What to Pack for Travelling Asia (and what not to!)

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I am the kind of person who constantly thinks about clothes; what to wear for different occasions; what pieces will complete my seasonal wardrobe; and what outfit is going to be ‘the one’ this summer.

Therefore, when going on a general holiday I will plan exact outfits for each day, partly so that I’m never left not knowing what to wear and partly because I just adore outfit planning. 

When Nathan and I decided to travel Asia for 6 weeks, I knew that this wasn’t going to be a ‘normal’ holiday packing job and so I turned to google and scoured blog after blog looking for that all important guidance. However, although I could find tonnes of pages on what to take in practical terms (insect repellent, waterproofs etc.), there was barely anyone writing about the general clothing and footwear items that you need. 

It’s maybe worth pointing out that I’m not your stereotypical backpacker and the way I dress is important to me in every situation so I definitely put a lot more thought and attention into packing than anything else, so you don’t have to!

So in this post, I want to give you my advice on what to pack for 4-8 weeks travelling Asia (or similar countries) as a young woman on a bit of a budget, who really loves fashion but understands how practical you need to be in hindsight. 

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THE CLOTHES

In terms of the basics you want to take a variety of loose fitting and comfortable clothes that are also lightweight. Things like shorts, t-shirts, vest tops and dresses are obvious so my more targeted tips are:

  • Take neutral coloured clothes- mostly black, grey, and white for the daytime as you can super easily mix and match.
  • Denim shorts and a denim skirt are essential as although they’re a bit heavier, they match with absolutely any top.
  • Aside from the denim items, I would mostly take playsuits and dresses in light, floaty materials as you won’t have to waste time trying to match items together as it’s an outfit in one.
  • Take a few ‘nicer’ outfits for evenings but not tonnes as you’ll soon find that no one really dresses up very much in Asia and you feel slightly out of place if you do – especially in places such as Cambodia where there is a lot of poverty, it just doesn’t feel necessary or right.
  • Take a couple of ‘match with anything’ tops that have at least half sleeves as there are a lot of religious places in Asia where you will need to cover your shoulders.
  • The same goes here for trousers, make sure you have some lightweight pants such as culottes for visiting religious sites.
  • Take some workout gear/gym clothes if you are planning on doing any active day trips such as climbing a mountain or trekking.
  • A thin waterproof jacket with a hood is an essential if you are visiting any time around the rainy season as when it rains, it really pours.
  • Make sure to bring a few warm layers, such as a long sleeved top and a hoodie/jumper for any overnight coaches or trains as the air-con on these makes them seriously freezing.
  • Bikinis and bikini cover-ups are essential and try remember that you’ll probably wear these more (if you’re visiting coastal places and the islands) than your normal clothes, so pack accordingly.

With clothes I would also really try to leave a fair few extra KG free and some space in your case as there are heaps of amazing clothes, shoes and accessories to buy in Asia, particularly at the incredible markets in Thailand, and it would be such a shame not to have the room to make the most of the insanely cheap prices.

Things I found them particularly great for were long light weight ‘elephant pants’ for visiting temples and kaftan style bikini cover ups so these are things that you might want to leave out for now and purchase in your first couple of days there. A full post on where to shop in Thailand will be coming shortly!

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THE SHOES

I genuinely think you only need 3 pairs of shoes for this type of trip and as shoes can be so heavy, I’d really try keep it to the 3 main options that I’ve narrowed it down to. 

  1. Trainers for any active trips and long days out. Also great if you want to try keep fit whilst you’re out there as they can be used to work out, or worn with everyday clothes. Try make them waterproof if you’re going anywhere near the rainy season. I’d also recommend travelling in these as they will probably be the heaviest and comfiest.
  2. Flip Flops or Birkenstocks for the majority of the time – days and nights. In Asian culture, you almost always have to remove your shoes to enter any building including shops, hotels and homes, so flip flops are the obvious and easy choice for slipping on and off. Don’t bother getting expensive ones as you’ll have to leave them outside a lot, as long as they’re comfy and neutral so they can be worn with anything.
  3. Nicer flat sandals for the occasions when you dress up a little more and want to feel more fashionable. I wouldn’t bother taking heels to Asia at all, for one they weight too much in your baggage and, secondly, there just isn’t any need for them in this kind of environment.

My main tip to keep in mind when choosing what shoes to pack is to make sure that you don’t take any new shoes. You will be walking around and exploring in super high temperatures almost every day which will make your feet swell and make you super prone to blisters – I learnt this the hard way and my feet are still recovering a month later! So stick to shoes that you’ve tried and tested for long distances plenty of times before and that you know are super comfortable for your feet. 

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THE BAGS

I also recommend taking 3 types of bag – aside from your larger suitcase, rucksack or holdall. 

