Backpacking Southeast Asia is an increasingly popular route and there`s no question why. Its affordable, beautiful, and full of adventure. Here are our tips on travel, budget, transportation, packing, and more to help you get the most out of your adventure!
1. Bring a Carry-On Sized Backpack
If you plan to do any air travel while backpacking Southeast Asia this will save you a ton of money. The budget airlines will charge up to $35 USD per checked bag per flight. This means if you have a connecting flight it can cost an extra $70 USD per bag. On top of that, we found that a 60L bag was much more than we needed. You will only ever wear your favorite 3 pairs of shorts no matter how many you pack! Check out our Southeast Asia Packing List for tips on what to bring and how to fit it into a 40L carry-on.
2. Cut Your Packing List in Half
First of all, almost every hostel and many cafes will do all of your laundry in 2-24 hours for around $3 USD! Bring fewer clothes and wash them more frequently instead of lugging around a huge bag. Secondly, plan to buy clothes there! I had no idea how many options they would have or how awesome they would be. Local clothes are cheap ($1-5 USD per item) and the perfect material for the heat. They have everything you need from dresses and bathing suits to t-shirts, shoes and backpacks. You can get custom made suits, dresses, footwear or anything else you can think up and help design. The Nike and North Face knock offs are good quality, we still use the clothing and a backpack at home today. Having a lighter bag will make backpacking Southeast Asia much more comfortable for you.
3. Prepare for the Airport Taxi Mob
This can be challenging especially if you are tired or running low on patience. When leaving the arrival area of any airport you will be swarmed with taxi drivers wanting your business. They get quite aggressive and we found it overwhelming and exhausting. They want to get you into their cab and will say anything to make that happen. For example; if you give them an address they will always tell you they know how to get to there. Don’t trust this unless its a well known landmark or tourist destination. After a few instances of driving around in circles or getting completely lost, we learned to always pull up a map to show the driver before leaving the airport. Always negotiate with the drivers beforehand as long as there is no meter in the vehicle.
4. Download the Agoda App
This was a very useful method of finding accommodation while backpacking Southeast Asia! It has everything from small guesthouses to big hotels in one place and you can search by map or by price. The hotels have tons of reviews and photos and you can save your favourite searches for later. You can also pull up a screen that shows the address and directions in the language of the country you are in. Our favorite thing about this app was that we could pay for accommodation on our credit card instead of worrying about taking out cash. This significantly reduced our bank trips and ATM fees.
5. Eat the Street Food
Before backpacking Southeast Asia you are always advised not to eat the street food. We spent the first few days sticking to `touristy` restaurants before deciding to branch out. Although you do have to be smart about the food you are eating, we had some of our best meals from the street carts and little local restaurants. When looking for a place to eat we would go where the most local people were eating and we didn’t eat meat off the street.
6. Bring Electrolyte Tablets
They are a godsend! We brought them in case we got sick and ended up adding them to our water almost every day! Electrolytes are useful after diving, hiking, surfing, or even walking around all day in the heat. We noticed they made a huge difference in our energy levels and helped to keep us hydrated. You can buy a generic option at some pharmacies over there but if you have a favorite load up before you go!
7. Haggle 50-60%
At first, we had no idea how much things should typically cost and got ripped off a time or two. We began asking locals from our homestays how much things should cost before going shopping. A good general rule is to offer 50-60% of the asking price. Sometimes they will accept less depending on how much business they have had that day.
8. Bring a List of Things to Do
Before a trip we always do so much research on places to go and things to do. It`s disappointing to miss out on something awesome just because you didn’t know about it. We brought a list organized by city and that way we didn’t forget about anything we had found. We didn’t do everything on the list and added in a lot of extra things, but it was nice to have a starting point and some options!
9. Not all ATMs Have the Same Fees
Typically, local ATMs have a much lower withdrawal fee than those aimed at tourists. Shop around when you get to a new place to find the cheapest ones.
10. Book Local Flights or Buses a Few Days in Advance
This is more so important for flights, but buses can fill up a day or two before they leave as well. Flight prices will stay consistently low until about 3 days before departure and then they will double or triple. A great way to get around while backpacking Southeast Asia is to take a small local flight between cities. If you choose to do this, it is best to book it at least 3 days in advance to get the best deal possible.