Packing for South East Asia Backpacking

The title was totally intentional. This summer, I was super keen on hitting up South East Asia and so were 2 of my friends, that is … until they bailed (no hard feelings though). With my tickets already bought from a sick deal, I couldn’t let it go to waste! I’m based out of Vancouver and for my 3-week trip, I decided to fly into Ho Chi Minh City and fly out from Manila with layovers for both flights in Taiwan. I knew I wanted to make a circle trip around SEA so I used this roundtrip as an opportunity to explore other cities within the vicinity. I had been eyeing the prices for a while and had finally decided to take the plunge. The roundtrip price came out to around $852 CAD which was really good so definitely consider looking at different entry and exit points for a better deal!

Carry-on Suitcase or Backpack

Packing for this trip was hard. Last year when I did a 5-week Euro trip, I brought along with me a small duffle and a medium-sized school backpack. I regretted bringing the duffle bag as it was hard to carry so this time I debated between a small carry-on suitcase or a backpacker’s backpack. I still wasn’t really convinced of using a backpack, mostly because I hate packing vertically, until I fell in love with one I saw at Atmosphere. It’s a McKinley Northern Light 26 RC pack. Even though the backpack is only 26L, my tiny stature made it look a lot bigger so I was totally content with the size of this thing – besides, I was only gone for 3 weeks. I wanted everything to be carry-on friendly so this backpack was the perfect size. I bought one that looked exactly like this but in 26L and if you’re looking for a 26L, this is a good find as well. I believe the style of mine was from last season so I got it on sale for only $60 CAD! If you sign up for their newsletter, you receive an additional 10% off, major steal!! 😀 To my surprise, the backpack had amazing support so made carrying it super easy and comfortable. There were also a lot of compartments that suitcases wouldn’t have and not to mention, it came with a waterproof cover which came in super handy in Boracay and also security-wise! All I brought on this trip was this backpack plus a small purse for day-to-day ventures and that was all I needed!

McKinley Northern Light 26RC pack – it doesn’t look like much but once it’s filled, it’s huge!
Photo 2016-05-16, 10 27 05 PM
The backpack in its full action, now you see its true potential!

Enough about the backpack, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty details. This trip was especially hard because of all the medical precautions I had to take care of beforehand. I didn’t realize how much I had to prepare for this trip, which included getting shots and oral vaccines for traveller’s diarrhea (both of which cost heaps), but better safe than sorry!

Medical Preparation:

  • Shots for Hep A / Typhoid Fever combo – total of 2 shots, second one is a booster shot you take 6 months later and you’re set for life.
  • Oral vaccine for Traveller’s diarrhea (Dukoral) – need to take 2 oral doses, the first one you take 2 weeks before you leave and the second one a week before. This one’s a bit pricy and wasn’t covered by my insurance because you can get it over the counter but I believe you can also get a Doctor’s prescription for it so it could be covered.
This comprises of most of the clothing I packed, some shirts and undergarments not shown.


  • Footwear: one pair of flip flops, flats, and converse
  • Enough underwear and socks (I actually brought 6 pairs of socks when I only needed 2, you don’t really want to wear socks with the weather anyways)
  • 5 Dresses (for versatility)
  • 1 Long skirt
  • 3 Pairs of shorts
  • Numerous shirts/tops
  • 2 Tank tops
  • 3 Sets of bikinis (I only needed 2)
  • 1 Pair of long pants (I was told not to bring any pants and was my friend right! I didn’t wear pants except for when I was at the airport going into South East Asia)
  • 1 Long-sleeve thin sweater (seen in featured photo; all you really need is one long-sleeve shirt, really)
Safety, essential, and toiletry items
These are the more important of the safety and toiletry items I packed.


  • 3 Wallets (one I had on me at all times, one in my backpack, and another one in a secret compartment of my backpack – always make sure to spread your money out!)
  • Money pack (to wear under clothing)
  • 2 Combo locks (in case I lose one)
  • 1 Key lock (this came in super handy as some hostel locks were too small for the combo locks so keep this in mind!)
  • Pepper spray
  • Waterproof bags for phone and money (you can get some on Amazon beforehand but I haggled for mine on the beaches of Boracay.. make sure you test it beforehand!)


