Planning an entire gap year or backpacking trip can seem like a really intimidating task that will take a lot of time and effort. I’m not going to lie, there is no magical loophole to avoid planning and it does take time, but it really isn’t as bad as you’d think. Regardless of the type of trip you want to take and how long you plan to travel for, always approach the planning in sections instead of one big mountain of work to be done. Breaking it down this way will make you get important stuff sorted and will leave you with more time for the fun stuff-the actual traveling!
The principles to planning any type of trip are the same. Even though I haven’t been on a gap year or a long backpacking trip myself, I always use these basic steps to plan my short trips and it makes it so much easier. So without further ado, I am pooling together all the research and the resources of all the travel bloggers I closely work with to give you guys the best advice to help you plan the ultimate Southeast Asian Gap Year.
- Get Reading and Plan Your Dream Route
- Work out Your Budget for Your Gap Year
- Search for Cheap Flights
- Research and Apply for Visas
- Get Insurance
- Find out What Vaccinations You Will Need
- Plan Your Accommodation Options
- Decide on a Daily Budget
- Decide How You Will Travel Around
- Possible Ways to Fund Your Gap Year
- Staying Connected
Get Reading and Plan Your Dream Route
Read as many travel blogs as you dare and get inspired! This is the best part. Not only does it give you the travel vibes and get you excited, it also helps you work out what type of trip you want if you didn’t know already. Reading about the experiences of travelers can really help you to decide where you want to go, whether you want a short or long trip, whether you want to travel to one continent at a time or go to every continent, and whether you’d prefer to travel alone or with someone. Your trip is completely personal to you and what you want to do get some inspiration and start thinking about your desired route.
To help you start planning, check out our individual travel guide featuring the best things to do, what to eat, where to stay, and rough budgets for each one.
Check out our Southeast Asia Guides:
Related: Check out this Malaysia Travel Guide to help you plan your trip.
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Coming from someone who has been traveling the world for the last 8 years AND has been in the hospital 2x, travel insurance is something everyone NEEDS to get. Get a quote below!
Work out Your Budget for Your Gap Year
Now that you have your ideal route, you now need to answer that million dollar question “how much will it cost?” Thankfully it isn’t a million dollars! How much traveling costs completely depends on you, your finances and how you want to travel. Gap years can be as expensive as you want them to be but they can also be done on a budget (trust me, we’re good at that!) To work out your budget you need to do some research and work out your traveling expenses. Your Southeast Asia travel budget can be as cheap or expensive as you want it to be. It all depends on your travel style.
Search for Cheap Flights
Depending on your type of trip you might just be booking a one-way ticket or looking up the prices of multiple flights. I know that before Tom left to travel he booked 3 or 4 of his big flights in advance to save money so you could do it that way. However, looking back, he missed a few flights and still hasn’t finished his original planned trip so his advice is to let yourself be flexible as possible!
The trick to budgeting for flights is to be flexible. Be flexible with your dates, times, type of flight (the cheaper the flight the more stops it has) even the airport you fly from! Also, be sure to check a few flight websites, some of the best sites have specific cheap flights sections like House of Travel just for us travelers! What’s even handier is that some have fare finder tools too which really help you budget for domestic flights (often the cheapest way to travel around).
Read: 20 of the Best Travel Hacks to Score Cheap Flights
Research and Apply for Visas
It’s really important to apply for your Visa if you need one as soon as possible. They have a long process and delivery period so I wouldn’t risk leaving it to the last minute because you might not get lucky. To check if you need a visa, go to the government website for each country as they will have all the information. A lot of countries in Southeast Asia allow a visa to be obtained on arrival but for 30 days only, some need proof of onward travel (Thailand) and some allow other members of the ASEAN to travel on a free visa. Countries like Myanmar entails you applying for a visa ahead of time. Always read up on this beforehand as you may have to fly out of a country and fly back in to get a new visa if you plan to stay for extended periods of time.
To buy or not to buy travel insurance depends on the person. A lot of people think, especially on a long trip like a gap year, that it’s a lot of money for “if” you might need it. With that said though it does cover your ass for a lot of things that could go wrong and that are out of your control. The two types you would need to consider are the basic cover insurance, which includes a certain amount of medical, lost baggage and delayed flight cover, and equipment-specific insurance, more expensive technology such as cameras and laptops. Both Tom and Anna have gotten into accidents while on the road and their travel insurance has come in handy. Our recommendation, get it! There are far too many horror stories of people without insurance getting into accidents. The result? Go Fund me pages and families having to remortgage their homes just to cover the ridiculously high medical fees.
