Packing can sometimes be such a chore but then again it can also be very fun, its the start of a new adventure and you want to make sure you have everything. There’s nothing worse that going 1000s of miles away from home and realising you have forgotten something so important and you can’t get in the country you are travelling in.
I have been to South East Asia 3 times now and I’m about to make my 4th trip there. I feel as though I can give some good enough advice on what to pack for your trip.
I’ll break it down into categories starting with the most obvious:
I always use my Lowe Alpine, 70 Litre backpack that I got from Blacks when I planned my first trip to Asia over 3 years ago. I have taken it to over 12 countries now and it has never let me down. I recommend having a backpack whilst travelling Asia because it is easier to carry than a suitcase. You will be getting on and off various methods of transport and you will be doing a lot of walking so it is much easier than pulling a suitcase down a rocky, dusty road in hot and humid weather. Just pack it so you can carry it. You don’t want it to be too heavy and you not being able to manage it on your own.
You will also more than likely take a smaller bag for your hand luggage on the plane. I have the Berghaus 25 Litre
backpack that I carry all my electronics and important things in when travelling. Also handy for a day bag.
Inside your backpack, you will want to try and save as much as room as possible so recently I bought some packing cubes that I wouldn’t rate very highly at all. So I have ended up going back to my old routine of a mesh drawstring bag. I only use one and it fits all my clothes. They are amazing. Having small bags to store everything in is so handy as it helps you stay organised and you will know where everything is and it will save you time and stress when looking in your bag for something.
Tops– I usually pack about 2 or 3 of each vest tops and t-shirts to have a variety. I tend to keep all my tops as plain colours so they can double up and perhaps match another bottom.
Top Tip– I learnt the hard way but apparently the locals believe that bright colours attract mosquitos, and I actually kind of think they’re on to something there.
Hoodie or sweater– You may be thinking, what will I need one of these for in Asia. Trust me you will thank me when you’re sat on long overnight buses with the air-con turned up full.
2x shorts- I say take 2 pairs because a comfortable cotton pair and a denim pair usually does the trick and you can dress either one up or down
Maxi skirt/dress– Maxi because if you are visiting any sacred places you will need to cover your legs up for the sake of respect. It’s an easy and light item and you will be more stylish than the wrap around they give you there, that’s been used by 1000’s of people.
Day dress that could be dressed up– I usually stick with a black dress that can be used through the day or even dressed up at night with a necklace and some sandals.
Some light trousers– Same reason as the temple to cover yourself up and also it’s nice to have some trousers with you for relaxing in at night but are still cool enough that you won’t sweat to death in them.
Leggings– A travellers essential really, great for long journeys, workouts and relaxing in.
Underwear– Do I need to say anymore, really?
Swimwear- There’s a lot of beautiful beaches all over Asia for you to explore so swimwear is probably a must if you plan to relax in the sun and drink coconuts all day. Or even go for a swim.
Scarf- Right, trust me on this one, a scarf has a lot more uses on the road than you can imagine. It can be used as a shawl, a pillow, a blanket, a sarong, mosquito protection, a cover up for temples, a beach towel, a curtain for you hostel bed and of course a scarf.
Sandals- Something a little more stylish than your worn down Havanas.
FlipFlops– Easy, comfortable, cheap and keeps the breeze at your feet
Some slip on shoes– I usually opt for a pair of TOMS, comfortable and durable. Plus every time you purchase a pair of TOMS, TOMS will give a new pair of shoes to a child who needs some. Feel good about buying a new pair of shoes, knowing you are giving back.
Shampoo/conditioner- I buy small travel ones to last for the first few days then I usually buy some out there, its cheap and you can buy them pretty much anywhere. If you want to save on room check out Lush, they have shampoo/conditioner bars that are really good and tiny so it won’t take up much room in your bag.
Shower gel- I usually take a bit more of this, you can get it out there but for decent stuff, it can be a bit more expensive. Again check out Lush for some smaller compacted shower gels, they also last quite a while too.
Razors- They can be pricey and the good ones are just off the charts expensive. Bring them with you.
Deodorant- I say stock up on this because once you are in Asia you will find it very difficult to find a deodorant that doesn’t contain any whitening. Not exactly the thing you want when you are getting a golden tan.
Toothbrush/Toothpaste- An absolute essential of course and cheap to pick up in Asia too.
Moisturiser- Stock up in your home country. All the moisturisers in Asia have a skin whitener in.
Sun Screen- Buy this in your home country also purely because it is over priced in Asia as it is only the tourists that use it not the locals, so it is overcharged because they can make money on it.
Tissue– Some toilets in South East Asia are still the old classic squat toilets and doesn’t come with toilet roll, just a hose. Carry some tissue especially on long journeys.
Anti-bacterial hand gel– same with the toilet roll. When you are travelling long journeys you will want to feel clean and sinks could be hard to come by, I’m not saying there won’t be any, 98% of the time there will but just in case.
That’s a list of what I would say are the essentials. The next part is extras that I like to take with me for my own personal satisfaction. So here is an idea’
Face wash-I recently started having some skin issues for the first time in my life (Goddamn it) so I treat myself to a new face wash that cost a dime or 2. I use the Kiehl’s Calendula deep cleansing foaming face wash and it comes in quite a big bottle that is just not really suitable for backpacking. I obviously want to keep using it as it cost so much so I have emptied some into 100ml clear plastic travel bottle.
Body Scrub- I love a good scrub, and I like to smooth out my skin on the road and feel refreshed. There will be times when you just want a pick me up and to feel less grubby. So I’ve emptied my tube of Soap and Glory body scrub into another 100ml bottle to take with me because the original packaging is just too big.
Mosquito repellent- My personal choice is to buy it over in Asia as it is much cheaper than Western prices and easily found.
