More stuff = dealing with more stress and anxiety. Going off on a travel adventure exposes you to all sorts of risks and losing your belongings is just one of them. It’s better to try to avoid the situation if you can.
In this post I want to share with you my experience on how I managed to backpack Southeast Asia with little to nothing and the freedom it brought me. I’d say that most of the success of travelling around was attributed to bringing so few things!
This post is mainly aimed towards the people who are looking to start on their own backpack adventure and looking for tips on how to pack. But even if you’re not looking to go off on your own nomadic journey, you can still apply the same principles to your short vacation getaway. I guarantee you’ll be a lot happier on your trips because of it.
How much stuff is enough?
Before setting off on a trip to Southeast Asia with just a backpack on my shoulders, I had to think hard about the things that I wanted to take with me. My main goal was to keep flight expenses as low as possible by flying within the allowable weight and size of a carry-on a person can bring to avoid additional charges for excess baggage weight. At the same time I need to make sure I had enough things with me to survive.
You may not think it, but if you collected everything you think you’ll need for your trip and laid it out, it’s likely only HALF of the stuff is what you’ll actually need and the rest goes into the “would be nice” pile. Believe me, you don’t need many things to travel the world!
Alright then, with that let’s start off talking about your main companion throughout your trip:
The size of your backpack is important
Choosing the size of your backpack is critical because it needs to fit in the overhead compartment of most airplanes and be appropriate in size so you can easily carry it. I travelled around with a 70L bag and it was perfect for all case scenarios. In smaller airplanes it fit snug where sometimes you’ll need to squeeze it in so the compartment door could close.
Most people don’t know this but not all airplanes have the same standard overhead compartment space. In North America, the planes typically have larger compartments than its counter parts in Asia. This is true in smaller budget airlines like Air Asia, Thai Lion Air, VietJet, etc.
As you’re flying throughout Asia, you’ll see other travellers who tend to bring with them odd sized non-traditional carry-ons such as cardboard boxes, large polypropylene bags full of loose items, styrofoam boxes, or just items in normal plastic bags. All of these things add up to weird space sizes in the overhead compartment bins that makes it a challenge to fit your bag.
Having a soft and flexible bag is important because it will give you a fighting chance to have your bag tucked above your head filled with other passenger’s things. Avoid hard shell bags or luggage that aren’t able to be squeeze or compressed into tight spaces.
Buy a multi-functional bag with at least these three functions:
A detachable day bag, a lockable zipper, and front loading access.
At minimum your travel bag should have these features as it will really make living with your bag 100x more enjoyable.
Importance of the day bag:
Exploring a city is a lot more fun to do when you’re relieved of all of your belongings with you. Imagine having to lug around all your stuff in Thailand’s 30+ degree weather. I’m sweating just thinking about it.
Having a day bag where you can separate your needs for the day like a camera, hat, sunblock, and water while leaving the rest behind in your hotel or hostel is a godsend. When you’re shopping for souvenirs during the day, you’ll conveniently have a place to store your valuable finds too!
Lockable zipper is a must:
Leaving your stuff behind means you’ll have to trust in the locking facilities and staff.
Some hostels offer lock boxes in them within your dormitory but are in areas where cameras aren’t. With a lockable zipper it let you feel a bit more secure that someone won’t be able to get into your belongings as easily or at an airport it prevents someone from slipping contraband in. Yes, that does happen.
Front loading access makes easier use of the bag:
A front loading compared to a top loading bag is essential if you don’t want to constantly pull your hair out while trying to get at the bottom items.
Having access to all your things with a front zippered flap saves so much time and less rustling in the night when other hostel guests are sleeping. For my bag I usually double up it’s function as a hanging wardrobe if there’s a hook anywhere in the bathroom or dorm room.
Avoid being weighed often:
If your backpack appears too large it’ll increase the chances of you being asked to have your bag weighed at the gate by airline staff and charged an inflated fee for putting them through the last minute trouble. If it looks like you’re struggling to carry the weight, you’re likely going to be asked to be reweighed. Save yourself the headaches and avoid buying a really large bag if you’re planning to backpack. A 70L bag should be the maximum size.
Multi functional things
Space in your bag is valuable, make sure to fill it with items that can serve at least two function if possible. A scarf that can be used as a head wrap or slippers that are rugged enough to be used outside while withstanding being wet in the showers.
Adjust what you carry as you continue travelling:
As I found out myself, it was easier than I thought it to let things go along the way. You start to develop a routine with your belongings and you begin to know what items you really can live without when you’re on the road or recognize you have too of the same things. For me it was having too many underwear and t-shirts.
Here is a complete list of what I packed with me:
- 1 Hat
- 6 t-shirts
- 6 underwear
- 7 socks
- 1 slipper
- 1 running/walking shoe
- 2 shorts
- 1 long pants (for getting into temples or sacred places)
- 1 long sleeve shirt (for getting into temples or sacred places)
- 1 sun glasses
- 1 eye glasses
- 1 ultra light down jacket
- Camera and handheld tripod
- Camera microphone
- Power bank (small)
- Charging cables and accessories
- External memory storage
- Toothbrush and paste (under 100ml)
- Contact lens (extra packs)
- Contact lens solution (under 100ml)
- Shaver (non-electric)
- Hair wax (under 100ml)
- 1 small and light towel
- Small lock for my zippered bag
- Larger lock for lockers
- Money belt
The travel backpack that I recommend:
I’m recommending THIS bag sold on Amazon because it’s the one that has made my travel adventures such a success and I’m really happy with it. It’s the same one you see in the picture above.
What you need you can always buy:
A lot familiar products are widely available in SE Asia and more often at a cheaper price than you can get it in the western world. Luxury brands, store brands, electronics, everything. Just buying my necessities there is how I plan to do it on my next round of trips to save some money. If you find that you’ve forgot to pack something while you’re there, just poke around and you’ll likely find it near.
Buy medicine at home
The only thing that is a toss up would be medicine and you should probably buy them for your needs ahead of time. For instance, you won’t find Advil in Thailand where Tylenol has a monopoly.
Safety and security items:
Pick pocketing happens often during travelling and it’s a lot easier to be a victim of it in crowded countries. Personal space isn’t a thing like it is in the western world! Make sure to own clothing items with zippered pockets to keep your stuff safe!
Place your cards in protective RFID shields because anyone can steal your card information with a scanner. A shield prevents those scanners from being able to wirelessly read information off your credit or bank card.
I recommend this one on amazon. It has built in RFID shielding. You need one that is slim, rugged, and can be easily concealed in your pants. This is the best ways to keep your cash and cards secure while walking around exploring.
I hope this post has helped you think about how to go about packing for your next exciting travel adventure around the world. Check out our shopping page for your next travel item!
Be safe and have the time of your life!