The decision is made. You are going to follow your dreams and travel to an exciting new part of the world. Hurrah! But before you pack your bags and wave goodbye to the familiar, have a read of my tips to make sure you get the very most out of your trip….. Ambassador Donna Jackson tells us her tips for making the most out of your South East Asia Backpacking adventure!
1. Find friends before you arrive!
I like to travel solo and make friendships along the way with like-minded folk – it’s random, it’s free-ing and generally means you’re not stuck with people you’d rather not be with! But travelling solo can be daunting, especially for your first trip. That’s where Travbuddy comes in! A fantastic website costing just $10USD (one-off fee), Travbuddy allows you to find fellow travellers going to the same destinations at the same time – simply enter your trip details and it will match you with those with similar plans. Make contact, chat, meet up, make plans – it’s exciting, it helps with the nerves and it’s nice for your friends and family to know you won’t be alone. I’ve met lots of people on the site, some just for the day and some I’ve spent four months with! My best experience was spending Christmas on Koh Tao, Thailand with no less than fifteen people! You can also visit/create discussions, ask general questions, share advice etc.
Celebrating Christmas with my Travbuddies!
If you’re interested in booking on a trip to make sure that you meet like-minded people to travel with, then check out our South East Asia adventures over at Backpacker Bookings!
2. Make that list!
We’ve all done it – arrived in a party place, got carried away with the buckets of Sangsom whisky and coke and a week seems to have whizzed by in a blur of fun, hangovers and new friends. It’s part of the backpacker lifestyle. But a week can easily roll into two, then three and before you know it, your three-six month trip has been spent in only a couple of places. Yes you’ve created a new family with the people you hang out with every day. Yes, you know the ins and outs of every bar/restaurant/pub crawl/booze cruise – you’ve even scored some work for free drinks. But could you have done more?? It pays to really think about what you’d like to gain from your travelling experience. South East Asia is a stunning part of the world with an incredible amount to see and do. And the fact that it’s cheaper than the western world means you can likely afford some amazing activities and see some wonderful sights. Come back fulfilled, not regretting what you were too lazy to get around to.
- Get a blank piece of paper and write down two headings – Goals and Achievements.
- Now fill out each list with everything you’ve ever dreamed of – rock-climbing? Diving? Swimming with turtles? Riding elephants? Seeing the Angkor Wat temples? Climbing a mountain?
- Do your research – use the internet, travel books, magazines etc to look into where you can do everything on your list.
- Tick them off as you go! Move each ‘goal’ onto the ‘achievements’ list – it’s great to look back in years to come and realize quite how much you did.
Meeting an orangutan
3. Feel the fear and do it anyway!
Ok so I’ve stolen my mantra from the brilliant book title written by Susan Jeffers, which is a must-read for all. But live by it while you travel and you’ll get more out of the experience. I’m not talking about jumping head-first through a ring of flames whilst drunk on Koh Phangan or seeing how fast you can ride a moped along scary roads. Too scared to join the friendly volleyball/football game on the beach? Too embarrassed to let loose on the dancefloor? Too shy to approach the fun-looking group you want to join? Too nervous to talk to the cute guy at the bar? Too fearful to try diving? There are lots of things we overthink, get scared of and allow ourselves to miss out on when we haven’t got the security of familiar friends and surroundings. But be brave and it will pay off, I promise! Whenever I’m nervous, I tell myself to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ then go for it. It’s an empowering way to live and the more you do it, the easier it becomes!
- Treat yourself afterwards if you’ve pushed yourself out of your comfort zone.
- Be very aware of what you could have missed out on otherwise.
- Realise that most other travellers are nice people who will be very welcoming.
- When you feel as though the world is looking at you, remember you aren’t the centre of everyone else’s universe!
4. Open your eyes!
For many, South East Asia will be the first time away from the Western World. It’s a mind-blowing place, not least due to the obvious disparity in wages, living conditions, opportunities etc. Many travellers become more appreciate, humble, even spiritual, on having their eyes opened to how fortunate they really are. It’s something everyone should experience in my opinion. So while you’re travelling, why not help out and volunteer? Help teach children, assist with building, there are plenty of organisations you can research prior to travelling or simple ask around in the local area when you arrive. Original Volunteers are a great organisation who do not charge you the earth – registration is £125GBP which covers you for as many programs in one year. Visit www.originalvolunteers.co.uk for more information.
Volunteering is an extremely rewarding experience and will likely be a fantastic memory, one that will stay with you forever.
Helping out with kids in Cambodia
5. Show me the money…
It’s not what you want to hear but just ‘going for it’ and booking a trip when you haven’t got the finances to back it up is unwise. Yes you’re seizing the day, yes you’ve got courage but travelling on very little money can be stressful and pressurized. It may not bother you to be in the cheapest of accommodation, eating the cheapest of food, travelling on the cheapest mode of transport, but you won’t want to miss out on the experiences. Jungle treks, diving, fun tours, exciting day trips – it’s these things that usually create your best memories. Of course it is possible to travel on a tight budget but decide on the things you aren’t willing to scrimp on and make sure you have enough in the bank. It is a tempting thought to get into debt and worry about it later but think very carefully about this option – saving first will cost alot less than the interest on a loan or credit card.
- Create a bank account and name it ‘Travel Fund’ to make things real
- Research how much a trip to your planned destination should cost – go onto chat forums, travel websites etc.
- Decide how much you can save per month and project how long it will take. Then get a calendar and mark off the weeks.
- Allow yourself a treat at the quarterly milestones.
- Read travel books and magazines to keep the dream alive.
*NB: Make sure you don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before your once in a lifetime trip! It may seem like an unnecessary extra purchase but experienced backpackers know that it can save you a fortune in the long run! Check out our recommendation here.
Becoming an Advanced Open Water PADI Diver
Written by: South East Asia ambassador Donna Jackson. “I love adventure, jumping in head first and doing something new and exciting. Travelling has enabled me to do so much I still pinch myself. From swimming with turtles to rock climbing, from diving with whale sharks to climbing mountains and volcanos, from petting tigers to sleeping in the jungle, I never get tired of everything South East Asia has to offer.”