If you’ve got a gap year or career break on the horizon (and we really think you should), it can be tempting to succumb to the romance of backpacking across Europe. Unfortunately, thanks to changing visa regulations, spending more than a couple of months in Europe isn’t just expensive, it’s increasingly difficult to manage the legal ins and outs. Follow the long-term travel tide and head instead to Southeast Asia. The Banana Pancake Trail is filled with unique destinations that will slake your wanderlust and be easier on your wallet than the European journeys of yore.
The bustling streets of Bangkok are a great place to begin your journey, if for no other reason than the fact that the Thai capital’s airport is the largest in the region and can therefore offer cheaper airfares. Browse the stunning art collection of the National Museum for a quiet day in or troll the bazaars in Chinatown for a more stimulating outing. When you’re ready to leave the Big Mango, you can head south to the paradisiacal beaches of Phuket or Koh Samui, or venture north to the hilled landscape of Chiang Mai. Either direction will take you to a slightly smaller city with a gentler atmosphere, perfect for unwinding after the culture shock of Bangkok.
The islands of Indonesia are widely varied and all deserving of your visit. Bali is easily the most popular with tourists and expats, thanks to its blend of exotic temples and hammock-worthy beaches. But don’t be afraid to strike off the beaten path and explore other areas of this volcanic scattering of land across the equator. Grab a cup of joe on Java or if you’re feeling brave, go camping on the infamous volcano Krakatoa. Indonesia’s welcoming people make every corner of this island nation worth traveling to.
Bangkok and Bali are big-name, bucket list destinations, but make sure to schedule a stop in a more remote locale as well. Laos is just starting to catch on with Western travelers, and as a result is quite sheltered from tourist influence for the moment. Remove yourself even further from your 9-to-5 grind back home by spending a night or two in one of Luang Prabang’s beautiful temples. Temple stays are a rite of passage for many travelers in Asian countries, and Laos is no exception. Once you land, simply asking around about wats open to travelers can earn you a bed without much hassle, though it is good form to make a donation before you leave.
While Southeast Asia dominates the Banana Pancake Trail, this well-worn backpacking route stretches far into Central Asia, encompassing India and Nepal as well. Trekking in Nepal is one of the most rewarding experiences many long-term travelers have checked off their bucket lists. Join in the fun by hiring a guide to escort you through the majestic Annapurna Circuit. Three weeks of magnificent mountain views aren’t something you would ever get on your average vacation, so take advantage of the opportunity now. You can book guided treks online, but these are often run by Western companies that charge more and don’t always support the local economy. Wait until you land in Kathmandu, and ask around about reputable local guides so your money can help restore Nepal after its recent devastating earthquake.
Long-term travel is a life-changing experience, and sticking to this beloved path through Southeast Asia won’t just fill your days with unforgettable wonder – it’ll keep things affordable too.