Packing For Asia: How’d I Do?

With just a few weeks left on my backpacking trip, I think I can accurately assess how well I did packing for Asia.

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I kept this 3-bag setup throughout the entire 5 months and it worked quite well – but I won’t lie, it was quite cumbersome, especially at times where my backpack weighed more. Not only was a couple kg of extra weight noticeable on my shoulders, but it also made packing a top-loading backpack extremely tedious because I was constantly unpacking and repacking my bag. I had to repack everything JUST SO or else it wouldn’t all fit. I highly recommend a front-loading pack for backpacking trips – I’ll be investing in one for next time!

Overall, I think I did a pretty excellent job in packing for Asia. Several items I packed proved to be worth their weight in silver AND gold. There were also a few things I packed that I never used, and a few things I SHOULD have packed that would have been brilliantly useful, but by far the biggest area for improvement would be the weight of my pack. Hovering just under 20kg the entire trip, I know I can do better next time around. For me, 20kg was very uncomfortable to carry on my back, and 15kg was much more manageable.

The Weight Of My Pack

My main backpack got weighed before every flight I took, so I was able to keep tabs on how much weight I’d been carrying.
Note: This excludes all electronics (which I kept in my day pack/carry-on)

Start of the trip: 18kg

I had clothes for all weather, from the snowy Himalayas to conservative India to hot & humid Southeast Asia.

2 months into trip: 20kg

I bought some things along the way, which added weight to my pack. Oops.

2.5 months into trip: 15kg

I shipped home as much as I could, namely the winter clothing, trekking gear, and souvenirs I’d bought for people back home.

3.5 months into trip: 18kg

I bought a few more things along the way. ’twas inevitable!

End of trip: 18kg

When I finished my 5 months in Asia, I got rid of a lot of the cruddy, worn-in backpacking clothes that I knew I’d never wear again – but I also bought a few new items to wear in London, which kept my pack weight consistent.

Most Useful Items Packed:

Lululemon shorts

I’ve never owned a lululemon product and I’m not keen on yoga attire, but these lululemon reversible shorts are clutch on the road in hot climates. They are just the right length and don’t ride up, which I appreciate as someone who prefers to have her thighs mostly covered. They’re obviously great to wear for any active endeavor (biking, hiking, etc) – but also work well with a tank top or t-shirt. And best of all – they kept all my sweat under control while in Southeast Asia.

packing for asia  

Extra passport photos

These are crucial to have if you want to obtain a visa on arrival in any country, or apply for a visa while in another country. I knew in advance that I’d be traveling through multiple countries in Southeast Asia, so I had a stack of passport photos with me, on call whenever I needed them. It saved me the hassle of having to get my picture taken and printed out somewhere abroad.

Havaianas flip flops

I wore Havaianas every.single.day. in Southeast Asia, did a ridiculous amount of walking on the reg, and my feet never hurt. They are cheap, durable, comfortable, and go with just about anything you’d wear there. And this is coming from someone with big, flat feet that have gotten beaten up by 98% of shoes they’ve ever worn.

Quick-dry clothing

When you are backpacking for an extended amount of time, you are not going to be doing laundry regularly, nor are you going to pack enough clothes to last weeks without washing. I took to hand washing the items I’d wear most often, in-between laundry drop-offs. Having quick-dry underwear and shirts meant I could wash my clothes at night, hang them up to dry, and they’d be ready to wear/pack in the morning. The quick-dry items I bought for this trip:

independent travel blog 

Sarong

Ok, technically I didn’t pack this item, but I went to Thailand with the intention of buying one straight away. Note: Every sarong sold in Thailand has either a). elephants, or b). tropical fish on it… so if those don’t appeal to you, buy a sarong elsewhere! It saw an insane amount of use on this trip:

  • as a beach towel
  • as a skirt or cover-up on the beach
  • as a top sheet for sleeping at night
  • as extra padding around my camera gear

Padlock

Having my own padlock came in handy whenever dorms did not provide locks for their lockers, or tea houses/bungalows didn’t have locks on their doors. I’d venture to say I used my own lock at least 50% of the time at my accommodation. Definitely bring a lock with you, or be sure to buy one at the start of your travels!

Items Packed But Rarely Used:

Pacsafe

I’d heard enough horror stories about theft in hostels and on overnight buses and trains in Asia that I wanted to do everything in my power to secure my luggage while traveling. I bought the Pacsafe 85L with this in mind, but never used it because nearly everywhere I stayed had secure lockers, and when I traveled overnight by train or bus I just kept my valuables on me at all times and had my backpack pockets padlocked. Also, when I was playing around with the Pacsafe, I had a lot of difficulties getting it to lock – this product is not easy to use. I will be selling this item when I return home.

Makeup

I have a daily makeup ritual back home and couldn’t imagine breaking free from it while on the road, so I packed my whole kit. I didn’t touch it at all the first few weeks of my trip, since I was trekking – and then I got into the habit of not even thinking about it after that. When you’re constantly on the go and never see the same people on a daily basis, wearing makeup seems kind of pointless. My makeup bag stayed at the bottom of my backpack the entire trip.

pushkar india

Items I Should Have Packed:

Backup camera

By far the biggest mistake I made was not packing a backup camera. I’d never had a camera break on me, so I didn’t think I’d have to worry about it. And I was trying very hard to limit the weight of my bags, where an extra couple of pounds would have been very noticeable. In retrospect, I should have packed either an extra SLR camera body or a smaller camera as backup. LESSON LEARNED.

Floss picks

I use floss picks daily back home (I have a hard time using regular floss because of the braces bar behind my teeth) and didn’t think to pack them. I never saw them in Asia. My dentist won’t be thrilled with my lack of flossing over these 5 months – oops!

Hammock

I think I underestimated just how much beach time I’d have, and overestimated the abundance of hammocks at the places I stayed at. Some guesthouses and beaches did have hammocks, but most of the time they didn’t, or they weren’t located in an ideal spot. I’d have loved to have had my own hammock to string up wherever I went.
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What are your tips for packing for Asia?

Lindsay Buckley is the photographer and travel blogger behind Frugal Frolicker. She's a New Yorker currently based in Sydney, Australia, documenting outdoor travel experiences Down Under and beyond. Follow along with Lindsay's travel photography on Facebook and Instagram, and be sure to sign up for the monthly Frugal Frolicker newsletter!

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  • Jamie Buckley

    Girl you crazy. Did you really bring makeup? Tisk tisk. I could have told you you wouldn’t be using it! PS. Me likes the picture at the bottom of the post :)

    • lindsaypunk

      YESSSSS I did! I didn’t know what to expect, and I was in the habit of wearing it at home. It was way easier than I thought to ditch the routine though!