Things You Need and Don’t Need to Pack for Southeast Asia

Now that I have been on the road for a couple months in Southeast Asia, I have had time to see which items I didn’t need to bring with me and the things I wish I brought. To recap, you can see the original list of items I packed in the article What I Packed for Southeast AsiaI am traveling through Southeast Asia in the summer and fall, so your trip may require different items based on the location and season.

Things You Don’t Need to Pack for Southeast Asia

Even though I packed very light and my 55 liter pack only weighed 23 pounds, there are still plenty of things I have never used.

  • I would skip taking more than one pair of pants. I have worn my jeans several times, especially while motorbiking around, but the cotton pair I brought just wastes space in my bag. It is too hot.
  • Do not take more than one baseball cap. You can always buy another one on the road for $1-2.
  • I have not worn my rain jacket a single time, I would leave that at home as well. I bought a plastic poncho for $0.40 that covers my day pack and my legs for rainstorms. It is more effective than a rain jacket, especially if you are on a motorbike.
  • This may be more of a preference, but I would leave your active sandals (i.e. Tevas) at home or skip out on buying some. Even in the ideal situation when I go on waterfall hikes or walk around a city for several hours, I end up wearing my flip flops or sneakers. If you really like that style, definitely take them though.
  • It may be better to be safe than sorry, but I think a lot of the medicine and toiletry items I brought will go unused. The eye drops, Gold Bond, antibiotics, Neosporin, Cortizone cream, iodine tablets, and band-aids have not been touched. You can always buy those things for cheaper on the road as well. I would bring Ibuprofen, Malaria pills, and other more commonly used items you might need.
  • I wish I left my portable charger back in California. I haven’t used it a single time. There are outlets everywhere, even when we stayed in a rural farming village in the mountains of Sapa, Vietnam we had outlets to charge our phones. I am not using a sim-card abroad, so my phone is in airplane mode and barely uses any battery. Unless you are planning on getting sim-cards or use your phone A LOT, you don’t need the charger.
  • I bought a nice waterproof iPhone case to protect my phone during heavy rains and so I can take videos/pictures while kayaking, swimming, and other activities. It has worked nicely, but unless you want to do underwater photography, it is not a necessity. Neither of my friends have one and they have been fine.
  • Unless you are going to be working remotely, writing, or some other computer-oriented activity, leave your laptop at home. It is heavy, expensive, and unnecessary for the things you will be doing online while traveling. Smartphones are just as good, if not better, for researching activities, booking hostels, social media, emailing, etc.
  • I didn’t bring a water bottle  or my Camelback on my trip and I haven’t wanted either of those things a single time. Everyone in SEA drinks bottled water. I have been carrying around the 1.5 Liter bottles I purchase daily in my backpack and it works just fine. Stu just mailed home his Nalgene because he wasn’t using it at all.

Things You Can Buy Cheaper in Asia

Some important items to have abroad can be purchased much cheaper in Asia than back at home. For instance, I bought my day pack ($18), rain fly ($30), active sandals ($40), travel umbrella ($10), and sun hat ($12) in California. If I had waited until I got to Saigon, I could have purchased all of those things for a total of $30-40 after bargaining. If there is something you are on the fence about buying/bringing and you don’t need it immediately when you start your trip, I would hold off and get it abroad.

Things I Am Happy I Packed

When you are packing your final bag for your trip, there are a lot of things you throw in because you hear they might be useful or because you have extra space. For me, there are a  handful of things I didn’t think were important that have turned out to be very handy.

  • Bandanna. I packed one of the bandannas that is already built into a circle that you can slip around  your neck or over your mouth an nose. This turned out to be very good to have when we motorbiked around to block the fumes and dust from going into my lungs. It also doubles as a headband if you want to soak up some sweat on long  hikes.
  • Moleskin journal. I have always been of he sentimental type and my little moleskin journal (a gift from Mckenzie – thanks!) has been perfect for writing down my thoughts and experiences along the way. It is also something a little more private than my blog.
  • Ear plugs. Being a heavy sleeper, I have never had an issue when it has been a little noisy. But when you are on a 12 hour night bus with a bunch of people laughing, yelling, talking on the phone, and playing smartphone games with the volume on full blast, sometimes you need to block it all out. Ear plugs also came in handy in a few hostel that were located close to farms with roosters crowing at 4 AM from 50 feet away or hostels located near big streets where the honking starts at 5 AM.
  • Hand Sanitizer. When you are out exploring a city, there are not many opportunities to wash your hands. Even when you find a restroom the majority of them do not have soap. Having hand sanitizer has been clutch before almost every meal while we are exploring.
  • Dramamine. I have never been one to get car sick or sea sick in the past, but some of these bus rides down endless switch backs with crazy fuckin’ bus drivers are not easy on the stomach. I have been popping Dramamine when I start to feel queasy on the long rides and normally feel way better within 30 minutes. If you are somebody who is susceptible to motion sickness, defnitely bring 1-2 bottles of Dramamine with you.

Things I Wish I Packed

There only a few things that I wish I brought or purchased before I left for Asia. One thing to note is that brands for any toiletries, medicine, etc. will not be the same if you get them abroad; so, if there is a brand you must have for a cold, toothpaste or whatever, make sure you stock up on it beforehand. My wishlist includes:

  • A strong, durable folder for documents and papers. The office one made of thick paper that I brought is falling apart and my papers are getting bent and wrinkled.
  • More sunscreen! Everyone said you can buy more abroad, but it is nearly as expensive in Vietnam and Laos as in the US and it is crappy brands and smaller sizes. I would bring 2-3 tubes of whatever sunscreen you like and that should last you a few months (depending on your use).
  •  I wish I bit the bullet and bought a GoPro for this trip. With all of the accessories needed it probably would have been upwards of $400+, but there are so many hikes, kayak trips, waterfalls, snorkeling trips, etc. that I want to capture it would have been worth it. My Optrix waterproof iPhone case has worked great for taking pictures under water; however, it has some limitations of orientation and quality, no to mention the anxiety I get every time I use it thinking I might break my most valuable thing on the trip.
  • Less than one month into the trip I bought another pair of cargo shorts and another pair of light basketball shorts. My original two pairs of shorts could handle anywhere from 1-3 days before they were disgusting, depending on what activities we did. I may have tried to go a little too light there.
  • After two months now, I still have not seen hand-sanitizer in any store in Vietnam or Laos. I cannot express how crucial it has been. If it hasn’t actually prevented me from getting some nasty sicknesses, it has at least provided me peace of mind before I eat a meal with my grimy hands. I would recommend bringing multiple little tubes for a multi-month trip.

I hope this was helpful for anyone planning a backpacking trip. I will post any updates to this list as I continue my journey.

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  1. Barbara Solomon July 17, 2016
    • pvrouvas July 18, 2016
  2. Leeron July 17, 2016
    • pvrouvas July 18, 2016
  3. Fibria September 7, 2016
    • pvrouvas September 8, 2016

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