5 Practical Things To Know For Your Trip To Southeast Asia
words and illustrations by felicia williams // travel resources
Looking forward to your magical time in this incredible region? Here are some of the most important things you'll need to square away after you've booked your ticket.
5. YES, YOU'LL NEED A VISA
If you’re a holder of a US Passport, many countries in Asia and the Southeast Asian region require advance visas for entry. For my to China as well as my upcoming trip to Vietnam and Cambodia, I used a local visa service to secure my documents. Both China and India now remit an automatic 10 year, multiple entry visa for US Passport holders. This is very exciting since flights to cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Mumbai are becoming more frequent and more affordable. You can typically see round trip fares for about 700 US Dollars, and if you’re a frequent flyer looking for points, you can expect to see a return on your investment in the form of about 3,000 miles.
Be sure to shop around if you plan to use a service to secure your visa. Where you gain in peace of mind (someone professional is taking care of this for you) you lose in cost (someone professional is taking care of this for you). If you happen to live in city where the embassy for application can be made directly (lucky you San Franciscans!) it’s far more cost effective to simply get it done yourself.
There are also online resources for application (you don’t even have to pay for the horrid drug store photo anymore, you can take it yourself!). You’ll still need to mail in your passport to complete the application. Also, come prepared with some passport photos and copies of your passport in the case that you need to apply directly at the airport. Such is the case with Cambodia for US passport holders.
4. CONSULT A TRAVEL DOCTOR AT LEAST ONE MONTH IN ADVANCE
It’s always good to get the advice of a doctor before traveling to any region where there is a different set of diseases/local illnesses from your home country and region. By getting in to see your doctor a month out, you have plenty of time to start courses of medication that need to be completed before you leave. You can also spread out any missing immunization shots instead of being hit with 4 or 5 at a time.
In SE Asia, besides the typical threat of traveler's diarrhea, sun poisoning (yes, that’s a thing), the other three major considerations for the Southeast Asia region include Malaria, Dengue Fever, and potentially, Rabies.
Dengue Fever: I’ve both read about this terrible illness and had a first hand account from a friend who contracted this illness during one of his trips to this region. A mosquito borne illness, there is no immunization for this. Your best defense is long sleeved clothing and plenty of DEET at 30% or more (or PICARDIN, the alternative to DEET that doesn't run the risk of melting plastic like DEET does, at 20% or more). Dengue attacks the blood, so blood thinners like Advil or Aspirin are a no-no. Familiarize yourself with the symptoms and seek medical attention early to ease the very real discomfort you will experience. Better to put your adventure on pause to attend to your health, rather than risk further complications.
Malaria: It’s possible to take anti-malaria medication. The choices of today are much better than in the past. If you've been given a prescription of Malarone, you will need to take your medication starting 2 days before entering the region and continue on for 7 days once you leave. Again, consult your travel doctor for their advice.
Rabies: Yes, it is possible to be pre vaccinated for Rabies before entering a region or doing activities your suspect may expose you. Animals like dogs, bats and monkeys are all potential carriers and depending on your travels, you may come across them. If you have been bitten or scratched, seek medical attention immediately (within 24 hours).
3. PACK SOME BASIC MEDICINE (+EMERGENCY SNACK)
It’s always a good idea to pack some basic medication to get you through in a pinch, especially in packaging and with instructions written in your native language!
Tylenol // (pack this over Advil or Aspirin while in Southeast Asia as you have a smaller risk of it interfering with other medication or causing complications with blood borne illnesses like Dengue Fever). This is good for the occasional headache, body ache or any other minor ache that may come as a result of your rocking your travel life. You should also consult your doctor for their recommendations, as well.
Pepto Bismol Chewable // Nip stomach ailments on the bud using this course of action. Cipro may also be prescribed to you by your healthcare provider.
Dramamine or Motion sickness pills - Great for both snorkeling as well as helping stave off nausea caused by any other medication, like Malaria pills. Pack plenty of this, but do not take more than what is recommended.
Face Wipes // This isn’t just for gals. Guys can experience the awesomeness of this as well. Face wipes or Wilderness Wipes can give your face (and your underarms and neck, in case you have to travel long distances and can’t take a shower) the refresh it needs in just a single towelette. These are great for long haul flights and can be followed up with a damp paper towel (if accessible). Don’t confuse this with make-up removing wipes, which can contain oils or harsh chemicals that will leave you feeling more painted than fresh.
Claritin or any kind of antihistamine // I also recommend you travel with this in your pocket so that it is easily accessible in the case that you are hit with travel-style hay fever.
OTC Sleep Aid (Nyquil or the like) // This isn’t for regular use. Rather, this is for the first couple of nights where you might need a little boost to get on your new time schedule. Get a great night of sleep your first night in your new country and wake early to eat (placing your body firmly in a new time rhythm). You should even out fairly quickly, but it never hurts to have a little help.
Protein Bars // Good for an energy boost in a pinch, especially if you're in the middle of an awesome adventure and want to curb your hunger till it’s over. I usually pack 4 or 5 of these in my bag for a long trip (3 weeks). I don’t plan on eating them everyday, they are more like emergency rations.
2. Get VPN Access
Though it may not seem it, services like Google, Facebook and Instagram are not universal rights for all. There are plenty of places in the world where these sites and their applications are blocked from access. Don’t let this, or any other application you are attached to from your home, be left behind on your trip.
Acquiring a setting up a basic VPN isn’t as hard as you think (on my iPhone and Windows Surface Pro, I have a bevy of different VPN apps I can employ - including the cutely-named but effective Tunnel Bear) and it will save you a lot of headache and hassle, especially if things like your flight info, hotel info and other valuable info are only accessible from email accounts that are blocked in communist countries. You can also auto-forward mail from blocked accounts like Gmail to other approved accounts (Yahoo, Microsoft/Hotmail, etc.). And if you want to be even more badass about all of this...
1. Write The Most Important Stuff Down On Paper
Your flight times and plane information. Your hotel information. The directions to your hostel. The directions to the nearest internet cafe. You may A) not be able to use your phone (i.e. no access to the internet) or B) don’t want to pull out your phone (sketchy area or high likelihood of it being stolen or damaged).
This is the perfect time for your pull out that tiny notebook/scrap of paper and get all the info you need! Believe me, this will happen to you at least once, if not many times on any trip. Also, being able to hand your written instructions to a stranger (like a cab driver or person on the street) is a lot better than handing them your phone which contains much more valuable data like photos or contacts that may have not had the opportunity to sync to the cloud yet. And while yes, you can replace the hardware and apps, the items you can’t replace, like fun videos or other cherished memories will be tough to let go.
This is also a great place to write down a few catch phrases like “please”, “thank you”, “hello”, “yes” and “no”. Trust me, no local is expecting you to master their language, but the effort, even in a few simple, short words, can win over a majority of folks!
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