So you’ve done the bare minimum to get ready. You’ve saved a rough budget. You have a general idea how long you are going to travel. You’ve got your shots, bought your new bag and packed it lightly. Where do you go from here?
Depending on where you are coming from, there are plenty of places to start. Your cheapest option to get to Asia will likely take you to one of the major international hubs… Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur.
Just remember, you are looking for an access point to which from there, your options are endless. Once you’re in Asia, travel will be considerably cheaper.
Hotels in Asia
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to plan your trip around advanced bookings in hotels. It’s a good idea to book a place for the first night you arrive in any country by plane, especially your initial access point. Even if you want to splurge on a nicer room to start you off and get you feeling comfortable, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Beyond this, you want to keep yourself totally open. Most of the places you’ll be traveling too will have an abundant supply of hotels, hostels and guest houses. Never once was I ever totally turned away. Sure, there were plenty of times I’d get to a new town or city off a bus or train and have to try a few places before I found vacancy. But it’s almost impossible that you kind find yourself sleeping on the street. Remember, most of the places you go are totally set up for tourism and they want to do anything they can to get your business, even your meagre backpacker’s dollar.
Prices will vary from country and city. There are places in Asia where you can get a decent room for around $10 per night. There are places where $40 will get you a bunk bed in a dorm full of snoring, smelly fellow backpackers. Some of that you can’t control, but you’ll likely start to gravitate to the more affordable places as you go. You’ll also begin to notice just how truly cheap you’re capable of being. When I’m backpacking, I’ll walk to the other end of town in 35 degree heat with a heavy pack on my back just to save a dollar. Back home, I might think twice about bending over to pick one up off the street.
You’re going to figure this all out on the way. As you move to new hostels and guest houses, you’ll meet people willing to give you ample advice on where to go next. This is a great way to get to know others and help other people line up your trip for you. However, if you ever are feeling a bit anxious, there’s nothing wrong with phoning or emailing a place in advance of travelling there to get a room. I just wouldn’t recommend you book beyond the next place you are going unless there is somewhere you know you absolutely have to make it to and your prior research (if you’ve done any) has suggested availability can be a challenge at times, especially during “high season” (roughly October-March).
Getting Around as a Backpacker
Good news, it’s very easy to get around Asia. If you are sticking to the big cities and the areas more used to tourism, you’ll have no shortage of options to get from point A to point B. Traveling is fairly safe, and again, I didn’t have any problems myself. However, you want to exercise normal precautions and keep your stuff close to you at all times on buses or trains.
As for the day to day getting around, I’m not going to lie; you will get hassled badly in some places. Remember that places that are more popular for tourists are going to have a lot of people competing hard for your dollar. It can be jarring when someone is shouting at you from five feet away to get in their tuk-tuk or cab. Try to remember, in most cases, there is nothing nefarious or malicious about this. It’s just the way things go. Rather than ignoring the driver, simple smile and shake your head. Then go on your way. Don’t ever approach a driver unless you are prepare to employ their services. That’s not to say you can’t change your mind, but save yourself the headache from “I just want to check this out” or “I want to be polite and humour them”. This is a good rule of thumb anytime you are spending your backpacker’s dollars, especially at markets or shops.