Backpacking Essentials Packing list (South-East Asia Edition)

They say that less is more when packing for a backpacking trip and it couldn’t be more true. I have yet to meet someone who said that they didn’t pack enough. The less things you have the lighter and smaller your bag can be. Unless you are going to be spending all your time in a remote island, then you can always buy extra things along the way. This backpacking essentials list for South-East Asia will cover the absolute essentials and some optional luxuries at the end.

Of course a great backpack to keep all of this safe goes with saying. The Osprey Farpoint 70 is the one I have been using the 4 last years and you can see my full review here.

Although south-east Asia is generally warm all year, they do have a rainy season (Roughly June – October) and a dry season so plan accordingly. Before I start, I just want to say that the theory behind this list is that you just need to take enough clothes to last a week. So, feel free to substitute things in and out. For example, if you don’t like wearing vests then take a few extra t-shirts and if you plan to change underwear more than once a day then pack accordingly. So here is the list: 

Clothing: 

  • 5-7 x T shirts – To do laundry in Asia is very cheap for example in Bali it costs round 15k-20k IDR per kg for a wash, dry and fold which is available for collection the next day. This works out at roughly £0.83 – £1.12 per Kg or $1.05 – $1.41 USD per Kg (Tip: Dry your towel before getting it washed to save on weight). Don’t bring any expensive clothes because they use dryers and your clothes tend to shrink. You will lose some clothes along the way too, whether it gets lost in the laundry service or you leave it behind in a hostel, try not to get too attached to them.  
  • 2-3 x Vests 
  • 6-7 x Underwear 
  • 5 x Socks – You will more than likely be using flip flops the majority of the time. 
  • 2-3 x Shorts  
  • 1 x Swimming trunks – If you plan to spend a lot of time at the beach and in the pool then 2 might be better. 
  • 1 x Zip up hoodie – The zip gives you a bit more flexibility for different climates. 
  • 1 x Waterproof jacket – Essential during wet season and always good to have for the occasional rain in the dry season. 
  • 1 x pair of Trousers – For hiking as it can get cold close to the top of mountains and places like Da Lat in Vietnam are not as hot as other places. 
  • 1 x Hat – To protect your head during the midday heat and also warm during any early morning hikes. 
  • 1 x Flip flops/Sandals – These will be your go-to footwear and can double up as shower shoes which is great for some of the bathroom floors you will encounter.  
  • 1 x Trainers – Hybrid Trail running trainers are perfect as they can be used as general wear trainers and also have great grip and comfort for hiking. 
  • 1 x Smart(ish) shoes – Something like a pair of Converse or Vans are good for when you want to go out to a bar/club or just want to look a little smarter. It’s not unusual to find people wearing flip flops and short in bars and clubs though so you don’t really need to dress up unless you want to.  

Accessories: 

  • 1 x Microfibre towel – These are quick drying and can be used as a beach towel too. 
  • 1 x sunglasses – A cheap pair will do the job as it’s one less thing to worry about and you will probably end up losing them at some point anyway. It’s also not a good idea to highlight yourself to pickpockets and thieves with expensive glasses either. 
  • 1 x waterproof backpack cover – One for each bag is essential in the rainy season and if you plan on taking any boats or ferries then your bags can get very wet on the ride. 
  • Reusable ear plugs – Cause sleeping in a hostel, plane, bus or boat can be very loud.  
  • 1 pad lock – For locking your bag while travelling and to use for hostel lockers. 
  • Packing cubes – These help to keep your bag organised and your clothes clean while they are inside your bag.  
  • A pair of headphones – with all the buses and boat rides you are going to be doing these will become your best friend.  

Toiletries: 

  • 1 x Shower Gel 
  • 1 x 2in1 Shampoo and conditioner  
  • 1 x Travel Toothbrush or a normal toothbrush and a toothbrush head cover. 
  • 1 x Toothpaste 
  • 1 x Suntan lotion – Choose a SPF appropriate for you and remember you are going to be spending a lot of time in the sun so you might want to get one that you don’t need to re-apply every few hours. 
  • 1 x Nail clippers 
  • 1 x Insect repellent – The two choices here are a natural repellent or a DEET based one. The one that I used was a natural one that comes highly recommended although it was not purpose made as an insect repellent. It is the Avon Skin so Soft Dry Oil and although I did get bit once or twice, it was very effective at stopping the mosquitos (I used DEET 50% while in the amazon and still got bitten wearing trousers and a hoodie so nothing is 100% protective). The DEET option definitely works too but it can irritate your skin depending on your sensitivity and the strength so I stay clear of it unless I’m going into high risk areas for disease carrying mosquitos.  
  • 1 x Electric shaver or you can take a manual shaver and try to buy replacement cartridges along the way.  
  • Tiger Balm – It can be found all over Asia and is great for a variety of things from soothing insect bites to pain relief for muscular aches. It can usually be found for quite cheap in discount stores like Home bargains in the UK or you can just wait till you get to Asia to buy it. 
  • 1 x basic Medical kit – I travelled with my friend who carried one and since we did everything together, we shared it. If you are travelling with other people and you will be together for most things then 1 between you will be fine. 
  • Any medication you need. 

