November 10th, 2015

How to Pack for Southeast Asia: The 5 Step Solution

How to Pack for Southeast Asia: The 5 Step Solution


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 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 Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll find just about every type of clothing or accessory — and for a much better price than at home. These five steps to packing for Southeast Asia will help you bring exactly what you need (and not a bit more).

Step One: 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 – 100 degree range (30 – 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.

Step Two: Cover Those Shoulders

With the sun beating down relentlessly, you’ll need to plan for sun protection. Packing sunscreen is a must, but also consider packing some 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 Three: 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. 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 some “hippie pants” from the street-side markets, so you might want to leave room for a couple of pairs.

Step Four: Life’s a Beach

You will be surrounded by some of the world’s most beautiful beaches in Southeast Asia. From the Maya beach of 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. 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 hotels here. Bring one of your own, or use a sarong — many travelers do. And consider using a small packing cube for these lightweight items so they’re not rolling around in your bag!

Step Five: 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.

Your turn, seasoned travelers: What did you find indispensable for your trip to Southeast Asia?

Shannon O’Donnell is a long-term traveler (on the road since 2008); she travels slowly and supports grassroots tourism 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. 

by Shannon ODonnell

Shannon O'Donnell is a long-term traveler who has been on the road since 2008; she travels slowly and supports grassroots tourism along the way. She is an acclaimed travel speaker and works with universities and businesses all over the U.S. to talk about supporting developing countries.