Before my first big trip, I had a small meltdown because I had no idea what to pack. I’d be spending a year backpacking my way through 8 countries in Southeast Asia as a solo female traveler. As a woman who used to work in the fashion industry, packing light is hard for me. How could I possibly fit everything I would need into one 55L bag? Now that I’ve returned from my trip it doesn’t seem so scary. I feel like I finally created my perfect packing list for Southeast Asia.
The trick was to make a pile of everything I wanted to bring with me weeks before I was going to leave. I left everything on my dining room table, and every day I’d take out one thing that wasn’t essential. Eventually there was nothing left to remove, and I knew I’d gotten it down to the necessities. So, what made the cut for my packing list for southeast Asia?
Online Packing List for Southeast Asia
I’ve compiled my packing list for Southeast Asia into a kit. These are the items I recommend in this article, all in one convenient place. That way, you don’t need to open a bunch of search tabs to find things. Each of the items below was hand picked by me. I used all of these items during my backpacking trip. Most of the items below come from Amazon, Eddie Bauer, or REI.
Itemized Packing List for Southeast Asia
Backpack and Storage
Osprey Farpoint 55L Backpack – I chose the Osprey Farpoint backpack based off of reviews on REI’s website. I’d honestly never owned a travel backpack before and a lot of people told me this one would be too small. I knew that if I had space, I would fill it, so I insisted on getting a smaller pack. I see people with bigger bags, and they look way too heavy. This one fits everything I need and is comfortable. It’s carry on size, so I’ve never had to check it on a plane. The smaller bag zips off which is perfect for a day pack, and the zippers have interlocking holes which allows you to lock them for safety.
Packing Cubes – I almost didn’t bring packing cubes because some people said they were useless. I disagree. Packing cubes keep my bag organized, but they also help condense things into neat little piles making it easier to zip my bag when it’s full. I’ve had tons of people look at my bag when I’m packing and go, “Wow, that’s so organized. I need to get some of those” while they try to shove stuff into their packs.
Aqua Quest Storm Laptop Bag – I’ve only had to use my Aqua Quest laptop bag during monsoon season. I would recommend removing the inside divider which adds a padded layer. It’s not necessary and just takes up extra room. When I’m not using this, I keep all of my important documents in it so they don’t get wrinkled or wet.
Waterproof Bags – These waterproof bags are so handy and barely take up any space. If it’s rainy, I’ll keep one or two in my day pack to protect my wallet and cell phone. They also came in handy when I did a cave trek in Pai, Thailand, and I ended up swimming through a cave with my pack.
Locks – I’d recommend getting two small TSA friendly locks. One for your day pack and one for your bag. You’ll also need them if you’re staying at hostels that provide lockers.
Small Change Purse – Oddly, I forgot to bring a change purse. Since I carry a day pack instead of a purse it’s hard to find my money in it. I ended up buying a very pretty and very cheap one in Thailand.
PacSafe Money Belt – I don’t wear a money belt most of the time. I don’t like to leave my passport, credit cards, and money in my pack when I’m on trains, buses, etc. so having everything on me gives me peace of mind. It’s particularly helpful if you’re traveling on night trains/buses where you can’t see your bag and theft is high.
PacSafe 55L Bag Protector – 98% of the time, you won’t need this. It’s kind of heavy which is a pain, but the 2% of the time you do need it, it’s worth it. I’ve used this bag protector on the night train in Thailand which is known for theft. My travel insurance doesn’t cover theft on night buses or trains because the odds are high. I’ve also used it on the rare occasion that there is no locker in a hostel or the locker is too small.
Other – Ziplock bags are always handy. I like to have 5 sandwich sized bags on me and a few galloon bags. Bringing a plastic bag (like from a grocery store) for laundry is a good idea. I had a real laundry bag and it was a waste of space.
Clothing for Southeast Asia
Clothing is where most people pack way too much. It’s pretty easy to do laundry at least once a week while backpacking, so don’t overdo it.
Tops – I have five t-shirts in my bag. Take into consideration how much dirt or sweat they show. I try to choose fabrics that dry fast as well as darker colors. Avoid spaghetti straps, crop tops, etc. since most countries are modest. I like these shirts from Eddie Bauer. They are moisture wicking, have sun protection, and odor control making them ideal for extremely hot weather.
Bottoms – Shorts are a little scandalous in Southeast Asia, so I wouldn’t bother bringing them. A lot of people wear elephant pants, but if you want an upgrade from the typical tourist then I recommend these pants. They’re lightweight, easy to wash, great for hiking, and cute. Five pairs of pants are plenty.
