With a continent of people so richly diverse (and packed), Asia holds a trove of travel treasures. I have to admit that Asia was never on my immediate regions to explore—in fact, I did not think I would travel there until I was well into my 30s. However, by overcoming my own fear of the unknown, I have learned that Asia is a region that any individual (at any age) should visit.
It goes without saying that Asia is a region unique from the rest and to really find joy in your exploration of Asia can only be achieved if you full embrace your journey. These are my tips on how to put aside your love for other regions of the world and to accept Asia whole-heartedly.
1. Spend a Good Amount of Time People-Watching
From the moment you step off the plane, you will realize that Asians have a very different way of life. Take some time out of your busy itinerary to sit, enjoy a green or bubble milk tea, and watch how people go about their days.
2. Reconsider What You Packed
Regardless which Asian country you are traveling to and your choice in accommodations, always re-evaluate the items which you are bringing. Lots or large suitcases are almost never ideal. Even if you try to justify with the thought of taking taxis or shuttle services straight from airport to hotel, there are almost always times when luggage becomes a handful (literally)! Sometimes, taxis will not pull up directly to the front of the hotel, other times there may be deep puddles or standing in the rain, large crowds, or uneven walkways. Some accommodations, such as hostels, guesthouses, or apartment buildings, might not have working elevators. Unless you love a good arm workout in your trip, pack less. Chances are, you won’t need everything you are packing anyway.
3. Eat more than Western food
Now I have to admit that even I crave Western food and living as an expat, there might or might not be days where I buy Mexican food supplies at five times their actual costs. Asia is a food haven! Get out of the comforts of burgers, pizzas, and fries. You can eat all of those foods in abundance back at home, but while on your trip take advantage of the local food. Taiwan, for instance, has delicious food from all over the Asian region. My advice: Pick one new food group each day for lunch while traveling in Asia. Further, skip all the nights out drinking! Despite the popularity of nightlife activities that movies like “The Hangover II” have promoted, Asia has so much more to offer. Limit nightly activities so that you can enjoy the great breakfast options in most Asian cities.
4. Experience public transportation
Any traveler who has wandered in Asia has a few “This one time on the bus/train/bike/metro…” stories. Cars have given many Westerns a false sense of personal space. Riding the bus in Asia during rush hour is like attending a summer music festival: hot, sweaty, bumpy, and overly-crowded. Yet, that has not stopped our continual attendance to these festivities. Why not experience that in your authentic immersion into Asian life? You’ll never see elbow space the same way again.
5. Embrace the rainy days
Rain is a part of life in Asia. Simply put, unless there are large amount of moving water such as those found in a typhoon, life will go on as normal. High winds and flooding streets actually haven’t stopped me from going out for dinner. I was joking the other day with a friend visiting Taiwan about this very topic. It had rained quite suddenly and I had laughed that people here seemingly pull large umbrellas from out of nowhere and carry on as normal. She completely agreed. Can you say Mary Poppins’ bag?
6. Take pictures of walls, windows, pillars, storefronts, people, street corners, and any other random details
At the time, you might seem silly taking pictures of all these random moments and pieces of the Asian landscape. I can almost certainly guarantee that Asia will cause you some sort of mental confusion, also known as culture shock. As someone who luckily manages to get very minimal amounts of cultural shock, I can personally attest to the amount of time it took me to get used to Asia. There is so much to take in: signs everywhere, people constantly moving in pattern-less motions, traffic loud and busy, and noise in every nook of Asian cities. Your mind can only take in so much stimulation. So to compensate, take lots of pictures ranging from small details to big scenes. When you get home, you can sort through these photos at your own pace, learning and noticing more than you ever could on foot. They don’t have to be Facebook quality to bring greater enrichment and understanding to your journey.
7. Mix city and outdoor activities
Asia is known for its large bustling cities, such as Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Bangkok. It is also admired for its beaches and watery escapes. Yet, in between these two widely sought after destinations are lush areas of green. Asia has some of the most breathtaking and original natural attractions. Often times, these are not very far from the cities with a small bit of research. Plan your itinerary to hold a little of both for all the Asian countries you visit.
Overall, Asia is unlike anywhere else. As a region just now becoming more accessible to travelers, Asia offers its visitors so much if only they are willing to embrace all that is different about this corner of the world.