Southeast Asia is one of the most popular destinations for travelers in Asia, especially budget and backpack travelers. It can be a little overwhelming trying to decide what to bring on a trip to SE Asia, especially if you have never gone before. After traveling and living in SE Asia for quite some time, we have put together this quick reference Southeast Asia Packing List (PDF) for your reference. We’ve also provided some extra information (below) about special or unique items that we think you should consider bringing to SE Asia too.
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Important Documents and Necessities
Whenever you travel, you should always have important documents with you. These include your passports, visas, immunization records (for some countries), etc. You should also have a good and organized copy of your travel itinerary along with your reservation / confirmation numbers. For us, we have a “Cheat Sheet” document that we’ve created over the years. It helps us to stay quite organized and have everything that we need in one place, rather than a bunch of scattered email confirmations.
You should also be sure to have multiple forms of payment and back up items, including a couple different credit cards and bank cards. It is advisable to bring a separate document with credit card phone numbers and contact details in case there is a problem and cards get lost (having the customer service number on the back of a credit card that is lost doesn’t exactly help you!). For additional information about managing your money while traveling, check out our Money Travel Tips post.
Related Post: International Travel Checklist
Lastly, another item that you should consider when traveling in SE Asia is some kind of wearable money belt or a hidden pouch that is built into clothes. While SE Asia is overall a safe place for travelers, you should always be prepared in case you run into some bad apples. Money belts are a good, wearable option. They can go around your waist while others can go around your leg.
However, money belts can be uncomfortable and some thieves will be aware of them. So another option is to buy some clothes that have hidden compartments. There are a number of travel pants, scarfs, shirts, and even bras and underwear that have hidden pouches that you can stash emergency money.
Southeast Asia Packing List – Day Pack & Carry On Bag
Your secondary day travel bag and your carry-on bag for travel is often one in the same. In this bag, you should have a number of items to be prepared, but it’s also important not to pack the kitchen sink (as I did on my first trip abroad – wow was that bag heavy!).
Some useful items for southeast Asia to include in your day bag include travel tissues, wet wipes and hand sanitizer — not just to keep yourself clean and comfortable, but also after a visit to nasty bathrooms. It’s also important to bring a travel size sunblock and insect repellent, as you should reapply these items throughout the day and you don’t want to carry big heavy bottles.
Personal & Hygiene Items for Southeast Asia
Overall, your hygiene and toiletry items are a personal choice. We would recommend that you try and keep them to a minimum to keep your bags light. Many hotels, and even most hostels, will have basic toiletries like shampoo and soap. If you require some special conditioner or lotions, go ahead and bring them…but you can also buy some of these items during your trip too. We’ve found that travel sized containers are best. They keep your bag light, are acceptable in flight carry-ons, and you can always buy another small bottle or refill it along the way.
For many of us, washing our clothes on the road is necessary — especially if you are a light packer. In SE Asia, you likely won’t be re-wearing your clothes more than once before washing due to the heat and humidity. While you may have access to a washing machine at your hotel / hostel, you may also be washing some items in the sink. To make this easy on you, be sure to bring along a couple of small travel sized pouches of laundry detergent. Before our first trip to Asia, I had a hard time finding them in the stores, so you can also buy them online.
Lastly, ladies please keep in mind that first world feminine hygiene is quite different in other parts of the world. We forget how lucky we are. So if you have special items that you prefer, be sure to bring them for your trip. Many things are not widely available in most local stores in SE Asia, including *gasp* basic tampons.
Electronics & Gadgets
The electronics and gadgets you bring on your trip to southeast Asia are likely the same items that you will bring on any other trip. But beyond your typical computer, mobile devices and cords, be sure to include a travel adapter so that you can plug them in! We also recommend buying a travel power strip so that you can plug multiple items into the same adapter. Plus, some hostels will only give you 1 outlet to plug in your items. With this adapter, you can plug 4 things in at the same time!
