***This is something I wrote when I traveled abroad for Malaysia back in Summer 2012. It still holds value covering the basic rules, just needs to be updated a bit. Either way, until I update it, I hope you find it useful.***
It’s a brand new day for a brand new adventure!! So spread your wings to soar towards your dreams, goals, and aspirations! I have spread my wings and the wind has carried me to Malaysia and Singapore to explore for the next month. Since I lost my original posts and pictures for your viewing pleasure, I am going to try to recreate them all so you all can Journey with Me!
In preparation for this trip I went through my personal checklist to assure I will have the experience that I desire and I won’t be locked up abroad!!! (Nobody wants to be locked up abroad… have you seen that show?! ::shivers::). Feel free to adopt this basic list for yourself and modify it at your own discretion.
1. Research Country’s Rules and Regulations
a. Local Muslim Law applies to all believers regardless of nationality
b. Be respectful and modest in conservative areas/countries
c. Absolutely No Non-Islamic Spiritual Conversion!!!!!
Malaysia and Singapore share some history since they both use to be one country at one point in time (Malay Peninsula). Singapore gained independence from Malaysia in 1965. Both countries have a dominant mixture of Indian, Chinese, and Malay descent. Even though both countries have shared history they both are completely different.
The 2009 demographics for Singapore were 74.2% Chinese, 13.4% Malay, and 9.2% Indian descent, while Eurasians and other groups form 3.2%. The religions of Singapore are Buddhism (33%), Christianity (18%), No Religion (17%), and Islam (15%).
The 2010 demographics for Malaysia were 50.4% Malays, 11% bumiputra (indigenous Malay), 23.7 % Chinese, 7.1% Indian, and 7.8% other descent. The religions of Malaysia are Islam (61.3%), Buddhism (19.8%), Christianity (9.2%), Hinduism (6.3%), other or none (2.1%), and Confucianism, Taoism and other traditional Chinese religions (1.3%).
This basic information is important when traveling to these countries because of the specific country rules. Singapore has rules similar to the U.S. so there are no major changes while visiting there. Malaysia, on the other hand, has some important rules for visitors regardless of religious belief. Malaysia is an Islamic state by LAW. That means alls Muslim, regardless of nationality, are obligated to follow the decisions of Syariah courts in matters concerning their religion (while in the country).
If you are non-Muslim, then you must be respectful of modest laws while visiting governmental buildings and institutions such as mosques, universities, etc. Clothes should cover at least your shoulders and no more than an inch or so above your knees (if wearing dresses, skirts, or shorts). If you are a woman and deemed inappropriately dress, they will refuse your admittance into buildings or you will get unwanted “attention.” And technically there is nothing you can do about it other than to cover up more.
THE MOST IMPORTANT LAW visitors should always keep in mind is that non-Muslim spiritual conversion of a Muslim is AGAINST THE LAW!!! There are faith systems such as Christianity who duty is to spread the Gospel of Jesus. There is nothing wrong with having conversations of spirituality, etc. Just be prepared for the consequences if that conversation turns into a conversion of a Muslim.
2. Documentation Preparation
a. Passport Information
b. Family/Friends and Bank Notification
c. Money Exchange & Budgets
When traveling internationally you want to make sure that you are prepared for the worst. The worst thing to me, other than being locked up abroad, is losing your passport. Your passport is the only valid form of identification while traveling abroad, so you need to make sure you always have it in a secure place. I make three copies of my passport and leave one safe at home, one with a close trusted individual, and one to carry on me while abroad. If I am in a safe place while abroad, I leave my physical passport locked up safely where only I know the location. I usually say email yourself a copy; but with the level of hackers and stolen identity you do not want to place yourself at risk, especially while you are not in your home country.
Make sure you notify your family and friends of your travel plans. That way they can keep an eye on your possessions at home and will be aware of your location. You also might want to think about notifying the embassy as well if you are going into a hostile country. Also notify your bank of your travel plans as well if you plan to take and use any bank cards, credit cards, traveler’s checks, etc. If you use them without notifying them, they will cancel your card for fraud protection. (That is not a fun experience). Also keep a list of important numbers such as international bank numbers, card numbers, the embassy number, etc. to be able to call and notify of any changes or if your items are stolen.
Make a budget and stick to it!!! It is easy to go abroad and get caught up in the whirlwind of fun and easily spend more money than you plan. You should also consider changing some USD into the local currency in the U.S. for immediate use upon arrival in the country. Maybe even save the rest for exchange while within the country if needed. Remember the market exchange rate is updated daily and could change with the click of a button.
3. Packing Preparation
a. Pack extremely light: take only what you absolutely need!
b. Travel smartly (luggage)
c. Fashionable versus Functional
#1 RULE WHEN PACKING: PACK ONLY WHAT YOU CAN CARRY UP 3 FLIGHTS OF STAIRS BY YOURSELF!!!! I cannot stress this enough! Unless you can hire hands to care for your items at every location, prepare to handle your own luggage. For instance, Southeast Asia is extremely hot and humid. I packed 2 pair of different types of jeans, long khaki shorts (to my knees), about 5 shirts, 3 dresses (including a sheer coverall), and 4 pairs of shoes (1 pair of shower shoes plus I have tiny feet so I can get away with more than 2). Most of this stuff is extremely thin so I just roll them up in a corner of the bag. I still have plenty of room to stuff other things but I won’t. I want to keep my bag under 25 kg AND be able to carry it anywhere under the sweltering heat! That is all I have packed for one month of traveling. I packed it all in one carry-on suitcase with two scarves and a shawl in my carry-on purse/mini bag. I am able to lug this ONE bag up and down these hills, steps, planes, buses, forest, etc. Anything else that I may need I can get in the country I plan to visit. I learned this rule the hard way. But I am glad that I know it now!
