Blogging from Thailand proved to be outside of my range of abilities (this time!). Honestly, I was too busy walking around Krabi town, spending time with new friends, meeting Deaf Thais, getting sick in Bali, getting tattoos, and amusing my 2-year-old with subsequent treks to an intersection of stone elephants, a park filled with animal sculptures, and long tail boat rides to some of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen.
In the coming weeks, I plan to write more posts about the experiences we have had, but first I’d like to write a much belated continuation of my previous post about budgeting a trip to SE Asia with a toddler. And the good thing about me writing this after our trip is that I can speak from everything we experienced throughout the entire 10-week-long journey.
With any trip to the other side of the world, there are always extra expenses you do not foresee ahead of time when planning. The easiest way to deal with this is to either have a lot of extra cash or credit cards with a few thousand dollars on them for emergencies. I cannot stress this enough.
When I traveled to India in my twenties, twice I changed my return flights and instead of being able to just change the flights, I had to buy new tickets and throw away my old ones. That taught me to be prepared for something similar happening during any trip I take. Traveling as a trio when you have a toddler old enough for his own plane ticket definitely adds to the necessity of enough funds at your disposal to fly straight home if something horrible happens. Thankfully, we only had to throw away a couple hundred dollars worth of Air Asia flights, and purchase about $500 worth of new Air Asia flights during our trip.
That wasn’t the only “extra” we faced though.
So many extra expenses pop up while traveling, from boat rides you don’t plan but don’t wish to miss out on, to a lucky week at a gorgeous resort because you made a new friend, to a safer ride in a car with a child seat verses a public bus with no seat belts, to a suitcase you decide to buy at the end to hold the beautiful brass wok you found in Krabi town and all the wonderful fabrics and clothes you couldn’t resist buying from the markets.
We completely went over budget with this trip, but I don’t regret anything. And I know better now to plan for the “extras” as carefully as I planned for the essentials.
One thing I learned from our fiasco with the Air Asia flights is: don’t buy them too far ahead of time (I mean before you arrive in SE Asia), especially if you have a toddler. Anything can happen to change your plans, from volcanoes erupting to just feeling too tired and sick to venture to a new and unfamiliar country. You might miss out on a random $10 USD ticket from Malaysia to Cambodia, but if you wait and buy the flights exactly when you are sure you want to take them, you’ll get to do exactly what you want and you’ll get that extra spontaneity that is so essential to traveling like this.
For those of you who love numbers, I’d recommend an extra $1,000 USD for every 4 weeks you spend in SE Asia – just for those precious extras that you might never find nor get the chance to experience again. Of course, you can decide to be content with the shells and corals you find on the beaches, but sometimes, taking that one extra long tail boat ride to a beach with caves and burning your bare feet on the docks because you forgot you might need shoes is worth every extra baht.
I’m currently in Thailand with my 2-year-old and partner, Rob. We came here half for me to do more extensive research for the YA science fiction trilogy I am currently writing that is set in this area, and half for Rob to research Thai cooking and woodworking. I also want to expose my child to as many other cultures as possible throughout his life, so that his understanding of the world is built upon his experiences rather than from words on paper that he reads from the inside of a classroom. Books are amazing, but seeing things firsthand is something you just can’t replicate on the page.
This first post from Thailand is more of a logistical one than one of reflection because I’ve decided to keep track of our expenses for other people out there who are like me. Before going somewhere, I always wonder things like – how much does it really cost if you only eat street food or if you try and find the cheapest guesthouses? How much is a good budget for extra stuff, like fisherman pants or a brass wok?
Today is day 8 for us in Thailand, and from spending a few days each in Bangkok, and Chiang Mai, I’m ready to give a small breakdown of costs:
Food and water – if you stick to street food (which, honestly, is the most authentic experience, the food is fresher, and it tastes amazing), two people and a toddler can eat three meals a day and spend only about $10 USD. Water depends on where/if you buy it. We planned to buy it from stores until we came here and found a bunch of water booths on the side of the roads (see below) that boast fresh water through reverse osmosis and you can fill up a 1 gallon bottle at one of these for only 3-5 Bhats (10-15 US cents)!
Otherwise water runs at a cost of about 50 US cents per litre when bought by the litre (or $1 USD for a gallon).
Guesthouses – again, this is all a matter of preference, but we are fine with shared bathrooms and the possibility of only cold showers, which you can find for around $10 USD per night here (in Bangkok, however, a room with just a double bed that you share with your toddler can set you back between $12-15 USD per night).
So, without moving between cities much or doing tours or filling your hiker backpack with scarves and jewelry and small elephant statues, this comes down to about $20-25 a day. (I’ll write more about the stuff you can buy here in another post.)
