Ahhh.. a backpacking trip. Is there anything more idyllic? Setting off on an unknown adventure to foreign lands, with nothing but a backpack strapped to you… there’s something.. dare we say, honorable about it. But we’re here to talk to you about the ugly side of backpacking. Heed our advice and learn from our mistakes. You will save yourself time, heartache, regret and probably lots of money! These are the mistakes we made while backpacking Asia! Just like your mother always told you, do as we say.. not as we do 😉
For the Love of Visas
Buying plane tickets to a country without having a tourist visa is 100% amateur hour in our eyes. Yet there we were.. just hours before our flight left from Hong Kong to Vietnam… and we realized that they just changed the visa laws for American visitors.
We were online messaging an AirBNB host in Vietnam and in her message she said, “I can even help you get your visa before you arrive.” …Wait, WHAT! We knew we needed visas, but we thought we could buy them upon arrival, like in Laos. So here’s the thing, you can.. but you have to pay a lot more and it’s honestly pretty sketchy.
All in all, for 1 American visa to Vietnam it was going to cost around $400!!! We sat in a terrible cafe in Hong Kong freaking out. After calling the airline, they assured us that we would not get any refund for our flight tickets. We went back and forth for hours trying to figure out what in the world we should do now. Go to Vietnam and add about $600 extra to our trip because of our rushed visas… or lose the money we paid for our flights and basically recreate all of our plans. We chose to skip our flight.
It was a sad, sad night. The funniest part is, one week prior to our trip they changed visa laws! Usually, Americans were allowed to buy a 3 month tourist visa… but to encourage more tourism from the US, they changed the law requiring all Americans to buy a year-long visa.. no matter how long they were staying. The price obviously increased drastically.
So moral of the story? Double, triple, quadruple check visa requirements for any country you visit. You never know when policies can change.. especially in this crazy world we live in.
Fear of Food
We’re not going to call anyone out.. but some of us on this team are just a little more inclined to try new food than others. Asian cuisine is notorious for being delicious, daring and well.. somewhat scary. We were so paranoid about horror stories we heard about travelers getting food poisoning or eating chicken skewers that were actually rat meat.. that we really didn’t try that many new foods.
After we looked back on our trip we were a little disappointed in ourselves. We spent a month in Hong Kong and never had dimsum!? No pad thai from the streets of Phuket? Not one bite of traditional Malaysian food? What kind of embarrassing Westerners are we? We never want to be those “typical tourists” who mostly stay in their hotel room, watch TV and only order room service. We love trying new things! But when it came to food in SE Asia we definitely held back.
Do we regret not trying the fried scorpion in Bangkok or the traditional balut in the Philippines.. HELL NAH! If you don’t know, balut is a popular food where a developing bird embryo is boiled. Yep, you heard that right.. it’s basically the middle point between an egg and a chick.. and to that we say nope.
If we could give any traveler advice it would be to try something new! No matter how scary it may seem. You don’t want to look back on your trip and realize you only ate at European style cafes the entire time!
Quick note, we did try a traditional Laosian noodle soup from a street vendor and it was AMAZING.
There’s nothing better than sitting down and organizing the perfect itinerary for your trip, right? It’s even better when you get all of those flights purchased and out-of-the-way. However, this was probably one of the first instances in our lives where being prepared did not lead to success.
We lost out on a combined total of 6 flights. Yes, 6 different flights that we never took… a complete waste of money. Our biggest piece of advice would be to pay for each leg of your trip, one step at a time. Why? Well, the idea you have in your head of a destination could be completely different from your actual experience. Or, you could absolutely fall in love with a city and want to extend your stay there. Unless you fork out money for flights that are 100% refundable, most airlines will not budge on refunding, exchanging or changing tickets.
For a full packing list for Southeast Asia click here.
Mistakes We Made While Backpacking Asia: SIM Cards
This was another huge mistake we made while traveling through SE Asia… we didn’t buy SIM cards upon arrival!
When we arrived in Cebu, Philippines we had to take a 7 hour bus ride to get to our AirBNB. Upon arrival at the bus station, we told the bus driver our destination. In his broken English he said that we were on the correct bus. Crammed, standing-room only on a bus in Cebu, we knew we just had to survive this excruciating ride and we’d end up at our AirBNB…where we could pass out! Hmmmm.. once again we were wrong.
We got to the end of the buses’ route and we were in the middle of nowhere. The bus driver told us this was our stop. Confused, exhausted and completely baffled… we tried to show him the address and told him this couldn’t be right. He then escorted us into a gate with some sort of hostel and told us to stay in there until the sun came up. The driver continued to reiterate that we should not step outside of the gate because we would be safe in there. He told us the next bus would come in the morning. Mind you.. it’s about 3 AM.
So without any wi-fi or way to call our AirBNB host, we slept on a bench with stray dogs.. outside, under the sky. Not to mention, we had camera equipment, brand new laptops and cash all in our backpacks.
We tried as best as we could to get comfortable and just make it until the sun came up. Finally, the next day we were able to ask around and use a family’s computer. They were very kind and for about 10 cents, they let us into their shack to their own private internet cafe. After a wild goose chase, we were able to finally find our AirBNB.
Looooong story short, all of that could have been prevented if we would have just bought a damn SIM card while we were in the Philippines.
Whether you want to buy a waterproof case, an aquatic bag or anything else of the sort.. do it! It doesn’t matter if it costs $2 or $25 dollars, just get it. Hell, even if you use a plastic bag to cover your electronics.. protect yourself.
Both of our phones were ruined while we were in Thailand, and this was only halfway through our trip. Finding directions, posting to Snapchat and capturing quick pics on our phones quickly became a distant memory.
What makes the situation even more irritating is that we don’t even have a cool story to tell about the incident. We wanted to bring our stuff near the water so no one would steal it (ironic)… and we put our bag, which contained credit cards and both of our phones, on a piece of coral. Well low and behold, an hour or so went by, we looked back and it was high-tide.. our phones were fully submerged under the water.
These were the top mistakes we made while backpacking through Asia. Do you have any tips or blunders that could help future backpackers? We’d love to hear about it!