I once again apologize that it has been so long since I have written. This time, however, I do have a semi-legitimate excuse! I have been in South East Asia (specifically Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand) for the past month, running amok with a friend from Hangzhou for vacation! Now I know some of you are thinking, ‘that’s not a legitimate excuse’, and I really did think that I would keep everyone updated and post while I was on my trip. But between sightseeing during the day and finding the best places to drink and meet new people at night, there was just no time for me to sit with my tablet and type away. So I apologize, friends, for my lack of posting, but in the next coming weeks i’ll make up for it with an overabundance of posts about my trip that will tickle your fancy and peak your interests… or at least I hope they will!
So I thought I would start said abundance of posts with a quick guide on what to do to prepare for a backpacking trip. This is a guide that focuses on backpacking in SE Asia, but the majority of it will be applicable to backpacking in other places as well. So here is my list of the most important preparations you need to accomplish before you leave on your journey to SE Asia (or wherever you happen to be exploring at the moment).
I was gone for a month on my trip, and while that might seem like a long time to some people, I met people on my trip who had been backpacking for months, years even. I love traveling, it is … well it is sorta my thing. Some people watch T.V., some people collect stamps, if you forgive my using an old cliche, but I travel. I loved the hell out of my trip, and I didn’t want it to end, but I don’t think even I could travel for years at a time. It was kinda nice to come back home to a place that was familiar. To sleep in my own bed and to know where I was going. Well… sorta. My sense of direction isn’t the best, and Hangzhou isn’t the most English friendly place in the world, but I still know (vaguely) where I am going 80% of the time. Anywho, backpacking is something I highly recommend everyone does at some point in their lives. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t ‘young’ anymore. I met people of all ages on my trip who were lugging around a backpack with the rest of us! Which brings me to my first point:
1.) Buy a good backpack! Sounds obvious right? Well you would be surprised how many times I saw people lugging around suitcases and giant shoulder purses. You don’t want to be ‘that person’ struggling to drag a wheeled suitcase through the sand on a beach in Thailand. Yeah, the backpacks look a little ridiculous, especially on small people like me. See photo evidence below for a chuckle. But it is way easier to climb into a boat (anchored off shore in a foot of water, I might add) with a backpack, than trying to manhandle your suitcase into the boat ahead of you.
2.) Do your research ahead of time! You have no idea how frustrating it is to get stuck behind 5 guys in the Vietnam airport who had no idea what they were doing. ‘Oh, you have you apply for a visa ahead of time?’ While you stand there annoyed with all your documents, photos, and money in hand ready to go because you did quick Google search.
3.) Know how much money you are taking and never let it out of your sight. The same goes for your passport. When you take sleeper buses, don’t put your money in your bag that goes underneath the bus. A friend of mine got all his money stolen that way. I don’t care how credible the bus company is, it doesn’t mean the people working there are going to be credible. When I travel, it doesn’t matter if i’m in a hostel room or a bunk in a sleeper train, if I don’t have a locker with a good lock I sleep with my purse in my arms or right next to my head. No one is getting to it without going through me first! I dare you to try and steal my passport, I have too many cool stamps to lose it now! Which brings me to my next point…
4.) Bring a copy of your passport. I don’t know exactly how it is for other countries, but it is a pain in the ass to get a new American passport if you lose yours, especially when you are abroad. So take a copy of your passport just in case, God forbid, you lose it or it gets stolen. That way you have some sort of proof that you are who you say you are and you aren’t just illegally running around Asia doing who knows what. I don’t know how you would have gotten there in the first place without a passport, but you never know. Crazier things have happened.
5.) When going to hot, beachy places, for example Thailand, pack sunscreen and aloe. Especially if you know you are going to inevitably get sunburned. Like this girl! Cause damn… did I get sunburned. And you know what? The stores in Thailand prey on pale little things like me. I paid more for sunscreen, and then also for aloe when I cheaped out and bought the less expensive sunscreen that didn’t have as high an SPF in it and ipso facto got sunburned, then I ever have in my life. So if you can buy it and pack it in your backpack before you get anywhere near a beach. Most airlines nowadays allow you to check at least one bag for free (except the super budget airlines (aka my kind of airlines) like EasyJet) so I would pack other toiletries as well. That way you don’t have to worry about getting them at your destination.
That being said, I think backpackers have sort of a different code of hygiene than most travelers. Which, honestly, i’m cool with. Let’s be real, no one spends almost 48 hours straight on a bus and gets off smelling like roses. You get a little stanky. Meh, it happens. It is all sorta part of the fun if you ask me! Get grungy!
7.) This is more of a tip to consider during your trip, not before, but it is an important one. Keep your wits about you. SE Asia is seriously one big party, which is awesome, but don’t be stupid. This especially applies if you are by yourself. I’m not at all saying don’t go out and have fun, please by all means do! But don’t challenge the big Aussie next to you to a shot contest.
1. You are probably going to lose.
2. Unless you have fantastic drunken awareness, or a really awesome friend playing sobro that night, you probably won’t be able to find your way back to your hostel or fend off someone who might intend to cross you in some way. Like I said, just keep yourself somewhat together and you’ll be fine. I never once felt unsafe in Thailand, Cambodia or Vietnam, and you shouldn’t either.
8.) This goes along with #3. Make sure you take enough money, or have a way to access more money if something bad should happen. Like, hypothetically speaking, you get into a motorbike accident or have to go to a Thai hospital for some reason. Make sure you have enough money to pay for it. Most of the ATMs accepted all major cards. I used my Chinese debit and never had any problems, but my friend used his US debit and could also get money out no problem. They will charge you a bit more for an overseas card, but if it comes down to it you can use it.
9.) The most important thing you can do before you leave is get excited, and when your there have the time of your life! Go to Khaosan Rd. in Bangkok and stay up until 6 in the morning and see the monks buying their food for the day as you walk home. Go and eat a scorpion on a stick. Although, this is me being a hypocrite because I did not try any bugs during my trip. Bugs and I don’t mix well. Most of you have probably read my cockroach post. Nope. Not doing it. But please if you go, try it for me and let me know how they are! Go to the Killing Fields in Cambodia and know that atrocities happened there not long ago, and you are wiser now for having seen it. Go to Angkor Wat, spend the whole day there and realize that you are standing in centuries of history and now you are a part of it. Go to as many beaches as you can and soak up the sun. Wear sunscreen though because the sun is hot in SE Asia and holy crap did I get burned. Like … the still night air hurt my skin. Go and drink a (or two or three) pina coladas while you’re on that beach! Stay in hostels, and be the friendliest, happiest, most carefree person that you know you are, just sometimes it is harder to find. Go get lost, find new places and make new friends. Connect with people, know that some of them you will never see again and know that that’s OK because you shared a moment with them and that is enough. But most of all, just go have fun and experience as much as you can. Break some comfort zones and find a part of yourself that you didn’t know existed. When you do, I hope you let me know. I cannot wait to hear about the experiences you are going to have.
“All this time I was finding myself, and I didn’t know I was lost.” – Wake Me Up by Avicii (Listen to this song if you haven’t yet because it is fantastic.)
Until next time adventures never, ever forget:
Adventure is out there, so never stop exploring!