5 Expat New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions: I never make them.

In the States, they just annoy me. Invariably, in the first few weeks of January, the gym will be crowded with people stuffed into fresh Spandex, clutching water bottles and looking confused. They’ll clog the machines, fill the classes and then, by Valentine’s, all be gone. And I’ll think to myself—Why?

An exercise having your good intentions crushed by the reality of your laziness and an inherent disregard for your own welfare—what’s about that is fun?

But this year is different. Maybe it’s because the world is ending and all that, or maybe it’s because, here in Cambodia, the stakes are different: the consequences for poor life management are that much more dire. So, for the first time in years, I’ve made five New Year’s resolutions. They aren’t the self-care activities I know I’ll do—go running, eat my veggies, keep a clean apartment, go to meetings. But these resolutions offer a challenge. They’re all simple and totally attainable, but require the spending of a little more money in the face of cheaper alternatives. Which is one of my greatest spiritual challenges.

Here’s what they are, and how I’m faring:

1. A coconut a day

“No one in your generation gets thirsty,” my dad once remarked. “They get dehydrated.”

It’s funny cause it’s true—“this isn’t merely a dry mouth, this is a medical condition!” But you know what I’ve learned in Cambodia? There is actually is a difference between thirst and dehydration, and the latter is really fucking serious.

I’ll walk around the city. Because the weather is nice now and I’m not yet sick of it and I’m cheap, and motos and tuk-tuks add up (see below). I won’t feel thirsty, so I’ll forget to drink water. Then I’ll feel dizzy and nauseous, and think I need to eat. I’ll grab something at a food stall, but I’ll still feel crappy.

Finally it occurred to me: I need to hydrate.

Luckily, coconuts are cheap and plentiful here. Vita Coco, aka “hipster juice,” may be all the rage in the States right now, but the coconut juice is actually pretty important here. Coconuts provide a lot of electrolytes; they’re kind of like nature’s Gatorade, minus all the food coloring and sugar.

So: a coconut a day. So far I’ve missed one day.

2. Not taking motos

Without public buses or (haha) a metro system, the cheapest way to get around town without your own transport is taking motos. You ride on the back of them, and they’re driven by weathered men in busted rubber sandals who smile a lot but usually have no idea where you’re going. A ride costs about $1, while a tuk-tuk is around $1.50-$3, depending on your destination.

But Cambodia lacks a few things that keep motos from being an ideal form of transit. #1: No helmet laws for passengers. #2: No safety regulations on helmets sold here anyway, so most helmets aren’t much more than glorified pieces of tin foil. #3: Cambodia has one of the worst traffic-related death tolls in the region. Really. Heads are busted open on the regular. #4: On the back of a moto, you’re an easy target for bag-snathcers. #5: When someone snatches the bag of someone on a moto, their body is often dragged off the moto as well, creating the opportunity for hard-core injuries (ie: a friend smacked her head on the street, had brain swelling and lost her sense of taste). #6: Cambodia lacks modern health care facilities, and should you find yourself in need of emergency skull-stitching, you’ll need to be evacuated to Bangkok asap.

I’ve heard enough stories. I was already not taking motos at night, when people are drunker and drive faster. But I’ve resolved that it’s tuk-tuks all the way now.

I should be transparent, and admit that I’m working the Freegan version of road safety—I’ll still accept rides from friends on their motos. This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but I rationalize it by saying my friends are better and more sober drivers than the moto dudes. (Yeah, it’s a lil flimsy…)

So far, I haven’t taken a ride on a single moto. Other than my friends’.

3. Buying real sunblock

You can tell if a commodity is only used by foreigners by how expensive it is. Valium: cheap. Dental floss: expensive. Bootleg DVDs: cheap. Sunblock: very expensive.

It’s been pointed out to me that sunblock is expensive in the States. That’s true, but it’s still a few dollars more expensive here. And $14 feels even more expensive when you’re living on $23/day.

So I’ve been buying this $3.30 Chinese sunblock. I went to the company’s website, and it seems more or less legit. But the sunblock feels weird, too thin and slimy, and it’s real hit or miss: sometimes it’ll work just fine, other times I’ll get burnt despite frequent reapplications.

It’s not so much the cancer I’m worried about as the aging (cause I’m vain, and as previously noted, have a less-than-stellar regard for my health and safety). But I’ve recently discovered that I’m in the early stages of getting what I call White Person Neck—you know, those deep, leathery creases old dudes have in the back of their necks. Ugh.

