I first travelled to Europe when I was 16. I went on a student exchange program in high school and lived in Lyon, France for three months. It was a wonderful experience and I got to visit London and a few different cities in Italy on school vacations with my exchange family. I’ve done a lot of travelling since then; another exchange in the Caribbean, backpacking in South America, have lived in Korea for a couple years, and various travels around Asia around that time.
I am now back in Europe and my expectations and nostalgia from my first trip have so far let me down. Don’t get me wrong, I’m absolutely enjoying myself and having a good time. There are just things that I hoped, and well, expected, that Europe simply didn’t meet. I attribute this to the fact that I’ve spent more time in Asia and my experiences there have changed my views on the world, and frankly, spoiled me for Europe.
I’m sure many people will disagree with me, and everyone’s experiences will have been different, but here’s how Asia spoiled me for Europe.
Note: When I’m referring to Europe I am referring to countries I’ve visited in Western Europe. Check out my Destinations page to see where I’ve been in Asia & Europe.
Met friends from all over the world in Korea. People Canada, US, Philippines, Korea, South Africa & Poland all in one picture 🙂
When travelling in Asia, I have met some of the nicest people. Whether it be locals, shop owners, students, or fellow expats & travellers, everyone was just friendly and welcoming. Firstly, there’s no expectation of language. In Europe, likely due to my looks, it has been assumed that I know how to speak French, Spanish, English, Italian, or whatever it may be and when it turns out I don’t – it’s an immediate negative about me. Even when I try to speak the language (which I have with French and Spanish), the response is often in English as they either want to practice their English or don’t want to bother with my attempt at their language – even though I’m trying. Yes, typically their English is better than whatever I’m trying to do, but still, give me a chance here. In Asia, particularly Korea, people were always ecstatic when I spoke even remedial Korean to them. I got okay at reading it and could order some food and drinks and say basic phrases – and though I’m sure my accent was terrible and grammar was off – they still tried speaking with me in Korean and respected my efforts. Even in Thailand, just saying hello in their language was taken well.
It is likely that I can relate to Europeans more. Our culture and background and general ‘comforts of home’ are certainly more similar to what I’ve experienced in Asia. And I’ve met some fantastic people in Europe. I have found, however, that in Asia people simply take more interest in you. There are some days that I found this kind of irritating. People stopping you on the street asking about your life and straight up asking if we can be friends (a little blunt if you ask me). But even in more casual and ‘normal’ circumstances strangers in Asia just seem genuinely more interested in you than their European counterparts.
This, however, was the complete opposite if those strangers happened to be beggars. Hardly anyone approached me in Asia and even in more developing countries they were quieter and simply sitting with a sign, or a cup, or something of the sort, and not being very pushy about it. On my first day of this trip in Paris, I was approached by two different beggars. I was first asked in French (of course) and when I responded that I didn’t speak French (hoping to be left alone) he proceeded to ask me in English. At this time I was attempting to buy my ticket at one of the machines, not 100% sure where I was going and a little flustered at the train station trying to get my bearings. Even after saying no he continued on for a solid 2 minutes before I had to just walk away after I (finally) figured out what ticket I needed. I feel it is more of a sense of shame in many Asian countries as many beggars I saw had their heads down and are in a sort of praying looking position. A stark contrast to the people I was approached by in France.
When visiting these countries, many of the Asian countries have been through some rough times recently. Of course, so has a lot of European ones. However, there is a sense of optimism I feel from the smiling faces I see on those in places in Cambodia and the Philippines. Something I didn’t see from those in similar circumstances around Europe.
This was the most apparent when comparing the two travel experiences. Obviously, the currency in Europe (euro) is stronger than that of most Asian currencies. I was aware of this, I expected this. BUT OH MY GOD EVERYTHING IS SO EXPENSIVE HERE! What do you mean this one dinner is 30 euro? That’s like an entire days worth of expenses in the Philippines – 2 if I’m being careful with my budget.And the taxis? Don’t even get me started on the taxis!
And the taxis? Don’t even get me started on the taxis!
The same money that you bring to Europe for a month could last you several months in South East Asia.
I can find a hostel in Thailand – in central Bangkok even – for 400 Baht (~11 USD) per night. Decent, clean, and air conditioned. Nothing fancy, but fine. Finding a hostel in Western Europe for less than 15 euro (~16USD) per night is extremely difficult. 20 euro maybe, but they’re still few and far between. Particularly if you want to be central and in a major city.
