Preparing for a backpacking trip can be stressful. This Southeast Asia Packing List for Women will help you bring everything you need in a carry-on sized backpack. Here is my breakdown of what you will need, what you can leave at home and what to buy when you get there!
“Double Your Money and Half Your Suitcase“
The biggest piece of advice I can give you when it comes to your Southeast Asia Packing List is that less is more. Regardless if you are packing for 2 weeks or 6 months, you should bring about the same amount. The truth is you will only wear your favorite 5 outfits and the rest just weigh down your bag. Laundry is so accessible and cheap in Asia that its worth packing less and washing your clothes more. If the thought of being unprepared for any situation is stressing you out, you are not alone! Just trust me when I say that you can buy anything you will need there, and you will be happy with a lighter backpack.
The first step of a great Southeast Asia packing list is a good carry on. It seams simple, but it can make a huge difference in the comfort and ease of your trip. This is especially true when taking long, multi-connection flights to get to your destination. Check out the things I never travel without:
Eddie Bauer Adult Stowaway 30L Pack: A carry on backpack that will give you a ton of extra space when needed but fold down into a tiny square when you want to stow it away. I use this as a day pack on planes, buses, hikes, and for beach days.
Passport sized photos: Countries like Vietnam will require a photo to complete your visa on arrival. If you forget, you can get one taken there but it is more expensive and will slow down the process substantially. You can get these at many places including Costco and Shoppers Drug Mart for around $10. I recommend bringing 2-4 photos just to be safe.
Visas: Vietnam will also require you to apply for a visa and fill out some paperwork before entering the country. Be sure to check the visa requirements of all countries you plan to visit prior to your trip.
iPad, charger and headphones: Download movies and games on the iPad to kill time on flights or in airports. Many newer airplanes will have a plugin at each seat.
Compact Portable Charger: In case the plane does not have a plugin for your iPad, these are usually good for 2 full charges. We also found it useful for making sure we could always access the maps on our phone while traveling.
Lightweight sweater: Even though its hot and humid in Asia, most of the flights are cold. I was always happy to have a light sweater and some comfy pants to change into at the airport.
Travel pillow and earplugs: Essential for catching some sleep when you are on buses, trains, or planes at all hours of the day and night. If you are like me and don`t find traditional neck pillows comfortable, try my new favorite from Travelrest Premium Travel Pillow.
Mini toothbrush and toothpaste: Great for long flights or flights with layovers! This way you can brush your teeth after eating or before sleeping and feel much more comfortable.
Book: If you like to read on the plane or the beach I would recommend having only one book on your Southeast Asia packing list. Many hostels and book stores will let you swap for a new one when you’re finished. This gives you many options while keeping your pack as light as possible.
Socks: Bring a fresh pair of socks on the plane to feel cozy and clean for the flight. This is especially helpful when you are traveling in sandals and can take off your shoes without being barefoot.
Deodorant, hand sanitizer, gum and lip chap: To keep yourself feeling comfortable on the flight.
Pen: I always bring a pen for customs forms (or to keep myself entertained with tic-tac-toe on a napkin).
Snacks: If you are flying with a budget airline the food on board is most likely overpriced and limited. Bring a granola bar, dried fruit, or some nuts in case you get hungry or your flight gets delayed.
Osprey Fairview 40 Travel Backpack: Osprey has an excellent travel pack to add to your Southeast Asia packing list. They hold up incredibly well, have a ton of great features and a lifetime warranty. The Fairview is made specifically to fit women comfortably and is carry-on sized at 40L.
Packing Cubes: Start with a cube to separate your dirty clothes and one so your underwear doesn’t end up all over your bag. You can organize the rest of the cubes by outfit, tops and bottoms, or whatever system you find most practical. Your bag will be organized and as compact as possible.
Microfiber Towel: You will want one for going to the beach or hiking to waterfalls. While most private rooms in homestays have towels, you will definitely need this for showering if you are staying hostel dorms!
Eagle Creek Money Belt: This brand is soft, comfortable, and holds up well in the humid environment. It is the perfect size for a passport and cash while being discrete under your clothes. I was able to tuck this money belt into the waistband of my shorts and you couldn’t even tell it was there.
Padlock: If you plan to always stay in private rooms this isn’t necessary; however you will want one if you are staying in dorms. They will have lockers for you to put your pack into while you are out during the day.
Pacsafe Bag Protector or Small pack lock: Many hotels allow you to drop off your bags in the morning before your room is ready. They are kept in a room with all the other bags so a lock is a must have. You will also want to lock up your bag if you plan to check it on a flight.
Electrolyte Tablets: At first we brought these in case we got sick, in the end we had them almost every day! Whether we were hiking, surfing, or just walking around in the heat they are great for helping you stay hydrated. You can find 1-2 flavor options in some drug stores in Asia; but if you have a favorite stock up before you go!
Laundry detergent: Get this from an outdoor store in either a small pack of sheets or a bottle. You can add it to a sink full of water and wash a small amount of clothing if you don’t have access to a laundromat.
EZ Towel: small tablets (similar in size to a roll of mentos) that expand into a biodegradable face towel when you put them in water. Awesome to wash your face or put on the back of your neck while hiking or trekking.
