First time travel – lessons learnt

Not all travellers were born with boots strapped on their feet, a giant backpack on their back and a secret pouch tucked into their pants. Like most things in life, we all needed to learn how to walk, before we could jump on our budget airline, grab a local subway train, and walk the three blocks to our cute bed and breakfast of choice. I thought it would be nice to share my first real travel experience with you, in hopes that aspiring travellers would take heed at my mistakes.

The first time I really travelled on my own (externally, as in outside of a country) was my freshman year of college in Chicago. Two friends that I had made in the same building as me asked if I wanted to join them on their trip to Puerto Rico. I didn’t really have plans for that spring break, and I thought ‘meh, I guess it’s close enough a cliché to Spring Break in Cancun’ without the insanity of Spring Break in Cancun. So I said ok.

Now, back then I almost had zero dollars to travel on. I was fresh in the country, was studying there on a full scholarship which only left me with ~USD100 a month (room and board fully covered though). I think I may have had a total of USD200 with me when I decided to travel with my friends

Puerto Rico 012(At least I got to catch a few sights around Puerto Rico)

Mistake number 1: Not having enough money to travel

Puerto Rico 011(Walking behind the favellas of Puerto Rico)

Needless to say, most of you can probably guess this wasn’t even close to enough to travel for a week in Puerto Rico. My friends and I shared a queen size bed in a small bed and breakfast in Puerto Rico with yours truly sleeping in the middle. It wasn’t a lot of fun, but at least I grew up sharing beds with my sister, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch for me.

Not only that, we had planned to travel to the island of Culebra, and ended up paying USD90 for a taxi ride to the jetty. By the time we came back, we didn’t have enough cash between the three of us. When we checked in to our second hotel a few nights later, only one of us had a credit card that could be used. We had to use it to put down the deposit for the room. Given that we were college students and didn’t have a lot of credit extended on our credit card, that one credit card was completely locked down. Which meant, none of us had enough money to even pay for the room.

I had to message my god brother back in Chicago, apologize and ask his help to wire me some money so that we could actually get from point A to point B, and this didn’t even involve trying to have enough money to cover meals.

Mistake number 2: Thinking that for some odd reason, I could survive off mac and cheese and ramen/ maggi noodles

Puerto Rico 030(My I’m so hungry face)

Look, I know I’m not the first college student who has survived on a diet of mac and cheese. Nor am I the first Asian to travel with loaded packs of ramen/ maggi noodles (and I even brought my own hot pot to boil water, can you imagine!). But take my word on this one. You cannot survive on mac and cheese and ramen/ maggi noodles for a week. About three days in (with my friends heading off to eat their meals since they had a bit of cash on the side) I was feeling nauseas, lightheaded, sick and had an insane feeling of knowing you have eaten, but being extremely hungry still. I had almost zero protein in me, not to mention all the amazing MSG loaded up. Avoid at all costs. I recommend instead, mixing up a meal outside, maybe a cheap sandwich from a convenience store, and if you are really tight (or sengkek as we say in Malay) then maybe you can have ramen or mac and cheese once a day. Perhaps for lunch so that you can have a better meal for dinner and not end up crying to sleep with a hungry stomach.

Mistake number 3: Not doing enough planning

Puerto Rico 018(Well, at least I did make it to Culebra. Though it did cost us quite a bit)

Now, I’ve never been to Puerto Rico, but the two friends I travelled with are Hispanic, and had relatives there, so I assumed that they would know where to go. I didn’t bother planning, hell I think I only found out the day before I flew where Puerto Rico is exactly. Now there’s a difference between spontaneous and instantaneous and being an idiot. Guess which category I fell into?

The biggest downside for this was the fact that as I mentioned before, we ended up paying USD90 for a taxi ride to the jetty to get to Culebra. It also took us more than an hour to get to the ferry. Had I just spent a bit of time googling on the net, I would have figured out that you could fly to the island for around the same price from San Juan airport, cheaper flight from Ceiba Airport. I would have also realized we should have spent one extra night there, and enjoyed Vieques as well. Where you could paddle or swim in the night and watch the sea light up as you brush against special microorganisms that light up in bioluminescent bay.

bay(This could have been me! Bioluminiscent angel in the sea! – Source:

Mistake number 4: Not paying enough attention

Puerto Rico 015(Do I know where I am? no, not really)

I think this happens to most college students when you travel, or maybe to first time travellers. Sometimes there’s so much to take in, you lose it all. You may not have your guidebook with you or a pen and paper handy and next thing you know, you’re back home trying to describe the amazing restaurant you were at, but can’t recall the name of the place, or the name of the cuisine, or the name of the street it was on… or even the name of the barrio you were in! *

*note: this also would most likely plague a lot of students at their Spring Break, though lapse in memory may be more due to external factors

So there you have it, the lessons I learnt from my first time travelling. Needless to say, the next trip I did I have at least enough budgeted for three meals a day (even if they were McDonalds) and a backup emergency credit card in case I needed to extend a trip slightly outside to a place I would happen to find by chance through my research.

Sound off below, what are the biggest travel lessons you’ve learnt the hard way?