Southeast Asia Packing List for women

So you’re planning a trip to Southeast Asia. Awesome — you’re going to have the adventure of a lifetime! This fascinating region is among the easiest in the world to travel, while still offering a diversity of culture and outdoor activities. So how do you pack for all that? In this post, I’ll walk you through everything you need on your Southeast Asia packing list.

 

Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you decide to purchase through these links, I receive a percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you, which helps me keep this site up and running.

1. Backpack: Osprey Farpoint 40L

Osprey 40l backpack

When you’re traveling around Southeast Asia, you’ll take your backpack on crammed minivans, tiny tuk-tuks, and wet speedboats. When you finally arrive at a new destination, you’ll have to lug it to your guesthouse in 95-degree heat.

 

So to make your travels as comfortable as possible, use a carry-on-sized backpack. I highly recommend the Osprey 40 liter pack. It’s durable, it loads from the front so you always have easy access to your stuff, and it has just enough pouches to stay organized. The adjustable waist and chest straps help with weight distribution. Plus, you can carry it with you on all forms of public transport — avoiding the stress of “is someone going to steal my stuff from under the bus?”

 

40 liters may not sound like a lot, but if you follow the rest of this Southeast Asia packing list, you’ll have no problem fitting everything you need in this backpack.

 

2. Daypack: Osprey Day Lite

Osprey DayLite

Of course, you won’t want to carry your big backpack around all the time. So for day trips or just wandering around town, you’ll need a day pack. I recommend the Osprey Day Lite pack. It’s small enough to easily and comfortably wear all day, but big enough for your water, travel guide, camera, etc. It has a waist and chest strap to help with weight distribution.

 

It also works well for trekking — you can even fit a water bladder in it if you need to. And it’s pretty much indestructible.

 

You can pack your day pack inside your bigger bag on travel days.

 

3. Clothes: What you really need

Toad&Co shirt for Southeast Asia packing list
One of my favorite travel shirts


The advantage of packing for Southeast Asia is the climate is broadly similar across all countries. Sure, you may spend a night or two in the mountains here and there and freeze your a@$ off, but for the most part, pack for tropical: hot and humid.

 

Most countries in Southeast Asia are still pretty conservative. So think long, loose and lightweight for your Southeast Asia packing list. You won’t face too much unwanted attention or street harassment for wearing shorts, but you will stick out as a tourist. On the other hand, dressing conservatively helps start conversations with local women, who will compliment your outfits.

 

This list assumes you’ll have some days in cities, where you want to look a little nicer; some days on the beach; and some days doing outdoor/adventure activities like trekking.

 

Tops:

  • Four tee shirts. I pack Royal Robbins tops like this and Toad&Co tops like this. They look good enough to wear to dinner, but hold up when you’re hiking through the jungle. Stick with light colors.
  • Two tank tops: One dressier and one athletic.
  • One lightweight long-sleeved shirt: For evenings, to protect from mosquitoes.
  • One sweater/sweatshirt. A well-made, thick, warm cardigan works best — it looks nice and packs lighter than a hoodie, but will still keep you warm

 

Bottoms:

  • One pair of athletic pants. I recommend REI hiking pants. They’re lightweight, you can convert them to capris or (long) shorts, and they tolerate all manner of use and abuse. They’re not the most stylish, but they don’t look horrible either.
  • Two long skirts (below-the-knee). I love this one from Ex Oficio — it doesn’t wrinkle, it dries fast, and you can use it as a short dress or mid-length skirt for those clubbing nights in Bangkok. Bonus: it has pockets!
  • One pair of leggings: Great for sleeping in or as an extra layer when you’re in the mountains.
  • When you arrive in Southeast Asia, pick up a pair of elephant pants. They’re perfect for lazy days by the beach and ideal for covering your legs to avoid mosquito bites at night.

 

Underwear/socks:

  • 8 pairs of underwear (hey, they pack light, and better to be safe than sorry, right?)
  • 3 sports bras. Bus rides can get bumpy — you’ll thank me later.
  • 1-2 regular bras. Choose ones that dry quickly and that you won’t be bothered if they get destroyed. Sometimes laundry service will be unkind to your bras.
  • 4 pairs of socks.

 

4. Shoes for all activities

Teva sandals

The shoes on your Southeast Asia packing list will depend slightly on what types of activities you plan to do. As you’re packing for your trip, think about if you intend to do any serious hiking (the jungle treks around Chiang Mai don’t count).

