A complete Southeast Asia packing list, written specifically for women. Download your free printable packing list at the end of this article.
Southeast Asia is a region that has a rich diverse culture, delicious food, cheap shopping, and endless fun. From floating bungalows to full moon parties –there is something for everyone.
The purpose of this article is to help my peers navigate the unexpected. I was born in the Philippines and have traveled extensively to neighboring Southeast Asian countries, so after reading this entire blog post –you got this.
This complete Southeast Asia packing list for ‘digital nomad girls’ will help you figure out what items to include in your backpack/luggage while providing a little inspiration.
At the end of the article, I’ve also included a number of practical tips on how to pack your luggage efficiently for your travel to Southeast Asia –and supply you with a printable packing checklist.
So are you ready? Let’s start!
- Backpack – When it comes to your backpack, you have the option to go big or small. Not everyone will feel comfortable lugging around a huge bag on their back so don’t be pressured to carry one with you. If this is case, go for a small backpack and put the rest of your stuff in a suitcase. If you’re like me and you don’t mind carrying a huge load on your back, please be sure that the weight of your bag is no more than a third of your weight. I personally love my Osprey Aura backpack. It carries up to 40 pounds and has a removable floating top lid –perfect for storing those items that need easy access like my boarding pass, wipes, sleeping mask, etc. Having only a backpack as your main luggage also forces you to pack less and gives you more flexibility on the road.
- Packing cubes – Save time packing and stay organized while on the road with packing cubes. They make it easy to find specific items without having to dig through all of your stuff in the bag. You can organize your items by purpose like toiletries, cosmetics, clothes, electronics, documents, etc.
- Bag locks – You want to take extra precaution of your things by bringing several locks for your luggage. Cable locks with a passcode are ideal.
- Cocoon sleep sheet – Did you know that some hotels, even 5-star ones, don’t change their sheets for new guests? Gross, I know. If you’re finicky, like me, consider getting a cocoon sleep sheet. They’re light, soft, and comfortable to sleep in. You never have to worry about whether you’re lying on someone’s sweat, blood, tears, and other bodily fluids.
- Small anti-theft purse – Don’t be a victim to thieves who ride in tandem and slash the straps of your bag or drag you down the street with your bag. An anti-theft purse has straps that are difficult to slash however, there is still the risk of getting dragged down the street. In this case, you may want to consider putting your valuables in a hidden travel belt or a bra stash instead.
- Second backpack – If you carry more stuff that won’t fit in just any purse, consider getting a second backpack. Here, you can store more items like your camera, laptop, and some extra clothes.
- RFID-blocking wallet – The RFID-blocking feature provides an extra layer of protection to the items inside your wallet by blocking skimmers who try to steal your debit or credit card information. The great thing about this technology is it doesn’t impact the appearance of your wallet. Here are some lovely wallets that have RFID-blocking.
- Hanging toiletry bag – It’s perfect for keeping all your toiletries organized. Whenever you need to use the bathroom to clean up, simply open the toiletry bag and hang it using the hook.
- Water bottle – Tap water in most parts of South East Asia is undrinkable so you’re better off bringing your own water bottle which you can refill at those water refilling stations and reverse osmosis systems. Some places in Southeast Asian may not have these machines yet so if can’t refill your water bottle, you can always buy bottled water which is pretty cheap in Asia.
- Steripen – This can be a life saver if you’re some place in Southeast Asia where clean water is inaccessible. Simply dip the steripen in your water and the ultraviolet life destroys the harmful bacteria. You want to make sure your water’s safe to drink. Nothing’s worse than suffering diarrhea on a backpacking trip.
- Waterproof drybag – If you’ll be doing a lot of activities around water, it’s better to bring your very own drybag where you can store your clothes, electronics and other items.
When packing for clothes on a trip to Southeast Asia, try to limit your items to just the basics. Opt for light and neutral colors since they’re easy to mix and match. You need not worry about running out of clothes since Southeast Asia is plentiful of affordable clothes (you can get a shirt or two at the night market for less than $15 there!). There’s also laundry service where you can have your clothes washed, dried, and folded for less than $5. To start, here are some clothing items to pack for your trip to Southeast Asia.
