Posts Tagged ‘travel’

6 Things I Miss Most While Traveling

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Every once in a while I seriously consider traveling long-term and never returning to the U.S. Of course, I would never actually do this because I would miss my family and friends too much. But there are also many other downsides to traveling that we often forget about. As amazing as travel is, there are some things about home that will always keep me coming back.

1. Western Food

Yes, foreign food is amazing. I didn’t think I would ever get sick of many of these cuisines. But sometimes you really just want the comfort of the foods you grew up with, like a New York pizza or even just a good sandwich. It’s rough to be stuck in a place where they don’t make it quite the same.

2. Established Friendships

OK, this one is a no-brainer. Sure, you’re meeting so many friends from all over the world and it’s great. But sometimes it’s nice to have a friendship that lasts more than a week or two (not including ongoing WhatsApp messages). And it can also get extremely tiring to go through the same small talk with new acquaintances all of the time. I get to the point where if someone mentions they are leaving the hostel within the next day, I find an excuse to end the conversation. I know it’s terrible, but socializing is exhausting!

3. The Basics

Traveling definitely makes you appreciate a lot of things you always took for granted. I miss being able to order delivery in NYC anytime I want, rather than having to brave the streets during a storm because the hostel doesn’t have a restaurant. I miss being able to find everything I need at the store. I miss being nearly certain I’ll be able to communicate with any given person during my day. Even more basically, I miss toilet paper and bathroom doors that lock. Oh, and then there’s also all the times I miss bathrooms period.

4. Material Things

It’s nice to be a minimalist, but sometimes I miss having stuff. I hate having to live out of a bag. I miss having a room that’s decorated to match my personality with nostalgic memorabilia rather than generic room after room. No matter how hot and tropical the country you’re visiting, there’s something cold about bare white walls.

5. Internet Access

There’s definitely something nice about taking a technology detox for a few days here and there. There are even days when I’m grateful that the WiFi doesn’t work and I’m forced to just relax. On the other hand, there are plenty of times when I feel isolated and disconnected from family, friends, and current events. More importantly, there are times when having WiFi could be a life-saver, like when your credit card stops working.

6. Personal Space

I stay in hostels and take public transportation 90% of the time when I’m traveling. I’ve also taken a few group tours. This means I’m usually in loud and overcrowded environments. Whenever I come back from a trip, I cherish my alone time. I spend a few days at home doing absolutely nothing before I’m ready to be social again.

7. Sleep

People tend to think travel = vacation. Not true. At least not the way I (and most backpackers) travel. You’re constantly on the go. Waking up early for tours, hikes, or just to catch the sunrise. Racing around to catch the next mode of transportation. Even when you do have time for 8 hours of sleep, it’s still nearly impossible to make use of it. You’re bound to encounter a few inconsiderate hostelmates who like to turn the lights on in the middle of the night, play music without headphones, or are just simply loud.

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Singapore on a Budget

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singapore budget marina bay sands

Singapore is one of the most expensive countries in Southeast Asia, and you could definitely have a luxurious vacation here if you wanted to spend that kind of money. But you really don’t need much money at all to get the full local experience.

Accommodations

You’re probably looking at $15-$25 USD a night, which is still much more expensive than Thailand or Vietnam. But it’s doable and much better than Western European prices.

Food

singapore food hawker centers budget cheap

Hawker centers are basically huge, diverse food courts. You can easily get a full meal for under $6 USD and they have some of the best food I’ve ever had. Hawker centers began as a way to regulate formerly unhygienic street hawker food. Now they’re a staple and some food stalls even have Michelin stars. My favorite hawker center was Lau Pa Sat, which is probably the most popular choice. It’s also a very local experience as many of the local business people eat here.

Transportation

Public transit in Singapore is the way to go. It’s efficient and cheap (half the cost of the subway in New York). It’s also cleaner than anywhere I’ve been in Europe for sure!

Budget Activities

Marina Bay Sands

Singapore marina bay sands gardens by bay budget

Go to the top and take in the views. We got drinks, but you can actually go up for free and look over a small (but crowded) balcony that’s open to the public. Beats spending $500 a night to stay there.

