So this is the year you finally decide to backpack around Southeast Asia. Congratulations! I’m so happy for you (and a tad bit jealous. Bring me with you, please). There are a lot of excellent lists out there regarding what to pack for Southeast Asia, but I’ll talk about the pros and cons of each product as well.
What to Pack
Backpack— Osprey Women’s Sirrus 50 Backpacks (2016 Model), Purple Orchid, Small/Medium
I guess we should start with the obvious. Honestly, the best backpack for you is the one that fits around your waist, so I highly recommend searching for one in a store first. The backpack must fit around your waist because that’s where you want all the weight to be distributed rather than hanging on your shoulders. I use this Osprey, a popular brand for backpackers, but my current one has been upgraded and I don’t think they sell it anymore. Pro: spacious and compact when I need it to be. Cons: If you don’t choose the right size, it can be painful and ruin your trip. Mine is 50 L which turns out to be too much for my little body to carry. I’ve also lost a lot of weight so it doesn’t properly fit around my waist anymore, which means I have to buy a new one. Stay tuned.
Packing cubes— AmazonBasics 4-Piece Packing Cube Set – Small, Medium, Large, and Slim, Black
If you’re the kind of person that does laundry only to have it sit on your bed unfolded for the next week, then these are definitely for you. They keep your clothes nice and tidy and depending on what kind of person you are you can organize them by bottoms, tops, underwear, or fancy dresses to work out clothes. That way, when you get to your destination, you’re not digging through your bag looking for the right piece of clothing, but rather pulling out full drawers of clothes that you can easily zip back up and put back in your bag– without the mess! Pro: makes it look like you’ve got your life together! Con: they don’t compress your clothes as well (I’ve seen people travel with compressible bags).
Microfiber towel— 2 Pack Microfiber Travel Sports Towel
Forgo your favorite fluffy shower towel. A microfiber towel is the way to go. It’s fast drying and easy to fold up so it doesn’t take up a bunch of room in your bag. A lot of them come with a little loop as well so that you can hang them up without the fear of them falling. Pro: doesn’t bulge out like other things are known for. Con: even though it’s fast drying, it’s not fast drying enough for when you have to check out in one hour, so it does still have that stench. Make sure to take it out of your bag as soon as you get to your next destination.
Unlocked phone— Apple iPhone 5S
Do you tend to get lost easily? When you’re walking about do you prefer to check reviews for a restaurant before entering? Then you need an unlocked phone! SIM cards in Southeast Asia are super cheap and useful for travel, but in order to use the SIM cards you need an unlocked phone. An older cell phone is usually the best because they’re dispensable if stolen and it takes some shady business to unlock the newer phones (there are ways to do it, though). I used a 4s during my time in Asia, but he 5s is also very handy. Pro: You’ll be able to use wifi to find directions and advice when walking about Con: if your current phone isn’t unlocked, then you’ll be traveling with two phones (I do this).
First Aid Kit— First Aid Kit
If you’re prone to accidents like me, then this will be super important for you. Don’t worry too much about filling it with all the right stuff while at home. There are plenty of drug stores/ medical shops that will sell all the necessary items for much cheaper than at home. Pro: It’s saved me from so many cuts, burns, and bites. Con: It can be bulky, but anything for your health.
Down Coat— Ultra-Lightweight Packable Down Puffer Jacket Coat With Travel Bag
Most of Southeast Asia is hot, but the north is not! If you plan on making your way up to Sapa in Vietnam, or Pai in Thailand, be prepared for nipply nights (that’s not a typo). A down coat like this one is extremely useful because it is easy to pack into a small bag. You’ll forget that you even have it because of how light it is, and yet it also keeps you extremely warm! Pro: keeps you warm Con: Not fashionable? Who cares.
Deodorant– Secret Scent Expressions
Deodorant is sold in Asia, but your favorite brand is overpriced. The other ones sold were questionable to me, but if anyone has found one that they particularly liked, please let me know in the comments! Pro: you don’t stink Con: Is there a con to wearing deodorant in the heat?
Book— First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers
I recommend reading First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung. It gives you a real insight of the past that conquered Cambodia. Reading it will make you feel that much closer to understanding the history and the culture of Cambodia. Pros: It’s a compelling read and worth your time. Cons: extra weight, but can also be traded at hostels.
Light Cardigan/sweater— Cardigan
Sarongs are useful and all, but certain temples don’t accept sarongs as a cover up for your shoulders (trust me, I tried). A cardigan similar to the one listed above will work perfectly. Pros: A light cardigan or sweater will cover your shoulders, but also won’t kill you in the heat. Cons: You won’t use it except for going to temples and maybe when you’re in the north for the cold.
Lock— Master Lock Padlock
A lot of hostels provide lockers to keep your things safe, but what they don’t always provide are locks, so bring your own otherwise you’ll find yourself spending money on renting one. Pros: keeps your things safe. Cons: None really, except that they’re a bit heavy.
