Packing List Southeast Asia: Your Ultimate Travel Checklist!

A man with flip flops sits on the cliff in Koh Phi Phi, Thailand.

Looking for advice on your Southeast Asia packing list? You’ve come to the right place!

We’ve all heard the quote: “When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.” And this piece of advice is key when it comes to considering what to pack for Southeast Asia.

In most of the places you’ll be travelling, all you’ll need are light, comfortable clothes for hot weather and one pair of flip flops! Laundry is easily done in most places and you can pretty much buy anything that you may have forgotten in local shops or supermarkets.

Forgot your electric toothbrush? Don’t panic! As for medical items, Southeast Asia is home to well-stocked chemists, so there’s no need to bring things like paracetamol with you, as you can get them here very easily.

All the big name brands of shampoo and toiletries have, of course, made a stake in Southeast Asia, so you’ll find all of them here in abundance. Plus, you might want to leave some space in your backpack for souvenirs and some ever so trendy backpacker garb. (Read our article: How to dress like a backpacker in 5 easy steps!)

However… there are certain items that for one reason or another it’s more difficult to find once you arrive in Southeast Asia, some of these items are things that you may not have expected!

In order to make this article as comprehensive as possible, as research, we asked our readers what they had learned from their own experiences when it comes to packing. We asked them: What is the most useful item in your backpack? 

We drew on our 10 years+ travel experience, as well as the wisdom of our readers, to create this ultimate Southeast Asia packing list for budding travellers! We hope that it makes your life easier and that you find it a useful checklist when you’re packing your bag for your travels!

The Southeast Asia Packing List Checklist!

I thought I’d mention before we begin that, from our experience, it’s best to take two backpacks with you to Southeast Asia. A decent sized backpack where you’ll pack all of your clothes and other items, and a smaller daypack, for all of your valuables.

Your main backpack or suitcase can be checked in on flights and put in the luggage compartment on buses. However, your day pack, containing your passport, phone, money etc. and all other important items should be kept on your person at all times.

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Health & Medical

First Aid Kit

Our Advice? Buy before you leave home

Having at least a basic first aid kit handy is crucial. In Asia’s humidity, cuts, burns and grazes can become infected really easily and it’s essential to take care of the wound so that it doesn’t lead to a bigger problem. Anti-septic wipes, alcohol, iodine and anti-septic cream are a must, as well as decent plasters (band-aids) and bandages to cover the cut up. 

A good first aid kit also comes with a thermometer which is the best and first way to check if you’re coming down with a fever. Read our first aid kit guide to decide if you can make your own, or just buy one. The Thrive First Aid Kit gets rave reviews on Amazon.

First Aid Kit – 66 Pieces – Small & Light Soft Shell Case - Packed with Hospital Grade Medical Supplies for Emergency & Survival situations. Ideal for Car, Camping, Travel, Sports, Home, Hiking

Hand Sanitizer

Our Advice? Buy before you leave home

Hand sanitizer will be something that you keep in your daypack so that it’s available at all times. Often times you’ll stop for lunch or a snack in a local restaurant and there’ll be nowhere to wash your hands, or there won’t be any soap available.

Hand sanitizer, while not perfect, will kill bacteria and reduce your chances of getting sick while travelling. You could also get some wet wipes while you’re at it.

Mosquito Repellent:

Our Advice? Buy before you leave home

An essential item that you simply must carry around with you, as you never know when the mosquitoes will strike! As well as causing itchy, painful bites, the more serious illness caused by mosquitoes is Dengue Fever, and, of course, depending on where you travel, malaria.

There’s widespread debate around the question about whether it’s better to bring repellant with you from home or try out the bug repellents available in the country you’re visiting. Many people say that locally manufactured bug sprays have most likely been created with the specific bug population in mind. However, that’s debatable.

In my opinion, it’s much better to buy it at home before you travel. Why? I’m always baffled by the fact that you can’t buy a mosquito repellant with a high concentration of DEET in Southeast Asia.

Repel HG-94108 100 Insect Repellent, Pump Spray, 4-Fluid Ounce

An Effective Natural Mosquito Repellant? If you want to avoid chemicals, then go for the All Terrain Herbal Armor DEET-Free Natural Repellent which is repeatedly voted as the best natural mosquito repellant around. Wondering what ingredients go into natural insect repellants? Check out the label first!