Gardens by the Bay

This is completely free and one of my favorite thing to do in Singapore. You could definitely spend hours here. I went both at night and during the day and I just couldn’t get enough. If you don’t have a lot of time, try and go at night because the lights are beautiful.

Botanical Gardens

singapore botanical gardens free

The Botanical Gardens are also free to the public. There are some gardens that cost extra, but we were already so overwhelmed with all of the free options that it’s hard to imagine getting bored.

Explore the Neighborhoods of Singapore

Walk around Chinatown, Little India, and Arab Street to absorb the local street culture. Singapore is all about the immersion of different cultures. Be sure to check out the local food, architecture, and shops.

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5 Things I Wish I Knew Before My First African Safari

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This year, I (quite spontaneously) embarked on the journey of a lifetime when I booked an African safari tour. I took part in several game drives throughout the trip and the experience was unforgettable. But there are a few things I wish I knew beforehand.

1. You May Not See the Big Five

lion african safari

In fact, it’s very likely that you won’t. I only saw a few, but I was lucky and grateful to see the animals I did see. It’s very much a luck of the draw whether you will see very many animals at all. This is difficult to accept after spending a fortune on the trip and it’s important to stay positive and focus on what you do see and learn. Personally, I was glad to see the beautiful African landscapes, even if the wildlife was a bit sparser than I had hoped. Moreover, I think it’s important to relax and stay in the moment. It’s easy to become caught up in desperately searching for the Big Five and miss out on what’s currently going on around you.

2. Not All Safaris Are Created Equal

sunset african safari botswana

There’s a reason why some national parks, like Masai Mara and the Serengeti, are more popular (and expensive). They simply have the best landscapes and selection of wildlife. I chose to skip on these due to the cost. Instead, I went to Etosha and Chobe National Parks. I still had an unbelievable time and got to see many animals, but I regret not doing a safari in the former locations. The photos that my travelmates had from the Serengeti were National Geographic-worthy. They saw so much wildlife, and their view was unobstructed due to fewer trees and flat land.

3. Get a Seat in Front and Wear Layers

storm african safari botswana landscapeI really wish I had made a point of this. While some jeeps are better than others, for the most part it’s difficult to see everything over the people next to and in front of you. When you sit in front, you can get a better view of the animals from multiple angles. I also found it difficult to hear the guide and ask questions from the back.

I was also surprised to find that it can get really cold when you head out for a morning safari. In my case, we started at our campsite and drove over the main roads to the national park so it was also very windy. Wear layers so you can keep warm until the sun comes up.

4. Rent a Good Camera or Lens

hippos hippopotamus chobe safari AfricaI actually don’t own a good camera. When I travel, I just rely on my phone. In most destinations it’s much more convenient than carrying around a camera and I don’t have to worry as much about damaging it. Although the Google Pixel does take better photos than most, it still didn’t have many features that are practically necessary for an African safari. Most importantly, it doesn’t have a good zoom function. Luckily, I was able to rely on others on my trip for good photos, but I really wish I could have taken some of my own.

Whether you don’t own a camera or just don’t have good lenses, you can rent them without making a commitment and shelling out a fortune. BorrowLenses lets you rent equipment for very reasonable prices.

5. You May Get Emotional
elephant african safari big five

Okay, this one may be just me. But seeing wildlife up close is amazing and inspiring. We saw lions mating right next to our vehicle, baboons protecting their young, and elephants just being their majestic selves. I did tear up a few times. It often felt like a spiritual experience.

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Voluntourism: Why I Didn’t Volunteer in Africa

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voluntourism volunteering africa school childrenI recently went on a tour of Africa. 40 days, 6 countries, and a whole lot of unforgettable experiences. However, I’d wanted to visit Africa for years and I had always planned on going as a volunteer. I wanted to make a difference. But as I started to read more about the concept of “voluntourism,” I learned that my good intentions could actually leave damaging marks on the communities I visited.

