Like a lot of people, I used to think that backpacking cheaply through Southeast Asia for a month is expensive. IT IS NOT especially if you plan your trip well, stick to your budget and do minimal shopping.
I have listed down our 10 tips on how to backpack through Southeast Asia for a month for under 1000 USD to incite wanderlust in your soul.
1. Plan your itinerary ahead of time.
It pays to plan ahead. It got us into a lot of scuffles and frankly, it rendered my Lonely Planet: Southeast Asia on a Shoestring useless especially that most of the stuff written there like hotel price and transportation price and the schedule has already changed by the time the book got printed.
Our itinerary was very detailed. It included dates, time, budget in USD and local currency as well as additional notes on options where to stay and what transport to take. This gave us an almost precise schedule and budget. However, it was also designed to have extra days just in case we got into a snitch like that one time we decided to go to the Plain of Jars in Phonsavan, Laos on a whim. (I will be making a detailed post on this.)
2. Watch out for budget airline ticket sales from budget airlines & travel light.
AirAsia is the leading budget airline in Asia. If you are from the Philippines, I know Cebu Pacific is on your list with their Piso Sales.
Uncheck all the unnecessary add-ons like booking your seat in advance and in-flight meals. And since you are backpacking, it is really more practical to have a backpack that is less than 10 kilos. (More on my backpack weight struggle later.) Hand carry and you save money.
3. Bring 100 USD bills in almost mint condition.
There are two reasons for this why you need to bring bills when backpacking cheaply through Southeast Asia for a month.
First, if you are going to withdraw from an ATM there is about 4USD bank charge and there are also bank limits for withdrawal. Talk to your bank first before you travel abroad and make arrangements.
|Image via stickmanweekly|
Second, there is a weird exchange rate in the Southeast Asian loop or is it also the same in other parts of the world? The lower your USD, the lower the exchange rate is. Tell me about it in the comment section below.
Almost mint condition bills are good because some locals do not accept torn notes or those with scribbles on it. You'll have a hard time exchanging or paying with it.
4. Monitor your spending.
I am allergic with numbers so this was not my forte. My friend had an excellent excel sheet that we used to monitor our spending. We were able to track where we under spent and where we overspent. This allowed us to make adjustments in our future spending. However, at the end of the trip, it was not really necessary as we had around 100USD leftover.
5. Eat local.
|Photo credit: Dominik M. Ramík|
I think the best way to experience a culture is through one's stomach. We were a big fan of street foods and roadside and market stalls. We would sometimes spend over an hour going from one stall to another and just go food tasting. Some portions are huge so you can also share. And I'm not ashamed to ask for our leftovers to be wrapped and taken with us.
If you ask nicely, some locals would even let you sample their fares for free before you buy one. I love this best especially if I do not want to buy one bag of bugs!
No, we did not suffer from Delhi Belly or Bali Belly or LBM (loose bowel movement) or AGE (acute gastroenteritis) or traveler's diarrhea or Montezuma's revenge or whatever else you called it because we chose where to eat wisely. ( I will be posting tips on how to spot a good place to eat.)
6. Stay in cheap accommodations.
There are a lot of cheap options out there like hostels, Couchsurfing or even sleeping in a monastery. Sometimes posting on Facebook and asking if anyone knows somebody whom you can crash is also a good way to save money and experience local hospitality.
Hostel prices vary. Hostels in mainland Southeast Asia is plentiful and cheap but this is a concept that is rare in the Philippines so hotels (not hostels) are more expensive.
It is helpful to go online and research (I usually use Tripadvisor) before your trip and find out the three cheapest ones with good reviews. Check out as well if they provide free water, free breakfast, and wi-fi. List their address and just pop in. You can also do hotel reservation online without needing to pay in advance but popping in works out best for us because it allows us to haggle.
Fan rooms are the cheapest but if you can't take the heat and sweat, there are air-conditioned rooms as well.
If you are traveling alone, a dorm would be a good place for you, however, bring your own lock because security is a major issue. If you are traveling with someone, lucky you! It is actually cheaper to get a double room.
Haggling is a game. I would usually haggle around half of the price, depending on the commodity, then slowly build it up as the guy lowers his price. Do this until you both agree to the price. Haggle with a smile on your face and use your cuteness to your advantage. You will notice if you have hit a good price because there would usually be a pained, resigned look on the seller. I would usually feel sorry for them at this point.
Then, walk away. Look for two other people who offers the same thing. Haggle again. Compare which among the three has the best price then make the purchase.
Do not forget to give them a smile and a thank you!
Being a Filipina helps because we are given a lower price compared to Westerners.
Using Google Map, we were able to tell if the area we want to go to is walkable. I was lucky I was with someone who has a good sense of direction . Obviously, no single dollar will be spent when you are walking. Just bring a hat or umbrella to help shelter you from the sun.
You can download the Google Map app in your phone in advance and use it offline.
Use your water bottle to refill wherever and whenever you can. You will often find water dispensers in restaurants. In Myanmar, it is everywhere! Drinking water is not a problem here. You can see pots of drinnking water on the sidewalk!
10. Hand wash clothes.
Laundry for 1 kilo of clothes is really cheap in Southeast Asia. It is just less than 1USD!
However, if you are really scrimping, I recommend you hand wash them. This is a labor intensive process with scrubbing and drying required. You can also have abrasions from this activity.
I got myself a cream detergent (I wish we have this in the Philippines!) for under 1 USD and I am still congratulating myself for making that wise decision. It has served us well during the travel and there is even some leftover. Since it is in a cream formulation, you do not worry about it spilling over your things. It is very handy and convenient.
|Image via dailymart|