We commuted between the cities of Bangkok and Chiang Mai by train. The second class sleeper trains (non A/C means you have open windows and can take photos or just enjoy the breeze) cost roughtly 500 Bhat ($15-16 USD) from Bangkok to Chiang Mai per person (toddlers are free), and you sleep in what resembles a bunk bed with one person on the upper narrower berth and the other on the lower berth with your toddler. Bringing a lot of snacks, even on the overnight trains, is recommended because sitting for so long made us just want to eat stuff!
I recommend spending 1-2 weeks (or more if you can!) at a time in one place in Thailand, especially if you have a toddler. It gives you time to get to know a place and time to get your child used to a new country. And, most importantly, time to make a few friends, both local and foreign, that you can visit on your next trip!
In comparison to other countries I have spent time in during my solo travels, Thailand is easier and feels safer in a lot of ways than India, Kenya, and Morocco. I’m glad we didn’t try one of those countries on our first trip abroad with our son, but I still want to go back to them within the next few years.
I’ll post more soon, but I just want to get this out there in cyberpsace, because I think a lot of Americans are afraid to backpack in SE Asia alone, and likely more afraid to do it with a toddler.
But honestly? You shouldn’t be.
It’s amazing and children under age 7 will be able to take in so much more than anyone else from these kinds of experiences – especially when it comes to language skills. I may not be able to hear my son try and speak Thai words, but I love that he’s doing it as well as picking up on the gestures and body language of the local people more so than a hearing child who isn’t already bilingual with ASL and English. And despite my own deafness, I love trying to speak Thai. It’s a challenging language, but when you speak even a few words of Thai to a local person, their faces light up and they open themselves to you. It’s beautiful.
I successfully made it through all of November without a single blog post!
Was I busy writing a novel in a month, like many other writer friends of mine?
No. I was actually taking a break from my usual writing-like-crazy to let other people do the writing-like-crazy. I submitted my latest book to a literary agency that prefers exclusive reading time and have been just—waiting.
The waiting has been good, though, as you saw in my last post about making blocks for my toddler. I made blocks, then I sewed the entire inside and outside of a handbag, painted stars on a new Ergo baby carrier, sewed a tank top for myself, sewed patches onto pants, sewed some other things. You get the picture. I’ve been crafty this November, and waiting ever patiently to hear from the agents (which is probably the only time I am able to be patient).
I am reaching that point where I feel like I’m sitting on my hands all the time to stop myself from writing, though,—because—the only thing I wish to write is the second installment of my YA science fiction trilogy. But I’ve learned my lesson from literary agents and the “Big 6” publishing houses already. Never write the second book in a trilogy unless you’re pretty confident the first is going to get published NOW.
Only last year at this time, I was in the throes of editing the first volume of a YA Urban Fantasy trilogy. I wrote the first draft of that book during Nanowrimo 2010, while sailing south from Block Island, Rhode Island, to Key West, Florida. It was a mess of a story about a wolf girl journeying from New Hampshire to New York and then passing in and out of stories. I put it down when I discovered I was pregnant in January of 2011, and didn’t start editing it until November of that year.
The single volume turned into a complex trilogy about fairy tales, myths, and the doors between reality and stories. Werewolves escape their stories and a wolf girl named Blue has to put them back. I sent the 6th draft of that book out and it wasn’t finished—I needed much more world building, I needed to know what all the action of this book was leading to, I needed to know my characters better. So I did 9 more drafts of it and resubmitted it in April of 2013.
By this time, however, the “Big 6” publishers (who I sometimes imagine as six mythological gods sitting around a round table discussing what would be popular next year and what would absolutely not) had decided that werewolves were out and so were shapeshifters that turned into wolves. I knew that my story was great, but if the “Big 6” said it wasn’t the right time for it, then I knew that only smaller presses would even consider publishing it. It made me sad to put that trilogy aside, but I feel pretty confident in the fact that wolves will resurface someday—and in 5 or 10 years, I would probably rip up that story and write something vastly different, but it’s okay. Sometimes that’s what happens. As writers, we can’t stop growing and changing and making decisions based on what is important to us.
I feel in my heart that my current project is going to get published. But I don’t have the heart to start writing the second book right now—not because I am uncertain the first will get published—but because I realize the whole agent and publishing process will change this first book into something else…which will change what happens in the second.
So—what do I do with my time now?
Lately, I’ve been devouring the brilliant science fiction Ender Series and reading some more contemporary paranormal YA like Everlost, the first book of the Skinjacker Trilogy.
I’ve been dreaming of the second book of my science fiction trilogy and adding little notes about it to my Index Cards iPad app that allows me to just throw a bunch of scenes and pieces of storyline together—so that I can sit like Dumbledore staring into the pensive as the details rearrange themselves into what they are supposed to become. I often feel like my characters are telling me their story, not the other way around.