Don’t forget your adapter and/or converter if needed.
That leads me into another important thing to remember: pack an extra carry-on bag within your suitcase. If you pack light and take only the things you absolutely need then you should have plenty of room to pack a smaller carry-on bag within that bag. This is a bag that you can use for emergencies such as having to check your luggage at TSA because of that one liquid item you forgot was over 3 ounces, being able to pack a mini bag for a quick side trip within your travels (impromptu trip to nearby city for a day or so while leaving your main items at your primary destination), or even having that spare bag to pack souvenirs without having to buy another suitcase.
One thing most people ask me is “How do I manage to still dress nice without packing tons of things?” Well easy- find things that you LOVE that also have a PURPOSE. You can find plenty of Fashionable items that are also quite Functional! I have two different types of sheer items, a dress and a shirt. I can pair these fashions with anything that I am wearing while still remaining cool and conservative. They are very thin and fit in my everyday bag for convenience. But I usually just carry a scarf to mix it up every now and then. When packing, ask yourself Do I really need this? If yes, how many uses can I get out of it? If you cannot get more than 3 uses then think again. Another thing to keep in mind when deciding fashion over function or vice verse, unless you have a blog on fashion while traveling , you do not need a lot of different outfit changes while abroad.
4. Travel Remedies
a. Medications and travel language books
b. Create memories and resume boosters
c. Token homesick items
Make sure you get required/recommended vaccinations (CDC gives a list) and fill any prescriptions that you need for the complete duration of your trip. Keep them in the original packaging and packed in your carry on, unless it is a liquid (do not want to take the chance of losing important medication). You also may want to pack any over the counter medicine just in case you become ill while traveling. Nothing like trying to read medication labels in an unknown script with clerks that do not speak your native tongue! You might be able to communicate what you need if you invest in a travel language book. I understand that Lonely Planet is a great resource for researching a country and basic language guides. (http://shop.lonelyplanet.com/?lpaffil=lpcom-google-au&s_kwcid=TC|1025895|lonely%20planet%20guides||S|b|9304276736)
Be sure to pack a journal book, writing utensils, camera(s), and other things to capture your experiences. Do not forget to research if you need any converters and or adapters for any electronics that you intend to carry. Remember that technology is very convenient but also have its fault. Always, Always, ALWAYS have a back up. I recommend writing everything down and if you wish to type it for the ease of sharing. If you only rely on technology then you could easily lose everything at a blink of an eye. Journaling is also a great way to see and understand what you are experiencing. Writing is a way to organize our thoughts and record our individual development.
While abroad, for whatever reason, make sure that you schedule some sort of recreation that boosts your resume or CV (curriculum vitae) – more so for students than anybody else. Volunteer your skills and training with local people organizations and people in general. Not only will you be serving communities who will benefit from your knowledge, you will also build your character/resume/CV that will take you farther in life than before.
If it is your first time leaving your home country or you just cannot bear to be a part from loved ones for an extensive period of time; then pack a few small token items to remind you of home. Ensure that these small token items are something that you can keep on you at all times and will not cause you much grief if it becomes lost or stolen. For instance, I have a pair of owl earrings and an owl ring: small, simple, and straight to the point. If I lose them, I would be upset for a moment, but I can easily replace them so it wouldn’t interfere with my trip enjoyment.
5. Vacation, Education, & Application
a. Put away all electronics and take in the moment
b. Engage in conversations with fellow travelers
c. Take a deep breath and prepare mentally
This world is slowly but surely becoming filled with robots. People are staring at their electronic devices, barely looking up to cross the street wearing ear buds blasting the loudest music ever. We become to occupied with twitter, facebook, emails, text messages, etc. to engage with the people around us and the environment surrounding us. When traveling, try to put away all electronics and really take in what you paid for. You did not pay for an expensive flight, train, or bus ticket just to tweet “OMG I am in Africa for the next month,” just to not actually experience what the continent of Africa has to offer. You should schedule time to be plugged in to communicate with the world. But most of the time you should be unplugged to engage in conversations and make connections with the local people and fellow travelers. You never know who you may be sitting next to on the plane, the coffee shop, the bus terminal, or even in your dorm room.
When you unplug and observe your surroundings, you will begin to notice the transitions of cultures, from one to another. Soon you will begin to feel your emotions (or lack of thereof) rise because you are beginning to acknowledge the major change that is about to happen. Take in those emotions and learn about yourself. You may discover something new about yourself that you didn’t expect.
With all that being said, right before you jump on that transportation to begin your new adventure, find a nice spot by yourself and take it all in. While you have a moment away from loved ones (family and friends), away from travel groups or partners, and finally away from electronics; take in a long deep breath and release all the old to prepare for all the new. Take this time to prepare mentally for your trip. There is so much intensity in the preparation for traveling abroad that we forget to reflect on what is important: you.
It is OK to be selfish this one time, take it all in before it all begins.