Herbal Armor Insect Repellent - Spray, 2 oz (Pack of 3)

Other Mosquito Repellent Items: If you don’t like spraying mosquito repellant directly onto your skin, you may want to consider other mosquito repellent items such as bracelets, patches and clothing.

From our personal experience, we haven’t yet found any of these items particularly reliable and when the going gets tough, we’ve always reverted back to good old DEET. However, feel free to do your own research, read reviews and ask other travellers’ advice on how they kept the dreaded mozzies away!

Should you take a mosquito net? Some people consider taking an actual mosquito net with them on their travels, particularly if they are travelling to India, Myanmar or parts of Southeast Asia that are less trodden by tourists, during monsoon season which is when mosquitoes can be at their worst.

We took one with us last year to India and Sri Lanka and found that we actually never used it as most of the hostels we stayed in had nets already. Plus, the one we bought in a rush on Amazon had to be tied to hooks in four separate places on the wall and was simply impractical to put up as it would have meant drilling into the wall of the hostel!

If you really want one, then make sure you get one that comes with a net that’s easy to put up, such as this backpacking mosquito net that has a single suspension that could be tied to a light or a fan on the ceiling, or even a single hook.

Universal Backpackers Mosquito Net for Single to King-Sized Beds – Fully-Enclosed Bed Canopy for Travel or Decoration – Free Bag, Hanging Kit & Adhesive Ceiling Hooks for Easy Setup

A mosquito tennis racquet?  Whenever we stay somewhere long-term, we get one of these rather sadistic items that turns zapping mosquitoes into a sport! These can be bought for a few dollars in many local stores when you arrive in Southeast Asia.

High Factor Sunscreen:

Our Advice? Buy before you leave home

This is non-negotiable no matter where you’re travelling to, but it’s even more important to think about ahead of time because sunscreen comes at a much higher cost in Southeast Asia. Stock up on sun cream at home for a better value.

Remember to check for broad-spectrum coverage – protection against both UVA and UVB raysWe always use Nivea (and have done since I was a child). Anything lower than factor 50 and you’re just asking for trouble in Southeast Asia’s sweltering heat.

Sun Bum Mineral SPF 50 Sunscreen Lotion | Vegan and Reef Friendly (Octinoxate & Oxybenzone Free) Broad Spectrum Natural Sunscreen with UVA/UVB Protection | 3 oz

Sun Protection for your Lips: Also, don’t forget to protect your lips. I burnt my lips really badly once when travelling in South America – it’s painful and also stupid!

After Sun: Despite your desire not to get burnt, it’s always a good idea to take after sun with you to calm your skin. Aloe Vera is the most effective and soothing in our humble opinion. Keep in a fridge at night for an extra soothing application!

Sun Bum Cool Down Aloe Vera Lotion | Vegan and Hypoallergenic After Sun Care with Cocoa Butter to Soothe and Hydrate Sunburn Pain Relief | 8 oz


Our Advice? Buy before you leave home

Let’s face it, the change in water and food can have a serious effect on your system. Many travellers suggested to us that they take probiotics to stay ahead of the game and avoid digestion troubles.

If you’re wondering what probiotics are, they’re live bacteria and yeast that live in your stomach and are actually good for you! The more help you can get can’t the better, right?


Our Advice? Buy before you leave home

We’ve put sunnies tactically in the health section so that you may think of them as a health item rather than a fashion item. While you can find an assortment of multi-coloured fashion sunglasses in local markets when you’re here (Ray Bons!) it’ll be more difficult to find sunglasses that actually protect your eyes. (Many that say they will, and won’t.)

The sun is extremely strong in Southeast Asia and prolonged exposure to UV rays can seriously damage your eyes, especially if you’re used to being in dull, rainy England! We advise that you invest in some decent sunglasses back home that protect your eyes from UVA and UVB rays. Doctors advise that a good pair of sunglasses screen out 75-90% of visible light and block 99% of harmful rays.

Oakley sunglasses are one of the most popular brands for backpackers due to their lightweight frames and high protection technology. They’re not cheap but they’re scratch-resistant, they look pretty stylish and they’ll last you a long time if you look after them!

