I’ve been hoarding receipts to keep track of my expenses, mostly for tax purposes. While it’s good practice to keep track of money going in and out of my bank account, it’s not uncommon for me to find receipts from 2 months ago at the bottom of my bags and purses… along with melting cough sweets, pen caps and the occasional paper clip.
I’ve also been buying clothes according to the changing seasons. Before arriving in America, I was working from Switzerland and summer arrived without spring. It got hot fast. My long sleeve tops and cosy jumpers starting feeling heavy and soggy from my excessive sweating (I’m only human!). So, over one Saturday, I went to town and got myself some more breathable clothes, including a floral print asymmetric skirt that I am obsessed with.
I’ve been doing this whole work and travel thing for almost two years now and it wasn’t until April 2017 that I started doing it legally. The fact that I didn’t have the right paperwork didn’t even occur to me until a friend and I started talking about taxes and EPF and all sorts of adult things that I hadn’t thought about before.
I began where every millennial begins, by hitting up Google. I was surprised to find very very little information about digital nomading as a Malaysian. Apart from learning that I had to get a business license to operate legally, there really was nothing more. What about declaring my income for tax purposes? What sort of business license should I get? Do I also require a business bank account? How about investing my income? How do I do all this without breaking the law? What is the legal requirement pertaining such work arrangements? Bloody hell, where do I start?
Can I be honest for a second? Money is the one thing that fuels my travels. Without it, it’s almost impossible to travel.
When travelling, money is always tied to the idea of opportunity cost. If I splurge in one area, I can’t splurge in another. It’s a constant trade-off that I need to justify to myself over and over again. These days, I spend more on accommodation because I work and travel meaning I want a good night’s rest and quiet and comfortable space to work in the day.
In my opinion, not enough people talk about money – how they make it, how they save it, how they spend it, how they use what they have to make more of it etc. While I’m obviously not an expert, I thought I’d contribute to this super important conversation about money, and the money habits I practice while travelling.
Want to see more of your travel destination in a short amount of time? You should probably book a tour.
Yes, these are probably pre-packaged tours that might not offer you an “authentic” experience but honestly, that’s bs. I think it’s important not to pigeonhole these guys and the services they offer because they work hard to provide us the best experiences possible, and sometimes those experiences just involve a bus, 20 other people and tourist attractions.
(I also want to point out that cheap tours will always involve and lot of other people because that’s how they keep costs per person down. Economics and business. You get what you pay for.)
Friend: “YO I NEED TRAVEL TIPS. Have you written a blog post on it? I wanna go to Lisbon and some other places.. but I have NO idea where to start.”
Me: “Here’s where to start.”
Let me preface this by saying that planning to travel is making a series of small decisions and then putting money down on those decisions. It helps if you know what your travel style is like, what you generally enjoy doing and what you want out of a trip.
1. Decide to go and tell the world about it so you can’t back out.
I’m writing this on a train from Interlaken to Bern, marvelling at the beauty of the sunset. The shades of blues and pinks and deeper pinks never fail to distract me from more productive endeavours like, you know, writing a blog post. Sometimes, I find myself asking: Is it really worth it? Is the trouble of researching and planning and spending hard-earned money just to leave familiarity and comfort actually worth it? Looking at this glorious sunset, my answer is absofuckinglutely.
After posting this up on Facebook, I received a whopping 171 likes, which is way more than my profile picture (I can’t believe a map gets more likes than my face! It hurts I tell you, it really does). Along with that came a tonne of comments about safety (I’m going to Russia), recommendations for hostels and restaurants, more places to add to my itinerary and comments (mostly from my parents) about how I need to shrink this itinerary down.
Others also mentioned that I shouldn’t plan too far ahead as it might turn out to become a strict schedule rather than a chance to wonder and discover. On the other hand, it is common knowledge to book accommodation and transport well ahead of time to avoid last minute hikes in prices. What does one do???
I’m not claiming to have the perfect answer to this hellish dilemma, but I thought I’d share a few rules I’ve tried and tested that has helped me figure out what to do:
Plan in chunks – Identify regions you’d like to go to and set rough dates for those places. For example, I’m going to Scandinavia for two weeks in September, after St Petersburg. That includes Helsinki, Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen. Do I want to venture out to nearby cities and towns? Maybe, but that comes later.
Book flight tickets first – If I needed to fly from St Petersburg to Helsinki, and from Stockholm to Copenhagen, I should probably book those first because flights seem to be most sensitive to its demand. That means that the later you leave it, the more expensive it will be. According to Sonia’s travel, the ideal time to book international flights is somewhere between 1 to 3 months before departure. That’s a pretty simple and straightforward rule to follow, don’t you think? By doing this, you’ll be getting the most expensive and price sensitive task out of the way, and you can now plan your itinerary in more detail.
Book everything else after you’ve done more research – At the moment, I know that I have two weeks in Scandinavia, beginning in Helsinki and ending in Copenhagen. I will most probably be taking trains and ferries in between cities, so an Eurail pass (or the Interrail pass for EU citizens) would probably help with saving costs. It also gives me more flexibility with the dates I want to travel. If I decide to spend more time in one place instead of another, that is completely fine because I would already have locked down my travel cost between cities.**Do note that some rail services do require that you book seats in advance so a little homework will be required of you. Finally, when it comes to accommodation, let’s try not to sweat the small stuff. I’ve learned that there will always be a hostel or an Airbnb with a vacancy. For me, as long as it satisfies my two most important requirements, a hot shower and a bed, I’ll be happy and dandy.
Keep track of what you’ve done and what else you need to do – I’ve been using a simple Numbers Spreadsheet to help me out, with columns for Dates of Travel, From and To Destinations, Mode of Transport and Accommodation details. If you don’t plan to travel with a laptop, perhaps print out your rough itinerary with plenty of blank spaces for you to fill up as you go along.
I hope that this has been somewhat helpful to anyone planning to do what I’m about to do, i.e. solo travel and hope to not mess anything up.