The Getaway
How to Make the Most of Your First Trip to Southeast Asia

Around 130 million people travel to Southeast Asia each year, and that number is expected to reach 155 million by 2022. But traveling among the 11 counties that make up Southeast Asia can be a bit overwhelming and even intimidating when it’s your first time.

It would be a total travel fail to allow your unfamiliarity with the region to keep you from fully immersing yourself in the culture, history, and natural beauty that Southeast Asia has to offer. With a few easy-to-follow travel tips, your adventure is sure to be one for the ages.


01 Plan your destination spots ahead of time

While it can be exhilarating to make spur-of-the-moment travel plans and hop from Malaysia to Indonesia to Cambodia on a whim, your trip to Southeast Asia will be much more enjoyable if you map out your route ahead of time. Doing so will put you in total control and greatly reduce the number of surprises and unexpected happenings that tend to naturally occur when traveling to a new country.

Not to mention, this will ensure that you are intimately and intentionally involved with the experiences you’ll have in each country, and not spending the bulk of your time worrying about where you’ll go next, the best method of transportation for getting there, and so on.

Woman mapping out travel plans. TARIK KIZILKAYA / Getty Images

02 Exchange your money upon arrival

Exchanging your home currency for the currency of the country you’re visiting is one step you can’t skip. What you can miss out on, however, is the excessive fees that are often associated with exchanging your money prior to boarding your flight.

To get the most decent exchange rates, you’ll want to wait until you arrive in Southeast Asia and convert your money at an official money exchange location, such as a bank.

Elder counting Rupiah in Indonesia. marie martin / Getty Images

03 Set a reasonable budget for each destination

This one is just as important as planning ahead for each place you’ll visit in Southeast Asia. Having a travel budget in place means you’ll know exactly what you are prepared to spend on the essentials that make traveling worthwhile: food, entertainment, accommodations, and activities. Because the last thing you want to happen is to underestimate travel costs or run out of funds while overseas.

It’s also recommended that you have a small ‘just in case fund’ available for those moments when it’s impossible to pass up on purchasing just one more souvenir or going on another local excursion.

Asian sushi buffet. webphotographeer / Getty Images

04 Engage in ethical, socially responsible tourism practices

It is imperative that you know what it means to be an ethical and socially responsible tourist when traveling across Southeast Asia.

There are specific travel guidelines for those who visit this region primarily because there is a fair amount of corrupt practices surrounding animal tourism, the environment, and human trafficking.

So, when it comes down to choosing which activities you should engage in, do your due diligence. Your conscience will thank you.

Traveler riding on elephants Trekking in Thailand Pixfly / Getty Images

05 Stay abreast of visa and passport requirements

There are certain visa and passport requirements in place for travelers to Southeast Asia.

For example, for entry into some countries, it is necessary that you have a certain number of empty pages in your passport. In other areas, there are specific items, such as forms and passport photos you need, in order to secure a visa.

Knowing this information ahead of time will save you an incredible amount of time—and possibly money—and potentially save you from losing time in your travel in order to get things fixed or in order because you were not fully prepared.

Holiday, woman, trip, travel, bus, passport, happiness, using phone, positive emotion, communication, transportation Erdark / Getty Images

06 Opt for various methods of transportation

Let’s be real; it won’t be possible to get everywhere you’re going in Southeast Asia exclusively by bus, boat, ferry, scooter, or train. Instead, you need to be prepared to use different modes of transportation to embark on the adventures you have planned.

In most cases, buses will be the most affordable option for traveling; however, they may not be readily available in every area. Nevertheless, there is an array of options available for getting you to and from where you’re going, so the question won’t be how will you get there, but by which method will you choose to get there.

Tuk Tuk in Bangkok downtown LeoPatrizi / Getty Images

07 Secure travel insurance

Depending on how you book your ticket, you may already have insurance to cover your travels.

However, if this isn’t the case, you’ll want to purchase travel insurance from an independent entity. It is best to first compare different policies to best determine which one is most suitable for the activities you plan to enjoy.

After all, having insurance means you’re covered for some of the more adventurous activities that you decide to partake in, like ziplining or jungle excursions.Pro tip: be sure to read the terms and conditions of your travel insurance before you sign up. Some policies will not cover extreme tourism or pay a claim if your blood alcohol level was above a certain threshold at the time of the incident.

Traveler ziplining through a rainforest in southeast Asia. PhotoTalk / Getty Images

08 Research the weather

It’s always a good idea to look into the weather forecast before traveling to any foreign area.

This way, you won’t be caught off guard if there are a few rainy days or an overcast or two during your trip.

Also, knowing what the weather will be like will help you determine if you need to adjust your travel dates any.

Young Caucasian woman walking in Hoi An town in the morning Oleh_Slobodeniuk / Getty Images

09 Always have your own data and SIM card

In many places across Southeast Asia, reliable data and wi-fi can be hard to come by. And the last thing you’ll want is to be at the mercy of a fickle internet connection when you need to get online or make a phone call.

For those reasons, you’ll want to make sure you keep your data full, and you always have a working SIM card; that may require you to purchase a new SIM in each country you visit unless you can secure a universal SIM.

Single woman with backpack on suspension bridge in rainforest FredFroese / Getty Images

10 Learn a few conversational phrases

There’s no better feeling than having the ability to say things like ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ in the local language.

In many ways, knowing simple conversational phrases will go a long way when you’re traveling across Southeast Asia.

And trust us, the locals will be just as excited to hear you speaking their language as you will be to speak it.

Traveler among locals and shops in southeast Asia. twinsterphoto / Getty Images

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