I called Southeast Asia my home for more than a year even though the original plan was to stay there for just four months.
You can’t blame me for wanting to linger a while longer there, really. Southeast Asia is a mecca of culture, amazing cuisine, and an inordinate amount of adventures. Plus, traveling and living in most countries is incredibly cheap!
Whether you’re headed to Bangkok for a bit of night market-hopping, Cambodia for cultural euphoria, or the Philippines for striking beaches, my Southeast Asia packing list covers everything you’ll want to bring along for the perfect trip to one of the most alluring regions of the world!
Pro tip: Keep it light.
Pack as light as possible. From my experience traveling Southeast Asia for over a year, a 45L backpack or a small carry on suitcase is more than enough regardless of how much time you’ll be here. Southeast Asia is hot and humid, and the majority of the clothing items you’ll need will be pretty lightweight.
Onto the list!
But first, I’ll sneak in these four tips you should keep in mind when actually packing:
→ You’ll also be sweating like crazy, so girls: Don’t bother packing makeup, it will melt off your face in a jiffy!
→ An upside of packing only the essentials in a carry-on is that it will save you a lot of money when it comes to moving around. There are tons of budget airlines that fly from all major destinations in Southeast Asia, but they usually charge for checked luggage. If your backpack/suitcase is small enough, you’ll be able to carry it with you on the plane and avoid paying unnecessary fees!
→ Cities like Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur are filled with malls and markets where you’ll find incredibly cheap clothes. If you feel like you’re missing something on the way, rest assured that shopping malls like Palladium in Bangkok have you covered!
→ As far as toiletries go, don’t overdo it. You’ll find everything you need here.
- 2-3 Breathable pants/trousers. You haven’t known heat until you’ve been to Southeast Asia. Add in the humidity and non-breathable pants and suddenly your dream trip becomes a gigantic hassle. Breathable pants are key, and you don’t need to pack too many as Southeast Asian night markets are the mecca of lightweight cotton pants.
- Girls: 1-2 Maxi skirts. This one is sort of optional, but I find maxi skirts ideal for temple-hopping days in Thailand, Laos, and the likes. Women need to cover their legs and shoulders when they enter Buddhist temples, and maxi skirts will save you the trouble of having to change clothes constantly.
- 1-2 shorts
- As for underwear, I recommend buying moisture-wicking undergarments like these. The humidity in Southeast Asia makes you sweat like crazy, so cotton is not a great idea as it will sag with sweat. Moisture-wicking fabric holds up pretty well, and it will be your best friend with traveling Southeast Asia.
- Girls: 1-2 sundresses.
- 2-3 Swimsuits
- Women: Cover-up for your bikini / Men: Swim t-shirt. People in Southeast Asia have gotten used to foreigners not adhering to their customs and wearing bikinis in public. While nobody will say a word if you do, you’ll potentially offend lots of people. In countries like Thailand, it’s frowned upon for women to wear bikinis in public, so a cute cover-up like this one comes in useful here!
- 5-6 tank tops or light t-shirts
- 2-3 short-sleeve shirts
- A sweater or hoodie. For bus rides and flights (they love their air-con over there).
- Light jacket if you’re traveling to mountainous areas or plan on doing some treks.
- Girls: Sarong. Useful to cover your shoulders when entering temples or to use as a blanket when on cold bus rides.
- 1 pair of flip-flops. You’ll probably live in them while here.
- 1 pair of sandals
- 1 pair of running shoes
- A day bag. I recommend this one from Quechua.
Travel adapter. Southeast Asian countries all use a different variety of sockets, so you’re better off getting yourself a universal travel adapter to make sure you can charge your devices everywhere you go.
Portable charger. Not 100% necessary, but definitely useful so your phone never runs out of battery. I use this one from Anker.
I’m also currently a bit obsessed with this phone-charging passport cover by Lovie Style.
Camera. I always carry my Panasonic Lumix G7 and absolutely LOVE it! The quality of the photos is great and it’s super compact and light. It also shoots video.
You might also want to consider a GoPro for adventure shots (there will be so many opportunities for this during your trip to Southeast Asia).
SD Card. You’re going to take thousands of pictures during your trip, so a 32 or 64 GB SD card is a must!
REALLY USEFUL EXTRAS
A purifying water bottle like the GRAYL Ultralight Water Purifier. Drinking tap water in any Southeast Asian country isn’t safe, and this water bottle is one of the best things you could add to your Southeast Asia packing list.
Some cities like Bangkok have stations on the streets where you can fill up your water bottle for as low as 1 BHT (0.03 cents!), but this is more like an exception rather than a rule. You’ll likely find yourself having to purchase bottled water most of the time, which is terrible for your budget and more so for the environment.
So in comes the GRAYL (or shall I say the HOLY GRAYL?! I must have been a dad in my past life, that was totally a terrible dad joke).
The GRAYL is a water bottle that filters bacteria, viruses, and chemicals from any source of fresh water in a matter of seconds. It’s perfect for a backpacking trip to Southeast Asia and you can always re-use it on your next trip. I’ve used mine in several countries in Africa and Mexico and it has never failed me.
It’s not the cheapest water bottle water out there, but when you factor in the amount of bottled water that you’ll have to buy, you’ll save cash in the long run.
Travel towel. I used to think that travel towels were some sort of travel gimmick, but they’re actually pretty cool. I used to go around the world carrying a regular one, not realizing how much space it took in my luggage and how long they took to get dry.
Travel towels are really light, dry up super quickly, and are so thin that they barely take any space in my luggage. It took me a few days to get used to the texture, but now I never travel without one (they can also double as blankets when it gets cold in the plane or in a bus). I recommend this one from Youphoria.
Packing cubes. They’ll save you tons of space because they compress air and they’re also a great way to stay organized. I can unpack easily and I always know where to find my things instead of scrambling through my bag and making a mess as soon as I arrive at my accommodation. I recommend this set of packing cubes from Ebags.
Travel Insurance For Southeast Asia
Travel insurance that covers all your activities in Southeast Asia. I recommend World Nomads, especially for backpackers and long-term travelers in Southeast Asia because they let you book and make any changes to your insurance online! Basically, if you decide to go to another country last-minute, you can easily adjust your insurance needs in just a few minutes.
They also take care of over 150+ adventure activities that most travel insurance won’t cover you for!
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