Here are 12 things I wish I’d known before backpacking in Asia. But the most important thing I learnt was to RELAX.
Your mosquito repellent won’t be as good as the one you can buy in country. Leave it at home and grab some that’s formulated for where you’re going. I bought some highly praised spray from Boots, and ended up with 46 bites on one leg alone, swelling, and the need for antibiotics. I was a severe case, but either way, ditch the stuff from home and get it while you’re there.
The same goes for other medications apart from diarrhea tablets. Immodium was the single most requested tablet while I was travelling. At some point, everyone gets hit by a bad stomach, and I wouldn’t go back to Asia without them. You can get them from most pharmacies in country, but be aware that medication is mostly sold without the boxes meaning that you can’t see whether it’s actually in date. Although this is rarely a problem, it can reduce the potency of what you’re taking. Take your essential medications and everything else can be bought while you’re there.
You don’t need your own mini laundry. I got told to bring all the necessary items to do my own laundry – travel detergent, a washing line and a sink plug for hostels that don’t want you filling the basin for some reason. I diligently carried them for 3 months, and all I used was the travel wash a couple of times when I’d been too lazy to use the laundry. Most places you go will have a laundry facility, or there will be places nearby. And if you DO have to wear something a little more than usual – well, you’re a backpacker, and no one cares. If I were to go again, I’d keep my little tube of travel detergent but ditch the washing line and sink plug.
You’ll need an umbrella or waterproof jacket with a hood in the rainy season. Not a little, a lot. You will get soaked. Repeatedly. You might even begin to wonder if you ever truly knew what it was to be dry. With the humidity in countries like Thailand and Cambodia, you’ll find that although it’s not cold, your clothes still won’t dry properly unless you wait for days – which will make them stink. Just put them in a tumble dryer and relish the cosy warmth afterwards. Also make sure to pack some large resealable plastic bags (I’m a fan of the large IKEA sandwich bags, but get what works for you). Stick any paper, electronics, or food in these bags to save them from the downpour.
Take more than one bank card with money in each account. I can’t stress this enough. I’ve seen so many people have their bank cards swallowed by the machines over there and seen the horror of what has just happened spread across their face. Have more than one, and keep them in different places. If you lose your wallet, you can still access money. Don’t rely on transferring cash between accounts or to your mate, either. What if you can’t get on the wifi? What if it takes a few days to get into their account? Be sensible and keep a backup source of money or you’ll have a miserable few days.
Take scans of your important documents. Make several copies of your passport, bank cards, driving licence, insurance, flight details and anything else important. Store one in your hand luggage, one in your luggage, and if you have any other luggage, stow a copy in there too. This way, you’ll still be able to access all that important info if your bags have been sent to Kuwait instead of Bangkok or if you drop your passport down the squat toilet. Plus, some hostels ask for your passport on arrival. Keep yourself from being separated from one of your most important documents by handing over a copy instead. Although it doesn’t work everywhere, its good to limit the time apart from it.
Shoes are important. They will vary on who you are and what you’re doing. Are you going to be going to tourist places and the beach? Take some flip flops, covered shoes for walking, and something for if you want to go on a night out. Can you make any of your shoes multipurpose? Even better. Shoes take up space and weigh a lot in your backpack.
Luggage is important. I could write a whole post on this one. In fact, I will, later. But the main points are – think about what kind of traveller you are. Will you be changing places quickly, or stopping for extended periods of time? A suitcase might be easier if you’re not moving about a lot. Are you the type of person who forgets they needed something and will have to unpack everything again just to grab the suncream? Look into backpacks that unzip fully, like a suitcase. Scratch that. Get a backpack that will unzip fully anyway. I can’t stress enough how useful it is when you’re in a rush.
Don’t fill your bag. When you leave home, make sure there’s spare space in it. YOU WILL ACCUMULATE MORE THINGS. You don’t want to be in a position where you’re having to choose between your favourite shoes, and the slingshot shaped like a penis that you bought as a gift for your brother.
Take extra headphones. Seriously. If you lose yours or break them, you’ll need another pair. That is of course, unless you want to listen to that couple three seats behind you on the overnight bus having a massive argument over who lost their deposit (actually happened to me), the old lady snoring on your shoulder (also actually happened), or the chickens clucking and squawking every time the bus goes over a bump or in a pothole (actually happened A LOT). Pop a pair of in-ear headphones into a pocket in your day bag so you can lull yourself to sleep with the dulcet tones of Gabrielle Aplin in an emergency. You can thank me later.
Buy a sim card with data. The first thing I’ve done in every country I’ve visited is to buy a local sim card. You’ll be super popular if you can work out the way to the temple, book a hostel online, or check the weather report for the day, plus, you can get in contact with loved ones at home with a lot more ease. Word to the wise though. Don’t spend all your time with your phone in your hand. Put it out of the way when you don’t need it and actually experience the new country you’re visiting.
Finally – relax. Don’t worry about things too much. So long as you are even a teeny tiny little bit as organised as I was, you’ll be fine. Enjoy your trip. If something goes wrong (things will), take it in your stride and carry on. Remember where you are and how excited you were to go there. Have fun.