Your 1st Trip to Asia? Here Are 21 Things to Remember Before Your Take-off [A CHECKLIST]
24th July 2018
So, you’ve made the decision. You’re traveling to Asia for the first time. You’ve selected the place, sorted out your passport and visas, and secured all bookings. You’re all set.
Well, not quite yet. Here are 21 tips that will help brace yourself for your first Asia trip and make sure your dream trip doesn’t turn into a dream trap.
1. Protect yourself with vaccinations
Although usually not compulsory, they are recommended, and for a good reason.
Hepatitis A and B, cholera, diphtheria, typhus, rabies, Japanese encephalitis…, these are just a few hideous diseases that can get you seriously ill in no time. Or at least ruin your holiday.
Tip: Consult your local tropical medicine doctor for the latest information on the recommended vaccinations. You’ll probably need to cough up extra money on these jabs. However, most of them last 3-5 years.
2. Take care of travel insurance
It’s as vital as vaccinations and equally neglected.
‘I’ve been traveling for 10 years and I never needed it.’ Neither did I. Until I did when I suffered from pneumonia in Korea earlier this year.
When things go unexpectedly wrong, travel insurance will save you time, money, and, possibly, life.
Tip: There are a plethora of travel insurance offerings out there. The best option depends on many factors (country of residence, destination, the type of trip and activities, etc.). I have been using Allianz for the last 10 years or so and can recommend their services. To read more on the topic, see the exhaustive article from Nomadic Matt.
3. Prevent mosquito bites
Unless you’re flying to a 5-star resort or staying in the city, you must protect yourself from malaria and dengue.
Malaria can be prevented with the Malarone pills. However, they involve diverse side effects (violent nausea, splitting headaches, or hallucinations, to name a few), and cannot be mixed with alcohol and most prescription drugs. As for dengue, there’s no prevention.
Tip: Protect yourself with insect repellents. Wear long sleeves and pants, and use a mosquito net.
The usual repellents you use at home won’t work in Asia. There are several substances that efficiently scare off insects here, listed on this website. One of the most popular repellents is DEET, a spray invented by the American army.
4. Don’t forget about sunscreen
I am a vampire. My light complexion and a tendency for sunstrokes and fainting make a straw hat and an SPF50 my best buddies.
Even if you’re more resilient to hot weather than me, remember that the solar radiation in Asia in the summer season can be extremely intense. Pop a tube of sunscreen to your luggage, especially if you’re planning some beach time.
5. Pack anti-diarrhea pills
Traveler’s diarrhea (TD) is a real thing. I have never suffered from it, but this is a potentially life-threatening infection affecting 20-50% of travelers.
Tip: What are the prevention methods? Keeping your hands clean, drinking bottled water (use it for brushing your teeth, too!), and avoiding eating fresh fruit and vegetables that might have been washed under running water.
If worst comes to worst, make sure you have anti-diarrhea pills with you. The usual ones won’t do, so ask the chemist for meds that will specifically cure TD.
6. Buy baby wipes
…and use them lavishly. To keep your hands clean, to wipe off sweat, and when there’s no toilet paper around.
7. Practice your squats
Talking about toilets… In most countries in Asia, you will come across public toilets looking like this:
The squat toilet is quite convenient and hygienic, as you don’t need to touch anything, and the squatting position stimulates digestion. You just need some practice ahead;)
Tip: Squat toilets frequently lack toilet paper (hence the wipes), but have a water hose instead. Here’s some help on How to use a squat toilet.
8. Check prescription medicine regulations
This one is no laughing stock. Some medications commonly prescribed in the Americas or Europe are considered as narcotics in Asia, and traveling with them will be seen as drug smuggling, an offense that is oftentimes treated with the capital punishment.
Tip: If you take any prescription medicine, especially strong painkillers or sleeping pills, make sure they’re not on the banned list. Even so, in most cases, you may obtain a special permission that will allow you to take it abroad. That is provided you report it first and include all relevant documentation.
Browse the website of the local health agency or consult the embassy to learn about the local regulations. For example, these are the guidelines for Singapore: Bringing Personal Medication to Singapore and Thailand.
9. Check other dos and don’ts at the customs
The same rule applies to any other sensitive goods that you’d like to take with you to Asia. What are they? Examples include food, gun, alcohol, nicotine, Playboy magazines or… chewing gum.
Before traveling, check if they’re not on the banned item list.
