The Essential Backpacker Packing List for Southeast Asia

Hi! I’m so excited you’re here, and even more excited for you because it means you’re likely getting ready for a fun trip! Soo..first things first, this backpacking list is created for Southeast Asia, but would work for other places around the world! You’d just want to adjust a few things depending on the weather.

Hopefully at this point you have a rough itinerary of your trip, or at least know what countries you’re going to(if you’re a backpacker like my husband and I, you do some of the planning spontaneously). Either way, now it’s time for you to pack your bags! If you’re anything like us, this was such a daunting task. We knew the importance of packing light–but we also didn’t want to miss anything important. Believe me, we feel you.

I spent 1 month in Thailand a few years ago and took way too much! After that, my husband and I backpacked Italy & Switzerland and I learned so much about what to pack and what not to.  After talking to many other backpackers and combining the knowledge of past experiences, we came up with the perfect packing list! We have been in Southeast Asia for over a month now, and we believe we mastered it this time!

Backpacks

The first step of packing for your backpacking adventure is to find the perfect backpack. We looked into many different backpacks, and made a list of our Top 3:

  • Patagonia Black Hole 45L Max Capacity Carry-on bag
  • Osprey, Fairveiw 40L bag (Osprey Farpoint is a sister bag so either one)
  • Osprey Porter 46L Carry-on

Luckily for us, the decision was not hard at all because there was a big Memorial Day sale at Campsavers in Logan, UT that had 2 of our backpacks on sale. We ended up getting the Osprey Fairview and Porter.  I have heard amazing things about the Patagonia, but we couldn’t get ourselves to pay twice as much for it compared to the others.  We are really happy with our choices and have already taken them backpacking in multiple different National Parks around Seattle, WA. One thing that we love is that one of them is a front-loading bag, and one is not. It’s a great mixture and the front-loader makes it really easy to take things in and out of.

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Daypack

A daypack is going to be important for your travels.  You will need your daypack everytime you will be on your way without your big backpack. It’s super convient when you’re on your flight because you can already store everything there that you need to have near you during your journey.

Your daypack should be big enough to be filled with everything you might need during the day (bottle of water, your camera, phone, raincoat, etc), but still small enough that it doesn’t take up much room.  We went with a 10L Sling Bag from Eddie Bauer. It was on sale for $15 in store, but we had a $10 off coupon!

Packing Cubes & Travel Compression Bags

You need packing cubes if you don’t already have them. They keep everything organized and when you roll up your shirts inside of them you can save a lot of space. We got ours as a gift and I couldn’t find them online, but these packing cubes on Amazon are very similar. Having a dirty shoes bag is a must, and this pack comes with them. We also purchased these travel compression bags off of Amazon, and love them! We each used 1 bag to pack our bottoms in. Compared to the packing cubes we felt like they took up less space because they roll up so tight. We plan to each have 1 empty bag with us as a dirty laundry bag.

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Clothing

Tops

  • For women: 2 bralettes, 1 sports bra. It’s hot in Asia and padded wire bras with cups take up a lot of space.
  • 4-5 sets LDS religious garments that act as underwear, so I’m only bringing 3 pairs of underwear, but if this doesn’t apply I would take 7-10.
  • 10-12 shirts
  • 2 tanktops
  • 1 workout tank top

Bottoms

  • 1 pair of pants
    • Women=Not only for the cold buses and airplanes but also since in some regions (in the mountains) it might be much colder. It doesn’t necessarily have to be jeans, as they can be uncomfortable and use a lot of space in your backpack. I purchased mine from Eddie Bauer, they don’t have them online anymore, but they are similar to these only in pants form. I LOVE THEM.
    • Men=Might want to pack 2 pairs. My husband is taking 2 pairs of the same pants because he loves them so much! They are found here. They’re waterproof, light-weight, and fold into their own packing which makes packing nice.
  • Women: 1 pair of capris (Mine are here from Eddie Bauer)
  • 3 shorts (1 workout/sleep pair)
  • Women: 1-2 skirts

Clothing Misc (Dress, Romper, Swimsuits, Hat)

  • 1-2 dress
  • Women: 1 romper, make sure it is light material though or else it will weigh down your backpack
  • 2 swimsuit bottoms, 3 swimsuit tops.  Make sure to make a 2 piece that can double as like a sports bra/underwear even if you’d typically prefer a 1 piece.
  • 2 headbands
  • 1 hat
  • 1 scarf (A big and thin scarf can be super practical while traveling in Southeast Asia, especially if you’re traveling to India. You can wear it while being on cold buses, as a blanket if you sleep in accommodation without blankets, or do Couchsurfing or as a blanket to lay on while on the beach or park.) In case, you don’t have any, you can as well buy one in Southeast Asia at usually affordable prices.
  • Sunglasses

