What belongs on your Southeast Asia packing list? And what don’t you need to pack? All in all, I was on the road in Southeast Asia for over a year and I’ll tell you what worked for me. This packing list is for active explorers who want to travel minimalistically with hand luggage only, no matter how long the trip takes.
Use my packing list as an orientation and adapt it for you.
Travel With Hand Luggage Only
I only travel with hand luggage and you can, too, especially in Southeast Asia. It’s hot in the tropics and you almost only need to pack short things, which makes it so easy to travel with light luggage.
If you like to travel minimalistic but somehow can’t make it, I have some tips for you. Put out everything you want to take with you and start reducing. Always ask yourself the question: Do I really need this? What would happen if I didn’t take it with me? The whole process takes some time, overcoming and several passes, but so the stack gets smaller and smaller.
Limit yourself to the important things and leave out everything you might need. And don’t worry, you can still go shopping on the spot if you forgot something or missed something.
If you are still looking for the right hand luggage backpack, have a look at this backpack comparison.
The Day Pack
Since I am an active person, a shoulder bag is out of the question for me. I don’t want to do that to my back. I have been using the Squezzy folding backpack from Tatonka* for half a year now and am surprised how well it can be carried. In addition, I sweat less under it and can wash it out quickly. If I don’t need it, it doesn’t take up any space in the big backpack.
Tip: I have a rain cover for the hand luggage backpack as well as for the daypack, because it can rain a lot in Southeast Asia and on some boat trips they were real lifesavers.
After the luggage question has been clarified, we now come to the actual Southeast Asia packing list.
Documents, Money, & Passport
Check how long it is still valid (at least 6 months longer than your trip) and if it has enough free pages. Make two copies of the main page beforehand. Occasionally people will want to keep your passport as security (which I would never do), but will settle for one copy. And my last tip, buy a solid Zipp bag* to keep your passport out of sight.
Other Travel Documents
Original driver’s license + international
You need both if you want to drive a scooter in Southeast Asia, even if you are rarely asked for them when renting. But the police like to check foreigners on scooters to collect money. It doesn’t have to be, you can get an international driver’s license for about 15 euros at the road traffic office in your place of residence.
Optional: international student card, PADI diving card
Travel documents for flights, accommodation, rental cars, etc. (booking confirmations, addresses)
Tip: Scan the most important travel documents or photograph them in order to store them online in your email inbox or in the cloud. It’s easy to use in an emergency.
I travel with two, both are super minimalistic and small. One I use in everyday life and the second I use as a reserve, most of the cash and my credit card is in here. Often I leave it in the accommodation, because I only take the essentials with me. So everybody sees that there is not much to get in my everyday wallet, and if it is stolen, the damage is small.
It is always better to travel with two credit cards, because something unexpected can always happen and you will not be without money. It can be stolen, it’s blocked due to fraud or it doesn’t work at every ATM or for online bookings, with two cards you always have a backup. You better leave your EC card at home, it’s usually useless in Southeast Asia.
Tip: For travelling I can recommend this credit card.
Pack Clothes For A Week
Let us now move on to the most important topic. Especially when it comes to clothing, we tend to take too much with us. Clothes on journeys usually become secondary, and you won’t mind wearing the same clothes all the time, because everyone does it and it’s normal among backpackers.
So pack your favourite clothes, which you like to wear, which suit every situation, which are light, insensitive, not expensive and can be combined well. Don’t take anything tight-fitting with you, you’ll sweat unnecessarily under it in the tropics. And not only tops, because when visiting temples your shoulders must be covered and it is unusual in many places to show so much skin.
You need long things in air-conditioned rooms, especially buses and flights can be icy. On a scooter or boat, the wind can be cold. If you’re in the mountains, it can get fresh at night. In the northern part of Southeast Asia it can be colder in our winter months, especially in the evenings.
If you like to wear long trousers in the evening, you can buy light wide trousers (Thai trousers) for a few Euros. Many backpackers run around like this. Women also like leggings, which you can wear in combination with a long shirt or short trousers.
4-5 T-Shirts & Tops
1 longsleeve / blouse / shirt
1 sweater (with hood)
1 bag of underwear
1-2 pairs of socks
1 bikini / swim shorts
1 tubular cloth* (multifunctional: hair/ sweatband, mouthguard, sleep goggles)
1 bag for dirty laundry
2-3 Shorts / Skirts
1 long trousers
1 pyjamas (not necessary)
Do You Need A Rain Jacket?
As an active person, yes: on hikes or jungle treks, while scooting or cycling, an umbrella or poncho will annoy you. But take a light single-layer jacket with you. Here I can recommend the “Flight Series” by Northface* or Frauen die Neufundland by Schöffel*.
Not an easy subject and over the years I have tried a lot. In Southeast Asia I mainly use my Teva sandals* and flip flops*. On rough terrain and long hikes I wear trail running shoes or running shoes with a good profile.
1 Trail Running shoes* / running shoes
In Southeast Asia, you can have your clothes washed almost anywhere for a few euros. So you won’t need a clothesline* very often, but you’ll be able to wash your clothes by hand or dry your bathing clothes quickly.