Backpacking in SE Asia – the complete packing list

at the airport in Zurich

at the airport in Zurich

Thinking of going backpacking and don’t know what to take with you? To help you out I’ve put together a list of the absolute necessities. When you pack think about the fact that your backpack will always be with you. Do you really want to be one of those people who has to carry 30kg on their back and can’t buy a single thing because they took to much with them? Cut down to the bare necessities and enjoy travelling without worrying too much about your luggage.

Going backpacking for the first time in February (Singapore/ Laos/ Thailand for a month) I made a first attempt on packing a 35l/ 8kg backpack (here the post). After spending the last couple of months in Asia here a revised list of what I would take with me backpacking. In Italic some of the stuff which you don’t really need, but might add on if you think you couldn’t live without. Don’t even waste time (& money) to buy things you think you’re missing before leaving – you’ll find it way cheaper in SE Asia.

Clothing: remember that you can wash very cheaply (2-3$) and also buy clothes for almost nothing. Don’t take too much and don’t bring anything you would mind losing. Try to take similar colours with you, so you can wash everything together and prefer lightweight material to heavy jeans etc. (dries faster!). Depending on the countries you plan on visiting try to pack accordingly: Japan requires nicer clothes (especially as a girl you’ll feel underdressed in ripped shorts as most girls are wearing nice girly dresses & heels), countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia require a more conservative dress code and so on! Also check the weather forecasts online

  • Scarf/ sarong: I decided to skip the travel blanket and use a soft winter scarf from Zara, which can be used with air con and can substitute a pullover and a blanket. A sarong is a perfect substitute for a second towel for the beach and makes a light scarf and a dress too!
  • Underwear: max. for one week
  • Bikini/ Shorts: one is more than enough, unless you’ll be more than 1 week on the beach (then 2 will do)
  • Dresses: two dresses which work both for day & night: lightweight, comfortable and definitely nicer than ripped Levi’s
  • Shorts/Skirts/ Tops: three-four t-shirts (I personally prefer crop tops & bra lets since they occupy less space) and one/ two pair of lightweight shorts/ skirts. Depending on the climate/ season one long-sleeved shirt.
  • Pants: if you don’t have them yet, get a pair at your first destination: the famous backpacker pants. Lightweight, easily drying and super-comfy pants which you’ll find for 5$ in every market.
  • Sweater: can always come handy. If you think you won’t need it make sure to have a warm scarf with you
  • Lightweight rain jacket: I have a tiny one from Uniqlo – handy if it gets colder/ rains
  • Pyjama: you won’t really need this, since you’ll be changing bed very often you can just wear shorts/top you wore during the day and save some space.


  • Sport shoes + 2 pair of socks: lightweight and comfortable (even with 30+°C), ideal for walking/ travelling/ trekking
  • Flip flops: waterproof and ideal for heavy rain, beach and everyday
  • Ballerinas/ Toms/ nice shoes: might be handy if you want to dress nicely, for example in Singapore where Sandals/Flip flops are not allowed into clubs. Take the smallest/ most foldable pair you own.

Tech: less is more – think about every single item 5x before carrying it with you. Do you really want to walk around with 3kg of valuables every day? I usually take iPhone, iPad mini, Nikon D300 & GoPro with me. Sometimes I carried my Macbook Air because I had to do stuff for uni.

  • Camera: I personally couldn’t travel without my Nikon, but 2.5kg of camera might easily be replaced by a smartphone if you’re not that obsessed about photography
  • GoPro: small, waterproof, light and expensive. Again, if you have one – why not? Fun when doing sports/ partying/ travelling, but only if you’ll really need the videos (think about all the memory the movies will take and the time it will take you to edit them)
  • Laptop/ Tablet: I survived a month simply with an iPhone, but an iPad (mini) is a nice add-on to watch movies, have a closer look to your photos/videos play & read (I didn’t really have time for those things since I was busy socialising).
  • USB Stick: handy to save pictures/ files
  • Headphones
  • Chargers & Adapteur

Toiletry: also here, less is more – this is the part where you can save the most weight. Don’t take big containers with you, buy travel containers and fill everything up (you’ll be amazed by how little you use, and even in Asia people use stuff like soap/ shampoo so can buy it at any time!)

  • One big microfiber towel
  • shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, razor, deodorant, tooth brush&paste
  • Victorinox Card/ Swiss Army Knife: only if you’re not planning on taking your backpack as hand luggage!
  • Contact lenses/ (Sun)glasses
  • Cream: personal favourite is the Nivea face/ body/ hand cream in travel size: one pot/ tube is all you’ll need
  • Sun screen, after sun: will be cheaper back home than in touristy spots
  • Lip Balm
  • Medicines: up to your discretion, I usually take:-  Ponstan (500mg), Dafalgan (1g): pain killers- Loperamid: against diarrhea, might come in handy if you get food poisoning on a long bus journey

    – Buscopan: against stomach cramps

    – Motilium: against nausea

    – Moskito-Spray (used it almost on an hourly basis, you can buy it very cheap in Thailand/ Laos)

    – plasters

  • Girls only: mascara, make up remover + pads, eyeshadow, lip stick, parfume in a refill ampule, tampons (you won’t be able to find them everywhere!), hairpins & hairbands, small foldable hair brush with mirror (two in one! no need to take a huge brush), handkerchiefs, cotton buds

Various: try to bag down and not bring more than the bare necessities

  • Small backpack for day
  • Clutch
  • Travel guides & books: get them on your phone/ tablet and save weight!
  • Maps, tickets, passport
  • Lock: best with numbers so you won’t have to worry about losing the key
  • Travel journal: one of the backpackers essentials
  • Plastic bags/ travel bags: good way of organising your bag and keeping things nice and clean
  • Credit cards, cash, student ID, driving license: write down all the numbers, emergency contacts

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