When I decided to take a break (and by nature, holiday) upon leaving my last job in the advertising world, I debated destination(s) for a while- should I stay in Europe and make my way around countries I’d never visited? Venture to South America or backpack SE Asia?
All places I’d long hoped to experience.
SE Asia won out in the end for a few reasons- the timing was right, I’d be visiting at the edge of the high season in many countries like Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Indonesia.
The biggest deciding factor in me choosing to backpack SE Asia over further explorations in Europe?
Cost. I knew I’d be able to stay in budget-moderate resorts or Airbnbs, plus eat out, experience cities, and treat myself to a few day tours for a fraction of what it’d cost to do so in Europe.
And so, the trip planning began.
As I write this post, I’m going into my third week in Thailand and fourth week of travelling overall (previously- Andalusia, Singapore and Kuala Lumpar).
So, not done travelling yet but far enough in to share what I packed for the trip, how it’s working, and what I wish I’d packed.
If I end up visiting Australia as part of this trip, I may have later edits- I’ll be there during autumn, which means most of what I’ve packed to backpack SE Asia may not be quite right.
Everything I Packed to Backpack SE Asia for an Unknown Amount of Time
BACKPACK: First, things first, I bought an Osprey bag – the Farview, 55L in misty grey. I LOVE this bag- the front part zips off, becoming a daypack or carry-on bag. What I love the most about the main bag is that it’s a front zip, like a suitcase, which makes it super easy to find things.
I usually check the bigger bag when I fly because I’m way over the liquid limit. Thankfully, checking luggage on budget carriers in SE Asia is pretty affordable. And, I don’t worry about checking my backpack there’s a back cover that zips around the straps to ensure they don’t get caught (and cut) in conveyor belts.
All said, the bag was an investment, but a piece of luggage I’ll use on many trips after this one.
That said, if I was doing it again, I may consider going one size smaller and getting a 40L bag. Sure, it’d mean I couldn’t bring as much but I think I’d be game for that challenge if it meant carrying a lighter load and potentially not checking luggage.
PACKING CUBES: These are a lifesaver for fitting more than you think you can and keeping everything organised.
I’m using two sets I bought from Eagle Creek years ago- two big cubes, two small cubes. For this trip, I also bought a set of four slim cubes from Amazon- so handy for organising small groups of things. And, I brought a small shoe bag to store laundry in so I don’t have to put it next to clean clothes.
OTHER BAGS: I brought two other bags with me, a 12L dry sack- I’m using an Osprey one and loving it so far- lightweight and effective. I also brought a day cross-body. I wasn’t convinced I needed this, but I LOVE IT. It fits so much, is very safe/secure, and bonus: water repellent. Can’t imagine being on this trip without it.
- Long leggings (good for plane travel, yoga classes)
- Capri length leggings (good for yoga, other workouts)
- Lightweight hoodie / jacket (great for flights/ferries with strong air-con)
- Uniqlo ultralight foldable vest and jacket (good for long haul flights and cool nights)
- Pyjama set
- Maxi dress
- Maxi dress #2 (doubles as swim cover-up)
- Knit midi skirt
- Knit midi trousers
- Linen jumpsuit
- Lightweight sleeveless midi dress
- Two t-shirts, similar to this one
- Workout t-shirt
- Old oversized t-shirt (good for lounging, beaching, etc.)
- Two tank tops (both can double as workout wear, tank 1, tank 2)
- Swim kaftan
- Lightweight scarf (good for air con, cafes, and temples)
- Four pairs of socks, two low impact sports bras, one high impact sports bra (for workouts), and enough underwear to last 10 days
- Nike trainers
- Aussianas (these are THE best flip flops, so comfortable because of the arch support)
The reason why I’m able to pack so light and get so much mileage out of everything is because it’s all one colour (hello black, I love you), which makes it a cinch to mix and match.
Black is the chicest colour in my opinion, but I’m not advocating you only pack one colour- stick to neutrals and you’ll be good to throw together different outfits.
Also, if you click on any of the links, you’ll notice a lot of what I brought is from Asos. I didn’t bring anything *really* nice with me for a reason- I’m expecting so much continual wear in a hot, humid, salty climate to destroy most of my clothes.
TECH: MacBook Air, Kindle, iPhone XR, AirPods, FitBit.
PERSONAL CARE: Get ready for a long list-
- Hand sanitizer
- DEET free mosquito repellent
- Nail clippers
- Two 25x packs of face wipes
- Dental floss, deodorant
- A few face/foot masks (big fan of Dr. Jart+ for face hydration, Origins charcoal face mask, and Origins Drink Up face mask)
- Lush shampoo and conditioner bars
- Tea tree oil
- Shea butter body scrub
- Hand lotion
- Body glide (helps prevent chafing)
- Contact solution
- Face lotion
- Aloe vera
Some of the above, e.g. Origins masks, may seem like an unnecessary thing to pack. But, trust me- your skin takes a beating when exposed to heat, sun, and sea continually. I packed small sizes of items I use once or twice weekly, so I still can take care of myself, but aren’t carting around full size products.
CHARGERS AND ADAPTERS: I brought two universal adapters, which is handy when I want to have my laptop plugged in and re-charge other things, and numerous charging cables.
TRAVEL SNACKS: Usually, I pick stuff up as I go, but for this trip I packed a few Lara Bars, knowing I wouldn’t be able to get them in SE Asia. Since I’m limited on how many I have, I only reach for one when it’s really needed.
MISC ITEMS: Another long list-
- Travel journal/pens
- Ear plugs
- Two pairs of glasses
- Multiple sets of contacts
- Medicine (EPI pens, Benedryl, allergy meds, Nyquil/Dayquil, decongestants, ibuprofen, cough drops, pepto. It’s rare I use any of this, but finding US/UK equivalents in small towns across SE Asia is tough.)
- Band-aids of varying sizes
- Extra Ziploc bags
As I go, I’m picking up replacements for any personal care products. Plus, using the toothbrush/toothpaste, razor/shaving cream, and q-tips provided by hostels/hotels/Airbnbs. Not the most eco friendly move, but helpful when on a budget.
I’m also touting around a small bag of powder detergent for whenever I find myself near coin laundry.
If you’re a light sleeper, you may want to bring an eye mask or travel pillow. I generally fare well without either of those items. As long as I’ve got ear plugs, I’m good.
Surprised by how much I’ve been able to fit in my bag? It never ceases to amaze me what’s possible with organisation, and tired and true packing tips.
Posts to come on what I wished I’d packed and the items I packed that I couldn’t live without.
Have you ever backpacked SE Asia or elsewhere? What did you pack?
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