This is the last post in a 4-part series on traveling in Southeast Asia. Check out the links below for other posts on Vietnam, Thailand and how to spend a layover in Tokyo.
After Bethany and I got back stateside from our trip to SE Asia, we caught up with several family and friends who wanted to hear about our travels. When telling them about our trip, we were surprised how frequently we heard that they would love to take a trip to Asia as well, but for a variety of reasons didn’t think it would be a possibility for them. So we decided to gather the most common reasons in a list, and provide our thoughts on how a trip to SE Asia (or any destination) may be closer than you realize.
6 Reasons Not to Go to Southeast Asia
“I wish I could take a trip to SE Asia, but it’s too expensive.”
Taking a large trip to a destination like SE Asia can seem insanely expensive, especially when you research flights and find that the plane trip alone can cost over $1000. However, we found once we arrived in Asia, our daily expenses were quite low. We spent around $20-30 per person per day for accommodations, meals and entertainment. Your spending of course depends on your preferences, but we found that we got basic but clean and well-located guestrooms, local food and access to the well-known attractions for these prices.
If you think you can budget for day-to-day expenses on a trip to SE Asia but can’t manage the price of the flight, open an airline or travel rewards credit card and save the points for a flight. Travel rewards cards can be a great way to afford trips that would otherwise be out of reach. Sign-up bonuses alone can get you well on your way to enough points or miles for a flight to SE Asia.
Another way to knock down the price of a flight is to set a price alert on Kayak or another travel search engine to look for lower fares. Prices for longer international flights can vary significantly leading up to the travel date, so setting a price alert can help you find deals regardless of when you plan to go.
“I can’t get enough time off work”
For U.S. based travelers, Asia is certainly a far-flung destination, and traveling there is no small undertaking. While we’re always in favor of longer trips that allow for a slower pace of travel, if Asia is a destination that’s of interest, a shorter trip can still definitely be worthwhile.
While every traveler is different, for us two weeks seems to be a reasonable minimum length trip to SE Asia. This allows enough time to visit a couple countries and see some major sights while allowing for travel time. It does take about a full day (24 hours) to get from North America to Asia, depending on your flight route and the length of layovers on the journey.
For many in the U.S. taking a trip of this length would exhaust their year’s allowance of vacation days. Before writing off SE Asia as a destination, maximize your travel time by taking a trip over holidays or other days off. Thanksgiving and Christmas are particularly good travel times in the U.S. because you’re able to combine the holidays off with times when many others are taking vacation, which often gives employers more flexibility.
If you’re lacking on vacation time discuss with your boss if you can schedule flexible working hours leading up to your vacation to get an extra day or two off. Or consider asking to take an unpaid sabbatical or work remotely.
“I wouldn’t even know where to start planning a trip like that”
One of our favorite parts of SE Asia was how little we needed to plan in advance. The region is a tourism and backpacking hotbed so attractions are well-known, accommodations are plentiful and there is no shortage of resources available to help plan a trip.
We found in our travels that reading a bit in advance about other travelers’ experiences (check out our travel guides for Vietnam and Thailand!) and paging through a guidebook was enough to get us acquainted with the region. I often do a google search for a destination by adding the word blog to it to get more first hand recommendations (i.e. “Hanoi Vietnam travel guide blog”).
Once we arrived we were able to combine inexpensive bus and plane travel to get us between major cities and book our accommodations a day or two in advance (at most), moving at a pace that suited us. We generally decided what to do each day the evening prior or in the morning over breakfast. If you’re willing to go with the flow and like the idea of being able to pick from 1-3 day small group excursions to reduce what you need to plan on your own, SE Asia can make a great destination.
“I don’t speak the language”
Traveling to a country where you don’t speak the language is always a bit of a challenge, and many Asian languages have a tonal emphasis that can make it very difficult to speak or understand the few words of the language that you do know. Fortunately, in our travels in Asia, we’ve always been able to find our way with the help from a couple sources.
Hotel (or other accommodation) staff, almost always speak English and can help answer your common questions about how to get to major attractions or find ways to spend your day. Even if you’re not staying at a particular hotel, don’t hesitate to stop in and ask for help. We’ve found that most reception staff are happy to help regardless of where you’re staying.
Other travelers are also great resources for information, so striking up conversation while waiting in line at a museum entrance or while at the bus station can be a great way to get tips on how to get around.
“It’s too dangerous to travel there”
When we told friends and family that we were starting our SE Asia trip off in Vietnam, we received several negative replies, ranging from confusion to concern for our safety. When we tried to convince them that Vietnam was a safe and even friendly destination for American travelers, we weren’t all that successful until we returned from our trip and were able to share our first-hand experiences and photos.
Like many developing countries, the nations within SE Asia do have some degree of uncertainty within their governments. Day-to-day live can be driven more by established customs than by formal laws. Traveling in these countries requires awareness about your surroundings and the acknowledgement that as a traveler you may be hustled out of a few dollars by a local.
That said, we found in our travels some of the widely-circulated stories about sophisticated scams were significantly exaggerated. Locals in our travel throughout SE Asia were very friendly towards tourists and were always willing to help us find our way. Overall we felt as safe traveling in SE Asia as we did in major cities in developed countries like the U.S. and Europe.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to find food that I like”
Even if you’ve never been to Asia, you’ve almost certainly heard stories from travelers who have experienced some strange meals or dining customs while traveling the continent. If you’re a picky eater this may turn you off to the idea of spending 2+ weeks eating Asian cuisine, but it’s worth considering the food options you’ll have on a trip.
First, Asian food varies widely from country-to-country, so it’s worth getting adventurous while on your home turf. Go to a local restaurant that serves up some Asian food you may not have tried (Thai and Vietnamese are some of our favorites). Whether or not your experience sampling a new cuisine gets you excited for a trip, there are a couple fallbacks that can give you comfort in traveling to a region like Asia that is known for its’ unfamiliar food.
Most mid-size and larger cities in Asia we’ve traveled to have at least a handful of western food restaurants. These vary from western chain restaurants that will serve almost exactly the same menu as what you’ve had at home to local dining spots that put a regional flavor on more familiar dishes, but all will offer some familiar food.
If you’re still nervous about the unusual cuisine, take some snacks from home. I’ve found that having along some snacks from home like energy bars or trail mix can help me feel better if something I eat doesn’t agree with my stomach or I’m just wanting a sense of home.
When planning any major trip, there are always challenges and roadblocks along the way. Although there are many reasons you may feel that a trip to SE Asia or another exotic international destination may not be a possibility, we hope that some of our suggestions can help you plan and take a major trip without fear!