Backpacking through Southeast Asia is often a dream for young people living in other parts of the world, but it’s something that is easily achievable with a little advance knowledge and planning.
However, depending on which country you want to visit and how long you want to travel for, there are some important things that you must know to avoid your travel plans being disrupted. This simple guide will help you to stay out of trouble and make what might be a once-in-a-lifetime trip a memorable one for you.
Ready your gear
Even though you may be traveling on a budget, the one thing you should not skimp on is a good quality lightweight backpack with the best possible security features for your belongings.
Companies like Luggage Direct have many backpack options for this kind of travel need, and through their website you can check the weight and specifications of all the major brands.
Check visa requirements
Americans, Europeans, Australians, and Canadians can travel to most Southeast Asian countries visa-free, or obtain a visa upon arrival. Most of the visas that are granted on arrival are free, but some countries like Indonesia charge a fee.
A few countries like Vietnam also require advance online applications for visas on arrival. So be aware in advance of the particular visa requirements for each country you want to include on your itinerary, because you really don’t want the hassle of arriving at the airport and finding out that you can’t enter the country because you didn’t meet the visa requirements.
Plan flights ahead
Many backpackers plan on the basis of booking one flight to a Southeast Asian country and then a flight from another country for their flight back home, intending to book flights in between only after they have decided how long to stay in each place.
This works for some countries, but other countries like the Philippines require a confirmed outbound flight booking before you are allowed to board a flight to that country. This makes including the Philippines on an itinerary quite difficult.
The solution is to make the Philippines the first destination, decide how many days you will want to stay there, and then book a flight to a country like Thailand that doesn’t have such restrictions. From there you can travel by land or air to other neighboring countries like Vietnam and Cambodia, and just book your onward travel to your next destination when you feel like it.
Therefore it’s important to research what requirements there may be on having confirmed onward bookings when doing your visa research.
Plan your budget
Aside from marvellous beaches and magical tourist spots, another great thing about traveling to Southeast Asia is the cost. Compared to other destinations in the world, it’s relatively cheaper to go backpacking around this exotic region. You’ll discover that accommodation and food is cheaper than most countries, especially if you are prepared to eat local food.
Your daily budget should include your meals for the day, your transportation allowance, and pocket money for whatever activities you might want to do. But you should also allot some extra budget for emergencies and leave this in a bank account that you can access with an international ATM card.
Also be aware that Singapore is one of the most expensive cities in the world (and Brunei is on the pricey side too), so whilst you should certainly include Singapore on any Southeast Asian trip, you may want to limit the number of days that you want to spend there. The other eight countries in Southeast Asia are all much cheaper options.
Research accommodation options
You may not want to book accommodation in advance (except perhaps your first one or nights) but you should research in advance what is available in the destinations that you intend to visit. That way you won’t spend a lot of time when you are away looking for the next night’s accommodation.
There are many backpacker hostels that you can book for as little as $5 to $10 per day. Some places have affordable private rooms at around $20 per night. There are many accommodation options around Southeast Asia that are really nice but also inexpensive, so you don’t have to worry about sleeping in a poorly kept room just so you can stretch out your budget.
Another great thing about hostels is that you can meet other backpackers who are doing the same thing as you are. Most will be happy to share some tips from their personal experiences.
Research weather and festivals
There are many annual festivals that happen around Southeast Asia that you might want to experience for yourself. For instance the popular Moon Festival is a highly recommended event that many locals and foreigners attend. Research some festivals of the countries you’ll be visiting because you might just be around during that time.
Also, take note of the weather for the time you want to visit. You might want to avoid the rainy season and stick to the months when the climate is drier. Although many do like to travel in the off-peak rainy season when everything is so much greener and prices are often cheaper.
Know some language and understand norms
Since you’re visiting other countries that all have cultural differences from where you’re from, it’s wise to know in advance about their norms and learn a few basic local phrases to get you through your backpacking adventure.
Many locals appreciate it when you try to speak to them using their language, even if it just translates to “Good morning”. This shows sincerity and a general interest in their country and to its people.
Another thing to consider is to understand the do’s and don’ts in the countries you are in. For example, in Thailand it is considered extremely rude to show the soles of your shoes to other people, and in many countries you will be expected to remove your shoes before entering homes, and even some shops and guesthouses.
Knowing what is expected in respect of these cultural norms in advance of your arrival in Southeast Asia, will help make your trip gaffe-free, and make your trip more enjoyable for both you and anyone traveling with you.