According to the Backpacker Index for 2017, you can travel in Southeast Asia from $17-$29 USD per day in it’s 20 cheapest cities. These cities are in countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Nepal, India, China, Cambodia, and more. This same index shows the 20 cheapest cities in Europe being almost entirely Eastern European cities. As I so far only have experience with Western Europe, and that is the region I’m referring to in the rest of the article, I’ll only use cities from that region. The index mentions cities in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, Germany and more with the cheapest in Western Europe being $44USD per day! And going all the way up to $124USD as a recommended daily budget.
Nobody is going to say the food in Europe or the food is Asia is bad. That is far too of a general statement and all up to personal taste. What I will say about it, however, is I have found a lot of food in Asia (especially Thailand and Laos) to be excellent regardless of whether it came from a street vendor or a higher end restaurant. I can’t say the same for Europe. I have yet to see a street vendor and bus station sandwiches just don’t do it for me.
The prices of food when travelling in Asia also can’t be beat. Particularly when eating out. Grocery stores in Europe are quite reasonable, but some cafes, restaurants, and particularly bus/train stations and airports are practically extortion.
The convenience I found in Asia I have yet to find in Europe. I could stroll around Hong Kong at 2 am and find restaurants open. Be on an island in the Philippines and still find a place to eat regardless of the hour. In France (Carcassonne specifically), I have tried to find a place to get lunch at 2 pm on a Tuesday, go into three different restaurants just to be told that their kitchen is closed. Despite their restaurants being technically open. Thank goodness for Kebab shops!
Coffee however in Europe has been much better than my experiences in Asia though. You win with that one Europe. And cheese. Big time.
This was one of my biggest frustrations coming from Asia to Europe. As much of Western Europe is considered ‘first world,’ or ‘developed,’ you’d think they wouldn’t be so behind in this department. I’m sure I was very spoiled coming from Seoul – one of the most technologically advanced cities in the world – but to have visited so many major cities in Europe and not be able to get decent wifi? Come on.
I didn’t even expect them to have free city wifi like many parts in Seoul does. But the amount of Cafes (minus Starbucks of course), shopping centres, and restaurants without it was mind boggling to me. Also, a 5-hour train ride without wifi is just cruel.
Even in so-called third world countries like Thailand and Cambodia, I was able to walk into a restaurant and have a Skype call while eating lunch without any issues. It also just felt so much more acceptable there. Even with just working on my laptop there are many restaurants/cafes where it just seems out of place to be doing work there (again, an exception being Starbucks).
If you’re not trying to get any work done and just in either of these places for a couple of weeks, this probably doesn’t matter to you. But when you’re travelling long term or working remotely, connectivity matters.
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Ease of Travel
Asia is one of the easiest regions I’ve ever gotten around. Loads of budget airlines, railways and buses to get around on. Even for shorter distances, taxis are reasonable and they’re not your only option. You can hop onto a motorbike taxi or a tuk-tuk to get around within the city.
Europe as a budget airline, Ryan Air, but it’s essentially your only option for cheap air travel in Europe. The rail passes aren’t much cheaper than buying the seats individually and if you want cheaper prices you have to book VERY far in advances. Buses aren’t terrible but still madness in comparison.
Also, like I’ve said above, I’ve had better luck getting wifi in Korea, Thailand, and Laos public transit than I have anywhere in Europe so far. Ireland has been the best for it, France, you’ve disappointed me in this area.
History & Culture
The history and culture of both regions is rich and diverse. I simply found that what I experienced in Asia to be more interesting. From ancient civilizations like Angkor Wat in Cambodia to sprawling temples like Wat Pho in Bangkok there seems to be much more to see and explore. They’re colourful and exciting and like little cities that take you back in time.
From what I’ve seen in Europe so far, there’s a lot of castles and big churches. I love castles and big churches. But after a while its a lot of grey rocks with funky stained glass.
Sure, you could say the same with temples in Asia. A temple is a temple is a temple. I just personally find them more interesting. The colours, the statues, the giant buddhas where you need to complete a hike up a mountain to see.
Neither one is better than the other. Honestly, they are too different really to compare. Europe is amazing and I can’t wait to explore more of it. Asia is fantastic and I need to go back and see more. My point is, if you’re going to be backpacking and are trying to make a choice, consider your personal circumstance. What must you see and do? What is your budget like? What kind of language abilities do you have?
If you have options, I would suggest doing Europe first. I believe Asia spoils you. You can get used to a certain price point and convenience that you find in Asia that I simply haven’t found in Western Europe. There are too many fantastic things in Europe to see and do to let this happen. I have so much more to explore here and I can’t wait to visit as much as I can while I’m here. Travelling in Asia has set for certain expectations that I’m trying to shake. Do Europe first. Don’t allow any preconceived notions to what travelling or backpacking should be possibly taint your experience. Enjoy all of it.