So you have decided to go on a backpacking trip to Southeast Asia. You’ve booked your flights and a few nights accommodation and now the last thing you need to do is PACK. The thing that every “minimalist” backpacker asks themselves after buying a tiny bag is “How in the world am I supposed to fit everything in this thing?” And the answer is you won’t. You will not be prepared for every situation, but that’s okay! You will make do with what you have and you will find out that 99% of the time having a small backpack makes your life so much easier. You can fit in small seats on buses, you can ride on the back of a motorcycle and won’t have to pay extra for a taxi. Life is simpler with less things and when you are traveling, simpler is so much better!
To make packing a little bit easier and to help you cut down your pile of things to take with you I have created a list of everything that I brought with me for backpacking around SE Asia. Hopefully this list helps you cut down on what you bring with you because I can guarantee that you will be donating things to hostels along the way as you figure out what you need. I’ll be updating this as I go along to let you know what has and has no worked for me!
This is not an extensive list for everyone. Make sure that you edit it to fit your needs and traveling style. For example, I love hiking and going for runs, but if you don’t like these things and only plan on doing short hikes then maybe leave the running shoes at home and just bring a pair of comfortable and sturdy sandals (like the Teva Women’s Original Universal Sandal, Black, 8 M US) that are comfortable for short hikes and walking around all day.
How I chose my backpack:
I knew that I wanted my backpack to be small enough to be a carry-on, so this means keeping it around 40L. If you buy a backpack that is 40L, it will definitely fit in the overhead bin. I’ve traveled on a lot of budget airlines and have not run into any problems with taking it as a carry-on.
If you buy a backpack that is closer to 45L make sure that you read the reviews. When you get to this size it really depends on the backpacks dimensions as to whether or not it will fit in the overhead bin, so read the reviews to see how other travelers have fared.
The backpack that I travel with is the REI Trail 40L. I absolutely love this backpack. It unzips all the way like a suitcase and has a small laptop compartment. It also has a built in rain cover (essential for traveling in SE Asia with the sporadic showers).
Other options I looked at were the Osprey Packs Farpoint 40 Travel Backpack, Volcanic Grey, Medium/Large. In the end, I decided to go with the REI Trail 40L because it was on sale for $50 and I can never pass up a deal like that. If you are unsure of what backpack to purchase I suggest going to your local REI or sports store and try some on yourself to make sure they fit you correctly and are comfortable.
- Put everything you want to bring in a pile and then divide it by half. Now I cannot emphasize this enough: pack as little as you possibly can! You will save your back and you will feel a weird kind of pride walking into a hostel where everyone has 70-80L backpacks and you have one half that size.
- Packing cubes. Seriously these are a game changer. There is no way I would have fit everything in my backpack with out these. Also, they make my backpack so organized. Everything has a place and is easy to find when I’m scrambling in the dark trying not to wake everyone in my hostel up. You can purchase them from amazon and get ones like the eBags Medium Packing Cubes – 3pc Set (Black). Or if you live in America head to your local TJ Maxx or Marshalls and you can find them for closer to 10USD.
- Clip-on camera phone lenses. If you don’t want to bring a super nice camera, buy the clip-on lenses for your camera phone. These allow you to take really good photos just with your cell phone!
- Don’t stress about having everything you could possibly need. You will be able to find it on the road possibly for cheaper than you could get at home. If you find that you are packing a lot of ‘just in case’ items put them all in a pile and look at each one critically. If the item makes you feel better about your safety or comfort then bring it. If not, you can probably do without it and if you find you need it later on then you can probably borrow it from someone at the hostel or buy it on the road.
- Don’t bring an umbrella. Instead bring a rain coat or poncho! Most hostels will have umbrellas you can borrow for the day, so you can make do with a poncho until you get to your hostel.
- Comfort is Key. Don’t pack uncomfortable clothing. If its uncomfortable, I can guarantee that you will be ditching it within a month.
The ULTIMATE Packing List
- 1 workout top
- 2 shirts that cover my shoulders
- 1 beach dress
- 1 dress that covers my shoulders and is longer for more conservative countries
- 1 cotton black dress
- 4 tank tops
- 1 Sleep shorts
- 1 workout shorts
- 1 cotton shorts
- 1 “hiking shorts”
- 1 black leggings
- 1 Nike dry-fit hippie pants
- 1 long skirt
- 7 pairs of underwear
- 1 sports bra
- 3 bralettes
- 2 bathing suits (one more sturdy for surfing/swimming and one more of a ‘lounge’ swim suit)
- 1 Pair of running shoes
- 1 Pair of flip flops/shower shoes
- 1 Pair of COMFORTABLE sandals
- 1 Sonia Kashuk Essential Eye Kit with Case -6 Pieces
- 1 Maybelline Nude Eye-shadow Pallet
- 1 Eyeliner (my favorite eyeliner ever)
- 1 Maybelline FitMe concealer
- 1 mascara (always do waterproof)
- Travel sized shampoo, conditioner, and body soap
- Travel sized coconut oil (I use this for moisturizer and as a leave in conditioner)
- Nail Clippers
- Makeup remover wipes
- Tampons, panty liners, and a Diva Cup (I like having options)
- Chap stick
- SUNSCREEN (so important. It tends to be expensive in SE Asia, so definitely pack some from home)
- Bug spray (also very important)
- Pain killer
- Anti-bacterial wipes
- Laptop and charger
- Sony A5100 Camera (absolutely love this camera. cannot recommend it enough)
- Cell phone
- 2 micro-usb chargers that I use for both my phone and camera
- Travel adapter
- Fitbit and charger
- Cellphone clip on lenses
- Portable charger – this has saved me so many times. I use the Anker PowerCore 10000 which has 4 charges and I love it
- Laundry detergent (I picked this up in Singapore. I found some bar laundry soap that I use to wash my clothes in the sink/shower)
- Lock (MUST HAVE)
- Microfiber Towel and face cloth.
- Fold-able/zip-able backpack.
- Small purse – I use this daily where I keep my camera, phone, wallet, and portable charger in it while walking around. Make sure that this zips up!
- 1 necklace that is in the shape of Texas to remind me of home 🙂
- 1 Notebook. This is seriously my life while I’m traveling. I journal in it every few days to document my travels. You will be so happy you did this once your home!
- Bamboo Flatware Cutlery Set. Now these are not a necessity by any means, but I like to keep these in my backpack. I tend to buy food from stores for lunch and eat it while I’m sight seeing, so its nice to have some utensils for those occasions. Also its environmentally friendly! Full disclosure: This is my product! If you want to be super supportive of this website purchase one of these sets for your travels 🙂
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