound will be comfortable for you).

Contact a travel buddy (10)

“Do you remember that one time when we …” – who does not love to reminisce? Especially with your best travel buddy or last travel partner in crime who shares the same memories as you do. Something else I love about travelling is that I always meet so many people on the road. Why not call one of them and say hello? It is so nice to dream away together and who knows maybe you already start making new travel plans together.

Prepare your next travel (11)

Do you already know where you want to go next? There are so many countries in our world. Did you ever think about travelling to Belarus, or maybe getting to know Botswana and Moldavia? Do you know where Bhutan and Kiribati is? Pick a country you know nothing about and do your research. What kind of life do the people live there? Maybe you will find a new country for your bucket list and even if not you will learn more about other cultures, people and countries on our planet.

Do you have more tips against Fernweh? Leave me a comment.