If you’re thinking of backpacking Southeast Asia soon, there’s a few general things you need to know before you go! Here are my top miscellaneous and general tips you’ll want to know for traveling SE Asia, so you can have the best experience possible.
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Those are just a few of the reasons it’s one of my favorite places I’ve ever traveled to.
And if you’re traveling to Southeast Asia, it’ll no doubt become one of your favorite destinations, too.
But… before you go, you need to read up on these essential miscellaneous tips to get an idea of what you should look out for, how to go about things (it’s definitely different in this corner of the world!), and more.
BACKPACKING SOUTHEAST ASIA: EVERY MISCELLANEOUS TRAVEL TIP YOU NEED TO KNOW
Don’t skimp on reading every single one of these tips! They’re essential for having an awesome backpacking trip in Southeast Asia. Also, don’t forget to read part 1, part 2, and part 3 of this travel guide!
1. Get Air Conditioning
This is one thing I’m so glad I learned early on in my SE Asia backpacking adventure. Do yourself a favor and don’t skip out on air conditioning! You’re going to thank me later.
Not only is paying for an air conditioned room only a few dollars more, when you come back after a day exploring, the cool, refreshing air is not something you’ll take for granted!
(Tip: If you are trying to travel on a shoestring budget, air conditioning isn’t 100% essential. If you’re someone who can get by without it, go for the cheaper room! But I’m someone who likes to be cold all time so it’s a must-have for me.)
Interested in seeing how cheap backpacking Southeast Asia can be? I scoured this book from Lonely Planet on how to travel Southeast Asia on a shoestring budget and it was SO helpful!
2. Don’t Overplan
Don’t over do it and get burnt out in the first leg of your backpacking trip! Plan to take it easy. I recommend 1 month for each country, that way you have the opportunity to really get to know it and can take your time.
Plus, this is a gorgeous place on earth, so you’ll want to relax, sit back, and enjoy it!
3. Stay Secure (and Smart)
Never leave your stuff unattended. Sure, you might think your hostel buddies are great, reputable people but unless you’ve been traveling with them for a while or really have gotten to know them, they might steal a few of your things.
4. Learn to Be Present
This couldn’t be more of an essential tip for backpacking Southeast Asia — god damnit, learn to be present!
When you’re constantly on the road, unpacking and packing up your things over and over again, meeting new people and then leaving them, and stumbling about this strange world, it can sometimes be hard to just sit back, chill out, and be present.
But it’s essential here; so many new things are happening and if you’re paying attention, the most incredible moments can pass by in a flash.
So, put the phone down, grab a Chang (aka Thailand’s local beer), and be present.
Psst, if you’d like to read a book on how to be present, I really love The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle!
5. Be Prepared to Burn Out
As mentioned earlier, the slower the better. But please understand and realize that you will likely burn out during your SEA backpacking trip.
Traveling is tiring. And exhausting.
But also realize that it’s okay to slow down and relax! You don’t have to do it all. You don’t have to see every single temple. Or eat every single local dish. It’s okay to take your time.
6. Safety is Highly Questionable
Throughout your Southeast Asia backpacking trip, you’ll likely have many, many moments where you’ll think to yourself “OMG THIS IS IT, THIS IS WHERE I DIE!”
But fret not, these people usually know what they’re doing. You’ll be fine! Safety isn’t as paramount as it is in western countries. It’s just the norm here.
7. Don’t Be Afraid of Strangers
No doubt, you’ll come to realize these are some of the nicest people in the world! And they love to talk to foreigners. So, don’t be afraid to interact to strangers!
You never know what could happen… sometimes the best stories stem from one opportunity of talking to someone new!
BUT, with that said, do keep your guard up and if something seems off, listen to your intuition and get yourself somewhere safe.
8. Splurge Here and There
When you get tired of staying in packed dorm rooms every single night, don’t hesitate on splurging here and there! Seriously.
Paying for a private, nice hotel or guesthouse room is peanuts compared to western countries so do yourself a favor and take advantage of these cheap prices while in SE Asia!
(If you’re heading to Vietnam and visiting Hoi An — which is a MUST-VISIT city! — check out this villa hotel. Dan and I splurged for a few nights here and it was BLISSFUL! And although I say “splurge”, it’s only about $34 per person!)
9. ALWAYS Wear a Helmet
This should be obvious but if you don’t wear a helmet while on a motorbike or scooter, you’re just asking for a terrible, horrible accident. Don’t be dumb. Wear a f*cking helmet.
(Psst, if you do decide to be dumb and not wear a helmet, make sure to at least get a reputable travel insurance that’ll cover you for your stupidity.)
10. Snatchers Beware
Snatchers are the guys that go around riding on motorbikes cutting off purses and bags from travelers body’s. Thus, always be aware of your surroundings and keep an eye out for anything that looks suspicious!
11. Avoid Unethical Animal Encounters
If you’re thinking of doing some sort of animal encounter, please, for god’s sake, make sure it’s ethical. Many elephant “sanctuaries” in Thailand aren’t actually sanctuaries.
To read more on what unethical animal encounters you shouldn’t participate in, take a look at this fat list I’ve put together.