10. Need to work? Get a local SIM + VPN
There’s no Google and Facebook in China, so if you’re planning to post your Insta updates live from the Great Wall, better get a decent VPN.
Wherever else you travel, wifi signal may be poor in some areas. If you suffer from FOMO or need a non-stop Internet access, buy a local SIM card (you’ll need to present your passport to purchase).
Tip: Remember that in some Asian countries your updates and searched content may be subject to close examination. Refrain from posting any sensitive content that may get you into trouble.
11. Take a power plug adapter
China uses 220V, 50HZ, A & C type plugs, Hong Kong is 200V; Taiwan is 110V. South Korea has 220-volt electricity, with type E or F plug. Thailand operates on a 230V supply voltage and 50Hz, with A, B, C plugs. And the list goes on…
Not to confuse yourself, just buy a universal global adapter & take it with you.
12. Bring a flask
Unless you travel to China or Korea in winter, most of Asia is mad hot and even more humid.
Fortunately, access to potable water is often provided in parks, metro stations, and in other public areas. It’s a good idea to carry a reusable bottle with you and fill it up every time you see a water dispenser.
CAREFUL!! Do not use water from the faucet. It is not drinkable and may be contagious. Fill up your flask only in places that are clearly designated. Read more about this topic here.
13. Protect your wallet
Scams happen, especially in tourist-heavy places. I once had my card blocked once after a trip to Sri Lanka. Be wary; your cash and cards, carry them in two or three different pockets. Don’t carry large amounts of cash with you. Set a daily limit to your card payments.
Tip: Be careful with payment in hotels. In some countries, it is customary to pre-authorize your card upon arrival. That means you won’t be charged, but your money will be frozen on the account for 7-14 working days so you won’t have access to it anyway throughout that period. Make sure you have a backup stack until the money is refunded to you after that period.
14. Copy your ID
Some travelers suggest never to carry your passport around. Other advise you the opposite. I prefer to have my passport with me at all times, as in some countries you may get IDed in the streets. Also, a passport may be necessary for some purchases.
Tip: Make a copy of your passport and keep it in the hotel + upload it to the cloud for easy access should your ID got stolen.
16. Pack mini-cosmetics & a night’s change in carry-on
You’re in for a long flight. Maybe a red-eye, possibly a transfer or two.
Travel light, but have a change of clothes with you. And a few indispensable cosmetics in travel-size containers. As for bigger volumes, don’t go crazy about it. You can buy shampoo and soap in Asia, too;)
Major Asian airports often exceed the European standard. There will be public showers and relax rooms at many of them so you can wash and change there.
17. Get a rain bag cover for your backpack
You may need it for two reasons. The first one is, well… to protect your stuff from unexpected heavy rain.
The second reason is transport. Backpacks can get really messy at international airports where they’re tossed and turned around. To protect your luggage from loss and damage, and give your backpack a longer life, wrap it in a rain cover.
18. Take a waterproof jacket
As above, rain happens even on paradise islands. And when it does, it can get violent. Check your destination for the chance of unexpected rain (Singapore, Tokyo, Beijing?? These places can get wet!), and definitely get some waterproof clothing if you’re heading for Asia anywhere near the monsoon season.
19. Behold mighty macaques!
My personal obsession. They’re petite, cute, and can rip your bag apart looking for some sweets. No, I’m not talking about the Mean Girls. I mean them:
They are pestering countless tourists, looking for food and drink. Don’t play with them, don’t feed them, and don’t approach a mother with a baby. They can and will bite when bothered.
Tip: Have a look here for common-sense advice on how to scare away annoying monkeys.
20. Don’t opt in for all-inclusive
Thailand, Singapore, Japan, India, they are all famous for delicious, rich food. If you’re going to stay in a resort or a fancy hotel and are tempted to take the all-inclusive package, think twice. You can get the bacon and eggs classic at home every Sunday.
Be daring, explore the culture through food. In Asia, this is such a quintessential part of the local identity!
21. Take it easy on the wardrobe
Pack smart, not suave. Don’t overdo it with your wardrobe. And hair straightener. Pack a week’s change of comfy, breathable clothing. There are laundry shops all around so you can wash it.
Save luggage allowance for souvenirs and food on the way back. You also don’t need that hair straightener. It’s hot, humid and windy. Your hair will be ruined anyway.
Safe travels and enjoy your unbelievable trip!