You can begin your limitless travel adventures in a cheap international city. From there you can buy all the gear (you think ;]) you need, start planning & gently adapt to the local culture.
This “recipe” applies to whoever plans to leave home for a very long time: long-term travellers, digital nomads, perpetual travellers & the like.
Before leaving your home, focus on getting all the paperwork done: insurances, banking, employment/company-setup, legal related issues & more.
Leave all the gear-shopping to one of your first destinations – you can even get your gear fixed (i.e. a camera) for a cheaper price usually, either by a random shop (not recommended) or by an official brand store.
Doing all the buying back home would cost much more & take your focus away from much more important matters. You may spend the same amount of money by living 1 week back home as in 1 month somewhere else. So why not do all this when abroad?
You can also do your vaccinations done in that first stop, read further for more details.
Destinations you should consider to start your world trip
Regarding southeast Asia, I would highly recommend Bangkok & Kuala Lumpur.
They have the benefit of:
- Cheap international flights
- Good English speakers
- Lots of malls
- Lots of official brand stores & official resellers
- Lots of cheap local shops selling clothes, electronics & more
- Very good hospitals
- Very cheap accommodation: for instance, KL has beds in decent hostel dorms from 20 Ringgit (around $4/night).
- Very cheap food: main dishes in local restaurants from $1
For any city you consider starting your trip from (to buy gear), I would look at each point above to decide whether or not it seems like a good idea.
Can I actually find all the products that I have back home?
International brands are usually present in any developed city. If you want to best bet is to double check online about this: contact stores directly via social networks, ask on a relevant Facebook group or forums. Some websites might not be up to date so it’s always better to get the information from people somehow.
Can I buy online when over there?
Yes, and the most famous website to do that in Southeast Asia seems to be Lazada. You can get products delivered in a matter of a few days.
More about delivery: your guesthouse/hotel should be fine with you receiving deliveries as long as you have a booking. Just double check with your hotel first, make sure you can track the shipping for safety reasons.
Note: I have received online shopping deliveries while traveling (at a coworking space) & I have received 2 bank cards (one in Vietnam & another in Malaysia) sent from my bank in Europe to my hotel. A friend has been using Lazada in Thailand for several years now & received positive feedback about it from other people.
For any product you plan to buy
For any product you plan to buy, go on the brand’s website and look for a reseller in the given city. You can then call them using Skype (or message them via Facebook, shops usually have Facebook pages nowadays) to double check product availability.
As much as I dislike to say that, shopping malls are the best places to find quality & genuine products.
Products are usually at same or cheaper prices as in western countries & you can get a tax refund on top of that (between 5 & 19% usually, depending on country and type of product).
For specific type of product you plan to buy
Electronics: you can buy almost any fancy electronics you want in those places, but double check first. i.e. Amazon’s kindle is hard to find in Thailand or Malaysia (& it’s much more expensive when you do find it).
Outdoor gear: many international brand shops offer a wide range of gear. However, you may not find the exact brands you have back home.
Getting some gear repaired or customized
Regarding electronics, many random shops will propose to fix your equipment.
However, you may have little knowledge of the quality of the components they replace or add. And if there is an issue afterwards, you might not have much options to get the mistake fixed.
So my recommendation would be to try to find an official store or official reseller. This way, you can only get a high quality result & if anything goes wrong you will be able to complain to get things sorted out.
Another alternative would be to get a quality component from an official store/reseller & get it installed by a cheaper random electronic shop. I would only consider that only if I know the replacement to be an easy enough job.
What does it mean in practice?
Buying a camera in Kuala Lumpur
I was looking into buying a new camera, this time I wanted something a bit better than my last one (a point and shoot, the Canon G12) & also something easy enough to carry. The Mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras (abbreviated MILC) seemed to fit my goals as they have great performances & are small enough. Finally, after hours of research on MILC I finally made up my mind for the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II.
I then contacted by phone many official Olympus resellers in Kuala Lumpur. I asked them about any special offers they had on the camera (they often give you freebies or good deals on a second lens) & about the type of warranty it came with.
I finally got the best deal offer from the official Olympus store in Kuala Lumpur: camera + kit lens (14-42) + zoom lens (40-150) + 2 lens UV protections + extra battery + 16GB sdcard + case + 1 year international warranty. All this for 3600 MYR (865 USD), when the best price I found on Amazon.com with so many add-ons was 970 USD (without international warranty though).
If you remove the VAT (5% for electronics in Malaysia) that you can get refunded at the airport (enquire about this first at the shop), that’s a final price of 3420 MYR (820 USD).
Buying a MacBook Air in Bali (Indonesia)
My friend wanted to buy a MacBook Air when in Bali, but it turned out Indonesia does NOT have any official Apple store (at that time anyway, in August 2015). So you can only buy from Apple’s authorized resellers in Indonesia, which also means you can only buy the laptops with the default settings.
And of course, adding extra SSD memory & getting a more powerful processor was a must. So waiting to get to a country with official Apple stores was necessary (i.e. Malaysia or Singapore).
Getting a Canon camera repaired in Kuala Lumpur
My camera had a few nasty scratches on the lens. I decided not to repair it when back home as the quote was too high, almost the price of the camera when brand new. But when in Kuala Lumpur I contacted the official Canon shop: they quoted me 200 USD for fixing the lens, a few malfunctioning buttons & changing the internal time-battery. Which was pretty much getting it brand new again.
The only down side is that it takes at least 2 weeks to get this done. So you have to either stay around for all this time or come back later. I decided to come back later as the Canon store told me they did not mind storing my camera up to several months as long as I let them know about it.
Buying outdoor gear in Kuala Lumpur
I needed a couple of things after a few months traveling. One of them was this cool water filter (Sawyer water filter) which would become super useful when hiking or just when in extremely remote places. After some research I found this shop called Explorer Outfitter that seemed to have a big range of products. I contacted them on Facebook to double check stock availability & how to get there.
Useful links for shopping
- Lazada.co.th – “the Amazon.com of Southeast Asia”
- invadeit.co.th – for electronics
- Decathlon in Thailand. This shop is extremely popular in France, it has a wide range of sport & outdoor gear.
- any other link suggestions are welcome
- Lazada.my – “the Amazon.com of Southeast Asia”
- Olympus official store in Kuala Lumpur
- Canon official stores in Kuala Lumpur
- Sony official stores in Kuala Lumpur
- Samsung official stores in Kuala Lumpur
- Explorer Outfitter (outdoor shop) in Kuala Lumpur
Which vaccinations for which region?
Go to a clinics/hospital and they will tell you which vaccinations you need. You don’t want to base your decisions on “I heard” or “someone told me”.
- Thai Travel Clinic at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases, Bangkok – thaitravelclinic.com
- SIPH hospital, Bangkok – siphhospital.com
- Bangkok’s Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute – saovabha.com
Note: your travel insurance may not cover you if you get sick & never bothered to get your vaccinations done.
Getting a health check up
While you are the hospital to get your vaccinations, you could as well get a health check up.
This probably would make you more confident on going forward with your adventurous plans. And who knows, you may do this check up a year later & find out you’re in even better shape after all this sun & good times!
For good addresses, check the previous paragraph on “getting vaccinations”.
Vaccinations in Thailand: facebook.com/groups/cmnomads/permalink/1810214992564907
Vaccinations in Bangkok: the-working-traveller.com/travelphotofacts-cheap-vaccinations-in-bangkok-thailand/
Credits: banner picture by Mathias Krumbholz (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons