9 Lessons Learned from a Month Backpacking around SE Asia

by Audrey on April 4, 2013 · 113 comments

I know, I can hardly believe it, but it’s already been over a month since I strapped on that backpack. Yes, I’ve been sweating for a solid five weeks now, and I’ve also learned a thing or two about travel while carrying a weighty load on my back.

Here are a few lessons learned from the past few weeks of travel:

Audrey backpacking in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

1. A heavy backpack sucks!

I thought I knew how to pack light; apparently, I don’t. Before we even left South Korea, Sam and I had a packing showdown. He thought I was taking too many things, I thought 5 pairs of shoes (cute leather sandals, ballerina flats, canvas shoes, running shoes, flip flops), nail polish, perfume, half a dozen dresses, and my new powder blue blazer would be absolute necessities. Gotta be prepared for whatever situation presents itself, right?! He was right, I was wrong. I repacked my suitcase twice before leaving because I couldn’t physically lift my pack, and then I had a change of heart about two weeks into the trip and got rid of even more stuff I didn’t need. My backpack is now at 10 kilograms, and I could probably still lose another 2 kg for it to feel comfortable enough to carry.

2. Don’t be afraid of the drinks.

Don’t drink anything that’s not bottled water. – Stay away from the ice cubes. – Use a straw when drinking out of a can. I have not followed any of the above, and I have been totally fine. No rumbling of the tummy, no unexpected mad dashes to the nearest toilet, nothing! I’ve been drinking fruit shakes, mango lassis, sweet limes, and even Malaysian desserts made with shaved ice; I either have a stomach of steel, or it’s actually pretty safe to consume beverages here – I’m leaning towards the latter.

 3. Don’t book your bus tickets last minute.

You know what’s worse than getting the back seat on the bus next to the toilet? Getting the back seat next to the toilet, which sits on top of the old engine, which blows hot air on you, which also happens to be where the AC doesn’t reach. Now imagine sitting there for 7 hours, in your own sweat, drinking a bottle of warm water (because nothing stays cool in the back of the bus). Chyeah, roadtrip! Not. Easily solved by not booking your ticket with only a few hours to spare.

4. That was a rat. Get used to it.

Whoa, look at that cute macaque scurrying across the wires! Aww, look at that little cat crawling in the gutter! Wrong and wrong! That was a rat – a really big, fat rat. Oh, and that furry creature that’s causing all the commotion in the restaurant – yes, the one the four men are chasing with a broom – yeah, that’s another rat, and we’re still going to eat there.

5. You don’t need to carry around a sleeping bag or a towel.

During my early backpacking days in Europe, I used to always carry around a sleeping bag and a towel; it took up half the space in my luggage. Times have obviously changed. Now that I’m travelling through SE Asia, I find that most hostels and guesthouses provide you with linens and towels, and the odd place that doesn’t offer those free of charge, usually gives you the option of renting them for a small fee. Not that you’ll even need linens in this sweltering heat…

6. Have passport sized photos on you.

Many countries in SE Asia offer a tourist visa on arrival. Get off the plane, fill out the form, attach a photo – oh, wait! You don’t have a photo on you? That’ll be an extra two dollars to get your visa. What? It doesn’t sound like a lot, but if you’re planning on covering several countries along the Banana Pancake Trail, it might be worth getting a few passport sized photos and keeping them handy. You’ll also need them if you decide to sign up for lengthy treks around the region.

7. Trade paperbacks for a Kindle.

I cannot believe I am saying this, as I am pretty much the poster girl for real feel-the-pages-between-your-fingers books. (I even have a pretty extensive book collection at home that is currently packed up in loads of boxes!) Before I set out on this trip, I bought 4 books that I was planning to carry around with me…well, when I realized just how heavy my pack actually was, it was time to ditch the paperbacks and dare I say, catch up with the times. I have not looked back! Sure, it’s still nice to keep a little library at home, but when you’re lugging your belongings around from one country to the next, the Kindle is boss.

8. Popsicles are your best friend.

I go to 7 Eleven daily. Actually, I go there several times a day. What is it that lures me there? Two things: (1) the cold AC that makes it feel like you’re in Siberia, even if for just a few brief moments, and (2) popsicles! That’s how I like to cool down.

9. Keep your camera handy!

Oh, I’m just going out to dinner. I won’t need it…and that’s when you do. Now how am I supposed to get that photo of those six men riding on top of the pickup truck’s cabin?! Oh wait, that’s a daily occurrence…but you could miss out on other things!

 What lessons has travel taught you?


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{ 111 comments… read them below or add one }

Ashley April 4, 2013 at 12:47 am

Great list!! I’ll keep this in mind for when I go to SE Asia. Just or of curiosity- my biggest fear is rats, so how often do you see them exactly? And they aren’t in the hostels, right?

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Natalia | Always Trekking April 4, 2013 at 2:13 am

Depends!

You won’t get a 20 pound rat in your hostel. You will see them in markets and on the street.
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Vanessa April 4, 2013 at 1:19 am

Wow, did you pack everything from Korea in your backpack or did you have some stuff sent home? That’s pretty impressive! And I thought bringing two suitcases to Korea meant cutting down what I brought. >.<
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Audrey April 9, 2013 at 10:50 am

Oh, I had to ship A LOT of stuff back home! And the rest of my belongings were redistributed among coworkers. :)

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Daniel McBane April 4, 2013 at 1:26 am

Big yes to #9. I was in a small restaurant in Chiang Mai once, when an elephant walked in and pissed all over the floor. It was like someone had turned on a hose and left it on–I swear he had a bladder then size of, well, an elephant. And I didn’t have my camera…
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Audrey April 9, 2013 at 10:52 am

Whoa ho ho! I’m still baffled by the fact that an elephant walked into the restaurant…

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Arianwen April 4, 2013 at 1:32 am

I’ve never followed that advice about avoiding ice cubes and salad either – and I’ve also never gotten sick abroad. Perhaps we’ve built up immunity, although I have to wonder if it’s only a matter of time!
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Audrey April 9, 2013 at 10:53 am

Hehe, I’ll see if my own advice comes back to bite me in the ass. So far, so good… ;)

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Mick Mayers September 18, 2013 at 3:18 am

Literally. :)

Great tips though! Going in Spring 2014 to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia. Trying to plan now!
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Julio Moreno April 4, 2013 at 1:41 am

Awesome list. I sound like Sam and you sound like my gf when we go traveling. Every time, I swear she packs too much,but she just must have that huge bag of make up, most of which she doesn’t even use!
I have found it that actually buying the passport photos here in South Korea, and carrying them, is more of a hassle and expense than paying the 2 bucks. Even those booths on the subways cost 10,000 won for 5 pictures.
I didn’t know about the booking for the buses, good to know. I am also glad you have come to the dark side of using kindles, I actually got one last year and was a long hold out.
I am very curious to keep reading these posts as I too will go on a long 3-6 month asia trip in a year.
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Sam April 4, 2013 at 1:59 am

7 Elevens in SE Asia are great for that! All good advice, especially number 1. Travelling light is awesome, and I bet the boy is super chuffed with himself for seeing those six magic words forever etched in to the blogosphere: “He was right, I was wrong.”
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James Shannon April 4, 2013 at 4:02 am

Love the coconut ice cream from the coolers in the Thai 7/11’s: 12 baht (0.40 USD) for 2 minutes of heaven!
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Audrey April 9, 2013 at 10:59 am

Haha, you bet he is! He’s been right about a lot of things so far…but don’t tell him I said so. ;)

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Micamyx|Senyorita April 4, 2013 at 2:07 am

Woah #7. I still love paperback books (the older, the better hehe) although some of my friends have been suggesting that I get a kindle. For now, I am still sticking to the books (relived my love for books just recently) and what I do is just purchase the small novels that are not that bulky. We’ll never know i might just get a kindle soon.

I am eating ice cream now too. It’s too hot here in the Philippines too and I am in the polluted city. Must go to the highlands 0_0
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Natalia | Always Trekking April 4, 2013 at 2:11 am

5 pairs of shoes? What were you thinking? How many did you end up bringing?

Malaysia maybe all right for water, just don’t fill your mouth with water when you shower. I would be careful with water regardless. I did get food poisoning in Sabah and it may have been from drinking mountain water on Kinabalu. Silly me.

Kindle is definitely boss. It’s probably the best entertainment invention for backpackers.
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Audrey April 9, 2013 at 11:01 am

I don’t know what I was thinking…haha. I did narrow it down to three: flip flops, running shoes, and one pair of sandals. But most of the time I’m either in flip flops or barefoot. :P

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Bobbi Lee Hitchon April 4, 2013 at 2:20 am

Awesome lessons, especially about booking buses early and carrying passport photos on you. Though I have to disagree with that watch what you drink thing. I always did drink whatever I wanted in Asia, but paid the price. I think I was sick the entirety of both my visits. Best diet I’ve ever had, but not so pleasant.
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Hannah @ Getting Stamped April 4, 2013 at 3:42 am

Love it! Great list! We backpacked in Southeast Asia for 3 weeks on our honeymoon and totally agree with your list! We leave for our RTW in 85 days, we will be gone 2-3 years!
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James Shannon April 4, 2013 at 4:00 am

As a corollary to #7: You could also buy one book at a time, and then exchange it at a hostel book exchange, or sell it/trade at a used bookstore (all over Asia where travellers/expats gather in abundance)
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Jill April 4, 2013 at 8:11 am

I agree with James. Just stick to one book at a time (or two smaller books) and you have one less tech item to babysit.

