South East Asia: Planning your trip

What is it they say about great intentions? The road to somewhere is paved with them? Well, I had all the intention in the world to start this series of blogs back in December but between one thing or another they just never materialised.

I consider myself so lucky to get to write professionally now, it keeps me very busy every week. A single article can take anywhere from 2 or 3 hours to a couple of days depending on how much research needs to go in to it etc. I love it, but it uses up a lot of my creative resources.

Hence here we are at the beginning of February and I haven’t written a single thing about our time in South East Asia. It was the trip of my lifetime, an experience I will be forever grateful for and one I grow more and more nostalgic about as the days pass. It’s time now, to get all those thoughts and memories down on paper.

So, let me start right from the beginning and give you my advice for planning a trip to SEA.

Think ahead, but not too hard

One of my biggest learnings from that trip was not to over-plan.

I had a long time to get organised, we booked our flights back in January, so I had 10 months to become OBSESSED!

I planned every flight, every ferry, every hotel, I even had some gym-class timetables saved to my phone from different areas!! I thought that being prepared was the best way to handle going somewhere completely alien to me. It was a bi-product of excitement and fear.

Looking back from the other side I wish I hadn’t been so wound up and stuck on having a plan. Of course its good to have an idea of where you’re going and what you want to do, but getting around South East Asia is so effortless and cheap that there is no need to fret it all ahead of time. Give yourself room to have an adventure and go with the flow – you never know where it might take you. 

Book your main flights

Decide where you want the trip to start and end.

In November I booked return flights from Dublin to Bangkok. We flew with Emirates and our tickets cost €600 per person return.

That included all our food (they fed us a lot!) and we were also able to select dietary requirements in advance – they had an endless list to choose from. It also covered unlimited drinks, a 20kg checked bag and carry on luggage.

To get the best deal on flights I checked Sky Scanner first and once I had an idea which airlines were flying at a reasonable price around the time I wanted to go, I checked their individual sites to see if there were any special offers on. Eventually I settled on Emirates and I was VERY impressed. Comfortable, professional, accommodating and the food impressed me a lot.

The one complaint I do have is that if you miss your connecting flight (because of them), you are expected to cover that cost yourself or claim it back on your travel insurance if you can. Emirates don’t take responsibility for it. On the way home, we only had an hour to connect in Dubai, so I was pretty stressed out that we would miss it and have to fork out another chunk of cash for a new flight. It worked out fine for us but it’s something to be aware of – make sure your insurance covers missed connections.

Plan a rough route

Once you have your main flights booked go straight to google maps and take a proper look at South East Asia. Where do you want to go? What would the logical route be to see all these places?

When I l first started planning, I wanted to do Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, but it was too much for 4 weeks. In the end I narrowed it down to three countries and even then, we had to make some cuts to ensure we gave ourselves enough time to actually enjoy the places we were visiting.

Another useful way to decide where you want to go is have a look at the hashtag feeds for certain places on Instagram and see what real people are posting about there. For example, if you are thinking about visiting Koh Tao in Thailand then search #kohtao and have a nose.

It’s a great way to find nice places to eat too – I always do that in Ireland. I use hashtags over Trip Advisor every day!

Write down all the places you want to go and work out a rough itinerary. See if there are easy ways to get from one place to the other, decide where is a must see and where you can afford to miss. If there are big things you really want to do, for us it was doing a scuba diving course in Thailand, then go ahead and organise that. Its good to have some posts to aim for along the way – it makes for a nice balance between adventure and intention.

I would also recommend that you read as many blogs as possible. Us bloggers love to talk about what we’re up to and the cool places we find. There’s also something really satisfying for me in passing on recommendations that I know are going to help others enjoy their travels. So, get out there, find some travel bloggers you like and read their content.

Here are a few other Irish bloggers who have written about South East Asia for you to get started:

Organise your vaccines

The reason I say to plan your route somewhat is because different areas require you to get different vaccines. If you know where you are planning to travel to then you can organise what shots you need and what meds to take with you.

