“Have you packed yet?”
This question is usually coming from my mom the day before taking off for a big backpacking trip. And the answer is almost always “no.” I have a terrible habit of procrastinating with my packing until late into the night before my flight. Then, in a frantic mess, with piles of clothes and gear all over my bedroom floor, I stress about every item and inevitably over-pack. I’ve had this chaotic process down pat for 4 years running.
This time Jules and I resolved to be more organized with our packing. We stocked up on the most useful and practical travel gadgets and I think we did really well in that department. Clothing was a whole other animal. I am admittedly a very serious clothes hoarder. I keep things I haven’t worn in years because there might be some random occasion in the future I might wear it again.
Packing for a long trip is no different. Gone are my days of not caring if I look like an absolute scrub of a backpacker. Now I prefer to stock my bag with clothing that is stylish, comfortable and, most importantly, versatile. After 4 years of travel, I think I’ve perfected my technique, so here’s my female packing list for Southeast Asia.
Ultimate packing list for Southeast Asia
Basic Packing Tips for Southeast Asia
- Roll your clothes to make them more compact. It also helps eliminate creasing.
- Keep heavier items on the bottom to keep the weight off your shoulders as much as possible.
- Definitely grab some packing cells. They help you organize your clothes in smaller bags, so packing your big bag is a breeze! They things are life-savers! Otherwise your bag will end up one jumbled mess of clothing.
- Always follow the golden rule: Less is more. When you’re lugging your pack across a border crossing in the hot sun, you’ll be grateful.
Best Backpacking Bags for Southeast Asia
Choosing a good backpack is important for being able to pack efficiently and feel comfortable carrying around your life on your back. I’ve had an Osprey which was great and now I currently have a Gregory Deva 70L pictured below.
I recommend browsing backpacks on Amazon to get an idea of what styles and brands you may like. Then visit REI or another backpacking store in person and try on bags to get a good feel. They can put sandbags into the backpack so you can feel what it will be like fully packed. This thing is going to become your best friend so you want to make sure it’s a perfect fit!
Gregory Deva 70L
This is a great, durable backpack for long trips. With tons of pockets and spaces to fit all of your big and small items, it comes at a great price point too. My favorite thing about this bag is that it has a drawstring at the top to pack, as well as a zip on the front to lay the bag on its straps and pack like a suitcase. This small feature is invaluable when you realize the one item you need is at the very bottom of your backpack.
[ Click photo to browse more bags ]
Osprey Women’s Ariel 55
If you’re buying a backpack for the first time, give thought to what size you really need for your trip. Sizes come in liters, but bigger isn’t always better. Packing for Southeast Asia is relatively easy because the climate isn’t that varied. There are also many options for shopping in the region, so you can really get away with packing a limited amount. Having a smaller backpack may seem silly when you can just buy a bigger one and not fill it, but having a compact backpack will make it so much easier to move, especially when walking or on public transportation. This 55L pack from Osprey is a great women’s pack that will make sure you don’t buy too many souvenirs 🙂
Best Day Packs/ Carry-on Bags
There are all sorts of carry-on bags out there, from big sturdy backpacks to those little day packs you can squish into a ball. Base your choice on how much stuff you plan on carrying on a day to day basis (such as camera, sweater, water bottle, etc.). Here are our favorites on the market:
You may have seen Herschel bags explode on the bag market a couple years ago. These bags are sturdy, dependable and super stylish. They have a variety of day packs from drawstring to zip up to strap closes.
Free knight Multipurpose Foldable Daypack 15L
Having a versatile day pack like this one from Free Knight is super useful for day trips like hikes or beach days. It’s foldable so you can easily toss it in the bottom of your big bag and pull it out when you need an extra day pack.
Scrubba Laundry Bag
The Scrubba bag is a lifesaver (and wallet saver) for a backpacking trip. This little bag is actually a tiny washing machine that gives you a quality wash in minutes. While there are plenty of local grandmothers in Southeast Asia that can wash your clothes for a decent price, you usually have to wait a while to pick them up. On top of that you risk that cute new white shirt coming back pink, or worse not coming back at all. Just 5 minutes of washing and my clothes were ready to dry; much quicker then a laundromat. And the best part about is the dual use as a dry pack/day pack with proper shoulder straps and space for a mini adventures worth of gear.
5 tank tops
Real talk: Southeast Asia weather is like being in a perpetual sauna. It’s hot and it’s definitely humid – morning, noon and night. I’ve found that the best type of clothing for this weather is made of thin and loose fabric. You’ll live in tank tops and t-shirts. The brand Everlane is perfect for this climate. I have a couple of their loose fitting shirts and a couple of their tank tops. The fabric is light and super breathable, but stylish and good quality. I have a few other tank tops in the mix because they are perfect for this weather. I also brought a few t-shirts to avoid the painful shoulder sunburn, especially if we’re out for the day cruising on the back of a moto or island hopping in a speed boat.
1 Rainshell Jacket
1 Lightweight cotton hoodie
Even though it’s been hot 24/7 here, I packed a few sweaters for when we go up north or hit cooler climates. My absolute favorite sweater at the moment is my Patagonia fleece. This thing is incredibly soft and I’m actually excited to hit cold weather so I can bust it out again. If you’ve read Jules’ Guys Packing List for Southeast Asia you’ve probably noticed him mention his fleece. Yes we have matching black Patagonia fleeces, but I promise we aren’t going to turn into that couple.
