Traveling through Southeast Asia is the definition of backpacking. Not only does it offer an adventure at every turn – it’s also gorgeous, diverse, culturally-rich, party-packed (if you’re into that sort of thing) and hospitable – and did we mention that it’s super cheap? If you like the idea of comfortably covering costs of accommodation, transportation, and meals for less than $50/day, you’ll be in heaven.
South east Asia covers nine different countries – Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam – and the 9th is Singapore. Each country has varying activities, traditions and weather conditions – so you probably have a lot of questions about exactly what to pack for Southeast Asia.
And you’ve come to the right place to get your answers! We’ve put together this Southeast Asia survival guide that includes your top needs packing list, tips on what to wear in SE Asia to be comfortable and culturally appropriate.
Ok, let’s dive right in!
The Ultimate Southeast Asia Packing List
Nomatic Travel Bag
- Capacity > 30L
- Price > $299
Nomatic Navigator Carry On
- Capacity > 37L
- Price > $400
GoPro Hero 11
- Resolution > 5k
- Price > $400
Arc’teryx Beta AR Jacket
- Price > $600
Insurance From World Nomads
- Price > Click For a Quote
For many of you, this may be your first proper backpacking trip. With that in mind we shall ease you in and tell you exactly what to bring to Southeast Asia.
By the way, Southeast Asia is very popular with bloggers, influencers and ex-pats. If this is you, then check out our Digital Nomad packing list too.
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Best Backpack For South east Asia: Nomatic Travel Bag
Before you even take on the task of figuring out what to pack for Southeast Asia, you’ll need an amazing backpack to pack it all into. For all types of travelers and destinations, our number one recommendation is the Nomatic Travel Bag.
The Nomatic travel bag covers every detail to make backpacking travel the best experience. Because of its smart design, it manages to provide loads of packing space in a convenient, carry-on size package! Its handy built-in pockets make plenty of room for all the necessities on your what to pack for SEA checklist – you’ll find separate compartments for important items like shoes, water bottle, electronics, underwear and darn tough socks. As an added bonus, there’s also an RFID-safe and cord management pocket.
You have a choice between backpack or duffel bag carry, and extra carrying comfort for your back thanks to its innovative strap system and detachable sternum strap. And its black, waterproof material is every bit sleek and modern as it is durable and tough. There is a reason why most Broke Backpacker staff swear by this backpack.
Best Suitcase For Southeast Asia: Nomatic Carry-On Pro
Backpacks not your thing? That’s ok. Our friends at Nomatic are back again with a great alternative to their badass Travel Bag; the Nomatic Carry-On Pro.
This suitcase is ultra-durable, sleek, and comes with a handy tech compartment for transporting your laptop and other electronic bits. Nomatic has been an industry leader when it comes to travel gear and that reputation is reflected in the quality build design and functionality of the Carry-On Pro suitcase.
This is another one for minimalists. However, the big advantage is that you carry it on meaning you get to take advantage of the ultra cheap flights within Southeast Asia.
Check out our Nomatic Carry-On Pro review to learn more about this epic suitcase.
Best Camera For Southeast Asia: GoPro Hero9 Black
For most of us, our smartphones now feature cameras with stunning photo capabilities.
But… if you are an aspiring photographer who wants to take next-level photos and video beyond iPhone selfies, I recommend going with an action camera like the GoPro Hero9 Black.
It does deliver pro-quality video and gives you a bunch of a different angle options and shooting speeds to work with for photos (including a selfie-mode).
Think of a camera purchase like this as a long term investment that will have you capturing epic shots well beyond your time exploring here.
If you are looking for something cheaper for video specifically, check out these epic GoPro Alternatives.
Best Sim For Southeast Asia – HolaFly eSim
The good news about Southeast Asia is that there is extensive 4g and 5g Internet coverage, taxi apps and food delivery apps. The bad news is that your native SIM card will not work and so you will not be able to access any of this online goodness until you rectify that particular situation.
You can waste time hanging around Thai phone shops queuing to get a local SIM card or you can is,ply install a eSim onto your phone before you leave home. You just access the HolaFly site, choose the packages for the country you need, download it and off you go – you are online the moment you land at the airport.
eSims are easier to set up and better than the environment than plastic sims. The downside is that not all phones are eSim ready.
Packing Cubes For Southeast Asia – Wandrd Packing Cubes
In case you have never used them, packing cubes are little compression cubes that allow you to neatly pack clothes in in order to help facilitate better packing. They allow you to pack more stuff, and to keep it all better organised.
For the longest time, I thought that packing cubes were a superfluous indulgence, but boy was I wrong. Now I never travel without a few.
These ones from WANDRD are great quality and excellent value for money. If you decide to pack light, then just buy the smaller ones.
Pack For Southeast Asia Checklist: Personal Gear
Here is a packing tip and a life lesson – never leave home without underwear. Now that’s out the way, let’s run through our Southeast Asia checklist (drum roll please…).
Packing for Southeast Asia is for the most part pretty simple – a few pairs of shorts and flip flops will take you pretty fair and there is no shortage of markets selling funky shirts and “Leo Beer” vests.
However, it does pay to have a think about the time of year you are visiting and about any activities you wish to do. For example, if you are going trekking or camping you need good gear. If you are visiting in rainy season you may need a poncho!
Sandals: OluKai ‘Ohana Flip-Flops
Circling back to the footwear question, now we are going to talk about sandals. Sandals or flip flips or thongs (whatever) are very useful for travelling Southeast Asia. Just remember to trim your toe nails and I personally would not drive a scooter or motorbike wearing these unless you are open to the idea of losing a toe.
Your feet will be tired and sweaty from those long days wearing shoes so do yourself a favor: pack sandals and give your feet some well-deserved cushion and fresh air. These Olukai flip flops are ultra-comfortable, well-made, and come in a variety of colors.
Check out the women’s OluKai ‘Ohana Flip-Flops.
A Good Daypack for Hiking – Osprey Daylite Plus
If you intend on doing any hiking, camping, day trips or even going to temples during your Southeast Asia trip then you will need a daypack. They are great for carrying water, hat’s and gloves and for packing sandwiches for lunch. We love Osprey products and this daypack is our personal pick. It is also very good for beach days and you can fit in your towel, speaker and an inflatable dinghy.
The Osprey Daylite Plus has a mesh-covered panel to keep your back cool and fresh by minimizing contact with the back of the pack itself and allowing air to get between you and the pack.
Check out our full review of the Osprey Daylite plus for more details.
Additionally, you can attach it to other Osprey packs in case you want to add more capacity and carry just one piece of luggage… but the reviews on this feature are mixed.
Good Shoes For Southeast Asia – Salomon X Ultra 3 Low Aero
I won’t lie to you, a lot of backpackers in Southeast Asia survive the entire trip in flip flops. Other’s go barefoot a lot of the time. However, we recommend a good pair of tactical shoes – and remember, we are the professionals.
These are useful for hiking, for exploring cities and offer your feet some protection in the event they get mangled in a scooter – believe us, it happens. Take this opportunity to be good to your feet and buy pair today. I mean, your body is already going to be suffering enough from all of those full moon booze buckets you’ll be drinking and all that unprotected sex you’ll be having.
Showing the souls of your feet is also considered to be a faux-pas in many parts of SEA – you won’t have that problem with these!
Check out the women’s Salomon X Ultra 3 Low Aero.
Good Rain Jacket For South East Asia – Arcteryx Beta AR
Did you know that the surface of the earth is 70% covered in water? And you know how that water got there? Yep because it tends to here rain here on planet earth quite a lot!
There is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong gear for it. Don’t let a bit (of a lot) of rain ruin your trip and make sure you are ready with some top notch rain gear. I was recently in Bali during the rainy season – it rained – everyday. Thankfully I had a rain jacket. If you are packing for Southeast Asia in rainy season, then remember to bring a rain jacket yeah?
This is our pick of the many rain jackets we have tried. It’s reliable & stylish and looks good worn out in the mountains or in city bars.
Best Sunglasses For Southeast Asia – Abaco Sunglasses
They’re built tough with triple-layer scratch-resistant lenses and trademarked Adventure-proof Frame Material. You can also customize them with your choice of lens and frame colors to reflect your own style.
In Southeast Asia, you’re never more than a drunken belly flop away from a blue ocean, an infinity pool or a “what could possibly go wrong” drunken river rapid inflatable ring. So make sure you pack your newest, nicest, cleanest and sexiest swimwear.
