Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Philippines, Myanmar, Singapore

Friday, December 30, 2011

How To Get Your Southeast Asia Trip Paid For (Practically)

Not exactly free . . . but about close
as you are going to get!
Southeast Asia is generally a wonderfully inexpensive place to travel with a few caveats. If you are like most of us though--that famous 99%--it is still a pretty serious undertaking with plane tickets alone costing a pretty penny. However, be encouraged . . . you can practically get your trip paid for if you plan ahead.

No, we aren't talking about writing a guide book or reviewing fine restaurants or some scheme to get a free plane ticket but taking a couple days (or hours) out to do what you would have to do back home like shopping or visiting the dentist. By taking advantage of some items and services that are so much cheaper in Southeast Asia than they are in the West, particularly the USA, you can off-set the entire cost of your trip.

How to Get a Trip to Southeast Asia Paid For (Practically)

Get Your Glasses in Southeast Asia

How much did you pay for your last pair of glasses? $200? Maybe even $400. I got the glasses on my nose for $40, including my eye exam. My last pair (from India) had cost $450.

Now I don't advocate completing skipping your next eye exam back home, but usually your glasses cost a lot more than an optometrist visit. However, Cambodia is one place where you can get a free eye exam (basically just to determine your prescription) and a basic pair of attractive glasses for $40 or less.  Contacts, while less readily available, can also be cheaply purchased in Thailand and Malaysia including getting an eye test for your prescription. 

Savings: $200-$500

Have Your Next Dental Checkup or Dental Work In Southeast Asia

While not many people think of going to the dentist while on "vacation," doing so can save you a bundle of money.  Bangkok and Chang Mai, Thailand both have dental clinics aimed primary at Western customers, and Phnom Penh and Siem Reap in Cambodia now also sport several Western-focused clinics that specialize in cosmetic dentistry.  A tooth cleaning at a local dentist in Cambodia, most of whom will have studied dentistry in Thailand or Vietnam, will cost you $5-20.

Many cosmetic dentists also study in neighboring countries, or perhaps even Australia, Europe, Japan or the United States.  They can provide tooth implants for as little as $150 up to $300 for very high end implants.  Ceramic caps can also be done for less than $100 each.  Compared to the $4000-$6500 for a single tooth implant in the United States, you could have every tooth in your head pulled and replaced for less than what you would pay for one in the USA (not that we advocate that, either--it just does not sound very fun at all). 

Teeth whitening procedures at cosmetic clinics run about $80, or at cheaper local clinics as little as $40.  For major operations, like root canals, we recommend you find high-quality clinics with some Western-trained staff.  Most will have brochures listing staff members and their credentials.  If not, just ask.  But even if you are just getting your sixth month cleaning or getting an implant, the savings from a visit to the dentist between a visit to the islands and temple exploring help off-balance the cost or could pay for your whole ticket!

Savings: $200-$5,000+

Get Your Next Medical Check-Up, Minor or Major Surgery Done

While it may sound a bit scary to come to Southeast Asia for medical treatment (I can hear the uninitiated gasp--”Isn't that somewhere you go and get sick?”) Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore offer world-class medical care from heart transplants, cancer treatments, rhinoplasty (that's a nose job) to sex changes. You can read our earlier article about medical tourism in Thailand to learn more about some of the many options. While a trip to Southeast Asia for cancer treatment or a heart transplant is probably not what you would call a vacation, if you've been thinking about a nose job, having some moles removed, or other out-patient procedures it can be an ideal way to combine R&R with a little adventure either before or after your procedures--recovering from your lipsuction while showing off your new beach-ready body on an Andaman Sea island doesn't sound too shabby.

Savings: $180-$10,000+

Buy Your Traveling Supplies, Including Malaria Medication, Once You Get There

Another idea is to pack light and plan to spend your first few days shopping for your essential traveling gear. When I travel to Southeast Asia, I pack ultra-light: a few changes of underwear, a pair of pants and a pair of shorts, three shirts, my flashlight and some of the harder to find items on our Southeast Asia Packing List. What is probably a couple hundred dollars worth of “stuff” can be picked up for half that in Southeast Asia, and you can save at least another $200 more getting your malaria medication once in Southeast Asia. You should get the needed vaccinations/immunizations, though, before you go.

Savings: $200-$300

Buy Your New Wardrobe in Southeast Asia

Petaling Street Night Market--at day!
Whether you shop cheap at Wal-Mart of high-end like Guess and The Gap, much of your clothes are coming from Southeast Asia anyway. And plenty of that same apparel (and with whatever name brand you want on it, too--”We've got this same shirt in Armani, D&G and Puma . . .”) is on the market here, and cheap. 

Let's face it—clothing, even for bargain shoppers, can be expensive. However, you can buy a suit and have it fitted in Southeast Asia for $50 or less, or you have a suit made for you for about $80-$120. And six or seven dollars can buy you very nice button-down dress shirts or blouses that would cost $25 or more back in the USA. Jeans are more hit and miss—be sure to try them on because many on the market here are seconds from the export industry, so the pockets will be funny or the seam won't run right. But still, a sexy pair of jeans can still be had for under $20 (or even $5 in local markets). And skirts and nice dresses can also be easily had for $25 or less. Wallets, checkbook covers, purses, and leather jackets and other leather products are also usually much less. 

Shoes, unfortunately, aren't so much of a bargain as a good pair of leather shoes won't equal much of a savings while much cheaper shoes—often of faux leather despite what you might be told—are shoddier made. A day or two shopping in local markets (malls will be less of a savings, but still can be) to fill a suitcase before coming home can go a long way in off-setting the expense of your travel.

Savings: $200-$1500

Write an Article for Southeast Asia Travel Advice!

While it won't pay for your trip, a travel article for Southeast Asia Travel Advice will cover the price of a couple of great meals. We love to hear (and print) traveler's stories, reviews, destination guides and more. For original material not published elsewhere, we pay from $2 to $20 per article, and for republishing your awesome blog post we pay from $1-$10. While it won't pay for your plane ticket, at least you can brag to your friends from behind your slick new glasses with your shiny white teeth that you “made some money travel writing” while in Southeast Asia. And we admit there are other publishers out there that might be interested in your story—but you'll have to find them on your own ;)

Earnings: $2-$100


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