Southeast Asia is a magical place. From snorkeling with turtles in glowing waters to feeding monkeys in rainforests, there are countless reasons to hand in your two weeks and pack your bags. Although quitting your job to travel the world probably isn't award-winning advice for most of you, hear this: if you're going through a quarter-life/midlife crisis, Southeast Asia is definitely the place to find yourself again.
Not only is most everything inexpensive in comparison to Western prices, but the landscapes are enchanting, the culture is intriguing, and the people are splendid. Each country has its own style and flavor, and there's something unique to discover on every corner. Oh, and have I mentioned the food?! Don't worry, I definitely will. If you didn't already know, I'm hugely food-motivated.
In case you're planning a trip or have the intention of packing up and buying a one-way ticket like me, here are some Southeast Asia travel hacks I've picked up along the way. I figure if there's any chance these might help someone navigate through the trials and tribulations that inevitably come with foreign travel, they're worth sharing. Enjoy!
Study the toilet before you go. It took a few weeks and a few crucial mistakes to get into a pattern of doing this. Study, study, and study some more. Sometimes the flusher is hidden. Sometimes the flusher is hanging. Sometimes you have to flush manually by dumping a bucket of water down the toilet. And sometimes you mistake the bidet flusher for the toilet flusher, resulting in a mouthful of water. These things are avoidable. Don't end up like me if you don't have to.
Keep an open mind to different food. You'll discover, very quickly, that most everything in Southeast Asia has been deemed edible. This includes many objects and creatures that most of us don't consume on a regular basis. As long as you can stomach it (both literally and figuratively) try to maintain an open mind. One way to do this is to treat your meals as experiences. Some of these experiences include (but are not limited to) frog, snake, chicken feet, ants, pufferfish, tuna eyeballs, larvae, and then some.
Deep breaths on the back of a scooter. In many Southeast Asian countries, scooter is the preferred mode of transportation. In Indonesia, there are some places where it's likely more safe to travel by scooter than to walk, given the scarcity of sidewalks. I personally do not enjoy traveling via scooter. But, there are certain places where you aren't given much of an option. Grab is a popular and user friendly app that involves a personal scooter-taxi, Uber-style, and for dirt cheap. At first, it goes against every grain of American car-dominated normalcy to trust that these guys know how to maneuver safely through traffic and pedestrians. But there is a system, and they are professionals. They're also obligated to bring a helmet for their passengers. So take a couple deep breaths and realize that clinging on for dear life probably won't make much of a difference anyways.
Research your hostel. You don't usually realize it until you're en route to your next location, but hostels can truly make or break your time somewhere. Your accommodation leaves you with an impression of the experience as a whole, often associated with a city or even a country. There are social hostels and, well, anti-social hostels (for lack of a better term) and you have to prioritize what you're looking for upon arrival. Don't be surprised when you book a party hostel and don't do a whole lot of sleeping. Also know that you won't meet boatloads of people in a quiet hostel. Backpacking is a balance. My alone time is just as crucial as is my need to socialize. If you're anything like me, my advice would be to switch off between the two. This has provided me a lovely equilibrium.
Write/journal/blog/scribble. Do it, trust me. If not, you'll blink and your days will have blended together in a giant stew of friends, meals, and memories. You'll look back on experiences and try to piece together what country you were in and with who, when that one thing happened, but you can't recall exactly what. Write down the full names of people you meet and where they're from, if wish to keep in touch. Facebook is a great tool for travel. But if you're awful with names like I am, you'll still be confused down the road when an unrecognizable (but clearly foreign) friend posts a status. My advice is to write something everyday, even if only a few words or tidbit of information. Once you've moved on, these little pieces help transport you back to moments.
Come into everything with no expectation. Having any sort of preconceived notion is fatal to the spontaneity and overall adventure of global travel. Don't spend too much time searching Instagram locations of your next destination, as things often appear more glamorous than in real life. Instead of anticipating the Ritz Carlton, be pleasantly surprised when your 10-bed hostel dorm feels like a penthouse suite. Southeast Asia is widely unpredictable, and that's part of its charm.
My final and most important word of advice is to yolo, and yolo hard. Remember that every day, minute, and second abroad is impermanent. Wake up grateful and enjoy every moment. Go on an adventure if you wish to go on one. Talk to the person across the room who catches your eye. Do not judge, do not assume, and do not talk yourself out of anything. Just as in life, remember that you cannot relive any moment of your time spent here, so treat each location as a brand new adventure. Embrace the free-spirit that dwells within you. I promise you will have no regrets on your flight home.
You might even return home a better version of the person you were before you left.
With light and love,