Backpacking Southeast Asia: The 9 Values Built While Traveling (Part 2)

Times flies. As I sit at a Starbucks in Orange County, CA, exactly 365 days since Kyle and I began our backpacking adventure, I am in awe of everything we accomplished, experienced, and learned. Backpacking South East Asia was a gift.

“You find yourself while traveling”. Yes, everyone knows the cliche and you are probably eye rolling as you read this, but it is true. It may not be in the “I know exactly what I want to do in my life” or “I’ve found my purpose” sort of way. If you have found those answers while traveling, all the power to you, but it is very uncommon.

What you’ll find is…all you are capable of, what is important to you, and what makes you truly happy.

You will go through experiences of courage, creativity, and patience. But, what do all of these experiences teach you? 

I am here to help you find out.

Below holds the backpacking life lessons (Part 2) Kyle and I retuned with.

1. The Art of Budgeting = Extend your backpacking adventure!

(Previously mentioned in Kyle’s Part 1) This is something that may seem simple, but is actually hard to learn. Especially if you grew up in a privileged area, the value of money may be hard to discover.

A strict budget may not be for every traveler. For Kyle and I, budgeting was essential as we wanted to stay as long as we could. Without our budget, we would have missed out on several of the countries we traveled to and months of memories we created.

Finding a system that works is crucial. Unless you find an overseas job that allows you to save along the way, you are going to want to budget where you can. Even then, I recommend putting together a plan because it will only save you in the long run.

What I want you to take away from this portion is that establishing a budget is going to allow your backpacking travels to last a lot longer.

Backpacking in Bangkok

2. Value of a dollar

I will be the first to admit that budgeting wasn’t exactly a priority for me before I left for this trip. I didn’t truly understand the value of a dollar and would just work for the point of being able to go out with my friends, go to various concerts, and do whatever I wanted while I was in college.

Don’t get me wrong, I worked extremely hard and knew I had to to be able to have that freedom. But, what I didn’t understand was the importance of each and every dollar.

You don’t realize all the small expenses that add up until you are in a situation where you aren’t working and just spending. Talk about watching your savings deplete. Traveling isn’t cheap unless you’re smart about it and this is something I definitely had to learn. 

Using Cash While Backpacking

As I mentioned above, it is the easiest thing in the world to lose track of what your spending. Especially when you throw in a a coffee or two at Starbucks everyday, midday snacks, happy hour, and that random sightseeing tour you got roped into last minute.

What I’m trying to say is you have to be careful of those little expenses here and there because they can cost you a country at the end of your trip *China for us :(*. Limiting those expenses will be a key component in your budgeting process.

The best way to avoid these little expenses is to stop swiping your credit card everywhere you go and just carry cash.

I know this may seem like a hassle to pull out cash, especially with overseas bank fees, but it is 100% worth it if you want to have a successful budget. It is true that the withdrawal fees can be pricy, but in the long run it is a lot easier to keep track of what you are spending.

Kyle and I would give ourselves a daily allowance where we would place a certain amount of cash in our wallets and could only spend that amount each day. It was a challenge to say the least, but it forced us to be very aware of what we were spending and taught us how to best use our money.

Only having the amount you want to spend that day in your wallet will allow you to focus on what you really need and stop you from excessive spending.

3. Limit expectations

It’s good to have high expectations in life, but when you are traveling, they can hold you back.

Learn to let go of expectations while backpacking and enjoy the ride. 


High expectations- These can set you up for failure if plans change, and trust me this will happen a ton. The biggest backpacking mistake is starting a journey with the expectation that everything is going to be perfect and happen just the way you planned….it never will.

Not to sound pessimistic, but unfortunately no trip will ever go the exact way you planned.

Which is actually for the best!

Where is the excitement if everything turns out the exact way you expected?!

Learn to embrace the fact that you are in a completely different environment, and let the new found city speak for itself. Absorb everything it has to offer.

$10 dollars is still $10

Although SE Asia is known as a cheaper area to travel for some, you are still getting exactly what you are paying for when it comes to accommodations. You may not be able to travel to France and find a place to stay for $12 dollars a night and there is a reason for that.

SE Asia is the perfect place to travel if you are on a strict budget; however, you have to lower your expectations for where you are staying. That $10 a night doesn’t mean you are getting a trendy Bed&Breakfast. You are getting a shack or even a tent on the beach…a rundown bungalow in the middle of nowhere…or a 30 bunk hostel room. So come prepared.

Reduces stress and anxiety

When you limit expectations, you become more spontaneous, open, and ready for adventure. Expectations can be good to have, but can also ruin your trip if you arrive to a city where hardly anyone speaks English, blood is on your hotel pillow, and your outside surroundings seem to be the sketchiest in town.

