Winter in Minnesota is important to people who live here. It gives us an appreciation for the short summers on the lake, plenty of time to play hockey, and a reason to get the hell out of here! It’s a common theme in Minnesota; migrate to warmer climates after Christmas. Usually that means somewhere like Arizona, Florida, or somewhere in Mexico. The weather is warm, the tickets are cheap, and everyone speaks English.
Everyone has a comfort zone. For me that’s being able to ask someone where a bathroom is without having them point me in a general direction, but everyone is different. Some people just need a Holiday Inn close to where they need to be. But for the most part, familiarity on a vacation is needed for most people to feel comfortable. That’s usually why vacations are taken, to relax somewhere and get away from the stress of normal life. However, I look at vacations different. I use that time to get outside my comfort zone and challenge myself to do something different, because that’s the only way to learn, and grow as a person.
This January, I woke up one night to a dream I was back in Sydney, all alone, exploring the city. I was all alone in a foreign country with no friends or family, I remember feeling completely empowered, and truly happy being so independent. When I woke up I knew all my trips up to this point had been fun and relaxing, but never made me as happy as that dream did. I realized when I woke up, having that experience made me grow into a different person, a better person. Because of that dream I found my passion; travel.
So this year I decided to do something different than the norm. I decided to travel SE Asia! In February, I went to the Philippines, Thailand, and Singapore. All of them had a different vibe, but they were similar in the respect that each culture was vastly different than our own. I needed that this trip. I wanted to immerse myself in a culture to learn more about the world and myself.
I reached out to Sota Clothing because the culture at that company is to embrace travel and demonstrate a Minnesota lifestyle through adventures, not just in Minnesota, but all over the world. Sota was nice enough to give us some gear for my travels and prove even across seas and in different countries, Minnesota isn’t all that different than anywhere else if you have appositive attitude and a willingness to embrace your surroundings. Below is a brief description of each country!
Manilla is the capital of The Philippines, but no one stays on the main island. Traffic is ridiculous, no beaches, no beautiful skyscrapers, just undeveloped areas and a bunch of night clubs. The locals have TV’s in their car because on a 5-mile trip, they might be stuck for 3 hours in one spot. No one travels to the Philippines for Manilla, they go to one of their famous islands instead.
In general, this country is extremely poor and I think that’s the first thing I noticed. Stray dogs are everywhere, and there are lots of children begging for food. However, we were told to NOT give them money, parents use their kids for extra income instead of sending them to school. Cabs are nowhere to be found. Instead there are bikes with carriages on the side which is extremely fun to ride in, but also a little terrifying.
Everyone is so nice it’s kind of like being home. Most people speak very good English and they LOVE basketball. If you wear a jersey you might get a free beer! Food is very cheap. On average, a full plate of food is around $3 or less depending on if its street food or a restaurant. Beer is around $.50 so drink up! The best thing on any island is the sunsets. It’s truly breathtaking. Just compare it to drinking beer on a boat up north except imagine it’s on a white sand beach and you have spent less than $10 all day for food, alcohol, and the most amazing scenery known to man. The views alone are worth it, but the Instagram opportunities make it a must!
Thailand is famous for its street food. It is part of the culture here, and way cheaper than restaurants, just make sure its cooked in front of you! A plate of food may cost less that $2 and it will fill you up, so order a lot and try a little bit of everything since the flavors of each dish are so different and complex, every bite is like a piece of heaven. They also have food stands for different countries like Vietnamese, Chinese, or even Indonesia so we have an opportunity to enjoy the flavors of SE Asia without visiting all of them which is great news for travelers on a budget.
Along with the food, there is no shortage of entertainment in Bangkok. There are many temples there, each with distinct architecture and meaning to locals. These monuments are beautiful and worth a day of sight-seeing, especially The Grand Palace where the King used to live, you can get lost there for hours. Oh, and don’t forget to get a suit tailored! Thailand exports fabric for designer brands. Get them tailored to your figure with the highest of quality fabric for a fraction of the cost. Go to Boss Tailor, tell them Jon from Minnesota sent you!
At night, Khao San Road is a backpacker’s dream! People from all over the world enjoy a Burbon Street vibe with plenty of street food options and vibrant bars. But most of all, this was my favorite place because like me, they embraced the idea of traveling to a foreign country to experience a life different then their own, which made everyone very approachable and interesting to talk to. After a few drinks, bring your new friends to a Muay Thai fight at a bar or go to a Ping Pong show, just don’t tell your parents what you saw…
Singapore, unlike both the Philippines and Thailand are extremely clean and expensive. I would compare it to New York City because of the huge skyscrapers and huge financial district, except it’s the cleanest place I’ve ever seen. You can’t even chew gum in Singapore because its banned from the country. If you litter you go to Jail, if you steal you might get executed. Be on your best behavior here, and enjoy a $12 beer because you won’t be able to afford many of them.
Go see China Town, Little India, and any Hawker Center to find flavors from around the world. Hawker Centers are basically food courts but with cheap food like in Thailand. If you can find one for every meal, do it because you can save money while eating authentic food that will make you ugly cry in the process.
My favorite thing to see in Singapore was Gardens by the Bay which is a huge botanical garden. The whole place is self-sustaining; it uses its rain water to feed every plant within its structure. They also have a man-made waterfall inside a Bio-dome! The best part is at night where their iconic Tree Flowers light up and put on a light show twice a night. This is a can’t miss experience and truly beautiful.
“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” It opens up a new perspective on life. I lost headphones in the Philippines. I wasn’t mad at all because the people I was surrounded by couldn’t afford a phone let alone headphones to listen to music. They were happier than I was by just being in paradise, living life to the fullest every day. I encourage everyone to plan a trip abroad this summer and get on that plane when it gets cold again. If you have the courage to step outside your comfort zone, you will grow into a better person, gain perspective, and have new memories and values that will last a lifetime.