10 Things No-One Tells You About Backpacking In Asia

11 January 2019


As a first-time traveller, I had next to zero clue about what to expect from backpacking. You imagine what it'll be like all the time leading up to the day you leave home, but it really is one of those experiences in life that you don't understand until you've done it and over the last few months I've learnt a heck of a lot about travelling in Asia.

In case you're a complete beginner like I was, here are a few little nuggets of wisdom that I wish someone had given me a heads up about!

1. Having an upset stomach becomes the norm. Food poisoning will crop up every so often - we've gotten it from food stalls, restaurants and a pricey vegetarian pizza in a really posh place - but aside from that, you're likely to have 'the poos' on a pretty regular basis. My boyfriend and I have been together for six years, and our relationship has reached a whole new "have you been since you had that Imodium?" level. I'm just preparing you, kids!

2. Asian mosquitoes are a different beast. Back home in the UK the mosquitoes are only about at certain times of year and are super lazy, practically floating through the air and giving you more than enough time to grab a rolled-up newspaper to whack them with. In the Philippines they're smaller and positively athletic, zipping around like bluebottles and biting you to shreds! In Southeast Asia they have tiger mosquitoes which are big black and white striped bastards, and you need to be especially careful of viruses like dengue fever.

3. Staying in dorms is an experience. It's the cheapest option and also the one that takes the most getting used to, as it's basically like a grown-up slumber party with bunk beds except... everyone is strangers. That doesn't last for long, of course, but for the first few times you do it you'll definitely have this weird 'I'm sharing a bedroom with five random people' feeling - especially when the person to your left is snoring their head off and the person to your right is talking in their sleep.

4. Your clothes will never be clean. And that's totally fine, because everyone else's clothes are dirty too! Before you start backpacking you'll be all 'I'm a really clean person, I'll be able to keep my stuff relatively nice', and then a month in you'll be like 'it's fine, the stain isn't that noticeable'. The day you get your clothes back from the laundry will be the best and then it all goes downhill from there - marks appear seemingly from nowhere, you'll wear tops until the hems unravel and you'll begin to rely on The Sniff Test, which is that if you have to sniff it twice... it stinks.

5. You'll acclimatise to Asian prices really quickly. Your first couple of days will mainly consist of squealing "it's 90p for a rum and coke!", then you'll be like "I'm not getting a cocktail, they're £2" - as if that's somehow extortionate, when last week you were paying £15 for a weak Mojito in a London bar. I've turned down a pair of trousers I loved as they sounded mega expensive, then after walking away realised they were about £5 and had to sheepishly go back. Asia is the point in your trip that you can save a lot of money during, so make the most of things being cheap as chips and keep mentally converting the prices - it reminds you of how little you're spending compared to home!

6. Not everyone is rainbows and sunshine. Don't get me wrong, most people are - but you'll also meet people along the way who are simply a bit annoying and people who are downright disrespectful. From intervening when a drunk group of Mancunian lads were throwing beer bottles into the pristine ocean on a tiny Filipino island to eye-rolling hard at a Trump supporter in an All Lives Matter t-shirt determined to get her bigoted point across, there have been a few moments where we've just wanted to be like "oh, bugger off". The travelling scene, like anywhere in the world, has a few dicks in it.

7. Khao San Road in Bangkok is wild. During the day it's tame, with knockoffs as far as the eye can see and plenty of places to go for lunch, but in the evening people seem to just lose their minds. The street is crammed and you can't walk down it without being offered drinks, nos balloons, scorpions on a stick, bespoke handmade suits... the list is endless, and the whole experience is pretty bizarre. I'd definitely recommend going - even if you're not up for a big night, you can find quieter spots that offer the best people-watching ever.

8. Places aren't as dangerous as the media makes out. Before we left the UK, we heard so many horror stories from people who'd gone travelling and had something terrible happen, and it feels like everyone has a friend of a friend who was mugged or had a near-death experience. Take the Philippines for example - we were often warned about what a "dangerous country" it is so I went with my guard fully up, but not once did I feel unsafe and the people there are genuinely the friendliest I've ever met. Of course you have to be careful and keep your wits about you, however Asia has been a pleasant surprise so far.

9. Usual driving rules do not apply! You definitely need to take extra caution whether you're travelling by motorbike or car etc, and the best advice is that if you think someone's going to do something, they probably are. If it looks like they're about to do a random u-turn, pull out into a fast stream of traffic or suddenly stop - they will! We've seen so many Europeans with bandaged ankles and scooter accidents are rife, so take it slow and wear a helmet.

10. Your bag will never be organised. Not for more than a day, anyway! You'll leave home with cute little ziplock bags and all of your clothes sorted into packing cubes, then after a couple of weeks it'll be a mad jumble where the only real organisation is 'clean' or 'dirty'. Every so often I'll get frustrated that it's such a mess and have a proper sort, but as we only stay in places for a couple of nights everything inevitably gets chucked in there with no rhyme or reason again. After a while you simply stop caring!

If you'd like me to make this into a little series and cover other places we'll be travelling around like Bali or Australia, let me know. I hope your trip to Asia is an amazing one!

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