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The Essential Southeast Asia Packing List (for Solo & Family Travelers)

The Essential Southeast Asia Packing List (for Solo & Family Travelers)

Traveling across the world, thinking about what to pack is often daunting. After living and traveling in Asia for decades, I have developed an excellent Southeast Asia packing list that I go to for each trip to the region. I know what to bring versus what to buy at my destination. Honestly, this is pretty much my packing list for anywhere we go in the world these days. You never know what the weather will be like with climate change, so it’s best to be prepared for all eventualities.

My ultimate Southeast Asia packing list is perfect for solo travelers as well as for family travelers.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

The Essential Southeast Asia Packing List

The biggest tip for traveling to Southeast Asia is to pack light. Travel through the region is easy, however you are often on small boats, small airplanes and in small vehicles so the lighter you can pack the better. Trust me you will also want to leave room for souvenirs as there is plenty to buy at cheap prices! 

Clothing

I do not like to specifically recommend WHAT clothes you should bring as I find it is a personal choice. The most important thing is to pack items that you are comfortable wearing and that adhere to the local dess requirements. In Southeast Asia, you will see plenty of travelers dressed in very revealing clothing, however in general, the local population is much more conservative in how they dress. 

My rule of thumb for traveling in Southeast Asia is to take a lot less than you think you need AND dress a bit more conservative than you might normally wear in the heat in your home country. If you are primarily on the beach, most anything goes. If you are in cities and villages, keep your shoulders and knees covered when entering temples and visiting religious sites. 

Let me tell you a secret – regardless of how long your trip is, ideally you take the same amount of clothes. For me, this magic number is 7 days. This means that I have 8 potential days of clothes including the ones I wear to the destination, which means doing laundry once per week. The only exception I make here is I always bring as many underwear as I can fit! 

With all of this in mind, here is my general guideline on what and how much to bring on your Southeast Asia trip.

For Her:

TOPS

  • 2-3 tank tops that can be worn under things and at the beach.
  • 2-3 shirts with sleeves to cover your shoulders – Give your shoulders a rest from the sun and you’ll need these for your visits to the temples.
  • 1 light sweater/jacket – In places like Vietnam it can get cold at night, on boats and in AC restaurants.

BOTTOMS

  • 1-2 pair of shorts – Do not bring super short shorts as they are not appropriate except on the beach.
  • 2-3 pair of leggings – Because comfort is life. I always bring at least one pair of long leggings and several pairs of short leggings.
  • 1 light, airy, flowy pant – You can get them before you leave but honestly, they are cheap and available in Asia unless you are on the larger size.  
  • 1 skirt –  I love this one as it can be dressed up or down, has secret pockets and is not see through. 

DRESSES

Pack at least 1-3 dresses depending on how often you like to wear dresses. I only like to wear them in the evenings, but some women love to wear them daily. This is also something you can purchase easily while in Asia if you feel you want more.

UNDER GARMENTS

  • Underwear – Bring more or less depending on how often you want to do laundry. I usually have around 12 pairs.
  • 2 regular bras
  • 2-3 Socks – (for those rare times your water shoes won’t cut it.)

OTHER STUFF

  • 2 swim suits –If your entire trip is beach focused, bring another one, but in general 1 bikini, 1 full peice is great.
  • 1 sarong – Love love love having a sarong. It’s a beach cover-up, a beach blanket, a towel, a scarf, or a light blanket. You can get one before you go but they are easy to buy once you are in Southeast Asia.
  • 1 light scarf –  Just a small scarf for your head or shoulders if needed in temples, but that can also be used to dress up an outfit.
  • Sunglasses – Buy cheap ones and bring two pairs. They will break or you will lose them. It happens.
  • Sun hat –For very sunny, hot conditions, a sun hat that packs small is useful.
  • Rain jacket or Poncho –During rainy season it is helpful to have small rain jacket or poncho, but you can also buy it there if needed.

For Him:

Men have it so much easier! They can get away with very little since their swim shorts can double as regular shorts and they actually don’t often care as much about cleanliness! When my husband joins us, here is what he has on his very minimal packing list.

