Guidebook addicts and zealous over-planners, beware! We rounded up the top things not to do when planning a short stay in Asia – and what to do instead.
Responsibilities at work, fleeting time off and an ever-growing email inbox – no matter how hard we try, sometimes the demands of the real world mean we can’t take as much time for travel as we’d like to. So with only two or three weeks for travel in Asia, we’re often left with only one or two days in each city along a journey.
So, it’s no surprise that many travellers to Asia manage to sprint their way through a whirlwind journey without ever experiencing those “wow” moments that good travel promises. And that almost always comes down to a few obvious mistakes.
When we’re travelling, quantity doesn’t always equal quality – so long as you don’t get caught making any of these rookie mistakes.
Keep your guide book with you… the entire time.
We all love a great guide book. Anyone who has ever shown up in a new city that they know nothing about can attest to the comfort that comes from a Lonely Planet by their side. The biggest mistake travellers make on short stays is assuming that a guide book means you’ll see everything you need to see – when the reality is anything but.
Our advice? Skim through your guidebook and decide what you want to see – but then leave it back at the hotel. Having your guidebook with you means that you’re likely to pull it out of your pocket at any hint of spare time. Meanwhile, you’ll have your face buried in the pages searching for your next destination while extraordinary travel experiences are passing before your (pre-occupied) eyes.
Don’t worry about where and what you eat.
Plenty of tourists visiting a city for the first time will mistakenly think that “seeing the sights” is more important than enjoying the food. In the meantime, they’ll be singing the praises of local connection and cultural discovery – all while forgetting that food in Asia is local culture at its very best.
We recommend carving out at least an hour for every meal, and don’t you dare get it “to go”. In Asia, the experience of eating among the locals is half of the fun – and a great meal is worth the time spent in a great restaurant. Your stomach will be happy you did.
Spend no more than 5 minutes at a city attraction.
Beware the snap and dash! Contrary to popular belief, the “touristy” bits of a destination are not worth only a photo. If you’re in a city where locals actually live (which is all of them), even the tourist attractions are located among residents going about their normal lives.
Rather than simply snapping a photo and moving on, spend an extra 15 or 20 minutes getting to know the area you’re in. Going “off of the beaten track” is still entirely possible a stone’s throw from a tourist hotspot. Take Rattanakosin in Bangkok, for example, the city’s most famous area for temple relics. Five minutes walking from the Grand Palace is a small pottery village most tourists pass up on a hurried course to another photo opportunity.
Avoid the locals at all costs.
In big cities – and especially near major attractions – tourists often feel as if they are constantly being preyed upon by scam artists. While sometimes this can happen, it’s poor judgment to assume that every local is out to get you. What often happens is that tourists avoid interacting with locals altogether – an unwise decision in a country where cultural discovery happens when you open your eyes to how the locals live.
The best way to avoid the scams while still meeting the locals is to do so in places where no one is roaming. Tea shops, food stalls and public parks are great places to hang out with locals. Most scammers won’t stay in the same place for long, and so it’s unlikely you’ll meet someone with ulterior motives camped out at a food stall. And, if you do find yourself interacting with a less-than-savory character, do as the locals do – a cheeky smile and a wave of the hand is the best way to diffuse a bad situation.
We’re all about planning (we’re a travel company, after all) but on a far end of the spectrum is the zealous over-planner, who manages to cram enough to fill an entire week in a city all into one day. While it’s good to know what you want to see, a little prioritisation goes a long way – especially in Asia, where the commute from A to B can sometimes get delayed with traffic or the odd street food stall calling your name.
Once you have a basic idea of where you want to go and how you want to get there, allow yourself the time to take the scenic route every once in a while. In Asia’s biggest cities, it’s those little alleyways that sometimes hide the coolest finds and surprises.
Do everything all by yourself.
We all like to feel as if we’ve discovered something for ourselves when we’re travelling. Though a sense of independence can be exhilarating for some, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. And, if you’re visiting a city or town for a short amount of time, there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of help to make the visit worthwhile.
Sometimes, a tour guide and a great day tour itinerary can be the difference between a good day, and a great one – and the perfect way to avoid the pitfalls of a 24 hour visit. That’s exactly what our team set out to do when we created our Essence Tours – highlights tours with a special focus on local interaction, highlights and surprises and top-notch food. Next time you’re planning a whirlwind adventure with your limited vacation time, we can help you make those short stays in top attractions worth every minute.