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8 great travel hacks for Southeast Asia and beyond

Planning a holiday? Here’s a handful of travel hacks that we’ve accumulated on our trips to the fabulous destinations that are right on Singapore’s doorstep, and those that are further afield.

Travel Hacks - Packing

#1 Read before you go (and while you’re there)

Reading not only prepares you for the travel experience, it enhances the wonderful anticipation of your trip. Guides, memoirs and histories can be bulky, so you may prefer to read them beforehand and leave them at home. You can search your local library for these, or splash out and purchase a few titles through Amazon. Better yet, get them as e-books so you have them on hand while you’re travelling.

Perhaps you prefer online research – for example, trawling through TripAdvisor for little tips. (Our rule of thumb for that website is to pay more attention to three- and four-star reviews, and reviews by long-time members, than to glowing five-star reviews by first-time users.) Google Maps is an excellent tool for learning more about your destination, and you can pre-download areas to your device for offline use, so you don’t need to fret about expensive roaming charges or constantly searching for Wi-Fi.


#2 Sort your suitcase

We all know to pack as lightly as possible, but there are some specific items that continuously come in handy when abroad. In Southeast Asia, for example, you’re going to want these three things in your medical kit: insect repellent, toilet paper and ear plugs. (Different members of our editorial team have been kept awake on their travels by everything from the constant roar of motorbikes, to the morning call to prayer, and even very loud frogs!) Other great items to include in your bag include a lightweight, quick-drying towel, and a bunch of zip-lock bags of various sizes. Also, don’t forget the liquid limits for carry-on luggage at airports.


#3 Remember the visa

Travel Hacks - Visas

“Ticket, money, passport!” That’s the mental checklist most of us repeat on the way to the airport to satisfy ourselves that we’re ready to fly. But one thing that’s easily overlooked is visas. These generally work one of three ways: you apply before you travel (usually online, but it can involve a visit to an embassy or an agency); you apply once you’ve arrived at your destination; or you don’t need one at all as a short-term visitor.

Thankfully, visa on arrival is common in Southeast Asia, but it’s not available everywhere; and it also depends on your own nationality whether you can apply in this way. So, do your research (keeping in mind that requirements often change), make sure you’ve got the right number of blank pages in your passport, get some additional passport photos taken, and keep scanned copies of any documentation in an email.


#4 Eat where locals eat

Imagine this scenario: you’re in a two-restaurant town; one restaurant is spacious and spotless, the other is cramped and a little grubby. The temptation, of course, is to eat at the first place. But keep in mind who’s dining where. If locals are lining up for the small restaurant while the spic-and-span joint is mostly empty, then it’s obvious who does the best dishes. Also, with more food going out the door, you’re likely to get fresher ingredients.

You can use this technique here in Singapore too. Take a look around any hawker centre and you’re bound to see one or two stalls with long, snaking queues. If you’ve got the time to wait, it’s worth joining these queues – they generally mean the locals are onto a good thing!


#5 Watch your money

Travel Hacks - Tuk-Tuks

Be especially savvy with your cash when it comes to travelling in local vehicles – so, negotiate a fee with your tuk-tuk driver before you take off; ask taxi drivers to use their meters; count your change at the end, and so on.

Having said that, coming up a few dollars short here and there isn’t the end of the world. The cost of living is very low in many destinations in Southeast Asia, so don’t worry too much if you overpay for something. Sure, haggle in the markets – that’s the way things are done in this part of the world. But what’s the point of insisting on unrealistic, rock-bottom prices or getting angry in a negotiation?


#6 Be aware of the weather

Do some simple research into the best times to visit various countries. (See, for example, our tips on finding the best beach locations over summer.) We’re not saying you should only go when the weather is at its prime; some destinations are brilliant in the shoulder season because the crowds are smaller. Just be aware of things like monsoon systems, hottest times of the year, water visibility if you intend to dive, and so on.


#7 Brush up on travel photo etiquette

Travel Hacks - Photography

If you’re taking someone’s portrait, ask if it’s okay first. Don’t know the language? Try to make eye contact with the person, and then point to your camera – with a bit of luck, you’ll get a nod! Take extra care in religious sites or cemeteries, where people can be in heightened emotional states.

This hack extends to being respectful of locals and their customs. If there’s a big pile of shoes at the front door of a person’s home, that’s a clue to take yours off too! And wear the appropriate clothing for the location or occasion – when visiting temples, for example. (If you read up on your destination before you go – see Travel Hack #1 in this article – following etiquette will be a breeze.)


#8 Make sure you’re covered

Following our list of travel hacks is a great start for ensuring a smooth trip; but, as we all know, travel is unpredictable. And, while unexpected encounters can lead to some of the greatest travel experiences, there are incidents and illnesses we’d all like to avoid – not only can they ruin a wonderful holiday, they can also be achingly expensive. So, it’s crucial you have the right level of cover for your trip.

Travel Hacks - Contented Traveller

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