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So, you’re getting ready to travel Southeast Asia, and you’re wondering what the backpacking essentials are? I’ve traveled the area extensively, so I can guide you with the perfect Southeast Asia packing list. A few things to remember before we get started are to pack breathable clothes and to pack light!
You don’t want to be weighed down by too many unnecessary clothes. The freer you feel, the more fun you’ll have! But how do you strike this fine balance between having what you need and not packing too much?
Check out my Southeast Asia packing list to find out!
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Southeast Asia packing list
When it comes to backpacking travel essentials for Southeast Asia, always keep a few key things in mind: Southeast Asia’s climate goes from rainy and semi-cold to extremely hot and humid, so that means packing light in every sense of the word. Light clothes to wear, a light bag to hold your things, and a light number of things in that bag, so you won’t get weighed down.
The heat and your own comfort should be your two main guiding lights when you’re organising your Southeast Asia packing list. Sweaters are out, but a light and waterproof jacket is in, because summer (May-October) means monsoon season. Leather boots are out, but something sturdy for long walks and hikes are a must.
You need clothes that are light and breathable but also weather-proof and sturdy.
Suitcase and backpacks
This is something that’s easily overlooked. You can often spend a lot of time wondering what to pack for Southeast Asia and not enough time wondering what to pack it all in. Getting the right backpack or suitcase is just as important as what you pack. For Southeast Asia, a backpack that’s strong and light is SUPER important.
Something versatile with a few different sections where you can organise all your essentials. It’s also definitely worth paying that bit extra for a quality suitcase. I recommend a hardshell suitcase or a weatherproof backpack that isn’t going to break or get your things ruined. It’s not worth jeopardising your essentials for the sake of cheaper luggage.
Here are my recommended suitcase and backpacks:
Best daypack and carry-on
You need a good carry-on bag that holds all your valuables (camera, phone, jewellery, etc.) and is easy to carry around. This is the bag you’ll have with you on the flight. And then you should have a daypack for sightseeing and tours.
Read next: What to pack in your carry-on
A daypack holds everything you need for the day without weighing you down. With a small backpack that’s light and airy, you can still carry some electronics like a laptop or your Kindle, as well as a jacket or a change of shoes if you’re taking a day trip. For a good daypack, you need something with strong padding that’s comfortable to wear for hours at a time if you’re taking a long hike or a day trip. Also remember to consider mesh for breathability.
- Crossbody Bag – this one is perfect for day trips.
- Herschel duffel bag – a great carry-on bag.
- Osprey light day pack – breathable, well-padded, and sturdy.
What to pack for Southeast Asia: Women
Ladies, you need to prioritise light and breathable clothes. Comfort over fashion is important at the height of a humid summer. So your Southeast Asia packing list should look something like this: shorts that are loose-fitting and can be paired with a few different tops. Those tops should also be light and breezy; something comfortable for a hot, humid day.
And don’t forget to pack a sturdy, light, waterproof jacket like a Colombia windbreaker. Something that will protect you from the heavy monsoon rains that hit hard in the height of summer.
- Maxi dress
- Short dress
- Strap top
- Kafkan – a beachwear must
- Yoga leggings
- Sports bra
- Hat – You need one with a wide brim and preferably a straw hat
- Rain poncho or lightweight rain jacket
- Sarong – Buy one when you get there. It’s cheaper.
- Scarf – Buy one when you get there. It’s cheaper.
- Underwear and socks
What to pack for Southeast Asia: Men
Guys, your Southeast Asia packing list will look similar. Shorts are a must; denim is a no-go. You need linen, viscose and cotton clothes.
A few T-shirts and short-sleeved shirts are vital, as well as a breathable daypack, some strong sunglasses, and a waterproof jacket for those tough monsoon summer days. Things that can handle both sun and rain are the real backpacking essentials for a trip across Southeast Asia.
- Linen trousers
- Linen shirt
- Polo shirt
- Tank top
- Cool Dri T-shirts – This is all Thomas wears when we’re in Southeast Asia.
