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I love traveling in southeast Asia. The weather is tropical, the people are friendly, natural and historical sites abound, and you’re never far from a plate of pad thai and a fresh coconut. Deciding to travel to Southeast Asia is a no-brainer. Packing for Southeast Asia, however, is a bit harder. This Southeast Asia packing list for women will help you get started.
The first time I packed for southeast Asia, I had no idea what to bring. I’d heard it was hot, but I wasn’t sure if it was “light glisten on my brow” hot or “I just sweat through my denim shorts” hot.
Should I bring my own sunscreen or buy it there? Is packing seventeen bathing suits too many? Do I need a power adapter? Some breezy elephant pants? A year’s worth of tampons?
After several trips around Southeast Asia, I have finally been able to consolidate my packing list down into one carry on that includes all the essentials. No more wondering, no more worrying.
Whether you’re traveling long-term or just taking a short trip to Asia, this is the only southeast Asia packing list you’ll need to have an awesome trip.
What’s the climate like in Southeast Asia?
Since Southeast Asia is close to the equator, most destinations are balmy and warm. If you explore places at higher altitudes, you could experience some mild days and even chilly nights.
Southeast Asia has a wet season and a dry season. You’ll have better weather but also more crowds in the dry season. The wet season can get very wet, very fast. During the wet season, things can go from clear blue skies to a full-blown monsoon in a matter of minutes. Sometimes those monsoons can last all day.
There are benefits to traveling in both the wet and the dry seasons, but make sure to do your research before leaving to know what to expect when you arrive.
This packing list can be used for both wet and dry seasons. But keep in mind:
- If you’re traveling in the wet season, add a collapsible umbrella and a lightweight rain jacket.
- If you’ll be in places with higher elevations, add a light jacket and pair of light sweat pants for evenings.
Can I pack everything I need for southeast Asia in only a carry on?
Yes, you can! Since most of your clothing will be for warmer temperatures and less bulky, you can totally pack in only a carry on.
Traveling with just a carry on is more convenient and less expensive than dealing with checked bags. In Asia, many of the budget airlines will charge high prices for checked bags.
Asia is a backpacking hotspot so you’ll see a lot of people traveling with backpacks. Backpacks are nice if you’ll be moving around a lot since the roads in Asia aren’t always smooth for wheeled luggage. They are also ideal if you plan to visit islands only accessible by ferry or boat.
Unsure which backpack to choose? I use and love the Kelty Redwing 44L, which you can read more about here.
What clothing to pack for Southeast Asia
You’ll probably be tempted to pack everything in your closet and the kitchen sink, but I promise you’ll be much happier if you pack light.
You won’t need nearly as much clothing as you think you do. Doing laundry is generally affordable and convenient. You’ll probably want to get clothing custom-made (I highly recommend Sewing Bee in Hoi An, if you’re in central Vietnam!) And unless you’re a major fashionista, you’ll probably end up wearing the same three outfits on a loop for the duration of your trip.
A good rule of thumb: once you’ve selected all the clothes you think you want to bring, take only half.
To make sure you have lots of outfit combinations, bring clothing in neutral colors or in a similar color palette. Ideally, almost every top should be able to go with almost every bottom.
- Casual Tee-shirts (4x) – Stick to neutrals in lightweight fabrics, I love my Merino wool tee shirts because they’re durable, breathable, and super quick drying.
- Casual tank tops (2x)
- Dressy tank top – something lightweight that you can wear on a night out if you’re in a more cosmopolitan city like Bangkok
- Sun protection surf shirt – Necessary if you’re spending lots of time at the beach or if you’ll be snorkeling. I didn’t have one for Komodo and burned the everliving crap out of my back… won’t make that mistake again!
- Long sleeve tee-shirt – Good for chilly evenings, especially during the wet season
- Chambray button up or lightweight cardigan – Also good for evenings and adding a layer if the temperature drops. Great for wearing on cold airplanes too
- Maxi Dress – Great as a stand-alone outfit or layered with a tee-shirt for another look.
- Short sleeve romper – Nice for when you want to get a little more dressed up, I got mine custom made in Vietnam but it’s a similar style to the one linked here.
- Calf length jumpsuit
- Casual sundress (2x)
- Beach cover-up – something quick and easy to throw on over your bathing suit when you go to the pool or beach
- 3 bathing suits – I like to bring at least one one-piece for surfing and active water activities
- Lightweight scarf – Great for visiting temples which sometimes require shoulder coverings
- Jean shorts
- Casual shorts, lightweight fabric
- Athletic shorts
- Lightweight jeans – Useful if you’re in more cosmopolitan cities, I was shocked by how many girls were wearing jeans in toasty Bangkok!