Oakley Holbrook Sunglasses, Matte Black Frame/Warm Grey Lens, One Size

Tiger Balm (a backpacker’s best friend!):

Buy while you’re in SE Asia

This was an item that was repeatedly mentioned by our readers, so we simply had to include it in our packing checklist. This magic balm turns out to have many more uses than you would imagine!

While some travellers mentioned its classic use for soothing your muscles after long treks, somebody also mentioned that you can apply it to mosquito bites to lessen the discomfort that comes with them. One of you gave us a few other tips, saying you can use Tiger Balm to deal with headaches, a stuffy nose and even a hangover, who knew? Perhaps the most surprising insider tip another of you shared about Tiger Balm is that it can be used for soaking your clothes when sink-washing isn’t cutting it anymore for battling odours!

Tiger Balm Ultra Strength 0.63 oz (Pack of 2)


Our Advice? Buy before you leave home AND while you’re away!

Many of our readers encouraged us to add this to our list, so we did! Travelling life can definitely be freer than usual, so make sure you take precautions…

Women’s Medical Items

Managing periods in Southeast Asia:

Be warned that it’s difficult to find tampons in many parts of SE Asia, especially India. The ones they have in Thailand are terrible plastic things (that can be very uncomfortable), so it’s really best to bring them from home if you’ll need them.

Better still, go plastic-free and invest in a menstrual cup such as a Mooncup, which many female travellers say changed their lives for the better. More on that and other plastic-free travel essentials here.

Menstrual Cup
A menstrual cup is good for the body and the environment!

Contraceptive Pill:

The contraceptive pill is readily available over the counter in almost all countries in Southeast Asia for a very cheap price. (You can buy it in Thailand over the counter for around 60 THB for a one month packet.)

Many of the same brands that you’ll find back home are available, with the active ingredients being the hormones Levonorgestrel and Ethinyl Estradiol.

Birth control may become more difficult to purchase in the Philippines soon, however, due to Catholic pressure groups. Emergency contraception is also readily available and can be bought over the counter in many places in Southeast Asia, but needless to say, you should use other precautions.

Other Medications

Malaria Tablets:

There’s widespread debate about whether or not you should take malaria tablets in Southeast Asia, and it really depends on which country you are going to and where exactly in that country you’ll be going.

In many of the most touristy areas in Southeast Asia, they are unnecessary. However, you will need to look more carefully if you choose to travel to some parts of Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos or Indonesia for example.

There are also a few different kinds of preventative medication depending on where you’re going. We advise you to consult a travel clinic or doctor in your home country before you travel. Here’s some advice from the NHS.

Mosquito on skin
Do everything you can to stop these guys biting you!

Motion sickness tablets:

For those windy bus journeys (Chiang Mai to Pai for example!) or choppy ferry rides, motion sickness tablets come in handy. They can be bought in pharmacies in Southeast Asia, but it wouldn’t hurt to bring some from home.

Ibuprofen or Aspirin: Leave at home!

It’s up to you (and please consult a doctor), but we never take ibuprofen or aspirin while in Asia. These drugs are blood-thinning in their function which is particularly dangerous in a region where Dengue Fever is common. Ibuprofen or Aspirin, when given to suspected Dengue patients, can increase the risk of bleeding and in some cases, haemorrhage. Got a headache? Better stick to paracetamol unless advised by a doctor.


It’s good to have some basic antibiotic with you, like amoxicillin, that can fight any infection that you might pick up. Wounds get infected easily in Southeast Asia due to bacteria in the water and sometimes you may need to take antibiotics to clear it up. Amoxicillin also treats many other kinds of skin, tooth, ear or eye infections, as well as tonsillitis and some STDs.

Don’t forget: Any other medication you’re taking on a regular basis. Travelling with prescription medication takes some pre-planning. Make sure you know exactly what you can and can’t take into each country you’re visiting!


All pretty obvious stuff, and you can get pretty much all of your Western toiletries in Southeast Asia. However, you’re going to want to pack some toiletries in the first place, even if you can replenish your stocks when you arrive. It’s nice to get to your hostel or hotel and be able to have a shower, brush your teeth and freshen up without going shopping first.

Our advice on toiletries? Bring stocks with you and replenish while you’re here.