P.S. The elephant photo above was taken at the Elephant Valley Sanctuary in Chiang Rai. No doubt, THE most ethical elephant sanctuary in Thailand!
12. Keep Track of Visa Requirements and Dates
This is a biggie, as you can easily lose track of time in Southeast Asia when having a good time! But always make sure you know your visa requirements and dates you need to leave.
13. Get Used to Saying “Yes!”
Because no one has fun when saying no!
Believe me, you’ll have a life-changing time when opening yourself up to new opportunities and experiences by saying yes.
14. Spread Out Your Money
Not in the budgeting way but in the physical way. Spread out your money and put it in different locations — such as a secret backpack compartment, wallet, toiletries bag, or even your socks.
This keeps any stealers on their toes and lessens their opportunity to take all of your cash. Also, this tip will come in handy if you lose your bag!
15. Track Your Money
To help make sure you don’t run out of money unexpectedly, make sure to keep track of it. No one wants to cut their trip short just because funds toppled faster than you thought!
16. Do Your Laundry
While you could save even more money by doing your own laundry with packed along detergent, it’s super duper easy (and CHEAP!) to get your laundry done in Southeast Asia.
It’s like every single shop, guesthouse, and hostel does laundry and it’s literally only a few dollars or less to get all of your clothes washed. So stay clean and do laundry!
17. Forget the Big Books
And take a Kindle instead! Not only will you save a ton of space, you have access to hundreds of thousands of different books to get your metaphorical hands into.
A few of my favorite reads include:
- The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (if you’re a dog lover, you’ll LOVE this book!) **This is literally my favorite book on earth.
- The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks — this is for those who want to learn more about mindset and taking your life to the next level!
- No Turning Back by Tiffany Snow — I’ll admit it… I’m a sucker for a good romance + action book. And this is a winner!
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling — Heck yeah, I’m a huge HP fan! And if you haven’t read these books yet, you NEED to!
18. Watch Out for Burning Season
In Northern Thailand and Laos, you’ll find the locals go through a burning season in February/March and it is brutal.
If you have any sort of breathing hinderance, such as asthma or even just a sensitivity to bad air, avoid this area at all costs during this time.
We visited Thailand in February and it was awful. One of the workers at our hostel even contracted conjunctivitis!
19. Download Offline Google Maps
Before you head to a location, such as Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, or Bali, download Google maps.
An essential tip for traveling Southeast Asia, downloading the maps ahead of time makes sure you don’t get lost if you lose service or don’t get a SIM card.
Not sure how to download offline maps? Check out this video!
Speaking of downloading things…
20. Download Offline Languages
First and foremost, if you don’t have Google Translate, download that ASAP! And then before you get to a country, or while you’re in the airport and on Wifi, download the local offline language!
For example, if you’re heading to Thailand, you can download the Thai language book in case you run into some translation problems.
This is also super helpful if you’re someone who needs to translate nutrition labels (like I do cause hey, veganism!), as you can take a picture of the text, highlight it, and have it translated in seconds.
21. Stay Sustainable
This should be a given but hey, the world is dying! So do your part and be a sustainable traveler. Here’s my quick tips on how:
- Reduce your plastic consumption: Buy fresh produce not wrapped in plastic, carry your own packable to-go containers, and bring a filtering water bottle.
- Research “sustainable” companies. If a company claims to be sustainable, make sure to research what steps they actually take to live up to that claim.
- Only participate in ethical animal encounters (as mentioned above).
- Choose ground transportation. Instead of flying everywhere, choose taking a train, bus, car, or motorbike — which can also save you money!
- Reduce food waste. Sadly, food waste accounts for a massive portion of landfills. Thus, reduce your food waste by only ordering as much as you can eat, letting go of the “Instagram-worthy” breakfast photos of plates and plates and plates of food, and just being conscious of what food products you’re buying.
22. Get Travel Insurance
Throughout this entire Southeast Asia backpacking travel guide, I’ve mentioned getting travel insurance multiple times…
And I don’t know how many times I need to say it before it sticks in backpackers’ heads but hey, one more time won’t hurt!
Get travel insurance. If you can’t afford it, you can’t afford to travel.
Shit happens while on the road. I fell of a motorbike not once, but twice, and f*cked up my arm. Thankfully I just scraped it and didn’t need medical attention but if it turned out worse, I had travel insurance to cover the expenses.
Holy shmoly. That’s it. That’s part 4 of this comprehensive Southeast Asia backpacking guide done! If you missed any other the other parts, you can find the links below!
Also, if you read these tips and travel to SE Asia, make sure to let me know how you’re trip went and if you found any value from this guide!
I’d love to hear your experience and I’m sure other readers would love to know what you can personally recommend.
Not sure what to read next? Check out these posts:
- The Ultimately 1-Month Vietnam Itinerary
- 7 Incredible Things to Do in Vang Vieng, Laos
- 10 Essential Things to Pack for Bali, Indonesia
- 15 Things that SHOCKED Me When Backpacking Southeast Asia for the First Time
- 10 Odd Essentials I’ll Never Travel Without
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