What I wish I had known before long term travel around South East Asia
Travelling South East Asia has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. Day dreaming about the white beaches and the never-ending paradise. To be honest I had completely over shot what this travel experience was going to be like. From spending the last 3 and a half years travelling around Australia I thought I was ready to take on Asia. The truth is, nothing can prepare you for that long in Asia. As far as experiences go I would go as far as saying we ticked most boxes. Sleepless nights on the sleeper buses, hanging out of trains and connecting with the culture. I just wish that someone would have told me about the other factors that occur along the way. Someone has to give you the truth about long-term travel. Here are mine.
It won’t always be pretty
Sometimes you have visions of what a place will be like. I love to spend time researching my next destination, but at the same time I also love the unknown. We’ve been to places that are supposed to be post card perfect. The truth is – they’re not. Sometimes other people’s opinions, positive and negative can add a layer of cloud over your own opinion. I’ve learnt that its best to have little optimism before exploring a new place. That way you have no expectations and can enjoy the little things as they approach you.
I never realised how much I loved a salad or vegetables. Over the last few months I’ve become everything that my 7-year-old self would have hated. To start with eating out 3 meals a day is exciting. But honesty as the weeks set in you start to crave your western food. I’m not talking about pizza and burgers, just a big bowl of veggies or some cereal. You really take for granted the ease of a kitchen at home. As all of our travels have been on a budget, it does become hard work finding that next place to eat that won’t go over your budget, but will also not make you sick. I’m sure if your budget is higher or unlimited you would enjoy all of the restaurants. But for us we’ve had to stick to a budget. For the last 4 weeks in India and Sri Lanka i feel like my insides have turned into a loaf of bread.Pretty much just living off Samoa’s and tandoori roti. The best place in Asia for food was defiantly Thailand, street food available on every corner.
This is the bit that has exhausted us the most. To start with we planned a lot. Spent hours researching each place prior to arriving. We set ourself a limit of $30 AUD a night for accommodation, so you can imagine how dingy some places could be for that price. Research and planning has been the key. But as the journey went on we found ourselves becoming more and more resentful of it. We started arriving in places without anywhere booked for that night. Working out your route and planning the trains and busses accordingly. Planning day trips on your own as they were much cheaper and far more personal than a group or guided tour. These things were all great once achieved but sometimes it took ages to get everything straight. Out of everything the constant planning, due to moving around most days – was the most draining part of our journey towards the end.
It’s great to hear people’s stories and to make new friends. But let’s be honest we all have those days at home where we just want to sit in our PJ’s, binge watch Netflix and eat junk food. That doesn’t change when your travelling. But you feel guilty for wanting to spend time in your hotel room. After all your here to travel the world and explore these countries. Sometimes a bus journey that you will be on for 5 hours. All of the locals will want to talk to you – they don’t know this is your 5th bus trip this week and you just want some down time. I found India was by far the worst. If you said hello to people as they greeted you in the streets and then continued to walk on you were called rude. They are not aware that you’ve just been stopped 7 times already. All by people who I claim they just want to say hello, but really are trying to sell you everything. Don’t get me wrong I understand that’s how they make a living. But 7 times in one street, it just sometimes gets too much. I guess what i learnt was that it is ok to just have some down time. It’s your journey and not many others will travel that full on for that time frame.
Transport is a huge part of your travel. We didn’t have enough budget to fly and catch taxis every where. Instead we spent nights on sleep buses and sleeper trains. Mornings lining at train stations – trying to get a seat and most times failing. Days at bus stations getting pushed past by the locals. It’s the journeys like 5 hours on a dirty dodgy bus, or 8 hours hanging out of a train door whilst moving, that make an aeroplane flight feel like 5 star luxury in economy. When ever you travel and get taxis and tuk tuk, always ask for the price first. Once you have a price ask around a few others. This is the best way to not get scammed into paying heaps more than you should. When we arrived at Colombo we were offered a tuk tuk for 500 rupees, we said we would like to walk as it wasn’t far. Once we arrived at the hotel we were informed we could get a tuk tuk to the same destination for 100 rupees. Also make sure you go directly to where you want to go. Don’t get sucked into visiting their ‘family’ shop of jewellery or textiles. Travel smart and stand your ground.
I know this is something that i go on about, but it’s how we lasted 3 months in Asia compared to 6 weeks. We budgeted. It’s sometimes hard don’t get me wrong. But its possible. Learn to prioritize your money on things to see and do. If it means you have to eat noodles and walk more, then do that. Sometimes you want to go all out and have a nice dinner or bed. That’s also fine. But make sure you get back on track after that. After all your going to remember the things you done and the places you saw far more than any bed you slept in or meal you ate.
Travelling Asia had been one of the best experiences of my life. I have never been so out of my comfort zone, but so proud of my experiences and the memories we have made. Travelling really does leave you speechless and turns you into a storyteller.