Think about it… you normally live your life in a house, apartment, or room with all of your luxuries around you. Now imagine that you need to pack everything you need into a bag and that’s it. Don’t pack too much because you have to carry it….everywhere. Don’t pack too little because who knows what you’ll need to be happy, comfortable, and sanitary. What do you pack for Southeast Asia?
What do you take? What is expendable? These were the questions that troubled me the month before leaving on our trip, but I think I’m finally ready to go. Take a look at the list below, and maybe you’ll notice something I forgot (fingers crossed that it isn’t too important), or maybe something you forgot. Overall, this post goes into detail with what I decided to take to Southeast Asia.
[Updated!] I’ve returned from six months abroad, and I have learned a lot about packing light. I’ve gone through, edited, omitted, and added a few things here and there. After getting some true experience on the road, I’m confident that my final pack is perfect for backpacking tropical areas. If you’re going to colder climates, pack a few more layers.
I was able to get everything I needed into a 55L two compartment backpack, and all my gear combined is under 25 lbs. I’ve made the carry-on requirements and I’m stoked.
My backpack of choice is the Osprey Farpoint 55. It is a two bag system, a day pack (15L) and a carry-on, suitcase-style pack (40L), that zip together for easy travel. The bag opens completely, easily revealing all of its contents when needed, and the straps tuck away, leaving a slim suitcase that travels well. I thought I’d need a bigger bag, but everything ended up fitting in here no problem, and it’s within the carry-on limits. This will save me time and money on buses, trains, and planes.
Everything I brought is in this photo (except my cell phone). I hope someone can use this photo later to double check there own pack and make sure they have everything.
If you want to know exactly what I’m bringing, I’ve labeled and explained everything in the rest of the post. I can’t recommend any of this gear 100%, but I’m about to put it all to the test, and I’ll let everyone know how it holds up at the end. [Update: I’ve added and removed gear in the list below with reasons.]
What to Pack for Southeast Asia!?
(Click the image and let it load for more detail) (An index is at the bottom of the post.)
From what I’ve heard, you can buy anything once you get there, but I also heard that if you’re gonna spend good money on anything, it should be good clothes to start your journey. Southeast Asia is gonna be warm and humid, so I’m bringing light clothes that wick moisture well. I’m not too worried about the cold, but I did bring a few extra layers. My goal here was to create 2 or 3 outfits that can rotate in and out, backpacking style.
- Hat  – Critical for staying out of the sun. Energy levels after a day with and without a hat is significant.
- Outdoor Pants (2 Pair) 
- Both rugged and one nicer (or at least cleaner) pair for city night life. Don’t bring jeans to a tropical climate. Trust me. They’ll sit at the bottom of the bag, weighing you down.
- Sandals  – Leave the heavy sandles at home unless you have bad feet. Light and quick is key.
- Walking/Trekking Shoes 
- I looked for a blend of comfort, aesthetic, and tough and found these.
- Polarized Sunglasses 
- Long Sleeve Light Jacket 
- Synth Underwear (4 Pair)  – Laundry days will be few and far between so buy some underwear that doesn’t stink after a day of use.
- Watch  – Waterproof with basic functions.
- Down Jacket 
- Wait for a sale, and you can get the REI Revelcloud at a good price.
- 3 Shirts 
- 2 Synth, 1 Cotton T (Sleepy time)
- Belt 
- Socks (4 Pairs) 
- Athletic Shorts  – Sleepy time.
- Swim Trunks 
Permethrin – I don’t know if this stuff works, but the mosquitoes weren’t as bad as I expected.
Electronics / Entertainment:
I’ve broken it down to what’s needed to take pictures, blog, and keep myself sane. After the trip, I regretted a few items. For example, a goPro is awesome, but carrying any camera around besides my phone was a total drag. Besides the occasional dive, the goPro never made it out of my pack.
- Small BlueTooth Speaker 
GoPro – Besides the occasional water day, the goPro never made it out of the bag. I was 100% content with my phone camera. POV GoPro Strap Mount – No GoPro, no mount, but this thing is a super handy POV camera and a sturdy out-of-pocket holster. SD Card Adapter – Never made it out of the bag.
- MoleSkine Notebook  – An awesome way to remember your trip is to immortalize it in a daily dairy. Just some quick bullet points to solidify the highlights, the people, and the best experiences. You’ll be able to look back years later and remember it all over again.
- iPad  – I’ve decided to leave the laptop behind in favor of an iPad. The liability and anxiety of carrying a fragile / expensive laptop isn’t worth the small amount of remote work I may be able to find during these first few months traveling.
