Planning a trip to Asia, especially if it's your first, can be hectic! As your departure date rapidly approaches, make sure you take time to handle a few important things to do before visiting a new country.
Knowing your destination's visa laws is crucial before arrival. Some airlines may even deny your boarding at the airport if you don't have a proper travel visa issued in advance. Laws vary country by country and even change frequently.
Some countries in Asia won't let you leave the airport if you arrive without a prearranged visa; you'll be put back on the first flight out!
Don't assume that you can get a visa on arrival issued in every country—know the current rules before you go.
Note: Visa regulations can vary between nationalities, and rules change faster than some websites can keep information updated. If you aren't sure, contact the country's embassy.
Seeing new charges pop up in foreign countries, particularly on a different continent, may trigger your bank to issue a fraud alert and suspend your card. Having your debit and credit cards suspended while abroad can be a terrible inconvenience.
Avoid the hassle by contacting your banks for any cards that you plan to carry so that they can add travel notifications to your account.
Know the current exchange rate and a little about the local currency before you arrive, particularly if you plan to exchange money rather than use the local ATMs. Know how to spot fake banknotes and know about any devalued currency denominations before you wind up with money you can't spend!
When exchanging money, count what you receive before leaving the counter, and keep your receipt. Before exchanging unspent money back into your home currency, some countries require proof that you didn't earn anything while there.
Traveling without insurance is risky, even if you don't plan to do any extreme sports or "dangerous" activities. You may not realize, but taking a taxi could be even more dangerous than the average outdoor adventure. For instance, Thailand has one of the highest traffic fatality rates in the world.
Travel insurance is still relatively inexpensive. It protects you from theft and accidents while abroad. If you already have travel insurance, you'll need to let them know about any new countries you intend to visit during your trip. The built-in travel insurance on credit cards is rarely enough coverage; you may have difficulty filing a claim later.
Arriving during or just before a large event you didn't know about can be a hassle.
You'll have more trouble with crowded transportation, and room prices are often higher during big holidays. On the other hand, you may want to adjust your itinerary to be in the right place for enjoying a big festival. Check for big Asian festivals before you travel.
Missing a fun festival by only a few days can be frustrating—especially if you're stuck with the crowds after.
The last thing that you'll want to do after a long flight is drag your luggage around an unfamiliar place to find a decent hotel—particularly if you arrive late. Although many budget travelers prefer this strategy because they can see a property before committing, realize you'll definitely be tired and may be willing to take whatever room you find.
Consider booking at least your first night or two in advance. Doing so lets you have a hotel address for the taxi driver as you exit the airport. No matter how tired or desperate you feel, never ask your driver for a hotel recommendation!
Photos—and even tweaked online reviews—can make a hotel seem more appealing than it really is. Unless you know for sure the location and property are nice, book only your first night or two so you aren't locked into a bad place for the duration of your stay. If the hotel meets expectations, you can always ask the front desk about extending.
Some countries have strict duty restrictions and may want to tax or confiscate items that may be deemed harmless by others. Knowing the duty restrictions beforehand is wise and may help you avoid some hassle.
The wrong place to find out that you are carrying "contraband" is when clearing customs at your new country! Laws vary between countries; some catch travelers off guard. For example, Singapore has a ban on electronic cigarettes and "unofficial" (i.e., pirated) DVDs purchased in other countries.
Overplanning is a sure way to create stress on your trip to Asia. A strict itinerary will be difficult to maintain, especially in countries where transportation delays are inevitable.
Instead of creating a rigid plan with little flexibility, leave room for changes in your itinerary. Even if everything goes well with transportation, you'll appreciate the rest days built into your schedule.
Although strictly optional, American travelers can notify the U.S. Department of State about their trip itinerary via the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program website for free. If civil unrest or a natural disaster causes problems on your trip, at least authorities will know that you may need to be evacuated.
Travelers enrolled in the program will also receive up-to-date travel alerts for each destination, giving time to change plans so that you don't accidentally walk out of the airport into a standoff situation!
Your trip to Asia will be greatly enhanced if you do a small amount of preliminary research before arrival.
Although totally up to you, knowing a few words in the local language, such as how to say hello, will be a fun addition to your trip. A basic understanding of the local food, scams, customs, cultural etiquette, and other basics will make daily transactions smoother and help keep culture shock at a minimum.
Along with learning a little about the country you plan to visit, have a grasp on the concept of face and how it applies to daily life in Asia.