Paperbacks forever!!!

And I can’t imagine visiting SEA without trying all the lassis, smoothies, shakes, etc. That sounds miserable! I always did and never got sick. Here’s hoping you won’t either.

Glad you’re having fun.
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Wil @ Where's Wil April 4, 2013 at 1:46 pm

I’m leaving tomorrow to backpack SEAsia and I’m super excited.

I tried to pack light and I don’t have many extras but I had to bring along all my poi (fire spinning) gear. I can’t go without it.
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Audrey April 9, 2013 at 11:10 am

That’s pretty cool that you’re bringing your fire spinning gear! I don’t know anyone else who does that. I’m sure you’ll have plenty of opportunity to spin on the beaches here. ;)

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OCDemon April 4, 2013 at 3:38 pm

You can always tell the seasoned veterans by the size of the bag. Someday I’ll travel for 2 straight years with nothing but the clothes I’m wearing and a backup set stuffed into cargo pockets and that’s it. It’s going to be great.
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cosmoHallitan April 4, 2013 at 7:52 pm

I’ve stopped being so careful about ice cubes, though I still won’t drink tap water in parts of Asia. The water coming out of our tap in Cambodia smelled so bad I wouldn’t even use it to brush my teeth! And in China – forget it. The Chinese won’t even drink the tap water.
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Audrey April 9, 2013 at 11:12 am

I also stay away from tap water. I’ve found that in some places it smells like sulfur, and if it smells like rotten eggs there’s just no way I’m drinking it. O_o

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memographer April 4, 2013 at 8:53 pm

All nine are so true. Ive learned the last lesson several times… So Ive switched from a full-frame DSLR to a compact camera :) It’s always with me now!
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Alana - Paper Planes April 5, 2013 at 1:50 pm

I STILL forget/don’t think about the passport photos!

I think the biggest lessons I learned backpacking through SE Asia was to be patient and to trust other people…about 90% I didn’t know what was going on around me, where I was, what we were doing, why we were being shuffled to three different buses…but it always ending up working out somehow :)
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Kaleena's Kaleidoscope April 5, 2013 at 4:38 pm

Great list! I would never have thought of keeping passport sized photos, that’s such a good suggestions. Looking forward to following your travels as I’m planning to do the SE Asia backpacking thing when I’m done in Korea, too! :)
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melody April 5, 2013 at 6:51 pm

hahah dude, 7-11’s are my go-to for almost everything! And the few times I’ve decided I didn’t need a camera…. yup. Bummer! Lessons learned!
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Maria April 5, 2013 at 8:21 pm

Popsicles are a great tip! Definitely a way to cool off and have a sweet treat at low cost.
If you’re still in Cambodia, try the all fruit smoothies… So good!
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Audrey April 9, 2013 at 11:22 am

I do at least 1 smoothie a day! Sooo good. Especially the mango. Mmm mmm MMM! :)

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Laura @Travelocafe April 6, 2013 at 3:36 am

These are great tips. Last year in SE Asia I figured some of them for myself and I even dare to say that some of your tips are good anywhere you travel, including my home continent, Europe.
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Andy April 6, 2013 at 6:06 am

Great suggestions Audrey, thanks for sharing! Hope to make it to southeast Asia some day.

I love “that was a rat, get used to it”.

Thanks,

Andy
BackpackingDiplomacy.com
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Vicky April 6, 2013 at 2:39 pm

Hahah many great great points here! Ugh I hate when I leave my camera behind only to miss some perfect shot! And yes 7/11s are awesome simply for the fact that you can always rely on them to cool you down for a minute! And you cannot possibly enjoy SEA to the fullest without all those shakes! Love those!
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Indian Tourist Visa April 6, 2013 at 4:59 pm

Alarming thing is Rat big Rat :( Anyways thanks for the great tips, will definitely remember for future trip.

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Amanda @ Living in Another Language April 7, 2013 at 6:08 pm

Ummmmm this is absolutely AMAZING! You’ve captured the heart of SE Asia. I am so excited to have found your blog! I’ve been thinking about what I would take if I had to live out of a backpack. It’d be so difficult! The shoe thing…dang. That’s exactly what I would take. Dilemmas, dilemmas. Making the move to South Korea last year and bringing only two bags to live out of for ? (who knows how long) was crazy hard!