LifeStraw: Great if you plan to be hiking or trekking. It will filter 99.9% of bacteria from any water allowing you to drink directly from a lake or stream.
Ziplock Bags: Bring a few to keep miscellaneous things organized. Trust me, you`ll be glad you did.
As I said earlier; the fewer clothes you have on your Southeast Asia packing list, the better. I know the fear of under-packing all to well but trust me, you will have enough! I found myself wearing my favorite and most comfortable clothing repeatedly while the rest just weighed down my bag. Bring items you can mix and match to make the most of your luggage. Try to pack items that won`t wrinkle and will be comfortable in the heat and humidity.
- (4) Pairs of Shorts
- (1) Pair of Tights
- (1) Pair of Comfy Travel Pants
- (3) Tank Tops
- (2) T-shirts
- (1) Long Sleeved Shirt
- (1) Light Sweater
- (3) Sundresses/Rompers
- (3) Bathing Suits (Bring ones you can mix and match)
- (1) Sarong
- (10) Pairs of Underwear
- (3) Pairs of Socks
- (3) Bras or Sports Bras
- (1) Hat
- (1) Lightweight Rain Jacket
- (1) Pair of Runners
- (1) Pair of Good Walking Sandals
My original Southeast Asia packing list wasn’t too much more than this, but I didn’t think to keep room for clothing I would buy along the way. Some great items to add to your Southeast Asia packing list when you get over there are:
- A sarong: to use as a beach cover up, beach towel, and to cover your motorcycle seat in the sun. You can also use these to cover your knees and shoulders when visiting temples.
- Comfy travelers pants: available in many different patterns these pants will cost you a maximum of $3 USD and they are great material for the heat.
- T-shirts and Tank tops: you will find an overwhelming amount of cute tops for a few dollars each and trust me, you will want to buy some!
- The North Face and Nike knock-offs: All over Asia but especially in Vietnam you will find everything from sportswear to shoes and outdoor equipment of good quality. We still use a backpack and rain jacket at home in Canada!
GoPro Hero 5 Session: I would highly recommend adding a Go Pro to your Southeast Asia packing list especially if you plan to do any water activities. They are waterproof, easy to carry around, and you can capture scenery beautifully with the wide angle shot. The Hero 5 and 6 have video stabilization and an impressive 4K video resolution.
Red go pro lens: If you plan to take the go pro diving or snorkeling, bring a red lens attachment. Red and orange are the first colors to be lost under the water, so adding a red filter will make all the difference in your photos.
Camera: I have the Canon PowerShot SX720 HS HS which is a mirrorless digital camera. The photo quality is very similar to that of a DSLR camera but it is compact and easy pack. I find this the best for travel, offering outstanding image quality with a lightweight body.
Phone: You have a few options here. I brought an old phone to use just for messenger and internet in the WiFi zones. This way I wasn’t as worried about if it got stolen or damaged. You can also buy a package for your existing phone if you’d like to be able to call and text while travelling. The last option is to bring an unlocked phone and buy sim cards in each country you visit.
International Adapter: Grab a universal converter to make sure you can charge and protect all of your gadgets.
iPad: You can never go wrong with an iPad loaded with movies and games to get you through travel days. We downloaded the Go Pro Movie Making app and were able to view all the photos and videos we took on the iPad as well.
Travel sized amenities: If you run out of shampoo or face wash in Asia you can easily find more, it just wont be your favorite brand. When you are in a hot and humid climate, you don`t need much for beauty products. I brought Go Tubes of shampoo, conditioner, face wash, body wash, deodorant, Moroccan oil and toothpaste. This was plenty and I topped up on a few things there once I ran out.
Sunscreen: Add sunscreen to your Southeast Asia packing list because the selection in Asia is expensive and low quality. Find a high SPF in a bottle under 100 mL to start you off. The longer you are there the less sunscreen you will need to use and you may not need to buy any more.
Bug spray/cream: The cream from MEC works great and doesn’t have a harsh smell.
Brush: This Fold-up Brush is perfect and takes up almost no space in your pack.
Elastics and bobby pins: These are worth packing because you cant expect to find a good selection in Asia.
Makeup: With the hot and humid climate in Asia you wont want to wear makeup 95% of the time. If you do feel the need to bring it, mascara and a light powder would be my only suggestions because you’ll sweat the rest off anyways.
Tissues/travel toilet paper: Useful in public washrooms including restaurants and airports. You can bring some with you or stockpile from hotels when you get over there.
What I Didn’t Use
Sleep sheets: Although these could be a good idea if you are sleeping in dorm rooms or in sleeping bags in tents; we never used them while staying in a private room. They will not protect you from bed bugs but can keep you clean while sleeping in questionable sheets.
Door stops: We read somewhere to bring doorstops for extra security on your side of the door. We never stayed in a place without at least one lock on the door and never felt the need to use it.
Jean shorts: Take jeans off of your Southeast Asia packing list! They are uncomfortable in the heat and once you get them wet they will stay that way for days.
Makeup: Its hot and you are constantly in and out of the water. I didn’t bring much make-up to begin with but in the two months we traveled I think I used mascara 2 times.