- Knee length skirt – Choose one in a neutral color that can be worn with all tops
- Yoga leggings
- Underwear (14x)
- Bras (2x)
- Sports Bras (2x)
- Socks (4x)
- Tennis shoes – A well-broken-in pair that you can wear all day for hiking and walking
- Flip flops – You’ll probably live in these at the beach, also required for shared showers in hostels
- Walkable sandals – A sturdy pair of sandals with arch support and a heel strap will be your best friend. I love Chaco and Teva brand sandals for comfort all day.
Cultural considerations for clothing
In some parts of southeast Asia, the style of dress is more modest than in western countries. I felt most comfortable wearing shirts with sleeves or tops with thicker straps. I also liked having a few dress and skirt options that were knee-length or calf-length.
If you plan to visit temples during your time in Southeast Asia, many of them have more strict dress codes. In Bangkok, for example, the Grand Palace requires a shirt with sleeves and a skirt or pants that are full length. If you arrive out of dress code, you’ll have to buy an appropriate outfit from the vendors lined up outside the temple.
To be respectful of these more modest styles, I always pack
- Several tops with short sleeves or thicker straps
- A few skirt/pant options that are knee-length or mid-calf length (as long as they’re made in a light fabric you won’t be too hot)
- A maxi dress or maxi skirt
- A lightweight scarf since many temples won’t allow you to enter without one
Toiletries to pack when traveling in Southeast Asia
You can get most brands of toiletries in big cities like Bangkok or Saigon, but they’ll probably be more expensive than they would be back home. Start your trip with a travel size version of your favorite toiletries from back home and replace as you go.
You can buy local toiletries too but be careful with products that have whitening components in them. Many of the face washes and moisturizers in Thailand in particular advertised that they had a whitening element.
I packed a travel size version of my favorite
- Shampoo and Conditioner
- Face Wash
- Face lotion
- Face wipes
- Sunscreen – Bring as much as you can since sunscreen can get pricey abroad
- Makeup – You really won’t need much, just a few staples like mascara and concealer. You’ll sweat most of it off anyway.
- Lip balm with SPF – Have you ever had sunburn on your lips? It sucks.
- Toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss
- Hairbrush, hair elastic, clips/accessories
- Contacts and Contact Solution
- Laundry Detergent Block – even though it’s inexpensive to have your laundry done most places in Asia, it’s nice to be able to wash out a few things in the sink from time to time.
If you want to keep it simple, check out these pre-made toiletry kits on Amazon! Oh and if you’re interested in exploring some zero-waste toiletry products, this post by Eco Wanderland has some awesome suggestions.
Can you get feminine hygiene products in southeast Asia?
Depending on where you go in Asia, tampons can be hard to find. I was able to find them in larger superstores in big cities and in very touristy areas. You usually won’t find them in your everyday convenience stores like back home. Pads are available everywhere.
If you use feminine products besides pads, plan to either:
- Pack enough tampons for the duration of your trip
- Consider eco-friendly reusable feminine products like the Diva cup (amazing, life-changing, replaces tampons) or Thinx (amazing, life-changing, replaces pads, also this link gets you $10 off your first order so you have no excuse not to try them out!)
Technology to pack
Like most places around the world, big cities are pretty techy friendly. For example, the MBK center in Bangkok has a whole floor dedicated to just technology. But if you’re traveling somewhere a little more remote, you might have a hard time finding technology stores.
Come prepared by packing the following tech devices
- Laptop and Protective Case
- External hard drive – Useful if you plan to take lots of pictures
- Adapter – So you can charge your devices anywhere. I like this adapter kit by Ceptics.
- Kindle – So you don’t have to carry a million paperbacks in your backpack
- Portable Powerbank – There can be power outages during the rainy season
- Digital Camera – Southeast Asia is a really beautiful place.
- GoPro – This is especially important if you plan to go snorkeling or scuba diving. It’s way cheaper to order an older model on Amazon than it is to try to buy one when you’re in your destination. I made that mistake. I ended up paying about $100 more buying a GoPro in Bali than I would have if I’d ordered it at home.
- Unlocked iPhone – For using a local SIM card, more on that later.
- Chargers for all devices listed above
- Electronics Organizer Bag – Probably one of the best travel organization purchase I’ve ever made.
Why the unlocked smartphone?