For one, I don’t have the skills to make a genuinely positive impact. This is true of most who go on voluntourism trips. Instead, local communities often use more resources for training volunteers than they would if they just hired local workers. In addition, even with training, volunteers are usually still not equipped with the skills necessary to do a good job. I’ve heard countless stories of missionaries going to build schools or hospitals only for the locals to have to rebuild.
It would have been much more cost-efficient for the locals to take the volunteer’s money and put it towards the project directly rather than towards their training.

I also do not think that 40 days is enough time to dedicate to volunteering. In addition to the time and resources that the communities need to dedicate to each new volunteer, it can also be damaging to continuously have new volunteers come and go. This is especially true in orphanages, schools, and hospitals. Many of the children may already be traumatized. Becoming attached to new people that will leave a few weeks later is not helping the cause.

Furthermore, there’s the issue of the “white savior” complex. Constantly having volunteers coming in from Western society perpetuates the view that impoverished communities are helpless and can only be “saved” by outsiders. This is especially true with children. In schools and orphanages, children may come to view their white visitors as their heroes. These visitors who are having the ultimate “volunteer experience” for just a few weeks are revered, as opposed to the local teachers, administrators, and even parents who work full-time to improve their situation. Moreover, this complex leads communities to depend on the short-term help that voluntourism provides rather than developing long-term solutions to create a self-sustainable foundation.

Finally, after reading about the detriments of voluntourism, I had to reevaluate my true intentions behind wanting to volunteer. Many volunteers just want something to put on their resumes or new Instagram photos. I thought my motivation was better, but was it really? Did I really want to help people, or did I want to feel like I was helping people? If I’m being completely honest, my inspiration was at least a little bit selfish. I think that most volunteering is a bit selfish, and that’s fine if it ultimately brings good. But it can also be misleading. It can lead us to believe that we are doing good simply because a little child comes up to hug us. We want to believe we are doing good so we look for any immediate signs to support this hypothesis. We don’t realize how much effort and time it would really take to make a difference. More importantly, we ignore the harm we are doing in the process.

I’m not saying that all volunteering is bad. In fact, I met many volunteers while I was traveling who seemed to be making a difference. These volunteers were skilled doctors, nurses, and teachers who were able to commit several months to the cause. I think this is one of the few exceptions to the voluntourism problem. However, I think there are other ways to make a positive impact for those of us who do not have these skills. We can help by donating and increasing awareness. And as Charlotte Robertson suggests we can help behind the scenes of organizations where locals are the ones working in the field. This eliminates the problem of the white savior complex while also ensuring that the people who know what’s best for their community are the ones doing the work.

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How I Spent A Month in Vietnam for Under $500

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vietnam travel budget backpacking

A lot of people ask me how I can afford to travel so much. There’s a very in-depth answer to this that I’ll share in a future post, which includes frugal living, saving, side jobs, and prioritizing. But choosing affordable destinations is equally important. Here’s how I spent a month traveling through Vietnam for less than $500. You may spend more or possibly even less depending on your spending habits and priorities.

Budget Breakdown
  • Visa: $40
  • Transportation: $91
  • Accommodation: $84
  • Food: $51
  • Alcohol: $18
  • Water: $9
  • Toiletries and Necessities: $7
  • Tours and Activities: $192

Total: $492

Vietnam Visa

The cost of a visa will vary depending on your country of citizenship, as well as where you apply. I found it was much cheaper to apply for my visa in Cambodia than it would have been to apply in advance in the US.

Transportation

I traveled throughout Vietnam exclusively by bus. Many were overnight buses, which were surprisingly comfortable and I had a (mostly) positive experience. However, I’ve definitely heard horror stories as well. Alternatively, you could take planes or trains, which are a bit more expensive but still a lot cheaper than you would pay nearly anywhere else in the world. For $91, I took buses from HCMC-> Mui Ne-> Da Lat-> Hoi An-> Hue-> Hanoi-> Sa Pa-> Cat Ba.

Accommodation

I stayed mostly in hostels and homestays, with the occasional night on a sleeping bus or boat. Rates per night ranged from $2-$7. I definitely wasn’t staying in the nicest hostels, but I made sure not to skimp on anything that was important to me either. Check out my post for tips on picking the best hostels.

