Backpacking Asia: The Essential Packing List

 | Teaching House Nomads Blog

You have your tickets in hand (err, inbox), you’ve bought your backpack, and you have a vague idea of where you’re going: you’re almost ready for Southeast Asia!

Now, what to put in that backpack?

You of course want to travel as light as possible. After all, you’re carrying all your belongings on your back. You know you’ll need sneakers, a bathing suit or two, a couple pair of shorts—but what else?

The ultimate guide to packing for Southeast Asia for backpacking travellers

There are a lot of “what to pack for Southeast Asia” lists out there; we’ve combed through the suggestions and used our own experiences backpacking through SE Asia to compile the following list for you. These are just the essential items that you should bring with you from home; you’ll need clothes and toiletries, of course, and other essentials such as sunscreen and mosquito repellent can be purchased when you arrive.

As you’re packing, remember to relax! If you forget anything, you can most likely pick it up there, and if you realize you brought something you don’t actually need, you can always ditch it on the road.

Bon voyage!

For everyone


  • Padlocks for locking up your belongings—even in hotels
  • A bag protector, especially if you’re staying in hostels without lockers
  • A good-quality helmet if you plan on traveling long distances by motorbike
  • Travel insurance


  • A small flashlight—you’ll be surprised how often you need this
  • A microfiber towel—hostels and budget hotels won’t always provide towels. And these dry quickly!
  • Passport photos, which you may need for visas
  • Plastic bags to put your stuff in. You can pick up more on the road, but plastic bags are great for holding things like shoes and items that get wet or may spill.
  • Earplugs—not only for noisy humans but noisy animals, as well!
  • A bank account that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees and/or refunds ATM fees—look into Charles Schwab
  • Unlocked phone
  • Backpack rain cover
  • Deodorant—while you can often find deodorant in SE Asia, it may not be the kind you like
  • A plug adaptor
  • You can find tissues in convenience stores in SE Asia but you may want to bring a pack or two with you to get you started. You’ll need them for public restrooms!


  • One or two bathing suits
  • A light rain jacket or poncho, especially if you’re traveling during the rainy season
  • At least one pair of cotton or gym pants
  • A zip-up hoodie for airplanes, bus rides, etc.
  • At least one pair of flip flops and one pair of sneakers

ESL teacher Whitney compiled this essential packing list for backpackers who want to travel to Southeast Asia

For her

  • Tampons—they’re not as common in this part of the world and you may not be able to find the type you like
  • Any specific shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, or other toiletry item that you probably won’t be able to find on the road
  • A light scarf which can double as a blanket

For him

  • Board shorts—great for both beach time and wandering around

Once again, these are just the necessities, and what may be necessary for you may very well not be for someone else. Anything we’ve missed, please let us know in the comments. Above all else, pack an open mind, an abundance of patience, and a sense of humor. These are the real travel essentials!

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