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Audrey April 9, 2013 at 11:34 am

Thanks Amanda! I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog. :) It was hard narrowing down the shoes, but now that I’m here I pretty much live in flip flops. I can’t believe half the things I thought I’d be able to wear here…it wasn’t till I was physically in SE Asia, dripping sweat, that I realized why people pack so light.

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flipnomad April 7, 2013 at 8:51 pm

great tips, on my first trip before i used to carry a very heavy backpack thinking that I would use everything that I packed… turned out that i just used almost half of those stuff and ended up giving stuff away as I go along…
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John April 7, 2013 at 10:36 pm

When I left Canada, I had everything I came there with, plus everything I had accumulated over the 2 years I was there. Needless to say, it was not all going to fit into my 65L backpack. Even if it did fit, there was no way I wanted to carry it all. I would say atleast half my stuff went into the donation bin.
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Audrey April 9, 2013 at 11:53 am

It’s funny how much stuff one can accumulate over a short period of time. When I left Korea a lot of my stuff either ended up in the donation box or in my coworkers’ apartments, and I still had to ship some stuff home.

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Colleen Brynn April 8, 2013 at 5:23 am

I’ve gotten really good at packing light when I leave, and then going home loaded with new clothes, treats and souvenirs. I’m basically a packing queen. I somehow always make everything fit…
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Audrey April 9, 2013 at 11:55 am

That’s one major pro of heading somewhere with a light suitcase – all the shopping!!! I am so tempted by the markets over here, but I know if I buy things I will need get rid of other items in my suitcase…dilemmas dilemmas!

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This Battered Suitcase April 8, 2013 at 8:22 pm

I love this! I discovered a lot of these things, too. I always bring a camera with me now, and almost never flinch whenever a strange rodent/creature/bug is in my line of sight. As a huge bibliophile I initially felt sick when purchasing my Kindle, but it made a huge difference in the weight of my bag. And yes, how good is that 7-11 AC? Excellent list, and totally relatable!
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Indie Travels April 9, 2013 at 8:11 am

I love that icy cold feeling at 7/11 as well — and thankfully (especially in Thailand) there’s one on every corner!
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Agness April 10, 2013 at 12:39 pm

So true!! I remember carrying my huge and heavy backpack and it was so hot in Thailand. It makes you feel so tired!! Next time I won’t make this mistake. Passport photo is something I carry with me all the time, especially in China :)))
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Cheryl April 11, 2013 at 10:32 am

All very good tips! I don’t blame you for the 7/11 trips. LOL!

Wish I had a stomach of steel like you. One drink of fresh water given to me by locals in Peru and I was finished. Came home with the “special gift” of a parasite that caused several months of sickness.

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Laura Giles April 11, 2013 at 8:29 pm

I had a mind-boggling tour to Rajasthan in India. We had so much of fun there and there was not even a single issue we faced in India; thanks to our travel operator, xclusivevacations.com

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Antoinette April 15, 2013 at 11:32 am

hahah Oh yes, that’s a rat! Damn right! I gave in with Kindle as well, although I think I’m going to give in actually carrying my iPad so I can watch movies and stuff as well… those moments when I dont wanna have to whip out my laptop.
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Erika April 18, 2013 at 11:01 pm

As much as I love paper books, Kindle has made being a reader on the go soooo much easier! These sound like great lessons — except those fat rats sound DISGUSTING!
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Chill Educational Travel April 22, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Great tips! I am planning my trip through Southeast Asia and came across your blog. I never would have thought about the passport size photos, thanks!
~Erin

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GiselleandCody April 28, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Great list Audrey. We have been in Thailand for the past 11 months and agree that heavy backpacks suck. When we go for a little trip back home we are thinking of ditching everything and carrying small day packs for the rest of our trip. Clothing is so cheap that you can just buy what you need.
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cotton and olive May 5, 2013 at 8:17 am

First-handed smart packing suggestions! interesting and clever points…my suggestion will be to those who still would like carry their own towels along their long journey. But what I mean is not an ordinary towel. This is flat woven, fluff-free cotton towel absolutely compact and average 250 gr. Turkish Peshtemal towel is the name if you are interested …Safe and light journeys.

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Mo Draj May 5, 2013 at 10:22 pm

Great stuff, Thank you for sharing :)

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Vid of Bruised Passports May 8, 2013 at 10:49 pm

Hi Audrey,

What an interesting post. I spent 8 years in South-East Asia and could associate with all the 9 points you have listed in your post – most importantly with point number 8 – those couple of minutes in the AC feel like bliss.