Shower Stuff:

Shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, body scrub, a bar of soap, hair mask… whatever you like to use in the shower, we don’t need to tell you! However, unless you’re staying in a fancy hotel, leave the bath salts at home – baths are a rarity in Southeast Asia!

Tooth Stuff:

Toothpaste, mouthwash, floss… Again, it can all be bought in Southeast Asia, but it’s good to bring some with you beforehand. Watch out for the salty toothpaste, that stuff’s nasty!


An interesting point on deodorant (mainly for women) is that you’ll need to check the bottle for any signs that suggest it may be ‘whitening’. Yes folks, if you didn’t know already, those big beauty brands have got us all scrambling to try to be something we’re not. In the West, it’s all fake tans and bronzer and in the East, you’ll find whitening creams and soaps! Look out for words such as ‘brightening’ and ‘lightening’.

Toilet Paper:

One of you highlighted the fact that in many remote regions of SE Asia, toilet paper is a luxury. You’re never going to regret always having a spare loo roll in your bag! And, if you find yourself in a crappy predicament (pun intended) in the jungle one traveller advised us ‘soft leaves do the trick’. Thanks for the tip! See more toilet paper alternatives inspired by Asia here!

Make-Up Stuff: Girls – leave it at home!

With the heat and humidity in Southeast Asia, foundation is going to look blotchy and cause clogged up pores. Mascara is going to run and lipstick, just forget it! Go ‘au natural’ with the salt in your hair and some fresh coconut oil on your skin.

Nail-wise, some nail clippers and a nail brush will be useful for personal hygiene purposes, but forget nail varnish and all of the hassle that brings! You can get manicures and pedicures for $10 US all over Southeast Asia!

Shower Toiletry Bag

I never realised, before backpacking, the importance of a decent toiletry bag! In Southeast Asia, the most important thing you need to think about in a toiletry bag is getting one that is made out of mesh material that dries easily.

When you’re travelling from place to place with wet shower stuff you end up with a soggy, smelly bag. Something like this mesh toiletry bag (below) is the kind of thing I’m talking about, but any sturdy, decent quality mesh bag will do.

Moyad Mesh Shower Caddy Portable Toiletry Bag Shower Tote College Dorm Room Essentials for Girls Guys Gym Bag Bathroom Shampoo Bags Beach Bag Camping Shower Organizer Hanging Mesh Zipper Bag, Black

Clothes Advice For Women

There are a few things that us girls need to consider when choosing which clothes to pack for Southeast Asia. As a general rule, all of the clothes that you bring should be lightweight and not easily creased.

Don’t bring any of your favourite tops or dresses as they will just get ruined. Suncream, packing and repacking and vigorous laundry washes will ruin delicate items, fade fabrics and turn all whites grey or brown. Think simple. 

Get kitted out like a ‘backpacker’ on Khao San Road!
  • Tops – Vest tops (tank tops) and a few t-shirts that cover your shoulders in case you’re visiting temples or more conservative areas will come in handy.
  • Bottoms – Shorts (at least one pair that doesn’t show your bum cheeks!) and at least one pair of long loose trousers, again for conservative areas and temple visits. Although Thailand and many parts of Southeast Asia are very liberal, there are times when it is wise to cover up. A pair of leggings for overnight bus journeys are comfy.
  • A hoodie and an emergency pair of socks – This is solely for wearing on some modes of transport in Southeast Asia where they whack the air-conditioning up so high that you’ll freeze your ass off! A hoodie also makes a good pillow.
  • Swimsuit – Despite the fact that almost every beach resort in Southeast Asia has market stall after market stall of swimwear for sale, there is often a very limited selection when it comes to larger sizes. (Thai sizes are usually very tiny.) If you’re bigger than a C cup, bring extra bikinis with you as they’ll be hard to find on this side of the world.
  • Sundresses – Really handy for throwing on over your swimsuit or for lazy days. Bring one or two with you but remember that you’ll probably want to buy more when you get here as there’s every colour, style and fabric available (but not every size).
  • Sarong – This comes in handy as an alternative to a towel and you can also wear it as a skirt, which will be convenient for covering your legs when visiting Buddhist or Hindu temples. Not to mention that it can be used as another layer of warmth, either as a blanket or big scarf or for protecting your head from the sun as a headscarf. You may also want to cover a pillow that’s questionably clean in your hostel.
  • Sun hat – Your head gear of choice to protect your head from that fierce sun.
  • Rain jacket – Many people bring a lightweight rainjacket with them to protect them from spontaneous downpours while travelling. If you forget it, you can buy a full-length poncho from the 7-11 or a local shop while you’re here for less than a $1. You’ll see locals wearing them on motorbikes all across the region.
  • ‘Going out’ clothes – Partying in Southeast Asia is a super casual affair. Unless you plan on going to some swanky rooftop bars in Bangkok, you’re not going to need any dressy outfits. Of an evening, be it the Full Moon Party or a trendy city bar, backpackers go out in sundresses and flip-flops. (Heels? Forget it!) 
  • Hair-ties / Bobbles: You can never have enough! Long-haired ladies, I’m talking to you. They just disappear, but where do they go?! I’ll mention hairbrush here while we’re on the topic.
  • Sunglasses: See above.