FYI, you don’t need to go anywhere special for to get your tropical vaccines. Your own GP can sort you out, you just need to ring in advance to check they have them in stock or if they need to order them in, smaller surgeries won’t always have them readily available. You also need to get them at least 5 weeks before you travel so make them a priority – the last thing you want is to get seriously ill in a third world country! They do cost quite a bit, but the price can vary depending on the doctor so it’s worth shopping around.

Last thing on meds, some people say that you should bring EVERYTHING medical that you might need with you, e.g. anti-nausea tablets, insect repellent, anti-inflammatory – the list is endless. I spent a fortune in Boots before I left, and I carried a huge supply bag around with me the whole trip, when there was absolutely no need. In Thailand and Cambodia there are pharmacies on every street in the main areas and medicine is extremely cheap. It was a little more difficult to get things in Vietnam (ladies definitely bring some monthly bits) but it’s not impossible. So, take a small supply for emergencies but don’t fret about having everything with you, you can get it all there if you need it.

Book your first few nights’ accommodation

Have your first few days organised so you have somewhere to go and recover from the jet lag. Pick somewhere central and ask them in advance to organise a taxi for you or a pickup service from the airport. Trust me – you will get ripped off by taxi drivers if you aren’t clever. Almost every hotel we stayed in had a pick-up service available. Some charge and some are free but either way they are cheaper than the guys at the taxi ranks. You simply give your hotel your flight number and due time of arrival and they will meet you in the arrival area of the airport.

When it comes to accommodation it is true when people say you can get it for an extremely cheap price. It all depends on your own budget and preference. You could pay €1 a night for a bed in a 20 person dorm or you could pay €20 and live like a king.

I will say that you will always find accommodation! So again, you don’t need to panic about having it all booked in advance. I changed our accommodation loads (thank god for free cancellation) and prices didn’t fluctuate drastically.

That also goes for flights.

I booked all our flights in advance, thinking we would save money. I thought, surely they will go up in price closer to the time? Well, they didn’t. Twice I changed our plan and booked new flights along the way and they still only cost about €30 each.

Try all modes of transport

Just because flights are cheap, doesn’t mean they are the best option. Even a forty-minute flight ends up wasting half a day when you consider the time it takes to get to and from the airport, the time waiting around in the airport and the flight itself. Consider taking some overnight busses to new destinations. That’s not something we did ourselves, but I really wish we had.

Yes, sleeping on a bus is not the most glamourous of ideas, but it will save you time and money (it’s still obviously cheaper than flying). We travelled across both Vietnam and Thailand by bus (both about 7 hours each journey) and it was fine. Again, it’s not the height of luxury but it’s by no means horrendous either. Aircon, big comfy seats and a nice view – there are worse ways to get around let me tell you! (I’m thinking of my daily Luas journey!). Busses are also much easier to just turn up and pay for on the day, there is no major planning involved and there are lots of places and people to help you organise it too. Again, ask your hotel or the local people you talk to – everyone we met bent over backwards to help us over there – you won’t be stuck.

So, when you have all that done you should have a plan for where you want to go, an idea of how much its going to cost and a few other important elements organised. The last thing I will say is don’t be afraid to allow your plan to change as you travel. Go with the adventure and if a fun and safe opportunity arises then go for it. Even if that means you get to your next destination a day or two later. Travelling is about the new and unfamiliar, no matter how hard you try to have it all perfectly organised, things will never work out 100% the way you expect. So, enjoy the chances that come your way and keep your eyes and ears open for what life is giving you.

Next time I plan to talk more about the specific places and what we did there. If you have any questions or things you would like to hear about, please feel free to get in touch. You can find me on Instagram at @lovelytomeetme or email lovelytomeetme@gmail.com – I promise I’ll get back to you.

Written with love,

Rachael

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