The 6 Lessons I Learned During 6 Weeks in Southeast Asia

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I recently spent 6 weeks in Southeast Asia (okay, so it was only really 5 weeks but with the travel time it came out to about 5.5 weeks and that’s just not as catchy).

I spent the month of October 2017 in Bali and then I spent a week in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

My time in Bali was spent living with about 17 other digital nomads through The WiFi Tribe and my time in Chiang Mai was my first ever completely solo international trip.

As with travel in general, but especially solo travel, it taught me a few things about myself. Here is a breakdown of the six main lessons I learned during my “six” weeks in Southeast Asia.


Lesson #1: I don’t belong in tropical climates.

Look … I love drooling over gorgeous pictures of white sandy beaches and tropical rain forests as much as the next girl. Living in that place for any period of time, that’s another thing entirely.

I have a confession (and I’m prepared to be stoned for it) but … I actually don’t enjoy beaches all that much.

Yes, they’re beautiful and, yes, I absolutely love watching and hearing the waves crash against the beach as I contemplate my life choices, what my overall purpose is on this planet, and the meaning of existence in general.

But, they’re sooo boring!

I can spend about half a day at a beach and I’m good for several months.

Laying on sand is uncomfortable. I can’t stand being hot and sweaty. I’m terrified of being in the ocean.

Did I mention I hate being hot and sweaty? I did? Well, allow me to repeat it again.


I knew this going into the trip but I had never really been to a tropical location as beautiful as Bali so I had hoped the beauty of it would be worth it.

It wasn’t fully.

No matter what I was doing and no matter how much fun I was having, it was always dampened by the fact that I felt absolutely disgusting and miserable.

I have almost no pictures of me from my time in Bali because I was so hot and sweaty that I hated how I looked in all of them.

This isn’t to say I’ll never go to another tropical location. I just probably won’t spend an entire month there.


Lesson #2: Stray dogs make my heart hurt more than I can handle.

I’ve always had a soft spot for animals, and especially dogs. I actually spent four years volunteering with a dog rescue when I lived in Indiana and one of our dogs was actually a foster failure.

I knew going into my time in Southeast Asia there would be stray dogs and that it would be difficult for me to see that.

I vastly underestimated just how difficult it would be.

During my time in Bali, it wasn’t uncommon to see about 40-50 stray dogs per day. They were everywhere. Outside our luxury private villas. On every single road. Wandering the beaches. Inside the restaurants.

They were emaciated, injured, and covered in fleas. Some were even missing legs because they’d been run over by a car or scooter.

It was heartbreaking.

On more than one occasional, I broke down in tears in the middle of a restaurant as a dog sat there and pleaded with me to give it some food.

I’m crying right now because I can still picture their sad faces. It was horrible and so much more difficult to get past than I imagined.

As soon as I got to a point where I could start to block it out and ignore them, I felt so guilty.

I was unable to get my rabies shot before the trip so I couldn’t even provide the dogs with love and affection.

Chiang Mai was quite a bit better with only seeing less than 10 dogs and cats total during my entire week. (Which is one of the major reasons I preferred it over Bali.)

The lesson I take away from that experience is that I will have to seriously consider whether or not it’s worth it for me to visit a location that has a severe problem with stray animals.

If I do visit a location with this problem, I will make sure I have my rabies shot so I can do some volunteer work with a local organization while I’m there.


Lesson #3: My soul may belong in the mountains, but I love visiting bustling cities.

Ever since I went on a family trip from Indiana to Colorado in the 6th grade, I’ve been in love with mountains and forests. Nothing can put my soul at ease like being in the mountains and it’s a major reason why my husband and I moved to Colorado in 2016.

Being able to look out of my window and stare at the Rocky Mountains every day helps keep me at peace.

So, it would stand to reason that I would be drawn to visit similar places when I travel.

Don’t get me wrong … I do want to visit those places. It’s why New Zealand is at the top of my wanderlust list.

But, even though I can’t stand the idea of living in a large city, I found the hustle and bustle in Chiang Mai to be invigorating.

