7 Things You Need to Know Before Backpacking to Southeast Asia

written by local expert Becky Rogers

Becky is an avid rock climber and outdoor enthusiast and is now living in France as an expat. When she is not writing about travel gear and various destinations she has visited during her travels, you can find her playing with her two dogs.

These days, the typical backpacking trail of Southeast Asia is well worn with the majority of travellers starting their journey here. It really is no surprise as Southeast Asia is not only ridiculously cheap, but it also offers beauty and an intriguing culture which travellers often find themselves returning to.
Indonesia, Southeast Asia

As Southeast Asia seems to be such a traveling hot spot (and a place where you can make your money stretch!), I think it’s important that you know some really useful information before setting off there. So here’s my list of top-to-knows for traveling and exploring this side of the world.

You Can Travel Around Very Cheaply

Buses are one of the cheapest ways to travel around Southeast Asia and will take you anywhere, no matter how far. If you’re up for a crowded  bus or squatting with chickens, local buses can cost you pennies! Overnight buses are also cheap, costing $10-15 depending on the distance, and are a great way to maximize your time while saving money on accommodation. Other popular transport options are renting bikes (our personal favourite due to the combination of freedom and flexibility), hitchhiking and domestic flights. Tuk Tuks and taxis are more than double the price of local transport so unless you are a haggling God, I’d stick to these.

Related: Vietnam by Motorbike: 8 Things You Should Read First

Sitting on top of a bus

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Finding Accommodation Will Never Be a Problem

We always recommend booking your first few nights in a new place with reliable online travel agencies to avoid you walking around with no idea where to go. When I went to Asia, we had used  Traveloka Philippines to book a place for our first few days in Manila. Not only can you compare hotel prices, but reliable websites such as this don’t add on any extra hidden costs which we know is a big pain. Once you are in Southeast Asia and the jet lag is no more, you can walk around and always find a lot of cheap accommodation options depending on what you like and who you meet on the way. Of course there are also free accommodation options! Camping, Couch surfing or staying and working with local families you meet on your travels are very popular options in Southeast Asia.

Typical Hostel Prices: $5-10 for a common room / $10-20 for a private double room.

hammock, Southeast Asia

The Street Food Is Amazing

Local food is ridiculously cheap in Southeast Asia so if you’re spending a lot on food, you’re doing it wrong! Street food is the most popular form of eating and there’s a reason for it, trust me. Everywhere you go, you’ll find stalls lining major streets where you can try amazing local dishes for $1.50 USD. In Southeast Asia, you can easily eat really well on a budget of $15 per day. The important thing is to try the local food and stay away from western restaurants if you don’t want to blow your budget! Local restaurants have a better company and tasty meals for only $3-5 USD.

Bowls of traditional vietnamese food

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Perfect the Art of Haggling

You won’t be able to avoid haggling while traveling in Southeast Asia! It’s a way of life. You can haggle anything from food to a tuk-tuk ride or even hiring motorbikes down to at least 20%. If you’re planning on backpacking Southeast Asia and you are too shy to haggle (like me), make a real effort to learn, it’s worth it. Become a haggling queen (or king) like Anna and you will end up saving a lot of dollars on your travels!

Related: What to Expect When Visiting the Philippines

street vendors, Southeast Asia

Expect to Get Ripped off at Some Point

This may happen at some point on your trip but the most important thing is to not let it ruin it! Like many places, Southeast Asia also has countless ways to separate tourists from their money whether it’s overcharging for clothes or a tuk-tuk ride, or the rare more sophisticated scams. Just make sure you keep your wits about you and always try to research how much it should cost you to travel to a place beforehand, so you know how much you should be paying. In the same way, it might be worth doing a quick google search on common scams in a certain area.

For more tips on backpacking in Southeast Asia, check out this guide by Travezl. 

The Locals Are Always Willing to Help

Getting to know the locals is the best part of traveling throughout Southeast Asia as they are so friendly and always willing to teach you about their culture. A lot of the time they will help you with anything from directions to giving you a ride somewhere, and will even provide you with food and a roof over your head if you help them with their work! Whether it’s people in the cities or tribal groups in minority villages, you will find that everyone is approachable.

Read: 10 Things I Didn’t Know Before Traveling Southeast Asia

local living, philippines, Southeast Asia
Insider Tip: Make sure to be respectful to the people you come across on your travels and their beliefs, you are in their country after all!  Something as simple as learning a couple of phrases in the local language and researching what is expected, such as dress code, can really go a long way.

Time Means Nothing in Southeast Asia

Life here doesn’t seem to follow deadlines and schedules. Everything is relaxed. This is great for budget travel though as you won’t ever be in a rush! I’ve noticed that I tend to spend unnecessary money whenever I need to get somewhere quickly as transport is the biggest money drainer. In Southeast Asia this won’t be a problem. Just slow down and be flexible, and give yourself plenty of time for delays.

For more Southeast Asia travel tips, read this Guide

A woman sitting on a deckchair on the beach

Hopefully you’ve read something new about what to expect in Southeast Asia. We couldn’t recommend this region anymore than we already have. It’s cheap, culturally amazing and just damn right paradise. Now it’s time to set off with your daily budget of $15-20 and go experience it for yourself!

Do you have any other tips on Backpacking around Southeast Asia?

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