If you stumbled upon this blog and are wondering who we are, we're Erik & Trista and we recently fled complacency to travel the world while we work and learn remotely - 10/10 recommend! It was so hard for us to find an inclusive guide while we were trying to figure out what to bring, where to go and what to do when we got there, that we decided to put one together. Let us know if you like it be sure to follow or subscribe if you're interested in tips, tricks and lessons we learn during our travels! Let's get to it!!
We started our journey where just about everyone does - in Chiang Mai, Thailand. There are many reasons for this, but we'll get to them in the next post. No matter where you start, you’ll likely be traveling to places without clean water, and, while Chiang Mai has a Reverse Osmosis machine outside every condo in town, some places aren’t as well-equip.
We picked up some Grayl Water Bottles and a Steri-Pen to keep our water clean and free of debris, wherever we’re getting it from. We don’t have to worry about water when we’re hiking around in the Jungle, when it’s raining and unsafe tap-water is the best we’ve got, or when we’re at a restaurant and we’re a little iffy about the water that came in a glass; with this combo - we’re good.
Carrying around everything you own can be more than a little nerve racking! And since you don’t always know whether you’ll be carrying your bag or not, it’s worth investing in a few options to secure your valuables in any situation.
We decided to leave things like jewelry and sentimentals behind - guarded by freaking sharks with freaking lasers on their heads. We even went so far as to get wedding ring tattoos; but for the few things you can’t travel without, we’d recommend a good Passport Holder with RFID Blocking and a Power Bank and a Travelers Wallet.
The backup power bank has made a big difference!
Pro Tip: It’s also not a bad idea to have a few copies of your passport, both digital and non. This is where secure storage apps and good old fashioned paper come in handy. Most places will accept ID in digital form - even the police in Thailand have learned to be very accommodating. Speaking of - if you have the time, get an International Driving Permit. It won't save you a ton of money, but every dollar counts when you're always on the move!
You’re going to need something big enough to carry whatever you want to bring with you, but small enough for you to pick up and leave every month or so. Excessive baggage is worth leaving behind - in many respects. If your main goal is something simple and cheap, go to your local army surplus store and pick up a duffel bag - they rock!
For those of you who, like us, want something a little more comfortable, look in to Minaal and Osprey’s Farpoint and Fairview packs. There are a lot of things to like about both, but Minaal looks better and the Farpoint carries more stuff. We ended up going with Osprey Farpoint 70 Packs, largely because of the removable day pack, but also because the straps zip up and make it look like a duffel bag, which makes it carry-on!
Remember to buy Luggage Locks!
Pro-Tip: Go for the cable locks and pick up a few cable Bike Locks as well, for when you're out and about.
We were originally planning on going to Koh Phangan, an island in the Gulf of Thailand, for our first month abroad. At the last minute, we decided to go to Chiang Mai to ensure we’d spend more time working and studying than laying on a beach. During our final layover, we met some expats on their way to Bali who had to be rerouted because of an active volcano. The point is, plans change! You’re never going to know what your work will look like from day to day, but there are plenty of things on Amazon that help you organize your work, so that you don’t have to worry about things like ergonomics. Here are some of the most useful things we’re glad we brought, aside from the obvious (laptop and smart phone).
The top-rated stand on NomadList is the Roost Laptop Stand, but we’ve had awesome luck with the more cost-effective NexStand Foldable Stand. We can’t tell you how many times we’ve been somewhere and someone has asked us where they can pick up a stand like this. With a little foresight, we’d have brought a dozen or so to sell. One fellow traveler paid 3,000 baht (about $90) for one after seeing how comfortable we were at the co-working space.
If you're planning a visit - let's make a deal :)
Since you care about your neck and back, the laptop stand a requirement, so you’ll need a way to type. While keyboards are a fairly personal choice, here are a few we’d recommend -
The important thing to remember here is that the keyboard has to fit in whatever bag you choose - be sure to check your dimensions!
Having any travel pack means you’ll want a way to organize all of your cables. There just aren’t enough compartments for everything to stay neat and tidy. One of our favorite things on this list is the UGREEN Electronic Organizer! With a total of 10 mesh pockets and 12 elastic straps…you’ll want this in your life!
The last piece of tech I’ll write about is one of the most important pieces: A travel adapter with a built-in power converter. You’ll hear horror stories of other nomads losing everything and having to buy a new machine because of a freak power surge; but that won’t be you - smile!
We're going to assume you’ve been dressing yourself a while and skip over some of the boring parts. With easy access to laundry and cleaning services, all you really need is a few outfits and some swimwear. That being said, there are a few things you shouldn’t overlook!
Just about everyone in Thailand wears those garbage bag ponchos when it rains, and you can pick one up anywhere for less than a hot meal, but if you’re looking for something a little more durable Check These Out!