Clothes Advice For Men

Again, men need to think light fabrics that are not easily creased. The less the better.

  • Tops – Stay cool in Southeast Asia with some vests (singlets or tank tops). If you’re not a logo kind of guy, you might want to invest in some plain singlets before you travel as it’ll be impossible to buy one that isn’t emblazoned with a beer logo or something even less tasteful when you get here. Again, it’s wise to bring a t-shirt or two with sleeves for temple visits (or burnt shoulder days).
Men's T-shirts for sale on Khao San Road
Men’s T-shirts for sale on Khao San Road, Bangkok.
  • Bottoms – Shorts and at least one pair of light, loose trousers for wearing to visit temples.
  • A hoodie and an emergency pair of socks – While Southeast Asia is scorching hot for the most part, you will get the odd chilly evening and you can never underestimate how cold they will make the air-conditioning on those overnight buses! A hoodie also makes a good pillow.
  • Swimsuit – Speedos or board shorts, whatever your style.
  • Sun hat, cap or bandana – What headgear you prefer to protect your head from that fierce sun.
  • Sarong – For taking to the beach, for covering up your legs or shoulders at temples or for drying yourself when you’ve forgotten to bring a towel, a sarong has many uses for the backpacker and they’re completely unisex.
  • Rain jacket – Whether you’re travelling during the rainy season or not, it’s a good idea to bring a lightweight rain jacket with you as Southeast Asia’s weather can be unpredictable in all seasons. If you don’t have one, you can always get yourself a plastic poncho from the 7-11 or a local shop for less than $1 when you arrive.
  • ‘Going out’ clothes – Boys, you will not need shirts or dressy trousers for going out in Southeast Asia. The dress code is very casual and a male backpackers outfit rarely alters as day transitions to night. You could have a wash though.
  • Sunglasses: See above.

Underwear – Men & Women

Buy before you leave home!

We have full confidence in the fact that you’ve already planned for this, but you might want to bring extras. For those of you being super frugal with your packing, yes, you can wash your pants in the sink with some washing powder every night, but why not just chuck in some extra pairs to save the hassle!

Buying underwear in Southeast Asia is notoriously difficult. Unless you like itchy polyester underwear with Hello Kitty’s face staring at you (men too!), it’s best to bring a large collection from home.

It’s difficult to find comfortable cotton underwear that isn’t super tight (they make underwear really small in Asia!) so be prepared or prepare to go commando!


The best shoes for travel are hugely debated when it comes to planning a Southeast Asia trip. In our opinion, the fewer pairs the better.

We’d recommend three pairs to be precise (depending on what activities you plan on doing you can drop the last pair) in this list. Girls. Don’t even think about bringing heels.

A cheap pair of flip flops:

Havaianas are the flip flop of choice for Southeast Asia backpackers and many people claim they’re comfier than your average flip flop!

Whatever flips you buy, they are likely to break or you will lose one (or both of them), so just bring a cheap pair and prepare to buy new ones every three months or so.

Havaianas Women's Slim Flip Flop Sandal, Black, 7-8

Some good walking sandals: 

For countryside treks or walking around cities, you’ll need a sturdy pair of travel sandals. The KEEN brand gets very good reviews and we reckon it’s worth spending a bit more money here as you’ll put these shoes to the test! See below: KEEN Women’s Rose Sandal.