Food and Drinks

vietnamese food hanoi

I will admit I probably spent less than the average person in this category. Many of the hostels I stayed in included meals and free/discounted water refills. I also ate mostly budget-friendly, local food rather than dining at tourist restaurants. Western food tends to cost nearly double, but when you’re traveling for a long time I can understand the appeal. I also had the occasional night out, but I didn’t get too heavy with the drinking. Alcohol is very cheap in Vietnam, with mixed drinks coming in under $4, but this can add up quickly if you’re a big partier.

Tours and Activities

A lot of budget backpackers like to skimp on tours in order to save money for alcohol and food. I tend to believe in the opposite philosophy. While I definitely prefer to experience culture through interacting with locals as opposed to taking tours, there are some things that you just can’t do otherwise. I do not regret any of the activities I paid extra for and I highly recommend abseiling, Mr. Rot’s Secret Tour in Da Lat, and trekking in Sa Pa.

Tour Breakdown
  • Sand dune tour in Mui Ne: $10
  • Abseiling in Da Lat: $32
  • Mr. Rot’s Secret Tour: $35
  • Overnight cruise of Halong Bay: $94
  • Trekking in Sa Pa: $26
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Living with the Locals in Sa Pa, Vietnam

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sa pa vietnam trekking

Sa Pa lies up in the North of Vietnam among the mountains. It’s a very scenic town and some even call it the Vietnamese Alps. Unfortunately, it’s become very touristy and the city center is no longer a pleasant area to stay due to aggressive sales people and over-priced restaurants. But a 2-hour hike brings you to the most amazing views and a true local experience if you dare to take a chance.

Most people who visit Sa Pa book an organized tour, often leaving from Hanoi. Others take the bus or train to Sa Pa and book a homestay through one of the Hmong people advertising on the streets. While a homestay is nice in theory, most are crowded and not much different than staying in a hotel or hostel.

I was lucky enough to get some great tips from fellow travelers prior to arriving, including the contact information for a local Hmong woman. As soon as my travel buddies and I arrived in Sa Pa, I called her and arranged to go trekking and spend the night in her home.

The next day, we met Mama Sumy and she took us trekking through the mountains to her small village in the hills. While the hike wasn’t too difficult overall, we did struggle with some steep inclines that we were amazed Sumy easily climbed in slippers. Throughout the trek, she offered a lot of insight into our surroundings, showing us green tea plants, her family’s rice field plot, and the local animals. We were careful not to disturb the wild buffalo as we walked a mere 5 feet away from them. Mama Sumy even made us hats out of the wild plants.

sa pa vietnam trekking mountains

That night, we headed back to her home, which was modest but much more developed than we would have thought. She made us tea and introduced us to her two small puppies. She even showed us the marijuana plants growing in her yard but informed us that they were strictly for selling to tourists as most locals do not smoke. Later we chopped vegetables and helped cook dinner, which was a delicious feast of spring rolls, beef, and stir fried veggies.

We were joined by her 15-year-old son for dinner. Her husband was away in town for work and her other three children were in school. Because the school is a long hike away, most students live there during the week and come home for the weekend. Although Sumy spoke English very well, her son did not since it is not taught in school.

After dinner, we still had a lot of time to kill before bed. Sumy insisted that we all drink some “Happy Water.” When asked what was in it, she simply replied, “alcohol!” It was much too strong for us! We pulled out some cards and attempted to teach her and her son a game. We quickly realized the language and cultural barriers made this difficult. Even games that seemed simple to us proved to be too different for them to understand. But we had fun trying!

The next day, Sumy made us pancakes for breakfast. She gave us bananas which we rolled in the pancakes and ate like hot dogs. She then insisted that we try on her traditional clothing! We looked ridiculous and she had a good laugh. Afterwards, we hiked back to the city center of Sa Pa.

This was one of the most memorable travel experiences for me. There were definitely more moments of silence than I’m used to and some uncomfortable situations, but I highly recommend that everyone stay with a local from a truly different culture at least once.

