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50 things I've learnt as a solo backpacker in Asia (in no particular order)

WORLDWIDE | Friday, 16 May 2014 | Views [472]

1. All Asian countries have their "own time" when doing things. A bus meant to leave at 8am will most probably not leave at 8am. It might leave at 8.30am. It might leave at 9am. Accept that lateness is their way of life, and who cares anyway - you're on holiday!

2. Accept that you'll probably get food poisoning, no matter how careful you are - could have been that dodgy looking squid salad or could have been that perfect curry from that nice restaurant. You'll never know, so just let your body get rid of the bug, eat hydration salts that taste like the devil's anus and get on with it.

3. From what I hear, the percentage of alcohol in beer is not regulated in some Asian countries. You may feel nothing from six beers, or you may feel stupidly smashed from two. It's a game of Russian roulette. Enjoy.

4. Sleeper buses are not made for people over five foot to sleep in. If you're tall like me, be prepared to get no sleep scrunched up like fetus. If you suffer from motion sickness, a sleeper bus is like riding the world's bumpiest, windiest roller coaster without the adrenaline pay off. Also, some of the sleeper buses stop in the dead of the night and pick up locals who sleep in the corridors. So if you're on the bottom bunk don't scream when you wake up to a local's face inches from yours. If you have the money, fork out for a soft sleeper train ticket or fly.

5. Paying a small amount for "all you can drink" at a bar is a great way to save money. It's also a great way to wake up with the worst hangover you've had in your life. Think of a small man punching your brain and your gag reflux all day the next day.  There's a reason it's cheap.

6. Even if you have a "no scooter" policy, somehow, somewhere you'll end up on the back of a scooter with your backpack and other bags, with an Asian man driving like he's being chased by the cops. Prayer is useful in these situations, after all, the driver has a helmet, and you don't.

7. Try not to get black-out drunk. Try.

8. When stupidly drunk, don't let liquid confidence convince you you can jump through a flaming hoop, play flaming jump rope or have gymnast like qualities that allow you to bend backwards like gumbi during flaming limbo. And definitely don't attempt to jump over the flaming limbo pole. You'll end up burning your nether regions, or other random parts of your body - and you'll only realise this, and the pain, when sober the next day.

9. People have sex in dorms when drunk, or when sober for that matter. The best you can do is wear ear plugs, listen to music, or moan along with them to make things awkward.

10. As a girl, try not to walk home alone at night. Especially if you're smashed. Everyone hates the word "rape" and it sucks that girls have to worry about it. But I've heard stories, it happens, be aware of your own safety.

11. Don't do too many laughing-gas balloons. They're not that cheap and you'll mourn the death of the millions of brain cells the next day, all for 10 seconds of fun.

12. If you feel like being lazy and not sight seeing, then don't. Give yourself permission to have a day being lazy at the beach, at a cafe or even in bed. If you force yourself to sight see when you really don't want to, you won't appreciate it as much.

13. Go with your gut. Listen to your intuition. That person seems a little off? They probably are. Make an excuse and high tail it out of there.

14. Stand up for yourself. You're being ripped off? Say something. Just don't lose your cool and go ape-shit crazy, it often makes things worse.

15. You may not get to shower, wash your hair or shave yourself at regular intervals. Embrace the hobo bush woman/man in you.

16. If it is 200+ humidity - as a girl, just don't bother with make-up full stop. Embrace your natural backpacker beauty. Otherwise, guaranteed you'll look like a Picasso painting in less than an hour.

17. If the hostel makes you leave your thongs/flip flops outside - some scheming bastard may decide they like the look of yours. Try to take the high road and avoid the domino effect by stealing some one else's.

18. If you want to hire a scooter most places will make you leave your passport with them. Try to find a legitimate looking place or one affiliated with a hotel or hostel. Otherwise when returning the scooter, the dodgy owner may claim you "damaged" the scooter even when you didn't. And what can you do? The dude has your passport. So just grit your teeth and get out your wallet.

19. Everything is negotiable. Barter barter barter like mad. Walk away if you don't get the price you want. If you're exhausted and don't want to barter, then don't. But just don't feel annoyed when you see someone else with the same thing who paid a fraction of the cost.

20. Don't buy bus/train/plane tickets from the hostel/hotel. It may be convenient, but for the most part they rip you off hard. Take the extra five minutes to find a travel agent.

21. Word of mouth is good. But take what other backpackers say with a grain of salt, or sometimes a salt shaker for that matter. It may not be what you expected. And usually, your expectations have been elevated. That's ok, better luck next time.

22. If you do a border crossing and are trying to find the visa check point, don't trust the locals sitting around on plastic chairs who tell you to "buy" the visa from them. It's a scam. Ignore them and walk further up until you find the legitimate visa office.

