Southeast Asia features widely in our Flashpacker Chronicles, and for good reason; inviting locals, low cost, unreal food, and no shortage of exciting experiences make it one of the top long term travel destinations in the world.
Having recently returned from a 7 month trip in Southeast Asia we experienced firsthand what to pack and what travelers most regret bringing. During our trip, we explored Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, & Indonesia with time in the Maldives and South Korea. Even if you’re going for months we’ll tell you why it’s not necessary to pack your whole life. Whether you plan on flashpacking, vacationing, or backpacking Southeast Asia, use our experience to guide your packing.
Here is the ONLY Southeast Asia packing list you need. We keep it simple and straightforward for what you must bring. You might be surprised by how few items are on the list but trust us, we’ve had time to figure this out. We’ve also included a list of the most common items we see long term travelers bring that are better left at home in what you absolutely don’t need to bring. And as a bonus, our personal list of items you won't think about until you need them and that you won't see on most other packing lists.
What you must bring:
1. Pack as if you’re going for one week. Even if you’re on a 6 month tour around Asia, for every item you put in your bag, first ask yourself if you would bring this if you were only going for one week. If you don’t think you’d need it on a one week trip you don’t need it period. You’ll feel like a rockstar easily carrying your lightweight bag around when you see everyone else struggling with their 30 pounders. And you can easily do laundry along the way.
2. Use a backpack, ideally one that can pass for carry on size. Asia discount airlines have very stringent size/ weight rules of carry ons and adding a checked bag will generally double the cost of your ticket. Equally important, you’re inevitably going to be walking a ton and often on dirt roads or poorly maintained streets which will be extra difficult with a roller bag.
3. Use a smaller backpack than you think you’ll need because if you’re only packing for a week you don’t need a 70 liter backpack. A 40-50 liter travel backpack with a smaller daypack will be sufficient.
4. Clothing: Remember dry fit everything! Its hot year round and often humid so you want clothes that will keep you cool when you’re wearing them and dry fast after being washed. 4 T-shirts (dry fit), 1-2 long sleeve shirts (linen highly recommended), 5 pairs of underwear (dry fit), 4 pairs of socks, 1 long pair of pants (hiking pants recommended), 2 pairs of shorts (did someone say dry fit?), 1 swim suit, 1 hat, and a pair of travel sunglasses. Girls: 1 casual skirt and 1 pair breathable leggings or light weight dress, 3 sport bras (dry fit, but you already knew that).
5. Footwear: One pair of comfortable sandals and one pair of running shoes. You’ll be walking a lot so a solid pair of running shoes are a must, and they can double for hiking or be used with any other physical activities you do. A decent pair of sandals is worth investing in so that you can walk to the beach and stay cool.
6. Toiletries: Your standard toiletry items for a one week trip plus some good face cleanser to wash the dust and sweat away at the end of the day. Keep in mind you can buy all standard toiletry (feminine products included) items basically anywhere in Asia so don’t bring extra if you’re worried about not finding it. A toiletry bag to keep organized is a must. Get one that's waterproof like the Chrome Industries Waterproof Toiletry Bag to protect your clothes from leaks.
7. Electronics: To laptop or not to laptop??? If you’re going to be working on your trip and require a laptop - bring it, otherwise leave it at home. Its going to get banged around and won't be worth the stress of keeping it safe. A laptop also adds a lot of weight. Our recommendation: Pick up a Chromebook or tablet for a couple $100s. You already know to bring an unlocked cellphone and pick up a cheap sim card in every new country and a power adapter/ converter that works in Asia. An ebook reader is great as well. And a camera based on your personal preference. A reliable power bank will keep you connected when you need it most, particularly on those long travel days.
9. Standard personal ID items: passport, copies of your passport, drivers licence, credit cards, debit cards. A larger passport holder to keep all of this together is great to stay organized.
10. A micro-fiber travel towel if you plan on staying at a hostel or going to the beach.
11. Packing cubes to keep everything organized.
What you absolutely don’t need to bring:
1. More than one week’s worth of clothes. Trust us, this is worth repeating. You’ll be on the move a lot, between cities, hotels, cars, buses, and taxis, and a heavier bag will wear you down. Laundry is extremely easy to do on the road and if you do need extra clothes you can buy it there.
2. Jeans. You will NEVER wear them. Remember when we said dry fit everything? Jeans don’t come anywhere close to that.
3. Hiking shoes/ boots. This is tied for the item you’ll most likely see hanging off a long term traveler’s backpack as well as the item they most regret bringing. They’re too bulky and heavy, at most you’ll use them once. Invest in a great pair of running shoes and you’ll be completely fine.
4. A Water Filter: This is tough because of all the plastic waste that results from single use plastic water bottles but despite good intentions by bringing a filter to purify your water it’s just not practical. Instead make an effort to stay at accommodations that provide drinking water from large water coolers. When you do buy water go for the large 6 liter bottles and refill your metal water bottle every chance you get.
5. Liquids over 100ml. I know you might not find your favorite shampoo in Asia but don’t bring extra. #1: You can’t carry-on your bag with liquids over 100ml. #2: Larger containers add too much weight and take up too much space. #3: You can live without your favorite shampoo while you’re living your travel dreams.
6. A portable luggage scale. Even though Asian airlines have strict and unreasonably low luggage weight limits you probably don’t need one. Weigh your bag before you leave and then keep it at that weight by throwing out an item for every item you add. Plus, you can easily weigh your bag at the airport before checking in - there’s scales everywhere, don’t bother bringing your own.
What no one else will tell you to bring:
1. Lotion with SPF, every morning
2. Men: beard trimmer, bonus if you use it to cut your hair every month
3. A set of wooden cutlery for the inevitable in room or on the road snacking.
4. A bunch of zip lock bags to store and organize the little things you bring and accumulate along the way.
5. Extra credit and debit cards not tied to the same account or bank. We recommend at least 2 credit cards from different banks and 2 debit cards from different banks. If one card gets lost, stolen, or temporarily suspended you won't be left stranded.
6. A travel wallet. Your stylish leather wallet from home is going to get wet and dirty while traveling, pick up a decent travel wallet that can keep up.
7. A deck of cards. You don’t often hear about the long periods of waiting in long term travel but a deck of cards is worth the extra weight.
8. 1-2 carabiners so you can hang stuff off your backpack (think wet shoes or sandals at the beach)
9. Extra passport photos. Many visas on arrival require a physical passport photo, you can pay to get them there but easier to bring a few to save money and more importantly, time because the border crossings can get very backed up.
Let Us Know About Your Next Trip
This is our recommended list, we’re confident it will make your trip smoother and more enjoyable. When you make it to Southeast Asia let us know what worked or if we missed anything.
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