South East Asia Packing Essentials – Seven Things You Should Always Pack

Packing can be a pain in the butt. But you can take the hassle out of packing by making sure you have a small set of ‘go-to’ packing essential items that are all ready to go. If you are heading to Sout East Asia then it is useful to have a few ‘staples’ in your bag to make life a bit easier. In the last five years we have visited Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia.  Throughout our trips we have slowly whittled down the essentials we pack each and every time.  These are our packing essentials.

It is important to dress for local weather and customs – and regardless of what time of year you head to this part of the world it will be warm and humid, and then sometimes it will be pouring with rain. So, pack light clothing. These are our packing essentials when we head to SE Asia.  Even if you aren’t backpacking in SE Asia, I think there are some staples to go in your bag.  The things that no matter where we are travelling, or for how long, these items will be in our bags – especially when heading to SE Asia.

After visiting South East Asia several times we now know some of the key things it is important to pack.  When you try and pack light everything you take has to be used and functional.  When we first went to South East Asia we visited Vietnam and Thailand.  And we over packed – there was lots of ‘just in case’.  Our advice, if you are justifying packing something ‘just in case’ you probably don’t need it.  We have whittled down our essentials each trip and this list is where we are currently at.  To be honest most of these things are in our bag – wherever we travel.  As we embark on planning for long-term travel, this list is our go-to guide.  We haven’t included technology requirements in this list – that is a whole other story!

This isn’t a packing list that identifies each piece of clothing we take.  It covers the essentials – those things that we can’t travel without.  Those things that will make life just that little bit easier when you are travelling in SE Asia. For example, we know we can pick up paracetamol or an umbrella in most places we travel, so we don’t pack it.

So here are our Packing Essentials – while these are mostly for travelling to SE Asia – we pack them where ever we travel:

Packing Essentials

What to pack

1. Sun Hat

A good sun hat is essential when travelling in South East Asia. Summer hats are great, but when you are travelling it is best to pack a hat that can fold down into my suitcase and has a wide enough brim that I can wear my prescription glasses without having to change back and forth between sunglasses and prescription glasses.  These hats are are some of my favourites and are definitely worth adding to your bag –Siggi Cotton Bucket Cord Sun Hat Summer Cap Foldable Wide Brim UV SPF 50 for Women Beige and the Scala Women’s Cotton Big Brim Hat with Inner Drawstring and Upf 50+ Rating, Periwinkle, One Size.

2. Decent Walking Shoes

This may seem a bit odd to have on an essentials list for SE Asia, but from personal experience, if you don’t have decent shoes then life starts to get uncomfortable.  There are plenty of women’s sandals options but finding ones that look half decent and you can walk all day in is easier said than done.  Jandals/thongs are great for the beach and they are definitely in the bag.  But if you are going to do any walking it does pay to have some decent shoes you can walk for miles in.  And it is too hot to be wearing hiking shoes.  Because I also have Plantar Fasciitis I need to have supportive shoes, but not flat sandals.  So, to cut a long story short, I have spent a loooong time trying to find supportive and good looking shoes.  My favourites are Birkenstock ‘Gizeh’ Women’s Birko-Flor T-Strap Thong Sandal, Tango Red (38 M EU – 7-7.5 US Women) and Jonny’s Niurka, Women’s Open Toe Sandals, Blue (MARINO), 6 UK (39 EU).  Both of these pairs of sandals have made walking for miles much more pleasurable. As with any pair of Birkenstocks, it pays to spend some time breaking them in – so don’t buy them new and then go walking for hours on holiday.


3. Head Torch

A torch may seem like an odd thing to have on your list but we have found packing a head torch to be invaluable. We have found this most handy when travelling in South East Asia, but have used it where ever we have travelled.  A head torch can be really useful – if pathways are not well lit or uneven, having to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night or when you want to read in bed but there is no bedside lamp…. and the list goes on.  Sure, you aren’t going to win any fashion competitions when you are wearing a head torch but practicality triumphs in our books!  Practical, small, easily packable – and so very useful.  If you haven’t got a head torch on your list – you should!  We love the Best 120 Lumen Waterproof LED Headlamp with 4-Modes (White & Red LEDs) and the Binwo LED Headlamp, Super Bright LED Headlight, 4 Modes Water Resistant Mini Headlamp Headlight Head Torch Light Portable LED Lamp for Camping, Running, Hiking and Reading.


