I quickly realized how little I knew about the world when I started planning my first Southeast Asia trip to Thailand and Bali. Southeast Asia is popular for budget travellers but planning my trip there hasn’t been easy.
Because I’m a travel blogger, people assume that I love planning and researching travel. Although I definitely do, I know overplanning is not good. I usually just plan accommodation and airfare, then figure out the other stuff along the way. Bad weather happens and flights get delayed. There’s always going to be unexpected things that come up while you’re travelling so overplanning any trip can also result in you scrambling to adapt plans all the time.
This guide will help you learn from the mistakes I made while planning the trip. Whether you’re going for 2 weeks or 6 months, these tips will help you to plan just enough for your first Southeast asia trip.
Have a long, hard look at your bank account – keep in mind that Southeast Asia travel is affordable once you get there
First, make a rough estimate of a Southeast Asia travel budget and take a long, hard look at your bank account.
Hostels in Southeast Asia typically cost between 5-15$, a cheap hotel can be found for 30$ (split between two people). For day to day costs, I budgeted about 25$ per day. This is a high estimate for backpacking Southeast Asia but I wanted to account for the higher cost days as well – like our Elephant Nature Park day and my friend Nikita’s birthday dinner.
To travel between cities, you will either need to go by bus, train, or plane. We didn’t even know what countries we were going to go to when I started planning this trip, so I just pencilled in $1200 for all transportation costs. For return flights from Canada, two flights within asia, and return flights from Asia to Australia, this actually was really accurate.
I already have a backpack but I didn’t have a water filter, water filter tablets, mosquito spray, travel sized hygiene stuff, and clothes for the hot weather. I’m from Canada and I literally own maybe two pairs of shorts so I’ll have to go to the mall before I leave. All of these little extras have added up, so make sure your budget has wiggle room.
Decide where to go in Southeast Asia and when
When I was deciding where to go, I got advice from other people and bloggers that had been. Generally, the “winter” months are humid and rainy while the “summer” months are hot. I’m Canadian so I can’t call 20+ degrees winter temperatures. If I went in their summer my maple syrup blood would boil. Before booking your trip to Southeast Asia, make sure to look up what weather you can expect in each place.
My main regret with my first Southeast Asia trip has been not booking my trip for longer. I have to go home for school and work but I feel I’m wasting money and time by flying so much to only stay in Thailand and Bali for a few days.
I’m not even going to any Thai Islands, visiting Angkor Wat in Cambodia, or touring the war sites in Vietnam. There’s so much left on my Southeast Asia bucket list! There’s no perfect time to go so I’m glad I took advantage of this opportunity, but I would’ve ideally liked to spend 2 months exploring Southeast Asia. Check this article if you want to know the cost of living in Vietnam.
Booking airfare for your Southeast Asia trip
If you start looking at airfare prices 6-8 months before, you’ll likely find a good deal. I found a 540$ return flight to Bangkok with All Nippon on Chris Myden’s YVR Deals. Normally, this flight costs 1100$+. Anything between 400-600$ is a good deal from a Canadian city, especially on a good airline like All Nippon and WestJet/Air Canada.
I almost booked a flight to Singapore from LAX because it was about 300$. It ended up being more when I added in the cost of flying to Los Angeles from Canada, but sometimes arrangements like this can help you save so much.
When I travelled in Europe, every country was within 1 or 2 hours. I was shocked when I realized Bali and Chiang Mai were 11 hours apart. This is going to be a longer travel day than I thought but, lesson learned – the earth is curved and places in Southeast Asia are more spread out than European countries.
AirAsia has a pass that’s a really good deal for anyone doing more than two inter-asia flights, it’s about 160$ and gives you 10 ‘credits’ for flights. A shorter flight like Chaing Mai to Bangkok in Thailand is 1 credit, while longer ones between countries tend to be 3 credits.
*Make sure you are flying into the right airport (Bali’s Denpasar is not the only airport in Indonesia) and check on any Visa info*
Booking accommodation in Southeast Asia for backpackers on a budget
I know a lot of people book their first couple days of accommodation when backpacking Southeast Asia, and wing it from there. I will probably do it that way if I go again, it’s great because you can change your trip based on other people’s recommendations and meet new people at hostels. I wish I was that chill, but on my first Southeast Asia trip I don’t think I can deal with that much uncertainty.
I’ve used a bunch of different booking sites and I honestly prefer booking.com. Agoda had the best prices for Southeast Asia but with Booking.com’s referral deal, it was always cheaper for us to book with them. Travel tip – if you refer a friend to Booking.com, you both get 25$ cashback. We opted for hotels because they weren’t too expensive.
All our rooms have A/C because we are Canadian and feel most at home in polar igloos. Rooms with A/C are good for anyone travelling Southeast Asia, just so that you don’t have to worry about mosquitos biting you and giving you diseases at night.
Backpacking Southeast Asia – What to Bring and Drinking Clean Water
I haven’t started packing yet but I have a general idea of what I need to bring for backpacking Southeast Asia. I typically pack super last minute and I’m living out of a suitcase right now. For backpacking Thailand and Bali, I’ll be wearing mostly leggings and breathable tops. There are a few cute outfits thrown in for Bali but my suitcase will be 90% activewear.
The water from the taps in Thailand and Bali will not be safe for us to drink. If you don’t want to invest in the whole water filter + chlorine tablets thing, you can drink bottled water with a secure cap. Obviously, fruits and veggies are also cleaned with the water so try to eat fruits that you peel yourself and avoid leafy greens while you’re backpacking Southeast Asia.