Opinion: Backpacking in Europe vs. Backpacking in Southeast Asia

Travelers waiting at the train station

Travelers waiting at the train station

Some might consider backpacking in Europe a chance to visit some of the world’s famous sites . Some might consider backpacking in Southeast Asia a real adventure far way from any kind of pampered form of civilization. They are right and they are wrong. Any journey you take depends on your attitude and ability to adapt to different surroundings.

Visas

As a western traveler in Europe. there are no major visa issues if you are not planning on staying for over half a year.  Extending your visa should be a simple matter of visiting your home consulate in the country you’re in.  Further extending your visa is outside the scope of this article and it is advisable to look at residency or work visa options.  However, some eastern European countries, such as Belarus and Russia, require ‘invitations’ to enter. This must be done ahead of time and can be as simple as getting your hotel to fill one out for you.

Southeast Asia requires a bit more planning as it does not have a unified government body like the EU.  My advice is to pick up all visas before starting your journey.  Vietnam requires most travelers to have a pre-arranged visa and will not allow you to board an airplane entering Vietnam without one.  Malaysia issues a free 90-day visa on arrival for most travelers (Though citizens of Israel may not enter Malaysia).  Lao and Cambodia will issue visas at the border for a fee that is higher than pre-arranging it.  Keep some US dollars on you as most visa offices will accept that as payment in lieu of the national currency.

Keep a copy of your passport ID page and your visas in case anything should happen to your passport. As with all visa regulations, they are subject to change, especially with the more politically volatile countries. Check with your local consulates for the latest visa regulations.

Transportation

Europe equals trains, trains, and more trains.  Sure you can travel with cheap airfares on airlines such RyanAir or easyJet.  Or you can take buses (although you will have to do this for some more remote areas of Europe).  But the best and probably the most fun way to travel through Europe is by train.  It’s fast, it’s convenient, and it reaches every major city in Europe and then some.  The Eurail pass is the best value if you plan on country hopping.  If you plan on staying in one country most of the time, then look into rail passes specific to that country such as the German Rail Pass.  Most passes must be bought outside of the country so make sure to prepare them ahead of time.

Buses, vans, and pickup trucks are your best bets for an overland route through Southeast Asia.  Sometimes your only option for travel could be in the back of someone’s converted pickup with live chickens as your traveling buddy over some of the bumpiest roads you will likely encounter.  Most buses will set prices but remember to negotiate before you get on any private vehicle.  Of course, there are some places you just can’t get to by overland or you would rather just fly to.  There are cheap airfares on airlines such as JetStar or AsiaAir.  If you need to fly last minute, check with your hostel as sometimes they might have deals with local travel agents.  Another option is to use the many Asian air passes offered by different airlines.  A good deal is the Star Alliance Asian air pass if you want to buy your tickets in advance but want some flexibility on where you go.

Food

Eating during your European trip can be cheap if you decide to only eat at food stands and cook everything in your hostel’s kitchen.  Most hostels will offer a free breakfast that has everything you need for hearty start.  If you decide to stay in and cook, most hostels know which local markets are good.  Once I spent only four dollars for a day in Salzburg eating the hostel breakfast, kaiser rolls, deli meats, pickles, and some simple pasta.  If you eat out, make sure to ask your hostel for recommendations as the staff are usually locals who have their favorite food haunts.

In Southeast Asia, eat out.  Don’t bother trying to cook as there probably won’t be a kitchen available.  Plus, food is so cheap that it would probably be more of a value to eat out than to buy groceries and expend the energy to make a meal.  Most of the cuisine in Southeast Asia is based on fresh ingredients but cleanliness can be a different matter.  Don’t be afraid to eat at a corner food stall or someone’s barbeque pit with plastic stools.  Just make sure it’s as clean as your local hole in the wall.  Most of them are.

Lodging

Hostels in Europe are well developed and in any given city, there will be a dozen or more to choose from.  Some have grown to have reputations as party hostels while others are known to be clean and quiet.  Many hostels have associated themselves with each other so if you liked the hostel you are staying at, then you will most likely enjoy the associated hostel.  The only exception to that rule would be Hostelling International.  Those can be hit or miss but some of them will give discounts for members.

In Southeast Asia, you will most likely stay in a guesthouse as hostelling is not as developed as it is in Europe.  Guesthouses are usually plain accommodations with a simple bed and bath.  Make sure they have mosquito nets if they don’t have sealed windows.  Malaria and dengue fever is prevalent in Southeast Asia.  Being sick while far from home is not fun at all.

Best advice given to me by another traveler, listen to other travelers and where they have stayed.  They will usually have an opinion on where they stayed and whether it was good or bad.

People

In my opinion, people who travel to Southeast Asia seem more carefree and more willing to try new things.  Although, it could just be the environment forces that forces people to improvise as there will be several moments where they just have to bite down and get it down.

If your attitude is right, you can always experience fun and excitement on either journey.  I guarantee that they will not be the same.  But if they were the same, why would you be seeking to travel anyways?  Happy traveling.

Parting Words

With any large journey you will take, read up on the latest news from where you are going, listen to the advice of other travelers, and always, ALWAYS remember that it should be fun. Stop where ever you are if you feel travel fatigued or if you are just plain having a blast with the people at your hostel.

Related Posts


About the Author

John is always trying to find his way back to the road. He has an affinity for Germany due to his three years studying German at Cal, and a year working as an intern in the Stuttgart area. He also likes chocolate cake and good cheese.