KEEN Women's Rose Sandal, Black/Neutral Gray,9 M US

Trainers, running or hiking shoes:  If you plan on doing any serious hiking while you’re here, or you’re a runner, you’re going to need something more than sandals. You’ll need a filled-in shoe (protection from snakes isn’t a joke!) that you can wear with sports socks.

Take a look at the range by Merrell, who make really decent shoes for hiking for both men and women.

Merrell Women's Moab 2 Waterproof Hiking Shoe, Drizzle/Mint, 8.5 M US

Useful Practical Items to Consider

Filtered Water Bottle:

Our Advice? Buy before you leave home

The use of plastic is already out of control in Southeast Asia so us travellers should try to be as eco-friendly as possible when we travel. Many islands in SE Asia are home to landfills where thousands of plastic water bottles end up after being thrown away by tourists – so don’t be part of the problem!

Buy a reusable bottle and fill up with clean water at refill stations where you can. Or, better still, invest in a proper filtered water bottle which turns any water (and we mean any water, even toilet water!) into drinkable water, so that you’ll never be without! Check out our comparison article of the best filtered water bottle for travel here. 

The hugely celebrated Grayl Geopress will last you a lifetime! Read our review of the Grayl Geopress here. The newer, smaller, lighter UltraPress might be even better for travellers!

GRAYL UltraPress Water Purifier (20% Off)
Want Clean Water On The Go?

The Grayl UltraPress allows you to drink from almost any water source, a flowing stream, mountain lake or a hostel tap.

  • Avoid Single-Use Plastics
  • Avoid Wasting Money
  • Avoid Travellers' Diarrhea

More on eco-friendly travel items here.

Small Padlock:

Our Advice? Buy before you leave home

As I mentioned above, it’s best to take two backpacks with you to Southeast Asia, a larger backpack (that you can store in the luggage compartments of planes, trains and buses) and a smaller daypack for your valuables that you’ll keep eternally by your side.

To secure these, and prevent anything from being stolen, it’s wise to invest in a couple of small, strong (and lightweight) padlocks. Combination padlocks are the best as it means you aren’t stuck if you lose the key!

TSA Luggage Locks (2 Pack) - 4 Digit Combination Steel Padlocks - Approved Travel Lock for Suitcases & Baggage - Green

Travel Towel:

Our Advice? Buy on Amazon before you leave home

Take the guessing game out of your towel source. Just invest in your own travel towel. They’re lightweight, quick to dry and fold down to a compact size for easy packing.

To be prepared for anything, follow one traveller’s steps and go for a military-grade towel. Another one of you schooled us on all the possible uses of a travel towel, from its ability to double as a blanket or shelter to its functionality as a scarf or weapon (use your towel at your own risk).

The Youphoria Quick Dry Travel Towel, pictured below, was voted the best. Check out our comparison article on the best travel towel for backpackers here.

Youphoria Microfiber Travel Towel Fast Drying Lightweight - Quick Dry Towel & Camping Towel - 3 Size Options

Ear Plugs:

Our Advice? Buy before you leave home

Unless you want to join in, you may want to block out the tunes during karaoke on overnight bus rides (no joke!). Plus, you never know when you’ll find yourself stuck sleeping in a noisy dorm room or wanting to filter out your chatty travel buddy!

The Travel Ear Plugs (pictured below) also help with pressure on the plane if you have sensitive ears.

Reusable Silicone Earplugs, 8 Pairs of Noise Reduction Ear Plugs, Suitable for Sleeping, Swimming, Snoring, Concerts, Airplanes, Travel, Work, Noisy Places

Travel Pillow:

Our Advice? Buy before you leave home

Think of your neck! A travel pillow is something you will not want to find yourself without on any flights you take or during overnight bus rides.

Check out the Trtl Pillow, which is half the size of a normal travel pillow and weighs only 148 grams! Ideal for backpackers as it attaches easily to your backpack!

trtl Pillow - Scientifically Proven Super Soft Neck Support Travel Pillow - Machine Washable (Grey)

Silk Sleeping Liner:

Our Advice? Buy before you leave home

Carrying one of these will make hygiene from hostel to hostel more manageable, not to mention that it might save you from a bed bug nightmare!

