Backpack SE Asia: What to bring

If you have the chance to see SE Asia, take it. Backpacking was a completely different way of travel than I had experienced before, but rewarding in so many new and interesting ways. There are always things I wish I had known before going on a trip, so here they are for future backpackers who embark on a similar journey.

Bring as little as possible

My entire wardrobe changed during the course of the trip. I bought the majority of my clothes that I wore as I traveled to new destinations. You see the trends, pick up on fashions and (best of all) it’s really affordable. I returned to America with maybe two shirts that I started with. If you’re not entirely sure you’ll need it, don’t pack it.

Two t-shirts, thin pants, one or two pairs of shorts, tennis shoes, a few pairs of socks and underwear is all you really need to start off with. You can buy as you go if need be.

Back up your photos whenever you can

My bag was snatched while traveling in Cambodia. Luckily, only my cameras and photos were lost. While I wasn’t completely inconvenienced, I did lose very precious memories that I’ll never be able to get back. There are hundreds of cafes and shops in SE Asia that will back up your photos online or on a disc. Take advantage.

Be aware of your belongings at all times

In reference to my last point, you must always be aware of your belongings. It was around 4 pm, I was completely sober and in a crowded area when I was robbed. Don’t ever put your stuff down, leave it unattended or assume it will be okay where you set it.

Leave your passport and credit cards in a safe box and only bring out enough money as you need.

Set a budget and stick to it

You can get by with a little when backpacking SE Asia. Set a budget and don’t go over it. Only bring out the equivalent of $15-20 a day; you can’t spend money if you don’t have it.

There are also items I was thrilled I brought along. They made the trip more comfortable, enjoyable and convenient.

Pillow and blanket

I found an inflatable pillow/fold up blanket combination that was my saving grace throughout the trip. It helped during our long plane, bus, and train rides. Even when blankets and pillows were offered, sometimes it’s nice to use your own. Check it out.


While most of the hostels we stayed at were safe, sometimes it was nice to have a little extra security. Many hostels make it easy for you to use your own padlock or provide a safe box inside your room which you will have to lock yourself.


I was the only one who carried an umbrella with me and I was the only one who didn’t complain during the sudden, outrageous downpours that SE Asia is famous for. I carried it with me everywhere. But if you’re down with a poncho, you can buy them for cheap.

Cardigan and scarf (for ladies)

When going into temples, it’s important to make sure you’re covered. I always had a scarf in my purse, even if we didn’t plan on going to a temple that day. I could put it around my head if I was hot or cover my face if it was windy. A cardigan was nice to have when visiting temples, as well as during overnight rides when it tended to get chilly.

Of course, the list varies for men and women or the length of your trip. But always consider  this: you need way less than you think. For two weeks, a friend and I left our regular sized packs in Bangkok and purchased small ones to take around southern Thailand. We realized we didn’t need the big ones after all, and probably could have got by just fine with half the amount we had. If you forget something, chances are you can easily buy it and often times, it will be much cheaper.

If you’d like advice about specific destinations within SEA, check out Backpack SE Asia: Where to go.


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