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After spending over a year in South East Asia over multiple South East Asia Backpacking Trips I’ve made many packing mistakes and I’ve seen many packing mistakes too by the people I have met whilst travelling.
People who have binned half of their stuff because they realised it wasn’t South East Asia appropriate, people who have binned suitcases in turn for backpacks (that may or may not have been me!), and people who carry far too much and don’t end up wearing half of it!
I wanted to collate those experiences into a simple South East Asia Packing Tips Post with important Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to packing your backpack for Asia, aka – your trip of a lifetime, because South East Asia is seriously the best part of the world!
DO only pack what you need!
I know this sounds obvious and is much easier said than done 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’ put it back and do not bring it!
For a more detailed post on what you should pack for Thailand which will apply for many of the Countries in South East Asia too, have a look at my Thailand Packing List here!
DON’T take clingy Clothes.
To help you work out what to pack for South East Asia, one thing to think about is not taking clingy, tight clothes!
You need to imagine 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 only. Do not pack jeans (although denim shorts are ok and actually a good idea) or dresses and tops etc with lots of layers.
Even gym pants and Spanx Leggings can be hot and uncomfortable so if you pack them be sure to pack 3/4 length or gym shorts.
Not only will these clothes be more comfortable but they’ll weigh less and take up less room in your bag.
DO be prepared to Shop in South East Asia.
The shopping in South East Asia is great and it’s addictive! So many times I have wanted to buy things but not had room in my bag. If you are having trouble finding lightweight, loose clothes at home, wait until you get to Asia and shop there.
Khao San Road in Bangkok is the perfect place to shop if your first stop is Bangkok and all of the Islands, Cities and Towns in Asia are full of markets catering for backpackers with clothing in the right material for South East Asia Travel and weather!
DO take a Backpack.
Whether you are visiting South East Asia for a few weeks or a few months, a backpack is the best bag to take to South East Asia I promise!
Yes it will be heavy on your back and sometimes you’ll hate it but its SO much better than the hassle of taking a suitcase! Your bag will be hauled onto buses, tuk tuks, boats, balanced on mopeds and in some case thrown from boat to boat (yes really!) and backpacks make it a lot easier for this to be done.
It’s so cringey seeing someone with a suitcase trying to wheel it onto a boat, drag it through sand or lift it on top of a tuk tuk! Embrace the South East Asia Backpacker life and take a backpack.
If you need a wheeled case for certain reasons or are really against a backpack, rather than a hard suitcase get a Rolling Rucksack which will be easier to travel with and carry when you need to.
DO use Packing Cubes.
There’s been a hype around packing cubes the last few years and rightly so because they are so great!
Packing cubes really help compress your clothes meaning you can pack more into a small space, however I also find them so great for organising my clothes! If I know I won’t be in beach places for a few weeks I pack all my beach wear in one cube and I don’t have to touch it until I’m back by the beach meaning I create less mess when unpacking and it’s easier to find the clothes I do need!
I use these packing cubes from Amazon which are great, however I only use the small sizes as the big ones that come in the back are far too big!
DON’T pack ‘extra’ Toiletries.
Do not pack doubles of things. You can buy the vast majority of toiletries from your usual brands in the shops in South East Asia. Whether that’s in the small convenient Supermarkets or in Shopping Malls in the big Cities if you need something more specific.
Also when you think about what toiletries to pack for South East Asia, remember that if you’re not sure you’ll need something, don’t buy it and pack it because you’ll be able to buy it away if it’s a generic product.
One item I suggest taking more of however is Sun Cream, especially if you are going to Thailand first as suncream is expensive in Thailand.
The other thing to note for females when packing for South East Asia is that Tampons are not common in South East Asia and when you do find them they are pretty expensive – £10.00 a pack in some places! So pack more Tampons, be prepared to use sanitary towels or even better, buy a menstrual cup before you go travelling.
These are the way forward for periods in general and especially when travelling, they’re so small and once you have it you have no need to purchase any more items! I use the Travel Lily Cup which is really great!
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 in South East Asia will offer you towels but I recommend adding a small, quick dry, foldable travel towel to your South East Asia packing list because often if you’re staying in hostels you need to pay for towels and these towels always come in handy one way or the other.
On this note don’t take a towel for sunbathing on either, the Sarongs that are sold in all markets in South East Asia will be your best friend for sunbathing on. They’re great because they fold up small, dry quickly and act as a shawl for temples for example and a blanket for overnight journeys!
DON’T take all your Makeup.