Check out our full comparison article on the best sleeping bag liner for travel here or head straight for the most popular sleeping bag liner made by Sea To Summit.

Sea to Summit Adaptor Coolmax Sleeping Bag Liner and Travel Bedding, Rectangular w/Insect Shield (85x36)

Diary or Sketchbook:

Connect with your travel experiences the old-fashioned way and keep a written (or drawn) record of what you see and do. It’s a great way to reflect on your trip and journaling every evening can be quite a comforting routine. If you’re not much of a writer, let the ‘You Are Here: A Mindful Travel Journal‘ guide your creativity.

You Are Here: A Mindful Travel Journal

Duct Tape:

Things might accumulate wear and tear throughout your travels. Duct tape fixes most things.

Waterproof cover for your backpack:

If you don’t already have one, it may be a good idea to get a separate waterproof cover for your backpack. Depending on the size of your backpack they are around $10 USD and will be an extremely important item if you get caught in a downpour. The Joy Walker Backpack Rain Cover (below) is well priced and gets good reviews.  

Joy Walker Backpack Rain Cover Waterproof Breathable Suitable for Hiking/Camping/Traveling(for 40-55L Backpack)

Laundry Bag:

You’ll want a way to separate your smellies (and very smellies) from your cleans. Whether this is just a sturdy plastic bag or a proper travel laundry bag that’s up to you.


Our Advice? Buy before you leave home


If you’re into photography, a camera is an essential item to capture the amazing scenes of Southeast Asia. Check out the excellent guide to buying a camera for travelling by our pals over at Nomadasaurus here.

Mobile Phone:

A mobile phone is, of course, an essential item these days. In all Southeast Asian countries, it’s really easy and cheap to get yourself set up with a local SIM card when you get here and have call time, as well as 3G, 4G and in some cases, 5G internet as you travel around. (But don’t spend too much time staring at your screen!)


It goes with the item above of course. You don’t want to forget your headphones for overnight buses (believe us!) Spend some time before you go sorting yourself out a good travel playlist and while you’re at it, subscribe to some good travel podcasts – we love ’em!

Portable Charger / Power Bank:

Worried about going without your smartphone during your expeditions? A portable charger is for most people, an essential item to fit in your backpack. There’s a huge range of power banks available. Some provide a single charge to the newest iPhone or Galaxy while others can hold 10 full charges of power!

USB Pen Drive

It’s likely that you’ll need to print something, like visas or plane tickets, during your travels, so it will save you time and energy if you’re prepared with a USB Drive.

Head Torch:

Don’t be the person who turns the dorm light on. A torch or a head torch will also serve you well for reading on overnight trains, night treks, as well as helping you spot any snakes or scorpions at night, so you don’t step on them when you’re finding your way drunk back to your bungalow in the jungle!

Check out our comparison article of the best head torches here.

PETZL, ACTIK CORE Rechargeable Headlamp with 450 Lumens for Running and Hiking, Black

Travel Adaptor

You can buy plug adaptors when you arrive in each new country, or you can get yourself a universal travel adaptor to save the hassle.

Unidapt Universal Travel Adapter, International Plug Adaptor Outlet Wall Charger Converter with 5.6A Smart Power and 3.0A USB Type C US to EU, AU, UK, USA

Kindle or E-Reader

Gone are the days of lugging heavy books around in your backpack and we’re sorry to say that second-hand bookshops, which used to be on every street corner in Southeast Asia, are now dwindling. While we love the feel and smell of a good book, it can’t be denied that carrying a Kindle or e-reader on your travels is way more practical.

A regular 2GB Kindle can hold up to 1,000 books! You’re going to have to take a lot of train journeys to get through those! (We like the glare-free models the best, which are easiest to read in bright sunlight.)

All-new Kindle Paperwhite (8 GB) – Now with a 6.8" display and adjustable warm light – Ad-Supported

Small Lightweight Laptop

Are you a digital nomad or budding travel journalist? If you’re wanting to take a laptop with you on your travels, you’ll need to look at the size and weight as your priorities. You also don’t want something really expensive in case it gets damaged or you lose it (unless you protect it with travel insurance). Check out our comparison article on the best travel laptops here. 