- Sun glasses – You can’t go wrong with a pair of Carreras or Aviator sun glasses, but you need to find a pair that fits your face shape.
- Rain poncho or lightweight rain jacket
- Skechers Go-walk sneakers
- Underwear and socks
When it comes to shoes, the same rules apply for women and men. There are three kinds of shoes that are backpacking travel essentials (though two are interchangeable): hiking boots, walking shoes, and flip flops. For days when you’re not doing much walking, it’s good to be able to wander the town or the beach in some light, comfortable flip flops.
They don’t take up any room in your backpack and they’re so easy to slip on. And, if it rains, you won’t care. For trekking, hiking boots are obviously a good idea. They need to be waterproof and high-tops. And if you do go jungle trekking, spray them with mosquito repellent to scare off mosquitoes and leeches.
- Trekking shoes – Only if you’re going hiking or jungle trekking – otherwise leave them at home!
- Sandals – When you need to look pretty (for a night out or for photos). Otherwise, just wear flip flops.
- Flip flops – A pair of Havaianas are still my go-to whenever I’m in Thailand. They’re perfect for the beach and for wandering the city.
- Sneakers – No matter where I go, I always bring my NIKE Flex 2017 rn. They’re the perfect travel shoe.
Apart from the obvious deodorants, moisturiser, and toothbrush, sunscreen is also one of the backpacking essentials for Southeast Asia. When it’s sunny, it’s incredibly sunny. The sun can be intense, and because of the humidity it’s a good idea to pack waterproof sunscreen as well. That gives you the freedom to swim whenever you like, as well.
- Sunblock – bring a good one with you that is reef safe
- Mosquito repellent – (the good stuff!)
- Wet wipes – when you need to freshen up
- Lip balm
- Travel First Aid kit
- Shampoo & conditioner
- Hand sanitizer – Buy one in Boots when you get there.
- Toothpaste and toothbrush
What electronics to pack for Southeast Asia
This backpacking gear list depends on your preferences. Do you need a laptop for work? If so, take it. If not, consider leaving it at home. Do you prefer reading or watching videos? Either way, a Kindle or an iPad can keep you happy on any long bus and train rides you take.
A waterproof Kindle is also a great idea versus taking a book. Kindles also hold thousands of books, and you’ll probably find yourself on a lot of long train rides and bus rides as you’re backpacking across Southeast Asia. Having a phone with good GPS is also a lifesaver if you find yourself lost (which you probably will at one point or another).
- Camera + charger
- Laptop + charger
- Kindle – perfect for those long flights and any bus or train journeys
- Power bank
- Hard drive
- Universal adaptor – you can use this anywhere in the world
- Waterproof phone case (this is a must!)
- Selfie stick – Get it in Thailand. It’s probably cheaper.
Travel safety in Southeast Asia
So, now you’ve got your Southeast Asia packing list all figured out. But keeping safe is also important. Southeast Asia is one of the safest places to travel (also solo), so the primary thing to be mindful of is traffic. That, and scams.
It’s also definitely worth taking out travel insurance to protect yourself against any loss of your baggage and, even more importantly, sickness or injury. We all hope that we won’t get sick or injured on holiday, but of course it does happen. So, it’s best to be insured.
I use World Nomads Travel Insurance and they cover any accidents, illness, and loss that you can experience. What’s great about them is that they cover more adventure-focused activities, so if that’s your thing, definitely check them out.
Transport tips around Asia
Part of the fun of travelling across Southeast Asia is that you can make your own route. Trains and buses across Thailand, Vietnam, and so on are cheap and easy to use. And hopping from country to country, or even from north to south via plane is also quick and affordable.
To get the best deals on flights, I always use Skyscanner and Kiwi. Also, the best lesser-known site for booking and organising trains, buses, and even ferries across Southeast Asia is definitely 12go. It’s an awesome site that can help you get organised with all you need for a journey across Southeast Asia.