So you want to travel southeast Asia without making any mistakes? Nice try, it’s impossible to avoid making travel mistakes on any trip, never mind when backpacking southeast Asia! However, plenty of mistakes can be avoidable if you know what to look out for.
Keep in mind that often times the best things that happen on a trip are usually because of a mistake. So while you use this post as a guide to help you avoid the not so nice mistakes remember to let yourself loose a little, don’t be too uptight and let things go so that mistakes are welcomed and they will bring good things! Your Southeast Asia trip will be amazing with mistakes.
Southeast Asia Travel Mistakes You Can Avoid
Ordering a Spicy Dish
You order a spicy dish thinking that you’ll be able to handle it. The reality is that you probably won’t be able to. Southeast Asia has way different spicy standards than we do in the western world. Even sometimes when you order ‘no spicy’ you’ll still get a dish that has your eyeballs watering. Don’t be scared of ordering food though! If it’s too spicy just ask for a side of rice or a boiled egg to help cool your flaming mouth.
Drinking Too Much
If you haven’t heard of Thai buckets you will soon. These bad boys are like the buckets used to build sand castles but instead of being filled with sand they’re filled with hard liquor and usually a combination of Coke and Red Bull. Do yourself a favour and only order 1, 2 tops. When it comes to drinking other beverages remember to slow yourself down. It’s easy to drink a nice cold beer or cocktail when it’s so hot out but trust me they will hit you fast in the humidity.
READ MORE: 32 Tips for Backpacking Thailand
Not Knowing the Currency Exchange
Travel Asia and you’ll suddenly feel like a millionaire when you can take 3 million Vietnamese Dong out of the ATM. Soon you’ll be throwing cash around like it’s nothing because you have no idea how much that 100 Thai Baht bill is in your hand. That, my friend, is why you need the XE Currency app. You’ll be able to quickly look up how much you’re about to spend and put down that overpriced Buddha you thought would look good on your nightstand.
Who doesn’t do this? And this isn’t just the case for Southeast Asia but trips everywhere. Though it seems to be especially bad for Southeast Asia travellers. People seem to think that they won’t be able to get anything in Southeast Asia and bring their entire closet and bathroom drawers with them.
Seriously, put down the full size bottle of shampoo. And most of that makeup kit. Trust me your makeup won’t be staying on for long in the heat and humidity.
So how not to overpack? Try packing and then cut it in half. Anything you leave behind and find that you’ll need you will find in Asia. Clothes are abundant in markets and mini bathroom products are available at convenience stores.
The only thing I suggest bringing more of is any prescription drugs you use, tampons as they aren’t common to in Asia and sunscreen as it’s quite pricey in Southeast Asia.
READ MORE: Southeast Asia Packing List for Ladies
Using ATMs Too Often
It can be tough to figure out where to draw the line when to comes to taking too much out of an ATM. Some people are just okay with carrying more cash on them than others. However, you will see your bank account draining faster if you are taking out too little. The bank of the ATM and most likely your bank will charge you a fee just to take money out. Sometimes fees can be upwards of $5. Um, no thanks but $5 in Southeast Asia can get me two meals or a few drinks!
Find places to hide money so you can take more out. When you’re hiding money always do it in multiple places so if someone steals from you they won’t land on a gold mine of your cash. Unfortauntely some ATMs in countries like Vietnam have a lower amount of cash you can take out at once. This can’t be avoided.
Or if you’re American get the Charles Schwab card that refunds you your fees. And for us lucky Canadians or others abroad we have to make do with paying the fees as little as possible.
Eating at Sit Down Restaurants
There are two problems with eating at sit down restaurants:
#1: You’ll be spending too much money
#2: You’re missing out on the street food which is 99% of the time better than food at a sit down restaurant
So get cozy, pull up one of the little plastic stools and enjoy your pad thai or pho knowing that you’re getting more for your money, a tastier meal and faster service!
Not Budgeting/Not Keeping Track of Spending
“Southeast Asia is cheap, I don’t need to budget! I’ll be able to afford things, no problem.” WRONG! Ladies and gentleman, it does not matter where you are in the world, budgeting and keeping track of what you’re spending is a must. Trust me even in Southeast Asia expenses will add up and you don’t want to end up calling home crying because you don’t have enough money for the actually expensive but totally worth it experiences like a cruise through Halong Bay or learning to dive at the cheapest place in the world on Koh Tao.
Partying Too Much
Partying in Southeast Asia is so easy to get sucked into. *Guilty* With drinks so cheap, making new friends and just wanting a cool drink to fend off the heat even in the evening it is just too tempting. Though partying every night may seem like a good idea you’ll quickly learn how bad hangovers are in the humidity. Trust me when I say that you’re not going to want to walk up 1000 steps to see a temple or get up for sunrise on the beach if you’re downing booze every night.
Limit yourself, choose a few nights to drink a week (maximum) and hold yourself to your promise.
Don’t do it! This is advice coming from an over planner. It will stress you out because within a week things will be chaos according to your plan and you won’t enjoy yourself because you’re so worried about getting into Cambodia by a certain date. Though you may want to see everything on your bucket list it is much better to slow down, enjoy your time and relax. You will meet people you want to be around longer, you will find places that you want to stay in longer and you will not be able to follow a plan. It’s Southeast Asia, nothing ever goes according to plan!
Having Too High of Expectations
Hold on guys, put down the bucket list. Those pictures you saw on Pinterest that inspired you to start a bucket list will not be the same in real life. And those girls you see prancing through rice paddies in Bali may not be a reality. I’m not saying it won’t be a reality, I’m saying it might not be. Pictures online are edited, influencers, bloggers and Instagrammers get to places at 6AM so they can get the perfect shot and spend way longer than the average person waiting so they can be the only person in the frame.
If you compare the sights you want to see to what you see online then you will be disappointed. That’s not to say that Southeast Asia is beautiful and incredible and absolutely stunning. Because it is. I’m just warning you to lower your expectations so that when you do visit a place and it isn’t crowded or the weather isn’t perfect that you will be either pleasantly surprised or are okay with something not working out.
Not Getting Travel Insurance
I’ll be blunt: don’t be stupid. Travel insurance is always needed. I was happy I had it when I had tonsillitis, a crazy high fever and ears so blocked that if I flew it would have been extremely painful. I had 4 flights within 24 hours in a couple of days. Don’t believe me? Then read these horror stories.
Picking travel insurance is an essential part of planning a trip for everyone, including your Asia trip. If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel. Luckily there are affordable options. I personally recommend, have used and have made multiple claims with World Nomads. If you have no idea where to start then check out my travel insurance guide to help you pick the best option for you.
And there you have it my friends! Backpacking Asia is often intimidating, but that’s only at first. Know these few things to look out for and you’ll have smooth (mostly) sailing through your entire trip.
Heading to Southeast Asia? You’ll love these posts
- 51 Travel Tips for Backpacking Southeast Asia
- How to Create a Backpacking Budget for a Southeast Asia Trip
- Southeast Asia Packing List for Ladies
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