If you are slinging on the backpack and travelling to Southeast Asia for the first time, here are a few words of sage advice to ensure the experience is the happiest it can be.
1. Pack Light
Your backpack may not seem heavy when you put it on at home, but after six blocks in the tropical sun, you’ll be miserable. Keep the wardrobe down – most budget guesthouses also do laundry for a reasonable price.
2. Wear Comfortable Shoes
This is extremely important. You are going to be walking much more than usual, so take care of your feet. Buy good quality sturdy footwear at home and be sure to break them in before you leave.
3. Get Vaccinated
If you haven’t had vaccinations for hepatitis and a few other common illnesses like typhoid, tetanus and if you’re travelling to rural areas, malaria, make sure you get them.Visit a travel clinic before you leave on your vacation, they will be up to date on prevalent illnesses in the area. You don’t want to spend your trip in the infirmary, so it’s worth the sore arm.
4. Use a Guidebook
Essential for studying up before you leave and can be a lifesaver when you are there, but it should live in your backpack, not in your hand. It is a guide, not a bible, so make sure you do some of your own exploring – it’s all part of the adventure.
5. Buy Insurance
Some hospitals won’t treat you without insurance or a pile of cash, so get the insurance. If you are going somewhere remote, make sure the policy includes air evacuation so you can get to a proper hospital quickly.
6. Protect Your Money
Wear a money belt inside your clothes to keep your passport, cards and money supply safe. Before you leave, make sure your ATM cards will work in the countries you are visiting – it is easier than traveler’s checks or large wads of cash. If possible carry a credit card for emergencies.
7. Carry Contact Numbers
Make sure you keep two cards in different places with the phone numbers of credit card companies, insurance provider, relatives, your embassy and consulate.
8. Maintain Your Standards
If you wouldn’t normally ride a motorcycle in flip flops, or get staggering drunk in a strange place with people you don’t know, why would you do it on holiday? It is easy to get carried away with your adventure, but occasionally stop and ask yourself whether what you are doing might be considered too risky by usual standards.
9. Trust Your Instincts
Be receptive to others, but be cautious – not suspicious. Travelling requires you to get in touch with your gut instincts so learn to trust them. If you are in a situation where you feel uncomfortable, then get out of it as gracefully as you can – sooner is better.
10. Have a Return Ticket
Unless you want to end up teaching English for six months to save up your plane fare (and maybe you do), you need an escape route. Consider an open ticket – it costs more, but if you run out of money early, you won’t spend the last two weeks of your adventure living on steamed rice and tap water.
Bangkok-based Cameron Cooper has spent two decades travelling Asia, seeking oddities, adventure, and the meaning of life, while contributing to The Melbourne Age, Discovery Channel Magazine, and worked as an editor at Thailand’s Nation newspaper.