When I first was co-planning my trip to Bali and Java, Indonesia; Kuala Lumpur and Penang, Malaysia; and Singapore, I was a bit overwhelmed. That’s a lot of countries, and a lot of different activities: hiking, surfing, swimming, drinking, dining, touring, yoga-ing, worshiping … how does one decide what to pack, and fit it all in one’s suitcase?
I started by doing as much research as possible on outfit expectations, activities, and other Good Things to Know about visiting Southeast Asia. I read articles by seasoned backpackers and Australian moms alike. I thought about what things could do double and triple duty, while still looking slightly fashion forward. Then I got more advice from my friend who was already making her way around Asia, finding out what she was grateful she brought, and what she wish she had brought.
(PS. I wrote up a guide to Bali as well.)
Then, I went. And I amended the packing list a little more during and after the trip, adding and subtracting. The result is the following list of items I personally found very handy. It may seem like a lot, but I can tell you that it will all fit in one rolling carry-on.
You might be most interested in the Bali packing list. After all, it’s Bali! You know, the Bali of Eat Pray Love? Hey, it’s a cliché, but there’s a reason she found love and happiness there. It’s got yoga, healthy cafés, Buddhist temples, wildlife, surfing, beaches, amazing sunsets, $15 massages, and everything else that is what I want on a vacation.
But if you’re like many people I met on my two-week, whirlwind tour, you’ve got several destinations on your list. In fact, I found that our itinerary was a common one. And these guidelines would also apply to a trip to Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and more.
So. What should go on a woman’s perfect packing list for a visit to Southeast Asia?
First, here are the rules of packing for this region:
1. It’s hot. Dress accordingly.
2. Don’t wear black. It attracts and holds heat, and hardly anyone–save the women in burkas–wears it anyway. This is a hard one for me, being a New Yorker!
3. Have some modest options. You’ll especially want something for your shoulders and down below your knees for visiting the temples, and if you worry about offending people in some of the more Muslim areas.
4. Prepare for mosquitos. Long sleeved tops in breathable fabrics and the same for pants will keep you from going insane, especially at night. Also, it might help you avoid the dreaded Dengue fever, which you can pick up in Singapore, and Malaria, which you can pick up in some developing countries.
5. Defend yourself against “Bali Belly.” This applies to almost everywhere in Asia, but I’ll just call it Bali Belly, which is what the Australian tourists call it. It’s not to be confused with the mild distress that comes with adjusting to a different produce-heavy, spicy cuisine. (Hopefully not a problem for you if you already eat healthy). But the real deal is, apparently, awful and disgusting and will lay you up in bed for three days straight. To protect yourself, you should only eat produce that has been cooked or that you can peel yourself, only drink from sealed bottled water, never use straws (since some places rinse and reuse them), and apply hand sanitizer liberally and often, especially after handling money. I’ve included some items on this list to protect you and help you.
6. Bring a couple (mildly) dressy things. And by “dressed up” I mean a casual dress with sandals. You’ll want to go out for dinner or a drink at times. Unless you’re going to Singapore, where you might want to bring on the flash and bling.
7. Make it all washable. You will sweat through everything, and so you want to be comfortable dropping it off at the local laundromat, which in Southeast Asia can usually do it for you by the next day.
- 1 white, long-sleeved blouse in breathable fabric – this was great for visiting temples, and is also nice to have if you are out at night and the mosquitos are trying to join you at dinner. I like Everlane’s cotton one.
- 1 Panama hat – For keeping the sun off your face. Get one that is foldable so you can pack it! Like this Pachacuti one.
- Dressy sweatshirt – something that is comfy and washable, but looks fairly nice for the plane. I like this one at Zady.
- 1 white tank – find some at Alternative Apparel.
- 1 white t-shirt – the ones by Everlane have a lovely, light fit.
- 1 summery tank in a fun color – like ones by Threads 4 Thought
- 2 pairs modest shorts – I say modest in the sense that they have more coverage than booty shorts and less coverage than Mom shorts. Find some at Zady
- 2 pair of long, loose, pants in lightweight fabric (a.k.a. pajama-style pants) These will be your best friends. I suggest MATTER Prints pants, which are ethically made by artisans India, and are easily washable. Perfect for traveling.