- Portable Battery  – A must have if you’re carrying/using electronics on the move. It saved us every week when we were back where we shouldn’t be and in need of GPS. The battery I linked is the best balence between size, weight, and charge I could find.
- Universal Plug Adapter  – Buy one with USB ports so you can leave the wall adapters at home.
- NOMAD ChargeKey (MicroUSB)  – The perfect compliment to the portable battery. Also available with a Lightning Cable (iPhones)
GoPro Tripod – An awesome tool if I wanted to bring my goPro again. Set up good photos, time lapses, or use it as a nice handle. NOMAD ChargeClip (MiniUSB/GoPro) – An awesome tool if I were to bring the goPro again.
- Charge Cables 
- Book  – Make it a good one and leave the travel book at home. This is the 21st century.
- Head Phones 
- Dice (Liars Dice!) 
- Cards (Spades!) 
- Phone (Not Pictured)  – I’m taking my phone, but ditching the service. Wifi, coupled with apps like What’s App and Maps.Me is just enough for me to communicate back home and navigate around. Check out my post about using a phone abroad and the best apps for backpacking! And ALWAYS get a good case.
I might be bringing some of these things out of camping habit, but you never know.
- Silk Bag Liner 
- Sleeping Bag vs Liner: From what I can tell, it’s never going to get much colder than 60F in Thailand and most of SEA. That combined with bare bone hostel accommodations, and my desire to eliminate unnecessary gear made me ditch the sleeping bag in favor of a nice silk sleeping bag liner. I got mine (Item 1) from JagBag and it’s awesome. I already did a couple nights with it while visiting friends. Basically, it’s just enough to keep you comfortable and bed bug free.
Draw String Bag – Buy a dry bag once you’re there. It’s the same thing but safer.
- Osprey Farpoint 55 Backpack  – See first section, but just to say it again, this backpack is awesome! Fits everything comfortably and packs light. Not to mention, it counts as a carry on!
- Head Lamp  – Buy this as soon as you can. They are beyond convenient, so much so you’ll never want to use a normal flashlight again. Hands free is the way to be.
- Bug Spray  – REI has THE BEST all natural spray. It smells good, and it worked better for me than 100% deet (and it didn’t melt my clothes). I’ll die with stuff on.
- Iodine Pills  – For water purification in a pinch.
- Backpacking Towel  – Light weight and drys quickly. Just don’t forget it at the first hostel.
Hydration Bladder – Since I had to buy bottles every time I needed drinking water, it never made sense to use the bladder. I would not bring it next time.
- Doxycycline (Malaria Pills) 
- Lighter 
Map (Southeast Asia) – With Maps.ME app and the internet, this never made it out of the bag.
- Mini Flash Light  – Just in case, they are very handy in a pinch
- First Aid Kit (See Section)  – The minimalist kit needs Neosporin, bandages, drugs, superglue, duct tape, and hand sanitizer.
- Passport  – Protect this at all costs.
- Disposable Razor 
- Allowed on the plane. I checked.
- Deodorant  – Bring a full size, you’ll never find normal stick deodorant in SE Asia.
- Sunscreen  – Bring what you can. It’s no cheaper there, and most brands include a whitening powder.
- Toothbrush 
- Soaps  – You’ll end up buying full size bottles if you’re there for more than a month. Leave the travel bottles at home, and bring what you can.
- Common Pills 
- Vit C, B12, Advil, Melatonin
- Toilet Paper  – Carry this on you, ALWAYS. Code browns can become frighteningly real, and bathrooms never carry toilet paper for you.
- Hand Sanitizer 
- Toiletry Satchel  – Such a great and convenient purchase. You can be in and out of shower in minutes since everything is always ready.
- Packing Cubes  – Awesome for bag organization. It seems tedious, but it’s way faster in the long run.
Bug Net – Never used it.
- Extra Waist Buckle  – Just in case the apathetic bus driver or airline smashes yours.
- Rope (30′)  – Drying laundry, tying off boats, making improvised fixes, a rope is a priceless item.
Sink Plug – Better idea: Use a plastic bag from a grocery store for laundry, and you’ll be able to agitate all your laundry at once.
- Travel Pouch  – Passport security.
- Carabineers  – Just like a rope, it has a thousand uses. Take a couple.
- Locks  – Take two or three, and maybe some metal wire. $10 for security is worth not getting things stolen. Thiefs look for opportunity, so simple security is usually enough to deter them.
