Ready to backpack Southeast Asia? No idea what to pack? Don’t worry, I’ve been there. Luckily, after two backpacking trips around Southeast Asia and learning a lot the hard way, I think I’ve finally nailed the formula. For all you other women about to embark on a backpacking trip around Southeast Asia, here’s my packing checklist of exactly what you should pack, what you shouldn’t pack and why. (Because nobody ever tells you why, and that’s why some many of us end up in exclusively athletic clothes or hippie pants every day. That doesn’t have to be the case.)

 

Southeast Asia Packing List Megan Spurrell

 

My 6-Month Southeast Asia Packing List

Your ultimate packing checklist so you don’t forget any of the essentials! Tips and related advice at the bottom.

(This packing list is perfect for a 6-month backpacking trip, but works for any! Simply bring more or less for a different time frame.)

Clothes

  • 3 Dresses (1 maxi, 1 shorter coverup, 1 tee shirt dress)
  • 3 Rompers (1 loose pant-length romper, 2 loose short rompers; Far more practical than dresses for backpacking!)
  • 2 Cotton Shorts (Ideally that can multitask for daytime, PJs, and athletic activities)
  • 1 Maxi skirt
  • 1 Jean Shorts
  • 1 Pair Cotton/Linen Pants
  • 1 Pair Athletic Leggings (these Hard Tails and Lululemons are my favorites)
  • 2 Cotton Tank Tops (1 sleeveless tee, 1 thick strap)
  • 2 Tee Shirts (1 daytime, 1 sleep tee)
  • 1 Athletic tank top
  • 1 Jean Shirt (This is my layer for whenever it’s chilly)
  • 1 Kimono (Thin enough for the beach, long enough to cover knees and shoulders for entering temples)
  • 3 Bathing Suits (2 bikinis, 1 one piece)
  • 2 Bras
  • 2 Bralettes
  • 1 Sports Bra
  • 7 Pairs of socks (6 lowcut, 1 taller)
  • 25 Pairs of underwear

 

Read more: Everywhere We’ve Stayed in Southeast Asia (A Hostel Guide for Backpackers on a Budget)

 

Southeast Asia Packing List: How to Fit 6 Months in One Backpack --- The Borderless Project

 

Shoes

  • 1 Pair Havaiana Flip Flips
  • 1 Pair Leather Sandals (My favorites are comfortable Rainbows or the best Sam Edelman Sandals, keep in mind that you’ll have to take your shoes off a lot going into temples!)
  • 1 Pair Tennis Shoes (I brought Converse, more athletic types should bring real running shoes like Nikes)

Cold Weather Additions

  • 1 Sweater (My favorite is a thin grey pullover)
  • 1 Additional Pair of Leggings (2 total, Ideally athletic but also comfortable enough to sleep in when it’s freezing)
  • 1 Long-Sleeve Tee Shirt (cotton and fitted)
  • 1 Fleece Jacket

Rainy Weather Additions

  • 1 Compact Rain Jacket
  • 1 Raincover for your backpack (Gregory sells one to match my backpack but generic ones like this are much cheaper)

 

Toiletries

  • Shampoo, conditioner, soap (one of each)
  • Toothbrush
  • 1 Toothpaste
  • 1 Face wash
  • 1 Razor (with 5 refills)
  • 2 Deodorants (Secret Clinical-Strength is my favorite)
  • 1 Sunscreen (I like Neutrogena that I can use on my body and face, bring 2 if you’re especially fair)
  • 1 Face moisturizer
  • 1 Travel Body lotion
  • Hairbrush
  • Hair ties
  • Q-tips
  • Tampons (Enough to last the trip)
  • Ziploc Bags (I bring about 10 of different sizes so that anything that could leak has a bag to go in. I also use them to separate toiletries from medicines, etc. They come incredibly in handy as you buy new things on the road as well!)
  • Contacts! (Enough for 6.5 months plus a copy of my prescription)

 

Southeast Asia Packing List: Essential Toiletries for Backpacking 6 Months--- The Borderless Project

 