Whether you’ll be hiking, running or just walking around town - decide before you come and pack accordingly. Whatever shoes you end up going with, we’d recommend picking up some good Arch Supports.
Don't Stress Over Clothes! Whatever you forget, rest assured you’ll be able to buy it in Thailand; and it will likely be cheaper. Figure out what you want, do a little research, and plan on spending between 30-50% on it when you get there!
Deodorant - Unless you're a big fan of spray-ons or roll-on liquids, BYOD!
Toiletries - Your favorite shampoos and hair-products are worth bringing extra, you won't be able to find a new brand very easily! At least, not one you can read.
Feminine Hygiene Products - Stock up on your brand or look into reusable options. These are VERY limited in Asia and tampons are not all created equally!
Comfortable Headphones - The plane is one thing, but if you're planning to work anywhere public - you'll need these. You'll also likely be woken up by monks playing the gong or roosters around 4:30 every morning, so having a way to tune them out is good!
Hand Scale - Different airlines have different rules for how much you're allowed to bring, and it's always cheaper to pay for baggage when you buy your ticket online than it is at the airport. Know how much your stuff weighs and plan ahead! Here's one that tells the temperature too :)
Every blog on the interwebs recommends booking an Airbnb for your first couple of nights and finding your bearings before deciding on a place to settle down. We also recommend this plan; but after living in Chiang Mai for two months, spending much of that time moving around from place to place in order to see as many areas as possible, we can honestly say that our first place was a God send! We stumbled upon a cozy loft while trying to find a place close to Punspace Nimman (a co-working space), but we had no idea how centrally located, and how inexpensive and perfect it really was until we’d left.
For anyone planning to visit Chiang Mai, you can’t beat The Nakara Loft - trust us! It’s owned by a super nice guy named Tani, who studied in the U.S. (speaks English), and has a 24hr housekeeper who can help you out with anything you need. Awesome pool, plenty of lounge & work space, great wifi (25+mbps), cheap energy (4baht/unit), no extra charge for water and his prices range between 12,000-15,000 baht/month (~$360-460USD) with a 5,000 baht deposit (~$150USD).
The only downsides are the beds are traditionally Thai (firm) and there is a little noise from the Kad Suan Kaew mall at night.
Most cell carriers in Asia offer really good data plans, so long as your phone is unlocked before you get here. There are three main options for carriers: d’Tac, True and AIS. While True boasts wider coverage and d’tac is the historical norm - AIS has a couple of perks that the others do not. Firstly, they have an unlimited 1mbps service starting at 400 baht/month (~ $12USD). While that’s not very fast, they also offer free high-speed internet near any business who uses them for wifi; so long as you’re on one of their plans. Every mall and most digital nomad hotspots around town use AIS, including CAMP on the 4th floor of the Maya Shopping Center - a free co-working space for anyone who has one of their SIM cards. Convinced yet?
Pro-Tip: No matter what plan you get, the best prices are at the Maya!
Grab is an Uber like app, and it’s great for getting around when you first arrive, but for any trip over a couple of days, it's worth renting a scooter. Places like Buddy Bikes are very well known, but most really popular places not only have the highest prices, they charge a full month’s fee for a deposit as well. For a cheaper option that’s just as good, check out Mango Bike Rents. That way, you’ll have money left over for when the police stop you (500baht/stop ~ $15USD)!
We got our scooter for 2,500 baht/month (~$75USD); and the deposit was only $30USD.
There are a million blogs that tell you where to find things in Chiang Mai, but after going to just about every place that claimed to be for people "on a budget" we realized just how varied people's budgets can be. Here are the places that you won't have to sacrifice price OR quality for!
For the first month, we didn’t cook once! After so many years of never going out, it was really nice to spoil ourselves. Chiang Mai is one of those magical places where eating out costs almost the same as cooking for yourself. But after our first month, we started having breakfast at home almost every day - simply for the convenience of it.
For fresh produce, dried fruit, souvenirs and lasting memories - check out Warrot Market or the Sunday Night Market!
For regular groceries, there are stores in the basement of every mall in town and a 7/11 on every corner. Rimping is the expensive grocery store and Tops has all of the same things for just a little less. If you’ve never had Muesli with yogurt for breakfast - try it!
Corner pharmacies can be found just about everywhere here as well. You’ll probably get a sore throat or stomach bug, but they pass pretty quickly and medical care costs less than 1/10th what it does in the U.S.; if you need more immediate care.
Fun Fact: Thailand accounts for ~ 40% of the worlds medical tourism market…because they’re really good and really inexpensive!
Ok, so we absolutely love to eat! There are many local places that have amazing food, but there are just as many western alternatives. Here are a couple of our favorite places :)
Ganum Coffee (Nimman) - Just around the corner from Punspace, you'll find just-ok coffee, but the best value breakfast in town! For 80 baht (~$2.45); you get two eggs, a croissant and a 16 oz smoothie. Not only that, but we’re pretty sure the owner (Viceloy - “The Viceroy Of Breakfast”) buys farm-fresh eggs and his croissants will make you weep. Try a mango-coconut smoothie if you want all other fruit ruined for you!
