So you’re going to Southeast Asia, congrats! You’re about to embark on the trip of a lifetime. This region has so much to explore, from the gorgeous white sand beaches to the lush waterfalls to the vibrant backpacker scene. But now comes the inevitable question, what to pack? Packing for Southeast Asia isn’t easy. Depending on the length of your trip and what activities you’re planning, you’ll probably need a wide range of clothes, shoes and accessories. After spending months traveling around this region, I’ve collated the ultimate girls packing list for Southeast Asia:
Basic Packing Tips for Southeast Asia
- Roll your clothes to make them more compact. It also helps eliminate creasing.
- Keep heavier items on the bottom to keep the weight off your shoulders as much as possible. This is CRUCIAL if you’re traveling with a backpack.
- Definitely grab some packing cells. They help you organize your clothes in smaller bags, so packing your big bag is a breeze! They things are life-savers! Otherwise your bag will end up one jumbled mess of clothing.
- Always follow the golden rule: Less is more. When you’re lugging your pack across a border crossing in the hot sun, you’ll be grateful.
Best Backpacking Bags for Southeast Asia
Choosing a good backpack is important for being able to pack efficiently and feel comfortable carrying around your life on your back. I’ve had an Osprey Ariel 55L which was great and now I currently have a Gregory Deva 70L pictured below.
I recommend browsing backpacks on Amazon to get an idea of what styles and brands you may like. Then visit REI or another backpacking store in person and try on bags to get a good feel. They can put sandbags into the backpack so you can feel what it will be like fully packed. This thing is going to become your best friend so you want to make sure it’s a perfect fit!
If you do want to purchase online, here are some bags we recommend:–
This is a great, durable backpack for long trips. With tons of pockets and spaces to fit all of your big and small items, it comes at a great price point too. My favorite thing about this bag is that it has a drawstring at the top to pack, as well as a zip on the front to lay the bag on its straps and pack like a suitcase. This small feature is invaluable when you realize the one item you need is at the very bottom of your backpack.
If you’re buying a backpack for the first time, give thought to what size you really need for your trip. Sizes come in liters, but bigger isn’t always better. Packing for Southeast Asia is relatively easy because the climate isn’t that varied. There are also many options for shopping in the region, so you can really get away with packing a limited amount. Having a smaller backpack may seem silly when you can just buy a bigger one and not fill it, but having a compact backpack will make it so much easier to move, especially when walking or on public transportation. This 55L pack from Osprey is a great women’s pack that will make sure you don’t buy too many souvenirs.
REI is always a good choice when you’re purchasing outdoor gear. As a co-op, they have an amazing membership program and incredible return policy. They also have unique technology in their backpacks, like their REI Uplift Compression which pulls the weight of your backpack up and in, making it easier on your shoulders. After walking around with 65 liters on your back trying to find your hole-in-the-wall hostel, you’ll be glad you have that technology!
Best Day Packs/ Carry-on Bags
There are all sorts of carry-on bags out there, from big sturdy backpacks to those little day packs you can squish into a ball. Base your choice on how much stuff you plan on carrying on a day to day basis (such as camera, sweater, water bottle, etc.). Here are our favorites on the market:
You may have seen Herschel bags explode on the bag market a couple years ago. These bags are sturdy, dependable and super stylish. They have a variety of day packs from drawstring to zip up to strap closes.
Having a versatile day pack like this one from Zomake is super useful for day trips like hikes or beach days. It’s foldable so you can easily toss it in the bottom of your big bag and pull it out when you need an extra day pack. And it’s only $16 on Amazon!
This basic canvas bag may look like a simple weekend bag, but it’s actually super useful. As you can see from the photo, there is a slot in the back of the bag to easily slide it on to a luggage handle. I can’t tell you how many purses I’ve had tip over as I try to balance them on my wheelie bag. It’s big enough to cram all your stuff in, but compact enough to fit under an airplane seat!
This drawstring backpack is made of water resistant nylon perfect for any time you may get caught in a light shower. It has plenty of pockets to keep your stuff organized. Plus it comes in lots of cute colors!
Best Tops For Southeast Asia
Real talk: Southeast Asia weather is like being in a perpetual sauna. It’s hot and it’s definitely humid – morning, noon and night. I’ve found that the best type of clothing for this weather is made of thin and loose fabric. You’ll live in tank tops and t-shirts. The brand Everlane is perfect for this climate. I have a couple of their loose fitting shirts and a couple of their tank tops. The fabric is light and super breathable, but stylish and good quality. I have a few other tank tops in the mix because they are perfect for this weather. I also brought a few t-shirts to avoid the painful shoulder sunburn, especially if we’re out for the day cruising on the back of a moto or island hopping in a speed boat.
Here are some of my favorite tank top and t-shirt options:
This lightweight tank top is perfect for hot Southeast Asia days. We love Alternative Apparel because they’re all about eco and ethically produced clothing!
If you’re looking to elevate your style for a night out without sweating your butt off, this tank will keep you looking and feeling cool!
A great score from Amazon, this $20 tank is made of bamboo which is a super breathable, moisture-wicking material
Jules and I have been wearing Everlane’s tee shirt for years. They are so soft and comfy, and they last because Everlane has quality clothing.
This lightweight cotton tee would be perfect for Southeast Asia, especially in a dark color like black which can hide any travel stain mishaps.
Linen is another material that is works well in the heat, and we love the style of this super cute box tee from Everlane.