I loved the fact there was always something going on. Always some new place to check out.

One of my favorite moments from my entire trip was sitting on the balcony of a restaurant and dusk and watching the night market come to life.

It was so energizing and I never wanted to stop exploring.


Lesson #4: I finally understand the value of a good co-working space.

I spent nearly a decade trying to break out of the cubicle world. I’m finally at the point where I can work from home and I had always rejected the idea of paying money to work outside my home whenever my podcast guests would talk about co-working spaces.

During my time in Bali, I was lucky enough to work in Dojo Bali and it was incredible!

It was about a two-minute walk from the beach. They had a beautiful pool you could cool off in. The building was beautiful. It was full of other (mostly millennial) people working on incredible and inspiring business ventures. Their smoothies and french fries were delicious. The WiFi was fast. The vibe was really cool and they had adopted a stray dog so I could admire him without having to feel bad because he was well taken care of.

It finally clicked just how motivating working in a place like that can be. Plus, you get to connect with a lot of really cool people who are accomplishing some amazing things.

On the other hand, I had loved my time at Dojo Bali so much that I decided to check out one of the most popular co-working spaces in Chiang Mai, Punspace, and I was less than impressed.

The building was a the perfect mix of rustic and industrial but it was lacking the inspiring energy I felt at Dojo. I actually only went there twice and then spent the rest of my time working out of the incredible cafe picture below; The Barn Eatery and Design.

The Barn Eatery and Design Chiang Mai, Thailand

My experience with Dojo has inspired me to check out some co-working spaces here in my own city and I’ll likely be joining one at the start of the new year.


Lesson #5: I’m entirely too damn old for roommates.

During my time in Bali with The WiFi Tribe, I had the option to share a room or upgrade to a private room. In an effort to keep costs down during the trip, I decided to share a room.

The roommate I was paired with was an incredibly lovely Italian woman who was so sweet but barely spoke a word of English and couldn’t sleep with the A/C on.

Remember lesson #1? Yeah, I need my A/C at night.

After only a couple of nights, I decided to upgrade and it was the best decision of the entire trip.

If you’ve listened to my podcast, it might surprise you to know that I’m actually pretty introverted. I need my alone time to decompress at the end of the day.

Prior to this trip, I thought I would be able to suck it up and deal with whatever I needed to deal with order to save a decent amount of money on my lodgings but that’s just not the case.

From here on out, it’s private rooms only for this gal.


Lesson #6: Cheap hostels are not worth the money you save.

While on a weekend trip to Ubud in Bali, our group decided to stay in a hostel to save some money. Our group was large enough that we were able to have two dorm rooms to ourselves and the price came out to about $5 per person for the night.

It was my first experience with a hostel and the building was beautiful!

The rat that scurried across my bed just as I was getting ready to lay down for the night, not so much.

A few of our group, myself included, ended up packing up and walking to another hostel around midnight because we weren’t sleeping with rats.

The new hostel was a little bit of an upgrade and came out to about $15 per person. However, in one of the rooms, some people from our group discovered a stray cat under their bed and when I laid down for the night, several ants started crawling across my pillow. I eventually killed them all and just gave up and went to sleep.

In Chiang Mai, I booked a private room in a hostel for the entire week. It came out to about $8/night and was one of the highest rated hostels in the Old City.

The walls were so dirty they were black in some spots. There were multiple types of bugs. The sheets felt slimy … like people had been sweating on them and they hadn’t been washed in a long time.

It was so uncomfortable I ended up checking after a couple of nights of sleep on top of my own towels and moved to a hotel I found a really good last-minute deal on.

Now, I don’t think the problems are hostels in general. I’ve seen some online that look immaculate and beautiful so my experience in Southeast Asia hasn’t put me off hostels entirely.

It did, however, teach me that saving a few bucks a night by going with a cheaper hostel is just so not worth it.


So, what do you think? Did I totally miss the boat in Southeast Asia or did you experience some of the same things? Head over to the Living Unconventionally Facebook Community and let me know.