Being the planning nerds that we are, another thing we personally look forward to when traveling (aside from making the itinerary) is actually planning and organizing the things we should bring ? However, we’ve never been in a trip longer than a week, so this 2-week Indochina backpacking trip was definitely a fun challenge, requiring us to travel light and fit two-week’s worth of things into a couple of carry-on bags. Below is a rundown of the things we did bring and how we organized them for an efficient and hassle-free commute.
First Things First: Choosing Your Luggage
Choosing the right luggage was the first thing we considered when we started thinking of packing for our 2-week Indochina trip. Since we were going backpacker-style and had a lot of land transfers and border-crossings across cities and towns, it was essential that we keep things light, versatile, and most of all practical — no trolleys that we would have to drag around everywhere and no oversized backpacks that would seem like we were carrying the whole world on our shoulders.
There are a number of luggage options out there but we decided to go with two-way travel backpacks that we could also carry as duffel bags.
When choosing bags for backpacking, it’s always important to note of the quality of materials, durability, functionality, and weight; you don’t want something that’ll break or fall apart mid-trip, or a bag that’s already heavy even without your things in it yet. We chose bags that are easy to pack (the Osprey Farpoint 40 opens up like a regular luggage), have minimal designs (no multiple straps and strings that could get tangled along the way, as usually seen on hiking backpacks), have pockets we can access with ease, and are lightweight and waterproof.
We highly recommend limiting your main bags to 35L – 45L, especially if you’ll be spending a lot of time carrying them. Sticking to this size helped us filter what we have to pack and made it possible for our luggages to be within the allowed carry-on limit among airlines. Although we opted to check-in some of our bags because of toiletries, we would recommend traveling with just carry-on baggage whenever possible.
Aside from our main luggages, each of us also brought a smaller bag which we used as a carry-on during flights and as a daypack for our tours.
The best and easiest way to know what to bring to a trip is to first determine the types of activities you’ll be doing or the kinds of places you will be going to. In our case, we knew that we’d be visiting a lot of temples which had certain dress codes, that it would be hot
as hell (it doesn’t hurt to check Accuweather), that there’s a possibility of swimming, and that there’d be plenty of walking around.
We decided to bring just 1 week’s worth of clothing and planned to have a couple of laundry days rather than bring more clothes. We also had to factor in the fact that we’ll be shopping for clothes in Chatuchak in Bangkok, which was on the first leg of our trip. That being said, here’s our sample clothing list:
- a mix of sleeved and sleeveless tops
- shorts / skirts or dresses
- pants that are comfy enough to be worn for a whole day (or more)
- 1-2 pairs of jogging pants and/or leggings, to wear at night or when in transit in case it gets cold
- a waterproof pocketable parka/jacket like this
- at least a pair of bathing suit
- a sarong or pashmina, which can be used to cover up for temples, at the beach, or as a light blanket
- a set or two of sleepwear
- underwear and 2-3 pairs of socks
The amount of clothes you have to pack really depends on how many times you’re willing to do your laundry and wear the same clothes during the trip, and how much weight you can actually carry while backpacking across cities and towns. And since it is a backpacking trip, less should be better.
QUICK TIP #1: Choose lightweight or quick-dry wash-and-wear clothes for no-fuss laundry days. If laundry rooms or services are not available at your accommodation, you can still wash your clothes in the bathrooms and hang them inside (electric fans are your best friend!)
QUICK TIP #2: Avoid denim jeans (or denim in general) because they will be heavier to pack and takes longer to dry when washed.
QUICK TIP #3: For girls, dresses are good options since they make for whole outfits versus having to pack separate tops and bottoms.
QUICK TIP #4: Opt for double-purpose clothes like hippie pants that are comfortable to be worn as sleepwear but also hip enough to be worn outside; bikini tops and sport bras that can be used as underwear and/or swimwear; or a water-repelling jacket that can double as a raincoat.
QUICK TIP #5: Not all laundry shops are guaranteed to return your clothes stain-free, so try to do away with whites as much as possible.
- a pair of comfy sneakers you can wear for long hours of walking or hiking
- a pair of flipflops and/or a pair of sandals
QUICK TIP #6: Choose footwear than can go with anything so you won’t have to worry about matching with your clothes. But, comfort should still be the priority.
QUICK TIP #7: Go for low-maintenance shoes that are easy to clean because an itinerary packed with adventures will surely get them dirty.
