I recently went to Southeast Asia (Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia) for two months and I managed to do the trip with only a 28 litre backpack. For me, travelling light makes the journey far more enjoyable and travelling/packing is so much less hassle!
When you’re travelling light you really need to consider each item you are bringing with you so I spent a lot of time researching and reading reviews for each item. I was pretty happy with my purchases so I’ll list the main items here:
- Berghaus Chromia 30 Rucksack — 28 litres expandable to 30 litres. Light, comfortable, correct size for carry-on luggage. Much easier to find and organize stuff than a top-loader backpack.
- Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Day Pack — I saw people awkwardly bringing plastic bags with them on day-trips (and I watched them break), a daypack is essential. This one compresses down to less than the size of my fist and is waterproof.
- Gelert lightweight anti-bacterial microfibre towel — Feels weird the first couple of times compared to a normal fluffly towel, but it packs down tiny and it gets you dry quicker. It also drys out much quicker than a normal towel.
- PacSafe 55 Secure Backpack & Bag Protector — I used this a few times to tether my backpack to the bed. It gave me peace of mind when staying in hostels with no lockers around.
- Gelert Sleeping Bag Liner – White Liner/Black Stuff Sac — You definitely do not need a sleeping bag in SE-Asia, it’s too hot. If you’re on a budget then sometimes you will get stuck in a hostel that hasn’t got the cleanest sheets. I felt much more comfortable sleeping in this.
- Sea to Summit The Clothes Line — Laundry services aren’t always available (depending where you are). I used this to dry my clothes.
- Dr Bronner’s 18-in-1 Liquid Soap — This stuff is magic. I used it for shampooing, shower gel, shaving, hand washing clothes. Saved a lot of space in my backpack.
- Sea to Summit Event Compression Dry Sack (Small) — This compresses clothes down to be really small. Was handy for separating things in my backpack. I often used it for putting dirty items of clothing. It’s also waterproof, was super handy when I was on the water (canoeing etc.).
- Macks Soft Earplugs — If you’re going to be sleeping in a shared room or a noisy part of town then these are essential.
- ALokSak bags — These are waterproof, airtight and super durable. I stored important documents (passports etc..), Money and my Camera in these
- Unlocked iPhone 3GS — It’s probably best not to bring an expensive phone with you, it will probably get damaged and it may also get lost/stolen. I was going to bring my old Nokia, but I wanted Google Maps for getting around so instead I bought a friend’s old iPhone from him for €50. Make sure it’s unlocked, roaming isn’t too expensive in Europe, but it is still quite expensive (especially data) in SE-Asia.
It’s better to buy the backpack after you’ve decided exactly what you want to pack and you’ve bought everything else for the trip; then you will have a better idea of what size bag you need. If you buy a 60 litre bag then you will feel the need to pack 60L of stuff into it. You should buy the smallest bag that can comfortably carry all your gear.
Also, you’re not going to need bulky jumpers and jackets like you would in other cooler destinations. Maybe one zip-up top, one lightweight pants and a summer rain-jacket… everything else should be summer clothing.
One last thing… Personally, I find cotton clothing makes me feel hot and sweaty in the extreme heat/humidity. Cotton is somewhat breathable but it absorbs sweat like crazy (and you will sweat for the first week or two at least), so I always pack at least one Polyester/Elastane top (like the material used in UnderArmour branded sports stuff). Might not be the prettiest thing for a girl to wear but if you plan on doing hiking or anything like that then this is essential. I also prefer polyester boxers/underwear but if you’re comfortable with the heat then you may be ok with cotton underwear. The polyester stuff is also much easier to hand-wash than cotton (important because laundry might not always be an option, depending on where you go).