- 1 coverup/top (LemLem) – this top can work as a beach coverup, or be tied up in a knot over shorts or pants for something more stylish.
- 1 maxi dress (Amour Vert) – this can be worn to the temples our out.
- 1 knee length dress – like ones from Kaight, that is in the same colors as the Balinese offerings.
- 1 romper – like this one from ASOS Africa
- 2 organic bamboo workout tanks (Tasc) – for hiking and doing yoga
- 1 pair yoga pants (Teeki) – You should definitely get in some yoga at Yoga Barn while in Ubud, Bali! (Or in Singapore, where yoga studios abound.) And these pants are sustainable and in fun, bright colors that are way more Bali than Manhattan. You can also wear them on your sunrise hike up Mount Batur, where it is very, very chilly.
- 1 pair of Nike shorts – for hiking, sleeping in, and even a early morning jog.
- 1 cotton t-shirt – for drying your hair and wearing. Nobody will provide you with two towels per person, so this is a lightweight option that is kind to your hair.
- 1 pair pajamas – Alas pajamas are so stylish, you could wear them during the day, too.
- 1 mini cross-body or hip purse – . Try the vegan and sustainable company Hipsters for Sisters. This is for going out at night in Bali and Singapore.
- 1 attractive reusable canvas bag – for traipsing around during the day and folding up tiny when you are traveling. I know you have one of these lying around.
- 2 one-piece swimsuits (We Are Handsome or Shadowplay NYC) – I know, you love your bikini. BUT, you’ll either be surfing, or going to a beach full of women in burka bathing suits.
- 1 silk scarf – for tying back your hair and using as a belt in a pinch. Go vintage on this one.
- 1 pashmina-type scarf for the plane – I like the colorful ones from Front Row Society
- 1 casual watch – If your American phone doesn’t work, you’ll be happier checking your wrist rather than pulling out your phone constantly. Analog Watch Co. is perfect.
- 1 pair running shoes with grippy soles – for hiking or taking a jog if you feel so moved. Go with Nike.
- 1 pair Tevas – for hiking, water sports, and showering in shared or outdoor bathrooms.
- 2 pairs of socks – Miscoot socks.
- One pair Birkenstocks – you will love me so much for suggesting these. They are incredibly comfortable and well-made, to the point where you could wear them every single day of your trip and be perfectly happy. I suggest you get them in simple black leather or stretch straps, so that you can wear them out to dinner or even to a bar in Singapore without looking too much like a tourist.
- 1 pair neutral leather sandals (Everlane) – for something a wee bit more fancy but still comfortable. When you get to Singapore, they will judge you on your footwear. You might even consider bringing heels if you want to hit the clubs or bars in Singapore.
- 8 non-sports-bra-looking sports bras in black and white (Lululemon) – With it being so sweaty out there, you won’t be interested in a normal bra. Compromise with pretty, strappy sports bras that will go with your normal outfits.
- 8 athletic thongs (Empowered by You) – Amazing athletic, comfortable, no-panty-line thongs that pack up tiny.
- Photocopy of passport
- One 8-pack of travel-sized tissues – You will often come across bathrooms without toilet paper.
- KIND bars – I suggest one box per four days in Asia, to keep you from getting hangry while you try to find food you can eat.
- Lemon Eucalyptus DEET-free bus pray by Repel – This is the best bug spray ever invented. It actually smells good enough to spray all over your legs and not be embarrassed walking into a nice restaurant right after. It actively cools your skin (put it on the back of your neck on a hot day for a slice of heaven) and it repels mosquitos naturally. (Here is more info on DEET and whether it’s OK to use.)
- Fragrance-free sunscreen (Kiss My Face) – using a sunscreen with fragrance might attract some unsavory bugs like wasps.
- Camera battery charger
- Mini flashlight – This will come in handy for navigating back to your bungalow at night, and you can use it for a sunrise hike.
- Books – Spotty internet means lots of time for reading!
