“Who actually likes packing?” an incredulous friend said to me recently. I do. I love packing. There, the nerd in me is out. It taps into my organisational and planning skills and it helps me get really excited for wherever I am visiting! In the past I’ve had a few friends ask me what they should bring backpacking, whether for themselves or buying presents for a friend or family member who is about to leave on their first backpacking trip. The following are all items I actually use or wish I had used the first time I went backpacking. I pack all these items when I have travelled around Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, Sri Lanka and India. The first time I went backpacking around South East Asia, I completely over packed. My backpack was enormous, I complained all the time and often threw a few tantrums and made my travel buddy carry my backpack more times than I would like to admit.
What to Pack in your Backpack: Backpacking Essentials for South East Asia
Here’s how to NOT be a royal pain in the arse when backpacking, avoid complaining and pack these 20 useful and practical items:
- Dry bag – These are so incredible useful when you are on and off boats and in monsoon or rainy seasons around Asia. I have a 3L and a 5L and I prefer the larger size as I can fit more stuff in! I bought mine in Thailand but if you are after one before you leave check out Amazon for Dry Bag Sack, Waterproof
- Small backpack – I only recently converted to be a day backpack kind of person! Before I was always resistant as I thought cross-shoulder bags went better with my outfit (so vain). Since travelling to India, I am a total convert – you can fit a bottle of water in it and it makes everything feel lighter and more manageable! I bought mine at a market in India, it’s not too big and the perfect size for me!
- Kindle – As a complete bookworm, I was always slightly wary of the famous Kindle or e-reader. I love the smell of real books, turning the pages and swapping with friends. However, they are also fairly unpractical for travelling light and the glue melts in the sun or hot countries and the pages fall out. So now I have learnt to embrace the Kindle and I wouldn’t travel anywhere without it! The battery lasts forever (even when I frequently forget to turn it off) and any classic literature is free to download and read! Even better when I am on a budget and want to spend money on travel activities and not books! Check out my list of inspiring travel reads here. Get yours from Amazon Kindle Paperwhite E-reader
- Travel journal – I love writing and like me, so many travellers I know love to document their journeys in a notebook so that they can return to the memories of how they felt at that time. It’s also a great present for anyone setting off on their trip. Just make sure it’s a light one like these from Amazon…
- First aid kit – I am by no means a medical expert but the following are a few things I include and have used in my first aid kit, plasters, anti-histamines, immodium, charcoal tablets, seasick pills, scissors…
- Sleeping bag liner – This one I find so so useful. When backpacking you might not always be staying in the nicest accommodation and you might not always find the sleeper trains or buses the height of cleanliness. This is where your sleeping bag liner can be used, it’s light so perfect for hot countries and means you don’t have to touch that questionable material underneath you! I have one with a ‘mummy’ hood meaning my hair doesn’t have to touch anything and when being stared at on Indian trains I can just pull the whole thing over my head – Sleeping Bag Liner Travel
- Tiger balm – I swear by this stuff and so does most of Thailand. I use it for mosquito bites, for warding off bugs, for muscle aches and even to put under my nose if I end up sleeping near a smelly bus toilet! It’s generally more expensive in the UK so wait until you get to South East Asia and buy from a local convenience store like 7/11 in Thailand.
- Clothes line – this was a present from a friend before I went on my first long backpacking trip and it was so incredible useful. Nice hotels often provide towel rails or drying clothes horses, budget accommodation does not! You can hook the clothes line between two wall fittings in the bathroom or outside and put your clothes in between the twists to stop them flying away in the wind. Mine was similar to this Adjustable Bungee Clothesline
- Gopro Hero – The first time I went backpacking I didn’t have a GoPro and only discovered them later in life – however I feel I am now making up for lost time. I recently bought a new one, the Gopro 4 as it has a screen and you can use down to 40m for diving. The new gopro 5 can only be used to 10m for diving so you need to buy something extra if you want to take it diving. I bought mine from the Amazon equivalent in Thailand – GoPro HERO4 Silver.
- Deet mosquito spray – once you are in South East Asia, the strongest DEET mosquito spray I have been able to find is 15% compared with 50% at home and I know which one I would want when faced with those jungle mozzies. This is one item I definitely recommend buying in advance, try Repel Max Insect Repellent
- Ear plugs – Again, an item it took me a while to discover but now I won’t travel without mine (and am constantly buying more as I lose them!) So useful for noisy train journeys and to block out the noise of crying babies, hawkers and the rest. These are not always easy to find in Thailand and the airport shops are way overprices so try ordering some from Amazon before you go. I recommend buying a pack with a few pairs! Protection Noise Cancelling Disposable Foam Earplugs
- Eye Mask – Another fantastic travelling item that I used constantly on flights, night trains and buses. I find it difficult to sleep and if you do too then definitely invest in a cheap eye mask. Mine is a cheap one from a Thai market but I love the ones that have a space around the eyes like Star Moon Deep Molded Sleep Mask
- Baby wipes – I never like spending a lot of money on those expensive make-up remover wipes and so I decided to go for tax-free baby wipes instead! They are so useful for sweaty moments, cleaning hands, shoes, backpacks, to use as toilet paper…the list goes on.
- Sarong – I think this is such a useful item. You can use it to cover your shoulders for visiting religious places, to cover up for warmth, to use as a towel on the beach, to lie on on the dirty ground. I also recommend waiting until you arrive in South East Asia – so many pretty sarongs and scarves to choose from at the markets.
- Handwash for clothes – While you can get laundry done on mass cheaply in most of South East Asia, there is always the occasional time when you just want to wash the odd item so I recommend carrying a small handwash liquid around with you for when you really just want to wear that favourite top! (or you’ve suddenly realised that you’ve run out of underwear!) A friend bought me some like these and they were very useful! Travel Hand Wash Soap Sheets
- Selfie stick – In Thailand there is no shame in using a selfie stick and I honestly think you can get some great photos from using one. There is this gopro selfie stick on Amazon Waterproof GoPro Selfie Stick. I have bought before in Thailand but it broke fairly quickly and I think it’s better to go with a real shop than a dodgy market in this case!
- Toilet bags to separate items – I usually get frustrated at how long it takes to find things in my backpack so I’ve recently started separating items using toilet bags or soft linen bags so I know what is in each one. I don’t recommend millions of plastic bags as no-one likes to be woken up in their dorm room by the noisy plastic bag person rummaging around for something!
- Travel towel – The first time I travelled I took a beach towel – What was I thinking? It was enormous, took up so much space and just collected sand for the duration of my trip. Fool. Try one of these small and quick-drying travel towels instead like RainLeaf Towel GreenI don’t think it’s worth spending a lot as after a few months it will smell and you will probably throw it away!
- Pack of cards – for those long, delayed train journeys, and for those wild drinking game nights you won’t remember. Everyone loves the person who brings a pack of cards for entertainment! Alternatively I received Dobble for Christmas (great present from my sister!) and this livens up any dull journey too! I know even use it to teach in my English classes, it’s easy to play, fast paced and so much fun. Amazon sells them Doburu (spot it) / Dobble (japan import)
- Anti-bacterial gel – because travelling as a backpacker is not always the most hygienic way of travelling. Use liberally after toilets, staircases, night trains and buses! Check out more travel in Thailand advice here
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This post contains affiliate links. If you click on the link and purchase an item I will receive a small commission with no extra charge to you. These are all genuinely things that I use all the time when I travel.