Of course, don’t forget your chargers for all the items above! (I’ve done that before.)

Essential Items & Paperwork

You’re going to be in some trouble if you forget these items!

  • Passport – Come on folks…
  • Photocopies of your passport – Important in case of loss or theft.
  • Cards – Debit, credit.
  • Pre-paid Travel Cards – Something that you might want to look into. Travellers in our community have been recommending Monzo or Starling.
  • Money – Some cash in the local currency where you’re starting is a good idea for taxis, local transport when you arrive at the airport.
  • A printed copy of your travel insurance – To keep with you at all times in case of emergency.
  • Extra passport photos – Always handy for visas. (And for checking how clean and well kept you used to look before you set of travelling!)

Non-essential Items

The following are by no means necessary, but if you’re a music lover, a yogi, you love to chill or you’re a tea fanatic, you may like to consider bringing the following!

Portable Speakers:

Perhaps you want to throw a party or two in your dorm room. Music is necessary, obviously. Many travellers recommend JBL speakers, which are compact and powerful (although rather pricey!). You could also look at Bluetooth speakers. Let your dormmates hear that playlist you spent hours making on the flight over!


No worries if you’ve never played the Ukulele or any other instrument for that matter. They’re super beginner-friendly and you’ll be feeling and sharing the music in no time. Take a look at our list of the best ukuleles for travellers.

Portable Hammock:

Waiting for those nights under the stars? You’ll be more comfortable and safe from snakes and scorpions if you bring along a hammock. Find a spot with sturdy trees, tie it up and relax. Check out our article about backpacking hammocks here.

Travel Yoga Mat:

Are you the kind of person who can’t imagine your daily life without a salute to the sun in the morning? If you are, then you might consider taking a portable yoga mat with you on your travels.

These days, there are many lightweight and foldable yoga mats that will fit easily in your backpack and leave you ready to pop out a downward dog whenever the mood takes you. The Manduka eKO SuperLite Mat is a popular choice!

Manduka eKO Superlite Travel Yoga Mat – Premium 1.5mm Thick Travel Mat, Portable Yoga, Pilates, Eco-Friendly Fitness Exercise Mat, Dense Cushioning for Support and Stability, Biodegradable - 71 Inch, Acai Color

Travel Kettle?

If you find it hard to go without a cup of tea while you travel (hey I’m English I can’t help it), then you might want to take your own kettle with you. It may be an extra weight but when you’re in your room with a cup of tea at night you’ll find it all worth it! Read our comparison article on travel kettles here.

Why not use Packing Cubes?

Any organization lovers out there? This one’s for you. Packing your clothes in packing cells (separate ones for underwear, tops, bottoms etc.) will keep everything neater and you won’t need to take everything out every time you’re looking for something!

The TravelWise Packing Cubes do a good job. If you want to find out more about packing cubes and the best and cheapest options, check out our packing cubes review article here.

TravelWise Luggage Packing Organization Cubes 5 Pack, Lime, 2 Small, 2 Medium, 1 Large

Do you have an essential backpacking item that we didn’t mention in our checklist? Let us know in the South East Asia Backpacker Facebook Community!

Nikki Scott - Founder South East Asia Backpacker
Nikki Scott | Founder & Editor

Nikki is the founding editor of South East Asia Backpacker and The Backpacker Network. In her early twenties, she left her home in the North of England on a solo backpacking adventure and never returned! After six months on the road, she founded a print magazine that became legendary on the Banana Pancake Trail. The rest is history.

Find me: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

3 thoughts on “Packing List Southeast Asia: Your Ultimate Travel Checklist!”

  1. Hi,
    I have just found your site in preping for a trip to Lao and Vietnam in a few weeks. Thanks for the general advice.
    However, in your packing list for SouthEast Asia on Sunscreen you do not mention Reef Safe Sunscreen. Most tourists spend some time at the beach when in South East Asia so should be aware of the damage traditional sunscreens do to sealife and reefs. There are a growing number of Reef Safe Sunscreens available which I encourage you to promote.

    1. Hi Ben, this is an excellent point and we have been considering featuring an article about reef-safe sunscreen for some time! I will bump it up our to-do list and be sure to mention it on this packing list to! Do you have any particular brand of sunscreen that you would recommend? Thanks for the suggestion!

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