- Pen 
False Wallet – Still a good idea, but I never used it.
- Sleeping Eye Cover  – This and the ear plugs are MUST HAVES. On trains and buses, in hostels, around construction or noisey neighbors, where ever, a comfortable eye cover and ear plugs make all the problems go away while you’re trying to sleep.
- Ear Plugs [Not Pictured] – Good sleep is priceless.
A few notes:
Purchased once I arrived: These things are amazingly useful and cheap to buy once you’re there. No need to by one at home, you’ll find the same thing for a better price on the road.
- Dry Bag – Priceless during a short hike or any time water my be a factor. Beat it up. Get it wet. Never worry about your gear or about the bag. They are designed for abuse, even the cheap ones.
- Sarong – Guy or girl, this is priceless. It’s a towel, a blanket, a cover, a shoulder cover for mosques, or anything else you may think of. They can usually be bought for a few dollars at a night market.
- Umbrella or Pancho – Leave the rain gear at home, they are to hot for the tropical climates. There may be two days a year where you may want it, but the rest of the year, an umbrella is perfect for keeping you dryer and happier. If the rain is too bad or horizontal, buy a pancho for a few dollars. They are quite convenient, and they cover your backpack too!
Leave it at home: I brought a lot of things I didn’t need. Review the lists above and notice the items I crossed out. I’m not bringing those next time. I didn’t use them or they weren’t as useful as I thought. Either way, I’ll save the weight next time.
Another perspective: No one agrees on this topic, so check out a few other views on the topic of packing.
- Basics with details: travelindependent.info and worldlynomads.com
- Female perspective: dontforgettomove.com and herpackinglist.com
First Aid Kit:
When I was First Responder certified, some of my first questions had to do with making a good first-aid kit. I didn’t find much help in pre-made kits, so I had to get some advice and make my own. For those interested, here’s what I think is always good to have on hand:
(Disclosure: I’m not a doctor, EMT, or paramedic. I’m a WMI first responder, nothing more. This kit could always have more and better supplies, but this is what I’ve deemed necessary to have on hand at all times.)
- Ace bandage
- Alcohol Wipes
- Athletic tape
- Band Aids
- Burn Cream
- Clear Bandage
- Drug: Antibiotic (Cipromyosin)
- Drug: Anti-histomine (Benodryl)
- Drug: Diareaha (Lopermide)
- Drug: Pain Medicine (Alive)
- Drug: Heart Burn (Tums)
- Drug: Stomach (Pepto) [Bring Extra]
- Drug: Sugar (Honey)
- Duct tape
- Hand Sanitizer
- Irigation Syringe
- Mole skin
- Nail clippers
- Neosporin (not pictured)
- Note card
- Pocket Knife
- Sterie Strips
- Tincture of Bynzoine
- Triangle bandages
-  Silk Bag Liner
-  Draw String Bag
-  Hat
-  Osprey Farpoint 55 Backpack
-  Outdoor Pants (2 Pair)
-  Sandals
-  Packing Cubes
-  Walking/Trekking Shoes
-  Bug Net
-  Head Lamp
-  Bug Spray
-  Disposable Razor
-  Iodine Pills
-  Backpacking Towel
-  POV GoPro Strap Mount
-  GoPro
-  SD Card Adapter
-  Notebook
-  iPad
-  Polarized Sunglasses
-  Portable Battery
-  Universal Plug Adapter
-  NOMAD ChargeKey (MicroUSB)
-  Extra Waist Buckle
-  Long Sleeve Fleece
-  Synth Underwear (4 Pair)
-  Hydration Bladder
-  Watch
-  Deodorant
-  Sunscreen
-  Doxycycline (Malaria Pills)
-  Lighter
-  Rope (30′)
-  Sink Plug
-  GoPro Tripod
-  NOMAD ChargeClip (MiniUSB/GoPro)
-  Cables
-  Travel Pouch
-  Book
-  Head Phones
-  Map (Southeast Asia)
-  Down Jacket
-  3 Shirts (2 Synth)
-  Toothbrush
-  Soaps
-  Common Pills
-  Flash Light
-  Carabineers
-  Locks
-  Dice
-  Cards
-  Pen
-  Belt
-  Socks (4 Pairs)
-  Toilet Paper
-  Hand Sanitizer
-  Toiletry Satchel
-  Phone (Not Pictured)
-  First Aid Kit (See Section)
-  Passport
-  False Wallets
-  Sleeping Eye Cover
-  Athletic Shorts
-  Swim Trunks
-  Permethrin