Deciding what to pack for a trip can be daunting. Especially if you’re trying to pack light, or going for quite a bit of time. You may be debating how much is too much. Or, you may be having a mental crisis, wondering if you’re forgetting something important.
Well, to ease your worries, there are very few places in the world that are so remote that you can’t buy things there. So, don’t stress out too much about forgetting things (except for your passport. Don’t forget your passport).
Further, what you’ll pack will completely depend on where and when you’re going. So, what you’ll need for visiting northern Vietnam in January will be different from what you’ll need for southern Thailand in May.
A resource I found extremely helpful when packing for my own Southeast Asia trip was Selective Asia. It informs you of the typical weather and climate in several Southeast Asian countries throughout the various months of the year. Click here to access the website (but note that the link is specific to Vietnam).
Finally, remember when packing for Southeast Asia that less is more. With all of these countries having such a high humidity, you really don’t need to pack a lot of clothes.
Now, let’s get started!
Backpacks and Bags
First, you’ll need to get a bag. I strongly recommend boycotting the suitcase, and sticking with a backpack; it’s really inconvenient to lug around a suitcase around the gravel roads and cramped alleyways typical in Southeast Asia.
Furthermore, choosing the right backpack can be overwhelming. I would personally recommend finding a backpack in store rather than online. Choosing the right-sized backpack is imperative for reducing back and shoulder strain; as someone who walked 2 weeks on the Camino de Santiago with a wrong-sized backpack, I can say with certainty that it will impede your travels.
I would recommend checking out MEC in Canada, or REI in the US. From my experience, the store clerks are passionate about finding you the perfect backpack, that fits you perfectly and is in your price-range.
I would additionally advise getting a front-loading backpack. If you don’t want to pack and unpack your bag at every hostel, a front-loading backpack will allow you to quickly grab things from your bag without pulling everything out.
Finally, don’t forget to invest in a good carry-on backpack. I chose one that is sturdy, and is perfect for long day trips, hikes, and walks around the city. Whether you’re spending two weeks in Vietnam or 3 months hopping around the continent, you’ll need a dependable carry-on!
As a reminder, don’t forget these key travel items and documents:
- A valid passport, with at least 6 months left until expiry at your time of departure from the country or countries you’re visiting.
- Any necessary Travel Visas.
- Your wallet, with any credit cards, debit cards, extra IDs, and/or foreign money you need.
- I would also recommend keeping a photocopy of your passport, for emergency situations. I kept mine in a different bag as my passport.
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Next, let’s discuss clothing. Again, what you’ll pack will depend on your destination and the time of year. However, regardless of where and when you’re going, you won’t need a lot of clothes.
Additionally, what you’ll pack will depend on what you plan on doing. Do you plan on partying a lot? Then you might want to pack more dresses and jeans. Or, do you plan on spending most of your time trekking through the jungle? Then you might prefer packing lots of hiking clothes.
That being said, I’ve listed some basic pieces I recommend bringing below.
Considering the heat and humidity of Southeast Asia, you may be wondering if you should bring a jacket. When I first traveled to Southeast Asia, I scoured the internet to determine if I should bring one. In the end, I brought two.
However, I would recommend only bringing one. I needed the jacket a few times: on the airplane, in the air-conditioned overnight buses and trains, on the summit of Mount Fansipan, etc. However, the occasions were rare.
I recommend bringing a large variety of tops, including T-shirts, tank tops, and long-sleeves.
Having shirts that cover your shoulders are imperative. Many temples won’t allow you to enter with exposed shoulders, or exposed knees. Furthermore, long-sleeves (that are still light and breezy) are invaluable, for protecting your arms from the sun.
I recommend bringing around:
- 1 jacket
- 4 T-shirts
- 2 tank tops
- 1 long sleeve
You can bring more or less; whatever you’re comfortable with. And don’t forget, you can always buy cute tops there!
Well first, you obviously need some shorts.
However, remember to also bring bottoms that cover your knees, so you can enter the various temples and sanctuaries. Items like sarongs, long pants, or long skirts work perfectly.
