10 Mistakes to Avoid on Your First Trip to Asia

How to Not Be a Newbie During Your First Time in Asia

Tourist in Asia with monkey on shoulder
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Don't Buy Useless Travel Gadgets

When shopping for your first trip to Asia, you'll encounter a multitude of cute, lightweight gadgets that promise to supposedly make your trip more comfortable. As most experienced travelers can confirm, you won't end up needing or using many of these items. Save your money to buy interesting things from the place you are visiting!

The same applies to overstuffed, pre-packed travel first-aid kits; chances are you won't have to deal with snakebite or field surgery anytime soon. These types of kits and gadgets tend to target first-time travelers who "what if...?" themselves into buying and packing too much.

chinese language mandarin
Sara Naumann

Don't Worry About the Language Difference

Unless you're going to a very remote destination, the language difference will hardly cause more than a small inconvenience. You may get the wrong order in restaurants from time to time—especially if you try substituting or deviating from the norms—but you can certainly get around in tourist areas with basic English and hand gestures.

Although learning some phrases in the local language is both fun and helpful, don't spend too much time studying before you leave home. You can learn way faster once you arrive. Ask locals to help correct your usage and pronunciation. Practicing a local language is a great excuse for fun interaction and offers a real way to dive deeper into the local culture!

Travel First Aid Kit
Andy Crawford / Getty Images

Don't Overpack

Obvious, yes, but packing too much is the most common mistake that all new travelers make on their first trips.

Dragging an overweight suitcase or backpack around can really take the fun out of exploring a fascinating country, and airlines will charge you baggage fees. Many people end up giving away or leaving much of the useless stuff they bring from home anyway.

Aside from these items you should bring with you to Asia, nearly everything you need will be available for cheaper at your destination. Buying local helps out the local economy. Take advantage of packing hacks to cut back on what you need to carry. You'll want to buy clothes and gifts to bring back—don't leave home with a full suitcase!

Taxis in Bangkok
Lonely Planet / Getty Images

Don't Leave Home Without Travel Insurance

Although it's tempting to just take your chances, the peace of mind that travel insurance brings is well worth the meager cost—especially once you see the way taxi drivers in Asia behave on the roads!

Good travel insurance will protect you and your belongings; most policies include evacuation plans in case you become seriously injured while abroad.

Rickshaw drivers in India
Greg Rodgers

Forget Stereotypes Before You Arrive

Don't let what you think you know about a country from movies and hearsay prevent you from discovering the real country. Everyone has different experiences in places, both good and bad, and formulates an opinion about a destination based on their own filters. Yes, there will be things you don't like about a destination, but there will also be some magic.

Arrive with an open mind, beat your jetlag quickly, then get outside the resort to discover what goes on away from the tourist environment. Form your own opinions of a place!

ATMs in Thailand
Photo by Dennis Wong / Creative Commons

Don't Rely on Only One Way to Access Funds

Carrying money while traveling is all about diversification. Local ATMs will often offer the best rates for local currency, assuming your bank at home doesn't charge too steep of an international transaction fee. But if the ATM network goes down—it sometimes happens—you'll need backup cash.

No matter the economy, U.S. dollars are still widely accepted and can be readily exchanged all over Asia. In places such as Cambodia, dollars can be spent directly. Your credit card will only be useful in big resorts and cities; use it for emergencies, booking activities such as tours and diving, and for booking flights. Many shops in Asia tack on a commission (10 percent or more) when you pay with plastic.

Khao San Road in Bangkok During the Day
Diana Mayfield / Getty Images

Don't Contribute to Cultural Deterioration

Cultural deterioration is happening at an alarming rate all over Asia as more and more Western tourists visit each year. Many popular travel routes such as the backpacker Banana Pancake Trail through Asia have been changing places culturally for decades. Tourism is a mixed blessing. Many destinations really need the funds brought in by tourists, however, locals often change to meet tourists' needs so the money keeps coming.

Be mindful of the cumulative impact you may be leaving on places you visit. For instance, every time you make a purchase without negotiating—which is an integral part of Asian culture—you actually increase prices for locals and other travelers who follow behind you. Leaving a tip in places where tipping was once frowned upon causes the staff to expect tips. They'll give preferential treatment to tourists because they know locals don't tip.

Not demanding that taxi drivers use the meter causes them to bypass locals who are trying to hail a ride. The drivers would rather pick up tourists who are gullible enough to overpay!

View from the back of a tuk-tuk in Thailand
Nathan Hutchinson / Getty Images

Don't Be a Target

Drivers, con-men, street scammers, and experienced merchants can spot a newbie pretty quickly; they have lots of practice. From the luggage tag still hanging on your oversized bag to the wide eyes looking all around, you could get lots of attention as a first-time visitor to Asia.

Traveling around Asia comes with a learning curve; how expensive that initial education has to be depends on your decisions. Listen to your gut, and learn to recognize a scam unfolding. Just don't let a few con-men jade your opinion of a place or the local people.

Ta Phrom Temple near Angkor Wat Cambodia
David Santiago Garcia / Getty Images

Plan a Little, But Not Too Much

From unexpected transportation delays to beautiful places that you just can't leave, Asia has a way of destroying the best-planned itineraries. Maintaining a rigid schedule or trying to squeeze in too many places in a short amount of time will only increase your blood pressure. Instead, choose a few less destinations so you can enjoy the ones you see.

Remember that life doesn't always work out as planned while on the road. Don't be surprised when your train that was scheduled to leave at 3 p.m. finally pulls away around 5 p.m! You'll feel far less stress if your itinerary is flexible enough to smooth over the inevitable delays.

A traveler in Angkor Wat, Cambodia, holds a guidebook
swissmediavision / Getty Images

Don't Rely Too Much on Guidebooks

While having a popular guidebook can be comforting in a new place, keep in mind that the writers certainly did not have time to visit every hotel, restaurant, and attraction at a destination. Loads of places to eat, sleep, and visit didn't make it into your guidebook because time and space were limited.

Guidebooks are often only updated every couple of years. Over time, a popular business can actually become corrupted because of all the patronage they receive from a steady stream of guidebook users. Counterintuitively, you will sometimes receive the worst food and service in the top picks of guidebooks!

Instead of only researching online reviews or following the advice of guidebooks, ask locals and fellow travelers who have been around a while. They'll know the best places.

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