Electricals: 

  • 1 x Travel Plug adapter – I used this one and I am still using it to this very day. It can be inserted into any plug socket around the world, you can plug any type of plug into it and it has 2 USB slots. Almost all of Asia has the same plug so you can just buy a specific one for their plug type but if you travel to other places after then you will need a different adapter. 
  • At least 1 charging cable for each different type of cable port you have (IE; USB C, Micro USB & apple) and more than 1 if you are planning to charge two different devices at the same time that use the same cable type.  
  • 1 x Headtorch – These are ideal for times when you will be walking in the dark and you want your hands free such as hiking up a mountain for sunrise. 
  • 1 x Portable Charger – A 10,000mah portable charger will charge your phone around 2 times on average which would be the minimum amount of times you want. 

Money (UK Options): 

  • £50 / $60 USD in the local currency – This should be enough to get you to your accommodation and to not have to worry about withdrawing cash for the first few days. They usually charge a small fee to withdraw in most countries. There are cash machines all over except for some remote islands.
  • 1 x Prepaid Currency card – There are many to choose from here such as Caxton, Fairfx and the post office (UK). The one I used was Caxton as they don’t charge any fees for spending abroad or withdrawing cash abroad but the exchange they use will not be as favourable as the market rate.  
  • 1 x Mobile bank account – These didn’t exist when I set out on my journey but they have become more and more popular in the last year and now I have 3. You can spend abroad with no fees and usually withdraw abroad fee free up to £200 per month. Unlike currency cards, these have better exchange rates as they usually use the Mastercard rate. I plan to do a review of the ones I have used so far but for now the one I have used most is Monzo and this is the one I would recommend. 

Luxury: 

  • Travel Insurance (Highly Recommended– This is optional but travelling without it is always a risk. It’s something you can never appreciate until you have had to use it. Personally, I haven’t had to use it but I have heard some horror stories of travellers racking up bills in the tens of thousands for hospital visits. The health and safety in south east Asia is a lot more relaxed compared to western countries which usually means more fun but also more risk. As long as you use some common sense and don’t go too out of control you should be fine but with that being said accidents do happen.   
  • Anti-bacterial gel – If you are worried about hygiene and germs then this can be useful but remember you can only be as clean as your environment (unless you never touch anything).   
  • Jeans – Sometimes it’s nice to look a bit smarter with some jeans and especially going out in cooler climates they are useful. They do take up quite a bit of space and will also likely shrink a little if they go in the dryer with your laundry service.  
  • Playing cards – These make for a good way to pass the time and are even better for drinking games which are a great way to meet people in hostels. Get some laminated ones as the tables can get sticky and it can get messy when drinking games are involved.
  • Compression Bag – After a few days of travelling you are going to have a pile of laundry and nowhere to keep it separate from the rest of your clothes. Compression bags (the ones used for sleeping bags) can solve this problem and the compression straps on the sides make sure it takes up as little space as possible.  
  • Dry bag – This will keep all your valuables safe and dry for those trips to beaches and when you go kayaking around islands.  
  • Portable speaker – I wouldn’t recommend this for solo travellers but if you are travelling in a group then it comes in very handy almost daily.  
  • IE80(s) Earphones – I consider this a very luxury item and only for any audiophiles out there but they do help a lot. The sound on these is incredible and will make it hard to go back to any basic earphones again. But the best thing about these for travelling is the fact they have a flat back which makes them comfortable for sleeping in. You are guaranteed to encounter your fair share of snorers along the way and these can block them out completely as well as any noisy roommates you might have.  
  • A Camera – Phone cameras have come along way and the results you can get on these can be amazing. However, they still cannot compete with the quality of a camera so if you want some truly amazing pictures in high quality then a camera is what you want. If you just want pictures for your Instagram and to show your friends and family then a phone camera will certainly do the job just fine.  
  • A Laptop – Unless you need a laptop for your work or school then you don’t need to take one. You will be too busy exploring to have time for it and there are plenty of internet cafes for the times you do need a computer.  

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