I’m heading back to South East Asia- my favourite part of the world very soon (with a detour of the Middle East on the way).
The first time my eyes were opened by this side of the world was in 2011 for a month where i packed terribly (although this was my first backpacking trip and i was heading to Australia for a year afterwards so most of my bag was full with things i needed there and i was very inexperienced) and the second time was at the start of 2014 for 5 months where i was actually very proud of what and how i packed.
So as i’m getting ready to visit for a third time which will be for about 3 months starting in November, i’m remembering what worked and what didn’t work so i can pack as well as i can.
Here are a few Do’s and Don’t’s that I’m following and that i recommend to you so you can pack in the lightest and best way possible:
DO only pack what you need- This sounds obvious doesn’t it, but as you go through your wardrobe if you pick something up and think ‘i probably won’t need this but i’ll take it anyway’ then put it back! It will only add to the load on your back.
DO take a backpack! Yes it will be heavy on your back and sometimes you’ll hate it and end up dragging it around but its SO much better than the hassle of taking a suitcase! Your bags will be hauled onto buses, tuk tuks, boats, balanced on mopeds and in some case thrown from boat to boat (just close your eyes and think these men do this everyday when this happens to you!) and backpacks make it a lot easier for this to be done. It’s so cringey seeing someone with a hard suitcase trying to wheel it onto a boat or lift it up onto the top of a tuk tuk.. Embrace the backpacker life and take a backpack no matter how long you’re visiting for.
DON’T pack ‘extra’ toiletries. Honestly, all (well the majority) of toiletries and brands you can buy at home can be brought in South East Asia so don’t go packing 2 bottles of everything to last you your trip. Pack enough to go with and once something runs out you can buy it cheaply out there. This will save space and weight in your bag.
DON’T take a huge towel. Big, fluffy towels are great but not when you’re trying to fit it into your bag. Most guesthouses and hotels will offer you towels but take a small travel fold up one too just incase. And on this note don’t take a towel for sunbathing on either- the bright coloured sarongs sold in all markets in South East Asia will be your best friend for sunbathing on and drying quickly!
DON’T take clingy clothes. You need to recognise just how hot and humid it gets in South East Asia. The majority of time you will be sweating during the day and night so take lightweight, floaty clothes, no jeans, or dresses etc with lots of layers. Not only will this save you weight and space in your bag you’ll be thankful when you step out into the heat.
DON’T take all your makeup. This is always my biggest mistake (but luckily makeup doesn’t take up much room or weigh much), i always take the necessities- mascara, eyeliner, blusher, concealer, lipstick, foundation, eyeshadow but most of the time i only wear the mascara at night and nothing else (even then your lashes can feel too sweaty to put this on!). After a few days you’ll start getting a tan and foundation won’t be needed (this also just sweats off even if you do put it on) and then you realise people don’t get that dressed up at night so all that make up is a waste of time and space.
DO pack some trainers- at some point a hike into the jungle or up a volcano will seem tempting so make sure you have the right footwear.
DO take a day pack. You might already be using a day pack for your hand luggage and valuables but if not then make sure you have one packed (i have a great fold up Kathmandu bag from Amazon that folds up really small so it can go in my big bag when I’m not using it) as these bags are great for when you go on hikes and long days out exploring.
DON’T pack too much underwear. I’d say 7-10 pairs is enough. Getting your laundry done is really easy, you can drop it off at most guesthouse/hotel/hostel receptions to be done overnight and its very cheap.
DON’T take expensive clothes. Following on from the point above, its easy and cheap to get your washing done but i have seen and heard horror stories of clothes being dyed different colours, being frayed and even go missing so take cheap, disposable clothes incase this happens (although fingers crossed its never happened to me).
DO pack clothes that will cover your legs and shoulders. Although most countries and places in South East Asia are used to tourists remember than these are very Buddhist, conservative countries so if you want to visit temples and the more local part of town you will need to be respectful and cover up. I always take a sarong in my bag to put around my waist to cover my legs when i visit temples and remember to put on a t-shirt rather than a strapy top. Maxi dresses and long, baggy pants will also work well.
DO keep all your valuables and money packed in your hand luggage bag. Never ever put anything valuable in your big bag on journeys. Unfortunately it’s common for your bag to be searched through (you may think that note was hidden well in your toiletries but it’s likely to be found) on long journeys so always keep your passport, phone, laptop, money, camera, on you and on your lap especially on night buses to avoid anything being stolen.
DO invest in and pack a good pair of flip-flops/thongs/jandels (depending on where you’re from). I love Havaianas, they can appear expensive but they are worth the buy as they’re great in quality and they last and literally all you will wear in South East Asia is flip-flops. You can buy fake ones on the markets in South East Asia but naturally the quality isn’t as good.
DO always pack some toilet roll in your bag that’s on you.. you’ll thank me i promise!
DO remember the little things like an adapter, padlock, sunglasses, eye mask, ear plugs, headphones, hand sanitiser.
My last and main point is basically DON’T overpack! Everything that you need in South East Asia can be brought there.
Their markets are always packed with clothes, bikinis, sarongs, bags, jewellery and everything else you could need. Of course you’ll want to do some shopping and then you’ll probably end up wearing this stuff more than the stuff from home as its a better, more appropriate fabric and you want to fit into the ‘backpacker’ scene with your local clothes.
So pack light and enjoy the trip!
If you’re looking for budget and spending information read my ‘How much money i spent travelling in South East Asia for 5 months’ blog post 🙂