Salad Concept (Nimman & Old Town) - A favorite of healthy eaters in Chiang Mai, this place is like subway for healthy wraps and salads! They’re a little preoccupied with presentation (they don’t cut anything), so if you want to be able to eat your food - go for the wrap!
Khao Tom Baht Diao (Nimman) - A local place with a tree growing through it. Here, you can find just about any of the Thai food you’ll come to know and love, and you’ll have a tough time spending more than $5USD; because you can’t eat that much food!
PRO-TIP: Stay away from the free dessert (spoiler alert - it’s grass jelly)!
Boarder Run (Santitham) - A taco truck that’s always on the move, these guys have burrito’s figured out. For 100 baht (~ $3USD), you get as many things as your little heart desires wrapped up in one of the best burritos you’ll ever have. To make sure you can find them, check their facebook and plan ahead!
Maya Food Court (Nimman) - For more amazing budget meals, the basement level and 4th floor of the Maya Shopping Centre have every kind of food you could want. Pretty much every mall has good food for amazing prices, but this one is the best around. Check out the duck lady on the 4th floor - she rocks!
Birds Nest Cafe (Old Town) - Easily the best breakfast you’ll have in Chiang Mai! These guys are obsessed with organic and healthy good tasting things. The food takes a while to prepare, because it’s all made from scratch, and the banana pancakes are the fluffiest, most heavenly things we’ve ever had! Fresh mango and dragon fruit with local honey…just go there!
Cat Shack (Old Town) - Our friend Lexie took us here our last week in town and we were sad to not be able to go back. From the burrito with a lentil glaze, to the massaman curry and pesto pasta…this place takes fusion food to the next level! Everything we had was delicious, and the whole bill only came out to ~ $12USD; for 3 people!
Lastly, no visit to Chiang Mai would be complete without visiting “The Lady in the Cowboy Hat”. She not only has branding figured out, but her pork is probably the best you’ll ever have! (North Gate - Old Town)
Pro-Tip: Order pi-sant ("special") if you want a much larger helping for a barely higher price - works anywhere!
There are so many places to start out and, while Chiang Mai is arguably the most popular pick, it won't be everyone's favorite. We chose Chiang Mai because it would be a good place to focus and get a grip on our new lives, but maybe you really need a beach to turn off and disconnect for a bit. Figure out why you're leaving, and then pick a place that supports your reason for doing so. Check out NomadList for the most relevant searching imaginable
While SE Asia is a cheaper place to live than most, you still can't travel without money in the bank. Luckily, there are many ways for you to make money on the go: copywriting, bookeeping, dropshipping, blogging, coding, web design, working as a ranch hand or investing in crypto - there are a million ways to make a buck online. Head on over to Google, search what you know, figure out how you're going to make it - then make it!
Pro-Tip: Have a garage sale, cancel useless subscriptions and build a habit of budgeting daily. The less you're spending on crap you don't need, the more you'll have to stay in the Villa instead of the Hostel - not that they're all bad.
The Bank of America Travel Rewards card is a favorite of travelers everywhere! With 1.5 points on every dollar spent and 25,000 points if you spend $1,000 in your first 90 days, it's no wonder. You will definitely hit that minimum if you're traveling, and you'll save a bunch in international transaction fees; because this card has none.
Another option is the Charles Schwab investment account, which also doesn't charge transaction fees - and they'll reimburse your ATM fees as well. More than enough reason to pick up one of these cards if you can!
This list just wouldn't feel complete without mentioning Revolut App. With everything from 1% cash back to free international transfers and exchanging crypto, these guys have global banking figured out!
Different areas have different diseases - go figure! Get your shots well in advance and avoid death.
You'll need to get your passport and visa situation sorted out before you go. It is possible to travel around without getting visas beforehand, but you still need to know the laws and how they can affect you so you don't end up in a third-world jail - although, a massive fine is far more likely.
From ScottsCheapFlights to AirfareWatchdog, there are all sorts of sites designed to save you money on travel. Be sure to check out our previous post The Voyage Away From Home for some tips on finding the best deals!
There are tons of facebook groups for everywhere you'll want to go. Joining, monitoring and interacting with these groups is a great way to know what you're in for! We even found our most recent villa by asking one of these groups some specific questions on where to stay.
One of the most important things you'll need is last on the list for good reason; you can't be in America when you get it if you're an American citizen! SafetyWing insurance is the one to beat - at $37USD/month for amazing coverage!!!
And that's about it! I hope this has been helpful. If you liked it (or hated it), please be sure to let me know! And don't forget to follow or subscribe to hear more about this crazy new adventure we're on!
Thanks for reading!
Till next time,
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