Are you planning a backpacking Southeast Asia trip? I paused my career to backpack around SE Asia for a half year. It was also my first solo trip. You can too! This post will tell you about how I chose SE Asia, how much it costs, and share my itinerary.
Backpacking Southeast Asia for 6 months!
One day in December I decided it was time to pause my career to go travel.
“Wait, you’re going to Asia?” Yess!
“Whaaaaat? For how long??” Almost 2 months. I ended up extending it for 6 months, but didn’t know that at the time.
“When did you decide that?” I decided this month.
That was the typical reaction. I’ve always said that when I’m in between jobs I’m just going to book a big trip and travel. I ended up traveling for a half year.
Your friends and family might be surprised or even concerned. You might be too. Here’s some quick info.
Rationale for a long term trip – why so long?
In my industry I only get 2 weeks of vacation per year. They can’t be used together, so I can’t typically visit Southeast Asia during a job vacay.
It takes sooo long to get there that it doesn’t make sense to just go for a week. And while the flight across the world can be pricey, it’s soooo cheap once you arrive.
Why Southeast Asia for a backpacking trip?
While I considered South America, a backpacking trip is Asia the better choice. Here’s why:
Budget – How much does it cost to backpack Southeast Asia?
Your goes further in SE Asia! A backpacking trip to Asia is cheap! Other areas of the world will be cheap, but Southeast Asia is on another level. When you’re not in major cities, it’s especially affordable.
You can stay in cheap hotels for ~$25-30/night. Or you can even hostels for ~5/night.
The only expensive part is getting there (use your air miles!).
Distance from home
Choose a region that’s far from home. For me, SE Asia is so far! I can get to countries in South America or Europe in one week trips, but Asia takes so long to get to. If I don’t get to Vietnam or Laos or Angkor Wat now, when am I going to get there? It certainly doesn’t fit into a quick one week trip.
Distance from each other (+ discount airlines)
Also, there’s so many amazing countries clustered together, with plenty of ways to get there.
Is it safe to go backpacking in Southeast Asia?
Yes! Southeast Asia is an incredibly safe place to backpack and travel. Be smart of course, especially when traveling solo. There are lots of scams to avoid. I’ll outline them in a later post.
Meet other backpackers in Southeast Asia!
Southeast Asia is known for having a well-traveled backpacking route. This is helpful when exploring.
You’ll meet people from all around the world, at every turn. You’ll also meet locals, if you choose to.
When to go on a backpacking trip to Asia?
Southeast Asia is always warm! That means you can leave in December and bring summer clothes. Love it!
The coldest time at home for me (New York) is December through February, and that’s actually the ideal time to be in Southeast Asia. The weather is drier and cooler weather. That doesn’t mean cold, it’s still quite hot, but not unbearable.
The wet and dry seasons are slightly different for different parts of southeast Asia.
Dry season is Nov-March. Perfect!
The wet season is typically June through October.
Itinerary for backpacking Southeast Asia
Consider a circle on the map of Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos. Then a bit more south, Malaysia, Singapore. I’ll add to this post.
Where went on my SE Asia adventure
Note, this section was originally written during my trip.
I just decided it a little before Xmas, and booked the main flight into Hong Kong to get started. It all happened so fast.
Initially my flight back was set from Tokyo on Feb 23rd. However, I booked on air miles, so I moved it throughout my trip. It was only a minimal fee, requiring just airport taxes. This allows me flexibility.
From Hong Kong, it’s off Bali in Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos. Then a curveball, a quick stop in the middle east in Bahrain and Jordan. Then I had initially planned to go to Japan, and possibly squeeze in Brunei and Thailand.
Going to Jordan in this trip doesn’t really make any sense. However, I really want to see Petra. My friend was already going, so I just checked. There’s randomly a super cheap flight from KL to Jordan so I just booked it.
It gives this backpacking trip to Asia a little structure. I have roughly 12 days between HK and Jordan. Hopefully that’s about the right amount of time for Indonesia.
Japan also doesn’t make any sense for this trip, since it’s not in SE Asia. Also, Japan is very cold while the other locations (after HK) are all really warm. However, my friend Jared now lives in Tokyo and I want to visit him. Thus, I figured I’d come home through Narita.
Flexible – plenty of unplanned days too
The rest is flexible. I deliberately left it flexible, since it’s my first solo backpacking trip.
As of this moment, I’m typing this on my flight to HK (actually to Vancouver on the way), and that’s all I’ve planned. I could go in any order, and stay as long as I want in any of the cities I’m thinking of visiting.
I figured I’d enjoy NYE in HK, and then decompress at the beach in Bali. At the beach I’ll open up my Lonely Planet SE Asia and plan the rest of my trip.
And I’m off!
Traveling solo – 1st backpacking trip to Asia
The plan is to travel solo. At first, I was a little nervous about traveling on my own. However, everyone I speak with that’s done it has had such wonderful things to say about that aspect. Thus, I’m ready to go!
To ease the transition I’m staying in a hostel in Hong Kong. I’ll be in a private room. I’ve met such wonderful people at every turn.
Note, I ended up LOVING it and staying for nearly half a year!
Re solo travel, here’s an update. That experience in Hong Kong turned out to be the rule, not the exception. It’s so easy it is to make friends when you’re traveling. There’s so many natural topics to discuss. This includes shared experiences, cultural interests, intellectual curiosity, diverse perspectives from around the world. I love this!
This trip helped me visit so many countries with countless experiences! Backpacking Southeast Asia was one a key part of how I travel to so many countries.