When you talk to travelers who have had life-changing experiences many times trips to Indonesia, Japan or Thailand are at the center of their stories. Asia is a magical place and has so much to offer travelers; rich culture, amazing food, and a strange union of the ancient and modern worlds that is hard to describe until you experience it yourself.
The first step to planning your trip to Asia is deciding where to go and how adventurous you are going to be. Do you want to zip around Tokyo on the subway bathed in the glow of neon lights, or take a small boat out to the Gili Islands and wake up in small thatch roof hut on a white sand beach?
Both are amazing experiences, but since most travelers have a limited amount of time (1-2 weeks) I suggest selecting one destination and really taking it in.
After a 12-18 hour flight, jetlag, and the general sensory overload that you get when arriving in a new country, giving yourself enough time to get acclimated before diving in can make a big difference in how much you enjoy the rest of your trip.
If you are traveling from the US like I did, the largest expense that deters many travelers is the cost of the flight. With roundtrip flights ranging between $1,000-$2,000 to popular destinations like Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Bali, it can be a real barrier to those longing to travel across the Pacific. However, there are several ways you can save, the first and most obvious, is to travel in the offseason. I have found that ticket prices are often the cheapest from September-November to most major airports in Asia, even popular tropical destinations like Bali have great deals in the offseason and still have 80° temperatures.
If the offseason isn’t an option, you can also save on flights if you are willing to do a little more logistical planning. Flights from cities like San Fransico, Los Angeles, and Vancouver often are much less expensive than flying from other major US cities, and it is likely that your flight will connect through one of these three cities anyways on the way to your destination in Asia. I have booked round trip flights from Los Angeles to Tokyo for around $400 when a flight from Dallas would cost over $1,200 because of the additional flight from Dallas to Los Angeles. Booking on a domestic carrier like Southwest for less than $100 each way (Southwest is great for this since they give you two checked bags) to and from Los Angeles saved me around $500. Sure, mixing and matching your airlines can be a bit of a pain, but an extra $500 can go a long way on your trip. This same strategy to save once you arrive in Asia by booking with regional airlines like Air Asia, which also opens up shopping alternative airports for your destination.
Where to Stay:
While there are standard hotels and resorts all across Asia, a great budget-friendly option is staying at hostels which can range from basic dormitory type rooms to well-appointed private rooms which are more like a traditional hotel. It is recommended that you book ahead for popular destinations. Don’t let the name “hostel” dissuade you, many of these properties would be better described as boutique hotels with dormitories and have some amazing amenities with prices ranging from under $5 a night for a dormitory room to well over $100 a night for private rooms. Pricing often depends on the country and season, Hostelworld.com is a great resource for booking hostels and hotels and lets you sort by guest ratings, price, and other categories.
Another alternative to traditional hotels is Airbnb which is operating in most Asian countries and offers incredible value for travelers looking for a little more space. I used Airbnb on my last long term trip to Tokyo, having an apartment with a kitchen, laundry, and workspace made the trip much more enjoyable and saved me over $400 when compared to booking at a major chain.
Something many travelers don’t correctly budget for is in-country travel, depending on where you are public transportation, taxis, rental cars/scooters, and pedestrian options can vary wildly. When planning your trip, research the best way to see the city you are in, from renting bicycles in Kyoto to riding the trains in Hong Kong be sure to know how you will be getting around and roughly what it will cost. Also, if you plan on using ride-sharing services, make sure your provider of choice is available in your destination, last year Uber left many Asian markets leaving only regional services that you aren’t likely to have on your phone.
While I am on the subject of apps, staying connected in Asia doesn’t need to be restricted to wifi. If your mobile phone provider doesn’t have a built-in international plan roaming program there are a few options. First, call your cell phone provider and see if they have an add on for the destination(s) you are planning to visit. Many times these fees are $5-$10 a day which can add up very quickly. After a trip where I racked up $70 a week in added charges, I started using local SIM cards on my longer trips. These SIM cards are generally less than $20 a month provides limited amounts of data, SMS, and calling services which will at least keep you connected without blowing your budget. These temporary local plans can vary depending on the country and carrier so some research before you arrive to know which provider to will work best for you. SIM cards are often sold at airports, major hotel gift shops, and of course cell phone stores.
Since I do travel so much, having access to my apps for booking travel, banking, and using maps are essential, I switched to a carrier that not only includes coverage for phone, SMS, and data in over 200 countries, but they also give me access to free in-flight wifi on most major airlines. This switch has saved me over $1,000 a year in roaming fees, so if you are going to be traveling a lot you might want to shop cell phone service providers.
Exploring different parts of Asia has created some of my fondest memories, from cycling around Kyoto with my best friend to seeing the sunrise over Mount Bromo, traveling, learning, and connecting with different people and cultures has defiantly changed me. Every time I travel back I get to experience something completely different and return home with photos, stories, and new friends. If you are looking for help to plan your own adventure to Asia, Mint can help you map out your plan to saving for the perfect life-changing experience abroad.