Southeast Asia has long been a backpacking travel destination for Europeans and Australasians alike. The comparatively exotic milieu and stunning natural beauty of the region attracts us like moths to a bulb, eager to explore the bits of our psyche we didn’t know existed until we happened upon the place.
The religions and intellectual tendencies of the cultures are far more accepting that the western (and middle eastern) world could ever be. Academic, cultural and religious differences are sensibly accessible rather than emotively castigated. Tolerance is the word.
Travel does that. This is why we do it. It squeegees our third eye clean, as Bill Hicks was wont to say; the eye that sees beyond the familiar, delving into the very soul of who we are.
The trick to backpacking in Southeast Asia and traveling on a budget is to forgo the expensive options the more affluent would gladly embrace.
Tip #1 – Pack Light
First and foremost, pack light. Don’t bring anything unnecessary. Typically, I’ll pack seven shirts (mostly Ts), seven pairs of underpants, and two pairs of shorts. I build everything else around this fundamental weekly core. I can fit these in a mid-sized (carryon allowable), along with a blanket, a towel, swimming trunks and a washbag.
Shorts and shoes you can wear multiple days at a time without grossing fellow travelers out. You don’t need seven pairs of socks, for example, if you’re primarily wearing sandals or flip flops, and a pair of shorts can last a week unless your groin is particularly gruesome. Launder as you go. The only shoes I take are a pair each of sandals and sneakers.
If I’m invited somewhere fancy, I can always beg, borrow or steal the requisite collared shirt/tie/pants/jacket etc.
Tip #2 – Stay in Hostels
Stay in hostels, rather than hotels.
Tip #3 – No Shower? Use Strong Deodorant
You’ll often find yourself, especially when you’re backpacking, going days at a time without showering. There’s often no point in changing clothes between bathing, despite what you might think. Disgusting, I know, but it’ll happen. To belay any distaste, a stick of strong deodorant can go a long way to maintaining friendships, especially if they’re intimate.
Tip #4 – You Very Rarely need to Camp
Obviously if you’re carrying a tent, a sleeping bag and cooking equipment, you’re going to need to go with a larger checkable backpack. Unless you’re really planning on camping a lot, I don’t recommend such an investment in time, weight and haulage. You might think you need such safety nets: you very rarely do.
Tip #5 – Bring Your Technology
You’ll bring your technology. A laptop bag is the ideal carryon to accompany your non-checked backpack. This means you’ll never lose your luggage (which happens more often than you might think). Checked baggage is one of the biggest hurdles of international travel, so eliminating this necessity frees you up like you wouldn’t believe.
I pack my Pacsafe 400 Travel Brief with my laptop, my iPod, my PDA, and all the necessary bits and pieces I need to get through a writing workday. If you don’t write for a living, you won’t need such toys, which actually gives you more room for whatever else you deem essential.
Backpacking isn’t about carrying your world on your back, it’s about rolling with the flow. You’ll be surprised how little you really need when you come to make your packing list.