Packing For Southeast Asia: A Complete Guide

Packing For Southeast Asia: A Complete Guide

February 27, 2020

Are you planning an epic trip to Southeast Asia? Whether you’re dreaming of full moon parties on the beaches of Phuket, gearing up from an adventure in the jaw-dropping mountains of Northern Vietnam, or you’ve booked a diving trip in the Philippines, Southeast Asia is the adventurous backpacker’s dream. We bet you're super excited about your vacation but have you stopped to think what to pack for Southeast Asia?

We know packing for a trip isn’t the most glamorous part of travel but the way you pack can make or break your trip. If you pack poorly you might not have the right gear for your trip and that’s always a huge drag. While Southeast Asia is well-equipped for tourists and you can most likely pick up anything you’ve forgotten on the road, who wants to waste a day of adventure searching for supplies and gear in an unfamiliar city? There are also certain things you might have trouble getting your hands on, so it’s worth turning up prepared.  

There are a few must-haves for every country in Southeast Asia. Keep in mind, however, that Southeast Asia is a diverse place in terms of climate, geography, travel style, level of development, religion and culture, so there isn’t a true one-size-fits-all approach to packing. You may need a few extra things if you go off to the beaten track to Myanmar and Laos than you would in tourist-packed Bali or Southern Thailand. 

Let’s dive into how to pack for Southeast Asia in a way that lets you hit the ground running. 

Top 25 Needs for Southeast Asia - Southeast Asia Packing List

Southeast Asia isn’t a forgotten backwater. You’ll be able to pick up most things along the road in Southeast Asia. However, it’s always good to be prepared so you can start your adventure and having fun straight aware. Here are the top 25 must-haves for South East Asia. 

Southeast Asia Packing List:  


The Nomatic Travel Bag is every backpacker’s dream for Southeast Asia travel. Trust us, if you're going to SE Asia, you definitely want this awesome 40L bag. It’s light, compact, subtle but stylish and its design is legit incredible.

There is a place for everything and it especially caters well to traveling tech-heads with a separate compartment for your laptop and tablet - check out the packing walkthrough above! There’s also a shoe compartment which you’ll be thankful for when you tread through a wet market in your street shoes. 

active-roots-foldable-daypack

As well as a travel backpack, you’ll need a smaller day pack to carry around your water bottle and other gear you need for day-to-day adventures in Southeast Asia. The Active Roots Foldable Day Pack has a spacious 34L capacity but it only weighs 10 ounces and you can fold it up to the size of a book when you don’t need it. It’ll keep your stuff super organized with its 7 compartments. 

Packing cubes are a game-changer for backpackers on-the-go. Get yourself some Osprey Ultralight Packing Cubes and see how much easier and faster it is to pack and stay organized. These packing cubes are super light so they don’t weigh down our bag or bulk it up. They also stop the contents of your bag from vomiting all over the dorm floor so you’ll be extra popular. On occasion, you might come across some less-than-clean dorms. Packing cubes offer another layer of protection from bed bugs and other insects getting into your bag and coming along for a ride to your next stop.  

  • Active Roots Discreet Money Concealing Clothing


The petty crime rate in Southeast Asia is actually pretty low compared to other backpacker havens like Latin America and even Europe. That said, it doesn’t mean pickpocketing and theft doesn’t happen. No matter how you look at it, you're a clueless backpacker in a foreign country and that means you're more vulnerable to being targeted by unscrupulous characters. The Active Roots RFID Blocking Money Belt and the Hidden Pocket Infinity Scarf are two smart choices to keep your money and passport hidden from view and safe while still keeping everything easy to get to when you need it.


Don’t even think about leaving home without travel insurance. Even though many countries in Southeast Asia have a low cost of living, if you end up in the hospital, things get expensive. You don’t want to have to foot the bill when you’re already on a tight budget. World Nomads Insurance is the preferred choice for most in-the-know travelers as it’s simple, affordable, and is designed for adventurous backpackers who need to cover their health as well as travel hiccups like missed flights and stolen valuables. 

