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Backpacker travel tips for Southeast Asia
Travelling alone wasn’t actually as scary as I thought it would be. I think I had 1 or 2 days where I felt really alone in the whole month I was away and this wasn’t helped by a serious case of food poisoning which left me just wanting my bed back home. I wasn’t someone who had planned my trip and I also missed flights to stay in places longer and just really did what I wanted for the whole month. However, there were a lot of things that I picked up on that other travellers passed on to me, that I then passed on to other people I met. It’s weird, it definitely felt like there was always a community of solo travellers and we all passed on as much as we could to help other people. This is my list of tips that I wish I knew before I started travelling and then some things that I picked up along the way which would be useful for travellers as a sort of preventative measure.
Download Maps.Me before you go. It is a lifesaver and you can download maps of the areas you are going to visit and not worry about using internet as it is an offline app. Like google maps (with a few tiny glitches), but overall very useful when you’re in the middle of nowhere and have no clue where your hostel is!
Always check for bedbugs. I was very lucky in that I never encountered any whilst I was away but as I was leaving my hostel in Ho Chi Minh, there was a girl at reception complaining about seeing one (luckily she was the floor below me!). Checking for them is something I did at every hostel and sometimes just to be on the safe side, I’d sleep in my sleeping bag liner anyway as some hostels give you full on duvets which were just too hot to sleep with in the Asian heat. You can check for bedbugs by looking under the pillow as well as the corner of the mattress as they like the dark and hide during the day.
Never leave your passport as a form of deposit when you rent a motorbike/moped/scooter. I was told this one just before I went to Pai where I witnessed a girl doing this anyway and then crashing her bike! The reason I was told not to do this is because it is actually illegal to use your passport as a form of deposit, so if you then scratch the bike and the company who rented it to you want you to pay for it, they can charge whatever they want and you can’t do anything about it as they are essentially holding your identity. I don’t know anyone who would rather leave their passport instead of paying for it back but it does mean that they can charge you whatever they want so beware! As a deposit, I would always much rather pay the 2000 Thai baht or equivalent instead.
Take a first aid kit and make sure you have the basics. The amount of times I gave stuff out to people who never thought they would get hurt is crazy to me, yes you can buy things at a pharmacy but when you’re busy being ill or have hurt yourself to the point of not being able to walk, then it’s time to think about buying some antiseptic cream beforehand.
Padlock your belongings. Fingers crossed it never happens but there are thieves everywhere, even in your hostel dorm, so I would never leave anything valuable out if I was going off for the day. Most hostels I stayed in had a space where you could lock things up like passport, money, iPads, then most people just left their huge bags out on the floor. My favourite hostels were always the ones that had huge lockers in each room where you could just shove all your stuff and not have to think about it. I took three padlocks with me and at one point I was using them all so consider taking more than one with you.
Take a portable battery charger with you for your phone and other tech belongings. I usually stayed in hostels with good plug sockets but a few I went to had really useless sockets where my adaptor just kept falling out so I was using my portable charger quite a lot. Luckily my one holds four whole iphone battery charges so I didn’t have to charge it too often but it did come in useful.
Always double check with people about the taxi’s in whatever area you are. Bangkok for example, the taxi drivers are really against using the meter but they know they should. They will always target tourists and suggest a price that is usually double what the meter would come up with but I would always keep pushing for them to use the meter and if they didn’t I’d just get another cab, and trust me, sometimes this meant I was getting in and out of 5 cabs before finding one that would take me back to my hostel for the correct price.
Leading on from that, I would always use the currency converter app whenever I am travelling now. It is so easy and quick just to check how much you are paying for something to ensure that you aren’t being ripped off. I walked into a hostel in Vietnam and there was a girl crying because she’d been charged a crazy amount for a taxi and had handed over half her spending money for a trip that should have cost 1/20th of what she gave him. It’s not nice but it does happen and you just have to double check prices before you hand over any cash.
Always check the hostel reviews, especially in places that haven’t been personally recommended. I used Hostelworld for all my bookings because it’s just a few clicks and all sorted. You can also see any reviews that people have posted in the last year so it’s really easy to get an idea of what the hostel is like.
Pack light! There was so much stuff that I packed that I really shouldn’t have bothered with, but it’s hard to judge until you go away somewhere. I ended up sending back a box of my stuff that after a week I just knew that I wouldn’t use at all.
Choose a hostel close to somewhere that the locals will know. This saved me so much time in Chiang Mai as the local cabs wouldn’t know the name of my hostel but they’d know Wat Phra Singh which was right opposite, saves so much time when trying to get home after a night out!
Do not visit the Tiger Kingdom or anything that suggests you get to spend time with wild animals in a habitat that isn’t their usual one. These places aren’t legit and you should always do your research into places that you are going to visit just to make sure that you don’t end up somewhere that is funding the cruel mistreatment of animals.
Join a facebook group to meet people! It sounds dodgy, (don’t tell my mum) but I actually met a really lovely bunch of people because they were looking for someone to join their car for a few day trips. The group I joined was specifically for people travelling around Southeast Asia and it has 90,000 members so there is a lot of information and tips in there which I found really useful.
Don’t go to a live show in Asia such as a ping pong show, the promoters target tourists and they’re actually really bad news for the women involved. Loads of people get drunk and after the clubs close, tend to go to shows such as these but it’s just never a good idea and they’re known for exploiting the women involved. There are so many better ways to spend your money in Southeast Asia!
Do not give money to children on the streets. This is so heartbreaking and I found the street children to be the most persistent when I was in Cambodia but as soon as you give a child money, you are creating a climate in which it is better for them to beg rather than go to school. Instead, what I did was give the children food and they were usually pretty happy with that. The ones that keep pushing, while you’re eating somewhere for example, would do their best puppy dog eyes and you’d feel so mean for not buying their fans but in the long run, it is better for them. I ended up giving food as much as I could and still wish I could have given more!
Travelling alone meant I learnt a lot and it was fun working things out that were obvious to people who had been travelling a while. Do you have any tips for travelling solo around Asia? Hope these help anyone who is planning their first trip and is looking for a few pointers! Now I’m back in the UK I’m hoping to publish a few more posts about my time in Asia and I wrote a bit while I was over there so will get those published asap! New post every Saturday!
I post once a week covering topics such as solo travel, working and living abroad and also creating Gabriella’s Guides to places I have been. I cover topics under the following categories such as Planning and Packing, The Travel Diary, Travel Inspiration, Photo Diaries, Gabriella’s Guides and Working Abroad.