I recently returned from visiting Asia for the first time and it was an amazing trip! I loved being in a place that's so different from what I'm used to and experiencing the rich cultures of China and Vietnam. While our trip was great and left me wanting to experience more of Asia, it wasn't always easy.

We didn't speak the language, had some trouble navigating menus and finding our way through the crowded streets was tricky. It's important to prepare as best you can when you're going to a completely new country... but even then culture shock and tricky travel situations can arise. I wanted to share my thoughts as a first time visitor to Asia. Preparation, and a good sense of humor, is key to enjoying your visit. Here are some things to keep in mind if you're traveling to Asia (some could also apply to other faraway lands).

The language barrier is real
For some reason we weren't expecting the language barrier to be as intense as it was. In big cities like Shanghai and Saigon we figured it wouldn't be hard to get around without speaking the language, but we were wrong. In Shanghai we needed to have our destination written out in Chinese characters to show our driver, and even with that we frequently got dropped off at the wrong place. I recommend downloading some travel apps to help bridge the language gap. TripLingo is a great option and its phrase book works off-line.

Research local customs
Do some research on the city you're visiting and local customs. Before you go to a tourist destination confirm if photos are allowed. Research tipping and restaurant etiquette. Is cash preferred over credit card in your destination? Knowing local customs will make for a smoother trip and help you avoid an embarrassing faux pas and possibly even stop you from overspending, which leads me to...

Be comfortable with haggling
Outside of chain stores, never accept the marked price or first offer on a product. I read somewhere that you shouldn't even accept the second or third price offer. As an American it can feel a little uncomfortable pushing a seller to lower their price, but they expect this.

China is incredibly crowded and locals are used to dealing with lots of people in tight spaces. Lines don't exactly exist like they do in America so don't be alarmed if you're pushed or jostled. People are going to shove, cut in front of you and rush to get on the train as you're trying to exit. This is normal so take it for what it is and don't get upset. As a New Yorker who is used to crowds but not used to shoving, this was a little hard to deal with. You just have to turn off your American way of thinking and go with it.

Always have tissues and hand sanitizer
Most of the bathrooms I experienced in China, and many in Vietnam, do not offer toilet paper or soap. Carry around little tissue packs and a mini bottle of hand sanitizer or towelettes to make for a more pleasant (and cleanly) restroom experience.

Have you been to Asia? Ever experience a culture far different from your own? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!


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