17 Top Southeast Asia Packing List Items + What NOT to bring (2018 Update)

Updated on May 23, 2018 by Asher Fergusson

What should I bring on my SE Asia trip?

Southeast Asia is an amazingly beautiful and diverse region of the world that will engage all of your senses.

A lot of people were asking me, “What should I pack for SE Asia?” so I wrote this complete Southeast Asia packing checklist.

Be sure to also bring flexibility, open-mindedness, negotiation skills, and gratitude — fortunately those don’t take up any overhead room. So pack those bags and prepare for an incredible adventure!

1) Travel Insurance – Depending on the SE Asian countries and areas you’ll be visiting, the level of healthcare is hit or miss. I personally use and recommend World Nomads which includes evacuation coverage. In countries like Laos, you’ll likely need to be flown to Thailand for anything serious. I believe travel insurance is essential for travel to all parts of SE Asia and it gives great peace-of-mind so you can enjoy your trip!
View their plans at WorldNomads.com ➜

2) Activated charcoal – Most of the foods you’ll come across in Southeast Asia are perfectly safe to eat, but no traveler is immune to traveler’s diarrhea or the occasional “food-poisoning” from eating new or uncommon foods, or accidentally eating something that isn’t as safe. These issues are fairly easy to resolve simply by using activated charcoal, which absorbs the toxins and helps you rid them from your body. Your digestion will be back to normal in no time, and you’ll be able to get back to eating the delightful cuisine on offer!
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3) LifeStraw – Tap water in Southeast Asia is questionable, and varies widely from place to place. Some tap water is definitely not safe, some is merely unpalatable, and some may even be just fine. Either way, a LifeStraw could very well be your lifeline should you need to re-hydrate on the run or in a less modern area. The high-tech but user-friendly straw has a set of filters within it that filter the water as you drink it so that you can drink from just about any source.
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4) Universal Power Adapter – Outlets vary throughout Southeast Asia, so if you have multiple countries on your itinerary, it’s best to go with an all-in-one type adapter like the one pictured. Generally, outlets are 220 volts, but check on the specific country as some of them vary. Also note: most Southeast Asian countries can have strong power surges so you may want to bring some extra fuses for this adapter in case you blow through the two that it comes with.
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5) Lipstick-Sized Portable Charger – I highly recommend this compact, portable USB charger. It’s easy to charge and use, and will make your phone or Kindle last almost double as long. Simply charge it while you’re already resting in your room, and bring it with you so that you’ll never be without power in emergencies.
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6) Deet-Free Mosquito Repellent Bracelets – These bracelets come in quite handy in places where mosquitoes are plentiful. They’re deet-free and eco-friendly, and extremely easy to use. For extra protection from bites I also recommend you use a insect repellent spray.
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7) Universal Waterproof Phone Case – In this day and age, our phones are our connections to just about everything, and we want to have them with us every step of the way. This phone case not only makes that possible, but much less nerve-wracking! The case is a universal fit, and it protects against water, dirt/dust, and light impacts so that you can carry it with you without worrying about your phone getting wet or damaged. You can even use your camera and have full access to the phone touchscreen while underwater!
View on Amazon.com ➜

8) Female Urination Device – Squat toilets are still widely used in Southeast Asia, and when you’re traveling through the countryside there is likely to not be a toilet at all. This may be easy for some, but it can certainly pose problems, especially for women. Fortunately products like this female urination device exist. This device can really make a lady’s life easier because it makes it possible to stand to pee! 🙂
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9) Virtual Private Network (VPN) – If you’re planning to stay connected on your trip then a good VPN is essential to ensure you won’t get blocked from censored websites. Laos and Vietnam are particularly bad while Thailand and Cambodia can also be quite restricted.