This is always my biggest mistake, I always take the necessities and what I usually wear day to day at home- mascara, eyeliner, blusher, concealer, lipstick, foundation, eyeshadow, but when in South East Asia during the day I wear no make up at all!
In the evenings when I’m on a ‘night out’ in South East Asia I will wear make up but most of the time I only wear a bit of foundation, mascara and blusher or bronzer, which usually sweats off pretty quickly anyway!
When it comes to what to wear in South East Asia in the evening and how to look, girls do dress up and wear make up yes, but it’s not a must and will only be in the ‘party places’, most of the time you will be make up free so embrace it and pack accordingly!
Also remember that make up tends to melt due to the heat so if you have expensive make up, don’t bring it!
DO pack some Trainers.
And not just Converse trainers, because at some point a hike into the jungle or up a volcano will seem tempting and you’ll need and want trainers on your packing list for South East Asia for these adventure activities, not Converse etc with no grip and that may get ruined!
DO take a day pack.
You may already be using a day pack for your hand luggage and valuables but if not and you are using a hand bag or smaller bag, make sure you have a decent day pack too as these bags are great for when you go on hikes and long days out exploring.
If you don’t have room for a big extra day pack, you can get foldable day packs which are great because they do not take up much room in your big bag but are actual bags when you unfold them!
DON’T pack too much Underwear.
I’d say 7-10 pairs is enough. Getting your laundry done in South East Asia is really easy- you can drop it off at most guesthouse/hotel/hostel receptions to be done overnight and it’s ready the next day. It’s very cheap and done by weight.
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 reasonably priced clothes that you aren’t that attached to incase this happens (although it has 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 religious, conservative countries so when you 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 tank top. Maxi dresses and long, baggy pants will also work well for what to pack when visiting temples in South East Asia.
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 it as they’re great in quality and they last a long time.
All travellers wear in South East Asia is flip-flops, not just because they are comfy and easy to pack and carry but in most places like temples, shops and restaurants you need to take your shoes off and slip on sandals are easiest for this.
You can buy fake Havaianas in many of the markets in South East Asia but naturally the quality isn’t as good and real ones are much better!
DO always pack some toilet roll.
Start off your trip with a packet of tissues or some toilet roll from home and buy more when you’re there to carry with you during the day and especially on day and night journeys. Toilet roll is not always common in South East Asia because locals prefer to use the bum gun!
DO pack a Rain Jacket.
Yes it rains in South East Asia! Even if you’re going in the dry season you may still see a random downpour. You’ll be able to buy a one use plastic mac in most places in South East Asia if you get caught in the rain but packing a small fold away rain jacket is a great idea just in case!
DO remember the Little things.
Remember to take an adapter, you’ll need an international adapter as the plugs can be different in the different Countries of South East Asia.
Take a decent padlock for your bag or locker in hostels etc.
Sunglasses are a must! I love my SunGod glasses and they are such good quality of the intensity of the South East Asian Sun.
An Eye Mask and Ear Plugs are needed for hostels!
A travel pillow is a great idea too for those long bus journeys and flights. I recommend a foldable, blow up pillow like this one so it doesn’t take up much room in your bag!
Headphones for those long Journeys and an E-Reader is a good idea too!
Hand Sanitiser is a must!
You can buy all of these things in South East Asia but it’s a good idea to have them in advance!
My final point and again, easier said than done I know, but if you can’t pick up your backpack or can’t close it, you’ve packed too much!
You really do not need to pack that much for South East Asia, you’ll be in beach wear a lot of the time or shorts and tops in Cities in Towns. Most clothing will be fine to wear during the day in South East Asia and at night and you’ll probably end up wearing the same outfits over and over because it’s a suitable outfit.
I know it’s harder if you’re going to Australia or somewhere else in the world afterwards but really do remember that the more you pack, the more you need to carry and you do have to carry your bag quite a bit in South East Asia!
More posts to help you plan your South East Asia Trip:
I’m Ellie Quinn!
I’m a total travel addict who has been travelling on and off since 2010 and has visited over 55 Countries. (Yes I’m a Country Counter!)
I love travelling, visiting new places and meeting new people but what I also love is sharing my experiences to help you travel better which is why I pour so much love into this travel blog.
I hope to inspire you to visit new places, make you realise you don’t need to spend that much money to travel and give you helpful tips on how to get to places and what to do there!
In the Summer of 2018, I quit my office job in London, left my flat and I now travel and blog full time so if this is your dream too, follow along because I post lots of content around how I did it. And it really is amazing!
Be sure to follow me on social media and you can read more about me here!
NOW: SRI LANKA
BETWEEN: SOMEWHERE IN ASIA!
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