Packing for Southeast Asia: What to Bring and What to Leave at Home

Packing for any trip is often more challenging than it initially seems. You don’t want to drag around more luggage than you actually need, but it’s also frustrating to manage for weeks or even months without some important item that you’ve mistakenly left at home. To a large extent, exactly what you pack, of course, depends on your personal habits and the activities you’re planning during your trip, but here are a few basic tips I learned from my own travels in Southeast Asia.

 

Packing for Southeast Asia

What to Bring:

Packing for Southeast Asia - What to Bring

Sunscreen

Locals in Southeast Asia typically protect themselves from the sun by wearing long sleeves and hats, so sunscreen isn’t widely available across the region. When you do manage to find a bottle, it’s almost always extremely expensive, particularly if you wait until you get to the beach to look for it. Your trip is going to involve being outside in the sun pretty much every day, so bring as much sunscreen as you can because you’re definitely going to need it.  This is one thing you don’t want to forget when packing for Southeast Asia.

Deodorant and Skincare Products

Most cleansers and moisturizers you’ll find in SE Asia contain skin whitening ingredients, and you can’t rely on packages being labeled in English to help you determine which products don’t contain them. The same goes for deodorant, which often contains extra skin whitening chemicals. Plus, it can be challenging to find regular stick deodorant in smaller towns, with many stores only stocked with ineffective deodorant sprays.

Bras

This one is for the ladies, obviously. Southeast Asia can get insanely hot, and I found myself needing to change bras much more often than I normally do at home in order to avoid…you know…smelling. While it’s pretty easy to pick-up most clothing items in SE Asia, bras are the exception. The majority of stores only carry A and (maybe) B cup sizes, so if your cup size is anything larger, it’s a good idea to include a few spare bras when packing for Southeast Asia.

Tampons

Another one for the ladies: Like bras larger than a B cup and sunscreen, tampons are another thing that can be difficult to find and tend to be expensive when you do track them down. Bring your own supply.

Large Ziploc Bags

This depends somewhat on how you like to organize your packing, but I use Ziploc bags for almost everything. You can find plastic baggies in SE Asia, but they don’t usually have the re-sealable top. Personally, I like to have a bunch of bags for storing skincare products, as well as keeping my dirty clothes contained so that they don’t stink up the rest of my bag.

Leave:

Packing for Southeast Asia - What to Leave

Extra Clothes

It’s pretty easy to find cheap clothing at markets and malls throughout SE Asia, which means you can get away with just a few basics when packing for Southeast Asia and then buying whatever else you need as you go. I found my clothes got worn out pretty quickly in SE Asia – something about the combination of sun, sweat, salt water, and rugged jungle treks – so you might prefer to buy some cheap clothes in SE Asia and then just get rid of them at the end of your trip. For me, this was a better option than wearing out my higher-quality clothes from home. Plus if the clothes you buy in SE Asia do hold up, then you’ve got some automatic souvenirs.

It’s also super cheap to have your clothes laundered and the service is available all over the region. So if you don’t want to buy new clothes, it’s still possible to pack light and just get your clothes washed regularly.

Chronic Overpacker?  Read About How to Pack Lightly Here.

 

Jeans

I love wearing jeans at home, but they’re just way too heavy for SE Asia’s humid climate. I can almost guarantee there will never be a time when you’ll want to wear them.  So be sure to leave them off the list when packing for Southeast Asia.

OTC Medications

It goes without saying that you should bring any vital medications with you, but it’s easy to pick-up painkillers, anti-nauseants, and other basic OTC medications in SE Asia.

For better or for worse, a number of drugs that require a prescription at home can be bought without one in SE Asia. In fact, I usually stock up on birth control pills when I’m in Thailand because they’re significantly cheaper compared to the prices in Canada and don’t require a prescription. It might sound a little unsafe to buy medications in a developing part of the world, but although the meds are sometimes marketed under different brands, you can always compare the active ingredients to confirm that they’re the same as the meds you buy at home.

Shampoo and Other Toiletries

Aside from the items I mentioned above, you don’t need to worry about bringing everyday toiletries. Shampoo, body wash, toothpaste, etc. – you can pick-up pretty much all of it once you arrive and not bothering to pack all of these products will free up a lot of space in your luggage.

Packing for Southeast Asia - What to Bring and What to Leave

 

 

 

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Packing for Southeast Asia

Jessica Dawdy

Jessica Dawdy is a serial expat who has been slowly working her way around the world since 2011. She’s lived in 7 different countries, doing everything from painting houses to teaching English. Catch up with her travel stories and expat adventures at Ways of Wanderers. Read more about Jessica here.

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15 thoughts on “Packing for Southeast Asia: What to Bring and What to Leave at Home”

  1. Also make sure you bring proper clothes for any temple/religious sights you may want to see. The bras thing is a huge one definitely and tampons absolutely because pads abound here but finding a tampon is like finding a pot of gold under a rainbow.

  2. Love this post! The tip on clothing is great, you can often find t-shirts for just a dollar or two in Southeast Asia. I would also suggest picking up a nice big scarf locally, it’ll come in handy when you need to cover up to enter temples or use as a beach cover up.

    1. Agreed! I bought three or four scarfs/sarongs as I was traveling around. They’re great for covering up at temples (as Kate also mentioned above), plus they can be used as make-shift blankets/pillows for overnight bus and train rides.

  3. i don’t know about you but i definitely needed bug spray during my travels in southeast asia! it is available at most convenience stores though so okay not to pack!

  4. Great list! I remember when I first traveled in Southeast Asia…it had been snowing when I left Korea and was over 100 degrees in Bangkok with 100% humidity. I think I held on to my favorite jeans (how stupid to bring them in the first place!) before tossing them. 😉

  5. Nice list- I seem to be reading more and more about SEA travel lately. Perhaps I should start some preliminary planning for a year or two from now 🙂 I will throw in a hippie suggestion and say even better than tampons, bring a diva cup/keeper/luna cup! Reusable menstrual cups are so much more convenient than tampons- there’s only one, so they take up less space, don’t produce any waste, and save so much money in the long run. Worth checking out, I promise!

  6. Great tips Jessica, I woudl have packed my jeans without thinking so good to know, also I didn’t know there was skin whitening agents in most of the lotions and deodarant so will be sure to pack extra. I would add that instead of packing lot of tampons, get a diva cup or moon cup instead – reusable, better for your body and the environment – will also save you a lot of money

  7. Thanks for the tips, I did not know about the skin whitening ingredients, I will be heading to Thailand in a few months time and will make sure I check up on this blog post so im all packed properly!

  8. Great article 🙂 You should get yourself a Mooncup or Divacup and do away with tampons altogether. It’s cheaper, more practical and more environmentally friendly!

  9. We are heading there in a few weeks for as long as we can and needed a comprehensive list on what to bring. The sunscreen and lotion tip is on point, had no idea about the whitening, so glad we found this post before we left!

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