Undergarments – Again, you can do laundry at least once a week, so don’t overdo it. I carry four sports bras, fourteen pairs of underwear, and five pairs of socks.
Pajamas – If you’re staying at hostels, you’ll likely be sharing a room with others. A t-shirt and gym shorts are great for pajamas. These can also be used for other purposes if you need a pair of shorts or are running low on laundry. Multipurpose pieces are always handy.
Swimwear – Depending on where you’re headed, you may not need a swimsuit. I packed two swimsuits (one bikini and a one-piece). A lot of areas are super modest, so try not to pick things that are too skimpy. Leave your cheeky bikini bottoms and thongs at home.
Workout / Activewear – I brought one pair of capri leggings and a tank top for yoga. This outfit also came in handy during two different treks, and it’s great for lounging around the hostel on lazy days.
Shoes – I carry one pair of cheap flip flops for the beach, pool, and showers. I also have a more expensive pair of Keen sandals with arch support for walking around. Last, I packed one pair of lightweight hiking boots for trekking.
Sun protection – I’d highly recommend a good pair of sunglasses and a sun hat. I’ve gotten some nasty sunburn in Asia even when I’ve had on sunscreen.
The Basics – I brought a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, a hairbrush, hair ties, floss, q-tips, a razor, and nail clippers with me. Most of these items are easy to buy anywhere in Asia and are also cheaper if you need to replace them while you’re there.
Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Face & Body Stick Sunscreen (SPF 70) – This solid sunscreen is amazing. I mostly use it on my face, but I’ve also used it on my body. The sun is so strong that you’ll probably still get a tan even with SPF 70. Some people recommend just buying sunscreen in Asia, but I’ve also heard of it not being as effective.
Badger Anti Bug Balm – This stuff is AMAZING. The bug repellent looks like a chapstick, making it easy to pack and carry around. You can just apply a single line to each leg and arm and you’re all set. I’ve barely gotten any bug bites, and it’s all natural. I can’t believe I didn’t know about this sooner.
Shower Supplies – Some hostels will provide soap and shampoo, however most do not. If you’re traveling short term, you can buy shower supplies in each country for really cheap. I decided to bring solids with me to avoid having liquids in my bag. I use J.R. Liggett’s Old-Fashioned Bar Shampoo and Bee Beauty Conditioner Bar. I also have a bar of soap (I’d recommend an exfoliating one), a soap holder, a razor, and face scrub. I use Lush: Angels on Bare Skin.
Feminine Products – If you’re traveling long term, I’d recommend a cup like Blossom. It takes some getting used to, but I never have to worry about tampons or pads anymore. If you’re traveling short term, make sure to bring tampons with you. A lot of countries in Asia do not have them. I’d specifically recommend U by Kotex since their packaging is the smallest and takes up less room in your luggage. If you prefer pads, bring those as well. The ones available in Asia are very bulky.
Toilet Supplies – Always have a packet of tissues and Purell with you. A lot of bathrooms in Asia don’t provide toilet paper or soap. This is mostly in public areas like restaurants, tourist attractions, and train stations. Hotels and hostels will provide both, although I did go to one hotel with no toilet paper. If you’re worried about the toilet situation in Southeast Asia, you can check out my Guide to Asian Toilets.
Wet Wipes – Having a pack of wet wipes on you is always handy. You aren’t allowed to wear shoes in temples so your feet will constantly be filthy. They’re also great if you’re going trekking and there’s no access to showers. I like this brand because they are biodegradable.
Laundry – I usually do my laundry at hostels for less than $2, or I’ll pay for wash and fold which is usually less than $5. That said, every once in awhile, you’ll find yourself in a jam or without laundry. For those times, I use Sea to Summit laundry sheets. They aren’t ideal for everyday use, but they don’t take up any room in your bag and are good for desperate times. You’ll need to use at least 5 sheets for a small load of laundry. Be careful not to get them wet in the pack or they’ll all stick to each other.
Technology for Southeast Asia
Laptop – I have a 13″ Macbook which is insanely lightweight! If you get a chance to upgrade, I highly recommend it.
Privacy Screen – If you’re anything like me, you’ll be booking last minute hotels and airplane tickets on the go. Since I often make payments online, I have this privacy screen to make sure the people sitting next to me can’t snoop.
Cellphone – Unless you’re really good at disconnecting, you’ll probably need your cellphone, and of course that means another charger.
Camera – I bought a Canon EOS M3. It’s more compact than a DSLR, but still has a lot of the same features. Since it takes up less room in my luggage and cost a lot less, I’m really happy with my purchase. It looks like the Canon EOS M6 is the version of this camera currently available.
