Published: 28 September 2017
Going on a backpacking trip had been something that I had dreamed of doing for years and years, and in January I finally embarked on my solo adventure around South-East Asia. At first it was terrifying! I was half- way around the world, away from all my friends and family with no idea what I was doing. It was one of the best experiences of my entire life, and I strongly recommend it to anyone who is considering doing the same.
What to take with you
The amount of frustrated people you see trying to carry bags twice the size of them around is astounding! From my personal experience taking a week’s worth of clothes is absolutely fine. Almost every hotel/hostel has a laundry service attached to it, if not, there will be one close by so don’t torture yourself by dragging around 20kg of clothes in 30+ degrees heat!
Practical clothing is a must; South-East Asia has some fantastic hiking opportunities with some absolutely breath-taking views. So take some comfortable walking shoes, as one of my hiking companions would tell you: flip-flops were a bad choice! Your clothes will get dirty and torn so don’t take any designer items with you.
You’ll need to take water, sun lotion and insect repellent everywhere that you go, so take a small bag with you so that you can carry these around with you when you go out on your activities for the day. Take a notepad and pen with you, and write down the address of the place that you’re staying just in case your phone runs out of battery (it’s worth asking the receptionist at your hostel to write it in the local language as well). Take a fold-up poncho everywhere you go as well, getting caught in a freak thunderstorm in only shorts and a t-shirt isn’t pleasant!
I met loads of people who were scared of eating from the street carts… don’t be. This is your opportunity to try the local cuisine as it’s meant to be, from my experience restaurants that market exclusively to Western tourists tend to be comparatively overpriced and less flavourful.
Be adventurous as well, you’ll never know your new favourite dish until you try it! One of my favourite examples were the silk worms that you can buy from vendors on the street, I’m not going to lie, they look disgusting, but once you get over that they’re delicious! Cuisine is a massive part of the experience, so don’t miss out by eating at McDonalds!
Talk to new people!
Researching activities and places to stay on the internet is absolutely fine, but the most reliable method when travelling is to talk to people who’ve just been there. I found some really cool restaurants and bars just from talking to people in my hostels. The backpacking community are really friendly, meeting new people is part of the backpacking culture, even though I started travelling by myself; I barely spent any time alone in the four months that I was there. The first time that you stay in a hostel is a little strange, but you get used to it very quickly and they’re great places to meet new people… you’re all there for the same reason so you tend to have loads in common.
Learn to drive a scooter
This is the easiest way to get around in South East Asia, and all the major backpacking locations will have a scooter rental store (they’re quite often attached to the hostels). If you don’t know how to drive one you can take a CBT course for around £100, this might sound expensive but you’ll easily save this money by being able to drive yourself rather than take taxis everywhere which can really add up over a trip.
Much more important than being cost effective, it gives you the freedom to explore independently, guided tours are great, but they tend to stick to a fairly tight schedule, and you might not get to explore each location as thoroughly as you would like. Some of the best days I had in my entire trip started with me just getting up and driving to random locations. The scenery was so different to what I’m used to that it was a constantly thrilling experience.
I was really fortunate and my whole trip went relatively smoothly, but I did encounter some people who had bags/purses stolen etc. Just make sure to use your common sense, as I said earlier, keep everything vital (passport, bank cards etc.) behind the reception at your hostel. You can get pickpocketed anywhere in the world, you wouldn’t take your entire pay check out at once back home, so don’t carry around a month’s worth of spending money when you’re backpacking! It’s not an idea that you should let deter you, just use your common sense and you’ll be absolutely fine.
If you do encounter any trouble, go straight to the tourist police; they’re really helpful and do their very best to track down any stolen items. A friend of mine had her passport and phone snatched, the police were really helpful and comforting to her, and they managed to track the items down within the hour, make sure that this is your first port of call if anything does happen to you. Any kind of crime is taken really seriously and they do their very best to help you if there is any trouble.