New travelers often fear the same myths and share the same questions about Asia travel. Going so far from home is daunting and can feel like a step into the unknown.
Running through too many what-if scenarios before leaving home leads to overpacking. Don't do it! That phrasebook probably won't be as useful as you think.
Will I Have Trouble With the Language Barrier in Asia?
Don't worry: you'll find some degree of English available in most tourist areas around Asia. Sometimes a friendly, English-speaking local will offer to help out when you order food or purchase tickets.
The language difference is rarely an issue and will not affect your enjoyment of Asia.
You'll encounter more language difficulties in remote places off the beaten path for sure. Even in places with little or no English (rural China, for one), you'll be able to point, smile, and charade your way through communications with a little patience.
Although knowing much of the local language isn't a prerequisite for visiting, the more you learn the more your trip will benefit. Don't worry about studying a phrasebook: you'll pick up useful words quickly once at the destination.
For better interactions, go ahead and learn how to say hello in the countries you are visiting. Practicing is fun!
Are Bed Bugs a Serious Problem in Asia?
The recent resurgence of bed bugs affected North America far worse than it did Asia. Ironically, Westerner travelers are bringing bed bugs to Asia from home, rather than the other way around!
Once considered only a problem for backpackers staying in low-budget hostels, bed bugs are a serious and costly problem found even in four-star hotels. With a little vigilance on your part, you can avoid coming into contact with them and prevent spreading the pests.
Once bed bugs become established in a guesthouse, they can be inadvertently moved from room to room by staff members. Getting rid of them is challenging. And with frequent traveler turnover, bed bugs end up spread in pockets around tourist neighborhoods.
Immediately after checking in, inspect your bed before unpacking. If you detect signs of bed bugs on your mattress, changing rooms simply isn't good enough. No matter the inconvenience, go find a new place to stay!
Is Asia Really Crowded?
For the most part, yes. A majority of the world's population calls Asia home, and most of those residents are squeezed into urban areas. You will notice a much higher density of people in public transport hubs, shopping malls, and even on busy sidewalks.
Don't be surprised if someone stands too close while speaking to you. Or if trains and buses are consistently oversold beyond capacity. Have patience, and keep in mind that the general considerations of privacy and personal buffer space may be different than that which you expect at home.
Will I Have to Use Squat Toilets While in Asia?
Although "Western," sit-down toilets are more and more common, you will probably still encounter the odd squat toilet or two on your trip. They vary country by country. Even airports and modern shopping malls may still have squat toilets; advocates claim they are more sanitary and that there are some health benefits.
Tourist hotels and restaurants will almost always have sit-down toilets available. The squat toilets will mostly be found in public places such as markets, temples, and transportation hubs.
Do Tourists Pay Inflated Prices?
Usually. A dual-pricing system is prevalent in Asia. Sometimes it's official and declared on signs, sometimes it just happens.
Tourists are often quoted prices for goods as much as five times what locals pay. Tourists are viewed as temporary residents, which is true, and also sometimes as having money to spare.
Generally speaking, you should never pay the asking price for most goods; food and drinks are an exception. Good-natured haggling is a part of local Asian culture, and you actually contribute to inflation and bias over time by paying the first price without negotiating. Always make a counter offer or ask for a slight discount when shopping in markets.
Understandably, tourists are commonly expected to pay much high entrance fees at national parks and attractions.
Is Asia Safe for Children?
Absolutely! A lot of emphasis is placed on the family unit in Asia, and especially kids — arguably more than in the West.
Locals generally adore children and parents alike; kids are a great way to break the ice when meeting people. Even without a common language, travelers' children and local children usually get along famously.
Do I Have to Worry About Accidentally Offending People?
Part of the magic of visiting Asia is experiencing a culture very different than your own. Trying to figure out exactly what is going on at any given time is part of the fun!
While there are a handful of ways that you could unintentionally cause offense and not realize, locals are generally very forgiving and know that you may not understand local customs.
Etiquette nuances vary from place to place in Asia. Follow your instincts and demonstrate basic human courtesy. If you aren't sure about something, ask someone — they'll gladly explain. Understanding the basic concept of "saving face" and how to prevent someone from "losing face" will help a lot.
Consider if a foreign visitor at home was pointing with their middle finger and had no idea the gesture was rude. Although you would probably notice, you hopefully wouldn't take offense and become angry.
Will My Smartphone Work in Asia?
That depends — both on your phone and the way you wish to use it. In general, Americans' phones will not work in Asia without some help, but there are some exceptions. T-Mobile allows unlimited data and texting for international travelers with no extra cost.
If you only want to have your phone handy for emergencies, you can opt for international roaming on certain plans. Using it for anything aside from emergencies will be very expensive.
Instead, you may be able to "unlock" your cell phone and then purchase a local SIM card and number. Most Asian countries use a pre-paid system where you can purchase phone credit from kiosks and mini-marts. The rates for dialing and texting home are competitive, plus you'll get a local phone number which may come in handy.
Tip: Prepare your smartphone for travel by turning off auto-update features to cut down on background data use. Those weather updates could be silently costing you credit while you sleep!
If you just need to call home every now and then to check on things, you're better off using your smartphone, tablet, or laptop to make internet calls. Wi-Fi is easy to find in most places, so you won't need a local SIM or number.
Will My Electronic Devices Be Safe in Asia?
More and more travelers are bringing smartphones, tablets, and laptops with them to Asia. Many people wouldn't imagine leaving home without their trusted camera/GPS/internet device handy.
Depending upon where you travel, the environment could be a little rough on electronics. Heat, sand, rain, rough treatment, theft, and bad power are potential threats on trips.
Violent crime is less a problem in Asia than in the U.S. or Europe, however, phone snatches do sometimes happen. Don't leave that expensive iPhone sticking out of your back pocket. Falling asleep with a phone in your lap (e.g., while listening to music) on public transportation could make you a tempting target.
Surges and sags in power can harm sensitive devices while they are charging — avoid leaving things plugged in while unattended. At least you'll be able to unplug everything if the lights in your room begin to dim and brighten.
Identity theft is a problem in Asia. Have a plan to protect your data if your phone becomes lost or stolen.
Do I Need to Book a Tour to Enjoy Asia?
Absolutely not. Although booking a tour may be a way to alleviate concerns for a first-time visitor, Asia can easily be traveled independently.
Booking tours in Asia does offer a few advantages, however, you'll sacrifice some flexibility. Getting a good group and guide requires some research and luck.
An excellent tourism infrastructure means that travelers can simply walk into any travel office or ask the reception desk about booking necessary tours, transportation, etc.
Many tour companies, particularly ones with top rankings in search engines, are Western run and may or may not give back to the place you are visiting. If possible, wait until you arrive, talk to people, get a feel for the place, then book any local activities that suit your interests. Booking locally is a direct way to help the local economy.