Insider Tip: Always check the fine print as some activities may not be covered such as riding a motorbike or extreme sports.
Our recommended insurance company is World Nomads just because they are super efficient to deal with. They cover most accident insurances, no questions asked. I had a friend whose bag was pickpocketed while in Ecuador and without blinking an eye, World Nomads reimbursed them for the cost of the lost items!
Curious to see how much insurance would cost? Get a quote below to find out.
Find out What Vaccinations You Will Need
This will be different for everybody. Make sure you check what you need and what you’ve already had. For most Southeast Asian countries you will need HepA, DTP (Diphtheria, Tetanus, Polio), Typhoid, Rabies, Japanese Encephalitis, Cholera, Yellow Fever if from an at-risk country and potentially HepB. I’d recommend making sure you have them all if you’re planning to travel around all of Asia. (I have a medical degree background isn’t it obvious?)
Plan Your Accommodation Options
Anna’s advice with accommodation is not to pre-book everything. Having at least the first few nights in a hostel booked is great as it avoids you wandering late at night but it also gives you flexibility with the rest of your time as different opportunities arise. Apart from popular hostel websites like hostelworld ,we also highly recommend checking out Booking.com, as they have proven very reliable in finding them good deals on places to stay.
Insider Tip: On average, a dorm room in SEAsia can cost between $3-10 and a private room $10-20, with Cambodia being the cheapest for accommodation. Make sure you book with hostels directly whenever you can as they often offer discounts. Sometimes, you will want to splurge and splash out by getting a nice place to stay in once in a while. This is when the recommended sites above become useful!
Check out our recommended places to stay:
- Where to Stay in Thailand
- Where to Stay in Vietnam
- Where to Stay in Laos
- Where to Stay in Cambodia
- Where to Stay in the Philippines
- Where to Stay in Myanmar
Decide on a Daily Budget
Your best bet for budgeting for this is reading blogs; the experiences of others can give you an indication of how you would want to travel and how much that would cost you. Obviously, your main money drain will be food but luckily this is so cheap in Asia! Budget travelers can’t stress enough that street food is the way to go to save money. In a lot of countries in Asia, you will pay $1-3 for street food and $5-7 in family restaurants so avoid touristy restaurants as they will rip you off.
Editor’s Note: Love Adventure? Check out our AWESOME adventure guides for Southeast Asia and use it to help you plan a trip of a lifetime.
Decide How You Will Travel Around
Like I said, domestic flights are always a good way to go when traveling long distance, just make sure to book them through travel agents or at the airport as sometimes you won’t be able to book them online without a local credit card. Renting motorbikes is also a cheap and probably more appealing option. At only $3-4 a day in Indonesia and $7-8 in Laos you get to travel and experience your surroundings like a cowboy, and on a steel horse, you’ll ride! (Bon Jovi reference if you didn’t get that)
Related: Vietnam by Motorbike: The Best Six Weeks of My Life
After working out the type of trip you want to have and you generally have an idea of how much it would cost you, it’s time to begin budgeting. If you think you don’t have enough money, you have plenty of options to make it feasible. If you have time before you leave, stay with family or a friend and work double shifts to save. If you’re not so great at saving, plan on ways you can save or earn while you travel. Things like couch surfing and sharing rented transport to using your skills while you’re away and getting a job. The possibilities are actually endless! Volunteering is always a good way to save, some places have programs where they put you up and feed you for your service, sweet right!
Possible Ways to Fund Your Gap Year
Many people start with Southeast Asia as traveling and living expenses are so cheap which means they can make their money stretch for longer. Often people then travel to Australia to stay and work a while to save for the next countries on their list. Whatever you fancy, here are some ways you can earn while you travel to keep the dream alive. Listed below are just a few examples.
Become a Digital Nomad
Start your own blog, vlog, and offer your services online. There are literally so many ways you can make money from writing, designing a logo or singing jingles (honestly true)
Teach English as a Foreign Language
Gaining massive popularity amongst travelers, teaching English is a great way for you to work and travel at the same time. You can even do this online or offer your services wherever you are staying. I have loads of friends that have successfully traveled around the world doing this!
- TEFL Thailand: Guide to Teaching English in Thailand
- How to Live and Travel in Thailand for Free
- Teaching English in Thailand: Top Tips and Avice
Au Pair Jobs
In short, this is being a nanny abroad. What’s a little bit of housework and child sitting when you earn and learn from the family you’re staying with. This is a lot more popular in places like Europe but sometimes you will also find Au Pair Jobs in Asia.
Utilize Your Skills
whether you can dance or have a scuba license, there is always work when you’re willing to look for it.
