When we left to travel the world, I never imagined we’d spend the first two years of our trip in Asia. After all, there are plenty more continents to explore, right? We became addicted to Asia though and spent months backpacking in the region before settling in Vietnam to teach. When we finally flew back to London last June, ready for new adventures in the USA and Europe, I certainly didn’t think we’d be returning to Asia anytime soon. So, why are we flying back to Thailand in August?
Why are we Returning to Asia?
We started 2016 with high hopes of building a life in Madrid, Spain. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out and we had to totally re-evaluate our plans for the future. After a lot of soul searching we decided that we want to continue exploring the world and working abroad, at least for the next couple of years, while also saving money for the future when we one day hope to have a ‘proper’ home. Ultimately, we decided that moving back to Asia was the best way to achieve these goals, here are five reasons why.
Living in Asia is Cheap
Since leaving Asia we’ve been hit hard by the cost of living and travelling in the western world. Our three-month USA road trip cost us £7,886, including flights. Although we thought Spain would be fairly cheap, accommodation has been more expensive than we expected and affordable apartments have been hard to find. Since our plans of living and earning a steady income in Madrid have fallen through, we’ve had to look at ways to make our money go further and that means first and foremost, reducing our living costs.
While we’ll be moving to Eastern Europe at the end of May to save money, it’s hard to beat the low cost of living in Asia. When we lived in Hanoi in Vietnam, our joint monthly outgoings hovered at around £750 a month for two people and we lived very well, enjoying regular meals out, massages and trips away. We rented a great apartment in the Old Quarter of the city for just £290 a month and even working just 20 hours a week each allowed us to save around three quarters of our income.
Travelling in Asia definitely didn’t break the bank either and our monthly travel costs for two people averaged just over £1,000. When you consider that this includes eating out three times a day, sightseeing, all of our transport and staying in mid-range accommodation, that’s a great deal. You can see how much we spent while travelling in Asia here, but the cheapest country for us turned out to be Laos, where we spent just £29.10 a day. Although travelling is cheap in Asia, we’re hoping to significantly reduce our living costs by moving to one particular city in Asia and renting an apartment for at least six months.
The Work Opportunities in Asia are Great
We are extremely lucky that as English speakers with British passports, we have the opportunity to work in different parts of the world, especially if we choose to teach English. Although we’ve been offered plenty of teaching work in Spain, the wages have been lower than we expected and the living costs higher; this goes for most European countries where we could live visa-free (as long as the UK stays in the EU) and pick up teaching work.
From what we’ve researched, aside from the Middle East, Asia offers the best English teaching opportunities in the world. As we found out from teaching in Vietnam, there’s a high demand for native-English speaking teachers in Asia, especially if you have some experience and the right qualifications. One of the benefits of teaching in Asia is that the wages are relatively high compared to the living costs; in Vietnam, for instance, we earned $22/23 per hour.
When we return to Asia teaching will remain one of our key income streams but we’re also experimenting with earning money online through writing, blogging and Skype teaching. Since this is a less consistent form of income and we have no guarantee how much we’ll generate each month, Asia is the ideal place to work on this since we don’t have to make much to cover our expenses. With the exception of Burma, we’ve also found that WiFi access in South East Asia is pretty good, much better than in some western countries like New Zealand in fact, or parts of Spain.
There are plenty of Volunteering Options in Asia
One of my goals when we left the UK in 2013 was to volunteer abroad. Although we’ve spent time briefly working at a Dog Rescue Project in Thailand and as disaster relief volunteers in the Philippines, I would love to get some more volunteering experience to help others and hopefully broaden my future job prospects. Since the cost of living is low in Asia I can afford to volunteer while working part-time online or teaching. Back in the UK where it’s much more expensive to live, I just wouldn’t be able to afford this; in London I struggled to fit in a few hours volunteering here and there for an animal home alongside my full-time job.
There are ways to volunteer everywhere in the world, but when we moved to Madrid I was disheartened that there didn’t seem to be any volunteering opportunities for non-Spanish speakers. In Asia, speaking English can be an advantage as many organisations are looking for help with English writing, office and website tasks as well as teaching. Saying that, in Asia (or anywhere in the world), it’s important to make sure that you volunteer responsibly and finding ethical opportunities can be tricky. I’m hoping that with some careful research and resources like Grassroots Volunteering, I can find some volunteer work when we return to Asia.
We can Save Money in Asia
When we lived in London it took us three years to save around £30,000 for our travel adventure. By contrast, we taught for just nine months in Vietnam, working on average 20 hours a week (compared with 40 in the UK), and we were able to save £15,000. Although I plan to spend a chunk of time volunteering, we can still save money much easier in Asia, especially if we spend another academic year at some point teaching full time in a country like Japan or Hong Kong where the wages are crazily high.
Although we want to put some of our earnings aside towards a future home, we also have plans to save for trips to South America, Canada and a return to the USA which has become one of my favourite travel destinations. I dream of exploring the West Coast of the US and returning to New England one day – if visas were no issue, in the future I’d move to Vermont in a heartbeat.
The Lifestyle and Beauty of Asia
Those are all the practical reasons why we’ve decided to return to Asia, but we were also drawn back there by a gut feeling that it’s the right place for us to be. When we were struggling in Madrid, our thoughts kept returning to Asia and we couldn’t help but compare how much better the work options, apartments and living costs were. In particular, we became obsessed with the idea of returning to Chiang Mai in Thailand, a city that we love and came to see as our Asian home when we were travelling in the region.
This longing for Asia came as a real shock to me. When we left Vietnam a year ago I was over the craziness of daily life in Hanoi; the smog and beeping horns, the chaos and noise. Now that we’ve had some distance I realise how great our life in Vietnam was; we worked with (mostly) enthusiastic, energetic kids, we were paid well and had a good work-life balance. We could afford to spend hours in coffee shops, take trips to the surrounding countryside, meet up with friends and chill out in our apartment.
I miss the overall feel of Asia; the early-morning markets, the frantic energy, the temples and incense, the massages and sunshine, the rice terraces, beaches, rainforests and mountains. There are still so many countries we’ve yet to explore in Asia too; those among the top of our list are Japan, Sri Lanka and Nepal. Although I’m excited about our plans to explore more of Europe over the next six months, I also feel happy knowing that we’ll eventually be returning to Asia.