I’m totally obsessed with traveling around Southeast Asia… surprise surprise! I’ve backpacked on a budget around places like Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and India. I’ve also glammed it up in places like Indonesia and Singapore where you want to look a little less disheveled while sipping a Singapore Sling at the Raffles. So it’s safe to say that after much trial and error I’ve finally got my Southeast Asia packing list down to a fine art. Perhaps more chimpanzee art than Rembrandt but art nonetheless.
Whether I’m planning on surviving long bumpy night bus journeys or aiming to not get refused entry at a swanky club for looking like a let’s face it… backpacking hobo… it’s easy when you know a few sneaky packing tricks. As with most hot and humid destinations it’s usually a case of less is more and that has always been my mantra when thinking about what to pack for any of my Southeast Asia trips.
What I hate about travel
Firstly I hate the butterflies in your stomach when you’re waiting for your suitcase to come around on the conveyer belt and everybody on your flight has long gone and you still don’t have your beloved possessions and now you just want to cry (hello my last trip to Singapore).
What I also hate about travel
Secondly I also hate that feeling of lugging a baby cow on my back and if there’s a sudden zombie invasion, in Southeast Asia or wherever, I like to think that I can at least attempt to run for my life. With a large backpack strapped to you (full of crap you don’t need) your only hope is to lie down in the road and prey they stampede around you and if you’ve ever watched Jurassic Park you know that never works out well. My advice is to keep it small, keep it light and don’t pack your kitchen sink or a baby cow or a cat.
I take carry-on only on all Southeast Asia trips these days, whether I’m going for a week or 3 months… I’m a strictly carry-on only girl. You don’t need it, any of it, I promise. If you disagree, that’s ok, I did do a post on the best backpacks for women travelers which includes my 3 top picks for backpacks (40-50L) for shorter trips and the top 3 women’s travel backpacks (50-60L) for longer around-the-world trips.
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Here’s the 3 most important things on my Southeast Asia packing list that you DO need;
1. Quality carry-on sized backpack
2. Packing Cubes (to make the carry on sized backpack an option)
3. Universal adapter (so you can plug your gadgets in)
So the 3 Southeast Asia packing list basics are covered. Other items that you may find important if you’re a digital nomad or living a laptop lifestyle; Laptop, camera and an (unlocked) iPhone.
Now here’s my zombie-proofed and baggage-reclaim-proofed ultimate Southeast Asia packing list guide;
Southeast Asia Packing List: Clothing
- 1 pair of leggings: I recommend packing one pair of leggings. I would say bring black leggings because they don’t show the dirt, they go with anything, can be dressed up or down and aren’t too hot… however you don’t see that many people wearing black in Southeast Asia. In Thailand the only time I saw the Thai people in black was during the Kings funeral and when in mourning soooo… bring a plain pair of leggings in whatever color best goes with the rest of your Southeast Asia wardrobe.
- 1 pair of shorts: In a neutral color like black (a little bit of black won’t hurt), beige or denim.
- 1 t-shirt: Go color and pattern crazy if you packed neutral colored shorts or leggings.
- 1 tunic/t-shirt: That covers your butt if you plan on wearing leggings.
- 1 dress: Cute boho dresses will be perfect for most places in Southeast Asia. If you need to cover up throw a shawl or lightweight cardigan over your shoulders.
- 1 bikini: I bought this bikini in pink and green recently and I love it, it fits like a dream and protects my chest from getting burned (and perved on).
- 1 sweater: Just in case it gets chilly in the evening. If you’re in larger Southeast Asia cities, you’ll find the shopping malls, cinemas and fancier restaurants blasting the air-conditioning which is nice for the first 2 minutes and then your fingers and toes start to go blue. So pack a sweater.
- 1 rain coat: Buy it out there! If you’re visiting at a rainy time of year you can buy a big rain coat for less than a dollar in most stores, then give it away when you leave.
- 1 sports bra: I only ever wear sports bras these days anyway.
- 7 pairs of knickers: So you can go 7 days without finding a launderette or doing a hand wash. Yay.
- Socks: Don’t even bother unless you’re going hiking/trekking then bring 2 pairs to go with your hiking boots. Unless you think that socks with sandals is a good look…
Optional clothing items to include;
- Hiking gear: If you plan on going to any offbeat places or doing a trek.
- A pair of jeans: If you’re visiting a big city and just want to look and feel normal.
All other clothing you can buy out there, that’s what all the markets are for! You will be so happy that you have a little bit of space in your carry on for some cute new clothes usually featuring elephants or buddhas. I’m deadly serious.
