Where in the world to backpack, sans Zika?
October 2, 2016 12:01 AM   Subscribe

My husband and I have long been planning a 10-week trip to Southeast Asia starting later this month. The recent CDC travel advisories discouraging travel to all of the countries on our itinerary due to Zika has thrown a big wrench into that plan and we're trying to figure out whether we need to change our plans. Can you help recommend some alternative locations that we can be just as excited about? Ideal qualities below the fold.

I'm not pregnant, but we were planning to start trying to conceive soon, and my doctor says there's a lot of uncertainty about how long Zika can stay in the bloodstream.

We were so excited about doing slow, plan as you go travel to Southeast Asia, enjoying hiking, culture, history, food, beaches, and relaxation.

What we're looking for in a possible replacement:
-An adventure/travel locale that is better done in a longer trip - we won't have the opportunity to do something like this again for a long while so I'd like to make the most of it
-affordable to travel in - we had been planning on upscale backpacking (private rooms in hostels with AC, overland travel) - budget can be a bit flexible, but was less than $100/day for the two of us.
-Places that we would be able to make plans (including visas and vaccines) in 2 weeks
-Access to a variety of experiences and enough to do that we wouldn't be bored in two months
-No Zika outbreaks, and low likelihood that one might happen in the next two months (India and China were initial considerations, but there's a lot of hype that they may be next)

Bonus if there's a way to cheaply connect there from Bangkok or Beijing so we can use our original flights

Places we've great enjoyed for past vacations (for reference): Bolivia, Ecuador, Yosemite, Bali,
posted by purplevelvet to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total)
I would say australia, apart from the budget. The tricky thing is that a lot of what makes SEA good- cheap, warm, easily accessible, relatively speaking- is also what makes it zika prone. Tropical climate plus poverty= zika likely. I think with your budget you're going to struggle. Any room for movement there? Others might know of more options but in terms of Asia, 'as a pregnant person who really wanted to do a fancy babymoon, that was my finding.
posted by jojobobo at 12:29 AM on October 2, 2016

It's not Asia, but Australia fits the bill. With your budget, you could fly in (from Bangkok on a cheap Asia Air flight, probably to the Gold Coast). Buy one of the many campervans that tourists on their way out are selling, and have an extraordinary 10 weeks touring this amazing continent. Safe (relatively, if you ignore all the critters out to get you but at least none are as big as you), amazing, and you can really get off the beaten track in that time. I would just head north and cover the top - Cairns to Broome. Would be incredible.
posted by Thella at 12:32 AM on October 2, 2016

Mongolia? October will be fine in the Gobi, and I loved my time there very much. Also Taiwan has only had imported cases so far and might fit your bill-- October is the best time of year to travel there.
posted by frumiousb at 1:39 AM on October 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thirding Australia (and/or, to add, New Zealand). Perhaps you can reduce the length of the trip in order to deal with the higher costs?

It's spring down there now, so it's pretty and pleasant but not yet unbearably hot. Since the locals will still find it cool, you'll even get lucky and have half-empty beaches.
posted by rokusan at 4:04 AM on October 2, 2016

See, I did this in New Zealand. It was so great we pretended we "couldn't" get home for an extra month so we wouldn't lose our jobs when we got back. Then I moved there for a year.

The most beautiful (and safest in terms of critters!) hiking on Earth. Do yourself a favor and plan for some glacier hiking lessons, and some sea kayak camping, too. Plus intermittent spa or resort stays. Enjoy!
posted by jbenben at 8:59 AM on October 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you deciding between Australia and New Zealand, you can see a lot of NZ in ten weeks and you will spend less time getting to what you want to see.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 10:02 AM on October 2, 2016

You could visit China and avoid the tropical lowlands close to SE Asia that seem to be at highest risk for Zika spread (Hong Kong, Hainan, Yunan, etc.) and instead visit more mountainous and isolated regions (Sichuan province, Tibet, Xinjiang). This is roughly equivalent to saying that you're willing to visit the US but want to skip the high risk regions of Florida and the Eastern Seaboard and instead go to Washington State.

It's a great region for extended plan-as-you-go cheap travel (with the possible extension of Tibet, which sometimes has strictly enforced and expensive permits). I'm less certain about weather at this time of year Tibet can certainly be bitterly cold.

Chile/Argentina are great at this time of year and also suited to extended travel, but are substantially more expensive than Southeast Asia - prices for treks were roughly US prices and accommodations are a bit cheaper.
posted by asphericalcow at 3:15 PM on October 2, 2016

Australia and NZ would be great, but definitely look into the realistic costs of Aus in detail. Some approximate prices:
petrol(gas)= $3.40US+/gallon
budget car rental (Wicked)=$25USD/day
budget camper rental (Wicked)=$60USD/day
pitch for a campervan inside a private campsite on the east coast $30US+/night
private room in a (often a bit loud and not overly clean or atmospheric) hostel= $75USD/night
budget private air BnB room for a couple= $50USD/night (but may be much higher for busy periods and popular tourist spots)
pre-made salad or fancy sandwich for one from a chain supermarket (Coles or Woolworths)= $5USD
big breakfast at a cafe: $12USD
regular (small) long black (americano) coffee at a cafe= $2.70USD

NZ is a little bit cheaper but more or less comparable. That said if you're willing to budget both countries have incredible and free national parks. Tasmania might be a good place to focus on for Australia since the distances are smaller and there is an abundance of national parks and camping.

Eastern Europe is a huge, very diverse, Zika-free, and amazing place. A South Eastern Europe itinerary could include: Macedonia (hiking, adventure sports, historic villages), Bosnia (Mostar, tour of the area around Moster (including old stone towns in the mountains, Blagaj Dervish monastery) a day or two in the old town of Sarajavo) and northern Romania (stunning, historic mountain scenery and towns. Hiking in Transylvania and I would recommend day trains town-hopping through mountains and fertile fields to Sighetu Marmației in the north and renting a bike to visit historic churches in surrounding towns). No visas needed, shared $100USD/day budget very warm, friendly people, relatively safe (occasional pick pocketings or non-violent robberies).
posted by hotcoroner at 4:28 AM on October 3, 2016

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