Planning a big trip to Asia can be exciting but also overwhelming. Where to start on the long list of things to do before a first trip? Some to-dos take longer than others — get them started first so that stress doesn't mount as your departure date looms!
Schedule an Appointment with a Travel Clinic
Waiting until the last minute to see a travel doctor may mean not being able to finish a series of vaccinations before your trip to Asia. Becoming fully immunized against hepatitis B — one of the recommended vaccinations for travel in Asia — requires three injections spaced over a 7-month period. The vaccination for typhoid fever (capsules taken every other day at home before departure) requires some time to take effect.
If your trip duration isn't long, you can probably go ahead and travel after getting only the first two injections of the set. The booster can be received when you return. But why wait? Get your vaccinations completed for total peace of mind. The World Health Organization is a good source for information about travel vaccinations.
Get Travel Insurance
Getting travel insurance is a good idea for any trip to Asia. Even if you won't be enjoying any extreme adventures, Asia suffers from a high traffic-related injury rate. Once you've taken a couple hair-raising taxi or bus journeys in big cities, you'll understand why!
Mosquito-borne illnesses such as dengue fever are also a problem throughout much of Asia. Having a good travel-insurance policy provides peace of mind that you're covered for hospital visits.
Know About the Seasons
India and Southeast Asia basically have two distinct seasons: high (hot and dry) and low (hot and wet). Heavy seasonal rains and stifling humidity can make for a dreary trip. Although there are some advantages to traveling during the rainy/low season, businesses may close; you'll have less choices. Some outdoor activities become more difficult due to mud, rain, and flooding.
When deciding where to go in Asia, know the season you'll be entering. If traveling during monsoon season, try to keep a more flexible itinerary.
Check Festival Dates
Nothing is more frustrating than missing a big festival in Asia by only a day or two then hearing how great it was from other travelers! What's worse, you'll probably have to deal with an increase in accommodation prices and bigger crowds without getting the reward.
Accommodation fills up and prices jump during big events such as Chinese New Year. Either arrive early enough to secure a spot in the madness or avoid the area altogether until the festival winds down.
Consider Your Budget
Not all destinations in Asia are priced equally. A single week in Singapore or Japan may cost as much as a month in cheaper destinations such as India or Indonesia. If your budget is tight, consider altering your itinerary to allow for more time or exciting activities — such as scuba diving — in cheaper countries.
Fortunately, traveling in India, China, and much of Southeast Asia can be pleasantly affordable. You can still pay for luxury if you desire, or opt for accommodation as cheap as $10 a night in some places!
Contact Your Banks
Call your banks and credit card companies to let them know that you will be traveling in Asia. If you forget, they may deactivate your card as a fraud-protection measure when they see new charges in Asia pop up. You won't have access to your funds! Just in case, carry some U.S. dollars to exchange in a pinch until you get things sorted with the bank.
You can usually add travel notifications to your account by using your bank's website or smartphone app. If specific countries are requested, don't forget to add your layover countries in case you experience a delay in transit.
Leaving home with a full suitcase or backpack is just a bad idea. Your luggage will inevitably grow as you purchase souvenirs and gifts to bring home. An overweight suitcase will be a burden throughout your entire trip.
You'll want to bring some specific toiletries and skin-care products from home, but other items (e.g., umbrellas, sarongs, ponchos, hats, scarves, etc) can be purchased inexpensively once you arrive. Many items are cheaper in Asia anyway!
One useful strategy is to pack less clothing and plan to buy a couple of tops once you arrive — which will most likely be in a big city with plenty of shopping opportunities. You'll appreciate the extra suitcase room, plus you'll help a local merchant who probably needs your business.
Apply for Travel Visas
A travel visa is a stamp or sticker placed in your passport that allows entry into a particular country. Each country maintains their own strict requirements for entry; some may even change the rules on a whim. Although many countries in Asia allow you to get stamped upon arrival in the airport, many don't. China, Vietnam, and Burma (Myanmar) are three examples — turning up without a visa is a very bad idea.
Even for countries with visa-on-arrival service, arriving with a visa already in your passport can help avoid long lines and some bureaucracy in the airport. You can obtain a visa by mailing your passport to a consulate, or even better, applying in person. Do not wait until the last minute to begin research — some visas can take weeks to process!
Register Your Trip With the State Department
Natural disasters and political unrest can pop up unexpectedly. Although strictly optional, you can register with the U.S. State Department's STEP program so the local embassy will know you're in the country. Should a natural disaster occur, they will at least know you may need evacuation.