Although Asia seems too far away — and too far "out there" — to be ideal for first-time travelers, that's not true!
Don't let any of these common myths about Asia travel discourage you from visiting. For new international travelers, Asia offers an ideal experience. Lots of exciting countries provide a soft landing for first-timers.
Myth: The Language Barrier Is a Problem in Asia
The Truth: Wrong! You'll find varying degrees of English spoken almost everywhere that you go in Asia, particularly in places tourists visit.
Unless traveling far afield to explore remote regions where few tourists go, the language barrier will certainly not be a problem. Sure, things sometimes do get miscommunicated across languages and cultures, but that's part of the fun!
Although you don't have to learn a new language before visiting, knowing how to say hello or a few helpful phrases will greatly enhance your experience. That said, nothing beats learning by submersion; you can learn some useful expressions — and the correct pronunciation — much easier from locals rather than a book. Swapping language lessons is a great way to interact with local people.
If you're still worried about the language barrier, consider bringing a Point It dictionary or getting a similar phone app. These dictionaries come with thousands of small thumbnails that you can point to when you need something.
Tip: Repeating yourself, only louder, won't help someone understand better!
Myth: Street Food is Not Safe
The Truth: Street food in Asia is typically cheap, delicious, and a fun cultural experience.
Locals often eat from street vendors, and there is no reason you shouldn't either! Eating from street carts is no more dangerous than ordering a meal in a restaurant. Arguably, it's even safer. Ordering food from an open cart allows you to meet the cook and get a feel for the level of cleanliness and food quality. Who knows what horrors lurk behind the kitchen curtain in restaurants!
Street food vendors don't just randomly set up carts whenever and wherever at a whim. If they don't serve safe food, they won't stay in business very long.
Tip: The same rules of limiting risk apply to street food carts and restaurants. You can lower your risk of getting sick by eating at places with a higher turnover of customers, particularly locals. A place that stays busy has to purchase fresh ingredients more frequently.
Myth: Asia Travel Is Dangerous
The Truth: No matter where you visit in the world, a little common sense goes a long way toward staying safe.
You probably wouldn't walk alone down a dark alley at 4 a.m. in many cities at home, so don't do so while abroad! Statistically, large cities in Asia have far less violent crime than U.S. and European cities.
Per the United Nations, the homicide rate per 100,000 inhabitants for the United States was 4.88 in 2015. For the same year, Thailand's homicide rate was 3.51. China's homicide rate was .74. Singapore, a city-country of 5.6 million people, reported only 14 homicides in 2015.
Tip: For peace of mind, get travel insurance before you go. Knowing how to handle some basic travel emergencies will boost confidence.
Myth: Traveling to Asia Is Expensive
The Truth: Although the flight to Asia is a long one for travelers from North America, decent deals on flights can still be found.
Once on the ground in Asia, the favorable currency exchange rates and lower cost of living in many places can give you a boost in spending power. Prices for food, accommodation, and transportation all depend on how much luxury you demand.
How much money is needed to travel in Asia? That's entirely up to you! Backpackers in Southeast Asia willing to sacrifice air conditioning can easily find adorable, sea-side bungalows for less than US $20 per night. A luxurious room in a big city can be found for the same cost as a basic roadside motel room in North America.
If budget is the most pressing concern, consider choosing among the many inexpensive destinations in Asia.
Myth: You Need to Travel Asia in a Tour
The Truth: Going through a travel agency and joining a tour group on your first trip to Asia does provide some hands-off comfort. But you can save a lot of money by doing it yourself. Taking care of your own arrangements is very easy in Asia.
Accommodation, activities, and transportation are simple enough to arrange once you arrive in Asia. Numerous English-speaking travel agents based in the tourist areas sell tickets. The staff at your accommodation will gladly help you book transportation and tours to sites that you want to see, sometimes for free or for a very small commission.
Making arrangements once you arrive rather than through a company found online also increases the chances of helping the local economy rather than foreign-owned companies.