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Da Lat, Vietnam: Not to be Missed

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da lat vietnam

When it comes to Vietnam, the backpacking route that most travelers take is pretty simple: Saigon, Mui Ne, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue, and Hanoi, with a stop in Halong Bay. Maybe because its less talked about and more difficult to get to, many people skip Da Lat. Big mistake. Along with Sa Pa (also skipped by many), Da Lat was one of my favorite places in Vietnam by far. The people are so friendly, the city center is lovely, and there are so many activities.

Where to Stay

Backpacking accommodation options in Da Lat are unique in that they are mostly homestays with friendly and personable hosts. They usually include free breakfast and family dinner nights. I stayed at Lucky D’s Hostel, which I cannot recommend enough! Lucky was such a friendly man who cooked for us some nights and took us out to dinner other nights, often on his own dime. He also did our laundry for us and really made us feel at home.

What to Do

I found that there was a seemingly endless amount of things to do in Da Lat. Even just walking around the city is very pleasant as the people are so friendly and there is a beautiful lake, where you can sit and sip from a bottle of the local wine. Every evening there’s a night market, which sells very affordable fake “North Face” jackets and sweaters (which you’ll need here) as well as handmade goods.

While Da Lat isn’t as much of a party town as some other cities in Vietnam, I enjoyed the nightlife here much more. There’s a place called 100 Roofs Cafe, also known as Maze Bar, and it may have been the most fun I’ve ever had at a bar. It’s five or so stories of twists, turns, and little nooks; a full-on maze. Definitely not a place that locals frequent but a great place to get lost, meet new people, and laugh.

Day Trips

canyoning da lat vietnam

While I adored the city of Da Lat, my favorite parts of my stay were actually my day trips into the highlands. On my first full day I went canyoning (~$30), which involved abseiling down cliffs and waterfalls. The tour also included sliding down waterfalls! It was such a blast and the falls were beautiful. It’s geared towards beginners so don’t let fear hold you back!

On a different day we booked Mr. Rot’s Secret Tour. As the name implies, we didn’t know what we were getting into but other backpackers I met were raving about it. While I don’t want to ruin the surprise, I can tell you that this was one of the best tours I’ve ever taken and they stray away from the touristy in favor of the authentic. The tour guide himself once belonged to a local tribe so he knows what he’s doing. Furthermore, Mr. Rot and the other guides bring so much humor and life into the trip that it’s impossible not to have a good time. Book at the Villa Pink House and try not to do too much research or you’ll ruin the surprise!

What to Eat

We ended up not paying for many meals since they were either included in our hostel or in the tours we booked. However, we thoroughly enjoyed the street food that we did try. If you walk through the local mall, you’ll find an abundance of authentic local food options on the other side. When we went, we were the only Westerners there! Bún riêu was a dish that really stood out and seems to be more popular here than in other Vietnamese cities.

How to Get There

Unfortunately, Da Lat is a bit difficult to get to because of its location in the mountains. We got a bus from Mui Ne, which took about 6 hours and was fairly painless (and a bargain at $4). However, if you’re coming from the North it’s a much less comfortable ride. Upon leaving, we took the bus to Nha Trang, which was about four hours but very bumpy and dangerous. The bus drivers here are a bit aggressive, which leads to a lot of swerving and short stops.

Your other option is to fly in/out. The local airport has flights to Danang (a quick bus ride from Hoi An), Ho Chi Minh, and Hanoi.

 

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Group Tours vs Solo Travel

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group tours thailand
One dilemma a lot of backpackers face is whether they should join group tours or truly go at it on their own. There are benefits and drawbacks to both. Group tours are like having built-in friends, while solo travel can get lonely in some cities. Group tours also save you a lot of the hassle of planning. On the other hand, group tours are generally more expensive than traveling on your own and don’t give you the same flexibility. Ultimately, I think it comes down to where you’re going. Here’s a guide based on my personal experience.

When to Use Group Tours

  • Traveling in unsafe countries, such as the Middle East. I don’t think this one requires further explanation
  • Traveling in countries with limited or confusing public transport, such as most of Africa. Some choose to rent cars, but I wouldn’t recommend doing this on your own as the roads and laws are much different than what you’re used to.
  • Covering a large amount of ground in a short time. Tour guides are experts at making sure you maximize your time in each spot. Plus, trying to plan this on your own can be a real headache.
  • Traveling somewhere expensive, such as Japan. I know this sounds contradictory. Didn’t I say that group tours are more expensive? Yes and they usually are, especially for cheap countries. But for more expensive countries you save money since, again, the tour guides know where to stay and the cheapest ways to get from Point A to Point B. Plus, they are often able to get deals since they are booking for such a large group of people.
  • When you’re nervous or a first time solo traveler. I did a group tour my first time traveling by myself. While it was definitely more expensive than it would have been to explore Thailand on my own, it gave me peace of mind and the confidence to travel by myself going forward. Plus, I was way too shy at that point to make friends on my own.
  • Visiting areas with language barriers. Towns where the tourism industry is less developed may be less likely to speak English. This can be a real struggle if you’re on your own and aren’t fluent in the local language.
  • Visiting major cities. This one is more of personal preference and you may have a different experience. But I find that major cities, especially in Europe, are so fast-paced that it’s difficult to make friends. Backpackers tend to rush from site to site and stay in one place for a shorter period of time, as opposed to small towns where people linger and explore.

When to Travel Solo

I’m of the mindset that everyone should travel on their own at least once. It’s a life-changing experience and really causes you to grow as an individual. In fact, I would recommend solo travel in more situations than not. This is especially true in the following cases.

  • Visiting well-traveled areas, like Thailand or Vietnam. They’re so popular that you don’t have to worry as much about safety. You can also read almost everything you need to know about getting around online.
  • Visiting famously cheap countries.  Countries in Southeast Asia, Central America, and South America belong in this category. You’ll spend so much more by doing a tour. I recently received a newsletter advertising tours for Cambodia that were nearly double what I paid traveling solo.
  • Notoriously friendly regions. Although I think it can be more difficult to make friends in the hostels in many European cities, it’s so easy to make friends with locals in places like Ireland that it doesn’t matter. Wouldn’t you rather hang out with locals anyway?

 

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Langkawi, Malaysia: Phuket Without the Bros

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langkawi malaysia southeast asia beaches

When I was younger I took my first solo trip to the southern beaches of Thailand. I had a blast! Partying all night and sleeping on the beach every day was a great life. But I’m past that point in my life and it’s now sad to think that such natural beauty is wasted on those that are often too drunk to appreciate it.

In comes Langkawi: a collection of islands off the main peninsula of Malaysia and not too far from the islands of Thailand. It’s just as beautiful, but it remains peaceful and quiet. Tourism to the country and related development on the island only began in the late 1980s. It’s still a resort-style island with plenty of accommodation styles for all budgets, but the tourists definitely skew more family/honeymooner types rather than gap-year bros.

For 3 nights and 4 days I relaxed on the beaches, hiked the jungles, played with monkeys, and went parasailing. That’s not to say I didn’t spend any time at our hotel’s pool bar. It was too cheap to resist, but it was a lot nicer sipping on a pina colada with serene views rather than chugging a Thai “bucket.”

Where to Stay in Langkawi

Pantai Cenang is the most popular beach for tourists, but I much preferred where we stayed in Pantai Kok. Kok is much quieter, has prettier beaches, and is closer to the main attractions like the Sky Bridge. However, Cenang is great for budget guesthouses and adventure sports.

What To Do

The Sky Bridge/Cable Cars: The views are amazing and epic and the Sky Bridge is probably the island’s most famous attraction. That said, it’s attached to a tourist-trap theme park of sorts, full of gimmicky 3D attractions. We ended up doing plenty of them because we had to wait 2 hours until our “show time” for the cable car after buying our ticket. So keep in mind that this is an all-day event unless you find another excursion nearby.

Adventure/Watersports: The island is full of parasailing, ATVs, kiteboarding, jetskiing, and other fun activities. Sure, you can do them in most resort destinations, but I absolutely loved the parasailing views as the landscape here is stunning. Plus, you’ll find much cheaper rates than you would in most other places.

