10 things I wish I’d known before backpacking southeast Asia and Australia

It’s over 8 years since I left to go backpacking around Southeast Asia and Australia. I remember the day we left like it was yesterday. I was so excited I thought I might burst but I was so scared I thought I might break down in tears and refuse to board the plane.

We had an overnight flight to Hong Kong but I didn’t sleep a wink. I sat there clutching my Lonely Planet bible, South East Asia on a Shoestring, skimming the pages but not really knowing what I was looking for. Guesthouses, temples, street food suggestions and activity providers were packed into the pages, but nothing made sense. I didn’t really even know what a guesthouse was and ‘street food’ was a totally new concept.

To say I was wet behind the ears would be an understatement. I was clueless.

I was that squeaky clean backpacker you can spot a mile off with her shiny new backpack, neatly pressed clothes, a stack of pristine guide books and a completely overwhelmed expression on her face!

But after almost two years of backpacking I definitely learned a thing or two and there are a few things I wish I could go back and tell my 21 year old self.

Here are things I wish I’d known before backing in Asia and Australia

10 things I wish I'd known before going backpacking around Asia and Australia

 

#1. This will be one of the happiest and most exciting times of your life

I always knew that backpacking in Asia was going to be good but I didn’t realise it would be one of the happiest, most exciting and the freest time of my life. Never again have I been able to travel around so freely, without a care in the world, without a proper plan and no one to look after but myself.

I spent a lot of time worrying about completely irrelevant or trivial things and I wish I’d just relaxed and enjoyed the freedom.

Views from Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

#2. You’ll need ¼ of the stuff you’ve packed

It took me nearly two years to figure this one out but once I’d managed to get rid of ¾ of the crap in my backpack I had so much more fun!

It is so liberating to travel with barely any stuff weighing you down. Physically, it’s lovely to have very little weight to lug around but mentally it makes your head feel so clear and light because you don’t have to think about possessions or what you’ll wear or protecting valuables or anything like that.

Looking fresh and squeaky clean just before I left home in September 2009!

#3. You can’t take too many photos

There’s only one thing I’d change if I went back in time and went backpacking again and that’s taking more photos. But not only taking them but also storing them safely. I lost a lot of photos from my travels because I lost memory cards or put them on laptops that broke and I didn’t bother to retrieve the data on them.

I’d love to do my whole trip again with a decent camera and the photography experience I have now!

Taken in Halong Bay, Vietnam

#4. Keep a record of your travels and you’ll thank yourself in 10 year’s time

This is something I did do but I wish I’d known how important it would be to me now and I would have done a better job.

I’m a writer, a journaller and a scrapbooker so it came naturally to me to keep a diary during my time travelling. This later turned into my blog but I do wish I’d put a bit more time and effort into those journals.

Reading them back now brings me to happy tears as I remember all the amazing experiences. But there are some days when I’ve written little more than, ‘It rained today. I got a mozzie bite. Just having some beers on the beach with some guys we met. Sunset is nice.’

And I’m like, ‘Whaaat? I don’t even remember this night but beers on the beach while watching the sunset sounds incredible. I want to know more!’

Kayaking in Koh Sok National Park, Thailand

#5. If you travel too quickly you’ll forget everything

There was a time when Sam and I travelled somewhere new every 2-3 days and this was WAAAY to quick. We spent about 1 month travelling through Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos so that’s little more than a week for each country and that’s just completely ridiculous. I don’t really remember what differentiates each country and my memories from this month are just one blurry mess.

It’s better to see less but experience more than rush around ticking things off your bucket list.

New Year’s Eve in Sydney

#6. Researching your destination before you arrive makes it better

I’m really embarrassed to admit this but we arrived in lots of places without really knowing what we were doing there. There’s often a natural route that backpackers follow or there’s famous places you stop off at because everyone else is there. But if you arrive feeling completely clueless you’re not going to have a good time.

You might stumble upon some great things to see and do but there’s also the chance you won’t stumble upon anything!

You really appreciate a place when you know a bit more about the history, culture and main attractions. I’m not saying you have to visit all the top tourist sites (usually quite the opposite!) but it’s nice to know what your options are.

VW campervan in Australia

The campervan we drove all the way around Australia in

#7. You’ll spend way more money than you’re expecting to

Here’s another embarrassing admission: I didn’t ever work out how much I spent during my trip. I was always too scared to work it out because I knew it was a staggering amount and now I’m not even sure I’d be able to because I had an Australian bank account I no longer have access to. I was away for just under two years and I’m pretty sure I spent close to £30,000.

Scuba diving in Bali

 

#8. You’ll miss the weirdest things from home

We used to have the longest and most random conversations about things we missed from home. It would usually be food but often the most normal food. Things like Custard Creams and roast potatoes were always on my list! We were eating some of the best food I’ve ever tasted but some days I just really wanted a Bourbon and a cup of PG Tips.

Taken somewhere during our Australia road trip

#9. Backpacking is going to change you for the better

We all know the cliché of those people who went backpacking and came home as vegan hippies who refuse to wear shoes and reject materialism and the corporate world. I’m not saying you’d come home like this but backpacking does change you!

Backpacking actually made me realise how much I love my home and love being close to my family and made me realise I shouldn’t take this for granted. It also makes you more adventurous and independent and I had this invincible feeling that if I can backpack around Asia I can pretty much do anything!

Taken on ‘The Beach’ in Thailand, the location from the film

 

#10. Coming home will be the saddest but happiest day ever

Coming home from a backpacking trip is the weirdest feeling ever because you’re so happy and so excited to be back and to see all the people you missed. But also so sad to have left behind this dreamy existence where you were free from the normal worries of everyday life and spent every day doing something new and exciting.

When Sam and I got home we had a big gathering with all our friends and I remember it being a complete rollercoaster of a day. One minute I was just so happy to be surrounded by my oldest friends and people I felt so comfortable and relaxed with. The next minute I was almost in tears because I didn’t want to be there, I wanted to be back on the beach in Bali! If you’re going backpacking, prepare yourself for this moment because it’s tough!

Hiking Mount Kinabalu in Borneo

 

 

TheTravelHack

Monica is the founder and editor of The Travel Hack. She began the blog in 2009 when she left the UK to travel around Asia and Australia for two years. She's now a professional blogger and has travelled around the world in search of stylish adventure travel. Monica has recently had her second baby and is determined to prove that travelling with a baby is possible!

SHOWHIDE Comments (5)
  1. I still look back at the year I worked in Switzerland and Austria with a month’s holiday in Australia, and I have that same happy/sad feeling. It must be much worse after a couple of years of backpacking! I had responsibilities like a job and rent to pay, so I wasn’t as free as backpacker.

    I totally agree that travel does change you for the better. Holidays are OK, but if you can you should seize the opportunity to live somewhere foreign. I did it through long term paid work, which is a great way to get under the surface of a place and actually live like a local.

  2. Ahhhh man, having done pretty much the exact same trip myself I totally agree with ALL of these!! I’m thankful I took tons of photos and kept my blog, and I’m thankful I had the foresight to research everywhere we went which lots of people we met didn’t so I saw their mistakes!

    (P.S. the photo above #2 is Koh Tao, not Phi Phi!)

  3. This is so true. I’ve just come back from 3 months of backpacking so nowhere near as long as you were away but I can completely relate to each and every one of these. I need to get my scrapbook done while it’s all still fresh in my head.

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