Your kicking yourself for booking based on the Airbnb review that said “we love this city, great trip!” You may love the city, but the place is a glorified dump.

Over the course of 300 days, I learned to embrace the rooms filled with geckos/ants because in the end of the day, those accommodations are what allowed me to fulfill my spontaneous personality and prolong my backpacking adventure.

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4. Realizing what’s important

What does this really mean?

The reality is that things of importance are different for each and every person.

For us it was uncovering the importance of a simple lifestyle. Realizing that simplicity is key and removing clutter will change everything about the way you live.

For example, living out of a backpack with the same 5 outfits (makes it very easy to pick out clothes for the day) or staying in a box room that contains only a bed.

When you remove yourself from a materialistic way of living you will find it is like lifting weights off your shoulders and you can finally breathe. You’re no longer worried about the next best trend. Your focus is only on a life well lived.

Maturity –Maturity starts when drama ends”

5. Complete independence

You find your independence in college. Even more so when you decide to move out and tackle life on your own. But, the only way to fully understand what it means to be independent is to remove yourself from everything you have ever known and have no choice but to adjust.

Valuable lessons come from situations where no-one is holding your hand. When you’re forced to grow through challenging experiences for the sole purpose of pleasing yourself. I know we often forget, but taking care of ourselves is most important in life.

We look to constantly confide in others to support us and to make ourselves feel good, when in reality the only person you should be trying to please is yourself.

When you are traveling long term, you learn to listen to yourself and discover your desires. Don’t mistake this for selfishness.

6. Street smarts

Naivety can be a backpacker’s biggest downfall. In order to have a successful and safe trip, you need to be aware of your surroundings.

No matter where you are traveling, if you look like a tourist, people will try to take advantage of you. This is just a fact.

It is crucial to learn how to identify a situation in which you are getting scammed. Then, how to politely avoid being taken advantage of.

This skill will come with time. Trust me, sometimes being on guard just isn’t enough. You need to be able to talk your way out of certain situations.

I always recommend reading up on the location you are traveling to in order to eliminate potential issues.

7. Everyone has a story (don’t judge) – Listen!

Hanging out with our English students in Bangkok

Forming relationships with people you normally wouldn’t talk to – It is in our human nature to judge people based on a variety of different attributes.

This is a hard habit to break. Even if you don’t think you judge others, you do, everyone does.

It is impossible to cease the judgmental nature of society, but it is possible to be a part of the change.

Traveling gives you the opportunity to associate and throw yourself into a completely different social circle. Instead of sticking like glue to the person you are traveling with, throw yourself in a new social circle. Change your mindset and seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Everyone has a story and you might find they have some pretty incredible things to say.

Importance of listening – Talking won’t teach you anything, but listening will. 

8. Accepting cultural differences

One of the best things about traveling is being able to experience cultures from all over the world.

If you are one of the “lucky one’s” who is given the opportunity to explore, take advantage of the place you are in by immersing yourself into the culture as much as possible.

With that being said, you don’t have to agree with everything they do, just keep and open mind!

Snorkeling off Koh Phi Phi

When you accept other cultures, you become less judgmental – Every culture is different. Be open and push yourself outside your comfort zone.

9. Be Respectful

If you are coming from a place similar to California (like us) you don’t have many regulations when it comes to how you dress and act. As long as you are a good Samaritan and not committing any crimes, you are free to be whoever you want.

That is not the case for every city let alone every country and it is important to respect the cultural differences of each place you go to.

Before you begin your trip, I would browse through google and even Pinterest (I found some great informational charts on travel locations here) for cultural norms with how to dress, act in temples/religious sights, public transit, different social norms, etc. 

The more you know, the more respected and successful you will be throughout your trip.

Adopt some traditions!

One of the amazing things about backpacking to different countries is the ability to adopt new traditions. When you are able to absorb and fully experience different cultures, you might find yourself bringing some of that culture back home!

It may be something as little as leaving your shoes at the front door or eating with a spoon and fork like the local Thai people do.

Or it could be something as big as adopting new religious views. Whatever it may be, you can always count on traveling to bring together traditions from all over the world.

Backpacking in Chiang Mai

I hope this post encourages you to step outside your comfort zone and pushes you to travel somewhere new! The world offers so much more than just a pretty Instagram photo (though we love those too!).

If you missed it, here’s the link to part 1: Value of Travel: Can You Really “Find Yourself”? (Part 1)

Other related posts: Anxiety While Traveling, Save Money While Abroad, and Packing for Extended Travel!

Comment below with your backpacking insights!

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