10 Things You Should Know Before Going To Malaysia

Words by Katie Driver


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Four months ago (almost to the day, as it happens), I stood in my parents' crowded little hallway, backpack already in the car, and bear-hugged them goodbye - trying very hard not to unleash a massive sob gathering in my throat until I was safely down the road. I cried for the first hour of the three hour drive to the airport at the thought of not seeing them again for indeterminate weeks and months. That’s ok, I wish I’d known then. It doesn’t mean you don’t want to go. It doesn’t mean you’ll turn round at the departures gate and go and live with Mum and Pops until you are 47. It just means you’ll miss two of your favourite people. Have some tissues to hand and just cry it out. It will pass.

A planner by nature (am I the only one who immediately turns to the “survival guide” section of any Lonely Planet?), I devoured packing lists and travel tips in the weeks before I boarded my flight to Kuala Lumpur. Here are a few things they didn’t tell me, and I wish they had...

Penang Malaysia


Everyone will tell you to buy a small rucksack. Actually, a 38L rucksack with 15 kilos of stuff in it weighs pretty much the same as a 60L rucksack with 15 kilos of stuff in it. So don’t worry about spending a fortune if you have a trusty rucksack; just make sure the total weight is light enough. Can you pick it up with everything in it (no cheating!) and sling it onto your shoulder in one quick, easy movement? Take it for a walk on the hottest day you can. Ask a friend to cycle alongside offering you a tuk tuk every ten seconds for an authentic experience. Can you walk comfortably and cheerfully rebuff them for half a mile or so? No? Too heavy. Repack.


Look after your feet. They will carry you along dusty tracks, up mountains and along beaches. Treat them to comfortable, well fitting shoes, quality socks and decent flip flops that don’t slice your feet to ribbons. Pedicures are one of SE Asia's many great value treats, so don't feel guilty if you indulge every so often. Be wary of “foot scraping/scrubbing” though - an overenthusiastic lady in Indonesia will go too far and you’ll be hobbling around (minus most of the sole of your left foot) for a few weeks.


Pack a slightly higher proportion of t-shirts than vest tops; thin straps are fine for most beaches but in more rural areas you’ll feel more appropriate and respectful (and thus comfortable) with your shoulders covered.


Camera. Everyday. Everywhere. You know how many great shots you’ll take of your hotel room? Precisely zero. Don’t just go for the obvious sunset snap. Photograph your worried face before (and your elated face after) you do something scary. Photograph the unintentionally hilarious, like when your (male) travel buddy has to wear a Hello Kitty helmet for the mototaxi. Those are the moments that you look back on and smile. Capture them!


In the words of the great writer Caitlin Moran, everything will either be fine or will make a really hilarious story at some point in the future. Embrace every experience accordingly. As much as your friends love hearing about the time you climbed a mountain for sunrise, they seem to love the story about when you got food poisoning and puked a noodle out of your nose even more.

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Learn how to back up your phone, or at least create a separate record of everyone’s mobile numbers and email addresses somewhere. Despite being mega- careful, you will manage to lose/destroy two phones within three months and all of your contacts with it. You utter muppet.


New to a city? A great way to get to know it is a food tour, which a lot of major cities have if you do a bit of research in advance. They sell out though, so be organised!


The best currency you have is your smile and your manners. No matter how tired, or frustrated you are, you are a guest in someone else's country, and things will get done quicker (and sometimes cheaper) with a cheerful beam plastered across your face.


Journey from hell? Arrived at a new place and hate it? Everything seems better after a nights sleep (and a beer beforehand, if so inclined).


Don’t worry about forgetting something or packing “wrong”. Unless your rucksack contains only a paperweight and a bowling ball, you can’t get it that* wrong. Provided you have your passport and some form of currency/ATM card with you, 99.9% of what you need can be picked up on the road.

I hope these hard-won tips prove useful, but the reality is of course, that there is no one universal way to travel; what works for me may not work for everyone, and half the fun of travel is the learning and the adapting. You may find a bowling ball an immensely useful bit of kit* and conclude (perhaps not unfairly) that I have no idea what I’m talking about and go and do your own thing. Good for you! So the best piece of advice I can really give you? Buy that ticket and go enjoy yourself. Figure the rest out as you go along; you’ll have a lot of fun doing it. Promise.

*You really won’t. Don’t pack a bowling ball.