What To Pack For Southeast Asia

We already have a backpack essentials page on our website but it’s more geared towards a world trip. When spending your entire trip in a tropical climate, your bag will look very different to a bag that’s been around the world. You really don’t need much! Trust us when we say that you should be able to fit EVERYTHING you need into a small 40 litre bag. No more. We had larger bags on our first trip to Southeast Asia and it’s just not worth it. Why not take a bag you can check-in on flights, a bag that fits at your feet on buses and a bag that isn’t going to hurt your back during long walks to your hostel or guesthouse. Women, leave your blow dryers, hair straighteners and makeup bags at home. This is backpacking and it’s not about looking pretty, it’s about having fun, and carrying 20 kilos of useless stuff is just not fun! And guys, you really don’t need a lot of outfits.

Nick’s 70L Deuter luggage entry backpack, with zip-off day bag

There’s also a long debate about whether or not to bring a sleeping bag and tent. We are going to end this debate now by saying NO! Don’t bring a sleeping bag or a tent to Southeast Asia, just bring a sheet and a pillow case. One half of the sheet between the grubby mattress and your skin, and the other half between your skin and the mosquitos.

what to pack for se asia
Southeast Asia on a Shoestring is a popular choice for backpacking SE Asia.

Guidebooks. Lonely Planet: Southeast Asia On A Shoestring is clearly the most popular guidebook on this trail. You’ll see it in the hands of nearly every traveller on the road, and the ones who don’t have it are asking to borrow yours. Just remember that it’s a guidebook not a guide. You don’t have to stick to the pages, try to get off the beaten path in Southeast Asia as often as you can.

You do not need a lot of clothing in Southeast Asia. Guys, a couple of pairs of shorts, 3 T-shirts, 3 pairs of socks, 3 pairs of underwear, a pair of light trousers, a light breathable raincoat/windbreaker, a hat and that’s it! Women we know you need a little more but you don’t need a whole wardrobe. Take a pair of shorts, a skirt, a pair of capri pants, a pair of leggings, a sundress, 4 t-shirts/tank-tops, a light-weight, breathable raincoat/windbreaker, a bathing suit (or 2), 2 bras, 5 pairs of underwear and 3 pairs of socks.  Trust us, when you are in Southeast Asia, you will want to buy some cheap clothing, so don’t pack your bag full of your good clothes from home; just a few staples.  Also, make sure to pack clothes that you can mix and match to make many outfits with – blacks, browns and greys are a good bet!  We don’t recommend white clothes.

mesh packing cubes full of clothes and medication. You shouldn’t need much more than this for South East Asia
what to pack for se asia
This room may look nice but make sure to use your mosquito net!

One more item you may want in your bag is a large mosquito net.  Yes, most of the guesthouses, hotels, hostels & huts in Southeast Asia will provide you with one, however, they are usually riddled with holes, are too small (and therefore the net is basically touching your body!) or, they smell mouldy.  Even if you think there aren’t any mosquitos in your room, or out that night, there are many, many other creepy-crawlies that you will want to keep off of your bed!  Use the net.

So, those are the only differences in your bag for a trip to Southeast Asia. Now check out our Backpack Essentials section to see the full rundown of what you’ll need. Just exclude anything that doesn’t belong in a perpetually tropical climate.

And remember, a good rule that many veteran backpackers still live by is this:


When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.