Top Tip: I know that some people don’t like using DEET sprays, so a great alternative is Avon’s ‘skin so soft’ dry oil spray. For some reason mosquitos hate that stuff, even the army use it. It also doubles up as a moisturiser.
Tea Tree Oil- I can’t tell you how many times I wanted some of this when I first went to Asia. It is so difficult to find. I like to carry it around just in case I have any pimples breaking out and it’s also good to put on any bites.
Perfume- I have got one of those travel perfume bottles that you fill up with your favourite perfume and you can take it with you if you want to freshen up. Also, it’s a nice treat to have when you travel.
For the girls-
Sanitary needs- Take tampons, simply because they can be very hard to get in Asia especially in the less westernised places. They’re known as a very foreign object there and they don’t really believe in their use.
Make-up– Your personal choice what you take but my advise it ditch the expensive stuff unless you really can’t live without it. Why do you ask? well I’ll tell you before I went travelling I would wear a full face of make-up every day and now I just don’t bother. In Asia, it’s that hot that it’s just going to slide off your face. Now I take the bare amount. I have swapped foundation for a BB Cream with SPF, I take a pencil eyeliner and Mascara, an eyeshadow that I also use for my brows and my Rimmel 107 lipstick for special occasions.
First Aid Kit
A first aid kit is a must, it’s always handy to have some things you might need in case of an emergency. Pharmacies are easy to reach in most places, but having some things to rely on and that you trust from home lets you have a piece of mind.
Plasters (bandaids)- Take some with you, when your hiking or to cover up infected mosquito bites if they open, or even for blisters. I usually carry some in my purse.
Painkillers- I always stock up on paracetamol from home even though they can easily be found in 711 for super cheap under the name SARA. I’m just very picky when it comes to medication and have a problem taking paracetamol that isn’t capsule. I’m also very allergic to ibuprofen so stocking up is my personal choice, so take what you want/need.
Antiseptic wipes- Very handy things to have, in Thailand, you can only buy bottles of cleaning alcohol and they’re a bit of a nightmare to carry especially with them being glass.
Savlon (antiseptic cream)– to keep wounds clean.
Antihistamine- Handy for allergies, and itchy mosquito bites.
Rehydration salts- you will be trying new foods all the time and you could get sick, these will save your life, trust me when I say this. You can get some in 711 that are also a life saver after a night on the buckets. Or take some Dioralyte with you.
Tiger Balm– so many uses I never travel without it. You can use it as an insect repellent, an after bite, muscle aches, mild burns, a vapour rub, headache relief there’s just so many uses that it is so worth carrying with you. I never leave without a jar or just pick it up in Asia.
Tweezers- Always a good little tool to have.
Medication- Take with you any required medication. You can buy most medication over the counter for very cheap so don’t worry too much but take it with you and buy it when you run out.
There some odd bits and bobs that are handy to take that I usually do.
A small sewing kit– things break, buttons come off, trousers split. I will always get some sort of use out of mine on most of my trips.
Torch– You don’t want to be that annoying person in the hostel that comes into the dorm at silly o’clock in the morning and turn the lights on. Have some respect for others and they will have respect for you.
A pocket knife- Get one that has a few different ends, it could come in handy.
Adapters– It’s a general thing but try to get a worldwide one then you don’t have to worry. I know that in Singapore the plugs are the same as the UK.
A pack of playing cards- In Thailand, you can’t buy them as gambling is illegal and cards are a part of that. They are a great way to make new friends in hostels and can put some time in whilst waiting for buses etc.
Towel– Get your hands on a microfibre travel towel that rolls up into a small bag. It will save you room and they are so worth it and very good. The micro fibre is also great as it dries quickly. You don’t want to carry a soaking wet towel in your bag making everything smelly.
A padlock- To tie your bag up on overnight trains and for lockers in hostels. It will give you a piece of mind.
A travel guide- I’m sorry, I know some people are all pro ‘get off the beaten track’ but I love carrying a Lonely Planet. The Lonely Planet South East Asia on a shoestring is an amazing ‘bible’ to have, it has every country in SE Asia and gives you all the essential information and recommendations for each country.
Some people like to travel with a minimum amount, some have other hobbies so here is a list that you could use for a suggestion-
Camera– There are some amazing places to photograph. It would be a shame not document your memories and the places you see. I travel with an Olympus pen, a great little camera with all the features of a DSLR.
GoPro- Everyone has them and if you have seen any travel videos especially the famous travel selfie video then you will know what I am on about. They are handy to have and so small and convenient.
Laptop– Personal choice but I like to because I blog and teach so I need it for work.
A hard drive– It would be a shame to take all the beautiful photos and loose them half way through your trip. BACK UP BACK UP!!
Memory cards– I have a few for cameras in a small little pouch to keep them safe.
Kindle– I know that people like the good feel of books but carrying books can be such a nightmare. With a kindle, you can have 100s of books and it can slide into your bag very easily. The battery also lasts days.
Chargers- Imagine forgetting them. Check you have them
A portable battery charger- I won’t travel without it now. It’s such a handy little thing to have. You will thank me later, it’s worth the investment.
Passport– Do I need to say anything else really. Take copies, just in case you lose it and scan one into your computer and save it or email it to yourself so you always have one available.
Passport photos- A very handy thing to carry especially if you are applying for different visas, you will need at least 2 per visa.
Prescriptions- Just take a copy just in case. NO harm just in case of emergencies
Insurance- Print them out and keep them safe.
Visas- Make sure you have done your research, some countries may require you to apply for a visa in your home country.
I hope that this list can give you an idea of what to take with you to South East Asia. Please leave a comment if you have any questions and I would love to be able to help you more.