- 3 pairs of shorts and skirt – Shorts and skirts are your new best friend when you’re in Southeast Asia. Get them at varying lengths. If you’re visiting conservative countries like Vietnam and Indonesia, you may want to bring with you shorts/skirts long enough to cover your knees.
- 8 tops – Go for varying sleeve lengths with styles that you can mix and match well with your bottoms. I recommend at least four breathable casual tops and four dressy tops.
- 1 long sleeve shirt – Go for a long sleeve shirt that you can wear on cold buses and airplanes. Make it count and pick one that you can style along with your other bottoms. Still cold? Layer on a sarong and put on a pair socks for more warmth.
- 2 dresses – Ideally, you want a versatile dress that can be worn day to night just by adding a few accessories like a jacket, scarf, or jewelry. I highly recommend those infinity dresses which you can style in, well, infinite ways. It’s great for travel since it allows you to create multiple looks for different occasions. Here are some great infinity dresses that I would recommend.
- 1 sarong – I love, love, love sarongs! They’re just like infinity dresses but with more uses. Use it as a mat, cover-up, bed sheet, curtain, or towel! Make sure to get a sarong with a nice pattern so you can wear it too! I highly recommend you carry one in your bag. It’s cheap and super handy. If you forgot to bring your own sarong, don’t worry. There are plenty of quality sarongs for sale in Southeast Asia. Here’s some patterns and ideas for wearing a sarong:
- 1 pair of long pants – The weather in Southeast Asia can get really hot so denim jeans are out of the list. Instead, pick light, breathable pants that keep your legs comfortable even when covered up.
- 1 pair of leggings – Can be used for workouts, layering, and sleeping.
- 1 fleece jacket – If you get cold easily, consider taking one fleece jacket with you. They’re still lighter than your regular jacket and they keep you warm in cold places like the airport and bus. They’re also great if you’re going for trekking to cold mountainous areas.
- 7 pairs of underwear – Don’t worry so much if you don’t have that many underwear. You can always wash them after use or buy a pack at your destination.
- 2 bras, 2 bralettes, and 1 sports bra – Unless you get sweaty fast, bras can be worn three to four times before washing. This helps it to maintain the bra’s shape and elasticity. A sports bra also comes quite handy if you’ll be doing extreme activities or attending yoga class.
- 3 pairs of socks – The only time you’ll really need to wear socks is when you’re wearing shoes.
- 2 swimsuits – Southeast Asia has plenty of beautiful beaches to swim at so be sure to bring a bikini with you. If you like to change up your look, bring a couple of mix and match pieces.
- 1 hat – Keep your precious face protected with a hat. Opt for wide brimmed which gives you full coverage but if you’re a trooper, skip the hat and wear strong sunscreen instead. You may also opt for a baseball cap to wear during extreme activities.
1 pair of stylish but comfy flats – Make sure your flats go well with your dresses and outfits. I highly discourage wearing thong sandals. They break easily. You don’t want that to happen in the middle of a trip. It’s always good to invest in a quality pair of strap sandals that are durable. Here are some flats I recommend.
- 1 pair of chunky heels – This is optional of course. It’s perfect for dressing up an outfit and formal evenings.
- 1 pair of casual or hiking shoes – If you’ll be walking the whole day, opt for casual or hiking shoes instead. They’re comfortable and keep your feet protected from dust and dirt.
- 1 pair of dressy flipflops – Great for alternating with your sandals and keeping your feet clean while in your hotel/hostel room.
Save your back from carrying tons of stuff by buying your toiletries in Southeast Asia. If you’re particular about brands, research the product’s availability in your chosen destination. Most malls in major cities in Southeast Asia carry high-end brands so you should be able to skip some items. The region, however, is also notorious for selling whitening products so you may want to carry your own sunscreen, face wash, body lotion, and deodorant that don’t contain whitening agents.
- Makeup – If you must bring makeup, only take the basics such as foundation, lipstick, lip gloss, lip balm, bronzer, eye liner, eye shadow, and mascara.
- Towel – Have your own towel ready as some hostels will not provide you with one. Skip the bulky towel and go for the microfiber ones or those lightweight quick dry towels from Speedo.
