Knowing what clothes to pack for backpacking can be very challenging and it is something that I totally mucked up myself. So if you are about to hit the road yourself then this guide is for you.
My number one tip is to pack light.
- Heavy bags suck. More shit = more weight and more weight = more misery
- If you pack light you will save yourself a lot of money if you do not have to buy extra luggage on every flight
- If you pack light then you will have more space to bring home souvenirs like crazy banana-patterned shirts (see below)
I had read numerous blogs advising me to only pack a week’s worth of clothes if you are backpacking for 6 months or more. What those blogs did not take into account is that you may want to buy some clothes whilst you are travelling as well. So if you buy even one t-shirt then this is technically another day’s outfit and then you will end up with too many clothes – like stupid over here did.
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- Visiting the Killing Fields and S21 Museum in Cambodia
- Backpacker problems: The time I walked in on my hostel room mate having sex
- Backpacking photo diary – Week 1: Bangkok, Sukhothai & Chiang Mai, Thailand
Clothes are really heavy and when I got to Vietnam I had to send a load of them home, which cost me £50! And I wasn’t the only one that had to repatriate their clothes in order to lighten the load. Don’t make the same mistake that I did! I was also extremely vexed to meet this Australian guy who was travelling for six months with nothing more than a 20 litre backpack – literally just a standard run of the mill backpack that you would buy in Urban Outfitters. He wore the same pair of shorts every day and I envied him massively as I thought I wouldn’t mind wearing the same pair of shorts every day if it meant I wasn’t carrying around my backpack.
I really believe that you can survive with less than a week’s worth of clothing. This time around I would probably only take around four day’s worth, because I know I like to buy clothes when I travel. Seriously, there are some super nice clothes and cool t-shirts to buy out in South East Asia. For example I bought a really cute playsuit with a lace back in Thailand, a lovely white linen maxi dress in Cambodia, the classic backpacker fruit print shirts in Vietnam and cool surfer t-shirts in the Philippines. Now you can see why I ended up with too many garms.
So, with the benefit of hindsight, I thought I would share with you what clothes to pack for backpacking South East Asia, and what I would pack if I were to set off on another backpacking adventure. If you like buying clothes as souvenirs then listen up!
I would urge you to try and pack items which have more than one use. Of course, pack what you want, but if you know that you will want to buy clothes then I would recommend not packing a week’s worth.
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What clothes to pack for backpacking South East Asia – the bare essentials
Underwear | I would say bring at least 14 pairs of underwear as they will go missing. Seriously, believe it or not, people steal underwear. I know, weird right? In the end I had to be commando quite a lot! Plus, if you wear thongs then let me tell you, NOWHERE in S.E Asia sells thongs!
2 pair shorts or 1 pair of shorts and 1 skirt | Make sure that one pair is black. I regretted not bringing black shorts, because when you are at the beach and you put on a pair of shorts over your bikini, it is not the best look when your bikini makes a wet mark on your shorts. Plus, black shorts will go with everything and in the end I wore a lot of baggy t-shirts over a pair of shorts – I think you will do this especially if you are living the island life. The other soft pair of shorts should be shorts you can wear during the day, but can also double up as pyjama shorts. Soft shorts are also good if you are going hiking!
If you are a skirt person and cannot travel for months without a skirt then at least make sure that it is a stretchy waist band and a loose skirt.
REMEMBER: Stretchy waistlines are a backpacker’s best friend.
1 hoodie | I know you are heading off to a tropical climate, but I think having a hoodie is essential. Firstly for the flights you will be on, as it always gets cold on an aeroplane. Secondly, for the times you will wake up in Antarctica with your teeth chattering because someone in your dorm room has whacked up the air con.
1 pair light leggings | Again, for the flight and travel days. Also, if you plan on keeping fit whilst you are out travelling then these will be of use.
1-2 bikinis | I know that technically you only need 1 bikini, but I don’t like looking the same in every beach photo, so that’s the only reason why I say 1-2, although I actually had more than this with me. I would advise that one of your bikinis is a high-waisted bikini because it is very likely that you will put on weight when you are travelling – unfortunately it can’t be helped and if you are feeling slightly self-conscious then a high-waisted bikini bottom is a god-send. Also, if you plan on working out then make sure one of your bikini tops is a sporty one with a racer back as this can double up as a sports bra.
1 scarf | Although you can buy one whilst travelling. A scarf can be used as a beach cover-up, a blanket to sit on and to cover yourself if you are going to a temple where you need to cover your legs or shoulders. See! A multi-use item!
1 dress | Even this is negotiable if you think that you will buy dresses during your travels.
1 black crop top | I had so many of these at home but chose not to bring one and then spent five months looking for one in S.E Asia. They go with everything!
T-shirts and strappy tops | White is a no-go as they do not stay white for very long. Make sure that they are cotton as this will help keep you cool.
Socks | Like underwear, socks will also go walkabout. The number of pairs will depend on if you think that you will wear mostly flip flops or trainers. Personally, I wore my trainers a lot, so I brought about 6 pairs of socks.
1 bra | that will go with everything. Otherwise I mostly brought tops that meant that I did not have to wear a bra, which I prefer! Free the nipple!
1 pair flip flops | Make sure they are not an expensive pair as they will likely break or you will lose them on the beach when you are drunk (true story).
1 pair trainers | that you can wear every day with your outfits and will also be good for working out (if you plan on doing so) and hiking, which is pretty inevitable in South East Asia. You can see a selection of trainers that I would buy for travelling below.
What I would not pack
A maxi dress or skirt just for the sake of going to temples | Temple pants can be one of the things that you buy as a souvenir. Plus, it is the backpacker uniform and a rite of passage – are you a really a backpacker if you did not buy a pair of elephant pants? Equally, a scarf can serve this purpose.
Denim shorts | Because I am sad to admit that they were too tight for me in the end (sob). Plus denim is pretty heavy.
A sports bra | Too heavy and a similar bikini top can serve as a sports bra when needed
Long sleeved shirt | You already have a jumper if you get cold.
Jeans | The chances of you wanting to wear long trousers in such humid climates are pretty slim – plus as previously stated, jeans are heavy.
Tight, long dresses | When mounting a moped behind someone, it is not the most dignified or ladylike way if you are wearing a tight long skirt or dress.
Any more than two pairs of shoes | I took my converse which I wore every day, but I also took my gym trainers, as well as my flip flops. I didn’t wear my gym trainers enough to justify bringing them. So I would recommend that if you plan on working out, keeping fit and doing some hiking which is pretty inevitable in South East Asia, that you bring a pair that will do for both hiking and everyday wear.
A rain jacket | Because I think that the number of times that you will use it will not justify bringing it. Sure, it will rain and when it rains, it rains a lot, but just pack a rain poncho, which is much more compact.