This post contains affiliate links, which means if you click on a link I may receive a small commission at no cost to you.
Picture it: Cambodia. April 2016. The temperature: 90 bajillion degrees. My guest house: no electricity. This is a horror story.
I decided to spend 2 full months in Cambodia. The first month would be for me, and the second month I would be doing some good for some other human out there. I LOVED my first month in Cambodia. I started out in Kampot, a town on the water that’s famous for its black pepper. I mean, Kampot pepper is delicious. Oh, you didn’t know black pepper could be delicious? I hope you’ll get a chance to experience the magic that is the Kampot pepper soon, so all other black pepper can be ruined for you like it is for me.
At first I stayed in a $12 per night hostel with a pool that I’m pretty sure gave me a case of dysentery, but was very necessary because it’s scorching hot in Cambodia. Note to self: don’t swallow pool water. I only lasted at that hostel for a couple of days though. Then I went to paradise. I mean it. I booked a $15 cabin with a shared bath, and they kindly upgraded me to the $25 cabin with the works.
AND the food at the restaurant was delicious. AND they were right on the river. This is not a sponsored post, but if you’re reading this Greenhouse Kampot, holler at your girl. For real.
I took this idyllic picture of a kayaker at sunset there.
My actual kayaking experience involved me standing on the dock at sunrise trying to ease the kayak into the water and accidentally letting it go completely. And it went. Without me. After about 30 seconds of panic and calculations (“small savings account minus replacement kayak equals end of trip”) I realized if I just waited like 10 minutes, the current would bring the kayak back to me. There’s a life lesson in there somewhere. But mostly I learned I’m not made to kayak alone.
After Kampot, I spent a few days on Koh Rong, Cambodia’s white sand island.
I stayed on the less-popular part of the island, so I probably looked like I was on the world’s saddest honeymoon. Like if Carrie Bradshaw had gone to Mexico without Samantha, Miranda and the other one. But I made friends who were way better at posing for pictures than me.
Then it was time to be selfless and do stuff. I volunteered on an organic cricket farm in exchange for room and board. The farmer was a European dude who heard that crickets were the future of food. Yes, really. TL:DR version is this: Population is increasing, farming space is decreasing, crickets are high in protein, iron and calcium.
The farm work was actually writing emails and stuff, which was cool. What wasn’t cool was my accommodations. I was staying in a traditional Khmer-style house in a fan-only (no aircon) room. The electricity went out periodically. I would sweat constantly. The shower was a bucket and a cup.
I was ok with all of this before I agreed to work there. In theory. But in practice, it was nope. Especially considering a bed in an air-conditioned hostel in Cambodia is $12 a night, and the cricket farmer wasn’t feeding me. This wasn’t a WorkAway experience I’d recommend to another adult taking a gap year. And I couldn’t muster even a little bit of energy to look for my next work exchange. In the literal heat of this moment, I changed my plans, postponed my upcoming trip to the also-sweaty Malaysia, and flew to Australia.
Summer is winter in Australia. You know what I mean. And the Down Under weather was just what I needed to unmiserablize my situation. After sweating through my clothes by 7 am on the Siem Reap farm, winter weather in Perth and the Gold Coast gave me all the refreshment of the dysentery pool with none of the dysentery.
I know what you’re thinking. “So, Stephanie, you spend a few measly coins a night to sleep on bunk beds next to strangers in hostels, but you have no problem buying a full-priced ticked from Cambodia to Australia?” Well, that’s not what I did. I made a few good decisions that made my last-minute trip changes still budget friendly. See the handy numbered list below for the 411.
1. I didn’t buy a round trip ticket for my gap year.
I’ve had enough experiences with flight change fees ($300 effing dollars! Are you kidding me??) to know that if there’s ANY chance you’ll want to change your return plans, a one-way ticket is the way to go. This works when the difference between the 2 one-way flights and the round trip is less than the airline change fee. I recommend changing your plans at some time during the trip just to make this strategy pay off for you. Sound financial advice, right?
2. I got a good deal on the flight to Australia.
When I decided to travel to SE Asia, I signed up for email updates from all the regional airlines, so I’d be the first to know about fare sales. And it worked!
3. I flew out of an alternate airport.
The fare sale required some maneuvering on my part. It was cheaper to take separate flights from Cambodia to Kuala Lumpur to Perth, Australia than to book a flight from Cambodia to Australia. Even though the layover was still in Kuala Lumpur. I don’t get it either. But Kuala Lumpur is a great springboard for budget travel anywhere in SE Asia. If you come across a cheap flight to Malaysia, book it! Then determine where you actually want to visit later. One day, remind me to tell you about the time I flew from NYC to Belgrade, Serbia then took a bus to Budapest for $285 round trip. Never mind. I just did.
Alternate locations work for hotel stays as well. Vienna, Austria is only an hour by train from Bratislava, Slovakia. But good luck getting a room in a 5-star hotel in Vienna for $75 like in Bratislava.
If you have more time than money, flying into or staying in close-by cities can save you some dough. <
4. I had little luggage.
I travel with a carry-on suitcase and a small backpack. But what constitutes carry-on in the US is absolutely checked bag sized in Europe and Asia. Even still, by paying my extra baggage fees in advance online and not buying souvenirs for my family because I’m THAT family member, I could flit around from place to place without giving all my trip money to greedy airlines.
The key to packing with only carry-on sized bags is packing cubes! They compress your clothing so you can fit more in a smaller bag. I have this set:
If you travel long enough, your plans WILL change at some time. But those changes don’t have to cost you a lot of money. These travel tips worked together for me so that I got to spend a couple impromptu months in beautiful, expensive, mayonnaise-on-fries-eating Australia. Don’t miss the story of my glamorous experience with a trash dumpster converted into a diy composting toilet in Australia’s Swan Valley wine region. Subscribe to my newsletter for exclusive updates.
So, Travel Buddy, did your mid-trip change of plans end up costing you too much? Let’s commiserate down in the comments.