A few weeks ago, I embarked on my first international solo trip to as an adult. I traveled to Bali, Indonesia for a wellness retreat (read about why I picked Bali a few posts back). Prior to the trip, I spent many hours reading travel blogs/articles/Instagram feeds about how other travelers prepared for their trip. I knew I wanted to fully explore and enjoy the area as I have no clue when I may return to that part of the world. Here are some things I planned prior to the trip and what I learned along the way.
1. Coordinate with local friends or associates to re-connect
I had the pleasure of going to college with several students who were from other countries. A few of the ladies I connected with are from Indonesia, most live in the states so I didn’t think to ask any of them if they would like to meet. That was until I saw my college friend post she was in the same airport I would be flying into the very next morning. Ugh! She promptly scolded me for not informing her of my travels and I instantly regretted not reaching out to her when I booked the retreat. So take it from me, if you have any friends who live where you are going, be sure to reach out to them. They will be able to show you their home from their perspective.
2. Inform your bank of your travel and use cash
This is key. Most banks have built in fraud protection for your accounts so they will automatically flag your card and place a hold on it if transactions show from a different location than normal. A few minutes of your time can save you a headache of not being able to use your account overseas. Check with your bank and notify them you are traveling (whether in the states or overseas) and the approximate locations you will be traveling to. If your bank is like mine, you don’t have to spend time waiting to speak to a representative over the phone, you can send them a quick message to inform them of your travel and they will make a note on your account. Many vendors take credit cards and allow you to pay with an exchange rate.
Also, use cash when you can. I found it helpful to have some USD changed into local cash for use at markets, activities, and for tipping.
3. Check out the country’s visa regulations if you have a long layover
Some of the ladies I met at the retreat told me how they left the airport and was able to spend a full day in China. I was totally jealous once I heard this and wondered why I hadn’t thought to stay overnight in Singapore or China (I had layovers in both of these countries). Most countries in Asia allow you to clear immigration for a short stay without applying for a visa-typically less than 30 days. Check the country regulations prior to your travel and you could see more than one area during your vacation.
4. Jump on a free tour of the area
I had a lay over at Changi Airport in Singapore. Their website shows they offer two tours- one for 3 hours and another for 5 hours- you can attend free of charge. Be mindful these tours may be first come, first serve and have specific rules for attending so check the website or ask airport personnel for more information. I didn’t make it on a tour this time around (read about how disappointed I was here) but this experience taught me how to better plan and maximize my lay over time.
5. Pack snacks and a water bottle
a. Airport food is expensive and if you’re on a budget, like me, then you may want to save the bulk of your money for when you reach your actual destination. I packed granola bars, protein bars, took extra snacks from my flight, packed nuts and dried fruit. I also brought a refillable water bottle with me to use so I could save on buying bottled water. The retreat had filtered water so I was able to refill daily.
6. Use an airport lounge
a. Oh my gosh, baby, this was a hidden gem. I downloaded an app called Loungebuddy which tells you the available lounges at your airport destinations and the amenities they have. I knew I needed to have a shower, wifi, and food. I chose a lounge that provided me with all of that for 6 hours for less than $40. Not every lounge has a purchase option so you have to look this up for you go and pick a lounge based on cost, amenities, and the available hours you can use. It was very important to me to have some time to rest and take a shower (after a 16 hour flight, a shower was necessary and rejuvenating). The app is free or you can purchase online.
7. Lost in translation is real
Prior to the trip, I knew many people in Asia knew English or at least understand some of the basics. One thing I forgot is that there are not many Black folks in that part of the country. I found myself getting ready to do the whole “what you looking at?!” face and then I realized I was the only brown queen walking around. I quickly put myself in check and reminded myself to smile. I was in a foreign country and would like to make it back home. Lol. There was a clear infatuation with my hair which I wore in twists for the first part of my trip. I had my natural hair out after that Bali heat got to be too much for me. Anyway, it can be tough having a language barrier but with apps, a translator, and a little patience, you can find your way.
8. Be Prepared to go with the flow
Ish happens. There were activities I wanted to do that I was unable to do for a number of reasons. I had to remind myself to go with the flow, I was on vacation, there was nothing set in stone. Whatever I did not get to do this time could be done when I return. It was not the end of the world.