Depending what time of year you are travelling and how many locations you are covering, Southeast Asia can range from shivering snow-laden mountains to balmy tropical beaches. Add to that various dress requirements for visiting religious monuments, and annoyingly inconsistent luggage allowances across local airlines and you have the recipe for a packing nightmare. After two years living and travelling around Asia, these my no-nonsense packing tips for Southeast Asia.
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- You’ve probably heard this one before but it is worth repeating… Choose a colour scheme and stick to it. When everything can be mixed and matched it minimises your luggage and makes getting dressed quick and easy.
- A couple of one-piece outfits like light summer dresses are also great for reducing clothing volume and make dressing a breeze.
- Light items that can be layered are perfect for transitional climates.
- Natural fabrics, always! Travelling or not, particularly in warm, humid locations. Synthetics will make you sweat.
- One issue with natural fabrics is they tend to crease easily. Stretch fabrics are a great solution, and prints disguise creases.
- Scarves! I don’t own a beanie, I prefer to swaddle up a turban out of a beautiful scarf. Also, a scarf is a great, quick temple cover up or headwear in Islamic countries. Sarongs are another multipurpose option.
- Ladies, longer hemlines (to the knee) and sleeves to the elbow (shoulders covered at a minimum) shows respect for the array of conservatives faiths in Southeast Asia. This is particularly important in countries such as Myanmar where one of the main attractions is the variety of Buddhist stupas (pagodas).
- Comfortable, slip-on walking shoes are a must for days when you will be in and out of religious buildings. It is expected that you will remove your shoes in most Buddhist, Islamic and Hindu places of worship.
- Wear modest amounts of jewellery, particularly in developing countries. I generally don’t travel with more than some pearl studs and my wedding band. This is partly because I would be heartbroken if anything precious went missing and because it feels mighty uncomfortable to walk around developing nations wearing what might appear to locals as the equivalent of the crown jewels.
- Toilet paper in a sealable bag and air travel, carry-on size bottles of waterless hand wash, insect repellent and sunscreen live permanently in my day pack/carry-on bag;
- I have discovered there are no perfect options for secure tags to assist recovering your lost luggage. The best compromise I could find were SuperSmartTags. I use these because I don’t have to put my contact details or itinerary there on the bag itself. Instead, someone can look up the tag code on the internet and find the itinerary information I choose to list.
- An international adapter, preferably one with a USB socket, and chargers for your phone, camera and other electronics. Too Many Adapters is a great place to find reviews and recommendations on anything travel technology related.
- U.S. travellers may also need a Step Down Voltage Converter, as most Southeast Asia countries operate on 240V as opposed to the American 120V standard.
- Pack one warm jacket to put over anything and everything.
- Hat & sunglasses are a must!
- Good deodorant and natural fibres to ensure you can re-wear your shirts multiple times before needing a laundry mat or forking out megabucks for hotel laundry services.
- Tropical/deep forest strength insect repellent (government organisations recommend products with active ingredient DEET at a concentration of 30-50%) and a broad spectrum (UVA and UVB ray protection) 30-50+ SPF sunscreen. NOTE: Sunblocks sold in the U.S.A do not have the same requirement for UVA protection as Europe and Australia, therefore, are somewhat lacking, check out EWG’s Guide to Sunscreens for more info.
- Quick dry pants that can be zipped off to shorts when cool mornings morph into warm afternoons.
- Gentlemen, pack good quality, multi-purpose shoes in a dark colour and they will take you from hiking jungles to casual dinners.
- A camera with charger, spare batteries and SD cards. A waterproof camera is ideal if you will be diving, snorkelling, canoeing caving etc. We bought an Olympus TG-3 for our trip to the Maldives and haven’t looked back.
- Be prepared with US$1 notes for tipping if/when required.
- Lonely Planet still produces the best guides out there, and we’ve tried a few.
- Don’t forget to take your best friend to share the experience.
You may also find helpful, this pre-departure checklist which contains all the things travellers most commonly forget to do before leaving home.
Peace, love and inspiring travel,