Cosmetics

  • 1 BB Cream with SPF* (Just discovered this one by Benefit that has been the best so far, but I also love this one by Tart. The Benefit one is lighter, the Tart one is more like makeup).
  • 1 Laura Mercier Illuminating Primer*(Locks in moisture and helps your BB Cream stay even when it’s hot and sweaty out)
  • 1 Mascara* (All about those cheap drugstore finds like Rimmel Scandaleyes)
  • 1 Waterproof Mascara
  • 1 Eyebrow Pencil
  • 1 Roll-On Perfume (I wear Nest, this mini roller is enough for 6 months. Perfume isn’t great for mosquitos, but it’s my feel-good essential.)
  • 1 Tweezers
  • *Double-up on these if you wear make-up every day, or stick to 1 each and embrace backpacking and living mainly make-up-free!

 

Medicine

  • Advil
  • Ciproflaxin (antibiotic that can be used for traveler’s diarrhea- it happens to the best of us)
  • Z-Pack (antibiotic for other viruses)
  • Bandaids
  • Neosporin
  • Benadryl
  • Benadryl Anti-Itch Cream
  • Picaridin Bug Sprays (I SWEAR by this bug spray! It’s a non-toxic alternative to DEET and the only one that works for me. Bring at least 2 because none of the local versions compare).

 

Security

  • 1 PacSafe 85L Backpack and Bag Protector (They run small, so I use an 85L for my 45L Backpack)
  • 1 Small lock (Passcode locks are so convenient, and I highly recommend a cable lock so you can lock your backpack shut and to something- This one from MasterLock worked perfectly)
  • 1 Moneybelt (Maybe it’s old-school, but I always feel better with my credit cards, cash and passport in my money belt when on a night bus. Worth the $4 investment)

 

Southeast Asia Packing List: What to Bring in Your Carryon --- The Borderless Project

 

Carry-On

 

Electronics

 

Southeast Asia Packing List: Essential Electronics for a 6-Month Backpacking Trip--- The Borderless Project

 

Luggage

  • 1 Gregory Jade 70 Backpack (I’ve been using it for 3 years and it’s been so reliable.)
  • 1 Carryon Backpack (I have an old JanSport, but I’m jealous of my friend’s Thule because it protects her stuff much better and is way more comfortable.)
  • 1 Cross-Strap Purse (Big enough to fit your camera, and possibly a water bottle and sarong)
  • 1 BAGGU Convertible Tote Pack (Or another similar thin backpack that can fold-up very tiny!)
  • Eagle Creek Packing Cubes (These are AMAZING. They keep clothes organized but are still flexible for shoving into your bag to maximize space, and they’re water-repellent so they protect everything inside. So if things spill in or on your bag – which is bound to happen- nothing will get in. Came especially in handy when the toilet on one of our buses leaked all over our bags below…Yep. I use this 3 Pack of various sized cubes, and this 3 Pack of medium size cubes, plus a toiletry bag. I suggest the multi-colored packs so you can easily tell which bag is which.)
  • 1 Dry Bag (Optional: If you know you’ll want to do a ton of kayaking, beaching, sailing, or anything else around the water, bring it!)
  • Old Free People Shopping Bags (If you happen to have these lying around, I always bring them traveling! You can put clothes in them, use them as a daybag, use them as a laundry bag. I brought 3, 1 small for jewelry, 1 medium for miscellaneous items in my carry-on, 1 large to use as a beach bag).

 

Southeast Asia Packing List: What Backpack to Bring --- The Borderless Project

 

Things to Buy When You Arrive

  • Sarong (This is ESSENTIAL! Get a cotton one that you can use as a scarf, towel, or cover-up).
  • Extra-Virgin Cold-Pressed Organic Coconut Oil (If you’re like me and know that coconut oil is perfect for everything, buy one so it can multitask as make-up remover, moisturizer and deep conditioner. It’s cheaper and easy to find, so I suggest buying it when you arrive (if you can go a few days without it)!)
  • Poncho (For those visiting certain places during rainy season, a decent poncho will become a necessity. Buy a cheap one when you arrive that you know you can toss afterwards.)
  • Hippie pants (You know you want them…Embrace the backpacking lifestyle)
  • Waterproof pouch (There are small pouches on lanyards that you’ll see for sale, great for using as a wallet whenever you do water activities. I wouldn’t trust them with your phone though!)
  • Hat (Straw ones are fun but a pain since you can never pack them. Something cheap and made of felt or cloth is much more convenient.)

