Packing for my trip to Southeast Asia was really challenging. It may seem like an easy thing to do, but when you are going traveling for a few months to different countries without even having a fixed itinerary, you need to think seriously about what truly is important and what can stay at home. To help you decide what you need to pack, I have compiled my packing list for Southeast Asia and some advice that will make your life easier.
Just so you know, I traveled for almost 4 months in the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia with a 60 liter backpack (and around 12kg weight) and a smaller one where I kept my valuables. More than enough, considering that:
“The most important things in life aren’t things” (Anthony J. D’Angelo).
Never to forget
When you go traveling to a foreign country, the most important object is not your backpack or the clothing that may be inside, but your passport. You can travel without everything else, but not without your passport. Make sure to have a valid passport and keep it protected with a case. It’s also a good idea to have a couple of copies of your passport stored in a different place, that way in the unfortunate event your passport is lost, it will be easier to replace it.
Another important thing is to know the entry requirements for each country you plan to visit. Do you need a visa? Use a travel visa checker well in advance to avoid unpleasant surprises.
You should also learn about the vaccinations you might need and have your international vaccination card in order. It is important to buy a good travel insurance. So far, I haven’t needed to use mine for which I am thankful, but you never know what could happen. Never consider your travel insurance a waste of money, your health is priceless! World Nomads offers great travel insurance that also protects you against theft. Check it out!
Southeast Asia: what to pack?
01 | Clothing
Before you start packing your favorite clothes, keep in mind two things:
1) The less you pack, the less you have to carry. Minimize and prioritize comfort over style.
2) Clothes in Southeast Asia are cheap and of reasonable quality. Don’t bring too much from home because I guarantee you’ll end up buying more.
Moreover, you will end up washing your clothes in laundry shops and probably some of them will end up damaged. I don’t recommend bringing anything you would be sad to lose.
Regarding the kind of clothes you need, keep in mind the weather will be very hot and humid. Try to bring light clothing but note that:
- Weather in North Vietnam is chilly (especially in Sapa and Halong Bay). If you plan going there, I recommend packing a jacket.
- If you go to Indonesia, remember it is the world’s largest Muslim populated country. While I found it to be quite moderate, you should dress discreetly and cover your legs and shoulders while traveling to certain areas. Bali is Hindu, no problem there, but you should always cover your shoulders and legs if visiting a temple.
- The Philippines are hot BUT bus drivers love to put the air conditioner on high. Always wear a long sleeved shirt for long distances.
What to pack
- 2 or 3 Bikinis/Swimsuits: VERY IMPORTANT, you are going to spend lot of time underwater 🙂
- 6 or 7 Underwear.
- 2 Shorts: I don’t usually wear shorts, but in Southeast Asia my body could not stand anything else.
- 1 Leggings: You can wear them when you go hiking or during transportation (as they are comfy!)
- 1 Long skirt and/or 1 loose pants: practical if you visit Indonesia or to cover your legs when you go visiting temples.
- 2 or 3 Tank tops.
- 1 Shawl to cover your shoulders when needed.
- 2 Light dresses.
- 1 Light jacket (to survive aircom in Filipino buses).
- 1 Hoodie or light coat if you visit North of Vietnam.
- Hat and sunglasses.
- Sandals: Ideally that you can use to go hiking and you can wear in and around water. I brought these Columbia sandals. Maybe not the most stylish but super comfy!
- Flip flops: One of my favorite words and also my favorite footwear. A summer is not a summer until I can wear my flip flops!
02 | Health and toiletries
- First aid kit (including painkillers and anti-diarrhoeal drugs).
- Mosquito spray
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Nail clippers, scissors, tweezers.
- Tampons and pads, they are difficult to find in Asia!
- Absolutely NO make up. Really, you don’t need it, it will be super hot and humid and you will melt if you try to put that in your face.
- Hand sanitizer
- Toiler paper (always bring a bit on your backpack, just in case…)
03 | Electronics
“What I like about photographs is that they capture a moment that’s gone forever, impossible to reproduce.”
After the passport, the camera is the thing to get packed. I usually carry more than one (sometimes even three). To save weight, you can carry a compact camera but, if you want to take great photos, a DSLR makes the difference. I recently got a Nikon D3200, my first DSLR and so far I am very satisfied, it is easy to use and perfect for beginners in DSLR photography.
- For underwater photos, I recommend an action camera like SJCAM SJ4000 Action Camera, an economic version for Gopro. It costs less than 100$ but it takes great pictures and videos. As I said earlier, you will spend a lot of time underwater and you will want to take pictures, so take an action camera with you!
- I personally prefer bringing a smart phone instead of a laptop. It is lighter, but still works fine to stay connected during your trip, find accommodation, ideas on things to do, your location on the map and to not to be “lost in translation”. Wifi works quite well in almost all countries in the Southeast (except for the Philippines… Once they fix this, I may move there).
04 | Other
- Padlock: I recommend getting a 4-digit combination padlock. This is useful if you stay in dorms and want to keep your valuables safe. While some hostels have their own lockers, I discovered through experimentation that the key they provided was able to open all the lockers in the room. Always bring your own padlock that you can trust.
- Drybag: Very useful to keep your cameras and electronics devices safe when you go island hopping.
- Microfiber towel (which takes up less space)
- Sleep mask and earplugs: (Beware: Asia is noisy)
- Undercover Travel Money Belt: to keep your passport, cards and money safe.
- Headlamp (you will need this in the event of power outages or if you plan visiting Poyalisa 🙂
- Mosquito Net: It takes a lot of space and most hostel provide them if there is a need. I recommend bringing one only if you plan to go to remote areas.
- Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a shoestring (Travel Guide)
- International travel plug adapter.
- Travel diary and a pen.
- Books – You are going to spend endless hours on buses, trains, airports, etc. and I assure you that the road will feel shorter when you have a good book in your hands. Two books that I read during my trip and really enjoyed were Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn) and The Circle.
- Music: One of the things I missed most while I was in Southeast Asia was my Spotify playlists. Take your MP3, your CD player, iPod or whatever, but do not forget to bring some music!
You are free to bring whatever you want, but this packlist should help you pack everything you need to travel in Southeast Asia, whether for a week or for a whole year. One last thing: if after packing everything, you still have some space in your backpack, take me please!