23. Walk s-l-o-w-l-y across busy roads. Maintain eye contact with drivers. Ignore your instinct that tells you to dart across the road as fast as you can, it's a sure fire way to get run over.

24. If you do a tour or get on a bus they will take you to random places for half an hour to an hour simply in the hopes you'll buy something, even when you're not hungry or in the shopping mood.  Don't feel pressured to buy anything if you don't want to.

25. A good book is a must. Kindles are particularly handy because of their compact size.

26. Have a healthy respect for mosquitos and the diseases they carry. Mosquito repellent is your friend. Yeah it stinks, get over it. You'll eventually find the smell alluring.

27. If it has a cap, it will come undone. And you will end up with a backpack full of shampoo, deet (which eats through everything like acid by the way), melted paw paw ointment or toothpaste. Screw caps on tightly every time and keep bottles in closed plastic bags so the damage is limited.

28. Buy beaded bracelets. You know you want to. Yeah, yeah it's a cliche and everyone wears them, but so what.

29. Try to get over the psychological block of using a squat toilet. Or if you can't (like me) then hold it in. Hold it in like you've never held it in before! But be prepared to have a freaking sore tummy.

30. You're going to make great friends or even great lovers (hey hey!) along the way. But for the most part, it's transient. Accept you'll all have to go separate ways at some point. Get Facebook details. Get email details. Feel momentarily sad and nostalgic but understand that what is meant to be, will be. You may see them again, you may not. C'est la vie.

31. At some places you may not make friends at all. This may be because people have established cliquey groups, or because you're inadvertently being a cold unapproachable a-hole. Who cares. You have yourself. Read a book. Go on the net. Go for a walk. Tomorrow is a new day.

32. You'll meet some weird people with some weird ideals. Try to be open minded. Or if you can't, zip your lip and then Facebook your friends back home to laugh about it.

33. If you're over 25, don't play the age game. Don't ask, or avoid the question. Some of the narrow minded teenagers will be ageist and think you're a fossil.

34. If you feel exhausted and want to go to bed at 8pm while everyone else is going partying, then just go to bed. Don't feel bad. Don't feel peer pressured. Don't have FOMO stresses. You'll just be that annoying person who feels like a million dollars the next day while everyone else is clutching their heads and wearing dark sunglasses.

35. On the flip side, if you don't feel like going out, but then get your second wind and do it, it could be one of the best nights of your life. The unplanned nights out often are.

36. Be empathetic. Be helpful. Practice kindness to others. This will somehow come back 10 fold when you need it yourself.

37. Trust others, but not too much. People are nice but you don't truly know who they are underneath. They show you what they want to show you when traveling.

38. In a dorm - bottom bunk. Always.

39. Appreciate the unknown. No past, no future, only present. Go with the flow and live day to day. You'll be surprised how happy this can make you. Especially if you're normally a control freak.

40. It's ok and natural to feel mildly jealous when you meet people traveling in pairs or groups. But when it comes to making decisions, guaranteed they have to compromise, you don't.

41. Sex tourism exists. It doesn't make it right. You think they want you? They want a better life. Don't abuse your economic situation.

42. You think those tigers aren't drugged? Really? Because I'm pretty sure in nature they would rip your throat out. Same goes for riding elephants - you won't feel good when you watch the dude violently stabbing the elephant with a metal prong just so you can get your kodak moment. If you're against animal cruelty, then do your research and find legitimate places.

43. Drugs in Asia. If you want to spend a good chunk of your life losing your mind in an Asian prison, then go for it. The legal system is not the same as western countries. The high is not worth the risk.

44. Check the airport. Check the airline. Check the terminal. Then recheck it all again. You don't want to be cutting taxi cues in unbreathable heat, running with a backpack, for that cheap flight you may miss because you rocked up to the wrong terminal.

45. Don't be scared. Eat the street food. Just be smart about it. That pork looks a little too shiny? Tastes a little too funny? Give it a miss. You probably only wasted less than a dollar anyway.

46. Accept that some dorms may be squalor and you may feel like you have to make a nest of toilet paper on the toilet seat before you feel comfortable sitting on it, even then....

47. If you have to get up super early in the morning but your dorm buddies have been inconsiderately loud when coming back from partying, revenge by banging your stuff around or switching on the lights in the morning is acceptable.

48. You will get scammed. No matter how smart you think you are, one day you will be off guard, or tired, or sick or all three and you will get scammed. Don't worry it happens to us all. And always makes a good story.

49. Thailand's 7-11 toasties. They cost less than a dollar. When you're traveling these can be a cheesy godsend. Living the dream people.

50. Last of all, try not to compare too much to your home country. You're in a different country, a developing country, you're experiencing different things and a completely different way of life, so try not to get on your high horse. If home is so much better, then travel in your home country.

Tags: airports, asia, backpacking, bartering, dorms, drinking, lessons, sleeper buses, tips, toasties

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