What I enjoyed the most in those 8 years was eating in the food courts – trying different cuisines everyday. Adds a different dimension to the whole travelling experience. And while one might think that all dishes from different stalls look similar, the taste can be drastically and surprisingly (pleasantly) distinct.

We’ll be going back to Cambodia and Vietnam later this year. Can’t wait :) Your posts revives such memories. Nice one !
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Melissa May 13, 2013 at 3:32 pm

Hey! Thanks for the tips, it will definitely help me when I leave Korea this summer. I have a question though… what about a laptop? I wonder if I should bring it with me or send it home as well… I think it’s a bit heavy! But useful no?

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Ceri May 14, 2013 at 4:08 am

My backpack just kept getting heavier and heavier the more I travelled so I traded it in for a suitcase in the end. :P Oh well! I definitely have to get a Kindle. My books weighed me down something terrible and I can never do without a bit of reading material. Think Kindle will have to be the practical way to go – Plus, finding English language books in certain countries can be pretty difficult (or expensive).
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Catherine May 21, 2013 at 3:37 am

Hi! I love the comments/thread here. I’m travelling SE Asia for the first time and was wondering what size pack (in terms of liters) I should look to bring? 90L? I’m going for 4 weeks and will do everything I can to push myself to pack VERY lightly.

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Shiv May 21, 2013 at 3:31 pm

I was planning on bringing an ipad. Good..bad idea??

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Audrey May 21, 2013 at 3:48 pm

Sure, I know some people use that as their computer and entertainment system on the road. Whatever works best for you. :)

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Prim May 29, 2013 at 3:58 pm

I vote for ipad too! Will come in handy when there’s free wi-fi!

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Gabz June 2, 2013 at 2:59 am

Hey,

Great blog! My first time back packing in asia in 2 weeks! Was wondering what litre backpack should I get?

Thanks,
Gabz

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Audrey June 2, 2013 at 10:57 am

I guess it all depends on how long you’re going for. I have a 60L one, but I’m living out of it full time – and it can get a bit heavy at times. You might be able to get away with a 40L backpack.

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Hollie Mantle June 13, 2013 at 3:24 pm

“That was a rat – get used to it”.

I’m currently battling between whether I should wear ear plugs at night in order to avoid listening to the tubby little gits scuttling across my hostel room, or not wear them s so that when Rattus McDiseasus comes near me for a nibble I’ll be able to hear enough to wake up in time. Which do you recommend?
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Gemma chapman June 22, 2013 at 6:42 pm

Great tips! Booked onto a one way light to Bangkok on Boxing Day, it’s my first time travelling so I’m very excited! Thinking of taking my iPad, would you say it’s a good idea or do you think I’m just asking for it to be stolen (people keep trying to warn me off taking it). I was also planning on taking walking boots, would you say this is a silly idea and just stick to flip flops?. X

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Audrey June 22, 2013 at 7:56 pm

I know quite a few people who travel with an iPad. Just take some precautions and lock things up when you go out. Sure, things can get stolen, but all you can do is try your best to keep it safe. In terms of footwear, I’ve been wearing flip flops for the last four months. I’ve only pulled out my running shoes twice and that was to go trekking. Unless you’re planning to do some serious hiking, you probably won’t need mountain boots.

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Sarawak Tour July 15, 2013 at 6:22 pm

A very detailed article.. straight to the point…
hope you like Malaysia, and the experiences you get from the trips…
Awaiting for your next visit… may include East Malaysia as your next vacation destination…
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Muslim backpacker July 27, 2013 at 10:23 pm

Useful info for SE asia backpacking. I’ve got no idea how to get over the rat. I’m too scare of mice, dogs, etc… I’ll try facing my fears head on and jump right in :)
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Kate August 1, 2013 at 11:43 am

I love this list! Sounds like a great start to your journey. I leave in just over a month for a 2 year SE Asia/Australia/New Zealand tour, and packing has been my biggest nightmare! I’ve already test-packed once, knowing I packed too much. I cut back, and I’m going to have to cut back again I’m sure. It’s difficult to say to myself “Only 2 tank tops, only 1 dress” and it’ll be enough, though I know it will be.
Glad to hear you got your pack to a more comfortable weight! Enjoy your travels :)

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Audrey August 3, 2013 at 11:40 pm

I am such an over packer. Try to go with the minimalist approach because you’ll likely end up wearing the same pieces, plus if you do need anything, you can always pick up clothes along the way. :)

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Liana August 21, 2013 at 2:22 pm

This post has be cracking up because it’s all totally true. I’ve lived in the Philippines for a year and a half now…..I drink the water (haven’t gotten sick), have gotten used to all kinds of creepy crawlies (well, not the flying cockroaches. yuck, forever!), and have kicked myself a few times for not having my camera ready. And yes, 6 men on a truck, a whole family riding a scooter (with no helmet), a scooter with a pig riding in the side car, all are pretty common.
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Peter Lee September 3, 2013 at 7:20 pm

Valuable post ! Thanks for sharing your experience. It would definitely help me.