- Urinal funnel – Men pee standing up especially in Asia, and even more especially where I’m from in the Philippines. Instead of being jealous of this luxury, and it is, I suggest this tool which lets you urinate with ease when you absolutely don’t want to squat in that icky toilet bowl. After use, simply wrap the funnel with a handkerchief and keep it in a Ziploc bag.
- Tampons/Diva cup – Tampons are hard to find in certain parts of Southeast Asia. If you do manage to find some, they tend to be expensive. If you’d rather not wear sanitary pads, consider using a Diva cup which is a menstrual cup that can be reused throughout your trip. They’re light, easy-to-clean, and takes up less space than pads or tampons.
- Basic first aid items, prescription drugs, vitamins, and contraceptives – Include medicine for pain, stomach ache, motion sickness, diarrhea, itching, allergies, and cough as well as Betadine, band aids, bandages, cleaning pads, and rehydration sachets. You can always get these items in pharmacies in Southeast Asia but it’s always better to have one ready with you in case you get sick on the road. Don’t forget to bring a prescription if you take prescription drugs.
- Toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, and floss – Buy a small packet of toothpaste for when on the road and get a bigger one later once you’re settled.
- Coconut oil – Great for moisturizing and soothing sunburnt skin, removing makeup, conditioning your hair, cleaning your teeth, etc.
- Face wash
- Soap or body wash
- Bug spray
- Day moisturizer
- Night cream
- Eye drops
- Wet wipes
- Hair ties
- Bobby pins
- Nail clippers
- A small pack of detergent powder
Your list of electronic must-haves may be different from mine but here are suggestions for essential electronics to bring when travelling to Southeast Asia.
- Powerbank – Your electronics may be some of the most useful items in your packing list so it’s important to have extra power with you. There’s plenty of light but powerful power banks that you can choose from in the market today. Go for one that has at least 10,000 mAh capacity.
- Cellphone and cellphone charger – Has to be unlocked so you can use the local sim cards in Southeast Asia.
- Laptop and laptop charger – If you can skip the laptop, go for it but if your lifestyle requires it, go ahead and bring one. The more lightweight, the better.
- Plug adapter – Southeast Asia uses different voltages so it’s best to bring your own plug adapter so you can still plug in your gadgets.
- Kindle – Perfect for keeping you occupied on long flights, layovers, and road trips.
- SD cards – If you take a lot of photos, it’s best to bring multiple SD cards with you.
Accessories & Miscellaneous
- Head buff/bandana – Can be used for many purposes: neck warmer, bandana, face mask, headband, beanie, etc.
- Necklace and earrings – Something to wear if you feel like dressing up. Make sure it’s jewelry that you don’t mind losing on the road. You may also opt to buy handmade jewelry on the road which are much cheaper and prettier IMO.
- Notebook and pen – Call me dramatic but I’m usually better off writing my thoughts about the trip on paper rather than on digital. You’re also able to recall a reminder better when you write it on paper.
- Ziploc bags – They can be used for just about anything whether it’s storing toiletries, wires, wet clothes, or documents.
- Laundry line – Perfect for hanging your hand-washed clothes instead of draping them on shower rods, balconies, and windowsills.
- Sink plug – Some hostels don’t have sink plugs available for you to fill your sink so it’s handy to have one of your own.
- Inflatable neck pillow – Highly required to survive those long-haul flights and road trips.
- Ear plugs and eye mask
- Pepper spray
Papers & Documentation
A good practice for travel is to always photocopy your documents before leaving. In case you lose your passport or credit card, it’ll be easier to replace them since you have all the information you need. Photocopy the front and back of your documents and store them in different locations of your luggage. You may also take photos of your documents using your smartphone or store digital copies in the cloud.
- Passport – Hold on to your passport as tight as you can. There’s too many horror stories of foreigners getting stuck in a country longer than they had planned because they lost their passport and had to wait for replacement. Don’t be one of them.
- VISAs – Check for the VISA requirements of your chosen destination and make sure it’s all taken care off before you fly to the country. Make sure to also have enough cash with you case you plan to extend your stay.
- Photos – Bring a couple of 1 x 1 and 2 x 2 photos. Some countries require this to complete your VISA application.
- ATM and credit card – The bank fees can go crazy when you use your debit and credit cards abroad. Consider getting some of your cash converted before you leave for Southeast Asia or apply for those no-foreign-transaction-fee credit cards.
