Us on White Sand Beach, Koh Chang

5 Reasons why we’re Returning to Asia

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?

At the Airport in Thailand

Leaving Asia in June 2015

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.

Beach on Don Det, Laos

Don Det, Laos

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.

Family on a Motorbike in Asia

Travelling in Cambodia

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.

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Burma

Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Burma

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.

Muesli, Fruit & Yoghurt from Da's Bakery, Chiang Mai

A typical cheap breakfast in Thailand

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.

Teaching in Hanoi

Teaching in Hanoi

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.

Mount Batur, Bali Indonesia

Mount Batur in Bali, Indonesia

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.

Street barber in Hanoi

Street barber in Vietnam

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.

Volunteering at the Dog Rescue Project, Thailand

Volunteering at the Dog Rescue Project

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.

A Home Destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines

Volunteering in the Philippines

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.

View from the Longhouse, Malaysia

Borneo, Malaysia

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.

Woman cooking food in Taipei

Friendly cook in Taipei, Taiwan

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.

The White Temple, Chiang Rai Thailand

The White Temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand

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.

Us on White Sand Beach, Koh Chang

Happy in Thailand

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.

5 reasons why we're returning to Asia

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  • Patti
    Posted at 23:22h, 28 April Reply

    Amy and Andrew, I just caught up with your posts/decisions. Turns out, the internet sucks in the middle of the ocean! Ha! Ha! So, after being gone for 10 days I am way behind and trying to catch up. You two are amazing and should be so proud of yourselves. You hit a bump in the road but you figured out how to smooth it out and carry on. I’m so excited for you an for all of your plans. And your return to Asia doesn’t surprise me at all. And guess what, Amy? Now that you have a year of teaching under your belt, your 2nd year will be SO much easier, right?! I’m so glad you’re going to Prague, so in love with that city and there are several posts on my blog if you’re interested. So happy for you! Yay!

    • Amy
      Posted at 20:55h, 29 April Reply

      Hi Patti, your cruising adventures sound well worth the lack of wifi 🙂 Thanks so much (as always) for the kind words. True, already I am finding that my teaching experience from Vietnam is helping me with the English camps we’re working at in Spain. I will definitely check out your Prague posts, can’t wait to explore that city!

  • Gilda Baxter
    Posted at 16:10h, 29 April Reply

    I am so envious you are going to live in Chiang Mai? Brian and I felt we could easily live there since we loved the culture, food, people and it is such great value for money. Your future plans are sound and I think it is a great idea to save for a “proper” home, traveling is amazing but there is no place like home. It might come a time when you want to create a more permanent home. The work-life balance of Asia is also very apealing.

    • Amy
      Posted at 20:57h, 29 April Reply

      Hi Gilda, yes, if everything works out then we’re hoping to make Chiang Mai our home for a while 🙂 You’re right, there is no place like home and at some point we’d love to have one of our own!

  • Alyson
    Posted at 11:47h, 30 April Reply

    Well I’m glad you’re going back because my heart is firmly in Asia and always will be. I lean towards the Indian Sub Continent, but South East Asia is fine by me too ( except Malaysia, really didn’t like it).
    While we live on a similar-to-Asia budget here in Romania, the lifestyle is very different. We NEVER eat out for instance, because there is nowhere TO eat out. I’m an eat out 3 times a day kinda girl, but for a few months at a time I’m happy to be ” at home” here and cook. In other news, the websites are now giving us ( all 4 of us) an income we can live off, so the possibilities are endless. I think this year we’ll road trip our way around eastern Europe. We may get over to Central America at the end of the year and at some point we’ll build this house! We still haven’t started. Best of luck guys.

    • Amy
      Posted at 12:24h, 30 April Reply

      Hi Alyson, amazing news that the websites are generating so much, is that mainly through passive income? Yes, your possibilities do seem endless, I’m excited to hear about your adventures in Eastern Europe; maybe we’ll cross paths as we’ll be in Croatia, Budapest, Bratislava and Prague during June and July?! You have achieved such a great life/work/travel balance, hopefully Andrew and I can get to that point in the next couple of years, Andrew has just started online teaching which seems like it could be key to helping us become fully location independent – we’ll see 🙂

  • Rhonda
    Posted at 20:46h, 30 April Reply

    I heartily agree with all of those reasons! One downside of an extended road trip is that I know, for the immediate future anyway, there are no other continents in my future. I can never get enough of SE Asia!

    • Amy
      Posted at 09:41h, 01 May Reply

      Hi Rhonda, it seems that we can’t get enough of SE Asia either 🙂 We hope to someday get around to your side of the world to explore too.

  • Jessie
    Posted at 14:32h, 03 May Reply

    South East Asia is truly an exotic place to live. I’ve travelling there for a couple of months and wish I could make it to live permanently live there!

    • Amy
      Posted at 14:50h, 03 May Reply

      Yes, we love South East Asia too, I really hope that our new life in Thailand works out 🙂

  • Kristen
    Posted at 19:24h, 04 May Reply

    I love this. Gareth and I are so excited for SE Asia, and really want to look into teaching in Vietnam.

    I think we’re going to do our our broken up with stints teaching, so like 4 months in Africa, then traveling around India, Sri Lanka, and volunteering in Nepal, before settling down to work in Vietnam and build back up our bank accounts before continuing through SE Asia and Australia, then working for a bit in New Zealand, then moving around South America and traveling through Central America before stopping to teach in Mexico. Then perhaps back to Japan or South Korea to teach another year and saving up for a house as well. I’ve always thought that would be a good way to end time abroad, so you come back with a down payment and aren’t completely broke/homeless/jobless, haha.

    Can’t wait to see what the future has in store for you guys!

    • Amy
      Posted at 21:28h, 06 May Reply

      That sounds like a great plan Kristen, I wish we had taken a bit longer in New Zealand and Australia and perhaps worked while we were there too. Vietnam is a great option as you can replenish your savings quickly by teaching there.

  • Louisa Klimentos
    Posted at 00:39h, 05 May Reply

    I know you and Andrew are really wonderful teachers and all those beautiful Asian students will benefit from your great teaching skills .Can’t wait to see you visit Canada and South America and the rest of the world.Best of luck ,love Louisa

    • Andrew
      Posted at 20:16h, 06 May Reply

      Thanks Louisa, we can’t wait to visit the rest of the world either! 🙂

  • Victoria@ The British Berliner
    Posted at 07:22h, 06 May Reply

    I totally see your point and I’m not in the least surprised as Asia is awesome, lovely, exciting, and easy to settle into.

    Good on your guys!

    I’ve already done my GAP year and I had such a wonderful time, but the place in Asia that really took my heart was Hong Kong! I just loved that pulse of living. High Ho Asia!! 🙂

    • Amy
      Posted at 21:29h, 06 May Reply

      Ah, Hong Kong – Andrew is very keen to go there and perhaps teach for a year so we’ll have to check it out. We are excited to get back to Asia!

  • louisa Klimentos
    Posted at 08:11h, 19 May Reply

    I am so proud of you both and i think you will achieve alot working in Asia.Best of luck ,love Louisa

    • Amy
      Posted at 21:22h, 20 May Reply

      Thanks so much Louisa, I hope you’re doing well x

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