How to Pack for Southeast Asia: The 5 Step Solution
Southeast Asia is one of the most exciting and beautiful regions in the world. In five steps, we’ll show you what you need to pack smart for your travels.
So, you’re about to jet off for Southeast Asia! This is, without a doubt, one of the most exciting regions of the world to visit. Countries like Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and the Philippines are gorgeous and inviting, with lots to see and explore. Packing for Southeast Asia requires some planning, not only because of the climate, but also because you don’t want to be carrying more than you need. It gets hot and exhausting carrying around much more than a light bag or two!
The good news is that you can get away with packing very light here, and you will likely want to consider packing carry-on only. Not just because the temperature is so hot and humid (more on that shortly), but also because every hub city is packed with shops catering to backpackers. Whether you end up in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, or Hanoi, you’ll find just about every type of clothing or accessory—and for a much better price than at home. These five steps will help you decide what to pack for Southeast Asia so you bring exactly what you need (and not a bit more).
Step 1: Pick the Right Gear
Southeast Asia will test you on every front. Even in the cities you’re looking at uneven sidewalks everywhere, and in the smaller towns you’ll need to transport your gear along dusty backroads, cobbled streets, and weave through crowded streets. Given the sheer number of obstacles present across Southeast Asia, you should absolutely consider using either a backpack, or a convertible bag that can be used as a backpack when needed. Your best options of luggage for Southeast Asia include:
● Migrate Duffel: The water repellent coating and 900D heavy-duty TPU (developed by harvesting windshield plastics from landfills in Asia) makes this duffel ideal for any travel situation you might face. Convertible backpack straps offer great additional functionality, as do wheels on the larger versions, making migrate duffels one of the best options for travelers heading to Southeast Asia
● Wayfinders: You’ll need a comfortable daypack for your outings, and the line features a side water bottle pocket, ergonomically shaped shoulder straps, tuck away hip belts, and a padded back panel on all of the backpacks. This means it can comfortably take you through even the longest day of hiking or sightseeing.
● Global Companions: The 65L Global Companion is the bag that I used for my entire round the world trip, which included many months backpacking Southeast Asia. It is, in a word, perfect. The backpack fits like a dream (there’s even a women’s fit), and the lay-flat packing design means you can easily find exactly what you want.
Step 2: Think Light and Airy
The weather in Southeast Asia will likely be hot and humid no matter what time of the year you visit. Year-round, temperatures tend to hang in the 85 to 100 degree range (30 to 40 degrees Celsius). That means you don’t need to worry too much about packing warm layers or bulky cold-weather clothes.
If anything, you want to pack light, cool clothes that dry quickly, because you are bound to sweat through them. Airy, breathable fabrics are best. Bring several t-shirts and tanks, preferably some made of technical, moisture-wicking fabric. With all that said—bring one fleece jacket to keep you warm on busses, as the air conditioning blasts are chilly!
As for footwear, embrace the flips flops— everyone wears them. You’ll want a pair of lightweight hiking shoes if you intend to go out on any jungle treks. Use a set of packing cubes to help keep your clothing compressed and organized, and a shoe sac to keep your kicks neat and out of the way.
With the sun beating down relentlessly, you’ll need to plan for sun protection, too. Packing sunscreen is a must, but also consider packing light tunics or blouses (for the ladies) to cover your shoulders and arms and shield them from the sun.
As a plus, a nice tunic makes an excellent cover-up for your swimsuit when going to or from the beach. Additionally, if you are planning on visiting any temples—and you’re going to Southeast Asia; of course you’re visiting temples!—both males and females will need to keep cover their shoulders covered as a sign of respect.
Step 3: Leave The Jeans At Home
No matter how much you love your jeans at home, don’t bring them with you to Southeast Asia. They are simply too warm for the weather. Additionally, they don’t dry easily, and when laundry facilities are scarce, this makes a big difference. It’s damp in Southeast throughout much of the year—even outside of the rainy season—so take my first-hand advice: jeans cannot dry quickly enough to prevent a lingering smell.
For bottoms, you will want to bring some shorts in materials that don’t crease easily. Ladies can also consider bringing leggings (so that knees are covered at temples) or some nice, breezy skirts in a lightweight material. Many travelers in Southeast Asia end up picking up “hippie pants” from the street-side markets, so you might want to leave room for a couple of pairs.
Step 4: Life’s a Beach
You will be surrounded by some of the world’s most beautiful beaches in Southeast Asia. From the Maya Bay beach in Thailand to the deserted, paradise-like shores of the Philippines, you will be spoiled for choice when it comes to sun and fun here.
Pack accordingly for the beach. Bring at least two bathing suits or sets of swim trunks, so that you can wear one while the other is drying. And don’t forget your sunglasses. Your best bet is to bring a few inexpensive pairs so that it’s not the end of the world if one gets lost or stolen. A sun hat or cap is a nice addition, too. A side note: towels are seldom provided in budget hotels in Southeast Asia. Bring your own quick-dry towel, or use a sarong—many travelers do. And use a small packing cube for these lightweight items so they’re not rolling around in your bag!
Step 5: Stay Healthy
You may need anti-malarial medication if you are planning to visit Southeast Asia. You’ll want to bring along anti-malaria tablets that you were prescribed at home, as well as a strong, DEET-based mosquito repellent. Another nifty tool is an anti-mosquito plug-in device that you can use in your hotel room to eradicate pests. I like to pack my own custom-made medical kit in a small packing sac so that I know it has every extra that I might need while in Southeast Asia.
Packing List for Southeast Asia
Shorts or knee-length skirts
Dress (for women)
Layerable long-sleeved shirts (no matter the season)
Sweater or fleece jacket (one)
Quality rain jacket
Gear and Extras
Toothbrush and toothpaste
Shampoo and conditioner in a 3-1-1- bag
Lightweight laptop (optional)
General travel antibiotic prescribed by travel clinic
Oral rehydration salts (a must)
Insect repellent/mosquito net/sting reliever
First aid kit (bandages, gauze, adhesives, etc.)
Personal prescriptions (with copies of scripts)
Pain and fever relievers (also children’s strength if you are traveling with kids)
Hydrocortisone cream/antibacterial ointment
Motion sickness pills or bands (there are some epic bus rides in Southeast Asia!)
Moleskin (for hikers)
Driver’s license (needed to rent a motorbike!)
Credit and debit cards
Guidebook or hiking maps
Looking for additional tips? Use our Ultimate Packing Checklist for a complete guide to everything you might need for your trip abroad.
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By Shannon O’Donnell on November 24, 2019
Shannon O’Donnell is a long-term traveler (on the road since 2008);
she travels slowly and supports
along the way. She is an
acclaimed travel speaker and works with universities and businesses
all over the U.S. to talk about the role travel can play in helping
support developing countries and increase global connection.