With an affordable VPN provider like NordVPN you can make sure you can access any website while also protecting your sensitive data like passwords and credit cards.
View NordVPN.com Options ➜

10) Packing cubes – Packing for any journey is always more fun when you have a place for everything, and you know everything will fit. Enter: packing cubes. These multiple-size packing organizers are washable and easy to use, and while you’re traveling they make moving items around from bag to bag much easier. They also allow you to know exactly where your belongings are so that you don’t have to dig around to find what you’re looking for.
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11) Travel towel – Depending on your accommodations, you may find yourself in a BYOT (bring your own towel) situation. While most hotels and guesthouses will provide one, some hostels don’t and unless you’re at a fancy place they’re usually pretty nasty. I recommend having a lightweight travel towel that drys quickly and you know where it’s been.
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12) Passport pouch – While I’ve never had an issue with safety during my travels in Southeast Asia, you can find yourself on the move a lot — from airplanes to trains, buses to tuk tuks. Your passport is one of the most important things to keep safe at all times. Wearing a concealed pouch that keeps it close and hidden gives you peace of mind. Additionally, keep ATM cards and any large sums of money (after an ATM run) in it until you’re able to get to an accommodation with a safe.
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13) Travel toilet paper – While it’s a hat toss whether you’ll encounter a western-style toilet or the more ubiquitous squat toilet, it’s even riskier to bet on having toilet paper provided. Keeping a pack of travel TP on you at all times comes in very handy. Hand sanitizer may also be a wise choice, as you never know if there will be a sink or soap.
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14) Sarong – Of course you’ll need a sarong in Southeast Asia – this region is where this versatile item hails from! Sarongs are unbelievably handy – so much so that I never go on a trip without mine. A sarong can be used for an extra sheet, a privacy screen, a beach towel, a pillowcase, a beach cover-up, and so much more. They’re lightweight and compact so don’t worry about it taking up too much space in your luggage or daybag.
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15) Water bottle with built-in filter – It’s very important to have drinkable water with you at all times while traveling in tropical regions like Southeast Asia. The humidity can be misleading – the air is damp so many people think they won’t need to drink extra water, but in fact it’s the opposite.

Please note: These bottles don’t filter for parasites or bacteria (only for things like chlorine) and so you’ll need to be sure the water you put in them is already purified by a high quality filter at your hostel or hotel.
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16) Rain jacket Women’s and Men’s – When it rains in Southeast Asia, you will definitely need a rain jacket. Rains in this region are heavy and can last for quite a while at a time depending on the season. You’ll want to make sure that you’re prepared for going about your business regardless of the weather. This jacket is sleek, comfortable, lightweight, and packable!
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17) Daypack – One of the beauties of Southeast Asia is the variety of treks and day trips available from wherever you’re stationed. Even if you’re not on the backpacking circuit, an easy-to-carry bag — one without wheels — makes life a lot easier. Going anywhere outside of the main cities, you’ll usually find dirt roads. Try dragging a rolling bag down one of those, and you’ll be happy for something you can throw on your back. A small daypack is best for shorter trips where you’ll need to bring a change of clothes, bug spray and sunscreen, among other essentials.
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Other items to consider packing for SE Asia


What to wear in Southeast Asia

The key to packing for his region is to pack layering clothes, including something warm, depending on the season. You may be surprised to know that it can get rather chilly in parts of Southeast Asia. For most of the countries, the peak of high travel season is also fall/winter. There’s usually a cold snap or two where a sweater and jacket are definitely needed. So pack in layers, including at least one fleece or lighter jacket. It’s also crucial to remember that in a tropical environment like that of Southeast Asia, it’s humid. Humidity can really take a toll on you if you’re not wearing breathable fabrics,
so be sure to pack linens, cotton, and other very breathable material.
You’ll also want a swimsuit or two, of course, as you’ll definitely be enjoying some time on the beach – it’s an area known for gorgeous beaches, after all! Be sure to pack a comfortable cover-up and/or a sarong for these occasions – it’ll make hanging out in between swimming much more comfortable.

What NOT to bring to SE Asia

1) 🚫 DON’T BRING unnecessary books: Packing light is the name of the game in this region. It’s likely that you’ll be on at least one LCC (low-cost carrier) flight during your trip if you’re country-hopping, and many have strict weight limits for bags. Leave the books at home and opt for a Kindle instead.

3) 🚫 DON’T PACK valuables: While violent crimes are less widespread, petty theft and crimes of opportunity can be fairly common, particularly in cities and more tourist-centric areas. Best to leave non-essential valuables at home.

