Use these frequently asked questions about Asia to dispel concerns you may have about your first-time trip.
1. Will I have trouble with the language barrier in Asia?
You'll find some degree of English available in most tourist areas, or at least a friendly, English-speaking local willing to help out when you order food or purchase tickets. The language difference is rarely an issue and will not affect your enjoyment of Asia.
You'll encounter more language difficulties in remote places off the beaten path for sure. Even in places with little or no English, you'll be able to point or charade your way through with a little patience.
2. Are bed bugs a serious problem in Asia?
The recent resurgence of bed bugs affected North America far worse than it has Asia. Ironically, Westerner travelers are bringing bed bugs to Asia from home, rather than the other way around.
Once considered only a problem for backpackers staying in the most budget of places, bed bugs are a serious and costly problem found even in four-star hotels. With a little vigilance on your part, you can avoid coming into contact with them and ultimately avoid spreading the pests.
3. Is Asia really crowded?
For the most part, yes. A majority of the world's population calls Asia home, and most residents are squeezed into urban areas. You will notice a much higher density of people in public transport hubs, shopping malls, and even on busy sidewalks.
Don't be surprised if someone stands too closely while speaking to you. Or if trains and buses are consistently oversold beyond capacity. Have patience and keep in mind that the general considerations of privacy and personal buffer space may be different than that which you are used to at home.
4. Will I have to use squat toilets while in Asia?
While Western-style sit-down toilets are more and more common, you will probably still encounter the odd squat toilet or two. Even modern shopping malls may still have squat toilets, mainly for sanitary reasons.
Tourist hotels and restaurants almost always have sit-down toilets available. You'll mostly find squat toilets in public places.
5. Do tourists pay double prices?
If you're lucky! Tourists are often quoted prices for goods as much as five times what locals pay. Sadly, many tourists are viewed as being “rich” and only a select few honest proprietors will give you the local price when shopping.
Keep in mind that many of the local people are struggling to make ends meet. The price may seem relatively high for a particular item or service, but you may not fully understand what is going on behind the scenes. Many business owners have to pay bribes to police, support family members, share profits with less successful neighbors, and so on.
Generally speaking, you should never pay the asking price. Good-natured haggling is a part of local Asian cultures and you actually contribute to inflation by paying the first price without negotiating.
6. Is Asia safe for children?
Absolutely! Even more so than in the West, a large emphasis is placed on family and kids in Asia. Asian people generally adore both children and parents alike; kids are a great way to break the ice when meeting people.
While some destinations may be rougher and more chaotic for children, you'll find plenty of family-friendly beaches, towns, and areas throughout Asia. Use discretion; perhaps Vietnam's anything-goes Full Moon Party isn't the right place to bring young children!
7. Do I have to worry about offending people accidentally?
Part of the magic of visiting Asia is experiencing a culture very different than your own. While there are a handful of ways that you could unintentionally cause offense and not realize, Asian people are forgiving and know that you may not understand local customs.
Consider if a foreign visitor at home was pointing with their middle finger and had no idea the gesture was rude. While you would probably notice, you hopefully wouldn't take offense and become angry.
8. Will my cell phone work in Asia?
That depends -- both on your phone and the way you wish to use it. In general, American phones will not work in Asia without some help. You can opt for international roaming with certain phones, but using it for anything aside from emergency contact will be very expensive.
Instead, you may be able to 'unlock' your cell phone and then purchase a local SIM card and number. Most Asian countries use a pre-paid system where you can purchase phone credit from kiosks or mini-marts. The rates for dialing and texting home are somewhat competitive.
If you just need to call home every now and then to check on things, you're better off using your smartphone, tablet, or laptop to call across the internet.
9. Will my electronic devices be safe in Asia?
More and more travelers are bringing smartphones, tablets, and laptops to Asia. Depending upon where you travel, the environment could be a little rough on sensitive devices. Sand, rain, insects, and bad power could cause trouble later.
Violent crime is less a problem in Asia than in the US or Europe, however, you should take precautions. Be vigilant with expensive devices; lockboxes are available in many hotels. Chargers are just as much a target for petty thieves; keep all electronics and accessories secure when using public transportation.
Surges and sags in power can harm sensitive devices while they are charging -- avoid leaving things plugged up while unattended.