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.
Southeast 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
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.
The Backpack and Luggage: 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 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.
Alternative Luggage: AER Travel Pack 2
Our number two selection for an epic travel backpack is the AER Travel Pack 2. Like the Nomatic Travel Bag, this AER backpack is fully featured, big enough to hold an extended weekend of clothing, and tough enough to last years of travel abuse. We’ll be honest though, for a whole SEA trip, this one is only good for extreme minimalist packers – personally, this would not do me at at all.
I have taken the AER Travel Pack 2 on multiple trips and since then it has risen has in the ranks of my go-to travel backpacks.
Check out our AER Travel Pack 2 review to learn more.
A Suitcase: 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.
The Camera: 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.
What To Pack For Southeast Asia: Personal Gear
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!
Southeast Asia Checklist
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…).
Good Shoes – 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 – 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.
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.
Travel Insurance From World Nomads
I hate to be a Killjoy Keith but heavy subject matter alert. Every single year, young backpackers in Southeast Asia are seriously injured or get very sick. Others are sadly killed. Without insurance, these young backpackers are left facing hefty hospital bills (and its a case of “no pay = no passport Mr”) or there poor families are left trying to scramble together $5k too fly their bodies home.
I admit I traveled for many years without having travel insurance. Because of it, I paid the price a few times in foreign hospitals. Don’t cheap out over what amounts to a few bucks per day – get covered.
We use either World Nomads or SafetyWing. You’ll be happy you did if the time comes to use it.
Sun God Sunglasses
A reliable pair of sunglasses is undoubtedly one of your Southeast Asia packing essentials. Without them, prepare to spend 2 months squinting a lot. Our favorites are these SunGod Sunglasses because they deliver on quality and style.
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 lense and frame colors to reflect your own style. Plus they’re covered by SunGod’s lifetime guarantee of free repair. Check our in-depth review here.
Oh, and they also work like X-ray specs and you can see people’s underwear! OK so that last bit may not be true.
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.
Another backpacker/traveler favorite for staying organized is a hanging toiletry bag. It’s extremely helpful to have all of your accessories neatly gathered in one bag that you can hang for easy accessibility, especially when counter space isn’t plentiful or even available. A well-organized bag is worth having whether you’re tree whilst camping or a hook in the wall – it helps to have quick access to all your stuff.
Historically, I have been the guy who has my stuff all over the bathroom, so getting one of these things really changed the toiletry game for me. Plus they are not too expensive either. A no-brainer essential and absolute Godsend for those of us who bum from one hostel to the next.
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 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.
Your Passport or Other Government ID
Southeast Asia spans 9 countries, 9 borders and 9 immigration policies. Whilst I like to think I can blag my way into anywhere, a passport is probably still a good back up. Make sure you bring your passport, make sure it has 6 months left on it and check the visa situation of each country you visit because they do differ quite a lot.
Also carry a few photocopies to use as toilet paper.
If you are anything like me, then you probably like water? In fact, I honestly think I might even die without it.
Whilst plastic water bottles are plentiful and cheap across SEA, single-use plastic bottles are a huge threat to Marine Life – Be a part of the solution and travel with a filter water bottle.
The GRAYL GEOPRESS water bottle is the ONLY all-in-one filter water bottle setup you’ll need. Whether you need to purify the water from a hostel sink in Kathmandu or a stream trickle in the Andes, the Geopress has got you covered.
Read our full review of the GRAYL GEOPRESS!
A Good Daypack for Hiking – Osprey Daylite Plus
If you intend on doing any hiking, camping, day trips or even going to temples 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.
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.
You should always have emergency cash hidden on you – pick up this awesome security belt with its hidden pocket before you travel, it’s perfect for hiding money, a passport photocopy.
Let’s face it; for the foreseeable future, COVID 19 hysteria is just going to be a part of travel. How do we do our best to mitigate the 0.01% risk while still traveling and experience life’s pleasures? Pack the right PPE gear and placate peoples concerns!
Southeast Asia takes masks and virus control measures VERY seriously. Whenever you travel on public transport or enter indoor crowded spaces, masks may well be mandatory.
- Bring a Mask.
- Bring Hand sanitizer and wash your hands often.
- Consider disposable gloves for slot machines or other when touching other stuff that hundreds of other people have also touched that day. From an environmental point of view, these types of gloves are fuc**** awful. Use these only when necessary and keep in mind these things are very polluting and will end up in a landfill after one use.
Sleeping Bag – Nemo Disco 15
Next up on our list of what to bring to Southeast Asia is a sleeping bag. At some point in your trip to Southeast, you will probably go camping. If not then at the very least will spend a night at a hostel with insufficient bedding, or with dirty bedding that you would rather not lay in. Therefore bringing a sleeping bag is often a great investment.
There are a LOT of sleeping bags on the market today and we have tried a lot of them. The quality and standards varies and not always in correlation with the price – pricey does not always mean better. The Nemo Disco 15 is a great all rounder sleeping bag packing in warmth, durability and a reasonable price tag.
Electricity has arrived in Southeast Asia. However, your phone charger and hairdryer will probably not work unless you bag yourself an adapter.
One of the best investments you can make is a worldwide travel adapter that will work anywhere! The one featured here is tough, reliable and a solid buy – Don’t leave home without one.
Buy your travel adapter on Amazon now.
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
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!
Also – don’t forget to sort your travel insurance! We’ve put together a roundup of the best travel insurance for backpackers, or if you’re low on time, get a quote from World Nomads now, our favourite travel insurance provider.
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