If you are anything like me, packing is what makes a trip feel real. Like its not just a far off dream, its a tangible reality and its happening! Making my packing list and checking things off is so satisfying, but now that we are here in Southeast Asia, I have some newfound knowledge to share with you. Such as: Northern Asia is not that warm in January! I thought as thick-skinned Canadians, people must be exaggerating the cold and that we could stick it out, but there are definitely some things I wish I had brought that I did not, and some things I brought that I did not need. Hence, here is a revised list of what to pack for Southeast Asia if you are travelling anytime from January to March. If you are travelling outside the Winter months, just remove the warm clothes sections from your own packing list.
Backpack: I went with a 50L because it is right in the middle-ground, not too big and not too small. You will definitely want a raincover if yours does not come with one. Not only for rain, but also for keeping things covered and compact between destinations!
Additionally, I recommend either bringing a small additional dry bag or buying a small bag when you arrive to use for a day pack, AND it will be very useful for bringing souvenirs home at the end of your trip!
First off is my list (Chelsea) followed my Cam’s abridged list. He is a much lighter packer than I.
- 1 long/ maxi dress: ideal for temples and places requiring modesty
- 1 short, lightweight for beachy hot days
- 1 denim short
- 1 athletic short
- 1 jeans
- 1 comfy pant/ track pant.
Keep in mind this is for an itinerary that went from the North of Vietnam (the coldest part) to the South (the humid part). For my long pants I opted for lululemon tights and while I was not disappointed, there were definitely times when I stole Cam’s track pants, because sometimes you just want those comfy, loose fitting, warm pants for buses and such. If you want to save space on the way there you can always opt to get long pants in either Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, Bangkok etc. whichever you are flying into. I initially over packed on bottoms. I brought 2 pairs of denim shorts and 2 athletic shorts and have not even touched the second pair yet. One of each is plenty if you are travelling in Winter months.
- 2 T-Shirts for comfi-ness and modesty, can also double for PJs
- 2 Athletic tops, lightweight and moisture-wicking is ideal
- 2-3 Cute tops
I know this sounds crazy, how can you survive 3 months on 3 tops??? But trust me, you will find so many cute and cheap tops on your travels and you are going to want room to fit them in your pack once you do!
- 1 Hoodie
Non-negotiable, you have no idea how much I wore this.
- 1 Raincoat
Now this one is negotiable… Lots of Asian countries sell incredibly cheap rain covers for $2-3. They are basically plastic garbage bags with arms, that come in fun colours! This is what I used since I opted to not bring my raincoat. But I kind of wish I had. If you are particular like me about things fitting properly then I recommend bringing your own. Or… like always, you can find decently cheap ones in most cities.
- 1 light long sleeve for Athletic purposes or slightly cooler days
- 7 undies (non-cotton fabrics dry faster if you are planning on doing your own laundry)
- 1 Warm socks
I did not regret these! You can always ditch them after the cold regions of your travels
- 5-6 Ankle socks for days in your runners
- 2-3 Sports bra
- 1-2 Underwire bra
I despise underwires so I opted for more sports bras/ bralettes and only one underwire. Comfort is #1 priority for me.
DUNDUNDUN! The hardest section am I right ladies? As much as I would have loved to include them, there are no heels on this list, a) because they take up a lot of space and b) I know I would have great intentions, but would never wear them. Hence…
- 1 walking shoe/ runner, they WILL get dirty so do not bring ones you are emotionally attached to.
- 1 sandal
- 1 hiking boot
As with everything…you will likely find crazy cheap pairs in Asia that you will want to have space for
Trust me, less is more. You will likely sweat most of it off within an hour anyway.
- Tinted moisturizer with SPF: covers your sunscreen, moisturizer and foundation all in a lightweight option.
- Chapstick with SPF
- Lipstick or gloss
- Waterproof mascara
- Hilighter kit
- 2 bathing suits (mix and matching ones are ideal) you will probably buy more once you arrive.
- Kimono/ sarong: great for covering up for temples and doubles as a blanket for buses/ trains/ planes. Triples as a beach towel! Of course, there are a huge selection in Asia if you would rather get one once you arrive.
Woohoo! The hard part is over ladies, now here is a condensed list for males or if you are a very low maintenance female! I will not assume your gender!
If you are a more light packer like Cam, you should do fine with a 35-40L pack.
- 2 Athletic shorts
- 1 zip-off cargo pant
- 1 nice pant
- 2 bathing suits
- 4 tanks
- 2 T-shirts
- 1 Collared T-shirt
- 1 Thin Long sleeve
- 1 Sweatshirt
- 1 raincoat
- 1 sweatpants
Both were purchased on arrival as this will save you some space in your pack. But up to you!
- 5 ankle socks
- 1 warm sock
- 6 quick dry boxer-briefs
- 1 running/ walking shoe
- 1 sandals
- 1 hiking boots
Miscellaneous: this applies to all travelers!
- Books or e-book
- Reusable water bottle with filter
- Visas (if necessary)
- Photocopy of travel documents
- Copy of travel insurance
- Mini padlock and keys for if you plan on staying in hostel dorms, these are handy for locking up your valuables.
- 1 quick-dry towel; for beaching
- 1 PJs (optional)
The following categories can be shared between couples/ groups or individuals to save space.
- Biodegradable shampoo and conditioner! The drainage and water filtration systems are not what they are in Canada and are not equipped to deal with lots of chemicals.
- Natural soap (or find shampoo that doubles for both!)
- Natural deodorant: aluminum free!
- Hairbrush and elastics
- Toothbrush (bamboo) and natural toothpaste: *Cam and I have found that EVERY hostel and hotel we have stayed at has actually provided both toothbrushes and toothpaste, so you can always use these! But bring the first one with you to avoid using so much plastic.
First Aid Kit: aka your travelling pharmacy
- Bug spray
- After bite
- Paraben free sunscreen (parabens bleach the coral reef!)
- Polysporin or antiseptic
- Band aids
- Antihistamine (Benadryl or Reactine)
- Females: Pads/ tampons/ menstrual cup: These are available in Asia, but they may not carry your preferred brand and will usually be more expensive than at home.
Tech and such:
- Phone: unlocked, data is so cheap in Asia!
- Digital camera
- (Laptop/ tablet + external hard drive)
- Headphones and music device
- Universal plug and voltage converter
- Portable charger
We hope this ultimate packing list (both male and female) comes in handy for your extended vacation in Southeast Asia. Drop us a comment if there is something we forgot to pack! And share with any fellow wanderers.
If you need help with budgeting for you trip, check out our post on Pre-Departure Expenses. Email us or comment if you have any questions about planning for your next trip to Southeast Asia!