You’ll be hot and sweaty pretty much all the time in Southeast Asia. Staying hydrated is a must. People will offer you small, single-use plastic bottles almost everywhere you go in Southeast Asia, but these have a serious environmental impact. To avoid contributing to the problem, bring your own water bottle and fill it up every morning from a big 5 or 10L bottle of water in your hostel.

But don’t just bring any old bottle. An uninsulated one will heat up in the Southeast Asian climate. Therefore, if you want cool and refreshing water all day, the compact and stylish Active Roots Insulated Water bottle is perfect for you.

In Southeast Asia, other backpackers are the people most likely to steal from you. Don’t think your hostel is a safe place to leave your valuables lying around. Use one padlock on your locker and keep the other to secure your daypack. Any padlock is fine, but it’s probably best to choose a combination padlock so you can’t lose the keys. Just in case you forget, save the combination somewhere on your phone.  

 

It’s always good to have some handy tools on you when you travel. You never know when you might save the day with a screwdriver. Take a skeletool along with you to Southeast Asia and you’ll have a knife, a pair of pliers, a screwdriver, a pocket clip, all in one.

Did we mention it comes with a bottle opener? Being the only person with a bottle opener on a beach is a surefire way to make some new travel buddies. Just make sure you store your skeletool in your check-in luggage. You don’t want it to get confiscated!
 

active roots microfiber towel

You’ll notice fabric takes FOREVER to dry in the humid Southeast Asian climate. If you’re hitting the road every few days, you don’t want to have to stuff a damp towel in your backpack. It’ll get stinky and make everything else in your bag stink too.

With the Active Roots Quick Dry Towel, you can jump out of the shower, towel off, and have a dry towel that you can fold into the size of a book in no time. 

 

You’ve gotta keep those pearly whites gleaming and healthy while you’re on the road. Even with travel insurance, you don’t want to waste time sitting in a dentist’s chair when you could be hanging out on the beach. The Fairywill Electric Toothbrush is the perfect toothbrush for travel. It only needs charging once every thirty days.

You charge it on-the-go with a USB and portable battery.  It also comes with a handy travel case. Gone are the days of pulling your toothbrush out of your bag to find it covered in shampoo and mystery lint.

 

This is something you might not have thought to bring. Hear us out. A hammock is a great extra thing to add to your travel kit if you’re planning on lazing under a palm tree all day. It sure beats laying on a sandy towel.

The Active Roots Hammocks weigh just 2 pounds so you won’t even notice it in your pack. It has durable tree-ties and it can hold up at 500 pounds. If you meet someone special on the road, there’s room for two. 
 

You have to protect yourself from that hot Southeast Asian sun, but why wear a generic hat when you can make a statement? The World Map Snapback Hat is a statement piece that’ll give you major backpacker street cred. Don’t buy this hat unless you want lots of people to strike up a conversation and maybe even hit on you. 

  • Universal power adapter  

While some places have the same power sockets as North America, not everywhere does. That’s why your best bet is to buy a universal power adapter so you’ll be prepared for the whole world with one compact device. 

 

  • Traveler’s stomach medicines

Nine times out of ten you’ll only have a mildly upset stomach, but when you do find yourself racing for the nearest squat toilet, it’s important to rehydrate. You’ll already be losing a lot of water just from sweating so a soluble electrolyte will replenish your system quickly. They’re also very useful for the morning after a Full Moon Party.

  • Soluble Electrolytes

Speaking of upset stomachs, make sure you bring Imodium (antidiarrheal medication) and some anti-parasitic medication with you to Southeast Asia. 

Look, it’s always better out than in. That is until you’re on a 12-hour bus ride and your stomach starts cramping. That’s when it’s time to take an Imodium. Be warned, Imodium works really well, often too well. You’ll find once you take it, you probably won’t go to the toilet for days. Sorry if that’s TMI but it’s true. 

