Well, I did it! I went on my last-minute travel break and I survived it. It was heaven… and stress. Four countries and nine cities, with two days prep time before flying out.
I did it awesomely… and I did it badly! I had good times and some horrible times too.
It was freezing in Korea. Macau was nicely temperate and Hong Kong was amazing, but rained for four days out of the six that I was there (… which apparently doesn’t happen often). It snowed something cold in Kyoto, sprinkling my memories of Japan with a delightful layer of frost. But the weather didn’t matter. It was a nice change.
I had taken back the reins of my “imperfect career life”
I was returning to travel, a road where I wasn’t defined by my status, sex, age or career successes. In fact, this road defied it. And defiance felt good.
I was going back to living life on my terms, away from the burdens of career ambition and societal pressures of where I, as a single woman should be in her job life. I was leaving behind my frustrations.
I was charging into large, open spaces and foreign countries, where I could get lost and re-create myself through new, exciting and unpredictable opportunities.
…Also, I was going to prove to myself that I could survive last-minute trips.
How to Survive Last-Minute Trips
• Was I freaked out?
– Yes. Although I’ve lived in Korea, I knew very little about Japan… and even less about Hong Kong and Macau. When I left Hawaii, I was nowhere close complete in my travel itinerary or transportation/hotel bookings.
• How could you afford travel if you weren’t making much money during the year?
– Budget and Savings. I live simple and minimally. I don’t go out a lot or require much in food or girlie things and this allows me to save. For example, after two years, I still have teaching money accrued from my year in Korea. I still have my Korean bank account.
Although flight tickets and transportation were my biggest expenses, I knew I could work the rest of my travel on the a cheaper budget.
• Were you absolutely thrilled to be traveling again?
- Not at first. Part of me questioned whether I was in over-my-head, while the other part shivered that I was going to be free-styling it solo again. Winging travel plans in the dark isn’t my favorite option, but one I’m progressively getting used to. Overall however, I felt a powerful surge of a confidence that things would only get better. I was on my way to re-discovering what had true value in my life.
• Aren’t you used to freestyling my trips by now?
– No, freestyling my plans on the road is still something I struggle with. Leaving myself with an adequate time to prepare for a trip this big, was the craziest travel test I’ve given myself. Ideally, I still prefer planning. I appreciate having a pre-planned destination and sense of purpose to my journey. I like knowing where I’m going and how I’m getting there.
The trade-off advantage of tests like this one, is that the more I do it, the more confidence I have in my self-reliance.
5 Tips on Taking Last Minute Trips: What I did well
Before getting to my car crash experiences and what I did badly, let me share 5 tips on last-minute travel by showing you what I rocked on.
#1 . Speed
I love speed. If you’re under a time crunch, it’s planning for the Amazing Race and you can get a lot done in a short amount of time. Speed works. You just need to survive the stress!
With 48 hour to plan a four country itinerary : 1) plan a route, 2) research transportation and 3) research accommodations, I had to take bigger risks, not second-guess and attend to priorities. The instinctive side of me kicked in, took over, making for more efficient planning and action. Open tab after tab, I filled my internet browser with budget information. It was like a maddening Paganini concerto. Computer applications flew with a click and I made shout outs to friends for travel recommendations and tips.
I wasn’t able to book everything I needed. I didn’t even come close. But I got enough information to know my options and make route decisions.
#2. Budget planning for expensive countries
Considering that both, Hong Kong and Japan are two of the most expensive countries in Asia, I was initially worried for my wallet. The average cost of a hotel or hostel didn’t feel cheap; I knew they’d require some hearty budget hotel research and I didn’t have time for that.
For Hong Kong, I budgeted under $30/day. Transportation and street food can be cheap, while chic cafes run moderate to costly. Hostels ran around $20+ a day, so that was where it added up. I did pretty well staying within my goal,… with the exception of the Hong Kongese Apple MacBook Air, I picked up along the way.
People warned me that Japan was going to be expensive, but I had a hunch I might be able to do it for under $30/day. Bingo! Monumental success. It made me realize every traveler’s spending choices and the way they travel is different.
#3. Don’t sweat the details.
As in life’s situations, you may not always have all the information you need to make perfect decisions….
And as a traveler, I’ve found that every problem has a solution and if I don’t have the answer, I can always ask someone, search for it or create it.
I took a small to mid-sized carry-on travel bag and it fit in airport, train and metro station lockers.
It’s the lightest I’ve ever packed for a backpacking trip of almost a month! The clothes I took, occupied only 1/4 of my bag. I was packing for both, warm and wintery climates and knew I might need space for souvenirs.
Wardrobe-wise, I took five tops, opting for thin long-sleeved tops, tanks and lots of layering. For bottoms, I broke down and finally bought a pair of fleece-laced Korean spandex leggings as a second skin to jeans, jogging pants and a long skirt.
#4. Meet up with old friends and make new ones
I got to spend Thanksgiving in Daegu with my good yogi friend, Megan (I was very thankful indeed) and in Hong Kong and Japan, met up with two more yogi alums, whom I met while studying yoga in India.
I also managed to orchestrate my first Tweetup in Korea! You know those people who you can only share 140 characters of conversation with online? In person, there’s much more sparkling personalities behind them and many stories, news and gossip to be shared.
Okay, so the restaurant I planned for us to meet at unknowingly closed on me. My expat ladies were more than helpful and awesome at finding backup options in light-speed.
#5. Explore unique budget stays and transportation options
Some say, a tight budget limits your fun. I say, it keeps your eye sharpened for unique opportunities, alternative options and it forces you to slow down to experience local lifestyles more.
I discovered some pretty chic manga kissatens (aka 24 hour Manga internet cafe) in Japan, and that became my squealing new discovery! I love when I rock the budget pads, save my dollars and get a unique experience that most tourists might not try.
Another styling bed I found was on Japan’s overnight buses. Although not as cheap, it affords you a great way to cut hotel and travel expenses in half. Japan’s highway buses (generally the cheapest way to travel), offers surprising levels of comfort and entertainment luxury.
Can you survive last-minute trips? What are some of your tips for last-minute travel ?
Insider tips on how to survive a last minute trip (Part 4 of 4)
Surviving a last-minute trip: Things I did well and things I didn’t (Part 3 of 4)
Surviving a last-minute trip: Things I did well and things I didn’t (Part 2 of 4)
Taking a last-minute trip that saved my life (Part I of 4)