19 Lessons Learned Backpacking Through Southeast Asia

1. VIP bus doesn’t mean anything. Same goes with actually paying for a seat. If you don’t get there early enough, you could spend the bus ride sitting in a make-shift seat in the aisle.

2. Even if a tuk-tuk or motorbike driver says “yes, yes!” when you show him the map, it doesn’t actually mean he has any clue where you are going. Prepare to stop at several places while he asks for directions.

3. You will get food poisoning. Awful, horrible food poisoning where you think you literally might die on the spot. And then you will be fine 24 hours later.

4. Don’t trust the laundry services. If you can, hand wash as much as possible. I have had some of favorite white shirts died an awful shade of yellow and pink stains all over my favorite Levi shorts. And they will lose your clothing. Hence me not having a bra for 2 weeks before I could get to a city that sold my size.

5. Just because a bus is scheduled to leave at a certain time does not mean it will actually be leaving at that time. Plan on waiting- a lot. Get on SE Asia time and learn to embrace it while you are traveling.

6.Be flexible. If you have planned out an entire itinerary of places to stay and dates that you should be there- your trip loses all spontaneity. I have missed out on some very cool opportunities  because I had already planned too much of my trip in advance. Some of the best adventures are had on a whim with strangers you have just met.

7. Vodka Red Bull’s are really strong. If you wonder why you are up till 4 am dancing on the Thai islands, it’s probably because you have had way too many Vodka Red Bull buckets. By the way, most places don’t use actual Red Bull, they use M-150, which is like Redbull’s crazy, unregulated cousin.

8. Same goes for happy pizza’s. Don’t believe the other travelers who say that they ate a whole pizza and were fine.  The next 24 hours you will be out of commission if you eat an entire pizza- which is not good when you have a 7 hour windy bus ride that night.

9. Try the local food and don’t be afraid to buy food from street stalls. As mentioned previously, you will probably get sick anyways. Street food is delicious, cheap, and did I say cheap?

10. Banana roti’s will become your new 3am best friend. Nothing in the word is better than a late night banana roti with nutella. Nothing.

11. Although don’t eat too many banana roti’s or the other delicious fried delicacies that street vendors can tempt you with. If you aren’t careful, you will find yourself experiencing the travelers equivalent of the freshman 15. There are also healthy cheap options in SE Asia. Fresh fruit from the market, smoothies, and papaya salad are all great options.

12. Parties like Full Moon Party or Half Moon Party or all the other ‘Moon Parties’ are highly overrated. Unless you really enjoy standing in line for bathrooms while a drunk girl pukes all over your shoes, getting groped while walking through the dance floor, and extremely overpriced tuk-tuks. Go once if you want to experience it, but don’t be one of those people who is “going back for the fifth time this year!” Just don’t.

13. A heavy backpack is not fun. Some people go for the under 20 pounds rule- but I like even less. Even though you think you might need that cute skirt from Bangkok, and that jewelery from the islands, and all the other souvenirs you really don’t. I lugged around a lamp I bought in Chiang Mai because my apartment back home just needed it, OKAY?! If you really, really want something- mail it home.

14. Have passport sized photos on you. And you don’t need to get them done at like 40 dollars a set at your local Walgreens. You can get them much cheaper at any photo shop in Southeast Asia.

15. Don’t be afraid to ditch the Lonely Planet for a bit and just go with the flow. Some of the best places to stay and go are not in the travel bible. I actually have stayed at some of my favorite hostels because the place I had originally planned on was full.

16. Treat yourself every once in a while. If you are tired and hung over and don’t feel like talking to a bunch of new bunk- mates in a dorm- get yourself a private room and get a good nights sleep. Treat yo self!

17. There is nothing that can’t be transported by motorbike. Babies, bananas, dogs- you name it- it’s been done. And don’t think that just because you’re in a foreign country you magically don’t need to wear a helmet. I have had this same, invincible ‘my head will never crack open’ feeling while traveling and not worn a helmet against my better judgement and because I didn’t want my head to sweat. Looking back, that probably wasn’t the smartest decision.

18. You don’t need to wear matching fisherman pants with your boyfriend. I am guilty of wearing the occasional crazy clothing item in Southeast Asia, but this is just over the top.

19. Traveling in SE Asia is not always a vacation. It’s hard, tiring, and mentally draining being in a foreign country and trying to figure everything out. But it’s well worth it. Embrace the differences.  After all, “if you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion, and avoid the people, you might better stay home.”


19 thoughts

  1. So true. I couldn’t have summed my SE Asia experiences up better!

    I once had a my brand new ‘roxy’ top washed, only for it to come back as a size 20ish pair of greying granny pants. She swore blind they were mine – I’m a size 8 at best. So was she…. 😉

    It is all of the above experiences which make that neck of the woods such an incredible place. I love your saying in point 19 – I may have to borrow that one day xx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve got one for No. 17 – seven times to Asia and I’ve never yet seen an elephant on a motorbike. 😀

    And for No. 9 – look out for food places that the locals frequent a lot. They know what they’re doing! 😀

    Thanks for dropping by raveburbleblog, by the way. I’ve enjoyed wandering around your blog – it’s very nicely set out and a good read. Here’s a list of a few things I noticed in Cambodia –


    Enjoy your day, and happy travels. Rave.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. ha ha as I live in Thailand all you have written and some is true…but love it and as you say if you don’t, stay at home……but if you do what an adventure….


  4. We perhaps could be classed as middle-aged backpackers with extra baggage (ie. 2 children)… which makes it harder to ‘go with the flow sometimes’ (quite frustrating really!)…. your first point made me giggle, having just spent 8 hours vomitting on a ‘VIP’ bus packed to bursting on a terrifying rollercoaster of a ride from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng! Lucky with the laundry so far, but maybe we should quit while we’re ahead!!

    Liked by 1 person

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