  • 5-6 t-shirts – You can also add in a few tank tops if you are that kind of guy.
  • 6 pairs of underwear
  • 2 pairs of shorts
  • 1 pair of jeans / trousers
  • 1 long sleeve button down – Just in case you go to a nice dinner or you need a light cover up for a temple.
  • 2 pairs of swimming trunks
  • 1 light jacket/sweater
  • Rain jacket or Poncho – During rainy season it is helpful to have small rain jacket or poncho, but you can also buy it there if needed.

For Kids:

In general we try to follow the same dress guidelines for children as we do for adults in respect for the local culture. Depending on how messy (or young!) your children are, you might need to bring more to be able to last a week.

  • 7  short sleeve shirts
  • 4 pair of shorts – For girls switch up the shorts with a couple of sun dresses and/or skirts
  • 1-2 long pants/ leggings
  • 1 light sweater/jacket
  • 1-2 Bathing suits
  • Socks –(if you bring shoes)
  • 6 pairs of underwear
  • Rain jacket or Poncho –During rainy season it is helpful to have small rain jacket or poncho, but you can also buy it there if needed.

It is SO easy to purchase clothing items for children in Southeast Asia that it is best to arrive with the minimum and expect to buy local t-shirts, elephant pants and more. My son loved buying local clothes at each of our destinations and it’s much easier for them to find things that fit them.

Travel Tip: If you are traveling with another person, put at least one change of clothes in their suitcase (and vise versa) to help mitigate the stress of lost luggage. If you are alone, carry a light change of clothes in your carry-on bag.

Shoes for Your Southeast Asia Packing List

In my opinion you, as in you, not me, really only need 2 pairs of shoes. Flip flops and one other pair of shoes – ideally a solid water shoe that can be used for hiking. That said, if you plan to do any real jungle trekking, I would add a third pair of hiking boots. If you are like me, you will end up bringing 4 pairs of shoes and then look back and wonder why you didn’t listen to this packing list. It’s OK, I cannot seem to listen to my sound advice most of the time either.  I’m Pisces, ruled by the feet and my feet crave variety!

For Her:

  • Flip flops – I religiously wear the Ohana Olukai flip flops. The price tag is scary for a pair of flip-flops, but when you live in them, you want something that will last. Mine have been around the world a few times and are still holding up strong.
  • Water Shoes – I have hiked all through the deserts, beaches and mountains in these things. They offer great support, but also work well in rainy hot climates. 
  • Running shoes/hiking boots – Only if you plan on hiking or running while you’re here. I bring them every time and NEVER wear them…
  • Sandals – I love these sandals for city walking. If you are like me and like to change things up a bit, bring one more pair of sandals, but you just might spend most of your time in flip flops anyway.

For Him:

  • Flip flops – The best flip flops for men are either Rainbow or Reef. Good quality with a bit of support.
  • Water Shoes – Yes, guys, this will be your best friend during your travels as well.
  • Running shoes/hiking boots – Just because you are used to wearing them… but you probably won’t wear them in Asia.

For Kids:

  • Water Shoes – My son lives in these Tevas. He has worn the same type for 8 years now. Perfect for hiking, beach, city walking and the rain.
  • Flip flops – We love these kids flip flops – great for the pool, but also not essential if you have great and versatile water shoes
  • Running shoes/hiking boots – Again, just because occasionally you might want a full coverage shoe.

Toiletries for your Southeast Asia Packing List

Unless you are particular about your toiletries, I know plenty of people don’t bring anything and just rely on what is given at the hotel. Even if you do that, you will still need a few things – deodorant, sunscreen and personal hygiene supplies (ladies I’m talking to you here).  

This is one area that people tend to grossly overpack when visiting Southeast Asia. In general, you can easily purchase most toiletries that you use at home, particularly in the big cities in Asia where they have Sephora and other name brand shops you might know.

