I’ve had a couple of emails recently asking me for packing tips and what to pack for South East Asia. This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for some time and finally today when I looked around the complete chaos that is my backpack and its exploded innards, I decided to not only re-pack but list what I carry.
Some people carry a lot more than me and some people carry a lot less. But what you see is what works for me. Make sure that when you’re packing your bag you find your own balance of things that you need and things that you want.
Yes, this is everything that I packed to wear. For a trip looking to be about a year long.
The most important part of packing clothes is to remember versatility and layering. In a space-constricted place like a backpack, you’ll want to bring as little as possible but with as many options as possible. That’s why, instead of bringing a big, heavy hoodie, try to bring two or three lighter options that you can wear separately or layer up on. Fashionable and functional!
Also for girls, I’d really recommend bringing a few simple dresses. They can be worn as day clothes, layered up for warmth, pulled up to wear as tops with shorts, or as going-out dresses.
Clothes packing list:
- 4 vest/strappy tops
- 2 shirts that can be worn alone or as extra layering for warmth
- 3 warmer tops : 1 light jumper, 1 elbow length cotton t-shirt and 1 loose fitting long sleeved shirt
- 4 dresses : 3 mid-length that can we worn as tops and 1 maxi dress (useful for places of worship when legs need to be covered and special occasions!)
- 2 trousers: 1 pair of leggings, 1 pair of very lightweight material loose trousers (can be worn as pyjamas also). (I chose not to bring any heavier trousers/jeans as leggings are just as good – and a fraction of the size and weight… if it’s really cold, I can wear both at the same time!)
- 3 pairs of shorts : 1 denim, 1 fast drying lightweight sports and 1 pair of boardies. South East Asia is pretty relaxed when it comes to wearing clothes that reveal your legs, however in some less touristy areas it is a good idea to cover up.
- 2 swimwear: 1 bikini and 1 swimming costume (useful in less-touristy areas that may be unused to tourists in bikinis!)
- 1 pair pyjamas (not essential, but something I like to bring)
- 1 pashmina/scarf : ESSENTIAL to bring to cover bare shoulders in places of worship
- 4 pairs of socks
- 3 bras: 2 normal and 1 sports bra
- 10 pairs of underwear (this may sound like a lot, but this is the one item I would recommend bringing more than you think you’ll need. Underwear has a tendency to go missing in the laundry and trust me – it’s hard to get the styles of underwear you like at home here in Asia!)
As you may see – I bring my socks/undies/bras in little string bags – a tip I got from a fellow friend and traveller. They make life super easy – you can hang them up wherever you go and have easy access – and after a while you’ll recognise the different cases just by feel from inside your bag. I picked these bags up in a pharmacy in England.
Another thing to note is that when entering places of worship, you’ll need to be suitably covered, so make sure you bring at least one pair of long trousers/long skirt and something to cover your shoulders.
Ironically I’d say that clothes are actually the least important part of packing – you can buy new clothes all around the world and in Asia there are no shortage of options for new clothes, still fitting with our ideals of fashion – and at excellent value. If like me you are partial to leggings, I’d recommend bringing these from home as they are the one item of clothing it’s quite hard to get at decent quality.
I bring three pairs of shoes.
- One pair of Havana flip-flops
Great from everything to walking in markets to hanging out on the beach. Also really useful for slipping on and off in temples.
- One pair of good quality walking sandals.
If like me you love to go climbing/hiking/kayaking etc etc, a pair of sandals are perfect for being in and out of water. I highly recommend Teva as a brand – I’ve had mine for years and they are still in perfect condition.
- One pair of running shoes.
Certainly not essential but I’ve been trying to run as much as possible while out here to counteract the effects of the amount of (amazing) food I’m eating out here. Unless you’re planning to run, a pair of trainers certainly isn’t a necessity. If however you are into hiking, I’d recommend bringing a pair of good quality hiking boots.
I’ve found three is the perfect amount for me. Although I debated long and hard about bringing a nice pair of gladiator sandals for special occasions, I don’t think I would have used them more than once or twice.
I have five bags in total. This is far more than you need to bring, but for me it works. I’ll explain why:
- My backpack. No explanation needed here, I’m sure
- My day bag. Brilliant for hikes when you need your arms free. Also really good for bus and train travel – it can double up as a pillow!
- A lightweight canvas bag – something I use during the day for occasions such as shopping and eating. It’s big enough for my laptop and less bulky than the day bag.
- Yellow handbag. This one is actually the exact size of my laptop and mostly I use it simply as a laptop case to protect it. However, it doubles as a nice handbag for the occasional night out!
- A small purse – really useful for nights out when you only want to carry a few dollars and perhaps your phone or camera.
Gadgets and electrical goods:
I don’t carry too many electrical goods – a laptop and external hard drive (excellent for backing up files as well as storing movies for long bus rides!) and my phone. My phone triples as a camera (I had my original camera stolen, sadly) and an ipod. I’d highly recommend picking up a waterproof bag to keep the electrical goods and chargers in.
As you may have heard me wittering on about all over this site – I cannot get enough of sandwich bags. They are fantastic for everything. I keep anything liquid in them or anything I want to protect. Hence almost everything in this picture being encased in plastic!
- Every day items:
Toothbrush, toothpaste, antiperspirant.
Useful to keep separate to chuck in your day bag if you’re going on a long journey.
- Shower items:
Razor, pumice stone & scrub
- Hand sanitizer, mosquito repellent and face wipes
I carry these in my day bag as they are useful at all times.
- Shampoo & conditioner
- Jewellery case
- Makeup case
(Clockwise from top!)
- Mosquito net
Not essential. Most places have mosquito nets already, but since it doesn’t weigh much, I like to bring one just in case. It also doubles as a net curtain if you have a window but no curtains and want to get changed in privacy!
Do I need to explain this? Hammocks are fantastic!
- Silk sleep sack
I cannot recommend having a sleep sack enough. Similar to a sleeping bag, they are made of either silk or cotton (I would highly recommend silk over cotton – they are a little more expensive but worth every penny. They are lighter, faster drying and hold just as much heat as cotton). They are perfect for times when you don’t trust the hostel’s grubby sheets, for when you want to sleep on a bus, for using as a shawl, for getting changed in… and they barely weigh anything. Amazing invention!
- Micro-fibre towel
An absolute necessity. Super fast drying, small and light – perfect as many guesthouses don’t supply towels.
- Swiss army knife
Really useful if you buy fresh fruit from the street – not to mention opening beer bottles!
- Head Torch
- First-Aid Kit
- Money Wallet
Lots of split opinions on this item. Lots of people swear by them, whilst others claim they attract thieves. I got mine on sale and only ever use it as an inconspicuous case for my ipod when I’m running.
- Cotton buds and scissors
- (Not pictured) I also carry a lightweight sleeping bag. Alas, this was being laundered at the time.
- Passport case
A gift from my mum; possibly the most useful case I have ever discovered. Space for more than one passport, sections for credit cards, coins, different currencies as well as labelled sections for all travel documents – tickets, hotel reservations, insurance details etc etc. One of my most useful possessions for keeping important things safe!
- Every-day journal
- Small notebook for to-do lists, contact details, etc etc.
- A couple of books.
And that, people, is my bag. I think it errs slightly on the heavier scale of travellers, but I like to feel prepared. I’d much rather be carrying a couple of extra pounds and have a torch, plasters, spare batteries etc etc than be rummaging around or have to borrow from others. After years of travel I’ve narrowed everything down to exactly what I want and what I think I’ll need. Make sure you find your own balance!
If you have any questions on the specific products I carry or have any further questions, please feel free to contact me. Happy packing!