Before I went travelling I desperately read so many blogs on what to pack trying to make the most the most of the space in my one large 60L bag. It is a difficult experience especially when you often have so many countries to pack for.
Blogs, pinterest boards and articles were very useful but they didn’t 100% prepare me, probably because it is very much down to personal preference and also the ‘unknown’ of what you can actually buy out in South East Asia.
But I’ve put a little ‘how to’ together based on my experience and hopefully this will help at least one other person out there.This is mainly aimed at the mid to late twenties female going to countries like Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia… I’m mentioning the age because a lot of what I packed is different now to when I travelled Thailand aged 22.
1. Pack as little as possible.
This was the main advice I was given before going and I wish I’d listened more. South East Asia is super cheap for everything, especially if you can haggle and eventually you all start dressing the same as every other traveller – vest tops and some funky travelling pants. It just naturally happens, accept it, embrace it, work it. Just bring a few essentials like plain vest tops (almost impossible to find out here especially if you have boobs and hips like me) and a few other basics like denim shorts and plain linen shorts. Basics are your friends because anything you buy out here is mainly beer branded.
2. Don’t pack anything you don’t have the heart to bin!
For almost every new item I’ve purchased I’ve thrown out something to make room for it. So if you do overpack, be prepared to bin it when you get here and start spending a mere £2 on travelling pants or £1 on vest tops. The clothes I brought from home were from H&M or Primark so it didn’t mean a thing to throw out! Also clothing often goes missing when you send out your laundry and sometimes even hanging outside to dry in hostels (very rare). Don’t get attached to anything.
So…I’m not 22 anymore. I turned 27 on my travels and a lot has changed. When I travelled Thailand back in 2010 I was make up free, it was amazing. Now… I’ve lost count of people telling me I look tired, or, Are you okay? Or, I didn’t recognise you now you’re wearing make up. Sad, sad times.
This is again a personal preference thing I still go make up free most days but it’s a little pick me up on the days you want to look more alert. I would actually advise a little make up bag for evenings out – just be prepared to carry it!!
Buy it before you get to South East Asia. It’s expensive out in South East Asia. Why? Because only westerners buy it. Stock up before you come and wear daily!! It doubles up as a moisturiser too.
5. Pain Killers and Upset Stomach drugs
Long trip in South East Asia? You will get ill. It’s more than likely going to happen because your body is used to a different climate, food intake, doing more in general etc. If you’re very lucky and don’t get ill then it’s more than likely someone you meet will… Sharing is caring! Stock up on paracetamol, ibuprofen and plenty of immodium. Also bring a flannel, comes in handy when you get a fever. Sadly I didn’t bring one and wetting a vest top just isn’t the same!
6. A Hoody
It’s hot all the time in South East Asia but travelling in between locations often gets chilly, especially in Vietnam I found. Also at some point you will share a room with an idiot who likes the aircon super cold.
7. How many shoes?
I packed three pairs max but two is enough.
All you really need is walking shoes (simple gym shoes) for treks and flip flops. I brought some sandals for evening times but to be honest, I didn’t need them and they’ve now been binned.
You travel so much and WiFi is on almost every bus which rinses your battery. Also you’ll be using your GPS alot to find hostels and local tourist attractions. Buy one of these and your life is complete for all electronic devices like camera and iPod to travel along with you.
This is the one I have. And I get about 4-5 phone/camera/mp3 player charges out of it.
9. A Micro fibre towel
This should be number 1 on the list to be honest… my towel is a life saver just because it does everything I need it to do, especially when I think back to past holidays and how much room normal towels take up and how long they take to dry. Micro Fibre towels usually come in a little compact pouch that packs away at around 15x10cm. It dries super quick, ridiculously quick and doesn’t smell like a normal damp towel. This is a must pack for all travellers!!!!! I’ve not seen any out here to buy either. Mine is a ‘Gelert’ XL size from Mountain Warehouse and it costs around £10.
6 Items NOT to pack for South East Asia
I never needed in South East Asia because it’s too humid and not as comfortable as baggy travelling pants. Denim shorts are your friend instead. Added tip: If you’re a fan of denim shorts… get them tailor made in Vietnam!
I brought one pair – but to be honest I usually fall asleep in what I’ve been wearing that day because travelling clothes are so comfy!
3. Loads of toiletries
Say goodbye to hair conditioner, heat protection spray, moisturisers, anti aging cream, toners, cleansers and all that other stuff you really don’t need in life. It’s all about the suncream on your face and shampoo is now your hair and body wash. If you want a treat – you can pay £1/2 to get your hair washed and conditioned at most salons but sooner or later you realise you don’t need all these luxuries but I’m sure you’ll be looking forward to them when you go home.
Leave your expensive bling at home!! If your wearing a flash watch it just screams ‘mug me’!!
To be fair I wear a couple rings that I haven’t taken off in the last 5 years but I haven’t brought anything else. But if I lost them I wouldn’t be sad. Also every market will be selling jewellery if you decide you need anything.
5. A washing line
I didn’t pack one and I’m so glad I didn’t. Getting your laundry done out here is so cheap and doing it yourself is a lot of time, effort and drying time. If you do your own laundry hostels usually supply the odd drying rack or find random chairs, bunk beds, balconys to hang things on. I do have one tube of travel wash but I only use it for my microfiber towel.
6. A lonely planet travelbook
This will be a controversial one. Hear me out…
I have the South East Asia on a shoestring budget book (as does everyone else). It looks great, I was really excited to read it and has all the countries and cities you need for South East Asia. However I’ve read it about 6 times over the past 4 months and each time I’ve found it didn’t give me enough information and did not excite me.
For example all the ‘budget’ accommodation it recommends is hotels…hostels and homestays are cheaper and I found the information a bit too waffly and there are minimal pictures – it sounds silly but pictures can get you really excited about the next destination when you’re moving around so much to different countries.
In addition, WiFi is everywhere and you’re more likely to get more and better, targeted information Googling, for example, ‘Best restaurants in Hoi An’ or ‘Top 10 things to do in Bangkok’ then flicking through the book. You get more to the point information AND often personal recommendations from fellow travellers online as well as in your hostel. Talk to people! Also the book is heavy. 🙂
Added essentials that I find useful
1. The XE currency app
I am on this app daily. Why? Because it converts any currency you need. Going to so many countries can be confusing especially when you start dealing with 100,000 bill notes in Vietnam and Indonesia, it can be overwhelming especially when you’re converting everything back to your normal currency. This app is your friend and can be used offline.
2. Hostelworld.com and how to use it
Don’t book via hostelworld.com – there isn’t a booking fee, but there certainly is a service fee that does not come off your hostel bill. What I do is search on hostelworld.com, find out price, location, availability and most importantly rating. Then I Google the hostel, go to their main site and book via email. It’s free.
3. Ear Plugs, eye masks, neck pillow
I don’t have ear plugs or an eye mask but I really wish I did at times. Hostels are noisy especially when people are out late or are checking out early. Night buses, trains and even hostels with no curtains get very bright.
I bought a neck pillow in Vietnam. Best decision ever – makes travel much more comfy without destroying my neck/back. I’d recommend a blow up one for space.
This is a tough one. I’ve used my raincoat once in Sapa, Vietnam and never again. If you’re not visiting these places, and you’ve researched the weather and its warm then don’t bring one. When it rains everywhere sells one of these.