Crystal clear waters, towering skyscrapers, great street food, ancient ruins, beautiful deserted islands, and ancient contemplative scenes blend with nightlife bustling after nightfall. There’s always something to excite your senses everywhere you go when backpacking in Southeast Asia!
No matter how you choose to travel, Southeast Asia is a great place for first-time visitors and a repeat destination. Backpackers from all over the world are finding it more appealing than ever to visit this place.
In this travel guide, we’ll focus on backpacking in Southeast Asia, common travel mistakes, and the best way to avoid them on your next trip.
#1: Avoid overpacking
No matter how much you feel you will need during your trip, avoid packing too much. You probably won’t need half of what you pack. In addition, many footpaths have potholes and are blocked. Do you really want to drag a suitcase with wheels around? Additionally, mini-bathroom items and clothing are plentiful and affordable in markets across Southeast Asia. When packing, focus more on carrying essentials, sunscreen, which is quite expensive in Asia, and feminine hygiene products. Oh, and don’t forget any prescription medications you may be taking. Get some more top packing tips on our travel blog!
#2: Plan your trip (but not too much)
While it’s certainly advisable to organize parts of your travel, keep in mind that over-planning will rob you of complete freedom on a backpacking adventure. To relieve this pressure, you can always book a group tour for part of your trip and enjoy the thrill of traveling solo before or after.
#3: Spend wisely
Without budgeting, you will most likely end up spending more than expected and I doubt that you want to end your beggar journey! It is recommended to withdraw larger amounts to avoid ATM fees every time you withdraw cash, as fees fluctuate around $5. In Southeast Asia, it’s worth two meals! Keep your money in different places so that in the unfortunate event of a pickpocket you won’t get stuck.
#4: Don’t overstay your visa
Don’t let the laid-back culture of Southeast Asia fool you, i.e. the laxity of road rules (green means go… and red means go faster). If you overstay your visa, you could face widespread travel bans and hefty fines, so stay up to date with information from your visa manager as you travel around.
#5: You think you like spicy food?
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when backpacking is to order ‘spicy’ food in Southeast Asia because that’s what you’re used to back home. Note: the local no-spicy standard is still mild (most cases) and can sometimes bring tears to your eyes. Now picture what real seasoning can do.
#6: Accept flexibility
Maybe you’re used to keeping time and doing things on schedule back home. Well, in Southeast Asia, the culture is very different. Don’t be surprised if the tuk-tuk driver decides to stop to say hello to his wife or visit his mother along the way, and it won’t be just a 5-minute stop. Strict deadlines are unprecedented, so be flexible, take a breath, and expect the unexpected. It’s one of the joys of traveling!
#7: Stay hydrated & plan accordingly
While it’s not possible to bring enough drinking water for the entire trip, you’ll need to plan accordingly. You can carry a water filter with you to ensure that contaminants are removed from your drinking water, including brushing your teeth, and make sure to use refill stations and reusable bottles when possible.
#8: Like to party?
Fine, just be careful! Small buckets used to build sand castles are ubiquitous in liquor stores, also known as Thai buckets. Your alcoholic beverage may be served in one of these categories, usually a ‘cocktail’ or a drink consisting of a Red Bull and cola blend. You’ll probably want a couple of buckets of ice to cool off the party heat, but these drinks are strong and make you uncomfortable.
#9: Have relaxing days
To fully enjoy your trip to Southeast Asia, you’ll want to avoid excessive partying and drinking all night. It’s easy to get sucked into the constant parties and active nightlife! But if you do, by the time the sun rises, you’ll be too exhausted to travel around and enjoy everything the area has to offer. And humidity certainly doesn’t affect the feeling of a hangover.
#10: Be wise with your eating choices
In Asia, street food is 99% better than restaurant food; plus it’s more value for money! Eating in a sit-down restaurant will cost you money and can sometimes be time-consuming, so do like the locals and try the street food. Just use some common sense and make sure it’s new!
#11: Traveling alone
There is a difference between traveling alone and traveling alone. If you are visiting a new country for the first time, you can always join a group tour. That way, you’re traveling alone, but not alone! This way, you will still meet new people, have a lot of fun, and enjoy inner peace no matter what. Read more about solo backpacking on our travel blog here.
#12: Buy travel insurance
Never underestimate the importance of travel insurance, no matter how healthy or lucky you are! Even if you’ve survived years without seeing a doctor, there’s still a lot that climate change and diet can do to your body. Travel insurance is just as important as your backpack; you cannot afford to travel without either. Being insured is priceless.
#13: Learn the basics of culture
Before you travel to another country, familiarize yourself with the basic cultural practices. You don’t want to accidentally offend people with your gestures or conversations. For example, in Southeast Asia, it is not respectful to touch someone’s head. Most are Buddhists, the head is a sacred part of a person’s body. Also, talking about monarchy or government can be a topic of conversation around the world, but in Southeast Asia, we recommend staying away from these conversations.
#14: Embrace your independence!
A backpacking trip is a time of fun and independence, but more importantly, it’s a time to learn about the world and yourself. As a backpacker, avoid relying too much on others, especially if they are strangers you only meet during your travels. However you choose to travel – alone, with friends or as part of a small group tour – accept your independence. You understand.
With these backpacking tips, you’re on your way to a great backpacking adventure through Southeast Asia!