- Cash – Best to have a substantial amount ready with you. Some Southeast Asian countries require that you have a certain amount of pocket money before they let you enter the country.
- Hotel reservation – Immigration officers will often ask for these before permitting you to their country. You can also show this along with the address to your taxi driver for when taking you to your hotel.
- Travel insurance – Bring a good travel insurance with you in case you run into a mishap like losing your luggage or getting into an accident.
- Plane ticket
- Currency converter
- Common phrases
- Reading list
What’s in Your Luggage?
And that concludes the complete packing list for the solo female traveler! What you choose to bring greatly depends on the level of preparedness you are comfortable with and I wanted to ensure I had a little inspiration for everyone. You’d be fine with a fraction of what I’ve listed.
Unless it’s something really important like your passport or camera, you don’t need to freak out if you forgot to pack something. Most of the time, you’ll find a replacement to that missing item once you’re in Southeast Asia. I have written down below more tips to help you get prepared for your trip to Southeast Asia.
Solo Female Travel Packing Tips
- Know the season of your destination during your travel. Will it be cold? Hot? or Humid? It’s important to know your destination’s weather ahead of time so you can pack appropriate clothing. Southeast Asia tends to be warm all year-round but in some places, it can get really cold. Be sure to do your research and pack accordingly.
- Know your fabrics. The fabric of your clothes can make a world of a difference to your comfort. If you know you’ll be exposed to heat for long periods, consider packing a few lightweight clothes with moisture-wicking properties. This type of fabric draws moisture away from your body so you remain dry even when it’s super hot.
- Know your itinerary. Spontaneity during travel is always nice but you should still leave some room for planning so you know what stuff to bring. Will you be hiking or scuba diving while in Southeast Asia? Or will you just be on walking tours? If you’d rather not carry your own gear, you can rent some specialty items in Southeast Asia so don’t worry if you forgot specialty items like your dive fins, tent, or sleeping bag.
- Be conscious of the culture. In some parts of Asia, women are required to wear modest clothing especially when entering holy places like temples and churches. Be aware of the culture of the place that you’re visiting and carry with you long pants or cover-ups if needed.
- Don’t go crazy on the makeup. No need to bring bags of makeup during your trip to Southeast Asia. They will only melt on your face the moment you step outside an air-conditioned space. The more important item to carry is a lip balm and sunscreen to keep your face and lips moisturized. Also, dry and humid weather is not your hair’s best friend so you’re better leaving your curling/flat irons at home and just tie your hair up in a ponytail.
- Keep heavier items at the bottom of your backpack. The general rule is to pack the heaviest items at the bottom and go lighter as you reach the top of your backpack. This is to help prevent your back from curving.
- Spread your valuables in different places. If you pack all your important stuff like your cash, passport, laptop, cameras, and other gadgets in one bag, it’ll be one big loss if that bag is stolen. Make sure to distribute the wealth of your items so that if one bag get’s stolen, you don’t lose everything.
- Don’t be afraid to let go of some of your items. Unless you’ve already allotted space in your luggage for take-home items, you better be prepared to give away some of your least important stuff especially if you plan to do a lot of shopping in Southeast Asia. Let’s say you’re buying three new clothing items, consider giving away some of your old clothes to someone in need. Not only will you feel better, you’ll also make space for your new things.
- Don’t over-pack. Over-packing is one of the most common mistakes first-time travelers make. It happens when you begin to think “Well, just in case I need it, I should bring [name of unnecessary item]” If you must think twice about taking an item with you, then you probably don’t need it. Don’t pack for eventualities.
- Know yourself. Don’t worry, I’m not about to get all kooky here and tell you your things don’t define you. I’m saying that knowing yourself helps you to pack smarter because no one else is more tuned to your needs than you are. Don’t like washing your own laundry? Then don’t bring a laundry line or a sink plug. Hate the idea of wearing a Diva cup? That’s fine. Stock up on tampons and research the availability in your chosen destination. List down the items you know you absolutely need and leave the rest to chance. Goods are cheap in Southeast Asia. If you need anything, you can head straight to the nearest 7/11, pharmacy, mall, or market and find what you’re looking for.
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