My rule of thumb is to bring small amounts of my “must have” products and purchase the rest en route as needed.  However if you are super particular to a specific brand of hair products or body soap, bring enough from home to sustain you during your visit. Otherwise, these are the must haves:

  • Deodorant – It just isn’t as effective in Southeast Asia as it is at home, even when it’s the same brand.
  • Sunscreen Sunscreen is expensive and not as good in Southeast Asia as it is from home. Bring enough to last the trip.
  • Ladies Hygiene Products – If you need/use tampons, bring them ALL with you. Pads are available, but not the same quality as at home. Think about using the Diva cup or something similar as well to reduce the luggage space needed.
  • Insect Repellent – I actually recommend bringing some from home AND buying some locally as it is often better in country than what you can buy in your home country. For families, I recommend this product along with these mosquito bands for kids.

Traveler Tip: Ask hotel staff and locals what mosquito protection they use. Often the most used repellents are burning coils and plug in repellents which are great for your hotel room. In Cambodia we loved the local natural products that worked well.

Don’t forget your toothbrush, toothpaste, floss and any chargers needed for your toothbrush. In addition to the must have essentials, a few other items that I tend to bring with me as well are:

  • Multi-color eye shadow compact
  • Tinted lip moisturizer and/or SPF chapstick
  • Tweezers
  • Nail file and clippers
  • Several hair ties and clips
  • Q-tips and cotton balls
  • A small compact magnifying mirror

For Children

If you are traveling with children, you do not need to bring a whole supply of diapers, but know that the quality of diapers in Asia are of a different quality than what you might be used to. Children who are sensitive to different fabrics or creams should travel with their own supply of toiletries including diaper rash cream. If you will be in the region for longer term, you can find where expats shop to find imported quality diapers, shampoos, etc. 

RELATED POST: See our favorite gifts for travelers to fill up your stockings, birthday and holiday wish lists!

Medical Kit for Your Southeast Asia Packing List

The Essential Southeast Asia Packing ListPeople are always so worried about getting sick on their trip that they bring their entire medicine cabinet with them. A tip – you can buy all of your day to day medications in Southeast Asia at a fraction of the cost. Bring your prescription medication for the duration of your trip, but otherwise, buy what you need, when you need it.

The few essentials I recommend stocking your medicine kit with for when an emergency strikes are listed below. These should fit into a bag no bigger than your hand or a sandwich size ziploc. For a starter set, check this kit out. I use this and add in a few medications that we might need. Take only small amounts, you can replenish along the way.

  • Thermometer
  • Band-aids
  • Second skin/moleskin if you are prone to blisters
  • Small travel antibiotic ointment (neosporin)
  • Anti-itch cream
  • Gauze
  • Individual packed alcohol wipes
  • Small bottle of headache medicine/fever reducer
  • Tums
  • Imodium
  • Airborne

I know every other list says to take antibiotics, but really, DO NOT take your own. I will tell you why. If you have something that you think you need antibiotics for, you need to see a doctor to make sure you get the correct medicine for your illness. Local doctors know quickly and easily what medications are best for their local illnesses. Otherwise you could be doing yourself more damage than help.

Plus, if you are in a developing country, the doctor visit AND the antibiotics will be cheaper than the prescription that you will bring from home. If you are staying in anything above a backpacker hostel, the hotel will easily be able to call a doctor to visit your hotel room if you are too sick to travel outside.

The things I recommend to buy at your destination include additional mosquito repellent, antibiotics if needed, anti-malarial medications (only for adults), electrolyte solution and anything else you need as it arises.

Other Essentials for Your Southeast Asia Packing List

Besides the essentials of clothes, these are my must have items for travel in Southeast Asia. The following items help with everything from safe drinking water to doing laundry.

Internet & Electronics

Health & Safety

  • Grayl Water Purification System – A lifesaver for clean pure water and to reduce the amount of plastic bottles you purchase.
  • Hand sanitizer and/or small pack of wet wipes

Being Eco Friendly While on the Road

For more ideas on how to be eco friendly at home and on the road, read our article about it here

Supplies for Water Fun & Snorkeling 

Southeast Asia packing list must include your own snorkels

 

Spending time in Southeast Asia is almost synonymous with water! Most likely you will find yourself in or around the water quite often. Below are our essentials for water fun while traveling.

