Halong Bay, Vietnam residents. Peter Nijenhuis/Creative Commons
Work, retirement, or an extended sabbatical: many travelers take advantage of these opportunities for an extended, months-long stay in Southeast Asia.
The region seems tailor-made for this purpose: with cheap transportation options (including some of the world’s top budget airlines), a variety of cultures and traditions across (and within) borders, and countless opportunities to earn while traveling at travelers’ disposal, it seems a no-brainer to set aside a few weeks (at least) to explore Southeast Asia in detail.
We asked “Mum on the Move” Marianne Rogerson, a freelance travel writer, guidebook author and family traveler formerly based in Singapore; and Nikki Vella and Michelle Zammit of Cheeky Passports, a couple of long-term travelers from Malta, about their own experiences traveling through Southeast Asia for the long haul.
How much time can I practically spend traveling in Southeast Asia?
Practically speaking, only your visa and your budget limit your time in Southeast Asia; expats (like Marianne) stay years in Southeast Asia, while long-term travelers like Nikki and Michelle can simply have their tourist visas renewed as necessary.
Even a lifetime isn’t enough to cram in the entirety of the Southeast Asia experience. “Every country is so unique,” explains Marianne. “If you are traveling long-term, you could easily spend a month exploring one country, or you can return to different regions within a county over a longer time period.”
Nikki and Michelle, currently in Indonesia, tell us they’ve been in Southeast Asia “four months (and counting),” having checked the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore off their list. “Our plan is to be on the road for 15 months.”
Beyond savings, freelance work (easily accessible online) can help stretch your budget and your travel timetable. “We have worked in professional jobs for 15 years and tried to be careful with our spending before embarking on this journey,” Nikki and Michelle explain. “We also do some remote-freelance work in an effort to top up our savings and extend the trip as far as possible.”
Waterfall in Bantimurung, Sulawesi, Indonesia. Image courtesy of Mike Aquino.
Where do I start – and where do I go next?
Any major capital in Southeast Asia can serve as a base for your travels. Beyond the backpackers’ perennial favorite Bangkok in Thailand, you can follow Marianne’s lead and use Singapore as a starting point – she spent seven years there.
“You can’t beat Singapore as a base for long-term travel in Southeast Asia,” Marianne explains. “So many different airlines travel out of Changi Airport to so many different destinations around Southeast Asia, and you can reach many places in Southeast Asia within a couple of hours flying time, meaning weekend trips are easily doable too. When we first moved to Singapore we went somewhere different every month for the first year.”
The more you travel beyond your base, the more magic you’ll find in the rest of the region. Vietnam remains one of Marianne’s favorites – “We spent a month traveling the country from north to south, and it is a country now that we return to often,” she tells us. “I love how different each region is, including the cuisine, and it also has some of the most beautiful beaches, which is especially important now that we have kids.”
Nikki and Michelle, on the other hand, have widely varying recommendations for long-term travel – “The joy of travelling in a couple is having two different opinions for any destination, and with that comes the eternal struggle of which who is ‘right’ and why!
“Michelle is really enjoying the nature and adventure in Indonesia so far. Nikki on the other hand was fascinated by Singapore and Malaysia’s rich heritage (particularly the food) and can’t wait to eventually go back!”
- For a unique Singapore adventure, hop between histories at the city-state’s cultural precincts.
How do I make my travel budget fit my long-term travel plans?
Very easily. “When compared to other destinations, Southeast Asia is amongst the cheapest places to travel in and thus it is easier to save up for a longer trip,” Nikki and Michelle explain.
By following a few simple rules of thumb, Nikki and Michelle manage to save on transportation and accommodation – two of the top money holes in the travel budget. “We prefer to book accommodation ahead, rather than spending lots of time visiting different hostels checking for availability,” they tell us. “Most places offer free cancellation options until a day or two of the stay, thus allowing for some flexibility too.”
Using budget airlines and buses, Nikki and Michelle save on their transportation as well. “Traveling around by bus is a good option to save on $$,” they explain. “Asia is great with car-booking facilities such Grab and Uber, which have really simplified transport options for us!”
Mom and kid exploring the Gardens by the Bay’s Skyway. Image courtesy of Mike Aquino.
Can long-term travel be a family affair?
Some homeschooling parents manage to travel with kids at all times of the year, but that’s not to Marianne’s taste.
Marianne arranges her trips around her family’s availability – which isn’t easy, with two kids and a working hubby. “Really, we are only restricted by school holidays (and my husband’s full-time job!),” she tells us.
In her experience, children can be very avid travelers – within limits. “I don’t think there is a restriction to the length of trip you can take with kids, but I do think you need to arrange your travels to take everybody’s enjoyment and requirements into account,” she explains. “We still do plenty of ‘adult’ activities on our travels – eg. Wine-tasting, art museums, adventure trips – but we adapt these activities to make sure that there is something enjoyable for the kids too. If we spend all morning in a museum, we will make sure we find a playground and an ice-cream stall in the afternoon.”
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Stay abreast of Nikki Vella and Michelle Zammit’s adventures on their site Cheeky Passports, or do the same on their social media profiles: Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram