Travel like a local. A simple idea that can mean drastically different things depending on what corner of the world you’re in. However, this is every travelers ideal image right? Jetting off to a far off exotic land, and blending in like you’ve lived there your whole life? While this is a nice fantasy, it’s rarely a reality of how you’ll experience tourism in Southeast Asia. Yet this is not because the country you’re visiting is rude, or uninviting. Instead it often falls in your hands with the opportunity of being a tourist or a traveler. If you’re heading to a new and exciting Asian country you should make an effort to respect their customs, eat the local food, and take in their culture. None of us are perfect, but after following these simple Asia travel tips you too can travel like a local!
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1. Dress the Part
We can not stress this enough! If you even want a chance of getting away from mass tourism in Southeast Asia you need to dress appropriately.
For example, you probably shouldn’t wear short shorts and a belly shirt while visiting places like the sacred Batu Caves of Malaysia. It’s not about what you feel comfortable in, as much as what would makes those around you feel uncomfortable.
Unsure how to dress? Take a quick glance around. If everyone is wearing long pants and loose fitted shirts in hot weather that might give you some indication.
Part of being a tourist is respecting the local Asian customs and traditions especially in places of worship. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, scope out the locals, and follow along!
2. Speak the Language
If you’re reading this blog then it’s safe to say your English is passable. Good for you! English is all you need to travel almost anywhere in the world.
Still, in today’s high tech society there is no excuse not to at least make an attempt to speak the local language. Buy any Asia travel tips book, or download one of the many helpful language apps like Duolingo. You don’t need to be fluent, but do whatever it takes so when you arrive in a country you know the basics.
Learning some simple phrases and numbers can completely change your interaction with the locals. It will also go a long way in less developed counties where travelers rarely try to communicate.
Yes, almost everything may still be lost in translation. Nonetheless, if you’re willing to try then so will they. Your effort will often be rewarded with friendly interactions, discounts, and amazing recommendations for local asian food!
3. Step Outside Your Comfort Zone
Although guided tours can definitely be a fun and safe way to travel, it’s not always the best way to experience different places. So it’s time to break free from the typical tourist stereotypes, and do something wild!
Get lost in the maze of markets, try eating local Asian food, and experience spices and colors you’ve never seen before. Hike to the closest lookout and marvel in the beauty of a new destination. Being a tourist is okay sometimes, but know when it’s time to get outside of your comfort zone and travel like a local!
4. Asian Customs and Traditions
This varies based on what part of Asia you land in, but the idea is still the same. Seek out off the beaten path rituals that the locals follow. While you may not always be able to join in, you can usually watch and learn in a respectful manner.
One of the best parts of traveling is absorbing the local culture and taking it all in. Now that could be anything from visiting a temple in Thailand to taking part in an almsgiving ceremony in Laos. Whatever it may be, get out there and experience a different part of tourism in Southeast Asia through local Asian customs.
5. Travel Like a Local
Do you wanna be the only one flagging down a taxi in India while all the locals are jumping on a rickshaw? No way! It’s time to give in to all the crazy forms of transportation that await you around the world.
Not only will you save money with this Asia travel tip, but you’ll get the completely unique experience of traveling like a local.
We’ve rode on slow boats down the Mekong, bounced from Tuk Tuk to Tuk Tuk throughout Thailand, and hopped on the back of a random drivers motorbike in Vietnam. We have taken more buses, trains, and boats then we can count, and it was always an unforgettable adventure.
Don’t get us wrong, it’s important to stay safe. Even sometimes we choose to spend a little more money to be comfortable on longer trips. Nevertheless, the local modes of transportation are typically the most fun and authentic!
The Best Plans Are No Plans
It’s extremely important not to overpack your days with different sites and activities, leaving yourself no time to breath. Sometimes the best plans are no plans, and that rings truer than ever in Asia!
This is probably the best travel advice you’ll ever get. If someone tells you about some natural hot springs, but you have tickets to your tenth museum of the trip… It may be time to take a strong look at your priorities. Whether it’s a few hours or days, leave yourself time to explore something completely new, different, and spontaneous.
Eat Local Asian Food
We firmly believe the heart of every culture is in their food. For that reason, unique and regional specialties are what you should be sampling! We promise if you eat the right meals it will easily become the highlight of your travels.
So how do you know where to eat? Through guide books… Or do you ask a local? I guess it depends if you’ve been paying attention to this blog so far!
While they can be a good base to start your tourism in Southeast Asia, don’t get too caught up in the Lonely Planets and TripAdvisors of the world. Make sure to get out there and experience the many Asian customs and food for yourself.
We would do anything to be back in Vietnam eating Cao Lau at the central market, or on the Cambodian coastline eating fresh crab. The world is literally your oyster, so enjoy it! Be sure to check out some of our other articles highlighting the best local asian food we’ve tried as well.
- What to Eat in Vietnam: Best Street Food, Traditional Dishes, and Drinks
- Sampling the Best Food in Myanmar: Mohinga to Tea Leaf Salad
- A Food Lovers Day in Kuala Lumpur
- 6 Best Rooftop Cafes & Bars in Hoi An Vietnam
- How to Survive Eating Noodles for 3 Months Straight
Have any questions about how to travel like a local, or want to share your own Asia travel tips? Comment below!
Brigitte & Jake
Where in the world are we? Follow our daily adventures on Instagram @nothingfamiliar!
Information: Explore dozens of amazing destinations around the world, travel planning tips, itineraries, street food guides, and so much more.
Flights: We always find our cheap flight deals using Skyscanner. That’s how we flew from Norway to Poland for under $20 USD, and Thailand to Vietnam for less than $50!
Accommodation: Compare multiple sites to get to the best deal such as Booking.com and Agoda! Also, Hostelworld can be your go-to source if you’re traveling on a budget.
Rental Car: We use Discover Cars for renting vehicles. A quick travel tip is to ask for a discounted weekly rate rather than booking 2-3 days.
Tours: Check out Get Your Guide for thousands of activities around the world. From food tours to skip the line entry passes!
Travel Insurance: Never travel abroad without being covered. We’ve been using SafetyWing for the last few years on the road and they are there when we need them.
Packing Lists: Find all the inspiration you need with our Amazon packing lists. Including our electronics and camera gear, must-have medical items, and long flight essentials!
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