  • Eye mask (courtesy of Magpie!)
  • Pair of earphones
  • Deck of cards .. for boredom
  • In-flight pillow
  • Emergency whistle (courtesy of Magpie!)
  • Sunglasses
  • Pack of charger adapters
  • Hairties
  • Extra plastic bags (you never know when you’ll need one)
  • Face cloth
  • 1 Purse for day-to-day activities (seen in featured photo)

Toiletries (the biggest portion of my packing tbh, and for good reasons):
* Everything has to be under 100 ML for carry-on

  • Deodorant
  • Traveller-sized toothpaste & toothbrush (bring an extra set just in case or buy abroad)
  • Traveller-sized shampoos, conditioners, and shower gels (once I use them up, I throw the bottles away to alleviate luggage, make sure to bring multiples of each)
  • Traveller-sized Aveeno lotion bottle (for them dry weenis :))
  • Ben’s Insect repellent (must get to avoid getting bitten!)
  • Lucas’ Papaw Ointment (to help with those bites, was super helpful in minimizing bites I got in the Philippines)
  • Chinese mosquito ointment or Tiger Balm (also super helpful in relieving itchiness)
  • Tylenol and DayQuil gel pills
  • 1 Pack of Imodium (important preparation in case you get the runs :()
  • 1 Pack of Fexorelief 180 (for rashes)
  • 1 Pack of cleansing facial wipes (you have no idea how handy these were to have)
  • Lots of tissue packs (must have because a lot of places charge for them, also good to have when you run into a squatting toilet)
  • Face and body sunscreen lotion (30 SPF)
  • Traveller-sized aloe vera gel for sunburns
  • 1 Small bottle of Lancome facial cleanser
  • 2 Traveller-sized hand sanitizer (must have while travelling SEA)
  • 1 Pack of bandaids/first-aid items
  • Antibiotic ointment (Neosporin)
  • Make-up bag
  • Floss
  • 1 Pack of Q-tips
  • Hairbrush
  • Nail clipper
  • 2 Razors
  • 2 Lip balms
  • 1 Eyewash solution (you never know…)
  • Pack of pads and tampons because I knew my period was going to hit me during this time period (ha)

Surprisingly enough, everything managed to fit in my little backpack, all thanks to compartmentalizing and rolling up your clothes! My advice is to use small bags/containers for all the toiletry and essential items so it’s easier to find things and it also makes packing easier. I tried to pack the most thin/smallest pieces of clothing for this trip, and that meant a lot of chiffon which works best in the hot, humid weather. When I was going on planes from one city to another, I try to wear the thickest pieces I have so my bag would be lighter. Keep in mind that if you will be visiting the temples, a lot of them require ladies to wear pants and to cover shoulders (t-shirts are fine)! You can also rent items while you’re there but to save excessive spending, just bring a set to wear for those days. Of course, there will be tons of harem pants and long skirts for sale as well to bring back as a souvenir. Make sure to always haggle for less if you want to save some pocket cash! 🙂

Security is a big deal when it comes to backpacking so it’s always good to spread your money out in various places. I had 3 wallets and a money pack but I barely used the money pack. I brought Canadian cash with me to exchange in the various countries so it was important I keep track of how much money I have. I stowed away different amounts in different sections and always made sure to check how much I have left before entering another country. One wallet I would keep in my purse as I go about my day (which carries the currency of the country) while the rest would be in my backpack locked up in the hostel (rest of my Canadian cash). I kept nothing in my pockets and everything in my purse to avoid pick-pocketers. For you girls out there, a good tip is to keep money in your pads & tampons pack because no one would ever think to look there. 😉 I felt pretty safe about the hostels I stayed at so I didn’t worry too much but I’ve definitely heard of people’s lockers being broken into at certain hostels.

Overall, I definitely felt like I overpacked because I didn’t have enough space to bring back more souvenirs. So make sure you account for souvenirs because you WILL want to buy some. I wore pretty much everything I brought but there were definitely things I could go without wearing. When you’re backpacking, you tend to repeat what you wear and that is totally, totally fine.

If you feel like this has helped you or if you have questions, please don’t hesitate to leave comments below – I would love to hear what you guys think and what packing tips you may have! Happy packing & safe travels 🙂


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Jen Xiong says:

    So helpful! That’s amazing that you were able to do 3 weeks with just a backpack. I need to reassess my own packing skills now.

    1. Joy says:

      LOOOOOL yah, you get better with time really! You end up just packing the essentials plus the bare minimum amount of clothing! But to be honest, I still slightly overpacked for this one…. 😛

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