An Unlocked Smart Phone can be used for getting a local SIM card in your destination. I definitely recommend doing this! Having a local sim card will allow you to use data and make calls just like you would at home without the insane traveling fees.
Most phone plans back home charge wild amounts for coverage abroad. But in most countries, a competitive monthly data plan will only set you back a few bucks.
Before you travel, call the cellphone company with which your phone is registered and ask them to unlock the phone. Only phones that are fully paid off can be unlocked. When you land in the country you’re visiting, you can get a local SIM card at the airport or at the cellphone stores in town.
I hope you don’t fall ill while traveling, but it does happen from time to time. If you get sick, having a few basic medical staples will help you feel better faster.
- Prescriptions – make sure to also bring a copy of the prescription from the doctor as well
- Probiotics – A game changer if you get food poisoning or generally have a tender stomach
- Motion sickness medicine – In Asia, you might travel on buses, trains, planes, ferries, speed boats, long tail boats, or pretty much any other means of transportation imaginable. If you get ridiculously motion sick like me, stock up on motion sickness medicine so you aren’t miserable on travel days.
- Pepto Bismol
- Laxatives – (Can you tell I don’t like having an upset stomach…?)
- Pedialyte packages – Sure, this is intended to be a rehydration formula for babies, but you know who else this works well for? Dehydrated adults. If you get sick and need fluids fast, add one of these packets to a bottle of water and you’ll be on your way. It works better than Gatorade because there’s less sugar. Also works great for hangovers… just saying.
When traveling abroad it’s super important to have travel medical insurance. If you get sick or injured, travel medical insurance will save you from having to pay all your own medical bills out-of-pocket. I use IMG Travel Medical Insurance and I really like them. You can get a high level of coverage for a lower cost than some of the other Travel Medical Insurance providers out there.
If you’re staying in a hostel, remember to add
- Fast-Drying Travel Towel – This is one of those things you don’t realize you need until you need it. If you stay in a hostel, you might not get your own towel so bring your own.
- Lock for hostel lockers – Most hostels have lockers where you can store your valuables. These lockers might not have their own lock, so bring one just to be sure. You can also use it to lock your luggage during transit.
- Earplugs – Because one time a guy in my hostel dorm snored so loudly I thought time actually stood still. And once he stopped, another guy in the room decided to eat chips. Intensely.
- Eyemask – Because when the aforementioned roommates kept me up all night with their noise, I needed to sleep during the day.
[irp posts=”2233″ name=”How to pack for winter in Europe in a carry-on”]
More helpful items for your backpacking southeast Asia packing list!
- Sarong – I use my sarong instead of a beach towel since sand doesn’t stick to it. I also use it as a wrap to cover up after the beach. And as a blanket when I have to spend the night in airports. And on top of all that, a sarong folds down so small it takes up zero room in your carry on. If you do want to pack a towel though, check out this awesome sand-free travel option!
- Reusable water bottle – Unless you want to risk almost passing out from dehydration on the Bangkok Skytrain like me, you should always carry water with you in Asia. The heat and humidity require more water than you’re probably used to and if you don’t have your own refillable bottle, you’ll end up buying dozens of water bottles a day. Save money and the environment by packing your own reusable water bottle and filling it at your accommodation before going out.
- Baseball cap – for sun protection if your itinerary is beach-heavy
- Sunglasses – for looking cool, obviously
- Collapsible backpack day bag – I love this one for day trips because it’s durable and it folds down super adorable and tiny. I use this exact backpack for hikes, tours, grocery shopping, weekend trips, blogging from a cafe… anything really.
- Fanny pack – Anyone else hate lugging a purse around all day? I sure do. Luckily, fanny packs are a totally acceptable alternative in Asia.
- Thank you cards – If you have a particularly excellent homestay or if someone helps you during your trip, leave them a cute thank you card. This is also a nice gesture to leave for your host if you plan on house sitting (which you totally should, because free travel is awesome!) Learn more about house sitting and traveling for free here!
Unsure where to travel in Asia? These posts can help!
- The Ultimate Digital Nomad Guide to Ao Nang Beach, Thailand
- Finding Dragons: Exploring Komodo National Park
- How to Plan a Weekend Trip to Phi Phi Island, aka Paradise
Packing for Southeast Asia doesn’t have to be stressful. Use this list as inspiration to help you get started, and remember to always pack less than you think you need!
Oh, and if you want a printable copy of this packing list, you can grab it by signing up for my newsletter below!
Have you backpacked in Southeast Asia? If so, I’d love to hear what you packed! Let me know in the comments below.