Ultimate Packing List for Backpacking Southeast Asia

September 16, 2015
Ultimate Packing List for Backpacking Southeast Asia

Traveling as a woman can present some unique challenges, but a little preparation can make a world of difference. After two trips, 10 weeks, and countless adventures, these items have made it onto my must-have list for a backpacking Southeast Asia adventure.

Ultimate Packing List for Backpacking Southeast Asia


I need soap for four reasons while traveling: hand washing, showering, first aid, and laundry. Most bathrooms I came across didn’t have soap or shampoo. I prefer lightweight, eco-friendly, non-liquid soaps that are easy to carry and won’t explode in my bag.

Usually, I bought single-use laundry soap packets throughout my trip. If I needed it, first aid kits were common at hostels and shops too. For showering, I packed a biodegradable all-in-one hair and body soap and a tiny bottle of argan oil or coconut oil to condition my hair.

Before my most recent trip, a friend gave me these dry soaps for hand washing, and they were amazing – lightweight, biodegradable, tiny, and they lasted forever. With a little water from my water bottle, I could wash my hands (or face, or my latest scrape) anywhere.


Toilet paper is scarce in Southeast Asia, but bum guns are pretty common. Sometimes a girl just needs some T.P. (and clean hands) after doing her business.

Vaccinations, Medications & First Aid

So vaccinations aren’t meant to be packed, except for malaria pills–a necessary part of preparing for backpacking Southeast Asia. Bug spray is widely available, but I always carried it. Luckily, a lot of hostels have mosquito nets!

Some of my friends might call me accident prone, and with as much climbing, hiking, drinking, swimming, caving, and motorbiking as Southeast Asia allows, I carried a first aid kit with band aids, moleskin, alcohol wipes, and activated charcoal or Immodium. I used Tiger Balm to soothe sore muscles after carrying a heavy backpack or to relieve itchy bug bites.


I am not naturally tan, and I will burn without sunscreen. I preferred sunscreen from home because most of the stuff along the backpacker routes contains whitening agents and is overpriced.

Menstrual Cup

Every woman has her own preference on this one, but in my opinion, cups are the best for travel. I only needed to change it twice a day, it didn’t affect any activities, I didn’t need to find a trash can, and it took up less space than a supply of pads or tampons. I always carried a water bottle and hand soap so cleaning it wasn’t an issue.

Smartphone & Charging Pack

Although I backpacked without international phone service, my iPhone was one of the most useful items I carried. Electricity, however, was hard to come by, so having an external charger was a must. When charged, here’s how my iPhone helped me:


Having a pocket sized WiFi enabled device ruled because there were tons of hotspots where I used it for things like finding a hostel in a big city, checking on my bank account, Instagramming, and emailing my mom.


I traveled with a DSLR, but having a pocket-size still and video camera with a GPS locator was great.


So, this one time, we thought it was a great idea to hike to the west side of Koh Rong, Cambodia, climb down the rocks, watch the sun set and hike home in the dark. We lost the path while climbing back in the dark, and relied on the compass to find our way back.


Digital maps are great, and as long as I remembered to load them when I had WiFi, I could access the map and my location on airplane mode.


Packing in a dorm room at 4:40AM to catch a 5:55AM train to Cambodia after a night out is not easy when you can’t see…


Speaking of lights, sometimes, an iPhone (battery) is not enough–especially when lost in a cave in Thailand with three new friends and no guide. Oh and during that time when we needed a compass to find our hostel, we appreciated having our hands free to climb! 

Locks & Security

It was nice to lock my luggage on the plane, but I also kept my bag locked everywhere: on my back in crowded markets, on a ferry to an island, in a tuk tuk, on top of a songthaew, under a bus, and sometimes in the hostel.

I’ve never had anything stolen in Southeast Asia, but I like to think that locks are also a deterrent. I’ve seen people with no locks and people with full backpack wire mesh coverings to prevent cutting into the bag. I also like to travel with a combination padlock. Even if one is provided in a hostel or bungalow, they usually use keys, which only allows access to one person–who will be responsible for holding onto the key.

As a freelance writer, I bring my work with me when I travel, and if something happens to my camera or my laptop, I’m screwed. I used a Pacsafe portable safe, and I attached it to something in my hostel like a pipe or one of the bars under my bed when I wasn’t working.

Last, but Not Least

The best thing I brought on my backpacking Southeast Asia trip didn’t fit in my backpack – friends!


Ultimate Packing List for Backpacking Southeast Asia photo by Unsplash.

About Nicole Wildman

Nicole is a globetrotting freelancer exploring the world with a camera, a laptop, and a hammock. Prior to freelancing, she worked in digital marketing, until she met a traveling Finn who convinced her to buy a plane ticket and she caught an incurable case of wanderlust. When her feet are on the ground, she enjoys making personal products from kitchen ingredients, practicing yoga on and off the mat, studying languages and exploring the great outdoors.

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