When you’re traveling, one of the things you have to consider is if you want to stay connected. When Tom left for his two-year trip, he didn’t have a phone or any other electronics. While he loved being disconnected from the world for a while, many prefer to have that lifeline and a way to contact home. More often than not, most places in Southeast Asia has wifi available. While some cities like Chiang Mai have high-speed internet connections, you will also encounter some obscure places where the wifi connections are painfully slow. For the most part, though, your smartphone will come in handy. If you are staying in one place for long, consider getting a local sim card so you can use the cellular data. This will save you hours of walking around lost in an unknown place (which isn’t always a bad thing!)
Insider’s Tip: Always try to research the laws of the countries you travel to, or least things not to do to avoid getting into any trouble. The main thing about Southeast Asia is to keep in mind is to dress appropriately in temples, not to photograph in or around airports or military bases, and to ask permission to photograph certain people such as monks. Getting tattoos of Buddhas is also a huge disrespect to a lot of Southeast Asian countries. Although this might still seem overwhelming this is honestly all you need to know and it will all be worth it in the end. Just remember to plan not to plan because one thing that traveling teaches you is how to cope with unfamiliar situations. Sit back, enjoy the ride, and get ready for a trip of a lifetime.
Need more tips? Here are a few more of our articles to help get you planning.
- Backpacker’s Guide: What to Pack for Thailand
- 10 Things I Didn’t Know About Before Traveling South East Asia
- Best Backpacking Apps for Traveling Southeast Asia
21 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Gap Year in Southeast Asia”
More and more people is doing the gap year abroad – this article is one of the best on this topic I saw on internet. Thanks for putting together so many useful tips!
Thanks so much! I’m so glad you found it useful. The best tips are often the ones you learn while traveling and wish you knew when you started!
While I tend not to follow my own advice here, slow travel is definitely a big money saver. You can get discounts on long term accommodations, spend less on transit, and make your investment in groceries go further.
Couldn’t agree more with you Vanessa! It is harder to travel slower but a lot more money friendly. We are still practicing this too!
Great advice for planning a Gap Year – I think the key word being Planning! I’ve never been one to just grab an backpack and go and love knowing the ins and outs of everything I can before I get somewhere. Feeling prepared helps me feel in control and gives me one less thing to worry about when traveling the world 🙂
Yes planning is often the key for a lot of people! Me included, I feel like I might miss something otherwise 🙂
Great advice for a gap year. I like the concept of gap years but have meet to many people who are using it as a party year. Which is fine except they aren’t paying for it. I do think Southeast Asia is a great place to do a gap year since it’s so cheap and is very easy to get around.
Thanks Jennifer! Yes a lot of people are there to party, but for real travellers it is a great way to plan the trip of a life time 🙂 Asia is definitely the place to start to make your money stretch for longer!
My friend will really find this helpful, I’m going to send it to her. Lovely photos and great post, thanks for sharing.
Happy travels 🙂
Thanks so much! Hope she finds it useful 🙂
Gap years aren’t really a thing in the US, which is such a shame! Traveling has allowed me to find myself and figure out what I wanted to do in life, I wish it would be a more culturally accepted thing there but instead if you take a gap year instead of going straight to college ppl think you are throwing your life away 🙁
Aw that is a shame! I agree with you, travelling has helped me to realise who I am and what I want out of life. Hopefully it’ll become more recognised as beneficial and if not, just go after college! 😉
Great and detailed guide! I always use Agoda to do research too, but refrain from booking beforehand as I like to be flexible and change my plans;-). I found Laos to be the cheapest accommodation wise but that probably depends on when you travel (and prices change quickly in SE Asia).
Thanks! Yes flexible is often a much easier way to travel 🙂
Lots of great tips here. Can’t really stress Travel Insurance enough, especially for SE Asia, because god knows what sorts of activities you might get up to when you’re drinking those buckets. Haha. Budget is important too, it’s easy to get carried away when you’re traveling somewhere thats so cheap.
Thanks Carly! Haha travel insurance is definitely a must, especially with my clumsiness! Good tip about budgeting too 🙂
We travelled around Asia last year for a few months and I had a spreadsheet I used before to work our out budget. I updated it as I went along and it automatically updated what we had left out of our budget. We came up almost a third under budget as a result!
WOW that’s awesome Anne! A spreadsheet to keep an eye on your budget is a great idea!
I just got back from Southeast Asia but was just there for two weeks. It was great meeting so many backpackers and folks taking gap years. We talked about a lot of things you’ve mentioned and think this is a great resource.
Thanks Megan! Glad you had a great time in Asia 🙂