Southeast Asia Packing List: Footwear
- 1 pair of sandals: Pack your most comfortable pair in a neutral color like black or beige so they will go with everything else you bring or buy out here. Make sure they are extremely comfy so you can wear them on the plane, run to catch a connecting flight in them and wander about aimlessly and get lost in them (as I often do). Last but not least they need to be able to be dressed up or dressed down, for daytime and evening wear. Think that’s a lot to ask in a pair on sandals? Well it’s not if you own these travel sandals which are my personal favorites that I take everywhere with me. Zero blisters so far and there’s been a whole lot of roaming.
- 1 pair of flip flops: Bring cheap ones that you don’t mind losing. If you’re spending a day in Southeast Asia going in and out of temples you’ll constantly be slipping them on and off so flip flops or shoes without straps are perfect for days like this. Flip flops are ideal for the beach too or chilling at the pool. If you’re running out of space in your carry on then you can easily buy a nice cheap pair of flip flops when you arrive for less than $5.
- Hiking Boots (optional): Hiking boots will take up rather a lot of space in your luggage so if you do pack them for your Southeast Asia trip make sure you are going to use them. If your sandals are something like Chacos then you may be able to get away with hiking in these instead but it really depends on where you’re going. Sometimes it’s simply ankle suicide to attempt to trek in anything other than proper hardcore hiking boots.
Southeast Asia Packing List: Toiletries
I recommend buying most of your toiletries when you arrive. You might be able to get a lot of them at the airport otherwise it won’t be difficult to find a supermarket or chemist anywhere you go in Southeast Asia. That being said, their toiletry brands will be different than what you’re used to so if you really like a certain product, bring it with you.
- Sunscreen: Sunblock can be a bit of a rip off in a lot of places so consider bringing a small bottle with you, (less than 100 mls so you can take it in your carry on).
- Mosquito repellent: Buy it there if you must but they are so toxic I try to avoid them. Get Malaria vaccines before you go though.
- Hand sanitizer & wet wipes: Buy it there.
- Shampoo, conditioner, shower gel: Buy it there.
- Tampons: Pack a few so there’s no emergencies but buy a bigger box in Southeast Asia.
- Toothpaste and toothbrush: Bring it with you so you can brush your teeth at the airport or on the first night if you don’t have time to shop. You can probably make do with a travel sized tube of paste considering you only need a pea size amount for each brush.
- Deodorant: I would bring your preferred deodorant with you, it’s annoying having to use one you don’t like much plus they weigh nothing. I use an all-natural deodorant (without the aluminum) made in Bali because it smells like roses and does the job.
- Makeup: Mascara, eyeliner and maybe some lip gloss is about all I use when in Asia. Concealer, powder etc will just get sweated off the moment you step off the plane and then clog your pores up so really don’t waste your time. You have to work the natural ‘beach babe’ thing in Asia… don’t be scared.
- Nail cutter and nail file: Bring it with you because there’s nothing more annoying than having a broken nail you can’t file!
- Medical kit: With band aids, antiseptic etc. I never used to bring anything sensible like this but then I stepped on glass as I was coming out of a temple in Bangkok and had blood pouring out of my foot while limping back to the hotel. Luckily the girl I was with that day pulled out her med kit, cleaned it up and gave me a plaster. I was so impressed (and grateful).
- Toiletries travel bag: Bring a clear TSA approved travel makeup bag for liquids to speed up going through customs.
Southeast Asia Packing List: Electronics
If you’re taking valuable items like these then always keep an eye on your backpack, and make sure you bring a lock and chain for dubious hotels and train travel. This is really sad to say but my world would unravel pretty quickly if my laptop and iphone got stolen… I mean MY WHOLE LIFE is run by these 2 things. Drama over! Here’s my Southeast Asia Packing List for electronic items.
- Camera Canon Power Shot G7
- 2 SD Cards
- Universal Converter
If you’re visiting a yoga retreat while in Southeast Asia you might like: My Yoga Retreat Packing Guide For Female Travelers
Handy extras to consider if you’re traveling to a remote area in Southeast Asia
- Padlock & Chain
- Sleep sheet
- 1 microfiber quick-dry lightweight tiny towel
- Ziplocks (trust me, they will come in handy!)
- Water bottle (water filtration system)
- Small LED flashlight you can attach to your bag
The last essential thing to take with you to Southeast Asia is Travel Insurance. World Nomads is probably one you’ve heard of many times and it’s for a good reason. It really is the best and offers comprehensive coverage for adventure travel. Get a quote using the link below and don’t leave for Southeast Asia without it!
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