Ready to shop? As you’ll notice, I’ve included some links of where you can find these items online. If you buy through one of these links, the price will be the same for you (and easy- no searching required and they deliver!) but it’ll also help us earn a small commission to keep traveling and giving you our best travel tips! So thank you for reading, and for supporting us if you decide to shop through this post!

 

Southeast Asia Packing Tips to Keep in Mind

The why to explain all of the items on my Southeast Asia packing list, and my best packing tips that I wish someone had told me!

 

Tips for Clothing

When packing your clothing for Southeast Asia, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind:

  1. First and foremost, let me tell you a little about my travel style so you can get a feel for things and adapt to your style. I don’t like being one of those American backpackers who only wears athletic gear all day every day, so you’ll notice this is different than some other lists out there. You certainly can, but I prefer to feel a little more put together. Even if it’s the same ripped jean shorts and white tee I wore yesterday, that’s how I feel comfortable. You know you, so swap where you feel the need, and don’t take my packing list or anyone else’s as definitive of the type of clothes to bring. Athletic, trendy, casual, whatever…Just make sure it’s all thin material, loose, ok to ruin, and very comfortable and you’ll be happy! The quantity listed here is perhaps the most important guide.
  2. Make sure to check what season it is during the time you’ll be there. Rainy? Dry? Summer? Winter? If you’re going to travel to several countries over several months, you’ll likely get a variety and need to bring a little bit for each climate- so it’s worth it to do a little research. The rainy and cold seasons are not the same time everywhere!
  3. When it’s hot in Southeast Asia, it’s hot. So, so so HOT. Hot, sticky, and constant. Our backpacker budget didn’t allow much room for A/C, so loose clothing was very essential. Tighter clothes or even items with a slightly thicker material got left at the bottom of the bag, wasting space. Everything should be airy, thin and breathable. You have to be honest with yourself, and know that when it’s over 100 degree F, you’re going to feel every bit of fabric.
  4. In certain places, you’ll have to cover up no matter how hot it is. To enter temples in any of the countries, you will need to cover your legs and shoulders. In Myanmar, your legs and chest will always need to be covered (people will stop you in the street and suggest you change if you wear anything above mid-calf length). Long, loose, flowy dresses, pants and skirts are key here.
  5. In order to minimize the number of items, you’ll want items that have multiple functions. My criteria for everything I pack is that it has two or more purposes. For example, if I bring shorts, I will choose a pair of black cotton shorts that can be used during the day, for athletic activities, and to wear to bed, rather than a pair of jean shorts than I can only use during the day. Everything I brought had to be comfortable enough to sleep in, since you find yourself with all kinds of unexpected layovers, overnight buses, trains, etc. You often don’t get a chance to change, so be comfortable (and yes, you can do that without only wearing hippie pants all day long).
  6. Know your trip. What do you want out of it? Time spent alone in nature, barcrawls and partying, beaches only, tons of trekking? This list is for a mixture (I like a little of all of it), but add or takeaway from the things you know you’ll need more or less of. More athletic gear for more trekking, fewer bathing suits if you hate the beach, etc.
  7. Know yourself. Don’t bring that dress that you think will be cute in your photos but has been sitting in your closet for two years with the tag still on. You know what you love (and what you don’t), and you’ll only feel more strongly that way when you’re hot, tired and in a foreign country. Don’t be optimistic, and save your back from carrying things you don’t use.
  8. If you’re unsure, leave it. Other than specific medicine and cosmetics listed below, you can buy everything there for cheaper if you realize later that you want it.