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Kilee September 5, 2013 at 8:21 pm

Great post! I’m trying to shrink my backpack but it’s not working too well :( Currently at 15kg and though it’s not too much a burden, I want to go smaller!

Another thing we have found is not to book your hotel/hostel/homestay in advance. People will tell you that it’s “hard to get a room this time of year” but there are sooo many options and places to stay, and just by walking in you get a cheaper price compared to booking via HostelBookers or Agoda.

Rats… yeah… had a few incidents so far (chewed a hole through my backpack to get an empty granola bar wrapper, ate part of my Beng-Beng chocolate bar and chewed holes in my underwear I left on the floor) but now we just give our snack bag to reception and they’ll usually put it somewhere safe (and away from my undies…).

PS: love the site makeover :)
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Alex @ ifs ands & butts September 10, 2013 at 6:50 am

My Kindle is my lifesaver. I always find free travel guides to put on there to reference in a city, particularly upon arrival, when I’m not sure waht to do with myself.
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Nitya Oberoi September 29, 2013 at 12:25 pm

Great read, Audrey! Your tips are great. About to travel to South East Asia for 4.5 months – trying to plan a backpacking / biking touring trip, and this was really helpful. Definitely going to focus on keeping that backpack light!
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Socialkenny October 3, 2013 at 3:15 am

I’m scared shit of rats so #4 would be the most difficult part of SE A backpacking for me.

I’m a bit suspect of the water also…at least to drink it not knowing from where it came. Sounds funny but…

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Socialkenny October 3, 2013 at 3:17 am

BTW Audrey, just stumbled upon your site and loving it so far :)
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Ashwah October 4, 2013 at 5:36 pm

Thanks for the great tips Audrey, I am about to go backpacking/camping in Thailand for 6 months.

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Lindsay October 5, 2013 at 1:17 am

Great post! I’m kicking myself for not buying a Kindle before leaving for our one-year trip. And I find your comment on drinks and ice very interesting. My degree is in public health so you would think I would be overly cautious about drinking water anywhere but developed countries, but I often wonder how much of the paranoia comes from our western notion that everything in underdeveloped countries is dirty and unsanitary. My paranoid self says to heed the advisories but my traveler self says relax and drink the ice water!
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ian October 15, 2013 at 3:57 am

got 9 months to spend in ASIA next year! wohooo :-)

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Sarawak Tour October 27, 2013 at 11:35 pm

For those who’s really into backpacking. I would recommend going to Sarawak or Sabah. You guys will surely like the natural stuff there.

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Eli Hanna November 4, 2013 at 2:10 pm

I am leaving on April 20th,2014 in 6 months to backpack in south east Asia. Yes, I am going alone. I wanam adventure off all over the place and meet people. I was curious as to how expensive it is. I wanna bring 10,000-15,000 and stay there until my funds run out then I’d fly back
To Canada… I am not looking to travel to stay in nice hotels, and do luxury things. I simply wanna wonder off and get my self into adventure and hop from country to country. How long do
You think 10-15 G could last in south east Asia if you’re smart with money?

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Sebastian November 20, 2013 at 2:52 pm

To trade my books for a kindle was the first thing I have done when I traveled through Thailand and the Philippines. I absolutely love to read but if you carry a whole book shelf with you, you won’t be able to enjoy your journey. The more I travel the more I realize that I don’t need a lot of possessions to be happy. That’s a valuable side effect of traveling.

The thing you said about the rats is true. Even if I was more scared because of the cockroaches, especially the ones who can fly….they are really annoying.

