I just got back from a two-week vacation. My family stayed in four- and five-star hotels. We ate like royalty and took taxis everywhere. And it cost less than many all-inclusive vacation resorts.
Let me share the secrets to amazing travel in Asia.
How Your Military Family Can Travel Asia Like A Boss On The Budget Of An Intern
The first secret to an amazing trip is the flight. You could totally splurge and there are many regional and international airlines that go all out. However, they also cost an arm and a leg for relatively short trips.
Instead, go budget.
Low Cost Carriers or LCCs are often the least expensive way to travel in Asia. We’ve taken an LCC to mainland Japan, Okinawa, Thailand and South Korea. While the seats are tight and nothing is included, this has been the best option for travel so far.
These airlines are similar to the budget carriers stateside. You buy your seat and nothing else is included. However, prices to and from major hubs are usually less than $100 per ticket. When flying as a family, keeping it basic and on budget can help with the bottom line.
Rock Bottom Hotel Pricing
As you’re looking for places to go, take a peek at their hotel prices. In major cosmopolitan cities, like Tokyo or Seoul, prices are comparable to similar U.S. cities. This can make staying in swanky lodgings a real budget killer.
In Southeast Asia, everything is much, much cheaper. How much cheaper? We stayed in a luxury one-bedroom suite with a kitchenette in the heart of Bangkok for $100 per night. That’s how cheap. The room deal included breakfast too.
This was the case throughout our travels in this region. Many hotels are incredibly cheap compared to similar properties in the United States. Almost every property we stayed at, from Bangkok to Hoi An, included breakfast. We only stayed in one room that wasn’t at suite level during the whole two-week vacation.
The farther you get from the metropolitan areas, the bigger the price drop. Our private bungalow in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, was $40 per night, with breakfast included. You just cannot beat that!
When staying in a larger city or if you want a more “authentic” experience, Airbnb or private property rentals can be a great route.
We opted to do this in Seoul. The Dragon Hill Lodge was fully booked and there weren’t a ton of hotel rooms that fit both our budget and our needs. Instead, we rented an entire apartment from Airbnb. The owner was a native of Seoul and gave us great advice about places to eat, getting around and local culture.
Our apartment was about the same cost, or less, than a standard hotel room. We had triple the space, a full kitchen and a stellar rooftop patio right near Itaewon and Yongsan.
In researching future trips, I’ve seen amazing properties available all over Asia. There are fully-staffed private villas in Bali and beachfront bungalows in Koh Samui. Plus, you can adjust the filters to meet your needs, budget and desired location.
One of my biggest fears about traveling throughout Asia was avoiding illness. I’ve heard horror stories about people who have been taken down hard by food born illness or tummy troubles. The entire vacation was ruined.
Military families should take advantage of the travel medicine clinic at your local MTF. It was super easy to book an appointment at our clinic. The doctor walked me through best practices, recommended vaccinations and prescribed emergency medicine just in case. Best of all, everything was 100% free.
While traveling in some Asian countries, it’s super important to be conscious of what and where you are eating. I was advised to only drink bottled or boiled water and to skip most iced drinks. Sometimes the ice hasn’t been carefully filtered and can cause illness. It’s also best to stick to street food vendors that look cleaner and who are constantly preparing fresh foods. If it’s been sitting for a while there is a higher chance for sickness down the road.
Bugs and bug-borne illness are prevalent in many Asian nations as well. Zika, malaria and yellow fever are very real threats throughout the region. Wearing lightweight long-sleeve shirts and pants while out in nature can help. Another great idea is using bug sprays, bracelets and stickers. We found the bug stickers to be very effective on our baby carrier and hats. While we still picked up a few bug bites, we did not get sick.
Shop Til You Drop
The shopping in many Asian countries is unparalleled. There are stores, vendors and markets that sell almost anything and everything you can imagine, as well as many things you didn’t know you needed.
I’ve read many articles that advise heavy bartering to negotiate a lower price. I personally have found that this didn’t work. I had better luck with subtle nudges to a lower price.
Shopping in Asia is a great time to pick up gifts on the cheap. In Japan, the Daiso and 100 Yen stores are the best bets for low-cost products with outstanding quality. In Seoul, there are markets and vendors near many subway stations. Throughout Thailand and Vietnam, there are markets and storefronts that sell literally everything at rock-bottom prices.
If you go to Vietnam or Thailand, it might be a good time to invest in a suit or formal wear. Hoi An, in particular, is known for their amazing tailor shops. I can personally vouch for the quality of their work. I picked up a gorgeous ball gown, plus a few other more casual custom items.
Cities, like Tokyo and Seoul, have amazing mass transit systems. Their subways are immaculately clean and precisely on time. We avoided rush hour in both locations, thankfully. Even during busy times, everyone we met was polite and helpful. Plus Seoul has glass walls and doors to keep people from wandering onto the tracks. Amazing!
We took taxis and tuk-tuks throughout Thailand and Vietnam. It was much easier to get to where we wanted in a timely manner. Plus, it cost next to nothing. Our hour-long ride from the airport to the hotel? That was $18 USD.