Things to Pack for a Southeast Asian Backpacking Trip

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Things to Pack for a Southeast Asian Backpacking Trip

Going on the Banana Pancake Trail—the well-trodden paths in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand—is probably in the bucket list of many backpackers and young travelers on their gap years. Indeed, who can blame them for choosing Southeast Asia? The beaches are gorgeous, the food über delicious, and best of all, it’s cheap to go around.

If you’re planning your own Southeast Asian adventure, a little bit of preparation (and research!) before your trip can help you a lot. You have to know, for example, the season on your scheduled arrival so you can pack accordingly. You don’t want to arrive in Bangkok during the summer months with only pairs of jeans in your backpack. The heat and humidity will soon make you leave them behind.

Female travelers are also apt to overpack, bringing 4 pairs of shoes, 10 shirts, and a hair dryer for a month’s visit. To know what to bring and what to leave home, read our packing tips for Southeast Asia.

First, The Luggage

If you were thinking of bringing a suitcase, don’t. Just don’t. Traveling around the region requires you to take chicken buses, wading through water to get on a boat, and walking for some time on the beach to get to your guesthouse. Do you really want to do all these with a suitcase? Just get a backpack and you’re all set.

Most women bring a 40-45L backpack and a day pack while men usually carry around 60L. You don’t need more than this. Remember, you’ll sometimes be walking for seemingly like hours; you don’t want to lug around stuff you don’t need. So, before leaving home, find out…

What to Pack and What Not To Pack

Most of Southeast Asia is high in humidity, so clothing and shoes should take this in consideration.


Bring light and loose cotton clothes that don’t need ironing and can be thrown away when you don’t want them anymore. Choose neutral colors, too, so you can easily mix and match them. Here’s a sample of what you should bring:

  • 5 T-shirts/tank tops (preferably quick drying)
  • 2 pair of shorts (one for walking, one that can be used for swimming)
  • 2 pairs of pants (quick drying , no jeans)
  • 7 pairs of underwear (+ 3 bras)
  • 3 pairs of socks
  • 1 black dress

Remember, clothes are super cheap in Southeast Asia. If you need some more, just go out and buy them for less than $5. It would be perfect for the climate too.

Make sure to buy a sarong as well when you arrive there. It’s very handy; you can use it as a towel, a dress, a skirt, a blanket, a bed sheet, or a head cover, among many other uses. And don’t forget a hat or travel umbrella. You’d thank us for it when you’ve experienced trekking under the noonday sun for hours without shelter.


Think of what you’ll be doing on your trip. If you’re spending most of the time on the beach, a pair of flipflops is definitely necessary. You can bring it with you or buy it there. Also bring a comfortable pair of sandals for walking (make sure it’s easy to slip off for when you’re entering temples) as well as a pair of sneakers.

Towel and Toiletries

Bring sunscreen; there’s a lot available in Asia, but it can be expensive there. With regards to shampoo, if you’re the type who sticks to one brand, by all means, bring a big bottle of it. Keep in mind, though, that if you’re not so choosy, there are always shampoo and liquid soap available, as well as toothpaste and deodorant. Buy local when you can, you reduce the weight of your luggage and you support their business, too.

Also bring a microfiber towel. Not all places provide one, not even for rent, and microfiber’s light enough to pack.

First-aid Kit

It goes without saying that if you’re taking medications, you should always have enough of it with you. You can’t be sure that it’s available in Southeast Asia. Generic medicines, however, can be bought there, including painkillers, antibiotics, and anti-diarrheal tablets. You can buy insect repellent and Tiger Balm as well for both headaches and mosquito bites.

Electronic Devices

If you’re a reader, bring a Kindle or any ebook reader. You can, of course, bring a book and then exchange it later in the hostel, but too often the pickings are slim. Bring (or buy) an unlocked mobile phone as well, together with a universal travel adaptor; research what kind you need before leaving.

Don’t forget to bring a padlock for hostel lockers, as well as notebook and pen; make the pen accessible in your day pack for when you need to fill out visa forms in the Immigration.

All these should fit in your backpack and day pack. Remember that you probably will buy souvenirs, so make sure your bag still has space for them.

In any case you won’t really learn how to pack until you’ve done it yourself. Once you’ve experienced walking for miles in the heat, with the backpack getting heavier on your back, you will soon learn to get rid of that hairdryer and other non-essentials, making your backpacking trip in Southeast Asia much more enjoyable.

Photo Credit: TheFutureIsUnwritten via photopin cc

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