I also have a lightweight shell rain jacket for when we hit the rainy season. After hours of scouring the outdoor stores in Melbourne looking for a perfect rain jacket with all the bells and whistles, I decided to save my money and stick with what I already had. Special fabrics like Gortex that are meant to keep you cool while walking in the rain aren’t made for humid climates. One shopkeeper even suggested I just forgo the jacket and embrace getting wet if the rain was warm. The other sweater I brought was a super thin zip up hoody.
4 Pairs of Shorts
2 Skirts (1 maxi, 1 short)
1 Pair of Leggings
I’ve also applied my strategy of packing lightweight clothing to my bottoms. I have 2 pairs of comfortable running shorts that I’ve basically been living in. Because they have such thin fabric it’s easy to wash and dry, even in this humid weather. I also brought one pair of denim shorts, which isn’t the most practical as denim is not only heavy but takes ages to dry. I have one pair of jeans, which seem impractical but you may experience cooler climates like in Northern Thailand and a pair of comfortable, worn-in jeans. Bring a couple of light skirts, one dress and a romper, with one or two fancier pieces. I know what you’re thinking, just one dress? Yes, you could easily bring more, but trust me, when you arrive in Southeast Asia you’ll be thanking me. Tourist hot spots like Bangkok or Bali are chock full of markets with beautiful, $5 sundresses.
I highly recommend one pair of light cotton pants, (which you can easily buy there, especially if you want a pair of the infamous elephant pattern backpacker pants) and a pair of leggings because what girl travels without a pair of leggings? They can be dressed up, dressed down, used for PJ’s or even for going on a run (okay, that last one is probably not going to happen, haha). But seriously ladies, a good pair of leggings is a travel necessity.
1 Flip Flops
1 Nike Free Runs
1 Dressy Sandals
For shoes I like to keep things simple. I brought one pair of flip flops, one pair of dressier sandals, a pair of Nike free runs for hikes and that running I most definitely won’t be doing, and a pair of Tevas. I know, I know, Tevas are so ‘middle aged American tourist.’ But these Tevas are actually pretty cute and realllly comfortable. And I promise I will never wear them with socks!
UPDATE FEB 2016 – The Tevas were probably the best buy of the trip. Not only did they give me lots of breathing space, but they were durable and went with everything. Definitely a top pick! They’ve also got a bunch of other styles if you’re not digging the Capri (Teva Women’s Sandal Selection).
Me & My Tevas, told you they weren’t that bad!
Bras n’ Undies
8 Pairs of Underwear
2 Sports Bras
3 Regular Bras
3 Pairs of Socks
It’s easy to pack too much underwear. They seem so small and weightless until they’re all packed up together and suddenly a quarter of your backpack is underwear. Jules has more of a wash one / wear one strategy and I think I might try to adopt that.
I brought three pairs of ankles socks with “wicking” material to keep them dry in the humid climate and one pair of thick long socks for cold weather.
Pack bra staples: One nude, one black, one strapless. Definitely pack a couple of sports bras; they are super handy. They dry quickly, are super comfy and don’t look scandalous if they show under loose tops.
1 Pashmina Afghan
2 Hat/ Baseball Cap
If there’s one thing that Southeast Asia has a lot of, it’s beaches. From undiscovered Koh Rong Samloem in Cambodia, to party backpacker heaven Koh Phangan in Thailand to the gorgeous Kalanggaman Island in the Philippines (our personal favorite), you’ll find yourself on a whole lot of beaches. Believe me, you’ll want a few bikinis.
A sarong is also a packing must-have. They are perfect for a blanket at the beach, a light towel and a make-shift skirt or dress. Along the same lines is my pashmina shawl that can be used for a scarf in the cold, shoulder cover for religious sites or head cover in the rain. I would definitely recommend every woman have at least a sarong or thin, wide scarf. Sarongs are for sale at almost every market stall, so if you’re looking for a fun souvenir, skip packing one and buy it overseas.
Traveling in the hot climate of Southeast Asia means getting a lot of sun on your face. Getting a vacation tan may be on the top of your bucket list, but do yourself a favor and pack a hat or two. A baseball cap is great to have on hand for sunny hikes and if you want extra style points, grab a fedora or floppy hat to cover your face while lounging at the beach.
So there you have it! The ultimate Girls Packing List for Southeast Asia. My rule of thumb is pack half of the clothing you’d like to bring, but I have trouble following my own advice. Everything you need you can buy here. The selection in Southeast Asia is very budget friendly and the clothes are super cute! You’ll probably end up ditching some things along the way and buying more clothes with local patterns and fun colors.
As I mentioned before, Southeast Asia is hot and humid so bring loose, lightweight fabrics. A pair of flip flops and a comfortable pair of walking shoes are a must. Versatile items like a sarong and a shawl are perfect for the beach as well as religious sites in which you need to stay covered up. The climate is hot, but remember that these are conservative, religious countries. Too many travelers treat Southeast Asia like one big resort, walking around in their bikinis or booty shorts when many of the locals are wearing hijabs. Err on the side of caution and remember you’re a guest in their country. Learn how not to be a tool in Thailand here! Other than that, have fun, do some shopping and enjoy Southeast Asia!