Some cases of traveler’s stomach bugs are caused by the Giardia parasite. It’s not serious but it does make you feel pretty awful. It’s easy to treat with over-the-counter medication. Although this stuff is widely available in Southeast Asia, it’s best to arrive prepared so you don’t have to communicate in sign language with a pharmacist in Cambodia as you’re doubled over with a stomach cramp. 

You’ll find you live in sandals most of the time in Southeast Asia, but if you’re hitting a hiking trail, make sure you have some lightweight and breathable hiking shoes. There are a million options out there for hiking shoes, but we like the Saucony Peregrine ISO hiking shoes for both men and women traveling through Southeast Asia. They’re super light so they won’t weigh your bag down. They’re also quick drying so they’re great if you get stuck in a monsoonal downpour. 

 

     Do as the locals do and wear sandals in Southeast Asia. It’s so hot you probably won’t even want to think about wearing socks and lace-up shoes. Teva Sandals are backpacker’s staple because they’re not only super comfortable and durable, they’re also waterproof. You can wear them around town or you can wear them while you go snorkeling in the shallows to protect your feet from sharp coral. So versatile!
     

     We all have way more toiletries than we think we do. They also take up a lot of space and can get disorganized without the right toiletry bag. The Active Roots Hanging Toiletry Bag has a large main compartment with different sections with mesh and clear PVC windows to keep everything in order.

    When you’re settled at a hostel for a few days, you can keep everything easy to access by hanging the toiletry bag up on your bunk or the bathroom. 
      

    • Waterproof Go Pro

    Do you love taking snaps of your vacations but you don’t want to carry around a big, pro camera? When you’re backpacking around Southeast Asia, you’ll realize space is a luxury.  A Go Pro is the perfect way to get awesome quality photos without the bulk of a DSLR. Make sure you get a waterproof one so you can capture ALL the memories, even the ones you make with the fish when you go snorkeling in those idyllic tropical waters.

    If you’re sticking to well-touristed areas and towns, you’ll have no issues getting clean drinking water. If you go really off the beaten track or go for a trek, you might get stuck for clean drinking water. It’s unlikely but it’s a possibility. If you carry around a LIfestraw, you can turn any water drinkable if you get in a tight spot. It could be a lifesaver! 

    •  Power Strip/Multi-Socket Charger 

    You’ll find that you’ll probably only get one wall socket in most accommodation in Southeast Asia. This is a hassle when you have three devices that need charging. Therefore, along with your universal adapter, bring a smaller power strip or multi-socketed charger so you can charge multiple devices at once. 

    • Sarong 

    A sarong is a must-have for any traveler in Southeast Asia. You can wrap it around yourself after the beach, use it as a sun shield, and cover your bare shoulders with it if you enter a temple where you need to be a little more modest.

    We think sarongs are one of the most useful objects you can bring on a trip. Rather than bring one from home, pick up a sarong from a local market in Southeast Asia. They’re pretty much everywhere and they make fantastic souvenirs.

    The quintessential travel pants for SE Asia! These pants are lightweight, breathable, incredibly flowy, roomy, and durable. All these features make the harem pants absolutely perfect for the climate and culture of the region.

    What’s more, we offer several different color and style options so you’re sure to find the perfect pair for your tastes.

    • Toilet paper and Hand Sanitizer

    Travel in Southeast Asia is never going to be glamorous all the time. The toilet situation is very different from what you’re familiar with back home. Never, ever, and we repeat, EVER, set out from your hostel without a trusty roll of toilet paper. We guarantee you that 99% of the toilets you’ll go to will not come with toilet paper. And nobody wants to get caught out like that. 

    If you haven’t traveled outside of the West much, you might find some of the bathroom facilities are a little concerning in Southeast Asia. Aside from the squat toilet situation, you’ll find most bathrooms in Southeast Asia don’t have good (if any) handwashing facilities. There might be a tap if you’re really lucky but most of the time it’s just a bucket of water. You can forget about soap. Keep some hand sanitizer with you to kill off any germs.  