We’re not going to tell you what to wear in Southeast Asia (but elephant pants are a thing) but don’t forget Swimming clothes. Please. If you only pack one thing on this list, make it this (and your passport and insurance).
Travel First Aid Kit
You don’t need to tote around half a pharmacy, but a well-stocked first aid kit should be in all our backpacks. Stuff happens on the road and it’s inconvenient and embarrassing when you can’t manage small situations like a cut finger or hangover migraine.
You can tuck this lifesaver away in a forgotten pocket – and it’ll be there when you need it.
Tip: Add a few bits and pieces to the first aid kit after you purchase it, like extra headache medicine, any personal meds you need (like allergy pills), whatever you take to calm your stomach and a few more plasters.
Keeping a journal is one of the best things to do when traveling. The Drifter Leather Journal by Kodiak is our favorite, it works great for digital nomads and organized backpackers and can be used as planner or a dream diary – whatever you want!
Keep on track with your goals, travels and save those precious memories, especially the ones you do not want to share online. This one is bound in beautiful leather so it looks beautiful and will withstand life on the road.
Travel Insurance From World Nomads
ALWAYS sort out your backpacker insurance before your trip. There’s plenty to choose from in that department, but a good place to start is Safety Wing.
They offer month-to-month payments, no lock-in contracts, and require absolutely no itineraries: that’s the exact kind of insurance long-term travellers and digital nomads need.
SafetyWing is cheap, easy, and admin-free: just sign up lickety-split so you can get back to it!
Click the button below to learn more about SafetyWing’s setup or read our insider review for the full tasty scoop.
Suncream: Thinksport Safe SPF 50+
Backpackers in Southeast Asia can be neatly divided into 2 categories – the ones who packed & use sunscreen and the reddened, perma-peeling lobsters. Which side do you wanna be on?
Thinksport Safe SPF 50+ sunscreen gives folks strong sun protection in a non-oily formula that’s free of gluten, paraben, phthalates and biologically harmful chemicals.
Seriously guys, it is all too easy to neglect to put sunscreen on but please dont. Getting burned can cause long term health damage.
A Hat – Patagonia Fitz Roy Trucker
The poet and songwriter Pete Doherty once said, “there are few more distressing sights than that of an Englishman in a baseball cap”. Well let me assure you that one infinitely more distressing sight is that of this particular Englishmens sunburned forehead hiding beneath monsoon- humid hair.
Baseball caps are great sun-blockers and great for hiding unsightly backpacker hair. I bought one and never looked back. They’re presumably also good for playing baseball.
Patagonia makes great hats. I have probably bought three or four of these over the last five years. Simple. Practical. Comfortable. That is what you are after.
The Basic Stuff To Pack For Southeast Asia
On top of the essential items listed above, here is an additional suggested checklist of what to pack for a trip to Southeast Asia:
- 1-2 pairs of comfortable pants/jeans
- 1-2 pairs of shorts (summer/late spring)
- A few pairs of socks
- (Sexy) underwear x 5
- Smartphone with a good camera for photos if you are not bringing an actual camera
- Portable power bank for charging your phone on the go
- Phone charger
- Amazon Kindle for reading by the pool
- Condoms. STI’s are not as much fun as they are cracked up to be.
- Copy of your passport just in case
- Cash (not too much, there are ATM machines in major cities and tourist spots)
- Packable Towel
- A packable backpack
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Final Thoughts on What to Pack for Southeast Asia
There you have it, adventurous friends! Your ultimate Southeast Asian survival guide complete with a top-22 needs packing list, a seasonal breakdown of weather conditions with wardrobe recommendations, what NOT to pack to save yourself space and extra weight, and our favorite travel bag to pack it all into.
Now you know all you need to know about what to pack for Southeast Asia – so set your mind at ease. Just keep in mind every backpacker’s golden rule – less is more. Stay focused on the essentials that will ensure comfortable and safe travels, and you’re good to.
Now – get excited – because you’re about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime in all the splendor that is Southeast Asia!
And for transparency’s sake, please know that some of the links in our content are affiliate links. That means that if you book your accommodation, buy your gear, or sort your insurance through our link, we earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you). That said, we only link to the gear we trust and never recommend services we don’t believe are up to scratch. Again, thank you!