And once again, you can also buy new pants there. Go get yourself some of those iconic elephant pants 🙂
Overall, I would recommend bringing:
- 2 pairs of jean shorts
- 2 pairs of athletic shorts
- 2 long bottoms (sarong, skirt, and/or pants)
While this is a minimalist packing list, and I have emphasized the importance of packing light, I believe there is one thing that you can’t over-pack: underwear.
When I backpacked around Southeast Asia, it took me 2 weeks to do the laundry, and I was extremely grateful that I had such an endless supply of clean underwear to keep me in semi-good hygiene.
Concerning swimwear, I only brought 1 swimsuit and 1 compact towel, as I didn’t spend a lot of time near the beach. However, if you’re spending your entire trip island hopping, you’ll probably want to bring more.
Overall, you should bring around:
- 1 towel
- 1 swimsuit
- 14 pairs of underwear
- 3 bras
- 5 pairs of socks
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Determining which pairs of shoes to bring on a trip has always stressed me out. Choosing the right pair of shoes is crucial, as you’ll be walking everywhere in them. And, as they’re so bulky, the number you can bring is limited.
I personally brought 2 pairs of shoes: 1 pair of runners, and flip flops. The flip flops were necessary for navigating the grimy hostel showers, and for relaxing on the beach.
I additionally saw other backpackers bring hiking shoes with them. While I did not bring them, I see its utility. If you’re spending a lot of time trekking through the jungle or embarking on difficult hikes, I would recommend bringing them too.
- 1 pair of flip flops/sandals
- 1 pair of runners
- (Optional) 1 pair of hiking shoes
First, medications like Tylenol and Pepto Bismol are a must, as it is highly likely that you’ll get Traveler’s Diarrhea when you’re there. I further recommend visiting a travel clinic before your trip. They’ll recommend various vaccinations and medications, to ensure you remain in good health.
Concerning make-up, I don’t wear make-up often, so it was a given that I wouldn’t bring any. However, from what I’ve heard from other travelers, very few people bring make-up; the heat and humidity makes it highly likely that you’ll just sweat it off. Therefore, I wouldn’t recommend bringing any.
Overall, I recommend that you bring:
- Sunscreen: minimum SPF 30.
- Insect repellent (with DEET): While there is some concern of DEET on your health, it should be fine as long as you read and follow the instructions carefully.
- Hand sanitizer
- Toilet paper (very important!)
- Lip balm
- Comb/hair brush
- Hair ties
- Pads/tampons/panty liners
- Tylenol, Pepto-Bismol, etc.
- Toothbrush, toothpaste, and flossing thread
- Shampoo, conditioner, and soap/body wash
- Nail clippers
Choosing which electronics to bring with you can be a very difficult decision.
A cellphone is almost a necessity these days. I further recommend bringing a portable charger, for those long days; you don’t want your cellphone to die on you. Additionally, you’ll probably need a voltage converter/adapter, to properly plug in your chargers.
Another question you may ask yourself is if you want to bring a laptop. There are definitely pros and cons in doing so. Some advantages include the ease of research, and the ease in booking transportation and accommodations. Some disadvantages include questionable security, and added weight.
I personally brought my laptop. However, this was to work on my blog. If you have no online work to do, I personally recommend that you don’t bring one. It’s stressful worrying about its security, and cumbersome to otherwise carry around.
- Cellphone, and cellphone charger
- Voltage converter/adapter
- Portable battery, and portable battery charger
- Optional: Camera, and camera charger
- Optional: Laptop, and laptop charger
Other Miscellaneous Items
- Glasses, and/or contact lens
- Combination lock/padlock: To secure your belongings in hostel lockers.
- Notebook and pens: To record your travels, thoughts, and plans.
And that’s it!
Listed above are some basic foundations of a packing list for Southeast Asia. You can bring more or less, whatever you’re comfortable with. If you don’t bring enough, remember that doing laundry is extremely cheap in Southeast Asia, and that you can always buy more clothes there!
Happy travels, and enjoy your trip 🙂
Thanks for reading the article! If you have any questions, feel free to comment down below, and if you want to see more travel and hike-related content, make sure to check out my other articles.
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