☑ Toiletries and Personal Care
The usual toiletries (like shampoos, conditioners, soaps, lotions and even moisturizers) are pretty much available in every convenience store and supermarket in Southeast Asia (especially in the cities) so you can opt to buy these products when you arrive at your destination to save on backpack space and baggage allowance. But if you have specific brand preferences that might not be available in your destination/s or if you’re going to some really remote location, then it might be better to bring your own. Below is the list of products we found to be essential for the trip:
- soap/shower gel
- shampoo and conditioner
- facial wash and moisturizer
- toothbrush, toothpaste and/or mouthwash
- sunscreen — a must-have in Southeast Asia!
- hairbrush and hair ties
- microfiber travel towel — so it’s easier to dry
- facial tissues/toilet paper and/or wet wipes
- laundry detergents or bar soaps
- cotton swabs
- nail cutter
- shaving kit
- hair products
- compact mirror
- pocket sewing kit
☑ First Aid Kit
- instant relief tablets and medicine (paracetamol, loperamide, antacids, lozenges, etc.)
- allergy medications
- band aids
- petroleum jelly — can be used for cuts as well as dry skin patches, and also as a lipbalm substitute
- katinko or tiger balm — great for headaches, nausea, muscle pains, insect bites, and more
- pocket rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer
- bug repellant lotion or spray
☑ Transit Essentials
- neck pillow
- light scarf
- sunnies and prescription glasses
- eye mask and ear plugs
- water bottle
- bag locks
- small face towel — useful when it’s too hot outside
- a good book and a mini reading lamp if you like to read
- earphones if you have shows to watch or music to listen to
QUICK TIP #8: Choose a handy, durable water bottle to bring to your travels: some airports have drinking fountains which you can use for free refills (after passing through airport security of course), and most accommodations provide drinking water as well. This way you get to save up on beverage expenses while also minimizing plastic waste!
☑ Electronics & Tech
- mobile phone
- power bank (this one has a built-in flashlight!)
- camera and memory cards
- chargers, cables, and extra batteries
- universal adapter
- laptops, ipads, and e-readers
- multi-port USB charger (so you can charge many gadgets at once)
☑ Travel Documents & Money Matters
- passport and visa/s (if needed)
- printed flight itineraries and accommodation bookings
- printout of other travel tickets and reservations
- at least 2 valid, government-issued IDs
- health insurance cards
- travel insurance (if applicable)
- cash and credit cards
- pen — always comes in handy when you need to fill up forms and immigration cards
- extra passport photos and backup supporting documents for emergencies
- extra money inserted in your passport holders and/or unobtrusive bag pockets, in case (God forbid) you lose your purse
QUICK TIP #9: Always, always keep digital copies of all your travel documents in your phone, especially your passport and your travel tickets. This way you get back up copies of everything in case something unfortunate happens. Email the copies to yourself as well (or save it in a secure online drive) so you can still have access to them anywhere with or without your phone.
- ziplock bags for emergencies
- extra daypack or fanny pack
- foldable duffel/travel bag that can be used as an extra carry-on bag — in case you get too happy with shopping
- laundry bag
With all of these things we had to bring, and knowing that we would be on a lot of commutes, we needed to make sure that we pack everything up in an efficient and organized way.
Clothes, extra footwear and toiletries all go with the main luggage. Use packing cubes for smart and easy packing (and unpacking) — they make everything organized so you know where everything is, and lets you fit more in your bag. When stuffing your bag, make sure to keep the heaviest at the bottom and central part to help keep your pack stable and prevent back injuries: clothes at the bottom and toiletries on top!
QUICK TIP #10: Plan your attires ahead and try packing your clothes according to the day you want to wear them. This way you wouldn’t have to spend time trying to figure out what to wear and it will be easier to get them from your pile.
QUICK TIP #11: Keep a small piece of soap bar with your used clothes when you pack them to keep them (and your bag) smelling fresh.
Meanwhile, all travel documents, transit essentials, and electronics should be packed in your carry-on bag. These are all the things you’ll need during flights or commutes.
Have a small pouch in your carry-on where you can put a portion of your first aid kit — a couple of instant relief tablets, band aids, petroleum jelly, katinko/tiger balm, rubbing alcohol/sanitizer, and tissues and wipes — and another pouch to keep all your chargers, cables and other electronic stuff neat and together. It’s also best to pack a set of clothes in case of emergencies.
And lastly, keep all your travel documents and passport in an A5-sized clear envelope to keep them safe and secure; the clear part makes it easier to see details on your itineraries or boarding pass even without taking them out of the envelope.
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A roundup of all our Indochina guides can be found here.