Friday, February 7, 2014

The Impostors on the Road

Upon entering adulthood, graduating college, and getting married, I stumbled upon a feeling I didn't quite know what to do with. It was big and scary, but also relevant and real. A friend later called it
"the impostor syndrome." 

She described it as a time many of us go through when we enter into a new phase of life. It could be a new job. A new relationship. Or a new responsibility that seemed to be previously reserved for those who were older and wiser.

The impostor syndrome does silly things to your head because you start questioning.
"Is this real life?"
"Are we old enough to be getting married?"
"Am I really interviewing for a job right now?"
"Taxes? I can't file taxes. I'm just a kid!"

Basically, when did I grow up and step into these shoes? 
Why isn't someone trying to stop me?

That's how I've felt several times along this journey. Partly in coming to Korea and partly in our recent trip to Cambodia and Vietnam. There were so many decision to make: airfare, hotels, buses, visas, passports, currency exchange, vaccinations (?). Too much! I kept wanting to call my Mom and ask her what we should do.

But much of what made this trip memorable and meaningful, is that we made a lot of mistakes. We lost some money. We wore ourselves out. We got lost.

But as my Mom told me,
"You're never really lost. You might be misplaced for a bit. But if you ask around long enough you will find someone willing to help you. Lost is a state of mind, not a place."

So, now that Jeremy and I are back back, we're beginning to make heads and tails out of our recent adventure. Parts of it were awesome. Parts of it were horrible. And every journey is an opportunity to learn something new, so bring on the lessons.

Here are some things we've learned recently about travel:

Double and Triple Check the Countries Currency
This may sound obvious (as it did to me, a person who had lived in this country previously), but we arrived at the airport and exchanged nearly half of our dough unnecessarily. We got the local Cambodian riel, when we would've been better off with US dollars. It was a useless exchange that cost us money.

Research the Best Places to Exchange Money
We assumed it would be best in the country (and we were probably right), however, exchanging in the airport was a bad idea. We didn't know and wanted to have money accessible as soon as possible. And walking away, we did have the money, but less of it. We got a poor exchange rate and regretted this immediately. Check out some currency exchange tips here.

(And Again...) Research the Best Places to Exchange Money
We found ourselves in a situation where we had to have money quickly in order to secure a reservation. We walked to the nearest location, which happened to be a Western Union. I thought this was favorable since it was a name I at least recognized. However, we ended up losing over a hundred dollars exchanging Korean won to US dollars because of the fees deducted for the exchange. Ugh.

Visas Can Be Expensive, Take This Into Account When Planning
I knew that typically round-trip airfare is less expensive than a collection of one-ways, but we wanted to see Cambodia and Vietnam. So we opted to fly in and out of Phnom Penh and get to Vietnam by bus. However, what we didn't know until arriving was that the visas to get into Vietnam and the visas to get back into Cambodia cost over $200USD. A price we weren't expecting but could've found out with a little forward planning. Sidenote: I'm not necessarily upset that we did things the way we did, but a heads up on the cost would've been good.

Find Out If Your Credit Card Will Work Overseas 
(and tell your credit card company you'll be there)
There are varying opinions about the safety of using a credit card in some countries (and you should also consider the fees). Mostly for budgeting purposes we prefer to use cash, but at this point in our adventure we had to use an ATM. Luckily, there was only a $5 charge and no real problems. When we used our credit card to pay for our rooms in Vietnam there was a 3% charge.

Check Your Passport!
I found out that it is possible to run out of visa pages. I didn't know that before this trip. I had a few blank pages left, but they weren't "visa" pages, so they told me I would not be able to get back into Cambodia without them. And obtaining more pages is no walk in the park. You have to make an appointment with your local U.S. Embassy and usually they are booked out about a week. This was my case, but we showed up anyway and were able to schmooze our way in the door. But after a two hour wait and an $82 dollar fee, we were all set.

Also, check your expiration date. Some countries will not allow you to leave (whatever country you are currently in) within 6 months of its expiration.

Know How To Get Back
We worked with a travel agency that helped us get from Cambodia to Vietnam. They offered a good price, saved us a lot of hassle, and laid out all the details clearly. Then we tried to get back...We had not inquired about the the return trip. We spent half a day trying to contact the travel agency (that actually partnered with a separate bus company) trying to figure out if someone would pick us up or we would need to get to the boat docks on our own. Skype credit was helpful in this situation because we had to make several international phone calls.

Leave Space In Your Luggage
Inevitably, you will find some things you want to bring home with you: clothes, artwork, puppies off the street. So don't pack your bag to the brim. Depending on the airline, there might not be ridiculous fees even if you bring a whole 'nother bag.

And even a midst all of the money woes of our trip...

Don't Assume That Everyone You Meet Is Trying To Scam You 
(ever read David Sedaris' essay "City of Angels"?)
Because that's just no fun and I had some of my most interesting conversations with locals who were trying to sell me something I didn't want. Like a moto driver who was harassing me to take a ride I didn't need. I told him, "Happy new year!" and he said, "What do you know about New Year?" I told him I used to live in Cambodia and I was an English teacher. We got into an interesting conversation about income, education, the economy, and Cambodian politics.

So there you have it.
All the knowledge we have to lend.

We may be impostors just trying to get our act together, but we are pretty happy doing it!