Best Dresses for Southeast Asia
When you’re packing for Southeast Asia, light and flowy dresses are key! You can definitely purchase some at the markets in SEA, but it’s always good to come prepared with a few in your bag.
This lightweight sleeveless dress would be perfect for traveling Southeast Asia. It’s comfy and stretchy and can be dressed up or down. Plus it has pockets!
Whether you’re hitting up the rice terraces in Bali or visiting a Thai beach, you’ll definitely stand out in this beautiful tie-front dress!
Having a maxi dress with sleeves is great in Southeast Asia because it protects you from the sun and ensures you’re covered for any temple visits.
If you want to have a special date night or are just feeling a bit extra and want to dress up for an Instagram photo, this gorgeous floral maxi is perfect!
Best Bottoms For Southeast Asia
I’ve applied my strategy of packing lightweight clothing to my bottoms, as well. I have 3 pairs of comfortable running shorts for working out and lounging around. I have one pair of jeans, which seem impractical but you may experience cooler climates like in Northern Thailand or the Philippines and there’s nothing comfier than a pair of worn-in jeans. I also like to have a few of skirts with me for nice dinners or nights out.
I highly recommend one pair of light cotton pants, (which you can easily buy there, especially if you want a pair of the infamous elephant pattern backpacker pants) and a pair of leggings because what girl travels without a pair of leggings? They can be dressed up, dressed down, used for PJ’s or even for going on a run (okay, that last one is probably not going to happen, haha). But seriously ladies, a good pair of leggings is a travel necessity.
A great pair of lightweight shorts are perfect for a day out exploring. As much as I love a cute pair of denim cutoffs, they’re just not cut out for Southeast Asia weather. I find that running shorts, especially moisture-wicking ones, are the most comfortable and breathable!
You can’t go wrong with Under Armour when it comes to workout clothes. These simple running shorts are light weight and moisture wicking. Plus they have front pockets and secret back storage pocket.
These mesh running shorts come in some really cute colors (love the teal!) They have a sneaky hidden waistband pocket for stashing some extra cash.
These adorable little yellow shorts are perfect for standing out in the Southeast Asian jungle. Rayan isn’t the best for humidity but its a thin material so it’ll keep you cool in the heat.
Me & My Tevas, told you they weren’t that bad!
Best Swimsuits for Southeast Asia
If there’s one thing that Southeast Asia has a lot of, it’s beaches. From undiscovered Koh Rong Samloem in Cambodia, to party backpacker heaven Koh Phangan in Thailand to the gorgeous Kalanggaman Island in the Philippines (our personal favorite), you’ll find yourself on a whole lot of beaches. Believe me, you’ll want a few swimsuits. I find that a mix of one piece and bikinis are good to have. You never know when you’ll find yourself on a modest beach and want to cover up. On the other hand, you may find yourself at a raging pool party in Bali and want to show off a little skin!
Best One Piece Swimsuits for Southeast Asia
Best Bikinis for Southeast Asia
Cool Weather Clothes for South East Asia
Even though it’s hot almost 24/7 in Southeast Asia, I recommend packing a few sweaters for when you go up north or hit cooler climates.
My absolute favorite sweater is my Patagonia fleece. This thing is incredibly soft and I’m actually excited to get to cold weather so I can bust it out again. If you’ve read Jules’ Guys Packing List for Southeast Asia you’ve probably noticed him mention his fleece. Yes we have matching black Patagonia fleeces, but I promise we aren’t going to turn into that couple.
A lightweight shell rain jacket if you’ll be traveling anytime around the rainy season.The thing about Southeast Asia is that it’s always hot and humid, even while it’s raining. A thin jacket like this one is better in hot weather than something made of Gortex or another thick material.
A simple, lightweight hoodie can be nice to travel with to grab when you’re just feeling a bit chilly, like an air conditioned bus or plane. Its also nice to fold up into a pillow when you need an impromptu nap.
Best Shoes for Southeast Asia
For shoes I like to keep things simple. I pack one pair of flip flops (which you can easily buy in SEA), a pair of Teva sandals, one pair of dressier sandals, a pair of sneakers and a pair of hiking boots if we’re planning on doing a serious trek.
Best Sandals For Southeast Asia
I know, Tevas are so ‘middle aged American tourist.’ But Tevas are so comfortable and these are actually pretty cute. And I promise I will never wear them with socks! Teva has a million styles to choose from so you can have your pick!
Birkenstocks are the staple of comfortable sandals. They’re a bit of an investment but Birkenstocks are built to last forever.
If you’re looking for something a bit more stylish for nights out when you travel, these are a good choice. Still comfortable but, just as cute as any sandal you might wear regularly back home.
Closed Toed Shoes For South East Asia
If you’re loving the mesh sneaker trend but are still on a budget, these are a good purchase. They’re comfortable enough to walk around all day in and breathable enough to keep you cool.
Who doesn’t love a pair of Tom’s? They won’t last forever, but they’re durable enough for a backpacking trip. And they’re so easy and comfortable to slip on and off.
If you’re planning on doing any of the bigger treks around Southeast Asia (hello Everest!), you’ll want to make sure you have a comfortable pair of hiking boots before you leave home. This will be a lifesaver on the trail and you’ll want to make sure you have a pair that fits you really well beforehand.
Best Hats For Southeast Asia
Not everyone is a hat person, but I strongly encourage you to bring at least a baseball cap for Southeast Asia! The sun is strong and you’ll want something to protect your face when you’re wandering through Bali’s rice terraces. Here are some of my favorites:
What’s on your Southeast Asia Packing List? Tell in the comments below!