    • Bug Spray

    Southeast Asia is in the tropics and that means mosquitoes everywhere. You can get some nasty diseases like dengue fever and malaria from tropical mosquitoes, so you should try to avoid getting bitten at all costs. The best way to do that it to wear a tropical-strength bug repellent with at least 20% DEET as an active ingredient. 

    What to Wear In Southeast Asia

    It is a super diverse place so maybe you’re not sure what to wear in Southeast Asia. You’ll find literally hundreds of different cultures, landscapes, microclimates, and some wild weather patterns there. Overall, though, it’s a hot and humid region and locals dress to stay cool. Think light and breezy cotton and linen when you’re in Southeast Asia. 

    You’ll find most locals dress very casually in light fabrics. T-shirts and shorts are the unofficial uniforms for men. Most women in Southeast Asia wear light, breathable dresses and trousers, and shirts that protect their shoulders from the burning sun. 

    It’s not very socially acceptable to walk around the streets in your bikini or swimming trunks, even in beach towns. Slip on a shirt and shorts once you leave the actual beach. Overall, err on the side of modesty in Southeast Asia if you don’t want to draw attention to yourself. 

    For the most part, if you dress as you would on a hot summer day back home, you should be fine. But keep in mind Southeast Asia does get some pretty wild weather so you’ll want to factor in a few other things when deciding what clothes to bring. 

    Seasons in Southeast Asia (And how to pack for them!)

    Southeast Asia is tropical for the most part. Apart from a few far northern regions, don’t expect four seasons. You can expect three: Warm and dry, insanely hot, and monsoon. The times of these seasons vary slightly between countries, but here’s a good general guide for the seasons in Southeast Asia and how to pack for them. 

     

    Dry season: November to February 

     It’s the coolest and driest time of the year. Apart from a few small exceptions like the far north of Vietnam in the Sapa region, cool does not mean ‘cold’. It’s still very warm compared to North American and European standards. Temperatures sit between the high 70s to high 90s Fahrenheit depending on where you are. It’s still very much t-shirt weather. Bring your summer clothes plus a light sweater if you’re heading up north or into the mountains.  

    It’s optimal beach weather and outdoor activities are a little more pleasant at this time of year because you won’t drip with sweat quite as much.

    Keep in mind, however, that this is peak season. Southeast Asia’s dry season attracts tons of European and North American travelers who want to escape their freezing winters. This means prices for accommodation and activities can double at this time of year. If you’re on a shoestring budget or hate crowds, think about going at a different time of year. 

     

    Hot season: March to May

    The hottest and stickiest time of year, you can expect temperatures to consistently surpass 100 degrees. You’ll find outdoor activities hard work during the hot season and you’ll probably feel lethargic. You might struggle without air conditioning if you’re not used to really hot weather. 

    The hottest places are inland Thailand, Cambodia, and landlocked Laos during this season. If you’re going to Southeast Asia at this time, stick to the coast where you can hang out in your swimsuit on the beach where the sea breeze cools things down a little.

     

    Wet season: June to October

    This is the time of year when you can expect the heavy monsoonal rains to fall. During this time, it’s still hot, so you can wear your summer clothes, but make sure you have a rain jacket and/or umbrella! You’ll definitely get soaked at least once. 

    Be aware that during this time, rough seas and flooded roads can cause boats and buses to get canceled. Keep an eye on this and go with the flow. That’s what Southeast Asia is all about. 

    What shoes to pack for Southeast Asia

    As we said before, you’ll probably live in sandals but there are a few other considerations when thinking about what shoes to pack for Southeast Asia. We recommend Teva sandals for their versatility, but don’t feel like you have to go out and buy a new pair. Any sandals you’re comfortable in will serve you well. It’s also worth bringing some flip flops for showering in less-than-clean hostel communal bathrooms and just to slip on and off when you’re just going out to the store for a few minutes. 