  1. A standard sized rucksack in a lightweight, waterproof fabric that you can take out on day trips where you need to take a fair bit with you such as suncream, water and food. Also doubles up as your ‘hand luggage’ bag when on the move.
  2. A bum bag for day to day adventures when all you need to take with you is your phone, camera and money. These are great for safety as you don’t have to put them down anywhere and you can even slip it inside of your top for added protection.
  3. A cute small shoulder bag for days out when you don’t need to worry so much about ‘safety’. A bag like this can also dress up an outfit so much more for the evenings and is handy to keep the essentials such as your passport, phone and purse in when going on public transport.

My main bits of advice here would just be to make sure that these are all in neutral-ish colours so that they can match with any of your outfits, and that they’re fairly high-quality so nothings going to break halfway through your trip. 

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THE MAKE-UP

Streamlining your usual make-up bag is essential for travelling Asia. A lot of the time you won’t even wear it at all but if you are a girl who enjoys wearing make-up then I’m sure you’ll still want to take some for those evenings when you want to look extra pretty. 

  • Take a light-weight foundation, BB cream or tinted moisturiser that blends easily and is a few shades darker than your usual shade so you can still use it as you get more tanned. I wouldn’t bother with any heavy-duty base products as you’ll just sweat them off and be left looking streaky.
  •  A brightening and glowy concealer for under the eyes is an essential as you probably won’t be getting very much sleep as there’s so much to do all the time!
  • A waterproof mascara is a saviour for beach days when you want to look slightly more ‘done’. Just make sure it’s one that doesn’t pull your eyelashes out when it comes to removing it!
  • A brow gel to set your eyebrows in place once the sweating starts happening is another great essential to help you look slightly more made-up.
  • Bronzer and highlighter – both for their obvious uses as base products to make you look extra glowing and summery, but these products are also amazing as you can multi-task with them by applying them as eyeshadows. I do this a lot when I’m trying not to pack too much make-up and you can create such a pretty shimmery, bronzed eye with no added luggage issues!
  • Take a couple of different shades (for me that’s always nude, pink and peach but throw a red in if that’s your cup of tea) of long wearing lipsticks and lipliners as I don’t think anything can make you look more done up in a shorter space of time than just adding a nice pop of colour to your lips. Plus lipstick isn’t really affected by sweaty conditions so that’s a huge bonus!

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THE ACCESSORIES

I don’t think you need many fashion accessories at all, besides the bags already mentioned, to travel Asia. Necklaces and things get tangled together in your luggage and small items like earrings just get lost amongst the bigger things.

  • If you’re someone who needs to wear some form of jewellery then cute, cheap friendship bracelets in bright colours always look nice with the backpacker ‘look’, plus if they break it’s no problem as they’re super cheap and readily available to repurchase all over Asia.
  • Bring tonnes of hair bobbles and hair clips as up-dos will become your new best friend due to the heat and humidity.
  • A belt is always a nice way to make a baggy dress or playsuit sit in the right place and look a little more flattering.
  • Bring two pairs of sunglasses as they’re so easy to break and lose and the sun shines so brightly that you’ll be needing them every single day so they’re worth investing in.

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THOSE LITTLE EXTRAS

There were a few tips and tricks I picked up along the way that I found were great little extras that are definitely worth packing if you still have an inch of room left in your case following this mammoth list. 

  • A large blanket scarf can be used for all sorts of things and I found mine to come in very handy. As I previously mentioned, the trains and coaches are freezing and if you’re on an overnight one then you can use the scarf as a blanket to provide both a feeling of home comfort and much-needed warmth. We also used ours as a picnic blanket! A large sarong (which you can affordably purchase over there) also does the job.
  • A travel pillow is vital for long overnight coaches. My tip is to get an inflatable one as although they’re not as comfy, they’re so practical and save a lot of space.
  • An eye mask and ear plugs. The eye mask was one of the best things I chose to take for so many reasons – I used it on every coach and train. If you’re in hostels then it’d also be amazing if you want to go to sleep earlier or get up later than your roommates.
  • Padlocks were another thing that I was so glad to have taken. There’s some pretty dodgy situations on public transport where a padlock just gives your bag that added level of security, hopefully deterring anyone from bothering to steal it.
  • Hand sanitiser, wet wipes and tissues! The toilet situation is Asia is questionable at best and soap and toilet roll just don’t seem to be a thing in public bathrooms. These items will become your no. 1 and you won’t leave your hotel without them.

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FYI, I took all of these things in a holdall type bag with a hard/more protected zip section at the bottom and a larger soft section on the top. This really worked for me as I loved that it had wheels so I could pull it and it felt much easier to find things in than a large rucksack. Of course, your bag preference is totally personal and I would say that 99% of the travellers we saw did have the standard large rucksack and seemed very happy with that option so it depends how you prefer to carry the weight. 

My other main tip is to use packing cubes. We ordered some very affordable ones from Amazon, I think it was a pack of 6 in various different sizes for about £2.50. I separated each type of clothing into a separate cube e.g ‘playsuits’, ‘shorts’, and labelled them all. This made trying to find things in my case one million times easier and kept me incredibly organised as well so these are an absolute must for longer trips.

I hope this post has helped some of you who are also struggling to find solid, valuable advice on what to pack and if you are going to travel Asia, then get excited, as you’re about to have the best adventure of your life!

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