Traveling to Southeast Asia on a shoestring budget

Claire Small's picture
Authored by Claire Small
Posted Sunday, April 28, 2019 - 1:06pm

Asia has long been a popular destination for European backpackers. A holiday to the orient gives visitors a glimpse of the sharp contrast in the ways of life of the east and the west. This enriching experience invariably provides useful fresh perspective. Despite so much having been written about traveling to Asia it remains somewhat of an enigma. Pictures can hardly do justice to Southeast Asia. From the lofty snow-capped mountains to the thronging multitudes of the busy streets, there is no substitute to experiencing the sights, sounds and smells firsthand.

Asia is huge and diverse

One of the first things you will notice is the sizable amount of cash you get when you change currency (GBP is currently trading at about 90 INR). Be frugal and you can easily stretch for a month or more on what would be a week’s wages back home. However, this depends a lot on your destination, as not all of Southeast Asia is the same. Vietnam and Indonesia are comparatively inexpensive. Thailand and The Philippines can be considered mid-range, while holidaying in Singapore will involve all the expenses associated with a developed economy. India is huge, and costs can vary a lot depending on which region you visit and what you choose to do.

Stay longer

One of the most sound and widely shared travel tips for backpackers is to take things slow. Spend at least a few days in one place to properly explore and enjoy it. This also gives you the chance to discover the best places to dine and stay economically. Longer stays allow you time to make friends and absorb more of the local culture. A wealth of useful information is to be gained once the locals open up to you. The diversity in Asia is amazing and each place has its unique charms. That being said, many cultural aspects are common to the whole region. Spending some quality time with locals and getting familiar with cultural nuances really enriches the experience of traveling through Asia.

Don’t plan too much in advance

It is good to have a return date and to buy travel insurance beforehand. However, planning in excessive detail is avoidable. Guidebook descriptions are meant for tourists. When you feel captivated by the charm of a new place, you may want to extend your stay. It is also possible that the local weather doesn’t suit and you want to move on to different scenery sooner than expected. Remain flexible. Get a feel for the region and chat with locals to figure out where you might find the clime, ambience and vistas that you would love. A rewarding journey through Asia is best planned while on the road.

Finances

The costs for budget travelers don’t vary widely based on whether you travel solo or with a partner. This is because the largest expenses – accommodation and flight tickets – are booked individually. You can find a hostel bed for between six and ten GBP in most major cities in India. Stays at offbeat locations can cost less or more depending on how exotic and touristic they are. In some remote places it is not possible to book any accommodation in advance because they don’t have any internet! You get to know your options only after you arrive.

Local street food is almost universally much cheaper than eating at restaurants. Alcohol is steeply taxed and therefore expensive; more so at bars than at liquor shops. Buying souvenirs and lugging them around is rather pointless, unless you are actively on the lookout for something very specific. Haggling is the norm when shopping for most things, including fruits and vegetables at the local markets. Wi-Fi connectivity is highly variable. Don’t expect to be able to work effectively if you keep on the move.

Managing money

Carrying a lot of cash around is not advisable for multiple reasons. First, it is not safe, and second, it is not efficient. Currency conversion rates can vary quite a bit from place to place. Airport money changers hardly offer the best conversion rates, and converting at banks can be rather tedious. ATM withdrawals have been known to attract no small fees per-transaction. One of the smarter ways to manage money while backpacking in India is to use international money transfers. You can use an efficient service to send money online to yourself. That way you can get cash in local currency at a convenient pickup point close to your immediate location. Being assured of the best conversion rates and the lowest transaction fees, you can use the service as frequently as you need, never having to carry much cash in any currency. Compare the costs of receiving money across options and choose the optimum money management solution while you are traveling through exotic Southeast Asia.

About the Author

Sharon Kalipai is a contributing writer at Sparkwebs LLC, a Digital and Content Marketing Agency in Denver, CO. When she’s not writing, she loves to travel, dance and read books.