  • Travel pack towel – (for budget accommodation type travel)
  • Sarong – these are great not only for beach trips, but for a towel in a pinch or a light blanket on a long bus/train journey.
  • GoPro Camera – These are great for water photography and adventure photos.
  • Dome for the GoPro for underwater/above water photos
  • Dry Bag
  • Phone Dry Case

If you plan to snorkel quite a bit, we highly recommend bringing your own equipment with you. This saves you money and allows you to snorkel at your leisure right off the beach when you want. We LOVE our equipment so much better than using poor quality rentals.

Other Supplies for Your Southeast Asia Packing List

  • Patagonia Hip Belt – A travel essential for me these days. 
  • Stain remover pens
  • Small packets of clothes soap to do a wash in the sink 
  • A small clothesline
  • Drain Cover for sink washing
  • Small travel umbrella / poncho / rain jacket
  • Travel pack towel – (for budget accommodation type travel)
  • Silk sleep sheet – (if you stay in budget accommodation,  these are great so you don’t have to worry about bed bugs!)
  • Sarong – these are great not only for beach trips, but for a towel in a pinch or a light blanket on a long bus/train journey.
  • Cards or small travel games for long bus/train rides
  • Headphones– (It is always great to have your own on flights.)
  • Apps for your phone – phrase guide, currency converter, time zones, Uber or other local transport Apps

Travel Tip: Carry your phone, iPad and other high use cords on the plane with you. There are often plugs on flights to charge while you use your electronics. This also helps if your checked luggage gets lost in route. 

Snacks for Yourself & the Kiddos

When traveling on your own or with children, it’s often useful to remember a few essential snacks to include on your Southeast Asia packing list. These come in handy for with you and your kids on those long travel days or if there are delays on your flight.

We often take high energy foods like Kind Bars or Luna Bars. Other great items to have include dry fruits, nuts, GoldFish crackers and small packets of peanut butter.

RELATED POST: Read more about what our travel essentials are for around the world family travel.

Luggage For Your Southeast Asia Trip

Southeast Asia Packing list - carry small bagsIdeally, the best luggage for a trip to Asia is a backpack. I understand not all travelers can manage with a backpack these days, so I provide a few alternatives here but you can also read our guide on the best spinner luggage and the best travel backpacks for children for more recommendations. However, one of the most important aspects to keep in mind is the ability to carry and lift your luggage yourself. You will need to load it onto boats, carry it up and down stairs and lug along bumpy streets. 

For every day essentials and for travel between destinations, I love the Osprey brand. I use the Nova for between towns for my laptop, camera equipment and other supplies. For out and about during the day I like the Daylite Plus.

For kids who are old enough to carry their own backpacks (around 6-8 years old in my opinion), we LOVE the Osprey Ace 38 Backpack.

I haven’t used a backpack for myself for years, but I highly recommend going to REI and trying on a few. When I was searching for a new backpack, I found that the REI brand fit my body the best even though I really wanted one of the new Eagle Creek backpacks.

MUST DO BEFORE YOUR LEAVE

You can never prepare for all eventualities and somewhere along the way you will lose your bag or get something stolen. Take a few simple steps to help yourself in the event of something bad happening.

  • Scan and email yourself your passport photo page and your credit cards. This way if your bag or purse is lost or stolen you can always get to an internet café and print out your important documents.
  • Call your credit card and phone companies in advance to let them know when and where you will be traveling.
  • Keep your passport in the safe in your hotel room or in a locked part of your bag.
  • Clear your wallet out of non-essentials before you leave home taking only what is necessary for the trip. 
  • Download any apps and/or shows you need on your devices BEFORE you leave your home country as they will not always be available outside of your country.

While this is posted as specific to Southeast Asia travel, we use almost all the same gear for all of our travels. 

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