GoPro – Ironically, I bought a GoPro so that I could leave my DSLR at home and save space. Turns out that once you buy all the attachments, the GoPro takes up more room than the DSLR. Unfortunately, the GoPro has it’s limits and can’t do simple things like zoom, so now I have twice as much camera gear.
Travel Outlet Adapter – I’d recommend an adapter that’s international. In Asia, I’ve seen several different types of outlets, sometimes even in the same country.
Venture 70 Power Pack – This charger has saved my butt a few times. First of all, it has a built in flashlight which is great for power outages. Second, it can recharge items when you’re on the go or don’t have access to power. I did a three day trek and still had charge in my battery on the last day.
Kindle – I have seen so many people carrying books while they travel, and I can’t comprehend it. I didn’t like Kindles when they came out, but I will never carry another book while I’m traveling again. I download at least ten books before I leave home. Not having a Kindle seems crazy to me.
Audible – Don’t like carrying a book or Kindle? Check out audible! You can sign up for a 30-day free trial and get two books free by clicking the banner below! If it’s not for you, you can cancel any time.
Medications & First Aid
Basic First Aid – For me, this includes bandaids, Advil, and an antibacterial cream. Chances are you’ll get at least one blister or headache while you’re traveling, so it’s best to have some basics on hand.
The Common Cold – Everyone will tell you to pack things related to travel, but let’s not forget the common cold. I caught a cold in the dorms and was miserable when I couldn’t find cold medicine. Luckily, a fellow traveler gave me some. I’d recommend bringing DayQuil/NyQuil tablets and Airborne Chewables. I’d also recommend throat drops since your dorm mates will hate you if you cough all night.
Food Poisoning / Dysentery / Dehydration -Depending on what countries you go to and how long you are traveling, you are almost guaranteed to face one of these issues. Ask your doctor to prescribe a high grade antibiotic before leaving. Make sure to ask them at what point you should take it. Hydration packets are a life saver in Southeast Asia. I’d recommend DiaResQ for after food poisoning, dysentery, or diarrhea. Ceralyte 70 is great for everyday dehydration as well as after being ill.
Prescription Medication – Get any prescriptions you may need prior to leaving. Prescriptions have different names in different countries and finding a pharmacy with someone who speaks English can be challenging. Make sure to keep the accompanying paperwork in case they ask for it at customs.
Other – If you are going to a country where malaria is a risk, make sure to get malaria pills before leaving. I also got a prescription for altitude sickness since I plan to hike in higher altitudes.
Important Documents – You won’t get very far without your passport, and it’s always good to have a backup, so be sure to copy it along with any visas. I carry a hard copy of each and email a copy to myself just in case. I also carry a copy of my travel insurance policy with all of the important phone numbers.
Money – I like to have two credit cards, two debit cards, and $100 in small bills when I travel. I keep one credit card and debit card in my locker along with my USD cash, then I carry the other two cards and my foreign currency in my change purse. That way, if it gets stolen, I have backups of each somewhere separate. As a last resort, people tend to accept USD in most countries, so you can always pay with small bills if you’re in a jam.
Water Tablets – I used to bring a water purification straw with me, but I never used it. Water tablets are cheaper and easier to carry in case of an emergency.
Earplugs & Eye Mask – Pretty self explanatory, but if you’re staying in a dorm you’ll need one of these at some point. People snore. People leave lights on. People suck sometimes. So better to be prepared than get woken up at 3am while someone packs for two hours.
VPN – I recommend a VPN (virtual private network) if you’ll be using your computer or phone while in the country. A VPN allows you to access websites while using public networks with privacy. If you plan to look at banking apps, booking sites, etc. then I highly recommend it as my credit card was stolen two times in Nepal before getting a VPN. Now, I use ExpressVPN which is inexpensive and easy to use. It costs $8 a month if you sign up for a year or $12 for a single month.
Travel Insurance – You can consider getting travel insurance. I had travel insurance because I wanted the peace of mind. I ended up using it twice; once with a muay thai injury and once for trip cancellation. So, for me it was worth it.
Have any questions about my packing list for Southeast Asia? Ask in the comments! And, if you have anything you’d add to your packing list for Southeast Asia, tell me in the comments!
Printable Packing List for Southeast Asia
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Michelle Della Giovanna
Writer at Full Time Explorer
I’m just your average New Yorker who quit her job in the fashion industry to explore the world. Come find out what it’s like to trade in five-inch heels for squat toilets.