Sometime back in early Spring, my girlfriend Madison and I decided it was time for the out-of-country trip we’ve always talked about. One night we spontaneously bought tickets to Southeast Asia (SEA) for two and a half months after seeing a big price drop in airline tickets. This happened about six months ago, so while it was exciting at the time, the reality of our decision hadn’t quite hit us yet. Fast-forward six months later and it suddenly feels very real. We are a little less than one month away from our departure date and it’s starting to feel like crunch time. Many aspects of our plan have already been accomplished, and at this point we’re just playing the waiting game and taking care of whatever last minute things we can think of. The lease on our apartment has ended and we are staying at Madison’s mom’s house for the next few weeks until our departure. We’ve both quit our jobs and are now using our abundant free time for preparation and stress-relieving leisure.
Ever since we first hatched our plans for overseas travel I’ve had it in my mind that I’d want to document the experience in a blog. I think I’ve now hit the appropriate moment in our timeline to finally begin this project. In this post, I’ll provide an outline of where we’re currently at in our preparation. Future posts will hopefully take place when we’re actually in Southeast Asia.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what made us decide on Southeast Asia. It was probably a combination of price, that friends had gone recently, and that we both love Asian foods and culture. Southeast Asia is often considered a backpacker’s paradise due to the natural beauty, the vibrant culture, and the low costs of living relative to the American dollar. We will be backpacking in SEA. Our plan is basically to travel from city to city, country to country and stay in hostels along the way. We might even stay in AirBnBs and hotels depending on our budget. Since it’ll be our first time in SEA we decided to stick to the mainland countries of Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos.
We fly into Bangkok, Thailand where we’ll probably spend just a few days before taking a bus into Cambodia. We’ll spend approximately two weeks each in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos flying, bussing, or taking a train over each border, before finishing off our final few weeks in Thailand again. The timeframe is completely malleable, and there is a possibility we will extend our overall stay in SEA depending on our financial situation.
Most international travelers are probably familiar with the need for visas. Each country in SEA has its own visa requirements/process ranging from simple to complicated. There are several visa options no matter where you go. Below I’ll briefly explain the types of visas we’ll acquire for each country.
Thailand: For citizens from certain countries, Thailand allows for a Visa Exemption, which basically allows us to enter the country hassle-free for 30 days as long as we carry a valid passport and proof that we’ll be leaving the country within 30 days. A traveler in one of 55 countries can enter and leave Thailand multiple times in a calendar year, as long as they don’t exceed the designated 30-day limit. This will be no problem for us considering we will initially only be in Thailand for a few days before heading to Cambodia. We will enter Thailand again from Laos about a month later, and our plane ticket is scheduled to fly us out before our next 30 days is up. If we decide to stay longer, we have the option of extending our visa for 30 days costing about 1,900 Baht (Thai currency), equating to about $60. Staying any longer would require us to apply for one of many other long-term visa options.
Cambodia: Whether flying or crossing the border into Cambodia via land, it should be pretty simple to acquire a Visa On Arrival, which just means that we’ll be purchasing our visa at the airport or border facility we enter in from. Cambodia also has an e-visa option, but at the moment the site seems very glitchy and constantly fails to load. If I can manage it I’ll try to apply online, but if that doesn’t work I’ll simply go through the traditional Visa On Arrival method. It should cost us $25-$30 each, which will most likely need to be paid in USD.
Vietnam: Applying for a visa for Vietnam can either be really simple or somewhat of a headache. As a U.S. citizen, the traditional way to apply for a Vietnamese visa would be to choose one of three options on their embassy website. Since we don’t live near the embassy office in Washington D.C., we would choose to either apply with an online form or apply by email, both of which award us a loose-leaf visa within three business days. This is something we’d have to do before leaving the U.S. As of 2017, however, Vietnam has rolled out a new e-visa process which allows a foreigner to apply for a visa online and obtain a digital visa within three days. This would by far be the simplest and most convenient process and is most likely the route we’ll go.
Laos: Similar to Cambodia, getting a visa in Laos is just a matter of picking one up when you arrive at the border. It should cost about $30.
Deciding on what to bring to SEA has been the most complex part of our preparation. It’s all about finding a balance between needs and wants, while at the same time keeping in consideration the size of our backpacks. Our first stop was REI to grab our backpacks. Madison had already researched backpacks online and had settled on a couple of choices. For me, we purchased the Osprey Farpoint, which is a male-fitted 55-liter backpack. Madison chose the Osprey Fairview, which is the female-fitted equivalent to mine.
Over the course of a couple months, Madison and I had been compiling an Amazon list for SEA full of various necessities that we either learned about from others or thought up on our own. Our Amazon list includes:
- Ultrathon Insect Repellent Cream
- Backpack locks
- Packing cubes
- Travel utensils
- Water shoes
- Travel microfiber towels
- Travelambo RFID Wallet
- Travel Passport Holder
- Compression socks
- Travel toothbrushes
- Purell Hand Sanitizer
- Otterbox iPhone cases
- Waterproof iPhone baggies
- Mesh laundry bag + laundry soap powder
- Travel-sized toiletries (TP, shampoo & conditioner, makeup, deodorant, etc.)
- Medicine (cough & cold, laxatives, electrolyte tablets, anti-diarrhea, alcohol pads)
- First aid kit
In addition to the items on our Amazon list, we’ll also be bringing:
- Bluetooth headphones
- Small Bluetooth speaker
- eBooks and a couple physical books
- Travel pillow
- A pair of walking shoes
- Thin rain jackets
- Long-sleeved shirt
- A few tank-tops/T-shirts/dresses
We are trying to be very minimal with clothing because many of our outfits can be purchased for cheap while we’re actually in SEA.
It seems really easy to overpack; we most likely won’t end up using many things on our list, but it feels better to be prepared. We still have some time to consider what we’re bringing but for the most part, we are pretty set. Anything we don’t bring we can probably purchase in one of the big cities of SEA.
Vaccinations were probably the most stressful aspect of preparing because it’s not exactly clear which ones will be appropriate for our specific journey. It also wasn’t clear which vaccinations were fully covered under our respective insurance policies; certain shots can be very expensive.
What we ended up getting:
- Hep A/B
- Japanese Encephalitis (Madison)
I personally opted not to get the Japanese Encephalitis shot. It was a controversial decision, but ultimately I decided that the chances of getting it were rare, and I didn’t want to risk my insurance not covering it. JE can sometimes cost up to $800.
Madison was also able to get a prescription for Malaria pills (Malorone) which we will both share. We’ve studied maps of high-risk Malaria zones in SEA and decided that our regimen for the pills will be very situational. The adverse effects of Malaria pills don’t sound pleasing, but at the same time, we definitely don’t want to be infected. Based on where we want to journey in SEA there are only a few locations where we will really want to consider starting a regimen.
That about wraps up our preparation. Like mentioned before there are still some things that need to be done, such as purchasing our visas. I’m sure I’m forgetting some small things, but if you have any questions then either comment on this post or reach out to me personally. Stay tuned for future updates.