So I’ve resolved to bite the bullet and shell out the big bucks for the Nivea. Just, you know, as soon as I finish this last Kustie bottle…

4. Real health insurance

You can fib it a bit in some places, but as previously noted, the chances of accidents are high here, and the access to modern emergency care low. And, I’ve learned, once you’ve been in a destination for more than six months, World Nomads considers you a resident and not a traveler. So if you submit a $10,000 I-had-to-be-flown-to-Thailand bill, they’re probably gonna deny it.

So, in the interest of not bankrupting yourself or your relatives, you gotta go for the real deal. My Aetna estimate for just evacuation and hospitalization insurance was over $1200 for a year policy. Which sucks, but I suppose that’s what credit cards were made for, right?

I’ve got until April on my traveler’s insurance, so I haven’t crossed this bridge yet. But of all the resolutions, I’d argue that this is the most vital and, though also the most painfully expensive, the one I won’t cheat on.

5. Regular pedicures

Hahaha—no! It’s not a joke. This is a dirty fucking city—dust and trash and stagnant puddles of water/piss—and your feet get gnarly quick. Why do you think the Southeast Asians are so big on taking their shoes off in their houses? At the end of the day, my feet look like blackened gremlin claws.

The good news is that pedicures are cheap as shit here. You can go to the market and get a quick job with non-sanitized tools for a couple bucks. Or you can go somewhere niiiiice and clean and get the layers of grime scrubbed off for under $10.

I’m shooting for a minimum of two a month. This is probably my most fun resolution and because it involves primping and indulgence, one I’m more likely to keep. I mean, can you say no to these toes?

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10 Responses to “5 Expat New Year’s Resolutions”


  1. 1 Kirstin January 21, 2012 at 12:51 am

    It took a solid year for me to finally get real health insurance. Turns out even though prescription drugs are suuuuuper cheap and a doctors appointment can cost $8 at the fancy private clinic, they’ll do things like prescribe anti-psychotics and weekly IV treatments for neck pain. That’s the thing about being an expat versus a traveler. When you travel you can take the motos and save a few bucks, but when you live somewhere you want to be comfortable and live well. Good luck with your resolutions!

  2. 2 Steffi January 21, 2012 at 7:33 pm

    sounds like a good set of resolutions to me. I’m not sure how to live without pedicures after my months in SE Asia and I usually hate beauty pampering stuff. I too remember being in a drugstore in PP and staring in disbelief at the $25 sun block. I wonder what the skin cancer rate is like in Cambodia (or do they die first in a bike crash?).

    • 3 laurenquinn January 22, 2012 at 9:49 am

      No, not at all. I think it’s two-fold: 1. White folks need sunblock more. Cambodians have darker skin. Really, I should be living in fog 9 months out of the year. 2. They stay out of the sun or wear lots of layers and hats, so they don’t need sunblock.

  3. 4 Flora January 21, 2012 at 10:17 pm

    I stocked up on sunscreen in the US before I moved to Singapore, because that shit is expensive here too. I fear White Person Neck too!

  4. 5 Eva January 27, 2012 at 2:07 am

    Potential sunblock solution: Every time you get a visitor from back home, institute a sunblock toll. My folks did this when they lived in Barbados, because you can only get crappy and super expensive Hawaiian Tropic on the island. Visitors brought the good stuff, the Ombrelle, plus odds and ends like peanut butter, tamari, and smoked salmon. Worked out well.

    • 6 laurenquinn January 27, 2012 at 10:33 am

      Yeah, I thought of this, for books and magazines too. But Cambodia is fucking far—not so many people coming through. (Hint, hint)

    • 8 Madona June 8, 2012 at 2:33 pm

      the girls choose this baseuce they can make more money and support their families. The girls are free to quit their job at anytime. If I had never been to thailand and seen it for myself than I would probably believe bullshit like this

      • 9 laurenquinn June 8, 2012 at 3:53 pm

        Um, I’m not sure what you’re referring to. Sounds like a comment directed at a critique of working girls, which I don’t think I mention in this post. Maybe you’re referring to the manicurists?

  5. 10 Larissa January 31, 2012 at 3:50 am

    Just found your blog and I love it! A kindered spirit and California sister (I’m from southern but wish I could claim northern at times). About this post, I just wanted to say great call on the motos. I was in PP for a month back in 2005 and am still having nightmares about all the close encounters with death that I experienced. The drivers are so sweet but.. half asleep most of the time or just too old to be driving? Also jealous about the pedicures. Basic ones run around $40 over here in Sweden. Un.be.lieve.able.


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Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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