Southeast Asia. Known for its hot, humid climate. The land of flip-flops and hippie pants.
Sounds like a pretty easy part of the world to pack for, right?
Well, yes and no. It's true that packing for my 7-week trip was not as difficult as the dual-climate trip I had to pack for around the same time last year, but it also wasn't as easy a throwing some tank tops and flip flops in a bag, either.
Here's why this trip was still tricky:
- I was going to London and Hong Kong (and northern Vietnam) before heading to the hot, steamy part of Asia — meaning I still needed things like pants, a heavier jacket, and shoes other than flip-flops.
- Southeast Asia, hot as it is, is home to more conservative cultures — meaning short shorts and tank tops are actually inappropriate in many cases. I therefore had to make sure I had longer, knee-length pieces in my bag, as well as t-shirts I could layer for visiting temples and other religious sites (because many times throwing a scarf around your shoulders won't cut it).
- I was spending a week volunteering at an elephant park in Thailand — meaning I needed clothes that could get ruined, as well as sturdy, closed-toed shoes.
- I knew that once I got to the hotter destinations, I would be sweating A LOT — meaning I needed to bring a few extra things so I didn't have to worry about doing laundry every 2 or 3 days.
Here's how I dealt with these challenges:
- I found some soft, thin pants that would work in all sorts of weather conditions, and packed a pair of TOMs for the plane and London.
- I purchased a down jacket at home for London and Hong Kong, which compressed into a small pouch for the rest of the trip.
- I bought a pair of Keen Whisper sandals, which have a closed-toe, but also work as walking sandals. This way I didn't have to bring a pair of sneakers just for the elephant park.
- I also bought 2 extra pairs of shorts and 2 tank tops at a market right before going to the elephant park, which I wore for the dirtier tasks throughout the week, and then donated to the park afterwards.
In the end, here's a look at what exactly went into my Kelty Redwing 44-liter backpack:
- 5 T-shirts
- 4 tank tops
- 2 dresses (one knee-length, one maxi)
- 2 skirts (one knee-length, one maxi)
- 2 pairs of shorts
- 2 pairs of thin pants
- 1 pair of leggings
- 1 layering shirt
- 1 cropped sweater
- 1 dressier shirt
- 1 zip-up hoodie
- 1 rain jacket
- 1 compressible down coat
- 2 pairs of socks
- 10 underwear (including my favorite ExOfficio quick-dry bikini briefs)
- 3 bras
- 2 swim suits (one 1-piece, one 2-piece)
- 1 pair of Keen Whisper hiking sandals
- 2 pairs of flip flops (one Old Navy pair, one sturdier Nike pair)
- 1 pair of TOMs
- 1 microfiber towel
- 1 silk sleep sheet
- Shampoo and other toiletries (including tampons, which are almost impossible to find in this part of the world)
- First aid kit (with band-aids, OFF! mosquito repellant wipes, and After Bite)
- Travel hair dryer (this dual-voltage one is great!)
This may seem like a lot to fit into a 44L bag, but I assure you that my Kelty is quite spacious and has lots of useful pockets! (Check out the bag here!) A backpack is ideal for Southeast Asia since it's much easier to carry around than rolling luggage in this part of the world.
In my Pacsafe Slingsafe
I took my trusty Pacsafe backpack for this trip, since it's already quite dirty and couldn't get any worse on buses or tuk-tuks in Asia. It's also slash-proof and can be locked around bike baskets and chairs, making me feel safer traveling with it. This bag, along with my purse, is with me at all times on travel days.
- My 11-inch Macbook Air
- Kindle Paperwhite
- Electronics chargers, extra batteries/SD cards, etc.
- Belkin power strip/surge protector
- Skross travel adapter
- A small make-up bag (with things like my toothbrush, jewelry, etc.)
- My glasses and extra contacts
- A travel umbrella
- Inflatable neck pillow
- A scarf (which can double as a blanket)
- A back-up camera (because I have had my main camera die on my before on a big trip!)
In my purse
I bought a new purse for this trip — an Overland Equipment Donner bag. It's roomy, yet has a lot of pockets and space for a water bottle or two on the sides. It's super practical and useful for a traveler like me. (This sadly isn't sold anymore, but if you're looking for a similar one, this Travelon Bucket Bag is good!)
In my purse (on travel days):
- My Olympus PEN camera and extra lens
- Extra camera battery and lens cleaner
- GoPro video camera
- Small zippered pouch with Dramamine, chapstick, Advil, etc.
- Tiny hair brush with attached mirror
- Tissues (essential for using any public toilets in Asia)
- Small bottle of hand sanitizer
So how did I do?
As a blogger, there's some stuff that I just can't leave at home — like my computer, camera gear, etc.
On this trip, however, I will admit that I could have survived with less clothing than I took. I could have left a skirt and a pair of pants at home. I could have just brought 1 swim suit, as I only ended up spending a week at the beach. And I could have cut the number of shirts I took in half. If not for the time in London and Hong Kong, I wouldn't have needed the down jacket, the TOMs, an umbrella, or my hair dryer, either.
I could have brought the bare minimum and just gone shopping at markets along the way. In this part of the world, it's incredibly easy to accumulate things. Clothing is cheap at every market, and since it's cheap you can get rid of it along the way when you get tired of it.
And speaking of cheap clothing at markets… I added multiple tank tops and t-shirts to my bag in Cambodia, along with a pair of “hippie” pants and 2 tailored dresses in Vietnam… not to mention other gifts/souvenirs I bought! I ended up buying a larger secondary backpack in Bangkok, as my main bag was mostly full when I left home, and my Pacsafe isn't very roomy, either. Next time: less shopping!
What was I glad to have?
In the end, I'm REALLY glad I brought those thin pants, zip-up hoodie, and socks. It got quite chilly in northern Vietnam and downright cold in northern Thailand at night.
I was also really happy that I brought a silk sleep sheet. I only used it once — on an overnight train in Vietnam — but it was an instance where everyone else in my train car was jealous of me. If I had stayed in more hostels, I'm sure I would have gotten even more use out of it. It also takes up virtually no room, so it's a no brainer to leave on my packing list.
I also really loved my Kelty Redwing 44-liter backpack – this was the first time I used this smaller backpack, and it honestly was perfect for traveling in this part of the world. In Southeast Asia, you're often lugging your bag in and out of all sorts of vehicles, from buses to vans to songthaews to tuk-tuks. Having something small and compact is ideal, and this is one part of the world I would almost always recommend taking a backpack as opposed to rolling luggage.
And, even though it’s not a tangible item, I also always recommend packing a good travel insurance policy! That way everything from lost luggage to a bad accident is covered – because you just never know! I recommend World Nomads for basic (and really affordable) travel insurance.
(And, if you're concerned about keeping tech and valuables safe while on a trip like this, check out the Pacsafe portable safe – I love this thing!)
What would your must-packs for Southeast Asia include (or not include)?
*Note: There are affiliate links in this post, meaning that if you click on an Amazon link and buy anything, I get a small percentage. It doesn't cost you any more, but contributes a little bit to my travel fund!
LET'S PIN IT!
Ooo good question! I don’t know of any vegan leather options off the top of my head, but Pacsafe (which I recommend all the time) has a whole line of bags made from recycled material, which is pretty cool.