The South East Asia Backpacker Rough Guide to Packing!

The South East Asia Backpacker Rough Guide to Packing!

12 July 2012

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It’s the last job before you set off – cramming everything you think you’ll need for the next however-long into a bag you must be able to carry without doing yourself a mischief nor embarrassing yourself at the luggage carousel. Everyone’s different but our rough guide, specifically geared toward the climate and activities common to a South East Asia backpacking trip, will start you off:

Bag a bag!

The main three things you need to consider when choosing your bag are type, size and cost. If you’re going trekking you’ll probably want to take a rucksack, although you can usually hire the necessary gear locally should the need arise. Otherwise, a bag on wheels (if you can endure your mates’ ribbing!) could save you a lot of shoulder massages! You may also wish to check out other types of bags such as snowboarding packs. Whichever type of bag you go for, it’s helpful to have several sections and pockets so it’s easier to find what you need without unpacking everything. You’ll also find it invaluable to have a bag that unzips all the way around rather than a top-loader, as it’s a pain pulling everything out to get to the stuff at the bottom. A bag with straps on the outside allows you to attach your sleeping bag, yoga mat, camping gear and whatever else to the outside. Bear in mind that, whatever size bag you have, you’ll fill it to the max and then you’ll have to carry it, so keep it as small as you can get away with. If cash is an issue, have a look for a second hand bag or ask around your friends and family if they have one you can use.

Think small!

Having been there, we know it’s hard to know where to begin as there’s no correct way to pack – but whether you’re the full-on girly-girl complete with ceramic hair straighteners and accessories to match every outfit, or you’re the guy with barely more than the clothes he stands up in, it’s all about efficiency. Our strong advice is to keep it to the minimum as you won’t end up using half of what you take anyway.

It’s hot and humid in South East Asia – you won’t need as many clothes as you think you will – and, as your clothes will mainly be small and light, they’re quick to wash and dry. Don’t bring jeans as they’re heavy and impractical in a tropical climate. If you’re unsure, take a couple of changes of lightweight clothing and, if you don’t have enough when you get there, you can buy the rest locally cheaply and suited to the climate. (Note to the girls, though: underwear is near-impossible to buy in Western sizes in S.E.A so take what you need, in cotton, as it’s more comfortable in the humidity.) Put together what fashionistas call a “capsule wardrobe” – which basically means every item of your clothing can be mixed and matched or even have multiple uses (such as a sarong – see below), giving you more outfit options using the fewest items. And don’t bring anything too clingy – it being stuck to you with sweat will drive you insane. You may wish to invest in a trekking top to hide sweat patches!

Where possible, pack miniatures – smaller toothbrush, small travel towel, smaller versions of make-up and toiletries – unless you’re brand-loyal there’s nothing you can’t get at least a half-decent version of in South East Asia so you needn’t worry about running out of anything.

Multi-purpose items are the backpacker’s best friend! All-purpose soap, a bandana or hair band doubling up as a sleep-mask, a sarong (with endless uses such as a cover-up in the sun and in religious temples, a bed sheet, a window-blind, dish cloth, bathtowel…), a mobile device with WIFI ability can be used to read read books, listen to music, email, skype, get maps, download dictionaries, look up reviews etc. and fits in your pocket.

You will need no more than two pairs of shoes – flip flops, and some suitable for other activities such as trekking, although trekking shoes can often be hired or bought locally.

Put it away, love!

Rolling everything up tightly can take up a lot less room than layering (or just “stuffing”!) and makes it so much easier to find things than layering – you can remove items in “sausages” and put them straight back! Stuff underwear into shoes and into any gaps. Girls, knickers stuffed in bras will help keep their shape. The organised among us may wish to use packing cubes, or a far cheaper and lighter version – put similar items in different coloured carrier bags to save you rummaging. Buy a small padlock (nothing too heavy) and with a combination (so you don’t have to take care of a key) to give your bag a bit of extra security.

Essential luxuries

Anything considered an essential that’s difficult or expensive to replace goes in your day pack which never leaves you, including cash, credit/debit cards, passport, driving license and any expensive items (camera, phone, etc).

If you have the room, to make life easier, you may wish to consider taking the following: a few copies of your passport and passport photos for visas, a small maglight torch or a headlamp, insect repellent, a compass, an e-reader (such as the Amazon Kindle), sunblock, a travel kettle, bottle opener and, of course, until you’ve learned how to get by without it (and yes that will happen)… toilet paper!

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9 Comments For This Post We’d Love to Hear Yours!

  1. I would add:

    Don’t forget a pair of lightweight long pants or a long skirt and a long sleeved top if you want to visit any of the religious temples because you will need to cover your shoulders and legs.

    Also, pack at least 2 swimsuits because they take forever to hang dry in the humidity so if you want to go to the beach 2 days in a row you don’t have to put on a wet swimsuit.

    I have found that I haven’t been using lots of hair styling products or my hair straighteners, simply because it is much more comfortable to have my hair naturally dry and then up in a braid, bun or ponytail. It is so hot and humid that if I wear it down it just sticks to the back of my neck with sweat anyway which is kind of nasty. Ladies, come up with a few stylish up-dos for your long hair and you will be so much more comfortable.

  2. There is a great bag made by Rick Steve’s that is affordable and made specifically with the backpacker/flashpacker in mind, straps that zip away, exact dimensions of a carry-on and pockets that make sense.. Also, in the undies department, ExOfficio makes the best undies I’ve ever used, anti-microbial, insect-repellent and quick drying!

  3. Awesome, Kelly and Zach; thanks so much for your additional advice!

  4. cerviajantes says:

    When packing for our last trip (4 months), we bought different sizes ziplock bags to keep everything organized and tidy! We could put several pieces of clothing in a bag, then squeeze all the air out of it. The volume was reduced and our clothes never got wet! It also kept the dirty clothes’ stench away from our clean ones (and other people’s noses!). I also threw in a couple of drier sheets to make my bag smell fresh. Totally worth it!

  5. Great advice, Cervia! Loving the idea of the dryer sheets.

  6. leandra says:

    awesome tips for a newbie! i’m currently in the ME planning backpacking in the SE soon hence reading all the info i can get! thank you!

  7. Cool, glad it helps!

  8. Love these tips here! Thank you for sharing.

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