Photo: Want a cheap room?

So you’ve done the maths 20 times but you’re still a few hundred dollars short in the budget department. Here are some ways to reduce what you'll need to spend.

Don’t buy expensive hiking boots

Unless you are doing serious mountain climbing (such as up volcanoes in Indonesia, for example), you probably won’t need them. Hilltribe trekking in Southeast Asia generally isn’t like trekking in Nepal or Peru. Most people get by just fine with a good pair of sturdy sandals or runners. Hiking boots are hot, heavy, smell bad fast, and you’ll have to take them off over and over again to visit temples and enter guesthouses.

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Don’t buy malaria medication unless you really need it

Unless you’re planning on sleeping naked in a swamp in remote areas along the Thai/Burma border, or in some remote eastern areas of Indonesia, chances are you’ll not need to take malaria medication during your trip to Southeast Asia. If your family doctor starts writing out a script for months of malaria pills as soon as you say “Asia”, go and see a travel doctor for a second opinion.

If the travel doctor says you still need them, depending on which type are recommended, consider buying generic equivalents upon arrival in Asia, which should cost a fraction of the cost of what you’ll probably pay at home. But remember, if you are only visiting destinations on the main tourist trail in Southeast Asia, you probably don’t need them at all. Instead, use repellent, dress sensibly at mosquito feasting times (light-coloured clothing, with long sleeves and pants), and use a mosquito net. Dengue fever is more of a concern than malaria for most travellers, so you should do this anyway.

On guidebooks

Buy the book for the first country you’re heading to, and buy/swap as you travel for the others. Legacy publishers like Lonely Planet and Rough Guides often have PDF versions of their guidebooks, often by chapter, which can be a more cost effective way of buying your research material—and they weigh nothing.

We’re big fans of destination-specific guidebooks. Boil it down and buy the most specific guide you can. If you’re going only to Bali, buy a Bali guide—not an Indonesia or Southeast Asian guide.

If you’re looking at just buying a Southeast Asia guide, we’d say don’t bother. Use the internet. The regional guides (Southeast Asia on a Shoestring etc) are hardly worth using in our opinion and you’ll be far better served by the country-specific guidebook. Buy/swap/sell as you go.

Yes, pirated guidebooks are available, especially in Vietnam, but in buying those you are deliberately undercutting the publisher and the writers who work hard for them. Don’t buy pirated guidebooks—nor books for that same reason.

Don’t buy a sleeping bag

Unless you’re on a camping holiday, you won’t need it. If anything, get a sleep sheet or a couple of sarongs, but nearly all lodgings will have sheets, and treks will provide bedding for you. Sleeping bags are hot and they take up unnecessary space. While we’ve never encountered this, some hostels reportedly do not allow sleep sheets (out of fear you’re bringing bedbugs into the hostel). If a hostel is that concerned, they’ll be supplying decent bedding.

Travel second class

The train system in Morocco has “C class”—people joke the C stands for Corpses, Crates and Cattle. Thankfully 2nd and 3rd class in Asia is nowhere near as bad. In virtually all cases, 2nd class is more than enough—and it’s generally about half the price of first class.


Drink water not beer

Both beer and water are affordable in most of Southeast Asia. The former makes you fat and drunk, the latter slim and hydrated. While beer is often super cheap—say US$1-$2 for a big bottle—water is generally cheaper. Drink alcohol in moderation and you’ll be surprised at just how quickly the savings pile up—and that’s without even counting the greasy $5 American breakfast you’ll find yourself craving the morning after the night before.

Fan good air-con bad

You’re in the tropics so you know it's going to be hot, but evenings are often surprisingly cool. If you’re on the beach, look for rooms with good window space to let in that fine sea breeze instead of using air-con. In cities, you want a room on a higher floor and preferably with a window.

Money management

Check with your bank before leaving to find out just what charges they have for overseas withdrawals from ATMs and for cash advances. The fees may curl your hair so badly that even travellers cheques will look more sensible—bank fees on a month-long trip in Asia can easily rise into the hundreds of dollars. When your bank tells you they have a US$5 charge per foreign bank withdrawal, plus an extra 5% spread on the exchange rate, you know which way to run.


Food, food, food!

Most guesthouses will offer what they call an American breakfast. This is normally two greasy eggs, a couple of plastic sausages, manufactured ham and a decorative tomato or cucumber. Don’t be surprised when it costs US$5. Skip this overpriced fat-fest, walk out the door and plonk yourself down for some fried rice or noodle soup for a dollar on the street instead.

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Further reading

Planning well is an integral part of getting the most out of your trip. Be it picking the right backpack, the right vaccinations or the right country, the simple decisions are often the most important.


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