- 1 bottle Purell – This is very, very important! I know I could have chosen a natural, alcohol-free kind, but on this matter I defer to hospitals. It’s one thing to try natural makeup, but for warding off gastro problems?
- 2-3 Plastic trash bags – you could bring a laundry bag, but many laundry places will take it and hand your stuff back to you in a sealed plastic bag. So just go with the flow on this one.
- Meow Meow Tweet travel kit – this amazing vegan and organic skin care brands puts all their best products in a little travel kit. I adore the deodorant so much I would buy the travel kit just for it, but the body and face oils, lip balm, cooling body tonic, and face exfoliant you’ll want with you too!
- Travel toothbrush
- Tooth powder – a non-toxic, not goopy alternative to toothpaste
- Menstrual cup – reusable, therefore you won’t have to go on a pilgrimage for tampons. Once you use it, you’ll never go back.
- Sircuit Skin O.M.G.+ anti-aging serum – This effective beach-smelling anti-aging serum will keep you feeling pampered while you travel.
- Josie Maran daily moisturizer with SPF 47 – 47! It’s amazing. And portable.
- Juice Beauty CC Cream with SPF – for a light alternative to foundation.
- RMS Beauty un-concealer, luminizer and bronzing cream – Skip the powder when you know you’ll be sweating. These coconut oil-based beauty pots will give you the perfect glow-y look that says, “I walked out of yoga class this way.”
- Mesh produce bag – to put all my shower things in so I can easily tote them in and out of the bathroom.
- Coconut oil – for shaving and moisturizing
- Preserve razor made from recycled plastic
- Acure Organics moroccan oil shampoo and conditioner
- Skinny Skinny dry shampoo
- Alima Pure Mascara – for a naturally pretty look
- Antonym waterproof eye pencil – goes on smoothly, and the built in sharpener makes it so simple for travel!
- Reusable cotton rounds – for taking off makeup. You can throw them in the wash to negate the need for a whole pack of disposable cotton rounds.
- Kahina Giving Beauty oil – I use this on my hair for a lightweight way to fight frizz, and to moisturize my face at night.
- Jane Iredale lipstick
- Mini hair straightener – don’t bother bringing your hair dryer, mini or not. The voltage will fry it and it will be useless. This is a good alternative.
- Mini hair brush
- Mini scissors
- Elemental Herbs sunscreen
- Hair stretchies
- Sample-sized soap – I brought it in case there wasn’t any available for washing my hands, and lo and behold, the first place didn’t have any soap. Nor did the third.
- Birth control
- Immodium – for Bali Belly.
- Advil – If you get Bali Belly, it comes with fever and aches.
- Nail file
I absolutely love my fairly-made Hiptipico backpack for traveling. It’s well made and fits a lot inside, including all these things:
- Extra external iPhone battery
- Perpetual Shade eye mask
- Yes to Grapefruit face moisturizer with SPF – I use this on my hands, too.
- Advil – It was crucial on the long plan ride(s) to keep my headache at bay.
- Tata Harper Be Adored tinted lip balm
- Urban Moonshine digestive bitters – to help me digest the awful airplane food and acclimate me to the Bali diet.
- Socks – Etiquette Clothiers
- Dark chocolate bar
- Notebook and pens – for taking notes throughout your journey.
- KIND bars
- Laptop – I wouldn’t take a laptop with me … except I’m a blogger and photographer. It’s a must-bring for me, but it’s up to you whether you want yours!
- Laptop charger
- Travel wallet – You’ll love having a nice wallet that fits your moneys, passport, and boarding passes. Two great options are this one by Il Bussetto and this one by Laael.
- iPhone charger
- Sunglasses – I like these by Westward Leaning
- Earbuds – get the Bowery’s by LSTN
- Facewash, moisturizing face oil, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant – When spending more than 24 hours on planes, you’ll be happy to have access to these.
- Mini hair dryer – the foreign voltage will break it.
- Reusable water bottle – you can’t drink the tap water in Southeast Asia, so you’re going to have to buy bottles of water. Sorry.