“Leave half of your clothes, and take twice the money” — this popular saying holds true when packing for a backpacking trip through Southeast Asia. A region filled with rich culture, amazing food, and cheap prices, Southeast Asia will provide an affordable adventure for travelers on a budget.
Here, we have curated the ultimate backpacker’s Southeast Asia packing list, covering everything from clothes to technology to health necessities.
Don’t worry about packing your entire closet — Southeast Asia is known for its great shopping and inexpensive prices, so you’ll want to leave some room in your bag for all of your new additions to your travel wardrobe.
For the items you are bringing from home, you should be willing to part with them as they may get damaged or lost in a laundry service. You’ll be surprised at how quickly the fabric color will fade or change between all of the sunscreen, bug spray, and packing and repacking you’ll subject it to.
Try to pack simple, lightweight, wrinkle-resistant items. While it does take up a considerable amount of space, a hoodie is always a good idea for those unexpected freezing bus rides or when in need of a makeshift pillow. Don't forget a compact laundry bag to separate your dirty clothes from the rest of your clean wardrobe in between washes.
If you are traveling during monsoon season, you should probably pack a rain jacket, but since the climate in Southeast Asia is often hot and humid, an umbrella may be a better option to avoid having to wear extra layers. You’ll be able to pick up cheap rain ponchos at many locations along your travel route if you find yourself in an unpredicted rainy situation. A waterproof cover for your backpack will also prevent the rest of your belongings from getting soaked while in travel.
Finally, it’s a good idea to use packing cubes, which will help you save room and stay organized.
TECHNOLOGY AND PRACTICAL ITEMS
With an unlocked smartphone, you can purchase and use local SIM cards. This will be invaluable in those moments when you need data while you’re lost, want to contact your friends, or have to find an Uber while your Wi-Fi connection is weak.
Since you’ll be backpacking, the odds are you won’t ever stay in one location for an extended period of time, so a portable charger is an essential addition to keep all of your devices functioning. You’ll also need a travel adapter, which you can use in your hostels to charge your devices and portable chargers. Make sure to pick up a universal travel adapter, as you’ll most likely encounter many styles of plugs throughout your travels.
Download some podcasts and your favorite travel playlist, and bring your headphones along to escape the bustling atmospheres around you, especially on those overnight bus rides. Also, there’s no need to lug around multiple heavy books from city to city. Invest in a Kindle, which can hold an infinite number of books on just one tablet. This practical alternative will save weight and provide much-needed entertainment when you’re on the road.
To embrace the backpacker budget and save some extra cash each month, you should also look for a bank card that does not charge transaction fees at ATMs. Charles Schwab is a popular option among travelers as they refund all ATM transaction fees at the end of every month.
HEALTH AND MEDICAL MUST-HAVES
Hand sanitizer is something you’ll want in your daypack at all times. You’ll be surprised at how often it’ll come in handy before meals; although it won’t totally substitute for washing your hands with soap and water, it’ll definitely eliminate some bacteria, reducing your chances of getting sick. Wet wipes are also a great sanitizing item to bring from home.
While nothing can adequately prepare your body and systems for the changes in the water and food, packing probiotics from home can help you make the transition and avoid unwanted digestion troubles.
You should bring at least a basic first-aid kit, which you can prepare at home before you leave. With Southeast Asia’s humid weather, it’s all too easy for cuts, scrapes, and burns to become infected, so your kit should include antiseptic wipes and creams, iodine, alcohol, and Band-Aids. A thermometer is a useful addition as well.
Bug spray is also another essential when backpacking through Southeast Asia. Not only are mosquito bites super itchy and annoying, but the mosquitoes in some areas may also be carrying diseases like malaria or dengue. You should bring this item from home, as bug sprays with DEET are almost impossible to find in Southeast Asia.
Sunscreen is a non-negotiable packing item, no matter where you’re going. You’ll need SPF 50 or higher to combat Southeast Asia’s strong sun rays, and you should purchase this item before you leave home, since it’s extremely expensive abroad.
Ladies, leave the bulk of your makeup at home. Southeast Asia’s climate is hot and humid for most of the year, so you’ll keep your pores open — and avoid blotchy and sweaty skin — by going for the natural look. (Note that manicures and pedicures are super affordable all over this region, with prices around $10 USD.)
There you have it — all the essentials to help you pack like a minimalist during your backpacking expedition through Southeast Asia. Be safe, and remember to leave some extra room in your backpack for some souvenirs along the way.
Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments below!
With Acanela’s trips to Southeast Asia, you can let someone else worry about the logistics, so you just have to focus on making the most of your travels. Let us show you around Thailand and Cambodia, Vietnam and Angkor Wat, Myanmar and Laos, or another thrilling destination in Southeast Asia. Book your backpacking journey today!
Post written by: Kirsten Cusack, @kirqsak