After living in SE Asia for nearly a year there are not many things that surprise me, but I was both surprised and impressed when my friend Vivienne whipped out a portable washing line to hang our newly washed clothes on a recent trip to Kuala Lumpur - what a woman! It's strange little things like this, that make a big difference when travelling.
Here are some of the interesting bits of knowledge, tips and tricks I've learned over the past year:
1# Fresh Faced
You're not going to be wearing any makeup in Asia, it's too hot so it's pointless, it slides off your skin when you go outside, like ice cream melting in a child's hands. The only thing that we can wear successfully is waterproof mascara. Ditch the rest.
2# Just no
Perhaps you're a lot saner than I am and you wouldn't consider taking a hairdryer with you to Asia! Nothing more to say on this...
Why am I explaining all of the things not to take?
The lighter your bag the better as it's such a hassle carting stuff around. But, also, you're going to come across some really unusual, beautiful items that you'll want to buy for yourself and as gifts, and by doing so you're supporting local communities, so you'll need that extra space in your bag.
3# I have what!?
You're going to be hot most of the time (of course you are that's one of the main reasons you're going!) and this will lead to an oil slick on your face, which could result in spots like you haven't seen since you were drunk in the park on a Friday night, ie. a teenager. This is somewhat depressing, but if you keep your skin as clean as possible, washing twice a day and use a tea tree acne gel, you should be able to contain it.
If you've never visited a spa or had a massage, being in Asia is an ideal opportunity as they're inexpensive, and if done well are hugely relaxing and beneficial. But please check out Trip Advisor reviews first unless you want to risk ending up with a woman straddling your back and thumping you, whilst chatting to her mates on the phone - this really happened, standards are different to the UK.
Note: They have no trading standards laws in Asia, so if you see a Trip Advisor Excellence banner on the shopfront, it's probably fake.
You want to go backpacking, but this doesn't mean you have to take a backpack. A wheelie suitcase is excellent, then take a small rucksack for your hand luggage which you can also use for your day trips around town etc.
Try and fit all of your hold luggage into 20 kg and carry on into 8 kg because different airlines have varying weight restrictions and you don't want to end up with an extra 5 kg that you might have to pay $50 for - all of the airlines allow 20kg.
6# Health Tourism
If you need any dental care or are considering any cosmetic procedures, I dunno, laser hair removal, for example, Asia is a great place to get this done. I had a dental checkup and an appointment with the hygienist in Thailand for a mere £17 - what a bargain. Again, check Trip Advisor for reviews first.
7# Change it
Get your phone unlocked before you go and always buy a local sim card when you arrive in a new country. They only cost a few pounds and will make sure you are always connected. Believe me, you don't want to travel around Asia relying on coffee shops for internet, it's not undoable, but it's a pain in the arse.
8# Grab App
This is the Asian equivalent of Uber and it has been a total lifesaver for me on numerous occasions. It's also super cheap - please download immediately.
If for whatever reason you don't download the Grab app or you don't have internet, do not, I repeat DO NOT, get into a taxi without agreeing on the price first.
If you're a Western woman then it's highly likely that the driver will try and rip you off. I have heard multiple terrifying tales of women being locked in taxis, and even being assaulted or threatened when they've got to the end of the ride.
What generally happens is that you pay the money it states on the meter, but they triple that price, and you might not have the cash on you, but they won't care.
I don't mind being ripped off a little bit, it kinda comes with the territory in Asia, but this can create a conflicting and potentially unsafe situation so always agree on a price first.
10# The Holy Grail
This is, without doubt, the most important thing you need to take or buy out there - a charcoal filterable water bottle.
Coming from a place where we can drink water straight from the tap, I didn't foresee the problem of not having access to drinking water.
What if you're ill and can't get to a shop or there isn't a shop nearby? Staying hydrated is going to be your number one priority in SE Asia as you'll be losing buckets of liquid each day in the form of sweat - attractive yeah...
11# Do not book travel tickets in advance
This is exceptionally challenging behaviour for the risk-averse I know. The thing is, you have no way of knowing just how long you'll want to stay in one place, and if you book tickets in advance it's going to constrain you. You'll end up staying some places longer than you want and having to kill time or, having to leave somewhere early that you want to investigate more, or you'll meet someone who you want to spend more time with.
You might think you'll save money by booking in advance but you won't. For example, I missed a flight to Bali intentionally a couple of months ago. If anyone had told me last year that I deliberately missed a trip to Bali I wouldn't have believed them - why would I do that!? I have intentionally missed three flights on this trip so far. The overall cost of the missed flights is $250 - so did I save money? Nope.
12# Social Media
Who is this trip for? You.
No doubt you’ve worked tirelessly to be able to pay for it, compromising on other things to save money, well now it’s time to enjoy it. Don’t feel it's your responsibility to show everyone what you’re doing on social media.
I have stopped taking lots of photos. It makes my bag lighter not carrying a camera, I don't have my phone out which is nice as I’m hands-free, and, I can just enjoy the moment, the many many many special moments that I have. If I want to remember anything specifically then I take notes and write down feelings, sounds, smells, and touch when I get home or stop in a cafe, and I do that because it's my job.
Unless you’re a travel journalist or a professional photographer then documenting your trip visually is not the purpose of it. I expect your reasons for travelling will be to see new cultures, learn more about the world, meet new people and friends, have new experiences, challenge yourself, laugh, cry, maybe fall in love - who knows? Sure it's nice to have the odd photo to look back at, but don't spend all of your time getting the 'right' photo, it's such a pointless waste of time that you'll never get back.
I hope you have a wonderful time on your trip. Every single person that you meet is going to know something that you don't know, and they're going to share it with you, what an exciting thought! xxx
Hello friends. I am Hannah Anstee, a specialist wellbeing journalist and coach. I warmly welcome you to The Future of 40, a space for independent, open-minded women who are looking for more. Namaste