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Alex November 21, 2013 at 8:23 am

Love your list! Another lesson I learned in Southeast Asia was that not everyone is trying to rip you off. As foreigners, we often assume the price we are being ‘quoted’ for something is unfair. True it’s normal to barter a bit but I think people tend to take it a bit too far. Who’s that 50 cents going to matter more to in the long term?
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Ivana November 30, 2013 at 4:39 pm

~4~ oh yes, this is something I needed to get used in BKK :D
And after I saw it sleeping in a flower pot on the street, I understood is no point to panic when you see it just running at the market or crossing your path on pavement :)
For me personally most lessons I learnt in SE Asia are related to food, e.g. there is no “little bit spicy”… :)

Take care, Audrey

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Chris December 8, 2013 at 9:19 am

Hi Audrey,

Awesome post. I have been traveling to Southeast Asia since May 2012. I am planning to have a backpacking in Thailand for one year in 2014. Your tips would definitely help me on my trip. I would write down all of my experience in my blog.

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Saxon December 23, 2013 at 11:37 am

Great list!

I’d like to nominate toilet paper and/or tissues to the list, you never know when you’ll need them. Of course, you can pick them up at 7-eleven as needed.

We are on a 9 month SEAsia adventure, my pack weighs 20 lbs. I am a super light packer, and I could probably ditch some things. It’s surprising that something that almost didn’t make the cut becomes your go-to item of clothing. For me it’s a simple white linen tunic. I can’t believe that I almost cut it- the only time I’m not wearing it is when it’s drying.

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Susan December 24, 2013 at 7:21 pm

Come to Singapore! you can drink water off the tap!
We might not have the natural scenery like Bali’s padi fields, or Thailand’s grand temples, but we sure have some awesome multiracial food to boot.

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Nina January 18, 2014 at 11:31 am

HAHA, This is great. I have been living in SE Asia, mostly Thailand, for over 2.5 years and I totally feel you. There are a few more I could add to this list but you did a good job! The water from the tap is NOT good… but other than that, yes their ice and and water that is served etc… is fine. Nobody drinks the tap so you won’t get it served to you. Ice is ordered and delivered to most restaurants…etc.

And speaking about ice…. 711 is a savior. If not for their icy drinks, cool ice pops, and other snacks at any hour of the day/night, it’s a place to go and stand in the AC! Lol…. sometimes I just walk around until I am cooled off and ready to take on the heat again :-p
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Rashad Pharaon January 18, 2014 at 1:03 pm

When traveling by (overnight) bus, do not lay your personal belongings on the floor. My girlfriend left her small daypack on the floor and in the middle of the night, a grazing feeling on my leg awoke me. Someone was groping around, looking for the daypack, but was feeling my foot instead (or maybe they had a foot fetish? I don’t know!). We never found out who the mystery hand belonged to, especially in the dark and near the bus stairwell, but always opt for safety and keep your purse/daypack/etc next to you.
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Stine January 24, 2014 at 3:20 pm

This is very helpful! Thanks! Me and my friends are leaving for our first backpacking adventure next saturday, and we’ll be traveling India and Southeast Asia for three months. Can’t wait to start the jurney, but I’m a little nervous about the packing part, so thanks again for useful tips!

Stine Marie, 21, Norway
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Audrey January 25, 2014 at 10:35 am

That sounds like an amazing trip! Have a great time out there, and yes, pack light! Keep in mind that if you need anything, you can just buy it once you’re there. Better to underpack than to be carrying a heavy load in 40 degree weather. ;)

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Cyra February 20, 2014 at 7:38 pm

Heavy backpacks really do suck!

My first backpacking trip I had a 55 or 60 litre pack (I can’t remember) but by the end I wanted to burn it all. The last few trips I have used a 30 litre pack but I never used it for super long periods (the longest was 2 months). But that also sucked because it was not well designed for longer use, so it was uncomfortable in a different way.

I just bought a new pack for more long term travel and it’s 40 litres, and the last few weeks I have been back and forth between should I keep it or should I return it and get the next size up, 55 litres. I could just not fill it up, right? But if the space is there – you always fill it! It’s just how us girls are programmed I guess. :)

So now I just stumbled over this post and it reminded me, NO there is a reason I got the 40 litre! Heavy backpacks suck!
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Audrey February 23, 2014 at 2:55 am

Ahhh, I’m currently carrying around the 60L and I so wish I could downsize – the 40L would be ideal! My only problem is that I’m carrying around a few winter items which tend to be a lot heavier (heading over to Europe soon). If I were on a shorter trip, I would definitely opt for something a lot lighter – it makes a world of a difference on your back! Good luck with the packing and have a wonderful time out there!! :)

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yana March 23, 2014 at 6:28 am

Oh no! I just boaught a 65+15 liters backpack… will see how that goes!