Tours/Treks: There are plenty of different tours available if you want to explore the local nature and wildlife. We did a jungle trek that was attached to a resort and I have to say I cannot recommend it. It just wasn’t worth the money as there was nothing we wouldn’t have seen on our own in terms of wildlife. However, if I could do it again I would have loved to take a sea safari or a boat tour that goes island hopping through Langkawi. There are also kayaking tours through the mangroves.

Explore: You’ll be amazed at how much wildlife you can see all around you without spending a dime. Our resort was full of monkeys (to the extent that we occasionally couldn’t eat outside)! We also were able to spot some unique birds and sea creatures along the beach.

What To Eat

Not Durian. Kidding. Sort of. You’ll see what I mean if you have the guts to try this odd, foul-smelling fruit that is loved by locals. Maybe it’s an acquired taste, but I have a feeling it won’t appeal to most Western palettes.

While Malaysian cuisine is great, the foodie scene here isn’t that impressive as it’s mostly geared towards tourists. If you do want a taste of the local cuisine, go for a basic squid dish as they’re caught fresh every night. You’ll be sure to see the green lights in the ocean from the boats looking to attract fresh squid.

Alternatively, if you find a local eatery, give traditional laksa a try!

Getting to Langkawi

Langkawi is easily accessible from Penang or the mainland by ferry. It also has a small airport with flights from Singapore and other cities in Malaysia.

Getting Around

You could rent a motorbike, but we had a hard time finding ones for a reasonable price (relative to the rest of Southeast Asia). We ultimately found that taxis were very well priced and Langkawi has fixed rates so you don’t have to worry about getting scammed.

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3 Months in a Carry-On: Southeast Asia

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carry-on backpack packing list

One of the biggest hassles of long-term travel is stuffing as much as you can into a carry-on suitcase. Checking bags is expensive and time-consuming. It also leads to a lot of unnecessary stress since airlines are notorious for losing baggage. So it only makes sense to stick with a carry-on whenever possible.

Here’s my personal packing list for Southeast Asia that has worked out wonderfully. Keep in mind I’m somewhat of a minimalist but still a girly-girl, so this should be practical for most women, give or take a few things. Also, even though Southeast Asian countries are far less developed, finding most everyday items (toiletries, etc) isn’t an issue. So don’t worry about packing everything you would ever need.

Personal Item

I use a small drawstring backpack, but a traditional daypack or purse would also work.

  • Cell phone and charger
  • Tablet/e-reader and charger
  • Travel wallet (money, credit cards, passport, travel docs)
  • Notebook/travel diary
  • Empty water bottle to fill up once through security (Money saving pro-tip!)
  • Liquids (I find they’re easier to access for security this way)
    • Toothpaste
    • Shampoo
    • Soap
    • Sunscreen
    • Bug spray (with at least 50% DEET)
    • Laundry detergent/Febreeze
    • BB/CC cream (make-up plus sunscreen)
    • Mascara/eye-liner
    • Moisturizer (salt water and pools are very drying)

Backpack

I use the Kelty Redwing 40L, but you can go bigger or smaller based on your needs.

  • All-in-one electronic adapter (different SE Asian countries require different adapters)
  • Towel
  • Lock for belongings
  • Sunglasses
  • Medications and OTC/travel medications
  • Sea sickness wristbands (like these, for all the ferries you’ll be taking)
  • Duct tape (comes in surprisingly handy)
  • Sandals
  • Sneakers (I usually wear mine when flying to save space)
  • Toiletries
    • Tooth brush
    • Floss
    • Comb
    • Deodorant
    • Nail clippers (double as scissors)
    • Razor
    • Lip balm
    • Hair ties
  • Clothing ( I roll my clothes in two packing cubes to save space)
    • 3 pairs of shorts (2 casual, 1 “nice”)
    • 3 pairs of yoga pants (itinerary-specific, as I was doing a lot of yoga/hiking)
    • 3 bathing suits
    • 3 airy dresses
    • 3 pairs of socks
    • 5 tops (3 casual/workout, 2 nice)
    • Sweatshirt (the AC in cars/shops can be surprisingly cold)
    • Sarong (helpful for the beach as well as staying conservative at temples)
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