 

Tips for Toiletries and Cosmetics

Deciding which toiletries and cosmetics to pack is largely a matter of determining what you can and cannot find in Southeast Asia.

  1. Shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste and all the other basics are cheap and easy to find in Southeast Asia, so you don’t need to pack 10 travel size bottles like some people will tell you. Just bring one of each and buy as you run out.
  2. Unfortunately, some basics include skin whitening products inside and it’s impossible to find them in Southeast Asia without (we’re tanning, they’re whitening). This includes face moisturizer, most face sunscreens, and deodorants. Make sure to bring these from home.
  3. Feminine hygiene products are also tough to find. If you use a Diva Cup, then good for you because it’ll save a lot of space, waste and money. If you use tampons, bring enough for your entire trip. If you use pads, then only bring a few to have on hand and buy as you go, this is the only one you can find plenty of in Southeast Asia.
  4. Bring your favorite cosmetics to last you the trip. I ended up not wearing a lot of makeup, just BB cream and primer to protect my skin each day, and mascara some days. If that’s the vibe you’re on, one item of each will be enough. If you prefer to wear more makeup, bring a couple of each item since you probably won’t be able to find exactly what you’re looking for on the road (and it’ll be really overpriced if you do!).
  5. Basic medicine is very easy to find in any pharmacy. You probably won’t find the brand names you’re used to, but it’s easy and very cheap to wait until you need something so you aren’t carrying a whole medicine cabinet. I would bring any prescriptions you take regularly (if you’re backpacking for 6 months, bring 7 months’-worth to be safe, most doctors will prescribe it so you don’t get stuck without something), and anything else you like to have right on hand. For me, that’s Benadryl because I sometimes get allergic reactions when I’ve gotten too many mosquito bites. This often happens in the middle of nowhere, and I want Bendryl on-hand.
  6. Have your doctor send you with 1 Z-Pack and 1 Cipro prescription. Cipro can be used for traveler’s diarrhea (among other things), and Z-Packs for other viruses. Your doctor can tell you in which situations to use them, and you can have them on hand in case of an emergency.
  7. Malaria pills. Should you bring them? I did on my first trip, not on my second, and I won’t on future trips unless I’m going really far off the beaten path. You really do not need them if you’ll be staying in major tourist areas. You can check this map to see if anywhere you’re going requires them. If you do get malaria pills, get the daily pills, not the weekly. The major side effect of the weekly pills is night terrors that will ruin your trip (or just lead you to stop taking them).

 

Tips for Electronics

  1. Make sure your iPhone is unlocked. SIM cards are very cheap, often free, and can really come in handy if you want to get off the beaten path. In Myanmar where reliable wifi is almost nonexistent, for example, a 3G plan is almost necessary for staying in touch or researching the next part of your trip. This was also the case on many islands in the Philippines.
  2. Download Find My iPhone (or a similar app) on all of your devices.
  3. An external hard drive is much better than cloud services in Southeast Asia. Why? Because of the aforementioned unreliable and weak wifi. Make sure your photos and videos are always backed up by using an external hard drive.
  4. How should you back-up your photos if you’re not bringing your computer? A great way to back-up your photos is by bringing multiple memory cards, or an external hard drive. Some people bring a bunch of memory cards and don’t delete anything until they return home, but this can be expensive if you take a lot of photos. Otherwise, you can also just bring a couple memory cards and a hard drive. There are many local photo shops where you can transfer your photos to a CD or your hard drive and clear off your memory cards to re-use them. Without a hard drive, simply transfer to CDs.
  5. Bring your best camera. Debating on whether or not to pack the DSLR? If you have it, DO IT! I can’t stress how happy all of us were to have them. You’re going to see and do a ton in on your trip, so capture it all the best you can. I arrived only knowing how to use my DSLR on Auto, and by Month 2 was only shooting in Manual so don’t let intimidation stop you either.

Backpacking Southeast Asia for 6 Months is a big adventure, but your backpack doesn’t have to be!

 

Any Southeast Asia packing suggestions, tips or questions? Comment below & I’ll get back to you!

 

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