4. Sarong

Packing a cotton sarong wrap is a must.  Another versatile piece that must go in your bag.  We will pack at least one each and along with being used as standard beach wear we also use them for a variety of other purposes – instead of a towel on the beach/in a hostel, a cover up for when visiting temples or picnic blankets.  Small, inexpensive, practical and versatile – perfect for travel.

5. Travel Towel

A travel towel or microfiber towel is always useful when travelling in SE Asia.  Along with a sarong, a travel towel is essential as it enables you to get dry quickly after swimming or snorkelling, takes up very little room in your case and dries quick enough so that it can be used within hours.  Definitely worth adding to your travel kit.  We really love these and think they are the best travel towels –  RainLeaf Antibacterial Microfiber Towel, X-Large (30 x 60 inches), Green and the Microfiber Towels for Sports, Travel, Swim, Hiking and Camping, 2-pack, Ultralight and Quick Drying Towels by The Friendly Swede.

6. Insect Repellent and Tea tree oil

Insect repellent is a must when travelling in South East Asia.  Especially if you are like me and get bitten all the time.  Andy and I can be in the same place and he will walk away untouched, me – eaten alive.  So, because I have to wear insect repellent all the time my preference is to try and find natural repellents that aren’t full of harmful chemicals.  These are a couple I have used which work.

I admit it the addition of Tea Tree Oil to this list may seem a bit odd.  Tea Tree Oil takes the itch out of bites immediately – plus it can be used on a variety of spots.  It may not work for everyone but it works for me – all the time.  It will always be in our go to travel kit.


7. Bags

Packing cubes

I can not overstate how transformative packing cubes for travel are.  They have totally changed the way we pack, and we organise our stuff while travelling.  With the best packing cubes you can compartmentalise your packing and it makes it easier to organise your pack and suitcase – and it also means you aren’t digging through your bag all the time to find that missing black sock.  The other bonus is that as you progress through your travels you can separate dirty from clean clothes.  We swear by these and think we can pack more in with them.  They are well worth the small investment.  Packing cubes also mean you don’t have to take everything out of your bag to find things.  This may not be a big thing but sometimes bugs and sand have a way of sneaking their way in.  So, best to avoid.

We find having a mix of sizes is also good, it helps to be able to squeeze smaller ones into gaps in your bag.  Here are some of the packing cubes we have used and liked.

Cotton bags

It has taken us a long time to remember that packing 1 or 2 small cotton bags is essential. Why? They are so versatile and handy – and we have discovered we use them every single trip we pack them.  Because they are so small and take up hardly any space they can be tucked into tiny spaces in your backpack or day bag.  It seems so simple but they really are so versatile – can be used to take your towel and bathers (or lunch and water) to the beach, pick up some fruit, carry additional purchases you have picked up along the way, or cover a dirty pair of shoes.  They can be easily washed.  We now always make sure we pack at least one cotton bag, preferably two.

Toilet Bag

We now share one toilet bag between us.  We love a practical waterproof toilet bag that has a hook, small mirror and separate compartments.  Why has this made the list?  We have transitioned from several toilet bags along with several plastic ziplock bags to one, good bag. Being able to have everything in one bag that enables us to easily access everything we need Saves space too.  We love the tinxi® Portable wash bag for Travel Folding Make up Toiletry Bags washbag toiletbag Bags Cosmetic Bags travel bag with Hook Organizer flower (Blue) and Bago Travel Toiletry Bags for man woman & kids – 100% SATISFACTION GUARANTEED. Hanging Toiletries Bag or for Home. Multi Pockets & High Quality Zippers. Perfect as Women’s , Mans Organiser Kit (Green).


These are our packing essentials – what else would you put on your list?



7 essentials to pack for south east asia

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