 

If you plan to trek, you’ll need proper hiking boots. I highly recommend these Merrells — I just bought my second pair after finally retiring my first (six years, 28 countries, and countless treks after purchasing them). But if you think you won’t do more than a short walk through the jungle, save the space in your pack and stick with tennis shoes. Either way, plan to wear your close-toed shoes to Southeast Asia and on travel days, or tie them to the outside of your pack.

 

Good, sturdy, waterproof walking sandals are an essential part of any Southeast Asia packing list. Don’t worry too much about style here; comfort is more important. You’ll have to take them off at any temple you visit, as well as many shops, so something easy to take off and put on is ideal. You can’t go wrong with these Tevas.

 

Finally, be sure to pack a pair of shower flip flops. The $2 Old Navy ones work just fine. They’re also handy for beaches, where you wouldn’t want to leave your good walking sandals unattended.

 

5. Toiletries

 

If you’re only backpacking Southeast Asia for a few weeks, it’s easiest to bring everything you need with you. But on a longer trip, expect to replace things like shampoo. The one exception is contact lens solution — this can be very difficult to find in Asia, and when you find it, it’s astronomically expensive. Bring all you need from home.

 

Other items to pack:

  • A bar of Lush solid shampoo — carry-on friendly and it lasts forever
  • Body wash or soap
  • Toothbrush
  • One tube of toothpaste
  • Deodorant
  • Any makeup you absolutely can’t live without (although Southeast Asia will probably melt it anyway)
  • Wet wipes
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Contact lenses (with at least two buffer pairs) and/or glasses if you need them
  • Razor
  • One small bottle of high-SPF sunscreen. You’ll remember to reapply on the beaches, but you’ll surely forget while exploring the cities, and it’s hard to find the high-SPF stuff in Asia.
  • Mosquito repellent with DEET. Yes, it’s gross, but you’ll thank me when you’re camping in the jungle.
  • Laundry sheets. They’re a lifesaver when you don’t have time to do laundry but desperately need one or two things cleaned.
  • Ibuprofin or other over-the-counter pain reliever.

 

6. Electronics

Camera
I know we live in a super-connected world and all, but try to minimize the number of electronics you pack for Southeast Asia. For one, the hot and humid climate, coupled with salty ocean breezes and torrential downpours, is murder on this stuff. You’ll also be more of a target for thieves. But more importantly, it’s heavy and takes up space — and you shouldn’t spend your whole trip sitting on the internet anyway!

 

I keep my electronics pretty minimal:

  • Camera and lenses: I use a Nikon D3200 with 18-55 mm and 55-300 mm lenses
  • Camera charger, spare battery, and cable to hook it to a computer
  • Phone loaded with music and podcasts
  • Phone charger
  • USB stick to back up your photos on
  • Universal plug adapter

 

7. Miscellaneous items you can’t live without

Lonely Planet
No Southeast Asia packing list would be complete without mentioning sarongs. A sarong is a lightweight, universal beach towel, beach wrap, scarf, blanket, and more. You can pick one up for about $5 at any beach in Southeast Asia.

 

Obviously you’ll want to pack a swimsuit. Throw some sunglasses in your bag while you’re at it, since it’ll be hard to find ones with proper UV protection in Asia.

 

Guesthouses in Southeast Asia won’t always supply a towel, so it’s a good idea to bring your own. I use this REI travel towel. It takes up almost no space in my suitcase and dries literally in minutes. I can shower in the morning and pack it away for a bus trip right afterwards, no problem.

 

A good book or two is essential for long train and bus journeys. There are book exchanges all across the region, so don’t worry about bringing enough reading material for your whole trip — you can always pick up something new along the way. I always travel with a Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a Shoestring guide too. Even if you only use it for the maps, it’ll come in handy.

 

If you’re heading to Cambodia and Laos, a headlamp will be useful. Both countries still have frequent power cuts and towns without 24-hour electricity, and it’s no fun to dig around in your bag in the dark when you really need something at 2 am.

 

You’ll notice an enormous amount of plastic water bottle waste when you backpack Southeast Asia. Don’t contribute to the environmental damage — pack a reusable water bottle. You can often refill it in guesthouses, or restaurants and bars will fill it for a small charge.

 

And that’s it! If you follow this Southeast Asia packing list, you’ll be reasonably prepared without carrying around a bunch of stuff you only need once. Remember, if you forget something, it’s not the end of the world — you can buy almost everything on this list in Southeast Asia. So get packing and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime!

 

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Did I miss something essential to a Southeast Asia packing list? Leave a comment and tell me what you’d never travel without!

 

Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you decide to purchase through these links, I receive a percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you, which helps me keep this site up and running.

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