Things to Buy In Southeast Asia
Tiger Balm— Tiger Balm White Ointment
The truth: you will be bitten by mosquitoes. No matter how much repellent you put on, those suckers will find that one patch of skin that you missed. Enter Tiger Balm to the rescue! They’re cheaper in Southeast Asia and can easily be found at the local drugstore. Pros: relieves mosquito bites, also good for sore muscles. Cons: Sorry, can’t think of any. I’ve never met a person that entered a room and said, “Ew, you’re using tiger balm?” It’s always the opposite.
Mosquito repellent— Insect Repellent
You will either lose that expensive bottle of mosquito repellent or be forced to get rid of it at the airport so there’s no point in buying it at home. They have mosquito repellent in the Southeast Asia and my favorite one is called Soffell. It smells divine, it’s cheap, and it’s small enough to take on airplanes. However, if you still want to be prepared the second you get off the airplane, I recommend this mosquito repellent as well. Pros: high Deet content Cons: smells like poison.
Clothes— Southeast Asia Clothes
We all think too much when it comes to packing clothes for Southeast Asia. Bring some shirts, a dress, and undergarments, but don’t buy new clothes. There are so many cheap clothes in Southeast Asia that you will end up buying that you want to have enough room in your bag for them without having to throw away the new shirt that you bought. A lot of people buy something similar to what’s listed above. Pros: clothes are cheap in Asia Cons: Shopping in Asia doesn’t mean that there’s a dressing room with a mirror for you to try everything on, so know your size and what looks good on you just by looking at it.
Shampoo/conditioner packets— Humangear GoToob
The people of Southeast Asia bathe too. Bringing shampoo and conditioner from home can take up too much room and add extra weight to your bag. Luckily, Southeast Asia has mini packets that you can buy at 10 for less than $1. Pros: They don’t take up space, and they’re lightweight. Cons: You can’t close the packets, so you be careful when storing them as you might get shampoo and conditioner all over everything. (Hint: If you prefer to bring your shampoo from home, I suggest putting them in the tubes above. They are easy to fill and don’t take up too much space.)
Razors— Gillette Venus Embrace Sensitive Women’s Razor Blades – 6 Refills
I know that during winter we love to let that shit grow, but you’ll be showing much more skin in Asia (besides at the temples). Razors are pretty expensive and shitty in Asia, so make sure you bring your favorite one from home along with the replacements! Pro: you’ll have your favorite razor! Con: you’ll most likely lose this expensive piece of your shower routine, which sucks because it was your favorite.
Your Favorite Form of Birth Control— Plan B Emergency Contraceptive Tablet (Contains 1 Tablet 1.5mg)
Even though the morning after pill in Southeast Asia is super cheap (between $1-$3) we can’t keep eating them like they’re candy. I use the pill, personally, but some girls seem to like the Nuvaring or the implant. To each her own though. If you don’t trust the morning-after pills in Asia, then bring Plan B from home, listed above. Pro: no surprise babies Con: carrying bc pills can take up room in your bag.
Divacup— Diva Cup 1 Pre Childbirth
I actually didn’t have this in Southeast Asia, but other girls did so I recently bought this for my current trip… and I don’t know why I didn’t do it before. Seriously, screw the tampons of the world, what a waste. Plus, tampons are rare to find in Asia, as they mostly use pads. Just properly pop this thing up your yoohoo and forget about it for 12 hours! 12 hours! Pro: you won’t have to spend money on or carry tampons. Con: the clean up afterward. Don’t spill.
What NOT to Bring to Southeast Asia
Pacsafe wire net— Pacsafe 55L Backpack and Bag Protector, Silver, One Size
Extremely useful, but not for Southeast Asia. I bought this wonderful piece of gear and I was so excited to use it, but the truth is that I never used it. I never needed to because a lot of the hostels provide lockers for you to keep your stuff in. I never stayed at any hostels where I felt that my things were in danger of being stolen by the staff either. In either case, mine got confiscated at the airport and I never got to use it in the end. Pros: keeps your stuff safe if there are no lockers Cons: it’s pretty heavy and takes up space.
Jeans— No Nonsense Women’s Legging, Dark Denim, Large
Most of the places you’ll visit are too hot to wear jeans, so just don’t do it. If you absolutely need to, I suggest jeggings (above) since they take up less space (not for men, of course. Unless you want to, then go ahead!) Pros: jeans can be stylish Cons: extra weight, take up room.
Clothes line— Clothes line
You rarely do your own laundry and when you do hanging it from your bed usually suffices. Just don’t bring this, it’s a waste. Pros: dry your own clothes anywhere you want! Cons: You won’t use it.
Lonely Planet book— Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a shoestring (Travel Guide)
These books are available at most hostels so there’s no need to buy your own unless you need to highlight and refer to it all the time. Plus, they have electronic versions, so if you absolutely love these books, then download them on your phone. Pros: Very useful for recommendations and planning out your route. Cons: Bulky and take away the element of surprise when it comes to traveling.
Traveling is different for everyone, so what works for some people might not work for others. These items are what worked and didn’t work for me when I traveled through Southeast Asia. What do you think, is there anything missing?
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