    If you’re going in the monsoonal season, however, you should also bring some casual street shoes to raise your foot off the wet ground (that’s often pretty dirty). We like Allbirds wool runners for casual street shoes that keep your feet cool and comfy.  

    Also, don’t forget those hiking shoes. Southeast Asia has some of the most incredible hikes in the world but the tracks can be slippery, uneven, or non-existent, so you don’t want to attempt to do them in a pair of Vans. 

    Women - What to Pack for Southeast Asia

    Clothing: Overall, Southeast Asia is a safe and hassle-free destination for solo female travelers. If you’re a woman, you won’t need to modify the way your dress much at all – unless you’re heading somewhere very traditional. However, Southeast Asian dress is a bit more modest than the West. If you want to blend in a little more (and protect yourself from the sun), swap your shorts for some light cotton harem pants and carry a sarong in case you want to go to a temple because you’ll need to cover your bare shoulders. 

    Hygiene and toiletries: Ladies, you should also bring your own feminine hygiene products from home if you’re picky about that kind of thing. For example, due to different cultural attitudes, it can be almost impossible to find tampons in Southeast Asia, especially outside of the cities. It can also be really hard to get antiperspirant deodorant so stock up on that before you leave. And don’t forget to always carry a roll of toilet paper. 

    Males - What to Pack for Southeast Asia

    Clothing: Shorts and a t-shirt can do no wrong. However, if you want to go to a temple, it’s a good idea to show a little more respect and wear some longer trousers. Even harem pants are fine.  

    Toiletries: You’ll be able to get pretty much everything you need in terms of toiletries in Southeast Asia with a few exceptions. Make sure you stock up on antiperspirant deodorant as it can be really hard to find in all parts of Asia. If you have thick facial hair, make sure you bring your favorite razors from home too. You’ll find most of the razors in Southeast Asia won’t do a very good job. And don’t forget TP. We can’t stress that enough.    

    What NOT to Pack for Southeast Asia

    Unless you’re going to North Vietnam in the cooler seasons, or you’re going way up into the mountains, you won’t need to bring anything heavier than a light fleece hoodie or a sweater. Leave the coats and boots at home. They’re the main things on the what NOT to pack for Southeast Asia list. But don’t bring too much stuff either. You’ll find some dorms and buses very cramped so keep it basic. Avoid bringing anything with wheels too. We probably don’t have to say this to backpackers, but seriously, the streets of Southeast Asia are not wheel-friendly. Do yourself a favor. Get yourself a good travel backpack. 

    The Best Backpack to Pack for Southeast Asia

    The Nomatic Travel Bag is the best backpack to pack for Southeast Asia. It’s super sturdy and versatile. It comes with so many features you’ll barely believe your eyes. Apart from the tech pockets and shoe compartment we mentioned before, we also want to give a shout out to how comfortable this bag is. The detachable hip belt is one of the comfiest we’ve come across. And there are so many pockets! Another massive tick for this backpack is that the 40L version comes with a collapsible and removable laundry basket so you can keep your dirty, sweaty clothes separate from your clean ones until it’s washing day.  The lifetime warranty is a nice addition too. You should definitely check the Nomatic Travel Bag out. It’ll change your life. 

     

    Final Thoughts on What to Pack for Southeast Asia  

    What are our final thoughts on what to pack for Southeast Asia? When you’re packing for Southeast Asia, think light. Light clothing, light shoes, light backpack, light everything. You’ll be sweaty pretty much all the time so keeping it LIGHT will be a welcome addition to your adventure in Southeast Asia. If possible, keep things so light that you’ll only need to bring hand luggage. It’ll make your life that much easier moving from A to B and you’ll save a tonne on baggage fees for budget flights.

    Overall, Southeast Asia is a chill, friendly, and safe place to travel and it’s well set-up for tourists. While it’s always good to be prepared, don’t panic if you’ve forgotten something. You’ll be able to get most of your creature comforts in the cities. Just kick back, let Southeast Asia happen to you, and you’ll have a blast. 




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