As you could probably tell from the previous blog posts, I love planning and knowing where I’m going and where I’m staying. I like to have my trips planned, but equally I think its really important to have flexibility so you can change your plans at the last moment. If the option comes up to do a little side trip off to some unique location. You want to have the freedom to go off and do it. Its about getting the balance right between structure and flexibility.
When I was in Asia, I hadn’t planned on going to Laos, but so many people I met told me I needed to go, so I changed my plans at the last minute and visited Laos. It’s still one of my most favourite countries. Memories of heading up north going off the beaten track and visiting local tribes, taking a speed boat down the Mekong river and crossing the border into Northern Thailand.
South East Asia has a set tourist route which the majority of tourists follow. What I mean is, everyone will go and visit the main tourist attractions in each country and do this by following the same route. This route is normally the quickest, cheapest and easiest to travel.
Many people want to get off the tourist route and do their own thing and I totally support and encourage you to give it a go. Just a few things to note, it can be difficult and expensive to deviate from the route. You would need to really plan in advance what it is you wanted to see and what the best way of getting there would be. I was once on Langkawi a gorgeous little island on the West coast of Malaysia, very close to the border with Thailand. I was meeting up with my family in Phuket and I’d decided I wanted to travel to Phuket via boat as it would be a stunning journey along the coastal route. My mistake! Could I do this? - No!
When I was in Langkawi I was Googling and searching for all the different options; cruise ships, local fishing boats, anyone sailing from the local sailing club etc. I ended up sending days trying to find someway to make this journey. I hadn’t looked into it in much detail before I went and didn’t know how difficult it would be, I’d just assumed I’d be able to do this. In the end with my short time frame flying was the only option I had, which ended up costing me a lot as I had to book a last minute flight! But I learnt from this experience and now plan very carefully if there’s anything I want to do which is off the traditional tourist trail.
Travelling can be very tiring, especially when moving on from place to place, with no real break. You won’t want to be moving every two or three days, you’ll want to stay in some places for a little bit longer. However, its very easy to get stuck, with Thailand, people normally fall in love with the island and beach life. Its an easy thing to do, you have an amazing quality of life; sunbathing and scuba diving during the day, partying at night. Living is cheap and you have great people arriving all the time. Its a wonderful way of spending time, just be careful you don’t miss out on the rest of Asia while you enjoy island life!
Although you’ll be able to plan pretty much everything via the internet; such as booking travel tickets, accommodation, finding out about attractions etc. I still think its really useful to have an up to date guide book, just in case you don’t have wifi available and you end up stuck!
Wifi is pretty much everywhere around Asia, and all the cafe, restaurants, bars etc will have it. But there will still be some places were they don’t have it. To be honest, I’m so impressed in Asia with the wifi, as its more connected than many UK places.
Its worth working out how you’re going to get from the airport/train/bus station etc to your accommodation. You’ll need to weight up the cost verses the time. The easiest, but normally the most expensive option is to get a taxi to your accommodation. But you won’t want to be doing this all the time as you’ll burn through money and its an interesting experience trying to work out the local transport options!
Whenever you get to a transport hub there’s normally an information booth manned by people who speak english and they’ll be very helpful and be able to point you in the right direction if you get stuck. You can also ask people for directions!
When you get to a new country, try and give yourself a day to get use to the place and to get your bearings and learn a little bit more about where you are, what there is to see and what the cultures like. It always feels better once you have a base and you know where your staying for the next few days.
You can book hostels in advance and I would use trip advisor to get the low down on where the best places are to stay. Try to stay in hostels rather than hotels as you’ll meet more people who’re travelling. It will be cheaper and the hostels are generally really clued up with what’s happening in the local area and they’ll be able to provide information on trips and arrange any sight seeing in the local area. They may also be able to help you with transport to your next destination. Stay in dorms, as you'll meet more people that way.
You can get washing done at most places and its really cheap to do. I would hand wash underwear when needed and do a big wash every ten days or so, the hostels will be able to sort this for you. They normally do it by weight and its not expensive.
There are ATM everywhere in South East Asia, you may struggle in the smaller towns or out in the country but generally you won’t have a problem in getting access to cash. I would take out £300/£400 at once to save on bank charges, this is better than getting small amounts out every few days and paying £3/£4 every time. They will also accept debit and credit cards. But don’t let your card out of your sight.
Carry local currency with you and have some USD available as a last resort just in case you need access to cash. Most people will accept USD or you’ll be able to change it for local currency, you just won’t be getting the best rate for it.
Keep a diary, write a blog, it will be fantastic when you're older to read it and look back at what you did. Over time, you’ll forget unless you record it somewhere. Take photos! For you to remember all the great places you’ve been to and the people you’ve met. This is about creating experiences and memories you’ll have for the rest of your life.
You’ll meet awesome people on your travels, this is one of the best things about travelling meeting people from around the world, who are wanting to do what you want; travel, explore, have fun, have new experience and enjoy life. With Facebook and social media these days its even easier to stay in contact. I met a Danish girl called Camilla when I was travelling in Vietnam, we then met up again in Thailand, Malaysia, Australia and have been great friends ever since. I’ve visited her over in Denmark and she’s been to stay with me here in the UK, most recently we travelled to Miami, and drove down to the Florida Keys, before flying over to the Bahamas to go and swim with dolphins!
Go out and explore, try new things, sample different foods. Trust me when I say you’ll always regret the things you didn’t do, than the things you did. Even if you make a mistake, you’ll learn from it. When you’re traveling, take advantage of every opportunity to see new things, meet new people and explore new areas. Say Yes! (apart from trying drugs!) You’ll meet people randomly and they can change your whole life, and the best thing is you never know who you may meet and what can happen.