Great summery and tips – numbers 2 and 4 really apply to where i’m at now, too! :)
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kris April 4, 2014 at 7:09 am

would you recommend going for just a month? seems like everyone reccomends spending more like 3-4 weeks in each country…

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Audrey April 4, 2014 at 9:35 am

I actually ended up spending close to 1 year in Asia, I just wrote this post 1 month into my travels there… ;) I spent 1 month in each country I went to, however, if you’re tight for time you can try to cover a lot of the main spots in SE Asia in 2-3 months.

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Monnette April 11, 2014 at 4:04 pm

One solution for traveling light would be to take only a few shirts or shorts. As you travel along, you can buy souvenir shirts or shorts. So you get a souvenir and a shirt/short.

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alex May 10, 2014 at 1:44 pm

I was in s.e asia for 5 months, never saw a rat.

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Audrey May 16, 2014 at 4:00 pm

Consider yourself lucky. ;)

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micah May 14, 2014 at 1:32 am

I’m headed to SE Asia this fall, I’m thinking of bringing my chromebook, It only cost me $150 so if it gets stolen then it’s really no big deal, my other option is bringing a nexus 7, it’s cheap and light and you can do anything on it, I don’t know why someone would bring an ipad, it’s stupid to bring something that expensive to places like this! I’m not looking for the cool factor, I just want it to work! Anyhow anyone have any suggestions for any cool mountain towns in SE Asia to escape the heat?

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Audrey May 16, 2014 at 4:00 pm

If you’re looking for cool little mountain towns to escape the heat, I’d recommend Pai in Northern Thailand (it has a very hippie vibe), and Sapa in Northern Vietnam (it’s a little touristy, but you can go on some awesome treks through the local hill tribes from there).

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Quan May 24, 2014 at 5:44 pm

GREAT list! I would have to say the best lesson I’ve learned is not take myself too seriously. There are going to be mistakes, small injuries, getting lost, etc. It’s just part of the deal. Instead – come from a place of love and all is forgiven, mistakes become part of the ride and getting lost allows us to explore someplace unexpected!

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Camille - This American Girl June 17, 2014 at 11:14 pm

All of these are totally spot on! I’m embarrassed to say that I’m totally obsessed with 7-11 myself. I barely ever buy anything I just like to go in there sometimes and pretend that I’m in another world. I just wrote a post on my lessons learned from backpacking in Southeast Asia I thought I ‘d share:

http://www.thisamericangirl.com/2014/06/16/traveling-southeast-asia-changed-forever/

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Ciara July 16, 2014 at 6:03 pm

Great tips!! Just wondering how much you are spending each day? I am going to SE Asia in September for 15 weeks and although I will occasionally stay in dorms I will also stay in private rooms a lot! I dont plan on eating in fancy restaurants, rice from vendors on the street will probably be how I survive and I will probably spend more on booze and excursions than anything else. Can you give me some advice on what my budget per month will be?

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Audrey July 17, 2014 at 6:34 pm

Hi Ciara, my budget really depended on the city I was in. In some places I got by on $25/day, in others I was spending closer to $50/day. It all depends on where you’re eating, where you’re staying, and whether you have any fun activities/excursions planned for the day. I was travelling with my boyfriend and our monthly budget was anywhere between $1000-1500/month for the two of us.

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Mat August 6, 2014 at 1:41 pm

I would also add:
-always carry some toilet paper with you (don’t need to explain why)
-keep a spare memory card in your wallet: I sometime forget mine in my laptop when I want to check my pictures…

Concerning n°7: but you can’t exchange a kindle for another book !
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Aleah | SolitaryWanderer.com September 14, 2014 at 12:28 pm

I also used to say nothing beats the feel of real paper, but when I went backpacking in Europe for 3 months, I decided that carrying 30 books (or more LOL) is too much. I bought a Kindle, loaded it with 1,800 books, and never looked back!

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Cali November 10, 2014 at 9:52 pm

Great post! I’m leaving Korea in 4 months to do South East Asia for 2 months. What size of bag did you get?

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Adam December 1, 2014 at 1:01 am

Haha the bit about the 7eleven is so true! We used to go in nearly ever other one we past just to cool down in the AC.

Also having passport photos was I big help when traveling SE Asia. Also it’s an idea to have a few American dollars on you for the visas, also can be used as a bribe if you get in any trouble.

Also yeah, I drank anything I wanted and had ice all the time and was fine.

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Simon December 7, 2014 at 3:42 pm

Hi there.
I’m off to Hanoi this coming Thursday and was wondering if US Dollars are accepted in note form or will I need to change everything into Dongs?
Regards.
Simon

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Simon December 7, 2014 at 4:18 pm

Hi.
Do I stay at the backpackers hostel or Little Hanoi Hostel 1?
Which would people recommend?
Thanks.
Simon

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