These are my top things to bring on any trip to S.E. Asia and they can’t fit into a backpack.

Humour

When you haven’t showered in two days, your sweaty hair is plastered to the side of our face, your toilet is a hole in the ground, and the remote island that you are staying on only has a generator that turns off at 10pm at night… Or when your tour guide asks you to try some grilled rat and drink vodka mixed with snake’s blood…  Moments like these, and there are many as S.E. Asia features squat toilets, require a sense of humour to laugh at the crazy circumstances that you have found yourself in and enjoy the ride. I remember developing a particularly useful chicken wrangling technique with a towel when the chickens were clucking outside my room all night keeping me awake. Friends of mine captured the moment on video and it kept us laughing for days.

The girls loving our VIP ride on the bamboo train

Gratitude

The reality is, although it may be very unfamiliar to you, living in conditions without clean running water, limited electricity or a flushing toilet is how most of the world lives. While at a home stay in S.E. Asia, we slept in a small hut on the floor under mosquito nets but with no fans in the muggy heat. I could hardly sleep, but while I tossed and turned I thought about how my hosts and most of the world’s population lives like this every single day. There was a sense of gratitude to our hosts for being so kind and inviting us into their homes and awareness of my privileged life back home. One of the good things about travel is that it opens you to the reality of how other people live and makes you grateful for your own personal circumstances.

Home stay in Laos

Respectfulness

When you are visiting another country (that is not your own), try as far as possible to respect their local customs and traditions. In S.E. Asia, there are a lot of places (temples, holy sites, museums) that require a woman to cover her legs and arms. There are other customs such as not pointing directly at a Buddha statue including having your feet angled away from the statue. I feel like when I travel to a new country, I must act as if I am a guest in some-one’s home and therefore I have to treat their own traditions and customers with respect. I can’t prescribe to them how to do things in their own home.

Standard temple gear requires covered knees and shoulders

Sense of Adventure

When you are travelling, don’t kid yourself into thinking that you will be back to all the places you have already been to. The world is too big a place to explore all of it and so you need to fully embrace all of the experiences that are presented. S.E. Asia offers a plethora of adventure activity options in some incredibly scenic spots. So, whether that is swimming, hiking, climbing, jumping, cycling or whatever, you should push yourself out of your comfort zone to try new things. I was shocked whenever we would reach a beautiful waterfall and some people did not want to swim. A challenge for me was working up the nerve to jump off the fourth floor of a house boat in Thailand. I have a fear of heights, particularly of jumping off into the air or water, but I pushed myself to do it because it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me.

Swimming in Laos

Authenticity

Travelling for many has become a form of a status symbol. By all means, take photographs to capture the moment but don’t #bowwowchallenge it. I remember spending ages playing soccer and other games with kids in a local village along the banks of the Mekong River. Other girls who were travelling with us just stood on the side-lines and watched. A few days later, I saw pictures on their Facebook page of them posing with a small girl in the village and I was confused because they barely had any interaction with these kids. It honestly must have been in the split second that the girl walked passed them on her way to play with the rest of us. I have seen others with dramatic shots standing in their bikinis poised to jump into beautiful waterfalls when I remember that they didn’t even get in to swim. Rather than fabricating social media worthy moments, create beautiful memories and live them.

Collecting memories of S.E. Asia

Balanced lifestyle

I know that I can travel for about 3 months at a time before I start to miss home, my friends and family, and the normalcy of a day-to-day routine. I met some girls who had spent months travelling around South America and when they were touring S.E. Asia had become travelled-out. They spent a lot of time sleeping in their rooms, with lack lustre enthusiasm for any outing, and dragging themselves around S.E. Asia ticking off spots. I think travel fatigue is natural and sometimes you can counter it by taking a few hours or even a day or two off. Try keep some form of balanced lifestyle in your day-to-day travels. Do your laundry, get a massage, read a book, chill by the local pool, go to the gym, or whatever it is that you need to re-invigorate yourself and come back with sense of wonderment at this remarkable experience you are having. I took a few hours off now and then for some me time and it really helped.  If you reach that point, and a day or two out doesn’t re-charge you, then go home early. But know your limits and try to carve out those quiet moments that will give you some balance to fully enjoy the travel experience.

Taking time out to chill on a hammock