5) 🚫 DON’T TAKE a hair dryer: In my experience, hairdryers, even if they say they’re under the voltage limit, tend to overheat. Stick with ones specifically set for the country’s outlets. Or better yet, air dry and enjoy the opportunity to rock some beach-waves!

2) 🚫 DON’T TAKE a heavy coat: While it does get a little chilly in some parts of Southeast Asia, you really won’t need a heavy coat. Instead, stick with clothing that can be easily layered in the event that you get cold, and bring a lightweight jacket or fleece to get you by if there is a cold-snap or storm of some sort.

4) 🚫 DON’T BRING offensive or revealing clothing: Much of Southeast Asia remains a fairly modest culture. Make a good impression and leave distasteful items at home.

6) 🚫 DON’T PACK a computer or bulky electronics: They’re heavy, they’re expensive, and they’re not easy to conceal in your room. It’s not worth lugging them around, and it’s too risky to bring such valuable items along for the trip. Take the opportunity to “unplug” from electronics as much as possible!



Is the water safe to drink in Southeast Asia?

It is not safe to drink the tap water in most countries in the region. Many accommodations may provide one or two bottles and/or a water dispenser. Buying bottles from the corner store is easy, but it’s even easier to bring your own water bottle with built-in filter. This will help you ensure that you’re never without clean, drinkable water.

What are accommodations like?

Given the diverse options and landscapes — from beaches to rainforests to mountains — accommodation options in SE Asia can vary greatly. Cities likely have anywhere from top-notch hotels to simple guesthouses or hostels. Your island abode could be anything from a resort to a bungalow to a tent, if you wish. It’s always nice to seek out locally-run accommodations, or even homestays, if they are an option.

Do I need additional health insurance?

Maybe. Make sure your insurance has an evacuation policy within it – if it doesn’t, seek additional travel insurance for your trip, as many places in SE Asia don’t have adequate local medical treatment centers for serious conditions. It’s also a good idea to look into travel insurance in case weather or sickness causes a sudden (and potentially expensive) change in plans.

Will my cell phone work in Southeast Asia?

Check to see if it’s unlocked. Usually you can easily get a local SIM card to use with an unlocked phone. Most phones in recent years are already unlocked, but it’s always a good idea to check well in advance of your trip in case you need to make other arrangements for keeping in touch. If you do find that your phone is unlocked and you plan to switch to a local SIM card, make sure to keep your old SIM in a safe place so that you’re not stuck having to replace it when you get back to the States.

Is it hot all the time in Southeast Asia? What’s the best time of year to visit?

While it’s typically warm year-around during the peak of the daytime, some parts of the region can get a tad cool at night depending on the season, and most places don’t have heat. Rainy season varies a bit, but for Thailand, Laos and Cambodia it usually starts around May or June and runs through September. Fall is a common season for travelers, and tends to be busier but more comfortable weather-wise. Each country features their own unique festivals throughout the year — Buddhist New Year is a party of its own in countries like Laos and Thailand. There are pros and cons for any time, so just remember to pack accordingly.

Do people speak English?

In major Asian cities, English is common. However, the further away you get, the less common it is. Make sure you print all travel information (hotels, flights, etc.) prior to departure with addresses in the local language. Otherwise you may find yourself being driven in circles trying to find your destination, as I have on more than one occasion.

What vaccinations do I need before I go to SE Asia?

This can depend on where you’ll be headed and what you’ll be doing, along with what health issues are a current problem in the areas. It’s best to check with a travel clinic well in advance of your trip (at least several months out) so that you can plan any necessary vaccinations or medications needed.

Card or cash?

ATMs are fairly common in most Southeast Asian cities. Outside of expenses like flights or hotels, I found it easiest to work mostly with

cash withdrawn from an ATM (for the best exchange rate). Keep only a portion of it with you at a given time and the rest in a safe at your hotel or guesthouse. Be sure to call your bank prior to the trip to let them know that you’ll be traveling, and where you’ll be going, otherwise they may mark international activity as suspicious and freeze your account.

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