** Electricity Note: – electricity voltage levels vary around the world, with most countries using a 220/240 current; however, the USA uses 110 current — half the voltage (and Japan is on a lower 100 voltage). Most technology nowadays (such as computers, phones, etc.) are built to run on different power currents because they are widely sold in different markets world-wide. But some household appliances that you buy in the States — such as hairdryers — may only be made to run on USA current. So if you can’t live without your hairdryer, then be sure to buy a voltage converter along with your travel adapter; otherwise, you will blow up your hairdryer when you plug it in!
Lastly, we highly recommend that you keep your electronics and gadgets organized with travel cases. Some cases that we find useful are ones that keep our travel cords organized (and from getting tangled), as well as cases for our memory cards.
Medications / Health / Comfort in Southeast Asia
Anytime you travel you should have a mini first aid kit. You can buy them pre-made or make your own. Some items you should include for southeast Asia include some bandages, antiseptic wipes, anti-itch cream, antacids, diahreha medicine (because that’s probably going to happen), as well as any of your prescriptions. You should also consider taking malaria pills when traveling to most parts of SE Asia. Keep in mind that you must start taking these pills a couple weeks before your trip, as well as after your trip, to keep yourself protected.
Lastly, we also recommend a small microfiber bath towel – especially for budget travelers staying hostels, because not all of them have towels!
Plastic and zip lock bags are also a must. You can use these like packing cubes to keep your items separated and even squeeze the air out and compress them to fit more into your bags. Also, one of the best reasons for zip lock bags rather than usual plastic shopping bags is that you can put your stinky dirty clothes, wet bathing suits, or muddy items in a zip lock bag and seal them until you get to a place where you can do laundry.
As for clothing in southeast Asia, the general rule is to stick to lightweight, breathable material that washes and dries easily. It is hot, and quite humid most everywhere in SE Asia, so stay comfortable. We prefer Vapor Wick shirts over any other type of shirt. Moisture wicking clothes are great, as well as clothes that come pretreated for mosquito repellent. If you plan on hiking, then consider a pair of outdoor long pants to keep the bugs off your legs, and a long sleeve shirt (thin) with sun protection. Also, be sure to bring items that mix and match easily and are functional.
With regard to underwear, we highly recommend Exofficio travel underwear. They are super comfortable…especially in hot and sweaty environments. They are made with material that is super light, making them very easy to wash and they dry extremely fast. Plus, they are pretreated to prevent smells. Technically, they say you can turn them inside out and wear again. Maybe Josh would be down to try that, but I’d prefer to wash them.
Lastly, ladies keep in mind that SE Asia’s heat and humidity will make you curse wearing a cute, lacy, normal bra from back home. While it’s not pretty, go for comfort. Lightweight and easy to wash / dry is key, as well as something that is comfortable and functional. Personally, I prefer to have a couple of those band bras which can transform for tank tops or strapless, plus a couple outdoor tank top / bra combos that can be worn under a super lightweight shirt…or alone.
Accessories / Extras (you may buy there)
Other items on our southeast Asia packing list are optional accessories or extras. You might want to be some of these before your trip, or during your trip to keep as souvenirs. We’ve found that having a collapsible bag is super useful, because you can bring it with you if you go shopping in the markets, or just for an extra bag if you go to the beach. Yet, you can pack it away easily when you aren’t using it.
Another option that I really can’t go without is a large and thin wrap / scarf because it is SO versatile. I have one that I bought in Thailand years ago, which is still my favorite to take on any trip we go on. I can use it on the plane as a blanket if I’m cold, I use it as a scarf to wipe away sweat, I use it to cover my shoulders or knees if we are going inside temples, I use it as a sarong or dress when I have a bathing suit under it…and I even lay it out to sit on grass or sand at the beach. A seriously functional travel item!
Have Fun Packing for Your Adventure for Southeast Asia – But Don’t Go Overboard!
We hope our Southeast Asia Packing List has helped you figure out what you absolutely must bring on your trip, as well as some ideas about what other things you might find useful. But the important thing to keep in mind at the end of the day is that you DON’T OVERPACK! If you really don’t think you will use something, then don’t haul it with you — especially if it is something that you can buy there if you really end up needing it.
We guarantee you that you will want lightweight luggage in SE Asia, because of the heat and humidity. Advanced planning and packing for your trip is key. For more information, check out our post about packing a suitcase / backpack for air travel.