Travel

What to pack for your backpacking trip in Southeast Asia

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Asia

Joanna Horanin

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Last updated at 20/05/2024, 16:30

Hi, I'm Joanna, the author of The Blond Travels. In the worlds of Thailand and Portugal, I feel like a fish in water - and it's no coincidence! I've been exploring Thailand for over a decade, and I've settled in Portugal for 6 years now. My mission is to support Dreamers - just like you - in discovering these fascinating countries and helping those in love with them find their own place on Earth, preferably for good! Let's uncover these unique corners of the world together.

I have recently dug out a list I made 4 years ago of what to take for my first backpacking trip in Southeast Asia. I was a total newbie back then and had no idea if I could get my essentials in Thailand or Laos, how much they would be and what exactly I should pack, so I decided to take… well… everything. You should have seen my backpack! It was huge! I don’t know how I managed to get on a plane without paying extra for the luggage.

Nowadays, when I travel, my backpack doesn’t weigh much and packing is not a challenge any more. I know that many of you soon are going for your first trip to Southeast Asia and have no clue what to take. Let me help you a little with your list and advise you on what to take and what to leave behind.

Your packing list

Backpack

Buy a good backpack. Many think that travelling with a suitcase is stylish and looks a bit better, which might be true, but it is functional only if you are going to stay at a resort and in one place. If you are planning to move around a lot, swap your suitcase for a good backpack.

I think 65-75 litre one should be more than enough. I always prefer a slightly bigger one as I buy a lot of clothes and cosmetics when I travel and I want to be sure I have enough space.

Make sure that it is waterproof, or at least has a waterproof cover you can wrap around it. It will be useful when you get on a boat or when it rains and the bus driver decides to put it on the roof of the bus.

Hand luggage

Always have a hand luggage with you, where you can store your passport, money and other valuables. I love my Quechua bag as it is functional and waterproof. It actually saved my camera when I fell off a boat in Koh Tao.

Clothes

The weather in Southeast Asia is always hot and sunny, so take a few t-shirts, shorts and sandals or flip flops and don’t forget your bikini. Leave jeans behind. If you are planning on trekking take your boots and a pair of light pants. Remember, clothes in Asia are cheap and you can always buy what you need there.

Hygiene products

Unless you suffer from allergies and your skin is sensitive there’s no need to bring supplies of soap, shampoos and other toiletries. They can all be found on the road. I usually buy mini versions of these things that last me for a week, or two, and then buy more as I go. A good idea is to take free things that you might have in your hotel room and keep them for later. They can be your one-use emergency supplies.

Sunscreen and mosquito repellents should be on your list, too. Don’t buy big bottles of them. They can also be bought on the road.

Ladies, you don’t have to be worried about getting hygiene female products in Southeast Asia. They are easily accessible. Some brands that you might be used to are not available in this part of the world, so if you are fussy about tampons and pads then bring a supply from home. From my experience however, it is not worth taking extra space in your backpack.

Many travel bloggers also recommend DivaCup, but I am not a fan of it and I find it slightly gross. Those willing to give it a go can find it here.

Tech gear

Most of the time I travel with my 11 inch Macbook. I like to watch movies or just write when I have a spare minute.

My Iphone is useful for navigation and instant messaging. Make sure that your phone is unlocked. It’s always a good idea to buy a cheap SIM card with 3G in every country you visit.

Buy a good external battery pack to charge your phone on the road. It’s useful to have one with you when you are on an overnight bus, so you can listen to an audiobook, message friends, or listen to music.

I take my pictures with Nikon 5100, but at the moment there are small cameras that are perfect to travel with, like this Canon PowerShot G7X. Don’t forget SD cards. I have two at the moment – one 8GB and one 32GB.

Cables and charges can always be stored in your main luggage as they are less likely to be stolen. Remember to check what kind of plugs each country uses and bring an international adapter with you.

Medications

Anti-malaria pills are not needed in Southeast Asia, unless you are going on a trek somewhere in a dense jungle. Just protect yourself from mosquito bites by using a repellent.

If you are on medication then do your research and check how difficult it will be to find it in Asia. If you are worried you won’t be able to access it then take a good supply with you.

Those, who don’t suffer from any medical conditions can only take a few plasters and a box of tablets to help with a travllers’ diarrhea.

Other useful things

Microfiber towel

I had one of those and I must say, they are a life saver when you have to take a shower and then jump on a bus or a train straight after. They dry really fast and take very little space.

Debit and credit cards

Take at least two and keep them separately. Remember to tell your bank when and how long you will be travelling for. An access to an online banking account is also very useful.

Padlock

This one comes handy when you sleep in a dorm. They normally have lockers with padlocks, but it’s good to secure it with one of your own, too.

Sleeping bag liner

I must say, I don’t use it any more, but I took one for my first trip. I also know that some people don’t travel without it. You might sleep in some filthy places, so having one will make feel more assured that you won’t get bitten by bed bugs.

Copy of your documents and insurance

Make copies of your passport, cards and print the confirmation of your travel insurance. Keep everything in a folder in your hand luggage. This will help you when you lose your passport, or need to access your travel insurance benefits – hopefully, none of these things will happen.