Shoes

  • 1 durable water/hiking day-to-day footwear (Tavas or Chacos)
  • 1 running/hiking shoe. Before our trip to Southeast Asia, I got new nike shoes. For me, it was important to find some shoes with good (walking) quality
  • Women: You could also pack 1 cute pair of sandals such as saltwater sandals that are dutiable, cute, comfy and match clothes.  I opted to only take 2 pairs of shoes due to space.

Hygiene

  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, & floss
  • Toilet paper or tissues. In many public toilets, you will most likely not find (free) toilet paper. That’s why you should always bring some or at least tissues. You can either bring it from home or buy it in Southeast Asia.
  • Shampoo & conditioner LUSH bar (saves a ton of space.  1 bar should last up to 4-6 months)
  • Eye drops
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Face wash rag
  • Razor
  • Deodorant/Perfume/Cologne
  • Small microfiber towel and/or hand towel (We are taking 2 Norwex hand towels)
  • Sunscreen & mosquito spray
  • Nail clippers

Women:

  • Mini sized wet brush
  • makeup: mascara(3), eyebrow brush/pencil, contour and associated brush. As you can tell i’m super minimalistic with makeup. I suggest taking what makes you feel beautiful, but still doesn’t take up much room. You could choose to take foundation, however it’s so hot that it will usually just sweat off within the first hour.
  • Diva/luna cup. I purchased this one here.  Great for that time, hassle-free & eco friendly! If this option isn’t right for you tampons can be found almost everywhere in Southeast Asia, but often they can be quite expensive. So it might be a smart thing to bring as many as you need from home.
  • Moisturizer with SPF.  I purchased this one here. 
  • Travel size coconut oil
  • Travel size hair spray (optional, I opted out)

Medicine

  • Zofran(prescription)/Dramamine(over-counter) -nausea med
  • Probiotics (help build healthy gut microbiome when faced with different foods.  You want to avoid Delhi or Bali Belly)
  • Ibuprofen/Acetaminophen -pain killer
  • Imodium -anti-diarrheal
  • Pepto bismol tablets -suggest taking one in the morning and one at night for preventative measures
  • Malaria pills (if needed, depending on the area you go to)
  • Activated charcoal -detox against bloating and upset stomach. If you do take, make sure to consume large amounts of water as you need to flush everything out.  After doing research on activated charcoal it seemed promising and the brand I bought from seemed to be one of the best. I chose to buy these pills.  *Note, the directions state to consume up to 4 capsules, however I would advice being cautious and only take 1 pill when needed.  If it doesn’t help then take more up to 4 in a day, but you do not want to become dehydrated in Southeast Asia.
  • Electrolytes/Oral rehydration therapy: help prevent and combat dehydration. I purchased these on Amazon.
  • Optional: I get cold sores when I’m stressed out so I’m bringing Valacyclovir HCL to help prevent/stop them.
  • Daily prenatal multivitamin & prenatal DHA & EPA
  • Optional: Cipro (antibiotic) prescription from doctor. However, in the end I chose not to purchase these because antibiotics rid of all the bacteria in your gut (both good and bad).  If you chose to purchase these, then it’s extra important that you take probiotics to help increase good gut bacteria.

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Electronics

  • Camera & charger
  • Cell phone charger & power bank (portable charger)
  • Universal adaptor
  • Optional: Laptop & charger. Even though neither of us are working abroad, it has been super useful for directly uploading pictures and for those relaxed nights in our room with Netflix and chill. The best laptops for traveling are the ones that weigh less but are still robust. I took my Macbook Pro.

Misc

  • Passport/Visas + copy. Before your trip, make sure to make copies of all your important documents and store it in another place than the original documents. In case you lose or get stolen any of them at least you have something left.
  • State drivers license (& possibly International) You will need this driver license in case you want to rent a motorcycle, motorbike or car in Southeast Asia. Some places state you will need an international driver license to drive, but we have never came across this.
  • Optional: water bottle. We didn’t take one & are happy about it because there are no clean water fountains.
  • Optional: water purifier.  If you do bring a water bottle then you’ll want one to ensure you’re drinking safe, clean water.

Feel free to comment below if you have any other suggestions. Safe Travels!

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